1862: Fanny Benners’ speech to 19th Texas Infantry

The following speech was delivered in the summer of 1862 to Col. Richard Waterhouse and members of his regiment—the 19th Texas Infantry. The speech was written from the perspective of a woman and was, in my opinion, most likely written by a woman for the purpose of a flag presentation ceremony to be held on the eve of the newly-formed regiment’s departure for Arkansas.

Fanny Benners Grave in Oakwood Cemetery, Jefferson, Texas

The Nineteenth Texas Infantry Regiment, organized in the spring of 1862 under the Confederate States of America’s Trans-Mississippi Department, consisted of men from the counties of Northeast Texas, including Davis (now Cass County), Franklin, Harrison, Hopkins, Marion, present-day Morris (was Titus during the war), Panola, Rusk, San Augustine, Titus, and Upshur. Richard Waterhouse, a prominent merchant from Jefferson in Marion County, held the commission from the state of Texas for the contingent’s creation and oversaw the establishment of the original ten companies (A through K) between February and May. When the mustering was complete, elections were held among the 886 men that made up the Nineteenth on May 13, 1862. The field officers selected were Col. Richard Waterhouse, Lt. Col. Robert H. Graham, and Maj. Ennis Ward Taylor. With elections complete, the men assembled at Camp Waterhouse near Jefferson, Texas, and formed into two battalions. Here they drilled until they received orders to march to Little Rock, Arkansas, in August 1862 where they eventually became part of Walker’s Texas Division in the Trans-Mississippi.

Hoping to learn more about the flag presentation and to discover who wrote the speech, I found the following: “Before leaving Jefferson [Marion county, Texas], politicians and local leaders organized festive banquets where the men were fed, patriotic speeches were delivered, and regimental colors were presented by fetching young women from the community.” This quotation comes from the thesis written by David J. Williams in 2014 on Co. A, Nineteenth Texas Infantry in which he cites for reference Joseph P. Blessington’s book, The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division: By a Private Soldier (Austin: Eakin Press, 1968), 29-35.

The only references I can find to the battle-flag received by the regiment comes from Lt. Henry N. Fairbanks’ memoirs of the Red River Expedition of 1864. Fairbanks was a member of Co. E, 30th Maine Infantry. At the severe Battle of Pleasant Hill, Fairbanks recorded in his diary that “the Confederates lost two battle flags in this fight—those of the 11th Missouri and 19th Texas. On the Texas flag were the words, ‘Texans can never be slaves.'” Another account of that same battle claims that it was the 16th Indiana Infantry that captured the Texas battle flag which was described as an “elegant banner, gorgeously trimmed, on white sides appeared the words, ‘Texans Can Never be Slaves.’ Silk streamers in abundance fluttered beside it, and its capture was considered a valuable trophy of a hard-fought battle.” [See Representative Men of Indiana, page 10] Yet another source claims that the Texas battle flag was captured by the 119th Illinois Infantry. Where the flag is now—if it still exists—I haven’t a clue.

In one final desperate search I finally stumbled on a website hosted by folks in Jefferson, Texas, that spoke of an annual reenactment of a speech written and delivered by Fanny Benners in June 1861 to a local militia called the Jefferson Guards. Fanny represented the ladies of the Christ Episcopal Church in Jefferson who had handmade the banner. I’m currently pursuing the possibility that she wrote this speech as well. Fanny Benners (1845-1866) was the daughter of Edward Graham Benners and Helen Donaldson of Jefferson. Fanny’s father was the lay leader and eventual Priest of the Episcopal Church. Until I learn otherwise, I’m going to attribute the speech to 17 year-old Fanny Benners.

[Note: This speech is from the personal archives of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Colonel [Richard] Waterhouse and gallant members of this regiment!

The presentation of flags, having been so often witnessed in this community since the advent of the terrible war which is now raging with such fury in our fair land—some may be disposed to regard the present instance as one of mere ceremony. But on behalf of those I represent, it becomes my pleasure and my duty to assure you that with us, this is not merely a ceremony, but our mode, inspired by the purest patriotism, & highest appreciation of the noble spirit which animates our hearts, of indicating our love and esteem for you, and our confidence in your brave & determined wills, to live the free sons of the “Lone Star State” or nobly perish battling for that freedom.

“Already have thousands of happy Southern homes been made sorrowful, and vacant places in thousands of domestic circles may be seen, which can never be filled, all caused by this most unholy war waged to enslave a free and generous people.”

— Fanny Benners, Jefferson, Texas, July 1862

We trust we are not so constituted as to lose our interest, in our brothers and friends whom we love, merely because we are frequently called upon to give them up. Moreover the present is an occasion to us, if possible, more interesting and solemn than any that has preceded it. When on former occasions our gallant defenders left us to repair to the scene of conflict, a father, an husband, or a brother was still left to cheer our domestic circles. But when you leave, a father leaves, an husband leaves, and the last brother leaves. There is another consideration that adds a somberness to the present interview. Many of the brave sons of the South from whom we have parted on occasions like this have already sunk into the stillness and darkness of death. Already have thousands of happy Southern homes been made sorrowful, and vacant places in thousands of domestic circles may be seen, which can never be filled, all caused by this most unholy war waged to enslave a free and generous people.

With these reflections connected with the fact that this war has assumed proportions and a sanguinary character never originally contemplated, is it any wonder that we who cannot share with you the toils, privations, and dangers which you will soon have to undergo, should seek in some appropriate way—and what may more so than this—to express our earnest & solicitude for your welfare, & our honest inclination to assist you. We approve your spirit because we believe it to be the same that throbbed in the hearts and fired the energies of the immortal founders of American Liberty. We would not deserve to be called your sisters if we did not approve the ends you seek to accomplish.

What though our fathers bled? What though the thunder of their artillery shook the throne of a despot? What though our stars did blaze and our stripes did float in triumph on every sea? What of all this? A despotism more cruel and crushing than that which the great Washington fought, advanced to power by the fiercest fanaticism that ever demonized any people, now seeks to crush the life blood out of this fair land, and to extinguish forever the last spark of the fires of freedom kindled in the great struggles of ’76.

It is not for me if this were even the time to discant on motives which prompted the South in her just & honest pride to prefer the direful calamities of war to the more dreadful alternative of humiliation and degradation. The time for speculating on these has passed and the time for prompt and terrible action has come. Fulsome declaration and high sounding patriotism will not meet the exigencies of the times. The footprints of hostile feet mar and deface the fair soil of the South. Then much as we love you as fathers, husbands, and brothers, entwined as you are around our hearts by a thousand tendrils, summoning all our fortitude and resolution, we bid you go! bear this flag aloft amid the smoke, thunder and fire of battle, and remember the motto we have seen fit to inscribe upon its sacred folds—one which I am confident meets with a deep response in the heart of every man that hails from this state:

Texans can never be Slaves

Let this liberty inspiring motto be engraved upon the heart of each and every member of the 19th Regiment of Texas Infantry. It will help to remind you that the immortal founders of Texas Independence bequeathed liberty to their sons, and although their blood streamed in the Alamo, and enriched the soil of San Jacinto, when dying, they whispered in the ear of Mexico, “Texas can never be Slaves.”

But it were a selfish feeling and one unworthy the enlightened daughters of the South to be willing to make the sacrifice which we now make in thus pointing you to our Country’s Altar, only regarding our own protection and security. No gentlemen, it is not for the sake of ourselves but fr the sake of posterity, knowing that the sacrifices now made by us will meet with a sufficient reward in the happy consciousness, that, by sacrificing our friends and kindred to the noble cause, we are contributing largely to maintain for generations yet to come the priceless heritage we have received from our patriot fathers.

Therefore as we emulate in ’62 the spirit which animated our mothers in ’76 in humble imitation of those illustrious ones, with our tears and our prayers we now consecrate you to God and to Liberty.

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