On May 16, 1864, Granbury’s Texas Brigade fought one of many rearguard actions to protect the Confederate withdrawal to Atlanta.
A key component of the famous Confederate contingent was the Waco Guards. Like fellow secessionists throughout Texas and the South, the fighting men of Waco went off to war in a close-knit company of blood kin, friends and neighbors.
Their founder and leader was 30 year old Hiram Bronson Granbury. Since coming to the Central Texas town ten years earlier, the Mississippian had been admitted to the bar and elected to the local bench. A photograph taken on the eve of the Civil War shows Judge Granbury’s two most prominent features: a shock of thick, unruly hair and the piercing eyes of an intense young man.
After a few months of free-lancing, the Waco Guards and other autonomous companies from the former Lone Star State were consolidated into the Seventh Texas Infantry. In the customary election of officers, the rank and file promoted Capt. Granbury to regimental major.
The Texans soon found themselves at Fort Donelson on the Confederate border with Kentucky. The garrison came under siege from a Union force commanded by an obscure brigadier general, who had graduated 21st in his class of 39 at West Point.
Led by the howling Seventh Texas, the southerners broke out of the fort at daybreak on Feb. 15 in a desperate attempt to clear the road to Nashville. They scattered the sleepy Yankee sentries but were forced to retrace their steps after Ulysses S. Grant regrouped his troops for a successful counterattack.
Fort Donelson fell without a shot, and the entire garrison was taken prisoner. But at that point in the war both sides preferred to swap POW’s rather than hold onto them, so the officers and men of the Seventh Texas were back at their posts by the fall of 1862.
Captivity earned a rise in rank for Granbury and his brigade commander, John Gregg of Fairfield. By the time the reconstituted Seventh helped to stop Sherman in his tracks at Vicksburg, Granbury was a colonel and Gregg was a brigadier general.
Following a hard-fought draw with an opponent four times their size, the Seventh was attached to Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. An uneventful summer proved to be the calm before the deadly storm at Chickamauga.
Major General William Rosecrans spent weeks maneuvering his Army of the Cumberland into just the right position for the three-day battle outside Chattanooga. Combined casualties of 35,000 were evenly split between Union and Confederate, but it was Rosecrans who blinked and withdrew in defeat.
One of 14,000 Rebs wounded at Chickamauga, Granbury refused treatment until the final shot was fired. During his recovery, the Seventh joined forces with nine different home-state units to form the Texas Brigade.
The final battle for hotly contested Chattanooga was fought at Missionary Ridge on Nov. 25, 1863. The Texas Brigade was a rare bright spot on the disastrous day Grant outgeneraled Bragg.
When Sherman attacked the Texans early that morning, Granbury’s brigade commander fell with a serious wound. He instantly filled the void, halted the enemy advance and eventually repulsed the Yankees with heavy losses.
On the chaotic retreat to Atlanta, it was the Texas Brigade that protected the Confederate rear. Granbury and his men delayed the enemy with daily skirmishes and even succeeded in knocking them back on their heels with a masterful counterattack at Ringgold Gap, Georgia.
The Texans fought through the spring and summer in defense of doomed Atlanta. When the city finally was evacuated in September 1864, opening Georgia to Sherman’s merciless march, the Texas Brigade returned to Tennessee with Gen. John Bell Hood.
Hood hoped to tempt Sherman into following him but instead ran into a Union army in the hills above Franklin, Tennessee.
For three days, he searched for a chink in the enemy’s armor. Finding none, Hood ordered a charge across a mile of open ground.
With Granbury as usual leading the way, the Texans routed the northerners’ first line of defense.
From there it was a footrace to the main barricades manned by several thousand soldiers, who held their fire for fear of hitting their comrades.
When the last of them reached the finish line mere yards ahead of the Rebs, the Union guns unleashed a murderous volley. Texans dropped like flies, the first of 5,000 to die that afternoon, including Granbury with a bullet in his forehead.
He was buried a day or two later in a private cemetery. Like most battlefield interments, the plot was not meant as his final resting place.
Twenty-nine years later, veterans of the Texas Brigade came back for their fallen hero. They took Hiram Bronson Granbury home to Texas and the town they had named for him – Granbury, Texas.