Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Texan Stands Up to Yankee General

Kilgore had a problem with Phil Sheridan
By Van Craddock

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Constantine Buckley "Buck" Kilgore was one of those larger-than-life Texans.

At his death in 1897, a newspaper described him as "one of the most famous backwoods characters that ever went to Congress and attained high federal office."

In 1872, the future four-term U.S. congressman deeded East Texas land to the International and Great Northern railroad. In gratitude, the I&GN named a new town site "Kilgore."

"Buck" Kilgore had been a Confederate cavalry officer during the 1861-65 Civil War, during which he was wounded and taken captive by Union soldiers. He remained in a Yankee POW camp until war's end.

That may explain why Kilgore became embroiled in a bitter dispute with a former Union general ... more than two decades after the war had ended.

A promotion

In May 1888, a New York congressman introduced a bill to promote U.S. Lt. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to "general of the army," a title that hadn't been used since the Civil War. It was an effort to honor Sheridan, who had taken ill and wasn't expected to live.

Kilgore and many other Southerners didn't like Sheridan, who initiated a "scorched earth" policy while leading Union troops in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley late in the Civil War. In 1864, under Sheridan's orders, the troops destroyed crops, seized livestock and burned barns and mills.

It also didn't help that in 1866, Sheridan had been appointed commander of the Fifth Military District (Texas and Louisiana). The general didn't have much sympathy for ex-Confederates and ruled with a heavy hand. After numerous complaints, U.S. President Andrew Johnson removed Sheridan from his post.

So when the 1888 proposal was made to promote the ill Sheridan to general of the Army, Kilgore took the lead in opposing the bill. The East Texan used "points of order" and other legislative tricks to delay a vote on the issue for several weeks.

The result was a sort of "civil war" in Congress. Northern lawmakers were outraged that Kilgore would try to stymie the bill. Southern congressmen still smarting from losing the Civil War threw their support to Kilgore.

One Lone Star congressman backing Kilgore insisted, "No man who loves Texas and its history could support anything that might be favorable to Sheridan." Another Southerner said approving the bill would mean "sacrificing principle, manhood and state pride."


The dispute resulted in a national debate and newspaper editorials from coast to coast. Finally, after weeks of debate, compassion won out over old war wounds. The Congress, with support from former Confederates in the House, approved the measure in early June 1888. President Johnson signed the bill into lawJune 8.

"Buck" Kilgore voted "no."

Phil Sheridan officially became "general of the army." He diedAug. 5 and was buried in Washington's Arlington National Cemetery.

Kilgore continued to serve in Congress until 1895. In March of that year, President Grover Cleveland appointed Kilgore as U.S. judge in Oklahoma's Indian Territory.

Kilgore died in Ardmore, Okla., on Sept. 23, 1897, and was buried at his adopted East Texas home of Wills Point. The Dallas Morning News at the time called the colorful Kilgore "the ideal grenadier – tall, sinewy, handsome, brave, cool, with hair and beard white as snow."

The Galveston News noted the former Confederate cavalryman "could ride anything in the way of horse flesh. (Kilgore) often astonished friends by picking up stones from the ground to throw at them while riding at full gallop."