Where Was Fort Grigsby?
Historian May Have Answer
By W. T. Block
Reprint from Midcounty Chronicle, Monday, November 23, 1970.
- (ED. NOTE: Mr. Block who is assistant postmaster at Nederland and a teaching fellow at
Lamar University is a descendant of a pioneer family of the area. Long interested in
Southeast Texas history, Mr. Block recently found the remains of Civil War Fort Manhassett
near Sabine. Further research by the historian has resulted in the following story.)
If you were searching in Jefferson County for the site of a lost
Confederate fortress, would you bother to look within the city limits of Port Neches?
Probably not. Yet somewhere between Port Neches Park and the Texaco Inc. dock, old Fort
Grigsby once stood.
The dock area was its probable location. From that point, the fort's
guns could traverse over a wider arc in sighting upon enemy vessels attempting to ascend
Its builder, Lt. Col. Getulius Kellersberger, once remarked of it,
'"This battery, if ably-manned and defended, can blow anything out of the water that
can cross the bar."
Kellersberger, Confederate chief engineer for East Texas, built no less
than 20 Confederate forts at points between tile Brazes and Sabine Rivers (including Forts
Griffin and Manhassett) and as far west as Austin.
Actually, Fort Grigsby was a hastily-constructed fortification of mud
and clamshell embankments shored up by upright pointed logs. Its main battery was two
24-pounder long-iron guns. It also had a "substantial" arsenal and bombproof.
After the fort was abandoned in the summer of 1863, these slime guns
were two of the six used by Lt. Dick Dowling to mangle two Union warships at the second
Battle of Sabine Pass.
The decision to build Fort Grigsby was made on October 2, 1862. On that
date, Col. Ashley Spaight, in command at Beaumont, requested guns, men, and the services
of Col. (then Major) Kellersberger to construct new defenses along the two rivers. The
following day, the engineer left Houston with men and supplies to begin construction at
Fort Grigsby, and fifteen days later, could report that it was nearing completion.
Usually, from 200 to 300 slaves were used on such projects.
At the same moment, a squadron of three Union ships was in Sabine Lake,
depredating Sabine Pass and the railroad along the lake's shores. In a three-week orgy of
destruction, they burned Sabine's railway station, roundhouse, two sawmills, many
residences, and set fire to Taylor's Bayou railroad bridge.
Col. Spaight apparently gave up hope of holding Sabine Pass and Lake,
and, by fortifying the rivers, prepared to defend only Beaumont and Orange.
Fort Sabine, at Sabine Pass, had been abandoned on September 24, 1862;
its 30 defenders having spiked their guns and retreated to Beaumont with their supplies
and stores. At the time, most of Spaight's troops were furloughed or convalescent due to
yellow fever and measles epidemics.
Kellersberger also built a Sabine River fort on a shell bank eight
rifles south of Orange and armed it with three 32 pounder guns. On the bars of the two
rivers, he scuttled 80-foot barges loaded with clamshell, so designed that the rivers
could admit only shallow-draft river steamers.
Fort Grigsby was apparently abandoned after July of 1863. It would be
pointless for souvenir hunters to seek its site because its guns, munitions, and stores
were moved to the then-unfinished Fort Griffin.
In its tiny, Fort Grigsby must have been well-known to the commanding
general in Houston. On September 9, 1863, the day after Dowling's triumph, Gen. J. B.
Magruder sent a dispatch from Sabine Pass to the Headquarters, Trans-Mississippi
Department. In it, he erroneously reported that Dowling's victory had taken place at Fort
Grigsby rather than at Fort Griffin.