Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Battle of Corpus Christi
CORPUS CHRISTI, BATTLE OF. The battle of Corpus Christi occurred during the summer of 1862, while the coast of Texas from Cavallo Pass to Corpus Christi was under blockade by the USS Arthur. The Arthur's commander, acting lieutenant John W. Kittredge, was bold and aggressive, and his activities over a period of seven months caused grave concern to Texas military officials and near panic among coastal residents. However, Cavallo Pass was protected by Fort Esperanza at Saluria, and the intracoastal waterway remained open to commerce. The Arthur, with a draft of fourteen feet, was unable to cross the shallow inlets to pursue small vessels trafficking in cotton and other goods.
The situation changed, however, when Kittredge received from New Orleans two light-draft vessels, the steamer Sachem and the yacht Corypheus. With the yacht he captured two Confederate sloops, the Reindeer and the Belle Italia, and converted them into armed gunboats. Then, on August 12, Kittredge brought his "mosquito fleet" into Corpus Christi Bay, where the USS Corypheus overtook and captured the Confederate schooner Breaker.
On August 13 Kittredge, under a flag of truce, landed at Corpus Christi and insisted on his right to inspect all United States government buildings there, but was rebuffed by Confederate Major Alfred M. Hobby and threatened to take the city by force. Kittredge agreed to a forty-eight-hour truce to allow civilians to evacuate but forbade military preparations during that time. Although he had no more than 100 men aboard his five vessels, Kittredge-with one Parrott gun, eight thirty-two-pounders, and a twelve-pound howitzer-was better armed than the Texans ashore. The 700 defenders of Corpus Christi were local volunteers and the four companies of the Eighth Texas Infantry battalion under Hobby's command. Hobby had defied Kittredge and let him know that the Texans intended to resist. The defenders depended largely upon their only artillery pieces, three old smoothbore cannons, one eighteen-pounder and two twelve-pounders. Hobby and his men had neither training in the use of artillery nor combat experience. Two of the local volunteers, however, had both. Felix A. von Blücher was a veteran of the Mexican War, and Pvt. Billy Mann, home from the army on sick leave, was a combat veteran. Both men provided an invaluable service in the defense of their city. When the forty-eight-hour truce ended and no attack came, Hobby took advantage of darkness to move his men and guns to earthworks erected by Gen. Zachary Taylor's army of occupation in 1845.
The move was accomplished without detection and brought the Texans within 400 yards of the Sachem. Early on the morning of August 16 the Confederates began firing, striking both the Sachem and the Corypheus. Both sides exchanged fire for several hours before Kittredge withdrew. No further action occurred until August 18, when thirty-two sailors were landed with a howitzer about a mile south of the battery. The federals advanced firing, backed by supporting fire from the ships. About 600 yards before reaching the battery, they were repulsed by a cavalry charge led by Capt. James A. Ware and hastily withdrew to their ships. Only one Confederate soldier was killed in the battle, despite the large number of shells fired at the battery and about the city. Hobby and one Union sailor were wounded, although not seriously. It was clearly a victory for the Texans, despite Kittredge's official report that his landing party had faced an overwhelming enemy force and had inflicted many casualties. Blücher and Mann both received field promotions from Gen. Hamilton P. Bee.
Although the battle of Corpus Christi was acclaimed throughout the state as the "Vicksburg of Texas," the victory brought no permanent security to the city's citizens. The defending soldiers were soon withdrawn, leaving the city vulnerable to forays by a United States military force that occupied nearby Mustang Island during 1863-64. Many citizens, faced with starvation, offered allegiance to these forces in exchange for food and protection, and Corpus Christi remained a divided and stricken city for the duration of the war.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Corpus Christi Caller, December 25, 1903. Corpus Christi Ranchero, August 19, 1862. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Norman C. Delaney
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