Sunday, October 23, 2016

HISTORY AS IT HAPPENED -- Brilliant affair in Texas--two Yankee gunboats repulsed and destroyed — Failure of the expedition.

[The Richmond Daily Disptach, Sept. 23, 1863]

The Battle of Sabine Pass, Sept. 8, 1863, was a lop-sided Confederate victory
that raised the morale of the Confederate people. Seen on the mural are Lt.
Richard W. "Dick" Dowling, upper left, and the Federal gunboats, lower
right. Dowling and his men, mostly Irish-Texans, as seen in the central section
in action. (Mural at Sabine Pass State Battleground State Park)
   The great Texas expedition, so often hinted at in the Yankee papers, has been repulsed, with the loss of two gunboats composing it. The 19th Army corps, under Ben Franklin, left New Orleans on the 4th inst., in transports, accompanied by four gunboats, to capture Sabine City, a point of great strategic value on the line dividing Louisiana from Texas. They arrived off the city on the 8th. A correspondent of the N. Y. Tribune says:
     In the course of Monday night the entire fleet gathered in the vicinity of the Sabine. The gunboats and vessels of lightest draught crossed the bar, and preparations were made for the attack. Capt. Crocker, of the Clifton, was to feel the enemy, uncover the batteries, and ascertain his strength and position. Gens. Franklin and Weitzel examined the shore of the Pass to find the most eligible point for landing the forces. The Clifton steamed up the Pass, occasionally throwing a shell from her rifle guns at the only work visible — an earthwork of six large guns. No reply was made. She steamed within easy range of the fort, and received no response. She then returned to her former position without drawing the fire of the enemy.
     When the Clifton returned the order of battle was immediately arranged. The gunboats Clifton, Arizona, and Sachem, were to engage the enemy's works, while the Granite City was to cover the landing of a force of 500 men of-Gen. Weitzel's division, selected from the Port Hudson heroes, and composed of two companies of the 165th New York, four companies of the 161st New York, and a detachment of the 75th New York regiment, under command of Capt. Fitch, of the latter regiment.
      The Clifton opened the engagement with a shell from one of her large pivot guns, which burst inside the enemy's works, raising a cloud of dust and dirt; instantly another shot followed; then the Sachem opened a broadside from her guns; next the Arizona followed. The firing, was excellent; from thirty to forty shells had exploded in the fort of the enemy. Not a shot had been fired in return — not a soldier nor a civilian could be seen — the only evidence that the neighborhood was not deserted was the movement of a couple of steamers vibrating between the city and the fort.
     Presently a heavy shot was fired at the Arizona, passing over her; soon another was directed at the Sachem and at the Clifton, but without effect.
     Soon the conflict became general and stormy, the shot and shell from our vessels making terrible havoc in the parapet. Just as the Sachem was passing out of range and victory seemed about to perch on our flag, a shot struck her amidships, rendering her useless, her flag was lowered, and the enemy concentrated his fire upon the Clifton, whose gallant officers and men fought bravely until a shot passed through her boiler, and she was compelled to raise the white flag. The Clifton had, besides her crew, 70 sharpshooters on board. The Sachem had a detachment of 30 sharpshooters. Five soldiers, one sailor, and one signal man, escaped down the beach from the Clifton. The number of killed and wounded is not known.
     The Arizona, being unequal to the contest, fell back, and the order was issued to the fleet to withdraw. The expedition returned to New Orleans, Sept. 12, with its designs prostrated at the feet of adverse circumstances.
     Another letter thus sums up the disaster:
     Just as soon, however, as an attempt was made to land, the rebels poured in shot thick and fast, which they sent through and through our gunboats, and very soon sunk one--the Sachem — and blew up another. All our sharpshooters on one of the boats were captured, and it was only by prompt and rapid movements that the Commanding General, Franklin, managed to get away.

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