When we tell people that we live in Fredericksburg, most of them know that we mean Virginia. But, recently, someone asked us whether we live in Fredericksburg Virginia—or Texas. And that got us to thinking: What is Fredericksburg, Texas like? And, what about the Civil War? Texas is so far west, were the people there affected at all?
To satisfy our curiosity, we recently visited our unofficial sister city, located “deep in the heart of Texas,” about 80 miles west of Austin and 70 miles north of San Antonio. Here we not only found a town rich in history, but a delightful destination to visit.
German Heritage Abounds Here
While our Fredericksburg is named for Prince Frederick Louis of Wales, Fredericksburg, Texas is in honor of Prince Frederick of Prussia. Germany was not yet a unified country in the early 1800s, and times there were very difficult. A group of Princes and noblemen established a German Emigration Society to help Germans move to the United States – particularly the hill country of the then Texas Republic.
Landing at Galveston, the pioneers traveled nearly 300 miles by ox cart through virtual wilderness to reach their proposed town site. Ten acres of farm land were immediately made available to them, and, after the land had been surveyed, each single man received an additional 320 acres, and each married man 640 acres.
Settled in 1846, the tidy town of Fredericksburg, Texas is a planned masterpiece. In addition to farmland, each original settler received one town lot to have a place to rest from the long journey to town to go to church. Today, many of the one-room so-called “Sunday Houses” that they built remain and have been turned into quaint bed and breakfast cottages.
The early life of the settlers was hardly easy. They suffered from a lack of sufficient provisions, bad weather, unscrupulous land sharks, and disease, with hundreds dying on the trip from Galveston. But by 1847 the town had grown to about 1,000, and the Commissioner General of the community, Baron John O. Meusebach, realized that a treaty with the local Native Americans was critical to their survival. With three wagons, an interpreter, and 20 men, Meusebach rode into the Indians territory and convinced 20 Comanche chiefs of his integrity and the mutual benefits of a treaty. At six foot three, this German nobleman must have been an impressive spokesman. And his promise of friendship to the Indians was kept by the people of Fredericksburg. There were no breaks in the treaty by either side since it was signed, and it is said to be the one such unbroken treaty in U.S. history.
The heritage of these hearty Texas pioneers comes alive at The Pioneer Museum Complex, at 309 West Main Street. On three acres, right in the heart of town, you’ll be able to time travel to the past and see how the German settlers really lived as you walk under the wide branches of pecan trees and visit almost a dozen historic buildings. From a blacksmith shop, typical homes, and a one-room school house, to the Volunteer Fire Department Museum, and general store, at these historic structures, you’ll find displays and working settings that let you delve into the past of not only Fredericksburg, but surrounding Gillespie County as well.
The rich history of this area came alive even more because our May visit coincided with the annual Founder’s Day Festival. It was fun to see docents in period costume, savor German bratwurst and knockwurst; get a lesson in cowboy cooking on the open range; see sheep being sheared and, best of all, watch Dan an alert Australian cattle dog, teach the sheep some manners. While adults enjoyed seeing this historic setting reflect the town’s early days, children were just as pleased—especially when they got to turn the corn sheller or make their very own wooden toy top.
At the Vereins Kirche Museum, just a block off Main Street in the center of Fredericksburg’s Marktplatz town square, you’ll be able to learn more about the town’s German heritage as you view permanent and rotating exhibits about Gillespie County history. The original octagonal structure, the first building constructed in town in 1847, played a major part in the history of the town because it served as a church for several denominations, as well as a school, meeting place and fortification for more than half a century.
While at the town center, be certain to check out the colorful Mailbaum or traditional German maypole similar to those that you will find in many German Bavarian villages. Maypoles were popular for spring festivals, but, through intricate carvings, they also tell of a town’s history and commerce. And, since the peace treaty with the Comanche Indians was so crucial to the town’s survival, it is commemorated here with an almost life-size sculpture of John Meusebach presenting a piece pipe to a Comanche Chief.
Our visit also coincided with the sixth annual Intertribal Pow Wow, which also celebrated this treaty. Held at Fort Martin Scott, east of Fredericksburg, the Pow Wow was a virtual kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and native regalia, with various people from children to veterans and war mothers to German citizens visiting the town specifically to participate in the Pow Wow.
The fort itself was an active U.S. Army outpost from 1848 to 1853. Here soldiers were trained, and it supported troops on scouting and patrol missions in the area. Because of the relative calm caused by the Meusebach treaty, the fort was abandoned in 1853 and the troops posted to more contentious areas. Over the years, this abandoned fort was used by the Texas Rangers, Confederate and Ranger Units, and homesteaders. In 1959 the Braeutigam family, which owned the 640 acres in and around the fort, sold it to the City of Fredericksburg. Today, you can enjoy self-guided, as well as pre-scheduled guided tours and periodic living history events such as the Texan Thanksgiving Event and the Pow Wow.
A Divided State
Many Texans were of differing opinions about the Civil War. While the German settlers here, in general, supported the Union and opposed slavery and secession, others were concerned that Union victory might affect their lifestyle. Nevertheless, on March 2, 1861, after just over 15 years of being a part of the U.S., Texas seceded. It became the seventh state in the Confederacy and Sam Houston was booted out of the governor’s office.
According to the Texas Historical Commission, by the end of 1861, more than 25,000 Texans had joined the Confederate army. At the close of the war, more than 90,000 Texans had served. One historical poster that the Commission has preserved urged “the brave sons of Texas” to save the South from invasion “by more than a half a million fanatical mercenaries.”
In addition to serving in other battles such as Antietam, Vicksburg, and Glorieta Pass, Texans also saw action at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) and The Wilderness battles in Virginia. A memorial of pink Texas granite at The Wilderness honors Texans who came to the aid of the Confederacy.
Although Fredericksburg, Texas was not the site of a major battle, it was important because of its central location and its proximity to the western Frontier Line of Defense of the Confederacy that ran north to south. In the town of Comfort, near Fredericksburg, the Treue der Union Monument, built in 1866, is the oldest Civil War monument in Texas. It is dedicated to pro-Union loyalists killed in the skirmish north of Brackenville and said to be the only Union monument south of the Mason Dixon line. Two of the Union dead are buried in the Fredericksburg, Texas cemetery.
Modern Day History
While Fredericksburg, Texas may not have as much Civil War history as our town, it does highlight other history with the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site. Housed in the historic Nimitz hotel, dating back to the settling of Fredericksburg and built by Charles Nimitz, the museum tells the story of Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The National Museum of the Pacific War, the George Bush Gallery, and the Pacific Combat Zone, a three and a half- acre outdoor exhibition three blocks away, tell the important story of Pacific War veterans and their activity.
Fredericksburg, Texas, has Presidential history as well. President Lyndon Baines Johnson played along the banks of the Pedernales River and, during his presidency, his ranch became the Texas White House. At the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in nearby Johnson City, you can gain a new understanding of our 36th President. You can visit his reconstructed birthplace, Boyhood Home, tour his grandparents’ home at the Johnson Settlement, the LBJ Ranch, and even see the one-room Junction School, where President Johnson signed one of his 60 education bills. At the visitor’s center, don’t miss the documentary film on President Johnson, as well as the one on Lady Bird Johnson.
Fredericksburg, Texas is similar to our Fredericksburg because it does have a rich history—although different. The town has done a lot to preserve and present its history to visitors. The historical flavor of the downtown has been preserved with the only McDonald’s of limestone block to blend in with the original Sunday houses. The local chamber of commerce hosts over 150 events every year. And, like our Fredericksburg, it offers a wide variety of other attractions. (See Discover Fredericksburg and the Lush Texas Hill Country.) To find out for yourself, you’ll just have to plan a visit. Start by visiting the various web sites to sample some of the available activities.