SABINE PASS II

Pleased with his success at Galveston, General Magruder next turned his attention to Sabine Pass.He ordered steamers at Orange to be built into cotton clads.When they were ready, Magruder ordered the cotton clads to proceed down the river and engage the Union forces in the town and fort at Sabine City.

Meanwhile, frustrated that their little cannon did little to discourage foraging raids by the crew of the Dan, the members of Company A, that were left in the area of Sabine Pass to keep the range cattle out of Union bellies decided to attack the Dan. During a dense fog, they rowed up and along side the Dan, lit about 50 pine knot tar torches and threw them into the boats side wheel paddles and onto the decks.The boat burned to the waterline and sank where it was anchored off the Sabine lighthouse.

After the Dan incident and knowing the Confederate cotton clads were about to sail, and what had happened at Galveston, the Union forces withdrew from the city and fort at Sabine Pass.

Before they left, the Union men destroyed the mud fort the citizens of Sabine had constructed.The Union again took up the blockading position at the mouth of the Sabine Riber. There they awaited the expected Confederate attack from off shore. They did not have to wait long. In the early morning hours of January 21st, two Confederate steamer cotton clads; the Josiah H. Bell and the Uncle Ben, made full steam for the two Union sailing vessels effecting the blockade, the Morning Light and the Velocity. The Morning Light had twelve guns and the Velocity had four guns. The two Union sailing ships were not able to turn and face the advancing cotton clads or maneuver to make the best use of their guns because of a calm sea and only a light breeze. The best the Union ships could do was attempt to run for it, in hopes of finding more wind to maneuver.

The Josiah H. Bell had on board one rifled four pounder manned by Lieutenant Dick Dowling. Dowling named the gun "Annie" after his wife. Also on board were sharpshooters commanded by Captain Matt Nolan. One of these men was Alexander Gilmer. He was born in County Antrim, Ireland. Gilmer was an early settler of Orange, Texas.

The Uncle Ben had two twelve pound smooth bore old time guns under the command of Captain R. D. Keith.The Uncle Ben also had on board sharpshooters. They were under the command of Captain George W. O'Bryan (O'Brien). One of his men was James "Robert" Higgins, father of Patillio Higgins. Higgins is a very old Irish name meaning `viking.' On Higgin's maternal side was a grandmother named Wilkinson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An illustration showing the Morning Light under attack by the two Confederate cotton clads taken from Leslie's magazine contemporary report

The two Union sailing vessels did not find any more wind as they sailed from the advancing Confederate steamers. The two steamers continued to gain on them. All four ships were more than twenty miles out from Sabine Pass when Dowling felt his rifled gun could reach the Morning Light. With just a few shots, Dowling was able to knock out the main rigging, destroy the quarterboat, and strike one of the Morning Light's guns. All of the gun crew was killed or wounded with the shot. When the ships got within close quarters, Nolan's sharpshooters on the Josiah H. Bell put out such a deadly hail of lead that all the men of the Morning Light, that were topside, left the open deck and went below, abandoning the guns. By 11 A.M., the Uncle Ben was able to do much the same to the Velocity so that both Union ships sent up white flags of surrender.

The Confederates captured both ships, thirteen guns (cannon), 139 prisoners, anda considerable amount of supplies. They also succeeded in opening another port for the South. General Magruder issued a proclamation to foreign consuls inviting commerce. This was followed by the Secretary of State of the C.S.A. to all foreign consuls inviting merchants to trade through this "open port."

Just as important was the uplift in morale the victory gave the general population of the South and Texas in particular. The Confederate victory at opening the port of Sabine was short lived.

The Morning Light could not be brought over the bar at the mouth of Sabine Pass, so stores were removed from it and placed on board the Uncle Ben to be brought to shore.One man was left aboard the Morning Light, a Lieutenant Aikens. After dark, a Union steamer, the Tennessee, pulled up along side the Morning Light. Lieutenant Aikens informed the Tennesee the ship was now a Confederate one. He did this in some deceptive way that had the Tennessee quickly leaving for the Union ships off Galveston with the news about the Morning Light and the Velocity. Commodore Henry H. Bell, commander of the U.S. Navy's squadron off Galveston, immediately sent the New London and the Cayuga to Sabine Pass to continue the blockade of the port. Seeing the approach of the two ships, the Confederates set fire to the Morning Light. Admiral David Farragut was upset at the loss of the Morning Light both initially and the failure of the Tennessee to recapture it.