Wenzel Wotipka was born in the Moravian village of Chotebudice on September 20, 1837. His parents were Jan Wotipka and Anna Daniel. In 1853 the Wotipka family emigrated to Texas aboard the ship Weser. They left Bremen on December 10, 1853, and arrived in Galveston on January 23, 1854.
The Wotipkas continued through Houston and Cat Spring to their new home in New Bremen in northwestern Austin County. Seven years later the Civil War broke out.
On February 23, 1861, the state of Texas voted to secede from the Union, and on April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed a law providing for the draft of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Wenzel Wotipka and his brothers Jan and Tomas became Confederate soldiers.
The Wotipka brothers were enrolled in Austin County on June 17, 1862, and mustered into service on June 20 in Capt. H. Wickeland’s Company (later Company D. Second Infantry Battalion), Waul’s Texas Legion, at Camp Waul in Washington County. On August 7 the legion set out for Little Rock, Arkansas.
Most of the Czech immigrants did not want to serve in the Confederate Army. They were pro-Union, they did not support slavery and many of the early immigrants were of Moravian Brethren background.
Jan and Tomas Wotipka deserted in the night and were reported absent without leave since August 9. Wenzel Wotipka stayed in the army and continued the march north. He also left us a record of his odyssey as a confederate soldier across the United States: his march in Waul’s Texas Legion to northern Mississippi; his travel to Illinois and across Indiana, Ohio and Virginia as a prisoner of war; his return to the legion as an exchanged prisoner across Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama; and his journey home after he was paroled following the Battle of Vicksburg.
The following is a summary of Wenzel Wotipka’s chronicle. All of the events and dates are as he described them. The places have been edited for spelling and correctness.
The Legion left Camp Waul on August 7, 1862. On August 17th Wotipka sent his first letter home. On August 21st the soldiers changed course and headed for Louisiana, marching through the Texas towns of Fairfield, Palestine, Rusk and Henderson. On September 6th they crossed the Louisiana border. Wotipka sent his second letter home. The soldiers marched on to Shreveport. On August 9th Wotipka sent his third letter home. On September 11th the soldiers were ferried across the Red River, and continued through Louisiana, through the town of Minden to Monroe. There they took a train another sixty-five miles and eventually arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Wotipka received $115 in pay at Vicksburg.
The soldiers took a train to Jackson, Mississippi, and then to the northern Mississippi town of Holly Springs, where they got guns and ammunition. Wotipka sent $50 home by way of a soldier from the postal company, and he wrote his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh letters home. It snowed in Holly Springs on October 25th. On October 27th the soldiers left Holly Springs for the Mississippi town of Cold Water. On October 29th Wotipka received a letter from home. He wrote his eighth letter home from Cold Water on October 30th and sent $5. On November 5th the Confederate troops retreated back to Holly Springs. They continued retreating through a swamp, and on November 8th Wotipka got sick. They retreated to the Tallahatchie River, and on November 9th Wotipka sent his ninth letter home and another $5. On December 1st, 2nd and 3rd the soldiers continued retreating, and Wenzel Wotipka was captured by Union forces on December 4th.
Wotipka was taken back to Holly Springs, then by train to Columbus, Kentucky; and then by boat to Cairo, Illinois. Wotipka was to be taken back to Vicksburg for exchange. On Christmas Day he was in Memphis, Tennessee. When they arrived at Vicksburg, however, there was a battle in progress, so Wotipka was taken back north through Helena, Arkansas; where he was on New Year’s Day, Memphis, Tennessee; Cairo, Illinois; and St. Louis, Missouri; to Alton, Illinois. On January 10, 1863, he was imprisoned in a fortress at Alton, where, he said, there were 256 prisoners. On January 13th Wotipka wrote another letter.
On March 30th Wotipka signed up to join the Union Army, but on April 1st he and other Confederate soldiers were taken to Virginia for exchange. They were taken through Richmond, Indiana; and Dayton, Ohio. On April 5th they arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. They spent one night in Baltimore, where Wotipka managed to bash his big toe. The following day the prisoners were taken by boat to Fort Monroe, Virginia.
On April 8th Wotipka “once again fell into the clutches” of the Confederate Army. The exchanged were taken by train to Petersburg, Virginia, where they camped outside town. Wotipka noted some of the prices there, including $50 to $55 for a barrel of flour, $30 for a bushel of corn, $12 for a bushel of potatoes, $50 for a gallon of whiskey, $70 to $75 for a pair of shoes, $3 for a yard of calico and $1 for a plug of tobacco.
On April 12th the soldiers left by train, traveling through Lynchburg, Virginia; Bristol, on the Virginia–Tennessee border; Oxford, Tennessee [Knoxville, Tennessee]; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Georgia; to Montgomery, Alabama. On April 22nd they were taken by boat down river to Memphis, Alabama [Mobile, Alabama]. On May 5th Wotipka was back with the legion at Fort Pemberton, Mississippi.
On May 6th the soldiers went along the Yazoo River to Yazoo City. On May 18th they were manning the earthworks of Vicksburg. The battle roared day and night. On July 3rd Wotipka received $98 in pay, and on the following day the Confederate forces surrendered the city. On July 9th Wotipka was paroled and was able to return home.
On July 14th he was ferried across the Mississippi River and he slowly wandered home. His return home took him through Delhi, Monroe, Minden and Logansport, in Louisiana; and the Texas towns of Nacogdoches, Alto, Crockett, Huntsville, Anderson, Navasota, Hempstead and Brenham. He arrived home on August 11, 1863.
One of the interesting aspects of Wotipka’s record is the way in which he wrote the names of some of the places that he visited. They include Schriwbort (Shreveport), Wicburk (Vicksburg), Deksn (Jackson), Khol Wodr (Cold Water), Menfes (Memphis), Sand Lujs (St. Louis), Pitrspurk (Petersburg), Linctpurg (Lynchburg), Brycta (Bristol), Dorde (Georgia), and Nakadousses (Nacogdoches).
Wotipka also wrongly identified some localities. He remembered Knoxville, Tennessee, as “Oxpord, Tenesy,” and Mobile, Alabama, as “Menphis, Alaba.”
So far as Wenzel Wotipka’s brothers Tomas and Jan are concerned, they remained in hiding. According to Czech immigrant Jan Kroulik, he and Tomas Wotipka were captured by Confederate soldiers on July 14, 1864. Kroulik and Tomas Wotipka were taken to Galveston to stand trial for desertion, but Tomas Wotipka contracted yellow fever and died in a Galveston hospital.
The rest of Wenzel Wotipka’s life was uneventful by comparison. He married twice (his first wife dying in childbirth), brought up a family and farmed in Austin County.
Wenzel Wotipka died on June 17, 1918, and is buried in the Slapota Cemetery at Cat Springs.
“The Odyssey of Wenzel Wotipka, C.S.A.,” printed in the series Czech Connections, Cesky Hlas (Newsletter of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas), November 2001, pages 7-8.