THE GHOSTLY-SILENT GUNS OF GALVESTON:
A CHRONICLE OF COLONEL J. G. KELLERSBERGER, CONFEDERATE CHIEF ENGINEER OF EAST TEXAS
by W. T. Block
Copyrighted by East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. XXXIII, Nr. 2 (1995)
In 1896, as wintry blasts swept down the valley of the River Aare in
northern Switzerland, an old man consumed endless hours in his ancestral home, laboring to
complete a manuscript. With his hair and beard as snow-capped as the neighboring Alpine
peaks, Julius Getulius Kellersberger, who felt that life was fasting ebbing from his aging
frame, wrote and rewrote each page with an engineer's masterful precision, before shipping
the finished version of his narrative to Juchli and Beck, book publishers of Zurich.
After forty-nine years in America, Kellersberger, civil engineer,
former Forty-Niner, San Francisco Vigilante, surveyor; town, bridge, and railroad builder;
and Confederate chief engineer of East Texas, bade farewell to a son and four daughters,
his grandchildren, and the grave of his wife, all located at Cypress Mill, Blanco County,
Texas. He then left the state he had grown to love and returned to his Alpine home for two
reasons -- to write his German language memoirs and to die in the huge stone house where
he was born and had grown up, but had abandoned as a young man to seek his fortune in
America. Although hundreds of Kellersberger's descendants in the Houston, Dallas, and
Austin vicinities still spell the family name as "Kellersberger," the engineer
enlisted in the Confederate Army as "Julius Kellersberg," which for purposes of
simplicity, the writer will adopt for the remainder of this monograph. And although
Kellersberg was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1864, he was a Confederate major of
artillery, assigned to the engineering service, for most of the time span of this
Kellersberg, born in Baden, in the Swiss canton of Aargau, on February
9, 1821, received his secondary schooling in Switzerland and his college training in civil
engineering and the military sciences at a military academy in Austria. By age
twenty-five, he was already superintendent of the Austrian Army arsenal in Wiener
Neustadt, south of Vienna. Restless for adventure, the youth embarked for New York in 1847
and was soon joined by his younger brother, Rudolph, in the United States. While aboard
ship, Julius Kellersberg met his future wife, Caroline Bauch of Mecklenberg, a German
immigrant bound for Texas and daughter of a pioneer Lutheran pastor of Blackjack Springs,
Texas. For a few months, Kellersberg worked as a surveyor in Central Park and elsewhere in
New York City, but he quit that position to move on to Texas, where he was also married.
A few weeks after his arrival in Texas, news of a fabulous California
gold strike arrived. Julius and Caroline booked passage from Galveston on the German bark
Steinwarder on a six-months, San Francisco-bound voyage
around Cape Horn, which witnessed much stormy weather and a
three-months delay for ship repairs. They were soon joined in San Francisco by the
former's brother, Rudolph Kellersberger. Julius and Caroline disliked the violence and
primitiveness of the gold-mining camps and returned to San Francisco, but Rudolph remained
there, where he acquired some valuable mining claims and where eventually he was also
Julius and Caroline Kellersberg's first three children were born in San
Francisco. In 1851 and 1856, Kellersberg was a member of the Committee of Safety of the
San Francisco Vigilantes, a group which hanged three murderers and forced a hundred other
outlaws to leave town on penalty of death. In 1851, he was hired by E.
Adams, H. W. Carpentier, and A. J. Moon to survey the original townsite of Oakland,
California, and Kellersberg's original map of that city still survives. In 1853, the Swiss
immigrant was appointed engineer of the town of Oakland, and in 1854, he was elected the
first city engineer of the City of Oakland.
Kellersberg also surveyed the early townsites of Berkeley and Santa
Barbara, California. In September, 1855, he was appointed by President
Franklin Pierce as Deputy Surveyor-General of California under Colonel Jack Hays, charged
with completing such important surveys as the "Humboldt Meridian. . .north to the
state line. . .and to extend the second standard line. . .west to the Pacific Ocean. . .
." He also completed the survey of the "Mount Diablo Meridian. . .west to the
Pacific Ocean." In 1857, President James Buchanan removed Hays and Kellersberg from
office in furtherance of his "Spoils System" policy. Having already been offered
a railroad construction assignment in Mexico, Kellersberg decided to leave California
permanently, and he sent his wife and children back to Galveston to live.
Weeks earlier, Kellersberg had received the engineering offer of
Mexican employment from Jecker, the Swiss banking firm of Mexico, his assignment being to
survey, clear a right-of-way, and build a road bed for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Railroad, which would connect the Gulf of Mexico seaport of Minatitlan with the Pacific
Ocean seaport of Juchitan, some 120 miles distant. When completed, the railroad was
expected to become the first North American transcontinental railroad. At first the Swiss
surveyor had no inclination to accept the offer because of the heat and insect-infested
jungle, but he did so quickly after he was discharged as deputy surveyor-general. For
almost four years, Kellersberg worked on the Tehuantepec Railroad, but after the outbreak
of the Amerivcan Civil War, he quickly decided to return to Galveston, where his family
was living, before that seaport was blockaded. He arrived in the harbor on July 1, 1861,
only one day before the Federal gunboat South Carolina arrived off Galveston and began
blockading the harbor.
Kellersberg was delighted to be with his family once more, but he
hardly had time to shake the ocean spray from his coat before he was inducted into the
Confederate Army. In August, 1861, he was commissioned a Confederate captain of artillery,
assigned to engineering duties, by General Paul O. Hebert, of Galveston's Confederate
headquarters, and specifically to the port fortifications of the seaport. On October 11,
1861, the engineer was handed a mammoth assignment (General Order No. 34), as follows: to
construct two batteries, bombproofs and powder magazines for four guns, one at Virginia
Point and the other battery at the island end of the railroad bridge; a battery of two
heavy guns on Pellican Spit, to command the channel, Bolivar Point, and East Bay; a
battery of guns at Fort Point; and another on the Front Beach at Tremont Street. Six weeks
later, the railroad bridge batteries were already completed, with work well-advanced on
the other fortifications.
In the spring of 1862, when the blockade fleet demanded the surrender
of Galveston on penalty of bombardment of the town, General Hebert transferred his command
headquarters to Houston, and Kellersberg was sent to that point as well. He was then
promoted to major and appointed chief engineer of East Texas. People
from the Sabine Pass area had been complaining for months about the sad state of the
defenses in the Sabine Pass estuary. In July, 1862, Colonel X. B. DeBray, commander of the
Sub-Military Distict of Houston, issued Special Order No. 95, directing Major Kellersberg
to proceed to the Sabine River and inspect the state of defenses there. In his letter of
July 30, the engineer noted that:
all four (guns at Sabine Pass) are on old and unwieldy truck
carriages. The powder magzine is not bomb-proof, and also subject to overflows. The whole
work is in a dilapidated condition. There is ammunition enough for all four guns, but they
have no fuses for shells, nor port-fires, neither gunner's level, tangent scales,
pass-boxes, friction-tubes, lanyards, etc. . . .The Pass at Sabine is certainly a very
important point, and in fact the only port from where we receive our powder and other
In September 1862, Major Kellersberg returned to Galveston with orders
to perfect the south beach fortifications as he saw fit. In the
meantime, Colonel Debray chided the Trans-Mississippi Department for their failure to act
on his recommendation to improve the Sabine Pass defenses. He observed that "Sabine
Pass has proven to be our most important seaport," and that a current disaster, the
successful occupation of Sabine Lake by a Union naval squadron, could have been avoided
thereby. Debray, however, failed to note in his letter that a yellow fever apidemic was
spreading like wildfire there, with a hundred soldiers and civilians already dead. On October 4, 1862, while Major Kellersberg was away on an inspection
trip, Commander W. B. Renshaw's blockading squadron occupied Galveston Bay, leaving
Kellersberg cut off from his family.
Letters from Colonel A. W. Spaight advised the sad state of affairs at
Sabine Pass, where the town's civilians and soldiers were overwhelmed by the deadly
epidemic and Union gunboats dominated Sabine Lake. He urgently requested that Major
Kellersberg, his engineers, guns and equipment be sent immediately to fortify the Neches
and Sabine Rivers to prevent the invaders from reaching the interior of Texas.
On October 18, 1862, Major Kellersberg reported from Harrisburg that he
had completed his Sabine and Neches River defenses. On the Sabine, eight miles south of
Orange, he built a fortification on a large shell bank and armed it with one battery of
two brass, 32-pounder howitzers. On the Neches River at Port Neches, he built Fort Grigsby
and armed it with a battery of two 24-pounder guns. He then loaded six eighty-foot barges
with clam shell and sank three of them on the bar of each river, leaving only a
forty-foot, unmarked passageway or channel between the sunken barges.
Major Kellersberg then moved his engineering companies and a thousand
slaves to fortify and obstruct the other rivers and streams of his district of East Texas.
He erected a battery of two guns on the San Bernard River, and he built a fort with a
battery of two 24-pounders on the San Jacinto River. He then built a fort and sank
clamshell barges at the mouth of the Trinity River, and he began construction of Forts
Quintana and Velasco at the mouth of the Brazos River. He also built two small forts near
Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou. Such was the state of East Texas' costal defenses in
November, 1862, when a new commander, Major General John B. Magruder, arrived at Houston
to command the District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Early in December 1862, Major Kellersberg, along with two other staff
officers, Majors Von Harten and O. W. Watkins, traveled over the Galveston railroad bridge
under a flag of truce to carry out a prisoner-of-war exchange. The Confederates had
captured eighteen Union sailors who had come ashore to hunt geese and rabbits. The
blockade fleet held a like number of Rebel prisoners that the Confederate officers hoped
to bargain for. At the end of the day, the engineer was permitted an hour with his wife
and children, and it was a sad farewell for him when he had to return to his command on
The aggressive new commander, General Magruder, was not one to permit
Federal encroachments of his Texas coast line without some bold reprisals. On January 8,
1863, a group of Confederates rowed up during a dense fog to the lone Federal gunboat in
Sabine Lake, the steamer Dan, and burned it, using pine knot torches, while the hated
gunboat was at anchor at the Sabine lighthouse. The act freed the Sabine estuary of
Federal control for the first time in four months. On January 21,
1863, the Confederate cottonclad gunboats, Josiah Bell and Uncle Ben, steamed out of the
Sabine estuary, and after a battle and a thirty mile chase at sea, they captured the
offshore bloackaders, Morning Light and Velocity.
Long before daylight on January 1, 1863, Major Kellersberg and a
detachment of engineers helped push the railway flat cars, upon which Captain McMahon's
12-pounder cannons were mounted, across the Galveston Island railroad bridge, and at
daylight the guns opened up on Kuhn's Wharf, where the Union's 42nd Massachusetts Regiment
of 421 men were encamped. The battle raged simultaneously ashore and between Confederate
and Union gunboats in Galveston Bay, and it was over in two hours time. The Massachusetts
regiment surrendered intact. The Confederates captured the frigate Harriet Lane and three
supply ships, watched as the Union gunboat Westfield blew up after running aground, while
the Confederates suffered the loss of one cottonclad sunk, twenty-six soldiers killed, and
117 wounded. In his official report to Richmond of the Confederate
victory, General Magruder observed that: ". . .In the land attack especially,
commendations are due to. . .Major J. Kellersberg of the Engineering Corps. . . ."[21a]
With Galveston recaptured, Kellersberg had hoped to spend a few days of
furlough with his family, but some emergency was forever erasing that prospect. Since
Magruder had been promised twenty heavy cannons from Richmond for Galveston's defenses,
the general ordered fortification of the entire island, particularly along South Beach. He
placed 1,000 slaves and 300 (non-English speaking) German mechanics at Kellersberg's
disposal and ordered him to build six casemated fortifications, built of oyster shall and
cross ties, for large guns along the beach front. As these artillery ramparts neared
completion, Kellersberg learned that there would be no cannons forthcoming from Richmond
as promised, and he would still have only his two eight-inch guns for defending the beach.
He noted in his memoirs that:
I took charge of an abandoned foundry, where there was stored a
good supply of timber. I put twenty of the best German craftsmen into the foundry and. .
.near the end of March, 200 wooden cannon barrels had been completed. . . .They were
highly polished and. . .since the early morning fog of that year lasted longer than usual,
we were able to place our "deaf and dumb" (Quaker) cannons into position
Kellersberg laid a railroad on the beach in front of the fortifications
and twenty sidetracks among the casemates for Quaker cannons. He then mounted his two
eight-inch guns on railway gravel cars that could be pulled by mules along the beach front
at night and sidetracked at different points. Each morning the Rebel gunners fired two or
three practice rounds at targets anchored offshore, and each morning the firing originated
at different points along the beach. Although the enemy fleet offshore soon learned that
there were Quaker cannons on the beach, they were never quite sure which one were
"deaf and dumb" and which ones were not. Later, when two officers met under a
flag of truce, the Confederate noted that anytime the Union fleet wanted to attempt a
frontal assault on the beach, they were welcome to try. Kellersberg added that:
then the Yankee broke into hellish laughter, and the officer
declared to the lieutenant that about fourteen days before, they had seen two of our
artillerymen carry a large cannon, which ordinarily weighted some 5,400 pounds, into
position all alone, and they did not think it advisable to tie into such strong men as
About the same time, General Magruder promoted Colonel Valery
Sulakowski to chief engineer of the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The staff
of engineers at Galveston also included Colonel C. G. Forshey, who had commanded the
engineering contingent at the Battle of Galveston and had been Magruder's chief consulting
engineer. Kellersberg felt he had been passed over for promotion, and surely there were
others who felt the same. He often referred irreverently to his "Polish chief"
in his memoirs.
Late in March 1863, General Magruder ordered Major Kellersberg to
Sabine Pass with thirty engineers and 500 slaves to build a new fort (Griffin), capable of
withstanding a naval assault on that seaport city. The engineer designed a triangular,
sawtooth fort with six gun emplacements and a bombproof and powder magazine under each
emplacement. Altogether, Kellersberg assigned at various times four different engineering
officers to take command of that project, one of whom, Lieutenant Nicholas H. Smith, would
command a battery of guns during the upcoming Battle of Sabine Pass. The former had a good
supply of contruction material, plenty of oyster shell, acres of saw logs left over at the
burned sawmill, and eight miles of abandoned trackage from which the rails and crossties
were removed. Kellersberg made periodic trips back to Sabine Pass to check on the fort's
progress, and one letter revealed that Fort Griffin was "covered with two feet of
solid timber (logs), two layers of railroad iron, and four feet of earth on top."
By July 1863, Major Kellersberg was informed that he would also receive
no additional heavy guns for installation at Fort Griffin. He already knew that four guns
were available - the two 24-pounders whenever he dismantled Fort Grigsby at Port Neches,
and the two 32-pounder, brass howitzers at the shellbank fort on the Sabine River. He
still lacked, however, the two cannons for the fifth and sixth emplacements at Fort
Griffin that were needed to give that fortification the firepower it needed to withstand a
Kellersberger recalled a story an old fisherman of Sabine Pass had told
him about the four guns that the Confederates had spiked and buried whenever they
evacuated old Fort Sabine, a mile to the south, on September 24, 1862. On his next trip to
Sabine Pass, Kellersberg asked the old fisherman to show him the location of the buried
cannons, and after a half hour's probing of the surface and digging, they dug up the
rusted cannons. It was quite obvious that the two 18-pounders were damaged beyond all hope
of repair. The two 32-pound, "long iron" smoothbore guns were likewise badly
damaged, being spiked with round files and with all four trunnions (swivels) chiseled
away. Nevertheless, the engineer loaded them on the Beaumont-Houston train and carried
them back to the Galveston foundry so his chief machinist could inspect them.
The machinist decided that the guns were reparable, but the task would
require at least one month to complete. Since the Confederates already knew that the
Federals were mounting an invasion armada at New Orleans, Kellersberg knew he couldn't
spare that much time. He told his chief machinist to cut the work time to one week and
assign ten or twelve of his best machinists to the repair job, working shifts totalling 24
hours daily. The round files were interlocked and had to be drilled out. To strengthen the
barrels, three grooves, each a half-inch deep and one and one-half inches wide, had to be
cut into each barrel. Then special sixteen-inch wrought iron rings had to be forged,
heated, stretched over the barrels, and seated in the grooves while the rings were still a
glowing read. Kellersberg feared that if the machinists had bored the grooves too deep,
the gun barrels might burst when fired.
By August 15, 1863, the engineer had the repaired cannons back at Fort
Griffin, where he mounted them on the fort's gun carriages. Kellersberg also mounted
distance markers, up to 1,200 yards away, on the oyster reef that then separated the Texas
from the Louisiana channel, and much to Kellersberg's surprise, the repaired cannons
survived the test firings. He then computed elevation settings for each one hundred yards
of distance for the elevation screws of each gun. The engineer knew, however, that in the
din of battle, the guns would probably not be accorded the very minimum precaution of
barrel-swabbing, which proved true.
Major Kellersberg's next arrival date at Fort Griffin occurred on
September 9, 1863, one day after the Battle of Sabine Pass was fought. Two of Fort
Griffin's guns had been silenced during the battle, one knocked off its carriage and a
cannonball struck the elevating screw of another. However, each of Kellersberg's repaired
guns had performed excellently, each of them firing about thirty six-inch cannonballs
during the forty minute battle. And instead of the guns bursting their barrels as was
feared, they exploded the steam drums of the two captured gunboats, the Sachem and
Clifton. The efficiency of the fort's cannoneers had been honed to
perfection, but it took the gunnery genius of Private Michael McLernan to put the
cannonballs into the steam drums.
Like the aftermath of the Battle of Galveston, General Magruder refused
to believe that the Federals would accept defeat at Sabine Pass, and that they might scrap
their invasion plans and return to New Orleans. He ordered frenzied defense preparations
in anticipation of a second attack, and again, all the engineering assignments would fall
to Major Kellersberg. As early as August 2, a month before the battle, he had already been
handed an entire new list of fortifications to be built at Sabine Pass.
Immediately after the battle, the general quickly ordered that all of the old smoothbore
guns in Fort Griffin be replaced with rifled cannons removed from the captured gunboats.
Again on October 5, 1863, Colonel Sulakowski handed Kellersberg an entire new list of
defense preparations ordered by the general, more obstructions to be sunk in the two ship
channels, the planking of all roads leading to the fort, repairs to the eight miles of
abandoned railroad, and the building of Fort Manhassett, seven miles to the west of Sabine
Magruder had learned from a prisoner-of-war that an alternate plan of
the Federals was to land troops to the west of Sabine Pass, bypass Fort Griffin, and move
directly on Beaumont via Sabine's Back Ridge -- hence, the building of Fort Manhassett. An
inspector-general's report in late October indicated that the fortifications of Fort
Manhassett's five "redoubts" were well under way, but the inspector had some
misgivings about their value, noting that:
Too much reliance seems to me to be placed upon the. .
.impassable nature of the marsh, which if succeeded in passing, the forts are turned and
In June, 1863, General Magruder recommended Major Kellersberg for
promotion to lieutenant colonel on a list of names submitted to the Trans-Mississippi
Department, but his recommendation was not acted upon until the following winter. In his
letter accompanying the recommendation, the general observed that:
Major Kellersberg is also an engineer of great merit who was
appointed major of artillery by Brigadier General Hebert, and he has rendered the greatest
service. I recommend him to be lieutenant colonel of artillery on engineer service
By November 23, 1863, another event had totally diverted the general's
attention from Sabine Pass to the south coast of Texas. He noted in a letter to the Texas
governor that 5,000 of the enemy had captured Aransas Pass, Corpus Christi, and
Brownsville, and he feared that they would soon drive into the interior of the state.
Consequently, the general dispatched slaves and equipment westward, and he ordered the
fortification of several cities by the following engineering officers: Colonel A. M. Lea
to proceed to Gonzales; Captain H. Schleicher to San Antonio; Major Wilson to Houston; and
Major Kellersberg to Austin.
The major, however, did not plan to accept his Austin assignment
without a passionate plea to the general, for he had long planned to celebrate Christmas
with his family, a luxury he had not experienced for many years. En route to Austin,
Kellersberg stopped at Houston and talked to General Magruder, but the district commandant
was unrelenting. He "became most irritated and asked me whether I was not familiar
with the duty of a soldier?" As a result, the engineer
continued on his journey to Austin.
Major Kellersberg met the 500 slaves for the Austin assignment at
LaGrange, where he also stopped for a day and visited his mother-in-law. The engineer also
encountered quickly the enmity of some of the citizens of Austin, who opposed the
fortification of their city. Kellersberg noted as well that there were many Northern
sympathizers in Austin, but the greatest enmity arose because he was blamed for the
quartering of the slaves in an unused church, an action which had actually been the
responsibility of the local quartermaster. No other information, except in the engineer's
memoirs, survives concerning the fortification of the capitol city, but apparently that
task had either been completed or abandoned by March, 1864. In four months time, the
invading force on the Rio Grande River had shown no further aggressive intent toward the
interior of Texas, being apparently content to halt the flow of overland wagon-freighting
of Texas cotton to Matamoros and to express President Lincoln's displeasure with the
French invasion of Mexico under the Emperor Maximilian.
The writer has no exact informations about Kellersberg's promotion
date, but apparently it came about January, 1864. On March 12, 1864, the city council of
Galveston "introduced, which was unanimously adopted," the following
RESOLVED, that the thanks of the Mayor and Aldermen of the City
of Galveston are hereby tendered to Colonel V. Sulakowski and Colonel J. Kellersberger,
the two distinguished engineers who have displayed such scientific and military skill in
erecting defenses around the city and other vulnerable points on the gulf coast, which
stand in bold delfiance, now complete, to resist any force which our common enemy can
bring to bear against us
In April 1864, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill for services rendered,
General Magruder appointed Colonel Kellersberg superintendent of the Houston Foundry until
the war ended. Perhaps the foundry's greatest resource was its body of German mechanics,
machinists, die makers, and other metallurgic and metal-cutting talents, who made and
repaired much Confederate equipment, and Kellersberg, because of his German-language
ability, had a particular knack for commanding such personnel. The engineer described only
one phase of his military assignment in Houston, the particulars of the only rocket
battery in the Confederate Army, whose personnel were commanded by the foundry's
A Confederate lieutenant at the foundry named Schroeder, who was a
German immigrant and had formerly served in a rocket battery of the Austrian army, claimed
he could make as good rockets as could be found in Europe. Kellersberg had also observed
Austrian rocket batteries while he served in that country. The problem with making rockets
in Houston, however, was that many substitutions for metals and other ingredients, such as
tin for copper, had to be made. At first, such needed ingredients as saltpeter and sulphur
were completely unobtainable. The first few rockets were tested in Houston in front of
some generals, and the results were satisfactory. After about 1,000 rockets had been
completed (many of them loaded with six pounds of gunpowder as a grenade-type weapon), the
second test at Houston, before a crowd of soldier and civilian dignitaries, went
completely awry. Rockets spewed, flew zigzag patterns, exploded, created billowing clouds
of black smoke, and so scared the crowd of onlookers and horses that men and animals
galloped off in all directions. The next day Kellersberg received an order from the
commanding general as follows: "The Rocket Battery No. 1.
is hereby dissolved.
Officers and men will resume their previous positions in their regiments
By the summer of 1864, Colonel Kellersberg realized that the war was
lost, and he began planning for the days of defeat ahead. By January, 1865, most
everything was unobtainable at any price, and whenever it was in stock, a sack of corn
meal cost $1,000. The engineer feared that his family might even go hungry, and many
schools were already closing for lack of supplies. As soon as he could, he sent his family
back to Switzerland, via a German ship, and within a few months, they were resettled in
the ancestral Kellersberger rock house, close to the Schlossberg Mountain, in Baden,
Switzerland. Kellersberger also wrote to Jecker, his old employer in Mexico, seeking to
return to his old railway position at Tehuantepec. Instead, he was offered a job as
construction engineer on the Vera Cruz and Mexico City Railroad, which was being rushed to
completion by the Emperor Maximilian. As soon as the war ended, Kellersberger and General
Magruder were two of the many Texas Confederate officers who left for exile in Mexico.
Kellersberger worked on the Mexico City Railroad until it was completed
in 1868. Homesick for his family, he too boarded a German ship and returned to
Switzerland, where he soon found employment as a bridge designer and builder for the Swiss
government. In 1871, he built the first steel bridge over the Linnat River, and about
1960, his granddaughter, Mrs. Annie Kellersberger Schnelle of Marble Falls (now deceased),
was able to walk across that river on the same bridge that her grandfather had built
almost a century earlier.
From the beginning, the Kellersberger children were unhappy with the
Swiss culture of their new country and were homesick for America. About 1875, the oldest
daughter, Emma Kellersberger, boarded a ship and returned to her grandparents' home at
Blackjack Springs in Fayette County, where she supported herself by giving piano lessons.
Her mother, Caroline Bauch Kellersberger, was an accomplished pianist. In 1877, Julius R.
Kellersberger, the only son and a well-known Swiss athlete, left Switzerland for
Galveston, where he worked in a store for a few years. Later he bought a store at Cypress
Mill, near Austin, where he also operated the grist mill, sawmill, and cotton gin, and
served as postmaster for twenty-nine years. In 1885, Julius and Caroline Kellersberger
brought their three youngest daughters, Bertha, Wilhelmina and Dora, back to Cypress Mill,
where Caroline Bauch Kellersberger died a few months later. Julius R. Kellersberger, the
son, soon married Helena Mattern and raised a large family. Emma Kellersberger married
Benno Fuchs at Blackjack Springs and Mina Kellersberger married Ira Mattern. Bertha and
Dora Kellersberger moved to Blackjack Springs, where the former owned a millinery shop and
the latter, a spinster, lived with her sister.
In 1893, at age seventy-two, Julius Getulius Kellersberger did a most
unusual thing by American standards. He said goodbye to all of his children,
grandchildren, and friends and caught a ship back to Switzerland, where his only relative
was a distant cousin. Perhaps he thought he was terminally ill, and his last wish was to
write his German-language memoirs and die in his ancestral home. However, death was not as
imminent as he had perhaps supposed. He wrote his memoirs in 1895 and 1896 and published
them in 1897. Also in 1897, he was the only ex-Confederate at a reunion of seventeen Swiss
veterans of the American Civil War, the other sixteen having fought in the Northern
armies. He died at Baden, canton of Aargau, in September 1900, where he is also buried.
On January 8, 1972, the writer had the privilege of meeting more than
forty of Kellersberger's descendants, who attended the dedication of the Fort Manhassett
state historical marker (on which is inscribed their ancestor's name), at Sabine Pass, and
had come there to honor his memory as the builder of the fort. In 1970 the writer was one
of several excavators who dug up more than 200 six-inch cannon balls on that site.
Julius G. Kellersberger knew he had lived an unusual life, which was
why he wanted to write his memoirs. He was an uncommon man in many respects, having
brought his civil engineering skills and military prowess to the American frontier at a
time when such skills were as rare as a mother lode of silver. His California maps survive
today in the city plats of Oakland and the other towns that he surveyed; in maps of the
Humboldt Meridian and Mount Diablo Meridian in the National Archives; and in maps of the
Confederate forts along the Texas Gulf Coast, which are now a part of Record Group 77,
Confederate Records in the National Archives. According to his memoirs, he commanded the
only rocket battery in the Confederate Army, and his memoirs are the only known account of
that battery. Two of his Sabine Pass forts (Griffin and Manhassett) were the last forts in
the old Confederacy to lower their Rebel emblems on May 24, 1865, since a major
Confederate naval historian recorded that "only the forts at Sabine Pass are still
defiantly held." And one can only wonder what role, if any, his
200 "Quaker' guns may have played in preventing a second attack on the port of
Galveston. In truth, the Swiss immigrant did live a most eventful life as Vigilante,
railroad builder, city engineer, deputy surveyor-general, and Confederate soldier. And
indeed, a record of Julius Kellersberger's life and accomplishments deserves a niche
somewhere among the chronicles of Texas for the edification of generations of Texans still
1 Julius G. Kellersberger, Erlebnisse Eines
Schweizerisches Ingenieurs in Californien, Mexico, und Texas Zur Zeit Des Amerikanischen
Burgerkrieges, 1861-1865 (Zurich, Switzerland: Juchli and Beck, 1897), pp. 1-99, copy
owned by writer.
2 Letters, Annie Kellersberger Schnelle, Marble Falls,
Texas (J. G. Kellersberger's granddaughter, now deceased) to W. T. Block, October 31 and
November 18, 1970; also Schnelle typescript, "Biography of Getulius
Kellersberger," copy owned by writer.
3 Helen Sundstrom (ed.-translator), Memoirs of An
Engineer in The Confederate Army in Texas (privately printed:1957), unnumbered forward, a
translation of J. Kellersberger's German language memoirs by his great granddaughter,
Helen Sundstrom; also Schnelle's biography of Kellersberger, copies of both owned by the
4 J. Kellersberger, Erlebnesse Eines Schweizerisches
Ingenieur, pp. 1-8.
5 Jack J. Struder, "The First Map of Oakland,
California: An Historical Speculation as Solution to an Enigma," California
Historical Society Quarterly (March, 1969), pp. 59-71: "First map of Oakland,"
(Oakland, Calif.) Tribune, Centennial Edition, May 1, 1952.
6 Schnelle typescript, "Biography of J.
Kellersberger," and townsite photostats owned by Mrs. Schnelle.
7 Jack Struder, "Julius Kellersberger: A Swiss as
Surveyor and City Planner in California, 1851-1857," California State Historical
Quarterly (March, 1968), pp. 3-14.
8 Sundstrom (translator), Memoirs of An Engineer in the
Confederate Army, pp. 11-20.
9 A Compilation of The Official Records of The Union
and Confederate Armies in The War of The Rebellion (128 vols.; Washington, D. C.:
Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Series I, Vol. IV, pp. 117, 148.
10 Ibid., Series I, Vol. IX, p. 711.
11 (Houston) Tri-Weekly Telegraph, November 1, 1861;
Letter, Kellersberg to DeBray, Official Records, Armies, Series I, Vol. IX, p. 729.
12 Kellersberger, Erlebnisse Eines Schweizerischen
Ingenieurs, p. 51.
13 Official Records, Armies, Series I, Vol. XV. p.
14 Ibid., pp. 149-152.
15 Letters, Col. A. W. Spaight, September 26, 29, and
October 2, 1862, Official Records Armies, Series I, Vol. XV, pp. 144-147; Alwyn Barr,
"Texas Coastal Defense, 1861-1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly (July,
1961), p. 12.
16 Letter, Kellersberg to Franklin, Official Records,
Armies, Series I, Vol. XV, pp. 834-835; W. T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas
From Wilderness to Reconstruction (Nederland, Tx.: Nederland Publishing Co., 1976), pp.
17 Official Records, Armies, Letters, Kellersberg to
DeDray and DeBray to Davis, Vol. XV, pp. 853-854, 865.
18 Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer in The
Confederate Army, pp. 22-24.
19 H. N. Conner, "Diary of Sergeant H. N.
Connor," Unpublished Manuscript, p. 5a; Block, History of Jefferson County, p. 106.
20 K. D. Keith, "Military Operations, Sabine
Pass," in Burke's Texas Almanac and Immigrant's Guide for 1883 (Houston; N. D.), pp.
66-67; (Galveston) Weekly News, January 28, 1863 and January 4, 1867; William Wiess,
"Captain Wiess Tells of Forty-Eight years Ago," (Beaumont) Enterprise, January
21, 1912; Official Records, Navies, Series I, Vol. XIX, pp. 564-574.
21 Official Records, Armies, Series I, Vol. XV, pp.
200-220; Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer in The Confederate Army, pp. 26-27.
21a Official Records, Armies, Series I, Vol. XV,p.
22 Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer, pp. 27-28.
23 Ibid., pp. 28-29; see also Barr, "Texas
Coastal Defense, 1861-1865," pp. 20-21.
24 J. T. Scharf, History of the Confederate States
Navy (New York: 1887, p. 529; W. T. Block, "*Sabine Pass in The Civil War,' East
Texas Historical Journal, IX, No. 2 (October, 1971), p. 132.
25 Kellersberger, Erlebnisse Eines Schweizerischen
Ingenieurs, pp. 68-69; Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer, pp. 30-31; W. T. Block,
"Legend of Two Old Cannona," East Texas Historical Journal, IX, No. 2 (October,
1971), pp. 147-149.
26 Letter, Sulakowski to Turner, Official Records,
Armies, Series I, Vol. XXVI, Part 2, p. 133.
27 Ibid., Letter, Sulakowski to Kellersberg, pp.
298-299; J. Kellersberg, "Map of Sabine Pass, of its Defenses and Means of
Communication," October, 1863, in Report of Major J. P. Johnson, Official Records,
Armies, Series I,Vol. XXVI, Part 2, p. 1133.
28 Ibid., Letter, Alston to Kirby Smith, pp. 318-321;
see also Maps of Fort Manhassett, No . Z-54-11, in Record Group 77, in the National
Archives; also appearing as Plate XXXII, Map 3, in Official Atlas of the Civil War; also
W. T. Block, "New Chapter in History of Sabine Pass," East Texas Historical
Journal, IX (Oct. 1971), pp. 145-147, 151-152.
29 Letter of General Magruder, Official Records,
Armies, Series I, Vol. XXVI, Part 2, pp. 60-65.
30 Letters, Magruder to Murrah, Ibid., Series I, Vols.
XXVI, Part 2, p. 442, and Turner to Planters of Texas, Vol. XXVI, Part 2, 839.
31 Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer, p. 32.
32 Ibid., pp. 32-33.
33 Kellersberg, Erlebnisse Eines Schweizerischen
Ingenieurs, p. 66; Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer, p. 29; (Galveston) Weekly News,
March 16, 1864.
34 Sundstrom, Memoirs of An Engineer, pp. 33-34.
35 Annie Kellersberger Schnelle, "Biography of
Getulius Kellersberger," a 3-page typescript by the engineer's granddaughter, copy
owned by the writer.
37 Letters, Annie K. Schnelle to W. T. Block, October
31 and November 18, 1970.
38 Ibid.; see also W.T. Block, "Swiss Engineer
Built Sabine's Defenses," in Block, Frontier Tales of the Texas-Louisiana Borderlands
(Unpubl.: Nederland, 1988), pp. 120-124.
39 Scharf, History of the Confederate States Navy, p.