Large German settlements in central and northeastern Texas were enclaves of Unionist opposition to States Rights and Slavery. Many Germans fled the state after the seccession ordinance passed, and those who stayed resisted conscription into the Confederate army. Texas military authorities considered them a serious threat to internal security, fearing they would organize and arm themselves to open a corridor for invasion by Union troops in Kansas and Missouri. Already short of manpower, the Confederacy could not defend another major front in the Trans-Mississippi.
The Germans had been holding Unionist meetings since June 1861, and July 4, 1862 several hundred of them met at Bear Creek near Fredericksburg. They organized into 3 military companies under Fritz Teneger to protect themselves against harassment by Capt. James Duff, an officer whose own men commented on the harshness of his reprisals against disloyal civilians. Within weeks, Teneger disbanded his battalion in defervence to the military authorities, but he also spread the word that a party would meet at Turtle Creek on August 1st, strike out to cross the Rio Grande at its junction with devil's River, and book passage from Mexico to New Orleans to join the Union army. Along with Teneger, 65 men joined him.
Duff learned of the plan from a traitor and sent Lt. C.D. McRae with 94 men to intercept the refugees. The Confederates started trailing them on the 3rd. Certain they were not being followed, Teneger's group traveled at a relaxed pace, on the 9th reaching a small prairie surrounded by cottonwood beside the Nueces River, about a day's ride from the Rio Grande. Some of the men wanted to continue toward Mexico, but Teneger, feeling safe, ordered a halt for the night.
McRae's scouts sighted the Germans on the same day and planned an attack at dawn on the 10th. About 1:00 A.M., they moved to within 300 yards of the Germans' camp. McRae divided his command into 2 parts, planning to take the camp in a crossfire. An hour later, the Confederates killed 2 German guards, the shots alerting the camp to the soldiers' presence.
The night passed in disorganized skirmishing, and at first light, the Texans charged in earnest. Briefly, the Germans held their ground, but in a poor defensive position and with inadequate guns, they were soon overrun by McRae's men. The Germans scattered, some seeking safety on a nearby hill, others helping the slightly wounded to Sycamore Creek, a half-mile distant.
The number of Germans killed outright was 19; 9 others were wounded and captured. Though initially cared for, all 9 were removed from the camp amd shot in the back of the head. McRae, himself severely wounded early in the fighting, claimed to know nothing of the murders. Some Confederates blamed the killings on Lt. Edwin Lilly. the Texans lost 2 killed and 18 wounded in the affair, burying their own dead but not the German dead before leaving the site on the 12th or 13th.
The engagement at the Nueces marked the end of most open disaffection among Texas Germans. While some continued to leave the state and others lived in hiding for the duration of the war, many, though still resisting the draft, took a loyalty oath and tried to live out the war quietly. Fearing reprisals, the German community did not retrieve the bodies of its dead from the battle site until August 1865, when they interred them in a common grave in Comfort, Texas.