Podcast: Galveston's Military History, Were Wars Fought on Galveston Island?

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Galveston Island's history is deeply intertwined with military operations and conflict. Military operations in and around Galveston include multiple countries and span at least five centuries. Like most history, military history in Galveston is almost impossible to encompass in a short podcast episode. Here we have a general overview of the last 500 years of military operations in and around Galveston.

We may not always think of shipwrecked Spanish soldiers when we think of military operations. Although the first presence of a foreign military on Galveston Island was loose and strained, it was a Spanish military operation. Nonetheless, a handful of Spanish soldiers shipwrecked along the Texas coast on or around Galveston in 1528. Conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca and Moroccan. Mustafa Azemmouri landed on Galveston Island along with approximately 80 other survivors. Only four of the marooned crew survived the eight-year expedition for survival across North America.

Through the next few centuries, just as before the Spanish crew shipwrecked, Native Americans occupied Galveston Island and, according to surviving records, remained with little to no outside influence until Spain, France, and the United States struggled for power along the North American continent and the Gulf of Mexico. Louis Michele, Aury, a French navy sailor and privateer, set up a small colony on Galveston Island. A short time after, Jean Lafite, a pirate infamous for his role in fighting the British during the war of 1812, arrived to set up his privateering headquarters, which lasted only a few years until the United States Navy forced Jean Lafitte to abandon the island.

Only a few years after Jean Lafitte was ousted, the newly formed Mexican government began enforcing tariffs for vessels traveling into Galveston Bay. These Tariffs led to skirmishes between the Mexican Army and American settlers in the Galveston Bay area. Which, in turn, helped precipitate the Texas Revolution.

The 1830s were full of conflict in Texas and around Galveston Island. Mexican and Texas forces utilized the island as an outpost. During the Texas Revolution, The Texian Navy was founded in Galveston. Four schooners were purchased from New Orleans and outfitted with cannons to deter the Mexican Navy. After the Texas forces defeated the Mexican Army, General Santa Ana was transported to Galveston to be held temporarily. Galveston became the temporary capital of Texas.
Shortly after Texas won its independence, two forts were established at the entrance to Galveston Bay to protect it from foreign hostility. Fort Travis on the Bolivar Peninsula and Fort San Jacinto on the island's east end. Shortly after Texas won independence, the city of Galveston was founded. Galveston thrived as a port city for two and a half decades without conflict. After Texas joined the Union in 1845, Galveston became a key port for the United States. Throughout the 1850s, Galveston was home to a few military service camels.

Camels were used in the American West as they were acclimated to desert climates. The camels don't have to eat or drink often; however, their temperament and smell led to the project's failure for the United States military. The U.S. Camel Corps housed the beast of burden along Hitchcocks Bayou near modern-day 23rd Street, and Avenue M. Hitchcock's Bayou was filled in to make room for more. The camels were replaced with more practical creatures such as horses.

The Civil War made its mark in Galveston. In 1862, Union troops took control of Galveston Island, and the Confederate soldiers attempting to hold the island evacuated. In 1863, the Confederates mounted an attack by land and sea via cotton-clad warships and cannons installed in merchant buildings. The surprise attack was successful, and Galveston was under Confederate control for the remainder of the war. Thanks to its southern and Westernmost location, Galveston became the only significant Confederate port not to be successfully captured by the Union during the Civil War. After the Civil War, The Union Navy sailed into Galveston in June of 1865 with the United States colored troops to hold the city.

On June 19th, 1865, General Order Number Three was declared on 22nd and Strand, officially freeing all enslaved people in Texas. The United States military occupied Galveston during reconstruction. The Union soldiers helped to bring order to the South and Galveston. [They] were also responsible for initiating Galveston's Red Light District through the late 1860s.

The Civil War was the last time a major conflict occurred on or near Galveston Island. However, the United States Military viewed the island as a strategic point along the Gulf Coast. The Coast Guard began its service in Galveston and Galveston Bay in 1878; when the United States government acquired land on Pelican Island, the United States Coast Guard initiated a lifeboat station. The Coast Guard station remained on Pelican Island for anti-smuggling patrols and life-saving missions until 1938, when it moved to its current location, next to the Ferry landing. The Coast Guard patrolled the coast of Galveston and Galveston Bay through World War I and II. In the 1890s, the United States made significant purchases and improvements to the island and nearby installations.

In 1898, Fort Travis and Fort San Jacinto were used as gun emplacements for harbor defenses and were active through the first and second World Wars to protect Galveston Bay. German U-boats and submarines were a real threat. Houston was a likely target as a significant oil and gas hub, essentially fueling the American and allied forces in both World Wars. Up to 20 German U-boats were patrolling the Gulf of Mexico. The primary job of German U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico was to sink any supply ships exiting the United States headed toward the European front. German U-Boats successfully sank 56 supply vessels, both military, and merchant. Galveston became a mobilization point for troops that were to be sent to Europe. Fort Crockett, a historic area on the island between 45th and 57th Street, originated in 1897 for Harbor Defense and military training.

After the storm of 1900, the fort was rebuilt and reinforced. Troops were mainly stationed at Fort Crockett for training and maintenance. Until World War I. During the late 1920s to early 1930s, Fort Crockett was home to the Third Air Attack Wing. Fort Crockett was home to gun emplacements placed and reinforced during each major conflict. You can see the remnants of the gun and placements under the modern-day San Luis Hotel. You can also see the military barracks and administration buildings in this area.

In 1941, Galveston Island was essentially activated for World War II defense and production. Fort Crockett was heavily reinforced and expanded. German prisoners of war were interned at Fort Crockett and Fort Travis during World War ii. Following World War ii. Fort Crockett served as a recreational facility for the military. What remains today is a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration facility while driving on the seawall or walking up to the San Luis Hotel.
The Gun emplacements that were improved and reinforced at Fort Crockett can be seen today.

Galveston was also home to a marine hospital to treat injured soldiers. This large building can still be seen on 45th Street, and Avenue N. Todd Shipyard employed hundreds on modern-day Pelican Island and cranked out military vessels to serve in the war. The shipyard was active until 1990. United States Navy vessels were a common sight at the Port of Galveston. The Army took over Galveston's Airport and transformed it into the Galveston Army airfield In 1943. This airfield was used for anti-submarine air patrols, aircrew training, and as a home base for bombers and fighter planes.

The 46 Bombardment Group of the Army Air Corps began an anti-submarine patrol role over the Gulf of Mexico until the 10th anti-submarine squadron replaced it. The airfield was deactivated in November 1945. The airport remains today following World War II. Military presence in Galveston has played a vital role in the growth and survival of the island and the United States.

When you're roaming around the island, remember Galveston Island has been fought over, fought on, and fought for. A huge thank you to all military service personnel. You all make preserving Galveston, Texas, and American history possible!"

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."