FM 457 near bridge
By John G. Forister and Hershel R. Horton
The event to be described by this historical marker is the Confederate defense of the Texas coast which occurred at the mouth of Caney Creek.
The specific actions at the mouth of Caney Creek occurred in January and February of 1864. A Confederate force of 4000 to 6000 men occupied a fortification and camp consisting of a main sand fortress, rifle pits, trench works and several redoubts. Union gunboats of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron intermittently bombarded the fortification several times during the two months. The Confederate force was positioned to oppose a Federal move up the coast toward Galveston. The Confederate force was withdrawn after it was determined that the expected Union advance was being abandoned in favor of an attempt to invade Texas from the Mansfield, Louisiana Area (the Red River Campaign).
The construction and manning of the fortification system was a part of an overall defense plan by Confederate Major General John Bankhead Magruder, Commander of the District of Texas. Reporting to Magruder was Brigadier General H. P. Bee who headquartered in the area. Magruder expected the area to be attacked by a Federal invasion force commanded by Major General N. P. Banks. Reporting to Banks were Major General C. C. Washburn and General N. J. T. Dana.
On October 26, 1863, General Banks had sailed from New Orleans with an army of 7,500 men, 13 transports and 3 gunboats. He landed at Brazos Santiago on November 1 and set up a war base at Point Isabel. On November 7, 1863 General Dana moved into Brownsville with 6000 men forcing the withdrawal of the defenders commanded by Confederate Brigadier General H. P. Bee. An advance was then begun up the Texas coast. The ports of Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass were seized on November 16 and 17 by troops under the command of Major General Washburn. The Confederate fort, Experanza, guarding Pass Cavallo (entrance to Matagorda Bay), fell on November 29 and on December 26, Port Lavaca fell. General Dana (Fourth Division, 13th Army Corps) set up headquarters on Decrow's Point at the tip of Matagorda Peninsula as a base for further operations. One regiment of the Federal troops (Lawler's division of the 69th Indiana Regiment), camped on Decrow's Point from December 1863 to February 13, 1864, when they moved to Indianola. Large Federal patrols made a reconnaissance of Matagorda Peninsula, several making landings from gunboats. One of these landings on December 30, 1863, was opposed by the Confederate company stationed at Matagorda, Company D, Browns Regiment Texas Cavalry. A storm during the landing of the Confederate force on the peninsula resulted in the loss of 22 Confederates under the command of Captain E. S. Rugeley.
These Federal actions led General Magruder to believe that the Federals intended to move under the protection of their gunboats to the mouth of the Brazos River and then to penetrate Galveston Island and then to take the city of Galveston. Magruder resolved to stop the Federal advance at the mouth of Caney Creek. All available troops and levies of militia were concentrated in the area.
Before the occurrence of the Federal threats one company of militia from Matagorda had been stationed at Caney. Other companies also had been stationed at Matagorda and Decrow's Point.
Logs of Federal gunboats and communications from Confederate General Bee reveal that the construction and mounting of smoothbore cannons occurred in early January 1864. In a report on January 18, General Bee reported "The fort is sufficiently completed for the purpose of defense and the laborers have been much increased by the voluntary assistance of Colonel Hawkins and the other planters. The rifled 32 pounder located in the main fort was mounted on January 22.
The manning of the main fort fell to Colonel Augustus Buchel's 1st Texas Cavalry. A report states that one of Buchel's men from Company C was killed in a bombardment which occurred on January 10, 1864. Located in the near vicinity of the main fort was Colonel Liken's 35th Regiment of Texas cavalry. Also located near the fort was Pyron's 2nd, Wood's 32nd, Debray's 26th, Gould's 35th and Terrel's Regiments of Texas Cavalry.
Artillery units assigned to the defense were Mosely's, McMahon's, Gibson's, Hughes', and Jones' batteries.
The various cavalry regiments reported to brigadier General H. P. Bee. Initially Bee had his headquarters at Erving's Plantation, but by January 24, he had moved to the mouth of the Caney and was hastening "the works of the Caney by all the means in his power." Fortifications were also constructed at the mouth of the San Bernard and at Cedar Lake Creek.
The fortifications at the mouth of Caney Creek were relatively crude, constructed of sand or earth. A main fort, mounting four smoothbore 32 pound cannon and one 32 pound rifle, was located on the east bank of Caney Creek near the shore line. Four redoubts were located at strategic points around the fort, one guarding the opening of Caney Creek into Matagorda Bay, one on the west bank of Caney behind the fort, one on the east bank (connected to rifle pits) guarding the rear of the fort, and the fourth located in the center of a long series of rifle pits and trenches on the east bank opposing an advance from the peninsula. A Union naval officer in a report stated that the forts at Caney Creek, Cedar Creek, and the San Bernard River "do not appear to have been constructed to prevent our gunboats from going in, as so little water is found on the bars, but to resist the advance of our land forces from Matagorda Peninsula toward Velasco.
The fortifications were intermittently bombarded in January and February of 1864 by gunboats of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. The main purpose of the squadron was, of course, to prevent war material from reaching the Confederacy. The squadron's activities against the fortification were designed to interrupt and slow down construction and also to gather information for General Banks. Although the bombardment was intermittent, and was part of the squadron's overall patrol duties, a significant amount of ammunition was expended against the Confederate forces.
The gunboats of the squadron assigned to the coast between Galveston and Pass Cavallo were the Monongahela, Aroostook, Penobscot, Sciota, Queen, Owasco and Granite City. The Aroostook, Penobscot, Sciota and the Owasco participated in the actual bombardment which occurred on January 8, 10, 11, 13 and February 6 and 8. The other vessels captured blockade runners and landed patrols in the area. Other bombardments may have occurred, but were not listed in War of the Rebellion.
The height of tension on the part of the Confederates occurred on or slightly after January 22 when the Federals landed a large force, estimated by one Confederate officer to number "at the lowest calculation 2,500 men," about 10 miles below Caney. This force moved down the peninsula away from Caney, however its presence greatly concerned the Confederate command. Orders were given on January 25 to divert troops and artillery from other positions to the Caney fortification.
On March 31, 1864, the Federal troops returned to their ships and left the Texas coast. In early March 1864, General Banks concentrated his troops at Alexandria, La. for an attack on the eastern boundary of Texas (Red River Expedition, March 10 - May 22, 1864). However, on April 8 and 9, at the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, Banks' troops were defeated and had to retire to Mississippi.
There are two opinions as to General Banks' intentions in attacking the Caney Area. The first is that the Federals desired to control the Texas coast to prevent collusion and cooperation between the Confederate States and the French in Mexico. The second is that a real invasion was never planned on the coast, but rather the attacks were a feint, designed to divert attention away from the real target, the eastern area of Texas.
The logs of the Federal gunboats and a report by General Dana do not show any indication of feint. Federal occupation of the mouth of the Brazos River (Velasco) and of Galveston would have meant a total cutoff of supplies by sea to Texas. This would have been a very tempting objective if a Confederate show of force had not been made.
The significance of this event is that the key points of the Texas coast remained in Confederate hands throughout the remainder of the war. As a result, key population centers were not threatened with Federal occupation and some supplies continued to slip by the blockade. This event thus fits into the overall defense of the Texas coast along with Dowling's victory at Sabine Pass and Magruder's recapture of Galveston.
T. R. Fehrenbach in his book, Lone Star, states "Historians generally regard the defense of the Texas coast and borders as one of the greatest military feats of the Confederacy."
Hurricanes, severe coastal erosion, the construction of the Intercoastal canal and a highway and the creation of a vacation community has destroyed most of the fortification. The site of the main fort is now several hundred yards out in the gulf. However some remnants of the fortification were remaining in 1975.
A large U-shaped trench is located a few yards in from the vegetation line on the west bank of Caney Creek. This corresponds to the site of the redoubt located on the west bank behind the main fortification.
Another trench with a set of "zig-zag" like indentions is located on the east bank of Caney where a branch to Matagorda Bay connects with the main channel of Caney. This is currently an undeveloped lot site in Downey's Caney Creek subdivision. This portion of the fortification was located from instructions from Mr. Mike Bullard, a long time resident of Sargent, Texas, who first saw it in a much more complete state in 1928.
A faint hint of a trench line exists on the east bank of Caney where its flow parallels the shore line. This part of Caney is part of the intercoastal canal.
The sight of the redoubt that defended the rear of the fort is now covered by a highway and a bait camp.
Two eleven inch diameter projectiles were found near the fort shortly after the Civil War by an individual who served there, Henry Herman Freeman. These projectiles serve as side walk decorations at the home of a descendant, Joe Freeman at 2621 9th Street in Bay City.
The Texas Historical Marker for the Confederate Defenses at the Mouth of Caney Creek is located on FM 457, 5.1 miles SE of Sargent, Texas.
CONFEDERATE DEFENSES AT THE MOUTH OF CANEY CREEK
DURING THE CIVIL WAR (1861-65), FEDERAL
FORCES TRIED SEVERAL TIMES TO SEIZE TEXAS PORTS. GALVESTON WAS TAKEN
ON OCTOBER 5, 1862, BUT RECAPTURED BY A CONFEDERATE ARMY ON JANUARY
1, 1863. LT. DICK DOWLING'S TROOPS STOPPED A FEDERAL INVASION AT
SABINE PASS ON SEPT. 8, 1863. ANOTHER THRUST BEGAN ON NOV. 7, 1863,
WHEN A FEDERAL EXPEDITION UNDER MAJ. GEN. N. P. BANKS SEIZED
BROWNSVILLE, THEN MOVED UP THE COAST, CAPTURING CORPUS CHRISTI,
ARANSAS PASS, PASS CAVALLO, AND PORT LAVACA (DEC. 26). MAJ. GEN.
JOHN B. MAGRUDER, CONFEDERATE COMMANDER OF TEXAS, ORDERED
FORTIFICATION OF THE MOUTH OF CANEY CREEK IN AN ATTEMPT TO HALT THE
INVASION. IN JAN. 1864, AN EARTHEN FORTRESS, RIFLE PITS, TRENCH
WORKS, AND FOUR REDOUBTS WERE ERECTED NEAR THIS SITE. DEFENDED BY
4000-6000 CONFEDERATES, THE AREA WAS BOMBARDED BY FEDERAL GUNBOATS
DURING JANUARY AND FEBRUARY. NO GROUND COMBAT OCCURRED AT CANEY
CREEK, BUT THE PREPARATIONS DETERRED A FURTHER FEDERAL ADVANCE. IN
MARCH 1864, GEN. BANKS MOVED MOST OF HIS TROOPS TO LOUISIANA AND
LAUNCHED AN UNSUCCESSFUL INVASION ALONG TEXAS' EASTERN BORDER.
REMOVAL OF FEDERAL FORCES FROM KEY TEXAS PORTS ALLOWED BLOCKADE
RUNNERS TO CONTINUE TRANSPORTING NEEDED MATERIALS TO CIVIL WAR
Copyright 2009 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Feb. 22, 2009
Feb. 22, 2009