Monday, May 21, 2012

"The Big Guns of Fayette"

Unsurprisingly, histories of Texas units that spent the entire war garrisoning their state's coastline are rare. Published way back in 1965, Paul C. Boethel's The Big Guns of Fayette (Von Boeckmann-Jones) is the history of just such a group of men, Creuzbaur's Battery [a.k.a. Fifth Texas Field Battery, Welhausen's Battery].  Although the literature focuses nearly all of its attention on the struggles and victimization of German unionists in the Lone Star State, it is clear from Creuzbaur's almost entirely ethnic company roster that many German-Texans supported the Confederate cause. Originally intended as a heavy artillery unit for coastal defense when it was organized in 1861, the lack of suitable ordnance meant conversion to a four-gun light field battery [2 12-lbers (presumably howitzers) and 2 6-lbers].

From 1861-64, the unit drew garrison duty the length of the Texas coast as places like Liberty, Virginia Point, Galveston Island, Sandy Point, and Fort Mannahassett (Sabine Pass). The only real combat experienced by the men was at Calcasieu Pass (LA) in 1864, where the guns came under heavy fire (disabling two) but were nevertheless instrumental in forcing a pair of powerful Union gunboats (Granite City and Wave, mounting 14 cannon) to surrender. At only 69 pages, Boethel's narrative, based on a variety of primary and secondary source materials (but primarily on official documents), is brief, but it is strong on organizational and roster data. The chapter on Calcasieu Pass is judiciously written and suitably detailed, although a battle map would have been helpful. A trio of drawings indicate geographical points significant to the unit's service history as well as the locales where it was organized and trained.  The roster at the back of the book contains a good number of sizable mini-biographies.

The Big Guns of Fayette has aged rather well and is worth picking up [unfortunately, used copies offered on the secondary market currently run in the $200 range so ILL is a better bet]. In addition to providing useful coverage of military affairs on relatively obscure coastal fronts in the Trans-Mississippi, the book's portrait of an unusual Confederate unit should also arouse the interest of social historians interested in the multi-ethnic makeup of Civil War armies.

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