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Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae (Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage) Paperback – October 1, 2004
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The Union plan to take Sabine Pass was developed by Maj. Gens. Nathaniel Banks, Henry Halleck, and William Franklin, as well as Admiral David Farragut. The Union assault force would consist of 5,000 troops in 22 transport vessels protected by four gunboats (with another two gunboats in support). On September 8, 1863, the battle began, and after just 45 minutes, it was all over. One gunboat, "Clifton", was so badly hit by the fort's artillery that it was disabled and abandoned, while another, "Sachem", was forced into shallow water and surrendered to the fort. One humiliated captured Union officer said to Lieut.Read more ›
This engagement was small but costly for the Union. It set back operations for capturing the important port of Mobile, Alabama as well as delaying operations against the Texas coast.
On the Union side, the roots of the fiasco rested in poor intelligence, coordination, and execution. The first major failure was the arrival of the attack force, when the coordinating blockader was away re-coaling--setting back the attack a critical day and a half. This provided the small garrison the opportunity to bring powder and projectiles to what would have been a defenseless set of gun emplacements.
The well-led and well-drilled garrison occupied a small but well-conceived and constructed earthen fort. It was ideally sited and designed to inflict maximum damage to any naval assault while limiting their ability to counter fire. Attacking gunboats would be forced to approach in tightly constricted channels where they could employ only their forward most guns at a low profile target. Lt. Dick Dowling's handful of men were itching for a fight and well equipped to do so.
The attack was to be a joint operation, with the navy leading the attack in order to allow the army to land.Read more ›
However, the battle of Sabine Pass was hardly a “disaster” for the Union. Two marginally important gunboats were lost, but there was no strategic consequence, since the main reason for the operation, to deter French encroachment into Texas (which the Confederacy was willing to risk if it meant recognition by France) did not develop. Texas was recognized as a secondary theater (even by General Banks), and its value for blockade running was minor, given that the Mississippi was effectively in Federal control. Thermopylae is not the right comparison; if Fort Griffin had held off the Army of the Tennessee for a time, perhaps. A better comparison would be to the “Wagon Box Fight” in 1867, where ineffective tactics by the attacking Sioux and superior firepower and a strong position allowed an outnumbered detachment of the 27th US infantry to triumph.
Chapter 13 of the book describes the actual battle pretty well, providing the main reason to read the book. Read objectively, however, it tends not to support the contention that the battle, not as it was planned but as it actually occurred, was a triumph against long odds.Read more ›