By Jan Edwards
The recent cold, blustery weather led me to stay inside more and read stories I had written some time ago about what existed in the Civil War days where the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge is located now, right down FM 2918 and FM 2611, near where I live.
A part of our country’s Civil War history that I am about to recount took place in and around that area where the refuge is now located. Walk with me into the refuge and back into history.
Lush undergrowth and ancient trees stretch out their branches, threatening to engulf the site where the Cedar Lake Salt Works state historical marker should be – 9 miles southwest of Brazoria on FM 2611 at Brazoria/Matagorda line.
The marker, like the Salt Works, has mysteriously disappeared into time and the wild, leaving nothing behind except a picture or two at the Brazoria County Museum to mark that it was ever there.
Remaining records show the Cedar Lake Salt Works marker read:
“Built in Confederate Texas in 1861 – 1862. Furnished essential salt to army and civilians. Raided by landing parties of Federals from Gulf ships, Nov. 27, 1862, lost buildings, 22 kettles, 4 large boilers. 10 tons of salt in hide bags was partly ruined. A nearby plant, when attacked next day, was defended by Texas Calvary and escaped destruction. Winson’s (sic) Works, below the San Bernard, was raided. But Moseley’s Battery, 7th Texas Artillery Battalion, repulsed the raiders, wounding or killing 23 men as they got into their boats.” (1965)
Researching the history detailed on the missing marker leads to differing accounts of the destroyed Salt Works. A quick search on the Cedar Lake Salt Works doesn’t yield much. Further investigation in Brazoria County archives and interviews with local Civil War history buffs, Bruce Gotcher, Les Pettigrew and John Smith, a couple of stories - both different from the missing marker’s tale - emerge. The research uncovers two candidates for the owner of the destroyed salt works: Laurent Ducroz and Lafayette (Fayette) Winston.
To set the stage for the importance of salt works to Texans and the Confederacy, consider the surrounding events of the War:
- Lafayette Winston and Fountain Winston bought a 1,000-acre tract from Stephen Winston in 1856 with all the improvements for $28,000 with the sugar mill in construction. The advertisement for the sale of this property the previous year read, “There is, belonging to the place, one Niles’ large Engines (sic) and Sugar Mills. Also, Kettles, etc. etc, not yet put up”. (Could this equipment have become the Salt Works, as there is no documentation on how Winston’s Salt Works was financed?)
- Texas declared its secession from the United States on Feb. 1, 1861.
- Texas joined the Confederate States of America on March 2, 1861.
- The first battle for Galveston, a naval engagement, was fought Oct. 4, 1862.
- Cedar Lake Salt Works attacked and bombarded by Union Forces on Nov. 27, 1862. A second salt works was attacked by Union Forces on Nov. 28, 1862.
Very early into the war, the Confederacy realized the production of salt was critical to the war effort. Because little attention was given to rural coast lines, hundreds of salt works (large and small) began operation across the entire Gulf Coast.
Most records of the destruction of the Cedar Lake Salt Works agree it was owned and operated by Lafayette Winston.
Bruce Gotcher, a local historian, has located and recovered cannonballs and other artifacts from the site of the destroyed Salt Works before it became what is now the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge.
He said, “The Federals did a really good job of destroying the works – all that’s left is cannonballs and small pieces of the equipment – mostly the kettles - used there.”
What happened there? Come back next week and discover the account of the attacks.
(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: email@example.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)