Optional page text here. David Carey Nance

David Carey Nance

On a brisk day in November, 1861, David C. Nance rode into the winter encampment of the 12th Texas Cavalry which sprawled along Sim’s Bayou nine miles south of Houston. He was riding his beautiful horse “ Morgan,” which his father had given him. Both horse and rider were decked with spare clothing, cooking utensils, bedding, and other items essential to a man camping along the trail. Having ignored the anxious warnings of the father, Nance and a neighbor named John Sullivan had enlisted in Company E of the 12th Texas Cavalry just two months before. Unfortunately, Nance had been stricken with chill and fever, and his friends and his unit had moved to Hempstead and on to Sim’s Bayou without him. The weeks of recovery at the family farm, located about one and one-half mile northwest of the little town of DeSoto, had passed slowly. But now, at last, felling himself fully recovered, Nance was overjoyed at having caught up with his unit.
Nance’s enthusiasm for joining, like that of hundreds of young men across Texas, had been kindled by the numerous and colorful flag-raising ceremonies, patriotic speeches, and recruitment rallies being conducted in almost every scattered, dusty town in the state. Since the declaration of the Confederate States of America in March, and the firing at Fort Sumter in April, young Texans like Nance had rushed to the colors to defend their state and country against all dangers. Most of them expected the North to fight, but few thought it would be a really serious war, and none believed there was a chance that the Confederacy could be defeated. Nance’s chief concern at this particular moment was essentially that of his comrades’ to get into the fight before the war ended. In the meanwhile, the Secession Convention mention in Austin aggressively applied itself to reducing Federal power in the state, seizing all Federal property, encouraging the formation of committees of safety, and supporting the raising militia units and volunteer companies for state and Confederate service. Eventually, Governor Frank Lubbock would issue a proclamation urging “every able-bodied” Texas to enlist. This call for men was answered many time over as thousands of young Texans rushed to the colors during the first year of the war.
As Nance guided Morgan along the banks of the little stream which meandered through the encampment toward a railroad bridge in the distance, there were cries of recognition from friends sitting around cooking fires, and several young soldiers rushed to greet him. Nance waved happily to his friends, swung down from his horse and proudly announced that he wanted to enlist again. There followed round of backslapping and hand-shaking which reflected the warm comradeship which normally accompanies association under arms during the war.>BR> Young Nance was eighteen years old, tall and muscular, highly intelligent and extremely well educated for his time. In keeping with his wishes, the dark mustache on his lip made him appear much older that he really was. Many of the young Texans who crowed around Nance were even younger than he, but no group of men ever more bravely sustained a hopeless cause that did these. Many of them came from the region around Rocket Springs, in Ellis County, since there was where the unit was initially organized. Others came from Dallds, Collin, Hill, Johnson, Kaufman, and Bastrop counties. They came, filled with youthful vigor and exuberance, from the tiny towns in the piney woods, from their isolated cabins along backcountry stream, and from the lively market center throughout southeastern Texas. Whatever their motivation, wherever their faults, and in spite of their youth, bravery and their courage were destined to gain national recognition and fame for themselves and for their regiment. These men and boys were to march into shot, shell and legend as part of the famous Parson’s Brigade..
Colonel Parson’s, a highly respected news paper editor from Waco and the regimental commander, was not in camp when Nance arrived, but the new recruit was escorted to Captain John H. Brown, the commander of Company E. Captain Brown’s tent was a distinctive structure, obviously of European origin and design, and therefore, easily distinguishable from the other tents and lean-to’s scattered along the ravine and beyond the railroad bridge. The captain remembered Nance. Reenlistment formalities were taken care of quickly, and soon the new member og the unit found himself reunited with many of the same messmates he had cooked with earlier. Of course there was considerable turnover in the membership of this group during the course of the war, but Nance’s closest friends and associates ere his messmates. In addition to John Sullivan, his old friend and neighbor from Dallas County, the members of the group included B.K. Bigham, Samuel Patton, W.T. (Will) Stuart and William Parsons, the latter not related to Colonel Parsons. Another member of the group had been discharged with a broken leg at Hempstead during Nance’s absence, and William Parson’s died of pneumonia in a hospital in Houston about six weeks after Nance arrived. Two additional members, Robert Couch and William Malone were added at a later date. Stuart, especially, became one of Nance’s constant companions, and when Nance was wounded and captured in the battle of Cache River, Arkansas, seven months later, Stuart spen several hours searching frantically for his lost comrade. Nance wrote the following item concerning these beloved companions during the summer of 1912.

These six with myself constituted the mess and from the time they enlisted till the war closed they remained together as one mess, one family-and they were a family indeed. They were always friends, and rude actions were never known among us, not even a quarrel occurred among us, not even an insult. When the war closed in 1865, no seven men where more warmly attached to each other than we; and to this day I love them as my own brothers. Sullivan and Couch live in Ellis County near Rocket and Red Oak. Stuart at last accounts was in Old Mexico. Bigham is dead as perhaps all the others too. All of us are near three score and ten, except Patton who, if alive, is nearer 80. May God bless their memories, for they were friends indeed and everyone was brave, Indeed I have never known any other six men truer to an obligation…

Though not as deep as that for his messmates, Nance’s love for the men of the 12th Cavalry encompassed almost every man in the distinguished regiment. The unit had been organized for the state service and it was composed largely of North Texans with Nance’s background. And interests. Before Nance arrived at Sim’s Bayou, the regiment was transferred to Confederate service at Hempstead., but his recollections contain many complimentary references to comrades added to the unit from the south and south central portions of the state,. Having spent the first nine years of his life in the Middle Prairie region of Illinois. Nance was much more gregarious and far less provincial than many of his associates.

There can be no doubt that Nance felt great pride in being counted as one of the courageous men of Company E. This company was one of those suffering the largest number of casualties in the regiment’s first engagement in Arkansas the following year. Young Nance and Will Stuart are among the seven men, representing Company E, who volunteered to ride with the “advanced guard” to make the initial contact with the enemy. Nance spoke extremely respectfully of Captain Brown, his company commander, and of the three lieutenants of Company E; W.N. Kenner of Corsicana, W.H. Getzenda of Waxahachie, and Tom Cureton who was killed in the battle of Cache River. Shortly before this battle, the regiment was reorganized under the terms of the Confederate conscription law, but few noteworthy changes were made in Company E. Nance and the men of the company paid high tribute to their officers by re-electing them to the same positions of command.
The soldiers of the Sim’s Bayou encampment were dressed in every conceivable of costume and were armed with greatly contrasting weapons- everything, in fact, from ancient fowling pieces to expensive, silver plated hand guns. They furnished their own mounts, clothing, weapons, and much of their equipment. Public spirited and patriotic individuals and organizations in Rocket Springs, Hempstead and Houston had assisted by donating several horses, blankets, a supply wagon, some clothing, and other items., but the burden of the men themselves. Since the unit had been converted into a Confederate cavalry regiment, the soldiers looked to the government in Richmond for reimbursement for their use of private property, but the subsequent defeat of the South and the collapse of the Confederacy, of course, meant that no reimbursement was ever made.
Nance was pretty well equipped for the riggers of war. He had a new Whitney pistol which he had purchased in Dallas and an old carbine which was reasonably accurate considering its ancient vintage. His mother, who seems to have shared his excitement and enthusiasm for going to war, had supplied him with ample clothing. A blue shirt, which Nance was wearing when he was wounded at Cache River, had been homespun by his sister, Ellen. This bullet-pierced shirt, from which a strip of cloth was torn to bind Nance’s wounds, is today a trasured relic in the possession of Mrs. W.D. Lawson of Abilene, Texas, a great-grand-daughter of David Nance.
Nance’s one possession which aroused the envy of every man in the unit was his beautiful horse, Morgan. Confederate appraisers set the value of the animal at $225.00 when most horses were appraised at $75.00 or $100.00. This great horse was killed in the battle of Cache River, and, as has been mentioned before, the Confederacy never reimbersed Nance for this irrreplaceable loss. Nance mentins Morgan several times in his recollections and correspondence. Specifically, he wrote on one occasion;
This is the finest horse I ever owned, a Morgan horse, a dark boy with black feet, mane and tail. He was four years old, round and fat, a real beautiful horse, broad between the eyes and gentle. He had a little white spot between hes eyes the size of a thumbnail. I called him “Morgan”.. and in the army everybody wanted him-but he was mine. This was the horse that was killed in battle.., and I know if I had not been so nearly killed too, I should have cried bitterly at his death at the time.
During the weeks which followed Nance’s arrival at the Sim’s Bayou encampment , he participated in the reruiting, drilling, training and stockpiling of supplies which dept the camp a virtual beehive of activity. Innumerable days of bad weather did little to lessen this activity, although several men were confined to their bedrolls racked with fever and chills. Although this illness was to reach epidemic proportions during the first weeks of January, 1862, and result in numerous deaths, the first siege of illness was short duration and now serious.
Nance became ill just before Christmas and had to spend a few days in his bedroll. Although he partially recovered, he did not fully regain his health during the weeks which followed. About the time the regiment received marching orders to move into Arkansas, Nance was stricken again, and this time the regimental medical officer informed him that he had pneumonia. He did not consider himself sick enough to return home or report to the hospital in Houston, although the number of serious pneumonia cases in camp increased almost daily. Several of his comrades, including William Parsons of his mess group, became dangerously ill and were moved to the hospital.
Although many members of the unit were ill, the recruiting, training, and drilling continued. Many years later, Nance wrote about a the winter encampment on Sim’s Bayou:

During the first winter, the regiment was recruited till every one of the ten companies was full making in all eleven hundred and sixty men besides regimental officers. All of them were young men and represented the bone and sinew of Texas. There were three Ellis County companies, one from Hill, one from Williamson, one from Freestone, and one from Bastrop.

During the long, dreary days in his bedroll, Nance read books and newspapers, wrote long letters to friends and relatives, and thought of his family back home. For an ordinary enlisted man he was well informed and his writings on controversial issues of the day. He considered the positions of both John Breckinridge and Abraham Lincoln as extreme. Yet, he spoke of president Lincoln with a degree of respect, and noted that unfortunate incidents such as John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry had stirred up the people of the south and had caused political agitation to grow worse and worse. His sense of historical perspective was also fully developed for he considered it worthwhile to record that one of the famed “twin sisters” was fired on Christmas Eve. This field piece was one of the two iron cannon which Sam Houston and his Texans used against the army of Santa Anna in the battle of San Jacinto.
About two weeks after Christmas, the full weight of the pneumonia epidemic fell on the Sim’s Bayou encampment and swept through the ranks of the regiment exacting a fearful toll. Many members of the unit, not as ill as some of their comrades, went home in an attempt to avoid the deadly sickness or to seek recovery. Others, less fortunate, were transported to the hospital in Houston. No less than forty-seven men died in their bedrolls in camp or in the hospital. The body of William Parsons, Nance’s messmate, was “ taken home to his mother and buried in the Shiloh Cemetery near Ovilla in Ellis County.”
Furloughs were granted in large numbers prepatory to marching into Arkansas, and Nance was among those leaving for home. When the unit moved out a few weeks later, Nance and about a score of his comrades were still not well enough to travel with the regiment. Those on sick leave had assured their officers that they would report for duty as soon as they had sufficiently recovered. So, in straggling but happy order, the 12th Texas Cavalry took the road to Litle Rock, the regimental banner flying at the head, and supply wagons rumbling at its rear, pulled by double-spans of mules and horses. The only cloud of gloom to detract from the happy occasion was the knowledge that about sixty members of the unit were being left behind-forty of them in graves “ over south of the camp on the side of a small ravine.”
Nance spent the next six weeks under the loving care of his parents on the family farm near DeSoto. As he recovered from pneumonia, he predictably spent much of his time reading and writing. At no time did Nance claim that he was an accomplished poet, but he wrote at least one poem which has been preserved among his papers. A notation, probably written by his daughter, Anne, appears in the right hand margin of the single sheet of light brown paper on which the poems written. The notation reads: These lines were composed by D.C. Nance just leaving his home to engage in the distressing war of 1861-65 between the States of the United States.” Written in Nance’s own hand, the poem reflects a degree of anxiety concerning what awaited him in Arkansas, The poem, with punctuation added by the writer of this article, is reproduced in its entirety below:
Dear home, I am going to leave you,
Maybe not to come home again.
I am going far to defend you
against a foe of wretched fame
Pleasant home, I hate to leave you,
My support, my seeming life,
My proudest spot, and only pleasure,
For you I’ll fight the bloody strife.
If life should leave me while in battle,
Then O! Friends you need not weep,
Peace will be my future nature-
As it with those that sleep.
Weep not for me then sweet mother,
Then I’ll have a home afar-
Then you will have a son in peace-
And not, as now, a son in war.

Soon thereafter, young Nance once again loade Morgan with cooking gear and supplies as the beautiful animal stood near the red cedar fence which Nance had helped construct several years before. Mounting his horse, he waved to his parents and set out on the long journey which would terminate among the horrors of the marshy, insect-infested battleground at Cache River.
David Carey Nance, at the age of 82, died peacefully in his sleep at "the old sweet home" on Heath Branch. He was laid to rest in the William Rawlings Cemetery near Lancaster, Texas.

Source: Texas Military History, Volume 8, 1972

Texans in the Civil War
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