The Civil War – Battles of Galveston and Sabine Pass (on the Texas Coast)

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

In 1862, Union ships blockaded the Texas Coast. In October 1862, Galveston, the most significant Texas port, was captured by Union commander William B. Renshaw and his eight ships. The Confederate Commander of the District of Texas, General Paul Hebert, had already abandoned Galveston Island ahead of the Union arrival, because he felt he could not defend the fort.

General John Bankhead Magruder replaced Herbert, and at the top of his “to do” list was the recapture of Galveston, the jewel of the Texas coast, and ridding the Texas coastline of Yanks.

The Texas State Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas Online” provides details. “The Confederates entered Galveston on New Year’s night, January 1, 1863, and opened fire before dawn… Then the Confederate “cottonclads” struck from the rear of the Union squadron. The [U.S.S.] Harriet Lane sank the[C.S.] Neptune when it tried to ram the Union ship, but men from the [C.S.] Bayou City boarded and seized the federal vessel despite the explosion of their own heavy cannon.

Renshaw’s flagship, the [U.S.S.] Westfield, ran aground, and the commander died trying to blow up his ship rather than surrender it. The other Union ships sailed out to sea, ignoring Confederate surrender demands, which could be enforced only upon the abandoned federal infantry in town.

Magruder had retaken Galveston with a loss of twenty-six killed and 117 wounded. Union losses included the captured infantry and the Harriet Lane, about 150 casualties on the naval ships, as well as the destruction of the Westfield. The port remained under Confederate control for the rest of the war.”

After the Confederates recaptured Galveston, the next target was Sabine Pass, at the mouth of the Sabine River, which was captured by Yankees just before Galveston in the fall of 1862.

History.com described the Battle of Sabine Pass this way. “The decks of the two Rebel ships, the Bell and the Uncle Ben, were stacked with cotton bales. Sharpshooters were placed behind the bales and the ships steamed towards the two Union ships, the Morning Light and the Velocity.

Some of the sharpshooters became seasick and had to be removed, but the expedition continued. The Confederates chased the Yankee ships into open water, and the sharpshooters injured many Union gunners. Both Union ships soon surrendered. Magruder’s victory reopened the Texas coast for Confederate shipping.

The Union tried to recapture Sabine Pass later in the year, but the effort was thwarted when less than 50 Confederates inside the fort there held off a much larger Union force.”

Now, two important Texas ports were open to Confederates once again – Galveston and Sabine Pass, although use would still be limited to some degree.