On September 8th, 1863, 47 Confederates led by Richard Dowling defeated an attempt by 5,000 Union troops to invade Texas by sea.
A federal fleet sailed toward the Sabine Pass, a commonly used sea lane by which smugglers delivered goods to the blockaded Confederacy. The soldiers would then disembark and invade Texas – or so they thought.
The Confederates stationed at Fort Griffith, which guarded the Sabine Pass, were no professional soldiers. These men, mostly Irish immigrants, had been dock workers before the war, and their assignment to the fort was a punishment for infractions. Their commander Richard Dowling, who had owned several saloons in Houston before the war. Some of the men he now commanded were old customers of his.
Fort Griffith was, in essence, a penal station. Dowling would not put this time to waste, however. During their long months stationed at Fort Griffith he had colored markers placed in the Sabine Pass and passed time using them for target practice. In time, these Irish misfits, who called themselves the “Davis Guards,” became damned good at firing accurately and quickly. It was now time for them to prove their worth to their adopted country.
Once the enemy sailed into range, Dowling and his men opened fire with their six smoothbore cannon, weapons which were generally regarded, and rightfully so, as obsolete by the time of the battle. But in the hands of the skilled gunners of the Davis Guards, they were lethal. Despite being equipped with state of the art weaponry and completely outnumbering the defenders, the Yankees couldn’t make a dent.
After a short but savage fight, the invasion force fled to New Orleans. Out of the thirteen federal ships, two were blown clear out of the water. Thirteen heavy cannon sunk to the bottom of the Gulf, and the fleet had suffered four hundred casualties. Meanwhile, not a single one of the Davis Guards was killed or wounded.
News of the stunning victory was heralded across the Confederacy. Dowling and his heroic men received the only medals of honor ever issued by the Confederate government, and were presented with them by the ladies of Houston.
Dowling resumed civilian life after the defeat of the Confederacy, but died in 1867 during an outbreak of Yellow Fever. Monuments of Dowling stand in Tuam, his hometown in Ireland, and in Houston as well.
On January 12, 2017, the Houston City Council made the decision to change the name of “Dowling Street” to “Emancipation Avenue.” Another attack on Dowling’s legacy happened on August 19, 2017, when a leftist tried to blow up his statue but was arrested before he could set it the bomb.
When Confederate monuments come under attack, it does us well to remember the heroic actions of the men to whom they are dedicated.
Here’s to Dowling, and the Davis Guards.