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Chapter 11:

In April, 1862, Walker's division of infantry left Arkansas and moved down to the northern part of Louisiana, where portions of the command, with Colonel Parsons' cavalry brigade and some artillery companies, had engagements on and near the Mississippi river, at Milliken's bend and at the Great mound, as it was reported, to draw off Federal forces from Vicksburg. After the fall of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, the command moved to the vicinity of Alexandria, La. On August 26th, Brig.-Gen. Henry E. McCulloch was ordered to take command in the Northern sub-district of Texas, with headquarters at Bonham. The object of his going there was by either forcible or pacific efforts to get men out of what was called ‘Jernigan's thicket,’ which had been made a place of refuge by deserters and others that avoided conscription. It was reported that he had good success in doing it.

After the posts on the Arkansas river had been taken by the Federals, the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi department was moved to southern Arkansas. Shortly thereafter General Holmes was superseded in its command by Lieut.-Gen. E. Kirby Smith, who fixed his headquarters at Shreveport, on Red river, in Louisiana. After the fall of Vicksburg, on account of the difficulty of passing the mails across the Mississippi river, Dr. Jas. H. Starr, [106] of Marshall, Tex., was placed in charge of the business of the postmaster-general on the west side of that river. His chief clerk was Washington D. Miller, who had been chief clerk of that department at Richmond.

The Federals evidently desired after their defeat at Galveston to gain a position in Texas from which the interior of the State could be subjected to their control. They selected Sabine Pass as the place that would suit their purpose, the conquest of which was thought to be easy of accomplishment. In 1861 Major Likens' battalion had been stationed there, and had erected an earthwork at the pass below the town. The post was afterward under the command of Lieut.-Col. A. H. Spaight, who removed his command to Beaumont, September 23, 1862. The Federal vessels were driven from it and captured in January, 1863. In the summer following, the defenses were under the command of Capt. Frank H. Odlum, of the First Texas heavy artillery, with Lieuts. Richard W. Dowling, Pat. H. Hennessy, and Wm. P. Cunningham, and about seventy men, most of whom were Irishmen.

At New Orleans, in September, 1863, an expedition of large proportions was fitted up for its capture, the following account of which was published in the New York Herald by Lieut. Henry C. Dane, who was on that occasion attached to the Federal service as a member of the signal corps:

The city of New Orleans was in a state of great excitement on the morning of September 4, 1863. A large expedition was leaving on some unrevealed, but avowedly very important mission. The levee was crowded with men, women and children, where troops were embarking and transports were moving away down the Mississippi, river, among grim and sullen-looking men-of-war. The object of the expedition was to capture a small fort at Sabine pass at the mouth of the Sabine river, and establish a base for larger operations. The Suffolk left New Orleans on the 5th and arrived off the pass, and stopped just out of sight of land on the 7th, where the [107] entire fleet had been ordered to rendezvous to await the arrival of the general-in-chief. On the morning of the 8th a general council of war was held on the Suffolk, when it was decided to indulge in a little supreme strategy. Two gunboats, the Clifton, a New York ferryboat transformed into a warship, and the Sachem, a miserable steam scow which had ‘come down from a former generation,’ were to be sent up the river to ‘draw the fire of the fort’ while General Weitzel with 500 men landed on the Texas shore and marched up to storm it in the rear. At 12 o'clock I went on board the Sachem, and Lieut. John W. Dana to the Clifton for signal duty. We knew the work these two gunboats would do would be of a desperate character. We anticipated a thorough pelting, and we were in no way disappointed. General Weitzel and his men mustered on the banks and moved into position ready for sudden action. The scene now was quite imposing. The large fleet of transports, attended by six gunboats, including the ‘blockader,’ were now ready to assault, capture and possess the southern half of the great State of Texas.

The remarkable Confederate victory which followed is well told in the general orders of Major-General Magruder, and the report of Lieut. R. W. Dowling, which follow:

General orders, no. 154.

Headquarters, Dist. of Texas, N. M. and Arizona, Houston, September 9, 1863.
1. The major-general commanding has the satisfaction of announcing to the army a brilliant victory won by the little garrison of Sabine pass against the fleet of the enemy. Attacked by five gunboats, the fort, mounting but three guns of small caliber and manned by the Davis Guards, Lieut. R. W. Dowling, assisted by Lieut. N. H. Smith, of the engineers, supported by about 200 men, the whole under the command of Capt. F. H. Odlum, steadily resisted the fire, and at last forced the surrender of the two gunboats, Clifton and Sachem, badly crippling another, which, with the others, escaped over the bar. The result of this gallant achievement is the capture of 2 fine gunboats, 15 heavy guns, over 200 prisoners, among them the commodore of the fleet, and over 50 of the enemy killed [108] and wounded, while not a man was lost on our side or a gun injured.

2. The enemy's fleet, with his land forces, is still off the coast, no doubt intending a landing at the first favorable moment. He may endeavor to retrieve his losses at Sabine pass by an attack upon the works at other points on the coast. Should this be the case the major-general commanding confidently expects to receive from his troops at these points as cheering a report as that which he now communicates to the army from the defenders of the Sabine.

By command of Maj.-Gen. J. B. Magruder:

Edmund P. Turner, Asst. Adjt.-Gen.

Fort Griffin, Sabine Pass, September 9, 1863.
Captain: On Monday morning, about 2 o'clock the sentinel informed me the enemy were signaling, and fearing an attack, I ordered all the guns at the fort manned, and remained in that position until daylight, at which time there were two steamers evidently sounding for the channels on the bar, a large frigate outside. They remained all day at work, but during the evening were reinforced to the number of 22 vessels of different classes. On the morning of the 8th the United States gunboat Clifton anchored opposite the lighthouse and fired 26 shells at the fort, most of which passed a little over, or fell short, all, however, in excellent range, one shell being landed on the works and another striking the south angle of the fort without doing any material damage. The firing commenced at 6:30 o'clock and finished at 7:30 by the gunboat hauling off. During this time we had not replied by a single shot. All was then quiet until 11 o'clock, at which time the gunboat Uncle Ben steamed down near the fort. The United States gunboat Sachem opened on her with a 30-pounder Parrott gun. She fired three shots, but without effect, the shots all passing over the fort and missing the Ben. The whole fleet then drew off and remained out of range until 3:40 o'clock, when the Sachem and Arizona steamed into line up the Louisiana channel, the Clifton and one boat, name unknown, remaining at the junction of the two channels. I allowed the two former boats to approach within 1,200 yards, when I opened fire with the whole of my battery on the foremost boat (the Sachem), which after the third or fourth round hoisted the white [109] flag. One of the shots passed through her steam drum. The Clifton in the meantime had attempted to pass through Texas channel, but received a shot which carried away her tiller rope. She became unmanageable and grounded about 500 yards below the fort, which enabled me to concentrate all my guns on her, which were six in number—two 32-pounder smooth-bores, two 24pound-er smooth-bores, two 32-pounder howitzers. She withstood our fire some 25 or 35 minutes, when she also hoisted a white flag. During the time she was aground she used grape, and her sharpshooters poured an incessant shower of minie-balls into the works. The fight lasted from the time I fired the first gun until the boats surrendered; that was about three-quarters of an hour. I immediately boarded the captured Clifton and proceeded to inspect her magazine, accompanied by one of the ship's officers, and discovered it safe and well stocked with ordnance stores. I did not visit the magazine of the Sachem in consequence of not having any small boats to board her with. The gunboat Uncle Ben steamed down to the Sachem and towed her into the wharf. Her magazine was destroyed by the enemy flooding it.

During the engagement I was nobly and gallantly assisted by Lieut. N. H. Smith, of the engineers corps, who by his coolness and bravery won the respect and admiration of the whole command. This officer deserves well of the country. To Asst.-Surg. Geo. H. Bailey I am under many obligations, who, having nothing to do in his own line, nobly pulled off his coat and assisted in administering Magruder pills to the enemy, and behaved with great coolness. During the engagement the works were visited by Capt. F. H. Odlum, commanding post; Col. Leon Smith, commanding marine department of Texas. Capt. W. S. Good, ordnance officer, Dr. Murray, acting assistant surgeon, behaved with great coolness and gallantry, and by them I was enabled to send for reinforcements, as the men were becoming exhausted by the rapidity of our fire; but before they could accomplish their purpose the enemy surrendered.

Thus it will be seen we captured with 47 men 2 gunboats mounting 13 guns of the heaviest caliber, and about 350 prisoners. All my men behaved like heroes; not a man flinched from his post. Our motto was, ‘Victory or death.’ I beg leave to make particular mention of Private [110] Michael McKernan, whom I assigned as gunner to one of the guns, and nobly did he do his duty. It was his shot struck the Sachem in her steam drum. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Col. Leon Smith for his activity and energy in saving and bringing the vessels to port. I have the honor, Captain, to remain, with great respect, your most obedient servant,

R. W. Dowling, First Lieut., Commanding Co. F, Cook's Artillery, Fort Griffin, Sabine Pass.

Col. Leon Smith in his report said that the enemy's fleet consisted of 20 vessels, and that they had about 1,500 men on board. The 200 Confederates at Sabine pass were composed of detachments from Griffin's and Spaight's battalions.

In his report to General Banks, Maj.-Gen. W. B. Franklin, who was in command of the Federal troops, says ‘200,--000 rations and 200 mules were thrown overboard by the transports that had crossed the bar, to enable them to get outside again.’

General Magruder ordered the following troops to Sabine pass and vicinity immediately:

Third regiment infantry, Gould's regiment, four companies Griffin's battalion, Jones' company light artillery, Captains Nichols' and Gonzales' battalions, and First Texas cavalry who were encamped near Alleyton, Tex.

The roster of Company F, First Texas heavy artillery, present at the battle, is as follows: First Lieut. R. W. Dowling; Sergeants, Corporals and Privates: Jack W. White, Timothy McDonough, Thomas Dougherty, David Fitzgerald, Michael Monohan, John Masset, John Mc-Keefer, Patrick McDonald, William Gleason, Michael Carr, Joseph Wilson, Thomas Hagerty, Thomas Huggins, Abram McCabe, James Fleming, Patrick Fitzgerald, Thomas McKernan, Edward Pritchard, Charles Rheims, Timothy Hurley, John McGrath, Matthew Walshe, Patrick Sullivan, Patrick Clare, John Hennessy, Hugh Deagon, Maurice Powers, Abner Carter, Daniel McMurray, Patrick Malone, James Corcoran, Patrick Abbot, John McNealus, [111] Michael Eagan, Daniel Donovan, John Wesley, John Anderson, John Flood, Peter O'Hara, Mike Delany and Terrence Mulhern. The above were enlisted men. Lieut. N. H. Smith, a Louisianian, and Dr. George Bailey, assistant surgeon, volunteered to aid the gunners in the fort, both taking their places at the guns. These names deserve to go down in Texas history as of men who were heroes in a naval battle in defense of the State.

Lieut. Henry Dane, previously quoted, as a prisoner had an interview with Lieutenant Dowling, which he reported as follows: ‘The commander of the fort was a modest, retiring, boyish-looking Irish lad 19 years old. I could not refrain laughing in his face when he was introduced to me as Lieut. Dick Dowling, in command of the fort. “And are you the shaughran,” I asked, “who did all that mischief? How many men and guns did you have?” “We had four 32-pounders and two 24-pounders, and 43 men,” was his reply with a blush. “And do you realize what you have done, sir?” I asked. “ No,” he said frankly; “I do not understand it at all.” “Well, sir, you and your 43 men, in your miserable little mud fort in the rushes, have captured two gunboats, a goodly number of prisoners, many stands of small arms, and plenty of good ammunition, and all that you have done with six popguns and two smart Quakers. And that is not the worst of your boyish tricks. You have sent three Yankee gunboats, 6,000 troops and a general out to sea in the dark.” ’

By resolution, approved February 8, 1864, the thanks of the Confederate Congress were extended to Captain Odlum, Lieut. Richard W. Dowling, and the 41 men composing the Davis Guards, for their gallant defense, which was characterized as ‘one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of this war, and entitles the Davis Guards to the gratitude and admiration of their country.’ [112]

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Richard W. Dowling (6)
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Weitzel (2)
James H. Starr (2)
A. H. Spaight (2)
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