Saturday, September 22, 2012


Dick Dowling Monument at Sabine Pass State Battleground.
(Photo by Mike Jones)
By Mike Jones
          PORT ARTHUR, Texas -- The Battle of Sabine Pass was reenacted September 8, 2012 on the actual 149th anniversary of the battle. The Sabine Pass State Battleground has been fully repaired from hurricanes Rita and Ike and looks great.

Major Richard W. "Dick" Dowling, commander
of the Jefferson Davis Guards in the Battle of
Sabine  Pass. He is wearing the Davis Guards
Medal awarded to the men after the battle by
the grateful citizens of Houston, Texas.
(Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs,
DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries,
Southern Methodist University)
          There are historical  markers, an informative kiosk at the battleground, which also highlights the events there in the Spanish-American War and World War II. The Dick Dowling Monument has been cleaned in recent years and probably looks as good as it did when it was dedicated in 1937. Herring Coe, the Beaumont sculptor who created the statue of Dick Dowling, also has outstanding sculptures at the Vicksburg National Military Park for the State of Texas monument, and at the Gettysburg National Military Park for the State of Louisiana monument.
          The reenactment was small this year but well received by the public. There are big plans for next year to have a 150th anniversary event that will draw hundreds of reenactors. In the actual battle, the Union was planning to invade Texas through Sabine Pass with an initial invasion force of 5,000 troops, four gunboats and 18 troop transports. The expedition was led by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin for the Army, and Lt. Frederick Crocker for the Navy. Sabine Pass was defended by 1st Lt. Richard W. Dowling and his 47-man, Irish-Texan, contingent of Company F (Jefferson Davis Guards) of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery in Fort Griffin, an earthen structure. Dowling had four 32-pounders and two 24-pounders at his disposal to defend against the attack.
An illustration of how Fort Griffin looked at the time of
the battle from a park historic marker. (Photo by  Mike Jones)

            The battle opened at 6:30 o'clock in the morning of September 8, 1863 when the gunboat U.S.S. Clifton entered the pass to bombard the fort and reconnoiter the Confederate position. However Dowling kept his men under cover to mask their numerical  weakness. After an hour of shelling, the Clifton withdrew. At 3:40 o'clock that afternoon, the assault began. The pass was divided up the middle by a long oyster reef, which divided it into the  Louisiana channel on the east and  the Texas channel on the west. The Clifton entered the Texas channel while  U.S.S. Sachem and U.S.S. Arizona steamed up the Louisiana channel. The U.S.S. Granite City was to escort the transports up the Texas channel to protect the transports off-loading the Union troops. The gunboats entered the pass and opened fire on the fort. The Irish-Texans had placed range markers in the pass during practice and were ready to zero in on the invading ships. Confederate gunners opened fire when the enemy ships reached the 1,200 yard range marker. After a few rounds, the steam drum of the Sachem exploded, scalding many men to death, and disabling the ship. The Arizona ran aground. The Clifton charged up the Texas channel but the Irish-Texan artillerymen blasted its tiller rope, causing it to run aground and also exploded its steam drum. The Arizona had to be pulled off the Louisiana shore, and the Granite City retreated and no troops were landed. The fleet soon turned around and headed back to New Orleans.
          Texas was saved from invasion, and Houston and Beaumont were saved from the fate of other southern cities, like Atlanta and Vicksburg. The battle lasted only about 45 minutes but 56 U.S. sailors and soldiers were killed, about 350 captured, along with the gunboats Clifton and Sachem. Dowling and his men suffered no casualties at all. The  Davis Guards received the thanks of their country. Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder, Confederate commander of Texas,  honored the men with a special badge and the Davis Guards were presented special medals from the  citizens of Houston, the only such medal for  valor issued to Confederate soldiers during the war. The Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis honored the Davis Guards with a special proclamation. Dowling said the fort fired 137 shells during the short battle.

       Here are some pictures of this year's reenactment:


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