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FIRST REGIMENT COLORED INFANTRY, TEXAS VOLUNTEER GUARD

John P. Blair

FIRST REGIMENT COLORED INFANTRY, TEXAS VOLUNTEER GUARD (1880–1886). The First Regiment Colored Infantry, comprised completely of African American male citizens, served as an active militia organization officially recognized and armed by the state of Texas as part of the Texas Volunteer Guard. When the Sixteenth Texas Legislature revised the militia statutes in 1879, the active militia was designated as the Volunteer Guard. The law set forth the legal requirements to form military companies and elect officers, while providing reporting obligations and bonding instructions to procure firearms from the state, etc.  Furthermore, the law contained no provisions that limited or restricted African American men from service.

By April 6, 1880, seven black militia companies, many who had existed previously, had qualified under the revised statutes and were officially recognized by the governor. These organizations included the Coke Rifles (Company A) of San Antonio; Austin City Rifles (Company B) of Austin; Lincoln Guards (Company C) of Galveston; Hubbard Rifles (Company D) of Waco; Brenham Blues (Company E) of Brenham; Roberts’ Rifles (Company F) of Corpus Christi; and Salter Rifles (Company G) of Calvert. An eighth company—the Davis Rifles (Company H) of Houston—was listed on the First Regiment Colored Infantry roster in the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas for 1880 but was listed as “never qualified” on the roster; later this company fully operated and was listed as Company L in subsequent adjutant general reports.

The governor, in his role as commander-in-chief and with powers granted by the militia law, ordered the adjutant general to organize these companies into a regiment of infantry. The officers of the respective companies were authorized to provide recommendations for the positions of colonel, lieutenant colonel and major of the regiment. Upon approval, the governor issued commissions to each of these men for their respective rank. These selections, followed by the adjutant general’s General Order No. 8, dated May 20, 1880, created the First Regiment Colored Infantry. 

The regiment’s leading officer, Col. Andrew M. Gregory, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, had previously served as the commanding officer of the Hubbard Rifles of Waco. During the muster and inspection of state companies in 1880, Gregory’s company in Waco was cited as “first in drill and discipline” among all the African American militia companies in the state. A native of North Carolina, there is evidence that Gregory may have come to Texas as an educator with the Freedman’s Bureau and may have served in the State Police in the 1870s.

Henry Riley, the former captain of the Coke Rifles, received his commission as lieutenant colonel, and Capt. Priest (records have also listed him Preson, Preston, Person, Pearson, or Prieston) Henry Henderson of the Lincoln Guards was commissioned major of the regiment. Henderson, a native of Virginia, had served as a private during the Civil War in Company I, Thirty-sixth U.S. Colored Infantry. He arrived in Texas during the last year of his enlistment and remained.

Within nine days of General Order No. 8, Gregory received commissions for his first staff officers. They were Capt. D. Strouther of Calvert as regimental adjutant; Capt. George W. Wilson of Corpus Christi as regimental quartermaster; Capt. James H. King of San Antonio as regimental commissary officer; and Capt. Charles L. Madison of Waco as the regimental chaplain. Like Gregory, Madison was a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, while both King and Wilson were U.S. Army veterans. King, who had been waiting tables in Washington, D.C., enlisted in the First U.S. Colored Infantry in 1863. Although wounded in action near Richmond, Virginia on October 27, 1864, he served until the end of war before reenlisting and serving with both the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry in Texas.  King mustered out on May 16, 1877, at Fort Concho as a first sergeant with an excellent character discharge. 

Colonel Gregory obtained additional companies and staff officers throughout the remainder of the regiment’s first year, including the Gregory Rifles of Bryan as Company I, the Grant Rifles of Galveston as Company K, and the arrival of Capt. Burrel McNeil of Galveston as the regiment’s assistant surgeon. McNeil, another veteran, served during the Civil War with the Sixteenth U.S. Colored Infantry and then subsequently in the Thirty-eighth U.S. Infantry.

Lieutenant Colonel Riley resigned in February 1881 and was replaced four months later by Major Henderson, who in turn was replaced by Captain Wilson. Other replacements that year included the addition of Capt. Richard Allen to replace Wilson as quartermaster, and Capt. G. W. Townsend to replace McNeil as assistant surgeon, who departed to take command of Company K (the Grant Rifles). By 1882 Gregory had a full complement of staff officers.

The Coke Rifles disbanded in 1882, but sought to reorganize under the leadership of John Francis Van Duzor, a U.S. Army veteran and native of Albany, New York. The loss of the Coke Rifles was offset by the addition of Company M, the Cochran Greys of Dallas (later became Cochran Blues). When the Excelsior Guards of San Antonio joined as Company A in the summer 1883, the infantry regiment was at full strength. That year, however, also witnessed the loss of Gregory as the regiment’s commanding officer. His commission was revoked September 10, 1883, due to controversies surrounding his activities in Harrison County involving the recruitment of additional black militia companies and his perceived involvement in racial tensions in the county. While the adjutant general reported that he felt Gregory “had no deeper motive than to add to his own importance by the exercise of his pretended authority, and to secure pecuniary profit by levying a tax on his colored friends” his actions were viewed through the racial attitudes of the day and were deemed as contributing to the “disturbances between the races.” 

While the removal of Gregory coupled with rising racial tensions undoubtedly played a role in the demise of the regiment, one of the most significant factors lay in the financial burdens required of individuals seeking to maintain militia membership. While the state supplied firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements, each company commanding officer had to obtain a bond for this equipment in an amount ranging from $800 to $1,600. Each member of the company had to provide for his own uniform, had to incur the cost of maintaining the equipment from the state, had to provide for a proper armory to safeguard that equipment, had to pay for his own travel expenses, and lost time and pay at his place of employment to report for drills and inspections. Throughout the state these burdens became unbearable and took their toll on many, especially the laboring poor. The regiment lost the Gregory Rifles and the Salter Rifles, and during the formal inspections conducted by the state inspector general in 1885 to evaluate military preparedness, knowledge, and performance, the black militia suffered greatly. Five more companies, the Austin City Rifles, Grant Rifles, and Davis Rifles as well as the Brenham and Cochran Blues, failed to survive the year. Even the state’s white companies experienced a loss of fifteen companies.

With more than half its strength gone, the regiment was reduced to a battalion by General Order No. 36 on December 15, 1886. Yet, this was not the end of African American militia participation in Texas. Under the leadership of Maj. Jacob Lyons, and steadied with the consistent performance of the Excelsior Guards of San Antonio and the perennial presence of the Lincoln Guards of Galveston, the Battalion Colored Infantry in the 1890s inaugurated camps of instruction for African American troops, a practice that many other southern states failed to do.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alwyn Barr, “The Texas ‘Black Uprising’ Scare of 1883,” Phlyon 41 (1980). Compiled Military Service Records, U.S. Colored Troops, RG 94, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C. General Orders of the Texas Adjutant General, 1874–1903, Texas Volunteer Guard Records, Texas Adjutant General’s Department, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin. Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas. Austin, December 31, 1880. (Galveston: News Book and Job Office, 1881). Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas. Austin, February 28, 1882. (Galveston: A.H. Belo & Company, 1882). Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas. December 31, 1882. (Austin: E. W. Swindells, 1883). Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Texas. December, 1883. (Austin: E. W. Swindells, 1883). The Revised Statutes of Texas: Adopted by the Regular Session of the Sixteenth Legislature, A.D. 1879 (Galveston: A.H. Belo & Co., 1879).

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Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John P. Blair, "FIRST REGIMENT COLORED INFANTRY, TEXAS VOLUNTEER GUARD ," accessed June 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qjfir.

Uploaded on February 6, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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