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Jefferson
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Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site
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Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site Information:
On January 1, 1861, Leonidas Smith, a Maine native and a volunteer naval aid to General Magruder, used the “Cottonclad” C.S.S. Bayou City ship to ram the U.S.S. Harriet Lane, a Union ship, in the Battle of Galveston, turning the battle into a win for the Confederate troops. During the Civil War, the Confederate troops of the south were in need of the cotton produced by Texas. The Texas Confederate Military exchanged the cotton for much needed medications and ammunition. When Texas seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, Union troops blockaded the Texas ports with two Union Warships stationed near Galveston. The ships were the frigate Morning Light, and the Velocity. General John B. Magruder, commander of the Confederate Military Forces in Texas, was determined to open the Sabine Pass for shipping, and in January of 1863, he ordered Major Oscar W. Watkins to assault and overcome the two Union ships. Watkins and his men stacked the Uncle Ben and the Josiah H. Bell ships with cotton bales to protect the soldiers from enemy fire. Known as the “Cottonclads,” these ships of the Second Squadron of “Magruder’s Navy”, set out to confront the Morning Light and the Velocity, a converted blockade runner. On board the Josiah H. Bell was the Davis Guard of the First Texas Heavy Artillery, an all-Irish unit under the command of Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling. Dowling’s group was supported by sharpshooters from the 2nd Texas Calvary and Spaight’s Battalion. Within two hours, both Union vessels were captured, netting the Texas confederacy $10,000 worth of supplies, and 109 Union prisoners. Though the blockade lifting was temporary, the victory was decisive and a great tribute to Davis’s forces. A Texas Historical marker commemorates this great victory. All areas of this site are ADA compliant. (512) 463-7948. 6100 Dick Dowling Road (FM 3322), Sabine Pass (Port Arthur Mail), Texas77640.  
 
Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site Amenities Overview:
A large bronze statue of Dick Dowling stands looking over the Sabine ship channel; the names of his men are inscribed on the statue base. The old Sabine Pass lighthouse can be seen across the water on the Louisiana shore. The reconstruction of Fort Griffin lies low to the ground as it was in its partially completed state during the battle. The empty flag pole is located nearby. A monument to the Union dead at Sabine Pass includes the names of some of the Union dead, but omits the names of the African American Union soldiers killed in the battle. The UDC placed a Union monument at a gas station on SH 87. Union monuments are uncommon in the south. A few old bunkers are left from the World War II artillery battery of the U.S. Coast Guard. An open air pavilion has interpretive panels detailing the blockade runs, the battles of Galveston and Sabine Pass, and other military skirmishes in the area. Interpretive panels explain the September 1863 battle. Several historical markers explain that day’s events. This park is no longer a state park, and is now under the management of the Texas Historical Commission and is open for day use only. The THC hosts special programs and events.  All areas of this site are ADA compliant.
 
Battle of Sabine Pass:
In 1862, Union forces destroyed Fort Sabine at Sabine Pass, but by 1863, they had failed in most of their efforts to capture Texas. They were desperate to seize the valuable Texas cotton crop for their own use, and wanted to block French troops who might come to the aid of the Confederates. In the early fall of 1863, General Nathaniel P. Banks ordered 5,000 Union troops to go by sea to Sabine Pass, overturn the confederate forces stationed at Fort Griffin, establish a land base at the site, then proceed up the Sabine River to meet up with the forces he was leading overland through Louisiana to Texas. Fort Griffin was built to replace the destroyed Fort Sabine. At the time of the Battle of Sabine Pass the construction of Fort Griffin was only partially completed. It was constructed out of mud, scrap railroad iron, and wood from old ships, and had yet to reach its final height. Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling and his 46 men, mainly Irishmen from Houston and Galveston, had been together since 1861, and were the only troops the Texas Confederate forces could spare to protect the Sabine Pass. They were Company F of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery. On the morning of September 8, 1863, 22 Union Navy gun-boats arrived and proceeded to head north through the pass. They fired on Fort Griffin as they approached, but receiving no response, they continued north. When they approached within the 1,200 foot firing range of the fort’s cannons, Lt. Dowling’s men commenced firing on the gun-boats; Lt. Dowling manned one of the guns. As two of the Union boats became hung up on the sandbars, Dowling’s men pounded them with cannon fire, causing enough damage to prevent the boats from retreating out of range. The two boats became beached, one on the Louisiana side of the pass, and the other on the Texas side. The remaining Union boats retreated to New Orleans. The 350 captured Union troops were sent to Beaumont, and then on to Camp Groce at Hempstead, north of Houston. The enlisted men were then taken to Louisiana and exchanged for Confederate prisoners. The officers were sent to Camp Ford outside of Tyler, where they were detained until the end of the war. Sabine Pass remained under the control of the Confederacy for the duration of the war. Texas Historical Markers commemorate the Union forces, Fort Griffin, and Lt. Dowling and his men. Lt. Dowling died in 1865 from Yellow Fever. He is buried at the once heavily Irish Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church in Houston’s Fifth Ward. A statue of Downing is located on the grounds of the Sabine Pass Battleground SHS. Also located on site are Texas Historical Markers commemorating Commodore Leon Smith, and Colonel Ashley W. Spaight, Commander of the 11th Battalion of Texas Volunteers, many of them southeast Texas residents. Nicknamed the “Swamp Angels,” and tracing their origin to the Sabine Pass Guards militia formed in 1861, the battalion served during the Civil War defending the Texas Gulf Coast and the Louisiana borders. Many of them died during the 1861 Yellow Fever epidemic at Sabine Pass. While in Beaumont on September 8, 1863, Smith heard cannon fire from Sabine Pass. He quickly gathered troops aboard the C.S.S. Roebuck, and made for Sabine Pass to support Lt. Dick Dowling’s Davis Guard. Smith took charge of bringing the captured Union vessels and men into port.
 
Catherine "Kate" Magill Dorman & Photos:
In 1852, Kate and her first husband Arthur Magill built the popular Catfish Hotel in Sabine Pass. Arthur was killed in 1859 when the boiler on a steamboat exploded. In 1860, Kate married Captain John Dorman, master of the Neches River cotton steamer Doctor Massie. When yellow fever broke out in 1862 many town residents fled town. Kate stayed and converted the hotel into a temporary hospital and with the help of two friends, Sarah Vosburg and Sarah Ann King, nursed the sick. All three survived the epidemic, but within a four month period approximately 100 Sabine residents and almost 200 Beaumont residents died of the disease. During the Battle of Sabine Pass Kate and her friend Sarah Vosburg stayed in the hotel cooking meat, donuts and coffee for the Confederate soldiers. In the midst of the battle Kate and Sarah hitched up a horse and cart and carried the hot meal to the gunners at the fort. Kate is buried in the Sabine Pass Cemetery. Her marker is located graveside. The identical marker located in the park was destroyed in a hurricane and to date, has not been replaced. 5100 Cemetery Road.
 
Historic Fort Manhassett, Texas Historical Marker Text:
“To protect Texas against Federal invasion during the Civil War, Confederate General John B. Magruder ordered the construction of a fort at this site on September 4, 1863, four days before the famous Confederate victory won by Dick Dowling and his small company against Union ships and gunboats at Sabine Pass (7 mi. NE). After the Federal retreat, the Confederate Coastal Defense program continued, since Federal blockading vessels still patrolled Gulf waters and the threat of more invasions was feared. A storm on September 19 sent the Union patrol steamers out to sea, but drove ashore their coaling ship, the "Manhassett". Confederate troops dismantled the ship and seized its cargo. Col. Valery Sulakowski, formerly of the Austrian Army, designed Fort Manhassett, whose name evidently was adapted from that of the captured ship. Major Getulius Kellersberger, a Swiss-born engineer who had settled in America some years earlier, oversaw the construction. By October 1863, five companies garrisoned the five redoubts of the new fort and manned its ten cannons. Fort Manhassett soldiers participated in the capture of two Union ironclad ships at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana on May 6, 1864.” The Texas Historical Marker is located in the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Park.
 
Historic Fort Griffin, Texas Historical Marker Text:
“(1863-1865) Renowned for brilliant Civil War victory, Sept. 8, 1863. Confederates in this form repulsed a fleet seeking to land thousands of Federal soldiers. Lt. Richard W. Dowling (1838-1867), in civilian life a Houston businessman, commanded fort during enemy assault. His men, mostly Irishmen from Galveston and Houston, had been comrades in arms since Feb. 1861. Sabine Pass, where Dowling's men (Co. F, Texas Heavy Artillery) were assigned in 1863, was a center for the blockade-running whereby Confederacy exported cotton and obtained in exchange vital goods such as medicines and arms. Here Co. F built Fort Griffin, named in honor of Lt. Col. W. H. Griffin, Confederate commander at Sabine City. Fort was designed by Col. Valery Sulakowski, formerly of the Austrian Army. Fort Griffin was an earthwork strengthened with railroad iron and ship's timbers. It was unfinished when Confederates learned of approach of 22 ships. Dowling kept watch, but ordered no response to the early shelling by the Federals. When first ships entered range of Fort Griffin's guns, however, the battle began. Dowling himself served as one of the gunners. The fort sent 137 shells toward the targets. Dowling monument (near here) tells of the victory.” The Texas Historical Marker is in the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Park.
 
Historic United States Forces at the Battle of Sabine Pass, Texas Historical Marker Text:
“Federal forces in the Civil War failed in most of their early efforts to capture Texas. In the fall of 1863, after taking New Orleans and Vicksburg, their leaders attacked western Louisiana in a renewed effort. They wished to divert valuable stocks of cotton from Confederate to Federal uses, and to cut off French troops who might come from Mexico to aid the Confederacy. General N. P. Banks, U. S. A., ordered 5,000 troops to go by sea, capture Sabine Pass, and establish a land base near the river. He wanted these men to rendezvous later with troops he was leading overland to the Red River for a sweep into Texas. Federal ships carrying men and materiel converged beyond the sandbars, and on Sept. 8, 1863, began to run north through Sabine Pass. They saw a Confederate installation, Fort Griffin, sitting about the Pass, but got no response when they fired upon it while advancing. When they came within 1200 yards of the fort, however, fire was returned, crippling the gunboats "Clifton" and "Sachem." After the battle, at least 56 men were dead or missing. Both gunboats surrendered and the rest of the fleet retreated.” The Texas Historical Marker is located in the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Park.
 
Historic Dick Dowling, Texas Historical Marker Text:
“Sabine Pass. In memory of Lt. Richard W. Dowling and his men. Texas remembers the faithfulness and valor of her sons and commends their heroic example to future generations. Thus it will be seen that we captured with forty-seven men two gunboats mounting thirteen guns of the heaviest caliber and about three hundred and fifty prisoners. All my men behaved like heroes, not a man flinched from his post. Our motto was victory or death. Official report of Lt. Richard W. Dowling. At this site on Sept. 8th, 1863 Dick Dowling and forty-seven men comprising Company F, Texas Heavy Artillery, Jefferson Davis Guards, C.S.A. from a mud fort repulsed an attack made by four warships and twelve hundred men of the Federal Army thus saving Texas from invasion by the enemy. There is no parallel in ancient or modern warfare to the victory of Dowling and his men at Sabine Pass considering the great odds against which they had to contend. Jefferson Davis.”  The marker is located at Sabine Pass State Park & Historical Site. Dick Dowling died during the 1867 yellow fever epidemic that struck Galveston and Houston.
 
Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site Directions & Map:
The battleground is located 1.5 miles south of Sabine Pass, Texas, and 15 miles south of Port Arthur at the mouth of the Sabine River on the Gulf of Mexico. From Port Arthur, take SH 87 to Sabine Pass. Drive through Sabine Pass, and proceed 1.5 miles; look for park signs on your left. SH 87 is also called Dick Dowling Road at Sabine Pass, and FM 3322 between Sabine Pass and the battleground. Note: SH 87 is closed between Sea Rim and High Island (from prior hurricane damage).