Philip Work - Civil War Hero Beat The Odds

Philip A. Work shortly after the
Civil War.
Philip Alexander Work, lawyer, Confederate soldier and arguably, the luckiest man to ever go to war, was born in Cloverport, Kentucky, on February 17, 1832. The son of John and Frances, Philip moved with his parents to Velasco, Texas, in 1838 and then to Town Bluff, Texas, where John established a plantation.

In 1853, Philip was admitted to the bar in Woodville. He then enlisted and served with the rank of first sergeant for four months in Capt. John George Walker's Company B, Mounted Battalion of Texas Volunteers protecting the Texas frontier from Indian attacks. After surviving several skirmishes, Philip and the rest of the surviving volunteers were mustered into the regular United States Army. After serving uneventfully for several years, he was honorably discharged and returned to Texas.

In 1861, Philip was one of the two delegates from Tyler County to the Secession Convention, but before the convention reconvened on March 2, he resigned to raise a company of Texas militia known as the Woodville Rifles. The company was mustered into the Confederate Army at New Orleans in May 1861 and became Company F of the First Texas Infantry Regiment, Hood's Texas Brigade. By the beginning of 1862, Philip and his men would be in Virginia and almost continuously right in the middle of the most intensive, bloodiest battles of the war.

During the year 1862 alone, Philip and the brigade would engage the enemy in 24 battles, sustaining a causality rate of over 60%. Due to his leadership abilities, the appalling number of casualties suffered by both the enlisted men and the officers and the fact that he miraculously came through each engagement with hardly a scratch, Philip rose steadily in rank, receiving battlefield promotions almost every month until he became the regimental commander on June 27 during the battle of Gaines' Mill after Col. Alexis T. Rainey was seriously wounded. Afterwards, Philip commanded the First Texas Infantry in the battles of Malvern Hill, Freeman's Ford, Thoroughfare Gap, Second Manassas, Boonesboro Gap, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. By the end of the war, of the approximately 4,400 men who served in Hood’s Texas Brigade, only 600 remained and the unit would go down in history as one of the hardest fighting and most well-known and respected units of the Civil War.

At Sharpsburg, Philip’s regiment suffered 81% casualties, the greatest percentage of losses sustained by any regiment, Union or Confederate, in a single day of fighting during the war. Of the 226 men he began with that morning, only 44 were still alive by nightfall. His post-battle report is considered one of the most poignant, yet straightforward accounts of the war. At least 8 men had been killed carrying the company’s flag during the fighting and it was lost as he and the handful of survivors retreated through a corn field. When they emerged from the field and he discovered the flag was not with them, he ran back desperately trying to locate it, but only made it into the rows of corn a few yards before encountering a wall of Yankees. He was forced to return without the flag, running through the field as corn stalks all around were cut down by the musket balls being fired at him. In his report, he wrote, “It is a source of mortification to state that, upon retiring from the engagement, our colors were not brought off. I can but feel that some degree of odium must be attached… the loss of our flag will always remain a matter of sore and deep regret.”

Philip was promoted to the command of Hood's Brigade on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg. Although having never been physically wounded during any battle, he became ill on September 18, 1863, the day before the battle of Chickamauga and had to be evacuated to a hospital. He resigned as lieutenant colonel of the First Texas Infantry on November 12, 1863. At that time, he was simply diagnosed with “fatigue.” Today, he would most probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). After dozens of battles, a number of them requiring hand-to-hand fighting, witnessing hundreds of men die horrible deaths or sustaining disfiguring wounds following his orders, personally killing an unknown number of the enemy, seeing the effects of war every day for over a year, and the stress of almost constant battle, every day waking up never knowing if that day would be his last, nothing else could be expected.

He returned to Texas in late 1863, but just 8 months later, raised and commanded a company in Col. David Smith Terry's Texas Cavalry regiment. Returning to the war, Philip fought in battles in Kentucky and Tennessee under Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. His company of men fought in numerous skirmishes as part of the forces under Gen. Joe Johnston that attempted to slow Sherman’s "march to the sea" during the final months of the war. Philip and the remaining Terry’s Rangers delivered what was probably the last charge of the Army of Tennessee at the battle of Bentonville (March 19–20, 1865). Rather than surrender with the rest of Johnston's army at Durham Station, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865, Philip and 157 of the 248 survivors of the regiment slipped through Union lines to join other Confederates that were still in the field. At the actual end of the war, the few remaining Rangers, including Philip, drifted home as individuals and in small groups, having never officially surrendered. 

With the exception of Hood’s Texas Brigade, the Eighth Texas Cavalry was probably the best-known Texas unit to serve in the Civil War. It earned a reputation that ranked it among the most effective mounted regiments in the western theater of operations. Against all odds, against all reason, Philip Work not only survived, but remained virtually unharmed through dozens of battles while serving with two of the most infamous combat units in the Civil War.

Philip Work's simple grave marker.
Work returned to Texas and resumed his law practice in Woodville. After 1874, he lived in Hardin County, Texas, where he became well-known as a land lawyer and the owner of the steamboat Tom Parker, which navigated the Neches River. Late in his life, he wrote several accounts of his wartime experiences, but unfortunately, only fragments of these manuscripts have been preserved.

Philip A. Work died on March 17, 1911, and was buried in Hardin Cemetery in Kountz, Texas, a very rural, quiet graveyard. Rest in peace, Philip, rest in peace.