Alexander Terrell’s career placed him at the center of some of the most pivotal events in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history, ranging from the Civil War to Emperor Maximilian’s reign over Mexico and an Armenian genocide under the Ottoman Empire. Alexander Watkins Terrell at last provides the first complete biographical portrait of this complex figure.
Born in Virginia in 1827, Terrell moved to Texas in 1852, rising to the rank of Confederate brigadier general when the Civil War erupted. Afterwards, he briefly served in Maximilian’s army before returning to Texas, where he was elected to four terms in the state Senate and three terms in the House. President Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to the Ottoman Empire, dispatching him to Turkey and the Middle East for four years while the issues surrounding the existence of Christians in a Muslim empire stoked violent confrontations there. His other accomplishments included writing legislation that created the Texas Railroad Commission and what became the Permanent University Fund (the cornerstone of the University of Texas’s multibillion-dollar endowment).
In this balanced exploration of Terrell’s life, Gould also examines Terrell’s views on race, the impact of the charges of cowardice in the Civil War that dogged him, and his spiritual searching beyond the established religions of his time. In his rich and varied life, Alexander Watkins Terrell experienced aspects of nineteenth-century Texas and American history whose effects have continued down to the present day.
Lewis L. Gould taught American History at the University of Texas at Austin for more than thirty years and is now a Fellow at the University’s Center for American History.