H. N. Connor
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Diary of H. N. Connor

SGT. H. N. CONNOR:
A SABINE SADDLE SOLDIER'S CIVIL WAR EXPLOITS

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont SUNDAY ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, Aug. 22, 1976.
Source: "The Diary of First Sergeant H. N. Connor, 1861-1865," unpublished, copy owned by the writer.

When the flames of rebellion ignited throughout the Southland in 1861, scores of men in Jefferson County hastened to enlist. The wartime exploits of most of them could have filled volumes of history, but no more than two or three from the Southeast Texas area bothered to pen their experiences for posterity. One exception was First Sergeant H. N. Connor, a Sabine Pass cavalryman, who enlisted in April, 1861, and spent 2 1/2 of the succeeding 4 years in Jefferson County.

Connor was born in Houston in 1841. As a teenage youth, he joined his father and uncle, Captains H. L. and D. E. Connor, in the Trinity River cotton trade and worked as a steamboat clerk. By 1859, tales of a bustling Sabine Pass caused Connor to migrate to Jefferson County, for his one goal in life was to become a cotton broker and commission merchant. In 1860,. he became a bookkeeper for Sabine's largest cotton firm, Craig and Keith, unaware that his new employment would soon launch his career in the Confederate Army.

When the outbreak of war stifled all export trade, young Connor enlisted on April 20 in the "Sabine Pass Guard," a 90-day militia company. In July,1861, he reenlisted, spent endless hours drilling and hiking over Sabine's treeless salt grass terrain, a grueling life which gradually steered the young recruit toward the saddle. He longed for the combat action which did not materialize. In September, 1861, when Lt. Col. J. B. Likens raised the 6th Texas (Likens) Battalion at Sabine Pass, Connor joined the cavalry Company A, in which unit he remained until July, 1864.

Following the election of company officers, Dr. J. H. Blair, a Sabine physician, became captain, but he resigned three months later. He was replaced by his first lieutenant, O. M. Marsh, a West Pointer, who remained captain for the remainder of the war. Second Lieutenant Thomas R. Jackson, a prominent Sabine Pass rancher, was promoted to executive officer, and Connor became first sergeant. For a brief period, he served as sergeant-major of Likens' Battalion, but disliking that assignment, he soon returned to his old cavalry post.

In September, 1861, Co. A built 14 stables and barracks on the Front Ridge, five miles west of Sabine. In October, Connor was sent to Galveston, where he obtained 120 carbines and ammunition for his company. In between, he was burdened with the routine assigment details, foraging for horses and cattle, maintaining scouting and messenger patrols to High Island and Beaumont, and pickets at McFaddin Beach who, the following November, were shelled by a 3-masted Federal gunboat offshore.

In March, 1862, Likens' Battalion of state militia was inducted into the Confederate Army. Two months later, the unit became Lt. Col. A. W. Spaight's 11th Texas Battalion of 6 companies, comprised of men from the 10 Southeast Texas counties.

In August, 1862, Connor's company was exposed to a severe and virulent outbreak of the "yellow jack" (yellow fever) at Sabine, an epidemic which disabled nearly all of the 120-man company and claimed several of their lives. On Sept. 24, 1862, when a Federal naval squadron began shelling Fort Sabine, only 14 of the cavalrymen were fit for duty at the fort. Following a brief furlough, Col. Spaight reassembled his battalion at the "Hillebrandt Cowpens" west of present-day Nederland, where Co. A was based for several months afterward.

Upon learning that the Federal sailors in Sabine Lake were reluctant to come ashore for fear of yellow fever, 2nd Lt. R. E. Bolton, whose troopers were assigned to drive the range cattle inland from the Pass, returned to the Front Ridge barracks and stables with his patrol. On Oct. 20, he led 30 men to the banks of the Pass, where they remained concealed among the mesquite bushes near Wingate's sawmill. When the Union steam gunboat "Dan," with the Federal schooner "Velocity" in tow, approached in the Pass, the cavalrymen fired four carbine volleys at the crowded decks of the vessels. The troopers soon retreated when the "Dan" began firing cannister shot at them. In retaliation, the "Dan" shelled Sabine City. The next day, 50 Bluejackets came ashore, burned the sawmill, planing mill, sash and door factory, and several residences, as well as 700,000 feet of rough lumber stacked nearby. The vindictive Union gunboat became Co. A's special target when the 50-man patrol burned the cavalry barracks and stables, driving the troopers into the marshes with grape shot fired from a boat howitzer mounted on Kate Dorman's cart. To even the odds, Connor solicited $500 from his saddle mates, went to Houston, and purchased a 6-pound wheeled cannon, which he promptly dubbed "Aunt Jane," and solid shot for his company.

Two months elapsed before the cavalrymen accomplished their revenge, but it was no less gratifying when it came. During the fall of 1862, the "Dan," at the end of each day's cruise, anchored nightly at the Sabine lighthouse. After two unsuccessful attempts, Sgt. Connor and eight of his men stealthily rowed up to "Dan" during a dense fog on the night of January 8, 1863. The troopers quickly blazed 30 pineknot torches from live charcoal in a washpot, threw them aboard the decks of the "Dan," leaving the crewmen barely time to jump overboard. After two hours, the gunboat burned to the waterline, exploded, and soon settled to its permanent berth within the shadows of the Sabine lighthouse.

Two weeks later, Connor and 25 troopers became "horseless marines" when they boarded two Confederate steam gunboats, the cottonclads "Uncle Ben" and "Josiah Bell," and fought the two offshore blockade ships. The Union gunboats "Morning Light" and "Velocity" tried in vain to escape when the Rebel ships, belching pineknot smoke, steamed out of the Pass on January 21. After a 2-hour running battle, several shells from the "Bell" struck the "Morning Light," and both blockaders surrendered when the musketry from Company A's sharpshooters peppered the gun crews and drove them below deck.

Beginning in 1863, Connor's troopers fought dismounted for much of the remainder of the war. In May, 1863, five of Col. Spaight's companies were transferred to the Bayou Teche region of Louisiana, where they campaigned for the remainder of 1863. A Union army had driven westward as far as Opelousas, but began a slow retreat toward Morgan City when Gen. Richard Taylor's guerrilla tactics threatened to sever its long supply lines.

During a span of six months, Co. A participated in 20 engagements, including battles and skirmishes at Franklin, Jeanerette, Fordoche Bayou, New Iberia, Camp Pratt, Vermilion Prairie, Mouton's Plantation, Carencro Bayou, Grand Coteau, Indian Bend, Opelousas, Chicot Road, Dupre's Plantation, Moundville, and Bayou Bourbeau, the latter and Fordoche being successful but bloody Confederate victories. Before Co. A's return to Texas in December, 1863, some of its members were killed in battle, a greater number died of disease, and several were hospitalized with wounds.

Connor's diary probably depicts every conceivable hardship that Confederate soldiers could endure. On one occasion, his troops underwent 21 consecutive days of sub-freezing weather, many of them without food. On Dec. 29, he left Beaumont with a wagon train en route to Houston, a trip which consumed eight days. On January 1, 1864, he reported reaching Liberty -- "frozen out. Yesterday it was so cold we could not travel - horses, saddles, and blankets and clothes all frozen stiff. One man frozen to death. Today the ice on some of the ponds on the prairie held the weight of the horses without cracking, causing them to slide and fall, injuring them severely."

During 1864, Captain Marsh's company was reassigned to Sabine Pass as dismounted cavalry. On May 6, they fought their last engagement against two Union gunboats, the "Wave" and "Granite City," at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, La. A part of a confederate force of 350 infantry and artillery from the Sabine garrison, Co. A's troopers and other units fought the anchored "tin clads" for 1 1/2 hours, losing 14 men killed and 10 wounded before both ships surrendered. Spoils of the victory included two fine steam gunboats, 16 large guns, 166 prisoners, 450 cattle and horses, and tons of food and munitions.

Connor's dislike for dismounted fighting was equaled only by a cowpoke's distaste for sheep meat. In July, he applied for a transfer to report to Company C, 4th Texas Cavalry, of Hardeman's Brigade, then on field duty in North Louisiana and Arkansas. He spent the next 9 months in the saddle, but saw little action during those closing days of the war. Suddenly homesick for his old company, Connor was reassigned to Spaight's Battalion in April, 1865, and finally reached his old unit at Beaumont on the same day that it and he were discharged from Confederate service on May 24, 1865.

Expressing the disillusion of Confederates everywhere, Connor ended his diary with a barrage of bitterness, adding that -- "this ends our hopes and efforts to establish a separate independent republic, and with this surrender, we surrender our State's Rights doctrine, not from moral conviction, but from 'bayonet' conviction which outrules all others. Thousands have sealed the struggle with their lives. Wealth has been expended, but political corruption has lost to us our dearest rights as a nation of Southern people."

Several prominent, early Beaumonters were saddle mates of Connor's and were discharged with him on the somber occasion in May, 1865. Very little is known about H. N. Connor's life after the Civil War, except that he never returned to Sabine Pass to live. Most probably he returned to the Trinity River cotton trade, for his father and uncle continued to operate their old cotton boats for many years afterward. Whatever his fate, he left in his diary a great legacy of Civil War history that has been read and treasured by many Southeast Texans.

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