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The Czechs of Company D

When the earliest Czech settlers came to Texas, they found themselves embroiled in the American Civil War.  This was ironic, because they had left a Europe of wars and economic privation to find a better life in the New World.  The Czech immigrants were confused by the causes of the Civil War.  They did not understand the underlying issues.  They did not condone slavery, and they did not want to fight a war for the Southern slave-holders.  As a result the young Czech immigrants generally tried to avoid service in the Confederate Army.

Avoid military service though they might, several young Czechs served in the army of the South.  One unit that had Czech immigrant soldiers in its ranks was Company D, Second Infantry Battalion of Waul’s Texas Legion.  Some fourteen young Czech immigrants were conscripted into Company D by Captain H. Wickeland or by Lieutenant P. Schwander between June 14 and June 20, 1862.  They were Jan Kroulik, Karel Lesikar, Vincenc Lesikar, Josef Mares, Frantisek Mikeska, Jan Mikeska, Peter Mikeska, Frantisek Novak, Pavel Slovacek, Frantisek Skrivanek, Jan Stefka, Jan Wotipka, Tomas Wotipka and Wenzel Wotipka.  Two other Czechs, Frantisek Rypl and Ignac Silar, were transferred to Company D from Company E the following month.

At first the Confederacy tried to man its army with state militia and volunteers.  A fifty-dollar bounty was even offered to induce young men to enlist.  It soon became apparent, however, that other measures had to be taken.  On April 16, 1862, the Confederate congress passed a law providing for the conscription of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five.  Eventually men between the ages of seventeen and fifty were liable for the draft.  (There were of course lots of exemptions.)  For the young Czech, conscription often meant being hunted down, or at least being forcibly taken away.

The volunteers and conscripts were assembled at Camp Waul in Washington County, Texas, and after several weeks of training, Waul’s Texas Legion set out for battle.  Company D left Camp Waul on August 7, 1862.  The original destination was Arkansas, but on the way orders were received to head for Mississippi.

The soldiers of Waul’s Texas Legion arrived at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on September 30, 1862, and soon they were sent to northern Mississippi where fighting was in progress.  On October 25, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the Union armies in the region.  He soon inaugurated a plan to knock the state of Mississippi out of the war.  He would lead his army along the Mississippi Central Railroad southward, while General William T. Sherman would advance down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.  Waul’s Texas Legion arrived on the scene just in time to join the Confederate retreat.

From Holly Springs Waul’s Texas Legion withdrew to Oxford, where they arrived on December 2, 1862.  Many men were lost or captured during the retreat.  From Oxford the Legion withdrew to Grenada, and from Grenada to Camp Pemberton.  The latter place was reached on February 19, 1863.

Camp Pemberton was located on the Yazoo River near Greenwood, Mississippi.  The Confederate Army hastily built a fort on the Yazoo to stop the Union forces, which were attempting to reach Vicksburg by an alternate river route.  This was Fort Pemberton, and it served its purpose well.  The Union advance was halted on March 11, 1863.  Waul’s Texas Legion played a major role in the Confederate victory, but the victory was only a temporary setback for General Grant’s plan.

Waul’s Texas Legion withdrew to Vicksburg to help defend the city.  The infamous siege lasted from May 19 to July 4, 1863, when the hungry and ragged, but still proud Confederate forces surrendered and were taken prisoner.  According to an earlier agreement between the Union and Confederacy, prisoners of war could be paroled, and then returned to their own side where they would refrain from military activities until they were officially exchanged.  This is what happened at Vicksburg.  By July 10, 1863, some 29,491 Confederate soldiers had been paroled or had refused to sign parole papers.

On July 11, 1863, the Confederate Army evacuated Vicksburg.  Officially, the Confederate soldiers headed east towards Demopolis, Alabama, where they were to await exchange.  Unofficially, soldiers deserted en masse and returned to their families and farms.  There was really nothing the Confederate authorities could do about desertions, so they granted the absent soldiers furloughs, and made arrangements for them to report back to duty at a later date.  Under these circumstances the Czech soldiers of Company D, at least those who were still with the Legion, made their way home.  Although they were officially exchanged in the fall of 1863 and ordered to report to Houston, none of the Czech soldiers apparently did, at least not at that time.  So far as they were concerned, their unhappy service in the Confederate Army had come to an end.

Were these young Czechs, these draft-dodgers and deserters, were these young Czech immigrants traitors?  Three things must be remembered.  First, they had left a Europe of wars and feudal lords behind them.  They had no desire to fight in the service of the Southern slave-owners.  Second, their own families had until recently borne the heavy bonds of serfdom.  They did not think it moral to fight for the enslavement of other men.  Third, most of the Czechs of Company D were members the Moravian Brethren faith, a faith with a strong pacifist heritage.  Were these young Czech immigrants traitors?  Let us just say that they held their loyalty to loftier ideals.

The following information is taken from Civil War documents, as well as from recollections of soldiers:

Jan Kroulik – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863. Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.  Captured by Confederate soldiers July 14, 1864, along with Tomas Wotipka.  Taken to Galveston to be tried for desertion.  Transferred to the mainland because of epidemic, and escaped November 27, 1864.

Karel Lesikar – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Absent without leave since August 9, 1862.  Deserted along with brother Vincenc Lesikar, and Jan and Tomas Wotipka.  Hid out during the war.

Vincenc Lesikar – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Absent without leave since August 9, 1862.  Deserted along with brother Karel Lesikar, and Jan and Tomas Wotipka.  Hid out during the war.

Josef Mares – Enrolled June 16, 1862, in Austin County.  Left in hospital at Holly Springs, Mississippi, October 28, 1862.  Captured and paroled at Confederate hospital in Oxford, Mississippi, December 23, 1862.  Reported sick in camp of paroled prisoners at Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Rejoined Company D at Camp Pemberton, Mississippi, in February 1863.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863.  Sent to Memphis, Tennessee, July 18, 1863.  Received at Gratiot Street Military Prison in St. Louis, Missouri, July 26, 1863.  Forwarded to Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana, August 1, 1863.  Arrived at Camp Morton August 7, 1863.  Died of pneumonia at Camp Morton December 24, 1863.  Buried in grave 626 in Green Lawn Cemetery.

Frantisek Mikeska – Enrolled June 16, 1862, in Austin County.  Not listed as captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Reported present in February 1863, but absent without leave in November 1863.

Jan Mikeska – Enrolled June 14, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.  Paroled at Columbus, Texas, July 13, 1865.

Peter Mikeska – Enrolled June 14, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.  Joined from desertion at Mud Island near Galveston September 16, 1864.  Reported present in April 1865.

Frantisek Novak – Enrolled July 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Oxford, Mississippi, December 1, 1862.  Forwarded to Cairo, Illinois, December 22, 1862.

Frantisek Rypl – Enrolled April 30, 1862, in Houston, Texas, in Company E, Waul’s Legion.  Received bounty for enlistment.  Transferred to Company D July 1, 1862.  Appointed corporal November 15, 1862.  Promoted to sergeant February 10, 1863.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.

Ignac Silar – Enrolled April 15, 1862 in Houston, Texas, in Company E, Waul’s Legion.  Transferred to Company D July 25, 1862.  Died at Fort Pemberton, Mississippi, when a shell tore off his leg.

Frantisek Skrivanek -  Enrolled June 16, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.

Pavel Slovacek – Enrolled June 16, 1862, in Austin County.  Absent without leave since July 22, 1862.  Sick in Fayette County since July 23, 1862.  Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.

Jan Stefka – Enrolled June 20, 1862, at Camp Waul, Washington County.  Reported present in February, 1863, but deserted before the siege of Vicksburg.  Went up North and found a job in Cairo, Illinois.

Jan Wotipka – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Absent without leave since August 9, 1862.  Deserted along with brother Tomas, and Karel and Vincenc Lesikar.  Captured and taken to Galveston to be tried for desertion.  Transferred to the mainland because of epidemic and escaped.

Tomas Wotipka – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Absent without leave since August 9, 1862.  Deserted along with brother Jan, and Karel and Vincenc Lesikar.  Captured by Confederate soldiers July 14, 1864, along with Jan Kroulik.  Taken to Galveston to be tried for desertion.  Died of Yellow Fever in Galveston September 29, 1864.

Wenzel Wotipka – Enrolled June 17, 1862, in Austin County.  Captured at Oxford, Mississippi, December 3, 1862.  Forwarded to Cairo, Illinois, December 22, 1862.  Received at military prison in Alton, Illinois, January 10, 1863.  Paroled and sent to City Point, Virginia (by way of Dayton, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland) for exchange April 1, 1863.  Received at City Point, Virginia, April 8, 1863.  Sent back to Company D through Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Montgomery, Alabama.  Rejoined Company D at Camp Pemberton, Mississippi, May 5, 1863.   Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, and paroled July 9, 1863.  Absent without leave since November 1, 1863.

- Robert Janak

“The Czechs of Company D,” Naše Dějiny (Magazine of Czech Genealogy and Culture published in Hallettsville, Texas, by Doug Kubicek from 1982 to 1989), September-October, 1989, pages 2-5.


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