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Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae (Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series)
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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 ›
By the third year of the Civil War, Texas had become an important objective to the Union, primarily to cut off Confederate trade. Sabine Pass was considered the best invasion point because of its proximity, not only to Louisiana and the Mississippi River, but to the Houston train yards.
In the interim between the two battles at Sabine Pass, a new, stronger fort had been built at a location where the river forks around an oyster reef, dividing the stream into two channels. Manned with six guns set to pivot at ninety-degrees the artillery could cover both channels. Lieutenant Dowling expected an assault on the fort and, in preparation, drilled his men using range stakes placed in the two channels.
On September 8, 1863, the Union fleet began to arrive at the mouth of the Pass. In all there were four shallow-draft gunboats, and seven transports loaded with Union solders and sharpshooters. The soldiers were a landing party designated to take the fort from the rear while the gunboats assaulted from the river.
At the start the battle looked to be a match between David and Goliath. The forty-four Confederate gunners, Irishmen of the Davis Guard, were outnumbered a hundred to one.Read more ›