In 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.

Emboldened 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.

Captain 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.

While 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.

The 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.

However, 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.

There 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.

Fort 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.

The 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.

Standing 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.

Besides 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.

As 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.

With 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.

After 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.

Kellersberger 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.

In 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.

Reader's note -

For 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 greatest day.

THE MONROE DOCTRINE TESTED

Prior 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Napoleon III's ministers discussed with the South, recognition from France in exchange for France having a free hand in Mexico. The Confederates listened.

After 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.

Napoleon 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 courts.

Anticlerical 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

Though 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 >

Thereafter, 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 arrangement.

If 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.

When 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.

President 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.

Lincoln 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.

The 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.

Considerations 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.

wrote 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 in 1861.

Banks's 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.

THE INVASION OF TEXAS

The 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 defended.

General 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.

There 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 port.

THE UNION PLAN

General 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. Davis.

Overall 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.

In 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 6,000 men.

The 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,

..disembark 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 >

Houston 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.

The transports were to sail to and from New Orleans until all additional troops for the operation were in Texas.

A 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.

The 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

A 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.

The 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.

There 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.

One 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.

THE EXECUTION

On 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.

The 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.

The 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, 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.

The 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 transport convoy.

The 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 necessary.

USS Clifton (note the "Walking Beam" to the right of the smokestack, part of the reciprocating engine)>

General 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.

Where 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.