“Let them come ashore & we horse marines will show them.”
A letter was recently sold at auction that gives a wonderful, firsthand account of what it was like here in Galveston just after the city and island were retaken by General Magruder’s forces on New Years Day, 1863. The author is 30-year-old Private William C. Smith of the 26th Texas Cavalry. At the time Smith was on detached service from his regiment for duty as a clerk at headquarters.
Galveston, Jany 10th 1863
Saturday night 9 o’clock
The old saying that it is hard to say what an hour may bring proved true today. I was sitting at my desk quietly writing as I now am when I hear a gun go bang & directly the same thing again. I instantly dropped my pen & ran up on top of the house to see what was going on. It proved to be the enemy ships shelling our city, which they did pretty well for about two hours. They were too far out to sea for us to reach them at first, nor could they do us any harm. But they venture a little closer, where we opened upon them & they returned [fire]. The shot & shell make a curious noise. I was in a position that I could see every thing that was going on. You look at the ship. They fire, [you] see the smoke, wait about half a minute, then you hear the report of the gun, then the whistling of the shell, loaded with balls, pieces of iron, & c. when they explode in a house they tear it all to pieces. One shell bursted today about 200 yards from me in a house & tore it to pieces. We expect that we will commence fighting again tomorrow, [but] there was no one hurt today. I felt sorry to see the poor women & children running through the streets & getting out of the city as fast as possible, for fear of being hurt. Our troops are ordered to sleep with their guns in their hands tonight for fear of an attack. You can not imagine how our soldiers were laughing & joking during the fight. I did not see a man who looked [in] any way frightened, all of them saying only let them come ashore & we horse marines will show them what Texans can do.
A flag of truce went out to the [Federal] vessels yesterday They report that we killed a great many on the vessels that ran away on New Years Day.
The very next afternoon, on Sunday, January 11, a strange sail would appear on the horizon away to the south. One Federal warship, U.S.S. Hatteras, would be assigned to investigate. The strange sail was C.S.S. Alabama, and just 24 hours after First Sergeant Williams sat down to write his wife, Hatteras would be at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Image: U.S.S. South Carolina shelling Galveston, August 1861.