Corpus Christi was a vital port city on the Texas coast. Confederate militia controlled the city, with some 700 men garrisoned at Fort Kinney. The force had initially been under command of Colonel Charles G. Lovenskiold, but he had recently been replaced by Major Alfred M. Hobby. Despite the Confederate military presence at Corpus Christi, a fair number of Unionists resided there.
By August, Captain John W. Kittredge had assembled a Federal naval flotilla that he planned to use to capture Corpus Christi. The flotilla consisted of the U.S.S. Belle Italia, Reindeer, Corypheus, Sachem (which had participated in the capture of Forts Jackson and St. Philip guarding New Orleans), and the flagship Arthur.
On the 12th, Kittredge’s flotilla steamed into Aransas Bay and found it guarded by the schooner C.S.S. Breaker. The Federals pursued until the outnumbered Confederates grounded the Breaker and burned her to prevent capture. Federals from the Arthur quickly boarded the Breaker, put out the fires and captured the vessel. Without the Breaker, the Confederates destroyed their other two vessels, the C.S.S. Hannah and Elma.
With the Breaker out of enemy hands, the Federals determined that Corpus Christi was now vulnerable enough to attack. The flotilla proceeded southwest and initiated a blockade on the town. Kittredge moved his flag to the Corypheus and sent the Arthur back for supplies. The Sachem and Corypheus would bombard the town, with the Belle Italia and Reindeer staying back in reserve. The Breaker was used as a hospital ship.
Next morning, Kittredge and a boarding party went ashore and demanded the right to “examine the public buildings” of Corpus Christi and “report their condition” to Federal authorities. Hobby refused, so Kittredge gave the Confederates 48 hours to evacuate the women and children, after which he would begin a general bombardment.
The 48-hour deadline came and went, but for some reason Kittredge did not immediately begin the Federal bombardment. This gave the Confederates more time to prepare defenses. By dawn on the 17th, the Confederates had evacuated civilians and launched an attack on the Federal naval vessels off Corpus Christi. Both sides exchanged fire throughout the day, and Kittredge withdrew his vessels at darkness.
The Federals remained at a long distance to prevent damage and therefore did not deliver accurate firepower. The Confederates were untrained and therefore inaccurate as well. Near midnight, Kittredge deployed a landing party of sailors and Marines to capture Fort Kinney from land. The force advanced on the morning of the 18th. Hobby responded by dispatching a defense force while also resuming cannon fire with the Federal naval vessels.
The ships supported the landing party, and they eventually silenced the fort’s guns. But the party soon ran low on ammunition and was forced to withdraw. The Confederates fell back into the town after seeing the Federal threat subside. Kittredge directed fire on the houses and stores where the Confederates had withdrawn into. Once the vessels ran out of ammunition, Kittredge ordered the ships to return to Aransas Bay.
The Federals had been repelled, but many of the Confederate sympathizers in Corpus Christi looted and burned the homes of Unionists out of revenge. Casualties were minimal. The Federals had succeeded in subduing the small Confederate naval presence in the bay, but the Confederates had succeeded in preventing Corpus Christi from capture.
Brigadier General Hamilton P. Bee arrived at Corpus Christi on the 20th to help strengthen the city’s defenses following the Federal land-sea attack. The Confederate press praised the defenders who repelled the Federals, with a local newspaper calling the town the “Vicksburg of Texas.”
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.