Civil War Naval History
1 Secretary Mallory wrote President Davis that due to a shortage of mechanics the ordnance works at Selma, Alabama, could not "make more than one gun in a week, whereas with a proper number of mechanics it could manufacture with carriages and equipments complete, three in a week, and in a few months one every day Shortage of skilled craftsmen was a handicap the South could never overcome. The manpower and material shortages at Selma specifically crippled the progress of the ironclad squadron Admiral Buchanan was desperately trying to develop in Mobile Bay. Only ram Tennessee was ready when the critical moment arrived on 5 August.
C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured and burned bark Harriet Stevens at sea southwest of Bermuda with cargo of lumber, cement, and gum opium; Morris sent the opium in a blockade runner for hospital use.
U.S.S. Merrimac, Acting Lieutenant W. Budd, captured blockade running sloop Henrietta at sea west of Tampa, Florida, with cargo of cotton.
2 U.S.S. Keystone State, Commander Crosby, captured blockade running British steamer Rouen at sea off Wilmington. The steamer had thrown her cargo of cotton overboard during the four hour chase, and was not brought to until Keystone had fired 22 shots at her, "all of them falling quite near and some directly over her."
2–9 Single-turreted monitors U.S.S. Lehigh, Lieutenant Commander A.A. Semmes, U.S.S. Montauk, Lieutenant Commander A. W. Johnson, and other ships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron supported Army troops in a demonstration up the Stono River, South Carolina. Hearing that Confederate forces were about to move against the blockaders off Charleston, Rear Admiral Dahlgren and Major General Foster planned a diversionary expedition up the Stono River, in-tending to cut the important Charleston-Savannah railroad. Union monitors and gunboats shelled Confederate works on both sides of the river with telling effect in support of movements ashore. Brigadier General Schimmelfennig, troop commander, reported to Dahlgren on 6 July: "I take pleasure in informing you of the excellent practice by your gunboats and monitors on Stono River yesterday. They drove the enemy out of his rifle pits and prevented him from erecting an earthwork which he had commenced. As I shall probably have to occupy that line again before long, this fire of your monitors will undoubtedly save many lives on our side, for which I desire to express to them my thanks." Dahlgren's vessels later effectively covered the Army withdrawal from Stono River.
4 U.S.S. Hastings, Acting Lieutenant J. S. Watson, engaged Confederate sharpshooters on the White River above St. Charles, Arkansas. Lieutenant Commander Phelps, embarked in the 300-ton, 8-gun Hastings, commented in his report to Rear Admiral Porter: "I had been at a loss to know how we should celebrate the Fourth, being underway and having so much of a convoy in charge, but this attack occurring about noon furnished the opportunity of at once punishing the enemy and celebrating the day by firing cannon. "It had been a year before, on 4 July 1863, that Union forces had commemorated Independence Day with decisive victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the latter pivoting on the Union Navy. With control of the Western waters assured, the North was certain of victory."
U.S.S. Magnolia, Acting Lieutenant William S. Cheesman, captured three boats at sea several hundred miles east of Florida with small cargo of cotton and turpentine. The intrepid Southern boatsmen had been at sea for some 40 days attempting to reach Nassau. The attempt to run the blockade in small boats, powered by sail and oars, was an extreme measure even for the South's struggling economy.
6 Illustrating the great paucity of Confederate naval power and the strategic importance of C.S.S. Albemarle to the defense of North Carolina, Brigadier General Lawrence S. Baker, CSA, wrote to Commander Maffltt, captain of the ironclad, cautioning him against risking his vessel: "I beg leave to remind you of the importance to the Confederacy of the country opened to us by the taking of Plymouth, to suggest that its recapture now engages the serious attention of the U.S. Government, and that the loss of the gunboat which you command would be irreparable and productive of ruin to the interests of the government, particularly in this State and district, and indeed would be a heavy blow to the whole country. . . . I have no doubt that in event of an attack by you the most desperate efforts will be made to destroy your boat, and thus open the approach to Plymouth and Washington [North Carolina]." While criticism was leveled at the Confederate Navy Department for not bringing Albemarle into action, her presence at Plymouth constituted a powerful threat to Union control of the North Carolina sounds, demanded a vigilant patrol by many Northern ships, and prevented recapture of the area by Union troops. Few ships better illustrate the important relationship between a nation's land and sea-based power.
Captain Cicero Price, U.S.S. Jamestown, wrote Secretary Welles from Yokohama, Japan, regarding the celebration of Independence Day in that far-off port: "The Fourth was very handsomely celebrated here, all the foreign ships of war participating by dressing their ships, as well as salut-ing. It was very marked on the part of the British." With the tide of war ashore as well as afloat having swung irrevocably in favor of the Union, British intervention on behalf of the South could no longer be considered a possibility.
7-12 Small schooners U.S.S. Ariel, Acting Master Russell, Sea Bird, Acting Ensign Ezra L. Robbins, and Stonewall, Acting Master Henry B. Carter, and 29-ton sloop Rosalie, Acting Master Coffin, transported Union troops on a raid on Brookville, Florida. After disembarking the soldiers, Ariel and Sea Bird proceeded to Bayport, Florida; where a landing party captured a quantity of cotton and burned the customs house. The Union troops joined the two schooners at Bayport on 11 July, and the force returned to Anclote Keys the next day.
8 U.S.S. Fort Jackson, Captain Sands, captured blockade running British steamer Boston at sea off the South Carolina coast with cargo of copperas, salt, and soap.
U.S.S. Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Bushrod B. Taylor, forced blockade running steamer Matagorda aground near Galveston. Kanawha, joined by U.S.S. Penguin and Aroostook, opened fire and destroyed the steamer, which carried cargo including cotton.
C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured whaling bark Golconda at sea southwest of Bermuda with 1,800 barrels of whale oil. "After taking what supplies of oil we required," Morris reported, "I burned her."
U.S.S. Sonoma, Lieutenant Commander Edmund O. Matthews, captured steamer Ida off the Stono River, South Carolina, with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. Azalea, Acting Master Frederick W. Strong, and U.S.S. Sweet Brier, Acting Ensign J. D. Dexter, captured blockade running schooner Pocahontas off Charleston with cargo of cotton. Weak at sea, the South could not protect by convoy the daring merchantmen that sought to run the blockade.
9 In a confidential letter to Secretary Welles, Rear Admiral Lee disclosed the plans then being con-sidered for an expedition to destroy the Confederate ram, C.S.S. Albemarle.' ''I concur in Captain Smith's opinion that it would be inexpedient to fight the ram with our long double-enders in that narrow river [the Roanoke]. I proposed to Lieutenant Cushing a torpedo attack, either by means of the india-rubber boat heretofore applied for, which could be transported across the swamp opposite Plymouth, or a light-draft, rifle-proof, swift steam barge, fitted with a torpedo." Cushing, who had already proved his audacity and ability on earlier expeditions into the Cape Fear River (see 29 February and 23-24 June 1864) immediately began plans for the new adventure, destined to be one of the most dramatic and dangerous of the war. He wrote Lee: "Deeming the capture or destruction of the rebel ram Albemarle feasible, I beg leave to state that I am ac-quainted with the waters held by her, and am willing to undertake the task." The Admiral saw In Cushing an officer with the spirit and skill to accomplish this difficult mission, and noted in closing his letter to Welles: "He is entirely willing to make an attempt to destroy the ram, and I have great confidence in his gallantry."
Major John Tyler, CSA, Assistant Adjutant General, wrote Major General Sterling price regarding a proposed attack on Point Lookout, Maryland, to release Confederate prisoners: "The plan is that he [Lieutenant General Jubal Early] shall seize Baltimore and hold it with his infantry while his cavalry proceeds to Point Lookout to liberate our prisoners there concentrated to the extent of nearly 30,000. in the meantime Captain [John Taylor] Wood, of the Navy, proceeds from Wilmington with 5 gunboats and 20,000 stand of arms for the same point by water. If successful in thus liberating and arming our imprisoned soldiers, Washington will be assaulted and no doubt carried. This I regard as decidedly the most brilliant idea of the war.'' Rumors of this daring plan reached Lieutenant Stuyvesant, U.S.S. Minnesota, on 18 July and he warned the Navy Department and Rear Admiral Lee that Wood was reported to have left Richmond with 800 volunteers on the 7th and 8th. While the projected expedition caused considerable excitement among the Union authorities, President Davis had already, on 10 July, advised against the attempt. Wood reported that he was ready to run the blockade out of Wilmington on 9 July, but the Confederate President replied: "The object and destination of the expedition have somehow become so gen-erally known that I fear your operations will meet unexpected obstacles." The idea was aban-doned, but illustrated the bold and daring measures considered by the South during the last year of the war.
C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured and burned bark Greenland, with cargo of coal, and schooner Margaret Y. Davis, in ballast, at sea off Cape Henry, Virginia.
U.S.S. Gettysburg, Acting Master William M. Gloin, captured blockade running steamer Little Ada at sea off Cape Romain with cargo of pig lead and potash after a lengthy chase.
10 C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured and burned bark General Berry with cargo of hay and straw. The action took place only 35 miles from Maryland's eastern shore as Morris continued his dashing raid on Union coastal shipping. Shortly thereafter, Morris gave chase to bark Zelinda, which he captured in ballast. He reported: "Put an officer and prize crew on board of her, with orders to follow us, went in chase of a schooner to the eastward. Found her to be the Howard, with a cargo of fruit belonging to English merchants. Bonded the schooner for $6,000, and put all of the prisoners (sixty-two in all) on board. . . . Morris then removed Zelinda's provisions and burned her. Florida made yet another capture that day, the mail steamer Electric Spark, her passengers were transferred to a passing British ship, Lane. Seeking to create the impression that he had made a tender of Electric Spark, Morris scuttled her during the night rather than putting her to the torch. This prize had yielded a quantity of cash in addition to other important articles, including mail. Morris, recognizing that Union ships would by this time be in hot pursuit of him, turned Florida on an easterly course into the broad Atlantic, whose vastness provided refuge for commerce raiders.
Reflecting the widespread concern caused by the recent captures made by C.S.S. Florida, Lieu-tenant Morris, off the coast of Virginia and Maryland, Rear Admiral Lee dispatched screw steamers U.S.S. Mount Vernon, Lieutenant Commander Henry A. Adams, Jr., and U.S.S. Monticello, Lieu-tenant Cushing, to "cruise together, and on finding the Florida will make a joint attack on her and capture her.'' The career of Florida, one of the most successful raiders, was nearing an end, but the honor of capturing her was to go neither to Adams nor Cushing. Many ships went out after her, but few got even a glimpse of the wily cruiser. This date Lee also ordered out U.S.S. Ino, Acting Lieutenant French, with another approach in mind: "Disguise the Ino, her battery, officers, and crew, and play the merchantman in appearance so as to entice her [C.S.S. Florida ] alongside, when you, being prepared, will open upon her suddenly and effectually."
U.S.S. Monongahela, Commander Strong, U.S.S. Lackawanna, Captain Marchand, U.S.S. Galena, Lieutenant Commander Clark H. Wells, U.S.S. Sebago, Lieutenant Commander William E. Fitz-hugh, opened fire on steamer Virgin, described as "a very large" blockade runner, aground near Fort Morgan, at Mobile Bay, Alabama. Under cover of Fort Morgan's cannon, a river steamer attempted to tow Virgin off, but was forced to withdraw by the accurate shelling from the block-aders. The next day, however, the Confederates towed Virgin into Mobile Bay.
U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master William L. Martine, captured blockade running British schooner Terrapin, at Jupiter Inlet, Florida, with cargo of cotton and turpentine.
11 Landing party from U.S.S. James L. Davis, Acting Master Griswold, destroyed Confederate salt works near Tampa, Florida. The works were capable of producing some 150 bushels of salt per day. On 16 July a similar raid near Tampa was carried out in which a salt work consisting of four boilers was destroyed.
12 U.S.S. Whitehead, Acting Ensign George W. Barrett, and U.S.S. Ceres, Acting Master Foster, in company with transport steamer Ella May, conducted a joint expedition up the Scup-pernong River to Columbia, North Carolina. Whitehead, a small tinclad, and Ceres, a 140-ton paddle- wheeler, landed troops near Columbia, and the soldiers succeeded in destroying a bridge and a quantity of grain.
U.S.S. Penobscot, Lieutenant Commander Benham, captured blockade running schooner James Williams off Galveston with cargo including medicines, coffee, and liquor.
13 Colonel Albert J. Myer, USA, forwarded intelligence regarding the naval defenses of Mobile Bay to Rear Admiral Farragut. Myer reported: "A line of piles driven under water extends from the shoal water near Fort Gaines, across Pelican Pass Channel, and to the edge of the main ship channel. One informant describes this obstruction as five rows of piles driven closely to-gether. The other informant does not know how many are the piles or how closely driven.
From the western edge of the main ship channel, where the fixed obstructions terminate, a torpedo line extends eastward across that channel to a point differently estimated as at 400 yards and as at nearly one-half mile from Fort Morgan." A "torpedo party" of seven men was reported to be in charge of the underwater weapons. These torpedoes almost turned back the Admiral's assault on Mobile Bay less than a month later.
Flag Officer Barton wrote Secretary Mallory from Paris: "In the course of this week . . . I hope to have the pleasure of reporting the Rappahannock at sea . . . She is strictly watched by Federal cruisers in the channel: Kearsarge at Dover, Niagara at or off Cherbourg, and Sacramento off Ushant. This disposition of the enemy's ships increases the risks and affords decided chances of capture; but if we be permitted to leave port with the number of officers and men on board I shall assuredly encounter all the chances and risks, knowing your anxiety and the great impor-tance of keeping a sufficient number of vessels afloat to keep up the rates of maritime insurance in the United States, and a wholesome dread of our active and enterprising little Navy amongst their commercial marine." Despite Barron's strong efforts, however, Rappahannock remained in port until the war ended.
13-14 In order to protect the rear of Union Army emplacements around Annapolis, Maryland, against Confederate raiders Lieutenant Commander Braine, U.S.S. Vicksburg, detailed a boat expedition under the command of Acting Ensign Francis G. Osborn to destroy all means of crossing South River.
14 Acting Master George R. Durand, U.S.S. Paul Jones, was captured while making an attempt in Ossabaw Sound, Georgia, to destroy C.S.S. Water Witch,' a former Union ship which had been taken in June, 1864. Durand concealing himself and his men by day and moving by night, made his way toward the prize steamer only to be discovered and captured by a Confederate patrol.
Screw steamer U.S.S. Pequot, Lieutenant Commander Quackenbush, and converted ferryboat U.S.S. Commodore Morris, Acting Master Robert G. Lee, engaged Confederate batteries in the vicinity of Malvern Hill, James River, Virginia, for four hours, sustaining no serious damage. Two days later the batteries opened on U.S.S. Mendota, Commander Nichols, Pequot, and Commo-dore Morris. Mendota, a double-ender, sustained minor damage and several casualties. Presence of the battery below Four Mile Creek temporarily closed the navigation of the James River.
18 Rear Admiral Farragut wrote of his plans for the attack on Mobile Bay: "I propose to go in according to programme– fourteen vessels, two and two, as at Port Hudson; low steam; flood tide in the morning with a light southwest wind; ironclads on the eastern side, to attack the Tennessee, and gunboats to attack rebel gunboats as soon as past the forts." It was characteristic of the Admiral's farsighted attention to detail to have battle plans drawn up and his fleet ready for action when the most favorable moment to move forward arrived.
Governor Samuel Corry of Maine wrote Secretary Welles regarding the exploits of C.S.S. Florida. Gravely concerned by the captures the cruiser had made recently, he asked that one or two gun-boats constantly patrol the coast, and stated: "We are at war with a brave, energetic adversary, fruitful in resources, ready to strike at any exposed point, and which, with one or two piratical cruisers, besides destroying a great amount of tonnage, has driven a large share of our commerce under the protection of the flags of other nations."
Secretary Mallory wrote Commander Bulloch in Liverpool, England; that ". . . we can operate effectually against the enemy's blockading fleets with torpedo boats . . . As these boats select their own time for operating and may thus secure a smooth sea, and as they must operate at night, and avoid being seen, it is important that they should be as low in the water as may be consistent with their safety. They are expected to carry from five to seven men, coal for twenty-four hours, and four torpedoes with their shifting poles, and to go at least 10 miles an hour with all on board . . . The torpedo is usually made of copper or iron boiler plate, contains from 40 to 100 pounds of powder and is prepared with three sensitive tubes which explode on impact . . . The torpedo boats are miniature swift steamers, and they must be strongly built and as light as may be consistent with strength . . . I suppose these boats might be built and sent to us without inter-ference by the authorities; but if not they might be built in sections and thus sent over. We are so destitute of mechanics, however, that they should be sent us complete as possible
21 U.S.S. Prairie Bird, Acting Master Thomas Burns, seized steamer Union on the Mississippi River for violation of revenue laws and giving "aid and comfort to the enemy".
22 Lieutenant Charles S. Cotton and Acting Ensign John L. Hall led a landing party from U.S.S. Oneida on a daring expedition that resulted in the capture of a Confederate cavalry patrol near Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay. The sailors rowed in from Oneida under cover of' darkness, and lay in wait for a nightly Southern patrol which had been under observation for some time. Surprise was complete, and Hall marched a detachment four miles further inland to destroy the patrol's camp site. Lieutenant Cotton reported: "The results of the expedition were captured, 1 lieutenant and 4 privates of the Seventh Alabama Cavalry, arms and ammunition; 5 horses, with their equipments complete, and all the camp equipage and stores.
23 Army transport B.M. Runyan, with some 500 military and civilian passengers on board, sank in the Mississippi River near Skipwith's Landing, Mississippi, after hitting a snag. U.S.S. Prairie Bird, Acting Master Thomas Burns, rescued 350 survivors and salvaged part of the cargo. Rescue and humanitarian operations have been a continuing naval mission throughout our history.
24 Confederate guerrillas captured and burned steamer Kingston, which had run aground the preceding day between Smith's Point and Windmill Point on the Virginia shore of Chesapeake Bay.
25 As Union naval forces in Albemarle Sound kept a close watch on the powerful ram C.S.S. Albemarle, Acting Master's Mate John Woodman with three companions made the first of his three daring reconnaissance expeditions up the Roanoke River to Plymouth, North Carolina. Reported Woodman: "The town appeared very quiet; very few persons were moving about; I could hear the blacksmiths and carpenters at work in the town near the river." The ram, he added, was "lying at the wharf near the steam sawmill." The danger posed by the Confederate ship was to be a prime object of Northern concern for several more months, and prevented the Union forces from aggressive operations in the Plymouth area.
Boats from U.S.S. Hartford, Monongahela, and Sebago, commanded by Rear Admiral Farragut's flag lieutenant, J. C. Watson, reconnoitered the Mobile Bay area in an attempt to discover the type and number of water mines laid by Confederates off Fort Morgan. Watson and his men located and cut loose many of the torpedoes; they were aided by the fact that a number were inoperative. This hazardous work was indispensable to the success of the Navy's coming operations against Mobile. Several similar night operations were conducted.
U.S.S. Undine, Acting Master John L. Bryant, struck a snag and sank in the Tennessee River near Clifton, Tennessee. Bryant immediately set to work raising his small gunboat, while at the same time placing her guns ashore to help defend the city, which was threatened by Confederate troops. On 31 July, after the arrival of pump steamer Little Champion, and under constant danger of attack, Bryant succeeded in raising Undine and returning her to action.
20–27 Pickets from U.S.S. Shokokon, Acting Master Sheldon, were attacked ashore by Confederate sharpshooters at Turkey Bend, in the James River. Shokokon, a 710–ton double-ender mounting 5 guns, supported the embattled landing party with gunfire, and succeeded in preventing its capture. Next day, Shokokon engaged a Confederate battery at the same point on the River.
27 Rear Admiral Lee sent tugs Belle, Martin, and Hoyt, fitted as torpedo boats, to Commander Macomb, commanding Union naval forces off New Bern, North Carolina. The tugs, which were to be used against reported Confederate ironclads in that vicinity, carried spar torpedoes, described by Lee as follows: "This form of torpedo is intended to explode on impact, and to he placed on a pole or rod projecting not less than 15 feet, and if possible 20 feet, beyond the vessel using it.
It contains 150 pounds of powder.'' Initially the Union violently rejected torpedo warfare introduced by the South, but as the war progressed the North also utilized it to advantage.
Colonel Lewis B. Parsons, USA, Assistant Quartermaster and Chief of Western River Transporta-tion, wrote to Lieutenant Commander Phelps, Navy commander on the White River, about the unavailability of sufficient gunboats to convoy the vital supply ships on the river: "I am now in receipt of letters from three different officers, urgently enquiring if something can be done to prevent the detention of boats for convoys, in consequence of which, it is extremely difficult to send stores and supplies from Helena, Memphis, and other points. . . . I have no doubt everything is being done in your power and consistent with your means, but considering the importance of the subject and the expenditure, is it not advisable to increase the means, so that convoys, if necessary, may be sent as boats arrive? If this can not be done, would it not do if two or three gunboats be stationed at different and dangerous points and boats be permitted to proceed with-out convoys?" The Navy's efforts to keep open the essential river supply routes in the West were beset with many problems, including a scarcity of ships for convoy against constant harassment by Confederate guerrillas.
Rear Admiral Bailey wrote Secretary Welles from Key West describing the severe epidemic of yellow fever among the officers and men of his squadron: "My worst fears have been more than realized, and for more than two months the disease has held its course without abatement and is now as virulent as at any time. . . . The mortality on the island I am told has reached as high as 12 to 15 in a day. . . . The squadron is much crippled.
27-30 Boat crew commanded by Lieutenant J.C. Watson made daylight reconnaissances of the Mobile Bay channel. Watson and his men, towed into the bay by the small tug Cowslip, sounded the outer channel and marked the outside limits of the Confederate torpedo fields with buoys for the coming attack on the defenses of the bay.
28 Large side-wheel double-enders U.S.S. Mendota, Commander Nichols, and U.S.S. Agawam, tempo-rarily commanded by Lieutenant George Dewey, shelled Confederate positions across Four Mile Creek, on the James River, in support of Union moves to clear the area and restore full Northern use of the river at that Point.
28-29 Tinclad U.S.S. Whitehead, Acting Ensign Barrett, joined with Army steamers Thomas Colyer and Massasoit in an expedition up the Chowan River, North Carolina, to confiscate contraband. Steamer Arrow was captured at Gatesville with cargo of cotton and tobacco.
30 Landing party from U.S.S. Potomska, Acting Lieutenant Robert P. Swann, destroyed two large Confederate salt works near the Back River, Georgia. Returning to Potomska, Swann and his men were taken under fire by Confederates and a sharp battle ensued. 'Our arms," Swann re-ported, "the Spencer rifles, saved us all from destruction, as the rapidity with which we fired caused the enemy to lie low, and their firing was after the first volley very wild. . . . We fought them three-quarters of an hour, some of the time up to our knees in mud, trying to land and cap-ture them, and some of the time in the water with the boats for a breastwork." Finally able to regain the Potomska, Swann's party received a commendation from Rear Admiral Dahlgren for the bravery and skill they had demonstrated on the expedition.
In strongly refuting a recommendation that ram C.S.S. Albemarle be kept as a threat in being at Plymouth and not venture out to offer battle, Secretary Mallory wrote: . . . she was not designed as a floating battery merely, and while her loss must not be lightly hazarded, the question of when to attack the enemy must be left to the judgment of the naval officer in command, deciding in view of the relation she bears to the defenses of North Carolina."