Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Corner of the Confederacy

My corner of the Confederacy is here in Southwest Louisiana. There was one major battle fought here on the Louisiana-Texas border, one small battle, a skirmish and a raid on Lake Charles. There is also one major Confederate military facility, two beautiful Confederate monuments and more than a 1,000 Confederate graves throughout the region.

The major battle was the Battle of Sabine Pass, fought on 8 September 1863 between a 5,000 man, 18 ship Federal invasion fleet and some 47 Confederate artillerymen in Fort Griffin on the Texas side of the river. Lt. Richard W. "Dick" Dowling won lasting fame as commander of Company F, Jeff Davis Guards, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery. He and his men were mostly Irish immigrants who were from the Houston-Galveston area. Dowling was a successful Houston businessman, a tavern owner, banker and entrepreneur. Most of his men had been longshoremen and railroad workers. Against impossible odds, Dowling and his men, who had trained themselves to a peak of proficiency at their isolated post, made short work of the Yankee gunboats that sailed up the Louisiana and Texas channels of the Sabine River. The battle ended after only 45 minutes with the Northern invaders turning tail back to their starting point, New Orleans. They lost 50 men killed, 350 captured, two ships sunk or disabled, and the invasion thwarted. Dowling and his men were honored by the President Jefferson Davis, the Confederate Congress and the citizens of Houston awarded each of them the special Davis Guards Medal.

The small battle was the Battle of Calcasieu Pass which was fought on 6 May 1864. Two Union blockade gunboats, the Wave and Granite City, put in at Calcasieu Pass to buy stolen cattle and horses from Jayhawkers, and recruit for the Union Navy. They also arrested Union sympathizers and confiscated guns. When the Confederate garrison at Sabine Pass heard of the intrusion, which is about 40 miles away, they were ordered to attack the enemy. Making a forced march along the coast, about 350 Confederates with four small pieces of artillery attacked the two gunboats in the early morning of 6 May. The sharp engagement lasted about an hour and a half with both ships and their entire crews and cannon captures. Casualties on both sides totaled about 50 out of the around 500 men engaged.

The U.S. Naval Raild on Lake Charles occurred in early October 1862. The U.S.S. Kensington, a blockader, entered Calcasieu Pass to capture Confederate blockade runners up the Calcasieu River. Since the ship was too big to get up the river, Lt. H.W. Crocker, the commander, fitted out a two-masted sloop with a 6-pounder boat howitzer to launch the raid with 12 well-armed seamen on 3 October. He burned the blockade runner "Mary Ann," captured the steamer "Dan," on which he transferred the howitzer and took the sloop in tow. He also captured militia Col. Nathaniel Clifton, the Calcasieu Regiment's commander. At Lake Charles, he captured 10 citizens as human shields and demanded beef and sweet potatoes. When there was a delay he fired warning shots at the town and forced the women and children to stand as hostages while the tribute was gathered. On the way back, they burned the blockade runner "Eliza." Captain W.W. Johnson, commander of the local militia, gathered 25 men to contest the Yankee's return voyage. But when they saw their neighbors tied up around the helmsmen as human shields, they held their fire. The raiders fired their howitzer at the militiamen, but no one was injured. All the hostages were released except Col. Clifton, who died in captivity.

The major Confederate facility is at Niblett's Bluff, a couple of miles north of Interstate 10 on Niblett's Bluff Road, which is off La. 109 at the Toomey exit. There is a park there now that preserves the original trenches, has on display a replica cannon, honors Confederates who died their of measles with a UDC monument and flies the Confederate battleflag daily. Niblett's Bluff was a strategically important crossing of the Sabine River during the war.

The two beautiful Confederate monuments in my corner of the Confederacy, are the South's Defenders Monument at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, and a statue of Robert E. Lee at Johnson Bayou. The South's Defender's Monument was dedicated 3 June 1915 and consists of a marble pedestal and base, with a Confederate color-bearer statue at the top. The Robert E. Lee monument was dedicated in 1984 in front of Johnson Bayou School. I took part in the original dedication ceremony.

Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390, Sons of Confederate Veterans, has created an online brochure of War For Southern Independence sites in Southwest Louisiana. It can be accessed at

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