Stephen F. Austin State University

When Ector's Brigade came to Gregg County (March 2018)

When Ector's Brigade came to Gregg County

By Van Craddock

In August 1880, several hundred rebel-yelling Confederates invaded Longview. I'm happy to report there was no bloodshed and a good time was had by all.

The occasion was a reunion of Ector's Brigade, which had included a number of East Texans.

From 1862-1865 the unit fought in some of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. At Murfreesboro (Tenn.), for example, the brigade in one day of fighting lost 38 men and had more than 300 wounded.

Longview officials had spruced up their little town in anticipation of the hundreds of guests expected to descend on Gregg County Aug. 18-21, 1880.

The reunion program, according to organizers, would include "music, orations, feasting and in general all reasonable and sufficient means of entertainment and pleasure that are usual upon such occasions."

And what a reunion it was. Some 3,300 folks, including several hundred former members of Ector's Brigade, participated in the activities.

"Never in the annals of Longview has there been a day to compare to yesterday," reported a Dallas newspaper on Aug. 19. "The decorations, the entire abandonment of business, the laying aside of all other duties … gave an excitement and lent a holiday air to the town."

Bands from Longview and Gilmer greeted the ex-Confederates as they arrived at the town's two depots.

Many business houses "were decorated with flags, evergreens and Chinese lanterns … The flags flown were the 'Lone Star,' the 'Stars and Stripes' and the 'Stars and Bars.'"

At 9 a.m. the brigade association members assembled at the Gregg County Courthouse with association President C.B. "Buck" Kilgore presiding. (Kilgore, a colorful character, later served as a Texas senator and U.S. Congressman. The town of Kilgore is named for him.)

The group's first order of business was to plan erection of a monument to the brigade's namesake, Mathew Duncan Ector. The unit's popular commanding general had died only 10 months prior to the Longview reunion.

Ector had been a lawyer and newspaper editor in Henderson before the war, then represented Rusk County in the Texas Legislature. He was a brigadier general in the Civil War until a severe wound ended his military career. After the war he returned to Henderson and was elected a district judge. He was presiding judge of the U.S. Seventh District in Tyler until his death on Oct. 29, 1879.

At the Longview reunion, association members established an endowment fund for Gen. Ector's widow and two children.

On Aug. 19 the day's main orator was Gen. Samuel B. Maxey, who had led the Ninth Texas Regiment during the war and in 1874 was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Maxey urged the veterans to "remember with pride the acts of those who so bravely laid down their lives" during the Civil War.

The general said while some people felt such reunions "stir up strife, it is not the gallant federal soldiers who condemn these brigade reunions, but those who were invincible in peace and invisible in war."

Amid Rebel yells and cannon fire, the brigade's "tattered old battle flag was unfurled and the march was taken up to the grounds, a grove of oaks and pine, about one-eighth mile from the (town) limits. There was found a dense crowd. The numbers reached well into the thousands."

Aug. 20 brought more speeches, band music, poetry and an "absolutely perfect" barbecue given by the "ladies of Longview who waited at the tables." One former Reb declared the meal "a feast fit for a wedding dinner."

That night a grand ball was held at the courthouse. "As the great heat of the day died with the sun, dancing was possible … a fitting finale to the day's festivities. Dancing was kept up till after 2 o'clock."

Brigade members considered the reunion a big success.

"May you live long to enjoy many more reunions like this (before) the ruthless hand of time has swept the last of your number from earth," said A.S. Taylor, a Civil War veteran who served on the Longview reception committee.