Fortifications of Galveston

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Deep In The Heart of Texas
#1
PART I:

Galveston is a barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast. Nothing remains of the old fortifications which defended the port during the War Between the States. The locations where most of the forts and earthworks once existed are now buried under concrete and modern buildings. There are a few Civil War era homes around the city and a few larger structures along the waterfront which were there during the war. One building still shows the sign of a cannon ball that struck the facade during the Battle of Galveston. The Customs House where the American flag was raised in 1862 is still there. Today, the only assaults on the city are by tourists and land developers.

In 1860, Galveston was the largest city in Texas and the major seaport for the state. Three-quarters of all cotton shipped from Texas ports went through Galveston. The Federal blockade of Galveston began on July 2, 1861 with the arrival of the screw-propelled steamer U.S.S. South Carolina. CSA Brigadier General Paul O. Hebert was appointed commander in Texas in late 1861. During 1862, Union activity increased up and down the Texas Coast. General Hebert assumed the ultimate goal was Galveston and decided its defense to be impossible. The few heavy guns defending Galveston were removed except for one 10-inch gun at Fort Point covering the entrance to the harbor. The citizens of Galveston were bitterly opposed to this retreat and accused Hebert of a greater love for his cannon than for their city. On October 4, 1862, USN Commander William B. Renshaw and eight gunboats sailed into the harbor. After a short exchange between the gunboats and the lone gun, a four day truce was called. The commander of the defenses, Colonel Joseph Cook, took this time to evacuate the island with the exception of the fortifications at Eagle Grove where the railroad bridge from the mainland connected. Renshaw had the American flag raised at the Customs House, but did not have troops to occupy the island.

Major General John Bankhead “Prince John” Magruder replaced General Hebert as the district commander of Texas in November 1862. He brought a new fighting spirit to the forces under his command and immediately began planning an attack to recapture Galveston. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1863, the Battle of Galveston began when the Confederate forces launched a bold attack to recapture the city both on land and water. The attack ended with an almost complete Confederate victory. The gunboat Harriet Lane was captured and the gunboat USS Westfield ran aground and was blown up by her crew. Commander Renshaw was killed and the Union navy was driven out of the harbor. Three companies of 264 enlisted men and officers of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry only arriving in late December to garrison Galveston were also captured.

9" Smoothbore Dahlgren recovered from the wreck of the Westfield in 2009. On display the the Texas City, Texas Museum.
9 Inch Dahlgren Recovered Fm the Westfield.jpg


Admiral Farragut sent Commodore Henry H. Bell to renew the blockade and recapture the city. After bombarding the city on January 10, 1863, Bell tried to reenter the harbor, but Magruder had removed the channel markers. Bell was unable to navigate the shallow bars without a pilot. On January 11, the Confederate raider Alabama showed up off Galveston and sank the USS Hatteras. In addition, cotton clad steamers attacked and captured two ships on January 21 near Sabine Pass. Checked all along the coast by the ingenuity and daring of Magruder and his defending forces, there was nothing left for Bell to do except to stand off the island watching its defenses grow and counting new guns as they were mounted.

(Continued)
 

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#2
PART II:

In the beginning General Magruder believed the island untenable, nevertheless 2000 slaves were impressed to fortify the island by building earthworks and fortifications as part of a grand game of bluff. Magruder had run a similar bluff against General McClellen during the 1862 Virginia Peninsula Campaign. The new works around Galveston sprang up almost overnight under the skilled direction of Colonel Valery Sulakowaski and Major Getulius Kellersburger. To fill their fortifications until real ordnance arrived, the engineers improvised Quaker Guns to impress the Union blockaders. Railroad spurs were extended through or into each of the five forts defending the East end of the Island. Two railcars were each mounted with a heavy cannon. To enhance the deception, these two railcars were moved to a different position at night and lobbed shells at the fleet from different batteries each day. The masquerade continued until Federal naval officers came ashore for a truce meeting after an intense storm which blew over some of the fake guns. The officers informed the Confederates (tongue in cheek) that “they had seen two artillerymen carry a large cannon which normally weighs 5400 pounds and put it back into position all alone. They did not think it advisable to tie into such strong men as that.”

The Galveston defenses surrounding the channel and inner harbor.
Map of Galv Harbor & Defenses_Edited.jpg


Galveston Fortifications_Edited.jpg


In May, Commodore Bell reported to Farragut that the Confederates continued to expand their fortifications with a South Battery, a middle fort (Fort Scurry), Fort Magruder, enlarging Fort Point, and three new works including Fort Bankhead covered the inner harbor. Bell estimated it would require at least 5,000 troops to conquer and garrison the island fortress. By June 1863, the heavy cannon previously removed by General Hebert had been remounted and six cannon had been reclaimed from the hulk of the USS Westfield. General Magruder, Governor Lubbock, and their combined staffs reviewed the fortifications and all agreed the island defenses were now formidable enough to resist an attack of combined naval and army forces.



Once Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell on the Mississippi River, Federal efforts turned to the conquest of Texas. By December 1863 everyone in Texas, both military and civilian, believed a major invasion of Texas was imminent. Colonel Joseph Cook’s 1st Regiment, Texas Heavy Artillery manned thirty-one cannon on the island. Improving the defenses of Galveston never entirely ceased. In addition to the island itself, there were forts on Virginia Point (Fort Hebert) where the railroad bridge from the island connected to the mainland, on Bolivar Peninsula (Fort Green), and Pelican Spit (Fort Jackson). In November 1864 returns showed 41 guns in Galveston including three 10-inch Columbiads, five 9-inch Dahlgrens, three heavy rifled cannon, and eleven 32-pounders. The forts also contained armored casements, barbettes, bombproofs for magazines, troops and supplies, and cisterns. Magruder and his engineers had created a veritable ring of fire into which an attacking fleet would have to sail.



General Thomas Green’s Cavalry Division patrolled the west end of the 30 mile long island to not only raise the alarm, but also prevent a landing of troops by sea. In November 1863, Pvt Philip Gathings of the 4th Regiment of Cavalry, Texas State Troops, wrote his wife; “I have been down to the forts and saw a great many cannon and balls and shells. We have five strong forts and breastworks for miles in length and are very well prepared to give them a warm reception. They will probably try to surround us and cut us off, but we will watch them and if possible General Magruder will trap them.”



Fort Point was a strong casement battery with port holes only 10 feet above the water at low tide. This allowed ricochet firing across the channel commanding the entire entrance and the whole bay front of the city. It was rendered bomb proof by a treble layer of railroad iron with a 25 foot revetment of turf covered sand. The armament in the casement consisted of two 10-inch Columbiads, one 100-pound Parrot gun, and four 32-pound smooth bore guns. The casement was designed so each cannon could rotate between two portholes for maximum scope of fire. Guns could be moved from one casement to another by means of the railroad spur connecting the platforms. On top of the battery in barbette was a 30-pound Parrot gun and two mortars.

Chart showing fields of fire from the defenses surrounding the channel entrance.
Galveston Forts Field of Fire.jpg


(Continued)
 
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#3
PART III:

The Federals never tried to retake Galveston, but reinforced the blockade there in an effort to render the port useless. Although there were successes, the Union navy never effectively blockaded the port. There were three possible channels into Galveston harbor for blockade runners with pilots and experienced captains to slip past the numerous gunboats which grew to twenty ships by 1865. Colonel Ashbel Smith, commanding at Galveston, reported on May 14, 1865 that the Wren slipped through the blockade loaded with 87 cases of Enfield Rifles, 8 pieces of artillery of various types and sizes, and a quantity of ammunition.

Life in Galveston became increasingly difficult as the war dragged on. There were shortages of everything -- food, fuel, medicine and clothing -- and those things that could be found sold for tremendously inflated prices. Rations issued to the troops were so bad that one regiment put an inedible slab of beef on a stick, paraded it through the town followed by muffled drums, and after a formal military funeral, buried it on the public square. Fences, sheds and abandoned houses were torn down for firewood. Thefts, assaults and other crime became a common occurrence, as did cases of desertion from the military units on the island.

After the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, Galveston was one of the few ports left in the Confederacy. It was geographically too far removed from the center of the war effort to have much importance for the Confederacy as a whole. By late May 1865, most of the Confederate troops in Texas had dissolved and gone home, but 2500 men and officers from nine different units of infantry, cavalry, and artillery were manning the defenses of Galveston. The formal surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department was signed aboard the Union gunboat Fort Jackson by General E. Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865. Galveston Harbor was the only major seaport held by its defenders until the final hour.
 

DaveBrt

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#4
PART III:

The Federals never tried to retake Galveston, but reinforced the blockade there in an effort to render the port useless. Although there were successes, the Union navy never effectively blockaded the port. There were three possible channels into Galveston harbor for blockade runners with pilots and experienced captains to slip past the numerous gunboats which grew to twenty ships by 1865. Colonel Ashbel Smith, commanding at Galveston, reported on May 14, 1865 that the Wren slipped through the blockade loaded with 87 cases of Enfield Rifles, 8 pieces of artillery of various types and sizes, and a quantity of ammunition.

Life in Galveston became increasingly difficult as the war dragged on. There were shortages of everything -- food, fuel, medicine and clothing -- and those things that could be found sold for tremendously inflated prices. Rations issued to the troops were so bad that one regiment put an inedible slab of beef on a stick, paraded it through the town followed by muffled drums, and after a formal military funeral, buried it on the public square. Fences, sheds and abandoned houses were torn down for firewood. Thefts, assaults and other crime became a common occurrence, as did cases of desertion from the military units on the island.

After the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, Galveston was one of the few ports left in the Confederacy. It was geographically too far removed from the center of the war effort to have much importance for the Confederacy as a whole. By late May 1865, most of the Confederate troops in Texas had dissolved and gone home, but 2500 men and officers from nine different units of infantry, cavalry, and artillery were manning the defenses of Galveston. The formal surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department was signed aboard the Union gunboat Fort Jackson by General E. Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865. Galveston Harbor was the only major seaport held by its defenders until the final hour.
Galveston's weaknesses were those of every fortified position -- its supply line and its relieving/supporting army. It was only necessary to land elsewhere and cut the railroad with a force sufficient to prevent its recapture by the small field army that Texas could field to save Galveston.
 
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#5
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It was only necessary to land elsewhere
Federal troops did land elsewhere. They controlled the Texas Gulf Coast from Brownsville up to and including Matagorda Bay. There were about 15,000 Union troops on this section of Texas between the fall of 1863 and February 1864. Magruder had somewhere around 6,000 CSA troops plus Texas State Troops between Matagorda and Sabine Pass. Cutting the railroad from Galveston to Houston would not have been an easy task unless the island was taken first. Once you leave the beaches, the Texas Gulf Coast in this area is tidal marshes, swamps, numerous bayous, and gumbo mud when it rains. Great for shrimp breeding, but not so much for infantry and artillery. Not saying it absolutely couldn't be done, but it would have been costly. After April 1864, Texas was not high on anyone's priority list.
 

bdtex

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9" Smoothbore Dahlgren recovered from the wreck of the Westfield in 2009. On display the the Texas City, Texas Museum.
Thanks for posting the picture. I have yet to make it to that museum. Need to find out what days and times it is open. Maybe make a trip down there next weekend.
 

mt155

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Thanks for posting the picture. I have yet to make it to that museum. Need to find out what days and times it is open. Maybe make a trip down there next weekend.
It is right across the street from my office and I have STILL never made it inside.
 

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