Past Treasure of the Month – May 2006
During the fall of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that all of the major ports along the Texas Gulf coast be blockaded to prevent the movement of supplies and arms to the Confederate Army. A squadron of eight Union ships entered Galveston’s harbor on October 4, 1862 and demanded the surrender of the city — the most crucial port in Texas at the time. Confederate troops retreated to the mainland, and by December, Union soldiers occupied Kuhn’s Wharf and patrolled the city streets.
General John B. Magruder became the new leader of the Confederate forces in Texas in November 1862. One of his top priorities was to regain control of Galveston and its bay. Magruder planned a two-sided attack. First, his infantry of 1,000 men would cross the railroad bridge and open fire on Union troops at the wharves. At the same time, two Confederate gunboats would attack the blockaded Union warships in Galveston Bay.
Just before dawn on New Year’s Day, 1863, Magruder ordered his men to attack. The Union soldiers on land were well-protected at their positions on the wharf, and their huge ship cannons succeeded in pushing Confederate troops back. The Union navy, however, was not prepared for the Confederate gunboats, the Neptune and the Bayou City. Men on both boats began shooting at the Union ship, the USS Harriet Lane. The Harriet Lane sank the Neptune, but was broadsided by the Bayou City. The crew of the Bayou City managed to overtake the Union gunners, and after boarding the enemy ship, Confederate soldiers forced its surrender.
After the Harriet Lane was captured, Union Commander William Renshaw made the decision to retreat. The Union ships left Galveston Harbor, but the foot soldiers at the wharves were left behind. The stranded men were also forced to surrender to the Confederate army. During the Battle of Galveston, the Confederates managed to capture six Union ships, sink one, and run another aground. A total of 300 – 400 Union prisoners were taken. In turn, the number of killed or wounded Confederate soldiers was less than 150, and only one Confederate ship was lost. Galveston remained under Confederate control until the Civil War ended in 1865.
1. This shell fragment was lodged into a baseboard at the Hendley Building during the Battle of Galveston, New Year’s Day, 1863.
2. Photo of the Hendley Building at 20th Street and The Strand, 1872.