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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Magruder sent a message to Captain Odlum which was received late in the evening
of the 7th of September. He gave Odlum
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
ON THE SABINE
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.
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.
Lt. Dick Dowling
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.