Galveston engaged in seacoast defenses

Examples of cannons used at Fort Sulakowski, including a 10-inch Columbiad, counterclockwise from top left, a 100-pound parrot gun, a Civil War mortar and a 32-pound parrot rifle.


As Col. John P. Horan, commanding officer, lowered the Stars and Stripes one last time, all that was left in the barren stretch of flat marshy land were deserted chunks of concrete, the only sentinels that remained after 111 years of military occupation.

Galveston’s East End concluded a colorful military past on Sept. 22, 1947, which began during the Texas Revolution in 1836.

The name Fort Point was to become synonymous for forts and barracks in the area, although truly Fort Point was actually a named military operation only once.

Galveston holds a proud past in its participation in seacoast defenses and in Texas history, and it is important to understand this proud past starting at the beginning.


Fort Travis, 1836-1845

In early 1836, soon after Texas declared independence from Mexico, Republic of Texas President David Burnet dispatched Col. Eduard Harcourt to Galveston Island to erect a fort on the extreme tip of the island to protect the harbor, fearing reprisals or a sea invasion.

Using more than 150 Mexican Army prisoners and slave labor, Harcourt built an octagonal earth and timber fortification armed with 6- and 12-pound gun mounts appropriated from the Texas Navy vessel Cayuga.

The Cayuga had recently been purchased from John R. Harris and had served as the “Texas floating capital.”

The earthwork alluded to what was known as Fort Travis; during the spring and summer of 1836, it was under the command of Col. James Morgan, who after the battle of San Jacinto was succeeded by Maj. Isaac M. Moreland.

On Feb. 7, 1837, he was relieved by Col. Amase Turner, who had commanded a company at the Battle of San Jacinto and was appointed boarding officer by Gail Borden, the port collector of customs under the republic.

The violent hurricane of October 1837 reshaped the far east end of the island, captured by Groesbeck’s 1838 map, which clearly denoted the location of the “OLD FORT” as well as new barracks and quarters built after the storm.

For a short time, the military operations were named Post Galveston, but as concerns for a sea invasion subsided, the post was temporarily abandoned in 1841.

However, in 1842, when Mexican troops captured San Antonio, the Fort was again placed in action with George Hockley as commander.

Congress in 1842 passed the Seacoast Protection Act appropriating $7,000 for erecting and manning defenses to protect Galveston Harbor; in 1843, gun emplacements and quarters were erected.

However, a devastating storm was more than the Republic could bear, as no money was available for rebuilding the site.

Shortly after in 1845, Texas was annexed as a state to the Union, and as so, gave up all property pertaining to the defenses, the fort abandoned the following year.

Thus, the new state of Texas was born with the coastline virtually defenseless, and would remain so until the Civil War.


Fort Sulakowski, 1863-1865

Fort Sulakowski was the official name of the Civil War fortification constructed in 1863 and located on Mesquite Island near the then extreme end of Galveston Island, the point of the island also was generally referred to as Fort Point.

The method of fortifying Galveston during the post-Civil War era was of such great interest to the people of Galveston that The Galveston News solicited for and gained an interview with Gen. X.B. Debray in March 1876.

Gen. Debray commanded on Galveston Island from January to June 1862; in July, he assumed command of the military sub district of Houston.

He also commanded some of the Confederate troops in the recapture of Galveston on Jan. 1, 1863.

The interview started with Fort Point, Debray’s summary comments were as follows:

“All of the Galveston armament works were constructed by the Confederacy in about four months, beginning in the middle of January, 1863, by means of plantation hands and overseers impressed for that purpose. At the eastern end of the island was a strong casemated battery, the conception and engineering of which were highly praised by engineers sent from Richmond, Va. Its port holes were not over 10 feet above mean low tide, allowing a ricochet firing across the channel and commanding the entire entrance to the inner bar and the whole bay front of the city. It was rendered bomb proof by a treble layer of railroad iron with a revetment of 25 feet of sand covered in turf. In the rear of the battery there was a sand cavalier, with bomb proof magazine, store rooms, quarters and cisterns, the top of which had a parapet and banquette for the use of long range small-arms fire.

The armament of Fort Point consisted of two 10 inch Columbiads, one 100 pound parrot gun, four 32 pound smooth bore guns all in casemates, a 30 pound parrot gun on top of the battery, and two mortars on top of the cavalier. Some of the guns revolved on their platforms, and had two portholes to allow the maximum of scope with the minimum of vulnerability. By means of a railroad connecting with the platforms, guns could be shifted from one casemate to another.”



Soon after the war, locals began pilfering the fort of any item of worth, especially sought after was the flannel used as covering for the gunpowder charges, leaving a thick layer of gunpowder on the flooring.

In June 1865, boys climbed into the fort, ignited the gunpowder and blew up two of the magazines.

Shortly after this incident, C.L. Gillespie, chief engineer, audited the fort and drew a construction plan, which noted the exploded magazines.

The end of the Civil War terminated military funding for coastal and harbor defense in Texas and the United States except for small maintenance funds and surveys.

Further activity on a grand scale would not occur until the Endicott Period in 1885, which would call for modernization of defenses across the entire U.S. Coastline.

Mort Voller lives in Galveston and in several capacities has advocated for Galveston’s Natural Heritage. Kirk Clark is a process safety consultant and local historian with a passion for all things Galveston history.

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