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1863 January 14: Battle of Galveston

January 15, 2013

The other big war news in the January 14, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal is about the battle which took place in Galveston, Texas, on January 1, 1863.  Confederate forces under General John B. Magruder attacked the Union’s fleet under Commander William B. Renshaw.  During the battle, the USS Harriet Lane was captured and the USS Westfield was grounded on a sandbar.  Renshaw refused to surrender his flagship, the Westfield, and set her on fire to keep her from falling into the Confederates’ hands.  The explosives were set off too early, however, and he and some of his men were killed.  The explosion caused Union troops on shore to think that their own ships were surrendering and they raised the white flag.  The remaining U.S. ships did not surrender and succeeded in retreating to Union-controlled New Orleans.


Galveston taken by the Rebels.
Dispersion of our Fleet.
3 000 Prisoners Taken.

Special dispatch to the St. Paul Pioneer

NEW YORK, Jan. 11

The steamer Creole arrived to-night from New Orleans, 3d.  She brings dispatches to Gen. Halleck [William H. Halleck].  She passed several gunboats bound up the river.  Passed transport Merrimas, with troops, at South West Pass, also gunboat Kensington.

Purser Cook reports, by the arrival of gunboat Clifton at South West Pass, the evening of the 3d, as follows:

I learn that early on the morning of the 1st the rebels made an attack by land and water on the fedral [sic] forces at Galveston.  Our gunboats were attacked by five rebel steamers protected by double rows of bales of cotten [sic], loaded with troops armed with rifle-muskets, &c.

The Harriet Lane was captured by boarding, after about all her officers, including Capt. Wainwright and Lieut. Lee [sic]¹ and the crew, 130 all told, had been killed by musketry from the rebel steamers.  My informant states that but one or two of the officers, and but twelve or fifteen of the crew escaped death.

Line engraving from "Harper's Weekly" (see footnote 2). The USS Harriet Lane is shown in the left distance, under attack by the Confederate gunboats Neptune and Bayou City. The grounded USS Westfield is at right, being blown up to prevent capture. USS Owasco is in the center of the view.

Line engraving from “Harper’s Weekly” (see footnote 1). The USS Harriet Lane is shown in the left distance, under attack by the Confederate gunboats Neptune and Bayou City. The grounded USS Westfield is at right, being blown up to prevent capture. USS Owasco is in the center of the view.

The gunboats Clifton and Owasco were engaged, and escaped—forming loseing [i.e., former loosing] no men, and but one wounded.  The Owasco lost one killed, and thirteen wounded.  Two barks loaded with coal fell into the hands of the enemy.

The Westfield, the flag ship of Commodore Renshaw,³ was not engaged, being ashore in another channel.  Her crew were transfered [sic] to transports, and Com. Renshaw, fearing she would fall into the hands of the rebels, blew her up.  By some mismangement [sic] or accident, the explosion occured before the boat containing Com. Renshaw, Lieut. Zimmerman4, and the boat’s crew, got away, and they were consequently blown up with the ship.  The crew of the Westfield arrived at New Orleans on transports, and the remaining troops are on the way back.  They did not arrive until the place had been evacuated.

All the fleet are on the way to New Orleans.  The rebel force was estimated at about 5,000 under General Magruder.

Our land force under the command of Colonel Burill [sic],5 of Massachusetts, probably did not exceed 3,000—the residue not having arrived, or not being disembarked in time to fight.  Our loss was estimated at from 150 to 200 killed and 200 taken prisoners.  The navy suffered the most.

It is thought the Rebel loss was much more, as our gunners were firing grape cannister continually in their midst.  The rebels had several batteries on shore.  The Federal troops were on one of the long wharves, and it is said repulsed two charges of rebels before they surrended [sic].

1.  Jonathan Meyhew Wainwright (1821-1863) was a career naval officer and was commanding the Harriet Lane at this time. Edward Lea (1837-1863) was the executive officer of the Harriet Lane and was mortally wounded in the battle. His father, Albert Miller Lea, who was serving with the Confederates on shore in Galveston, came on board the ship and was with his son at his death.
2.  The University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ Chalmer Davee Library has microfilm copies of Harper’s Weekly for 1858-1865 (UWRF online catalog).
3.  William Bainbridge Renshaw (1816-1863) had followed his father into the U.S. Navy and was appointed a midshipman in 1831. In April 1861 he was appointed a commander. He was attached to David Farragut’s Mortar Flotilla on the Mississippi River in 1862. By the end of the year, he was in charge of the Union fleet that was blockading the port of Galveston.
4.  Charles W. Zimmerman.
5.  Isaac S. Burrell (1820-1895) was the colonel of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry. He raised the white flag to surrender the forces on shore after seeing the Harriet Lane raise a white flag. He was held as a prisoner for 18 months.

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