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October 26, 2007

Texas Confederate Ephemera - Dick Dowling

48. DICK DOWLING CAMP NO. 197. UNITED CONFEDERATE VETERANS. Confederate Gray Book, Dick Dowling Camp No. 197. United Confederate Veterans. Houston, Texas Forty-Three Defeated Fifteen Thousand at Sabine Pass, Texas [wrapper title]. [Houston, Texas: The Urban Press, ca. 1908]. [84] pp., numerous text illustrations (portraits, statuary, architecture, pictorial ads, many being photographs by George Beach). 8vo (23.4 x 15.3 cm), original tan printed wrappers. Last two pages wanting lower left blank corners, old newspaper clipping pasted across two pages, otherwise fine in glassine wrap.

            First edition. The occasion for issuing this scarce pamphlet is unclear. Dowling’s death had occurred forty-one years before, and the monument to his memory had been erected in 1905 in Houston. As the photograph of “The Spirit of the Confederacy” monument and a reference to the Taft’s election as President would imply, the publication probably dates from around 1908, the year in which the monument was erected and Taft elected. No clear theme, however, emerges from the text.

            Despite the lack of any single theme, the publication was clearly intended in part to celebrate Confederate victories in the Civil War. Considerable space is given to the Battle of Sabine Pass, where a small troop under Dowling fought off a much superior Union invasion force. The names of Dowling’s troops are listed, for example. Other sections are devoted to various organizations with Confederate themes. The pamphlet is a mine of information on local history due to the many ads and illustrations it contains, from land promoters to restaurants, including a Japanese restaurant thrown in among the oyster houses. The transition from horses to cars in Houston at that time can be clearly seen in the ads, with livery stables advertised along with C. J. Wright’s handsome motorized hearse qua ambulance, complete with bell for emergencies. (The speed limit in Houston at the time was eight miles per hour, and in 1909 the city began using motorcycles to enforce speed limits.) If nothing else, this scarce pamphlet is a celebration of Houston’s Confederate heritage and current prosperity.

            Richard William Dowling (1838-1867), who is lionized in this publication, emigrated from Ireland to New Orleans, whence he made his way to Texas around 1850. He almost instantly became a business success in Houston by opening a series of saloons. He became famous, however, because of his command of gunnery, which earned accolades during the Civil War. In 1863, commanding an eight-inch Columbiad gun aboard the Josiah A. Bell, he was cited for his spectacular accuracy in a naval battle in which Confederate forces defeated Union vessels. His stock truly rose, however, later that year at the Battle of Sabine Pass (September 8, 1863) where Dowling commanded Fort Griffin, which controlled the very narrow pass between Louisiana and Texas. In September of that year, a Union fleet carrying about 5,000 soldiers (not the 15,000 mentioned in the title) intending to invade Houston tried to pass Dowling’s position. His cannon fire was so accurate that he disabled two gunboats that subsequently blocked the channel, forcing the Union fleet to withdraw and resulting in the capture of the two ships and 350 prisoners, all without a loss to his command of 42 soldiers. After the war, he returned to business but died a few years later of yellow fever. If ever anyone deserved the nickname “Dead-Eye Dick” for marksmanship, it is Dick Dowling. See Handbook of Texas Online: Richard William Dowling; Sabine Pass, Battle of. ($150-300)

Sold. Hammer: $225.00; Price Realized: $264.38

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