Nueces massacre

Victims Unknown
Nueces River
Result Confederate victory, execution or flight of all German Texans
Date August 10, 1862
Criminal penalty Unknown


The Nueces Massacre, also known as the Massacre on the Nueces, was a violent confrontation between Confederate soldiers and German Texans on August 10, 1862, in Kinney County, Texas. Many first-generation immigrants from Germany settled in Central Texas in a region known as the Hill Country. They tended to support the Union and were opposed to the institution of slavery. Because of these sentiments, the Confederate States of America imposed martial law on Central Texas. A group of Germans, fleeing from the Hill Country to Mexico and onward after that to Union-controlled New Orleans, was confronted by a company of Confederate soldiers on the banks of the Nueces River. The ensuing German defeat represented an end to overt German resistance to Confederate governance in Texas, but it also fueled outrage among the German-Texan population. Disputes over the confrontation and the efficacy of Confederate actions after the battle, according to historian Stanley McGowen, continue to plague the Hill Country into the 21st century.


Approximate map of Texas Hill Country

Germans immigrated to Texas as early as 1836. By 1860, the German population in Texas, predominantly first-generation immigrants, reached an approximate level of 20,000 across the entire state. They settled heavily in an area known as the Hill Country. The exact dimensions of Hill Country are not concrete. Germans settled so heavily in this area, that the counties of Gillespie, Kerr, Kendall, Medina, and Bexar comprised a "German Belt".

During the antebellum period, Germans displayed a complex set of opinions on slavery and secession. There were several Germans who owned slaves, and some eventually supported Texas secession from the United States. Most Germans, however were apathetic to slavery. A vocal minority of Germans was actively antagonistic to the institution of slavery. These antagonistic Germans included liberal and republican-minded Germans known as Achtundvierziger or Forty-Eighters. Many Forty-Eighters remained loyal to the United States and several opposed slavery. Most secessionist Anglo-Texans found this to be an affront to their insurrection against the US. German opposition to slavery led to an animosity between the two groups throughout the 1850s. These disputes were magnified by Texas' secession from the United States in March 1861, and the start of the American Civil War on April 12, 1861.

Unionists throughout the Confederate States, including Germans, resisted the imposition of conscription in 1862

Upon the commencement of the war, Germans projected an outward appearance of passivity toward the conflict. Confederate officials, however, saw the German population as an internal threat. The most adamant supporters of the Union were Tejanos and the German Texans both from Central Texas and the counties of the Texas Hill Country. They had some evidence for that suspicion. During the statewide vote on secession, German-heavy counties represented many of those, along with the Abolitionist northeast part of the state, to garner a majority vote against secession. Several reports in the beginning of 1862 even alleged that German communities celebrated Union victories. The state government also feared German-run local militias.

The Union Loyal League, organized by several Forty-Eighters, was one such militia. The actual purpose of the league is still a debated issue. Historians Robert Shook and Stanley McGowen acknowledge, as German Texans maintained at the time, that the group's expressed purpose was to defend the Hill Country from Indians and outlaws. Confederates, they confirm, considered the Union Loyal League the enforcement arm of German-Unionist sentiment. Confederate officers even implicated the organization in strategies to free Union soldiers from Camp Verde.

With a need for more soldiers, the Confederacy established a draft. The Germans did not want to fight against the Union and objected to being drafted. Buildup to this event began in the spring of 1862 with the initiation of a Confederate conscription for Texans, to which many German Texans voiced their objection. The Confederate Conscription Act of 1862 turned general German objection into open opposition. Because of this opposition, General Hamilton Bee dispatched Captain James Duff to Gillespie County. In late May 1862, Captain Duff imposed martial law. While in Gillespie County, Captain Duff arrested and executed two Germans. The harsh conduct convinced several Germans to leave Texas. Frederick "Fritz" Tegener and his Union Loyal League associates planned a departure. Their goal was to enter Mexico, and then to make their way to Union-controlled New Orleans.

Flight and battle

Between August 1, and August 3, 1862, sixty-one German Texans, led by Fritz Tegener, departed from Turtle Creek headed southwest for the Mexican border. Informed of their intentions, Captain Duff dispatched Lieutenant Colin McRae with approximately 96 men in pursuit on August 3, 1862. After six days, Lieutenant McRae and his men spied the German Texans in a small prairie along the Nueces River on August 9. Lieutenant McRae then formulated an attack plan to commence later in the evening. He divided his force into two companies to surround the camp. At approximately 1:00 a.m. on August 10, 1862, the Confederates closed into the camp. At first, however, even surprise and planning did not favor the Confederates. Two Germans wandering from the camp encountered the force. The Confederates fired on these two Germans, which alerted the camp to the assault. Thus alerted, the Germans beat back the first Confederate charge. Several Germans, however, were disheartened by the Confederate presence, and fled the field. Numbers vary, but Stanley McGowen estimates that twenty-three to twenty-eight Germans fled throughout the early morning hours. This reduced the German contingent by over a third. A second charge closer to dawn routed the Germans and led to the flight (at least five Germans fled near the end of the battle, including Tegener), serious incapacitation, or death of all German combatants.

Casualties and aftermath

The Confederate losses, out of the 96-man force, counted two soldiers dead and eighteen wounded, including Lieutenant McRae. Reports on the casualties for the vanquished Germans were sparse and inconclusive. In 1962, historian Robert Shook tallied the German casualties at thirty killed and twenty wounded. A more recent conclusion in 2003, made by historian Randolph Campbell, is that 19 Germans died outright in the assaults on the camp. That, however, was not the final tally for the German Texans' losses. Following the battle, Confederate soldiers killed nine badly-wounded Germans outright; cavalrymen pursued nine more to the Rio Grande where they likewise killed the fleeing Germans. The total German casualty report then comes to approximately thirty-seven killed and unknown totals for wounded among those who fled and survived.

Several Germans did survive the engagement and ensuing manhunt. These combatants either hid out in Texas, fled to Mexico and California, or eventually joined Union forces in New Orleans as member of the Union First Texas Cavalry. More importantly, however, was how the incident affected the German community in Texas for the rest of the war. Though Confederate actions met with some ire and loud objections from other German Texans, the incident marked the general end to overt German Unionism in Texas for the remainder of the war.


Upon cessation of hostilities in 1865, Germans emerged as some of the most exuberant celebrants of the Union's victory. The German-language Treue der Union Monument (loyalty to the Union), in Comfort, Texas, was dedicated on August 10, 1866, to commemorate those who died at the 1862 Nueces massacre. With the exception of those drowned in the Rio Grande, the remains of the deceased are buried at the site of the monument. It was the only monument to unionism dedicated by locals in former Confederate territory.

1866 story and illustration of Texan-German Unionists' funeral after the end of the American Civil War.

Battle or massacre?

One title for the incident, the "Battle of Nueces" or the "Nueces Massacre", has been a contested issue since the engagement itself. Recently, historian Stanley McGowen has addressed both sides of the debate. He recognizes that the Germans were, judging by their ability to repulse a superior force, well-armed. Furthermore, they were actively supporting what was at the time an enemy cause. The initial engagement, he affirms, can be called the Battle of the Nueces. But the execution of Germans following the battle, he states, lends credence to the title Nueces Massacre. No name has garnered definitive support, and McGowen admits the debate on Confederate and German actions still goes on among descendants on both sides of the incident.