Naval History of the Civil War September 1864

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Civil War Naval History

SEPTEMBER 1864

2 Small, 8-gun paddle-wheeler U.S.S. Naiad, Acting Master Keene, engaged Confederate battery near Rowe's Landing, Louisiana, and, after a brisk exchange, silenced it.

3 President Lincoln ordered a 100-gun salute at the Washington Navy Yard at noon on Monday, the 5th of September, and upon receipt of the order, at each arsenal and navy yard in the United States ''for the recent brilliant achievements of the fleet and land forces of the United States in the harbor of Mobile and in the reduction of Fort Powell, Fort Gaines, and Fort Morgan. .
The President also proclaimed that on the following Sunday thanksgiving should be given for Rear Admiral Farragut's victory at Mobile and for the capture of Atlanta by General Sherman. These events, said Lincoln, "call for devout acknowledgment to the Supreme Being in whose hands are the destinies of nations."

5 Unaware as yet of Rear Admiral Farragut's letter of the week before (see 27 August) regarding his failing health, Secretary Welles wrote the Admiral asking him to take command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and prepare to attack Wilmington, the last major port open to the Confederates. Welles regarded its capture as "more important, practically, than the capture of Richmond." It was natural that, not knowing of Farragut's personal wishes, he should turn to his most successful and indomitable officer for the accomplishment of this last vital task. "You are selected," wrote Welles, "to command the naval force, and you will endeavor to be at Port Royal by the latter part of September, where further orders will await you." It was not until
mid-month that the Secretary received Farragut's letter of 27 August. On 22 September the hero of Mobile Bay wrote Welles upon receipt of his instructions to proceed to Port Royal and reiterated his request to go North on leave. Welles, meanwhile, had taken steps to select a new squadron commander in lieu of Farragut, and the same day, 22 September, he wrote Rear Admiral Porter: "Rear Admiral D. G. Farragut was assigned to the command of the North Atlantic Squadron on the 5th instant, but the necessity of rest on the part of that distinguished officer renders it necessary that he should come immediately North. You will, therefore, on receipt of this order consider yourself detached from the command of the Mississippi Squadron . . . and relieve Acting Rear Admiral Lee in command of the North Atlantic blockading Squadron." Thus, because of Admiral Farragut's poor health, Porter was given the opportunity to prepare and lead the massive assault against the South's most important remaining seaport.

U.S.S. Keystone State, Commander Crosby, and U.S.S. Quaker City, Lieutenant Silas Casey, captured blockade running British steamer Elsie off Wilmington with cargo of cotton. Elsie had been chased the previous night upon standing out of Wilmington, but the blockading vessels had lost her in the darkness. This date, however, Keystone State sighted her, and with Quaker City opened fire. Elsie almost escaped, but a shell exploding in her forward hold forced her to heave to.

6 U.S.S. Proteus, Commander Shufeldt, captured blockade running British schooner Ann Louisa in the Gulf of Mexico.

8 U.S.S. Tritonia, Rodolph, Stockdale, and an Army transport commenced a two-day expedition under Acting Lieutenant George Wiggin to destroy large salt works at Salt House Point near Mobile Bay. Only Rodolph and Stockdale crossed the bar and entered Bon Secours River. Arriving at the Point at mid-morning, Wiggin sent two boat crews ashore and demolition of the salt works began immediately. So extensive were the works that destruction was not completed until late afternoon the next day. Wiggin reported: "I found some of the works well built and very strong, particularly one known as the Memphis Works, said to have cost $60,000. . . . Another work, which was very strong and well built, said to have cost $50,000." Rear Admiral Farragut, who had ordered the attack, observed: "There were 55 furnaces, in which were manufactured nearly 2,000 bushels of salt per day, and their destruction must necessarily inconvenience the rebels."

9 Acting under orders from Rear Admiral Farragut, 500-ton screw steamer U.S.S. Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Taylor, reinstituted the blockade of Brownsville, Texas. The blockade had been lifted in mid-February by Presidential proclamation (see 18 February 1864), but on 15 August Secretary of State Seward had informed Secretary Welles that it should be re-enforced once more because of the withdrawal of Union troops stationed in the area. Three days later, Welles directed Farragut to resume the blockade "as early as practicable". On 3 September the Admiral reported to Welles that, ''I am now increasing the blockading force off the coast of Texas, the recent operations here now enabling me to spare vessels for that purpose. ' Farragut relayed the Department's message to his senior subordinate on the Texas coast, Commander Melancthon B. Woolsey, who on 8 September replied: "The Kanawha sailed hence last night with orders to blockade the Brazos Santiago (one of the points of approach to Brownsville). She also bore orders to the Aroostook to blockade the Rio Grande . . . the blockade of those places will be resumed from to-morrow morning (9th)." At this point in the war Union strength at sea was such that specific ports like Brownsville could be reclosed as necessary, while at the same time the iron ring of the entire coastal blockade tightened.

As the conflict drew into its final stage, Southern authorities turned increasingly to blockade runners manned and financed by the Navy. These allowed the Confederacy to employ some of its excellent officers at sea and insured that entire cargoes brought in would be of direct benefit to the government. This date, Commander Maffitt, one of the Confederacy's most successful and experienced captains, was detached from command of C.S.S. Albemarle and ordered to Wilmington to command the new blockade runner Owl.

10 An expedition from U.S.S. Wyalusing, Lieutenant Commander Earl English, landed at Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River, North Carolina, and seized several of the leading citizens for inter-rogation regarding the burning of mail steamer Fawn on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal the night before. The naval landing party encountered little resistance at Elizabeth City, and suc-ceeded in capturing 29 prisoners. English learned that the Fawn expedition had been led by members of C.S.S. Albemarle's crew.

U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba, Captain Glisson, captured blockade running steamer A. D. Vance at sea northeast of Wilmington with cargo of cotton.

U.S.S. Magnolia, Acting Lieutenant Cheesman, seized steamer Matagorda at sea off Cape San Antonio, Cuba, with cargo of cotton.

11 Acting Lieutenant Wiggin led an expedition up Fish River at Mobile Bay to seize an engine used by Confederates in a sawmill and to assist Union soldiers in obtaining lumber. Tinclad U.S.S. Rodolph, Acting Lieutenant George D. Upham, and wooden side-wheeler U.S.S. Stockdale, Acting Master Spiro V. Bennis, with Wiggin embarked, convoyed Army transport Planter to Smith's mill, where they took the engine, 60,000 feet of lumber, and some livestock. Loading the lumber on board a barge in tow of Planter took almost until nightfall, and in the dusk of the return down-stream, Confederate riflemen took the ships under fire and felled trees ahead of them. The gun-boats returned the fire rapidly and Rodolph broke through the obstructions, enabling the remaining ships to pass downriver.

U.S.S. Augusta Dinsmore, Acting Lieutenant Miner B. Crowell, captured schooner John off Velasco, Texas, with cargo of cotton.

13 Rear Admiral Farragut's sailors continued to clear the main ship channel at Mobile Bay of torpedos such as the one that bad sunk U.S.S. Tecumseh on 5 August. He reported to Secretary Welles that 22 torpedos had been raised. He added: " This part of the channel is now believed to be clear, for, though beyond doubt many more were originally anchored here, report says they have sunk over one hundred to the bottom." Despite the Admiral's efforts, Union ships would be destroyed in the vicinity of Mobile Bay by torpedoes in the months to come.

15 Though the Union forces dominated Mobile Bay, the South still possessed a number of ships at Mobile itself. Farragut informed Welles that C.S.S. Nashville, an ironclad which, he said, had been waiting for her plating for at least 12 months, was now ready for service. Farragut de-scribed her as mounting ''six of their heaviest rifles and has heavier backing and greater speed than the Tennessee." Referring to the battle of Mobile Bay the month before, the Admiral added: "If she had gotten out fully equipped, the rebels would have made a stronger fight on the 5th day of August The Mobile defenses also counted on the casemated ironclads Tusca-loosa and Huntsville, "covered with 4 inches of iron, but, I understand, very unmanageable", and three gunboats. "I have them guarded," Farragut wrote, "by the two ironclads, the Winne-bago and Chickasaw, and four of our gunboats."

16 Commander Bulloch wrote Secretary Mallory from Liverpool: "The loss of the Alabama occurred just at a time when the financial condition of the Navy Department began to improve and . . . I took immediate steps to look up a successor. I have now the satisfaction to inform you of the purchase of a fine composite ship, built for the Bombay trade, and just returned from her first voyage. She is 1,160 tons builder's measurement, classed A-1 . . . frames, beams, etc., of iron, but planked from keel to gunwhale with East Indian teak. . . . My broker has had her carefully examined by one of Lloyd's inspectors, who pronounced her a capital ship in every respect. . . . The log of the ship shows her to be a fast sailor under canvas, for with screw up she has made 330 miles in 24 hours by observation." Bulloch was describing the steamer Sea King, a ship which would shortly become renowned as the raider C.S.S. Shenandoah. He also informed Mallory that contracts had been let for the torpedo boats which the Secretary had ordered two months before (see 18 July).

Boat expedition from U.S.S. Arid, Acting Master Russell, captured over 4,000 pounds of cotton in the vicinity of Tampa Bay, Florida.

19 Confederates under Acting Master John Yates Beau captured and burned steamers Philo Parsons and Island Queen on Lake Erie. Captain Charles H. Cole, CSA, a Confederate secret agent in the Lake Erie region, conceived the plan and received the assistance of Jacob Thompson, Southern agent in Canada, and the daring Beall. The plan was for Cole to aid in the capture of iron side-wheeler U.S.S. Michigan, which was then guarding the Confederate prisoners at Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, Ohio, by befriending her officers and attempting to bribe them. Beall was to approach with a captured steamer from the mouth of Sandusky Bay and board Michigan, after which the prisoners would be released and the whole force would embark on a guerrilla expedition along the lake. Beall and his 19 men came on board Philo Parsons as passengers but soon seized the steamer and took her to Middle Bass Island, on the way from Detroit to Sandusky. While there, Beall was approached by an unsuspecting steamer, Island Queen, which he quickly captured and burned. He then landed the passengers and cargoes of the two ships and proceeded with his improvised man-of-war to Sandusky. Meanwhile, Commander J. C. Carter of Michigan had discovered Cole's duplicity and had him arrested, along with his assistant in the plot. As Beall and his men approached Sandusky, the prearranged signals were not made. Confronted with uncertain circumstances and overwhelming odds, Beall and his men reluctantly but wisely aban-doned their part in the plan and took Philo Parsons to Sandwich, Canada, where she was stripped and burned. The Confederates then dispersed.

Secretary Mallory, in a telegram to Commander Maffitt, gave his orders regarding the new Con-federate-owned blockade runners: "It is of the first importance that our steamers should not fall into the enemy's hands. Apart from the specific loss sustained by the country in the capture of blockade runners, these vessels, lightly armed, now constitute the fleetest and most efficient part of his blockading force off Wilmington. . . . As commanding officer of the Owl you will please devise and adopt thorough and efficient means for saving all hands and destroying the vessel and cargo whenever these measures may become necessary to prevent capture."

A boat expedition commanded by Acting Ensign Semon in U.S.S. Niphon, landed at Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina, to gain intelligence on the defenses of Wilmington and the strength of its garrison. In planning for the forthcoming assault on the defenses of Wilmington, Semon also learned that raider C.S.S. Tallahassee was at Wilmington, along with several blockade runners.

22 Upon learning that Farragut's health prevented him from accepting command of the forthcoming operations against Wilmington, Secretary Welles paid eloquent tribute to the Admiral and his accomplishments: "In accordance with the view of the Department and the universal wish of the country, the orders of the 5th instant [see 5 September 1864] were given to you; but a life so precious must not be thrown away by failing to heed the monitions which the greatest powers of physical endurance receive as a warning to rest. The country will again call upon you, perhaps, to put the finishing blow to the rebellion." The distinguished Admiral's service in the Civil War was over, but not before he had achieved a permanent place among the great naval heroes of all time. From New Orleans to Port Hudson to Mobile Bay, David Glasgow Farragut, first Admiral in the U.S. Navy, had shown the leadership, courage, intelligence, and devotion to duty which have ever since been shining examples for all who are privileged to serve the Nation at sea.
23 Small side-wheeler U.S.S. Antelope, Acting Master John Ross, struck a snag and sank in the Mis-sissippi River below New Orleans.

24 Under command of Acting Master William T. Street, wooden steamer U.S.S. Fuchsia, and side-wheelers Thomas Freeborn and Mercury proceeded to Milford Haven, Virginia, near which Con-federates were believed to be preparing a number of boats to attack the blockading force at the mouth of the Piankatank River. Leaving Fuchsia and Thomas Freeborn at Milford Haven, Street took armed boats in tow of Mercury and proceeded up Stutt's Creek. Some three miles upstream a force of 40 sailors was landed, under Acting Master William A. Arthur and Acting Ensign Philip Sheridan. Four Confederate boats were destroyed, five were captured, and a fishery demolished. Though the Rappahannock River area was dominated by the Northern forces, Union ships had to be continually on the alert to prevent audacious Southern raids.

General Robert E. Lee wrote Secretary of War Seddon of another dilemma posed by the South's weakness at sea: "Since the fitting out of the privateer Tallahassee and her cruise from the port of Wilmington, the enemy's fleet of blockaders off that coast has been very much increased, and the dangers of running the blockade rendered much greater. The question arises whether it is of more importance to us to obtain supplies through that port or to prey upon the enemy's commerce by privateers sent from thence. . . . It might be well therefore, if practicable, to divert
the enemy's attention from Wilmington Harbor and keep it open as long as possible as a port of entry. While it is open the energies . . . should be exerted . . . to get in two or three years' -supplies so as to remove all apprehension on this score."

25 U.S.S. Howquah, Acting Lieutenant John W. Balch, U.S.S. Niphon, Acting Master Edmund Kemble, and U.S.S. Governor Buckingham, Acting Lieutenant John MacDiarmid, chased ashore and destroyed blockade running steamer Lynx off Wilmington with cargo of cotton. The three Union screw steamers were fired upon by Lynx and by shore batteries; Balch reported: ". . . one 3 pounder percussion shell struck the main rail on the starboard bow, cutting it through, also striking the forward end of the 30-pounder pivot carriage, cutting the breech in two and disabling the carriage, glancing over, striking the main rail on the port side, and falling on the deck (I have the shot now on board). Fortunately this shell did not explode." Lynx sustained several close-range broadsides and was run ashore in flames, where she continued to burn throughout the night until consumed.

26 Major General Whiting, C.S.A., Army commander in Wilmington, wrote to Governor Vance of North Carolina requesting that C.S.S. Tallahassee and Chickamauga be retained in Wilmington for the defense of that port: "The Confederate steamers Tallahassee and Chickamauga are now nearly ready for sea, and will leave this port for the purpose of operating against the enemy's commerce. should they leave on this service the few vessels they might destroy would be of little advantage to our cause, while it would excite the enemy to increase the number of the blockading squadron to such an extent as to render it almost impossible for vessels running the blockade to escape them." Notwithstanding these objections and those of General Lee two days before, the raiders were sent to sea.

As Union forces on the James River pressed their attempt to bypass the obstructions at Trent's Reach by digging a canal at Dutch Gap, senior Confederate Army officers became increasingly con-cerned as to their ability to hold the defensive position before Richmond. Major General George E. Pickett wrote from Chesterfield: ''If they wish to complete the canal, they will be compelled to occupy this bank of the river; any attempt to do this ought to be prevented by the gunboats." General Robert E. Lee, ever aware of the meaning of seapower, concurred and added: "The navy can readily prevent the enemy from crossing the river at the point indicated by General Pickett, if an understanding be come to by which they shall move promptly to the spot upon being notified of the existence of danger." Flag Officer Mitchell, commander of the Confederate James River Squadron, reported four days later: "I have offered repeatedly to the commanding generals on both sides of the James River to cooperate with them, and shall always be happy to answer any call for this purpose, and feel thankful for any information which will enable the squadron to move promptly when its services can be useful."

C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured bark Mondamin off the northeastern coast of South America.

27 Acting Ensign Semon made his second reconnaissance expedition to Masonboro Inlet and Wil-mington. Semon again gained important information concerning Confederate blockade runners, the defensive dispositions of forces in the area, and made arrangements to procure pilots for the operation against Wilmington. He learned for the first time that C.S.S. North Carolina, one of the ironclads built for the defense of Wilmington, had sunk at her pier at Smithville, her bottom eaten out by worms. North Carolina drew too much water to pass over the bars at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and had spent virtually her entire career at Smithville. Concerned about the state of Wilmington's defenses, Major General Whiting wrote Secretary Mallory on 6 October: "It is men and guns that are wanted as well as the ships, not only to man the naval batteries now being substituted for the North Carolina and the Raleigh [beached on 7 May 1864], which were to defend the inner bars, but to guard or picket the entrance and river, a duty devolving upon the Navy, and for which there are neither forts nor vessels here." An additional ironclad was laid down but was never finished because of lack of armor.

U.S.S. Arkansas, Acting Lieutenant David Cate, captured schooner Watchful in the Gulf of Mexico
south of Barataria Bay, Louisiana. Watchful carried a cargo of lumber and arms.

28 Rear Admiral Porter, on his detachment from command of the Mississippi Squadron, wrote a fare-well to his officers and men, in which he reflected on the far-reaching accomplishments of naval power on the western waters: "When I first assumed command of this squadron the Mississippi was in possession of the rebels from Memphis to New Orleans, a distance of 800 miles, and over 1,000 miles of tributaries were closed against us, embracing a territory larger than some of the kingdoms of Europe. Our commerce is now successfully, if not quietly, transported on the broad Mississippi from one end to the other, and the same may almost be said with regard to its tributaries." Porter, who was to be relieved by Rear Admiral S. P. Lee, soon proceeded to Hampton Roads, assumed command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and turned his attention to the reduction of Wilmington.

29 Steamer Roanoke, bound for New York from Havana, was captured by Confederates under Acting Master John C. Braine, CSN, just off the Cuban coast. Braine's actions caused the Richmond government concern and embarrassment, since his expedition was organized and carried out from the neutral port of Havana. The resourceful and audacious Braine had outlined his idea to Secre-tary Mallory earlier in the year, and the Secretary had given his approval, with the stipulation that neutral rights were to be strictly observed. With that understanding, Braine was commissioned a temporary Acting Master. Instead of boarding the vessel as a passenger in New York, however, he chose to capture her on the Havana end of the voyage. With a small group of Con-federates, he was able to overwhelm the ship's officers and take over the ship, steering her for Bermuda. After attempting to smuggle supplies and coal from that island, unsuccessfully, he determined that the fine steamer could not be brought through the blockade to the Confederacy and she was burned off Bermuda. Braine was held by the British but subsequently released, and was to be heard from again.

29-30 U.S.S. Niphon, Acting Master Kemble, forced blockade running British steamer Night Hawk aground off Fort Fisher and burned her. Late on 29 September, Niphon fired upon Night Hawk as she attempted to run into New Inlet, and observed her go aground. A boat crew led by Acting Ensign Semon boarded the steamer, and under the fire of Fort Fisher set her ablaze and brought off the crew as prisoners. Ensign Semon's conduct on this occasion became the subject of a diplomatic note from the British Ambassador, the latter alleging cruel treatment of the officers of Night Hawk and a premature burning of the ship. Semon was subsequently cleared of all implications of misconduct by a court of inquiry.

29-1 October Ships of the Confederate James River Squadron, Flag Officer Mitchell, supported Southern troops in attacks against Fort Harrison, Chaffin's Farm, James River, Virginia. Though the Confederates failed to retake Fort Harrison, with the aid of heavy fire from Mitchell's ships, they prevented Union soldiers from capturing Chaffin's Bluff.