REBEL "PAUL REVERE" TRAVELED 1,000 MILES TO WARN OF INVASION
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, Feb. 5, 1984,
from Doran's memoirs in Galveston "Daily News."
News has oftentimes taken a circuitous route to reach its destination.
Such an occurrence in 1863 brought the ominous warning of an impending invasion of Sabine
Pass, Texas, by sea to Maj. General John B. Magruder, the Confederate commander at
Houston. Considering that the military intelligence traveled first to Mexico, was then
dispatched to Houston via riders on horseback, it was a wonder indeed that the warning
arrived before the event.
The story began in the spring of 1863, shortly after the recapture of
Galveston by the Confederates. West of New Orleans, Federal armies were advancing in
Louisiana along the banks of the Bayous LaFourche and Teche, in the direction of
Lafayette, and there were widespread fears that an overland invasion of Texas was brewing.
Magruder quickly dispatched the Texas cavalry brigades of Gen. Tom Green and Colonel James
P. Majors to Central Louisiana to counter the invasion threat. The Texas force also
included most of Col. A. W. Spaight's 11th Texas Battalion, formerly stationed at Beaumont
and Sabine Pass.
One of the men who accompanied Majors was W. P. Doran of Hempstead, who
quickly acquired quite a reputation as an outstanding war correspondent in the Lone Star
State. Known to his readers by the pseudonym of "Sioux," Doran wrote for both
the Galveston "Tri-Weekly News" and the Houston "Telegraph," and his
Civil War dispatches can still be read in the microfilm reels of those newspapers.
During those war years, "Sioux's" news articles were to
emanate from all parts of the Trans-Mississippi Department, composed of those three
Confederate States lying west of the Misissippi River. During the fall of 1863, several of
his letters originated at Sabine Pass.
By July, 1863, Doran had entered Thibodeauxville, Louisiana, on the
Bayou LaFourche, after the Texans had driven the retreating Federals from the village.
"Sioux" always rode a mule as he followed the Confederate soldiers, and being
somewhat saddle-weary one day, he crawled into the hay loft of an abandoned livery stable
to catch up on his sleep. During the night, the Federal troops regrouped, surrounded, and
recaptured the town, and the next morning, Doran was captured by the 47th Massachusetts
Regiment. He was soon carried to New Orleans and jailed with other Confederate prisoners,
although he was a civilian.
When Union Maj. General William H. Emory learned that "Sioux"
was in New Orleans, he ordered him brought to his headquarters for questioning. Emory, who
was almost deaf, was anxious to hear anything about his old friend and former West Point
classmate, Gen. Magruder.
While waiting in an antechamber of Emory's office, Doran could hear
upraised voices through the thin walls. The deaf Emory and General Nathaniel Banks, the
Union commandant in New Orleans, were in conference, and Banks fairly screamed as he
explained to his executive officer that the U. S. Navy was holding up the Texas invasion.
As of that date, they still had not located enough gun boats of sufficient shallow draft
to navigate the Sabine Pass bar.
Before leaving Emory's office that day, Doran realized that Banks was
planning to capture both Houston and Galveston from the rear, first by capturing the fort
at Sabine Pass by a direct assault from the sea, and then an attack on Houston from the
rear, by advancing along the Texas and New Orleans Railroad from Beaumont.
After his meeting with the general, "Sioux" was then
transferred to the U. S. Customhouse at New Orleans and billeted with captured Confederate
officers. After a few days, inasmuch as he was a Confederate civilian, he was promised his
early release from captivity, provided that he could book passage to Matamoras, Mexico.
While at the customhouse, Doran also learned that New Orleans was
bristling with excitement. Twenty transports in the river were being loaded with
munitions, mules, wagons, and other military gear. On the shore, thousands of Federal
troops, all of them veterans of the successful Vicksburg campaign, were awaiting the
signal to go aboard.
Through one of his guards, Doran booked passage aboard the English
schooner "Gleaner." After four stormy days at sea, the schooner dropped anchor a
half-mile off the Mexican port of Bagdad, at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. He and
others were lightered ashore in a yawl boat, and "Sioux" almost drowned when the
little vessel capsized in the choppy breakers.
After a 30-mile buggy ride to Brownsville, Doran quickly located Gen.
Hamilton P. Bee, commandant of the Confederacy's Rio Grande District, and explained Banks'
Texas invasion plans. There were then no telegraph lines in Texas, except those connecting
Galveston, Houston, and Beaumont, and to convey intelligence back to Gen. Magruder in
Houston would mean a 250-mile horseback ride to the nearest railroad.
In the event one rider might not get through, Gen. Bee dispatched Doran
and a cavalryman, each bearing letters addressed to Magruder and instructions to
Confederate encampments along the way to provide the pair with food and fresh mounts. Nine
days later, Doran pulled up at Alleyton, Texas, then the most western terminus of the
Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad, just as an eastbound train was pulling out
for Houston. He arrived there on the afternoon of September 3rd, five days before the
Battle of Sabine Pass.
The next day, Magruder sent a letter to his engineers at Sabine Pass,
ordering them to fortify the seaport "with all due haste" because of the
impending invasion threat. And two night later, the first lights of an invasion armada
appeared offshore. On September 8, the invaders tried to storm their way inland, only to
leave two gunboats aground as steaming wrecks, while the remainder of the invasion fleet,
totalling about 5,000 men, hastily retreated seaward, being suddenly "homesick for
The next day, the commanding general and his staff arrived at Sabine
Pass from Houston, and Doran was with him. And "Sioux" quickly wrote another of
those famed battle dispatches that was to win for him much acclaim throughout the Civil
War. What he failed to mention in his account of the battle was the fact that he had just
ended a 1,000-mile journey by sea, rail, and horseback in order to warn his fellow Texans
that "the Yankees were coming."