Federal forces in the Civil War failed in most of their early efforts to capture Texas. In the fall of 1863, after taking New Orleans and Vicksburg, their leaders attacked Western Louisiana in a renewed effort. They wished to divert valuable stocks of cotton from Confederate to Federal uses, and to cut off French troops who might come from Mexico to aid the Confederacy. General Nathaniel P. Banks, U.S.A., ordered 5,000 troops to go by sea, capture Sabine Pass, and establish a land base here. His objective was for these men to move up the Sabine River and rendezvous later with troops he was leading overland through Louisiana for a sweep into Texas.
Federal ships transporting men and materiel converged beyond the sandbars, and on September 8, 1863, began to steam north through the pass. They saw a Confederate installation, Fort Griffin, guarding the pass, but got no response when they opened fire. When they came within 1,200 yards of the fort, however, cannon fire was returned, disabling the gunboats U.S.S. Clifton and U.S.S. Sachem. Both gunboats surrendered and the rest of the fleet retreated.
Captured Union troops were taken to Beaumont. The next day, they were transported to Camp Groce at Hempstead (NW of Houston). From there, enlisted men were sent to Louisiana for exchange with Confederate prisoners.
Commissioned Federal officers were sent to Camp Ford, outside of Tyler, where they were detained for the remainder of the war. The lives of both Confederate and Union prisoners of war throughout the North and South were grim, with limited food, clothing, bedding and medical supplies.
The decisive battle at Sabine Pass allowed the Confederacy to maintain control of the Texas coastline for the duration of the war.