Private Douglas Cater: Regiment Musician

by Rebecca Blackwell Drake


Private Douglas Cater, 3rd Texas Cavalry and later the 19th Louisiana Infantry, began his odyssey with the Confederate Army on June 8, 1861. Like others fighting for the Confederacy, the musician turned soldier was full of hope that he could help to save his beloved Southland. "I told my family and loved ones that we must be cheerful," he reminisced, "having faith that I would return to tell them of my varied experiences in the army." Cater was not the only one in his family to say goodbye. Also marching off to war were his brothers Wade and Rufus.

Private Cater traveled with a bugle and a violin. "Col. Armstrong and I would take our violins out of the baggage wagon at night when favorable opportunity offered, and we would entertain the 'boys' with music," wrote Cater. "We frequently played cotillions and reels for them to dance. They would form a 'full set' by tying a handkerchief around the left arm of those who were to act as ladies as partners. Often there would be a hundred or more men present to listen to the music, as well as to 'look on' at the dance."

Cater's love of music and his talents for entertaining helped the troops through many a hard time, especially during the freezing winter of 1862 and the Battle of Pea Ridge, where so many of his fellow soldiers were killed.

In the spring of 1863, Cater and Rufus, fighting with the 19th Louisiana Regiment, were ordered to Mississippi to help defend Vicksburg. "General Bragg commanded that part of the army," Cater recalled, "and was needing every available man to face the Federal army, but Gen. Pemberton, who had disobeyed the orders of Gen. Johnston to leave Vicksburg and come to him and was sustained in this disobedience by President Davis, was needing reinforcements at Vicksburg against the advance of General Grant." By the time Cater arrived in Jackson on May 31st, Vicksburg was under siege.

During their first days in Jackson, Cater and Rufus, went to the city graveyard looking for their lost brother, Wade. "After a long search in the cemetery at this place [Jackson], found the grave of our beloved brother Wade, which was marked by a plain board with his name and the number of his regiment," wrote Cater. " He had contracted cold in the trenches [Vicksburg] and was sent out to Jackson where he died. We found a marble slab in an old marble yard and cut his name, age and regiment on it and placed it at the head of his grave."

Wade Cater fell ill during the Siege of Vicksburg and later died in the Confederate hospital in Jackson. He was buried in the Graveyard with only a hand scribbled marble slab as a marker.
After the fall of Vicksburg, the 19th Louisiana was assigned to the trenches around Jackson. It was here Cater managed to haul a beautiful old piano out of a home destined to be burned. The piano was placed in the trenches where Cater and Rufus entertained the troops playing and singing. At one point, the men were so engrossed in their music making they forgot about the enemy until the Yankees stormed the trenches. The men ceased their music-making just long enough to defend themselves against the approaching enemy - killing one hundred and sixty blue coats.

After the fall of Vicksburg, Cater and Rufus continued on to Georgia. During the battle of Chickamauga, Rufus was killed. Recalling the sadness of his brother's death, Cater wrote: "His blanket which he had folded in the morning and carried over his shoulder, the ends tied with a string at his side, had been unfolded and he was lying on it, cold in death. His watch, his purse, the shoes from his feet, his sword and scabbard had all been taken. His pants pockets were turned wrong side out and the devils in human form not yet satisfied, had fired a rifle ball through his forehead. The ball through his forehead was sufficient evidence that he was murdered while a prisoner on the battlefield."

With two brothers lost to the Confederate cause, Private Cater still continued with his war efforts. Adding to his sadness was a letter from home informing him that his nine-year old brother had also died. All too well, the music-making soldier had come to know the pain of death.

Private Cater continued fighting through the Siege of Atlanta and the Battle of Franklin, also known as one of the worst 'blood baths' of the war. Recalling the poor leadership by General John Bell Hood in the Battle of Franklin, Cater wrote a stinging review: "We are now going to witness a manifestation of General John B. Hood's great generalship. Does he order his whole army forward? Oh, no! There is a little field in front of the enemy's breastworks large enough for a little division to form a line across it. The army is halted; a division is sent across the field to take the enemy's breastworks. It fails and must retreat across that field under fire, the same as when facing the enemy. A second division makes the same effort and meets the same results. A third division, and another were sent, both with the same results. Gen. Cleburne and his staff and all their horses are left on the breastworks. Our division is to make the next assault, but darkness has come and we must wait till the next morning. When the morning came we started. We must be careful least we step on a dead or wounded soldier. We went across the same field to the breastworks. We met no opposition. The enemy had gone to Nashville. We found the trenches filled - not half-filled - but filled with dead men, both Federals and Confederates."

The Battle of Franklin sounded a death knoll for the Confederate Army. Private Cater and the 19th Louisiana Infantry retreated, saving what they could of their army. There was no victory and each and every one of the men had paid a terrible price.

Seven months after the Battle of Franklin, Cater was mustered out of service and returned to the family home in Louisiana. Of the homecoming he wrote: "I cannot tell of my own feelings as I dismounted at the gate and heard the faithful watch dog's bay deep mouth welcome. I knew welcome awaited me, not as a returning prodigal, but as the only one left of the three this home had furnished as soldiers to the Confederate States army."

Some time later, Cater recalled his promise to tell his family of his war experiences. Using an Indian Head tablet and a pencil he began writing his memories: "Three years? Yes, it is just three years today since I bid adieu to Texas friends and took up the line of march, a soldier of the Confederate States….."

Historic Source: As It Was: Reminiscences of a Soldier of the Third Texas Cavalry and The Nineteenth Louisiana Infantry by Douglas John Cater. Pvt. Cater's diary and memoirs were collected by William D. Cater, grandson, and first published in 1981. The book has recently been published [1990] by State House Press, P.O. Box 15247, Austin, Texas, 78761.


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