Naval History of the Civil War October 1863

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Civil War Naval History



OCTOBER 1863


2 U.S.S. Bermuda, Acting Master J.W. Smith, seized blockade running British schooner Florrie near Matagorda, Texas, with cargo including medicine, wine, and saddles.

5 C.S.S. David, Lieutenant Glassell, exploded a torpedo against U.S.S. New Ironsides, Captain Rowan, in Charleston harbor but did not destroy the heavy warship. Mounting a torpedo containing some 60 pounds of powder on a 10-foot spar fixed to her bow, the 50-foot David stood out from Charleston early in the evening. Riding low in the water, the torpedo boat made her way down the main ship channel and was close aboard her quarry before being sighted and hailed. Almost at once a volley of small arms fire was centered on her as she steamed at full speed at New Ironsides, plunging the torpedo against the Union ship's starboard quarter and "shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water As the water fell, it put out the fires in David's boilers and nearly swamped her; the torpedo boat came to rest alongside New Ironsides. Believing the torpedo boat doomed, Lieutenant Glassell and Seaman James Sullivan abandoned ship and were subsequently picked up by the blockading fleet. However, Engineer Tomb at length succeeded in relighting David's fires and, with pilot Walker Cannon, who had remained on board because he could not swim, took her back to Charleston. Though David did not succeed in sinking New Ironsides, the explosion was a "severe blow" which eventually forced the Union ship to leave the blockade for repairs. "It seems to me," Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote, noting the tactical implications of the attack, "that nothing could have been more successful as a first effort, and it will place the torpedo among certain offensive means." Writing of the attack's "unsurpassed daring," Secretary Mallory noted: "The annals of naval warfare record few enterprises which exhibit more strikingly than this of Lieutenant Glassell the highest qualities of a sea officer."

The near success of David's torpedo attack on New Ironsides prompted Dahlgren to emphasize further the need for developing defensive measures against them. "How far the enemy may seem encouraged," he wrote Welles, "I do not know, but I think it will be well to be prepared against a considerable issue of these small craft. It is certainly the best form of the torpedo which has come to my notice, and a large quantity of powder may as well be exploded as 60 pounds. . . .The vessels themselves should be protected by outriggers, and the harbor itself well strewn with a similar class of craft. . . . The subject merits serious attention, for it will receive a greater development." He added to Assistant Secretary Fox: "By all means let us have a quantity of these torpedoes, and thus turn them against the enemy. We," Dahlgren said, paying tribute to the industrial strength that weighed so heavily in the Union's favor, "can make them faster than they can.

British blockade runner Concordia was destroyed by her crew at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana, to prevent her capture by boats from U.S.S. Granite City, Acting Master Lamson.

6 U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Burgess, captured sloop Last Trial at Key West with cargo of salt. U.S.S. Virginia, Lieutenant C. H. Brown, seized British blockade runner Jenny off the coast of Texas with cargo of cotton.

7 An expedition under Acting Chief Engineer Thomas Doughty from U.S.S. Osage captured and burned steamers Robert Fulton and Argus in the Red River. Acting Lieutenant Couthouy, com-manding Osage, had ordered the operation upon learning that a Confederate steamer was tied up to the river bank. The naval force travelled overland from the Mississippi to the Red "after great labor in getting through entanglements of the bushes and other undergrowth . . . ." Doughty succeeded in capturing Argus shortly before Robert Fulton was sighted steaming downriver. He ordered her to come to. "She did so," he reported, "and I found myself in possession of 9 prisoners and two steamboats." Doughty burned Argus immediately and then destroyed Robert Fulton when he was unable to get her over the bar at the mouth of the Red River. "This is a great loss to the rebels at this moment," Rear Admiral Porter wrote, "as it cuts off their means of operating across that part of Atchafalaya where they lately came over to attack Morganza. This capture will deter others from coming down the Red River."

Boat crew from U.S.S. Cayuga, Lieutenant Commander Dana, boarded and destroyed blockade runner Pushmataha which had been chased ashore and abandoned off Calcasieu River, Louisiana. Pushmataha carried a cargo of a ram, claret, and gunpowder, and had been set on fire by her crew. "One of a number of kegs of powder had been opened," reported Dana, "and a match, which was inserted in the hole, was on fire; this was taken out and, with the keg, thrown overboard by Thomas Morton, ordinary seaman" an unsung act of heroism. Dana chased ashore another schooner carrying gunpowder which was blown up before she could be boarded.

9 Secretary Welles commended Rear Admiral Dahlgren on the work of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston the preceding month and cited Brigadier General Gillmore's "brilliant operations" on Morris Island. Noting that, though the first step in the capture of Charleston was taken, the remainder would be full of risk, he added: "While there is intense feeling per-vading the country in regard to the fate of Charleston . . . the public impatience must not be permitted to hasten your own movements into immature and inconsiderate action against your own deliberate convictions nor impel you to hazards that may jeopardize the best interest of the country without adequate results. . . ."

C.S.S. Georgia, Lieutenant W. L. Maury, captured and burned ship Bold Hunter off the coast of French West Africa. She had been bound for Calcutta with cargo of coal.

10 Secretary Welles transmitted to Rear Admiral Porter a War Department request for gunboat assistance for the operations of Major General W. T. Sherman on the Tennessee River. Porter replied that the shallowness of the water prevented his immediate action but promised: "The gunboats will be ready to go up the moment a rise takes place. . . . " Ten days later, General Grant urged: "The sooner a gunboat can be got to him [Sherman] the better." Porter answered that gunboats were on their way up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. "My intention," he wrote, "is to send every gunboat I can spare up the Tennessee. I have also sent below for light-drafts to come up. Am sorry to say the river is at a stand." By the 24th two gunboats were at Eastport to join Sherman's operations.

U.S.S. Samuel Rotan, Acting Lieutenant Kennison seized a large yawl off Horn Harbor, Virginia, with cargo including salt.

11 U.S.S. Nansemond, Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, chased ashore and destroyed at night steamer Douro near New Inlet, North Carolina. She had a cargo of cotton, tobacco, turpentine, and rosin. Douro had been captured previously on 9 March 1863 by U.S.S. Quaker City, but after being con-demned she was sold and turned up again as a blockade runner . Noting this, Commander Almy, senior officer at New Inlet, wrote: "She now lies a perfect wreck . . . and past ever being bought and sold again." Rear Admiral S.P. Lee informed Assistant Secretary Fox: "The Nansemond has done well off Wilmington. She discovered followed & destroyed the Douro at night, the first instance of the kind, I believe."

U.S.S. Union, Acting Lieutenant Conroy, seized steamer Spaulding at sea east of St. Andrew's Sound, Georgia. She had run the blockade out of Charleston the previous month with cargo of cotton and was attempting to return from Nassau, "which," Conroy wrote, we have spoiled . . . . "

U.S.S. Madgie, Acting Master Polleys, in tow of U.S.S. Fahkee, Acting Ensign Francis R. Webb, sank in rough seas off Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina.

12 U.S.S. Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Mayo, and U.S.S. Eugenie, Lieutenant Henry W. Miller, attempted to destroy a steamer aground under the guns of Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay and were taken under fire by the fort. Kanawha was damaged during the engagement.

13 U.S.S. Victoria, Acting Lieutenant John MacDiarmid, seized a sloop (no name reported) west of Little River, North Carolina, with cargo of salt and soap.

Guard boat from U.S.S. Braziliera, Acting Master William T. Gillespie, captured schooner Mary near St. Simon's, Georgia.

13-14 U.S.S. Queen City, Acting Lieutenant G. W. Brown, with troops embarked, departed Helena, Arkansas, for Friar's Point, Mississippi, where the soldiers landed and surrounded the town. The morning of the 14th, the warehouses were searched and more than 200 hales of cotton and several prisoners were seized.

15 Confederate submarine H. F. Hunley, under the command of the part owner for whom she was named, sank in Charleston harbor while making practice dives under Confederate receiving ship Indian Chief. A report of the "unfortunate accident" stated : The boat left the wharf at 9:25 a.m. and disappeared at 9:35. As soon as she sunk, air bubbles were seen to rise to the surface of the water, and from this fact it is supposed the hole in the top of the boat by which the men entered was not properly closed. It was impossible at the time to make any effort to rescue the unfortunate men, as the water was some 9 fathoms deep." Thus the imaginative and daring Horace L. Hunley and his gallant seven man crew perished. The submarine had claimed the lives of its second crew. When the submarine was raised for a second time, a third crew volunteered to man her. Her new captain was Lieutenant George Dixon, CSA. Under Dixon and Lieutenant William A. Alexander, H.L. Hunley was reconditioned, but, as a safety precaution, General Beauregard directed that she not dive again. She was fitted with a spar torpedo. Time and again in the next 4 months the submarine ventured into the harbor at night from her base on Sullivan's Island, but until mid-February 1864 her attempts to sink a blockader were to no avail. The fact that the Union's ships frequently remained on station some 6 or 7 miles away and put out picket boats at night; the condition of tide, wind, and sea; and the physical exhaustion of the submarine crew who sometimes found themselves in grave danger of being swept out to sea in the underpowered craft were restricting factors with which Lieutenant Dixon and H. L. Hunley had to cope.

U.S.S. Honduras, Acting Master Abraham N. Gould, seized British steamer Mail near St. Petersburg, Florida. She had been bound from Bayport to Havana with cargo of cotton and turpentine. The capture was made after a 3 hour chase in which U.S.S. Two Sisters, Sea Bird, and Fox also participated.

U.S.S. Commodore, Acting Master John R. Hamilton, and U.S.S. Corypheus, Acting Master Francis H. Grove, destroyed a Confederate tannery at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Grove wrote that they had "completely destroyed the buildings, vats, and mill for grinding bark; also a large amount of hides stored there, said to be worth $20,000."

16 Mr. Jules David wrote from Victoria, Vancouver Island, "as president of a Southern association existing in this and the adjoining colony of British Columbia," requesting Confederate Secretary of State Benjamin to assist him in obtaining for his organization "a letter of marque to be used on the Pacific." Mr. David added that much could be done on that coast "to harass and injure our enemies," and stated that the group he represented had "a first-class steamer of 400 tons, strongly built, and of an average speed of 14 miles." Southern sympathizers like Mt. David hoped to strike a blow for the Confederacy by raiding Union commerce.

Commodore H. H. Bell reported that U.S.S. Tennessee, Acting Lieutenant Wiggin, had seized blockade running British schooner Friendship off Rio Brazos, Texas, with cargo of munitions from Havana, and caused schooner Jane to be destroyed by her own crew to prevent capture.

16-17 Upon learning that blockade runners Scottish Chief and Kate Dale were being loaded with cotton and nearly ready to sail from Hillsboro River, Florida, Rear Admiral Bailey sent U.S.S. Tahoma, Lieutenant Commander A. A. Semmes, and U.S.S. Adela, Acting Lieutenant Louis N. Stodder, to seize them. "It was planned between myself and Captain Semmes," Bailey reported, "that he should, with the Tahoma, assisted by the Adela, divert attention from the real object of the expedi-tion by shelling the fort and town [Tampa], and that under cover of night men should be landed at a point on old Tampa Bay, distant from the fort to proceed overland to the point on the Hills-boro River where the blockade runners lay, there to destroy them." This plan was put into effect and some 100 men from the two ships marched 14 miles overland. At daylight, 17 October, as the landing party boarded the blockade runners, two crew members made good their escape and alerted the garrison. Nevertheless, the Union sailors destroyed Scottish Chief and Kate Dale. A running battle ensued as they attempted to get back to their ships. Bailey reported 5 members of the landing party killed, 10 wounded, and 5 taken prisoner. Lieutenant Commander Semmes noted: "I regret sincerely our loss, yet I feel a great degree of satisfaction in having impressed the rebels with the idea that blockade-running vessels are not safe, even up the Hills-boro River.

17 Boat crews from U.S.S. T.A. Ward, Acting Master William L. Babcock, destroyed schooner Rover at Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina. The schooner was laden with cotton and ready to run the blockade. Three days later, a landing party from T.A. Ward went ashore under command of Acting Ensign Myron W. Tillson to reconnoiter the area and obtain water. They were surprised by Confederate cavalry and 10 of the men were captured.

Lieutenant Commander William Gibson, U.S.S. Seneca, reported to Rear Admiral Dahlgren that the blockaded steamer Herald had escaped the previous night from Darien, Georgia and recom-mended that the ships of the blockading squadron there be "properly armed." Gibson noted: "One gunboat in this sound can not guard all the estuaries and creeks formed by the flowing of the Altamaha to the sea, especially since the port of Charleston has been effectually closed and the enemy seeks other channels of unlawful commerce."

18 Rear Admiral Dahlgren, writing Secretary Welles that the role of the Navy in the capture of Morris Island was "neither known nor appreciated by the public at large," noted that in the 2-month bombardment of the Confederates the ironclads of his squadron had fired more than 8,000 shot and shells and received nearly 900 hits. The Admiral added: "By the presence and action of the vessels the right flank of our army and its supplies were entirely covered; provisions, arms, cannon, ammunition . . . were landed as freely as if an enemy were not in sight, while by the same means the enemy was restricted to the least space and action. Indeed, it was only by night, and in the line from Sumter, that food, powder, or relief could be introduced, and that very sparingly. The works of the enemy were also flanked by our guns so that he was confined to his works and his fire quelled whenever it became too serious. . .
The sunken Confederate submarine, H. L. Hunley, was found in 9 fathoms of water by a diver in Charleston harbor. Efforts were begun at once to recover the little craft, deemed vital to the defenses of Charleston.

20 Commander Bulloch advised Secretary Mallory from Liverpool that the ironclads known as 294 and 295, being built in England, had been seized by the British Government. Bulloch felt the action stemmed from the fact that "a large number of Confederate naval officers have during the past three months arrived in England. The Florida came off the Irish coast some six weeks since, and proceeding to Brest, there discharged the greater portion of her crew, who were sent to Liverpool. These circumstances were eagerly seized upon by the United States representative here, and they have so worked upon Lord Russell as to make him believe that the presence of these officers and men has direct reference to the destination of the rams . . . . "

U.S.S. Annie, Acting Ensign Williams, seized blockade running British schooner Martha Jane off Bayport, Florida, bound to Havana with cargo of some 26,600 pounds of sea island cotton.

21 U.S.S. Nansemond, Lieutenant R. H. Lamson, chased blockade running steamer Venus ashore near Cape Fear River, North Carolina. Four shots from the blockader caused the steamer to take on water.. Lamson attempted to get Venus off in the morning but found it "impossible to move her, [and] I ordered her to be set on fire." A notebook found on board Venus recorded that 75 ships had been engaged in blockade running thus far in 1863, of which 32 had been captured or destroyed.

U.S.S. Currituck, Acting Lieutenant Hooker, and U.S.S. Fuchsia, Acting Master Street, captured steamer Three Brothers in the Rappahannock River, Virginia.

U.S.S. J.P. Jackson, Lieutenant Lewis W. Pennington, captured schooner Syrena near Deer Island, Mississippi.

22 Union steamer Mist was boarded and burned at Ship Island, Mississippi, by Confederate guerrillas when she attempted to take on a cargo of cotton without the protection of a Union gunboat. A week later Rear Admiral Porter wisely wrote Major General W. T. Sherman: "Steamers should not be allowed to land anywhere but at a military port, or a place guarded by a gunboat.

23 U.S.S. Norfolk Packet, Acting Ensign George N. Wood, captured schooner Ocean Bird off St. Augustine Inlet, Florida.

24 U.S.S. Hastings, Lieutenant Commander S.L. Phelps, and U.S.S. Key West, Acting Master Edward M. King, arrived at Eastport, Mississippi, to support Army operations along the Tennessee River. Low water had delayed the movement earlier in the month and would prevent full operations for some time, but Major General W.T. Sherman was "gratified" with the gunboats' arrival. The joint operations extended into mid-December as the Union moved to solidify its position in the South's interior. Sherman wrote Rear Admiral Porter of Phelps' arrival: "Of course we will get along together elegantly. All I have he can command, and I know the same feeling pervades every sailor's and soldier's heart. We are as one.

U.S.S. Calypso, Acting Master Frederick D. Stuart, captured blockade running British schooner Herald off Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina, with cargo of salt and soda.

U.S.S. Conestoga, Acting Master Gilbert Morton, seized steamer Lillie Martin and tug Sweden, suspected of trading with the Confederates, near Napoleon, Mississippi.

25 U.S.S. Kittatinny, Acting Master Isaac D. Seyburn, captured schooner Reserve, off Pass Cavallo, Texas.

26 Union ironclads began an intensive two week bombardment of Fort Sumter. At month's end, General Beauregard wrote of the "terrible bombardment" and noted that the land batteries and ships had hammered the fort with nearly 1,000 shots in 12 hours. Within a week of the bombardment's opening, Commander Stevens, U.S.S. Patapsco, called the effect of the tiring hardly describable, throwing bricks and mortar, gun carriages and timber in every direction and high into the air." But, as Rear Admiral Dahlgren noted: 'There is an immense endurance in such a mass of masonry, and the ruins may serve as shelter to many men." The embattled defenders heroically held on.

27 Colonel L. Smith, CSA, commanding the Marine Department of Texas, reported the status of the small gunboats in the area. C.S.S. Clifton, Sachem, and Jacob A. Bell were at Sabine Pass; C.S.S. Bayou City, Diana, and Harriet Lane were at Galveston Bay; C.S.S. Mary Hill was at Velasco, and C.S.S. John F. Carr was at Saluria. Bayou City and Harriet Lane were without guns and the remainder mounted a total of 15 cannon.

Union expedition to capture Brazos Santiago, and the mouth of the Rio Grande River departed New Orleans convoyed by U.S.S. Monongahela, Commander Strong; U.S.S. Owasco, Lieutenant Commander Edmund W. Henry; and U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C.H. Brown. This was the beginning of another Union move not only to wrest Texas from Confederate control but to preclude the possibility of a movement into the State by French troops in Mexico.

U.S.S. Granite City, Acting Master C. W. Lamson, captured schooner Anita off Pass Cavallo, Texas, with cargo of cotton.

28 C.S.S. Georgia, Lieutenant W. L. Maury, anchored at Cherbourg, France, concluding a 7-month cruise against Union commerce. During this period the raider destroyed a number of prizes and bonded the remainder for a total of $200,000. A short time later, Flag Officer Samuel Barton, CSN, advised Secretary Mallory that the ship had been laid up: "The Georgia, Commander W.L. Maury, arrived in Cherbourg a few days ago almost broken down; she has lost her sped, not now
going under a full head of steam over 6 knots an hour, and is good for nothing as a cruiser under sail."

29 With a sizable naval force already supporting Army operations along the Tennessee River, Rear Admiral Porter ordered the officers of his Mississippi Squad run "to give all the aid and assistance in their power" to Major General W. T. Sherman. Next day Porter advised Secretary Welles "The Lexington, Hastings, Key West, Cricket, Robb, Romeo, and Peosta are detached for duty in the Tennessee River; and the Paw Paw, Tawah, Tyler, and one or two others will soon join them, which will give a good force for that river.

30 U.S.S. Vanderbilt, Commander Baldwin, captured bark Saxon, suspected of having rendezvoused with and taken cargo from C.S.S. Tuscaloosa at Angra Pequena, Africa.

U.S.S. Annie, Acting Ensign Williams, seized blockade running British schooner Meteor off Bayport, Florida.

31 During October instruction began for 52 midshipmen at the Confederate States Naval Academy. Lieutenant W.H. Parker, CSN, was Superintendent of the "floating academy" housed on board C.S.S. Patrick Henry at Drewry's Bluff on the James River.

The initial move to establish a Naval Academy was taken in December 1861 when the Confederate Congress passed a bill calling for "some form of education" for midshipmen. Further legislation in the spring of 1862 provided for the appointment of 106 acting midshipmen to the Naval Academy. In May 1862, the Patrick Henry was designated as the Academy ship, and alterations were undertaken to ready her for this role.

In general the curriculum, studies, and discipline at the new school were patterned after that of the United States Naval Academy. The training was truly realistic as the midshipmen were regularly called upon to take part in actual combat. When they left the Academy, they were seasoned veterans. Commander John M. Brooke, CSN, wrote to Secretary Mallory about the midshipmen as follows "Though but from 14 to 18 years of age, they eagerly seek every opportunity presented for engaging in hazardous enterprises; and those who are sent upon them uniformly exhibit good discipline, conduct, and courage."

Mallory reported to President Davis: "The officers connected with the school are able and zealous, and the satisfactory progress already made by the several classes gives assurance that the Navy may look to this school for well-instructed and skillful officers." The Naval Academy continued to serve the Confederate cause well until war's end.