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Texas Traveler: The Battle of Galveston

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As you're nursing your New Year's Hangover, take a moment to think about the soldiers who, 147 years previous, were fighting their brethren on both land and sea in the early part of the Civil War.

The Galveston Historical Foundation will host a handful of tours on the weekend following New Years to commemorate the Second Battle of Galveston, "widely acknowledged as the most important military event in Galveston's history."

Often referred to as simply The Battle of Galveston (the First Battle of Galveston was a naval attempt for the Union to block Galveston Harbor) the battle took place both by land and by sea in the wee hours of January 1, 1863.

At the time, Galveston was the southern US's most important port and also the largest gateway for immigrants to enter the country (the subject of an exhibit currently on display at Moody Gardens).

In October 1862 Union Fleet Commander William B Renshaw managed to blockade Galveston Harbor, giving the Union forces a line of defense that stretch all along the upper Texas coast to New Orleans. But at dawn on New Year's Day, Confederate gunboats attacked the Union's seven warships while ground troops battled it out on the beach. Renshaw and some of his men set off to destroy their grounded ship The Westfield with explosives, but they detonated too early, killing him and several of his troops.

Union soldiers on land became confused by this and surrendered, thinking their Commander had surrendered at sea. The remaining ships fled back to New Orleans, and the Confederacy never lost control of the port again.

The commemorative tours will go into detail about the history of the war, Galveston's role as an important port, and even the architecture of the Victorian City.

  • Civil War Historian Edward T. Cotham, author of the book "Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston," will lead the one-hour walking and harbor tours.
  • Cemetery historian Linda McBee will give the one-hour Civil War tour of the Broadway Cemetery, which includes the grave of Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder, a monument to those who perished during the Battle of Galveston, and the graves of other notable Civil War figures. Texas Traveler thinks this one sounds really interesting.
  • Galveston Historical Foundation Director of Preservation and Conservation Services Brian M. Davis will lead the one-hour driving tour that focuses on Galveston's unique collection of antebellum architecture and Civil War fort locations

The tours will cost about $10 each (see full details at the GHF website) and are reservation only. To reserve a spot call 409-765-7834.

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