When Texas succeeded from the Union and the Civil War came

to Orange three military companies were established. They were the Orange Light

Guard, The Orange Greys, and Hannah’s Company. There was also the Orange County

Coast Guard and several companies of state troops. There was never an

established system of fortifications. There was a Confederate encampment up the

Sabine River at Niblett’s Bluff.

The Sabine River forks near West Bluff. The main channel

goes west and the old river fork goes eastward. Niblett’s Bluff is on the east

fork. Between the two forks is a fourteen mile long island. The actual crossing

of the river takes several miles since Niblett’s Bluff is upriver from the

fork. It is a short voyage as opposed to a direct crossing. The Bluff is the

first crossing into Louisiana on the river. From the mouth of the Sabine to the

Bluff is marsh and swamp. If the Union forces were to attempt to cross into

Texas up the river from Orange, it would be at Niblett’s Bluff.

There had been a settlement at the Bluff since about 1840.

It was first called Millspaw’s Bluff, and later Jericho. It was finally named

for Robert C. Neblett, who had a plantation in the area before moving into Grimes

County, Texas. It is not clear how the spelling of the name changed from

Neblett to Niblett. Niblett’s Bluff had become an important and convenient

shipping point for lumber and cotton as well as being the crossing for the road

between Houston and Opelousas. At one time there had been two stores and a

hotel. The population had dwindled to about 50 by 1861, but it was still a

scene of much shipping and stage coach crossings. The importance of the Bluff

to the Confederacy and to the Union invaders was well known and by 1863 there

was a significant army presence.

The fortification at the Bluff was a “redoubt”, a

rectangular fortification with walls six feet thick at the base and eight feet

high. There was an enfilade, a platform for the troops to stand on to fire over

the wall. Artillery would consist of one two gun section of Captain O.G. Jones

Texas Light Artillery, two mountain howitzers and one 32 pound cannon.

Major General John Bankhead Magruder, Commander of the

District of Texas came to Niblett’s Bluff in May, 1863. Magruder had been the

commander of the Confederate forces that recaptured Galveston from the Union in

January, 1863. The defense of the Bluff was closely tied to the defense of

Texas and Magruder was an aggressive and innovative officer, just what the

isolated District of Texas needed. Louisiana was important to Texas as well as

to the Trans-Mississippi Department. Niblett’s Bluff would be the first fort to

encounter the Union forces if they should invade up the Sabine River and it was

important to block the crossing from Union land forces attempting to cross into

Texas. Orange, Sabine Pass, and Beaumont were tied into the railroad hub at


In April, 1863 Union General Nathaniel Banks was pushing out

of captured New Orleans and had taken Bayou LaFourche and had moved into Bayou

Teche. Port Hudson and Vicksburg would shortly be under siege by the Union.

Forces were moving through central Louisiana and the Confederate forces did not

know if Banks would continue to move westward through Southwest Louisiana and

invade Texas by way of Niblett’s Bluff. After Union victories at Bisland

Plantation and Irish Bend, Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Mouton, with a

brigade of Louisiana Infantry was ordered to Niblett’s Bluff.

By May 19, it had become oblivious that the Union was

turning east to attack Port Hudson and that Banks was withdrawing from

Alexandria to attack Port Hudson. Confederate Lieutenant General Kirby Smith

believed that Niblett’s bluff would be the ideal place to rendezvous forces in

the event that Port Hudson fell and the enemy then attempt to enter Texas.

Smith also ordered a military road to be built between Niblett’s Bluff and

Vermilionville. Smith approved Magruder as the commander of forces at the


Magruder ordered large quantities of supplies to be stored

at the Bluff and made it an important commissary center. He ordered two

companies of the 20th Texas Infantry Regiment to protect the army


On September 8, 1863 a Union invasion force of four gunboats

and seven troop transports appeared off of Sabine Pass. After a 45 minute battle

the 46 Confederate defenders of Fort Griffin with six old smoothbore cannons

had defeated the 6,000 man Union invading force. Magruder later learned from

captured Union prisoners that had the invasion been successful the Union force

would immediately have attacked Niblett’s Bluff and then marched to Beaumont

and Houston.

On September 12, Magruder learned that the enemy had

returned to Berwick Bay, but was planning to march to Niblett’s Bluff by land

across Southwest Louisiana. Magruder urged General Richard Taylor to fall back

to the Calcasieu River. However, Generals Smith and Taylor agreed that Taylor

should stand fast in Central Louisiana until the Union’s intentions could be

better determined.

By October, the Union invasion of Louisiana had halted in the

Sunset area and Banks had reconsidered his attempt to reach Texas by land.

In the spring of 1864 Banks launched his Red River Campaign

to capture Shreveport and invade Texas from there. Banks took Alexandria which

cut off Niblett’s Bluff from General Richard Taylor’s Army of Western

Louisiana. Reinforcements from Texas could reach Taylor from crossings farther

north, such as Burr’s Ferry. Confederate victories at Mansfield and Pleasant

Hill convinced Banks to call off his campaign. By May18, 1863 Union forces had

retreated back into their strongholds in Southeast Louisiana.

The last threat to Niblett’s Bluff was an incursion by

blockading gunboats Wave and Granite City which put in at Calcasieu Pass. They

were only there to buy stolen livestock from Jayhawkers and to try to recruit

for the Union Navy. It was not a true military incursion.

With the end of the Red River Campaign and the Battle of

Calcasieu Pass the war was all but won in Southwest Louisiana and Texas. Texas

was never successfully invaded by Union forces. The fortifications at Niblett’s

Bluff were never tested by the Union. The only casualties at Niblett’s Bluff

were caused by an epidemic of measles. There

is a memorial to those soldiers who died in the epidemic is a memorial across

the road from the old fort.

The fortification at Niblett’s Bluff was named Camp

Pleasant. There is one source that refers to it as “Fort Niblett”. No matter

the official name it was an important post for the defense of Texas. In the early part of the 20th

Century the Bluff was heavily used as a point to dump logs into the river to

make rafts to send to the mills at Orange. Today the site of the old fort is a

popular park. The only sign of the original fortifications is a low ridge of

dirt about 100 feet long behind the church.

There are cabins on the river, a playground, picnic area, RV

camping sites, and a building for use by the community. Across the road from

the park is a memorial to the soldiers who died there in the epidemic. There is

also a sign that gives the explanation of the Confederate Road. Today’s casual

visitor may have no idea how important this small area was to Texas in the

Civil War.