In the summer of 1861, communities throughout the Piney Woods of East Texas hummed with activity as Texas boys rushed into uniform, forming new units or joining standing militias. Some of the men were in their teens, but the community leaders who often outfitted these companies and would be elected as their officers included mature men such as James Rogers Loughridge.
The 40-year-old South Carolina native had arrived in Texas in the mid-1830s. By the outbreak of the war he was chief justice of Navarro County, and he and his young wife and daughters lived in the small town of Corsicana. Loughridge resigned his position that summer and joined the Navarro Rifles, which would later muster into Confederate service as Company I, 4th Texas Infantry, and gain fame as a part of Hood’s reknowned Texas Brigade. The men of Company I elected Loughridge as their first lieutenant, and he camped with them throughout the disease-plagued winter of 1861-62. He led the company at Gaines’ Mill, a battle that would long dominate the memories of Texas Brigade veterans, especially those in Loughridge’s hard-hit 4th Texas. It was there, on June 27, 1862, that Loughridge received a serious wound to his arm that sent him home to Texas to recover.
Loughridge rejoined the 4th in June 1863, apparently as determined as ever to serve the Confederate cause. He had long insisted that “No mortal living has dearer and more loved ties…than I do. Yet I will give them all up & my life too, before I will live in a land that is not independent.” During the summer of 1863 he made it clear to his family that he remained committed to fighting for the Confederacy. In one letter to his wife he wrote, “May God arm us with superhuman strength to strike these witches from the earth.”
On July 2 at Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson ordered the Texas Brigade forward, and Lieutenant Loughridge led Company I from its position east of the Emmitsburg Road. The 4th and 5th Texas Infantry would become separated from the rest of the brigade, composed of the 3rd Arkansas and the 1st Texas. Those regiments swung slightly northward toward Devil’s Den, while the 4th and 5th Texas swept farther east, coming up on the southwest edge of Little Round Top. Their desperate fight to reach that point and their failed attempts to take Little Round Top cost the 4th 140 men killed, wounded or missing. By the end of the day, the brigade as a whole had suffered 54 percent casualties.
Loughridge wrote two letters to his wife within a couple months of the Battle of Gettysburg. They provide incredible details about the fight and offer fascinating insights into the demoralizing impact of its horrendous slaughter, even for an officer as dedicated as Loughridge. Although his first letter reflects his depression and frustration at the end of July, his second letter, written only one month later, demonstrates Loughridge’s ability to regain his determination, a skill he shared with the Confederates of the Texas Brigade. Indeed, as both letters indicate, some of the men never believed they had lost the battle. Astonishingly, Hood’s Texans retained their gritty dedication to serve the Confederacy despite the heavy losses they suffered that summer—though, as Loughridge’s letters exemplify, their fighting spirit was occasionally mixed with depression and frustration that lasted to the bitter end of the war.
The spelling and punctuation of Loughridge’s letters are preserved, but paragraph breaks have been added for readability.
Camp 4th Texas July 26 1863
You are no doubt quite uneasy about me— but be not afraid all is well!
That same God who took care of me at the battle of West Point—Seven Pines & Gaines Mills was also my friend at the great battle of Gettysburg. Our boys all claim a great victory at Gettysburg PA.—but when we had to leave our dead & wounded on the battlefield for the enemy to take care of I can not so consider it. Tis true we drove the enemy from a part of the high mountains that he occupied and retained the same for as long as we wished yet we finally had to fall back leaving the Yankees to take possession of our ground &c&c. our loss was not…so large as we at first thought it to be I came through with out being hurt—although I was twice struck with spent balls My health is very good—with exception of my old acquaintance the Rheumatism at times when we make hard marches—of a night especially. I can feel my hip joint failing me. but my superior officers are very kind, and have offered to aid me to get mounted I wrote to you two or three times while in Pennsylvania—& also Maryland but fear as our river…& towns on same are fallen that this may never reach you—yet as the Kind Father of all Mercies has graciously condescended to notice wheretofore and bless us even in our smallest comforts, He will probably order you even now to hear from me Did I know for certain I could write with more delight words for you to look over & read!
How terrible is this war upon the people of our land had a Prophet arose 4 years ago & told of these horrors that the people North & South had forgotten to observe the ties that bound them together. That in a short time they would butcher each other up in cold blood no one would have believed him. Our soldiers amid all their sufferings are confident of ultimate success many think that even the North will now prove to be a better friend to us than England & that taking Valandingham’s advice she will this winter acknowledge our independence & afterward try to heal the breach that this conflict of deadly arms had made—God Almighty, the God of Hosts the mighty God of Battle is at the helm. & at the proper time will speak peace to this murderous storm that now makes all eyes sick with horror!
At the battle of Gettysburg our cost some of our very best men & officers Major General Hood had his arm broken—our Col Key was wounded in arm. Lt Col Carter wounded & taken prisoner our Adjutant Dr Brown was wounded & taken prisoner— Capt Barziza wounded taken prisoner or probably killed Lieutenant Reynolds killed, privates W.T. Smith (the man that married Miss Mitchell) killed also Mr Harris of my Co. You will before this reaches you see a list of our killed & wounded—we are now at our old camp near Culpepper resting.
Here is a kiss [encircled] for my Mary and a kiss [encircled] for my Ella & a kiss [encircled] for you—I will write often but fear not many will ever reach you take good care of yourself—do not work hard, give my love to my relations in particular & to all who ask concerning me tender my best respects & good wishes & I got three letters from you but none of them have dates— God will bless you & my children your Husband J.R. Loughridge
Camp 4th Texas Aug 30 1863
Mrs Mary F Loughridge
My dear wife Thank God! another chance offers for me to send you a few lines. Gen’l Waul was here this evening and offers to have or letters sent accross the Miss river Oh! if God will permit my letters to reach you or rather if he will cause them to go through safe, so that my loved ones can hear from me oh! how thankful will I be! For I feel satisfied to trust him for his Fatherly care over you & my dear children & all that concerns me at home I am in the very best of health.
I suppose you have received my letters with reference to our trip to Maryland & Pennsilvania and of our being in the battle of Gettysburg—but as you may not have received them I will simply say—That I commanded Company I in the fight and that our Co. gained great praise from Genl Robertson & Col Work I was struck twice with balls but was not hurt—I went through a shower of bullets & cannister & grape shot as I was in front with my uniform…& my big sword.
The Yankees must have known who was in command we drove in their advanced lines—drove them from their first line of breastworks then up a high hill and partly drove them out of the strong hold and for one night & day held the position that we had taken—we took some cannon & many prisoners—about which you have no doubt seen full accounts in the papers—after the fight my company being on the right of the Regiment was again called to guard the…between our regt & the Yankees so I and my Co stood all night in the rain guarding the foe we took several spies & suspicious men prosoners & sent them to the rear. or rather to the Gen’l in Command we offered battle all day on the 4th of July but the Yankees would not come down from their strongholds to fight us—on the night of the 4th the Yankees commenced falling back and kept it up all night—next morning our army commenced to fall back so that while Lee was getting towards VA—Gen’l Meade who was in command was retreating towards Baltimore—This I know for I was out watching all night long & kept the officers in my rear advised—for which I received many compliments &c.
But I am tired talking of this for I know you care little about a battle having your whole soul fixed upon one idea and that my safety it has gone forth to the world that Lee was defeated, such I think was not the case, as we took about twice as many prisoners as they did and also according to their own statement killed & wounded many thousands more of their men than they did of ours—
Besides this they kept up the retreat first!—Two men of Co I were killed 712…J.Q. Harris & Wm T Smith of Ellis Co—Harris was killed in a few feet of men and died nobly as a Christian warrior alone can die with his amour on! I did not see Smith fall—The last man leaves a wife & children in Ellis County—Capt Winkler was acting as field officer & was wounded…high from which wound (he writes from Richmond that he has recovered).—He will now be Major Bales & Stokes were slightly wounded also Jerry Caddel—all getting well Stokes is well & back at his post again— There is a big revival going on here…we…to day very many and crowding up to be prayed for where called…a few ladies came out to church to day We have started a Christian association with many members uniting out of all denominations Kiss my sweet Mary & Ella & accept a…and embraces from your husband
Susannah Ural Bruce is a history professor at Sam Houston State University and the author of The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (NYU Press, 2006) and the forthcoming Hood’s Texans: A History of the Texas Brigade and Southern Society in the American Civil War (LSU Press). She is currently involved in a project to edit and publish the entire Loughridge letter collection.
Originally published in the July 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.