Griffin, William Henry (1816–1872)

By: Jennifer Eckel

Type: Biography

Published: April 14, 2011

Updated: October 2, 2020

William Henry Griffin, soldier, surveyor, and planter, was born on March 18, 1816, in Greenwood, South Carolina. He was the son of Richard Griffin, Jr., and Rebecca (Wilson) Griffin. In 1830 Griffin was appointed by his congressman to attend West Point Military Academy. After graduating with honors in 1835 with a degree in civil engineering, Griffin served for two years with the Seventh Infantry in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. He resigned his commission in 1837 and spent the next several years utilizing his engineering degree as a surveyor and construction supervisor for railroad projects in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In 1858 Griffin bought a farm in Tarrant County, Texas, and raised cotton and cattle until the advent of the Civil War. Griffin's wife was Susan Tabitha (Downs) Griffin of Lick Creek, South Carolina.

In 1861 Griffin attempted to raise his own garrison but failed to muster enough soldiers. Instead, he was commissioned in June 1862 as lieutenant colonel for the Twenty-first Texas Infantry. Griffin was decorated for his role in the battle of Galveston. In April of 1863 Col. Joseph Speight and his troops were transferred to Louisiana, and Griffin was promoted to colonel and put in charge of the garrison at Sabine Pass. Griffin and the Twenty-first Infantry spent much of 1863 stationed there to defend Northeast Texas against invasion by Federal troops. In the autumn of 1863 several companies from Griffin's regiment were transferred by Gen. John Magruder to Northwest Texas. The relocation was motivated either by a need to discourage Comanche raids in the region or as an attempt to quell a threatened rebellion inspired by Griffin's "extreme disciplinary measures." Upon hearing news of the battle of Sabine Pass, Griffin and his companies were quickly transferred back to Sabine and Fort Griffin. Griffin and the Twenty-first Infantry fought their last battle of the war at Calcasieu Pass in 1864, in which two Federal gunboats, the Wave and the Granite City, were captured.

When he was decommissioned in 1865, Griffin returned to the Houston area and practiced his trade as a surveyor and engineer until laid low by an illness in 1870. He died on March 28, 1872, and is buried in Houston.

Alwyn Barr, "The Battle of Calcasieu Pass," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 66 (July 1962).W.T. Block, "Col. William H. Griffin, A Texas Confederate Commander" (, accessed February 2, 2011. W.T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas From Wilderness to Reconstruction, (Nederland, Texas: Nederland Publishing Company, 1976).

Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jennifer Eckel, “Griffin, William Henry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 14, 2011
October 2, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: