PARSONS’ BRIGADE. Parsons’ Brigade, a Confederate brigade during the Civil War, was organized in the autumn of 1862 to serve as cavalry for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi then forming in Arkansas. For much of the war the brigade was commanded by Col. William Henry Parsons, who had raised the Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment in the summer of 1861. In late 1862, however, Brig. Gen. James M. Hayes briefly commanded the brigade, in 1863 Col. George W. Carter led part of the regiments, in 1864 Brig. Gen. William Steele assumed command, and in 1865 Parsons regained total control. Because the force had been organized under Colonel Parsons, served under him in 1863, and was again under him at the end of the war, it was generally known as Parsons’s Brigade. The permanent components of the brigade were Parsons’s Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment, Nathaniel Macon Burford‘s Nineteenth Texas Cavalry Regiment, George Washington Carter’s Twenty-first Texas Cavalry Regiment, Charles Leroy Morgan’s Texas Battalion, and Joseph H. Pratt’s Tenth Texas Field Battery.

In fall 1862 the brigade served as the cavalry for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi in eastern Arkansas and monitored Union troop movements around the federal fort at Helena. In July 1862, before formation of the brigade, Parsons’s Twelfth engaged federal troops near Cotton Plant, Arkansas, as Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Southwest marched through Arkansas. As a result of the fine leadership qualities Parsons displayed during this campaign, he received authorization to organize a brigade. By October the brigade consisted of the Twelfth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-first Texas Cavalry regiments along with an Arkansas battalion (later replaced by Morgan’s Texas Battalion) and Pratt’s Battery. Early in 1863 the Confederate hierarchy at Little Rock detached part of the regiments and placed Colonel Carter over the Nineteenth Texas, Twenty-first Texas, Morgan’s Battalion, and Pratt’s Battery. These Texans, designated Carter’s Brigade, joined Maj. Gen. John S. Marmaduke on his second raid into Missouri in April. Carter, a former Methodist preacher, had originally organized a brigade of Texas Lancers (his own Twenty-first, Franklin C. Wilkes‘s Twenty-fourth, and Clayton C. Gillespie’s Twenty-fifth Texas Cavalry regiments). But Carter’s Lancers broke up after reaching Arkansas, and the Twenty-first Texas joined Parsons’s Brigade. Colonel Carter’s desire to regain command of a brigade, however, caused problems throughout the war.

In June 1863 Parsons took the Twelfth Texas to Louisiana, where he was joined by the Nineteenth Texas and part of the Pratt’s Battery under Isaac R. Clare. Parsons’s men raided Union positions along the west bank of the Mississippi during the federal campaign against Vicksburg. Although Confederate efforts to aid the Vicksburg defenders from the Louisiana shore failed, Parsons’s raid did result in the destruction or capture of numerous federal supplies. While Parsons was in Louisiana with part of the brigade, Colonel Carter remained in command of the rest in Arkansas. Some troops from Carter’s Brigade took part in the battle for Little Rock in September 1863 and an attack upon Pine Bluff in October. When all of the regiments were reunited in Arkansas in late 1863, there was a problem over which man should command. To avoid a disagreement and to subsist men and horses, the government assigned the force to the Confederate Bureau of Conscription. Each company was ordered to its home county in Texas to arrest deserters and draft evaders.

Early in 1864 the regiments came together again when Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks‘s federal columns began to move up the Red River toward Shreveport. Although the brigade did not join Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor‘s Confederate Army in time to take part in the battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, they did accompany Brig. Gen. Thomas Green on the attack upon part of David D. Porter’s fleet at Blair’s Landing, on April 12, 1864. Parsons held field command in this unsuccessful attempt to cripple the federal fleet, and in the midst of battle General Green was killed by enemy artillery fire. During the campaign to push the retreating federal army down the Red River, Brig. Gen. William Steele assumed command of the brigade, and it became part of Maj. Gen. John Wharton‘s cavalry division. Both Carter and Parsons at times had field command of the troops during the Red River campaign. The final battle of the campaign occurred at Yellow Bayou on May 18, 1864, and in this battle Parsons’s Brigade suffered its greatest loss. An incomplete report of casualties from Yellow Bayou indicated twelve killed, sixty-seven wounded, and two missing. From the entire Red River Campaign, Parsons counted twenty-nine killed and 159 wounded.

Subsequently, the Texans returned to southern Arkansas. For the remainder of the year they monitored federal troop movements along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. But Confederate authorities began to fear a possible attack along the Texas coast and in January 1865 ordered the brigade to Texas. When the troops were reorganized in the spring of 1865, Colonel Parsons regained command of all but Carter’s Regiment. Col. Edward J. Gurley‘s Thirtieth Texas Cavalry replaced the Twenty-first Texas in Parsons’s Brigade, and the Twenty-first Texas joined Walter P. Lane‘s Brigade. The war ended for the men under Parsons on May 20, 1865, at the Central Texas settlement of Sterling, when Colonel Parsons informed his men that they could return home.

During the Civil War Parsons’s Brigade earned the reputation as one of the finest mounted units serving in the Trans-Mississippi Department. The brigade took part in almost fifty battles, although most were too small to rate a name, and the men were responsible for watching federal operations from Memphis to Vicksburg. For three years they provided outposts and scouts for the army headquartered first at Little Rock and later at Shreveport. The brigade rarely mustered in full at any single place; instead, the troops generally fought by detachments or regiments. Much of the brigade’s well-deserved reputation resulted from the outstanding fighting record of the Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment and the leadership of Colonel Parsons.

Parson’s Brigade – 12th Texas Cavalry CSA


During the Civil War, Parsons’ Brigade earned the reputation as one of the finest mounted units serving in the Trans-Mississippi Department. Much of its well-deserved reputation resulted from the commanding fighting record of this cavalry regiment under the leadership of Colonel Parsons.

The men of Ellis County organized a cavalry regiment in August 1861, later known as the Twelfth Texas Cavalry, Parsons’ Brigade.  Three companies, E. F and H, were mustered into the regiment and when the Nineteenth Regiment was later organized in Dallas County, Ellis furnished two more companies – A and C, this “putting into the field five companies of as good soldiers as ever mounted a horse.”

September 11, 1861 was a day of great importance to Ellis County and adjacent areas, as the companies formed under the supervision of W. H. Parsons (by authority of Edward Clark, Governor of the State of Texas) met at Rockett Springs to organize a regiment of cavalry for service to the State of Texas in the then imminent war between the North and south.  People began arriving early in the morning and a large crowd quickly assembled to witness this event.  At 10 am, at the sound of the bugle, ten companies (comprising about 1200 men) marched to form a hollow square.  They then proceeded to elect officers with W. H. Parsons unanimously elected Colonel. [taken from a report read at the Brigade’s fourth reunion]

After the War, Parsons went to British Honduras with the idea of establishing a Confederate colony there, but soon returned to Houston, where he edited a newspaper.  He served as State Senator in 1870-71, representing Harris, Montgomery, Anderson, Henderson and Van Zandt counties.  In 1871 he received an appointment from President Grant as United States Centennial Commissioner and moved to New York.  He later lived in Washington D. C. and Virginia, holding a number of government positions.  A widower for some time, his second marriage was in the late 1870s to Myra Berry.  He died October 3, 1907 in Chicago, and is buried with his wife in Mount Hope Cemetery at Hastings-on-the Hudson in New York.

The following letter, written from Chicago, some two months before his death, was read at the Brigade’s reunion in Hillsboro, Texas in August 1907.

“Leaf by leaf the trees are falling
Drop by drop the streams run dry
One by one beyond recalling
Summer roses droop and die.”

“Your letter, dear comrades in arms, finds me still among those who witness the falling leaves, and while I await the bugle call of my Great Commander, I find that it is in strict military order that he who was your superior officer during those thunderous days from ’61 to ’65 should remain on the field until the last man utters his response to the earthly roll call.”

“Those of us who survived the shock of battle and have since encountered the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune are conscious of Providential care and are correspondingly thankful.  When the old guard gather at Hillsboro read them this letter from the man who loves them here, and hopes to join them in the activities of the future life where we are assured there shall be no more night nor tears.  Endless day and ceaseless joy shall be the portion of those conscious of duty well performed according to their light.”

“You have from time to time received from my pen words reminiscent of those stirring days of civil strife but I now feel that we should for the remaining years live in the present and contemplate the future.  The years are big with promise for our great country, and I have always been among those who, while ready to oppose wrong, yet never uselessly antagonized the inevitable trend and was ready to “accept the situation: as you know I did upon the return from South America just after the war.”

“It takes more courage to stand alone than to battle among your fellows, and you recall my stand for reconstruction.  The grand old state of Texas flourishes and I am conscious of my part in its present greatness and prosperity. Let the youngest generation join with us in our enthusiasm and say to young and old in the hearing of your voice at the coming reunion of Parsons’ Brigade that your old commander still lives and loves.”

Copyright © 2002-2016, Ellis County TXGenWeb. All Rights Reserved.