On this day in 1863, two Confederate ships drive away two Union ships as the Rebels recapture Sabine Pass, Texas, and open an important port for the Confederacy.
Sabine Pass lay at the mouth of the Sabine River along the gulf coast of Texas. The Confederates constructed a major fort there in 1861. In September 1862, a Union force captured the fort and, shortly after, the port of Galveston to the southwest. The Yankees now controlled much of the Texas coast. In November, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder arrived to change Southern fortunes in the area. Magruder,an early Confederate hero in Virginia,was assigned the difficult task of expelling the Federals from Sabine Pass and Galveston.
Magruder’s efforts paid quick dividends. He recaptured Galveston and then turned his attention to Sabine Pass. The decks of the two Rebel ships, the Bell and the Uncle Ben, were stacked with cotton bales. Sharpshooters were placed behind the bales and the ships steamed towards the two Union ships, the Morning Lightand the Velocity. Some of the sharpshooters became seasick and had to be removed, but the expedition continued. The Confederates chased the Yankee ships into open water, and the sharpshooters injured many Union gunners. Both Union ships soon surrendered. Magruder’s victory reopened the Texas coast for Confederate shipping.
The Union tried to recapture Sabine Pass later in the year, but the effort was thwarted when less than 50 Confederates inside the fort there held off a much larger Union force.