EDITOR’S NOTE: In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Ellis County resident Rose Ryder has written a column of historical facts relating to the War Between the States.
Early in 1862, the Union blockade of the Texas Gulf Coast was tightening.
Lieutenant John W. Kittredge, USN, was assigned to close the Texas coast from Pass Cavallo to Aransas Pass. A career merchant officer from New York, Kittredge knew the coastal waters from Galveston to Brazos Santiago.
If the Federals could take control of the waters, the Confederacy would be deprived of lead and coffee from Mexico and salt from the lakes below Corpus Christi. Exportation of the cotton sold by the South to finance the war would be greatly limited. By controlling the waterway, the Union could also force supplies distributed across Texas and Louisiana to be transported only over “miserable roads.”
Kittredge arrived in the Gulf on a converted merchant ship which carried an 80-man crew, one Parrott and six 32 pound guns. He soon realized his ship’s 14-foot draft prohibited him from effectively patrolling the shallow channels used by blockade runners. Over the next few months the Federals captured three schooners and converted them to gun boats.
Corpus Christi was a town of mixed political loyalties.
Although the area had raised seven Confederate companies, a sizable group which included Mayor Henry Berry supported the Union. While coming ashore to confer with the mayor, Kittredge also interacted with the Confederates. He warned the Southerners that although his orders were to stop their trade rather than fight them, he would not hesitate to retaliate if fired upon.
Concerned about the city’s ability to defend itself, the provost marshal ordered the sinking of three small schooners, filled with concrete, in the ship channel to prevent the enemy’s entrance.
On July 20, Major Alfred M. Hobby arrived in Corpus with his 300 men of the 8th Texas Infantry Regiment.
On Aug. 12, 1862, Kittredge used steam power to raise the sunken vessels. The next morning he landed at Corpus Christi. He waved a white flag of truce from his launch. Hobby stood on the wharf to challenge Kittredge.
He told Hobby that his orders were to inspect all U.S. government buildings and property. Hobby replied there were no such buildings in Corpus, and he would not allow the Federals to enter the city.
An angry Kittredge announced he would invade after a negotiated 48 hour truce to allow for evacuation of the civilians. Many left by wagon or on foot, taking with them food, water and even furniture and cooking utensils. hey slept in tents made of blankets. Due to an ongoing drought, the residents suffered greatly from heat, thirst and insects.
Untrained in the use of artillery, Hobby prepared for battle by positioning his three cannons on a bluff overlooking the city. Two of the cannons are believed to be “condemned” cannons left behind by General Zachary Taylor in 1846. Lacking powder, the inexperienced men were unable to practice the use of their cannons.
Hobby’s only experienced artillerist was 22 year old Billy Mann, a Corpus Christi native who had fought at Island No. 10.
Mann attempted to convince Hobby that the cannon should be moved to a fortification built on the north end of the city in 1845.
Hobby did not have time to move them since the truce was scheduled to end at 5 p.m. At that time, Kittredge moved his ships close but did not attack.
Hobby realized they had a chance. Working silently through the dark night, the Confederates moved the cannons and waited.
Hobby concealed his cavalry and infantry behind the earth works and in ravines. A Confederate flag stitched the previous day by a local woman was raised.
At daybreak, the Confederate guns surprised the Federals. Returning fire, the Union pounded the city for four hours. After his yacht and steamer were hit, Kittredge moved his fleet out of range, inspected and repaired his ships, and then resumed his attack until his ammunition was depleted.
On the next day, a Sunday, Kittredge halted the attack. The defenders were reinforced with volunteers from the surrounding area who had heard the battle noise.
Lacking gunpowder, the Confederates retrieved the large number of unexploded enemy shells lying around the city. Upon removing the caps, they found that most of the shells contained whiskey.
Kittredge later admitted that before the battle a barrel of his special bourbon whiskey had been stolen. He suspected his crew, but was never able to find it. Apparently, the men had emptied the powder in the cannon balls and replaced it with the stolen whiskey.
Early on Tuesday morning, Kittredge moved his fleet about a mile south of the Confederate battery where he initiated a sea and land attack to outflank his enemy. He fired continuous volleys while his men attacked on foot.
The Confederate guns were facing the bay and could not be turned quickly.
So Hobby, with his men and volunteers, moved forward on foot, firing their guns and yelling. The Federals turned and fled. One Texan was killed and Hobby received minor wounds.
Measures then were taken to further strengthen Corpus Christi’s defenses. On Aug. 27, a Confederate company of well-trained artillerists arrived with six howitzers.
Kittredge continued to patrol the bay waters and on Sept.12 again landed under a flag of truce to request the transfer to his ship of a Union sympathizer’s wife living in the city.
Refused, he moved his fleet a few miles to the southeast and went ashore at Flour Bluff. There he offered citizens bacon, beans, coffee and sugar as a demonstration of the benefits of supporting the Union. He also took three Confederates as hostages.
The next evening 65 men left Corpus to lay a trap at Flour Bluff. When Kittredge and seven men came ashore in the morning, they were captured by the Confederates without firing a shot.
The prisoners were held in San Antonio for a month and then paroled to travel back to New York where they were exchanged.
Although the event was officially a Confederate victory, Kittredge succeeded in his major objective of stopping the southern Texas coastal traffic. The defenders were soon transferred to other stations and the city was helpless when the Union established an outpost on nearby Mustang Island in 1863.
On April 10, 1864, Corpus Christi resident Thomas Noakes penned in his diary “There is nothing growing, and the country presents a sandy waste. There is nothing here that is fit for food. About half the people in Corpus have deserted to the Yankee and when you are talking to your most intimate acquaintance, you cannot tell whether you are addressing a friend or foe politically.”
After the Federal withdrawal in 1864, the region remained bitterly divided and economically devastated.
Rose Ryder writes for Parsons’ Rose #9, Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose. For more information, visit www.omroberts.com or www.tsocr.org.