Monday, April 14, 2008

Battle of Sabine Pass

In the summer of 1863, Confederate Engineer Major Julius Kellersberger directed construction of Fort Griffin upriver from the site of old Fort Sabine. Triangular in shape with slanted walls twelve feet high and one hundred feet long, the new fort guarded the Pass with six cannons manned by the "Davis Guard", Company F of the First Texas Heavy Artillery. This unit was composed entirely of Irish dockworkers from Houston, some of whom participated in the capture of the Morning Light the year prior. First Lieutenant of the unit was a popular redheaded Houston saloonkeeper, Richard W. "Dick" Dowling.
Dowling was in charge of the fort on September 8, 1863 when an invasion fleet, commanded again by now Acting Lieutenant Frederick Crocker, arrived at the Pass. This fleet was composed of four light gunboats, the USS Granite City, Sachem, Arizona, and Clifton and eighteen transports carrying 5,000 Union soldiers, mules and artillery. As the USS Sachem approached 1,200 feet from the fort, Dowling and his men discharged all six of their cannons on the ship, puncturing its boiler and forcing its surrender. Dowling's men then concentrated on the USS Clifton, soon pummeling it into submission. Witnessing the defeat of the two ships, the remainder of the fleet retreated back to Union-held New Orleans. In a battle lasting less than an hour, Lt. Dowling and his forty-six men captured two gunboats and 350 prisoners, with an additional 61 U.S. soldiers and sailors missing or killed. Without losing a man, Dowling and the Guards prevented an invasion of Texas.
Due to the efforts of Dowling and his men, the ports of Houston and Beaumont escaped destruction and Union forces never penetrated the Texas interior during the Civil War. In recognition of their effort, the Confederate States' Congress authorized a special medal to the Davis Guard; paid for and cast by the citizens of Houston, this was the only medal presented to Confederate Soldiers during the war. Dowling and his small but determined band won their place of honor in Texas and Civil War History.

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