Treue der Union — GLO Records of the German Texans in the Nueces Massacre
The Nueces Massacre was committed by Confederate soldiers against a group of German Texan Unionists who were attempting to flee to Mexico on August 10, 1861. Many of the victims received land grants as part of the Adelsverein movement of the 1850s and appear in the records of the Texas General Land Office Archives.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, conditions in Germany created powerful incentives for an emigration movement. Poverty was widespread, crops were failing, the government allowed few freedoms, and able-bodied men were being conscripted for military service. When the Adelsverein formed, it offered new opportunities for struggling Germans who were willing to take the risk to move to the frontier of Texas. One of them was Ferdinand Simon. Born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1826, he saw opportunities in Texas as a chance to make a name for himself as a landowner. He also saw this as a way to avoid conscription. He arrived in Texas in 1845 and settled in Fredericksburg with other German immigrants.
Simon signed German Immigration Contract #1871 with the Adelsverein in Darmstadt on September 16, 1845. The contract entitled him to 160 acres of land in the Republic of Texas. Along with receiving land, he no longer had to worry about the political climate in Germany or being forced into military service — or so he thought. For seventeen years, Simon worked hard, accumulating hundreds of acres. He was among a close-knit German Texan population that emerged in the Texas Hill Country. The immigrants were facing a new way of life in which they found support in their fellow German Texans and generally had few interactions with the local Anglo population.
German Texans expressed a spectrum of views on slavery and secession ranging from opposition to indifference to passive approval and even outright support. Those who were opposed voiced their opinions freely by publishing anti-slavery sentiments in German-language newspapers, such as San Antonio’s Zeitung, which circulated throughout the Hill Country. Many Anglo Texans who supported secession took issue with the open resentment from these portions of the German Texan population. The idea of their loyalty came into question, and the Anglo Texans raised concerns that the German Texans would support the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War.
On May 8, 1862, the Confederate Conscription Act passed, requiring all able-bodied men to report for service in the Confederate Army. This was a strong reminder of the type of government action that motivated many of the Germans to leave Europe in the first place. A vocal contingent of German immigrants opposed Texas secession. Many of them had already experienced the threat of conscription in Germany and did not want to have the same experience in a new land.
One group that supported staying in the Union was the Hill Country Union Loyal League. Formed in 1861 “in the country north and west of San Antonio,” the purpose of the League was to “take such action as might peaceably secure its members and their families from being disturbed and compelled to bear arms against the Union” as well as to provide frontier protection against Native American attacks. This group of anti-Confederacy Texans consisted of predominantly German Texan members, including future commissioner of the General Land Office Jacob Kuechler. The Union Loyal League formed a militia under Major Fritz Tegener. The League freely voiced its anti-Confederacy views and the government soon declared the Texas Hill Country counties of Gillespie, Kendall, Kerr, Edwards, and Kimble to be in rebellion against the Confederate States of America. Martial law was imposed and German Texans, and others, were forced to pledge loyalty to the Confederacy. Those who refused risked having their property seized by the Confederate government.
In April 1862, Confederate troops under Captain James Duff were sent to enforce conscription laws and extinguish the Union Loyal League. In response, Tegener and the Hill Country Militia planned to flee to Mexico, where they intended to board a ship headed for New Orleans to join the U.S. Army. On August 1, 1862, 68 Hill Country Militia members gathered at Turtle Creek in Kerr County and prepared to travel south. With the prospect of conscription looming, Simon eagerly joined fellow militia members on this journey.
The militia traveled at a leisurely pace, averaging around 15 miles per day according to John W. Sansom, one of the militiamen. Unaware that they were being trailed by Lieutenant Colin D. McRae, they thought they had escaped Confederate detection. McRae was ordered by Captain Duff to break up armed encampments in the area. He and 94 Confederate soldiers followed the German Texans for four days.
On August 9, 1862, the Hill Country Militia made camp on the west branch of the Nueces River, taking “no special precautions…against surprise.” That night, McRae and his men made camp in a canyon about two and a half miles away and planned to attack the following morning. At about 3 a.m. on August 10, McRae and his troops gathered near the Unionist camp. According to R.H. Williams, one of the Confederate forces, the plan was to capture the lookouts without awakening the rest of the camp and attack at daybreak. These plans quickly fell apart as “some idiot, over-excited, had loosed off at a sentry, and instantly the camp was in a buzz, like a swarm of bees.” The first stage of the attack against the German Texans commenced, with “fast and furious firing…between contending parties.” Hours later, a second Confederate charge overtook the camp, and by the end of the skirmish nineteen German Texans and two Confederates were killed. Sansom and Williams both noted that a number of wounded and surrendered prisoners had been taken off and executed by the Confederates. Throughout the summer, Confederate troops searched for other survivors.
A wounded Ferdinand Simon was captured four days after the assault and was arrested. He was tried by the Confederate Military Commission in October 1862, charged as an enemy to the Confederate States of America, and sentenced to death by hanging. When Simon signed his contract with the Adelsverein in 1845 to come to Texas, he likely did not think he would die attempting to avoid the same military conscriptions that caused him to leave Germany. Luckily for Simon, martial law was suspended before his execution could be carried out. He remained in prison until after the end of the war and was released in late 1865. He returned to his family’s home where he lived until his death in 1878.
Ferdinand Simon and his fellow German Texans at the Nueces Massacre are prime examples of immigrants who were drawn into Texas by the “American dream” only to be let down by the reality of another broken nation. The remains of those massacred at the Nueces River were gathered and brought to Comfort, Texas, where they were buried in a common grave. A monument honoring these men was erected on August 10, 1866. On it, the names of the men killed are listed, along with the words “Treue der Union,” German for “Loyalty to the Union.” A new monument was erected on August 10, 1996, coinciding with the 130th anniversary of the massacre.
Below is a list of those memorialized on the Treue der Union monument who appear in GLO records for land grants that they received after coming to Texas. Click on any of the file numbers to see a digitized version of the original file.
Boerner, Wilhelm F. “William” — BEX-3–4440
Bruns, Albert — BEX-3–4438
Flick, Herman — BEX-3–5979
Henderson, Howard — BEX-P-148
Jacoby, Peter Jacob, Jr. — SCH-12371
Kallenberg, George Christian “John” — BEX-3–4378
Kleck, Sylvester — BEX-P-2093
Schwethelm, Henry Joseph — BEX-P-1497
Tegener, Frederick “Fritz” — BEX-3–4431
Vater, Friedrich “Fritz” — BEX-3–4397
Vetterlein, Carl “Charles” — BEX-P-3287
Weiershausen, Heinrich “Henry” — BEX-3–4444
BEX-3 = Bexar Land District, third class headright
BEX-P = Bexar Land District, preemption
NAC-2 = Nacogdoches Land District, second class headright
ROB-2 = Robertson Land District, second class headright
RUS-3 = Rusk Land District, third class headright
TRA-3 = Travis Land District, third class headright
FMT = Fisher-Miller Transfer
GER = German Immigration Contract
SCH= School land file
 Walter L. Buenger, “Secession and the Texas German Community: Editor Lindheimer vs. Editor Flake.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 82, no. 4 (April 1979): 379–402.
 Handbook of Texas Online, Rudolph L. Biesele, “GERMAN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE CIVIL WAR,” accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/png01. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 8, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Handbook of Texas Online, Tim Bell, “NINTH TEXAS INFANTRY,” accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qkn09. Uploaded on April 6, 2011. Modified on April 8, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 R.H. Williams & John W. Sansom, Massacre on the Nueces River; story of a Civil War tragedy, Date Unknown; Grand Prairie, Texas, 23, 25. https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth2409/: accessed August 5, 2020, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu.
 Jacob Kuechler immigrated to Texas in 1847 with the Vierziger group, which contracted with the Adelsverein to settle in the Fisher-Miller land grant. After surviving the Nueces Massacre, he remained in exile in Mexico until 1867. He was a delegate at the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, and was elected to serve as commissioner of the General Land Office from 1870–1874. Handbook of Texas Online, James Patrick McGuire, “KUECHLER, JACOB,” accessed August 06, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fku01. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 12, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Handbook of Texas Online, Mark Lye, “TEGENER, FREDERICK [FRITZ] ,” accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fte55. Uploaded on March 30, 2011. Modified on May 11, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Williams & Sansom, Massacre on the Nueces River, 25.
 Ibid., 26.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 29.
 Handbook of Texas Online, “NUECES, BATTLE OF THE,” accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qfn01. Uploaded on August 31, 2010. Modified on March 13, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Williams & Sansom, Massacre on the Nueces River, 19.
 Alwyn Barr, Ed., “Records of the Confederate Military Commission in San Antonio, July 2-October 10, 1862,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 73, July 1969 — April, 1970, periodical, 1970; Austin, TX, 270–272. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117147/: accessed August 6, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.