U.S. NAVAL BLOCKADE

From the beginning, Lincoln called for the naval blockade of Southern ports. This was anticipated by Colonel John S. Ford and was his basis for negotiating a trade treaty with Mexico in 1861. Since the US - Mexico treaty of 1848, the Rio Grande River was designated an international river and therefore could not be blockaded. This was the basis of his reasoning for negotiating the treaty and persuading Kenedy and King to register their ships under the Mexican flag. For most all the war, Matamoros, Mexico which was across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville and Bagdad, Mexico the nearest Mexican port directly on the Gulf, did a brisk business in trading Southern cotton.

The Union blockade was initially effective along the East Coast of the United States and increased its effectiveness in the eastern Gulf of Mexico as the war progressed. In the first year of the war, the Union blockade was not a fact facing most Texas ports.

One of the Union ships effecting the Union blockade on the east coast was the U. S. S. Shamrock. A young Irish officer on board the ship was Lieutenant Alfred Thayer Mahan. His father was Irishman Dennis Hart Mahan, a prominent instructor at West Point. Dennis Hart Mahan's theories were put to the critical test in the Mexican War by men who were generals in the Civil War. Alfred Mahan graduated second in his class at West Point. After the war he, like his father, became a military instructor. Alfred Thayer Mahan taught at the Naval War College, a school for veteran naval officers. Mahan became famous for his naval strategies which were put to the test and proved correct as late as the Second World War.

< Alred Thayer Mahan late in life

One of the more successful blockade runners of the war was the Banshee . Its name suggests an Irish or Celtic connection as "banshee" is Gaelic for ghost or spirit. The Banshee was built in England for Edward Lawrence and Company of Liverpool. England, a company that imported cotton from the South. It was first launched in November, 1862. It was designed for speed. It carried no armament save for two signal cannons for that would slow the vessel. It had a low profile and was painted gray to make it difficult to make out. The Banshee is shown in the drawing on the right eluding the blockading vessels off Galveston. The Banshee made eight successful runs from southern ports to England, making her owners a 700% profit in one year of operation before getting caught.

The blockade runner Banshee in a drawing by R. G. Skerrett

The Banshee was captained by Jonathan W. Steele, an Englishman. His crew of 38 men were all British citizens, most of them Celts as you can see by the table below:

Name .................................Position.......... ................Age...... Residence/Birthplace.... Times Ran Blockade __________________________________________________________________________________
Robert McKean/McKeon ..Second Mate ..................24........ Glasgow/Ireland......................... ..3
Adam French .......................Mess Boy .......................20 ........Devonshire/England ....................2
Samuel McKann/McCann ..Boatswain .......................53 ........Liverpool/Ireland........................ .2
Christopher Conner .............Errand Boy .....................12 ........Liverpool/England -
Charles Bethel (black) .........Engineer`s Steward .......15 ........Bahamas/Glasgow .......................2
Thomas White ......................Coal Trimmer .................22 ........Liverpool/Ireland ........................2
William Marshall .................Sailor`s Boy ....................16 ........Devonshire/England ....................2
Allen Smith ...........................Coal Passer ....................29 ........Liverpool/Ireland .........................2
William Campbell .................Cook ...............................27 ........Warren Point/Ireland ...................6
James Erskine ......................Chief Engineer ................26 ........Wigtown/Scotland ........................3
David Houston ......................Second Engineer .............23 ........Liverpool/Scotland .......................2
William Millan/Milne/Miller Seaman ............................23 .........................../New Brunswick ........6
Joseph/John/James Kenney .Second Steward ..............23........ Dublin/Ireland.............................. 4
Henry/John Thompson ..........Seaman ...........................32 ........Nassau/Bayonne ..........................2
Walter McDonald/Donough ..Fireman ..........................31 ........Renfew/Scotland ..........................4
John Byford ............................Seaman ..........................24 ........Harwich/England ..........................2
James McCaffrey ..................Fireman ..........................28 ........Liverpool/England ........................2
Owen Hughes .........................Fireman ..........................39 ........Hollyhead/England .......................2
Frederick Foley ......................Coal Trimmer ................21 ........Dublin/Baltimore ..........................1
Samuel Johnson .....................Third Engineer ...............23 ........Liverpool/Ireland ..........................2
John A. Power ........................Purser .............................26 ........Nassau/Ireland ..............................2
Thomas Burns/Byrne ............Third Mate .....................25 ........England/Nassau..............................5
John Watson ..........................Pilot .................................37 .......Abaco/Ireland .................................4
John Duff ...............................Seaman ...........................28 ........Douglas/Isle of Man...................... 2
William Lindsay .....................Fireman ..........................24 ........Glasgow/Scotland ...........................2
Jerry Driscoll .........................Coal Passer ....................23 ........Queenstown/Ireland .......................2
Richard Shurlan/Sherrin ........Fireman ..........................36 ........Liverpool/Ireland ............................3
John McCallum/McCallam ...Second Cook ..................22 ........Glasgow/Scotland ............................2
Roger Donelley ......................Fireman ..........................32 ........Glasgow Scotland ............................7
William J. Burns/Byrms .........Seaman ..........................25 ........Belfast/Ireland .................................2
Henry C.D/B. Rover ...............Seaman .........................40 ........Oldenberg/Germany .........................1
Thomas Sheridan ....................Carpenter ......................24 ........Liverpool/Ireland ..............................3
Richard Armstrong .................Chief Steward ................35 ........Dublin/Ireland ...................................2
Nathan Erskine .......................Fireman .........................23 ........Pt. William/Scotland ..........................1
Valentine Walsh/Welsh ..........Coal Trimmer ................23 ........Londonderry/Ireland......................... 2
Malcolm Wilkes/Wolkie ........Coal Trimmer .................33 .......Glasgow England ...............................1
James Kernicher/Karnochan .Fireman ..........................36 .......Liverpool/Scotland..............................4
Cecil Gardner .........................Second Mate ..................29 .......Warren Point/Ireland .........................2
Con/George McClusky .........Third Steward................. 20 ............................./Ireland ..........................2

Readers will note that Liverpool had large communities of Scotchish and Irish. As the Captain and crew were all not Americans, Confederate or otherwise they were released soon after their capture.

The blockade runners had a toast:

Here's to the Confederates that grow the cotton,

The Yanks that keep up the price by blockade,

The Limeys that pay high prices for it,

- to all three and a long war!

This is a painting of another blockade runner, the Denbigh, built in Wales and named for a Welsh city. It ran agound off Galveston

Sabine Pass became an important port. Ships from Matamoros and Havana docked regularly at Sabine City, off loading ammunition and other supplies and taking on cotton. Sabine City officials were aware the Union Navy would soon turn its attention toward their port city. The city of Sabine proceeded with its plans to erect a fort to discourage Union ships from entering at Sabine Pass. There was a narrow and shallow channel to the city. The channel was rarely more than seven feet deep and had quite a few sandbars and oyster reefs in it to make navigation difficult. Building a fort would make gunboats think about entering Sabine Pass. While attempting to negotiate the navigation problems they would face, they would be under fire from a fortified position on the Texas bank.

The citizens and the Texas State militia constructed an earthwork fort about two miles downstream from the town and named it Fort Sabine. The militia unit organized by Captain K. D. Keith built the fort. The militia unit was called the Sabine Pass Guards and had 102 men. It was an artillery unit. The Sabine Pass Guards built the fort out of mud, logs and rough lumber from an abandoned sawmill. The fort was outfitted with two twelve pound Mexican cannon that were captured in the Mexican War, and two eighteen pound cannon.

< K. D. Keith, the K. D. stood for Kosciuszko Dewitrt

General Sidney Sherman, who was in charge of a similar effort in Galveston, sent up some ammunition.

The Sabine Pass Guards stayed at the fort after they finished building it. They later were made a part, company B, of Likens' 6th Battalion, State Militia.

Company A of the battalion was the Ben McCulloch Coast Guard. It was organized as a calvary unit. Sergeant H. N. Connor was its First Sargeant. Company A built fourteen barracks and a stable about five miles west of the fort.

The success of the port at Sabine Pass did get the attention of the U. S. Navy's first admiral, Admiral David G. Farragut. The `G' stood for Glasgow. Admiral Farragut commanded the United States Navy's West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Until August of 1862, he had neither the men nor ships to effectively blockade Texas ports. In August, he was given the resources to conduct a more aggressive operation. He wanted to do more than blockade the ports. Much of the Texas coast is masked with islands which made it difficult for blockaders to see the coast clearly. Blockade runners would emerge from the many inlets and get past the blockading ships before the U.S. Navy ship could respond. Farragut decided to take the offensive. He wanted U.S. personnel to control what he called "inland navigation." He wanted Union forces on shore to better observe port activities. Admiral Farragut's flagship, at the time, was the Harriet Lane.

SABINE PASS I

On August, 1862, three Union blockaders turned their attention on Sabine Pass. Likens' Battalion guarded Sabine Pass and other area locations. Company B, The Sabine Pass Guards, were still at the fort they built near Sabine City. Companies C and D guarded cotton stored at Beaumont and Orange.

Lieutenant Colonel Ashley. W. Spaight, of Welsh descent, commanded Confederate forces in and around Sabine. Spaight organized a unit of calvary from Liberty and Chanbers counties known as the Moss Bluff Rebels, it was Company F in Likens' Battalion. When Spaight was promoted and moved to command the Eleveth Battalion, Captain W. B. Duncan took over the Moss Bluff Rebels.

Spaight took over what was Likens' 6th Battalion, which was then called Spaight's Eleventh Battalion Texas State Militia. Company A was the Ben McCulloch Coast Guard. Company B was the Sabine Pass Guards. Company C was from Newton County, Company D from Tyler company, Company E was Captain George W. O'Brien's company from Beaumont and Company F was the Moss Bluff Rebels.

Unknown to all of them, a greater, more insidious enemy was at work in the Sabine City. Yellow fever was rampant in the town. A British blockade runner, the Victoria, unloaded more than supplies when it docked in July. Before long, the disease was epidemic. Among the many victims was the mayor of the city.

Lt. Col. Spaight furloughed most all the troops in his command away from the area and the disease. Colonel Spaight withdrew his headquarters from Sabine to Beaumont. The only soldiers left in the fort were those men who survived the disease and were convalescing.

Sergeant H. N. Conner, First Sergeant of Company A noted in his diay that his convalescing men had to nurse and bury civilians. Captain Kieth of Company B wrote in his memoirs "our principal business was to bury the dead." The disease was still killing civilains and soldiers as late as October. One of the dead was a Lieutenant Concannon of Captain Keith's company. The town and fort were practically defenseless.

A Union mortar schooner, the Henry James, came up the channel on September 25. With the Henry James were two other Union ships, the Kennsington and the Rachel Seaman. The Henry James fired at Fort Sabine. One of the shells hit within the earthworks and covered several of the Confederates soldiers with mud. The fort fired back without effect. The other two ships also fired at the fort, but no one was hurt. A brisk fire from both sides was exchanged. Lieutenant Colonel Spaight's official report stated, "To the chagrin of officers and men our shot fell short, while the enemy was enabled with his longer range guns to throw shot and shell around and into our works."

Captain George W. O'Bryan (O'Brien) brought a company of men to reinforce the artillery battery commanded by Captain R. D. Keith. Despite the fact that Keith and O'Brien wanted to stay and fight, the decision was made during the night by Colonel Spaight to use O'Brien's men to help evacuate the ammunition and other supplies, and to spike and bury the guns.

Two men, still sick with the fever, were brought to the city to be cared for by some of the women of Sabine who acted as nurses. By dawn, all the men and equipment were withdrawn from Fort Sabine and the city of Sabine. Most of the men took the road to Beaumont. The equipment and the last of the men were aboard the last train to leave Sabine City during the Civil War. Among these men were Captains O'Brien and Keith.

The next day the ships made another pass at the mud fort. Captain Frederick Crocker, who commanded the Kennsington, together with the Captain of the Henry James, led some men to scout the silent fort. They found it evacuated. They proceeded into the city. When they learned of the yellow fever epidemic, they quickly returned to their ships. Over the next few days, the Union ships fired on several warehouses and businesses. Houses caught fire and were lost. A mill, the barracks, a warehouse, and the stables by the fort were similarly burned. A force went inland and burned the railroad depot and other targets. One of the ships went into Lake Sabine and destroyed the railroad bridge over Taylor's Bayou.

There were only a few of Colonel Spaight's men still in the area. Company A, the calvary company of Sergeant Connor was keeping range cattle from straying to near the Federal troops so as not to provide them a food resource. Company B, with Captain Keith, was sent to Fort Grigsby to man the two 24 pound batteries there. The rest of the companies were guarding cotton stored in Beaumont, Port Neches, Orange and Niblett's Bluff on the Louisiana side of the river.

Through December, eight blockade runners were captured coming into the port via Sabine Pass. Four of them were Confederate, and four were British. One of these was the West Florida with a pass from General Ben Butler. It expected to be allowed to take any captured cotton bales that fell into Union hands. The blockader took the West Florida as a prize, and General Butler was writing letters to Washington D. C. explaining his action.

The Union Navy kept a force at Fort Sabine and flew the Stars and Stripes from its flagpole.

One of the vessels there was an armed steamboat, The Dan, which Crocker had captured on the Calcasieu River earlier. The Dan and the Rachel Seaman patrolled the Pass and Sabine Lake, harassing any Confederates they saw either military or civilian. In October, a detachment from the Dan landed and burned stacks of wood at the old Wingate lumbermill, the barracks west of the fort that had been built by Connor's Company A and several civilian houses. A Sabine Pass pilot, after whom Taylor Bayou was named, James G. Taylor, deserted to the Union troops during this incident.

Upset with what had happened, the soldiers of Company A personally raised $500 to purchase a six pound wheeled cannon, which they dubbed the Aunt Jane to fire back at the Dan if it made any more land excursions.