A Piece of Savage Barbarism…


The Civil War in the United States was a tragedy of huge proportions for the citizens of this country. So many lives lost because of misplaced southern pride in outdated and appalling views on ownership, ‘states rights’ and slavery.

James Shaw, born Ohio in 1808, was an older brother of my ggg grandfather the Hon. John Shaw. By the early 1830s James decided to try his fortunes in Texas and moved his family to what is now Milam County. He had married one of the Riggs girls and had several children with her. One of those children was a son, Frank Shaw.

James embraced being a Texian wholeheartedly, even joining the military when they were fighting Santa Anna. He was in the decisive battle of San Jacinto that was one of the determining factors in the future of Texas as a state.

Sometime after the civil war started James’ son Frank, feeling the fever of youthful righteousness in a cause, joined up. On the side of the South. This decision had the unfortunate effect of ending Frank’s young life quite abruptly. His father wrote this letter to the paper, mostly likely as a way to help himself work through his grief:


Editor Gazette:

Permit me through the columns of your weekly paper, to make known to the civilized world and to Texian soldiers in particular, the death of my unfortunate son, Frank Shaw, a native Texian, who was brutally murdered by Federal troops in Louisiana, on the 3d day of November last. The circumstances are substantially as follows: My son was Orderly Sergeant in Captain Waterhouse’s Company, Lane’s Regiment, Majors’ Brigade of Cavalry. In the morning of the Borbeaux battle, his (Waterhouse’s) and Johnston’s companies, who had been on picket, a mile from the Federals encampment, marched up to a bridge on Bayou Borbeaux fronting the Federals, and were ordered to dismount and take trees. My son with two or three others, seeing a good position across the bayou, some eight or ten steps in advance of our line, ran to it, and after having fired three or four rounds each, the order was given to fall back to their horses, who having further to run by being in advance, they were captured before they got back.

At this critical moment Gen. Green and Majors came dashing up at the head of their victorious columns from the right, and repulsed the enemy, who after having taken my son some four hundred yards, fearing his recapture, brutally and inhumanly murdered him by shooting him in the head with a pistol!

I have not written this account hastily and from the impulse of the moment; but have waited patiently for the last four or five weeks hoping the first account of this sad affair which I received from my nephew, A. P. Perkins, might possibly prove incorrect as I could not believe, that there was a nation on the face of God’s habitable Globe, especially one professing to be foremost in civilization and Christianity, that would have acted so barbarously: notwithstanding the poet has long since said:

“But look for ruin when a coward wins, For fear and cruelty were ever twins.”

My son had met them honorably previously on many battle fields. Mr. James Holland, a member of the same company, has lately arrived at my house, with his horse and baggage. He was taken prisoner a short time previous to my son; but he saw while in New Orleans, before his escape, the prisoners who were captured with him, with whom he was well acquainted, and they informed him that they saw Frank shot in the cowardly manner described above, and for the only reason, that his feeble health would not permit him to keep up afoot, with their retreating cavalry.

I have been thus particular in detailing facts for this purpose of making it publicly known to our brave Texian troops in the field, that these same thieves and murderers under Gen. Banks, are now polluting our Southern borders with their unwelcome presence, and I now leave it with them to decide whether or not, so cowardly and dastardly an enemy deserved the treatment of a brave and magnanimous foe?

James Shaw
Lexington, Jan. 13, 1864.1

There is no getting around the fact that war is an ugly and violent affair no matter how you look at it and Frank was a casualty of that ugliness. The manner of his death, if accurately reported (remember we only have one version of what happened), is unfortunate and it is understandable that James’ view will be prejudiced. In my, admittedly prejudiced, mind his son was fighting to preserve slavery under the misguided guise of state’s rights. Where was the honor in that?  But the fact is, one side had no more claim to honor and heroism than another, as both the North and the South committed acts of barbarism, compassion, and heroism at many times during the war.

1 Published in the [Texas] Galveston Gazette, January 13, 1864.

One thought on “A Piece of Savage Barbarism…

  1. Pingback: February 21, 1866 Letter James Shaw To a Brother – jen's ancestors

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