Rebels on the River, the fort at Niblett’s Bluff
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
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
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