By: Amelia White, Alamo Digital Marketing & Content Manager
Following the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in 1860, the southern secessionist movement began in earnest. South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union when it passed an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860. During January 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana followed South Carolina’s lead and each approved their own Ordinance of Secession. Throughout Texas, debate over whether or not the state should leave the Union was heated. Most Texans favored secession, but there were some notable exceptions.
When Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845, it joined the Union as a slave state. Many of the people who immigrated to Texas during the Republic years, as well as following annexation, came from the southern states. Texas, with its cotton and sugar production, had an economic system based on slavery the same as other southern states like Virginia and South Carolina. In east Texas in particular, the values and cultural system of citizens mirrored that of the Deep South. Secession sentiment was therefore very strong in this part of the state, not only on the basis of shared economic and cultural systems, but also on the basis that many of the citizens of this part of Texas were fairly recent immigrants from Southern states.
In north, west and central Texas secession sentiment was more muted. This was due in part to the threat still faced by Comanche and Apache tribes. Citizens in these parts of the state relied on federal troops for protection and they were, therefore, less inclined to support secession than citizens in the eastern part of the state. Pro-Union sentiment was also stronger among some of the European immigrant groups living in Texas, particularly the German immigrants living in the central Texas hill country region.
Most Texas elected officials and political and business leaders supported Texas secession. Sam Houston, former President of the Republic of Texas and the current governor of the state, was the sole politician willing to take a public stand opposing secession. In the weeks leading up to the state secession convention, Houston gave speeches and wrote letters trying to persuade Texans that it was in their best interests to stay a state in the Union they had struggled to be a part of. On two separate occasions President Lincoln offered federal troops to Governor Houston to forcefully stop the secession of Texas from the Union, but Houston declined the offers refusing to take up arms against his fellow Texans.
Despite Houston’s best efforts, the state secession convention voted on February 1, 1861 to adopt an Ordinance of Secession by a margin of 166 to 8. This ordinance was ratified by Texas voters on February 23, 1861, which coincidentally was the anniversary of the start of the siege of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution. On March 11, 1861 Texas became one of the seven states that comprised the Confederate States of America (CSA). Governor Houston refused to swear an oath to the Confederacy or acknowledge its legitimacy and was therefore divested of his position as Governor and replaced by then Lt. Governor Edward Clark. Houston retired to Huntsville where he remained until he passed away in July of 1863.
Throughout the South, as states began seceding, citizens were concerned about what would happen with the federal troops stationed in the South. In Texas, in the days leading up to secession, there were approximately 2,700 United States troops stationed throughout the state under the command of Major General David E. Twiggs. Approximately 100 of these troops were stationed at the Alamo, whose remaining buildings were being used as a quartermaster depot by the United States Army.
In the days between the state Secession Convention and the citizen’s vote on secession ordinance on February 23, 1861, Texan citizens began worrying about the federal troops stationed in Texas and what would happen when the ordinance was approved and secession official. During this time members of the Committee of Public Safety, including Benjamin McCulloch, began working with Major General Twiggs to negotiate the surrender of Union forces in Texas.
On February 16, 1861, Ben McCulloch led a group of volunteers — many of whom were associated with the Knights of the Golden Circle — through the streets of San Antonio to surround the Alamo where Maj. Gen. Twiggs was garrisoned. Twiggs peacefully surrendered all federal property in the state and agreed to evacuate all Union troops. Confederate forces occupied the Alamo throughout the Civil War, but no military battles took place at the Alamo or in San Antonio. The U.S. Army reoccupied the Alamo following the end of the war.