The American Civil War on the Texas Coast

Before the war, Galveston was the only major business center in Texas. Enjoying a luxurious lifestyle compared with the rest of frontier Texas, the city was the export point for most of the cotton in Texas along with other products like sugar and molasses. But by 1862, the federal navy had blockaded the Texas coast. Galveston was withering.

The city’s residents were ordered to evacuate in May 1862, along with their livestock and supplies. Many crowded into refugee camps in Houston along with hundreds who had fled the war in Louisiana.

Engraved and colored page in the January 31, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly depicts federal warships seizing control of Galveston Harbor.

Prints & Photographs # 1965/36-7 Harper’s Weekly, January 31, 1863, “Attack of the Rebels Upon Our Gun Boat Flotilla at Galveston, TX, January 1, 1863”

Federal attacks on Corpus Christi, Sabine Pass, and Beaumont set the stage for the events of October 4, 1862, when federal warships sailed into Galveston Harbor and seized control of the defenseless city. By Christmas Day, when 260 Massachusetts infantrymen began an occupation of the waterfront, Galveston was all but a ghost town.

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Engraved and colored page in the January 31, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly depicts hand-to-hand combat when 260 Massachusetts infantrymen secured their occupation of the waterfront Galveston Harbor.

Prints & Photographs # 1965/36-8 Harper’s Weekly, January 31, 1863, “Rebel Attack Upon the Forty-Third Massachusetts Volunteers at Galveston, TX, January 1, 1863”

In a dramatic reversal of fortunes, however, Confederate forces staged a surprise invasion on New Year’s Day, 1863, leading thousands of troops into town over the abandoned railroad bridge to the mainland. In a coordinated operation, two Confederate gunboats fought to an unlikely victory over six federal ships in Galveston Harbor.

The audacious recapture of Galveston exhilarated Texas and made heroes of the men who participated. From the federal perspective, it was one of the great debacles of the war. Eventually, it resulted in federal efforts to redeem the loss that prolonged the war and cost both sides dearly.

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016