< Civil War Naval History December 1863

Civil War Naval History


December 1863

2 Rear Admiral Porter reported: "In the operations lately carried on up the Tennessee and Cumber-land rivers, the gunboats have been extremely active and have achieved with perfect success all that was desired or required of them. . . . With the help of our barges, General Sherman's troops were all ferried over in an incredibly short time by the gunboats, and he was enabled to bring his formidable corps into action in the late battle of Chattanooga, which has resulted so gloriously for our arms. The Mississippi Squadron continued to patrol the rivers relentlessly, restricting Confederate movements and countering attempts to erect batteries along the banks.

Commodore H. H. Bell, pro tem commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, reported to Secretary Welles the estimated Confederate naval strength at Mobile Bay. C.S.S. Gaines and Mor-gan mounted ten guns; C.S.S. Selma mounted four, as did the nearly completed ironclad C.S.S. Nash-ville. All were sidewheelers. Ironclad rams C.S.S. Baltic, Huntsville, and Tennessee all mounted four guns each. The latter, Admiral Buchanan's flag ship, was said to be "strong and fast." C.S.S. Gunnison was fitted as a torpedo boat carrying 150 pounds of powder and another screw steamer was reported being fitted out, though a fire had destroyed her upper works. In addition to two floating batteries mounting 3 guns each and 10 transport steamers at Mobile Bay, the report noted: "At Selma there is a large vessel building, to be launched in January. There are three large rams building on the Tombigbee River, to be launched during the winter." Rear Admiral Farragut would face four of these ships in Mobile Bay the following year. Lack of machinery, iron, and skilled mechanics prevented the rest from being little more than the phantoms which rumor frequently includes in estimates of enemy strength.

Boat expedition from U.S.S. Restless, Acting Master William R. Browne, reconnoitered Lake Ocala, Florida. Finding salt works in the area, the Union forces destroyed them. "They were in the practice of turning out 130 bushels of salt daily." Rear Admiral Bailey reported. "Besides destroying these boilers, a large quantity of salt was thrown into the lake, 2 large flatboats, and 6 ox carts were demolished, and 17 prisoners were taken. . . . " These destructive raids, destroy-ing machinery, supplies, armament, and equipment, had a telling and lasting effect on the South, already short of all.

3 Rear Admiral Dahlgren issued the following orders to emphasize vigorous enforcement of the blockade and vigilance against Confederate torpedo boats: "Picket duty is to be performed by four monitors, two for each night, one of which is to be well advanced up the harbor, in a position suitable for preventing the entrance or departure of any vessel attempting to pass in or out of Charleston Harbor, and for observing Sumter and Moultrie, or movements in and about them, taking care at the same time not to get aground, and also to change the position when the weather appears to render it unsafe. The second monitor is to keep within proper supporting distance of the first, so as to render aid if needed." The Admiral added: "The general object of the monitors, tugs, and boats on picket is to enforce the blockade rigorously, and to watch and check the movements of the enemy by water whenever it can be done, particularly to detect and destroy the torpedo boats and the picket boats of the rebels."

U.S.S. New London, Lieutenant Commander Weld N. Allen, captured blockade running schooner del Nile near Padre Pass Island, Texas, with cargo including coffee, sugar, and percussion caps.

5 Boat crew under Acting Ensign William B. Arrants from U.S.S. Perry was captured while reconnoitering Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina, to determine if a ship being outfitted there as a blockade runner could be destroyed. Noting that a boat crew from T.A. Ward had been captured in the same area 2 months before, Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote: "These blunders are very annoying, and yet I do not like to discourage enterprise and dash on the part of our officers and men. Better to suffer from the excess than the deficiencies of these qualities."

6 U.S.S. Weehawken, Commander Duncan, sank while tied up to a buoy inside the bar at Charleston harbor. Weehawken had recently taken on an extra load of heavy ammunition which reduced the freeboard forward considerably. In the strong ebb tide, water washed down on an open hawse pipe and a hatch. The pumps were unable to handle the rush of water and Weehawken quickly foundered, drowning some two dozen officers and men.

U.S.S. Violet, Acting Ensign Thomas Stothard, and U.S.S. Aries, Acting Lieutenant Devens, sighted blockade running British steamer Ceres aground and burning at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, North Carolina. During the night, Ceres floated free and, the flames having been extinguished, was seized by Violet.

7 In his third annual report to the President, Secretary Welles wrote: "A blockade commencing at Alexandria, in Virginia, and terminating at the Rio Grande, has been effectively maintained. The extent of this blockade . . . . covers a distance of three thousand five hundred and forty-nine statute miles, with one hundred and eighty-nine harbor or pier openings or indentations, and much of the coast presents a double shore to be guarded . . . a naval force of more than one hundred vessels has been employed in patrolling the rivers, cutting off rebel supplies, and co-operating with the armies. . . . The distance thus traversed and patrolled by the gunboats on the Mississippi and its tributaries is 3,615 miles, and the sounds, bayous, rivers and inlets of the States upon the Atlantic and the Gulf, covering an extent of about 2,000 miles, have also been . . . watched with unceasing vigilance." Welles reported a naval strength of 34,000 sea-men and 588 ships displacing 467,967 tons, mounting 4,443 guns. More than 1,000 ships had been captured by alert blockaders, as the results of weakness at sea were driven home to the beleaguered South. The North's mighty force afloat had severed the Confederacy along the Mississippi and pierced ever deeper into her interior; amphibious assaults from the sea had driven her still further from her coasts; and the vise of the blockade clamped down more tightly on an already withering economy and military capability.

Steamer Chesapeake of the New York and Portland Line, en route to Portland, Maine, was seized off Cape Cod by a group of 17 Confederate sympathizers led by John C. Braine. The bizarre undertaking had been planned at St. John, New Brunswick, by Captain John Parker (whose real name seems to have been Vernon G. Locke), former commander of the Confederate privateer Retribution. Parker ordered Braine and his men to New York where they purchased side arms and boarded Chesapeake as passengers. At the appropriate moment they threw aside their disguises. and after a brief exchange of gunfire in which the second engineer was killed, took possession of the steamer. They intended to make for Wilmington after coaling in Nova Scotia. Captain Parker came on board in the Bay of Fundy and took charge.

News of the capture elicited a quick response in the Navy Department. Ships from Philadelphia northward were ordered out in pursuit. On 17 December U.S.S. Ella and Annie, Acting Lieutenant J. Frederick Nickels, recaptured Chesapeake in Sambro Harbor, Nova Scotia. She was taken to Halifax where the Vice Admiralty Court ultimately restored the steamer to her original American owners. Most of the Confederates escaped and John Braine would again cause the Union much concern before the war ended.

Assistant Secretary Fox transmitted a list of ships reported to be running the blockade and urged Rear Admiral Lee to prosecute the blockade even more vigorously. "While the captures are numerous, it is not the less evident that there are many that escape capture." Some ships would successfully run the blockade until the end of the war.

8 The disabled merchant steamer Henry Von Phul was shelled by a Confederate shore battery near Morganza, Louisiana. U.S.S. Neosho, Acting Ensign Edwin P. Brooks, and U.S.S. Signal, Acting Ensign William P. Lee, steamed up to defend the ship and silenced the battery. Union merchantmen were largely free from such attacks when convoyed by a warship.

9 U.S.S. Circassian, Acting Lieutenant Eaton, seized blockade running British steamer Minna at sea east of Cape Romain, South Carolina. The steamer was carrying cargo including iron, hardware, and powder. In addition, Eaton reported, "she has also as cargo a propellor and shaft and other parts of a marine engine, perhaps intended for some rebel ironclad."

10 Confederate troops burned schooner Josephine Truxillo and barge Stephany on Bayou Lacomb, Louisiana. Next day they burned schooner Sarah Bladen and barge Helana on Bayou Bonfouca.

11 Confederate troops fired on U.S.S. Indianola in the Mississippi in an attempt to destroy her, but the effective counterfire of U.S.S. Carondelet, Acting Maser James C. Gipson, drove them off. The Union Navy was exerting great effort to get Indianola off the bar on which she had sunk in February, and on 23 November Gipson had written Rear Admiral Porter: "I will do all that lies in my power to protect her from destruction."

Major General D. H. Maury, CSA, wrote of reports that had reached him of a Union naval attack on Mobile "at an early day." Maury prophetically stated that "I expect the fleet to succeed in running past the outer forts," but he added, I shall do all I can to prevent it, and to hold the forts as long as possible."

14 General Beauregard ordered Lieutenant Dixon, CSA, to proceed with submarine H. L. Hunley to the mouth of Charleston harbor and "sink and destroy any vessel of the enemy with which he can come in conflict." The General directed that "such assistance- as may he practicable" he rendered to Lieutenant Dixon.

15 Captain Semmes, after cruising for some time in Far Eastern waters, determined to change his area of operations. Leaving the island of Condore in C.S.S Alabama, he wrote: "The homeward trade of the enemy is now quite small, reduced, probably, to twenty or thirty ships per year, and these may easily evade us by taking the different passages to the Indian Ocean. . . . there is no cruising or chasing to be done here, successfully, or with safety to oneself without plenty of coal, and we can only rely upon coaling once in three months. . . . So I will try my luck around the Cape of Good Hope once more, thence to the coast of Brazil, and thence perhaps to Barbados for coal, and thence? If the war be not ended, my ship will need to go into dock to have much of her copper replaced, now nearly destroyed by such constant cruising, and to have her boilers overhauled and repaired, and this can only be properly done in Europe." The cruise of the most famous Confederate commerce raider went into its final 6 months.

Captain Barron advised Secretary Mallory from Paris of the great difficulty encountered in purchasing or seeking to repair Confederate ships in European ports. The "difficulties and expense and some delay," he said, were due to "the spies" of U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams in London. Barron reported that they "are to be found following the footsteps of any Confederate agent in spite of all the precautions we can adopt. . . . The shrewd U.S. diplomat moved time and again to frustrate Southern efforts in Europe.

Admiral Buchanan wrote Commander C. ap R. Jones regarding C.S.S. Tennessee: "The Tennessee will carry a battery of two 7-inch Brooke guns and four broadsides, 6.4 or 9 inch. . . . There is a great scarcity of officers and I know not where I will get them. I have sent the names of 400 men who wish to be transferred from the Army to the Navy, and have received only about twenty. Jones replied, "Strange that the Army disregard the law requiring the transfer of men."

16 In acknowledging resolutions of congratulations and appreciation passed by the Chamber of Commerce of New York for "one of the most celebrated victories of any time" the capture of New Orleans Rear Admiral Farragut wrote: "That we did our duty to the best of our ability, I believe; that a kind Providence smiled upon us and enabled us to overcome obstacles before which the stoutest of our hearts would have otherwise quailed, I am certain."

Thomas Savage, U.S. Consul-General at Havana, reported to Commodore H. H. Bell regarding blockade runners in that port: "A schooner under rebel colors, called Roebuck, 41 tons, with cotton arrived from Mobile yesterday. She left that port, I believe, on the 8th. She is the only vessel that has reached this port from Mobile for a very long time. . . . The famous steamer Alice, which ran the blockade at Mobile successfully so many times, is now on the dry dock here fitting out for another adventure."

U.S.S. Huron, Lieutenant Commander Stevens, captured blockade runner Chatham off Doboy Sound, Georgia, with cargo of cotton, tobacco, and rosin.

U.S.S. Ariel, Acting Master William H. Harrison, captured sloop Magnolia off the west coast of Florida. She was inbound from Havana with cargo of spirits and medicines.

17 Lieutenant Commander Fitch, U.S.S. Moose, reported that he had sent landing parties ashore at Seven Mile Island and Palmyra, Tennessee, where they had destroyed distilleries used by Con-federate guerrilla troops.

U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master Sherrill, seized blockade-running British schooner Ringdove off Indian River, Florida, with cargo including salt, coffee, tea, and whiskey.

19 Expedition under Acting Master W. R. Browne, comprising U.S.S. Restless, Bloomer, and Caroline, proceeded up St. Andrew's Bay, Florida, to continue the destruction of salt works. A landing party went ashore under Bloomer's guns and destroyed those works not already demolished by the Southerners when reports of the naval party were received. Browne was able to report that he had "cleared the three arms of this extensive bay of salt works. . . .Within the past ten days," he added, "290 salt works, 33 covered wagons, 12 flatboats, 2 sloops (3 ton each) 6 ox carts, 4,000 bushels of salt, 268 buildings at the different salt works, 529 iron kettles averaging 150 gallons each, 103 iron boilers for boiling brine [were destroyed], and it is believed that the enemy destroyed as many more to prevent us from doing so."

20 Steamer Antonica ran aground on Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina, attempting to run the blockade. Boat crews from U.S.S. Governor Buckingham, Acting Lieutenant William G. Salton-stall, captured her crew but were unable to get the steamer off. Rear Admiral S. P. Lee noted: She will be a total loss. . . ." Antonica had formerly run the blockade a number of times under British registry and name of Herald, "carrying from 1,000 to 1,200 bales of cotton at a time."

U.S.S. Connecticut, Commander Almy, seized British blockade running schooner Sallie with cargo of salt off Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina.

U.S.S. Fox, Acting Master George Ashbury, captured steamer Powerful at the mouth of Suwannee River, Florida. The steamer had been abandoned by her crew on the approach of the Union ship, and, unable to stop a serious leak, Ashbury ordered the blockade runner destroyed.

21 Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote Secretary Welles that, after 10 days of "wretched" weather at Charleston, a quantity of obstructions had been washed down from the upper harbor by the "wind, rain, and a heavy sea." The Admiral added: "The quantity was very considerable, and besides those made of rope, which were well known to us, there were others of heavy timber, banded together and connected by railroad iron, with very stout links at each end. . . . This is another instance of the secrecy with which the rebels create defenses; for although some of the deserters have occupied positions more or less confidential, not one of them has even hinted at obstructions of this kind, while, on the other hand, the correspondents of our own papers keep the rebels pretty well posted in our affairs.

Admiral Buchanan wrote Commander C. ap R. Jones at the Confederate Naval Gun Foundry and Ordnance Works, Selma, Alabama: "Have you received any orders from Brooke about the guns for the Tennessee? She is all ready for officers, men, and guns, and has been so reported to the Department many weeks since, but none have I received."

22 Captain Semmes of C.S.S. Alabama noted the effect of Confederate commerce raiding on Northern shipping in the Far East: "The enemy's East India and China trade is nearly broken up. Their ships find it impossible to get freights, there being in this port [Singapore] some nineteen sail, almost all of which are laid up for want of employment. . . . the more widely our blows are struck, provided they are struck rapidly, the greater will be the consternation and consequent damage of the enemy.

23 Rear Admiral Farragut advised Secretary Welles from the New York Navy Yard that U.S.S. Hartford, which had served so long and well as his flagship in the Gulf, was again ready for sea save for an unfilled complement. The Admiral, anxious to return to action, suggested that the sailors might be obtained in Boston and other ports.

Rear Admiral Dahlgren ordered retaliatory steps taken against the Confederates operating in the Murrell's Inlet area where two Union boat crews had recently been captured (see 17 October and 5 December). "I desire . . . ." he wrote Captain Green, U.S.S. Canandaigua, "to administer some corrective to the small parties of rebels who infest that vicinity, and shall detail for that purpose the steamers Nipsic, Sanford, Geranium, and Daffodil, also the sailing bark Allen and the schooner Mangham, 100 marines for landing, and four howitzers, two for the boats, two on field carriages, with such boats as may be needed." The force left its anchorage at Morris Island on 29 December.

24 Commander C. ap R. Jones wrote Admiral Buchanan that guns for C.S.S. Tennessee would be sent from the Selma Gun Foundry "as soon as they are ready." Jones added: "We had an accident that might have been very serious. An explosion took place while attempting to cast the bottom section of a gun pit. The foundry took fire, but was promptly extinguished. Fortunately but two of the molds were burned. I had a narrow escape, my hat, coat, and pants were burned. Quite a loss in these times, with our depreciated currency and fixed salaries. As a large casting is never made without my being present, I consider my life in greater danger here than if I were in command of the Tennessee, though I should expect hot work in her occasionally. What chance have I for her?"

U.S.S. Fox, Acting Master Ashbury, seized blockade running British schooner Edward off the mouth of the Suwannee River, Florida, after a two hour chase during which the schooner at-tempted to run down the smaller Union ship. She was carrying a cargo of lead and salt from Havana.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Texan Star in the Strait of Malacca with cargo of rice.

U.S.S. Sunflower, Acting Master Van Sice, captured blockade runner Hancock near the lighthouse at Tampa Bay with cargo including salt and borax.

U.S.S. Antona, Acting Master Zerega, seized blockade running schooner Exchange off Velasco, Texas, with cargo including coffee, nails, shoes, acids, wire, and cotton goods.

25 Confederate batteries on John's Island opened an early morning attack on U.S.S. Marblehead, Lieutenant Commander Meade, near Legareville, South Carolina, in the Stono River. Marblehead sustained some 20 hits as U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Balch, contributed enfilading support, and mortar schooner C.P. Williams, Acting Master Simeon N. Freeman, added her firepower to the bombardment. After more than an hour, the Confederates broke off the engagement and withdrew. Meade later seized two VIII-inch sea coast howitzers.

U.S.S. Daylight, Acting Lieutenant Francis S. Wells, and U.S.S. Howquah, Acting Lieutenant MacDiarmid, transported troops from Beaufort, North Carolina, to Bear Inlet, where the soldiers and sailors were landed without incident under the Daylight's protecting guns. Wells reported: "Four extensive salt works in full operation were found at different points along the coast and near the inlet, which were all thoroughly destroyed.

26 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned ships Sonora and Highlander, both in ballast, at anchor at the western entrance of the Straits of Malacca. "They were monster ships," Semmes wrote, "both of them, being eleven or twelve hundred tons burden." One of the masters told the commerce raider: Well, Captain Semmes, I have been expecting every day for the last three years to fall in with you, and here I am at last. . . . The fact is, I have had constant visions of the Alabama, by night and by day; she has been chasing me in my sleep, and riding me like a night-mare, and now that it is all over, I feel quite relieved."

As the year drew to a close, it became evident that the much-hoped-for European aid, if not actual intervention, on behalf of the Confederacy would not be forthcoming. This was expressed by Henry Hotze, Confederate Commercial Agent in London, in a letter this date to Secretary of State Benjamin: . . . it is absolutely hopeless to expect to receive any really serv-iceable vessels of war from the ports of either England or France, and . . . our expenditure should therefore be confined to more practicable objects and our naval staff be employed in eluding, since we can not break, the blockade."

26-31 U.S.S. Reindeer, Acting Lieutenant Henry A. Glassford, with Army steamer Silver Lake No. 2 in company, reconnoitered the Cumberland River at the request of General Grant. The force moved from Nashville to Carthage without incident but was taken under fire five times on the 29th. The Confederates' positions, Glassford reported, "availed them nothing, however, against the guns of this vessel and those of the Silver Lake No. 2; they were completely shelled out of them. The gunboats continued as far as Creelsboro, Kentucky, before "the river gave unmistakable signs of a fall." The ships subsequently returned to Nashville.

29 Under Captain Green, U.S.S. Nipsic, Sanford, Geranium, Daffodil, and Ethan Allen departed Morris Island for Murrell's Inlet to destroy a schooner readying to run the blockade and disperse Con-federate troops that had been harassing Union gunboats. The force arrived at an anchorage some 15 miles from Murrell's Inlet the following day, rendezvousing with U.S.S George Mangham.

Preparations for landing commenced immediately, but debarkation was delayed by heavy seas. With surprise lost, part of the purpose of the landing was frustrated. However, on 1 January, U.S.S. Nipsic, Commander James H. Spotts, landed sailors and Marines at Murrell's Inlet and succeeded in destroying the blockade runner with cargo of turpentine. The ships then returned to Charleston.

Boat crews from U.S.S. Stars and Stripes, Acting Master Willcomb, destroyed blockade running schooner Caroline Gertrude aground on a bar at the mouth of Ocklockonee River, Florida. At-tempting to salvage the schooner's cargo of cotton, the Union sailors were taken under heavy fire by Confederate cavalry ashore and returned to their ship after setting the blockade runner ablaze.

30 Expedition under command of Acting Ensign Norman McLeod from U.S.S. Pursuit, destroyed two salt works at the head of St. Joseph's Bay, Florida.

31 U.S.S. Kennebec, Lieutenant Commander McCann, captured blockade runner Grey jacket, bound from Mobile to Havana, with cargo of cotton, rosin, and turpentine.

U.S.S. Sciota, Lieutenant Commander Perkins, and U.S.S. Granite City, Acting Master Lamson, with troops embarked, made a reconnaissance from pass Cavallo, Texas, and landed the soldiers on the Gulf shore of Matagorda Peninsula in action continuing through 1 January. While Granite City covered the troops ashore from attacks by Confederate cavalry, Sciota reconnoitered the mouth of the Brazos River. Returning to the landing area, Sciota anchored close to the beach and shelled Confederate positions. Granite City fell down to Pass Cavallo to call up U.S.S. Monogahela, Penobscot, and Estrella to assist. Confederate gunboat John F. Carr closed and fired on the Union troops, "making some very good hits," but was driven ashore by a severe gale and destroyed by fire. The Union troops were withdrawn on board ship. Report-ing on the operation, Lieutenant Colonel Frank S. Hasseltine wrote: "Captain Perkins, of the Sciota, excited my admiration by the daring manner in which he exposed his ship through the night in the surf till it broke all about him, that he might, close to us, lend the moral force of his XI-inch guns and howitzers, and by his gallantry in bringing us off during the gale. To Captain Lamson, of the Granite City, great credit is due for his exertion to retard and drive back the enemy. By the loss he inflicted upon them it is clear but for the heavy sea he would have freed us from any exertion.

Though the war's decisive areas of combat were east of the Mississippi, the attention of the Navy Department continued to be nationwide. Secretary Welles advised Rear Admiral C. H. Bell, commanding the Pacific Squadron, that it would be wise to keep at least one ship constantly on duty in San Francisco in order to give "greater security to that important city. . . . Welles promised to send Bell two additional steamers to augment his squadron.

Secretary Welles noted in his diary: "The year closes more satisfactorily than it commenced. . . The War has been waged with success, although there have been in some instances errors and misfortunes. But the heart of the nation is sounder and its hopes brighter."