The Second Battle of Sabine Pass took place on September 8, 1863, and was the result of a Union expedition into the Confederate state of Texas during the American Civil War. It has often been credited as the most one-sided Confederate victory during the conflict.
During the summer of 1863, the president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, was overthrown and replaced by the emperor Maximilian, whose allegiance was with France. France had been openly sympathetic to the Confederate States of America earlier in the war, but had never matched its sympathy with diplomatic action. Now that a French government existed just south of the Rio Grande, the Confederates hoped to establish a fruitful route of entry for much-needed matériel.
United States President Abraham Lincoln was well aware of Confederate intentions and sent an expedition into Texas to establish a military presence and to discourage Maximilian from opening trade with the Confederacy. The Federal force was under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, a political general with little discernible command ability. Banks's original intent was to lead a combined Army-Navy expedition from the Mississippi River into the Red River. However, low water in the Red River prevented the Union gunboats from entering it. As a consequence, the expedition entered the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico. Banks ordered his subordinate, Major General William B. Franklin, to defeat a small Confederate detachment at Fort Griffin near the mouth of the river and capture Sabine City. The detachment consisted of forty-six infantrymen of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery and six guns manned by the Jeff Davis Guards — all under the command of Lieutenant Richard "Dick" Dowling. Considering the dominant size of the Union expeditionary force, disposing of this fort was not expected to prove any great challenge.
On the day of the battle, United States Navy Captain Frederick Crocker entered the Sabine River with four gunboats, accompanied by 18 troop transports containing 5,000 federal infantrymen. Dowling's Texans had previously placed stakes in the river to act as markers for cannon fire. As the Union convoy entered among the stakes, the Confederates opened fire with deadly accuracy and wrought havoc on the vessels. The Union Army was forced to withdraw down the river after having lost two gunboats and 200 sailors captured. The Confederates are believed not to have suffered any casualties.
In recognition of the victory, local residents smoothed off Mexican dollars, stamped them with the battle and date, plus individually the name of each soldier, hung them on green ribbons and presented them to the troops. Approved by the Confederate Congress, the Davis Guards Medal is believed to be the only official military decoration issued by the CSA.
The Battle of Sabine Pass was of little tactical or strategic significance to the Civil War. A Confederate supply line from Mexico to Texas was never established, and in any case it could not have effectively supplied the states east of the Mississippi once the Union controlled the whole of that river after its victory at Vicksburg in July. The Confederacy was therefore forced to continue its reliance on blockade running to import valuable materials and resources.
- National Park Service battle description
- History Under Siege: Sabine Pass battlefield designated by CWPT as one of the top 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields of 2009
- CWSAC Report Update
- Banks, Raymond H. The King of Louisiana, 1862-1865, and Other Government Work: A Biography of Major General Nathaniel Prentice Banks. Las Vegas, NV: R. H. Banks, 2005. Chapter 44. OCLC 63270945.
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