the spring of 1946, an Army major assigned to desk duty at the Pentagon had his
sergeant call the War Records Office at the National Archives to ask if they had
any information on an old military post in South Texas called Fort Kirby. |
a nuclear-era officer had an interest in a long-vanished frontier military garrison
is not descernable from the three-paragraph letter the major received from the
National Archives, but that document sets forth all that could then be learned
about the ante-bellum infantry base:
“Fort Kirby was established by General
Orders No. 63, Hd. 8th Dept. July 23, 1851, which provided that Bvt. Major Gabriel
R. Paul, 7th Inft. Should with 2 companies of his regt. then stationed at Corpus
Christi; establish a post to be called Fort Kirby, on the Charo Grande de
Aqua Dulce. According to a note found amont the records of the Adj. General’s
office the fort was named for Col. Edmund Kirby.”
And that was it, other
than another sentence reporting that no post returns from Fort Kirby had been
the U.S. military left quite a footprint in Texas
during the 19th century, establishing and later abandoning scores of camps and
forts along what was then the state’s western frontier and the Rio Grande, Fort
Kirby may be the least known. No historical marker notes its existence, the encylopedic
“Handbook of Texas” contains no mention of the fort, and no one else seems to
have written about it. Indeed, the place appears to have fallen through the proverbial
cracks of history.
The lack of post returns, the monthly reports that
had to be filed from each of the military’s installations, indicates Fort Kirby
was short-lived, an outpost hardly deserving of such a formidable sounding noun
Kirby was established on Aqua Dulce Creek in western Nueces County during
the time the Army’s 8th Military District had its headquarters at Corpus
Christi. Its strategic importance came from being on or near the wagon road
that connected the mid coast with Laredo,
but for whatever reason, the military brass soon thought better of the idea and
moved the two companies of foot soliders elsewhere.
While an internet search
turns up hardly anything on Fort Kirby, a bit of googling did bring to light some
interesting information on the outpost’s namesake and the officer who occupied
it for a time.
Edmund Kirby, whose father had been an officer in
the colonial Army during the American Revolution, received a commission as a lieutenant
in 1812 and served with distinction through the Mexican War. He left the Army
in 1848 and returned to his home in Brownsville, N.Y. where he died of disease
on Aug. 20, 1849.
Gabriel Paul, the officer who established Fort
Kirby, also devoted his career to the Army, serving from 1834 to 1865. Born in
St. Louis, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy 18th in his class of 36.
His saw his first combat during the Seminole Wars in Florida and even more during
the Mexican War.
Wounded in the battle of Cerro Gordo, he regained his
health in time to take part in the capture of Mexico City. When U.S. troops stormed
Chapultepec Castle, Paul headed the unit that seized the Mexican flag. In fact,
his gallantry in that incident is what got him promoted to major.
the war, Paul spent some time in Texas with his long-time
outfit, the 7th Infantry. That’s when he got orders to garrison Fort Kirby.
the Civil War broke out, Paul led an infantry brigade at Fort Union, N.M., then
a territory. As a brigadier general, he commanded a brigade during the Battle
of Chancellorsville and headed another brigade during the pivotal clash at Gettysburg
in the mid-summer of 1863.
At Gettysburg, in defending Oak Ridge against
four times his number, a rebel musket ball hit his right temple, tearing through
his skull and exiting his left eye. The wound knocked Paul unconscious and he
was left for dead. Stretcher bearers collecting bodies later discovered he was
still alive and carried him to a nearby house, where a Union doctor treated him.
Amazingly, given the state of the medical art back then, the general survived.
But the wound had blinded him and severely impacted his ability to hear or smell.
The Army kept him on light duty until February 1865, when he was retired. He lived
another 21 years.
In 1900, the Army honored the Kirby name again, designating
a coastal artillery installation overlooking California’s San Francisco Bay as
Battery Kirby. But this time, the military was recognizing Lt. Edmund Kirby –
the son of Fort Kirby’s namesake – a young artillery officer who died of wounds
Battery Kirby helped protect the Golden Gate Bridge
until 1941, when the last of its two big guns was dismantled and shipped to the
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