Naval History of the Civil War September 1863

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Civil War Naval History



SEPTEMBER 1863

1 Rear Admiral Lee issued the following instructions to the officers of his North Atlantic Block-ading Squadron: "Blockaders must not waste fuel by unnecessary moving about in the day-time. . . . The blockaders must not lie huddled together by day or night, and especially in thick weather; there must he specified day anchorages and night positions. . . . Vessels should weigh anchor before sunset and be in their night positions by dark, as when the draft of vessels or stage of the tide permits, escapes are made out at or near to evening twilight, without showing black smoke, and inward in the morning at daylight. The distance to be kept from the bar, the batteries, and the beach must be regulated by the state of the weather and atmosphere and the light. When vessels anchor at night, they must he underway one hour before dawn of day, so as not to expose their position, and to he ready to chase.

Major General Whiting, CSA, issued regulations for blockade runners at the port of Wilmington. The specific instructions were intended to prevent Union spies from having ready access to the best remaining haven for blockade runners.

Commander Catesby ap R. Jones, commanding the Confederate naval gun foundry and ordnance works at Selma, Alabama, ordered a small quantity of munitions to Admiral Franklin Buchanan for the defense of Mobile. Munitions were in increasingly short supply, and the bulk of those available were being ordered to Charleston.

1-2 Dahlgren, flying his flag in U.S.S. Weehawken, took the ironclads against Fort Sumter late at night following an intensive, day-long bombardment by Army artillery. Moving to within 500 yards of the Fort, the ships cannonaded it for 5 hours, "demolishing," as Brigadier General Ripley, CSA, reported, "nearly the whole of the eastern scarp . . . ." Confederates returned a heavy fire from Fort Moultrie, scoring over 70 hits on the ironclads. One shot struck Weehawken's turret, driving a piece of iron into the leg of Captain Oscar C. Badger, severely wounding him. Noting that he was the third Flag Captain he had lost in 2 months, Dahlgren wrote: "I shall feel greatly the loss of Captain Badger's services at this time." The Admiral broke off the attack as the flood tide set in, "which," Dahlgren said, had he remained, "would have exposed the monitors unnecessarily.

2-3 Boat expedition under Acting Ensign William H. Winslow and Acting Master's Mate Charles A. Edgcomb from U.S.S. Gem of the Sea, Acting Lieutenant Baxter, reconnoitered Peace Creek, Florida. The expedition was set in motion by Baxter because of "reliable information that there was a band of guerrillas, or regulators, as they style themselves, organizing in the vicinity of Peace Creek, with the intention of coming down this harbor [Charlotte Harbor] for the purpose of capturing the refugees on the islands in this vicinity and also the sloop Rosalie. . . "The Union force destroyed buildings used as a depot for blockade runners and a rendezvous for guerrillas as well as four small boats. Baxter reported: "I think this expedition will have a tendency to break up the blockade running and stop the regulators from coming down here to molest the refugees in this vicinity."

4 Commodore H. H. Bell, commanding the West Gulf Blockading Squadron in the absence of Farragut, notified Welles of a joint amphibious expedition to he mounted at New Orleans aimed at the capture of Sabine Pass, Texas. ". . . Major General Banks," he wrote, "having organized a force of 4,000 men under Major General [William B.] Franklin to effect a landing at Sabine Pass for military occupation, and requested the cooperation of the navy, which I most gladly acceded to, I assigned the command of the naval force to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Frederick Crocker, commanding U.S.S. Clifton, accompanied by the steamer Sachem, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Amos Johnson; U.S.S. Arizona, Acting Master Howard Tibbits; and U.S.S. Granite City Acting Master C. W. Lamson. These being the only available vessels of sufficiently light draft at my disposal for that service. . . . It was concerted that the squadron of four gunboats . . . shall make the attack alone, assisted by' about 180 sharpshooters from the army; and having driven the enemy from his defenses, and destroyed or driven off the rams the transports are then to advance and land their troops. All possible secrecy was to be observed in carrying out the joint operation, which was planned as the first step in preventing any possible moves by the French troops in Mexico to cross the Rio Grande River. Sabine Pass in Union hands could serve as a base for operations into the interior of Texas.

Major General Jeremy F. Gilmer wrote Secretary Mallory, seeking assistance in holding Morris Island " to the last extremity." He requested " the service of as many sailors as you can possibly give us from Richmond, Wilmington, Savannah, and other points not less that [sic] 200 to be employed as oarsmen to convey troops and materiel to and from that island." For some time Confederate sailors had been performing this vital mission, for, as the siege and intensive bom-bardment progressed, it had become necessary to relieve the embattled soldiers at Fort Wagner every 3 days. As Union batteries found the range of Cumming's Point, where the Southern transport steamers were landing troops and supplies, most of these movements then had to be carried on by rowboats crossing Vincent's Creek. This was hazardous, for armed small boats from the blockading ships closely patrolled the area throughout the night. Nonetheless, Confederate sailors worked tirelessly to support the Army garrison on Morris Island until Fort Wagner was finally evacuated.

Small boats manned by Union sailors under Lieutenant Francis J. Higginson transported troops in an attempted night assault on Fort Gregg at Cumming's Point, Morris Island. "The object," Brigadier General Gillmore reported, "was to spike the guns and blow up the magazine." At the mouth of Vincent's Creek a boat carrying a wounded Confederate soldier was captured, but the shots fired alerted the defenders at Fort Gregg and the secret attack was called off. A similar attempt the next night found the Southerners ready and no further attempts were made. Gillmore reported that Lieutenant Higginson "has rendered good service. Major [Oliver S.] Sanford . . . speaks highly of his presence of mind and personal bravery, as well as his efficiency as a commander. I give this testimonial unasked because it is deserved."

6 Having been under constant bombardment from land and sea for nearly 60 days, Confederate forces secretly evacuated Morris Island by boat at night. Two days before, Colonel Lawrence M. Keitt, commanding Fort Wagner, had reported the "rapid and fatal" effects of the shore bombardment combined with the accurate firing from U.S.S. New Ironsides, Captain Rowan. One hundred of his 900 defenders had been killed in the bombardment of 5 September. "Is it desirable to sacrifice the garrison?" he asked. "To continue to hold it [Fort Wagner] is [to] do so." The next day, 6 September, General Beauregard wrote that Forts Wagner and Gregg had undergone a "terrible bombardment" for some 36 hours. Describing Wagner as much damaged; repairs impossible," the commander of the Charleston defenses added: "Casualties [the last 2 days] over 150; garrison much exhausted: nearly all guns disabled. Communications with city extremely difficult and dangerous; Sumter being silenced. Evacuation of Morris Island becomes indispensable to save garrison. . . . That night Confederate transports assembled between Fort Johnson, on James Island, and Fort Sumter under protection of ironclad C.S.S. Charleston, and barges manned by seamen from C.S.S. Chicora and Palmetto State effected the evacuation. Not until the last group of Confederate soldiers was being evacuated did the Union commanders become aware of what was taking place. "Then," Brigadier General Ripley reported, "his guard boats discovered the movement of our boats engaged in the embarkation, and, creeping up upon the rear, succeeded in cutting off and capturing three barges containing Lieutenant Hasker [CSN] and boat's crew of the Chicora, and soldiers of the Army'." The Richmond Sentinel of 7 September summarized: "The enemy now holds Cumming's Point, in full view of the city."

Landing party from U.S.S. Argosy, Acting Ensign John C. Morong, seized Confederate ordnance supplies and 1,200 pounds of tobacco at Bruinsburg, Mississippi.

6-7 Army transports and naval warships of the joint amphibious expedition arrived at Sabine Pass and anchored off the bar. Union plans called for the seizure of Sabine Pass as a base for strategic operations against western Louisiana and eastern and central Texas. Through a series of mishaps, as Major General Franklin reported, "the attack, which was intended to be a surprise, became an open one, the enemy having had two nights' warning that a fleet was off the harbor, and during Monday [7 September] a full view of most of the vessels comprising it . . . ."

7-8 Following the evacuation of Morris Island, Rear Admiral Dahlgren demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter on the 7th; the fort had been so hammered by sea and shore bombardment that one observer noted that its appearance "from seaward was rather that of a steep, sandy island than that of a fort." "I replied," General Beauregard wrote, "to take it if he could." Preparatory to renewing the assault, Dahlgren ordered U.S.S. Weehawken, Commander Colhoun, between Cum-ming's Point, Morris Island, and Fort Sumter. Weehawken grounded in the narrow channel and could not be gotten off until the next day. That evening U.S.S. New Ironsides, Nahant, Lehigh, Montauk, and Patapsco reconnoitered the obstructions at Fort Sumter and heavily engaged Fort Moultrie. "I drew off," Dahlgren recorded in his diary, "to give attention to Weehawken." Be-ginning the morning of 8 September the grounded ironclad was subjected to heavy fire from Fort Moultrie and Sullivan's and James Islands. Weehawken gallantly replied from her helpless position as other Union ironclads closed to assist. "Well done Weehawken," Dahlgren wired Colhoun, praising his effective counter-fire; "don't give up the ship." U.S.S. New Ironsides, Captain Rowan, positioned herself between Weehawken and the Fort Moultrie batteries, drawing off Confederate fire. Struck over 50 times, New Ironsides finally withdrew "for want of ammunition"; Weehawken was finally floated with the aid of tugs.

8 The joint Army-Navy attack on Sabine Pass opened as U.S.S. Clifton, Acting Lieutenant Crocker, crossed the bar and unsuccessfully attempted to draw the fire of the fort and cotton-clad steamer C.S.S. Uncle Ben. Clifton was followed across the bar by U.S.S. Sachem, Arizona, Granite City, and Army transports. Sachem and Arizona advanced up the Louisiana (right) channel and Clifton and Granite City moved up the Texas (left) channel; they opened on the Confederate batteries preparatory to landing the troops. The Confederate gunners withheld fire until the gunboats were within close range and then countered with a devastating cannonade. A shot through the boiler totally disabled Sachem, another shot away the wheel rope of Clifton and she grounded under the Confederate guns. Crocker fought his ship until, with 10 men killed and nine others wounded, he deemed it his duty "to stop the slaughter by showing the white flag, which was done, and we fell into the hands of the enemy." Sachem, after flooding her magazine, also surrendered and was taken under tow by C.S.S. Uncle Ben.

With the loss of Clifton's and Sachem's firepower, the two remaining gunboats and troop transports recrossed the bar and departed for New Orleans. The Sabine Pass expedition had, in the words of Commodore H. H. Bell, "totally failed." Nevertheless, Major General Banks reported: "In all respects the cooperation of the naval authorities has been hearty and efficient. Fully comprehending the purposes of the Government, they entered upon the expedition with great spirit. Commodore Bell gave all the assistance in his power, and Captain Crocker, of the Clifton, now a prisoner, deserves especial mention for his conspicuous gallantry." In a vote of thanks to the small defending garrison for the victory which prevented "the invasion of Texas," the Confederate Congress called the action "one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of this war."

8-9 Rear Admiral Dahlgren mounted a boat attack on Fort Sumter late at night. Commander Stevens led the assault comprising more than thirty boats and some 400 sailors and Marines. The Confederates, appraised in advance of the Union's intentions because they had recovered a key to the Northern signal code from the wreck of U.S.S. Keokuk, waited until the boats were nearly ashore before opening a heavy fire and using hand grenades. C.S.S. Chicora contributed a sweep-ing, enfilading fire. Dahlgren noted that "Moultrie fired like the devil, the shells breaking around us and screaming in chorus." The attack was repulsed, and more than 100 men were captured. For the next several weeks, a period of relative quiet at Charleston prevailed.

10 As Little Rock, Arkansas, was falling to Major General Frederick Steele, U.S.S. Hastings, Lieu-tenant Commander S.L. Phelps, arrived at Devall's Bluff on the White River to support the land action. Though the river was falling rapidly, Phelps advised the General: "I shall be glad to be of service to you in every way possible." Phelps added that he would have gone over to Little Rock to congratulate Steele if he "could have obtained conveyance. . . . Horseback riding," he wrote dryly, "for such a distance is rather too much for the uninitiated." A week later Phelps reported to Rear Admiral Porter: "I have been up this river 150 miles, where we found a bar over which we could not pass. Numerous bodies of men cut off from General Price's army [after the fall of Little Rock to Steele] were fleeing across White River to the eastward. We captured 3 rebel soldiers, 2 cavalry horses and equipments, and brought down a number of escaped conscripts, who have come to enlist in our army." This type of naval operation far into the Confederate interior continued to facilitate shore operations.

11 U.S.S. Seminole, Commander Henry Rolando, seized blockade running British steamer William Peel off the Rio Grande River with large cargo of cotton.

12 U.S.S. Eugenie, Acting Master's Mate F. H. Dyer, captured steamer Alabama off Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana.

Blockade running steamer Fox was destroyed by her own crew to prevent capture at Paseagoula, Mississippi, by U.S.S. Genesee, Commander William H. Macomb.

13 U.S.S. Cimarron, Commander Hughes, seized British blockade runner Jupiter in Wassaw Sound, Georgia. The steamer was aground when captured and her crew had attempted to scuttle her.

Some 20 crew members from U.S.S. Rattler, Acting Master Walter E. H. Fentress, were captured by Confederate cavalry while attending church services at Rodney, Mississippi.

U.S.S. De Soto, Captain W.M. Walker, captured steamer Montgomery in the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola.

16 U.S.S. San Jacinto, Lieutenant Commander Ralph Chandler, captured blockade running steamer Lizzie Davis off the west coast of Florida. She had been bound from Havana to Mobile with cargo including lead.

U.S.S. Coeur De Lion, Acting Master W. G. Morris, seized schooner Robert Knowles in the Potomac River for violating the blockade.

17 Reports of Confederate vessels building in the rivers of North Carolina were a source of grave concern to the Union authorities. Secretary Welles wrote Secretary of War Stanton suggesting an attack to insure the destruction of an ironclad– which would be C.S.S. Albemarle and a floating battery, reported nearing completion up the Roanoke River. Should they succeed in getting down the river, Welles cautioned, "our possession of the sounds would be jeoparded [sic]."

U.S.S. Adolph Hugel, Acting Master Frank, seized sloop Music off Alexandria, Virginia, for a violation of the blockade.

19 Small boat expedition under command of Acting Masters John Y. Beall and Edward McGuire, CSN, captured schooner Alliance with cargo of sutlers' stores in Chesapeake Bay. The daring raid was continued 2 days later when schooner J.J. Houseman was seized. On the night of the 22nd, the force took two more schooners, Samuel Pearsall and Alexandria. All but Alliance were cast adrift at Wachapreague Inlet. Beall attempted to run the blockade in Alliance but she grounded at Milford Haven and was burned on the morning of 23 September, after U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Acting Master Arthur, opened fire on her. Beall escaped and returned to Richmond. A joint Army-Navy effort was mounted to stop these raids, but Beall and his men destroyed several lighthouses on Maryland's Eastern Shore prior to being captured on 15 November 1863.

Horace L. Hunley wrote General Beauregard requesting that command of the submarine hearing his name be turned over to him. "I propose," Hunley said, 'if you will place the boat in my hands to furnish a crew (in whole or in part) from Mobile who are well acquainted with its management & make the attempt to destroy a vessel of the enemy as early as practicable." Three days later, Brigadier General Jordan, Beauregard's Chief of Staff, directed that the submarine be "cleaned and turned over to him with the understanding that said Boat shall be ready for service in two weeks." Under Hunley's direction, a crew was brought to Charleston from Mobile, the H. F. Hunley was readied, and a number of practice dives carried out preparatory to making an actual attack.

Coal schooner Manhasset was driven ashore in a gale at Sabine Pass. The wreck was subsequently seized by Confederate troops.

20 The general report submitted this date by Lieutenant Commander J.P. Foster, commanding the second district of the Mississippi Squadron, to Rear Admiral Porter illustrated the restrictive effect gunboat patrols had on Confederate operations along the Mississippi. Foster had taken command of the Donaldsonville, Louisiana to the mouth of the Red River section of the Missis-sippi in mid-August. From Bayou Sara he wrote: "Since taking command of the Lafayette I have made a tour of my district and find everything quiet below Bayou Sara and very little excitement between this place and Red River, no vessels having been fired into since the rebels were shelled by the Champion [30 August]. The disposition of this ship, Neosho, and Signal, I think, has had a beneficial influence upon the rebels, insomuch as they have not shown themselves upon the river banks since I have been down here."

22 Acting Master David Nichols and a crew of 19 Confederate seamen captured Army tug Leviathan before dawn at South West pass, Mississippi River, but were taken prisoner later that morning when U.S.S. De Soto, Captain W. M. Walker, recaptured the prize in the Gulf of Mexico some 40 miles off shore. Nichols and his men had departed Mobile 2 or 3 days before in the small cutter Teaser. Reaching South West Pass, they pulled the cutter into the marshes and made their way on foot to the coal wharf where Leviathan lay. They seized the tug, described by Captain Walker as a new and very fast screw steamer, amply supplied with coal and provisions for a cruise," and put to sea at once. Shortly thereafter, Commodore Bell ordered Navy ships in pursuit. At midmorning, U.S.S. De Soto fired three shots at the tug and brought her to.

Flag Officer Tucker assigned Lieutenant William T. Glassell, CSN, to command C.S.S. David, "with a view of destroying as many of the enemy's vessels as possible Glassell, who had arrived in Charleston on 8 September from Wilmington on "special service," would take the torpedo boat against U.S.S. New Ironsides 2 weeks later.

Expedition under Acting Master George W. Ewer from U.S.S. Seneca destroyed the Hudson Place Salt Works near Darien, Georgia. Ewer reported that the works, producing some 10 or 15 bushels of salt a day, were now "completely useless."

USS. Connecticut, Commander Almy, seized blockade running British steamer Juno off Wilmington with cargo of cotton and tobacco.

25 Epidemic sickness was one of the persistent hazards of extended blockade duty in warm climate. This date, to illustrate, Commodore H. H. Bell reported to Secretary Welles from New Orleans: "I regret to inform the Department that a pernicious fever has appeared on board the United States steamers repairing at this port from which some deaths have ensued. Some of the cases have been well-defined yellow fever, and others are recognized here by the names of pernicious and congestive fever."

U.S.S. Tioga, Commander Clary, captured steamer Herald near the Bahamas with cargo of cotton, turpentine, and pitch.

27 U.S.S. Clyde, Acting Master A. A. Owens, seized schooner Amaranth near the Florida Keys with cargo including cigars and sugar.

28 Secretary Welles noted in his diary that the chances of European intervention in the war on behalf of the Confederacy were dimming. He wrote: "The last arrivals indicate a better tone and temper in England, and I think in France also. From the articles in their papers . . . I think our monitors and heavy ordnance have had a peaceful tendency, a tranquilizing effect. The guns of the Weehawken have knocked the breath out of the British statesmen as well as the crew of the Atlanta [see 17 June 1863]."

29 U.S.S. Lafayette, Lieutenant Commander J.P. Foster, and U.S.S. Kenwood, Acting Master John Swaney, arrived at Morganza, Louisiana, on Bayou Fordoche to support troops under Major General Napoleon J. T. Dana. More than 400 Union troops had been captured in an engagement with Confederates under Brigadier General Thomas Green. Foster noted, "the arrival of the gunboats was hailed . . . with perfect delight." Next day, the presence of the ships, he added, "no doubt deterred [the Confederates] from attacking General Dana in his position at Morganza as they had about four brigades to do it with, while our forces did not amount to more than 1,500." Foster ordered gunboats to cover the Army and prevent a renewal of the action.

U.S.S. St. Louis, Commander George H. Preble, returned to Lisbon, Portugal, after an unsuccess-ful cruise of almost a hundred days in search of Confederate commerce raiders. Preble reported significantly to Secretary Welles that although the St. Louis had "repeatedly crossed and recrossed the sea routes (to and from) between the United States and the Mediterranean and Europe, we have in all this cruise met with but one American merchant vessel at sea. This fact, on a sea poetically supposed to be whitened by our commerce, illustrates the difficulties attendant upon a search after the two or three rebel cruisers afloat." In addition, the scarcity of American flag merchant sail testified to the effectiveness of the few Southern raiders.

30 U.S.S. Rosalie, Acting Master Peter F. Coffin, seized British schooner Director attempting to run the blockade at Sanibel River, Florida, with cargo of salt and rum.