Baptists and the American Civil War: May 24, 1865

Jacob Eliot, Navarro County, Texas

Jacob Eliot, Navarro County, Texas

With the war over, former slaveowners who at one time were the elites of the South face a future devoid of privilege, power and riches. The thought of starting over without slave labor is daunting. And in the minds of many, living in a United States where blacks are free and equal to whites is a horrendous thought they are unable to bear.

Casting about for alternatives, many set their sights on Latin America. There, land is cheap and, in some instances, slave ownership is yet allowed. Mexico, bordering Texas, is especially enticing. Mexico’s Emperor Maximilian courts Confederates by offering land grants.

Lawyer, Texas Baptist layman and former slaveowner Jacob Eliot notes in his diary this day: “Judge [Alexander Watkins] Terrell made a speech today. He called for volunteers to go to Mexico. Our armies are all disbanded and in much confusion. They are still at the mercy of the Federals. God only knows what is to be our fate. As for me, I will remain here what ever befalls me. I could not sleep last night.”

Thousands, however, soon emigrate to Mexico, and thousands of others to Brazil and other parts of Latin America. Some eventually return to the United States, but many do not.

Also this day another Texas Baptist (Primitive) writes of the war. Today James Marshall Parkhill’s (1833-1921) unit, the 23rd Texas Cavalry, is disbanded. Of the unit’s dispersal, the following account is attributed to Parkhill as told to his son:

These Texans had furnished their own horses, bridals, and saddles when they enlisted and it seems a shame they were taken from them and they were forced to walk home. On the 24th day of May 1865 they were honorably discharged at Richmond, Texas, and then forced to walk. They walked from Richmond to fourteen miles from Paris, Texas, about 300 miles. Since they had enlisted from the same general area, they were all headed in the same general direction. My father said they got so thirsty they would lie on their bellies and drink water out of cow tracks. These men were in the service of the State of Texas during the Civil War to protect the State against the Indians, Mexicans and Yankees. They never were absent from their commands without permission. They never deserted and served with fidelity and honor to themselves and the command of the Confederate States of America.

Parkhill and his family are presumably of humble enough social status that fleeing to Mexico never crosses their mind. His first wife having died prior to the war, the Confederate veteran remarries, at which point he is excommunicated by his church for marrying a divorced woman. Parkhill and wife Nancy settle in Texas following the war and raise a family. Parkhill dies in 1921.

Sources: “Terrell, Alexander Watkins,” Texas State Historical Society (link); Todd C. Wahlstrom, The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration Across the Borderlands After the American Civil War, Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2015 (link); Cyrus B. Dawsey, James M. Dawsey, The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1995 (link); “Jacob Eliot’s Civil War Journal” (link); James M. Parkhill, “James Marshall Parkhill” (link)