Civil War Naval History
1 Army transport Maple Leaf, returning from carrying troops to Palatka, Florida, was destroyed by a Confederate torpedo in the St. John's River. She was one of several victims in this river which on 30 March the Southerners had mined with twelve floating torpedoes, each containing 70 pounds of powder. On 16 April Army transport General Hunter was similarly destroyed at almost the same place near Mandarin Point. Confederate torpedoes continued to play an increasing role in the defense of rivers and harbors. As Major General Patton Anderson, CSA, noted, the torpedoes "taught him [the Northerner] to be cautious in the navigation of our waters."
Secretary Welles wrote Rear Admiral C. H. Bell expressing concern that Confederate raiders would strike at the California trade. Intelligence had been received suggesting as a destina-tion ''for the Florida and Georgia the straits of Le Maire, between the island of Tierra del Fuego and Staten Island, through which . . . nine out of every ten California-bound ships pass, in plain sight from either shore. . . . the protection of the land in these straits is such that the rebel steamers could lie almost obscured and in comparatively smooth water . . . while escape [by] merchantmen would be impossible."
During the last year of the war on the Mississippi bands of Confederate guerrillas kept up their efforts to surprise and destroy Union gunboats isolated on patrol duty. This date the Secretary of War forwarded to Secretary Welles a captured letter written by Confederate Navy Secretary Mallory about the plans of guerrillas. Welles relayed the information next day to Rear Admiral Porter.
3 As Major General Banks began his preliminary deployments for the Red River campaign, iron-clads U.S.S. East port, Mound City, Osage, Ozark, Neosho, Chillicothe, Pittsburg, and Louisville and steamers Fort Hindman, Lexington, and Cricket convoyed Major General A. J. Smith's corps from Alexandria to Grand Ecore, Louisiana. The troops disembarked (with the exception of a division under Brigadier General T. Kilby Smith) and marched to join Banks at Natchitoches for the overland assault on Shreveport, to be supported by ships of the Mississippi Squadron.
4 U.S.S. Sciota, Lieutenant Commander Perkins, captured schooner Mary Sorly attempting to run the blockade at Galveston with cargo of cotton. She had previously been U.S. Revenue Cutter Dodge, seized by the Confederates at Galveston at the war's outbreak.
5 The naval force in the St. John's River, Florida, under Commander Balch continued to patrol the river and convoy Army operations as it had for a month. On 4 April Union troops evacuated Palatka in accord with a general troop movement northward, but U.S.S. Ottawa, Lieutenant Commander Breese, which had protected the soldiers there, remained in the river, moving to Picolata "where some two regiments are stationed." U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Balch, remained on duty at Jacksonville, while double-ender U.S.S. Mahaska, Lieutenant Commander Robert F. Lewis, and wooden screw steamers U.S.S. Unadilla, Lieutenant Commander James Stillwell, and U.S.S. Norwich, Acting Master Frank B. Meriam, continued to convoy troops on the river. This date, Brigadier General John P. Hatch summed up the vital contributions made by the Navy in controlling the inland waterways: ". . . I consider it very important, I may say necessary, that the naval force should be retained here as a patrol of the river, to aid us in the event of an attack, and to cover the landing of troops at other points. . . . The length of the river now occupied (100 miles) requires for its thorough patrol a naval force of the size of the present squadron."
Late in March, Union forces at Plymouth, North Carolina, had sunk hulks, some with percussion torpedoes attached, to obstruct the Roanoke River and provide additional defense against "the ironclad up this river." Lieutenant Commander Flusser, reporting another of the rumors which were circulating freely regarding the Confederate ironclad ram Albemarle, wrote Rear Admiral Lee that the large ship was said to be of such light draft "that she may pass over our obstructions in the river without touching them." The draft of Albemarle, approximately nine feet, had been reported by Flusser on 27 March as being "6 to 8 feet' –according to a carpenter who had worked on her.
6 Secretary Mallory wrote Flag Officer Barron in Paris regarding the possible operations of ships being fitted out in France: "If the vessels about to get to sea can be united with the two you sent off [C.S.S. Florida and Georgia], they might strike a blow at the enemy off Wilmington, during the summer, and then separate to meet for a blow at another point. I commend the light infantry system to your judgment. An invited clash at a point north heretofore indicated to you, then a separation for a reunion and dash at a second point, and a second separation for a third one, etc., with the intervals sufficient to draw the enemy's attention to distant chasing, would produce very important results." While Mallory's reasoning was sound in proposing such a hit-and-run cruise, it was not to happen. C.S.S. Florida would be captured before year's end; Georgia would soon be sold; and Rappahannock, like the ironclads contracted for in France, would never take to the high seas under the Confederate flag.
U.S.S. Estrella, Lieutenant Commander Augustus P. Cooke, captured mail schooner Julia A. Hodges in Matagorda Bay, Texas.
7 Rear Admiral Porter detailed Lieutenant Commander Phelps to remain in command of the heavier gunboats at Grand Ecore while he personally continued to advance up the Red River toward Shreveport with ironclads U.S.S. Osage, Neosho, and Chillicothe and wooden steamers Fort Hindman, Lexington and Cricket. The Admiral hoped to bring up the remaining gunboats if the water level began to rise.
U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Edward C. Healy, seized blockade running British schooner Spunky near Cape Canaveral, Florida, with an assorted cargo.
9 Confederate torpedo boat Squib, Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, successfully exploded a spar torpedo against large steam frigate U.S.S. Minnesota, Lieutenant Commander John H. Upshur, off Newport News, Virginia. Squib was described by Acting Master John A. Curtis, second in command of the torpedo boat, as being constructed of wood, "about thirty-five feet long, five feet wide, drew three feet of water, two feet freeboard designed by Hunter Davidson. . . . The boiler and engine were encased with iron; forward of the boiler was the cockpit, where the crew stood and from where we steered her." The attack, described by a Northern naval officer observer as "a deed as daring as it was vicious", took place about two o'clock in the morning. The officer of the deck saw a small boat 150 to 200 yards off, just forward of the port beam. To his hail, the Confeder-ates replied "Roanoke." Acting Ensign James Birtwistle ordered her to stay clear. Davidson answered "aye, aye!" Although Birtwistle could discern no visible means of propulsion, the small Confederate boat continued to close Minnesota rapidly. Minnesota attempted to open fire, but, the distance between the two being so slight, her gun could not be brought to bear. Squib rammed her powder charge of more than 50 pounds into the blockader's port quarter. The log of Min-nesota recorded: ". . . a tremendous explosion followed.'' Curtis wrote that he closed his eyes at the moment of impact, "opening them in about a second, I think, I never beheld such a sight before, nor since. The air was filled with port shutters and water from the explosion, and the heavy ship was rolling to starboard, and the officer of the deck giving orders to save yourselves and cried out 'Torpedo, torpedo!'"
Little damage resulted, though "the shock was quite severe." Nevertheless, as Secretary Mallory later said of the attack: "The cool daring, professional skill, and judgement exhibited by Lieutenant Davidson in this hazardous enterprise merit high commendation and confer honor upon a service of which he is a member." As the blockader reeled under the blow, the fate of the seven Southerners was gravely imperiled, for Squib was sucked under the port quarter. As Min-nesota rolled back to port, however, Curtis reported, "the pressure of the water shoved us off." But so close aboard her adversary did she remain that Curtis leaped on the torpedo boat's forward deck and pushed against Minnesota to get the small craft clear. Squib escaped under heavy musket fire. Union tug Poppy did not have steam up and could not pursue the torpedo boat, which with-drew safely up the James River. Davidson, a pioneer in torpedo warfare, was promoted to Commander for his "gallant and meritorious conduct."
The concern caused by the attack on Minnesota, coming as it did shortly after the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley had sunk U.S.S. Housatonic, was widespread. William Winthrop, United States Consul at Malta, wrote assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward concerning precautions recommended for the future. "In these days of steam and torpedoes, you may rest assured that outlying picket boats and a steam tug at all hours ready to move are not sufficient protection for our ships of war, where a squadron is at anchor. They require something more, and this should be in having their own boats rowing round all night, so that in a measure every ship should protect itself. If this precaution be not taken, any vessel in a dark and foggy night could be blown out of the water, even while a watchful sentry on board might still have his cry of 'All's well' yet on his lips as the fiendish act was accomplished."
10 Steaming toward Shreveport, Rear Admiral Porter's gunboats and the Army transports arrived at Springfield Landing, Louisiana, where further progress was halted by Confederate ingenuity, which Porter later described to Major General W. T. Sherman: "When I arrived at Springfield Landing I found a sight that made me laugh. It was the smartest thing I ever knew the rebels to do. They had gotten that huge steamer, New Falls City, across Red River, 1 mile above Loggy Bayou, 15 feet of her on shore on each side, the boat broken down in the middle, and a sand bar making below her. An invitation in large letters to attend a ball in Shreveport was kindly left stuck up by the rebels, which invitation we were never able to accept." Before this obstruc-tion could be removed, word arrived from Major General Banks of his defeat at the Battle of Sabine Cross-Roads near Grand Ecore and retreat toward Pleasant Mill. The transports and troops of Brigadier General T.K. Smith were ordered to return to the major force and join Banks. The high tide of the Union's Red River campaign had been reached. From this point, with falling water level and increased Confederate shore fire, the gunboats would face a desperate battle to avoid being trapped above the Alexandria rapids.
11 U.S.S. Nita, Lieutenant Robert B. Smith, captured blockade runner Three Brothers at the mouth of the Homosassa River, Florida, with an assorted cargo.
U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C. H. Brown, captured blockade runner Juanita off San Luis Pass, Texas. However, on 13 April she went aground, was recaptured, and the prize crew, under Acting Ensign N.A. Blume, was taken prisoner.
12 As Rear Admiral Porter's gunboats and Brigadier General T.K. Smith's transports retraced their course down the Red River from Springfield Landing, Louisiana, Confederate guns took them under heavy fire from the high bluffs overlooking the river. At Blair's Landing, dismounted cavalry supported by artillery, engaged the Union fleet. The 430-ton wooden side-wheeler U.S.S. Lexington, Lieutenant Bache, silenced the shore battery but the Confederate cavalry poured a hail of musket fire into the rest of the squadron. Lieutenant Commander Selfridge reported: 'I waited till they got into easy shelling range, and opened upon them a heavy fire of shrapnel and canister. The rebels fought with unusual pertinacity for over an hour, delivering the heaviest and most concentrated fire of musketry that I have ever witnessed." What Porter described as ' this curious affair, . . . a fight between infantry and gunboats", was finally decided by the gunboats' fire, which inflicted heavy losses on the Confederates, including the death of their commander, General Thomas Green. This engagement featured the use of a unique instrument, developed by Chief Engineer Thomas Doughty of U.S.S. Osage and later described by Selfridge as "a method of sighting the turret from the outside, by means of what would now be called a periscope. . . .The high banks of the Red River posed a great difficulty for the ships' gunners in aiming their cannon from water level. Doughty's ingenious apparatus helped to solve that problem. Selfridge wrote that: "On first sounding to general quarters, . . . [I] went inside the turret to direct its fire, but the restricted vision from the peep holes rendered it impossible to see what was going on in the threatened quarter, whenever the turret was trained in the loading position. In this extremity I thought of the periscope, and hastily took up station there, well protected by the turret, yet able to survey the whole scene and to direct an accurate fire." Thus was the periscope, a familiar sight on gun turrets and on submarines of this century, brought into Civil War use on the Western waters.
Confederate cavalry and infantry commanded by Major General Nathan B. Forrest, CSA, com-menced an attack on Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The small 160-ton gunboat U.S.S. New Era, Acting Master James Marshall, steamed in to support the Union soldiers. Her few guns drove the Confederates from their first position before the fort, but by mid-afternoon Forrest's Army mounted an overwhelming assault on the fort and carried it, though still under the fire of New Era. Acting Master Marshall received refugees from the fort on board New Era, but after the captured artillery was turned on his vessel, he was forced to withdraw upstream out of range.
Returning to the fort on 14 April, Marsh all found it evacuated and with the added gunfire support of the lately arrived steamers Platte Valley, Captain Riley, Master and Silver Cloud, Acting Master William Ferguson, scattered the Confederates as they withdrew. The raid on Fort Pillow was one of many attacks made by Forrest during March and April, causing considerable concern among Union commanders and taxing the resources of the Mississippi Squadron. Forrest's favorite operating ground was between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers, where Union gunboats could not oppose his raids.
Major General Hurlbut wrote Secretary Welles regarding the preparation by Confederates of a submerged torpedo boat reported to be intended for use in Mobile Bay: "The craft, as described to me, is a propeller about 30 feet long, with engine of great power for her size, and boiler so constructed as to raise steam with great rapidity. She shows above the surface only a small smoke outlet and pilot house, both of which can be lowered and covered. The plan is to drop down within a short distance of the ship, put out the fires, cover the smoke pipe and pilot house, and sink the craft to a proper depth; then work the propeller by hand, drop beneath the ship, ascertaining her position by a magnet suspended in the propeller, rise against her bottom, fasten the torpedo by screws, drop their boat away, pass off a sufficient distance, rise to the surface, light their fires, and work off." While there is no evidence that the vessel described by Hurlbut ever was taken to Mobile, another submersible torpedo boat, Saint Patrick, was constructed by Captain Halligan at Selma, Alabama. Halligan's submarine was taken to Mobile in late 1864 and unsuccessfully attacked U.S.S. Octorara in early 1865.
U.S.S. Estrella, Lieutenant Commander Cooke, supported Army steamers Zephyr and Warrior on a reconnaissance expedition in Matagorda Bay, Texas. As the ships approached Matagorda Reef, two Confederate vessels were sighted and fired upon, but escaped. Acting Master Gaius P. Pomeroy took charge of the two Army transports and skillfully sailed them into the upper bay where the soldiers were landed. After completing the reconnaissance and capturing two small schooners, the expedition returned to Pass Cavallo. Brigadier General Fitz Henry Warren, commander of the troops on the foray, praised Pomeroy: "He took general charge of two steam transports, and by his attention, industry, and good seamanship impressed me most favorably as to his qualities for command and a higher position . . . in the great work in which we are all engaged."
Boats from U.S.S. South Carolina, Acting Lieutenant William W. Kennison, and U.S.S. T. A. Ward, Acting Master William L. Babcock, seized blockade running British steamer Alliance, which had run aground on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, with cargo including glass, liquor, and soap.
13 John S. Begbie, an agent of the Albion Trading Company of London, with which the Confederacy dealt, wrote Confederate States Commissioner John Slidell in Paris regarding Southern regulations on pilots, and said that he was informed: "1. Pilots are liable to the conscription. 2. If losing their ship are forced to enlist. 3. If demanding or receiving more than the Government regula-tion pilotage they are, if found out, deprived of their license and obliged to serve. In protesting against these regulations, he went on: "If it is desirable and in the interest of the Confederate Government that steamers should run in with stores and out with cotton, paying the Government debts and influencing greatly their credit, surely pilots are much more usefully employed to the State as pilots than as fighting men. The very few of them there are could never be felt as a loss to the army, while one dozen of them taken out of their number is sensibly felt and greatly aggra-vates the difficulty of steamers getting in, which is surely difficult enough already. If a pilot loses his ship, do not let him be deprived of his license unless he is grievously to blame; but if so, at once into the ranks with him, not otherwise; the best of pilots may lose his ship."
U.S.S. Rachel Seaman, Acting Master Charles Potter, seized blockade running British schooner Maria Alfred near the Mermentau River, Louisiana, with an assorted cargo.
U.S.S. Nyanza, Acting Lieutenant Washburn, captured schooner Mandoline in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana, with cargo of cotton.
13-14 A joint Army-Navy expedition advanced up the Nansemond River, Virginia, to capture Confederate troops in the area and destroy Confederate torpedo boat Squib which was thought to have been in that vicinity after her 9 April thrust at U.S.S. Minnesota. The naval force de-ployed by Rear Admiral Lee included converted ferryboats U.S.S. Stepping Stones, Commodore Morris, Commodore Perry, Commodore Barney, Shokokon, and two launches from Minnesota. A handful of prisoners was taken and information was obtained indicating that Squib had departed Smithfield for Richmond on the 10th. Acting Lieutenant Charles B. Wilder, who commanded Minnesota's two launches, was killed in an engagement with snipers near Smithfield. Of Wilder, Lieutenant Commander Upshur, Minnesota's commanding officer, wrote: . . . true to the reputation he had won among his shipmates for promptness and gallantry, he fell while in the act of firing a shot at the enemy.
14 Small paddle-wheel steamers of the Mississippi Squadron continued to engage Confederate raiders in Western Kentucky along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. At Paducah, Lieutenant Commander James W. Shirk, U.S.S. Peosta, with Key West, Acting Lieutenant Edward M. King, Fair play, Acting Master George J. Groves and Victory, Acting Master Frederick Read, took up defensive positions on the river to meet an anticipated Confederate blow. On 12 April, Shirk had reported: "The rebels are in force around us. The colonel and the gunboats are waiting for an attack." This date, Confederate troops entered Paducah, were taken under. fire by the Union ships and with-drew. Meanwhile, on 13 April, Confederates appeared before Columbus, Kentucky, which was protected by U.S.S. Moose, Lieutenant Commander LeRoy Fitch, U.S.S. Hastings, Acting Master John S. Watson, and U.S.S. Fairy, Acting Master Henry S. Wetmore. Here too the Southerners were held at bay by the presence of the light gunboats. These small warships, mostly converted river steamers, played a major role in frustrating the Confederate thrust. Secretary Welles, concerned about Confederate activities in the area, wrote in his diary: "respecting Rebel movements in western Kentucky-at Paducah, Columbus, Fort Pillow, etc. Strange that an army of 6000 Rebels should be moving unmolested within our lines. But for the gunboats, they would repossess themselves of the defenses.
Rear Admiral Porter's position in the Red River became increasingly critical as the water level stubbornly refused to rise, threatening to strand the gunboats. Porter wrote Welles: "I found the fleet at Grand Ecore somewhat in an unpleasant situation, two of them being above the bar, and not likely to get away again this season unless there is a rise of a foot. . . . If nature does not change her laws, there will no doubt be a rise of water, but there was one year-1846 when there was no rise in Red River, and it may happen again. The rebels are cutting off the supply by diverting different sources of water into other channels, all of which would have been stopped had our Army arrived as far as Shreveport. . . . Had we not heard of the retreat of the Army, I should still have gone on to the end."
Porter expressed his appreciation of the services rendered by the river pilots, whose duties were both hazardous and arduous: "There is a class of men who have during this war shown a good deal of bravery and patriotism and who have seldom met with any notice from those whose duty it is to report such matters. I speak of the pilots on the Western Waters. Without any hope of future reward through fame, or in a pecuniary way, they enter into the business of piloting the transports through dangers that would make a faint-hearted man quail. Occupying the most exposed position. . . . managing their vessels while under fire. . . . I beg leave to pay this small tribute to their bravery and zeal, and must say as a class I never knew a braver set of men."
15 U.S.S. Eastport, Lieutenant Commander Phelps, struck a Confederate torpedo in the Red River some eight miles below Grand Ecore. The shock of the explosion almost threw the leadsman forward overboard and Phelps, who was in his cabin aft, reported "a peculiar trembling sensation." He immediately ran Eastport into shoal water where she grounded. For six days Phelps, assisted by other gunboats in the river, attempted to bail and pump out the water. At last, 21 April, he was able to get underway with carpenters working day and night to close the leak. In the next five days East port could move only 60 miles downstream while grounding some eight times. The last time, unable to float her, Rear Admiral Porter ordered Phelps to transfer his men to U.S.S. Fort Hindman and destroy Eastport. On 26 April Phelps, the last man to leave her decks, detonated more than 3,000 pounds of powder and shattered the gunboat. He wrote: 'The act has been the most painful one experienced by me in my official career." The ironclad was completely destroyed, "as perfect a wreck as ever was made by powder," Porter noted. She remains a troublesome obstruction to block up the channel for some time to come. East port had been captured from the Confederates while still building in the Tennessee River following the seizure of Fort Henry more than two years before (see 6 February 1862).
U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C. H. Brown, forced sloop Rosina aground and destroyed her at San Luis Pass, Texas.
16 Secretary Mallory wrote Commander Bulloch in England to have 12 small marine engines and boilers built for torpedo boats (40 to 50 feet in length, 5 to 6 feet beam, and drawing 3 feet of water). Twenty-five miles of "good" insulated wire and the "best" gun cotton to be used for torpedoes were also ordered. Unable to produce elements essential for pursuing the torpedo warfare that had been found so effective, the South looked hopefully to Europe for the materials.
17 Confederate troops launched a sustained attack on Plymouth, North Carolina. Union gunboats moved to support their troops ashore and were promptly taken under fire by the Southern batteries. Next day, the fighting at Plymouth intensified as the Confederates pressed the assault. Union Army steamer Bombshell, commanded temporarily by Acting Ensign Thomas B. Stokes, was sunk during the engagement, but by 9 o'clock in the evening the Southern advance had been halted. Lieutenant Commander Flusser reported: "The Southfield and Miami took part and the general says our firing was admirable." The Southern attack required naval support in order to achieve success, and Flusser added meaningfully: "The ram [Albemarle] will be down to-night or to-morrow.
U.S.S. Owasco, Lieutenant Commander Edmund W. Henry, seized blockade running British schooner Lilly at Velasco, Texas.
18 The following dispatch from Brigadier General John McArthur to Acting Master McElroy, U.S.S. Petrel, exemplified naval support of Army operations and the dependence placed on it. "An expedition under command of Colonel Scofield starts from Haynes' Bluff for Yazoo City tomorrow. . . . marching by land. You will please to move up and cooperate with them, calculating to reach Yazoo City on Thursday night; afterwards patrolling the river sufficiently to keep open communications between that point and this place."
Boats from U.SS Beauregard, Acting Master Edward C. Mealy, seized blockade running British schooner Oramoneta in Matanzas Inlet, Florida, with cargo of salt and percussion caps.
Landing party from U.S.S. Commodore Read, Commander F. A. Parker, destroyed a Confederate base together with a quantity of equipment and supplies at Circus Point on the Rappahannock River, Virginia.
U.S.S. Fox, Acting Master Charles T. Chase, captured and burned schooner Good Hope at the mouth of the Homosassa River, Florida, with cargo of salt and dry goods.
19 C.S.S. Albemarle, Commander Cooke, attacked Union warships off Plymouth, North Carolina, at 3:30 in the morning. The heralded and long awaited ram had departed Hamilton on the eve-ning of the 17th. While en route, a portion of the machinery broke down" and "the rudderhead broke off," but repairs were promptly made; and, despite the navigational hazards of the crooked Roanoke River, Cooke anchored above Plymouth at 10 p.m. on the 18th. Failing to rendezvous with Confederate troops as planned, Cooke dispatched a boat to determine the position of the Union gunboats and shore batteries. Shortly after midnight, 19 April, the party returned and reported that Albemarle could pass over the Union obstructions because of the high stage of the water. Cooke weighed anchor and stood down to engage. Meanwhile, anticipating an attack by the ram, Lieutenant Commander Flusser lashed wooden double-enders U.S.S. Miami and Southfield together for mutual protection and concentration of firepower. As Albemarle appeared, he gallantly headed the two light wooden ships directly at the Southern ram, firing as they approached. Albemarle struck Southfield, Acting Lieutenant Charles A. French, a devastating blow with her ram. It was reported that she "tore a hole clear through to the boiler" and Cooke stated that his ship plunged ten feet into the side of the wooden gunboat. Though backing immediately after the impact, Albemarle could not at once wrench herself free from the sinking Southfield and thus could not reply effectively to the fire poured into her by Miami. At last her prow was freed as Southfield sank, and Cooke forced Flusser's ship to withdraw under a heavy cannonade. Small steamer U.S.S. Ceres and 105-ton tinclad Whitehead moved downriver also. The shot of the Union ships had been ineffective against the heavily plated, sloping sides of the ram.
Early in the engagement, Lieutenant Commander Flusser had been killed. Brigadier General Wessells, commanding Union troops at Plymouth, noted: "In the death of this accomplished sailor the Navy has lost one of its brightest ornaments, and he will be long remembered by those who knew and loved him ...." Major General John J. Peck, commanding the District of North Carolina, called him a ''noble sailor and gallant patriot"; and Rear Admiral Lee wrote: "His patriotic and distinguished services had won for him the respect and esteem of the Navy and the country. He was generous, good, and gallant, and his untimely death is a real and great loss to the public service."
Albemarle now controlled the water approaches to Plymouth and rendered invaluable support to Confederate army moves ashore giving the South a taste of the priceless advantage Union armies enjoyed in all theaters throughout the war. On 20 April Plymouth fell to the Southern attack. General Peck gave testimony to one profound meaning of seapower when he wrote: but for the powerful assistance of the rebel ironclad ram and the floating iron sharpshooter battery the Cotton Plant, Plymouth would still have been in our hands." For the success of Albemarle, the Confederate Congress tendered Commander Cooke a vote of thanks, and Secretary Mallory wrote: "The signal success of this brilliant naval engagement is due to the admirable skill and courage displayed by Commander Cooke, his officers and men, in handling and fighting his ship against a greatly superior force of men and guns." Great hopes were placed in Albemarle as they had been in Virginia (Merrimack) two years earlier.
A "David" torpedo boat commanded by Engineer Tomb, CSN, attempted to sink U.S.S. Wabash, Captain John De Camp, off Charleston. The "David", the same one that had been used in the attack on U.S.S. Memphis on 6 March, was sighted while still 150 yards distant from the blockader. Alertly the large steam frigate slipped her cable and rapidly got under way, pouring a hail of musket fire at the approaching "David". When only 40 yards off, Tomb was turned back by heavy swells that threatened to swamp the boat.
U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C. H. Brown, took blockade running Mexican schooner Alma off the coast of Texas with assorted cargo.
21 Rear Admiral Lee emphasized the urgent need to destroy C.S.S. Albemarle. If the ram could not be disposed of by ship's gunfire, the Admiral suggested that an attempt be made with tor-pedoes. However, Lee wrote Commander Henry K. Davenport, senior officer in the North Carolina sounds: " I propose that two of our vessels should attack the ram, one on each side at close quarters, and drive her roof in. That railroad iron will not stand the concussion of our heavy guns.
Our vessels must maneuver to avoid being rammed, and once close alongside, there will be no danger of firing into each other. . . . I think the ram must be weak, and must fail if attacked on the side." Lieutenant Commander William T. Truxtun, U.S.S. Tacony, wrote Davenport on the same day: "The ironclad, from all accounts, is very much like the first Merrimack, with a very long and very sharp submerged prow. . . . The loss of so good a vessel as the Southfield and so valuable a life as that of the brave Flusser should show the impossibility of contending successfully with a heavy and powerful ironclad with nothing but one or two very vulnerable wooden vessels."
U.S.S. Petrel, Acting Master McElroy, U.S.S. Prairie Bird, Acting Ensign John W. Chambers, and transport Freestone steamed up the Yazoo River to operate with Union troops attacking Yazoo City. Coming abreast the city, Petrel was fired upon by a Confederate battery and sharp shooters. The river was too narrow to come about, so Petrel steamed past the batteries to avoid the direct line of fire. The 170-ton Prairie Bird, however dropped downriver out of range of the bat-teries. McElroy made preparation to join her, but on April 22nd, was again taken under attack by rifle and artillery fire and disabled. McElroy attempted to destroy Petrel to prevent her being taken as a prize, but was captured before he could successfully put his small wooden gunboat to the torch. Reporting the capture, Confederate General Wirt Adams wrote: I removed her fine armament of eight 24-pounder guns and the most valuable stores and had her burned to the water's edge."
Boat crews from U.S.S. Howquah, Fort Jackson, and Niphon, commanded by Acting Lieutenant Joseph B. Breck, destroyed Confederate salt works on Masonboro Sound, North Carolina. The sailors landed under cover of darkness at 9 p.m. without being detected and rapidly demolished the works while taking some 160 prisoners. Breck then returned to the ships, which were stand-ing by to cover the operation with gunfire if necessary. Major General W.H.C. Whiting, CSA, noted that the incident demonstrated the necessity of maintaining a guard to protect "these points", and that henceforth there would be no salt works constructed at Masonboro Inlet. The Union Navy conducted a regular campaign against Southern salt works as the need for salt was critical in the Confederacy.
Boat crews from U.S.S. Ethan Allan, Acting Master Isaac A. Pennell, landed at Cane Patch, near Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina, and destroyed a salt work which Pennell, who led the expedi-tion himself, described as "much more extensive than I expected After mixing most of the 2,000 bushels of salt into the sand of the beach, the Union sailors fired the four salt works as well as some 30 buildings in the surrounding area. The next day, off Wither's Swash, Pennell sent Acting Master William H. Winslow and Acting Ensign James H. Bunting ashore with two boat crews to destroy a smaller salt work.
Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote Secretary Welles suggesting that since "the demands of the public service elsewhere will prevent the detail of more ironclads for service at Charleston, which will necessarily postpone any serious attack on the interior defenses of the harbor," the combined Army and Navy forces should focus their attention and efforts on occupying Long Island and at-tacking Sullivan's Island. The demands elsewhere to which Dahlgren referred were the prepara-tions for the assault on Mobile Bay by Rear Admiral Farragut.
Boat expedition commanded by Acting Master John K. Crosby from U.S.S. Cimarron destroyed a rice mill and 5,000 bushels of rice stored at Winyah Bay, South Carolina. The blockaded South could ill afford to lose such food stuffs.
U.S.S. Eureka, Acting Ensign Isaac Hallock, nearing the shore below Urbanna, Virginia, to cap-ture two small boats, 'was taken under heavy fire by concealed Southern soldiers. The 85-foot, 50-ton steamer, though surprised by the attack, replied immediately and forced the Confederates to withdraw. Commander F. A. Parker, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, remarked: "It was quite a gallant affair and reflects a great deal of credit upon both the officers and men of the Eureka.
U.S.S. Owasco, Lieutenant Commander Henry, seized blockade running British schooner Laura with cargo of guns in the Gulf of Mexico off Velasco, Texas.
Boat expedition under Acting Ensign Christopher Carven, U.S.S. Sagamore, took over 100 bales of cotton and destroyed 300 additional bales near Clay Landing, on the Suwannee River, Florida.
22 C.S.S. Neuse, Lieutenant Benjamin P. Loyall, got underway at Kinston, North Carolina, and began steaming downriver to operate on the State's inland waters. She grounded just below Kinston, however, and could not be gotten off. General Montgomery D. Corse reported: "I fear she will be materially injured if not floated soon. The water has fallen 7 feet in the last four days, and is still falling." The Confederates could not float the ram and nearly a year later she was burned to prevent her capture.
23 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and destroyed ship Rockingham with cargo of guano at sea west of the Cape Verde Islands. Semmes said of the capture: "It was the old spectacle of the panting, breathless fawn, and the inexorable stag-hound. A gun brought his colors to the peak, and his main-yard to the mast. . . . We transferred to the Alabama such stores and pr visions as we could make room for, and the weather being fine, we made a target of the prize, firing some shot and shell into her with good effect and at five p.m. we burned her and filled away on our course." Ominously, during this gunnery practice, many of Alabama's shells failed to explode.
25 Major General W. T. Sherman, in Nashville preparing for his campaign against Atlanta, requested gunboat assistance from Fleet Captain Pennock in Cairo to protect his lines of supply and communication. 'I wish," he wrote, "you would notify Captain Shirk that we will, in May, be actively engaged beyond the Tennessee [River] and I have no doubt the enemy will work up along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and try and cross the Tennessee to attack my lines of com-munication. What we want is the earliest possible notice of such movement sent to Nashville and also keep my headquarters here advised where a gunboat could be found with which to throw men across to the west bank of the Tennessee when necessary. For some time [Major General James B.] McPherson's command will be running up the Tennessee as far as Clifton [Tennessee] which is the shortest line of march to Pulaski and Decatur. Please facilitate this movement all you can. ' Five days later Sherman reiterated his request to Pennock. Knowing that the Missis-sippi Squadron, like squadrons in the Gulf and on the East Coast, suffered from a shortage of men, the General offered to man and equip any gunboats sent to aid him if Rear Admiral Porter could provide the officers. Sherman added: "I want the [Tennessee] River above Mussel Shoals patrolled as soon as possible, as it will set free one garrison." Pennock advised Porter: "I shall use all the means in my power to forward this movement and to meet at the same time the con-stantly occurring emergencies which we shall have as long as rebels remain in western Kentucky and Tennessee."
26 At the request of Brigadier General William Birney, U.S.S. Ottawa, Lieutenant Commander S. Livingston Breese, and a launch from U.S.S. Pawnee under Acting Master John C. Champion convoyed transports Harriet A. Weed and Mary Benton up the St. John's River, Florida, The move was prompted by reports of Confederates operating near Union-held Fort Gates and threatening St. Augustine. Several small craft were destroyed by the joint expedition and one small sloop was captured before the Union force withdrew on the 28th.
U.S.S. Union, Acting Lieutenant Edward Conroy, captured schooner O.K. attempting to run the blockade between Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.
26-27 Attempting to reach Alexandria, Union gunboats under Rear Admiral Porter fought a running engagement with Confederate troops and artillery along the Red River. Wooden gunboats U.S.S. Fort Hindman, Acting Lieutenant John Pearce, U.S.S. Cricket, Acting Master Henry Gorringe, U.S.S. Juliet, Acting Master J. S. Watson, and two pump steamers were attacked by a large force while making final preparations to blow up U.S.S. Eastport (see 15 April). The Confederates charged Cricket in an attempt to carry her by boarding, but were driven back by a heavy volley of grape and canister from the gunboats. Later in the day, near the mouth of the Cane River at Deloach's Bluff, Louisiana, Southern troops, this time with artillery as well as muskets, again struck Porter's ships, wreaking havoc. Cricket, the Admiral's flagship, was hit repeatedly by the batteries, but finally succeeded in rounding a bend in the river downstream and out of range. Pump Steamer Champion No. 3 took a direct hit in her boiler, drifted out of control, and was captured. Juliet's engine was disabled by Confederate shot, but Champion No. 5, though badly hit, succeeded in towing her upstream out of range. Fort Hindman covered the withdrawal of the disabled vessels, and the night of April 26 was spent in making urgent repairs. Confederate Major General Richard Taylor, commanding forces along the river, described his plans as follows: 'My dispositions for the day are to . . . keep up a constant fight with the gunboats, following them with sharpshooters and killing every man who exposes himself." On 27 April the ships made a second attempt to pass the batteries. Fort Hindman took a shot which partially disabled her steering, and she drifted past the Confederate guns. Champion No. 5 was so damaged that she grounded, was abandoned, and burned. Juliet succeeded in getting through, but was severely damaged. Ironclad U.S.S. Neosho, Acting Lieutenant Samuel Howard, attempting to assist the embattled gunboats, arrived after the riddled ships had passed the batteries, having endured what Porter later described as "the heaviest fire I ever witnessed." By day's end on the 27th, Porter had reassembled his squadron at Alexandria and began to plan means to pass the Red River rapids.
27 President Jefferson Davis appointed Jacob Thompson representative of the Confederate States in Canada "to carry out such instructions as . . . received . . . verbally" from the President.
It was from Canada that Thompson sponsored plans to liberate prisoners of war held on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, assisted an expedition to burn steamboats on the inland rivers, coordinated the return of escaped Confederate prisoners through Canada via Halifax to Bermuda, and sought to maintain liaison with the organization known as "Sons of Liberty" in the North which was opposed to continuance of the war.
C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Tycoon at sea east of Salvador, Brazil, with cargo of merchandise, including some valuable clothing. Semmes described the capture: "We now hailed, and ordered him to heave to, whilst we should send aboard of him, hoisting our colors at the same time. . . . The whole thing was done so quietly, that one would have thought it was two friends meeting."
28 Rear Admiral Porter, stranded above the rapids at Alexandria, advised Secretary Welles of the precarious position in which his gunboats found themselves due to the falling water level of the Red River and the withdrawal forced upon Major General Banks: ". . . I find myself blockaded by a fall of 3 feet of water, 3 feet 4 inches being the amount now on the falls; 7 feet being required to get over; no amount of lightening will accomplish the object. . . . In the meantime, the enemy are splitting up into parties of 2,000 and bringing in the artillery . . to blockade points below here. . . . Porter faced the distinct possibility of having to destroy his squadron to prevent its falling into Confederate hands. ". . you may judge of my feelings," he wrote Welles," at having to perform so painful a duty." Only by the most ingenious planning and the strenuous efforts of thousands of soldiers and sailors was such a disaster avoided. The Admiral summed up the results of "this fatal campaign" which "has upset everything" to date: "It has delayed 10,000 troops of General Sherman, on which he depended to open the State of Missis-sippi; it has drawn General Steele from Arkansas and already given the rebels a foothold in that country; it has forced me to withdraw many light-clad vessels from points on the Mississippi to protect this army.
Commander John K. Mitchell, CSN, in charge of the Office of Orders and Detail, wrote: "A deficiency of lieutenants and younger officers continues, owing to the impossibility of obtaining persons suitably qualified. The total number of officers of all grades, commissioned, warranted, and appointed, now in the service amounts to 753, all of whom, except 26, are on duty. The total number of enlisted persons now employed in the Navy within the Confederacy is 3,960, and abroad about 500, making a total of 4,460."
29 Major General Taylor, CSA, seeking to take full advantage of the vulnerable position of Rear Admiral Porter's gunboats above the Alexandria rapids sought "to convert one of the captured transports into a fire ship to burn the fleet now crowded above the upper falls." This date, however, Union Army and Navy commanders accepted a daring plan proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey to raise the water level of the Red River and enable the vessels to pass the treacherous rapids. Bailey's proposal was to construct a large dam of logs and debris across the river to back up water level to a minimum depth of seven feet. The dams would be broken and the ships would ride the crest of the rushing waters to safety. Work on the dam commenced early the next day. Porter later wrote: "This proposition looked like madness, and the best engineers ridiculed it, but Colonel Bailey was so sanguine of success that I requested General Banks to have it done . . . two or three regiments of Maine men were set to work felling trees. . . . every man seemed to be working with a vigor seldom seen equalled. . . . These falls are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks, over which at the present stage of water it seemed to be impossible to make a channel."
An expedition up the Rappahannock River including boats from U.S.S. Yankee, Acting Lieutenant Edward Hooker, and U.S.S. Fuchsia, assisted by U.S.S. Freeborn and Tulip, engaged Confederate cavalry and destroyed a camp under construction at Carter's Creek, Virginia.
U.S.S. Honeysuckle, Acting Ensign Cyrus Sears, captured blockade running schooner Miriam, west of Key West, Florida, with assorted cargo. Seats had boarded Miriam on 28 April, thought her papers in order, and released her. Keeping her under surveillance however, he found that she was not on her predicted course and boarded her again. This time upon inspection of the ship's cargo he discovered mail for the Confederate States and seized the vessel.
30 Secretary Mallory reported on existing Confederate naval strength on the East Coast. In the James River, under Flag Officer French Forrest, eight ships mounting 17 guns were in commission, including school ship Patrick Henry under Commander Robert F. Pinkney on the inland waters of North Carolina there were two commissioned ships mounting 4 guns; and on the Cape Fear River, under Flag Officer William F. Lynch, there were three ships and a floating battery in commission mounting a total of 12 guns.
Reporting to President Davis regarding the operations of the Confederate Navy Department, Secretary Mallory said: "Special attention is called to the necessity of providing for the education and training of officers for the navy, and to the measures adopted by the department upon the subject. Naval education and training lie at the foundation of naval success; and the power that neglects this essential element of strength will, when the battle is fought, find that its ships, however formidable, are but built for a more thoroughly trained and educated enemy. . . . While a liberal education at the ordinary institutions of learning prepares men for useful service not only in the Army, but in most branches of public affairs, special education and training, and such as these institutions cannot afford, are essential to form a naval officer. In recognition of the necessity of this special training, every naval power of the earth has established naval colleges and schools and practice ships, and the radical and recent changes in the chief elements of naval warfare have directed to these establishments marked attention."
Confederate blockade runners Harriet Lane, Alice (also called Matagorda), and Isabel, escaped through the Union squadron blockading Galveston under cover of darkness and rain squalls. U.S.S. Katahdin, Lieutenant Commander J. Irwin, sighted a large steamer passing rapidly inshore near the Southwest Channel at about 9:15 p.m. Since Harriet Lane had been reported as too large to use this channel, Irwin thought the vessel to be another blockade runner and did not fire a gun or send up the agreed upon signal lest he divert the other blockaders from the Main Channel. Harriet Lane passed within 100 yards of Katahdin, but was not seen clearly because of the heavy rain. Irwin gave chase, hoping to cross the path of the steamer to seaward, and in the early morning sighted four ships fleeing from him. Though the Union vessel initially gained on the blockade runners, eventually they pulled away. Katahdin fired all of her Parrott shell at the closest of the steamers without effect. Irwin continued the chase until daylight on 2 May before turning back to rejoin the fleet off Galveston. All of the blockade runners were laden with cotton-Alice threw over some 300 bales to increase her speed during the chase. Harriet Lane had been closely watched in Galveston Harbor by the blockaders, and her escape caused indigna-tion in official Washington.
U.S.S. Conemaugh, Lieutenant Commander James C.P. De Krafft, captured schooner Judson 18 miles east of Mobile with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. Vicksburg, Lieutenant Commander Daniel L. Braine, seized blockade running British schooner Indian at sea east of Charleston. She carried a cargo of only one hogs head of palm oil.