The Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas During the Civil War (The University of North Texas Press, 2009)
This volume was edited by Kenneth W. Howell. Ed Cotham's Chapter is titled "Nothing But Disaster:" The Failure of Union Plans to Capture Texas. In the fall of 1862 it appeared that the Federal Navy was on the verge of capturing Texas as essentially all of the major Confederate ports were occupied or neutralized. But within twelve months the Confederate forces in Texas had completely reversed this course of events, recapturing Galveston and halting a large Federal invasion force at the Battle at Sabine Pass. Ed Cotham's description of these events is a chapter in this compilation of articles by some of the outstanding figures in the field.
(Click on Title for Table of Contents and Excerpt)
Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston
(University of Texas Press, 1998)
The Civil War history of Galveston is one of the last untold stories from America's bloodiest war, despite the fact that Galveston was a focal point of hostilities throughout the conflict. As other Southern ports fell to the Union, Galveston emerged as one of the Confederacy's only lifelines to the outside world. When the war ended in 1865, Galveston was the only major port still in Confederate hands.
In this beautifully written narrative history, Ed Cotham draws upon years of archival and on-site research, as well as rare historical photographs, drawings, and maps, to chronicle the Civil War years in Galveston. His story encompasses all the military engagements that took place in the city and on Galveston Bay, including the dramatic Battle of Galveston, in which Confederate forces retook the city on New Year's Day, 1863.
Cotham sets the events in Galveston within the overall conduct of the war, revealing how the city's loss was a great strategic impediment to the North. Through his pages pass major figures of the era, as well as ordinary soldiers, sailors, and citizens of Galveston, whose courage in the face of privation and danger adds an inspiring dimension to the story.
Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae
(University of Texas Press, 2004)
In an 1882 speech, former Confederate president Jefferson Davis made an exuberant claim: "That battle at Sabine Pass was more remarkable than the battle at Thermopylae." Indeed, Sabine Pass was the site of one of the most decisive Civil War battles fought in Texas. But unlike the Spartans, who succumbed to overwhelming Persian forces at Thermopylae more than two thousand years before, the Confederate underdogs triumphed in a battle that over time has become steeped in hyperbole. Providing a meticulously researched, scholarly account of this remarkable victory, Sabine Pass at last separates the legends from the evidence.
In arresting prose, Edward T. Cotham, Jr., recounts the momentous hours of September 8, 1863, during which a handful of Texans—almost all of Irish descent—under the leadership of Houston saloonkeeper Richard W. Dowling, prevented a Union military force of more than 5,000 men, 22 transport vessels, and 4 gunboats from occupying Sabine Pass, the starting place for a large invasion that would soon have given the Union control of Texas.
Sabine Pass sheds new light on previously overlooked details, such as the design and construction of the fort (Fort Griffin) that Dowling and his men defended, and includes the battle report prepared by Dowling himself. The result is a portrait of a mythic event that is even more provocative when stripped of embellishment.
The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine: Henry O. Gusley's Illustrated Note-Book
(University of Texas Press, 2006)
Henry O. Gusley, a young Pennsylvania printer turned U.S. Marine, went South in February 1862 on board a ship that was part of Commander David Dixon Porter's Mortar Flotilla. For the next year and a half, until his capture at the Battle of Sabine Pass, Gusley participated in a series of battles and engagements all along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas and up the Mississippi River as far as Vicksburg. During this eventful period, Gusley recorded in his diary (or "Note-Book" as he called it) the capture of New Orleans and the bombardment of Vicksburg. He participated in blockade duties off the Louisiana, Mississippi,Alabama and Florida coasts and witnessed battles at Galveston, Butte a la Rose, Bisland, Port Lavaca, and Sabine Pass. Gusley's descriptions are rich and entertaining. Making these descriptions even more meaningful is the fact that serving on a ship that was part of the same flotilla (a ship to which Gusley himself was eventually transferred) was Dr. Daniel Nestell. Dr. Nestell was a physician who had an incredible talent for drawing on-the-spot sketches of the many places that he and Gusley jointly visited. Together, Gusley's Note-Book and Nestell's sketches provide a unique record of the Civil War as it was fought on the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast.
[From the Back Cover of the Book]
On September 28, 1863, the Galveston Tri-Weekly News caught its readers' attention with an item headlined "A Yankee Note-Book." It was the first installment of a diary confiscated from U.S. Marine Henry O. Gusley, who had been captured at the Battle of Sabine Pass. Gusley's diary proved so popular with readers that they clamored for more, causing the newspaper to run each excerpt twice until the whole diary was published. (In one of the ironic twists of fate with which Civil War history is replete, the imprisoned Gusley even subscribed to the Tri-Weekly News so he could follow the diary's publication.) For many in Gusley's Confederate readership, his diary provided a rare glimpse into the opinions and feelings of an ordinary Yankee--an enemy whom, they quickly discovered, it would be easy to regard as a friend.
This book contains the complete text of Henry Gusley's Civil War diary, expertly annotated and introduced by Edward Cotham. One of the few journals that have survived from U.S. Marines who served along the Gulf Coast, it records some of the most important naval campaigns of the Civil War, including the spectacular Union success at New Orleans and the embarrassing defeats at Galveston and Sabine Pass. It also offers an unmatched portrait of shipboard life and the diversions that marines and sailors used to drive away boredom between battles. Accompanying the diary entries are previously unpublished drawings by Daniel Nestell, a doctor who served in the same flotilla and eventually on the same ship as Gusley, which depict many of the locales and events that Gusley describes.
Together, Gusley's diary and Nestell's drawings are like picture postcards from the Civil War--vivid, literary, often moving dispatches from one of "Uncle Sam's nephews in the Gulf."
Newspaper Articles (Galveston)
‘My Father is Here’
Civil War Split, then united one man with his son
by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
The thousands of monuments that have been erected to memorialize the men who fought in the American Civil War come in many shapes and sizes. No monument anywhere, however, captures the Civil War as well as a simple grave marker in Galveston’s Trinity Episcopal Cemetery - in the eighth row from 40th Street, in the Grover plot. Often overlooked, and not easy to find even when searching for it, the marker for Edward Lea’s final resting place is the very heart of what this tragic conflict was all about. This is its story.
A promising young officer
At the beginning of the Civil War, Edward Lea was a promising young naval officer in the U.S. Navy. His father, Albert Miller Lea, was a West Point graduate. Born in Tennessee, Albert Lea had no difficulty in deciding to serve the Southern cause. He urged his son to do likewise, warning him that "if you decide to fight for the Old Flag, it is not likely that we will meet again except face to face on the battlefield." Edward Lea ignored his father’s prophetic advice and stayed with the Union Navy. He told Admiral David Porter, his mentor, that he did not desire his family’s love if he could only possess it by becoming a traitor to his country. Edward rose rapidly in rank and became the first officer on board the steamer Harriet Lane. His ship was one of the first into Galveston Harbor when the Union Navy captured the Island City in October 1862. Unknown to Edward, his father had recently begun serving as a volunteer on the staff of Confederate Gen. John Bankhead Magruder, with whom he had been a classmate at West Point.
The Battle of Galveston
Magruder had arrived in Texas at the end of 1862 and determined to recapture Galveston. When Magruder’s forces launched a night attach against the Union forces on Jan. 1, 1863, Albert Lea was posted at the top of one of the tall residences near Broadway (possibly Ashton Villa) to observe and report on the status of the attack. The turning point in the battle came when two Confederate river steamers armored with cotton bales attacked and disabled the Harriet Lane, Edward Lea’s ship. After the battle had ended in the Confederate’s favor, Albert Lea revealed to Gen. Magruder for the first time that his 26 year old son had been serving on one of the captured Union ships, and asked permission to look for him. Saying "My God! Why didn’t you tell me this?" Magruder immediately granted his old friend permission to look for Edward. Albert Lea rushed to the waterfront and anxiously climbed aboard the Harriet Lane. Confirming his worst fears, Albert found his son lying on the deck, severely wounded from multiple gunshots. Ignoring the harsh words that had passed between them before the war, Edward smiled at his father and inquired about the health of the rest of his family. Knowing that his son was almost certain to die soon, Albert Lea nevertheless hurried off to find some means of transporting Edward to a place where he might receive medical attention. But it was too late; Edward died before his father returned.
A son’s last words
While Albert Lea searched in vain for help for his dying son, Edward was asked several times by his shipmates as well as Confederate soldiers, if there was anything they could do to ease his suffering. Edward refused all such offers, confidently insisting, "No. My father is here." These were his last words. The young man would never complete his promising career. In a final irony, on the same day that Edward died, an order had been signed in New Orleans directing him to report to that place, where he was to be given command of his own ship and a flotilla of mortar boats. It was an order he would never receive. As the dramatic story of the Lea family emphasizes, the Battle of Galveston, as the engagement came to be called, was literally a case where father fought against son. As this tragic story also emphasizes, however, when the fighting was over, and the end drew near for Edward, the arguments were forgotten, and father and son were reconciled.
The moral of the story
On the day following Galveston’s recapture, Gen. Magruder ordered a large contingent of Confederate soldiers and Union prisoners to be turned out for the hastily organized funeral for Edward Lea and the young man’s commanding officer, Jonathan Wainwright. The two men were buried together in the same grave in a spot donated by businessman George Grover. Albert Lea read the funeral service over his son’s remains, closing with these words:
"Allow one so sorely tried in this his willing sacrifice to beseech you to believe that while we defend our rights with our strong arms and honest hearts, those we meet in battle may also have hearts as brave and honest as our own. We have buried two brave and honest gentlemen. Peace to their ashes; tread lightly over their graves."
There is no marker from any historical association or veteran’s group for Edward Lea’s grave. Instead, there is only a simple stone recording Edward’s last words - "My father is here" - together with an anchor and sword. No monument has ever said more with so few words.
This story was originally published
in the Galveston County Daily News on June 16, 1999.
Newspaper Articles (Sabine Pass)
Dick Dowling Statue,
First Public Monument in Houston,
Turns 100 Years Old on St. Patrick’s Day
by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
“The Dick Dowling Monument in Hermann Park. Dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905, the monument was Houston’s first public monument.”
Photo courtesy Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
On March 17, 2005, the Dick Dowling Statue in Hermann Park will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its unveiling on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905. It was Houston’s first public monument, coming even before the statue of Sam Houston for whom the city was named. Standing today on a triangle near the intersection of Hermann Park Loop, Holcombe, and North MacGregor, the monument consists of an eight-foot statue made of Italian marble sitting atop a twenty-foot granite base. The creator of the monument was German sculptor Frank Teich, who sculpted the statue at his studio near Llano.
Richard “Dick” Dowling was one of the most interesting figures in Houston and Texas history. Dowling Street was named in his honor, as was Tuam Avenue, the place in County Galway, Ireland, near which he was born in 1837. Because of the Great Famine in Ireland, Dowling and his family came to America some time after 1846 and eventually settled in Houston. Dowling made his name and fortune in a number of saloon businesses. The most notable of these establishments was the “Bank of Bacchus,” which he shrewdly located across the street from Houston’s courthouse. “The Bank,” as Dowling’s bar was fondly known, became an immediate success, making its owner one of the most prominent Irishmen in Houston.
Dowling was a man of great compassion and vision. He was the first person in Houston to install gas lighting at his business. He also became one of the founding members of Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, the predecessor of Houston’s fire department. Finally, Dowling and his associates bought some of the earliest oil and gas leases in Texas, foreseeing the great oil boom that would eventually begin to change the world at the turn of the century.
Although his business and civic accomplishments are impressive, Dowling is remembered today primarily for his role in leading a group of unruly Irish dockworkers to one of the greatest upsets in military history at the Civil War Battle of Sabine Pass. Dick Dowling was the 26-year-old lieutenant in charge of a Confederate fort (Fort Griffin) at Sabine Pass on September 8, 1863, when a Union invasion fleet of 27 ships and almost 6,000 men attempted to capture the fort as part of a planned invasion of Texas. In a battle that took less than an hour, Dowling and his fewer than fifty men repelled the invasion, capturing two Union gunboats and winning a victory that Jefferson Davis later called the most amazing feat in military history. The names of Dowling’s small artillery company (the Davis Guard) are inscribed on the side of the Dowling monument.
Not long after Dowling’s death in 1867 from yellow fever, the Dick Dowling Camp of the United Confederate Veterans decided to begin raising money to build a statue of Dowling in Houston. A number of Irish societies such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians wanted to participate in the project so the Dowling Monument Association was created to coordinate and lead the effort. After a lengthy period of planning, design, and construction the statue was finally finished in early 1905. It was placed originally at City Hall on Market Square. In 1939, it was moved to Sam Houston Park. In 1958 the Dowling monument was relocated to its present location near Hermann Park.
Close-up view of the Dick Dowling Monument in Hermann Park.
Photo courtesy Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
The Dowling statue shows the mustached lieutenant with his binoculars in one hand and a sword in the other. The sword has caused problems though the years. By 1958, a Houston newspaper reported that “Dick Dowling’s sword is missing again. [Nobody] has the faintest idea where it went. Five times now swords have vanished from the cupped left hand of Dowling’s statue.” Speculating that leprechauns might have a stash of the rusted swords somewhere in Ireland, the reporter noted that in some ways the missing sword was an improvement since Dowling did not actually own a sword at the time of his famous battle.
Because of the Irish heritage of Dowling and most of his men it was decided to formally dedicate the statue on St. Patrick’s Day, 1905. One of the largest crowds in Houston history participated in a parade and a large ceremony to dedicate the monument. When the parade finally reached the statue about 3 p.m., bands played “God Save Ireland” and “Dixie.” After a series of speeches, Mrs. W. F. “Annie” Robertson, Dowling’s daughter, pulled the silken cord to remove the canvas from the statue of her father amid deafening cheers from the massive crowd of dignitaries, Confederate veterans, school children, and interested citizens.
Edward T. Cotham, Jr., author of Sabine Pass; The Confederacy’s Thermopylae, a book recently published about Dowling and his famous battle, explained the reason that the people of Houston found it appropriate to so enthusiastically dedicate such a large monument to Dowling and his men. “The Union invasion thwarted at Sabine Pass was not actually aimed at that part of Texas. Sabine Pass was merely planned to be the initial landing point for a Union invasion that would have rapidly marched west with the intention of capturing Houston and Galveston. The people of Houston knew that by stopping that invasion before it even landed Dowling and his men had saved their city from occupation and possible destruction. To express their gratitude, Houstonians shortly after the battle raised funds to issue a special silver medal for Dowling and each of his men. This medal (extremely rare today) is sometimes said to have been the Confederate equivalent of the Medal of Honor that was awarded to Union heroes. After the war, the people of Houston banded together to build a statue of Dick Dowling and thus permanently honor a man who had meant so much to the city and its early history.”
Edward T. Cotham, Jr., former President of the Houston Civil War Round Table, is the author of Sabine Pass: The Confederacy’s Thermopylae (University of Texas Press, 2004).
March 1, 2005
Reviews and Awards
Chapter on Union Naval Strategy in Texas