Category Archives: Texas

The Battle of Palmito Ranch

May 13, 1865 – A skirmish that took place in south Texas after the war ended ironically resulted in Confederate victory.

Colonel Theodore Barrett had dispatched a force of about 300 Federals under Lieutenant Colonel David Branson to seize the vital port city of Brownsville, on the tip of Texas where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. This violated an unofficial truce between the opposing forces that had been in place most of this year. Branson hoped to surprise the Confederate outpost at Palmito Ranch, situated on a hill commanding the approach to Brownsville from Brazos Island. But as Branson later reported:

“I could not reach Palmetto Ranch before daylight to surprise it, and therefore hid my command in a thicket and among weeds on the banks of the Rio Grande one mile and a half above White’s Ranch, where we remained undiscovered until 8.30 a.m., when persons on the Mexican shore seeing us started to give the alarm to the rebels. At the same time soldiers of the Imperial Mexican Army were marching up that bank of the river.”

Branson reported that his Federals attacked and drove the Confederates “from their camp, which had been occupied by about 190 men and horses, capturing 3 prisoners, 2 horses, and 4 beef-cattle, and their ten days’ rations, just issued.” The Confederate field commander at Brownsville, Colonel John S. Ford (nicknamed R.I.P. or “Rest in Peace” Ford), planned to counterattack, even though “this may be the last fight of the war, and from the number of Union men I see before me, I am going to be whipped.”

Ford’s superior, Brigadier General James E. Slaughter, had learned that the major Confederate armies to the east had surrendered and told Ford that he did not want a fight. Ford replied, “You can retreat and go to hell if you wish! These are my men, and I am going to fight. I have held this place against heavy odds. If you lose it without a fight the people of the Confederacy will hold you accountable for a base neglect of duty.”

Supported by two guns, Ford’s Confederate cavalry advanced and drove the Federals back. Ford told his troops, “Boys, we have done finely. We will let well enough alone and retire.” That night, Branson reported that “a considerable force of the enemy appeared, and the position being indefensible, I fell back to White’s Ranch for the night, skirmishing some on the way…” Colonel Barrett, who was not on the scene, reported to his Federal superiors:

“The enemy was driven in confusion from his position, his camp, camp equipage, and stores falling into our hands. Some horses and cattle were also captured and a number of prisoners taken. Destroying such stores as could not be transported, Lieutenant-Colonel Branson returned to the vicinity of White’s Ranch, and took up his position for the night.”

Barrett answered Branson’s call for reinforcements by sending another regiment. The troops crossed the Rio Grande in skiffs and marched up to join their comrades at White’s Ranch that night. Barrett arrived early next morning to take personal command of the force, which now numbered 800 men. Barrett later reported, “I at once ordered an advance to be again made in the direction of Palmetto Ranch, which, upon the retirement of Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, had been reoccupied by the rebels. The enemy’s cavalry were soon encountered.”

The Federals drove Ford’s 350 Confederates away from Palmito Ranch and, according to Barrett, “Such stores as had escaped destruction the day previous were now destroyed, and the buildings which the enemy had turned into barracks were burned, in order that they might no longer furnish him convenient shelter.” The Federals then fell back to rest and regroup.

The Battle of Palmito Ranch | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

During this time, Ford and Slaughter reformed their force and led a Confederate counterattack. Barrett reported:

“With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front, and his flanking force on our right, our situation was at this time extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy’s six 12-pounder field pieces, our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.”

The Federals fell back toward Brazos Island, with the Confederates trying to sustain an effective pursuit. Ford, concerned about the condition of his horses, finally called a halt. The Federals withdrew to Boca Chica, where they were evacuated by sea. Barrett sustained 115 casualties in a fight that he had started but had no effect on the war’s outcome.

When news reached the Confederates at Brownsville that many of their comrades had already surrendered, they began dropping from the ranks to go home. Nevertheless, the last battle of the War Between the States ended in a Confederate victory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 556; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 591; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

Battle Looms in South Texas

May 11, 1865 – In distant Texas, a Federal expedition threatened to break an informal truce before news arrived that the war was over.

The recent capture of President Jefferson Davis and the dissolution of the Confederate government effectively ended the war. But the news had not yet reached opposing forces near Brownsville, on the southernmost tip of Texas. Earlier this year, the two sides had agreed to an unofficial armistice since there was no reason to continue fighting there.

Gen. Lew Wallace | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

When Major General Lew Wallace took command of the Federal district overseeing Brownsville in early March, he tried to negotiate a formal ceasefire with the Confederates. He met with Brigadier General James E. Slaughter and Colonel John S. “Rest in Peace” Ford at Port Isabel in hopes that their meeting “may result in something more than words.”

The officers discussed possible peace terms, but Slaughter and Ford warned that General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, may be plotting with Emperor Maximilian of Mexico to either fall back into Mexican territory or join forces with the Mexican army. Maximilian had been installed as Mexican ruler by Emperor Napoleon III of France, which the U.S. had protested violated the Monroe Doctrine. The emperor’s regime was known to be friendly with the Confederates.

For Wallace, the discussions went so well that he reported, “What I am at now is nothing less than bringing Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana voluntarily back into the Union. The business is well begun, and at this moment looks promising.” Slaughter and Ford were “not only willing, but anxious to find some ground upon which they could honorably get from under what they admitted to be a falling Confederacy.”

The Confederate officers sent their ideas to Major General John Walker, commanding the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Under the proposal, Confederate troops could either swear allegiance to the Union or leave the country. Slavery would be subject to congressional legislation, and Texas would eventually return to the Union. Walker rejected this plan, and he wrote to Wallace on April 6 explaining why:

“It would be folly in me to pretend that we are not tired of a war that has sown sorrow and desolation over our land; but we will accept no other than an honorable peace. With three hundred thousand men yet in the field, we would be the most abject of mankind if we should now basely yield all that we have been contending for during the last four years–namely, nationality and the rights of self-government. With the blessing of God, we will yet achieve these, and extort from your government all that we ask. Whenever you are willing to yield these, and to treat as equal with equal, an officer of your high rank and character, clothed with the proper authority from your government, will not be reduced to the necessity of seeking an obscure corner of the Confederacy to inaugurate negotiations.”

Wallace considered Walker’s letter “both childish and discourteous.” He responded, “Slavery as between the sections was the only separating social and political interest, you know that. Where is slavery now? We armed it over a year ago, and now you are doing the same thing. Apropos, once a soldier, never more a slave.”

Wallace wrote to Slaughter and Ford, “I regret this conclusion. Could we have succeeded, then consequence would have been more honorable to us all than battles fought. The people of Texas, at least, would have been grateful to us.” Wallace then reported to Washington on April 18: “Of one thing I am sure. Texas rebels are without heart or confidence, and divided among themselves.” These troops, and even those under E.K. Smith, were ready to lay down their arms, as long as Smith was “not too far committed to Maximilian.”

Despite Walker’s rejection, the opposing sides agreed not to fire on each other without written notification. This changed when Colonel Theodore Barrett took command of the 1,900-man Federal brigade stationed on blockade duty at Los Brazos de Santiago. The brigade consisted of the 34th Indiana (veterans from other disbanded regiments), and the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments.

When Barrett learned the Confederates were about to abandon Brownsville, he decided to break the ceasefire by ordering his men forward to seize enemy outposts on the road to that vital town. Some claimed that Barrett did this to obtain mounts for his cavalry, while others thought that he just wanted “a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether.”

Col. John S. “R.I.P.” Ford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The expedition consisted of 250 men from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 50 men from the 2nd Texas (U.S.) Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel David Branson. Branson planned to capture White’s Ranch and Palmito Ranch near Fort Brown, which was garrisoned by Ford’s Confederates defending Brownsville.

The Federals were supposed to cross Point Isabel on the morning of the 11th, but the steamer they were to use had mechanical problems and a storm was approaching. They instead crossed at Boca Chica in heavy rain around 9:30 that night. According to Branson, “At 2 a.m. of the 12th, after making a long circuitous march, we surrounded White’s Ranch, where we expected to capture a rebel outpost of sixty-five men, horses, and cattle, but they had been gone a day or two.”

Branson’s Federals would advance at daylight.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 591; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688; Wikipedia: Battle of Palmito Ranch

Banks Targets the Texas Coast

November 2, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks embarked on a campaign to conquer eastern Texas by seizing control of the Rio Grande River and the Texas coast.

The Lincoln administration wanted control of eastern Texas, not only for its extensive cotton but to stop illicit trade between that state and French-controlled Mexico. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had originally ordered Banks to move his Army of the Gulf up the Red River and invade Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana. However, Banks was a politician, and he feared that failure would damage his political career. Thus, the Federal high command agreed to allow Banks to take the safer route along the Texas coast.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks had sent a force to capture Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border, but it suffered a humiliating defeat in September. He had also launched a force from Fort Bisland that was stopped at Opelousas in October. So Banks personally led this third effort, which consisted of a 3,500-man division under Major General Napoleon J.T. Dana. The troops left New Orleans on transports and steamed west, intending to capture Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The gunboats U.S.S. Monongahela, Virginia, and Owasco escorted the troop transports.

The Federals landed unopposed as the Confederate defenders retreated. Banks triumphantly reported, “The flag of the Union floated over Texas today at meridian precisely. Our enterprise has been a complete success.” From this foothold, Banks moved inland and quickly occupied Brownsville as well. The Federals were now positioned about 30 miles from inland opposite Matamoros (spelled “Matamoras” then), as well as Point Isabelle. Banks notified Texas’s Unionist governor, Andrew Hamilton, who had awaited the Federal arrival near Texas’s southern tip.

Ten days later, Banks expanded his occupation zone by capturing Corpus Christi. The Federals then continued moving east along the coast. On the 17th, about 1,000 troops and two sailor-manned artillery batteries landed on Mustang Island at Aransas Pass from transports supported by the Monongahela. The Federal howitzers bombarded the Confederate garrison into surrender. The U.S.S. Granite City seized the Confederate schooner Amelia Ann and the Spanish bark Teresita.

Banks next targeted Fort Esperanza on Matagorda Island, which the Confederates abandoned after a one-week bombardment. Federal gunboats now controlled about 300 miles of the Texas coast, from the Rio Grande to Port Lavaca. But Banks would not risk another defeat by approaching Galveston or Sabine Pass.

Meanwhile, a portion of Banks’s force moved overland about 100 miles up the Rio Grande and captured Rio Grande City. These Federal victories restricted the contraband trade coming through Mexico via Matamoros. However, since the Mississippi River was already in Federal hands, it only restricted trade with the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, which was insignificant compared to the east. Also, trading continued farther inland at Laredo, and the operation did nothing to scare the French into leaving Mexico.

The Federal presence in southern Texas merely kept Banks’s army busy when it could have been more useful elsewhere, such as Mobile Bay.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338-39, 341-42; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 871; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 543-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 366-69, 372-75, 380; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 428-31, 434; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 683; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 172

The Battle of Sabine Pass

September 8, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition to the Texas-Louisiana border met with embarrassing defeat by less than 50 Confederates defending Sabine Pass.

With Louisiana under Federal occupation, the Lincoln administration sought a military expansion into eastern Texas. Cotton-starved New England mill owners applied political pressure to invade the cotton-rich region. Also, Mexican arms shipments to the Confederacy through this region provided another reason to invade. Moreover, a Federal presence in eastern Texas could threaten the French puppet regime in Mexico and prevent France from recognizing the Confederacy.

Both President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck favored a Texas invasion via the Red River. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf, favored an attack on Mobile, Alabama. However, his army shrank drastically after capturing Port Hudson, when the enlistment terms of many of his regiments expired. This made a Mobile expedition impossible without reinforcements.

Banks ultimately agreed to target Texas, but he opposed the dangerous Red River plan because the summer had lowered the water level, making it difficult for Federal gunboats to pass. Also, as a former politician with questionable command ability, he did not want his future political aspirations damaged if the expedition failed. Banks instead favored a safer amphibious attack on the Texas coast. Lincoln and Halleck approved.

Banks selected multiple targets, with Sabine Pass being the first. The pass was at the mouth of the Sabine River, which forms the Texas-Louisiana border. Once the Federals controlled Sabine Pass, they could seal it off from blockade runners and continue upriver to Sabine City. From there, they could advance on Beaumont, Houston, or Galveston.

For the army part of the operation, Banks selected Major General William B. Franklin to command. Franklin had failed to save Harpers Ferry prior to the Battle of Antietam, failed to press his advantage at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac for conspiring against Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. He was given 5,000 troops for this mission.

Admiral Henry H. Bell, acting commander of the Federal West Gulf Blockading Squadron, assembled four ironclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Clifton, Arizona, Granite City, and Sachem) to support the army troops. These vessels were converted side-wheel river steamers and the only available ships that had drafts shallow enough to get over the sandbar and enter the Sabine River.

According to Banks, the gunboats had “decayed frames and weak machinery,” and were “constantly out of repair.” Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, the official squadron commander currently on leave, informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles when he learned of the plan that “you may expect to hear of disaster.” Lieutenant Frederick Crocker would command the navy part of the operation, which included not only the gunboats but 22 transports to convey Franklin’s troops.

The Federal armada arrived off the bar at Sabine Pass late on the 7th. Franklin planned to seize the pass the next day, then move inland to Beaumont and capture the Texas & New Orleans Railroad. This linked Houston to New Orleans and represented the last rail connection between Texas and the eastern Confederacy. In the meantime, a Federal division under Major General Francis J. Herron would divert the attention of Confederates in Louisiana so they would not interfere with the operation.

Fort Griffin guarded the pass about two miles up the Sabine River, but only 47 Confederate artillerists of the Texas Jeff Davis Guards, which had been merged into the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, manned the fort. Led by 20-year-old saloonkeeper Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling, the Confederates had been posted at Griffin partly as punishment for misbehavior.

The fort had just six smoothbore cannon, but they were on an elevated platform from which the artillerists could see several miles around them. The men had placed range markers in the river and practiced firing their guns every day. Dowling observed Federal signal lights off the pass on the night of the 7th and notified Major General John B. Magruder, his department commander. Magruder advised him to spike the guns and retreat, but Dowling prepared to defend the fort instead.

The Federal gunboats began bombarding Fort Griffin at dawn the next day. The Confederates held their fire until the vessels crossed the bar around 4 p.m. and came within range. Then Dowling’s men used their range markers to open a deadly cannonade. Within a half-hour, the Sachem had taken a shot through her boiler and the Clifton took one through the steam drum. The crews of both gunboats surrendered, while the remaining vessels quickly withdrew.

Federal gunboats entering Sabine Pass | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In addition to 315 men captured from the Clifton and Sachem, the Federals sustained 65 casualties (19 killed, nine wounded, and 37 missing). Crocker was among the wounded. Franklin also reported that 200,000 rations had been dumped overboard to lighten a grounded transport, and 200 mules had been dumped to lighten a steamer.

As Farragut had predicted, Franklin relied solely on the gunboats to neutralize the fort rather than provide infantry support. Franklin aborted the attack and ordered a return to New Orleans. Thus, the first Federal attempt to invade Texas ended in humiliating failure. The next day, Confederate Captain F.H. Odlum issued his report on the battle:

“I have the honor to report that we had an engagement with the enemy yesterday and gained a handsome victory. We captured two of their gunboats, crippled a third, and drove the rest out of the Pass. We took 18 fine guns, a quantity of smaller arms, ammunition and stores, killed about 50, wounded several, and took 150 prisoners, without the loss or injury of any one on our side or serious damage to the fort.”

This small engagement greatly boosted Confederate morale. President Jefferson Davis called it “one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of warfare,” and labeled the battle the Thermopylae of the war. Dowling and his gunners became southern heroes, later receiving an official vote of thanks from the Confederate Congress. Houston residents also contributed to produce special Davis Guard medals for the men, the only official Confederate awards for military valor.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15814; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322-24; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 774-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Locations 523-533; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346-48; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-47, 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 404-07; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 683; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 171-72; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 650

The Alabama Versus the Hatteras

January 11, 1863 – The famed Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama engaged Federal warships trying to reinstate the blockade of Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico.

After losing Galveston to the Confederates on New Year’s Day, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut sent the U.S.S. Brooklyn and five gunboats under Commodore Henry H. Bell to try taking the port city back with a naval bombardment. Farragut told Bell, “The moral effect must be terrible if we don’t take it again. May God grant you success for your own sake and the honor of the Navy.”

During this time, the C.S.S. Alabama under Captain Raphael Semmes was headed to Galveston. Semmes learned from a New York newspaper aboard a captured Federal vessel that an army-navy expedition was also headed for the port city, and he hoped to destroy as many transports as possible before the Federals could catch him.

As Semmes approached, he realized the story had been false. Seeing the Federal warships off Galveston, he tried luring one out into the open sea to do battle. He raised a British flag, making the Alabama appear to the Federals to be a blockade runner. When the Confederate ship came within sight late on the afternoon of the 11th, Lieutenant Commander Homer C. Blake received orders to investigate. He commanded the U.S.S. Hatteras, a side-wheel ferryboat fitted with five guns.

Semmes lured the Hatteras out about 20 miles offshore, where Blake hailed, “What Ship is That?” The Alabama’s crew replied, “Her Majesty’s Steamer Petrel.” As Federal crewmen dropped a boat to row over, the Confederates quickly raised their colors and fired a broadside into the Hatteras. The shocked Federals tried to fight back, but despite the Hatteras’s size advantage, the Alabama had superior firepower and the element of surprise.

The Alabama attacks the Hatteras | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The fight ended after just 13 minutes, when the Federals raised the white flag. The Hatteras sank six minutes later, with two Federals killed and five wounded. Semmes rescued the remaining 121 crewmen and hurried off before the remaining Federal vessels could catch him. The Federals in the rowboat returned to shore to report what happened. The Alabama headed for Jamaica, where Semmes later released the prisoners.

This was a rare naval battle between two warships, and it marked the first time in the war that a steam powered vessel sank another steam powered vessel in the open sea. A Federal naval court of inquiry later concluded that Blake’s conduct had been “commendable and proper” during the engagement.

Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “It becomes my painful duty to report still another disaster off Galveston.” By the time Commodore Bell regrouped his fleet, the Confederates had fortified Galveston enough to make the city invulnerable to a naval bombardment. The Confederates held Galveston for the rest of the war, but the Federals were now more determined than ever to seek and destroy the dangerous Alabama.

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References

Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 125; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 253; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 310-11; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 129-30; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 142

The Battle of Galveston

January 1, 1863 – Confederate army and naval elements attacked Federal occupation forces to take back the vital port city of Galveston on the Texas coast.

Maj Gen J.B. Magruder | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John B. Magruder had worked to regain Galveston ever since taking command of the Confederate District of Texas in late 1862. He dispatched about 1,500 troops to the island town after midnight on New Year’s Day, using the unguarded bridge from the mainland. They quietly marched down Strand Street and prepared to attack the Federal garrison near the wharves. The garrison consisted of 250 men of the 42nd Massachusetts. The Confederates posted artillery within 300 yards of the Federal ships docked in the harbor.

Meanwhile, Major Leon Smith led a Confederate flotilla of two steamers converted into “cotton-clad” gunboats (the Bayou City and Neptune), and their tenders (the John F. Carr and Lucy Gwin). Texas cavalry led by Colonel Thomas Green manned the gunboats. This flotilla advanced into the west end of Galveston Harbor before dawn to attack the Federals.

The Confederate troops in town attacked the Federals but soon found themselves pinned down at the barricades. The U.S.S. Westfield under Commander William B. Renshaw began moving to support the 42nd Massachusetts, but the ship ran aground and sat helpless as the Confederate flotilla approached.

The copper gunboat U.S.S. Harriet Lane (named after President James Buchanan’s niece) sprang into action, led by Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright. The ship rammed the Bayou City with little effect. The Neptune rammed the Harriet Lane but sunk herself from the blow. The Bayou City then rammed the Harriet Lane, locking the two vessels together. The Texans boarded the Federal ship and fought the crewmen hand-to-hand, killing Wainwright and Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea. The Texans forced the ship’s surrender.

The capture of the Harriet Lane at Galveston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

From the Westfield, Renshaw ordered Lieutenant Commander Richard L. Law of the nearby U.S.S. Clifton to pull the four remaining Federal ships out to sea to avoid capture. Federals tried destroying the Westfield before the Confederates could take her, but a magazine aboard the ship exploded prematurely, killing Renshaw and his crew. The Federals on land had held their own against their attackers, but when they saw the carnage in the harbor, they surrendered at Kuhn’s Wharf.

The Confederates captured nearly all the Federals on shore, regaining their town after a four-hour fight. A Confederate wrote, “The victory was won, and a New Year’s gift was made to the people of Texas.” The Federals sustained 414 casualties, along with the Westfield and Harriet Lane. The other four Federal vessels (the Clifton, Sachem, Corypheus, and Owasco) escaped. The Confederates lost 143 men (26 killed and 117 wounded), along with the Neptune. Magruder reported:

“This morning, the 1st of January, at three o’clock, I attacked the enemy’s fleet and garrison at this place, captured the latter and the steamer Harriet Lane, two barges, and a schooner. The rest, some four or five, escaped ignominiously under cover of a flag of truce. I have about 600 prisoners and a large quantity of valuable stores, arms, etc. The Harriet Lane is very little injured…”

Magruder transferred his headquarters from Houston to Galveston the next day, where he reported to Richmond, “We are preparing to give them a warm reception should they return.” He then issued a proclamation:

“Whereas the undersigned has succeeded in capturing and destroying a portion of the enemy’s fleet and in driving the remainder out of Galveston Harbor and beyond the neighboring waters, and the blockade has thus been raised, he therefore hereby proclaims to all friendly nations, and their merchants are invited to resume their usual commercial intercourse with this Port.”

Meanwhile, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks issued orders recalling all Federal troops on transports going from New Orleans to Galveston. This temporarily broke the Federal blockade along the Texas coast and freed Texas from Federal occupation. Confederates held Galveston until the end of the war.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15771-89; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296-97; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 18-19, 58-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 249; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 48-49; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 116; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-07; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 566-67

Federals Capture Galveston

October 5, 1862 – Federal army-navy forces occupied Galveston, the most important port on the Texas coast.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron had seized various points on the Texas coast, from the Sabine River to Corpus Christi. The most important point was Galveston, which had been under Federal blockade for 15 months.

Naval Commander William B. Renshaw confronted Galveston with a gunboat squadron consisting of the U.S.S. Westfield, Harriet Lane, Owasco, Clifton, and the mortar schooner Henry James. The vessels neutralized the Confederates forces in the town, forcing Colonel Joseph J. Cook to surrender.

Renshaw had demanded unconditional and immediate surrender, but he ultimately agreed to give Cook four days to evacuate his troops and equipment. On the 5th, a Federal colonel and 260 men came ashore to begin occupation duty. The two sides agreed the Confederates would not move artillery into Galveston via the two-mile-long bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

Federals now had a foothold in Texas, leaving Alabama as the only Confederate state that still did not have at least one point under Federal occupation. However, Farragut knew that even though his ships had taken several ports along the coast, they could not hold those points without army support.

He wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I have the coast of Texas lined with vessels. If I had a military force I would go down and take every place from the Mississippi River to the Rio Grande.” Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding Federal occupation troops in New Orleans, had pledged to give Farragut some men to occupy these ports, but they did not materialize. This led Farragut to inform Renshaw, “I fear that I will find difficulties in procuring the few troops we require to hold the place.”

Meanwhile, the Davis administration, which had not responded to urgent calls for help in reinforcing Galveston, now scrambled to regain the port. Major General John B. Magruder was given command of the Confederate District of Texas, headquartered at Houston. Magruder, who had gained fame by holding off a superior Federal force at Yorktown earlier this year, soon began planning to liberate Galveston and other coastal points from Federal occupation.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15753-63; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296-97; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 746; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 221; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 275, 277; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 126-27; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 526; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 750-51

The Confederate New Mexico Campaign Ends

May 14, 1862 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s dream of making the New Mexico Territory part of the Confederacy ended as the remnants of his broken army finally made it back to El Paso and his detachment abandoned Tucson.

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Confederate detachment of Sibley’s army under Captain Sherod Hunter had held Tucson and operated in western New Mexico (present-day Arizona) since February. During that time, Federal forces had been mobilized from various forts in California and concentrated at Fort Yuma to drive Hunter out. In early May, Hunter, having less than 100 men, evacuated Tucson upon learning that Colonel James H. Carleton’s “California column” of about 1,800 troops were approaching.

A couple weeks later, a Federal detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph West entered Tucson and found that both the Confederates and their secessionist allies were gone. The Federals quickly prepared to continue pushing east, reopening the overland mail route all the way to Mesilla and controlling the territory once more.

Meanwhile, the survivors of Sibley’s Army of New Mexico straggled into El Paso. Since their victory at Glorieta, the Confederates had endured terrible hardships due to lack of food and water, having retreated hundreds of miles through the unforgiving desert while being pursued by Brigadier General Edward R.S. Canby’s Federals. Sibley reported:

“Except for its geographical position, the Territory of New Mexico is not worth a quarter of the blood and treasure expended in its conquest. As a field for military operations it possesses not a single element, except in the multiplicity of its defensible positions. The indispensible element, food, cannot be relied on. I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged, irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people.”

Sibley’s remaining troops assembled on the parade ground at Fort Bliss, Texas, on May 14. Of the 3,700 men who had begun the New Mexico campaign, less than 2,000 remained. Sibley thanked the troops for their sacrifice during “this more than difficult campaign,” then continued his withdrawal to San Antonio. This ended Confederate aspirations to create a Territory of Arizona and effectively ended the war in the Southwest.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (20 May 1862); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 529; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 304-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146-47, 155; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 207, 214; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

The Texas Secession: Sam Houston Ousted

March 18, 1861 – Delegates to the Texas State Convention removed Governor Sam Houston from office for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

Texas Governor Sam Houston | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Texas Governor Sam Houston | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On March 2, the Confederate Congress approved a measure admitting Texas into the Confederacy. However Texas Governor Sam Houston defied the state legislature by refusing to recognize the Confederacy’s legitimacy. As secessionists worked to remove Houston from office, the governor asserted: “I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her. To avert this calamity, I shall make no endeavor to maintain my authority as Chief Executive of this State, except by the peaceful exercise of my functions…”

Meanwhile, Texas officials continued seizing Federal property in the state throughout the month, including:

  • The Federal revenue cutter Henry Dodge at Galveston
  • Ringgold Barracks
  • Camps Verde, Wood, and Hudson
  • Forts McIntosh, Clark, Inge, Lancaster, Brown, Duncan, Chadbourne, Mason, and Bliss

Command changes also took place for both Federals and Confederates. Colonel Edwin V. Sumner of the 1st Cavalry was promoted to brigadier general to replace General David Twiggs in command of Federal forces in Texas. Twiggs had been dismissed from the U.S. army on 1 March for surrendering Federal forts to Texans. Colonel Earl Van Dorn arrived in Texas on the 26th to lead Confederate forces.

In mid-March, Governor Houston staged a dramatic protest at the state capitol in Austin. When called upon to swear loyalty to Confederacy as required by all Texas public officials, Houston ignored it. His name was called twice more and he ignored it twice more, instead whittling throughout the proceedings. Houston issued a statement:

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas… I protest… against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.”

The Texas Convention delegates accepted Houston’s resignation on the 18th, and he was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark. Houston retired to his home at Huntsville, explaining that he did not believe secession necessarily meant mandatory loyalty to a new nation. Houston said, “You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasures and hundreds of thousands of precious lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence… but I doubt it.”

The Lincoln administration offered to provide Houston with 50,000 troops to help him regain his governorship and keep Texas in the Union by military force. Houston responded to this offer on March 29: “Allow me to most respectfully decline any such assistance of the United States Government.” Thus ended the career of one of the most prominent statesmen in Texas history.

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Sources

  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 18-19
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2202
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 44, 48-52
  • Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 372
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 27
  • Wikipedia: Sam Houston; Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War

The Texas Secession

February 1, 1861 – Delegates to the Texas State Convention at Austin voted 166 to 7 to secede from the United States.

Texas State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Texas State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Texas became the seventh state to leave the Union. The attorney general “led a company of ladies down the aisle,” and “they unfurled a Lone Star flag.” In accordance with legislative requirements, a popular election was scheduled for February 23. Governor Sam Houston’s vocal opposition to secession alienated him from many formerly loyal Texans.

Ten days later, convention delegates approved the forming a southern Confederacy and elected seven representatives to the new Confederate Congress. The strong movement toward the Confederacy prompted Brevet Major General David E. Twiggs, commanding the Federal Department of Texas, to comply with demands from state civil commissioners to surrender all Federal forts and property to the state. Some 1,000 militia under Colonel Ben McCulloch seized the Federal arsenal at San Antonio.

Twiggs, one of the top four ranking officers in the U.S. Army, explained that he surrendered due to a threat of attack, as state troops had surrounded the 160-man garrison holding San Antonio. But then Twiggs also said, “If an old woman with a broomstick should come with full authority from the state of Texas to demand the public property, I would give it up to her.”

Twiggs had asked his superior, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, to be relieved so he could join his home state of Georgia in seceding. Federal officials quickly accused Twiggs of treason, and he was dishonorably discharged from the service. Twiggs angrily wrote to President James Buchanan “for the sole purpose of a personal interview,” intimating a challenge to a duel. Twiggs’s capitulation spread fear among Federal officials that other southern commanders could give up other Federal posts just as easily.

On the 19th, Colonel Carlos A. Waite replaced Twiggs as commander of the Department of Texas at Camp Verde, even though Twiggs had already surrendered the Federal posts in the state. Federal forces soon abandoned Camp Cooper and Camp Colorado, and Texas militia took Federal property at Brazos Santiago.

Voters upheld the Texas Convention’s decision to secede. In the popular election mandated by the convention, Texans approved secession by a 74-percent majority—34,794 to 11,235.

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Sources

  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129-31
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 14
  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-19
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 253-54
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 31, 35-36, 38-42
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 46
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161