On a recent drive from Dallas to College Station, Texas (better known in these parts as ‘Aggieland’) I happened to pass a sign that caught my attention. It was for a Texas State Historic Site in the small town of Mexia. The town itself, named for a Mexican general who fought for Texas independence in the Texas Revolution, has connections to several major historical events–including the Civil War, the Indian Wars (Quanah Parker’s mother was born near Mexia), and even World War 2. POW’s from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps were imprisoned near the town.
But it was the reunion grounds that drew my interest, so I turned down a typical Texas country road and followed the signs to the site along the Navasota River, where, from the lates 1880s until 1946, Confederate veterans and their descendants held reunions to commemorate the war. The town lay at an easy distance from veterans from both Houston and Dallas to reach — meaning reunions drew large crowds.
As the veterans put in 1889 — the site was designated:
“To perpetuate the memories of our fallen comrades, to administer to the wants of those who were permanently disabled in the service, and to aid the indigent widows and orphans of deceased Confederate soldiers, to preserve and maintain that sentiment of fraternity born of the hardships and dangers shared in the march, bivouac and the battlefield.”
One highlight of the site is the presence of an artillery piece nicknamed Old Val Verde, one of two Union cannon (both of them Ordnance Rifles) captured by Confederates at the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana in 1864.
The cannon shares its name with a battle that occurred west of Texas, however, because the Confederates who captured the piece began their Civil War service under Henry H. Sibley in his New Mexico campaign, where they fought at the battle of Val Verde, New Mexico Territory, on February 21, 1862.
According to James C. Hazlet, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks in their indispensable Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, the 3-inch wrought iron rifle was produced by the Phoenix Iron Co., in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania on October 25, 1862 — with ordnance officer Clemens Clifford Chaffee in charge of production. As someone who has recently moved from Pennsylvania to Texas, I have some appreciation for the journey this piece has taken.
Other highlights at the site include an octagonal dance pavilion and the ruins of several homes and buildings that served refreshments and ice cream to veterans and visitors on hot summer reunion days. There are no statues or monuments, other than the cannon and some Confederate flags — displayed for informative and educational purposes.
As with many state parks, the historical material is complemented by walking trails and access to the Navasota River. Provided one can avoid the many venomous snakes that populate the Lone Star State and counter the searing heat of the Texas summer, the reunion grounds are an interesting and worthwhile stop for those exploring the backroads and byways of east Texas.