The History of Lt. Dick Dowling and 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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