Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Dick Dowling
by Ralph Fey
Irish-Confederate Civil War Hero

As promised earlier, here is the rest of the story.

DOWLING, RICHARD WILLIAM (1838-1867). Richard William Dowling, 
businessman and Civil War hero, son of William and Mary Dowling, 
was born in Tuam, Galway County, Ireland, in 1838. After 1846 
the family migrated to the United States and settled in New 
Orleans. In the early I 850s, after the deaths of his parents, 
Dick Dowling worked his way to Texas and eventually settled in 

The likeable, redheaded Irishman quickly made a reputation as 
an enterprising businessman. In October 1857 he opened the 
Shades, the first of his successful saloons. He probably 
received financial backing for this enterprise from Benjamin 
Digby Odlum, whose daughter, Elizabeth Ann, Dowling married 
in November 1857. By 1860 he had sold his interest in the 
Shades and had purchased the popular Bank of Bacchus near the 
Harris County Courthouse. Still later he operated the Hudgpeth 
Bathing Saloon as well as a Galveston-based liquor-importing 

With the outbreak of the Civil War Dowling joined the Jefferson 
Davis Guards as first lieutenant. Capt. Frederick H. Odlum was 
commander. During the first part of 1861 Dowling and his 
associates raided United States Army outposts on the 
Texas-Mexico border. When the guards were designated Company F 
of the Third Texas Artillery Battalion in October 1861, 
Dowling's theater became the upper Texas Gulf Coast. By 1862 
the battalion was upgraded to a hill regiment, the First Texas 
Heavy Artillery, under the overall command of Col. J. J. Cook.

Dowling's early Civil War exploits were consistent but not 
spectacular. On January' 1, 1863, he participated in Gen. 
John B. Magruderís recapture of the port of Galveston. Three 
weeks later, after the transfer of his company to Sabine Pass, 
which controlled access to the Sabine River, he earned his 
first individual praise. As artillery commander aboard the 
steamer Josiah A. Be/I, he took part in a naval battle on 
January 21, 1863, with two United States vessels. In a 
two-hour engagement the Confederate forces achieved a 
victory, in part because of Dowling's accuracy with the 
eight-inch Columbiad gun, which he commanded. Not only was 
he singled out for making some of the "prettiest shots" 
but also for saving the Bellís magazine from flooding.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1863 Odlum, Dowling, and 
the guards manned defensive positions at Sabine Pass, 
including Fort Griffin, a nondescript post on the west side 
of the pass that controlled both the Texas and Louisiana 
channels of the river. By August 1863 Odlum was in charge 
of forces at nearby Sabine City, and Dowling commanded 
Company F, which consisted of forty-seven men armed with 
six cannons, at Fort Griffin. On September 8, 1863, the 
United States forces attacked the area in what became known 
as the battle of Sabine Pass. Dowling directed such intense 
and accurate fire from his guns that two of the United 
States gunboats, the Clifton and the Sachem, were disabled, 
and the remaining United States vessels withdrew. As a 
result of federal ineptitude and Dowling's leadership, 
Dowling and his men captured two ships and 350 prisoners 
and routed the invasion without a single casualty.

The battle at Sabine Pass was the pinnacle of Dowling's 
career. During the remainder of the war he was a recruiting 
officer for the Confederacy, until his discharge with the 
rank of major in 1865. He returned to Houston, managed the 
businesses he had owned before the war, and acquired new 
businesses, including real estate, oil and gas leases, and 
an interest in a steamboat. His financial successes 
appeared to ensure a bright future, but he became ill with 
yellow fever and died on September 23, 1867. He was 
survived by his wife a daughter, and a son and was buried 
in St. Vincents Cemetery, Houston.