early April, the New London
began sending out small recon groups to the lighthouse on the Louisiana side of
the Sabine Pass channel to keep tabs on what the Confederates were doing in the
city of Sabine and in the fort. On
April 10, one of these small recon parties included James Taylor, the Sabine
Pass area pilot who was a Union sympathizer and who had joined with the crew of
the Dan. The recon party
captured a group of Confederates. Among
the Confederates was Captain Charles Fowler, pictured to the right, the senior Confederate in charge
of the ships in the Pass.
by this success, the two captains of the blockading ships off Sabine Pass,
decided to capture the town back for the Union. They both went on a reconnaissance from the lighthouse to
finalize their plans.The Confederates
were there waiting for them. In the
action that followed, Captain McDermot of the Cayuga was seriously
wounded and captured along with five others.The Captain of the New London was also wounded, but was able to
make it back to his ship with five men. One of these was Taylor who was also wounded. Captain McDermot died from his wounds.He was replaced as captain of the Cayuga by W. H. Dana.
Sabine Pass Lighthouse as it looks today.
Not long after the victory at Galveston, General Magruder instructed his Chief
Engineer, Valery Sulakowski pictured below right, who was from Poland, to construct a new fort. He sent a Swiss German engineer, Getulius
Kellersberger, to supervise the construction. Five hundred slaves with the necessary overseers and thirty engineers
worked on the fort through the spring and summer of 1863. The two artillery companies of Captain Odlum
and Captain Keith also assisted in the construction.
Odlum's company was known by a number of names, all variants of the same
thing. The official name taken by
Company F of First Texas Heavy Artillery when it was formed was the Jefferson
Davis Guard which was shortened in conversation to the Jeff Davis Guard or Davis
Guard. The men in the unit were known
as the Jeff Davis Guards, Davis Guards or Davies. Somewhere the distinction between the two got lost and the unit
and men were called the Jeff Davis or Davis Guards. All the terms were used for the unit in newspaper and official
papers of the day.
they were assisting in the construction of the fort, the Davis Guard was
quartered in the home of John Stewart. Stewart was a Sabine Pass bar pilot who sent his family away from the
Sabine area at the start of the war. Stewart's home was a two story frame house near the fort.
Davis Guard were stationed at their new fort. The commander of all Confederate troops in the Sabine area at this time
was Colonel William H. Griffin one of the infantry leaders in the taking of
Galveston. Colonel Griffin on September
1, 1863, was given orders sending him elsewhere. Colonel Sulakowski or General Magruder directed the fort under
construction be named Fort Griffin in his honor.
the fort was called by the townspeople and others what they called the earlier
fort, Fort Sabine. Maps of the day,
prior to September, show the fort as Fort Sabine. Most all the official correspondence and reports referred to the
fort as Fort Griffin, after September, 1863.
is a common error among some historians to pick up the name of Fort Grigsby as
the name of the fort at Sabine Pass. There was a Fort Gigsby in the area, but it was up river at Port
Neches. It was built before the second
fort at Sabine Pass. It was also
designed by Sulakowski and built by Kellersberger. It was manned by those who had built the original Fort Sabine,
Captain Keith's company from Sabine City. Adding to the problem was the fact that some official reports, including
one by General Magruder, and newspaper stories used the Fort Grigsby name when
they were refering to Fort Griffin.
Griffin, the second fort at Sabine Pass, was just upstream from where the old
fort was located. It was laid out on a
slight promontory that gave it a sweep of the channel. Actually, there were two channels. The oyster reef in the middle of the channel
split it into what was called the Louisiana channel, closest to the Louisiana
side of the Sabine River, and the Texas channel, on the Texas side of the
river.The fort, which stood out from
the banks on the Texas side was on a small point with the highest elevation of
the area and had full command of both channels.
fort was constructed with two feet of logs and two feet of railroad iron and
then covered with earth.The floor of
the fort was recessed about a foot and a half in all areas except the magazines
and bomb proofs (shelters). These were
recessed further below the level of the fort floor.
on the inside and looking out, the top of the walls were about eye level for
the average man. Each gun position was
mounted en barbette, that is, on
the parapet. There was no protective
wall with holes for the cannon. The cannon
were mounted on raised platforms that exposed the gunners from the waist up. The fort had six gun positions, four magazines,
and five bombproofs.
the fort, several masked battery positions were planned back from (west on the
Texas side) of the entrance to the Pass.An entrenchment was to be dug 600 yards downstream facing the natural
beach in front of the old fort. With
the rest of the channel bank mud or marsh, this was the logical landing site
for anyone coming up the channel to assault the fort from the land side.
construction proceeded, Kellersberger tried to secure cannon for the new
fort.There was only one twelve pound
cannon and one six pound field cannon immediately available to him. Kellersberger encouraged those involved in
burying the old fort's cannon, to help him locate them. The cannon were spiked and buried by the
Confederates almost one year earlier when the Union troops landed.
the help of some long pole rods, Kellersberger found two rusted 32 pound,
spiked cannons.The trunnions of both
cannon were chipped off. Sulakowski
attempted to discourage the Swiss engineer from doing anything with the cannon, but
since there was nothing else forthcoming, Kellersberger continued to see what
could be done with them. He had them
cleaned and shipped by rail to a military foundry in Galveston. The barrels were bored out and the project
turned over to a Galveston gunsmith (probably at McDonough Iron Works, though
his name is not known). The gunsmith
was able to restore the cannon and they were shipped back to the fort.
installing the two smooth bore, 32 pounders, Kellersberger painted a white
sighting line on both barrels. Kellersberger sighted down the channel 1,000 yards to the most difficult
part of the channel. At that point, an
angled turn had to be made to the right (east) by any ship or boat wanting to
go up the Louisiana channel. This turn
exposed the side of any vessel coming up the Louisiana channel. Engineer Getulius Kellersberger is shown to the left.
then placed a stake in the channel at the point he had sighted. He had the side of the stake facing the
fort, painted white. Kellersberger was
able to locate plenty of ammunition for the guns.
late August, the slaves, overseers and the engineers left Fort Griffin. One engineering officer, Lieutenant Nicholas
A. Smith, was left behind to direct the remaining work to be done - by the two
artillery companies. When Kellersberger
left, he expressed a hope the two reconstructed guns would never be tested in
battle. He feared the boring of the guns might have weakened the integrity of their barrels. On Monday, 3 September, the
Davis Guard practiced firing at the staked area. They practiced through the week. When two other guns were added they were included in the practice. These were two smooth bore, 24
pounders. The 32 and 24 pounders were
made of iron and were condemned by the Ordnance Board of the U.S. Army and
removed from U. S. service in 1859. The Davis Guard added another painted stake, 1000 yards down the Texas
channel for the guns to use in ranging.
those of you surprised at the amount of detail and space given to matters at Sabine Pass, it is
necessary to set the stage and give you as thorough an understanding as
possible for what is to come. For one
brief period in history, Sabine Pass had
the attention of the: President, Cabinet, Generals and Admirals of the United
States of America; the President, Generals, and Admirals of the Confederate
States of America; the Emperor and other leaders of France; and the Emperor and
other leaders of Mexico. In the middle of it all will be the Irish
in Texas contributing to Texas history in what will be their
MONROE DOCTRINE TESTED
to 1861, Mexico tried the patience of the United States. Diplomatic and financial problems abounded
between the two countries. During the
period after the Mexican War, Mexico went through a number of governments, each
disavowing the actions of its predecessor.
Frustrated, President Buchanan, asked Congress for authorization for him
to send a military force into Mexico.
This was not given. Buchanan
also tried to buy Lower California from Mexico.
old colonial powers of England, France and Spain also made moves to gain
territory in the hemisphere. In May of
1861, at the request of the natives, the Dominican Republic, or Santo Domingo
as it was called then, asked Spain to take the republic back under its
wing. The island was soon embroiled in
revolt and the islanders old ally, yellow fever, was defeating the Spanish as
quickly and deftly as it did the French in the days of Toussaint L'Ouverture.
year 1861 was also the year a joint military expedition of Spain, England and
France landed in Mexico. The joint
expedition invited the United States to be a part of the punitive action. The United States declined. England, Spain, and France invaded Mexico to
collect a debt. Money was loaned to
Mexico but the different regimes refused to pay. The European powers landed military troops and took the money
owed at gunpoint. Satisfied, the troops
and ships of England and Spain left in 1862.
France stayed. With the United
States involved in a civil war, the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, believed
he had an opportunity to exploit.
III's ministers discussed with the South, recognition from France in exchange
for France having a free hand in Mexico.
The Confederates listened.
a set back orchestrated by Tejano Ignacio Zaragoza who defeated the French in
battle at Puebla on May 5, 1862 (Cinco De Mayo), the French occupied Mexico
City in June of 1863. Napoleon III
offered the Mexicans something originally promised with the Plan of Iguala and
sought as recently as 1854 - a Mexican monarchy with a european monarch.
was also aware the clergy and military had been excluded by the Reform
government currently trying to rule Mexico.
In fact Juarez, who emerged as the leader of the reform movement,
targeted the military and clergy. He
questioned their privileged use of lands and tax abatement. He did away with military and ecclesiastical
measures were increased to include confiscation of church property not used for
worship. Monastic orders were suppressed. Civil marriages were declared the
only legal marriage. All church cemeteries
were declared public property.
Napoleon correctly gauged that the people, and by this he would mean the people of influence, of Mexico did not generally support the anti clerical anti military stance of the Juarez government.
< Napoleon III of France
the monarchy was clearly a veiled puppet government of the French, the
conservative elements of Mexican society: the wealthy, aristocrats, the
military and the Catholic Church supported it.
Napoleon III proclaimed Austrian Prince Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian
Joseph of Habsburg (the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph)
and his Belgian bride Carlotta (daughter of the King of the Belgiums and Louis
of Orléans) the Emperor and Empress of Mexico.
.................................................................................................................................Maximillan I, Emperor of Mexico >
besides the French troops in Mexico there were token units from Belgium and
Austria. There was even a Sudanese Battalion of troops from the Eygption Army that were supported by Algerian civilians acting as intepreters. The black, moslem unit was a part of a French Regiment. England gave Napoleon and the
royals involved reason to believe they would not interfere with the
the North won the Civil War, Napoleon knew his Mexican maneuver was over. On the other hand if the South won, or
through a stalemate was able to effect a separation from the United States,
then his American empire could prosper and perhaps grow.
England refused to let her shipbuilders build more state of the art ships for
the Confederacy in late 1862, Napoleon told his shipbuilders to accept the
contracts. In June 1863, contracts were
signed for four Alabama class ships and two ram ships.
Lincoln was most unhappy with this total disregard for the Monroe
Doctrine. He feared the French would be
emboldened to take advantage of the United State's preoccupation with the Civil
War and lay claim to Texas.
felt France might instigate or support a Texas bid to declare its independence
from the Confederate States of America, become a French protectorate, or
worse. Gideon Welles, Lincoln's
Secretary of the Navy, wrote in his diary after a cabinet meeting on July 31st
that Secretary of State William Seward reported that Louis Napoleon was
"Making an effort to get Texas."
The official position of the United States was to recognize Benito
Juarez as the leader of the legal government of Mexico. This and the French agreeing to supply the
South with the needed warships, pushed the South and France closer together.
Union victories at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Port Hudson, Louisiana in July of
1863, effectively cut off the Confederate States west of the Mississippi from
the Confederacy. The South was
physically divided. Fewer troops could
keep the Confederate states west of the Mississippi isolated and effectively
out of the war than were currently in the area. Troops were now available for new operations. The Navy and Grant wanted to mount an
operation against Mobile.
of general policy connected with the action of France in Mexico and the
apparent unfriendly attitude of the emperor Napoleon III toward the United
States decided otherwise.
distinguished Irish naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan.Lincoln discussed in his cabinet meetings
the need to secure Texas as soon as possible.On August 6th, General Banks, in New Orleans, was ordered to establish
Federal authority on some point in Texas.Lincoln let it be known he favored a land approach from West Texas or
from the sea at Brownsville.The latter
plan would place an immediate U.S. presence before the French.It would also stop the cotton trade for arms
through Matamoros that was ongoing since Colonel "Rip" Ford set it up
superior, General Halleck, recommended a campaign up the Red River. Other
members of the U.S. hierarchy suggested Galveston or Indianola as landing
sites.In the end the choice remained
with General Banks.
INVASION OF TEXAS
Confederates learned of the Union plans and believed the Red River route was
the most probable.All available
Confederates were rushed to defend this area.The guns captured from the Galveston fight were sent to the Red River
area as were all available Texans.Even
the Governor of Texas, Francis Richard Lubbock, left to join the Confederate
Army.The Lieutenant Governor, John
McClannahan Crockett served as governor.With the emphasis on the Red River, the Texas coast was left poorly
Nathaniel P. Banks chose as his landing site the area around Sabine Pass.Banks chose Sabine Pass because it could
easily be supported from New Orleans and Union held Berwick Bay, near what is
now Morgan City, Louisiana.
is evidence there might have been a personal reason Banks chose Sabine
Pass.It is known that General Banks
personally speculated in the sale of cotton.General Banks knew there was stockpiled in the Sabine area thousands of
bales of cotton, perhaps as many as 40,000 bales, waiting to be shipped from
the port at Sabine City.These bales
were stored in warehouses along the Sabine River north to Orange, Texas and
along the Neches River to Beaumont awaiting removal of the blockade of the
Banks had 37,000 available men in New Orleans.He committed 20,000 to the operation.He asked for 27 ships to transport them.The major unit would be the 19th Corps composed of four infantry
brigades.Six artillery batteries, two
heavy artillery batteries and the Texas First Union Calvary under Edmund J.
command of the operation was placed with Major General William B.
Franklin whose picture is to the left..General Banks and Admiral
Farragut discussed the operation and suggested to Franklin that he land ground
troops at a site two to twelve miles past the Sabine Pass opening, south and
west of the fort.
the combined operation, the Army would attack the fort from the vulnerable land
side with something like 500 men, while the gunboats would lead the other
transports up the channel and reduce the fort by bombardment.Additional troops could be landed on the
beach in the channel if necessary to help assault the fort, otherwise the beach
would be secured after the fort fell for disembarking the main troops of about
gun ships were then to go in pursuit of the known cotton clads up river, while
the Army established a base of operations and sent scouts north and west to
determine enemy troop concentrations.Banks wrote to Franklin on August 30th,
your whole force as quickly as possible...and if youcan safely proceed as far as the railroad from Houston to
Beaumont, you will seize and hold some point on that line.Beaumont is probably the preferable
point...After seizing such point on the railroad, you will make reconnaissances
in the direction of Houston.
For the full order from Banks to Franklin use this link >
was served by five railroads radiating west to the Colorado, north to above
Navasoto, south to the Brazos, and east to Galveston.Capturing Houston would provide a rail hub providing access to
all the major populated areas of Texas.
transports were to sail to and from New Orleans until all additional troops for
the operation were in Texas.
messenger ship was to inform the single Union ship effecting the blockade on
duty outside Sabine Pass of the operation.The messenger ship was to do this one day ahead of the scheduled arrival
of the fleet.On board the messenger
ship would be two Sabine Pass pilots, one of them was James G. Taylor.
blockader and the messenger ship were to await the fleets arrival at night. The
messenger ship was to keep a light facing seaward to mark their location.When all the ships were in place, most of
them, with the help of the pilots, were to cross the bar and await the
dawn.At dawn, the landing would be
made by army troops south of the pass, "or any area in the general
invasion locality which would allow the completion of the mission" (Banks
to Franklin in correspondence dated August 31, 1863).Another message from Banks stated
landing, if found impracticable at the point now contemplated, should be
attempted at any place in the vicinity where it might be found practicable
to attain the desired result.
estimate of expected Confederate strength at Sabine Pass was: two guns in the
fort, some field artillery in the area, and the two cotton clads that attacked the
Morning Light and Velocity.It was decided the attack would take place September 7th, 1863.
On September 5, General Banks wrote President Abraham Lincoln:
The Expedition ordered by the department of War for the re-establishment of the American Flag in Texas is now nearly ready. The advance sailed for the Sabine pass at midnight the 4 instant. My purpose is to move upon the Sabine Lake, marching to Beaumont, thence to Liberty Houston and Galveston. Galveston will fall by a movement in its rear. In possession of Galveston and Houston the whole state is in our possession. I have renewed confidence that Texas will be reorganized some part of it during the year. All depends on the movement upon the Sabine which sailed last night under commd. of Major General Franklin, and Capt Crocker of the navy. The Sabine is the weak and the key point of Texas for assault. From thence, if safely landed we can secure every position to the Rio Grande. Let me say that if we land safely, your utmost expectations will be realized.
is no doubt the Union would have controlled most of Texas if the plan was
executed as conceived, that is if the land troops had landed on the coast.Not long after the successful invasion of
Texas, General Dick Taylor would have been under attack from two sides.He probably would have had to surrender or
leave Louisiana to the Union.There are
a lot of might have beens and should have beens.What actually happened, no one could have guessed or
imagined.Small details combined to
produce a result that was historic.
of the first of these details was the fact that as the Union ships were
preparing for the expedition, accounts of the battle between the Alabama and
the Hatteras were running in newspapers as the result of a delayed
interview with Captain Raphael Semmes of the Alabama.
September 4th, the Granite City, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Lamson,
was chosen as the messenger ship. On
that same day the transports and their escorting gunships left New Orleans for
an unknown destination. Speculation was
on Mobile as the destination because several of the ships had taken on pilots
from Mobile. This was a ploy by General
Banks to keep the destination secret.
transports and gunships sailed in two separate convoys. Because of its speed and the fact one of the
convoys was stopping at Berwick Bay, the Granite City could easily reach
Sabine Pass before the convoys. It was
to begin the execution of the plan by first notifying the blockade ship of the
plan and prepare the signals for the fleet moving their way.
ship effecting the blockade of Sabine Pass was the Owasco. The U. S. S. Owasco is pictured to the left. The Owasco was totally unaware of
impending events, more immediately the ship's captain was concerned with engine
problems. On the 6th the Owasco
left its blockading position off Sabine Pass and sailed to the Union fleet base
off Galveston to have his engines checked.
At 8 P.M. the Union fleet commander at the Galveston station sent the Cayuga, pictured below, to take up the blockading position at Sabine Pass while the Owasco's
engines were checked.
the Granite City arrived at Sabine Pass to find no blockader
present. The captain of the Granite
City was fearful the Owasco may have fallen prey to that formidable
Confederate spectre, the Alabama.
Later, the Union ship Ossipee, a larger than usual transport,
went by Sabine Pass near dusk. It
tarried a bit to check the disposition of Union ships. The Ossipee saw only the Granite
City and proceeded to its destination.
Captain Lamson of the Granite City was already nervous about the
missing Owasco. He saw the
large ship (the Ossipee) acting as if it might come into the Sabine Pass
area and decided to move back to the safety of Louisiana off the Calcasieu
River mouth. He even went so far as to
go ashore and ask people if they heard a battle at sea in the last few days.
Clifton met a gunboat and four transports at Berwick Bay. They filled up their crew and took on 100
sharpshooters from the "Glorious" 75th New York Regiment and set sail
for the Texas Coast after first off loading the pilots from Mobile. In
a diary from the Clifton was written:
If the Texans are not awake we, no doubt, will give them a bit of surprise within the next forty-eight hours.
< Frederick Crocker The convoy with the Clifton and the transports with their gunboat escorts,
not seeing the expected light at Sabine Pass, went past the opening. Frederick Crocker, commanding the Clifton,
realized by reckoning they had gone too far and turned the convoy around. Again they missed the light and sailed past
toward Louisiana. When dawn came, the
Union convoy saw the Granite City off the Calcasieu River. After some heated discussion, the convoy,
with the Granite City hurried to Sabine Pass to catch up with the other
other convoy, with General Franklin on board the Suffolk, arrived at the
Pass at 2 A.M., the morning of the 7th.
Thinking the others had already crossed the bar and were in the channel,
he ordered his convoy to cross the bar.
Seeing no ships inside the Pass,
Franklin ordered his convoy to recross the bar and anchor in the
bay. At this moment, the other convoy
and the Granite City arrived. It
was not until 9 P.M. that all Union ships committed to the operation were in
place off Sabine Pass. There number has
been given as between 27 and 22. Six of
the ships were the gunboats: Arizona, Belvidere, Clifton, Crescent,
Granite City, and the Sachem.
The two blockaders were the Cayuga and the Owasco, the
rest were transport ships. That night,
with the element of surprise no longer a factor, the officers of the operation
met on board Franklin's command ship, the Suffolk, to adjust the plan as
USS Clifton (note the "Walking Beam" to the right of the smokestack, part of the reciprocating engine)>
Franklin changed the whole perspective of the plan. He wanted to proceed as quickly as possible before the
Confederates could send any additional troops to the area.
previously the U.S. Navy would support the land attack of the U.S. Army,
Franklin, confident in intelligence reports that the area was sparsely
defended, placed the main element of the attack on the Navy. General Franklin called for the U. S. Navy
to reduce the fort with shelling by the gunboats. When this was accomplished, troops would be landed to take the
fort. The gunboats would then turn
their attention to the cotton clads known to be in the area, and from there the
plan would proceed as before.