BY Norman Rozeff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Letter from Major Charles Russell to Confederate General Slaughter (April 18th, 1864) continues from last week:
Col. Fisher informs us that he has a military education and entered the Mexican service under contract over five years ago; he is intelligent and I know has the confidence of the present authorities in Mexico. His father was a planter on the Mississippi River and has lost his negroes.
He further states that had it not been for this constraint he would at the commencement of the war have joined his father and brother both of whom are in the Confederate Army but that he felt bound to comply with his obligations. President Juarez has granted him leave for three months with permission to visit the United States which leave he proposes to occupy in serving the Confederacy in any way in that he may be most useful.
I will also state that he asks no money and affixes but one condition, which is that his wife shall be taken to San Antonio and shall have provided for her at his expense a home. If he should be killed the government will see that she is sent to her parents in the City of Mexico. She is a French lady, young and with but few negroes living in Matamoros. He is therefore unwilling to leave her there during the attack.
I will not presume to form an opinion in regard to the practicability of this scheme on account of my limited knowledge of military affairs but respectfully lay the whole matter before you, with the remark, that the fact of his being a native Southerner, voluntarily proposing to render his service without consideration, and his desire to remove his wife during the attack and place her under the care of our Government – in connection with his high position with the Mexican Authority here are all evidence of his veracity and worthy of consideration. ?? to me, he informed me that the Confederates at Matamoros numbering about one hundred, have agreed to join him only on the condition that a full pardon be extended to them for desertion or other military offenses, it will therefore be necessary to forward authority to grant this pardon.
All the arms required will be six-shooters, for the command to move from Matamoros, which he says may be purchased from Cortina at from 35 to 40 ($?).
If you deem the plan practicable and worth a trial, you can communicate with me at once by special express and your orders shall be unfailingly obeyed. I think I can negotiate for less to purchase the arms which will not exceed $5000. It is hardly necessary for me to say that time is important as every day adds to their strength. Another Yankee delegation arrived here a few days since with a revisal of the proposition I advised you of in my last letter, but President Juarez positively declined. They leave today for Brownsville very much disgusted. Col. Haynes is among the number.
My leave of absence expires on the 10th of May and therefore plan on leaving for the Rio Grande on the 4th provided my application for an extension of 30 days was not granted but regarding this as important I shall remain here for a reply 20 days from this date; if not received at that time, I will return to duty and consider the plan rejected. My health is slowly improving.
Brig. Gen J.E. Slaughter, I have the honor to remain
Chief of Staff with great respect,
Houston Tex Charles Russell
Major Q.M. C.S.A
The second letter regarding plotter John Fisher reads:
Headquarters Expeditionary Forces John Young’s ranch 40 miles above Brownsville, June 20th 1864
Brig. Gen. J. E. Slaughter
Chief of Staff
I have the honor to report that Col. J. J. Fisher has just arrived from Matamoros. He has had an interview with Mr. Silva, Sec(retary). of State of Tamaulipas, and brought a letter from him to me and also a private letter from Governor Cortina to the Hon. F.W. Latham, correct translations of which I have the honor herewith to transmit.
You will perceive that the arrangements concerning the purchase of rifled cannon, arms and ammunition, reported in my last, can be consummated on most favorable terms whenever the Major General Commanding may direct me so to do, and as soon as the funds or cotton for this purpose required are provided.
It is important that no time be lost in securing articles most valuable to us, as wants as now unlooked for may shortly prevent Governor Cortina from complying with his engagements.
You will see how important it is that Col. Latham should be in Matamoros immediately, and if the original communication from Governor Cortina to him should not have reached him before falling into your hands, I respectfully suggest the propriety of forwarding it to him without delay.
In accordance with arrangements previously reported, Vidal has crossed the Rio Grande with some sixty men, armed, equipped and mounted; but for the rise in the river four hundred others would have gone with him carrying with them ten wagons and teams.
The operations set on foot in pursuance with arrangements already reported are injuring the Yankees very much.
The policy I have adopted of paying for everything in coin is producing its fruits. The present feeling in Tamaulipas is now more favorable to us than at any preceding period.
In the event the French take full possession of that state, I have assurances that Governor Cortina with a large proportion of his force, arms etc. will cross to this bank.
We shall leave this evening for Campacuas [an area presently north of the city of Mercedes].
We expect to form a junction with Col. Showalter at the Como Se Llama Rancho . So far as one can learn the outposts of the enemy have been ordered into Brownsville.
Your very obedient servant,
John S. Ford Col. Cavalry
Because the Union withdrew its forces from Fort Brown on July 28, 1864, before the plot could be enacted (if it ever were to be) the plan was never brought to fruition. Yet, it remains a fascinating adjunct to the area’s history. One thing that it does reveal is the information gleaned from Brownsville sympathizers (spies?) concerning the Union defenses.
We owe a debt to the Reeds in unearthing this otherwise forgotten piece of Valley history.