Wednesday, April 28, 2010
BATTLE OF CALCASIEU PASS REMEMBERED BY THOSE WHO WERE THERE
By Mike Jones
CAMERON -- Louisiana history books don't mention the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, which took place May 6, 1864, but the men who fought here never forgot it.
The commander of the Confederate forces in the battle was Lt. Col. William Henry Griffin.
A native of South Carolina, Griffin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on July 1, 1831, 27th in class standing. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment and resigned his commission on April 30, 1837.
Griffin took up farming and lived in Alabama before moving to Texas in the 1840s. He settled in East Texas where he raised a family in Rusk and Upshur counties.
In 1861, when Texas seceded from the Union, the West Point graduate was called upon to command an infantry battalion, which was assigned to guard the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts at Sabine Pass, Texas and Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.
Griffin's battalion saw action in the Battle of Galveston, Jan. 1, 1863 and and at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
At that time Cameron Parish was part of Calcasieu Parish and a number of local men took part in the battle as members of Company F of Griffin's battalion, and possibly also Daly's Texas Cavalry, which later became known as Ragsdale's Texas Cavalry.
Louisiana state Confederate Pension records make it possible to identify some Cameron Parish residents who served in those units.
Among them were James Monroe Welch, Belazier Duhon and Norbert D. Duhon, all of Company F of Griffin's battalion.
Serving in Ragsdale's Texas Cavalry were Frederick Vaughan, Valery Doiron, Pierre B. Boudoin, J. Armstrong Smith, Adolphe Hebert and Auguste Gillett.
Calcasieu pensioners who served in units involved included David Gordon, Spaight's battalion; Caesair Peloquin, Octave Benoit and Valmond Doiron, allin Griffin's battalion; and in Ragsdale's battalion Alexandre Arceneaux, Cyprien Ardoin, James S. Cole, Joseph Derouen, Arvillien Derouen, Francois David, John J. Hayes, John Pinder, James M. Reeves, Arsene Sallier, W. C. Teal, Joseph Carr, Leo Derouen, Tolliver Hayes, Charles Doiron, Edward Doiron and Eurelien Sonnier.
Other residents who did not apply for pensions probably served as well.
A rare eyewitness description of the battle is contained in a letter written by one of the participants, C. Walter von Rosenburg of the Creuzbaur's 5th Texas Artillery, made up mostly of German Texans from Fayette County, four days after the battle:
''Camp of Creuzbaur Light Battery,
''May 10, 1864.
''Dear Brother William:
''We are in camp on the coast, six miles from Sabine Pass, having just returned from Calcasieu Pass, La., where we had a fight with the Yanks. Brother Alex and I came out of the fight without injury. William Kneiss was killed by the first shot from the enemy.
''On the 4th of this month at noon we received orders to get ready to start for Calcasieu by dusk, so that the United States gunboats out in the Gulf observing our coast could not see the movement. A detachment under Lieut. W. Meitzen was up in the country, where part of our horses were grazing, leaving from forty to forty-five officers and men on duty. With what teams remained we had to move the battery to Sabine Pass. There, after completing the teams with mules, the battery was loaded on a steamboat, and we went up Sabine Lake and into one of the bayous, where we unloaded about noon on the 5th and in the latter part of the evening started on our march. The men had to walk on account of the deep sand, which caused slow progress. However, before day we were in position facing two gunboats. Our battery consisted of two twelve-pounder guns, No. 1 and No. 2, and of two six-pounder guns, No. 3 and No. 4.
''Captain Creuzbaur was in command of the battery, Lieutenant Welhausen commanded guns Nos. 3 and 4. No. 1 was manned by brother Alex, orderly sergeant, myself gunner, H. Kneiss, W. Kneiss, W. Peters, W. Guers, John Winn, and ------; the drivers were F. Koch and F. Kiel. Guns Nos. 1 and 2 were on the right, facing the gunboat Granite City; guns Nos. 3 and 4 were opposite the gunboat Wave. We were about twelve hundred yards from the gunboats when I was ordered to open fire. Our fire was soon answered, and W. Kneiss fell at the first shot. We continued firing, notwithstanding the fact that we were subjected to a heavy crossfire from the gunboats which were lying in position, a bend in Calcasieu Bayou between them. In a short time gun 3 became disabled; F. Fahrenhold, H. Foerstermann, J. Lynch mortally wounded. Gun No. 4 bravely kept on firing, but could not advance for want of teams, the horses by mistake having been ordered back.
''We could not observe whether our shots were effective and Captain Creuzbaur ordered us to advance. Only guns No. 1 and 2 could advance, No. 3 being disabled and No. 4 without horses. At about nine hundred yards I was ordered to throw shells to obtain the distance to the Granite City. Then I followed up with solid shot. We continued to advance, thereby getting out of the cross-fire. Gun No. 1 led the advance up to about six hundred yards, when the Granite City hoisted a white flag just as I gave an order to load. About the time gun No. 2 sank in a swamp, and all efforts of officers and men to raise it were unsuccessful; it was, however, dug up after the fight was over. We had now only two guns left for action; but gun No. 4 being still in the first position without horses, gun No. 1 was the only one that could be advanced in action. There being no officer near, I as gunner ordered an advance on the Wave. This order was executed so quickly by the drivers that when we halted about three hundred yards from the Wave, I was the only man with the gun, and, noticing some infantry to the right behind a plank fence, I called on them to assist in bringing the gun into position. They cheerfully responded, and upon the arrival of the men of No. 1 on a run, led by H. Kneiss, we immediately commenced firing. We were short of men at our gun. W. Kneiss had been killed and W. Guers wounded, although he had heroically attended to his duty for some time kneeling. I sent solid shot at the Wave, and, as subsequently disclosed, our balls went lengthwise through the gunboat. An effort to raise gun No. 2 had been given up, and soon gun No. 1 had men enough to work her and bring up ammunition, which Alex had done for some time alone, for we had exhausted ours.
''The Wave had steam up, and we could see men in the pilot house, whereupon Lieutenant Welhausen ordered me to send canister into the pilot house. After a few shots the pilot house seemed to be abandoned. By this time we had plenty of ammunition brought from gun No. 2. Lieutenant Welhausen ordered me to aim for the engine. After a few more shots the steam was seen escaping. At last gun No. 4 came up and took position by No. I, but fired only one shot, when a white rag was raised on the Wave. There being no officer near, I as gunner ordered the guns to cease firing. We called on the gunboat to lower her boats in order to board her, but none were sent. Whereupon Major McReynolds, who had come up, asked: 'What is up here?' I reported to him the above facts. He then called for boats to be put off to shore and, as none were coming, ordered gun No. 4 to send a warning shot over the gunboat; then, turning to me, he said: 'Give it to them.' This done, the white flag came up like lightning, and a skiff left the steamer for shore. Major McReynolds, accompanied by me and several comrades, boarded the Wave. We found that she had suffered fearfully.
''Our infantry did splendid service by their constant fire, sweeping the decks of the gunboats and making it difficult for the Yanks to handle their guns on deck. I saw an infantryman standing out by himself in the open field toward the Wave firing unflinchingly. I was anxious to learn his name, but could not. This man's bravery was noticed on the Wave, and afterwards prisoners inquired for him, stating that his daring irritated their men when firing at him.
''The battery was ordered back to Sabine Pass and to this camp; the infantry was left in charge of prisoners and gunboats. We captured sixteen guns and one hundred and sixty-six men (Griffin reported 174 captured).
''The other forces engaged with us were the 21st Texas, Major McReynolds, and part of Daly's and Spaight's Battalions, in all 250 to 300 men. All the forces engaged were under command of Col. W. H. Griffin, of the 21st Texas Infantry.''
''(signed) C. Walter von Rosenburg.''
A view of the battle from the Union perspective is contained in a letter written by C. W. Lamson, commander of the Granite City:
''Sabine Pass, Texas, May 8, 1864.
''I am under the painful necessity of informing you that I was captured at Calcasieu Pass on the morning of the 6th. The Wave was also captured at the same time. We fought for an hour an forty minutes; but the enemy's sharp-shooters picked off our men so that we could not keep our guns manned, and their batteries hulled us every shot.
''The Granite City had sixteen shot-holes in her hull, near the water line; two officers were wounded, one severely so badly that his right arm was obliged to be taken off at the shoulder. Ten men were wounded; two since dead.
''The enemy's sharp-shooters annoyed us most, although we were pretty well cut up by shot and shell.
''I am uninjured and in good health. I have met so far with hightoned polite officers, who have shown me every proper attention.
''We go from here by steamboat and railroad to Houston. Our destination from there is now to me unknown.
''C.W. Lamson, Commanding U. S. Steamer Granite City.''
The bloody encounter of May 6 left both the field and gunboats littered with dead and wounded.
Col. Griffin reported that eight of his men were killed in action and 13 wounded. Later, two of Creuzbaur's artillerymen, one of Daly's cavalrymen, and one of Spaight's infantrymen died of wounds.
The Union casualties have never been fully accounted. Lamson admitted to ten wounded on the Granite City, and two later died. Loring said he had 24 wounded on the Wave, four of whom later died. But indications are there were many more.
Five days after the battle, Col. Griffin said in a report:
''I thought it very strange when I went on board the Granite City that there were so many seriously wounded and so few dead.
It will now be explained. Five dead bodies have washed ashore, to which weights had been attached and then thrown overboard.
The probability is, therefore, that some 15 or 20 of the enemy were killed in the late battle.''
But the mystery as to why the bodies were weighted and thrown overboard in the first place remains unresolved to this day.
The Confederates also took a total of 174 prisoners, 16 cannons, the stolen livestock, and a large quantity of food, on which the weary infantrymen delightedly feasted. The poor artillerymen had been sent back to Sabine Pass and missed out on the loot.
Wounded from both sides were taken to Lake Charles and from there to Goosport where they received the best of care in Captain Daniel Goos' home.
Union gunboats didn't molest area residents for the remainder of the war.
Posted by Michael Jones at 11:53 AM