Major Robert M. White

                                                                          By Arnold Huskins & John C. Perry

Wherever there was fighting, Robert M. White was likely to be there. White was in Bell County by 1850, and was recorded as being involved in Indian troubles by 1853. That was when a posse went to track down a party of Indians that had slipped through the military line of frontier posts, and had stolen horses from Bell County residents. The horses were recovered and returned to their owners. By 1855, joining a frontier Ranger Company was a status symbol in Bell County. It was also necessary for survival, as the Indians could create quite a problem for county residents. White is listed as an active participant in several frontier units.

Robert Marion White was born in Tennessee on, according to his grave marker, July 4, 1828. He was the son of Cary and Nancy White and was one of nine children, the first six born in Tennessee.

White’s father migrated to Texas in 1834, initially settling on land he purchased near present day Waxahachie. After two years, Cary White sold his land and enlisted in the Republic of Texas Army. After the war, White’s father claimed a land grant in Washington County, in return for his military service.

Robert M. White apparently came to the Belton area in the early 1850's. The Bell County census of 1860 lists White, his wife Sarah, age nineteen, and their infant daughter, Christina. White's occupation was listed as a grocer.

In 1859, Robert M. White is listed as first lieutenant in the "Bell County Rovers," formed by John Henry Brown, as the successor company to the "Independent Blues." By 1860, White was a lieutenant in command of "Bob White's Ranging Company." This company was composed of twenty-five men, under the authority of Governor Sam Houston, "for protection of the frontier." In a July, 1860 roster, Robert M. White is listed as the first lieutenant.

Many confrontations with hostile Indians occurred in Bell County in the 1850’s, but few accounts survived. One account that did survive involved White. In February of 1853, a band of Indians attacked several homesteads on the Lampasas River between Salado and Belton. A number of horses were stolen, so White and three other men decided to go after the marauding Indians.

They found the tracks and began to follow them. From the tracks they were able to determine that there were seven Indians. They finally caught up with the Indians in a grove of trees off a creek. The Indians were lead by Chief Big Toes, apparently named for his two extra large big toes.

The Indians fled the main body in one direction and Chief Big Toes in the other. White and two of the three men went after the main body of Indians. They never caught up with them, but they did recover the stolen horses. Dave Williams, alone, went after the chief. Williams was able to over take the chief and kill him. On the ride back to Belton, White and his compatriots returned the horses to their rightful owners.

White was a prominent States Rights Democrat, advocating secession. When Texas left the Union, he raised the first military company to leave Bell County, for the Confederacy, and was elected its captain. He was one of at least seven men to raise a military company from Bell County to serve the Confederate cause.

As company commander, White was laying all his experience in many Indian fights on the line. He also had the reputation of being a good Indian scout. Probably no one in Bell County was better prepared to lead men in combat as was White.

White's unit, which would become Company H of the Sixth Texas Voluntary Cavalry, left amidst great pomp and ceremony. It was on a hot day on July 1, 1861. As his unit was leaving Belton’s courthouse square for the front lines, Miss Victoria Bradford, a popular Southern belle, presented White and his men a home spun Confederate flag.

She proclaimed, “Brave countrymen, you are called upon to leave your peaceful and happy homes to go forth in the defense of the rights of our country. Worthy gentlemen, in behalf of the patriotic ladies of Belton I present to you this banner as a token of our friendship and love for you and the noble cause in which you today stand ready to engage. Take it, its all we can give, save our prayers and remember when gazing on its stars, whether in battle or in quiet camp, that where they were first thrown to the breeze and caught the pure sunlight of Heaven, there are your homes, there your friends are thinking of you and are praying for your safe return.”

White's company camped first at old Bosqueville, near Waco, and then moved on to Camp Stone, near Lancaster, Texas. While at Camp Stone, the Bell County Commissioners Court passed a special tax and appointed a special commissary officer, John W. Scott, to buy food, clothes, and other supplies for White's company while in training.

After leaving Camp Stone, White's unit was first sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The 6th Texas Cavalry first saw action in the Indian Territory in late 1861. White’s unit also saw action at the Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) in March of 1862. White’s regimental commander, after the battle, paid White a high compliment, “In the days preceding the battle my men took 70 prisoners and I am indebted to Maj. (Sul) Ross and Capt. R. M. White. There are no better scouting officers in the Confederate Army.” By October of 1862, the 6th Texas Cavalry was back in the thick of fighting at Corinth, Mississippi.

White would prove himself to be a popular and brave Confederate officer. White was promoted to a major in Sul Ross's regiment on May 25, 1862.

In April of 1863, a Federal armada moved up the Duck River in north central Tennessee. White and his men were there to stop them. Approximately 600 Confederates with several artillery pieces took on the entire Union flotilla.

In the action, White was killed on April 26, 1863. In a battle report, Captain George Moorman, writing in behalf of Brigadier General W. H. Jackson, wrote, “The brigadier-general commanding deplores in common with this command the loss of their comrades, and especially with the Texans the death of their brave and accomplished leader, Maj. R. M. White.”

Newton A. Keen in his book, Living and Fighting with the Texas 6th Cavalry, described Major White’s death as follows:

We then moved across to the Tennessee River where we got into a fight with some Yankee gun boats and transports. We killed and wounded about three hundred men and they had to sail by us in some forty yards. We were so low and the cannon shots from the boats went clean over us. My! how we played havoc with those troops on the transport. They made it pretty hot for us with small arms and pistols. Major White of the sixth Texas cavalry was killed. He was standing about two feet to my right when he was shot through the body. We brought him back off the battle field some two miles and he died that night. He was a man beloved by all the soldiers. He was the only man touched on this scout which lasted us about three weeks.”

White’s men would fight on without their leader. The company probably saw more fighting, and on a more severe basis, than any other Bell County unit. They were under fire 249 times and everyone of the original members were either killed or wounded, except a few that were discharged due to illness. Only 18 members survived their wounds to answer the final roll call, when the company surrendered in Alabama on May 4, 1865.

Major White’s body was eventually returned to Bell County for burial. He was buried in the South Belton Cemetery. Also buried in the White family plot are Kittie White (1859-1860), apparently the infant daughter listed in the 1860 Census, and R. M. White (1861-1883), apparently a son born the year White left Bell County for the war. White's wife’s grave is apparently not in the family plot. She later remarried, marrying a Confederate veteran, W. S. Riggs.

White was first honored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1966. The George Temple Camp #1250, in Temple, voted in 1966 to change its name to the Major Robert M. White Camp, in honor of the his bold service to the Confederacy. In 1988, when the SCV Camp in Temple reformed, after considering a number of worthy men, it decided to honor Major White, and call itself the Major Robert M. White Camp.

Perhaps the most fitting honor to Major White is found on his grave marker at South Belton Cemetery. Inscribed on the tombstone are the words that seem to fit Major White as well as any, “His many virtues form the noblest monument to his memory.”

Last Updated 9/28/08