his direction. He was booked on a misconduct charge. Before evening the electrifying rumor that Baltimore had been killed set the camp in turmoil. Key battalion officers, the mayor, and the Houston police chief, appallingly insensitive to the potential for mass violence, refused to deal fairly with the soldiers’ outraged feelings. After a remarkable chain of events, about 100 black troopers mutinied. They seized rifles and ammunition and then marched out into the night to exact revenge for their collective humiliation. The most dramatic and tragic figure of the entire episode, aside from Corporal Baltimore, who was later hanged, was undoubtedly the leader of the mutiny, Vida Henry, a career soldier. At the time of the riot, Sergeant Henry was 35 years old, with 13 years of military service behind him. A Kentuckian with little formal education, he was later described by white officers as “one of the most loyal” noncoms ever to serve under them, someone “that the men of the company seemed to respect and obey without question,” “perfectly loyal,” “quite severe” with his own men, yet a person in whom “there was absolutely no harm.” No one knows what went on in Sergeant Henry’s mind that night. There were indications that he had been plotting an insurrection with other noncoms. Yet he had warned a white officer hours before the mutiny broke that trouble was brewing. Perhaps during the great confusion in the camp, when many of the soldiers who had grabbed up their rifles in the dark believed that a white mob was approaching, he had simply gone berserk. In my view the most persuasive theory, not necessarily incompatible with the others, is that, as Haynes puts it, “at some time, either in the late afternoon or shortly after eight o’clock, Henry faced the serious dilemma of choosing between his loyalty to the army and his commitment to his own race.” The emotional charge of that dilemma, either horn of which had devastating implications for him, would have supplied Vida Henry with ferocious resolve. By all accounts, he and a band of mutineers more or less ordered fellow soldiers to fall into a loose patrol formation, with the stated intent of taking revenge on the Houston police. As the group left camp, Henry placed Baltimore, now out of jail, and another corporal in the rear of the column and commanded them to “kill the first man that falls out of ranks.” The facts of the riot seem antic limac tic. Several whites were shot down. Some were innocent, some probably not. One of the policemen involved in the morning’s incident with Mrs. Travers was killed. Among the injured was a detective by the name of Binford, who later as Harris County sheriff would acquire a reputation among blacks as a man to watch out for. The mutineers’ passion gradually subsided. Some were horrified by the killings and finally broke ranks. Some now sought refuge, others filtered back to camp. But Henry refused to return. “You can all go in,” he told the men. “I ain’t goin’ in, I ain’t goin’ to camp no more.” He begged his friends to shoot him, but they would not. So he asked them to shake his hand, which they did, filing wearily past him and then heading off into the dark. Some children found Henry lying on a railroad track the next morning. the back of his head blown away. Sixteen whites were killed or mortally wounded that night, including five police officers and four people mistaken for police. Eleven were seriously injured: Four black soldiers, counting Henry, also died. The wheels of justiceor more accurately, retributionnow began to turn. The entire battalion was quickly shipped back to Columbus. In various Texas towns the soldiers dropped messages, tied to rocks, as they sped west. In Schulenburg, a resident picked one of them up on a railroad right-of-way which read: “Take Tex. and go to hell, I don’t want to go there any more in my life. Lets go East and be treated as people. 24th Inf.” But many of the 24th would soon find themselves back in the state. John H. Crooker, the Harris County district attorney \(and a founder of the law firm headed an irate group who demanded that 34 of the soldiers stand trial in Houston courts. The newspapers, including Jesse Jones’ Chronicle, were verging on hysteria and called for the rounding up of “idle negroes” and the “sunrise shooting” of guilty rioters. Within a fortnight Houston police had shot two blacks to death. One of them was killed by a bullet through his back fired from the gun of Lee Sparks, the officer whose arrest of Mrs. Travers had precipitated the riot. \(An all-white jury, after one minute’s deliberation, acquitted place in early September in nearby Goose Creek. Rumors of racial uprisings were common. The secretary of war stood firm in re fusing to turn the soldiers over to civilian courts. But it was clear that the army was bent on treating the Third Battalion severely. The initial 156 soldiers suspected of rioting were singled out and sent to a stockade in Fort Bliss, near El Paso. The rest of the Third remained in confinement. An investigatory board of white officers, under tremendous pressure from the War Department to put a case together quickly, began working the suspects, who for the most part kept silent. A couple of soldiers finally broke under interrogation, however, and in exchange for immunity cooperated with the army. Charges were brought against 64 sollawyers suggested what was in store for the defendants. The prosecutor was Col. John A. Hull, an experienced judge advocate general. For the defense counsel the army chose Maj. Harry Grier, a 37-year-old West Pointer who, although intelligent and probably as sympathetic a white as the defendants could have hoped for under the circumstances, obviously lacked the prosecutor’s experience. Grier had two weeks to prepare for trialthe prosecution had two months. Moreover, Grier’s co-counsel, an officer of the Third Battalion who had been involved in the events leading up to the riot, resigned shortly before the trial because another white officer, who was to have been the army’s star witness, committed suicide. The intended defense co-counsel then testified for the prosecution. To add to his difficulties, Grier was unable to get much help from the defendants themselves, who by this time were understandably distrustful of any white officer. And unlike the prosecution, Grier lacked the resources to carry out an investigation in the Houston community. All 63 men were charged with willful disobedience of orders, mutiny, murder and assault. Haynes’ account of the trial reveals the flimsy and often contradictory nature of the army’s evidence. None of the 44 prosecution witnesses from Houston, for example, was able to identify a single soldier. The key witness, a 20-year-old recruit with less than six months of military experience, had been granted immunity. His testimony seems remarkably contrived. The upshot was not surprising. Thirteen soldiers were condemned to die, 41 were sentenced to hard labor for life, four received lesser sentences, and five were acquitted. The verdicts were publicly announced after the hanging of the 13. 20 SEPTEMBER 9, 1977
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