The Associated Press
SABINE PASS —
Throughout its history, Sabine Pass has become notorious for defying the odds. But the tiny Gulf Coast community earned that reputation long before it withstood two major hurricanes.
In 1863, two years into the American Civil War, United States Navy Captain Frederick Crocker entered the Sabine River with four gunboats, 18 troop transports containing 5,000 federal infantrymen, and every intention of sweeping through Sabine Pass to Beaumont before going west to capture Houston, thus cutting Texas off from the Confederacy.
“Sabine Pass was a very important asset to the Confederacy for smuggling goods out and supplies in,” said Micheal McGreevy, chairman of the Dick Dowling Days committee. “Union forces took notice in 1862 and decided they were going to give some attention to the Sabine Pass area.”
What Crocker and his men hadn’t counted on, however, was Lt. Richard William “Dick” Dowling. Dowling, along with his ragtag band of 46 infantrymen of the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery and six guns manned by the Jeff Davis Guards, opened fire with deadly precision, capturing or killing 200 Union soldiers and sinking two gunboats — all while sustaining no casualties of their own.
“Dowling and his men managed to stop that decisively,” said historian Bruce Hamilton, of Fannett.
On Saturday, Sept. 7, and Sunday, Sept. 8, the Texas Historical Commission, the Friends of Sabine Pass Battleground and the Jefferson County Historical Commission — along with the Dick Dowling Camp 1295 and the Sons of Confederate Veterans — will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the most lopsided Confederate victory of the Civil War with the Dick Dowling Days Sesquicentennial at Dick Dowling Park, 6100 Dowling Road, Sabine Pass.
When the gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, patrons will receive realistic insight into life in 1863 Sabine Pass through the 350 re-enactors — a far cry from the 40 or so the event usually sees, McGreevy said.
“We're fielding the largest army we've ever fielded down there,” he said.
The battles won’t be the only re-enactment taking place that weekend. Re-enactor Paul Allen, of Lumberton, portrays Lt. Elijah P. Allen, a Confederate soldier who was executed for desertion. The present-day Allen said that the late Allen was made a scapegoat when his disgruntled crew, stationed at High Island with precious little food and water, decided to return home.
“It’s my way of getting close to someone and feeling what they felt,” said Allen, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “So many want to change history so others won’t be offended, but if we change history, it might happen again.”
Celtic musician Jed Marum will perform at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday, in a nod to Dowling and his men, most of whom were Irish dock workers. Dowling himself immigrated to New Orleans from Ireland as a child and eventually settled in Houston after a yellow fever epidemic left him an orphan. In Houston, the charming Irishman — who would die in 1967 from the same disease that claimed his parents and four of his six siblings — established a popular saloon, the Bank of Bacchus. He was also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and was one of the founding members of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department.
“This is in honor of Dick Dowling himself because he was quite an incredible individual,” McGreevy said. “He was a very ambitious charismatic man, with a very acute civic sense. He was a joiner.”
McGreevy also sees the event as a celebration of all veterans, living and dead.
“I have a strong appreciation for people who see the call of duty and put their own needs aside to give for society and for their fellow humans,” he said. “I hope people will come away with a sense of gratitude and pride, and put forth an effort to learn where they came from.”