Looking for Russell Cushman art ?: http://russellcushmanart.blogspot.com/

Looking for BLUES HISTORY?


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Major George W. Durant: Bryan Entrepreneur, "Father of Alvin," Texas

A few years ago I was asked to speak to the Alvin Historical Society about my great-great grandfather, Major G. W. Durant. My father had always taken care of such duties, and he had suddenly handed the torch to me... and (perhaps by design!) gave me little to go on! It seems like he could not find his notes, even though he had sent copies to many relatives over the years.  I began to dig out the story on my own. About that time I paid a visit for the first time to the old Bryan Cemetery... and found the gravestones of many of my Durant ancestors he and his cousins could never find... the markers were awesome, and they guided my way...


While still a republic, two bands of Durants, cousins, began migration to the new state of Texas, settling first in Leon and Brazoria Counties. The Civil War forced them to congregate in Brazos County, and after considerable hardship, they all ended up back at Brazoria County by 1880. That is when their ultimate legacy began...

Born in Georgetown, South Carolina in 1834, (yes, I am sadly aware that this disputes BOTH of his grave markers! THAT is another story!) George W. Durant followed the rest of his family to Brazoria County, Texas after graduating from the Citadel in 1852. After a stay in Georgia in the 1840's, and the marriage of his sister Eliza Jane to W. C. Cooper in 1847, the rest of his family had all followed their third cousin John Wesley Durant to the Brazos River valley of Texas. J. W. Durant was a land speculator among other things and had visited Washington on the Brazos as early as 1839 and purchased land there. He first settled in Leon County, dabbled in the newspaper business, and marketed lots in the Capital City, then Washington on the Brazos. The Coopers settled in Brazos County, and George's father and brothers established plantations in Brazoria County.

My version of Washington on the Brazos, around 1850 when my ancestors invested there, on display at the Star of the Republic Museum.
The Brazoria County Census of 1850 listed Francis B., his new wife Mary C., and one son Joseph at their farm near Columbia. Like many settlers in Brazoria County, they were planters, and came to Brazoria County because of the ideal climate and terrain, and proximity to the Brazos River, which was the main thoroughfare in Texas in those days.

A glove belonging to Emma Sherrod Durant, probably worn at her wedding. The wallet belonged to Joseph Durant and is marked with his name and "Brazoria." Each item is around 150 years old.

George W. Durant was elected County Surveyor of Brazoria County in 1855, at the ripe age of twenty-one, and served that office for several terms. Land records from 1860 show that he was often paid in large tracts of land, in some cases whole sections, in Brazoria and Galveston Counties, for his services. His cousin and future father in law, J. W. Durant was elected to the Texas State Senate in 1861, and served in the Ninth and Tenth Session of Congress during the Civil War.
George’s brother Joseph became an early Postmaster of Galveston. Before the first causeway was constructed, every day he had to row across the bay to get the sack of mail. Can you imagine doing that on a cold, icy, winter morning, in 20 MPH winds? But the Durants were industrious, politically active, and bent towards public service. They championed "States Rights" and when push came to shove, ultimately Secession if necessary. They were men who had the courage of their convictions, and George Durant was very representative of the honor and patriotism common to the Southern tradition, patterned by the likes of Washington and Jefferson.

George Durant was listed in the 1860 Brazoria County Census as an engineer. This meant he was a man who understood how things worked... how to build from the ground up, how to manage resources and labor, and improve structures, or machines, and how to plan anything from a plantation to battle to a city. The Census showed that George, now 26, had joined his father and oldest brother Joseph in their plantation enterprise. His father and brother Joseph were planters and owned around 40 slaves.

Sand-cast andirons, thought to have been made by slave labor on the Durant plantation in Brazoria.

Frances Durant’s household was apparently divided by then and their marriage had even caused premature aging, as in the 1860 Census Mary the stepmother aged only four years in the decade, while Francis claimed to have aged twelve! Marriage and mathematics seems not to have been their specialties. Or more likely they BOTH lied about their ages and could not live with the reality of their huge age differences. Not only had Mary left the estate, but she took ten slaves with her. Family lore has it that marriage difficulties were part of the impetus of the Durant men moving to Texas.

It seems George and his father were opposites. In many ways, my great- great grandfather George Durant was a gentle, intellectual type, a tree grafter and nurseryman, and a devoted family man, not the stereotype one would expect of a war hero. He was cut from the cloth of gentleman planters and engineers. It was his record of public service and education and his impeccable traits of character that pushed him to the forefront when duty called upon the men of the South.
Brazoria County was probably the wealthiest County in Texas at the time. It was the fourth largest slave holding county in Texas, and several Brazoria County citizens had over one hundred slaves. In fact Robert Mills, known as the "Duke of Brazoria", a sugar and cotton planter and merchant, was the largest slave owner in Texas, with as many as 800 slaves at one time.Interestingly, it would be George, who was not registered as owning any slaves, who would be one of those leading the charge in the defense of their way of life.


The Civil War would split the Brazos Valley, just as it did the whole country. Brazoria County neighbors with strong Northern ties like Gail Borden and W. D. Cushman would have to double-search their hearts about the Federal Abolitionist policies. Meanwhile others like the Dance brothers, W. J. and Guy Bryan and Francis B. Durant would move their families and interests on up the Brazos River to secure their assets out of reach of a Union invasion. The Bryans and Durants were some of the earliest to move their fortunes to what would become the Bryan - College Station area. The Dance brothers would eventually move their Confederate gun factory to nearby Anderson. Other prominent Brazoria County names adorn the streets and cemeteries of Navasota and Bryan today. Munson, Mims and Brown.
There was a migration or "White flight" that sought more security for the plantation system, that was quickly becoming very vulnerable along the coast. And these plantations needed to produce more effectively than ever for the war effort. Brazos Valley plantations would provide a significant portion of provisions for the Confederacy, and many producers and manufacturers realized the need to relocate. This wove a complex network of plantation families that operated multiple farms all along the Brazos Valley. The Durants, like the Whartons, Groces, Bryans and others maintained their interests there for decades while rotating from farm to farm, and county to county along the muddy, life-giving Brazos.

In Texas the "State Committee on Public Safety" did not authorize the organization of volunteer troops until the spring of 1861. But even before the vote for Secession from the Union, George Durant's outfit, known as the "Magnolia Rangers," had organized on Jan 17, 1861, in League City, Texas. The State of Texas voted to secede from the Union over a month later on February 23rd. Technically they were known to the Confederacy as state troops; Company B of the 1st Brigade of the Texas Militia. The Magnolia Rangers were made up of 66 volunteers from Galveston and Brazoria Counties, who originally hoped to serve in the Confederate Cavalry, but instead they found themselves guarding the South Texas Coast at the outbreak of the war, serving as "Home Guard." They elected officers, and mustered in with this list:

Galveston County August the 30th, 1861
A list of the names Magnolia Rangers a uniform company, organized Jan 17th, 1861
Capt G. W. Durant
First Lieut Mirandy Coward
2nd Lt.: John L. Lewis
3rd Lt.: John L. Fulghum (appears to be a relation to Ezekiel Wood Fulghum later in Madison's 3rd Cav)
1st Sergeant: Ralph Robertson
2nd Sgt.: C. Bundick
3rd Sgt.: M. Bundick
4th Sgt.: J. W. Grace
5th Sgt.: J. W. Coward
Ensign: William Coward
1st Corporal: Willis Coward
2nd Cpl.: J. W. Derrick
3rd Cpl.: John H. Kipp
4th Cpl.: M. D. Ray

Privates: (alphabetized by me)
Ben Allen
E. Allen
T. W. Allen
F. M. Baugh
Seth Biggs
William Biggs
Willis Butler
Green W. Butler
George W. Butler
Allen Coward
A. W. Coward
Heardy Coward
Richard Coward
Samuel Coward
Wedom Coward
J. H. Craig
George M. Fulghum (appears to be a relation to Ezekiel Wood Fulghum later in Madison's 3rd Cav)
Gillum Gilcrease
Nicholas Hammis
Henry J. Holms
John C. Jacobs
John L. Jvey?
C. W. Fairbanks
A. Greno
W. B. Grissom
Hugh Kelly
D. J. Hukins
Oliver F. Letitson
Thomas Lewis
J. E. Long
W. H. Long
F. G. Mayson
David McFaddin
Jacob Mims
Able Morgain
Charley Noland
Jonathan Owens
John Owins
M. C. Perkins
Samuel Perkins
Thomas Perkins
H. C. Philbert
D. Plesant
L. H. Roark
L. Rosengberge
Aron Savells
A. J. Savells
P. L. Savells (also later in Madison's 3rd Cav)
J. M. Staton
James Thompson
Charles Waller
J. M. Welborn
George M. Wilboan
Charles Willard

NOTE: The number of Cowards, with a capital C: Nine! I'm just saying... Filled with Cowards and Butlers, (3) no wonder they couldn't get any respect! This was very much a family affair. Also three Savells, three Perkins, three Allens, and a pair each of Biggs, Longs, Fulghums and Bundicks. These kinds of relationships guaranteed either incredible solidarity or chronic mutiny!

According to Confederate historian, James E. Williams of Milano, there was a Camp Durant during the war in Galveston County. We can assume this name was attached to Durant's Company which was stationed there.

Ranging between the various "Gulf Prairie Encampments," they took the name "Magnolia" from the creek that ran between the two communities that provided most members for their unit. Unfortunately, their eagerness to fight Yankees did not earn them any advantages when the State Militia formalized its organization. As a "Home Guard" unit, it fell to them to provide protection and security to the citizens in southeast Texas.

Originally, it was the general concept that the State of Texas would provide its own militia; "rangers" to fend off hostile Indians, Mexican bandits, Union sympathizers, Yankee spies, and even to police rebel deserters and slave uprisings. It turned out that there was a surplus of all the above, as the Magnolia Rangers began the discharge of their duties.

Major George W. Durant, Madison's Battalion, 3rd Texas Cavalry Regiment, (Arizona Brigade) C.S.A.

According to my family legend, several enthusiastic ladies of Galveston and Harris counties sacrificed their petticoats and sewed the Magnolia Rangers a giant and impractical flag, and led by Lucrezia Coward and other ladies of Clear Creek and League City, they presented it to them at a Fourth of July picnic in 1861. A few years ago my family donated this tattered silk flag, which is one of the largest known authentic Confederate National Flags, to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The basic design for this flag and those that followed was adopted by the CSA in March of 1861, and we can only assume that it was feverishly sewn soon after, to be presented that summer. Even then it was believed to be the earliest and largest of its kind. Covering over 50 square feet, on the obverse side of the gargantuan flag, the ladies had sewn in big Roman letters the words"Instituted on Jan 17th, 1861", as if this date needed to be preserved for the future. They were proud to be the original rebels, the first to organize militia against the Abolitionist oppression.

Major Durant's granddaughters Daisy and Nell display the faded and tattered old flag, around 1920. It was time to box it up before it fell apart!

In 1989 the Magnolia Rangers Chapter 2544, Texas Division of the UDC at Humble, Texas, with corporate sponsorship and private donations, spent over fifteen thousand dollars restoring it. When I last saw it, it was on display at the Museum of Southern History in Sugarland. The early date still raises eyebrows with historians, and some have problems with it. They seem to think that the date indicates the making of the flag as well, which would have been impossible, since the design for that flag was not adopted until months after the date on the flag. "Experts" don't like aberrations, and want everything to fit nicely into their pigeon holes, but we make no apologies for the flag or the date, and testify that it is authentic and a family treasure, with a multitude of witnesses over several generations, which we were proud to share with the people of Texas. [You can purchase decent cotton reproductions of the flag, sans the date, on eBay] Some critics have suggested that it was a post-war artifact, used in reunions. But it is doubtful that this could be the case, as all of these men, including Captain Durant went on to other outfits and served more time in more serious service later. Read on and you will probably agree, the Magnolia Rangers were not much to celebrate or remember. In fact they would be totally forgotten EXCEPT for their huge flag.

Austin, Texas, 1989: Edith Williams, President of the Texas U.D.C. and restorer Fonda Thomsen unfold the old Magnolia Rangers flag... not gazed upon for almost eighty years.

I grew up occasionally peeking under my grandmother's bed at the pasteboard suit box that contained the flag. It was a forbidden icon that, along with Major Durant's sword in her closet, quietly shaped my interest in history and the family heritage they represented. Considered too fragile to handle even then, my grandmother refused to throw it away, holding on to this precious symbol of her grandfather. The shreds of silk under her bed were a constant and awesome reminder, and provided stubborn threads to our past.

The old Magnolia Rangers flag before restoration.

The Magnolia Rangers flag, restored.
My grandmother, Nell McDougald Cushman, was one of five granddaughters of George Durant, who had only one child, a daughter, Mariam Virginia (Ginny or "Jenny") Durant. My grandmother was determined to keep the family aware of its heritage, and preserve our Southern loyalty, and pride in her grandfather.

My grandmother Nell and Major Durant's youngest grandchild, Mildred. Their mother twice divorced, Nell and her sisters spent a great deal of time at their grandfather Durant's farm in Alvin. Nell relished in every minute of it.

There were no direct descendants to carry his name, but she made sure that we knew who he was, and what kind of man he was, and the responsibility that we had inherited, to carry on his example of character and community service.

Reb recruits Russell and Reynolds Cushman, about 1962.

But my grandmother also told us much more about George Durant as a citizen and family man, because his war service was just a small reason for her admiration for him. His defense of his homeland and his way of life is a matter of history, and was for him a matter of survival.George Durant was a Southern patriot, and was ready to see action when duty called, as were many Texas Confederates. But the story of his military service was just a tragic period in his life, where he saw many kinsmen killed or crippled in a losing cause.

More importantly, the plan for state militia did not work out, and less than two months after the presentation of their flamboyant flag, the "Magnolia Rangers" were disbanded on August 30, 1861. They mustered in Galveston and elected officers, expecting (Hoping!) immanent amalgamation into the Confederate Army. Ironically one of the largest authentic Confederate National flags became just a footnote in Civil War trivia. Today the short-lived Magnolia Rangers claim to fame is that incredible flag, certainly one of the first, and probably the largest of its kind... But back to the war!
The following is a letter written in September of 1861. Kept now in the Texas State Archives, it was written and sent by Captain Durant to the Governor, pleading for the Home Guards to be released to fight in the east, before defections in the now dismounted Rangers started. No doubt he was counting on his father in law, Senator John Wesley Durant, to twist arms for him. But this never happened. The letter is here transcribed :

Galveston Sept the 3d, 1861
Governor Clark
Sir enclosed you will find a list of My Company I want our Commissions. We are made of three Countys Galveston Harris & Brazoria. My men are all good horsemen and Marksman. We wish you would send us to Arizona to aid Col. Baylor. # I have the right kind of men for that purpose. You might think that # should have to stay down to defend the coast. I think so too but they are panting for glory and they have waited # over six months to have a show at Galveston, but it comes not. And they will disband and get to Arizona one by one unless you will give them something to do. I would rather go to Arizona than any other place in the world, next to Virginia. But should you not see fit to send me there, then station me in Galveston or someplace where I can keep my men quiet. I offered my services to Col. Terry but he had
(end of first pg) -- (second pg)

already tweny companies more than he wanted. I dislike to stay here inactive when others are at work. I would be under many obligations to you if you would attend to this matter # emeidately (sic).
I am Sir with much
respect your Osc?
GeoW. Durant

If you consent for us to go to Arizona, send our commissions blank as we will elect some of our commissioned officers anew, and if you do not consent, send the 2nd Lieut. commission Blank, as the company will remove the present one.
Geo W. Durant

The actual letter, found in the State Archives, looks like this. Apparently, 2nd Lieutenant John L. Lewis had already moved on and Capt. Durant feared more losses to war fever.
Company loyalty ran high and Durant saw most of his men enlist with him into Nichol's 9th Texas Infantry, for a six month term. This must have been hard, but they were willing to give up their status as cavalry to get into the fight. But they were going nowhere. The threat of a Union invasion of the Texas coast was looming large, and there was a period of hand-wringing and relatively poor preparation for the inevitable. The "Magnolia Rangers" found themselves dismounted on Galveston Island, assigned to schlepping light artillery.
Durant's experience as an engineer would have been invaluable to the defense of Galveston, and would have been much better applied in the Artillery. So with an invasion coming, it is no surprise he and his men were assigned to light artillery service on the Island, but this began to wear their patience thin. Sadly, General Herbert's hand wringing ended in dysfunction and the Confederates ended up fleeing Galveston Island when a superior Union naval force arrived.
Soon General Herbert was relieved of command and things were turned around. Family lore says that George Durant and his company played a prominent role in the Battle of Galveston as a part of the land attack, transporting and manning the cannons by rail to retake Galveston, which would have been essential service to the cause...


After terrorizing the Texas coast, the Union took the nearly abandoned Island in December of 1862. Left with inadequate defenses, Galvestonians had evacuated, taking the essential elements of the town on to the mainland. The newspaper, banks, businesses and most of the citizens had taken the train to Houston, leaving a single Confederate detachment behind, to answer the Union cannons with a single volley before giving one of the largest cities in the South over to Union occupation. A Confederate envoy was able to negotiate the evacuation of the last families on the island, and the Union occupation began. This was a moment of great shame to Texas and the Confederacy.
Texans were furious at the ineffective leadership of General Hebert, and his bloodless loss of the Island, and demanded that he be replaced.
Captain George Durant had the honor and misfortune to fight under several of the most controversial and flamboyant generals of the Confederacy. Hebert was not one of them. He merely lacked the military savvy necessary to win battles.
Hebert was replaced by the eccentric if not flamboyant Major General J. B. Magruder, who came to Texas and quickly made a name for himself, and wrote his name in the hearts of Texans and especially the men who fought under him. Even my grandmother, one hundred years later, could not say his name without a joyous, even risque lift... "MAGRUDER!! That rogue!"  Magruder handpicked an elite group of specialists from the thousands of Confederates on hand, and set into motion a daring plan.
I was very privileged to paint the Battle of Galveston for the Museum of Southern History at Houston Baptist University.
Leaving the Harrisburg (Houston) docks on Buffalo Bayou by the dark of the moon on New Years Eve, with an assortment of river steamers padded with makeshift armor of cotton bales, Magruder's assault force headed down to Galveston on New Years Eve. The Rebels knew that the Federals knew they had no navy with which to attack their impressive warships. So surprise became the rebel's most effective weapon. Suspecting that the celebrating Federals would NOT be suspecting, they threw caution to the wind. Caught in low tide as the land assault began, the Confederate "cotton-clads" silently waited for the tides to shift and finally allow them to carry men and destruction into the Union fleet. Meanwhile "Flying Artillery" brought by rail by George Durant and others from Virginia Point across the Bay caused general confusion among the Federal ranks on the Island.

Magruder and his Texas officers had dreamed up a wonderfully ridiculous contraption; Heavy artillery mounted on a rail car... Effectively distracted, the Union forces focused on the surprise bombardment from the west by rail, ( I'm told the predecessor of the Army tank, the first mobile artillery in American history!) as the Confederate steamer Bayou City rammed the Harriet Lane, helplessly anchored in Galveston Bay. As the tides turned in Galveston Bay, so did the fortunes of the two armies.
The sham attack from the west required incredible risk and could have spelled disaster for the cannoneers, which could have been easily discovered while crossing the two-mile bridge connecting Galveston to the mainland, and who could have been easily overpowered if the plan had not worked. They were severely delayed when Durant and his men had to pull the rail cars by hand over the old wooden causeway, when the mules refused to budge. But Magruder's hand-picked invaders showed remarkable skill and bravery, and handed him one of the sweetest victories in his military career. With only 26 casualties, Magruder had inflicted twice as many on his enemy and captured 400 union soldiers and the Federal Flagship Westfield. The Island was taken back and Texas' most famous Civil War battle was a victory for the South. This unlikely Confederate victory was considered the single most humiliating defeat of the American Navy until Pearl Harbor.

As a reward for his performance at the Battle of Galveston, George Durant and many of his men were assigned to the Texas 3rd Cavalry, Arizona Brigade, originally led by Col. Joseph Phillips. This would begin Durant's long desired service in the Confederate Cavalry, and his own journey to Hell and back. The following years would add greater hardships and glories to George Durant's service record, and make those idyllic days of gallantry in Galveston County a quaint memory.

Captain Durant's cavalry unit was eventually revived as Company B, and was amalgamated into General James Major's Cavalry Brigade, a part of General Tom Green's Cavalry Division. It was about this time that a significant number of men from Grimes County were put under the leadership of Captain Durant. Once again it became a family affair. Nine fighters from the Neely family signed up in Company B. At least six made it back to Grimes County and are buried there today.
Madison's 3rd Battalion Texas Cavalry, known in history and to the official Confederate records as the Texas 3rd Cavalry Regiment were moved into western Louisiana in February of 1863, where the Yankees were believed to be headed for a major invasion of Texas via Arkansas.
Felix Winchester Magee, Sargent of Company B, Madison's 3rd Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade. AMAZINGLY, I once owned this tintype but donated it to The Star of The Republic Museum at Washington on the Brazos, having no idea that Felix Magee had fought under my great-great grandfather .
Even more amazing, it is apparent that Magee moved to Bryan along with George Durant, and lived there during the years that his old Major had... and returned to Anderson, Texas when Durant returned to Alvin.

The War Comes to Louisiana...

General Banks was determined to make a name for himself by invading and conquering Texas for the Union cause. He designed a mixed-up multi-pronged attack which was doomed to fail, but give the Texas boys a taste of war. Magruder sent as much help as could be scrounged up on short notice to save Louisiana and prevent any further incursions into Texas. Madison's 3rd Texas Cavalry answered the call and saw plenty of flying lead to satisfy the most serious case of war fever.
[I snipped this from the Texas Historical Association website:]

 In June 28, 1863, Col. Phillips' "Bloody Third" took part in an ill-fated attack on Fort Butler at Donaldson, Louisiana. During this battle a slightly wounded Lieutenant Colonel Madison and his men were pinned down by relentless rifle fire in a brick-lined ditch with no easy means of withdrawal at their disposal. They fought until dawn when they were finally able to escape under a flag of truce. George Madison assumed command of the Third Arizona, which suffered casualties equaling more than one-third of its former strength.
The Yankees were stalled for a season...
Madison's regiment, what was left of it, left Louisiana for Texas along with the rest of the Arizona Brigade, and manned the coastal defenses through the winter of 1863–1864. They stayed at Galveston where they attempted to rest and replenish their commands.
Later the Yankees, once again led by General Nathaniel Banks made one last attempt to take Texas, this time by floating the Union army up the Red River.

Green's Cavalry would be there to greet them. General Tom Green was a much-loved Texas congressman, Indian fighter and veteran of the Texas Revolution. Later he fought on the Somervell Expedition and with Jack Hayes during the Mexican War. General Green was considered a Confederate hero after the Battle of Valverde in New Mexico, and had led the men aboard one of Magruder's cottonclads at Galveston, and was one of the mightiest warriors that Texas had to offer. Just a part of his brigade, after the Fort Butler episode his 3rd Texas Cavalry was known as "Phillip's Bloody Third." But in fact it was commanded by Colonel George Madison. Their experience in Louisiana would be invaluable to the next conflict.

Madison's (Phillip's) 3rd Texas Cavalry had earned high praises during the first Union invasion, also providing reconnaissance and cavalry support during the battle of Sabine Pass. They were to distinguish themselves again in the Red River Campaign at the battles of Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Yellow Bayou, in 1864.

Major General Richard Taylor's approximate force of 9000 marched off to face a well supplied Federal invasion of upwards of 30,000. Numerous Texas brigades moved back to Louisiana in April of 1864 to help counter the Federal movement of naval vessels, supply wagon trains cavalry, heavy artillery and battle hardened infantry borrowed from Sherman's army up the Red River. On April 8th and 9th the Texas welcoming committee encountered the enemy's main line in a running battle that stretched from near Mansfield to Pleasant Hill, Louisiana and over the next several weeks participated in several skirmishes. Between hard hitting, bloody, sometimes reckless attacks, and deceptively noisy and grandiose marches to fake a much larger force, The Confederate forces caused the Union to turn-tail and run. This was made possible by unhorsing hundreds of cavalrymen, including the 3rd Texas. Madison's "Dismounted" Cavalry provided the top jaw of at least two of these legendary Confederate victories, often so far into the fray they were fired upon by other Rebel brigades.

But not without great cost. Generals Buchel and Green were killed, and over 2600 men with them. The 3rd Texas fought a number of battles in Louisiana under General Tom Green, drawing much praise from Taylor, son of former President Zachary Taylor, and Commander of the Trans-Mississippi. He once wrote:
“The fighting was severe for a time, but Walker, Green and other leaders lead on our tired men, and we camped on the creek as night fell, the enemy forced back some 400 yards beyond, the conduct of our troops was beyond all praise. There was no straggling, no plundering.”
Incredibly, still full of pluck, on May 27, 1864, Col. Madison, with only 200 men left, the "Bloody Third," engaged three Union regiments totaling almost 2,000 men. After retreating to Bayou Fordoche, Madison's forces held their ground and managed to push the Federals back toward Morganza.

Leading his faithful cavalry in a charge, the legendary General Green was killed at Blair's Landing, in a bizarre battle between Confederate Cavalry and Union gunboats! The Texans swarmed a beached gunboat like Texas Comanches, and gained the awe and respect of the United States Navy, as they riddled the ironclad vessels with relentless fire. The gunboat responded with deadly accuracy, killing the Confederate General. Their General dead, the Texans attacked even more furiously, until all were exhausted from the heat. Even though this made General Major the ranking officer, he allowed General Parsons to lead his blazing Partisan Rangers in the firefight, where the bloodied Texans poured an Alamo style of rage into the stranded gunboat, making the return fire almost impossible. It was a costly exercise to have lost this general, and would only be the beginning of Parsons Partisan Rangers dominating the field. They would prove to be fearlessly game, and their Texas bravado was a difficult and sometimes foolish act to follow.
Upon Green's death, command was taken over by Brigadier General John Austin Wharton, who had cut his teeth in the Army of Virginia, and the Texas cavaliers soon got a taste of the "big leagues," and the value big time generals put on their lives. Having requested a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi after a personal squabble with General Wheeler, Wharton came to save face and whip the Yankees, no matter what the cost, and drive them back to the Gulf. Now he had his chance. He succeeded in turning the Yankees around, but his thoughtless orders cost many lives. Finally they met their match at Yellow Bayou, when the Yankees turned in the middle of retreat to give the Texans a spanking they would never forget. In a plantation bottom near Simmesport, Louisiana, they stumbled into one of the most deadly and significant battles west of the Mississippi.
Captain Durant was wounded near Vidalia, Louisiana, which would have been behind enemy lines during the battle of Yellow Bayou. Before the day would end, he had two horses shot out from underneath him in the heat of battle, and a third one wounded like himself. Over 450 of his countrymen died here as they paid the ultimate price to satisfy Wharton’s whim to harass the Union retreat down the Red River and frustrate General Banks and his army. A poorly orchestrated engagement, the Texans dismounted and charged straight into the Federal lines, ordered by General Wharton to plunge into the jaws of death. Parson's elite Partisan Rangers were decimated.

The Union had lost only 38 men, but 226 were wounded. These seasoned veterans, on loan from the Union's General Sherman, would later remark that these Texans attacked "with a stubbornness and impetuosity" that reminded them of Nathan Bedford Forrest. But these words of respect and admiration from the enemy were hardly worth the casualties inflicted. Yellow Bayou was remembered by both sides as one of the most severe battles of the war. Madison's "Bloody Third" had lived up to its name as well and eventually limped back to Texas.

Later Colonel Debray would call it an "unfortunate and unnecessary affair." Thank God that the Union invaders were battle weary and exhausted from the Louisiana heat and humidity, and resumed their retreat. Both sides lost in this epic struggle. General Grant later called the affair a disaster. That, in some minds, made the CSA the winner.

Grimes County men who fought under Capt. G. W. Durant, Company B, Madison’s 3rd Texas Cavalry, and buried in Grimes County, Texas. Many more were left behind in Louisiana and buried there after the battles of Mansfield Pleasant Hill, Ft. Butler and Yellow Bayou.

Magee, Felix Winchester 1845--1924, Sgt. Co B, Madison’s Reg Tx Cav

Taylor, Wilson Sgt. Co B Madison's - Tx CAV

Wise, Sherwood Sgt. Co B, 3rd Cav

Privates and Corporals:
Barrett, Charles W. Pvt Co B Madisons - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Bock, Isadore 5-14-1844 11-20-1891 Pvt Co B, 3rd Reg Cav

Brown, George Thomas 1840- 1908 Pvt Co B, Madison's 3rd Tx CAV: We know from the dogged research of Lawrence T. Jones that young George Thomas Brown was recruited at some point later. Jones has published a wonderful photo of him in his series of Confederate calendars which someday he may grant me permission to share with you.

Byrne, D. D. 1830 8-31-1888 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Chaney, Hiram C. 1832 1912 Co B, Madison's TX Cav

Churchwell, W. Daniel 1865 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Davis, James C. 8-15-1844 12/02/33 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Dowell, James 3-23-1827 1-13-1877 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

? Flynt, Henry L. 1825- 1864 Pvt. Co B TX CAV 3rd Regt.

Fulgham, Ezekial Wood 9-26-1846 8/7/1905 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Mallett, John Collier 10-10-1817 02/19/02 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

McKeown, John H. 9-7-1835 7/18/1903 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

McNair, Rodrick 6-1-1800 3-24-1870 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

McWhorter, Andrew N. 1833 2-29-1904 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

McWhorter, W. B. W. 1828 1875 Cpl Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Mize, J.N. 6-21-1841 9/22/1924 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Moon, Jesse N. 1835 1896 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Neely, David Madison's - Tx CAV

Neely, G. M Madison's - Tx CAV

Neely, Henry 9-16-1829 6-2-1882 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Neely, J. C Madison's - Tx CAV

Neely, J.H. Madison's - Tx CAV

Neely, J. W. Madison's - Tx CAV

Neely, John 1803 1874 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Neely, Terrell L. 4-29-1840 7-29-1890 Co B, Madison's Reg Tx Cav.

Neely, William Madison's - Tx CAV

Rogers, Arthur T. 01/17/05 02/14/05 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Savel, J. Perry 7-4-1834 11/12/1906 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Smoot, Oliver H 01/03/05 02/17/05 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Taylor, Robert Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Trant, Samuel 1843 1905 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Turner, J. W. 4-3-1832 8 -10-1896 Pvt Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Upchurch, Jesse M. 12-7-1850 4-10-1916 Co B Madison's TX Cav

Wells, Hugh J. Cpl Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

White, Joseph 1829 5/14/1911 Pvt Co B Madison's-Tx CAV (Durant's Co)

Williams, Alex 1845 1917 Co B Madison's - Tx CAV (Durant's Co)
Meanwhile back home, brother James Durant was working to fill a CSA contract, making barrels for the government. He ran an advertisement the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, which read;
Wanted to Hire -- Thirty Good Coopers for whom I will pay a liberal hire to be
employed in making flour barrels for the C.S.A. Persons hiring them to me will
be entitled in the Labor Bureau to a credit of two common hands for each cooper
thus hired.Address me through McKEEN & Co., Houston; TRABUE & DEADRICK,
Millican; or myself at Wheelock. 

J. B. DURANT, Wheelock, January 23, 1864.
My guess is these barrels would have had a more warlike purpose than flour, as in the storage of gunpowder. But the war was grinding to a halt, even as Texans found a second wind. Captain Durant had finally tasted of defeat and General Wharton would never recover politically from his callous disregard for the lives of his fellow Texans. Generals Debray, Baylor and others believed that Wharton wasted too many lives with an attack that lacked purpose, and in fact hindered the Union retreat.
During a shortage of Generals in Texas at the end of the war, Major Durant served in the capacity of a Brevetted Brigadier General on the Confederate Board of Inquiry, which commissioned Confederate engineers in the state. Since the war ended in defeat, his promotion never became official, and he mustered out of the Confederacy as a Major. But this son of a South Carolina planter had farming in his blood, and would add much more to his legacy in peacetime.
After the war he was known simply as "the Major", and enjoyed great respect from the community and his loyal men of the Magnolia Rangers, and others who fought with him. He was cut from the same cloth as Stonewall Jackson, whom he favored in appearance as well as popularity, in spite of defeat. It was the South that produced the most beloved leaders that inspired generations of loyalty. They were throwbacks to the old Scottish chieftains like William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Many family clans organized and fought the whole war together. The battles, whether won or lost, tempered the steel of their kinship and the undying friendship that lasted all the way to their graves.

A UDC meeting under the grand old flag, around 1900.

One such family from League City, ironically named Coward, provided numerous recruits to serve under the Major, including his First Lt. Miranda Coward. These were the kinsmen of the fifteen year-old lass who lovingly presented that large flag, which according to legend was matched only by her enormous crush on their color sergeant named John Kipp. It was she that helped to sew and present the flag, and her kinsmen who brought it home and stored it for safe keeping, faithfully draping it over the caskets of their fallen Confederate brethren as they passed on over the years.




After the war Major Durant had a different kind of kinship on his mind. He headed straight into romance. During the war he had met someone special. His family had moved into the middle Brazos Valley, and settled in Bryan near his cousin, Senator John Wesley Durant. He spent some time in Leon County, where he took serious note of his distant (enough) cousin Emma Durant, whom he married in 1865. She was barely sixteen, half of his age, and today their affair would be a scandal. But they were of French Huguenot stock, and intermarrying between distant cousins was preferable to mixing with infidels!



While living in Bryan, brothers George and James Durant invented this improved fence post socket in 1873.
Major Durant, his wife, his father, sister Eliza and brother James and his family stayed in Bryan during the next fifteen years. The two brothers farmed and experimented and invented and patented inventions to improve the science of agriculture. In the 1870's, they were granted patents on such things as an "improved fence post socket," and a water well strainer, or a kind of well screen. Nearly a hundred years later, my father, who worked for a company that manufactured well screens, discovered his great grandfather had originally held the patent on it! Proof that the acorn does not fall far from the tree.
The Durant water-well strainer patented in 1895.
But this was a very sad time for the Durants. Pioneer life, yellow fever, and primitive medical facilities took their toll on this Texas family. In 1868 brother James' first daughter died before the age of 2 years, then his wife gave birth to another daughter. Then she died and the second baby followed a couple of months later. In 1875 brother James himself died and their sister Eliza, the mother of five children, died soon after. Major Durant's father passed away at age 77 in 1879.

On his tombstone in the Bryan City Cemetery reads: "His last words. Jesus take my soul."

Besieged by tragedy, the G. W. Durant family around 1880, right before they returned to Mustang Slough, (Alvin) in Brazoria County.
After all of this tragedy, it is easy to understand why they chose to get a fresh start at their old property in Brazoria County. They were still calling Bryan home when the 1880 census was taken in July and are believed to have relocated sometime in the later part of that year.

All the Durants left behind in Bryan were a cluster of curious marble tombstones... the location of which remained a mystery to descendants for almost a hundred years.

Gravestone of James Durant.
You might find my great, great grandfather's, brother James' gravestone interesting. It would have probably been Major George Durant who oversaw design and installation of this marker for his closest brother and co-inventor. Members of my family had never seen it, for generations, as it was out of our new epicenter in Houston and this line was strangely neglected. Their father, my XXX grandfather, Frances B. Durant is buried there as well. One day I drove into the Bryan Cemetery, and only knowing from my father it was supposedly there, instinctively drove to the highest ground and within literally minutes walked straight to it.
You can imagine my amazement. No wonder Ginny never took anybody to see the markers... they were scary! But someone had planted yucca and cedar, which had prospered for perhaps a hundred years... and the caretakers had carefully repaired the markers over the years as necessary. Apparently, brother James, a Civil War veteran as well, was best memorialized with a skull and crossbones! Around what appears to be St. Andrews Cross, are the words in Latin, "by this sign conquer." These are all allusions to the symbolism known to be used by the Knights Templar, and although some is reminiscent the Southern Confederacy, most of it is much, much older, at least back to when French buccaneers adopted the "Jolly Roger" as a popular challenge to the Roman Church, after the Knights Templar, who originally adopted the symbol, were supposedly exterminated. But it seems at least their symbols were not, and venerated for hundreds of years later...
{NOTE: Thanks to blog reader "Ed G" we are told that the skull and crossbones on the Maltese cross was a symbol known to The York Rite of Freemasonry (as opposed to the Scottish Rite).}


Years earlier, the Major had been instrumental in convincing the Houston Tap & Brazoria, predecessor to the Santa Fe Railroad to build its tracks through the land that would become Alvin someday. Mustang Station was established because Durant wagered with his friend, and then president of the railroad that a line from Houston through Brazoria County would be shorter and better. Durant offered to pay for the survey necessary to establish the feasibility of the route, if the Santa Fe did so and then still decided against it. He never had to pay on that bet, and continued to invest in land around the area, with full intentions of establishing a town there. But the young surveyor would fight a war, start a family and then bury almost all of his extended family in Bryan before returning permanently to Brazoria County.
By 1880, Alvin Morgan had been operating the Santa Fe Station for at least four years, and had built his house and established a frontier watering hole for the trains and cattle drives, bringing their Texas longhorns to market. He ran a store out of an abandoned boxcar. There is no doubt that he was the first one to take advantage of the geographic advantages of Mustang Switch. They called Morgan's little cluster of commerce "Alvin," after this colorful character.
There is probably no truth to the legendary deal whereby Alvin Morgan gave up claims of "squatter's rights" to George Durant in trade for giving the town his name. The Major never quibbled about the name of the town. In fact all of the myths that have fed the supposed animosity and trouble between the two are fantasy. The two men had known each other for years. Both had worked with and for the railroad. Both were Confederate veterans. Both saw great potential in the area. Both came to take advantage of their investments there. The future looked so bright for Durant's old stomping grounds that a silly feud with Alvin Morgan would have been considered counterproductive to both of their ambitions; to make money.
There was a healthy dose of friendly competition and teamwork necessary in any frontier outpost. There was room for everybody. If the Major had been jealous of other players, he would not have spent his own money to advertise Alvin as a gardener's paradise. If I accomplish one thing, I hope it will be to put this silly controversy to rest. It was probably fed by some of my own family, who worried that George Durant would be forgotten by future generations, since the town was named for Alvin Morgan. If Alvin was the founder, then they contended that Durant was the "Father of Alvin".
Major George Durant built this modest frame house for his family in Alvin.
The Major saw irresistible opportunity in Alvin and moved his home there to establish orchards and gardens that would occupy him for much of his life. He had many friends in the Alvin area, including Alvin Morgan, and many that had served under him during the war, and he found a perfect place to raise his family and his crops.
He and Alvin Morgan swapped lands back and forth, while the Major attracted partners to join him in sub-dividing tracts of land for the development of Alvin. Major Durant and two partners, Hobbs and LeClere, subdivided the site that became the main business district of Alvin. Acting as a self-appointed chamber of commerce, he and partner L. M. Disney advertised their residential lots in newspapers in the North.
Sash Fastener invented and patented by G. W. Durant in 1901.
Ultimately George Durant purchased 83 acres of prime Alvin Real Estate, and prospered as he farmed and subdivided the land. These subdivisions provided lots for new families and businesses, so the town could develop into more than a stockyard. While Alvin Morgan managed this frontier whistle stop, he saw an economic crossroads blossom. There were no neighborhoods, churches or streets, no business district. But George Durant saw a community in the making. The Durants were instrumental in the donation of land and money needed to build the First Christian Church, and were known throughout the community as great contributors to the success of Alvin as a town.

Brown's Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas described George Durant as always ready "to forward any cause that gave promise of promoting the welfare of his town and people."
Jasminum Grandiflorum- Cape Jasmine, one of several varieties grown by G. W. Durant.
A patented inventor, George Durant was a natural problem solver. Coastal Texas proved to be a unique climate, but popular fruits did not do well down here. A devoted nurseryman, he kept experimenting until he found compatible species for this area. He planted pear orchards, (hence Pearland) pecan groves and experimented with peaches, figs and even kumquats to find the best cash crop for Brazoria County. He loved to grow and crossbreed roses, and it is a firm memory in my family that he successfully bred a "blue" (green) rose, which he tried to patent.
But he is remembered best for the cultivation of his hardy varieties of cape jasmine, better known around here as gardenia. Commercial demand was so great for his flowering plants that they worked their greenhouses 24 hours a day. He pioneered the use of rail cars to ship produce and flowers to market, engineering methods to get them to market fresh and unspoiled, and was known to have sent as many as 1,000,000 blooms a year to Chicago for Decoration Day parades. From 1887 to 1898 he and his employees filled the air in Alvin with the sweet perfume of Texas grown gardenias, which were shipped all over the country.
His success in this industry attracted many other competitors, who also saw the natural resources and climate in Alvin as ideal for the nursery business. Alvin became the "Land of Plenty" and was advertised as the "Bright Summer Land of Fruits and Flowers". Promoters would claim that it was the "Educational and Commercial Centre of South Texas." I will leave it to history to decide who created the vision of what Alvin was to become, but surely Major George Durant had his finger in the stew.
The Major about 1910.
Satisfied to work behind the scenes, my great great grandfather just enjoyed being a part of the solution to any problem in his community. Most of his contributions were just practical solutions to everyday needs to help growers succeed in the region. He never cared about wealth or fame. He just loved to grow things, and growing Alvin, Texas was just a result of the passion he had for life. He was more than happy for others to run the town. Remembered today by some as the "Father of Alvin," he would have chosen merely "friend of his fellow man". According to family lore, he objected to giving the town his own name and even left it to others to incorporate his little community. Today a street downtown bears his name. I'm sure that was enough for him, and it pleased him as much as it does his great-great grandchildren.
Emma Durant wearing a beautiful corsage... a fitting decoration for the wife of a renowned Brazoria County flower grower.
The Durants only had one child, a daughter Virginia, who was his perfect rose, but unlike her father's fruit, fairly spoiled. A pretty Southern Belle, she relished in the prosperity and status of her family, and was readily received in the highest circles in Brazoria and Galveston society. She loved marriage and did so twice, first to John Louis Bering, with whom she had three daughters; May, Martha (Daisy), and Emma. Later she married George McDougald, who gave her two more daughters, Nell, my grandmother, and Mildred. My grandmother was born in Alvin on January 1, 1900. During the 1900 storm, which took a great toll on the community, she was laid in an iron bathtub, while the Storm threatened the Durant home and destroyed others. Her mother temporarily moved to Navasota, and Houston, and elsewhere, but "Home" was always back at the farm in Alvin. Her daughters would also be spoiled by the old Major, who loved having them around, and kept them often.
The spittin' image of Emma Durant, my grandmother Nell McDougald and her mother Jennie Durant McDougald.
The next to youngest, my grandmother, told me many times about loving to swim and ride horses on her grandparent's farm.
Nell swimming with the Blakeleys on Galveston Bay. She was pegged to marry a Blakeley boy but fooled everyone.
One of my prized possessions are her riding spurs, which she wore during those times. She remembered as a child camping out with the cowboys who worked the cattle, eating from the Dutch ovens at the Chuck wagon, and sleeping under the stars in the open coastal plains. She had the permanent smell of salt grass in her nostrils, and would often reminisce about riding through Durant's orchards with "the wind and the rain in her face". She once told me "We didn't care about a little thunder or lightning. We loved to be out of doors, in any kind of weather".
Granddaughter Daisy Bering was the looker in the family.
While her mother enjoyed high society and looked for a husband, Nellie spent a great deal of time in Alvin, soaking up the simple country life, where she "could be a tomboy". Happiness to her was a sun-ripened piece of fruit, right off of the tree; Homemade mayonnaise; A sudden squall out of the Gulf blowing in and soaking the land; A big family gathering where everybody piled in the house for a party. The more the merrier.  She learned many of these things from her grandparents, especially the Major, who left her a legacy of self-improvement and selfless service, and the daily goal of making the world a better place. Although she was just a young woman when he died, and he had been old and blind for years, he still managed to convey to his granddaughters a lasting impression...

And she to me. And my brothers and cousins as well.
Three of G. W. Durant's granddaughters; Daisy Clark, Emma Gray and Nell Cushman.
My grandmother was an extraordinary person. A relentless peacemaker and hostess and an indulgent mother, I am sure that her character was largely shaped by this man. Although she was an invalid, paralyzed from numerous strokes, she had the mental power of a general, and directed her household from a sofa rocker in the living room. When she left the room, usually with assistance, her life-sized portrait took watch over us, and we acted as if she were still in the room. We were so devoted to her, she could command that we come to her and lay across her lap for spankings, and we would comply, never considering that she could never chase us down. This would rarely happen, because pleasing her was foremost in our minds.
A delightful conversationalist, she loved to expand our youthful minds about art, religion, history, and always, our family heroes. She carried George Durant's legacy with natural zeal and never, ever complained about her disability. She never thought of herself, and always put others first, and was of course, the most popular person in the neighborhood. All of the children in Park Place and most of the available cousins chose to hang out at her home in Houston, which was always open to guests and new friends.
She would not tolerate disloyalty or ingratitude, and never cultivated malicious gossip. One favorite saying of hers that I remember went like this:

"There is so much bad in the best of us,
and so much good in the worst of us,
that it little behooves any of us
to say anything about the rest of us."

The Major at his Alvin home with a great grandson.

George W. Durant died in 1918, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston where Ginny had made her home. To me this was a mistake, not placing his body in the town he loved and gave the better part of his life to. I regret her decision, but at the time, she was like the rest of us, unaware of how important Alvin and our heritage here would be to us.
The Major with great grandson Jack Clark.

George Durant descendants at a Confederate marker dedication; left-right-
Tristan Cushman, Ralph B. Cushman Jr., Russell Cushman, Robert Cushman, Joy Cushman and Richard Cushman. Note the similarity between Major Durant and Ralph Cushman, his great grandson.


Unknown said...

The skull and cross bones on a Maltese cross is a York Rite Masonic symbol

Unknown said...

I loved the whole peice. It was well done.
As a direct descendant of Alvin Morgan(through Savell) I agree with you. I think
Durant and Morgan were freinds. You have Savells that were under Durant During the Civil War and another spelled Savel. As a Landman I know mispellings were common then and interpreting handwriting was diffcult back then as well. We spell the name Savell.

Great Peice. Thank You

Jason Smith