CONFEDERATE REACTION

All the activity in New Orleans was duly reported to General Magruder. He learned the general direction of the operation on September 4th. General Magruder ordered Colonel Sulakowski and Captain Kellersberger to return to Sabine Pass and strengthen the fortifications as there may be a "demonstration" against that place. Apparently General Magruder was not yet fully convinced Sabine Pass was the intended landing site. He may have felt that a feint or probe in connection with the operation under way would be made at Sabine Pass. Sulakowski nor Kellersberger were able to arrive before the battle.

All the activity outside the channel on the night of the 6th did not escape the Confederates, nor the entry by the Suffolk and the other elements of its convoy on the morning of the 7th. Soldiers and townspeople on rooftops were all busy counting ships throughout the day on the 7th. Captain Frederick Odlum of County Kildare was now in command at Sabine Pass since the departure of Colonel Griffin. He sent couriers to Beaumont to inform "Major" Leon Smith of the Union fleet and, to be sure, to Houston to inform General Magruder.

Leon Smith, in Beaumont, got the word at 6 A.M. on Tuesday, the 8th of September. The courier had gotten the message to Beaumont by noon on the 7th, but the duty officer on Smith's staff did not give the message to Smith until the next morning. Leon Smith immediately sent a wire to Magruder in Houston about the situation and his plans.

< Commodore/Major Leon Smith

He next sent a message to Orange, Texas. His message to Orange was for the Josiah H. Bell and the Florilda, two cotton clads, to assemble as many men as possible and head down the Sabine River to the Pass. At Beaumont, he ordered the Roebuck to take on as many men as it could quickly find and head down the Neches River, into Sabine Lake, and on to the Pass. As it was nine hours by the river and six hours on horseback, Major Smith, accompanied by Captain W. S. Good, an ordnance officer, saddled up and headed for Fort Griffin overland.

In Sabine City, Captain Odlum arranged for additional ammunition to be transported to the fort's magazines by a John Murphy. Murphy. fearing the worst, had to re-assemble a wagon that he had broken down into pieces and hidden.

In the absence of Captain Keith who was out of the city, Odlum placed Keith's company under the command of an Irishman, Lieutenant Joseph O. Cassidy and placed them as sharpshooters aboard the cotton clad, Uncle Ben which was docked at the city dock. Cassidy was no stranger to a boat, nor were some of the men. They had spent the last nine months aboard the John F. Carr in Matagorda Bay.

Captain Odlum placed the scouts of Captain Andrew Daly's calvary company under Lieutenant Harris in the entrenchments (still being dug) opposite the beach at the old fort location.

There were still two cannon not yet mounted on gun emplacements in the fort. Dick Dowling and the Davis Guard mounted these last cannon on wheels. Both of these cannons were brass, 32 pound, artillery pieces.

The last one was not in place until the evening of the 6th of September. The next morning the Suffolk came into the channel and then back out again.

General Magruder sent a message to Captain Odlum which was received late in the evening of the 7th of September. He gave Odlum two options:

1. to spike the guns, destroy the ammunition, and withdraw to Taylor's Bayou and wait there for the reinforcements that were enroute

2. to fight

Captain Odlum deferred the decision early the next morning to Lieutenant Dowling. Dowling put it to his men. The Irishmen enthusiastically and unanimously chose to fight. Lieutenant Dowling sent one of his men, Private John Drummond, with the message back to Sabine City.

About 6:30 A.M. on the 8th, the Clifton crossed over the bar. The Clifton's commander, Frederick Crocker, commanded the naval forces in the successful taking of Sabine Pass in 1862. The Clifton commenced to lob 26 rounds of shot at the fort. The Davis Guard was having breakfast at the time. Private Drummond recalls he had a harrowing trip back from Sabine City to the fort with shot flying about. Most of the shot and shells were long or short. Those that hit the ramparts had little effect on the fort.

After an hour, the Clifton withdrew as there was no response from the fort. The Federals held another meeting and decided to send in four gunboats followed by seven of the eighteen transports. Because of space restrictions in the narrow channel, the rest of the flotilla stayed out of the channel. The ships chosen to start the invasion began crossing the bar about 10:00 A.M. The gunboats went farther into the channel than the transports. All the Union ships dropped anchor except the Sachem. It took a position forward to guard a reconnaissance party that was scouting the shore.

Captain Odlum sent an order to Dowling not to fire until the enemy came within range, and then to aim at the ship's wheelhouses so the Union captains would lose control of their ships.

Earlier in the morning, Odlum sent instructions for all the horses, mules, and ponies in the area to be gathered out of sight of the fleet. He next sent word for horsemen, white and black, to assemble in the same place. Captain Odlum went to these men and explained his plan. The men were to ride a circuitous route back to the road leading into town. The circuitous route through a woodline would be taken so as to keep the horsemen out of sight of the fleet. They were then to ride into town to where buildings would hide them again. The riders would continue on through town hidden from the view of the Union fleet. They were to ride back through the woodline and return to the Beaumont Road north of town and then gallop again into town. If they would do this as often as possible, it would give the impression to those observing through telescopes on the ships, that the town and fort, were getting continuous reinforcement.

The people of Sabine City knew the Davis Guard. The Irishmen were known to be the kind of men to make a stand. The citizens of Sabine City had faith in these Irishers. The citizens did not become refugees on the road to Beaumont. What they did was...cook. Neal McGaffey butchered beef. Increase Burch dug up his sweet potato patch. The ladies, particularly Kate Dorman, an Irish woman who ran the local hotel, cooked the beef and potatos. Other women baked bread, biscuits, cake, and brewed coffee. The women of Sabine City did this with the men in the fort as the intended beneficiaries. J. D. Collier, an Irishman on the Uncle Ben, recalled, "We knew they wouldn't get through until they'd completely wiped out that bunch of Irishmen. We Irish will fight for sure." The Davis Guard hunkered down in the bombproofs and...played cards while they waited for the action to begin.

The staff surgeon at Sabine City, Captain George H. Bailey, went to the fort knowing his services would eventually be needed. He was needed sooner than he thought. Lieutenants Cunningham and Hennessey were both on leave from the Davis Guard. Lieutenant Nicholas H. Smith, the engineer and Captain Bailey, the doctor volunteered to fill their spots as battery commanders. Dowling said, instead of dispensing medicine, Doctor Bailey would be dispensing "Magruder Pills."

Captain George H. Bailey, Magruder Pill dispenser >

The Union ships were awaiting the report of the reconnaissance party sent to scout the shore for a landing site for the troops. Five hundred infantrymen were to make the first landing. In the reconnaissance party were General Franklin, Commander of all army troops; General Wietzel, the army general in command of the troops who would make the first landing (he had the option to land as many as 1,200 men if needed); and Lieutenant Crocker, Acting Commander of all naval forces and captain of the lead gunship, the Clifton.

The Union scouting party got stuck in the mud approaching the bank of the channel. Marsh and/or mud lined the channel everywhere but the beach at the location of the old fort. The Union reconnaissance party decided that would have to be the landing site for the troops. The Union officers referred to this place as Old Battery Point.

While on the recon, Crocker noticed that six of the fort's guns were trained on the Texas channel, the channel his ship would be utilizing.

The Confederate cotton clad, Uncle Ben, appeared and held a position at a wharf near the fort. The Sachem fired a few shots in the cotton clad's direction, but missed grossly. The balls splashed in Sabine Lake a considerable distance behind the Uncle Ben.

In still another conference on board the Suffolk after the reconnaissance, Crocker asked to send an advance boat up the Louisiana channel to change the directions of the guns while he would delay and then steam up the Texas channel. This plan would be doubly effective if another gunboat trailed the first gunboat up the Louisiana channel and a fourth gunboat trailed the Clifton up the Texas channel. All the while the gunboats were moving, all four gunboats at one time would be pounding the fort with their guns. This was agreed upon and the Sachem was designated the lead boat on the Louisiana channel. The Sachem had five guns, one or two of which were rifled. The Clifton on the Texas channel would delay until the Sachem was engaged, and then run up to a favored position and join in the bombardment. The Clifton had two rifled Parrot guns, three 9" Columbiads and four 30 pounders for a total of nine guns. The Arizona was to trail the Sachem and the Granite City was to trail the Clifton. If necessary, the Clifton was to ground itself as near the fort as possible. This would bring its guns to bear as close as possible on the fort. Crocker pointed out this would mean the landing of troops as soon as possible to give him support, as his ship would be destroyed by the fort's concentrated fire. The Granite City was told to hang back and provide protective cover to a troop landing between it and the Clifton. The transport, General Banks, with Weitzel's men aboard was to keep near the Clifton. After the Sachem engaged the fort and when the Clifton moved forward, General Wietzel was to land his troops. He would then advance on the fort as skirmishers to drive the rebel artillerymen away from their guns. In this way the landing would give support and relief to the Clifton. The fort would, at that point, be under attack from four U.S. Navy gunboats and a land force.

Signalmen were placed on the four gunships. The transports, General Banks and the Suffolk had their own signalmen. The signal officer aboard the Sachem was Lieutenant Henry Dane. It was 3:30 P.M. before the Federals were ready. The operation was to commence immediately. Lieutenant Dane remarked, "The scene was quite imposing. The large fleet of transports, attended by six gunboats, including the "blockader," were now ready to assault, capture and possess the southern half of the great State of Texas."

SHAMROCKS ON THE SABINE

The Davis Guard, in the meantime, ate the meal sent by the townspeople.Dowling sent two of his men, Terrence Mulhern and Patrick Sullivan, back to the town with the dishes so they would not be damaged in the coming fray (Mulhern and Sullivan did not get back until the battle was over).What manner of fighting men would send a few of their small number to carry dishes to women when they were about to battle an overwhelming force?They were Celts, forty of them Irish born! Margaret Watson, who visited the Davis Guards during the war described them:

...They were men of mature years; very few were young.They were men of brawn and muscle; quiet in manner if you treated them right, but woe to you if you offended one...you would hear from him in true Irish style.

When off duty they were always smoking their pipes or spinning yarns or meditating alone.

Lt. Dick Dowling

Mrs Watson described Dick Dowling as a very young man, about 22 or 23 years of age.She said he had a fair, rosy complexion, blue eyes, and with a smile always on his face.Dowling's sister added; he had red hair, was handsome, and always looked younger than his years.

At 3:30 P.M., the Clifton started the action by firing its guns at the fort and moving down the Texas channel at a slow rate of speed.The Sachem, moving faster, started up the Louisiana channel with the Arizona behind her.The Sachem soon opened fire on the fort as did the Arizona.All three ships were firing shot, grape and canister at the fort.

In the fort, the men were in the bombproofs playing cards.Lieutenant Dowling was in a position to safely observe the oncoming attack.Captain Bailey of the Medical Corps, was in charge of the howitzers (in name only since he was a medical officer and knew very little of artillery operations, the person actually acting in the capacity of the officer in charge of these guns was Sergeant David Fitzgerald. Bailey assisted him).

Lieutenant Smith, of the Engineer Corps, was in charge of the two 24 pounders.One of these was manned by an experienced, older gunner, Mike McKernan.Dick Dowling was in charge of the two old iron 32 pounders and served as gunner on one of the cannon.These were the cannon Kellersberger hoped would never need to be fired in battle.Dowling told the men to stay below in the bombproofs until they heard his gun fire, and then to come out fighting.

Major Smith, Captain Odlum, Captain Good, and the town doctor, a Scot, Doctor Murray arrived at the back of the fort on horseback.They entered the fort just when all hell broke loose.The three enemy warships began their firing just as the four visitors arrived.When they saw the senior officers, the Davies let out a cheer.Major Smith shook Lieutenant Dowling's hand and told him to retain command, "as just appreciation of his gallantry."Smith told the men to do the best they could, to stand by their guns that help was on the way.The visitors left for the town and let the men do their job unimpeded by having visitors and ranking officers about.The spirit of the Davis Guard was raised by their visit.

These men, Smith, Odlum, Good, and Murray went looking to organize whatever reinforcements would come down the river on the cotton clads.About that time, the Roebuck arrived in the area of Sabine Lake, and hearing all the noise, made for the fort.

For an hour, the fort took a pounding without responding because the Union ships had not yet come within range of the fort's older cannon.Ninety six rounds were fired by the three gunships.

The Sachem was approaching the stake in the water on the Louisiana side.From his position as signalman, Lieutenant Dane saw the stake and asked the Captain of the Sachem, Amos Johnson, if he saw the stake.The Captain asked Dane what he thought it was for.Lieutenant Dane is said to have replied, "We will get the answer when we get to the stake, and the answer will be quite unsatisfactory to us all."Captain Johnson replied gruffly, "Captain Crocker will blow that pile of mud right off the point with the Clifton's nine-inchers."

All this time the guns and men stayed put in the fort, but the Sachem was moving at a rate of speed that would put her past the stakes and with a chance to get past the fort.This would give the Sachem a line of fire to the exposed backside of the fort.Something had to be done soon.

Dowling fired his gun at the Texas channel where it was aimed.Then, with tears in his eyes, he planted the Cross of Saint Andrew, the Confederate Flag, on the parapet and said loudly to his men, "Dick Dowling will be a dead man before that flag shall ever be taken down."The motto of the Davis Guard for the fight was: Victory or Death.That was the same motto chosen by Celt William Barrett Travis for the men of the Alamo.They too faced overwhelming odds.Dowling then ordered the Davis Guard to quickly direct their fire at the Sachem.The guns were then laid on the stakes in the Louisiana channel and the three batteries fired at the Sachem.

One of the men aboard the Clifton noted what happened next to the Sachem in a journal he kept: "On coming in line with a suspicious-looking stake, was opened upon with a great fury by the battery".

Lieutenant Crocker, aboard the Clifton, noted the turning of the guns and got his steam up and made right for the fort with as many guns as possible firing.On his deck the sharpshooters from the New York Seventy-Fifth Regiment, many of them Irish, fired volleys at the gunners in the fort.

On board the Sachem, Lieutenant Dane later reported, "The minute we passed the pole, a flash of flame shot from the parapet, a white cloud rose over it, and WHING! went a shell 50 feet over the quarterdeck." More came and they kept getting lower.The men on the quarterdeck hit the floor.Michael McKernan put a shot right through the Sachem's steam drum.There was an explosion.Steam shot out and scalded most all the men.Many of the men of the Sachem had to leap overboard to escape the scalding steam.Five more direct hits landed on the Sachem.The Sachem ran aground in the channel, apparently finished.Crocker in an attempt to distract the fort's guns from the Sachem, moved in closer to the fort.

The guns in the fort then fired on the Arizona behind the Sachem. One of the Arizona's masts came tumbling down, she soon found herself stuck in the mud. Dowling hollered a command and the guns again turned to the Texas channel and the Clifton.

Lieutenant Dane signaled the flagship Suffolk where Lieutenant Roe was the signalman, "Come in..."; Lieutenant Roe answered, "We Will." But the General Banks, the Granite City and the Suffolk remained in place, well out of range and out of the fight. Dane then signaled the Clifton, that he could see the Clifton's guns were pouring lead into the fort and blasting away portions of the top of the fort.