William Pitt Ballinger

William Pitt Ballinger

William Pitt Ballinger

Ballinger (Handbook of Texas entry) was an attorney in Galveston during the Civil War and also served as the Confederate receiver of alien enemy property there. His diary (transcribed version of which is in the Dolph Briscoe Center) contains rich detail about Civil War Houston, and discusses his acquaintance with Robert Mills, Ball, Hutchings and Company, Cushing, and others. Boxes containing his papers also have lots of financial records, including cotton receipts from Brownsville and Matamoras.

Ballinger opposed secession at first, but certainly not because of any opposition to slavery. As he recalled in his diary at the war’s end, he had believed that disunion would spell the end of slavery as well as republican institutions.1

He was a bookish man, frequently recording what he was reading and often confessing that “common-placing” the marks he had made in his books was one of his favorite pasttimes. On a trip to Washington, D.C., to seek pardons for himself and other prominent businessmen in Texas, he bought hundreds of volumes to be sent back to his Galveston law firm and wrote a giddy diary entry about his trip to the Library of Congress.2


February 23 - November 17, 1862

pp. 29-30:

Tuesday night 29th Apl

The news this morning is that ano[ther] of the enemy’s gunboats have passed the forts below New Orl[ean]s & that the probabilities are that city has fallen. This is infinitely the most damaging event to us during the war, and I fear will prove of the worst consequences. God grant that it may not be [30] confirmed. The enemy will control the entire Miss. the very centre of our heaviest negro population will have every facility for their operations—& the preservation & supply of our armies seems much more difficult. We must wait for events. It is a time for deep concern, but not for despair; & a time when every nerve sh[oul]d be strained. …

p. 33:

Tuesday May 6th ’62

… I have felt most gloomy & miserable ever since it became inevitable N. O. wd fall. Can’t shake off the feeling—It is a very hard blow to us.

p. 38-39:

Saturday, May 24

Gen Hebert has proclaimed Martial Law, and the people are being forced away from Galveston Island, into the country. I think this wrong & inhuman. If there are any suspected people there deal with them boldly and directly; but to remove the great mass of non-combatants & poor people from their little homes where they can live economically, & force them into the country, and destroy their cisterns, cattle, poultry & property itself as it will end in, advances no public good as I conceive & involves infinite misery. Where we cannot defend the country, the policy I think shd be not to make exiles & refugees of the non-combatants, women & children, & throw them as an additional burden upon those who are [39] sustaining the war, but impress upon them to remain at home & preserve their substance, & their fidelity to the country. …

p. 54:

Tuesday, June 24

My sales took place to-day. I sold the Railroad Iron. Sydner the other things. Almost every thing brought good prices. The R. R. iron sold at $86 per ton—Gentry bought it. Don’t feel very well this evening.

p. 78-79:

Saturday Oct. 4

A bleak day in our history. Galveston is in the power of the enemy. Eight vessels were there this morning—& demanded the surrender of the town … [79] … I feel deeply grieved & humiliated—& much of my pride & interest in the place gone.

p. 83:

[Friday night, Oct. 17] No imediate movement will I suppose be made against Houston, but that they will bring a suffic[ien]t force here this winter to take Houston I have little doubt. It can easily be done, a campaign from New Orls into Texas, & no doubt it will be. I shall move my darkies up the country to Waco,—Ben & Tucker, I think, next Monday. …3

November 18, 1862 - October 20, 1864

p. 16:

January 1, 1863 (Thursday)

A glorious day in our annals. Gen[era]l MaGruder captured the Harriet Lane, two barks, a schooner, 600 prisoners, 2 Reg[imen]ts colors, army munitions &c &c. Our loss I fear is considerable. Particulars as yet very meagre. I have never passed a day of more excitement …

p. 18:

Monday, Jany 5, ’63.

… Genl Magruder has called for 2000 negroes to fortify Galveston. …

Tuesday, Jany 6. ’62 [’63]

Sold the Norris negroes to-day—John a boy 20 brought $3025, Pink a boy 17 $2800, a women & 3 children 10, 3 & an inf[an]t 4850, a women & child 6 $2500. Never knew such prices. …

p. 40:

[Wednesday, March 4.] … Dave ran away from Coffee, an returned here to-night, his hand very badly mashed. He says a railroad car ran over it. I don’t believe him supsect he mashed it purposely. No bones seem to be broken, and the cars would have cut it off. Nannie is much better. …

p. 54:

Thursday Apl 9

Have been at work for Capt Lee—preparing mortgages for Gentry’s roads—He leaves to-morrow to get Mason’s approval …

p. 56:

Tuesday Apl. 14—Busily employed to-day–md. sale of the Engine, Boilers, old iron &c. of the old Steam saw mill near San Jacinto for $3600. Sydnor sold over 60 negroes in families—a great many small ones—They averaged $1776. …

p. 59-60:

Friday Apl 24. Prepared draft of Contract between the C. S. & Gentry’s Road this morning for Capt. Lee - Maj. [60] Watkins me sevl hours in regard to the negroes captured from the Morning Light, which he wants on the Fortifications & the Sheriff of this Co. refuses to give them up. …

p. 60:

Saturday, Apl. 25 - Busy all day. Most of the evening taken up with Maj. Watkins negro case. Filed a motion for him vs. the sheriff.

p. 61:

Tuesday 28th. Tried motion vs. the Sheriff for delivery of the Morning Light negroes to the Military. The Judge sd. it ought to be done. They were not in the Sheriff’s official custody, & belonged to the military; but had no jurisdiction of my motion. Lanham then agreed to surrender them; and I suppose it was done this afternoon. …

p. 71:

Saturday, May 30. Mason indicted Ralph a negro slave of Perry for Treason, as he joined the enemy & was captured at the Harriet Lane. The liability of a slave to such an indictment was argued to-day. Mason sincerely believing he is. Mason’s style of speaking is good. He has a fine person & a pleasant voice, his language is fluent and choice & he is an agreeable interesting speaker, peculiarly fair in his own argument, tho’ very sensitive to misconstruction & resentful of what he considers improper deductions from his positions. The candor with which he views matters, & the general high & honorable tone of his character give a certain weight & effect to his views—tho’ he is very little of a lawyer, hasn’t a legal mind or habit of thought—is unacquainted with business, & lazy & I think rarely brings his best powers into play. He knws less how to do things; & requires help more than any one I have ever met. Merriman argues for Ralph. The Judge very rightly decided in my judgment that a slave is not a person who can commit treason vs. the C. S. That they are not members of the body politic, & do not owe allegiance to the Govt.—I think the matter too clear for argument, & that the indictment is a reproach to Mason’s judgt. …

p. 81:

Tuesday, June 23. Bought a place in Houston to-day from Bennett Cowen, a house & 3 lots. Some objections to it, too far out, a muddy part of town, no chimneys to the house; but it is new, well built, & large enough for us, & more than worth the money. … I gave $2000 in gold. Jno Mills loaned me the money, Ball H & Co. went my security for it. … Wrote a note to Mr. Cole offering to buy Nancy, no reply yet.

p. 85:

Tuesday, July 14. Taking testimony in Marcos Radiz’ case. Busy but out of heart. People gen[eral]ly have been incredulous about the fall of Vicksburg; but this evening the report is confirmed—& Pt. Hudson also has fallen. This will lead inevitably I fear to the overrunning of Miss. Ala. Tenn. Arkansas Lou[isian]a & Texas, to the practical destruction of slavery in them. …

p. 93:

[Wednesday Aug. 5] We dined at Col Hadley’s to-day. On her return Hally [Ballinger’s wife] found the plainest evidence that a little trunk containing her’s Laura’s & Molly Bryan’s purses locked up in the wardrobe, & the keys hid away had been opened, & money taken out. The proof was clear that Dave altho’ expressly told not to come into the front part of the house had spent nearly the entire day in Hally’s room. I whipped him severely & he denied in toto. Hally then talked with him & he confessed & gave up $15, declaring before God it was every cent he touched. Farther exam[inatio]n [ma]d[e] it certain that Laura had lost a hundred Dollar bill at least, and in answer to a further appeal from Hally he surrendered $130 more. I have been thoroughly satisfied a long time of his dishonesty. This is a very bold & ingenious procedure. What effect punishment & exposure may have on him I don’t know. I don’t believe we ought to keep him—for his own good, or any advantage he will ever be to us. We can have no confidence in him. I have no doubt we shall lose him, and perhaps a great deal by him. My advice to Hally is to sell [94] him, but she will not agree to it. I feel sure it wd. be right.

p. 94:

Sunday, Aug. 9. … Last night called to see Mrs. Dr. Copes & her daughter Mrs. Phelps from New Orleans refugees. Dr. C is a client & has been friendly to me, and I want to render his wife every service in my power. …

p. 99-100:

Tuesday, Sept. 1—Exam[ine]d the question whether purchases of negroes here brought from Lou[isian]a are affected by mortgages recorded in Lou[isian]a of which they have no actual notice. Very few decisions & very little discussion upon it. The Lou[isian]a decisions are clear that there is no notice. Our decisions are likewise. There are opposite decisions in Ohio & N. H. [N.C.?] I think our courts will follow the track already indicated, altho I doubt its correctness in principle.

Am considering the subject also of the right to employ Slaves in the army—with, & without compensation. I don’t believe compensation necessary.

p. 104ff:

Thursday, Sept. 17. Closely at work all day. Colman & Lery have paid off their debt to Sweetner, Gookin & Co & Atwood, Barnes & Co—they paid voluntarily without my suggestion or influence. My own professional cases are the most responsible connected with my duties as Receive. My opinion has always been that the Sequestration Laws were impolitic. Practically, they will do us no good in carrying on the war. The funds derived are a mere drop in the bucket. [105] If, by peace, the northern merch[an]ts could recover their debts no doubt they w[oul]d be for peace, & it wd be a most powerful & probably controlling influence. Now, the merchants look to the subjugation of the South as their only chance of recovering their debts. If there were no such laws, they wd look to peace as reestablishing their rights. The money influence on Legislation is notorious at the North. A line of steampships, or Railroad can carry any project. What, then, cd. not the mercantile influence—interested in the hundreds of millions of Southern debt accomplish? …

p. 129:

Tuesday, Dec. 15–Yest[er]d[a]y brought suit at request of Jas M. Dowell vs. Dr. Buckner by attachment. He has a large no of negroes here for sale, & we concluded to await the sale, and garnishee the funds instead of levying on the slaves, which would be like getting an Elephant these times. The negroes are to be sold tomorrow. I hope we shall succeed in making the money …

p. 136:

[Monday, Jany 11, 1864] … Was at the Cotton Board this morning—and commenced Maj. Murrow’s case about the free negroes this evening, postponed until morning—

Thursday, Jany 14. The case of the negroes was continued over this morning by the Deft. I wd have contind being afraid tor isk trial on my evidence. I saw the negroes—they are a fine family, and excited my interest [137] very much. I intend to secure their freedom if in my power. …

p. 158:

Monday night, March 28, ’64. … Busy all day. Wrote agreement for the division of the Chenango plantation—negroes &c. …

p. 162:

[April 11] … The negro woman I bought proved a cheat—She has been diseased in the womb for years. I have rescinded the trade & given them back.

p. 201: notes that he received $480 for “Jack, Jerry & Chany’s hire,” and $46 for “Ellick’s hire less pd for shoes.”

October 26, 1864 - December 27, 1868

p. 9-10:

[November 25, 1864] … On my return home the evidence was again positive that my trunk had been opened and 2.25 specie taken from it, what else I don’t detect. Wednesday night I called in Dave—charged it on him & told him if he wd make a clean breast I wouldn’t punish him tho’ I wouldn’t promise not to sell him. He denied every thing. I tied his hands & stripped him & was about to commence on him when he sd he wd tell all. He then confessed to entering the room & opening my trunk as often as four times—the first time he says he took nothing, next 50c, next 2.50 & last 2.25, admits to have taken liquor also, tho’ it is only where I have the means of detecting him that his acknowledgm[en]ts or statem[en]ts are entitled to any weight. He got his implements, two pirces of wire & showed me how he open[e]d the door & trunk, the latter by unjointing the hinges & lifting off the top. With his wire he opened the door as easily as I could with the key—He says he was honest until hired to Ferguson who taught him to pick locks open trunks make the implements &c &c. Says he has gone robbing with Ferguson Nicaragua Smith & their gang many times. Carried Ferguson’s bag of keys and wd hold it whilst he was trying locks, and has entered stores with them & held the dark lantern while they robbed. He became very animated & evidently felt quite heroic in his narrative tho’ he wd reproach Ferguson as the author of every species of crime & the worker of his own ruin. Says he was afraid of Ferguon who threatened to kill him repeatedly & he or some of his gang wd do it if they knew of his betraying him. Says that Ferguson tried to persuade him to go off with him to Mexico, but that he didn’t want to leave us & was afraid of him.

I asked how I could keep him—he admitted he couldn’t say.

I shall urge Hally to sell him—tho’ I feel sincerely attached to him. He has many good & kind traits of character.

p. 11:

Tuesday night, Nov. 28. ’64 – Friday morning I started Dave with Nancy up to Dr. Johnston’s to aid in bringing her baggage home &c & bought him a pair of shoes. Returning home that night I found my room door unlocked, which surprised me but I had left hurriedly & thought it possible I had omitted to lock it. My trunk also looked differently from the way I supposed I had left it, but as I had taken the valuables out and not been careful in fixing it, I didn’t exam[ine] further. Next morning I rec[eive]d a Telegram from Hally that Dave had left the cars before they reached Hempstead. I instantly reverted to my door & trunk, and coming up home found that he had taken Tom’s Derringer pistols, one of my shot pouches, a cannister of powder, box of caps &c. Ellick s[ai]d he had returned very soon after leaving as he s[ai]d to get his breakfast, but he thought had left immediately for the cars. I telegraphed to J. M. Brown at Galveston. Brown on coming up learned that some persons connected with the Railroad had arrested him at Sim’s bayou. … At Brown’s suggestion a hand car was sent down, & brought him up last night, & I put him in jail. He had taken my saddle bags & a bacon ham, didn’t bring back one of Tom’s pistols, s[ai]d he had lost it. His object no doubt was to have taken all Hally’s jewelry & my specie. To-day I had him well whipped. He s[ai]d the pistol was in the hands of Harris Cole at Harrisb[ur]g to whom he had sold it for $50. He begged very hard, and says he will never misbehave if I will only take him back. I shall make his punishment an example & terror to him & if I can put him in the penitentiary during the war will do so. …

p. 13:

[Saturday night, December 1, ’64.] … Dave is again the subject of excitement. Last Tuesday or Wednesday night with four others he broke out of jail. Came here and called Ellick. Nancy heard him & waked Ellick and sent him in to me. He has not been caught nor heard from since. I shall send him to the penitentiary if I catch him. …

p. 14:

[Saturday night, December 10 ’64 sic] … Dave came up near home sev[era]l evenings ago & was arrested by old Wilson. Says he was coming in. Has been in jail since, & Monday starts to the Penitentiary. …

p. 15:

Saturday night – Dec. 24, ’64. … Last Monday Lanham, the Sheriff, carried Dave to the Penitentiary where he is now safely. His hire commences 1st Jany. $300 a year in cloth. …

p. 35:

[March 24, 1865] … Cushing has been sick. I have written sev[era]l articles for him this week and have taken ground for making soldiers of the negroes. We are obliged to come to it.

p. 48:

Houston Apl 1865 Friday –

Since I last wrote in my Diary great events have taken place. Richmond and Petersburg have been evacuated, and Gen Lee has surrendered with his army. He seems to have had not over 12 or 15,000. Some had doubtless been sent to Johnston; but he had lost considerably, and when we came to know the facts his numbers were no doubt weaker than has ever been reported; and he was abandoned by many troops when compelled to evacuate Richmond.

On the night of 14th Apl President Lincoln was shot thro’ the head in his box in the theatre in Richmond by J. Wilkes Booth an actor, and died the ensuing day. Seward was also badly stabbed, but is reported recovering. Fred Seward his son injured still worse. This was done by a man from Maryland. Johnston [sic] has been inaugurated President. I do not foresee the effects of Lincoln’s death. I have long thought he had a great deal of ability, that more than any other man he was qualified to manage parties to carry on the war against us. Nor have I doubted his amiable personal qualities. If our fate is subjugation he would have had more laxity towards us than most of his party. I was raised up to detest Andy Johnson as the vilest of demagogues, and he will be infinitely more vengeful & malicious against the South. Of course I abhor [49] assassination. The act is one not to be justified or excused. At the same time, with my whole soul, I regard the effort to overrun subdue & govern the South to have in it every quality of tyranny. I regard Mr Lincoln as a fanatic in that design—as the most formidable of all our oppressors, and I feel that his fate is the deserved fate of tyrants.

I wrote an article of two columns on his death in the Telegraph, which has excited considerable attention. Some think it too far below patriotic high water mark. For this mornings paper I wrote an article on the effect of change of adm[inistratio]n, by Lincoln to Johnson, discussing the characters of each, showing Lincoln’s capacity to conduct the nation during war, and that Johnson is just the reverse. …

Ballinger appointed a commissioner to seek peace terms for Texas, and in May writes from on board the U.S. Gun Boat Antona near Fort Jackson, p. 65:

I notice that Ft. Jackson is occupied altogether by negro troop. They look well dressed & seem to move well. There are a good many negro soldiers aboard this ship.

p. 92:

Galveston, July 11, 1865 (Tuesday)

I brought down my family from Houston Thursday June 29th. …

The 76th Illinois Regt has been camped adjoining our northern fence—They get water from our cistern, & at first were very troublesome—nearly distracted the ladies by their depredations, interference with the negro women &c. Recently they are less offensive, tho’ their neighborhood is still very disagreeable.

Ben left Mrs Jack down here the day the proclamation of the freedom of the negroes was issued by Gen Granger.

Milly came down with us, & then left as Ellick had provided her a house. We expected her to do so. She [93] acted well. Jerry is with us, also little Ellick, Julia & Nancy. We are paying all of them wages. …

Tom & his family are staying with us. They have Becky, an abominable slut. We shall have trouble about servants. …

p. 95

[Monday night, July 17, ’65.] … Ellick left us this evening. He has evidently been slighting his work & exhibiting insubordination sometime. He is an honest, good, little fellow—surly at times—but I feel great interest in his doing well.

Bryan & Perry still with us— …

Travels to Washington to secure pardons for himself and other Galveston elites, including A. J. Ward, who is mentioned on p. 123 as having received a pardon. See moretta2000, 176–181.

p. 161:

[May 11th ’67] Negro juries at Houston—one of them 11 blacks & 1 white!

p. 227-228: Attended to the sale of the Retrieve and Lack Jackson plantations to Robert Mills.

  1. Neglected to write down date of this while in Austin. Need to revisit. For more on Ballinger’s positions on secession, see moretta2000, 111-132.

  2. Neglected to write down date of this while in Austin. Need to revisit.

  3. Later entry on p. 95 indicates Tucker was hired to Major Davis on July 26.