Richard Dowling was one of many Irishmen who fought in the American Civil War, but he did not achieve the fame of Patrick Cleburne or Thomas Meagher. He is considered, however, to be one of the most prominent citizens of Houston, Texas.
Dowling was born in Ireland most probably in January of 1837, and immigrated to New Orleans with his parents and six siblings in 1846. During the yellow fever epidemic in 1853, Dowling lost his parents and four of his siblings. In 1857, he moved to Houston, Texas where he established a chain of successful saloons. He also married and would eventually have five children, only two of whom would live to adulthood.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Dowling enlisted in the Confederate Jefferson Davis Guards, and participated in the Battle of Galveston. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1863 and put in command of 44 men assigned to Fort Griffin on the Sabine River. A skilled artillerist, Dowling drilled his men incessantly and soon they were able to hit any target on the river’s two channels.
On September 8, 1863, when the Union Navy, with 5,000 men, attempted to enter one of the channels, Dowling’s batteries opened up with effective and devastating fire. After several direct hits, the Union retreated, and Dowling was victorious in what would be known as the Battle of Sabine Pass. Without sustaining any losses, Dowling’s men also captured 350 prisoners and a large quantity of vital supplies. A Union invasion of Texas was thwarted and Dowling and his men were lauded by the citizens of Houston with special medals, made from ground down Mexican coins. President Jefferson Davis personally commended Dowling and his men, and for the rest of the war, Dowling would serve as a recruiter for the Confederacy.
After the war, Dowling kept on in the saloon business, but also formed what is considered to be the first oil company in Texas. Any hopes for a prosperous future for Dowling came to an end on September 23, 1867, when he became a victim of yellow fever, the same disease that had devastated his family years ago.