Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Now that's what I call a "shot" of whiskey !"

Major Alfred M. Hobby

Major Alfred M. Hobby had never faced an ultimatum before.  In fact, he had never faced any real threats until now.   The Union naval commander, Lieutenant John L. Kittredge, came ashore under a flag of truce and told him he was coming ashore to inspect U.S. facilities. In blunt fashion, Hobby told Kittredge that there were no U.S. facilities and he would resist any attacks on Corpus Christi.  Kittredge gave him forty eight hours to evacuate the city. 

A merchant from the town of St. Mary's of Aransas, Texas, Alfred Hobby was an ardent supporter of states' rights and had served in the Texas House of Representatives before the war.  To promote the Southern cause in St. Mary's, he established a chapter of the Knights of the Golden Cross; a secret organization that promoted the expansion of slavery.  On May 18, 1862, he organized the 8th Texas Infantry regiment to serve the Confederacy.

A self-righteous martinet, Lt. Kittredge ran a taught ship bordering on the maniacal. Crew members were subjected to severe punishment for the slightest of infractions.  Falling asleep during a worship service could subject you to "tricing" or stretching.  The violator was tied by the wrists to the ship's rigging for thirty minutes.  Any longer and your arms would probably be dislocated or worse.  Kittredge was not above striking his crew to enforce discipline.  It was little wonder that most of the infractions on his ship involved drinking.  On a ship like that, who wouldn't take to drink!

 For several months, Kittredge and his one hundred man crew rounded up blockade runners and raided coastal towns with his sailing bark, the U.S.S. Arthur. To make matters worse, he was converting some of his captured vessels into gunboats for his own growing flotilla.  Now he had the muscle to bombard and launch direct assaults on major Texas ports. Two of his vessels, the Sachem and Corypheus, had light draft hulls to navigate shallow harbors.  The Texas port of Corpus Christi was to be his prime target.

Unlike other Texas regiments, the 8th Texas Infantry had never served outside of Texas.  They garrisoned the Texas coast to ward off any Union invasion attempts. However, fighting Union infantry and cavalry was one thing, fighting a navy was another.   There were only five cannons  available in Corpus to match Kittredge's gunboats.  None of his men had any experience with targeting and firing artillery.  Fortunately, help came from two locals: a German immigrant Felix A. Blucher, a nephew of the famed Prussian general, and Private Billy Mann, a Confederate soldier on sick leave.   Hobby's men received invaluable instruction from the two.  During the evening, the cannons were moved up to the harbor and placed within earthworks dug during the War with Mexico.  Kittredge was about to get a rude wake up call.

On August, 1862, Hobby's men opened fire on the Sachem and Corypheus from four hundred yards.  With their hulls being breeched from the Texans' fire, Kittredge was forced to fall back. In a daring move, Kittredge sent a detachment of thirty sailors ashore to flank and capture Hobby's guns.  Hobby led a cavalry charge of twenty five men and forced them to depart back to their ships.  After picking up his crew members, Kittredge began shelling Corpus Christi; six hundred shells rained down on the city before Kittredge gave up and sailed away from the harbor.  One Unionist resident, John Dix, tried to wave a Union flag from the roof of his house as if to signal the city's surrender.  Dix's daughter in law pointed a shotgun to his head before he could get off his signal. His son fought in the Confederate Army.

Returning residents found a number of spent shells in their damaged homes.  Calling them "Kittredges," they used them as doorstops.  One curious find, according to local legend, was the presence of whiskey inside some of the spent shells.  Apparently, Kittredge's rambunctious crew had taken out the gunpowder and hid their forbidden whiskey inside the shells.

Corpus Christi was secure for now.  Kittredge's career wasn't.  He was later captured during a foraging expedition at Flour Bluff by Texas troops under Hobby.  Given parole, he was sent north in humiliation and given a new command.  After belting a crewmember in the mouth with his pistol, Lt. Kittredge was court martialed out of the service.