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Galveston Bay has often been overlooked as inconsequential in United States frontier history during the early 1800s, but the recent work of James M. Schmidt reveals a deeper history of the “jewel of the Gulf Coast” (9). The booming island city served as a base for infamous pirates, unscrupulous privateers, and ruthless slave traders, where domestic, commercial, plantation, and maritime labor prospered. Texas’s location on the western periphery of the Civil War’s Trans-Mississippi theater limited its participation in major military engagements, but did not insulate the state from the war. Schmidt correctly points out that Galveston operated as the largest southern port and slave market east of New Orleans, where 1,178 enslaved persons resided by 1860. The port was a hotbed of secessionist sentiment, and despite the public misgivings of Governor Sam Houston the people of the ‘Seventh Star’ of the Confederacy voted to protect the institution of slavery by seceding from the Union on March 5, 1861. Ultimately, at least 1,500 Galvestonians [End Page 328] enlisted in the Confederate military, while local women raised funds and supplied materials through volunteer aid societies.
The Union’s blockade against southern ports brought scarcity, suffering, and misery to the people of Galveston. On October 4, 1862, Union naval commander William B. Renshaw’s fleet consisting of the USS Westfield, Clifton, Owasco, and Harriet Lane arrived. The subsequent surrender of the city by a disgraced Confederate General Paul Octave Hebert initiated a brief federal occupation of Galveston. The combined efforts of Confederate Brigadier General John Bankhead Magruder, Colonel Tom Green, and Leon Smith led to “the strangest battle of the war,” in which improvised ‘cottonclad’ steamships, artillerymen, and ‘horse marines’ forced the surrender of the Union forces, the USS Harriet Lane, and adjoining Union fleet. Texas Governor Francis Lubbock called the victory, “the most dashing affair of the war” (89). The subsequent sinking of the USS Hatteras by the infamous CSS Alabama contributed to “still another disaster off Galveston” (94). It is noteworthy that the USS Hatteras was the only Union warship sunk as a result of combat in the Gulf of Mexico during the war, and recent high-resolution sonar has revealed detailed 3-D maps of the wreckage. On land, the city’s dedicated Ursuline community cared for injured soldiers, as well as those suffering from outbreaks of yellow fever during 1864. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger’s arrival and delivery of General Order No. 3 legally abolished slavery in Texas forever. Ultimately, Galveston overcame the devastation of evacuation, invasion, abandonment, and occupation.
Schmidt’s clear and concise overview extends beyond the Battle of Galveston to provide readers with a valuable account of the port city by addressing a range of issues including slave labor, Unionist dissent, the ‘Texas Troubles,’ blockade running, yellow fever epidemics, Galveston’s Ursuline sisters, and the declaration of “Juneteenth.” The author cleverly utilizes a variety of manuscript collections, Galveston Daily News, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies, letters, diaries, slave narratives, as well as essential secondary works. Schmidt’s skillful method of interweaving his eleven chronological and topical chapters contributes to the work...