Researcher’s Note: The following text is my interpretation of the primary source documents I have assembled to draw conclusions and piece together previously undocumented histories of General Gibbs. If you read the documents collected and believe you have a different interpretation or can add additional context to this page, don’t hesitate to contact me so I can honor your findings. – Garland H. Green, Jr.
After Gibbs was wounded in the Mexican-American War, he was assigned as the aide-de-camp as part of the Command Staff of General Persifor F. Smith. Smith was appointed as the commander of the Pacific Division of the U.S. Army, the predecessor of the Department of the Pacific Headquarters, and later transferred to the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas in 1850–1856.
The establishment of the Corpus Christi Army Depot as the Headquarters appears to have been driven by General Smith and his desire for a new location for his health concerns. The original site was a temporary post established by Zachary Taylor in 1845 at Corpus Christi, designated Fort Marcy, named for then-Secretary of War William Marcy. However, the name of Marcy was seldom used by the troops and officers, and it became disused when another Fort Marcy was founded in the New Mexico Territory. Therefore, the Texas site was referred to as Corpus Christi instead.
While Gibbs and Smith were transferred to the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas in September 1852, Gen. Smith announced his intention to move the United States Army headquarters in Texas from San Antonio to Corpus Christi on December 1st of that year. The size of the Corpus Christi garrison totaled approximately 150 to 200 men between the end of the Mexican War and Smith’s decision to move the Army’s 8th Military Department, better known as the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas.
Because General Smith had been ill from the day he arrived in San Antonio, Smith focused on the climate and food in Corpus Christi. The General found the area more healthful; he was said to have particularly liked the local oysters as a point of rank preference; as such, he moved the Department of Texas to Corpus Christi.
The decision to move the Headquarters was not without controversy. Some of Smith’s subordinates complained about the location, especially the quartermaster, who found San Antonio more central to the forts the depot was to supply. Smith also sought to establish an army general hospital at Corpus Christi on land offered by Col. Henry L. Kinney. Still, his design was frustrated by a conflict between Senator Sam Houston and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Smith was transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1855 and died in the spring of 1858.
Supporting some dissenters regarding having the post located in Corpus Christi, documents obtained from Col. J. K. F. Mansfield, inspector general of the United States Army in 1856, were the rationale for moving the post. Colonel Mansfield pointed out the disadvantages of Corpus Christi as a supply depot for such distant forts as Fort Bliss, Fort Mason, and Fort Worth. The depot was closed in January 1862 but regarrisoned in 1869–70 and again in 1880–81. Summarising the report, Mansfield outlines:
The present Corpus Christi Army Depot was activated in 1961 on the site of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station and is the Army’s main helicopter overhaul and repair facility. By the late 1980s, it was the largest single employer in South Texas.
In addition to being the depot for Quartermaster’s and Subsistence stores, the Head Quarters of the 8th Department is also established. The town is situated on the bay of the same name, in latitude, about 27° 40′ North, longitude 97° 30′ West. There is a regular mail communication weekly, by steamer from Indianola, with New Orleans, and a mail is sent weekly to the posts on the Rio Grande and San Antonio.
The town is built on a plain, eight or ten feet above high tide, and also on a bluff immediately in the rear of the plain, and some forty feet more elevated, probably containing 1,000 inhabitants. The plain, composed of coarse shell and sand, affording one of the most suitable materials for building, is about 314 miles in length, 214 miles wide at its northern extremity, and one-fourth of a mile at its southern. The bay is nearly a circle of about 15 miles in diameter and has two outlets into the Mexican Gulf, the north called “Aransas Pass,” 25 miles distant, and the south—”Corpus Christi Pass,” 18 miles. Between these two passes lies Mustang Island, 30 miles long by two wide. Accounts vary materially regarding the water depth carried at high tide over the bars of the two passes. However, from the best information within my reach, I do not think it would be prudent to risk more than 714 feet over Aransas and 51/4 over Corpus Christi bar. I have seen a letter from Bvt. Capt. McClelland** of the Engineers, who surveyed this last, in which he says, “Government stores should never be sent to Corpus Christi Pass in vessels drawing more than 514 to 6 feet scant—and in no event when it is possible to send them to Aransas, bad as the latter is.” After getting inside these passes, there are intervening flats that prevent vessels of more than 4 feet of water from coming up to the town. I understand that a channel could be opened at a negligible expense compared to the advantages to be derived, giving 7 feet to Corpus Christi.
The chief drawback to Corpus Christi as a residence is the want of good drinking water, which is necessary to haul from a distance of many miles for those whose houses are not furnished with cisterns. Even where cisterns are provided, serious inconvenience is frequently experienced from droughts often of long continuance. Nothing can exceed the delicious freshness of the atmosphere. The air is almost constantly in motion, a brisk breeze prevailing from the South East with the regularity of a trade wind nearly throughout the twenty-four hours. It combines more advantages of position and salubrity for a General Hospital than any other point on the Gulf or Southern Atlantic coast; I believe that the establishment of such a hospital is called for by the wants of the service in this Department. I learned that Surgeon Jarvis,** Medical Director, made a recommendation to this effect in November last, accompanied by an estimate of the cost of a suitable building and that General Smith forwarded these papers to Washington.
The officers on duty at the Head Quarters were: Bvt. Major General Smith, Commanding the 8th Department, are Bvt. Major D. C. Buell, Asst. Adjt. Genl., Bvt. Capt. A. Gibbs,**° Mounted Rifles, Aid de Camp, Bvt. Maj. W. W. Chapman,** Asst. Quartermaster, Capt. W. B. Blair,’ commissaries of Subsistence (now absent on tour of inspection of his Department), Surgeon N. S. Jarvis, Medical Director, Paymaster Henry Hill** (now absent in New Orleans for funds), and Bvt. Capt. T. G. Rhett, Mounted Rifles, Acting Asst. Commissary of Subsistence.
I examined the records of the Asst. Adjutant General’s Office and found them in good condition. Major Buell is attentive to his duties, and his books are kept with neatness and system. A like remark applies to the office of the Medical Director.