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Gulf operations in 1862 and 1863.1

by Professor James Russell Soley, U. S. N.
The regular monotony of the blockade of Mobile by the West Gulf squadron was interrupted only by the two successful passages of the Oreto or Florida, under Commander J. N. Maffitt, C. S. N., past the blockading squadron, inward on the 4th of September, 1862, and outward on the 16th of January, 1863. The first passage was made in broad daylight, under the disguise of an English gun-vessel, at a time when the Oreto was short-handed, the captain and crew ill, and the battery incapable of resistance. As a bold dash, it was hardly paralleled during the war. The second passage was made at night, without disguise, after the squadron had received full warning, and had been reenforced specially to capture the cruiser.

On the Texas coast the blockade was only of moderate efficiency, and in the summer of 1862 Farragut determined to convert it at the principal points into an occupation. With this object, he sent out three expeditions. The first, under Acting-Lieutenant J. W. Kittredge, successfully attacked Corpus Christi August 16th-18th, but having no troops to hold the place withdrew to the bay. The second expedition, composed of the Kensington and Rachel Seaman, under Acting-Master Frederick Crocker, was sent in September to Sabine Pass, a point of great importance in blockade-running operations on account of the neighboring railroad, and at that time under purely formal blockade. Crocker ascended the river, captured the fort at Sabine City, destroyed the railroad bridge, and broke up a Confederate camp. Raids in the passes resulted in the capture of the steamer Dan and the schooner Velocity, which were left with the Rachel Seaman to maintain the blockade.

The third and most important expedition, under Commander W. B. Renshaw, composed of the ferry-boats Westfield and Clifton, the latter under Lieutenant-Commander R. L. Law; the Harriet Lane, Commander J. M. Wainwright, and the Owasco, Lieutenant-Commander John Guest, took possession of Galveston in October without a conflict. Colonel Burrell, with only 260 men, was sent — to hold the town. The flotilla, which carried a heavy armament, was disposed about the harbor and bay, and held the town for two months, but without proper precautions against attack.

At daybreak on the 1st of January, 1863, General Magruder, commanding the Confederate forces in Texas, made a vigorous attack on the city. The bridge by which alone troops could march to the town, and which might easily have been destroyed, was left unguarded. The Confederates, early in the night, planted batteries unobserved just out-side the town, and abreast of the Harriet Lane, which lay in a narrow channel near the shore. A little farther to the eastward, abreast of the town, were the gun-boat Sachem and the yacht Corypheus. A mile farther down the bay were the Clifton and Owasco, and two miles away the Westfield, Renshaw's vessel. The enemy had two cotton-clad steamers, the Bayou City and Neptune, the first carrying a rifled 32-pounder, and the second two howitzers. Each had from 150 to 200 sharp-shooters.

Of the vessels the Harriet Lane bore the brunt of the attack, the Owasco being the only one of her consorts that lent any assistance. The Bayou City's rifle burst at the third fire, and the Neptune stove in her bow in an attempt to ram, and sank on the flats. The Bayou City then ran alongside the Harriet Lane and opened a withering musketry fire from behind the cotton-bales, in which Commander Wainwright was killed and his first-lieutenant, Lea, mortally wounded. The Confederates then carried the Lane by boarding, the officer in command surrendering without serious attempt at resistance. Hostilities were now suspended awaiting an answer from Renshaw to the demand for a surrender of all the vessels. The Clifton carried this message to the Westfield, and took back Renshaw's refusal, after which she executed her orders, which were to take the vessels out of the harbor. Meantime the enemy had moved up their lines. Burrell surrendered the town, and the Westfield, getting aground, was set on fire at Renshaw's order, and blew up prematurely, killing Renshaw and several of his men. Law, of the Clifton, now the senior officer, immediately steamed away, and the blockade was raised. (See also pp. 586-7.)

On the 8th the blockade was resumed by Commodore Bell, with the Brooklyn, Hatteras, and several gun-boats. On the 11th the Hatteras was sent after the Alabama, supposed to be a blockade-runner. The Alabama, after drawing the Hatteras away from her consorts, sank her in a fifteen-minute fight.

On the 21st of January the blockading force at Sabine Pass, composed of the sailing-ship Morning Light, and the schooner Velocity, was attacked by two cotton-clad steamers, and, being unable to manoeuvre, surrendered. The blockade was resumed the next day by the New London and Cayuga.

After the fall of Port Hudson, General Banks took up the question of Texas. His first plan was to land at Sabine Pass and strike the railroad. The expedition was composed of troops under Franklin, and the Clifton, Sachem, Granite City, and Arizona under Lieutenant Crocker. On the 8th of September the gun-boats moved up the pass to attack the enemy's fort. The Clifton ran ashore, and soon after got a shot in her boiler. The Sachem's boiler also was penetrated, and both vessels surrendered after heavy loss. The remainder retreated.

Banks now decided to attack Texas near the Rio Grande, and his troops, escorted by the Monongahela and other vessels under Commander J. H. Strong, landed at Brazos November 2d. Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Aransas, and Fort Esperanza at Pass Cavallo, were captured, but owing to the lack of troops to hold the various points, no further operations were attempted.

1 see Vol. II., p. 13.

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