This Day In Histroy: The Confederates Defeat the Union at the Second Battle of Sabine Past (1863)

On this day in 1863, the Second Battle of Sabine Pass,  was fought and it is regarded as a Southern victory. A small Confederate force stopped a Union invasion of Texas at the mouth of the Sabine River on the Texas-Louisiana border.

In November 1862, the Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder assumed the command of Texas and territories adjacent to that state. However, the Union had been able to use their superiority at sea, to capture several Texas ports.  The Union had control of most of the Texan coastline. Macgruder was an aggressive commander and he and his units go on the offensive. He re-captured Galveston, Texas, on January 1, 1863. Then he was faced with a Union invasion force at the First Battle of Sabine Pass in February of 1863.  After Magruder’s forces drove the Union ships away, at this battle, the rebels were left with two harbors from which to operate and from these ships, known as blockade runners are able to keep the south supplied with key supplies such as arms and gunpowder.

In the summer of 1863, launched an expedition to retake Sabine Pass. General William Franklin was given  an amphibious force that included gunboats, and nearly 6,000 soldiers.  This force sailed from New Orleans, which was in the hands of the Union.  The Union force arrived in Texas and tried to take the Sabine Pass in a surprise attack. The area was protected by Fort Griffin and it was garrisoned by a Confederate unit of 47 Irish immigrants, commanded by Richard Dowling. They were heavily outnumbered, by about 100 to one. However, they did have some fixed pieces of artillery and these were to prove decisive.

Illustration of the Union blockade of the South (1862)

The Union assault commenced in the afternoon, and the cannons from Fort Griffin quickly cut into the Union flotilla.  The cannon fire damaged two of the gunboats and another one was forced to run aground. The troop transports ran into trouble, and one Union ship turned around without firing a shot when its crew disobeyed orders and refused to go any further.  The Yankee’s amphibious force was in disarray and returned to New Orleans. The general in charge of the failed operation was severely criticized for his failure. The confederate garrison at Fort Griffin were applauded as heroes in Texas and elsewhere in the Confederacy. They had not lost a single many, while the North had suffered 100 casualties.

The defeat of the Union force did not end their plans to invade Texas. The Union launched an attack in the area of the Rio Grande Valley and this was part of an attempt to cut the South off from supplies from Mexico and to tighten the Union blockade of the Confederacy.