Naval History of the Civil War April 1861

 

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Civil War Naval History

 

April 1861

2 President Lincoln visited the Washington Navy Yard. The President returned frequently to confer with Commander Dahlgren on the defense of the Capital and the far reaching strategy of sea power in general.

3 Confederate battery at Morris Island, Charleston, fired on American schooner Rhoda H. Shannon. 4 President Lincoln gave final approval to Gustavus Fox's plan to relieve Fort Sumter by sea.

5 U.S.S. Powhatan, Pawnee, Pocahontas, and Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane were ordered by Secretary of the Navy Welles to provision Fort Sumter; squadron commander was Captain Samuel Mercer in Powhatan.

6 Lieutenant David Dixon Porter, ordered to take command of U.S.S. Powhatan by President Lincoln and to reinforce Fort Pickens, Pensacola, instead of Fort Sumter, departed New York. The following day Lieutenant John L. Worden, USN, departed Washington, D.C., by rail with orders to Captain Henry
A. Adams, commanding U.S.S. Sabine and senior officer present in the Pensacola area, to reinforce Fort Pickens.

8 Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane, Captain John Faunce, USRM, departed New York
for relief of Fort Sumter.

9 Gustavus V. Fox sailed from New York in chartered steamer Baltic for the relief of Fort Sumter.

10 U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Stephen C. Rowan, departed Hampton Roads for relief of Fort Sumter.

General P. G. T. Beauregard, CSA, commanding at Charleston, was instructed to demand evacuation of Fort Sumter and, if refused, to "proceed, in such manner as you may determine, to reduce it."

Secretary of the Navy Welles alerted Captain Charles S. McCauley, Commandant Norfolk Navy Yard, to condition U.S.S. Merrimack for a move to a Northern yard should it become necessary. At the same time Welles cautioned McCauley that, "There should be no steps taken to give needless alarm."

11 Commander James Alden was ordered to report to Captain McCauley to take command of Merrimack. The following day Chief Engineer Benjamin Isherwood was sent to Norfolk to put the ship's engines in working order as soon as possible.

General Beauregard's demand for evacuation of Fort Sumter refused by Major Anderson.

U.S. steamship Coatzacoalcos arrived in New York, returning Union troops from Texas.

12 Fort Sumter fired on by Confederate batteries-the conflict begins.

U.S. steamship Baltic, under Gustavus Fox, U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Rowan, and Harriet Lane, Captain Faunce, USRM, arrived off Charleston to reinforce Fort Sumter. But, as Fox observed, "war had commenced" and he was unable to carry out his mission.

Under secret orders from Secretary of the Navy Welles carried by Lieutenant Worden, Fort Pickens was reinforced by landing of troops under Captain Israel Vogdes, 1st U.S. Artillery, and Marines under First Lieutenant John C. Cash, from the squadron composed of U.S.S. Sabine, Captain H. A. Adams, Senior Officer Present, U.S.S. Brooklyn, Captain W. S. Walker, U.S.S. St. Louis, Commander Charles H. Poor, and U.S.S. Wyandotte, Lieutenant J. R. Madison Mullany.

13 Fort Sumter surrendered by Major Anderson. Troops were evacuated the next day by Fox's expedition. U.S.S. Sabine, Captain Adams, blockaded Pensacola Harbor.

Lieutenant Worden was seized near Montgomery, Alabama, and placed in prison, but his Pensacola mission had been accomplished.

14 Captain Du Pont wrote: "I hope those Southern gentlemen will declare war, for that will stop the shilly shallying, unite the North if it be not so already, and the line will have to be drawn by the strategic points involved, which for the defense of the Capital includes Maryland."

15 Seventeen vessels from Southern ports without U.S. clearances were seized at New York.

16 Secretary of the Navy Welles wrote Flag Officer Garrett J. Pendergrast, commanding U.S.S. Cumberland at Norfolk: "Until further orders the departure of the Cumberland to Vera Cruz will be deferred. In the meantime you will lend your assistance, and that of your command, towards putting the vessels now in the Yard in condition to be moved, placing the ordnance and ordnance stores on board for moving, and, in case of invasion, insurrection, or violence of any kind, to suppress it, repelling assault by force, if necessary."

17 U.S.S. Powhatan, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, arrived off Pensacola. Under her protecting guns, 600 troops on board steamer Atlantic were landed at Fort Pickens to complete its reinforcement. President Lincoln had stated "I want that fort saved at all hazards." The President's wish was fulfilled, and use of the best harbor on the Gulf was denied the Confederacy for the entire war, while serving the Union indispensably in the blockade and the series of devastating assaults from the sea that divided and destroyed the South.

Jefferson Davis' proclamation invited all interested in "service in private armed vessels on the high seas" to apply for Letters of Marque and Reprisal.

Confederates placed obstacles in the channel at Norfolk, attempting to prevent the sailing of U.S. naval vessels. The subsequent passage of the obstructions by Pawnee and Cumberland proved the effort ineffective.

18 U.S.S. Merrimack was reported ready for sea at Norfolk by Chief Engineer Isherwood.

Secretary of the Navy Welles wrote Captain Hiram Paulding: "You are directed to proceed forthwith to Norfolk and take command of all the naval forces there afloat On no account should the arms
and munitions be permitted to fall into the hands of insurrectionists, or those who would wrest them from the custody of the government; and should it finally become necessary, you will, in order to prevent that result, destroy the property."

U.S. schooner Buchanan (lighthouse tender), Master Thomas Cullen, was seized and taken to Richmond, Virginia.

19 President Lincoln issued proclamation declaring blockade of Southern ports from South Carolina to Texas Of the blockade Admiral David Dixon Potter was to later write: "So efficiently was the blockade maintained and so greatly was it strengthened from time to time, that foreign statesmen, who at the beginning of the war, did not hesitate to pronounce the blockade of nearly three thousand miles of coast a moral impossibility, twelve months after its establishment were forced to admit that the proofs of its efficiency were so comprehensive and conclusive that no objections to it could be made."

Washington having been cut off by rail from the North, Captain Du Pont and others embarked troops at Philadelphia and head of the Chesapeake Bay to proceed to the relief of the Capital. Steamer Boston departed Philadelphia with New York Seventh Regiment on board, and ferryboat Maryland embarked General Benjamin F. Butler's Massachusetts Eighth Regiment at Perryville for Annapolis.

U.S. steamer Star of the West was seized by Confederates at lndianola, Texas.

Captain David Glasgow Farragut, though born in the South and with a southern wife, chose to remain loyal to the Union and left his home in Norfolk, Virginia, to take up residence in New York City.

20 Norfolk Navy Yard partially destroyed to prevent Yard facilities from falling into Confederate hands and abandoned by Union forces. U.S. S. Pennsylvania, Germantown', Raritan. Columbia, and Dolphin were burned to water's edge. U.S.S. Delaware, Columbus, Plymouth, and Merrimack (later C.S.S. Virginia)
were burned and sunk. Old frigate U.S.S. United States was abandoned. U.S.S. Pawnee, Commodore Paulding, and tug Yankee. towing U.S.S. Cumberland, escaped; Pawnee returned to Washington to augment small defenses at the Capital. This major Yard was of prime importance to the South. The Confederacy had limited industrial capacity, and possession of the Norfolk Yard provided her with guns and other ordnance materiel, and, equally as important, gave her a drydock and an industrial plant in which to manufacture crucially needed items. In large measure, guns for the batteries and fortifications erected by the Confederates on the Atlantic coast and rivers during 1861 came from the Norfolk Yard.

U.S.S. Constitution, Lieutenant George Rodgers, moored in Severn River off Annapolis, was towed into Chesapeake Bay by steamer Maryland with General Butler's troops on board. This action, preceded by resolute measures by Naval Academy staff and midshipmen. prevented Confederates from seizing historic "Old Ironsides."

U.S. S. Anacostia, Lieutenant Thomas S. Fillebrown, was ordered to patrol off Kettle Bottom Shoals, Virginia, to prevent the obstruction 'of the channel at that point; the crew was augmented by 20 Marines from the Washington Navy Yard

Cornelius Vanderbilt offered the government the fast steamer Vanderbilt. Eventually the Navy acquired many private ships by charter or purchase to strengthen its blockade fleets.

U.S. coast survey schooner Twilight, Andrew C. Mitchell, was seized at Aransas, Texas.

21 Colonel Charles F. Smith. USA, reported to Secretary of the Navy Welles he had seized and placed under guard steamers Baltimore, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia. and Powhatan near Washington, D.C. Steamers plied between Aquia Creek and Washington; these were ordered to be outfitted at Washington Navy Yard for defense of the Capital. Aquia Creek, terminal point of railroad connection with Richmond, was the first location on the Potomac where Confederate naval officers erected batteries.

U.S.S. Saratoga, Commander Alfred Taylor, captured slave shipNightingale with 961 slaves on board.

Secretary of the Navy Welles instructed Captain Du Pont, Commandant Philadelphia Navy Yard, to procure five staunch steamers from ten to twelve feet draught, having particular reference to strength and speed and capable of carrying a nine-inch pivot gun or coast service." Similar orders were sent to Commandants of the Navy Yards in New York and Boston.

22 Captain Franklin Buchanan, Commandant Washington Navy Yard, submitted his resignation and was relieved by Commander John A. Dahlgren; Buchanan joined the Confederate Navy and was promoted to Admiral, CSN. on 26 August 1862. Dahlgren spurred the buildup of Union ordnance and operation of ships for the defense of Washington and Potomac River. Of the ships (primarily chartered commercial steamers) assigned to Dahlgren's command at the Navy Yard, Secretary of the Navy Welles reported: "For several months the navy, without aid, succeeded, more effectually than could have been expected. in keeping open for commercial purposes, and restricting. to a great extent, communication between the opposite shores [Potomac]."

Steamer Boston arrived at Annapolis with New York 7th Regiment on board, found Maryland aground after towing U.S.S. Constitution into Chesapeake Bay, and got her off, troops from both ships disembarking. This timely arrival by water transport, recommended by Captain Do Pont at Philadelphia, was instrumental in defending Washington against possible Confederate seizure, and significant in keeping Maryland in the Union. In the following days Butler's troops repaired the railroad and opened communications with Washington, which had been severed since the 19 April Baltimore riots. Commander James H. Ward of U.S.S. North Carolina proposed to Secretary of the Navy Welles the organization of a "flying flotilla" of ships for service in Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The proposal was approved, ships purchased and fitted out in New York, and on 20 May 1861, U.S.S. Freeborn, with two small craft in tow, Commander Ward in command, arrived at Washington Navy Yard.

Secretary of the Navy Welles ordered Commander William W. Hunter to move Receiving Ship Allegheny at Baltimore to Fort McHenry because of strong secessionist activity in the city.

23 U.S.S. Pawnee reached Washington where Commodore Paulding reported to the Navy Department on the loss of the Norfolk Navy Yard. Pawnee's arrival strengthened the Capital's defenses at a critical juncture.

24 U.S.S. Cumberland, Flag Officer Pendergrast, captured Confederate tug Young America and schooner George M. Smith with cargo of arms and ammunition in Hampton Roads.

U.S.S. Constitution, Lieutenant G. W. Rodgers, departed with midshipmen on board for New York and Newport, Rhode Island, under tow of U.S.S. R. R. Curler with Harriet Lane in company. to transfer U.S. Naval Academy.

26 U.S.S. Commerce. Lieutenant Peirce Crosby, captured steamer Lancaster at Havre de Grace, Maryland. He also pursued a steam tug "in obedience to the written orders that I had received from you [Commander Charles Steedman] to seize all tugs south of Havre de Grace," but could not catch her.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Mallory reported: "I propose to adopt a class of vessels hitherto unknown to naval services. The perfection of a warship would doubtless be a combination of the greatest known ocean speed with the greatest known floating battery and power of resistance . . . agents of the department have thus far purchased but two [steam vessels], which combine the requisite qualities. These, the Sumter and MacRae, are being fitted as cruisers . . . Vessels of this character and capacity cannot be found in this country, and must be constructed or purchased abroad." Mallory discussed naval ordnance: "Rifled cannon having attained a range and accuracy beyond any other form of ordnance . . . I propose to introduce them into the Navy . . . Small propeller ships, with great speed, lightly armed with these guns. must soon become as the light artillery and rifles of the deep, a most destructive element of naval warfare."

27 President Lincoln extended the blockade to ports of Virginia and North Carolina.

Secretary of the Navy Welles issued order for Union ships to seize Confederate privateers upon the high seas.

Steamer Helmick, loaded with powder and munitions of war for the Confederacy, was seized at Cairo, Illinois.

29 U.S.S. United States ordered commisioned as the first ship in the Virginia navy by Major General Robert E. Lee, Commander in Chief Military Forces of Virginia.

30 Flag Officer Pendergrast issued notice of the blockade of Virginia and North
Carolina.