Naval History of the Civil War November 1863

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Civil War Naval History



NOVEMBER 1863


2 -3 The report of Lieutenant Commander Greenleaf Cilley, U.S.S. Catskill, indicated extensive Confederate preparations to meet any Union attempt to breach the obstructions between Forts Sumter and Moultrie as the furious Northern bombardment of Fort Sumter continued. Two boats under sail were seen moving from Sumter toward Sullivan's Island," Cilley wrote. "About 11 p.m. a balloon with two lights attached rose from Sumter and floated toward Fort Johnson. . . . At midnight a steamer left Sumter and moved toward Fort Johnson. At sunrise . . . observed the three rams [C.S.S. Charleston, Chicora, and Palmetto State] and the side-wheel steamer anchored in line of battle ahead from Johnson toward Charleston, and each with its torpedo topped up forward of the bows."

3-4 Naval forces under Commander Strong, including U.S.S. Monongahela, Owasco, and Virginia, convoyed and supported troops commanded by General Banks at Brazos Santiago, Texas. The landing began on the 2nd and continued the next day without opposition. On the 4th Brownsville, Texas, was evacuated, and the Union foothold on the Mexican border was secured. Major General Dana wrote Commander Strong thanking him for the "many services you have rendered this expedition, particularly for the gallant service rendered by Captain Henry and the crew of the Owasco in saving the steam transport Zephyr from wreck during the late storm [encountered enroute on 30 October] and towing her to the rendezvous, and to you and your crew for assisting the steam transport Bagley in distress; also especially for the signal gallantry of your brave tars in landing our soldiers through the dangerous surf yesterday at the mouth of the Rio Grande" The naval force also quickly effected the capture of several blockade runners in the vicinity.

3 Rear Admiral Dahlgren closely examined Fort Sumter from his flagship during the evening and "could plainly observe the further effects of the firing; still," he added, "this mass of ruin is capable of harboring a number of the enemy, who may retain their hold until expelled by the bayonet. . . . "

U.S.S. Kenwood, Acting Master Swaney, captured steamer Black Flank off Port Hudson, Louisiana, with cargo of cotton.

4 U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C. H. Brown, seized blockade running British schooner Matamoras at the mouth of the Rio Grande River with cargo including shoes, axes, and spades for the Confederate Army.

5 Ships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron continued to cannonade Fort Sumter in concert with Army batteries ashore on Morris Island. Rear Admiral Dahlgren described the results of the combined bombardment: "The only original feature left is the northeast face, the rest is a pile of rubbish."

U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C.H. Brown, seized blockade running British bark Science, and, in company with U.S.S. Owasco, Lieutenant Commander Henry, captured blockade running British brigs Volante and Dashing Wave at the mouth of the Rio Grande River.

Rear Admiral Porter wrote Major General Banks in response to the General's long expressed request for gunboats near and below New Orleans. The Admiral advised him that a dozen gun-boats were being fitted out, and added "This will give you 22 gunboats in your department, with those now there, and I may be able to do more after we drive the rebels back from the Tennessee River." Banks wrote in mid-December that this assistance would "render it impossible for the enemy to annoy us, as they have heretofore done, by using against us the wonderful network of navigable waters west of the Mississippi River."

Blockade runner Margaret and Jessie was captured at sea east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after a prolonged chase by Army transport Fulton and U.S.S. Nansemond, Lieutenant R. H. Lamson. The chase had been started the preceding evening by U.S.S. Howquah, Acting Lieutenant Mac-Diarmid, which kept the steamer in sight throughout the night. U.S.S. Keystone State, Com-mander Edward Donaldson, joined the chase in the morning and was at hand when the capture was effected, putting an end to the career of a ship that had run the blockade some 15 times.

U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Burgess, seized blockade running British schooner Volante off Cape Canaveral, Florida, with cargo including salt and dry goods.

6 Faced with the problem of passing through the maze of complicated Confederate obstructions near Fort Sumter if the capture of Charleston was to be effected from the sea, the North experi-mented with another innovation by John Ericsson, celebrated builder of U.S.S. Monitor. This date, U.S.S. Patapsco, Commander Stevens, tested Ericsson's anti-obstruction torpedo. The device, which was a cast-iron, shell some 23 feet long and 10 inches in diameter containing 600 pounds of powder, was suspended from a raft which was attached to the ironclad's bow and held in position by two long booms. The demonstration was favorable, for the shock of the explosion was "hardly perceptible" on board Patapsco and, though a "really fearful" column of water was thrown 40 or 50 feet into the air, little of the water fell on the ironclad's deck. Even in the calm water in which the test was conducted, however, the raft seriously interfered with the ship's maneuverability. Rear Admiral Dahlgren noted significantly that "perfectly smooth water" was "a miracle here. . . ." Stevens expressed the view that the torpedo was useful only against fixed objects but that for operations against ironclads "the arrangement and attachment are too complicated" and that "something in the way of a torpedo which can be managed with facility" was needed.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and destroyed bark Amanda in the East Indies with cargo of hemp and sugar.

7 Merchant steamer Allen Collier, with cargo of cotton, was burned by Confederate guerrillas at Whitworth's Landing, Mississippi, after she left the protection of U.S.S. Eastport, Acting Ensign Sylvester Pool. The uneasy quiet on the river required constant gunboat cover.

Cutter from U.SS. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Fleming, captured blockade running British schooner Paul off Bayport, Florida.

8 U.S.S. James Adger, Commander Thomas H. Patterson, and U.S.S. Niphon, Acting Master Breck, captured steamer Cornubia north of New Inlet, North Carolina.

9 U.S.S. James Adger, Commander Patterson, captured blockade runner Robert E. Lee off Cape Lookout Shoals, North Carolina. The steamer had left Bermuda 2 days before with cargo including shoes, blankets, rifles, saltpeter, and lead. She had been one of the most famous and successful blockade runners. Her former captain, Lieutenant John Wilkinson, CSN, later wrote: "She had run the blockade twenty-one times while under my command, and had carried abroad between six thou-sand and seven thousand bales of cotton, worth at that time about two millions of dollars in gold, and had carried into the Confederacy equally valuable cargoes."

Intelligence data on the Confederate naval capability in Georgia waters reached Union Army and Navy commanders. C.S.S. Savannah, Commander Robert F. Pinkney, had two 7-inch and two 6-inch Brooke rifled guns and a torpedo mounted on her bow as armament. She carried two other torpedoes in her hold. Her sides were plated with 4 inches of rolled iron and her speed was about seven knots "in smooth water." C.S.S. Isondiga, a wooden steamer, was reported to have old boilers and "unreliable" machinery . The frames for two more rams were said to be on the stocks at Savannah, but no iron could be obtained to complete them. C.S.S. Resolute, thought by the Union commanders to be awaiting an opportunity to run the blockade, had been converted to a tender, and all the cotton at Savannah was being transferred to Wilmington for shipment through the blockade. C.S.S. Georgia, a floating battery commanded by Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, CSN, was at anchor near Fort Jackson and was reported to be "a failure." Such information as this enabled Union commanders to revise their thinking and adjust their tactics to the new conditions in order to maintain the blockade and move against the coast with increasing effectiveness.

Rear Admiral Porter wrote Secretary Welles suggesting that the Coast Survey make careful maps of the area adjacent to the Mississippi River "where navigation is made up of innumerable lakes and bayous not known to any but the most experienced pilots." The existence of these water-ways, he added, "would certainly never be known by examining modern charts." A fortnight later, the Secretary recommended to the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that surveys similar to those completed by the Coast Survey for Rear Admiral S.P. Lee along the North Carolina coast be made in accordance with Porter's request. Welles noted that the operations of the Mississippi Squadron and the transport fleet would be "greatly facilitated" and volunteered naval assistance for such an effort.

Admiral Buchanan ordered Acting Midshipman Edward A. Swain to report to Fort Morgan to take "command of the C.S.S. Gunnison and proceed off the harbor of Mobile and destroy, if possible, the U.S.S. Colorado or any other vessel of the blockading squadron. . . . " Gunnison was a torpedo boat.

U.S.S. Niphon, Acting Master Breck, captured blockade runner Ella and Annie off Masonboro lnlet, North Carolina, with cargo of arms and provisions. In an effort to escape, Ella and Annie rammed Niphon, but, when the two ships swung broadside, the runner was taken by boarding.

10 As an intensive two-week Union bombardment of Fort Sumter drew to a close, General Beauregard noted: "Bombardment of Sumter continues gradually to decrease. . . . Total number of shots [received] since 26th, when attack recommenced, is 9,306."

Major General James B. McPherson reported to Lieutenant Commander E. K. Owen, U.S.S. Louisville, that he anticipated an attack by Confederate troops near Goodrich's Landing, Louisiana. "I have to request," the General wrote, "that you will send one or two gunboats to Goodrich's Landing to assist General [John P.] Hawkins if necessary." For more than two months McPherson relied on naval support in the face of Southern movements in the area.

U.S.S. Howquah, Acting Lieutenant MacDiarmid, captured blockade running steamer Ella off Wilmington.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned clipper ship Winged Racer in the Straits of Sunda off Java, with cargo of sugar, hides, and jute. "She had, besides," wrote Semmes, "a large supply of Manila tobacco, and my sailors' pipes were beginning to want replenishing."

11 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and destroyed clipper ship Contest after a long chase off Gaspar Strait with cargo of Japanese goods for New York.

14 U.S.S. Bermuda, Acting Lieutenant J.W. Smith, recaptured schooner Mary Campbell after she had been seized earlier the same day by Confederates under command of Master Duke, CSN, whose daring exploits five months before (see 8 June 1863) had resulted in the capture of a Union ship near New Orleans. Bermuda also took an unnamed lugger which the Confederates had used to capture Mary Campbell. The captures took place off Pensacola after the ships had come out of the Perdido River under Duke's command. Lieutenant Smith reported that . . . the notorious James Duke . . . also captured the Norman, with which vessel he, with 10 of his crew, had made for the land upon my heaving in sight, and I have reason to believe that he beached and burned her. . . ."

The relentless pressure exerted on the Confederacy by the Union Navy was becoming increasingly apparent. Paymaster John deBree, CSN, reported to Secretary Mallory: "Restricted as our resources are by the blockade and by the reduced number of producers in the country, it has . . . .been the main object to feed and clothe the Navy without a strict regard to those technicalities that obtain in times of peace and plenty." DeBree noted that the Confederate Navy had to purchase its cloth largely from blockade runners and "necessarily had to pay high prices. . . . Still, the closing of the Mississippi River losing us the benefit of a full supply of shoes, blankets and cloth, . . . rendered the necessity so urgent that we were obliged to adopt this method of clothing our half naked and fast increasing Navy. . . ." The paymaster reported that the lack of shoes was "our great difficulty" and that shoes were being made out of canvas rather than leather. "For leather shoe we will have to await the arrival of shipments from abroad, and in this, more than any other particular, we feel the inconvenience caused by the loss of our goods. . . . by the closing of the Mississippi River." The Confederacy's ability to continue the war was be-coming ever more dependent on supplies run through the blockade, and the blockade was tightening.

General Beauregard commented on the limitations of the Confederate ships at Charleston: "Our gunboats are defective in six respects: First. They have no speed, going only from 3 to 5 miles an hour in smooth water and no current. Second. They are of too great draft to navigate our in-land waters. Third. They are unseaworthy by their shape and construction. . . . Even in the harbor they are at times considered unsafe in a storm. Fourth. They are incapable of resisting the enemy's XV-inch shots at close quarters. . . . Fifth. They can not fight at long range. . . . Sixth. They are very costly, warm, uncomfortable, and badly ventilated; consequently sickly." Nonetheless, the General was forced to rely heavily on them in his plans for the defense of Charles-ton from sea attack. Lacking the industrial capacity, funds and material to construct in strength the desperately needed ships of war, the Confederacy nevertheless accomplished much with in-adequate ships.

U.S.S. Dai Ching, Lieutenant Commander James C. Chaplin, captured schooner George Chisholm off the Santee River, South Carolina, with cargo of salt.

15 U.S.S. Lodona, Acting Lieutenant Brodhead, seized blockade running British schooner Arctic southwest of Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina, with cargo of salt.

15-16 Fort Moultrie opened a heavy, evening bombardment on Union Army positions at Cumming's Point, Morris Island. Brigadier General Gillmore immediately turned to Rear Admiral Dahlgren for assistance. "Will you have some of your vessels move up, so as to prevent an attack by boats on the sea face of the point," he wired late at night. The Admiral answered "at once" and ordered the tugs on patrol duty to keep "a good lookout." U.S.S. Lehigh, Commander Andrew Bryson, grounded while covering Cumming's Point and was taken under heavy fire the next morning before U.S.S. Nahant, Lieutenant Commander John J. Cornwell, got her off. Landsmen Frank S. Gile and William Williams, gunner's mate George W. Leland, coxswain Thomas Irving, and seaman Horatio N. Young from Lehigh were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism while carrying a line from their ship to Nahant, thus enabling Lehigh to work free from her desperate position.

16 The effect of the Union's western successes was severely felt by the Confederate effort in the cast. Commander John K. Mitchell wrote Secretary Mallory that there was a critical shortage of fuels for manufacturing purposes and naval use. "The occupation of Chattanooga by the enemy in August has effectually cut off the supply from the mines in that region, upon which the public works in Georgia and South Carolina and the naval vessels in the waters of those States were dependent. Meager supplies have been sent to Charleston from this place [Richmond] and from the Egypt mines in North Carolina. . . ." He reported that there was a sufficient amount of coal in the Richmond area to supply the Confederate ships operating in Virginia waters and rivers, and he felt that wood was being successfully substituted for coal at Charleston and Savannah. Mitchell paid tribute to the thoroughness of the Union blockade when he wrote of the economic plight of the Confederate States: "The prices of almost all articles of prime necessity have advanced from five to ten times above those ruling at the breaking out of the war, and, for many articles, a much greater advance has been reached, so that now the pay of the higher grades of officers, even those with small families, is insufficient for the pay of their board only; how much greater, then, must be the difficulty of living in the case of the lower grades of officers, and, the families of enlisted persons. This difficulty, when the private sources of credit and the limited means of most of the officers become exhausted, must soon, unless relief be extended to them by the Govern-ment, reach the point of destitution, or of charitable dependence, a point, in fact, already reached in many instances."

16-17 U.S.S. Monongahela, Commander Strong, escorted Army transports and covered the landing of more than a thousand troops on Mustang Island, Aransas Pass, Texas. Monongahela's sailors manned a battery of two howitzers ashore, and the ship shelled Confederate works until the out-numbered defenders surrendered. General Banks wrote in high praise of the "great assistance" rendered by Monongahela during this successful operation.

17 U.S.S. Mystic, Acting Master William Wright, assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, seized schooner Emma D. off Yorktown, Virginia. The same day, Assistant Secretary Fox wrote Rear Admiral S.P. Lee praising the effectiveness of the squadron: "I congratulate you upon the captures off Wilmington. Nine steamers have been lost to the rebels in a short time, all due to the 'fine spirit' of our people engaged in the blockade. It is a severe duty and well maintained and Jeff Davis pays us a higher compliment than our own people when he declares that there is but one port in 3500 miles (recollect that the whole Atlantic front of Europe is but 2900 miles) through which they can get in supplies."

18 Merchant schooner Joseph L. Garrity, 2 days out of Matamoras bound for New York, was seized by five Southern sympathizers under Thomas E. Hogg, later a Master in the Confederate Navy. They had boarded the ship as passengers. Hogg landed Joseph L. Garrity's crew "without injury to life or limb" on the coast of Yucatan on 26 November, and sailed her to British Honduras where he entered her as blockade runner Eureka and sold her cargo of cotton. Three of the crew were eventually captured in Liverpool, England, and charged with piracy, but on 1 June 1864, Confederate Commissioner James Mason informed Secretary of State Benjamin that they had been acquitted of the charge. In the meantime, Garrity was turned over to the custody of the U.S. commercial agent at Belize, British Honduras, and ultimately returned to her owners.

Acting Master C. W. Lamson, U.S.S. Granite City, reported the capture of schooner Amelia Ann and Spanish bark Teresita, with cargo of cotton, both attempting to run the blockade at Aransas Pass, Texas.

Captain Thomas A. Faries, CSA, commanding a battery near Hog Point, Louisiana, mounted to interdict the movement of the Union shipping on the Mississippi River, reported an engagement with U.S.S. Choctaw, Franklin, and Carondelet. "The Choctaw, left her position above, and, passing down, delivered a very heavy fire from her bow, side, and stern guns, enfilading for a short time the four rifle guns in the redoubt."

20 Rear Admiral Farragut, eager to return to sea duty in the Gulf, informed Secretary Welles from New York that U.S.S. Hartford and Brooklyn "will not be ready for sea in less than three weeks, from the best information I can obtain. I particularly regret it, because I see that General Banks is in the field and my services may be required." The Admiral noted that he had received a letter from Commodore Bell, commanding in his absence, which indicated that there were not enough ships to serve on the Texas coast and maintain the blockade elsewhere as well. Farragut noted that some turreted ironclads were building at St. Louis and suggested: "They draw about 6 feet of water and will be the very vessels to operate in the shallow waters of Texas, if the Department would order them down there." Three days later, the Secretary asked Rear Admiral Potter to "consider the subject and inform the Department as early as practicable to what extent Farragut's wishes can be complied with." Porter replied on the 27th that he could supply Farragut with eight light drafts "in the course of a month" and that "six weeks from today I could have ten vessels sent to Admiral Farragut, if I can get the officers and men. . . ."

21 U.S.S. Grand Gulf, Commander George M. Ransom, and Army transport Fulton seized blockade running British steamer Banshee south of Salter Path, North Carolina.

22 U.S.S. Aroostook, Lieutenant Chester Hatfield, captured schooner Eureka off Galveston. She had been bound to Havana with cargo of cotton.

U.S.S. Jacob Bell, Acting Master Schulze, transported and supported a troop landing at St. George's Island, Maryland, where some 30 Confederates, some of whom were blockade runners, were captured.

23 The threat of Confederate torpedoes in the rivers and coastal areas became an increasing menace as the war progressed. The necessity of taking proper precautions against this innovation in naval warfare slowed Northern operations and tied up ships on picket duty that might otherwise have been utilized more positively. This date, Secretary Welles wrote Captain Gansevoort, U.S.S. Roanoke, at Newport News: "Since the discovery of the torpedo on James River, near Newport News, the Department has felt some uneasiness with regard to the position of your vessel, as it is evidently the design of the rebels to drift such machines of destruction upon her. . . . Vigilance is demanded." Upon receipt of this instruction, Gansevoort replied 2 days later: "The Roanoke lies in the deepest water here, and until very lately, when the necessary force has been temporarily reduced by casualties to machinery, a picket boat has been kept underway during all night just above this anchorage to prevent such missiles from approaching the ship. This pre-caution has been renewed now that the Poppy has been added to this disposable force, and in addition I have caused . . . a gunboat to be anchored above us to keep a sharp lookout for torpedoes."

24 Rear Admiral Lee wrote Secretary Welles regarding a conversation with General Benjamin F. Butler while reconnoitering the Sounds of North Carolina: "I gave him my views respecting the best method of attacking Wilmington, viz, either to march from New Berne and seize the best and nearest fortified inlet on the north of Fort Fisher, thence to cross and blockade the Cape Fear River, or to land below Fort Caswell (the key to the position) and blockade the river from the right bank between Smithville and Brunswick." Four days later, Commander W. A. Parker supported the Admiral's views after making his own observations. Recommending a joint Army-Navy assault to capture Fort Fisher, he wrote: "I am of the opinion that 25,000 men and two or three ironclads should be sent to capture this place, if so large a force can be conveniently furnished for this purpose. . . . The ironclads . . . should be employed to divert the attention of the garrison at Fort Fisher during the landing of our troops at Masonboro Inlet, and to prevent the force there from being used to oppose the debarkation. . . . Fort Fisher would probably fall after a short resistance, as I have been informed that the heavy guns all point to seaward, and there is but slight provision made to resist an attack from the interior." Union efforts in the east were concentrated on the capture of Charleston at this time, however, and a thrust at Wilmington was postponed. The city continued as a prime haven for blockade runners until early 1865.

Under cover of U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Balch, and U.S.S. Marblehead, Lieutenant Commander Richard W. Meade, Jr., Army troops commenced sinking piles as obstructions in the Stono River above Legareville, South Carolina. The troops, protected by Marblehead, had landed the day before. The naval force remained on station at the request of Brigadier General Schimmelfennig to preclude a possible Confederate attack.

25 The valiant but overpowered Confederate Navy faced many problems in the struggle for survival. One of them was the inability to obtain enough ordnance. Commander Brooke reported to Secretary Mallory this date that ordnance workshops had been established at Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta, and Selma, Alabama. While great efforts were made to meet Southern needs, Brooke wrote: "The deficiency of heavy ordnance has been severely felt during this war. The timely addition of a sufficient number of heavy guns would render our ports invulnerable to the attacks of the enemy's fleets, whether ironclads or not.

U.S.S. Fort Hindman, Acting Lieutenant John Pearce, captured steamer Volunteer off Natchez Island, Mississippi.

26 U.S.S. James Adger, Commander Patterson, seized British blockade runner Ella off Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina, with cargo of salt.

U.S.S. Antona, Acting Master Zerega, captured schooner Mary Ann southeast of Corpus Christi with cargo of cotton.

27 U.S.S. Two Sisters, Acting Master Charles H. Rockwell, seized blockade running schooner Maria Alberta near Bayport, Florida.

28 U.S.S. Chippewa, Lieutenant Commander Thomas C. Harris, convoyed Army transport Monohassett and Mayflower up Skull Creek, South Carolina, on a reconnaissance mission. Though Confederate troops had established defensive positions from which to resist attacks, Chippewa's effective fire prevented them from halting the movement. "The object of the expedition was fully accom-plished," Harris reported, "and the reconnaissance was complete."

29 U.S.S. Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Mayo, captured schooner Albert (or Wenona) attempting to run the blockade out of Mobile, with cargo of cotton, rosin, turpentine, and tobacco.

At the request of Major General Banks, a gun crew from U.S.S. Monongahela, Commander Strong, went ashore to man howitzers in support of an Army attack on Pass Cavallo, Texas.

30 Secretary Mallory emphasized the necessity for the proper training of naval officers in his annual report on the Confederate States Navy. It was, he wrote, "a subject of the greatest importance." He observed: "The naval powers of the earth are bestowing peculiar care upon the education of their officers, now more than ever demanded by the changes in all the elements of naval warfare. Appointed from civil life and possessing generally but little knowledge of the duties of an officer and rarely even the vocabulary of their profession they have heretofore been sent to vessels or batteries where it is impossible for them to obtain a knowledge of its most important branches, which can be best, if not only, acquired by methodical study." Mallory noted that there were 693 officers and 2,250 enlisted men in the Confederate Navy. He reported that while Union victories at Little Rock and on the Yazoo River had terminated the Department's attempts to construct ships in that area, construction was "making good progress at Richmond, Wilming-ton, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, on the Roanoke, Peedee, Chattahoochee, and Alabama Rivers . . . ." Two major problems Mallory enumerated troubled the Confederacy throughout the conflict the lack of skilled labor to build ships and the inability to obtain adequate iron to protect them. In the industrial North, neither was a difficulty– a factor which helped decide the course of the war.

Confederate naval officers and men played vital roles in Southern shore defenses throughout the war. This date, Secretary Mallory praised the naval command at Drewey's Bluff which guarded the James River approach to Richmond. The battery, he reported, "composed of seamen and marines, is in a high state of efficiency and the river obstructions are believed to be sufficient, in connection with the shore and submarine batteries, to prevent the passage of the enemy's ships. An active force is employed on submarine batteries and torpedoes."