Col. W. H. Griffin
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Col. William H. Griffin

A Texas Confederate Commander

By W.  T.  Block

Colonel W. F. Griffin was born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1816.  Having received a rudimentary education in his native state, he received an appointment by his congressman to West Point Military Academy in 1830. He graduated with honors in the class of 1835, with a degree in civil engineering.

He was soon assigned to the 7th Infantry Regiment, and served primarily in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. His obituary stated that he also served a portion of the next two years in Nacogdoches, Texas, but that seemed highly unlikely since the Republic of Texas remained in existence until Dec. 1845, at which time Texas became a state.

After resigning his commission in 1837, Griffin returned to the Abbeville area of South Carolina, where he spent the next several years before 1845 as a surveyor. Between 1845 and 1858, he engaged in a number of railroad construction assignments in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, supervising the construction of railroads from Charleston to Savannah and Savannah to Atlanta.

In 1858 Griffin bought a large farm in Tarrant County, Texas, with the intent to “follow agricultural pursuits,” raising farm produce, cotton and cattle. With the advent of the Civil War, Griffin hoped to raise a regiment of recruits in Tarrant County. In 1861 he wrote to Gen. P. O. Hebert in Galveston with his request, which was accompanied by a letter from Gen. William Steele (West Point, 1840) of Sibley’s Brigade, which noted in part that:   “(Griffin), who having sent his two sons to serve their country, is now desirous of giving his own services to the same cause...”

Gen. Hebert approved Griffin’s request, but the latter failed to recruit sufficient soldiers to fill a regiment. Instead he was commissioned a Confederate lieutenant colonel, commanding the 21st Texas Infantry Battalion on June 28, 1862. His executive officer was Major Felix C. McReynolds; some of his company commanders included Captains R. V. Cook, W. J. Carson, S. C. Evans, J. H. Deegan, and I. M. Givens.

On the night of Dec. 31, 1862, Griffin and his infantrymen were assigned to attack Galveston Island at daylight of the next morning, after crossing over on the new railroad right-of-way to the mainland. They then attacked the 42nd Massachusetts Regiment, then in garrison on Kuhn’s Wharf, and 300 of them surrendered intact. At that time Col. Griffin was decorated for his “cool bravery while under fire.”

Early in April, 1863, when Col. A. W. Spaight’s 11th Texas Battalion was transferred to Louisiana, Col. Griffin and the 21st Texas Battalion were transferred to Sabine Pass. The latter immediately detected light flashes emanating from the top of the light house, and he then realized that the offshore blockaders were using the light house as the place from which to spy on the building of a new fort, soon to be named Fort Griffin. He soon dispatched 60 soldiers to hide under the light keeper’s cottage; and at daylight of Apr. 17, 1863, they soon engaged two whale boats loaded with Union sailors, preparing to land at the light house. During the ensuing skirmish, 1 Confederate officer was killed, along with 5 Union sailors killed and 6 others wounded.

Late in August, 1863, Col. Griffin’s battalion was transferred to Northwest Texas duty, where Comanche Indians had been raiding the settlements. And during the Battle of Sabine Pass on Sept. 8, 1863, only Lt. Chasteen’s Co. F was still in Beaumont, awaiting railroad passage. Co. F hurried back to Sabine Pass to help guard the 350 prisoners and the remainder of Griffin’s battalion were soon transferred back to Sabine Pass.

Col. Griffin experienced his last battle action on May 6, 1864, when 300 of his troops and one artillery company attacked two Federal gunboats, the Wave and Granite City, at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana. At the end of a 90-minute battle, both gunboats surrendered, and Griffin soon marched his troops back to Sabine Pass, along with 177 prisoners-of-war and a large quantity of captured stores and munitions.

After Gen. Lee surrendered all the Confederate armies, Col. Griffin was paroled on June 21, 1865. He chose to remain in Houston, where for the next six years; he practiced his professions of surveyor and civil engineer. Late in 1870, Col. Griffin was incapacitated by a lingering illness, which forced him into retirement. He died on March 28, 1872, survived by a wife and 4 children.

Sources: Obituary of Col. W. H. Griffin, Galveston Weekly News, Apr. 3, 1871, p. 5, cols. 1-2; W. T. Block, History of Jefferson County Texas from Wilderness to Reconstruction (Nederland: 1976), pp. 112-120; C. M. Cumberland, “The Confederate Loss and Recapture of Galveston,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LI (1947-1948); a short biography of Col. Griffin, author unknown.

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