< Civil War Naval History May 1861

Civil War Naval History


May 1861

1 U.S.S. Commerce, Lieutenant Crosby, seized steam tug Lioness off mouth of Patapsco River, Maryland.

2 General Winfield Scott wrote to President Lincoln suggesting a cordon capable of enveloping the seceded states and noted that "the transportation of men and all supplies by water is about a fifth of the land cost. besides the immense saving of time." On the next day Scott elaborated further to General George McClellan: "We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such blockade, we propose a
powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points . . . the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan." The heart of the celebrated Anaconda Plan which would strangle the Confederacy on all sides was control of the sea and inland waterways by the Union Navy; the strategy of victory was (a) strengthen the blockade, (b) split the Confederacy along the line of the Mississippi River, and (c) support land operations by amphibious assault, gunfire. and transport.

3 President Lincoln called for "the enlistment, for not less than one nor more than three years, of 18,000 seamen. in addition to the present force. for the naval service of the United States."

President Lincoln's blockade proclamation published in London newspapers.

Captain Du Pont wrote: "I am anxious for the blockade to get established-that will squeeze the South more than anything."

Commander Dahlgren, Commandant Washington Navy Yard, noted: "Besides the Yard, I have to hold the bridge next above, so some howitzers and a guard are there. It is from this direction that the rebels of the eastern shore may come. This Yard is of great importance, not only because of its furnishing the Navy so largely with various stores, but also as a position in the general defences of the city.''

4 U.S.S. Cumberland, Flag Officer Pendergrast, seized schooner Mary and Virginia with cargo of coal, and reported the capture of schooner Theresa C., running the blockade off Fort Monroe, Virginia, with cotton on board.

Steamship Star of the West commissioned as Receiving Ship of Confederate Navy at New Orleans.

5 U.S.S. Valley City, Acting Master John A. J. Brooks, captured schooner J ,O'Neil near Pamlico River, North Carolina, after schooner was run aground by her crew.

6 Confederate Congress passed act recognizing state of war with the United States and authorized the issuing of Letters of Marque to private vessels. President Davis issued instructions to private armed vessels, in which he defined operational limits, directed "strictest regard to the rights of neutral powers." ordered privateers to proceed "With all ... justice and humanity" toward Union vessels and crews, out-lined procedure for bringing in a prize, directed that all property on board neutral ships be exempt from seizure "unless it be contraband," and defined contraband.

7 Union blockading force captured Confederate steamers Dick Keyes and Lewis near Mobile.

U.S.S. Yankee, Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, fired on by Confederate batteries at Gloucester Point, Virginia.

8 Secretary of the Navy Welles informed Gustavus Fox: "You are appointed Chief Clerk of the Navy Department, and I shall be glad to have you enter upon the duties as soon as you conveniently can."

9 U.S.S. Constitution Lieutenant G. W. Rodgers, and U.S. steamer Baltic Lieutenant C.R.P. Rodgers, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with officers and midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy. The Naval Academy remained there for the duration of the war.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Mallory, ordered Commander James D. Bulloch, CSN, to England to purchase ships, guns, and ammunition. In his instructions he said: ". . . provide as one of the conditions of payment for the delivery of the vessels under the British flag at one of our Southern ports, and, secondly, that the bonds of the Confederacy be taken in whole or in part payment. The class of vessel desired for immediate use is that which offers the greatest chances of success against the enemy's commerce . . . as side-wheel steamers can not be made general cruisers, and as from the enemy's force before our forts, our ships must be enabled to keep the sea, and to make extended cruises, propellers fast under both steam and canvas suggest themselves to us with special favor. Large ships are unnecessary for this service; our policy demands that they shall be no larger than may be sufficient to combine the requisite speed and power, a battery of one or two heavy pivot guns and two or more broadside guns, being sufficient against commerce. By getting small ships we can afford a greater number, an important consideration. The character of the coasts and harbors indicate attention to the draft of water of our vessels. Speed in a propeller and the protection of her machinery can not be obtained upon a, very light draft, but they should draw as little water as may be compatible with their efficiency otherwise."

10 Blockade of Charleston initiated by U.S.S. Niagara, Captain William W. McKean.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Mallory farsightedly wrote the Committee on Naval Affairs of Congress regarding proposals for new warships: "I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity. Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States, prevent all blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire Navy. If to cope with them upon the sea we follow their example and build wooden ships, we shall have to construct several at one time; for one or two ships would fall an easy prey to their comparatively numerous steam frigates. But inequality of numbers may be compensated by invulnerability; and thus not only does economy but naval success dictate the wisdom and expediency of fighting with iron against wood, without regard to first cost. Naval engagements between wooden frigates, as they are now built and armed, will prove to be the forlorn hopes of the sea, simply contests in which the question, not of victory, but of who shall go to the bottom first, is to be solved."

Secret Act of Confederate Congress, signed by President Davis, authorized "the Navy Department to send an agent abroad to purchase six steam propellers, in addition to those heretofore authorized, together with rifled cannon, small arms, and other ordnance stores and munitions of war," and appropriated a million dollars for the purpose.

11 U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Rowan, ordered by Commander Dahlgren to proceed from Washington Navy Yard to Alexandria, Virginia, to protect vessels in the vicinity from attack by Confederate forces.

12 U.S.S. Niagara, Captain McKean, captured blockade runner General Parkhill, en route Liverpool to Charleston.

13 Queen Victoria proclaimed British neutrality and forbade British subjects to endeavor to break a blockade "lawfully and effectually established."

14 U.S.S. Minnesota, Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, captured schooners Mary Willis, Delaware Farmer, and Emily Ann at Hampton Roads laden with tobacco for Baltimore. Argo, bound for Bremen from Richmond, captured on same date.
15 Secretary of the Navy Welles appointed Lieutenant Thomas M. Brasher to command U.S.S. Bainbridge and ordered him to proceed to Aspinwall, New Granada (Panama), to protect California steamers against "vessels sailing under pretended letters of marque issued by the insurrectionary States." California steamers transported large quantities of gold from Aspinwall to New York. Confederate ships were constantly on the alert for these vessels as the blockade tightened and the need for specie became increasingly desperate.

16 Commander John Rodgers ordered to report to the War Department to establish naval forces on the western rivers under the command of General John C. Fremont. The importance of controlling the Mississippi and its tributaries which pierced the interior in every direction was recognized immediately by the U.S. Government. This control was not only militarily strategic but was a vital factor in keeping the northwestern states in the Union. Under Rodgers, three river steamers were purchased at Cincinnati. Rodgers, overcoming no little difficulty in obtaining and training crews, getting guns and other equipment, converted the steamers to gunboats Tyler, Lexington, and Conestoga. These three gunboats, as stated by Alfred Thayer Mahan, were of inestimable service in keeping alive the attachment to the Union where it existed."

17 U.S.S. Minnesota, Flag Officer Stringham, captured bark Star en route Richmond to Bremen.

18 Confederate schooner Savannah, Captain Thomas H. Baker, was commissioned by President Davis as "a private armed vessel in the service of the Confederate States on the high seas against the United States of America, their ships, vessels, goods, and effects, and those of their citizens during the pendency of the war now existing between the said Confederate States and the said United States."

Commander Dahlgren suggested a plan for the erection of batteries on commanding points along the Potomac, and "the placing of vessels of some force at two or three intervals from the kettle bottoms to the Yard [Washington] near suspected positions, with communications kept up by some fast and light steamers.

19 U.S.S. Monticello, Captain Henry Eagle, and U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Commander Ward, engaged Confederate battery at Sewell's Point, Virginia.

C.S.S. Lady Davis. Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot, captured American ship A. B. Thompson off Charleston.

20 U.S.S. Crusader, Lieutenant T. A. Craven. captured Neptune near Fort Taylor, Florida.

21 U.S.S. Constellation, the oldest United States' warship afloat, Captain John S. Nicholas, captured slave brig Triton at mouth of the Congo River, Africa.

U.S.S. Pocahontas, Commander John P. Gillis, seized steamboat James Guy off Machodoc Creek, Virginia.

The Confederate government guaranteed right of patent for any invention beneficial to the war effort, reserving for the government the right to use it, and provided that, in addition to bounties otherwise provided, the government "will pay to any private armed vessel commissioned under said act 20 per centum on the value of each and every vessel of war belonging to the enemy that may be sunk or destroyed."

John A. Stevenson of New Orleans discussed with Secretary of the Navy Mallory a "plan by which the enemy's blockading navy might be driven from our coasts," and wrote President Davis, "We have no time, place, or means, to build an effective navy. Our ports are, or soon will be, all blockaded. On land we do not fear Lincoln, but what shall we do to cripple him at sea? In this emergency, and seeing that he is arming many poorly adapted vessels, I have two months past been entirely engaged in perfecting plans by which I could so alter and adapt some of our heavy and powerful tow-boats on the Mississippi as to make them comparatively safe against the heaviest guns afloat, and by preparing their bow in a peculiar manner, as my plans and model will show, render them capable of sinking by collision the heaviest vessels ever built - .

23 U.S.S. Mississippi. Flag Officer William Mervine, was compelled to put back into Boston for repairs because of sabotage damage to her condensers.

24 Commander Rowan, commanding U.S.S. Pawnee, demanded surrender of Alexandria, Virginia; amphibious expedition departed Washington Navy Yard, after embarking secretly at night under Commander Dahlgren's supervision, and occupied Alexandria. Admiral D. D. Porter later noted of this event: "The first landing of Northern troops upon the Virginia shores was under cover of these improvised gunboats [U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Anacostia, and Resolute at Alexandria . . . Alexandria was evacuated by the Confederates upon demand of a naval officer-Commander S. C. Rowan . . . and . . the American flag was hoisted on the Custom House and other prominent places by the officer in charge of a landing party of sailors-Lieutenant R. B. Lowry. This . . . gave indication of the feelings of the Navy, and how ready was the service to put down secession on the first opportunity offered."

Confederate States Marshal at New Orleans seized all ships from Northern states which had arrived after 6 May 1861.

25 Commander Dahlgren, Commandant Washington Navy Yard, reported capture of streamer Thomas Colyer by U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Rowan, at Alexandria.

U.S.S. Minnesota, Flag Officer Stringham, seized bark Winfred near Hampton Roads.

26 U.S.S. Brooklyn, Commander Charles H. Poor, set blockade of New Orleans and mouth of Mississippi River.

U.S.S. Powhatan, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, set blockade at Mobile.

2 U.S.S. Union. Commander John R. Goldsborough, initiated blockade of Savannah.

29 Confederate privateer J. C. Calhoun captured American brig Panama, which she took to New Orleans with two earlier prizes. American schooners Mermaid and John Adams.

U.S.S. Powhatan, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, captured schooner Mary Clinton attempting to run the blockade near Southwest Pass, Mississippi River.

29-1 June Potomac Flotilla, consisting of U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Commander Ward. U.S.S. Anacostia, Lieutenant Napoleon Collins, and U.S.S. Resolute, Acting Master William Budd, engaged Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek, Virginia. Flotilla joined by U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Rowan, evening of 31 May.

30 U.S.S. Merrimack, scuttled and burned at Norfolk Navy Yard, raised by Confederates.

U.S.S. Quaker City, Acting Master S. W. Mather, seized schooner Lynchburg, on route Richmond with cargo of coffee.

31 U.S.S. Perry, Lieutenant Enoch G. Parrott, captured Confederate blockade runner Hannah M. Johnson.