At 20th Street and The Strand stands the Hendley Building. Completed in the late 1850s, it was the first large commercial building erected on The Strand. On Jan. 8 and Jan. 9, I will again be leading tour groups up into this building as part of the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Battle of Galveston walking tours.

What makes this building so special? I doubt that any other building in America provides such a unique Civil War experience. To begin with, someone went to the top of this building in 1861 and took photographs looking in every direction. These are a valuable time capsule for those studying the city’s early history. On my tours, I love to display these amazingly detailed photos in large format to allow visitors to imagine looking out the windows at Galveston on the eve of the Civil War.

The Hendley Building played a critical role in the Battle of Galveston, the 159th anniversary of which is observed this week. Early on the morning of Jan. 1, 1863, a Confederate fleet came steaming down Galveston Bay from the north and attacked the Union fleet stationed off the city.

This was timed (poorly as it turned out) to coincide with what was supposed to be a Confederate bombardment from the shore. As part of this bombardment, some Confederate artillery pieces were carried up to the second floor of the Hendley Building and fired out the back windows.

The Rosenberg Library houses an eyewitness drawing of the battle by a Union participant that clearly identifies guns firing out of the windows of this building.

The Battle of Galveston was the largest Civil War battle fought in Texas and resulted in the only Confederate recapture of an important port that had been seized by the Union. The Hendley Building was right in the front line of the battle, and damage inflicted by Union naval forces during the battle is still visible on a column facing 20th Street.

I love to take tour groups into the upper floors of the Hendley Building and show them the photos and drawings we have from the Civil War era. I think it’s something special. Where else in America can you go into a building that was so actively involved in a Civil War battle? Many Civil War battles involved nearby buildings and farms, but where else do you have photos taken in all directions from the top of the building before the war? Where else are you able to go up in a building where artillery fired out the windows as depicted in an eyewitness drawing?

I will freely admit my partiality to Galveston and its Civil War history, but there’s something unique about the Hendley Building and the way it assists in telling the Civil War story of Galveston.

If this interests you, see the historical foundation’s page on Eventbrite for tour reservations.

See you on the battlefield.

Edward T. Cotham Jr. is the author of “Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston.”

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Bailey Jones

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