The American flag permanently flies at half-mast at the Treue der Union Monument for good reason.
The Comfort, Texas landmark honors those that died in one of the darkest chapters of United States history.
In 1862, the Confederate States of America placed much of the Texas Hill Country under martial law in response to most of the area’s citizenry opposing the Civil War and declaring themselves loyal to the Union. These mostly German immigrants didn’t own slaves and didn’t believe in the right to do so. They also felt it prudent to remain loyal to their newly adopted country rather than to those who were fighting against it.
A group of these “Freethinkers” decided to join the Union Army and planned to reach such by traveling to Mexico. The group of between 61 to 68 men appointed Comfort resident and gristmill and sawmill owner Fritz Tegener as their leader and bestowed upon him the title of Major.
Tegener led the group south and had them camp on the west bank of the Nueces River about 20 miles from Fort Clark near Brackettville. For reasons unknown, Tegener had the group camp without giving thought to a defensive position or posting a guard to keep watch.
The camp was discovered on the afternoon of Aug. 9 by Confederate forces led by Lt. C.D. McRae. They attacked the camp shortly before dawn the next day.
What occurred on Aug. 10, 1862 is referred to by historians as the Battle of the Nueces and also as the Nueces Massacre. Nineteen of the loyalists were killed in the skirmish. Another nine were wounded, taken prisoner, then executed hours later by McRae’s men. Eight loyalists from Tegener’s group who had escaped the early morning raid were later killed while wading the Rio Grande into Mexico by Confederate forces on Oct. 18, 1862. Many historians put the actual number of loyalists killed at 40.
When news of the Freethinkers’ demise reached Comfort, many vowed that the fallen would not be forgotten. On Aug. 19, 1865, Eduard Degener, Eduard Steves and William Heuermann purchased a lot in Comfort for the purpose of building a monument to those that died in what they referred to as the Nueces Massacre.
More than 300 people attended a funeral and memorial service for the remains of the victims of the massacre. Degener, the father of two of the victims, eulogized at the service, “The sacrifice that we, the fathers of the slaughter, made to our country and to liberty, is great and dolorous. We shall, however, console ourselves; we shall be proud of having offered our sons to the Union, if the glorious victory of its arms bear all the fruits that the nation and whole of humanity justly expect to reap.”
Less than a year later, on Aug. 10, 1866, a 20-foot, 35,700-pound limestone obelisk known as the Treue der Union Monument (Loyalty to the Union) was dedicated to the memory of those that were interred below.
A United States 1865, 36-star flag was flown at half-mast and has flown that way ever since. The Treue der Union Monument was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The monument was rededicated on Aug. 10, 1996 to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the memorial.
The Texas State Historical Association summarized the importance and significance of the Treue der Union when it wrote, “It is the only German-language monument to the Union in the South where the remains of those killed in battle are buried, and where an 1866, 36-star American flag flies at half-staff.”