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Backdoor to the Confederacy
On April 2, 1863 British Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Frenmantle landed in the “miserable” village of Bagdad, Mexico. Seventy merchant ships off the shore for Confederate cotton. This was the backdoor to the Confederacy and a way around the Union blockade of the Southern States. Cotton could be sold and ammunition could be bought.
Bagdad was a shanty town at the mouth of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo del Norte) that had sprung up in the war, and “for an immense distance endless bales of cotton” to be seen. The New York Herald described Bagdad “as an excrescence of the war. Here congregated ... blockade runners, desperadoes, the vile of both sexes; adventurers ... numberless groggeries and houses of worse fame.” The newspaper contended the cotton trade had filled the town’s “low, dirty buildings” with millions in gold and silver.
Getting cotton to the Rio Grande involved sending caravans overland across Texas. Before the war, camels had been introduced to the area by the Army, and 80 had been captured by the Confederates at Camp Verde, the outpost of the U.S. Camel Corps. While a mule could carry one bale of cotton, a camel could transport two. As such they were pressed into service, with a company of Texas Rangers assigned to maintain them.
While practical beasts of burden for the terrain and climate, camels proved very disruptive. At the sight or smell of them, horses, burros, and mules went into a frenzy. The Texas border town of Brownsville, which most of the cotton trade followed through, ordnances were passed to stop camels from walking around in the streets.
Before making it to Brownsville, Colonel Frenmantle was brought before a group of Confederate militia cavalry officers controlling the border:
During the conversation, a captain boasted they had made a raid across the Rio Grande against some Union “renegadoes” on the Mexican side. Returning to Texas with some prisoners “one of whom, named Montgomery, they had left on the road to Brownsville; by the smiles of the other officers, I could easily guess that something very disagreeable must have happened to Montgomery.”
Being allowed to continue along the flat road lined with short mesquite trees, Frenmantle noticed something about the people they passed: “Every person we met carried a six-shooter, although it is very seldom necessary to use them.” Along the road they met up with the Confederate commander of the area, General Hamilton Bee. Upon showing his letter of introduction, Bee hopped off his wagon, “and regaled me with beef and beer in the open. He is brother to the General Bee who was killed at Manassas. We talked politics and fraternized very amicably for more than an hour.”
The conversation turned to the Union supporters that fled to Mexico and dabbled in cross-border insurgency against the Confederates. General Bee “said the Montgomery affair was against his sanction and he was sorry for it. He said that Davis, another renegade, would also have been put to death, had it not been for the intercession of his wife. General Bee had restored Davis to the Mexicans.” Colonel Edmund J Davis was believed by the Confederates as the mastermind behind raids across the Rio Grande into Texas. However the incursion into Mexico had caused an international incident and the Mexican governor threatened to suspend trade unless Davis was returned. Bee had little choice but return the captive.
Frenmantle was left with the impression William Montgomery was a bad character and ruffian who was in the habit of calling the Confederates all sorts of insulting epithets” from the Mexican side of the river. Montgomery was a sheep rancher before the war, and had been acquitted of a murder charge in Austin in 1855. It was claimed that Duff’s Partisan Rangers raided into Mexico only after the Union renegades had previously crossed over and killed some unarmed cotton teamsters.
Continuing on his journey, Frenmantle discovered the grisly conclusion to the story:
“Half an hour after parting company with General Bee, we came to the spot where Montgomery had been left and sure enough, about two hundred yards to the left of the road, we found him. He had been slightly buried, but his head and arms were above the ground, his arms tied together, the rope still round his neck, but part of it still dangling from quite a small mesquite-tree. Dogs or wolves had probably scraped the earth from the body, and there was no flesh on the bones. I obtained this my first experience of Lynch law within three hours of landing in America.”
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