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Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae (Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series)

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Editorial Reviews


The book is beautifully written, profusely illustrated and meticulously researched -- and sure to instruct and entertain any reader of Civil War history. (Maxine Turner Civil War News 200511)

About the Author

Edward T. Cotham, Jr., is an independent scholar based in Houston, Texas. He has served as president of the Houston Civil War Roundtable and is the author of Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston.

Product Details

  • Series: Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series (Book 7)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292706030
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292706033
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,553,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Sabine Pass was a narrow, 6-mile-long defile that channeled the Sabine River, which was the boundary between Texas and Louisiana, into the Gulf of Mexico. Guarding the Sabine River was Fort Griffin, a mud citadel which Union Army Intelligence believed had a force of 200 Confederate troops, including a field artillery battery, two 32-pounders (heavy artillery) and two boats that had been converted into rams. Actually, Fort Griffin was manned by only 46 Irish Texans, officially known as the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, under the command of 25-year-old Lieut. Richard W. Dowling. It's artillery consisted only of six fieldpieces (the two 32-pounders had been removed weeks earlier). The two rams were ordered scuttled by Dowling near the entrance to Lake Sabine. This meant that any Union ships which did make it past Fort Griffin would run into the trap of the sunken boats, especially since the Sabine was running dangerously low.

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.
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Author Edward Cotham provides a well-written and interesting account of the civil war at Sabine Pass and the events leading to a decisive battle there in front of Fort Griffin. Although the author spares few superlatives for the victorious Texans' unanticipated and stunning victory he does so for good reason and in an overall balanced manner. The Union officers' failures (as well as successes in other areas) are fairly presented.

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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Calling this battle the Texas Thermopylae is not an understatement since the comparisons are very similar. These men were the bravest of brave and deserved land grants as reward in Texas. This should be a required read in schools to teach them to be proud of their heritage. Instead they are brainwashed with concepts the ideas that attempt to make them ashamed of their history and even their race. Texans should be especially proud that the Yankee race was kept at bay for the entire Civil war and Texas was not occupied even at the very end. The battle of Palmetto Ranch fought weeks after the surrender in the East was another proud event where invaders were repelled.
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Format: Paperback
There were actually two battles at Sabine Pass during the Civil War. The first one ended with the fort there being captured by Union forces. However, because of its distance from Union headquarters, Texas was hard to hold, and Sabine Pass was quickly returned to Confederate control. The second battle is the one author Edward T. Cotham, Jr. recounts in his well-researched "Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae."

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.
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