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Battle of Sabine Pass Sesquicentennial


Last updated 8/28/2013 at Noon

Living history re-enactors will turn out to observe the sesquicentennial of Battle of Sabine Pass.Dick Dowling Day

Michael McGreevy is expecting “excellent troop strength” for Dick Dowling Days weekend, Sept. 7-8.

Friends of Sabine Pass Battleground will present the event, re-creating aspects of the Civil War Battle on both days. The weekend of living history camps honors Dick Dowling and his ragtag band of men who bested the Union on Sept. 8, 1863.

McGreevy says attendees feel the ground shake and they smell the smoke of battle.

Bring the family for this year’s event, which includes performances and a dance. A photography contest will focus on hardships of war. Contact or call 409-549-2601 for more information for details.

In 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of four gunboats and 5,000 men attempted to enter the Sabine Pass, the Texas Historical Commission reports: “Dowling’s artillery drills paid off as the Confederates scored several direct hits on the federal ships, disabling two of them, and blocking the others’ passage. The Union forces retreated and the Davis Guard claimed the capture of 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies; they did not suffer a single casualty in the encounter. The unlikely victory of Dowling and the Davis Guard thwarted the Union invasion of Texas.”

Battle grounds are in Sabine Pass, between Port Arthur and Sea Rim State Park. Dick Dowling Day highlights include:

Saturday, Sept. 7

9 a.m.- Gates open

10 a.m. – Court Martial & Execution

11 a.m.-150th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony: Texas State Rep. James White will speak and present his resolution to the Texas House of Representatives honoring the anniversary

2 p.m. - Battle: Union Attack & Occupation of Sabine City

3 p.m. – Jed Marum in Concert

7 p.m. - Dance: 3rd Texas String Band

Sunday, Sept. 8

9 a.m. - Gates open, church service

10 a.m. – Court Martial & Execution

11 a.m. – Jed Marum in Concert

2 p.m. - Battle: Union Attack on the Garrison at Sabine City

A brief history of the Battle of Sabine Pass

On September 8, 1863, at Sabine Pass, Texas, Lt. Richard W. Dowling and the Davis Guard defeated the forces of General Nathaniel P. Banks and Admiral G. Farragut under the command of General William G. Franklin in a Confederate victory described by President Jefferson Davis as being “without parallel in ancient or modern warfare.”

General Banks, commander of the Department of the Gulf, placed 15,000 men for this campaign under the immediate command of General Franklin who sailed August 29, 1863, from New Orleans with 5,000 soldiers on 18 transports of various types. The westward bound convoy was escorted by four heavily armed gunboats; the Cliffon, Sachem, Arizona and Granite City. Franklin was to sail up the Sabine Pass, land in the vicinity of Sabine City, advance to Beaumont seizing the railroad, and take Houston and Galveston from the North. The additional 10,000 men left in reserve would be brought from New Orleans to overcome all resistance in Texas.

The poorly defined Union rendezvous at the mouth of Sabine Pass was discovered and the act of surprise was lost. By September 6, the Confederate defenders knew a large Union force was approaching and although the Davis Guard had permission to withdraw, they decided to defend the earthen fort. Because Captain Odlum was acting as area commander in Sabine City, actual command at Fort Griffin fell to his young lieutenant, Richard W. (Dick) Dowling.

The defending Confederates watched the Union gunboats advance up the Pass during the night of September 7. Next morning the Union guns shelled Fort Griffin, but Dowling withheld his fire until mid-afternoon when the attacking Sachem was only 1200 yards away. With one of their first rounds, the Davis Guard disabled the Sachem and then shifted fire to the Clifton. In 45 minutes the two vessels surrendered and the remaining Union gunboats and transports fled in panic to the Gulf and to New Orleans. The Davis Guard suffered no casualties; the invading forces lost about 50 killed and 350 prisoners.

The incredible success of the Davis Guard gave heart to the Confederate forces. Dick Dowling and his men received commendation from their commanding generals, the Confederate Congress and President Davis. Texas remained an active state in the Confederacy.


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