THE LAND ATTACK
General Magruder waited for the rail-mounted Columbiad to fire the first round. When it did not come as planned, he sent Lieutenant Colonel Harvey McNeil to get it into action. General Magruder then went to Wilson's Battery at the central wharf and personally fired the first artillery round. It hit the empty building at the end of Kuhn's Wharf that was used as a barracks for the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry. For the next two hours, there was an artillery cacophony in the air, along with debris and shot, as both sides let go all they had. Among the rebel gunners was the former Confederate Governor of Arizona, John R. Baylor.
Sharpshooters of Colonel William H. Griffin's 21st Infantry fired on the 42nd Massachusetts Regiment from both sides of their position and from in front of their barracade. This withering fire was to provide cover for an assault on the wharf. The assault was made by some of Colonel Joseph Cook's men including the Davis Guard but it failed. The breastwork of the 42nd Massachusetts Regiment with the gaping holes in front of it, and the heavy supporting fire from the naval guns made it impossible for the Confederates to reach the position of the Union troops from the land side. The assault troops then tried to use ladders to get to the Union position from the shallow water (the tide was out), but their ladders proved too short and they withdrew.
Colonel Cook then had artillery moved to the piers on either side of Kuhn's Wharf, on Hendley's Wharf and McKinney's Wharf. The men manning these guns were soon driven from them by fire from the Union ships. The Confederates took positions behind and between the buildings that were at dockside. Some enterprising Rebs were able to set up a battery on the second floor of the Hendley Building, at the base of Hendley Wharf. This gave them a commanding view of the harbor.
From a painting by Russell Cushman
There was no sign of the waterborne Rebel force that was to disrupt some of the naval fire. After the steady exchange of fire, there were, surprisingly, no great casualties. But, it was evident to all onshore, the Federals had the superior fire power, and unless something changed, the Confederates would have to withdraw from their positions before dawn. General Magruder ordered all batteries to move to safer positions and to begin fortifications for the permanent occupation of the city.
THE WATER ATTACK
When Major Smith first heard Magruder's guns and the Union response, he ordered his flotilla to power up and head for the western end of Galveston Harbor. As they again came close to Pelican Island, one of the Union ships, the Westfield, moved to intercept them. In its haste and because they were using old charts, the Westfield ran aground on a submerged part of Pelican Split. The Senior Commander of all Union naval officers in Galveston Harbor, Commander Renshaw, was aboard the Westfield. He signalled to the Clifton to come and lend assistance.
Daylight came and all the Rebels looked for their missing navy. They soon saw it, blasting what ordinance they had at the closest Union ship to the western edge of the city channel. The ship was the Harriet Lane and the Rebels were making right for her. The Harriet Lane was one of the more effective of the Union boats in blasting the land artillery, and the prevention of the land assault on the position of the Massachusetts regiment. She was forced to turn and face the oncoming boats with her bow.
The plan of Captain Wainwright, commanding the Harriet Lane, was to ram the leading boat, the Buffalo Bayou. His men were then to board and capture the Neptune, which was just behind the Buffalo Bayou.
The Buffalo Bayou was firing its one gun at the Harriet Lane until the cannon exploded killing the gun commander. The Harriet Lane fired its guns at the Buffalo Bayou and hit it but, the Buffalo Bayou and the Neptune kept on coming.
When the Harriet Lane maneuvered to ram the Buffalo Bayou, the Union ship ran aground. The Buffalo Bayou swerved to effect a boarding maneuver. The Buffalo Bayou grazed the Harriet Lane, the contact resulted in releasing the Harriet Lane's anchor.
The Harriet Lane was now aground and anchored, while two enemy boats were assaulting her.
The Neptune, too, tried a maneuver to board the Harriet Lane. It was unable to accomplish it and moved on past the Union ship. Both Confederate cottonclads turned about to make another run at boarding the Harriet Lane. The Harriet Lane struck first. She fired a round which was devastating to the Neptune.
The shot that knocked out the Neptune was fired by an officer aboard the Harriet Lane who had a reputation for being highly accurate. His name was Hamilton. He next took aim at the Buffalo Bayou, when he pulled the lanyard, it broke. The gun crew were fixing the lanyard when the Neptune began to sink. The captain of the Neptune ran her aground on a shoal fifty yards from the Harriet Lane. The crew of the Harriet Lane cheered. They cheered loud enough, all on board the Neptune and the Buffalo Bayou heard them. The crew of the Harriet Lane was very intent and focused on the Neptune and its predicament.