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Chapter 9:

  • Military condition explained
  • -- General Magruder assumes command of the district of Texas -- the battle of Galveston -- signal defeat of the enemy.

The following passages relating to military operations are taken from the history of Brig.-Gen. X. B. Debray, who as colonel had been in command of Galveston in July, 1862, and being senior colonel, was called to command the Eastern sub-district of Texas, with headquarters at Houston, leaving the regiment in the efficient care of Lieutenant-Colonel Myers:

Nothing happened for several months to break the monotony of camp life, except patrols on the coast, on which duty landing parties from blockading squadrons in search of fresh meat were captured or otherwise punished, and induced to cease their depredations. . . . In the meanwhile General Hebert having been ordered to send to Arkansas all the infantry stationed in Texas, except two regiments, remonstrated against that disposition, which left the State unprotected. His remonstrance met with the curt answer, “Texas must take her chances.” The authorities at Richmond seemed to have overlooked the fact that the loss of the Rio Grande frontier, the only point to be depended on for obtaining army supplies, might be a fatal blow to the Confederate States. General Hebert, despairing of a successful defense with his reduced force against an attack at sea, ordered the small forts erected at Galveston to be dismantled and their artillery to be removed to the mainland at Virginia point, where sand works had been raised. Indeed, this was an era of despondency and gloom of the people of Texas. [79]

In October, 1862, the Federal fleet entered Galveston bay without resistance. The small force which had been left in the city retired to Virginia point, the city itself being almost deserted by its inhabitants, who had moved with their chattels to Houston and the interior of the State. Communication with the island was maintained by planking over the railroad bridge, and protecting it on the island side with a redoubt and rifle-pits, occupied by a detachment of infantry and artillery. Debray's regiment by frequent patrols day and night satisfied the Federals that we still claimed the city and prevented them from visiting it. A battalion of Federal infantry landed on one of the wharves and took quarters in the warehouses, strongly barricading themselves, but they never ventured into the city.

By the close of November, Maj.-Gen. John Bankhead Magruder came to assume command of Texas, relieving General Hebert, who was ordered to Louisiana [and afterward was in command at Monroe]. The new commanding general had acquired fame for the skill with which, on the peninsula of Virginia, he checked for weeks Mc-Clellan's invading army before miles of empty intrenchments, armed in part with Quaker guns, and by continually moving about his small force to multiply it in Federal eyes. Feeling that something must be done to rouse the spirits of the people of Texas, he resolved to try his hand against the enemy's squadron lying in Galveston bay. Under his instructions two steamboats lying in Buffalo bayou at Houston were travestied into rams and gunboats, armed with one gun each and supplied with two tiers of cotton bales to give them, as the General said in confidence to his friends, an appearance of protection. A third boat was to act as tender. The two gunboats were manned by volunteers of Green's brigade, converted for the occasion into “horse marines,” also by a company of artillery—the whole under command of the brave Tom Green. Capt. Leon Smith was the naval [80] commander. General Magruder at Virginia point was actively organizing his land forces.

The recapture of Galveston occurred January 1, 1863, and was reported by General Magruder to Gen. Samuel Cooper, adjutant-general, as follows:

Galveston, February 26, 1863.
Sir: On my arrival in Texas I found the harbors of this coast in the possession of the enemy, from Sabine river to Corpus Christi; the line of the Rio Grande virtually abandoned, most of the guns having been moved from that frontier to San Antonio, only about 300 or 400 men remaining at Brownsville. I resolved to regain the harbors if possible, and to occupy the valley of the Rio Grande in force. The latter would be a very serious undertaking on account of the scarcity of supplies in Mexico and the difficulty of transporting them across the desert from eastern Texas. Having announced this determination as soon as I arrived on the Sabine, Capt. A. R. Wier, of Cook's regiment of artillery, commanding a fort on that river, stepped forward and volunteered with his company to man a steamboat on the Sabine and to clear the pass. This officer and this company had the honor to be the first volunteers for the desperate enterprise of expelling the enemy's fleet from our waters.

I remained a day or two in Houston, and then proceeding to Virginia point, on the mainland, opposite to Galveston island, I took with me a party of 80 men, supported by 300 more, and passing through the city of Galveston at night I inspected the forts abandoned by our troops when the city was given up. I found the forts open in the rear, and taken in reverse by every one of the enemy's ships in the harbor. They were therefore utterly useless for my purposes. The railway track had been permitted to remain from Virginia point to Galveston, and by its means I purposed to transport to a position near to the enemy's fleet the heavy guns hereinafter mentioned, and by assembling all the movable artillery that could be collected together in the neighborhood I hoped to acquire sufficient force to be able to expel the enemy's vessels from the harbor.

Meeting here Capt. Leon Smith, whom, from my acquaintance with him in California, I knew to be of great experience in steamboat management, I employed him [81] in the quartermaster's department, placing him as a volunteer aide on my staff. I trusted to his charge all the steamers on the Sabine river and in the bayous emptying into Galveston bay, and at the same time directed that those on the Sabine should be fitted out forthwith. Learning subsequently that the enemy had landed at Galveston a considerable force (strength unknown), I direct. ed Capt. Leon Smith, without delaying preparations on the Sabine, to fit up as gunboats the steamers Bayou City and Neptune, and to employ two others as tenders for the purpose of supplying the larger vessels with wood. At the same time I received information that other Federal troops were on the way to Galveston. I therefore directed that the work on the last-mentioned steamer should be carried on night and day, and that captains and crews should be forthwith provided for them.

Fearing that the enemy might land troops at Galveston and fortify himself there, I determined to make the first attack at that point, with the object of destroying, in detail, his land forces as fast as they arrived. Captain Wier, who had first volunteered, was, therefore, with his company ordered from the Sabine on board the Bayou City. Captain Martin, commanding a company of cavalry, having arrived from New Iberia, La., volunteered his services and was likewise assigned to duty on board the same steamer. When the boats designated for the Galveston expedition were nearly ready I called for volunteers from Sibley's brigade, then stationed in the neighborhood under orders for Monroe, La. It is proper to state that I had previously ascertained that the services of these troops at Galveston would not delay a moment their departure for Louisiana, they being unable for want of transportation to move in that direction. This call was for 300 men. It was promptly responded to, Colonels Green and Bagby volunteering to lead the men of their respective regiments. After these officers had volunteered, Col. James Reily, commanding the brigade, also offered to lead the troops from his command, but his-services in that capacity were declined as he was then the brigade commander. About 60 men of Reily's regiment likewise volunteered, but they did not accompany the expedition, having been ordered back to their regiment by Colonel Reily, after having once reported to Colonel Green, who commanded the land force [82] on the steamers. In addition to these troops, Lieutenant Harby, late captain in the revenue service of the United States, with a company of infantry acting as artillery, was ordered on board the Neptune. The men destined for the naval expedition were armed with Enfield rifles, which I had brought with me from Richmond, and with double-barrel shotguns.

The enemy's fleet, then lying in the waters of Galveston, consisted of the Harriet Lane, carrying four heavy guns and two 24-pounder howitzers, commanded by Captain Wainright, U. S. navy; the Westfield, flagship of Commodore Renshaw, a large propeller mounting eight heavy guns; the Owasco, a similar ship to the Westfield, mounting eight heavy guns; the Clifton, a steam propeller, four heavy guns; the Sachem, a steam propeller, four heavy guns; two armed transports, two large barks and an armed schooner. The enemy's land forces were stationed at the end of a long wharf, and were crowded into large buildings immediately under the guns of the steamships. The approaches landward to this position were impeded by two lines of strong barricades, and communication with the shore was destroyed by the removal of portions of the wharf in front of the barricades. It thus became necessary for our storming party to advance by wading through the water, and to enable them to mount on the end of the wharf fifty scaling ladders were constructed. As there were no breastworks or other protection for our artillery making the attack on the enemy's ships and land forces, my object was to bring to bear as heavy a fire of artillery as possible after reaching the wharves and other points selected for the purpose under cover of night. I knew that the co-operation of the cotton boats with the land forces would be extremely difficult to attain, the distance the former had to run being 30 miles. I therefore had not calculated with confidence on a success greater than that of the expulsion of the enemy's fleet from the harbor. If the desired cooperation should be secured, the result would be immediately accomplished and would be attended probably with the capture or destruction of some of the enemy's ships. If the co-operation should fail, I nevertheless felt satisfied that by throwing up intrenchments at the end of the streets leading to the water I could gradually expel the fleet from the harbor. For this purpose intrenching tools in large quantities were prepared. [83]

To attain the object in view, I had at my disposal six siege pieces, the heaviest weighing 5,400 pounds. I also caused to be constructed a railroad ram, armed with an 8-inch Dahlgren and mounted on a railway flat. This flat and gun were carried by railway to a point within a few hundred yards of the Harriet Lane. A large quantity of cotton was transported in the same way, with the view of using it in making a breastwork for this gun should we not succeed in our object before daylight. In addition I had fourteen field pieces, some of them rifled and some smooth bore. Three of the heaviest of the siege guns had to be transported nine miles, the others seven miles, between sunset and 12 o'clock under cover of the darkness and over very difficult roads. A system of rapid communication with our gunboats by telegraph and otherwise having been established, it was arranged that the attack should take place at 12 midnight, the fire of our land batteries constituting the signal for the naval attack. Nevertheless I informed Commodore Smith, in command of the naval expedition, that I would attack the enemy's fleet whether the gunboats made their appearance or not.

The key of the whole position was Fort Point at the mouth of the harbor, two miles below the town. This fort was entirely open in the rear, thus affording no protection for our artillery against the enemy's vessels inside of the harbor. The attack from this point was intrusted to Capt. S. T. Fontaine, of Cook's regiment of artillery, supported by six companies of Pyron's regiment, dismounted dragoons, under command of the gallant Colonel Pyron. Wilson's battery of six pieces was to attack the enemy from the center wharf; the railroad ram was sent to the upper wharf. The remainder of the artillery was manned from Cook's regiment and posted in eligible positions. Col. J. J. Cook himself was intrusted with the command of the storming party of about 500 men, composed of details from Pyron's and Elmore's regiments and Griffin's battalion, and furnished with ladders to scale the wharf on which the enemy's land forces were barricaded. Brig.-Gen. W. R. Scurry was placed in command of Pyron's regiment and of the remainder of Sibley's brigade, and Elmore's men, commanded by Lieut.-Col. L. A. Abercrombie, the latter acting as a support for the whole. Lieutenant-Colonel Manly, of Cook's [84] regiment, was ordered to Virginia point to defend that work, which was our base of operations, and which was connected with Galveston island by a railroad bridge two miles in length, open to the attack of the enemy.

Leading the center assault in person, I approached within two squares of the wharves, at which point I directed the horses of the field pieces to be removed from them and placed behind some brick building for shelter from the anticipated discharge of grape and canister. After allowing the lapse of what turned out to be ample time for Captain Fontaine to reach and occupy his more distant position, the guns were placed along a line of about two and one-half miles, principally within the limits of the city. It having been agreed that the fire of the center gun should furnish signal for a general attack, I proceeded to carry out this portion of the plan by discharging the piece myself. The signal was responded to by an almost simultaneous and very effective discharge along the whole line. The moon had by this time gone down, but still the light of the stars enabled us to see the Federal ships. The enemy did not hesitate long in replying to our attack. He soon opened on us from his fleet with a tremendous discharge of shell, which was followed with grape and canister. Our men, however, worked steadily at their guns under cover of the darkness. Colonel Cook now advanced with his storming party to the assault; his men wading through the water and bearing with them their scaling ladders endeavored to reach the end of the wharf on which the enemy were stationed. Colonel Cook was supported by Griffin's battalion and by sharpshooters deployed on the right and left, in order to distract the enemy's attention. A severe conflict took place at this point, our men being exposed to a fire of grape and canister and shell from the ships, as well as of musketry from the land forces. The water was deep, the wharf proving higher than was anticipated, and the scaling ladders, as was reported to me by Colonel Cook, were found to be too short to enable the men to accomplish their object. After an obstinate contest the infantry were directed to cover themselves and fire from the buildings nearest this wharf, which was accordingly done.

The enemy's fire was deadly. The ships being not more than 300 yards from our batteries it was extremely [85] difficult to maintain the position we had assumed, and some of the artillerymen were driven from their pieces. As daylight, which was now approaching, would expose these men still more to the enemy's fire, and as our gunboats had not as yet made their appearance, I ordered the artillery to positions which offered more protection, but from which the fire could be continued on the adversary with greater advantage to us. Knowing Captain Fontaine to be in a position the most exposed of all, I at the same time dispatched a staff officer with instructions to have his pieces likewise withdrawn. This order reached Captain Fontaine's men before it was received by the captain, and the concentrated fire from the enemy's ships but a few hundred yards distant having increased in intensity, they were compelled to leave their pieces. They were, however, soon formed by Captain Fontaine in a position of greater security.

The delicate duty of withdrawing the pieces in the city from the close vicinity of the enemy was intrusted to Brigadier-General Scurry, who performed it with skill and gallantry. Preparations were then ordered for the immediate fortification and permanent occupation of the city. But at this moment, our fire still continuing, our gunboats came dashing down the harbor and engaged the Harriet Lane, which was the nearest of the enemy's ships, in the most gallant style, running into her, one on each side, and pouring on her deck a deadly fire of rifles and shotguns. The gallant Captain Wainright fought his ship admirably. He succeeded in disabling the Neptune and attempted to run down the Bayou City, but he was met by an antagonist of even superior skill, coolness and heroism. Leon Smith, ably seconded by Capt. Henry S. Lubbock, the immediate commander of the Bayou City, and by her pilot, Captain McCormick, adroitly evaded the deadly stroke, although as the vessels passed each other he lost his larboard wheel-house in the shock. Again the Bayou City, while receiving several broadsides, almost at the cannon's mouth, poured into the Harriet Lane a destructive fire of small-arms. Turning once more she drove her prow into the iron wheel of the Harriet Lane, thus locking the two vessels together. Followed by the officers and men of the heroic volunteer corps, Commodore Leon Smith leaped to the deck of the [86] hostile ship, and after a moment of feeble resistance she was ours. The surviving officers of the Harriet Lane presented their swords to Commodore Leon Smith on the quarter-deck of the captured vessel. After the surrender the Owasco passed alongside, pouring into the Harriet Lane a broadside at close quarters, but she was soon forced to back out by the effect of our musketry.

Commodore Smith then sent a flag to Commodore Renshaw, whose ship had in the meantime been run aground, demanding the surrender of the whole fleet, and giving three hours time to consider. These propositions were accepted by the commanding officer, and all the enemy's vessels were immediately brought to anchor, with white flags flying. Most of this time was occupied in attempting to get the Harriet Lane to the wharf in order to remove the wounded to a place of safety. The ships and boats were so much damaged that this was found to be almost impossible with the means at hand. Proceeding myself to the wharf I found one of my most distinguished and scientific staff officers, Maj. A. M. Lea, who informed me that on board the Harriet Lane he had found his son, the second in command, mortally wounded. He represented to me that there were other officers badly wounded and urged me to delay, if possible, their removal. It now being within an hour of the expiration of the period of truce, I sent another flag to Commodore Renshaw, whose ship was among the most distant, claiming all his vessels immediately under our guns as prizes, and giving him further time to consider the demand for the surrender of the whole fleet. This message was borne by Colonel Green and Captain Lubbock. While these gentlemen were on their way in a boat to fulfill their mission, Commodore Renshaw blew up his ship and was himself accidentally blown up with it. They boarded the ship of the next in command, who dropped down the bay, still having them on board, and carried them some distance toward the bar, while still flying the white flag at the masthead.

In the meantime General Scurry sent to know if he should fire at the ships immediately in his front, at the expiration of the period of truce. To this I replied in the negative, as another demand under a flag of truce by me had been sent to the commodore. When the first period of truce expired the enemy's ships under our [87] guns, regardless of the white flags still flying at their mastheads, gradually crept off. As soon as this was seen I sent a swift express on horseback to General Scurry, directing him to open fire on them. This was done with so much effect that one of them is reported to have sunk near the bar and the Owasco was seriously damaged.

I forward a correspondence on this subject between Commodore Bell and myself. In this correspondence Commodore Bell states that the truce was violated by the firing of cannon and small-arms by our men on the shore, as he has been informed. This is an error. Not a gun or small-arm was discharged during the stipulated period, or until the enemy's vessels were discovered to be creeping off out of the harbor. Commodore Leon Smith fired a heavy gun at the retiring ships, with effect, from the Harriet Lane. Jumping on board the steamer Carr, he proceeded to Bolivar channel and captured and brought in, in the immediate presence of the enemy's armed vessels, the two barks and schooner before spoken of. As soon as it was light enough to see, the land force surrendered to General Scurry.

We thus captured one fine steamship, two barks and one schooner. We ran ashore the flagship of the commodore, drove off two war steamers and sunk another, as reported, all of the United States navy and the armed transports, and took 300 or 400 prisoners. The number of guns captured was fifteen, and, being found on Pelican Spit, a large quantity of stores, coal and other material also was taken. The Neptune sank; her officers and crew, with the exception of those killed in battle, were saved, as were also her guns. The loss on our side was 26 killed and 117 wounded. Among the former was the gallant Captain Wier, the first volunteer for the expedition. The alacrity with which officers and men, all of them totally unacquainted with this novel kind of service, some of whom had never seen a ship before, volunteered for an enterprise so extraordinarily and apparently desperate in its character, and the bold and dashing manner in which the plan was executed, are certainly deserving of the highest praise.

Although it may appear invidious to make distinctions, I nevertheless regard it as a duty to say that too much credit cannot be bestowed on Commodore Leon Smith, whose professional ability, energy and perseverance, [88] amidst many discouraging influences, were so conspicuously displayed in the preparation for the attack, while in its execution his heroism was sublime. In the latter he was most ably and gallantly seconded by Colonel Green, commanding the land forces serving on board of our fleet; by Captain Lubbock, commanding the Bayou City; by her pilot, Captain McCormick; Captain Wier, commanding the artillery; Captain Martin, commanding dismounted dragoons; and by the officers and men on that boat. Though in the case of the Neptune the result was not so favorable, her attack on the Harriet Lane was equally bold and dashing and had its weight in the capture. Colonel Bagby commanding the land troops on board the Neptune; Captain Slaughter; her pilots, Captains Swift and McGovern; Captain Harby, and the officers and crew of the ship, likewise deserve, as they have received, my thanks for their participation in this brilliant battle. The engineers, among whom Captain Seymour, of the Bayou City, and Captain Connor, of the Neptune, were distinguished by remarkable coolness, skill and devotion in the discharge of their important duties.

In the land attack especial commendations are due to Brig.-Gen. W. R. Scurry, Col. X. B. Debray, Major Von Harten, Cook's regiment of artillery; Captain Fontaine, Cook's regiment; Maj. J. Kellersberg of the engineer corps; also to Colonels Cook, Pyron, Lieutenant-Colonel Abercrombie, commanding Elmore's men; Major Griffin, Major Wilson, of the artillery; Captain Mason, Captain McMahan, and to the accomplished and devoted Lieutenant Sherman, who fell at his piece mortally wounded, and to Privates Brown and Shoppman, of Daly's company of cavalry, the latter of whom kept up the fire of one piece, without assistance, under the enemy's grape and canister.

The officers of my staff exhibited on this, as on previous occasions, conspicuous ability and gallantry. When some of the men were compelled to leave their pieces at one of the wharves nearest the enemy, Major Dickinson, assistant adjutant-general, calling for volunteers, dashed down the street in order to withdraw the piece. Whilst in the act of consummating this design he was badly wounded by a fragment of a shell striking him in the left eye, which unfortunately has lost its sight. Capt. E. P. [89] Turner, assistant adjutant-general, likewise behaved with conspicuous gallantry. Lieutenants Geo. A. Magruder and H. M. Stanard, my aides-de-camp, executed my orders with remarkable gallantry, promptness and intelligence. These two officers have thus been distinguished in the battles of Bethel, Yorktown, Savage Station and Malvern Hill It is only just that I should commend them to the special consideration of the government. Lieutenant Magruder volunteered for the service, and brought off in the most gallant manner some pieces which the men had been compelled to retire from. Lieutenant Stanard behaved with equal gallantry in the execution of orders, exposing himself to the enemy's fire. Lieutenant-Colonel McNeill, of Sibley's brigade, adjutant. and inspector-general, rendered distinguished service in carrying out my orders, as also did Lieutenant Carrington of the same regiment, acting on my staff. Mr. Dennis Brashear, who has been in every battle in which I have been engaged, except that of Bethel, and served with great gallantry everywhere without pay or reward of any kind for more than a year, rendered important and most gallant service on this occasion. I am also under obligations to Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols, volunteer-aide, whose ability and local knowledge were of great service in organizing the details of the attack. I likewise thankfully acknowledge the services of Judge P. W. Gray and the Hon. J. A. Wilcox, members of Congress from Texas, who as volunteer aides accompanied me to the front when the battle opened, and remained with me during the continuance. The assistance of Gen. Thomas B. Howard, of the militia, and his adjutant-general, Major Tucker, residents of Galveston, was of great value, as was also that of Mr. E. W. Cave, volunteer aide, from Houston. Hon. M. M. Potter, of Galveston, was likewise conspicuous during the engagement for his activity and devotion. I take this occasion to recommend to the special consideration of the President the conduct of Gov. J. R. Baylor, of Arizona, who, though not in command of any troops nor attached to any staff, was conspicuous for his gallant conduct as a private, serving the guns during the hottest of the fight, and with his coat off working to place them in position during the night.

Lieutenant-Colonel Manly sustained the operations from Virginia point with great ability and activity. Capt. [90] W. J. Pendleton, acting aide-de-camp, who accompanied the troops, proved himself to be an officer of very remarkable ability, energy and devotion. Captain Stoy, assistant quartermaster, is also deserving of high commendation. Maj. J. B. Eustis, acting ordnance officer on my staff, assisted by Lieut. M. Hughes, of the artillery, performed admirably his difficult and important duties in the preparation for the attack. The former by my order remained in charge of his depot at Virginia point, while the latter discharged gallantly his duties on the field. I likewise take pleasure in recognizing the efficient and gallant service of Maj. O. M. Watkins, in charge of conscript business, on my staff; of Col. C. G. Forshey, of the engineer corps; of Capt. H. Pendleton, assistant quartermaster, who accompanied me to the front, and of Maj. E. B. Pendleton, chief commissary on my staff, who discharged his important duties with gallant ability. Lieutenants Stringfellow, Jones and Hill, of the artillery, behaved with remarkable gallantry during the engagement, each of them volunteering to take charge of guns and personally directing the fire, after the officers originally in charge of them had been wounded.

It would be improper to close this report without directing the particular attention of the government to invaluable services rendered by Maj. B. Bloomfield, quartermaster on my staff, and by Capt. E. C. Wharton, assistant quartermaster at Houston. The officers, by their intelligence, energy and activity, proved themselves fully adequate to all the demands made upon them in the preparation of the means appropriate to their department, and contributed materially to the successful result of the expedition. Nor should I here omit to mention Capt. W. S. Good, in command of ordnance. I commend him specially to the chief of ordnance and to the consideration of his excellency, the President. Besides the names mentioned above I would call attention to the names of the officers and men reported by their respective commanding officers to have distinguished themselves by gallant and meritorious services.

As it would have been imprudent to give full warning to the inhabitants of Galveston of my intention to attack the Federal fleet, lest information of the design might reach the enemy, as soon as the head of the column entered the suburbs of the town I directed the ambulance, [91] in charge of one of my staff officers, to proceed to the convent of Ursuline nuns near that point, and place the conveyances at their disposal for their immediate removal to the houses provided for them. I also in like manner informed the foreign consuls and the mayor of the contemplated attack, and gave them time to move their families and the citizens most exposed to a place of safety. The noble women of the convent, while recognizing the courtesy extended to them, expressed a preference to remain and nurse the wounded, offering their building as a hospital. Many of the inhabitants left the houses most exposed to the enemy's fire, and I am happy to state that, although many edifices were much injured and the town riddled by balls, no casualty occurred among the citizens. The wounded of the enemy were conducted to the same hospital, and the same attentions were bestowed on them as if they had been our own men. Captain Wainright and Lieutenant Lea, of the Federal navy, were buried with masonic and military honors in the same grave; Major Lea, of the Confederate army, father of Lieutenant Lea, performing the funeral services.

Having buried the dead, taken care of the wounded, and secured the captured property, my exertions were directed to getting the Harriet Lane to sea. The enemy's ships fled to New Orleans, to which place one of their steam transports was dispatched during the action. I knew that a large naval force might be expected to return in a few days. I therefore ordered the employment, at high wages, of all the available mechanics to repair the Harriet Lane, her main shaft having been dislocated and her iron wheel greatly disabled, so that the engine could not work. The United States flags were ordered to remain flying on the custom-house and at the mastheads of the ships, so as to attract into the harbor any of the enemy's vessels which might be bound for the port of Galveston. A line of iron buoys, which they had established for the guidance of his ships in the harbor, were displaced and so arranged as to insure their getting aground.

On the 3d of January, I being then on board of the Harriet Lane, a yawl boat containing several men, in command of a person named Thomas Smith, recently a citizen of Galveston, and who had deserted from our army, was reported [92] alongside. He informed me that he was sent from the United States transport steamship Cambria, then off the bar, for a pilot, and that they had no idea of the occupation of the city by us. I forthwith ordered a pilot boat, under command of Captain Johnson, to bring in the ship, but through a most extraordinary combination of circumstances, the vessel, which contained E. J. Davis and many other apostate Texans, besides several hundred troops and 2,500 saddles for the use of native sympathizers, succeeded in making her escape. The man Smith, who had, it is said, several times set fire to the city of Galveston before he deserted, had been known as Nicaragua Smith, and was dreaded by every one. He returned to Galveston in order to act as Federal provost-marshal. His arrival produced much excitement, during which some one without orders sent a sailboat to Pelican Spit, now occupied by our troops, to direct the commanding officer there not to fire on our pilot boat, although she was under Yankee colors. The sailboat thus sent was at once supposed to be destined for the Yankee transport. The pilot boat gave chase to her, and the guns from the shore opened on her within hearing of the ship.

Night coming on, I thought it surer, as the alarm might be taken, to capture her at sea before morning, but the Harriet Lane could not move, and our cotton gunboats could not live on the rough sea on the bar. Hence one of the barks, the Royal Yacht, a schooner of ours, the pilot boat, and the Leader, a schooner loaded with cotton, which I had ordered to be sent to a foreign port with a proclamation of the raising of the blockade at Galveston, were directed to be prepared and armed with light artillery. This was done by 2 o'clock the same night, our little fleet being manned by volunteers under the command of Captain Mason, of Cook's regiment of artillery. Unfortunately the wind lulled and none but the pilot boat could reach the enemy's ship. The pilot boat went out under the command of a gallant sailor, Captain Payne, of Galveston. The enemy's ship proved to be a splendid iron steamer, built in the Clyde. I had ascertained from her men taken ashore that she had only two guns, and they were packed on deck under a large quantity of hay, and I anticipated an easy conquest and one of great political importance, as this ship contained almost all of the Texans out of the State who had proved [93] recreant to their duty to the Confederacy and to Texas. The pilot boat was allowed to get close to the ship, when the boat was hailed and the pilot ordered to come on board. Captain Payne answered that he thought there were rather too many men to trust himself to; whereupon he was directed to come on board or he would be fired into. He went on board as ordered, and soon after the steamer sailed in all haste seaward, leaving the pilot boat and hands to return to us. I am thus particular in this narration, as the friends of Captain Payne fear that he may meet with foul play from the enemy. I shall ascertain through Commodore Bell his fate, and act accordingly. Smith, the deserter, was tried regularly the next day before a general court-martial, and being convicted of deserting to the enemy, was publicly shot in Galveston in accordance with his sentence. The proceedings, which were formal in all respects, legal and regular, are forwarded.

At the time of these occurrences, I received through Col. W. G. Webb reliable information of an insurrection among the Germans in Colorado, Fayette and Austin counties, 800 being reported in arms to resist the conscript law and the State draft. I immediately ordered the Arizona brigade, with a section of artillery, to the disaffected region, declared martial law in these three counties, and had the ringleaders arrested and lodged in jail. The rest yielded, and tranquillity and obedience to the laws are now prevalent. Major Webb contributed much by his personal activity and influence to produce these results, and I earnestly recommend him to the President for the appointment of assistant adjutantgen-eral, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, to be stationed in the disaffected regions, and to take charge of the business growing out of these affairs and those of the militia. He was an officer of the old army and colonel under General Taylor in the Mexican war. The German ringleaders above mentioned have been turned over to the civil authorities for trial.

I have the honor to announce that the whole coast and islands are now in our possession and that the Rio Grande is strongly occupied.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. Bankhead Magruder, Major-General Commanding.


Rev. Wm. A. Bowen, of Texas, son of Capt. Wm. A. Bowen, pilot of the Neptune, gives information of the naval battle above mentioned, derived directly from his father, that differs from the report in two respects: First, as to the manner in which the Harriet Lane and Bayou City were locked together; second, that it was the Neptune and not the Bayou City that drove her prow into the iron wheel of the Harriet Lane, and was thereby disabled, and not by a shot of the enemy's ship. This was explained as follows by Captain Bowen, an experienced pilot, who lived several years afterward, a respected citizen of Galveston:

When the battle opened, the Bayou City, which had huge steel grappling-hooks, run by the steam ‘nigger,’ with a chain around her capstan, managed to fasten this on the Harriet Lane, and hauled it taut with a view to prevent her escape while the soldiers boarded her. When the Harriet Lane saw the Clifton, Owasco and Sachem going out, in answer to the signal of Commodore Renshaw from the flagship Westfield, then aground at the east end of Pelican island; she started to follow. The Bayou City was being towed, as the grapples were fouled, and could not be cast off. A gun had just burst on her bows, killing the brave Captain Wier and others, and the remainder had no notion of being towed out by the Federal fleet. She seemed doomed when the situation was discovered by Captain Bowen, of the Neptune. He immediately rang the bells to go ahead, and halloed through the speaking trumpet to the engineer (Nelson Henry) to give all the steam she had, as the Yankees were trying to tow the Bayou City outside. He then pointed the bow of the Neptune right for the port wheel of the Harriet Lane, and in a few moments struck with a terrific impact, as she could not be slowed down in time. The shock tore a large section of the Harriet Lane's wheel out, but stove in the bows of the Neptune, so that she immediately began to fill. Captain Bowen saw this, and immediately turned her around, and headed for the flats so as to let her settle in shallow water. She became logged just before reaching the shallow water, sinking in about twelve feet of water, near where the upper (west) [95] wharf is now. The soldiers and crew all jumped overboard and swam ashore, except Captain Bowen and the carpenter, who remained on board to take the wounded and dead above water.

It is not strange that General Magruder was not able to report all the minute details of the confused and desperate conflict, as he doubtless wished to do in order to give every participant the proper credit for his actions in it.

As is stated in Debray's history:

General Magruder's success raised popular enthusiasm to the highest pitch and his call for more troops was responded to with alacrity. Debray's regiment and other troops were ordered to re-occupy Galveston, while an appeal to the planters, promptly complied with, brought to the island numerous gangs of negroes who, under the supervision of their own overseers, worked diligently on new fortifications planned by the commanding general. Colonel Debray having been assigned to the command of Galveston island, Lieutenant-Colonel Myers remained in command of the regiment.

The blockade of Galveston, forcibly raised on January 1st, was not resumed until the 13th of the same month, when seven gunboats came to anchor about 3 miles from the city, to which they prepared to pay their compliments. A shelling was opened and kept up for six hours, to which the garrison, having no artillery to reply, had to submit good-humoredly. Strange as it may ap-pear, although the Federals covered the whole city with their shells and solid shot, some of which reached the bay, there was no loss of life and the injury to houses was trifling. It will be remembered that on the evening after the shelling, flashes of light were seen, and a rumbling noise resembling broadsides was heard from a distance westward; thereafter a few minutes' darkness and silence prevailed again. Many were the surmises upon this incident, and several weeks intervened before the [96] sinking of the Federal ship Hatteras by Captain Semmes off St. Louis pass became known on the island. [This refers to the victory of the Confederate ship Alabama in the Gulf, 16 miles from Galveston.] For nine months all was quiet in Texas. The defenses of Galveston soon assumed shape, and Quaker guns, frowning from the crest and casements of the fort, held the Fed-erals in check until real artillery could be placed in battery.


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