Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991 Page: 21
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Galveston harbor demanding that Confederate
forces surrender. The battery at
Fort Point opened fire with its single 10inch
gun. At that point, the Union forces
"opened fire from all the vessels with about
twenty guns...and they continued to play
upon [the 10-inch gun] until the gun was
struck by a shot and so disabled as to be
unserviceable." The Confederate officer in
charge ordered the gun to be spiked and the
barracks burned. Confederate troops then
retreated across low open ground to the
city. By the end of October 1862, Galveston
and most of the Texas coast were in Union
A turning point for the Confederacy
occurred when forces led by Major General
John Bankhead Magruder attacked
Galveston on the night of December 31,
1862. It appeared that Federal forces, with
their superior firepower, would prevail.
However, the successful taking of the Union
gunboat Harriet Lane ended in the raising
of truce flags and the retreat of Federal
With this victory, the port of Galveston
was reopened, and Confederate forces began
refortifying the Island. Working with
crews of Blacks who labored at sawmills,
cut and carried sod, and carried timber and
iron, Magruder and his forces made substantial
progress by August 1863 when
fortifications on the gulf side of Galveston
Island extended more than two miles from
Fort Point, to Fort Magruder, and then
down the beach to the South Battery (Fort
Sidney Sherman). By the end of the war in
1865, the Island was the location of a
nearly impregnable line of defenses. At
Fort Point, fortifications consisted of a
polygonal casemated sand battery that
measured approximately 270 feet by 200
feet and provided space for five carriages
and guns, two 10-inch mortars, and a hotshot
1866 through 1894: Experimentation
During three decades following the close
of the Civil War, Galveston grew at a
tremendous rate, quickly surpassing other
Texas ports. While it was obvious that
fortifications were necessary to protect the
increasingly important port, there was little
point in investing large sums of money
when the improvements were threatened
regularly by severe storms. What occurred
during the 30 years following the war was a
period of study and experimentation fol
lowed by a complex program of jetty construction,
dredging, and planning for fortifications
appropriate to the protection of a
A major hurricane in early October
1867 provided engineers with an opportunity
to study the effects of storms on the
Island and to make preliminary recommendations
about countering their effects.
Corps of Engineers First Lieutenant W.S.
Stanton concluded that the narrow body of
land that constituted the end of Galveston
Island had been "gradually washing away
under the action of easterly storms for many
years. By the storm of October, 1867, more
than one-half of this part of the island was
converted into a shoal."
Stanton felt that if something was not
done to preserve and restore the Island, the
remaining portion soon would be swept
away. As a result, he recommended building
two jetties that would increase the
volume of water flowing through Galveston
channel, introducing a dam at San Luis
Pass, and dredging. However, the federal
government failed to fund the projects.
The citizens of Galveston responded by
appropriating $170,000 in 1869 to create a
deep-water port, and the money was expended
to construct a pile jetty extending
more than a mile into the Gulf. But this
project alone failed to deepen the channel,
and Congress realized that federal aid would
be necessary if Galveston was to become a
Two violent storms in 1871 introduced
urgency to the situation, and in 1874, a
Board of Engineers approved an experimental
plan formulated by Captain W.C.
Howell for jetty construction formed with
gabions. However, shortly after Howell
initiated construction on the gabion jetty,
yet another violent hurricane stuck, completely
submerging the Island and killing
many of the construction workers. The end
of the Island formed into two smaller islands,
separated from the city by wide channels.
Another hurricane in 1877 swept away 900
feet of the northeast end of the Island, and
a portion of the Fort Point gabion jetty was
Howell's gabion system was abandoned,
a new system was developed that involved
the installation of "mattresses" of brush
and stone, and work continued on the
construction of the jetties. By 1884, the
south jetty had been extended out from the
Fort Point area a distance of 4 1/4 miles at
a cost of almost $1 million.
In 1885, President Cleveland assembled
a special Board on Fortifications or Other
Defenses, charged with the responsibility
of "[reviewing] the entire coast defense
situation and [submitting] recommendations
for a program based upon...newly
developing weapons." The Board placed
Galveston seventeenth on their list and
recommended eight high-power 8-inch
rifles and 16 12-inch mortars for its defense.
But, as before, money was slow to come,
and a decade elapsed before substantial
fortification efforts were undertaken. In
the meantime, jetty construction continued.
By 1889, the south jetty stood at
22,551 feet and water depth in the channel
had increased. Simultaneously, the action
of the current and waves against the jetty
had worked to create a new island northeast
of the government reserve. It seemed
likely that the two land masses would join
soon, thus creating a thorny issue of ownership.
A Corps of Engineers officer recommended
that the federal government fence
the land it claimed and assert title to it. But
even this action failed to settle the issue of
rightful ownership, which would remain a
stumbling block to development of the
Island's end for another two decades.
Part II of this article will appear in the Winter
1992 issue of HERITAGE. For a complete
copy of A History of Fortifications at Fort
San Jacinto, contact Prewitt and Associates,
Inc., (512) 459-3349.
This research was conducted for a project with
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston
HERITAGE * FALL 1991 21
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991, periodical, Autumn 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45425/m1/21/: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.