Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Battle of Galveston

In the fall of 1862, Union ships under Commodore William Rensaw sailed into the harbor of Galveston, Texas. Without any forces to defend the city, the Confederates were forced to surrender. Around the same time, Major General John B. Magruder was appointed Confederate commander of the District of Texas. Known as “Prince John” in the old army for his showy looks, he had performed some good service in Virginia, especially when he tricked the Union army into inaction by convincing them his forces were much greater than they actually were. Magruder determined that Galveston had to be retaken. He planned to do this with two river steamers, the Bayou City and Neptune. He turned them into cottonclads by piling bales of cotton on board to protect them from Union shot.
Harriet Lane captured

At dawn on January 1, 1863, these two strange ships entered Galveston harbor, and set their sights on the Harriet Lane, a Union steamer. The battle quickly turned bad for the Confederate warships. They were outgunned by the Federals, and the Neptune was soon sent to the bottom. The Bayou City did not retreat after this misfortune, she continued to face the six Union ships. In a desperate attempt to avoid the Union guns, the captain ran his ship directly into the Harriet Lane. He hit her straight on, and his crew rushed aboard and were able to secure the vessel.
Harriet Lane captured

Meanwhile, Renshaw's flagship, the Westfield, had run aground in shallow water. The crew being unable to get her off, a truce was called for both sides to consider what to do. Realizing that he could not get the Westfield off, Renshaw decided to destroy her and get off while he could. Lighting a fuse to the magazine, he and his crew rowed away from the doomed ship. However, as the time passed by and nothing happened, Renshaw realized that the fuse had failed. Returning to the ship, he relit the fuse, but before he and his men could clear the ship, she exploded. Renshaw was killed along with thirteen of his men.

Their captain dead, the flagship destroyed and another ship captured, the surviving ships made their way out of the harbor as quickly as possible, still under the flag of truce. Although the Confederates were unable to pursue, they had still gained a glorious victory. At the loss of 150 casualties they had inflicted twice that many, and had captured one ship intact with 400 prisoners. They had also recaptured Galveston, and would retain control of the town for the rest of the war.
Harriet Lane

The Confederate Congress said this of this glorious feat of southern arms:
The bold, intrepid, and gallant conduct of Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, Col. Thomas Green, Maj. Leon Smith and other officers, and of the Texan Rangers and soldiers engaged in the attack on, and victory achieved over, the land and naval forces of the enemy at Galveston, on the 1st of January, 1863, eminently entitle them to the thanks of Congress and the country... This brilliant achievement, resulting, under the providence of God, in the capture of the war steamer Harriet Lane and the defeat and ignominious flight of the hostile fleet from the harbor, the recapture of the city and the raising of the blockade of the port of Galveston, signally evinces that superior force may be overcome by skillful conception and daring courage.


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