Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Unexpected Victory at Sabine Pass

About 6:00 am on the morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seventeen troop transports commanded by General William B. Franklin steamed into Sabine Pass and up the Sabine River. The attack was part of a Union strategy to invade the Louisiana-Texas coast and interrupt rail connections between the two states.

Model of Fort Griffin
Franklin's plan was to stay on board the transports for as long as possible, reduce Fort Griffin, and land troops to begin the occupation of Texas. The Davis Guards, or Company F of the First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, commanded by Captain Frederick Oldham, defended the coast, and on the day of the attack Lieutenant Dick Dowling had the duty at Sabine Pass. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under accurate fire from six cannons. The defenders had previously sighted their guns on the narrow channel in the pass, so when the Union vessels started through the pass they fired away when the ships entered their line of fire. They disabled the USS Sachem and the USS Clifton and the disabled ships blocked the pass and prevented the rest of the flotilla from advancing up the river. "Dowling and his forty two Irish Patriots" forced the Union flotilla to retire and captured the Clifton and about 200 prisoners.

Monument to Dowling
and his Irish Patriots
in Sabine Pass
President Davis was so pleased with the victory, especially by his namesake unit, that he called it the Confederacy's Thermopylae. Early in 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a resolution which included, among other complimentary language, the declaration that "this defense ... constitutes, in the opinion of Congress, one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of this war." At the suggestion of Jefferson Davis himself, the soldiers also received silver medals with green ribbons that had "D.G." (for Davis Guards) engraved on one side and "Sabine Pass, Sept. 8, 1863" on the other.

Lt. Dick Dowling
The battle is preserved at the Sabine Pass Battlefield where history buffs mingle with the fisherman who line the railings over the Sabine River. The park has several panels that describe the battle and a model of Fort Griffin. Dick Dowling is immortalized with a fine statue in his and the guard's honor.

Please see The Battle of Sabine Pass, TX II for more photographs.

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