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DICK DOWLING

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
When I was in the sixth grade in Beaumont, I attended the Dick Dowling Junior High School. We young scholars knew only vaguely that Dowling was some kind of hero and that other public schools in town bore the names of VIPs of Texas and local history. As an aside, all the Catholic schools were named for saints. There is not much chance of confusion between the two sources of names.

Dowling is primarily known for commanding Fort Griffin, the location of the artillery battery that defended Sabine Pass, when Union Army and Navy forces attempted to sail through the pass into Sabine Lake on September 8, 1863. They planned to disembark near a rail line that connected Houston and New Orleans, a route had been completed after the beginning of the Civil War.
Dick Dowling Statue close-up,  Sabine Battlefield State Park
Dick Dowling Statue in Sabine Pass Battleground State Park

TE Photo 2003
Dick Dowling Statue at the Sabine Battlefield State Park
The statue and pedestal inscribed with the names of Dowling's command.
TE photo 2003
Dowling was born in Galway County, Ireland, in 1838. His family left Erin for America in 1846. They arrived in New Orleans, but Dowling moved west to Houston early in the 1850s following the death of both parents. Though only twenty-three years of age when the War began, Dowling was already a seasoned and successful businessman who had operated three saloons, the Shades, the Bank of Baccus, and the Hudgpeth Bathing Saloon. He also operated a liquor import business in Galveston.

Dowling joined the Jefferson Guards, commanded by Captain Frederick H. Odlum. They fought for former Federal posts along the border with Mexico until they were secured, then participated in reclaiming control of Galveston on January 1, 1863.

The remainder of Dowling's year was spent guarding the upper Texas coast in command of Fort Griffin. And there he and his forty-seven artillerymen became Confederate heroes.
Dick Dowling Marker, Sabine Pass Cemetery, Texas
Dick Dowling Marker near Sabine Pass Cemetery
TE photo, March 2007
The Federals attempted to run seventeen ships carrying approximately 5,000 solders past the fort so they could travel by water rather than march overland to their objective in their guns on the channel previously, so they did not even have to aim.

Salvos disabled the Sachem and the Clifton, which blocked the channel, and somewhat surprisingly, the other vessels put back to sea. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, hungry for any kind of victory after the losses of Gettysburg and Vicksburg only two months previously, hailed the Battle of Sabine Pass as one of the greatest military victories in history. That was surely an exaggeration, but then they did name a school after Sabine Pass' commander, Lieutenant Richard William Dowling.
Dick Dowling statue in Hermann Park, Houston, Texas
Dick Dowling Monument
in Hermann Park, Houston
Photo courtesy Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
All Things Historical Sept. 21-27, 2003 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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