Friday, October 5, 2012

War on the Periphery-U.S. Naval Forces Capture Galveston, Texas

The port of Galveston, Texas represented the far western edge of Civil War Naval activity.  Before the war, the port did brisk business in the coastal cotton trade.  Dominated by the Morgan Lines shipping company, the port hosted upwards of 600 small ships a year, taking Texas cotton to New Orleans and bringing back manufactured goods. 

USRC Harriet Lane
When the war started, the U.S. Navy would occasionally send over one or two warships to blockade the port.  The presence of the ships caused anxiety among the locals that the city's defenses were inadequate.  They feared they would have to surrender without a fight if Union forces attacked.  Many Southern newspaper writers attempted to downplay local anxiety. Channelling the future Winston Churchill, one local writer stated, "That this city and island of Galveston will in case of an attack by an enemy, that every foot of soil will be contested, every acre of channel and harbor be struggled for, while over a hundred thousand can be rallied.  Galveston shall survive the shock and a monument to Texas valor."

On October 4, 1862, the local Confederate commander Colonel John J. Cook noticed eight ships off the coast of Galveston.  The ships were: USS Owasco, Westfield, Clifton, USRC Harriet Lane, and a few mortar schooners.  At 7 a.m., Harriet Lane approached the city under a flag of truce.  There was a delay in the Confederate response.  Namely, Cook could not find a suitable boat,which led to nervous Confederate gunners to open fire with older 24-pounder cannons at Harriett Lane.   Gunners on Owasco replied with a shell from the ship's XI-inch Dahlgren which bursted over the Confederate garrison.  The garrison quickly withdrew. 
USS Owasco

At 3:30 p.m., Commander William Renshaw, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy eight ship flotilla finally  got his formal demand of surrender delivered to Cook.  The colonel replied that he would surrender the city, but needed four days to evacuate.  Cook planned to not only withdraw all military units from the city, but all civilians as well.  Renshaw agreed.

After the evacuation was complete, Renshaw took over Galveston.  He informed Admiral Farragut that he needed more ground forces if the Union were to hold on to the port.  Farragut agreed in principle, but concluded that the Army would never provide the necessary resources.  As for the Confederates, Cook did not withdraw far.  His forces only went as far as Virginia Point on the other side of Galveston Bay.  Here, a garrison of 3,000 men took up positions.   

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