Caring for Ailing Confederate Soldiers (1862)
The trouble with doing research into local history, especially here in Liberty County, Texas, is the plain and simple fact that any tidbit of information one might stumble across rarely answers any previously held questions. It just brings up many more questions, the answers to which are just as shrouded in fog as the ones we already face. Rather than finding answers, we simply uncover more questions. This fact is endlessly compounded by the fact that our courthouse records have been consumed in two or three fiery disasters, the most recent of which being in 1874. There are no early records at the courthouse that might shed some dim light upon the questions.
A good case in point is this brief but interesting item gleaned from the old but not forgotten newspaper called “The Tri-Weekly Telegraph” of Houston, Texas. Here is the item:
Published at Houston, Texas
July 25, 1862, page 1, column 2
Liberty, July 22, 1862.
What in the Wide World of Sports is going on here? Let’s take something we know. Dr. Thomas A. Stanwood was the second husband of Margaretta Jane Dugat, who had been previously married to John A. Williams, sort of a notorious Tory during the time of the Texas Revolution. That’s another story for another day. But Dr. Stanwood was not just any old physician. He was a man of some polish and what we might call a learned man of medical science. The old town of Liberty wasn’t exactly overrun with physicians at this time, but Stanwood was a respectable doctor and appears here in some official capacity as either the county health officer or something of a similar nature assigned to the City of Liberty, which at that time also embraced what is now Dayton. He might also have been serving as the medical officer for Griffin’s Battalion. A little more research will be required before this is fully known.
Col. Griffin’s Battalion should be fairly easy to nail down. One of the foremost historians of Southeast Texas is a gentleman by the name of W. T. “Bill” Block of Nederland, a prolific writer and researcher. Articles published by W.T. indicate that Col. William H. Griffin (1816-1872), was born in Edgefield, South Carolina and eventually received a West Point education and graduated in 1835 with a degree in civil engineering. Lots of things happened to Col. Griffin, none of which add much to the plot of this tale, but he moved to Tarrant County, Texas in 1858 and got caught up in the excitement of secession and war-making in 1861. W. T. Block says Griffin appealed to Confederate General Paul O. Hebert at Galveston in 1861, asking permission to raise a regiment for the Southern army. The number of recruits didn’t quite reach regimental levels, and Hebert considerately enough made him a lieutenant colonel commanding the 21st Texas Infantry Battalion on June 28, 1862. Fort Griffin at Sabine Pass, a key outpost on the coast, was named in honor of Col. Griffin.
On July 1, 1862, or thereabouts, the British steamer “Victoria,” coming in from Havana, ran the Union blockade and docked at Sabine Pass. The ship was bringing in munitions and supplies, along with some sick crewmen, who unbeknownst to everyone were suffering from Yellow Jack or Yellow Fever. Within a matter of days, Block says sixteen men in Company A of Spaight’s (11th) Battalion, Texas Volunteers, were sick with the dread disease. Fourteen men from Company B were likewise afflicted. I can tell you from my own family history that my great-great-grandfather, Private William John Ladd of Company B, Spaight’s Battalion, was one of the victims of the Yellow Fever outbreak at Sabine Pass. He passed away in September 1862. Paranoia and fear ran wild. The entire area at Sabine Pass was briefly evacuated.
This brief newspaper clipping gives us only a tiny paragraph in a much bigger story. A number of men in Griffin’s Battalion, possibly all of Company D, would appear to have been temporarily located at Liberty in a hospital commodious enough to house twenty ailing soldiers. Where was this hospital? How did it come to be? Questions, questions, and more questions.