Benjamin Franklin Terry was born in 1821 in Russellville, Kentucky to Joseph Royall (or Royal) Terry and Sarah David Smith Terry. Terry came from a military family with both his grandfathers, Nathaniel Terry and David Smith, having served in the Revolutionary War. His maternal grandfather David Smith and an uncle also served under future president Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. The uncle, also named David Smith, served under Sam Houston in the Texas Revolution as did other family members.
His family came from Kentucky to Texas by way of Mississippi in 1833 after a family breakup in which his father and mother separated or divorced. His father Joseph R. Terry later appears to have remarried, but his mother Sarah remained single. Terry, his mother and five siblings lived in Brazoria County with his grandmother Obedience Smith and a great uncle named Benjamin Fort Smith, also a veteran of the Texas Revolution, until the elder relatives and his mother had all passed away, leaving him caretaker of the family business and heir to some of the family estate in the Harrisburg (later to be known as Houston) and Richmond area. As well as we can determine, none of the family members were directly related to families of Austin’s Old 300 but appear to have acquired land from members of the original colony at some point.
Terry is said to have operated a successful sugar cane plantation in the Fort Bend area and built two short railroad lines serving the immediate area, the first of which being a line from Harrisburg to Richmond. Terry is acknowledged as operating his plantation with the use of slave labor. Fort Bend County was created in 1837 and was largely agricultural at that time, as was much of the rural south. A number of its currently existing towns were also incorporated in that same period.
Terry had married the former Mary Pickens Bingham in 1841 when they were both about twenty years old. Over the next sixteen years, the couple had at least six children, and maybe more. Terry was a delegate to the Texas Succession Convention in January of 1861. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Terry volunteered for the Confederate forces and was in place serving under General James Longstreet at the first battle of Bull Run, also known as the first battle of Manassas. After this, Terry and others from the area were authorized to return to Texas and raise a cavalry regiment. They were successful in recruiting almost 1,200 volunteers, and the unit was known as the 8th Texas Cavalry Regiment (which later commonly known as Terry’s Texas Rangers). There have been some suggestions that the regiment was possibly an outgrowth of a former unit of the law enforcement organization called the Texas Rangers. Though some of the members may have previously served individually as Texas Rangers, the 8th Texas Cavalry Regiment is believed to have been a unit that was first organized after the start of the Civil War by Terry and others, as noted above.
The unit traveled north to engage the Union Army. Terry himself was killed in what is believed to be possibly the first engagement of the regiment on December 17, 1861 at Rowlett’s Station near Woodsonville, Kentucky. The Battle of Rowlett’s Station was an early engagement of the Civil War with the Union forces attempting to prevent Confederate encroachment into Kentucky. Rowlett’s Station was a railroad stop and was situated near a bridge and crossing over the Green River. Union forces had set up defenses in the area in anticipation of Confederate attacks. About a week before the main battle began, Confederate forces succeeded in blowing up the south pier of the railroad bridge. The battle began when Union forces placed troops to protect workers assigned to repair the damage to the stonework of the pier and build a temporary pontoon bridge. The battle began on December 17th with scattered fighting between the two forces. Terry was killed that same day. The fighting continued for several days until the Confederate forces withdrew. Both sides released numbers of their dead and wounded, though they conflicted in number. The result of the battle is considered to have been inconclusive with neither side clearly able to claim victory. Some accounts say that the use of the common name Terry’s Texas Rangers came after this battle, as a way to honor Terry.
After the death of Terry, the 8th Texas Cavalry remained intact and served throughout the next four years of the conflict, participating in around 275 engagements of various sizes in as many as seven states. Terry’s younger brother, Clinton L. Terry, was a member of the regiment and was killed in 1862 at the battle of Shiloh, in Tennessee. The unit dispersed at the end of the war. Its surviving members found their way to their homes and the regiment is not known to have have officially surrendered.
After his death, Terry’s remains were transported to Nashville, Tennessee where they lay in state, after which they were returned to Texas. Ultimately, Terry was interred at Houston’s historic Glenwood Cemetery with a number of other members of his family, including his wife Mary and their children.
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