The Coming Empire; or, Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback by H. F. McDaniel & N. A. Taylor
(NY: A.S. Barnes, 1877)
To the North San Antonio extended to the north along Soledad, North Flores, and Acequia (now Main) streets to Romana Street and the Ursuline Academy. North Flores was the most beautiful street with gardens and houses to San Pedro Creek. On Soledad was the famous Veramendi home where Ben Milam had been killed in 1835.
Soledad Street (late 1860s) looking south to Main Plaza .
Military Plaza Military Plaza was a center of commercial activity. The Spanish Governor’s Palace was there, but no longer a palace. There were small stores and Mexican jacals. By 1860 the infamous “Bat Cave” dominated the plaza. The lower floor served as City court and departments; the upper as the district court; and the jail was in the rear. Across from the Bat Cave (north side of Commerce St.) was the Orphan’s Home and residence of the Catholic priests.
Military Plaza looking west from San Fernando, shortly after 1873. The “Bat Cave” is the two-story building toward the back right of the plaza. The Spanish Governor’s Palace is the building just to the left and rear of the Bat Cave.
A view of the northeast corner of Military Plaza, this time showing the rear of the Bat Cave (1860s) .
Another view of Military Plaza, this time looking northwest, during the middle 1870s. The plaza was a very busy place .
Main Plaza San Fernando was only what is now the rear (original structure) and looked much like one of the missions. Just north of San Fernando in the plaza was the Frost Bank, Carolan’s one-story auction house, and a few adobe and rock structures. The east side had several small buildings and one three stories. To the south was Quinta Street with the City’s first post office, which served as a storage facility during the Civil War. The French building was on the corner.
North side of Main Plaza (Commerce & Main) ca. 1868. The Yturri house is behind the wagon on the right.
The north side of Main Plaza about 1868. From left to right: Yturri house, Plaza House (built 1847), Jack Harris’ Variety Theatre. The tall building at the far right was the Masonic lodge (courthouse).
Alamo Plaza The Alamo was in poor condition. The Army had made some repairs and gave it its current facade. However, it served as the Army’s storage depot for hay, grain, etc. Just south was the Menger Hotel, much smaller than it is today, with its brewery. In the center was the meat market. This one was replaced in 1858 with one just east of Main Plaza on the north side of Market Street. In the summer Alamo Plaza, along with the other plazas and streets were hot and dusty. When it rained they became mud holes.
Looking southwest toward Alamo Plaza and Blum from the Menger Hotel (1866).
Looking west across Alamo Plaza from the Menger Hotel, probably in the late 1860s.
Elsewhere Commerce Street lived up to its name being lined with businesses. Houston Street had only the Vance House (where the Gunter Hotel is today) which the U. S. Army contracted as Officers’ Quarters and later served as headquarters for the Confederate Army. Otherwise, there were only a few houses. West of San Pedro Creek was generally the Mexican part of town. There were some adobe and rock homes, and many jacals (adobe, straw, and sticks), with a chimney, small windows, and a door. Dance halls and gambling dens were well represented here.
Looking west down Commerce Street from Military Plaza – 1870s.
Looking east down Commerce Street, in the early 1860s, from the second story of the Plaza House at the corner of Main and Dolorosa.
Commerce Street looking east from Main Plaza in the 1870s.
The Alameda (late 1850s) by Herman Lungkwitz. Alameda was the name of Commerce street east of the San Antonio River.
To the South The southern portion of the city was occupied by two very different neighborhoods. One was La Villita, the settlement of the Canary Island settlers of the 1730s. The other was the King William area with large homes and beautiful gardens. Near King William was the Arsenal - military headquarters. Below these two neighborhoods, except along the San Antonio River, was prairie.
We irresistibly stop to examine it, we are so struck with its beauty. It is of a rich blue and as clear as a crystal, flowing rapidly but noiselessly over pebbles and between reedy banks.
Frederick Law Olmsted, 1857
This map shows the San Antonio River, San Pedro Creek, and the acequias (ditches), all of which brought life-giving water to residents.
Architecture “ After entering the city, “For five minutes the houses were evidently German, of fresh square-cut blocks of creamy-white limestone, mostly of a single story and humble proportions, but neat, and thoroughly roofed and finished. … From these we enter the square of the Alamo. This is all Mexican. Windowless cabins of stakes, plastered with mud and roofed with river-grass, or ‘tula;’ or low, windowless, but better thatched, houses of adobes (gray, unburnt bricks), …” A Journey Through Texas by Frederick Law Olmsted (NY: Dix, Edwards & Co., 1857)
Mission San Juan de Capistrano (1856) – Herman Lungkwitz
The Veramendi Palace. Built by Fernando Veramendi, local merchant and public servant. One of the largest homes in town. [Doors now at the Alamo.]
The Quinta, originally home of the Curbelo family. Later, John Bowen’s house and the first U. S. post office in San Antonio. It was on Dwyer Ave.
Mail Schedule Tri-Weekly Alamo Express 19 February 1861
“ I have never seen a population so mixed, and on this point I will match San Antonio against the world, giving all other places a big start in the game. … Of the twenty thousand population they assign one-third to the Americans, one-third to the Germans and Sclaves [sic], and one-third to the Mexicans and French, with batches of every other race under the sun, except the unappreciative Lap and Esquimaux.”
The Coming Empire; or, Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback by H. F. McDaniel & N. A. Taylor (NY: A.S. Barnes, 1877)
Sometimes a fandango, some times just a barroom dance
Schools In 1860 San Antonio had 15 public and private schools. Enrollment: Private – 342 Public – 221 German-English School - 187 Churches San Fernando and St. Mary’s Catholic churches Paine Methodist Episcopal Church South (now Travis Park United Methodist Church) St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, building started just before the Civil War and was halted until after the war. St. John’s Lutheran Church First Presbyterian Church Organizations in 1860
Social Groups Masonic Lodge Alamo Literary Society Youth’s Debating Club Alamo Rifles Casino Club Libraries The City had 10 private and church libraries with 5,460 volumes, but no public one.
Chili Queens of San Antonio’s Military Plaza, circa 1850
1850 – 1860 U. S. Census Population 1850 1860 Austin 629 3,495 Galveston 4,529 7,307 Houston 2,396 4,845 San Antonio 3,488 7,643
…“… I see but little change in San Antonio. Some good houses have been built in my absence but my former residence has lost for me all its charm. In the beginning of this month, the river rose eight feet & carried away the bathhouse, the only tenement in the lot I coveted. I do not know where to fix myself, nor whether to fix myself at all…”
--Robert E. Lee
Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man, A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters
George T. Howard arrived in Texas in 1836. Coming to San Antonio in 1839 he served in many events: the Council House fight, Battle of Plum Creek (1840), the Santa Fe expedition, Somervell expedition, & the Mexican War. He served as Bexar County sheriff (1843-1845). From 1850 to 1855 he served as Indian agent for Texas. From 1855, until his death in 1866, he acted as a contractor for the United States and Confederate gover nments.
Under Army contracts, “Howard ran nearly eight hundred ox and mule teams, averaging a profit of $30,000 to $50,000 per year…” In 1856, the U.S. Army employed 138 civilians with a $39,000 payroll. Total military expenditures in Texas surpassed $950,000 annually, 1849-1860. Thomas T. Smith, The U.S. Army & the Texas Frontier Economy, pages 11 & 54
As early as 11 September 1860 the Union Club was formed with James P. Newcomb as its secretary.
“ We are opposed to all sectional issues being made the test of political faith, and to the violent agitation, in or out of Congress, of local questions which threaten a dissolution of the Union.” ( Alamo Express , 12 Sept. 1860)
On the first Monday in October 1860 Gov. Houston spoke from the balcony of the Plaza House.
“… there were loud shouts and cries for his appearance, and he walked out on to the balcony amid deafening applause from the multitude. His remarks were brief, but every word was patriotic and heart-searching; nothing partisan or rabid, but calm, sober….”
The next day he spoke to a crowd of two thousand at San Pedro Park for two hours. A holiday atmosphere followed dinner.
“ Tomorrow, fellow citizens, our country will be on the verge of revolution-one of the greatest shocks we have ever encountered will happen, and it is the duty of every good citizen to stand by the flag of his country, the Union and the Constitution-The only question before the Southern people and the people of Texas is secession or no secession? How will you decide? All other questions are mere blinds.”
In late November 1860 a citizens meeting was called on Military Plaza.
As reported in the Weekly Ledger & Texan here is the first resolution
that came out of the meeting.
“ Whereas, through the election of Abraham Lincoln, as President of the United States, upon the ‘one idea of hostility to American slavery,’ by a sectional, fanatical party, which under the names of abolitionists, free-soilers and Black republicans, has long waged an unjust and unrelenting warfare against the institutions of the South; the people of Texas, with the people of her sister Southern States, have justly become alarmed for the safety of their lives and property, and for the preservation of their political rights and liberties.”
The meeting then called on the Governor to convene a special session of the Legislature to consult on what action the State should take for the future.
The Alamo Express , the Unionist paper of San Antonio, published by James P. Newcomb. This item from 18 February 1861.
One resolution of the Convention struck terror in the hearts of many.
“ Resolved, by the people of Texas in Convention assembled, that any person, whosoever, …oppose any resolution or ordinance of this Convention, or who shall in any manner give aid or comfort to the enemies of this state…shall be guilty of Treason against this State and conviction thereof, shall suffer death.”
(as printed in the Alamo Express , 5 February 1861)
February 1, the convention’s members voted by a margin of 166 to 8 to secede.
On 23 February a statewide election was held on the secession question .
Statewide : 46,129 for secession; 14,697 against
Secession Election Results County For Against % Against Bandera 33 32 49 Blanco 108 170 61 Burnet 157 248 61 Kerr 76 57 43 Gillespie 16 398 96 Medina 140 207 60 Uvalde 16 76 83 Bexar 827 709 46
Even before the secession vote was held Southern sympathizers sought to take control of federal supplies in San Antonio. Alamo Express , 20 February 1 861
General Twiggs, seeking to avoid a physical confrontation between Federal and States troops, issued General Order No. 5, surrendering certain federal property, but not all, to State troops. If he had not done so, the Civil War would probably have begun in San Antonio, rather than Fort Sumter. Alamo Express , 20 February 1861
Main Plaza, February 19, 1861 by Carl von Iwonski for Harper’s Monthly
While Iwonski’s picture is not entirely accurate historically, it does portray the hectic mood when Robert E. Lee arrived on his way to Washington.
A correspondent for the Austin State Gazette wrote, “Eight o’clock Saturday morning our usually quiet city is full of soldiers. All the important streets are guarded, and the main plaza looks like a vast military camp.”
Lee asked, “Who are these men?”
“ They are McCulloch’s,” explained Caroline Darrow. “General Twiggs surrendered everything to the state this morning, and we are all prisoners of war.”
From Carl Rister, Robert E. Lee in Texas
The Alamo Express describes the evacuation of United States troops to San Pedro Park. Soon these troops and those from the western posts would march to the Texas coast to leave for the North. Alamo Express , 19 February 1861
In the letter on the next two slides, Joseph Wood wrote to his sister on 21 February 1861. He mentions the arrival of Col. Ben McCulloch’s Texas troops and General Twiggs’ surrender of his 160 men and government stores to the Committee of Public Safety. “… Last week however the State troops came in and took possession of the Government Property which was given up by the U. S. officers and the Soldiers are now on their March to Indianola to be shipped to the North. It was a melancholy sight to see the “Star Spangled banner” hauled down to give place to the “Lone Star” and many turned away in tears. I don’t think that now there is any chance of an adjustment of the difficulties, and the Union will be completely divided, I hope without bloodshed, but fear the worst.”