VICTORY AT CALCASIEU PASS
(transcribed by Leora White, 2008)
VICTORY AT CALCASIEU PASS
By Michael Dan Jones
TABLE OF CONTENTS
AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
PHOTOGRAPHS & MAPS
The Battle of Calcasieu Pass on May 6, 1864 had all the ingredients of an event that would be remembered forever. There was drama, suspense, a life and death struggle - even an unsolved mystery and lost gold.
A Confederate veteran who left one of the few eyewitness accounts of the battle, Captain Joseph A. Brickhouse, said, “We fought in the open prairie, bringing on the attack with four small pieces of artillery and less than 300 infantry, poorly armed, attacking in the open prairie two such boats as the Granite City and Wave - Union gunboats - and capturing them after an action of less than two hours and 40 minutes duration.”
Yet in spite of the fact it was one of the most complete Confederate victories of the war, the battle has been largely ignored by historians and not even mentioned as a footnote in the major histories of the war in Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi Department.
Nevertheless, this battle in an out-of-the-way corner of the Confederacy was a major part of the very successful effort by Confederate coastal defense troops in Southwest Louisiana and Texas to defend the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico against the Union blockade fleet and sporadic attempts at invasion. The vigorous Confederate defense kept some very important Confederate ports free of occupation, available to Southern blockade runners and tied up significant Northern resources in manpower and ships that could have made a difference if deployed in the more active theaters of the war.
However, it is also understandable why this important, if obscure, battle has been so under studied. It occurred in a remote location. The battle was fought in and isolated area of Louisiana that was very much a frontier community. It was a small battle. No more than 500 men on both sides were engaged in the combat. Such a small battle may have garnered headlines at the beginning of the war but by the third year of the conflict it was being dwarfed by epic clashes of historic proportions. And most importantly the war was at its peak on 6 May 1864 with major battles and campaigns then raging across the Confederate nation. Lastly, such complete Confederate victories as this have tended to be ignored by Northern historians who concentrate on Northern victories, such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
On the very day the Battle of Calcasieu Pass occurred, the Red River Campaign was still in progress just a couple of hundred miles north in Louisiana; Union General William T. Sherman’s vast army was beginning its drive on the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston in Northern Georgia; and in Virginia the Union Army of the Potomac under General Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Confederate General Robert E. Lee was in the second day of the bloodletting know as the Battle of the Wilderness.
The Union Army of the Gulf under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks had fared badly in the Red River Campaign, which on 6 May 1864 was still retreating after being badly defeated at the Battle of Mansfield on 8 April and mauled in a standoff battle the next day, 9 April, at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. The small Confederate Army of Western Louisiana under tenacious Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor had put a halt to Banks’ grand plan to take the Confederate departmental capitol at Shreveport, then invade east Texas. Banks’ fleet of ironclads and transports were stranded above Alexandria due to the low water level of the Red River. But one of the unique engineering feats of the war, a dam built across the river, was still in progress on 6 May. It was soon completed, saving the Union fleet and allowing the Army of the Gulf to complete its retreat.
Also on 6 May 1864 Sherman’s massive 100,000 Union Army was poised to strike into northern Georgia against Atlanta. Chattanooga had become a giant store house for the Union invasion. But the northerners confronted one of the Confederacy’s most able defensive general’s, Joseph E. Johnston, and a restored 62,000 man strong Army of Tennessee. Johnston had taken over a demoralized army from the inept Braxton Bragg and rebuilt the army’s morale, logistics and most importantly, fighting spirit.
The Yankees launched their campaign the next day, 7 May, with Sherman moving south by probing Johnston’s left flank at New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta and Jonesboro became immortalized names in one of the most memorable military campaigns in American History.
But the really major event of the war occurring on 6 May 1864 was happening in Virginia. It was the second day of the Wilderness and the truly monumental meeting of the two great opposing generals of the war, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. It had begun the previous day, 5 May, when Grant launched his 122,000 northern invaders against Lee’s ill-equipped 66,000 southern defenders. Grant thought he would move his Army of the Potomac quickly through the dense forest known as the wilderness, but Lee blocked them using all of his genius and taking full advantage of the tangled trees, brush, uneven ground and numberless pits and gullies to completely negate the Yankee advantage in numbers.
On 6 May, Confederate counterattacks were blunted but the Union forces had to regroup and recover from staggering losses. The north lost 2,246 men killed, 12,037 wounded and 3,383 missing in the two-day battle. Southern casualties have been estimated at a total of 7,500 killed, wounded and missing. Although the Union had suffered a substantial defeat, Grant, unlike previous northern commanders, did retreat but sidestepped and continued south. It was only the beginning of a campaign that would see more Union casualties than men in the opposing Confederate Army, and earn for Grant the nickname “The Butcher.”
With so much happening of such great significance on the same day as the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, it is little wonder it has been overlooked by historians. However to the participants, their small battle had just as great an impact on their lives as did the Wilderness on the men who fought there. And the honored war dead of Calcasieu Pass, both Union and Confederate, are no less worthy of memorializing than those who died on the more famous fields of Manassas, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and all others.
The Battle of Calcasieu Pass is worthy of study from other perspectives as well. As previously mentioned, it was one of the major occurrences of the war along the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast that helped keep enormous Union resources tied up far from the major theaters of the war. It was also a land-sea battle pitting the Confederate Army against the Union Navy. It was also one of those rare battles in which one side totally defeated the other. Even in the other Gulf Coast Confederate victories, such as the Battle of Galveston, 1 January 1863, and the Battle of Sabine Pass, 8 September 1863, major parts of the enemy forces managed to escape.
The battle is also interesting from the view of the naval war and the blockade. It shows how the U.S. Navy operated and fought during the War for Southern Independence. It shows that the blockade, far from being peaceful duty, was dirty, dangerous work for the Yankee blue-jackets. Likewise, it shows the Confederates were able to successfully defend their coastline even in the late stage of the war and with very meager resources in manpower and supplies. These Confederates were no less dedicated to the cause of Southern Independence than were the heroes of Taylor’s, Johnston’s and Lee’s better known and studied armies. Their aggressive fighting spirit and devotion to duty matched that of any other soldiers North or South in any other field of operation in the entire war.
The setting for the Battle of Calcasieu Pass was in one of the remotest isolated corners of the Confederate States of America. Calcasieu Pass is about two miles up from the mouth of the Calcasieu River where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It is in the extreme southwest corner of Louisiana and about 40 miles east of the Sabine River, which is the border with Texas. The pass where the battle was fought is located on a sharp u-shaped bend in the river. The terrain is absolutely flat marshland cut by bayous and dotted with occasional oak groves. It was and still is a paradise for wildlife, teeming with exotic birds, marsh animals and particularly nasty alligators.
The earliest human occupants of this land were Attakapas Indians who have been loosely branded as cannibals. However their cannibalism was hardly the stereotypical missionary stewing in a giant iron pot being prepared for an Attakapas feast. It was actually a very small and limited part of the Native American religious ritual. The first European visitors were probably shipwrecked Spanish sailors in the late 18th century. The legendary buccaneer, Jean Lafitte, according to local oral history, used the river as a smuggling route and, it is claimed, buried treasure in the area. By the time of the War for Southern Independence, there was a small community of pioneers living at the pass completely cut off from the rest of Louisiana except by boat up the river.
It was part of Calcasieu Parish at that time, and is now part of Cameron Parish. In 1860 Calcasieu included all of what became the civil parishes of Cameron, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Allen. This vast area contained less than 6,000 inhabitants when census takers scoured the area in 1860. The seat of local government was about 30 miles north, as the crow flies, in the village of Lake Charles, also called Charleston.
Although there were pockets of Unionist sentiment in Calcasieu Parish, the parish nevertheless went for the Southern Democratic candidate in the presidential election of 1860, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, who also carried Louisiana by a plurality of the vote.
Slavery was a relatively insignificant part of the economic and social structure of Calcasieu Parish. There were no great plantations with hundreds of slaves toiling away under the lash of cruel overseers, as the Northern propagandists have said in slandering the South then and now. Southwest Louisiana was made up scattered small farms with black and white alike sweating to cultivate their fields. The main industry in the parish was lumber. Calcasieu Yellow Pine and other varieties of timber were in high demand for shipbuilding and construction. Saw mills and shipbuilding yards dotted the Calcasieu River and spurred busy maritime traffic.
Blacks made up about 20 percent of the population in 1860, and 20 percent of those were listed as “free people of color.” There were only 191 slave-owners, or three percent of the total population in the entire parish. The largest number owned by one person was 53, who was the only one listed as a large slave owner in the parish. Most slave-owners owned a dozen or less. Interestingly, two slave-owners were African Americans who were among the richest men in the parish. The free black population also provided significant support for the Confederate war effort. Some of the best documented cases of free blacks serving in the Confederate Army as regularly enlisted soldiers are from Calcasieu Parish.
Calcasieu Parish was also supportive of the secession of Louisiana from the Union. From this vast, sparsely settled territory, the parish furnished approximately 1,000 men for the Confederate Army, Louisiana State Militia and Calcasieu Home Guard. The first sizable group of volunteers from the parish were from the leading pioneer families. They were given a send off in Lake Charles in June 1861 and they left for Camp Moore, the state’s main basic training camp in Tangipahoa.
At Opelousas, they consolidated with other volunteers from St. Landry, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes and eventually became designated as Company K (Confederate States Rangers), 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. They were officially sworn into Confederate service on 22 July 1861.
From Camp Moore, the Confederate States Rangers went to Virginia where they were first stationed on the Yorktown Peninsula. They served the whole four years of the war in the Virginia theater, serving the great General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
Among their battle honors are Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Winchester, Gettysburg, Payne’s Farm, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor, Monocacy Creek, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek, Petersburg and Appomattox.
The second sizable body of men from Calcasieu Parish to volunteer were members of King’s Special Battalion, Louisiana Militia. These four companies were all infantry and were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John E. King. Each company took a colorful nickname, including Company A (Calcasieu Volunteers), Company B (Calcasieu Tigers), Company C (Calcasieu Invincibles), Company D (Calcasieu Guards).
The battalion went to New Orleans where it was sworn in on 15 April 1862. However, the unit never had a chance to receive arms before a Union invasion fleet took over the city. The battalion was disbanded and the men told to report to Camp Moore. There, in May, they were used to fill up various other companies and regiments then in formation. The only one of the companies that kept its identity intact was the Calcasieu Tigers, which became Company I, 28th (Thomas) Louisiana Infantry, also known as the 29th regiment. However Company F of the 28th Louisiana also contained a large proportion of men from Calcasieu Parish, as did Company D of Miles Louisiana Legion.
The 28th Louisiana Infantry was dispatched to Vicksburg, Mississippi where it was placed in the garrison defending that strategic river city. Its baptism of fire came on 28, 29 December 1862 in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. The 28th Louisiana was cited for its gallant defense of a river ford against overwhelming odds. Union General William T. Sherman was in command of the Yankee forces, and was handed his worst defeat of the war 2,000 casualties, compared with less than 200 for the Confederates. The Calcasieu men also served throughout the entire Siege of Vicksburg from 18 May - 4 July 1863. The Calcasieu men who had been assigned to Company D, Miles Louisiana Legion found themselves part of the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was about 200 miles down the Mississippi River from Vicksburg. It was the southern anchor of the Confederate defense-line. They served on the right of the Confederate defenses at Port Hudson and fought in the entire siege from 27 May - 9 July 1863. They had the distinction of being part of the last Confederate strong hold on the Mississippi and of holding out longer than their counterparts at Vicksburg. Other Calcasieu Parish men, as individuals and small groups, served in numerous other Louisiana units. They have been found in the 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery, 2nd Louisiana Cavalry, 8th Louisiana infantry, 16th Louisiana Infantry, 18th Louisiana Infantry and the 27th Louisiana Infantry. Since it was on the border with Texas, a considerable number of Calcasieu Parish men served in various Texas units. A few are found in Company F, 5th Texas Infantry of Hood's Texas Brigade Company F, 21st Texas Infantry Battalion, 11th Texas Battalion and Ragsdale’s Texas Cavalry Battalion. The Calcasieu Home Guard unit was also active in providing local defense. There was also a number of military actions in Calcasieu Parish. The Battle of Calcasieu Pass was the only full scale battle to occur in Southwest Louisiana. However there was a daring Union naval raid on Lake Charles in October 1862 and a sharp skirmish at the Sabine Pass Lighthouse on 18 April 1863. There were also scattered depredations by outlaws known as “Jayhawkers” and the Calcasieu Home Guard played a minor role in the Battle of Sabine Pass on 8 September 1863.
Calcasieu Parish was also one of the most active centers of blockade running along the Gulf Coast. The two most active blockade runners were Captain Daniel Goos and John Jacob Ryan, Jr., who is known as the “Father of Lake Charles.” An important Confederate fort was located at Niblett’s Bluff on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River. Lake Charles also served as a supply depot for Confederate troops passing through the village, which is located right on the Old Spanish Trail. Goos were born 23 March 1815 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and came to America at age 20. He married Katherine B. Moeling in New Orleans on 26 March 1846. To this union were born 15 children. The couple lived in Biloxi, Miss. before moving to Lake Charles in 1855. By 1858 his and Ryan’s sawmills were turning out enough lumber to both build the growing town, and to export to Texas and Mexican ports. Goos was also a generous man. The Attakapas Indians, who were still numerous in Lake Charles in the 1850s, gave Goos a special name in their native tongue, which translated to "The Good Man.”
The two naval
vessels, The U.S.S. Wave and the U.S.S. Granite City captured in
the Battle of Calcasieu Pass were typical Union blockading ships. According to
official U. S. Navy history, the U.S.S. Wave, also called Gunboat No.
45, was a side-wheel steamboat built as Argosy No. 2 in 1863 at
Monongahela, Pa. It was acquired by the Navy on Nov. 14, 1863, renamed the
Wave, and converted to a “tin-clad” gunboat. The vessel weighed 229 tons
and its armament included four 24-pounders, a 32-pound rifle, and a 20-pound
The commanding officer was Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Benjamin W. Loring. Early in 1864, she was assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and took up her initial station off New Orleans, La. on April 15. She received orders to shift to Calcasieu Pass and arrived there on April 24 with orders to collect Confederate renegades for service in the Navy and to round up all the arms, saddles, and harness in the area that could be utilized for military purposes by the Confederacy.
After being captured on May 6, the Confederates employed the vessel as a cargo steamer. Her ultimate disposition is unknown, but she was probably destroyed by retreating Confederate forces at the end of the war.
Other officers of the U.S.S. Wave were: Acting Assistant Paymaster Alfred G. Lathrop; Acting Ensigns, F. J. Latham, Peter Howard and William Mellen; Acting Master’s Mate Charles Cameron; Engineers, First Assistant John Thompson, Second Assistant M. F. Fitzpatrick, Third Assistants John Rodgers and W. H. Wilson and Paymaster’s Clerk Charles H. Grace.
The U.S.S. Granite City was originally a Confederate blockade runner that was captured in the Bahama Islands March 22, 1863 by the U.S.S. Tioga. It was a side-wheel steamer that weighed 450 tons, 160 feet in length and was armed with a 20-pound Parrott rifle, six 24-pounder Dahlgren howitzers, and a 12-pound rifle. She was bought by the United States from the New York Prize Court for $55,000 and delivered to the Navy at New York on April 16, 1863. Acting Master Charles W. Lamson was in command.
Assigned to the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron, Granite City arrived in New Orleans for duty Aug. 27, 1863. She was detained for a time in quarantine because of sickness on board, but departed Sept. 4 to take part in the ill-fated Sabine Pass Expedition, which was intended to provide a Union lodgment in Texas and prevent possible French moves into that state from Mexico.
Granite City was ideally suited to help support the troop landings because her shallow draft allowed her to cross the bar and lie close to shore. She crossed the bar in company with Sachem, Clifton and Arizona on Sept. 8, but the withering fire of Confederate batteries forced the gunboats and transports to withdraw. Sachem and Clifton were disabled and captured in the action, though Granite City suffered no damage.
For the next eight months, Granite City though often in need of repairs to the weak machinery, actively participated the blockade of the Texas coast. She captured schooner Anita on Oct. 27, 1863, schooner Amelia Ann on Nov. 16 and the bark Teresita on Nov. 17.
In addition, the steamer supported two landings of troops on the Texas coast. With Sciota, she shelled Confederate cavalry off Pass Cavallo on Dec. 31, 1863, allowing Union reconnaissance forces to land successfully. Again on Jan. 19, 1864, the two ships covered the landing of several hundred troops near Smiths Landing, Texas and defended them by shelling shore positions. After three more months of grueling blockade duty, Granite City was dispatched with the steamer Wave to Calcasieu Pass. When captured in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, the new Confederate crew fended off the approach of the New London on May 10, 1864, which was investigating what happened to the two Union gunboats.
Fitted out as a Confederate blockade runner, her original occupation, Granite City was loaded at Galveston and ran out of Velasco, Texas on Jan. 20, 1865. The night was foggy and she succeeded in eluding the blockading squadron for a time, but the next day she was chased ashore by the steamer Penguin, and soon broke up on the beach.
Other officers on the Granite City were: Acting Assistant Surgeon E. C. Vermulen; Acting Assistant Paymaster John Reed; Acting Master A. H. Atkinson; Acting Ensigns, S. R. Tyrell and A. H. Terry; Acting Master's Mates, T. R. Marshall, J. E. Ashmead and D. Hall.
The engineers were: Acting Second Assistant S. Greene; Acting Third Assistants D. M. Schryver, J. H. Rollins and R. H. Gordon; Paymaster’s Clerk H. H. Faring. The Granite City also brought a detachment of one lieutenant and 26 enlisted men of the 2nd New Orleans (Union) Infantry to Calcasieu Pass.
The small Confederate force at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, about 325 men in all was one of the most ethnically diverse groups the Southern Army ever fielded. Besides Anglo-Texans, there were French-speaking Louisianans, German-speaking Texans and Spanish-speaking Texans. The units included Creuzbaur’s Battery, 5th Texas Artillery; the 21st Battalion (Griffin's) Texas Infantry; 11th Battalion (Spaight's) Texas Volunteers and Daly’s (later Ragsdale’s) Texas Cavalry.
CREUZBAUR’S BATTERY - 5TH TEXAS ARTILLERY
Creuzbaur’s Battery of the 5th Texas Artillery was one of the most untypical Confederate units to serve in the War for Southern Independence. Almost to a man the officers and enlisted men who served in the battery were natives of Germany. Most were residents of Fayette County in central Texas. The first commander of the battery, Captain Edmund Creuzbaur, was born in Germany on Sept. 22, 1826 and served in the Prussian Army as an artillery officer before immigrating to Texas. No doubt this helps account for this unit’s extraordinary combat efficiency.
The second and last commander of the unit was Captain Charles Welhausen, Creuzbaur’s brother-in-law. He was born Sept. 2, 1835 at Hildesheim, Hanover, Germany and immigrated to Cat Spring, Austin County in 1843. The unit spent most of its early career in Brownsville, Texas on the Mexican border as heavy artillery. After being reclassified as light artillery, it was equipped with two six-pounders and two 12-pounder smooth bore cannons.
On March 5, 1864, the battery was transferred to Sabine Pass. Up to that time it had seen no combat. In its one and only battle, the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, the unit suffered heavy casualties and one of its men, Pvt. William Guehrs, who was mortally wounded, was posthumously awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The commander of the Confederate forces in the battle was Lt. Col. William Henry Griffin. A native of South Carolina, Griffin graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N. Y. on July 1, 1831, 27th in class standing. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment and resigned his commission on April 30, 1837. Griffin took up farming and lived in Alabama before moving to Texas in the 1840s. He settled in East Texas where he raised a family in Rusk and Upshur counties.
In 1861, when Texas seceded from the Union, the West Point graduate was called upon to command an infantry battalion, which was assigned to guard the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts at Sabine Pass, Texas and Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Before the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, the battalion fought in an engagement at Sabine Pass, Sept. 24-25, 1862; the Battle of Galveston, Jan. 1, 1863 and a skirmish at the Sabine Pass light house April 18, 1863.
Taking part in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass from Griffin’s Battalion were companies A, C and E. Company F of Griffin’s Battalion was largely made up of men from Calcasieu Parish and was trained as heavy artillery.
Spaight’s Battalion had seen more combat than any of the other Confederate units in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass. Because of its discipline and good order it had earned the nickname, “Swamp Angels.” Raised in the Beaumont area, the battalion was commanded by Lt. Col. Ashley W. Spaight, who during the battle was with Company F to safeguard Confederate cotton and blockade-runners at Lake Charles. The battalion had fought in the first Battle of Sabine Pass, Sept. 24-25, 1862, the high seas capture of two Union gunboats on Jan. 21, 1863, the Battle of Bayou Fordoche, La. Sept. 29, 1863, and the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau Nov. 3, 1863 before the Battle of Calcasieu Pass. Companies A, C, D and E of Spaight’s Battalion fought in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
This was the only mounted cavalry engaged in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, and the unit of the Hispanic-Confederate who was killed in action, Pvt. Martias Yvarro. The unit was known by a variety of names during its existence, including the 1st (also called the 4th and 2nd ) Battalion of the Arizona Brigade; Davidson’s Texas Cavalry and Ragsdale’s Texas Cavalry. The individual companies were widely scattered along the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts doing scouting duty. The second Company A of the battalion was made of men from Calcasieu Parish. Only Company B took part in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
The battle brought together two determined foes - Union gunboats bent on “purchasing” stolen livestock and recruiting men - and a scrappy band of Confederates determined to expel the invaders.
One Confederate survivor of the battle, Captain Joseph A. Brickhouse, said years later, “While I would not pluck one feather from the plume of fame worn by Dick Dowling, yet I must say that the Battle of Calcasieu Pass and the victory achieved was in every way equal to that achieved by Dick Dowling and his immortal heroes of Sabine Pass.”
The Wave and Granite City received orders on April 15 to proceed to Calcasieu Pass to buy 250 head of cattle and 200 horses from Jayhawkers. The brigands had stolen the livestock from area farms. The Wave arrived on April 24 with gold for the purchase. It bombed an abandoned Confederate fort at the mouth of the river and was led to anchorage two miles upstream, opposite the home of Duncan Smith, a Union sympathizer. Smith was on board the vessel and acted as guide.
The Granite City arrived two days later and anchored around a bend, about 300 yards from its companion ship. Many of its crew were experienced gunners and survivors of the Hatteras, which had been sunk the previous year by the C.S.S. Alabama. Granite City disembarked 27 Union infantrymen brought along to round up the livestock. To secure the area, the sailors and soldiers destroyed the bridges over Mud and Oyster bayous and posted pickets around the perimeter.
All of this activity was communicated to the Confederate garrison about 40 miles west at Sabine Pass, Texas, by some unknown Southern “Paul Revere.” The local Confederate commanders quickly assembled a force to expel the invaders. The commander of the district, Brigadier General Paul Hebert, in Houston, was alarmed the Yankee gunboats might be the advance scouts of an invasion force and he ordered an attack.
The Confederate strategy was simple. Advance at night under the cover of darkness and launch a surprise attack. The artillery was to open fire at 1,000 yards, while the infantry and dismounted cavalry advanced to the shore line and open fire on the sailors as they try to man their guns on the ships. The cannons would then move in closer and finish off the vessels.
On the afternoon of May 4, the foot soldiers crossed the Sabine and commenced their 38-mile march to Calcasieu Pass. The artillery departed Fort Manhassett at Sabine Pass and was ferried across Sabine Lake and into Johnson Bayou on the Louisiana side. Traveling at night on May 5 to conceal their movements, the soldiers rebuilt the bridge over Mud Bayou and by 4:30 a.m. May 6 had reached their destination.
Aurelia LeBoeuf Daigle was a 15-year-old girl at the time of the battle. Her family’s farmhouse was right in the middle of the carnage. For the rest of her days she recalled how the Confederate soldiers had taken over her house and used it as a hospital.
Her parents, Louis and Pauline LeBoeuf, were scratching out an existence on the rough terrain when events they had no control over overwhelmed them and drove them from their home.
The Union ships had made the mistake of letting the Jayhawkers man the picket posts. When the Confederates approached in the darkness, the Union pickets faded away into the marsh, intent on saving themselves and not giving any warning to the waiting prey.
As the sun peaked above the misty horizon that morning the serene dawn was shattered with the roar of Confederate artillery. On the vessels, the blue-jackets came tumbling out of the hammocks. As they rushed on deck to man their heavy naval artillery, they were met by blistering musketry from the gray-clad sharpshooters. Nevertheless the courageous sailors manned their guns and returned fire with deadly accuracy. The Confederate artillery was caught in a deadly cross-fire between the two ships. One of the Southern artillery pieces was quickly hit. Three artillerymen lay severely wounded. Their cannon was demolished.
Lt. Charles Welhausen of Creuzbaur's battery commanded two 12-pounders and saved his cannons by ordering them moved in closer, thus avoiding the cross-fire from the ships. The Confederate sharpshooters were completely exposed on the open marsh. They began falling when the veteran Union gunners zeroed in on them. But despite their exposed position, the infantrymen bravely kept peppering the gunboat decks.
While the Southerners were taking their licks, the Northerners were also receiving punishment. The Granite City’s wheel house was demolished and a cannonball tore into the ship’s hull. Sixteen shells penetrated the vessel’s hull near the water line. No glutton for punishment, Lt. Lamson was to call it quits after he had fired 30 rounds. A white flag was hoisted and a boat lowered to take on the victors. Col. Griffin and his men boarded the ship and took charge. The blue-jackets were seen throwing pistols, swords and guns overboard. Griffin later learned that they had also thrown overboard dead bodies with weights attached to them.
Lt. Loring on the Wave, a tenacious fighter, was far from ready to throw in the sponge. Confederate artillerymen tried to shift one of their remaining pieces after Lamson’s surrender but it became stuck in the mud. The remaining two, however, turned their full fury onto the Wave. Although unable to bring all guns to bear due to being anchored, Loring’s gunners continued to wreak havoc among the Confederates with their 32-pound bow gun. Five of Griffin’s men were cut down and victory was tilting to the Union sailors.
It looked as though the gunboat was going to be able to get up enough steam to escape. But Maj. Felix McReynolds of Griffin’s battalion and Lt. Welhausen were credited with saving the day for the South by bravely rallying their men when things looked darkest. However, throughout the affair, one Confederate stood full length above the prairie, calmly loading and firing. His total disregard for the enemy fire completely unnerved the Yankee gunners and they later were eager to know who the intrepid marksman was that their bullets could not touch.
The Confederate gunners sent shells through the Wave’s pilot house, engine room and boilers. Then Brickhouse’s gun scored a direct hit on the gunboat’s 32-pounder, splitting the full length of the barrel. A white flag was soon seen flying from the mast. The warship had taken 65 direct hits. Perhaps stalling for time, Loring hesitated in putting over a boat for the victorious boarding party. To show he meant business, McReynolds told his men to fire a warning shot and to prepare to reopen fire. With this, the gunboat’s skipper lowered the boat and surrendered. The crew jettisoned valuables, including the ship’s safe which contained gold to pay for the livestock. The Army detachment, which was camped on shore, surrendered without firing a shot.
On May 8, ignorant of the battle, Union transport Ella Morse came up the river to meet with the other ships. But when it got close, the Granite City, now manned by Confederate gunners, opened fire. Southern sharpshooters on both banks shot up its decks. The transport carrying a detachment of the 2nd New Orleans Infantry (Union) reversed course and headed back into the Gulf. The ship’s pilot was wounded.
Two days later, not knowing about the capture, the Union blockader New London sent Ensign Henry Jackson and six men up the pass in a launch to deliver a message to the Granite City. Ensign Jackson saw the Confederate flag flying over the Granite City. Thinking it was some kind of sick joke; he borrowed a musket and fired at the flag. But Confederate sharpshooters returned fire and instantly killed Jackson. The six crewmen were added to the prisoners.
Lt. Col. Griffin reported that eight of his men were killed in action and 13 wounded. Later, two of Creuzbaur's artillerymen, one of Daly’s cavalrymen and one of Spaight’s infantrymen died of wounds. The Union casualties never have been fully accounted. Lamson admitted to 10 wounded on the Granite City, and two later died. Loring said he had 24 wounded on the Wave, four of whom later died. The Confederates also took a total of 174 prisoners, 16 cannons, the stolen livestock and a large quantity of food on which the weary gray-clad infantrymen delightedly feasted. To their disgust, Creuzbaur's artillerymen were sent back to Sabine Pass before they could join in the feast. Wounded from both sides were taken to Lake Charles and from there to Goosport where they received the best of care in Capt. Daniel Goos’ home.
It may not be as well-landscaped as such well-known battlefield parks as Gettysburg and Vicksburg, but the site of the Battle of Calcasieu Pass is a place where history was made. The Calcasieu Pass battlefield is barren of heroic monuments or interpretive markers. It is “sacred ground" nevertheless, because it contains the bones of the Union and Confederate soldiers and sailors who died in this little-known episode of the Civil War. The graves are unmarked and have been covered over by scrub brush and salt grass.
The Calcasieu Pass battlefield in located on what is now called Monkey Island. The pass was and is a sharp U-turn in the Calcasieu River. When the Calcasieu Ship Channel was dug, the engineers dug the channel straight across the west end of the pass, thus straightening the turn and creating an island. The town of Cameron, originally named Leesburg, sprawls along the north and east banks of the pass. A map of the action in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass can be drawn by using contemporary battle reports, eyewitness descriptions, physical evidence such as where cannonballs are known to have landed in town and touring the area. The two Union gunboats, with their heavy naval cannons, badly outgunned the four Confederate light artillery pieces.
In determining the locations of the gunboats, the U.S.S. Wave was reported by its captain to be opposite the Duncan Smith home. Smith’s great-grandson, W. T. Block of Nederland, Texas, said the house stood under the live oaks at the Cameron Courthouse, and was washed out to sea during the hurricane of August 1879.
The U.S.S. Granite City was reported to be about 300 yards from the Wave. The Confederate battle reports stated the Granite City was, from their perspective, to the right and halfway around a bend in the river. That would put it up around extreme eastern part of the pass. Cannonballs went through the roof of the Roux house in town during the battle. They also reportedly rained down on what is now the yard of the Austin Davis home. Canister shot small cannonballs used against ground troops have been found at the site of the LeBoeuf farmhouse.
Aerial maps of Monkey Island from the USDA Soil Conservation Service make it possible to plot approximate distances. Cpl. C. Walter von Rosenberg of Creuzbaur’s Battery states in a letter written May 10, 1864, that his battery’s four cannons were divided into two sections; the first section being guns No. 1 and No. 2, both 12-pounders, and the second section, guns No. 3 and No. 4, being the two six-pounders. He said section one and gun No. 4 were directed against the Granite City, which had the most guns, and gun No. 3 was directed against the Wave. Von Rosenberg also wrote that the Confederate artillery opened fire from 1,200 yards distance to the gunboats. Using the information from von Rosenberg’s detailed contemporary letter, four distinct Confederate Artillery positions can be determined.
First Confederate Artillery Position
Using the map and measuring 1,200 yards from the estimated positions of the Wave and Granite City, and using the trajectory of where cannonballs landed in town, the lines intersect at a point at the southwest corner of the island in the general vicinity of the old Coast Guard station. This area was the starting position of the Confederates’ sunrise attack. After the Confederates fired seven or eight rounds, gunboats responded with both counter-battery and anti-personnel fire. The very first shot from the Granite City killed one Southerner and wounded another on gun No. 1. Gun No. 3 was soon hit and destroyed, killing three artillerymen and wounding three others. The infantry and dismounted cavalry moved to within about 100 yards from the ships and picked off the naval gunners as they manned their guns.
Second Confederate Artillery Position
Von Rosenberg’s guns No. 1 and No. 2 advanced to within 900 yards of the Granite City. The gunners threw range-finding shells, then moved closer. The other two guns remained at the starting position gun No. 3 was destroyed and gun No. 4, without horses, continued throwing shots at the Wave.
Third Confederate Artillery Position
Guns No. 1 and No. 2 moved within 600 yards and zeroed in on the Granite City. This position took them out of the crossfire they had been caught in between the two gunboats. The Granite City soon ran up the white flag of surrender. About this same time, the No.2 gun sank in the swamp.
Fourth Confederate Artillery Position
With the Granite City knocked out of action, von Rosenberg’s gun was the only one left that could be moved. The artillerymen quickly manhandled the gun to within 300 yards of the Wave. Von Rosenberg outdistanced the rest of the gun crew and had to get some nearby infantrymen (they were behind a cow pen) to help him get the 12-pounder into firing position. Considering the size of the guns being used, 300 yards practically would have been point-blank range. Since canister shot from the gunboat has been found around the site of the LeBoeuf house, this position would have been somewhere to the north and east of the farm or to the west of the current Monkey Island Ferry. The position also was the scene of the fiercest fighting.
As infantrymen were losing heart, Maj. McReynolds and Lt. Welhausen rallied then for the final phase of the battle. The battle lasted another hour after von Rosenberg brought his gun into position. Just before the Wave ran up the white flag, the other operable artillery piece was moved into position. In all, the Granite City had been struck 15 times; the Wave, 65 times.
UNITED STATES FORCES:
U.S.S. Granite City:
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Ensign S.R. Tyrell, arm shot off; Quartermaster John W. Tindall, shot through thigh; Seaman Joseph Johnson, killed outright; Seaman John Scott, arm shot off; Quartermaster John Jacobs, shot through thigh; Seaman William H. Hayden, shot through both thighs.
Wounded: Ensign Abraham H. Berry, shot through leg and developed gangrene; Seaman William Fitzpatrick, arm, slight; Seaman Ira Loucks, foot, slight; Seaman John Gogin, leg; Seaman Joseph Schoenninger, leg; Seaman Michael McNamara, leg; Seaman Henry Spencer, arm, slight; Seaman Theodore Simpson, arm, slight; Seaman Edward McCullum, shoulder, slight.
U. S. S. Wave:
Names of casualties not available. Lt. Benjamin Loring, commander of the Wave, reported that 10 of his men were wounded and one later died.
U. S. S. New London:
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Acting Ensign Henry Jackson.
CONFEDERATE STATES FORCES
Creuzbaur’s Battery/5th Texas Artillery
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Cpl. Ferdinand Fahrenthold; Pvt. John Lynch; Pvt. Heinrich Foestermann; Pvt. William Guehrs; Pvt. William Kneip.
Wounded: Cpl. Jean Baptiste Thierrat.
21st (Griffin’s) Battalion, Texas Volunteer Infantry:
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Company A: Pvt. John D. Lancaster; Pvt. Aaron Russell. Company C: 1st Sgt. Richard M. Jones; Pvt. William A. Jackson; Pvt. Archibald B. Sprinkle.
Wounded: Company A: 1st Lt. Nicholas E. Iglehart; Pvt. John W. Jones. Company B: Pvt. Augustus C. Hayde. Company E: Pvt. William Dunning.
Daly’s Texas Cavalry Battalion:
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Company B: Sgt. William Ingle; Pvt. P. Whittenberg; Pvt. Martias Yvarro
Wounded: Company B: Pvt. Thomas Moore
11th Battalion (Spaight’s) Texas Volunteer:
Killed or Mortally Wounded: Company E: Pvt. Jackson Risinger.
C. WALTER VON ROSENBERG
A rare eyewitness description of the battle is contained in a letter written by one of the participants, C. Walter von Rosenberg of the Creuzbaur’s 5th Texas Artillery, made up mostly of German Texans from Fayette County, four days after the battle:
Camp of Creuzbaur Light Battery,
May 10, 1864
Dear Brother William:
We are in camp on the coast, six miles from Sabine Pass, having just returned from Calcasieu Pass, La., where we had a fight with the Yanks. Brother Alex and I came out of the fight without injury. William Kneiss was killed by the first shot from the enemy.
On the 4th of this month at noon we received orders to get ready to start for Calcasieu by dusk, so that the United States gunboats out in the Gulf observing our coast could not see the movement. A detachment under Lieut. W. Meitzen was up in the country, where part of our horses were grazing, leaving from forty to forty-five officers and men on duty. With what teams remained we had to move the battery to Sabine Pass. There, after completing the teams with mules, the battery was loaded on the steamboat and we went up Sabine Lake and into one of the bayous, where we unloaded about noon on the 5th and in the latter part of the evening started on our march. The men had to walk on account of the deep sand, which caused slow progress. However, before day we were in position facing two gunboats. Our battery consisted of two twelve-pounder guns, No. 1 and No. 2, and of two six-pounder guns, No. 3 and No.4.
Captain Creuzbaur was in command of the battery; Lieutenant Welhausen commanded guns Nos. 3 and 4. No. 1 was manned by brother Alex, orderly sergeant, myself gunner, H. Kneiss, W. Kneiss, W. Peters, W. Guers, John Winn, and ______; the drivers were F. Koch and F. Kiel. Guns Nos. 1 and 2 were on the right, facing the gunboat Granite City; guns Nos. 3 and 4 were opposite the gunboat Wave. We were about twelve hundred yards from the gunboats when I was ordered to open fire. Our fire was soon answered, and W. Kneiss fell at the first shot. We continued firing, notwithstanding the fact that we were subjected to a heavy crossfire from the gunboats which were lying in position, a bend in Calcasieu Bayou between them. In a short time gun 3 became disabled; F. Fahrenhold, H. Foerstermann, J. Lynch mortally wounded. Gun No. 4 bravely kept on firing, but could not advance for want of teams, the horses by mistake having been ordered back.
We could not observe whether our shots were effective and Captain Creuzbaur ordered us to advance. Only guns No. 1 and 2 could advance, No. 3 being disabled and No. 4 without horses. At about nine hundred yards I was ordered to throw shells to obtain the distance to the Granite City. Then I followed up with solid shot. We continued to advance, thereby getting out of the cross-fire. Gun No. 1 led the advance up to six hundred yards, when the Granite City hoisted a white flag just as I gave an order to load. About the time gun No. 2 sank in a swamp and all efforts of officers and men to raise it were unsuccessful; it was, however, dug up after the fight was over. We had now only two guns left for action; but gun No. 4 being still in the first position without horses, gun No. 1 was the only one that could be advanced in action. There being no officer near, I as a gunner ordered an advance on the Wave. This order was executed so quickly by the drivers that when we halted about three hundred yards from the Wave, I was the only man with the gun, and, noticing some infantry to the right behind a plank fence, I called on them to assist in bringing the gun into position. They cheerfully responded, and upon the arrival of the men of No.1 on a run, led by H. Kneiss, we immediately commenced firing. We were short of men at our gun. W. Kneiss had been killed and W. Guers wounded, although he had heroically attended to his duty for some time kneeling. I sent solid shot at the Wave, and, as subsequently disclosed, our balls went lengthwise through the gunboat. An effort to raise gun No. 2 had been given up, and soon gun No. 1 had men enough to work her and bring up ammunition, which Alex had done for some time alone, for we had exhausted ours.
The Wave had steam up, and we could see men in the pilot house, whereupon Lieutenant Welhausen ordered me to send canister into the pilot house. After a few shots the pilot house seemed to be abandoned. By this time we had plenty of ammunition brought from gun No.2. Lieutenant Welhausen ordered me to aim for the engine. After a few more shots the steam was seen escaping. At last gun No. 4 came up and took position by No.1, but fired only one shot, when a white rag was raised on the Wave. There being no officer near, I as gunner ordered the guns to cease firing. We called on the gunboat to lower her boats in order to board her, but none were sent. Whereupon Major McReynolds, who had come up, asked: ‘What is up here?’ I reported to him the above facts. He then called for boats to be put off to shore and, as none were coming, ordered gun No. 4 to send a warning shot over the gunboat; then, turning to me he said: ‘Give it to them.’ This done, the white flag came up like lightning, and a skiff left the steamer for shore. Major McReynolds, accompanied by me and several comrades, boarded the Wave. We found that she had suffered fearfully.
Our infantry did splendid service by their constant fire, sweeping the decks of the gunboats and making it difficult for the Yanks to handle their guns on deck. I saw an infantryman standing out by himself in the open field toward the Wave firing unflinchingly. I was anxious to learn his name, but could not. This man’s bravery was noticed on the Wave, and afterwards prisoners inquired for him, stating that his daring irritated their men when firing at him.
The battery was ordered back to Sabine Pass and to this camp; the infantry was left in charge of prisoners and gunboats. We captured sixteen guns and one hundred and sixty-six men (Griffin reported174 captured).
The other forces engaged with us were the 21st Texas, Major McReynolds and part of Daly’s and Spaight’s Battalions, in all 250 to 300 men. All the forces engaged were under command of Col. W. H. Griffin, of the 21st Texas Infantry.
(Signed) C. Walter von Rosenberg
The letter was written by Henry Kneip of Creuzbaur's battery, 5th Texas Artillery. His brother, William, was killed in action in the battle, and the author gives details of the fatal wounding, as well as the actions of the contending forces.
William Kneip, who was about 24 years old at the time of his death, is buried on the battlefield that is now the site of an abandoned grave yard.
The Kneip brothers were natives of Germany. Their family settled in Round Top, Fayette County, Texas, in 1852. On the 1860 census of Fayette County, Henry was listed as 23 years old; William was 20. Two younger brothers, Adolph and Ferdinand, apparently twins at 17, served in another Confederate unit, Waul’s Texas Legion. The two younger brothers survived the war.
The letter was handwritten in old German script and had to be translated into English. Christie Patterson, a great-great-granddaughter of Henry Kneip, had the letter translated and brought it to the attention of historians.
Here are the contents of the letter, courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Commission:
Our Battle at the Calcasieu Pass
Documented For Our Children
We, half of the Creuzbaur Comp., were stationed at Sabine Pass. The other half was with our horses at Industry Camp. On 4th May 1864 we received orders to get ready to go to Calcasieu Pass the following day, about 30 miles from there in Louisiana, in order to take 2 enemy war ships, which lied there with the intent to plunder cattle and other things.
On the 5th we, including our cannons and carronades, were loaded onto a steam boat and taken up the Johnson Bayou to a stop place, about halfway, where we unloaded again in order to continue marching from there. We departed then and marched on until we reached another Bayou in the evening which we had to cross.
It's bridge across, however, had been burned down by the Yankees. Consequently, another bridge had to be built across, during the course of the night, and therefore we put up camp until the bridge was completed. When the bridge was completed, we started up again, and arrived on the battle field before day break.
Prior to that, however, we had a touching experience. Our escort men, about 150 infantry men, had departed before us; however, before we reached the battle field, we caught up with then again. There all of them, following the command to kneel down for prayer; were kneeling down in order to pray. That was a prayer and by all means moving to watch as the wild cowboys were praying, because everyone could expect this to be his last prayer.
Yes, everyone could imagine that it would be a hard battle. There the black monsters were lying in front of us with 16 black cannons of the latest construction, and we were supposed to fight against them with our tiny 4 cannons: 2, 12 &2, 6 pounders. Nevertheless we went up to 1000 yards distance in battery and opened fire.
The 1st and 2nd cannons took aim on the Granite City, the 3rd and 4th on the Wave. The Yankees did not waste any time and started firing on us. The first was calamity for us, it hit my brother Wilhelm beneath his hip, and tore off his leg, and killed some of our horses. That was a hard blow, but after we had laid Wilhelm to the side, and he, in spite of his serious injury, encouraged us to “give it to them,” we began firing with vehemence as fast as it was possible to do: load ready fire, load ready fire until we got orders to move forward.
When, beforehand, I looked after Wilhelm one more time, my poor brother was dead. We moved forward then, up to about half of the distance and gave fire with the same speed as before, and fired our balls, shot after shot, into the Granite City. Finally it raised a white flag and surrendered. The Wave, however, kept on fighting, but now we united the 1st and 2nd cannons, our fire, with both …against the Wave.
Until after some time again orders were given to move forward to the shore. The orders were followed and we moved forward and we moved forward to the shore and opened up fire again. Here where we had the ships close before us and were able to have a closer look at them. I said to Walter v. Rosenberg who was in charge of the aiming. “Look at the funnels and aim somewhat behind them, there the boilers should be located.”
Whether he had listened to me or whether it was by accident, when the cannonball hit, the entire ship became filled with steam, everywhere steam came streaming out, then a white cloth was blowing on the Wave, as a sign that they surrendered. We ceased fire accordingly, expecting them to send a boat so that we could take possession of the ship, but everything remained quiet. Nothing stirred on the ship.
When this took too long for us, we fired another shot, which resulted in the white flag being hoisted up at the flag pole. Following our demand they found a boat and we took over the ship. Now victory was ours, now we had time to look around, before we had not. Now, we realized the bad condition we had been in.
Our cannon the 1st was the only one that had forged ahead to the shore and that was still in battle.
The 2nd one had sunk into a soft area in the ground during the last advance. Our drivers: Fr. Koetz & Fr. Kiel were Texas boys, who had already driven on the road, and they knew the soft places and avoided them, those from the 2nd cannon were Maxmilianer and did not know it.
The 3rd cannon was without horses and men but one of 2 men and had to stay with the 2nd position where also the 4th cannon was shot to pieces and a part of the company fatally injured. We had gained a glorious victory but it was bought with a high, a very high price.
The men of the 1st cannon were: Alex v. Rosenberg, Wm. v. Rosenberg, H. Kneip, W. Kneip, Wm. Peters, Wm. Yurs (or Schurs) & Winn and the two above mentioned drivers.
C. W. LAMSON
A view of the battle from the Union perspective is contained in a letter written by C. W. Lamson, commander of the Granite City:
Sabine Pass, Texas, May 8, 1864.
I am under the painful necessity of informing you that I was captured at Calcasieu Pass on the morning of the 6th. The Wave was also captured at the time. We fought for an hour and forty minutes; but the enemy’s sharp-shooters picked off our men so that we could not keep our guns manned, and their batteries hulled us every shot.
The Granite City had sixteen shot-holes in her hull, near the water line; two officers were wounded, one severely so badly that his right arm was obliged to be taken off at the shoulder. Ten men were wounded; two since dead.
The enemy’s sharp-shooters annoyed us most, although we were pretty well cut up by shot and shell.
I am uninjured and in good health. I have met so far with high toned polite officers, who have shown me every proper attention.
We go from here by steamboat and railroad to Houston. Our destination from there is now to me unknown.
C. W. Lamson, Commanding U. S. Steamer Granite City.
LT. COL. WILLIAM H. GRIFFIN
The bloody encounter of May 6 left both the field and gunboats littered with dead and wounded. Col. Griffin reported that eight of his men were killed in action and 13 wounded. Later, two of Creuzbaur’s artillerymen, one of Daly’s cavalrymen, and one of Spaight’s infantrymen died of wounds.
The Union casualties have never been fully accounted. Lamson admitted to ten wounded on the Granite City, and two later died. Loring said he had 24 wounded on the Wave, four of whom later died. But indications, are there were many more. Five days after the battle, Col. Griffin said in a report: I thought it very strange when I went on board the Granite City that there were so many seriously wounded and so few dead. It will now be explained. Five dead bodies have washed ashore, to which weights had been attached and then thrown overboard. The probability is, therefore, that some 15 or 20 of the enemy were killed in the late battle.”
But the mystery as to why the bodies were weighted and thrown overboard in the first place remains unresolved to this day. The Confederates also took a total of 174 prisoners, 16 cannons, the stolen livestock, and a large quantity of food, on which the weary infantrymen delightfully feasted. The poor artillerymen had been sent back to Sabine Pass and missed out on the loot. Wounded from both sides were taken to Lake Charles and from there to Goosport where they received the best of care in Captain Daniel Goos’ home. Union gunboats didn’t molest area residents for the remainder of the war.
JAMES BOBBITT STEPHENSON
An infantryman’s account was given by James Bobbitt Stephenson in a letter to his wife, Malinda (Margaret Malinda Henderson). He served as a private in Company C, 21st Battalion (Griffin’s) Texas Infantry. Stephenson was born in Campbell County, Ky., Oct. 25, 1823, the son of Reuben Stephenson and Sarah Mann. He settled with his family in Titus County, Texas, near Mount Pleasant, and later moved to Erath County around 1857.
However, attacks by Indians forced him to move again. His closest neighbors in fact were later scalped by Indians. Stephenson then settled his family in the Enon (Everman) and Forest Hill communities of Tarrant County.
To Malinda Stephenson and Family P.S. I have no stamps you will have to pay all the postage until I can get stamps there is none in Houston to sell.
Fort Manhassett Texas May 13, 1964
Respected wife & children
I embrace the present opportunity of dropping you a few lines to let you now that I am alive and able to write though not in the best of health yet. I am proud that I am as well as I am. I wrote you a few lines while I was at Calcasieu (Kisca Shu) Pass and told you that we had a fight with the yanks and flogged them and captured 2 boats and their crew. We captured 160 prisoners or tharbout and 15 guns and considerable small armes and quartermasters’ supplies the provisions and clothing have been divided among the men that was engaged in the fight. I would like to write considerable about it but I am not in trim sufficient to write much I think that I will give you a drawing of the 2 contending parties some time if I ever feel like it. It was a small fight but hotly contested for one hour & 20 minutes when the feds were forced to yeald to the force of our armies. Our men fought like veterans indeed. They behaved well my position I held enabled me by the help of my spects to see all that part until the battle was half over then I had to press forward with the others to gather up the wounded I went twice through the cross fire. The cannonballs whised just over my head and the grap and canister fell on both sides of me but I trusted in God and feared it not but little we have lost in killed & wounded in the fight 17 & 11 of that number dead, 2 of our CO & 5 of our Batt, our first Sergant Jones & Archabel Sprinkle. I am so down to learn from your letters the awful conditions of affairs at home or in our county O that God would cause the eavels of the day to cease. Would to God could come home to see you and my dear children. I would chearfully give 10 thousand dols if I had it to be at home one month.
But God only nowes whether I’ll ever be permitted to visit you and the children. May God Bless you al. Put your trust in God and pray for better times and if you think you cant live there you must move where it rains more so you can raise a garden and get bread. I think the taxes must be quite high I feare they are going to swindle you out of more than half the amount for I know that what property we have cant come to 93 dols. I want you to get M Ozee to go to the assessor and take a list of the property that I have to pay taxes on and the amount or valuation of each appraisal and what per cent is to be paid and send it to me. I sent you 52 dols by Houston Young. I recon you have it ere this time I could have sent you 50 more as easy as not but I did not think or dream of such a tax as you speak of. I hope you will get the money to pay it up but I have not enough property to pay that tax May God help us and save us.
Tell Simson that J. W. went through the battle safe and sound and him and me was left near the field of Battle at the hospital to take care of the wounded. I got back to the command today I came over with some wounded of ours and yanks. I left James at Calcasicci (sic) Hospital 3 days ago; he will be on in 2 or 3 days if he don’t get taken prisoner.
I am in fine health except slight rheumatic pains. It is getting and I must close Hoping you are all well, give my respects to Ozee, Hignits and all the friends.
Farewell J. B. Stephenson.
That was James B. Stephenson’s last letter. He died on his way home September 10, 1964, and was buried near Sabine Pass.
AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
There is a curious, perplexing and troubling unsolved mystery from the Battle of Calcasieu Pass that may never be solved. Lt. Col. Griffin’s original report of the battle has apparently been lost. However a follow-up report Griffin wrote May 11, 1864 to Captain L. G. Aldrich, assistant adjutant-general, in Houston raised more questions than it answers. He wrote, “I thought it very strange when I went on board the Granite City that there were so many seriously wounded and so few dead. It will now be explained. Five dead bodies have washed ashore, to which weights had been attached and then thrown overboard. How many more dead were thrown overboard of course will never be known. I was aboard the Granite City when the knave ran up the white flag. I could after that plainly see pistols, guns, swords, &c, being thrown overboard. It is said an iron safe was also thrown into the pass. They attempted to throw overboard two Dahlgren howitzers, but failed in doing so. The probability is therefore, that some 15 to 20 of the enemy were killed in the late battle. It is due to Dr. Gordon to say that all the operations performed on the Granite City, with one exception, were performed by him.”
However Griffin’s explanation of the mystery of the five chained bodies washing ashore after the battle doesn’t check out with the records. All of the Union dead are accounted for and there aren’t five listed as missing, let along the 15 or 20 he estimated. Nor are there any missing Confederate personnel. All the Southern dead are also accounted for. So the mystery remains: who were the five ghastly chained bodies that washed ashore. It is so bizarre to think of the United States Navy for some incomprehensible reason chaining its own gallant dead and throwing them overboard when Lamson surrendered. Why would they have done such a thing to these men, and not to other killed in action? There is no reason for them to have done such a thing and none of the after action reports even hints such mistreatment of their noble dead. Then who were these five chained bodies? Why were they weighted down with chains? Obviously they weren’t supposed to be found. Why were they thrown overboard? The answers to these questions may never be known for certain, but there are clues and hints that point to an atrocity committed by persons unknown.
First obviously the bodies have chains on them and were thrown overboard from the Granite City because someone didn’t want them found. But why? What was their crime? Embedded in Lt. Loring’s February 28, 1865 report is a hint and a clue as to one possible solution to the mystery. He wrote, in the days before the battle, “Scouting parties were on the alert, day and night, endeavoring to capture rebel soldiers and disaffected citizens.” He added, “Many prisoners were brought in and confined to the Granite City.” So the question naturally arises, who were these prisoners and what happened to them? Unfortunately, in his very detailed report, Loring makes no further mention of these prisoners or gives any hint of their eventual fate. Where they “rebel” soldiers? There is no indication that the prisoners were captured military personal. The Confederates made no report of any of their personnel being taken in the days leading up to the battle. Indeed, they had no forces in the area until the actual attack, unless they were soldiers home on leave from different theaters of the war. Besides, why would the Union Navy murder captured soldiers when they were about to surrender to the enemy army? They would have been inviting retaliation. Were they “disaffected citizens,” as Loring called loyal Confederate civilians? Earlier that year, there had been a very active campaign in the area against the Jayhawkers. Nine had been summarily hanged by the Confederate cavalry in March. No doubt the presence of the two powerful U. S. gunboats in the area gave the Union “refugees,” as the Jayhawkers friendly to the Union were called, the opportunity for payback to the Confederate loyalists. If this is the explanation for the unidentified dead, it would explain why they were chained, and why they were dumped overboard to conceal the evidence.
While it can only be speculated what may have happened perhaps during the heat of battle, when the Union sailors were busy at their battle stations, lurking Jayhawkers may have executed five chained civilian prisoners and dumped their bodies overboard. Unless and until some now unknown dusty old diary or yellowed letter turns up, the unsolved mystery of the five chained bodies will have to remain in the realm of historical speculation.
ROSTER OF THE U.S.S. GRANITE CITY
Lt. Charles Lamson Acting
Master A. H. Atkinson
Acting Master’s Mate Thomas E. Ashmead
Acting Ensign Abraham H. Berry
Paymaster’s Clerk Henry I. Fanning
Acting Third Assistant Engineer R. H. Gordon,
Acting Second Assistant Engineer Stewart Greene
Engineer Lucius Harlow
Acting Master’s Mate David Hull
Acting Master’s Mate Thomas R. Marshall
Acting Assistant Paymaster John Reed
Acting Third Assistant Engineer David M. Schryver
Acting Ensign Stephen R. Tyrell
Acting Assistant Surgeon E. C. Vermulen
Louis Bartisee, Officer’s Steward, born Haiti, Negro, age 24, enlisted 1862 in New York City for three years.
William Braddock, Able Seaman, born England, age 20, enlisted 1863 in New York City for one year.
William Caddle, Boatswain’s Mate, born Ireland, age 25, enlisted 1871 in Philadelphia for three years.
Richard Casey, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 23, enlisted 1863 in New York City for one year.
Henry Comric, Landsman, born Scotland, age 25, enlisted 1863 in New York City for one year.
John Devine, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 24, enlisted 1863 in New York City.
Henry Donaldson, Coxwain’s Mate, born Scotland, age 34, enlisted 1863 in New York City for three years.
L. Edwards, 2nd Class Boy, born Utica, New York, age 16, enlisted 1863 in New York City for three years.
Patrick Egan, Gunner, born Ireland, age 24, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
William Fitzpatrick, Leading Mate, born Massachusetts, age 20, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years; wounded in the arm at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
James W. Ford, 1st Class Boy, born in New York, age 17, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for three years.
John Gogin, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 21, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year, wounded in the leg at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
John Hall, Ordinary Seaman, born Sweden, age 31, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
John Hancock, Ordinary Seaman, born New York, age 24, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Henry Hanson, Ordinary Seaman, born Germany, age 21, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Laurence Hardy, Leading Mate, born Pennsylvania, age 19, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
William H. Hayden, 1st Class Boy, born Massachusetts, age 19, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years, shot through both thighs in the Battle of
Calcasieu Pass and died of wounds. Believed to be buried on the battlefield.
George Hayes, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 22, enlisted in New York City for one year.
John Hayes, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 22, enlisted in New York City for one year.
John Hayes, Quarter Gunner, born Scotland, age 32, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Martin Hopkins, 2nd Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 38, enlisted 1863 in New York City for one year.
James Hunter, Ordinary Seaman, born Scotland, age 21, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
John Jacobs, CFC, born Denmark, age 42, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years, shot through the thigh in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass and died
of the wound. Believed to be buried on the battlefield.
Joseph Johnson, Coxwain, born Canada, age 31, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year; killed in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass and probably
buried on the battlefield.
Robert Johnson, Leading Mate, born Ireland, age 24, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
John Kelly, Leading Mate, born New York, age 22, enlisted in 1863 in New York for one year.
William Lantz, 1st Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 23, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Joseph Laycock, 1st Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 23, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Henry Layton, Able Seaman, born Ireland, age 22, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Mathew Leonard, 1st Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 32, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Vernon Lewis, Coxwain, born in Delaware, age 33, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Ira J. Loucks, Officer’s Cook, born New York, age 21, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year; wounded in the foot during the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
John Mayers, Cook, born Philadelphia, Pa., age 28, enlisted in New York City for one year, wounded in the shoulder during the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
John McGiven, Leading Mate, born Philadelphia, Pa., age 21, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Michael McNamara, 2nd Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 24, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year; wounded in the arm at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
John McRea, 1st Class Boy, born New Jersey, age 18, enlisted in New York City for one year.
James Milligan, Seaman, born New York, age 22, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Robert Morrison, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 23, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Timothy Murray, Coal Heaver, born Ireland, age 28, enlisted in New York City for one year.
James Nugent, 2nd Class Boy, born Montreal, Canada, age 16, enlisted in New York City for three years.
John Pembroke, Ordinary Seaman, age 30, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Franklin Pierce, Gunner’s Mate, born Virginia, age 32, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
Thomas Porter, Leading Seaman, born New York, age 22, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Richard Reid, Ordinary Seaman, born Ireland, age 21, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
William Richardson, 1st Class Fireman, born New York, age 26, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
John Riley, 1st Class Boy, born New York, age 15, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
E.W. Rogers, Able Seaman, born Boston, Massachusetts, age 20, enlisted in 1861 in New York City for three years.
James Rogers, 1st Class Fireman, born Ireland, age 30, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
James Schoenninger, Leading Mate, born Germany, age 27, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year, wounded in the leg at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
John Scott, Ordinary Seaman, born Belgium, age 26, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year, arm shot off in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass and died
of wound. Believed to be buried on the battlefield.
John Seely, Cook, born Cap du Nord (Nova Scotia?), age 25, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Theodore Simpson, 2nd Mate, born Baltimore, Maryland, age 27, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years; wounded in the arm at the Battle of
Charles Smith, Ordinary Seaman, born Prussia, age 24, enlisted in New York City for one year.
Henry Spencer, Boatswain’s Mate, born New York, age 31, enlisted in Philadelphia for three years; wounded in the arm at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
Edwin Stephens, Ordinary Seaman, born England, age 22, enlisted in New York City for one year.
John Tindall, 2nd Mate, born in New York, age 40, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years; shot through the thigh at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass
and died of wound. Believed to be buried on the battlefield.
Henry D. Turner, Leading Mate, age 23, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
James Walsh, 2nd Class Fireman, born New York, age 22, enlisted in 1863 in New York City for one year.
Edward Washburn, Apprentice, enlisted 1863 in New York City for one year.
Joseph Willow, Leading Mate, age 26, enlisted in New York City for three years.
Henry Wilson, Ordinary Seaman, born Germany, age 24, enlisted in 1861 in Philadelphia for three years.
ROSTER OF CREUZBAUR’S BATTERY/5th TEXAS ARTILLERY:
Captain Edmund Creuzbaur
1st Lt. J. Fritz Ernst
1st Lt. Bernhard Holz
1st Lt./Capt. Charles Welhausen
1st Lt. J. E. Mieksh
1st Lt. William Meitzen
2nd Lt. Franz Goette
Orderly/1st Sgt. William H. Yeager
Cpl. J. Alexander
Sgt. Peter Franz
Cpl. Ferdinand Fahrenthold
Sgt. Alex von Rosenberg
Cpl. Gustav Froelich
Sgt. Phillip Degen
Cpl. Henry Kneip
Sgt. Amand Struve
Cpl. Leo Andre
Sgt. Heinrich Spillmann
Cpl. Jean B. Thierriat
Sgt. Charles Herget
Cpl. C. Walter von Rosenberg
Sgt. Julius Friedemann
Cpl. John Bruns
Cpl. James Huffman
Cpl. Alois Koniakowsky
Joseph A. Brickhouse
August F. Braun
Johann George Moser
Engle August Iselt
O. H. Keilberg
John A. G. Rabe
George F. Galloway
Charles L. Keilberg
J. M. Losan
W. E. Sorrells
Louis J. Struve
H. F. W. Vahl
R. L. Walker
Heribert von Zavish
G. M. Zell
Primary and secondary sources:
Lake Charles American Press:
“Calcasieu battle site remains 'sacred ground’” by Mike Jones, January 2, 1993, page 32.
“The Civil War Letters: Soldier tells of Battle of Calcasieu Pass in his own words” by Mike Jones, January 29, 1995.
“Heroes honored 130 years after dying in area battle” by Mike Jones, May 31, 1994, page 5.
“Soldier who died in battle honored 130 years later” by Mike Jones, May 15, 1994, page 10.
“Heroic soldier awarded Confederate Medal of Honor” by Mike Jones, Dec. 12, 1993, page 8.
"Confederate hero nominated for medal” by Mike Jones, September 26, 1993, page 23.
“A battle remembered: Battle of Calcasieu Pass beginning to take its place in history” by Mike Jones, March 7, 1993, page 27.
“Vessels trapped in Calcasieu Pass were Union’s blockading ships” by Mike Jones, July 30, 1995, page F4.
“Battle’s small force was diverse mix of ethnic groups” by Mike Jones, July 30, 1995, page F4.
“Civil War days on Johnson Bayou” by Hattie Simon, January 8, 1970, page 8.
“The Battle of Calcasieu Pass” Beaumont Enterprise, May 6, 1977, W. T. Block; page 1D.
H. N. Connor, “Dairy of First Sergeant H. N. Connor, 1861-1865,” unpublished, copy owned by W. T. Bock.
C. K. Ragan, “Diary of Captain George W. O’Brien,” Houston, n.d.
J. A. Brickhouse, “Battle of Calcasieu Pass,” Beaumont Enterprise, May 9, 1909.
W. von Rosenberg, “Calcasieu Pass,” Confederate Veteran, XXVI, 516 ff.
Paul C. Boethel, The Big Guns of Fayette (Austin: 1965).
“History of Spaight’s 21st Texas Regiment,” A. W. Spaight Papers, File 2G276, Barker History Center, Austin, Texas.
A. Bar, “The Battle of Calcasieu Pass,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXVI (July, 1962).
W. T. Block, “Calcasieu Pass Victory,” East Texas Historical Journal, IX (Oct. 1971).
War of the Rebellion - Official Records, Armies, Series 1, Vol. XXXIV, Pt. 1, 910-914; also Navies, Series 1, Vol. XXI, 246-260.
J. T. Scharf, History of the Confederate States Navy, 527-528.
Galveston Weekly News, May 9, 10; June 22, 1864.
TriWeekly News, May 8, June 20, 1864.
Houston Daily Telegraph, May 9, 11, 1864.
Beaumont Enterprise, May 9, 1909.
Gregg. S. Clemmer, Valor in Gray, Hearthside Pub. Co.: Staunton, Va., 1996, pp. 412-418, wherein one soldier won the Confederate Congressional Medal of Honor at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass.
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