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George Wheatley - Black Horse Cavalry

Sometimes the most interesting people lie at rest beneath the most innocuous gravestones. Such is the case with George Wheatley, Confederate veteran, quartermaster for the Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion, member of the board for the State Lunatic Asylum and veteran of the Spanish American War. Amongst other things, he was a scout for the Confederate Army with the Black Horse Cavalry, a prisoner of war, a dry goods salesman and a Lieutenant Colonel in the forerunner to the Texas National Guard.

Wheatley was born in Virginia in 1842 and died exactly 102 years ago today. He joined the 4th Virginia Cavalry, or the Black Horse Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Robert E. Lee in 1863. He was attached to General J.E.B. Stuart and used as a scout in Stuart’s campaigns. He was captured by Union forces in 1864 in Stafford County, one of the most contested pieces of ground in the War. Stafford County was just miles from Baltimore, Washington D.C. and the bulk of the Union Army. He was sent to the Union prison at Fort Delaware until the end of the War when he signed the oath of allegiance. Fort Delaware was located at Pea Patch Island in Delaware Bay just a few miles from Wilmington. Wheatley and Francis Richard Lubbock, the former Governor of Texas and aide to Jefferson Davis, were both held in Fort Delaware and are both buried here at the State Cemetery, though it’s unlikely they ever met as Lubbock was in solitary throughout his stay.

While not the worst prison in the Civil War, see Andersonville (Confederate) and Elmira (Union), Fort Delaware was no walk in the park. It was overcrowded and like most prisons in the War, there were many deaths. Some 2,400 men died of disease or lack of medical attention there. Wheatley was paroled at the end of the War after signing an oath of allegiance to the United States. The prisoners of Fort Delaware were released in waves; they didn’t just fling the doors open. Men were given transport to various places, most went west. Wheatley went west, too. He moved to Austin after the war and started a successful dry goods business and became a fixture in Austin society. Often referred to as “the Major,” Wheatley was as active in state government as a former Confederate could be. More often he served organizations for former Confederate such as the John Bell Hood Camp and the Confederate Men’s Home as well as the State Lunatic Asylum.

He was a member of the adjutant general’s office where he served as quartermaster for the legendary Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. The Frontier Battalion fought outlaws like Sam Bass and patrolled the border trying to bring stability to the area. He joined the Texas Volunteer Guard in 1892 which turned into the Texas National Guard. On April 25, 1898, he resigned when Congress declared war on Spain. He volunteered for service in the U.S. Army, but saw no service outside of the country. He remained in Austin until his death in 1909.

He was remembered in his obituary in the Austin Daily Statesman fondly, saying “He was strictly honorable in all his dealings and had a great many devoted friends in the city.”  

-       Will Erwin