Second Battle of Sabine Pass
Jefferson County, TX | Sep 8, 1863
Union forces attacked Fort Griffin outside of Sabine City along the Sabine River to establish a Union presence in Texas and discourage trade between the Confederacy and Mexico. Known as one of the most lopsided battles of the war, the Battle of Sabine Pass ended in a Union defeat.
How It Ended
Confederate Victory. After 35 minutes of intense and accurate fire from the Confederate garrison at Sabine, two Federal ships were destroyed, 200 prisoners were captured, and the Union forces withdrew.
With a de facto French government under Maximilian I south of the Rio Grande, the Confederates hoped to establish trade between Texas and Mexico to obtain much-needed supplies for the Confederacy. The Confederacy would grant Mexico’s de facto French Government easier access to southern cotton in exchange for supplies and military aid. The Lincoln administration, aware of Confederate intentions, sought to establish a military presence in Texas to discourage French influence. The plan was to place a Union force near Beaumont, 30 miles inland from the mouth of the Sabine River, which would cut the last railroad between Texas and the rest of the Confederacy and could threaten Houston, which was Texas’ industrial center.
The Confederate garrison at Fort Griffin, established to protect Sabine City, only numbered 46 men. The gunners practiced firing artillery at range markers placed in the river to break the day-to-day monotony.
About 6:00 am on the morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seven troop transports, under the command of General William Bull Franklin, steamed into Sabine Pass and up the Sabine River to reduce Fort Griffin and land troops. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under accurate fire from six cannons. The fort’s small force of 46 men, under the command of Lt. Richard W. Dowling, disabled two ships, captured the gunboat Clifton with about 200 prisoners, and forced the Union flotilla to retire.
The Confederate defenders suffered no casualties, and Union operations in the area ceased. The heroics at Fort Griffin - 46 men stopping a Union expedition - inspired other Confederates and became known as one of the most lopsided battles of the war.
With a garrison of only 46 men, it is astonishing that they could defeat a Federal force of almost 5,000 men in such a short time, damage two Federal gunboats, and capture 200 prisoners. It was also a morale boost, especially after the string of defeats at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson.
The Union’s goal was to capture and use Fort Griffin to open up Texas and stop the Confederates from trading with French-occupied Mexico. In addition, their end goal was to capture the industrial center of Houston, which also served as the Trans-Mississippi Department headquarters.