Spotlight on History: Too Young to Serve

Friday, October 25, 2013
Special to the Daily Light

Teens across the South were eager to serve the Confederacy. 

Some enlisted with parents’ permission. Others joined without parental consent. This is the story of two Texas teens that were too young to serve.

Albert Butler Blocker, the son of a prosperous planter in Marshall, Texas, was just 16 in December 1860. Eager to be ready in case Texas went to war, Albert left his private school and joined a volunteer group from Harrison County called the Texas Hunters. 

In June 1861 the Hunters enlisted as Company A of the Third Texas Cavalry.

Albert became the regiment’s bugler. He was responsible for conveying the commander’s orders to the men with notes which could be heard above the fray of battle. He also served as the unit’s clock as he directed the day’s routine.

In August, the Third Texas was deployed to southwest Missouri.

On Aug. 10, just an hour before dawn, Albert sounded reveille. As the soldiers were finishing a cold breakfast, a shell came tearing right over Company A. 

Union General Nathaniel Lyon had initiated a surprise attack.  In his memoirs, Albert remembered the morning.  “Lyon’s old regulars were pouring volley after volley at [us], and it seemed that a perfect sheet of bullets were passing over our heads. The artillery on both sides was now bellowing forth along the entire line. … When Company A reached the top of the hill we beheld a line of blue-coats … about 150 yards distant.”

After the Confederate victory, he wrote “The slaughter of the enemy was terrible.”

Thus Albert was introduced to the realities of war. He had seen the “elephant.”

He spent Christmas freezing in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. After participating in battles at Fayetteville and Elk Horn Tavern (Pea Ridge) in northwest Arkansas, the regiment headed to Corinth, Miss. 

On the day they arrived, Albert was stricken with typhoid fever. He lay on a pallet in his tent for a week, burning with fever and only semi-conscious. 

After spending the spring recuperating in a private home, he returned to his unit camped near Tupelo.

During April 1862, the Confederate Congress enacted its first conscription law in order to maintain a viable army.  All men between the ages of 18 and 35 were now required to enlist. 

Suddenly Albert was too young to serve. He was discharged.

So he left Mississippi with his luggage “reduced to a change of underclothes for we gave all that we had except this to the boys in our mess.” 

He began his journey back to Texas where he would wait at home until he was old enough to again enlist.

Meanwhile in McLennan County, Texas, 14-year-old Isaac Newton McGee was also eager to go to war. 

Born in Sabine Parish, La., Newton came to Texas in 1852 with his parents, Anthony and Nancy Ford McGee. 

In early 1862, he saw in the Waco newspaper an advertisement for Confederate volunteers. Newton enlisted and was sworn into Company D, Speights’ Battalion, 15th Texas Infantry, CSA by Major J. C. Harrison. 

After returning home to gather his clothing and arms, Newton joined his unit and headed toward Galveston. He served as a drummer and was detailed to help gather field cattle for the army.

Newton’s mother was furious. 

On March 17, 1862, Mrs. McGee wrote to General P. O. Hebert.  “Excuse this intrusion on your time from me a stranger and unknown to you. I am a widow with five small children. My son the eldest a youth of fourteen was decoyed and recruited and sworn in the service contrary to my wishes by a certain Capt. Crain, in Speights’ Battalion now at Galveston. Sir, I appeal to you in the name of humanity to interpose your authority and have my son sent home as I cannot get along without him. The country does not require the services of boys.   make this appeal confidently hoping that you will order his discharge and return at Capt. Crain’s expenses.”

Captain Crain remembered McGee’s enlistment differently. In his response to Mrs. McGee’s letter he wrote “The young man McGee is of good size and when I afterward asked his age to make out my muster roll said his age was near sixteen years. … I disclaim all criminality in the matter.  Nevertheless I am willing that the said I. N. McGee should be discharged.”

So ended Isaac Newton McGee’s service in the Confederate army. In his 1912 pension application McGee stated “he was honorably discharged about the first of August 1862. The regiment was reorganized and I dropped out because of underage.”

McGee married Miss Mary Boone in 1869.  They had three sons.  Newton became a dentist and moved to Waxahachie in 1889. He joined the Winnie Davis camp of the United Confederate Veterans. 

Isaac Newton McGee died in June 1915 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Confederate lot in Waxahachie City Cemetery.

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