by Barbara J. Wood
Return to "Talk"


A letter to Joseph H. Polley 1835

A posted 1835 letter cover sent from White Hall, New York to Joseph H. Polley of Sutherland Springs Texas.   (Private collection)
In 1847 Polley moved from his home on the Brazos River in Brazoria County, which he had called "Whitehall" in honor of his birthplace. He selected a site for his new home on the small knoll overlooking Cibolo Creek about three miles north of old Sutherland Springs, in what was then Guadalupe County (established 1846) and is now Wilson County (established 1860). [The northeast section of Wilson County was previously a southeast section of Guadalupe County.]
(Historic Farm & Ranch Complexes)
The area we know today as Wilson County was a part of Bexar County and the county seat was in San Antonio, Texas. In 1855 Dr. John Sutherland of Sutherland Springs and a veteran of the Texas Revolution, sent petitions to the Texas Legislature asking this body to form a new county from portions of Bexar and Karnes counties. The act to create said county was approved by the Texas State Legislature on February 13, 1860. It was named Wilson County after James Wilson, an Englishman who came to Texas in the 1830s. He survived the ill-fated Mier Expedition and became a state senator. ( Wilson County Historical Society

Hall of honor inducts Wilson County pioneer

Wilson County Texas celebrated the anniversary of Texas statehood two days early by recognizing one of its early settlers.
During a brief Feb. 17, 2016 ceremony at the Wilson County Courthouse, Joseph Henry Polley was inducted into the First Pioneers and Leaders of the State of Texas Hall of Honor.
Polley, born in 1795, was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Texas War for Independence. He moved to Wilson County in 1847 and built a home in Sutherland Springs, where he lived until he died in 1869. The house, which Polley named Whitehall, is undergoing restoration by its current owner, Keith Muschalek.
Six direct descendants of Polley attended the ceremony, which included a presentation by Dennis Kulvicki, president of the State of Texas Anniversary Remembrance Day Foundation.
Kulvicki said the foundation carries out the intent of state legislation passed in 1999 to celebrate Feb. 19, the anniversary of the date Texas became a state, with appropriate patriotic ceremonies.
"My job is to inspire our young people," Kulvicki said, explaining that the organization also serves "to motivate young people to explore and discover the state's founders."
Kulvicki, an El Paso resident, said some of his ancestors are buried in the Fairview Cemetery west of Floresville, and some of his wife's ancestors may have known Joseph Henry Polley.
According to Wilson County Historical Society member Shirley Grammer, Polley owned lands in an arc from Corpus Christi north to Llano County and west to Medina County, raising cattle and growing cotton.
Grammer noted that Polley sponsored schools in Seguin and Sutherland Springs. His home became a social center, and guests included Robert E. Lee and John B. Hood.
After Polley's death, he was buried in the family cemetery on F.M. 539.
"Polley played a distinctive role in the history of Texas," Kulvicki said.
COURTESY /  Wilson County News  Article written by Gregory Ripps

Historical Reminiscences
Conducted By J. B. Polley, Floresville, Texas

On July 12, 1908 the San Antonio (TX) Daily Express published a letter from Dr. Sam Burroughs of Buffalo, Texas (formerly Private Burroughs) of the 1st Texas Infantry about his intense memories of the Battle of Gettysburg and the charge by Hood's Texas Brigade on the Devil's Den and Little Round Top and how a Federal Sniper was dealt with later that evening. 
I believe this letter (article) hasn't been seen by many since it was published almost 113 years ago.
Daily Express
July 12, 1908
Historical Reminiscences
Conducted By J. B. Polley, Floresville, Texas
  We listened to so many stories of the war that we have forgotten the half of them. Next time we go to a reunion we will carry along a recording phonograph and when the old boys get in a reminiscent mood have it in a fix to catch the stories. Two of these we remember well enough to repeat. They were related by Dr. Sam E. Burroughs of Buffalo. At the time the incidents occurred he was a 20-year-old boy, and as "wild and wooly" a chap as ever vegetated in the piney woods. Now he is a leading physician and surgeon in East Texas.
  The first incident occurred at the beginning of the second day's battle at Gettysburg. To the First Texas Regiment had been given by Mrs. Wigfall a beautiful Lone Star flag, made from her wedding dress. When St. Andrew's cross was adopted as the battle flag of the Confederacy the unfolding of State flags in action was prohibited. Nevertheless, the First Texas carried along with it the Lone Star flag. Its bearer was a young fellow, under 20, whose name has escaped our memory, but it was never unfolded in battle after the order mentioned was issued until the battle at Gettysburg. There, while the Texas Brigade was forming in line of battle, a Federal battery got its range and began to play upon it. One of the round shots fired wounded several men of the First Texas and when, passing on, swept the head off of Ham Lloyd of Company F of the Fourth Texas.
   "Just as this occurred," said Dr. Burroughs, "I saw the bearer of the Lone Star flag, begin to pull off the oil cloth case that protected it. Having completed the task he stuffed the case into his haversack and then commenced unrolling the flag."
  "What are you doing that for?" I asked, don't you know it's against orders to show but the one flag and that our battleflag?"
  "Yes, I know what the orders are as well as anybody" he replied; "but orders be d----d in a case like this; I am going to straddle the gun that fired that shot and wave the Lone Star flag over it or die a trying."
  "At that moment Hood came in front of the brigade and a dozen voices shouted: "Have that fence pulled down, General, and we'll take that infernal battery."
  Hood ordered a detail to level the fence and in less than ten minutes the battery was captured, and that little dare devil bearer of the Lone Star sat astride of the gun which had fired the shot mentioned, waving his flag and yelling loud enough to be heard above the roar of cannon.
  In another twenty minutes the First Texas was engaged in the fierce and sometimes hand-to-hand struggle that occurred in the Devil's Den. During the progress of the fight there about a dozen of us forged far to the front and finally secured a commanding position high up on the side of Little Round Top.
  Here we commenced shooting at everything Federal that came into view. It was not a one-sided performance though, for some of the Federals on the field had as much grit as the Confederates, and while we drove them as long as we moved forward, they came to a halt when we did and began firing at us. But we did not mind them as much as we did the determination and good aim of some far-off Yankee whose location for a long time we could not fix. The gun he used made a report like a small cannon, and the balls from it wounded two or three men.
  Long and close watching revealed the fact that he was concealed in the branches of a tall oak tree, fully half a mile distant, and standing in the open. The puffs of smoke from his rifle appeared to proceed from a limb on the south side of the trunk, and, thinking to put an end to his game, our little squad waited until he fired, and then poured a volley into the south side of the tree top. The return shot came immediately and demonstrated plainly that we had done no damage. A second time we took aim and pulled the trigger, only to be replied to by another puff of smoke out of the treetop and the whistle of a bullet dangerously close to our ears. Then an Alabamian, 20 yards or more off to our right, gave us the hint we needed. He cried out:
  "Say Texans, you'uns ar' lettin' that are plaguey sharpshooter fool yer. He don't stay on the limb whar he shoots from. The moment he pulls the trigger he jumps for the body of the tree. Eff yer'll all center on that yer'll shorely git him."
  And "shortly git him" we did. One of our boys shoved his hat well above the big rock sheltering his body. The sharpshooter fired at it, and just a second later we sent a volley of bullets into the treetop, this time, however, aiming so as to scalp the trunk of the tree in which our enemy was lodged, and had the satisfaction of seeing the fellow's body come tumbling to the ground.
  "You got him that time, Johnny," sang out a Yankee that was nearer by.
  "We shorely did, "answered one of our party. We saw him drop, and we heerd im' strike the ground, damn him."
  These little amenities exchanged with the enemy, we looked into our rear and saw, far down the hill below us, that our main force was making a change of position that would leave us entirely unsupported and subject to capture. That was the signal to us for an immediate retreat, and I don't mind acknowledging that it was precipitate. It couldn't have been otherwise, for not only was our flight downhill, but it was hastened by the bullets of the enemy. I know that I went with the velocity of a shell just out of the cannon's mouth – so fast, indeed, that I could distinctly hear the thunder of the air as it rushed together behind me to fill the vacuum my body left.
  "This is the first time I ever heard a Texas Brigade man admit he did any running," observed a veteran of the Trans-Mississippi Department who had been listening, open-mouthed, to the story.
  That is due to the modesty of the members of the brigade," said Dr. Burroughs. We never boast of our bravest deeds – we let others tell them. But just as a pointer to you, my friend, I would gently remark that it often requires more courage to get out of a hot place than to get into it. Facing and fighting an enemy, one is nerved and simulated by an excitement and the desire to kill and win that is entirely absent when one is running from him. To know when to stand or go forward and when to retreat is generalship of the highest order. The poet says:
  "In all the trade of war no feat, Is nobler than a brave retreat."
  When your enemy surrounds you, or get the drop on you, you'd be a fool not to surrender; but when, by taking no more risks than you encountered while moving forward, there is a chance for you to escape death and capture, if you are a true soldier you'll run every time. Many of the bravest men in the Federal and Confederate armies were shot in the back while endeavoring to escape capture. It was in this way that one-armed Gen. Phil Kearney of the Federal Army was killed at Chantilly a few days after the Battle of Second Manassas. He galloped up to a line of our skirmishers after nightfall, thinking they were his own men. Apprised of his mistake, and unwilling to surrender, he wheeled his horse around, and, bending his body forward, went off at full speed. But he had not gone 100 feet before a ball struck him squarely in the anus and killed him dead, without leaving a mark or a drop of blood on his exterior body. Falling from his horse, the remains lay there until General Lee came and reorganized it.
  "You have killed the bravest man in America, boys," he said. Then he gave directions to have the body guarded and returned under a flag of truce to the Federal Army.
COURTESY / Civil War Texas ( Joe Owen Civil War Author)

J.B. Polley and Hood's Texas Brigade

J.B. Polley and Hood's Texas Brigade ... The enduring fame of General John Bell Hood's Texas brigade in Civil War history was due in large part to a soldier of the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, Quarter Master Sergeant Joseph Benjamin (J. B.) Polley. He was born near Bailey's Prairie, Brazoria County, Texas, on October 27, 1840, the sixth of eleven children of Joseph Henry and Mary (Bailey) Polley. His family had historical Texas roots. His father Joseph Henry Polley a native of New York, first came to Texas with pioneer Moses Austin in 1819 and returned with Stephen F. Austin in 1821 as one of the Old Three Hundred colonists. In 1847 the Polley family moved to a farm on Cibolo Creek about thirty miles east of San Antonio.

In 1861 Polley graduated from Florence Wesleyan University at Florence, Alabama, and returned to Texas to enlist in Company F of the Fourth Texas Infantry, one of the regiments of the famed Hood's Texas Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia.   Sergeant Polley fought in many of the major battles the brigade was in. He received a head wound at the battle of Gaines Mills in 1862, and lost his right foot at the battle of Darbytown Road near Richmond on October 7, 1864.

After returning to Texas at the end of the war, he was admitted to the Texas bar in 1868 and established a law practice until 1876, when he moved to Floresville. In 1866 he married Mattie LeGette, and the couple had four children. Polley was elected commander of the Texas Division of the United Confederate Veterans. He was an active member and leader of Hood's Texas Brigade Association made up of the former soldiers of the brigade. For several years he wrote weekly articles for the San Antonio Express titled "Historical Reminiscences" about Hood's Texas Brigade and other Confederate brigades, leaders, soldiers and battles.

Polley's first Civil War book, A Soldier's Letters to Charming Nellie (1908), is controversial as it has been suspected over the years to be a largely fictional correspondence rather than the authentic Civil War letter cycle which he claimed to be. There is no authenticated woman named "Nellie" that he knew. He was commissioned by the Hood's Texas Brigade Association to write Hood's Texas Brigade: Its Marches, Its Battles, Its Achievements (1910), and is considered one of the classics of Civil War literature. Polley was also a frequent contributor to Confederate Veteran. He attended the yearly Hood's Texas Brigade Association reunions up until shortly before his death. He died on February 2, 1918 in Floresville, Texas and is buried in the city cemetery.

J. B. Polley kept the history and fame of Hood's Texas Brigade alive throughout the years. His desire to keep the brigade's achievements and history alive has been largely successful. He would be pleased and proud to know that the brigade's history is well known in American and Civil War History.
COURTESY / Joe Owen, Civil War Author
Fb img 1625101718577

Joseph Benjamin "J. B." Polley

His family were Texas pioneers, Mom and Dad. He was a lawyer and a judge after the war and also was the historian of Hood's Texas Brigade he wrote two books, "Hood's Texas Brigade: Its Marches, Its Battles, Its Achievements," which was the first authorized history of the brigade. He also wrote, "Letters To Charming Nellie," his semi-fictional account of the war. He wrote to the San Antonio Daily Express for about 10 years in a weekly column of Hood's Brigade, Confederate Texas, Texas Republic and the Indian Wars. He and his wife lived in Floresville Wilson County Texas and are buried there.
COURTESY / Civil War Texas


By  Keith Muschalek  & Robin Broughton Muschalek

The front rails are complete! We removed the rotted rails six years ago and completed them today. They weren't on the house in 1855 but an 1889 photo shows the porch with the rails. (Reader Owen Lowak  asks who knows what the red things are sitting on the steps?)

Polley Mansion