The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998 Page: 402
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
and suffering."2 The emphasis in describing the urban experience is usu-
ally on suffering and want. However, with its relative economic security
and material abundance, the example of Houston points to a broader
range of experience in the urban areas of the Confederacy and suggests
that a reassessment of the conventional wisdom might be in order.
This article makes no claim to be a complete history of Houston dur-
ing the war. Instead, it focuses on one distinct aspect of the city's experi-
ences, its relative material prosperity. After briefly sketching some back-
ground information, an assessment is made of the factors that allowed
such thriving conditions to exist. Then that prosperity is itself examined,
both through its direct manifestations in the local economy and through
its indirect effects on the social and cultural life of the city.
Unfortunately, the private primary sources that survive from wartime
Houston are few. However, the newspaper sources are numerous and
rich, and it is on them that this article relies most heavily.
On April 16, 1861, news of the bombardment of Fort Sumter reached
Houston. The monumental tidings buzzed through the streets of a town
not even a quarter of a century old. But in the fifteen years since the
brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen had founded the town on the
banks of torpid Buffalo Bayou, Houston's growth had been rapid. While
retaining some aspects of a frontier settlement, Houston was well on its
way to becoming an established commercial and residential center that
would compete with its larger neighbor, Galveston, for the role of the
business and cultural capital of Texas.
The last available population statistics from before the war come from
the census of 186o, which paints a picture of a rapidly expanding town
with a diverse population. Ranking third in the state behind San
Antonio and Galveston, Houston's free inhabitants numbered 3,779, a
more than ioo percent increase since 1850.4 According to the places of
2 Paul D. Escott, After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Natzonalism (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), 1o3-104.While Escott here refers to the wartime
experiences of yeoman farmers, this passage applies equally well to common perceptions of the
Several historians have described the wartime experiences of Houston but have lacked substan-
tial analysis. See Kenneth W. Wheeler, To Wear a City's Crown: The Beginnings of Urban Growth in
Texas, 1836-1865 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), 150-160. Wheeler barely dis-
cusses Civil War Houston and in fact only cites one issue of the Telegraph (mistakenly referring to
it as the Telegraph and Texas Register). Citing Wheeler and offering no new conclusions is Howard
N. Rabinowitz, "Continuity and Change: Southern Urban Development, 186o-igoo," in Blaine
A. Brownell and David R. Goldfield (eds.), The City in Southern History: The Growth of Urban
Civilization in the South (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977), 92-122. David G.
McComb, Houston: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 52-54, refers to the Civil
War several times in a series of anecdotes but fails to place them in an analytical framework.
Susan Jackson, "Movin' On: Social Mobility Through Houston in the 185os," Southwestern
Historical Quarterly, 82 (Jan., 1978), 251.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998, periodical, 1998; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/m1/485/: accessed July 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.