Naval History of the Civil War Decemberr 1862

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Civil War Naval History


DECEMBER 1862

1 In his second annual report, Secretary of the Navy Welles informed President Lincoln: "We have at this time afloat or progressing to rapid completion a naval force consisting of 427 ves-sels . . armed in the aggregate with 1,577 guns, and of the capacity of 240,028 tons . . . The number of persons employed on board our naval vessels, including receiving ships and recruits, is about 28,000; and there are not less than 12,000 mechanics and laborers employed at the different navy yards and naval stations."

Lieutenant Maffitt, commanding C.S.S. Florida, wrote: "As the Alabama and Florida are the only two cruisers we have just now, it would be a perfect absurdity to tilt against their more than three hundred, for the Federals would gladly sacrifice fifty armed ships to extinguish the two Confederates.''

Rear Admiral Du Pont again remarked on the Charleston defenses and his growing forces with which to attack them in a letter to Senator Grimes: ''The rebel defenses of Charleston are still progressing– The English officers who have been in and the blockade runners whom we capture, smile at the idea of its being taken, and say it is stronger than Sebastabol but they said the same of New Orleans. . . lam very glad to learn that John Rodgers and Worden [commander of U.S.S. Monitor during the engagement with C.S.S. Virginia] were with Drayton on his last trial of the Passaic, for the more we learn of the new tools we have to use the better two rams are completed at Charleston to add to the harbor defenses but for the strong force I have off here [Port Royal], I think they would have attempted to raid across the bar."

U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander English, captured blockade running British schooner By George off Indian River, Florida, with cargo including coffee and salt.

U.S.S.Tioga, Commander Clary, captured schooner Nonsuch at Bahama Banks.

2 Confederate steamer Queen of the Bay, Captain H. Willke, CSA, sounding Corpus Christi pass, was chased by boats under Acting Ensign Alfred H. Reynolds and Master's Mate George C. Dolliver from U.S.S. Sachem. Captain Willke ran Queen of the Bay aground on Padre Island, deployed his men, and took Union boats under fire. Reynolds, seriously wounded, was compelled to land on nearby Mustang Island and abandon his boats to the Confederates before retreating overland 30 miles to rejoin Sachem at Aransas Bay, Texas.

3 U.S.S. Cambridge, Commander W. A. Parker, captured schooner J. C. Roker off the coast of North Carolina with cargo of salt.

U.S.S. Daylight, Acting Master Warren, captured British blockade runner Brilliant attempting to run cargo of salt into Wilmington.

U.S.S. Cambridge, Commander W. A. Parker, captured schooner Emma Tuttle off Cape Fear.

4 U.S.S. Anacostia, Coeur de Lion, Currituck, and Jacob Bell, under Acting Master Shankland, engaged by Confederate batteries at Port Royal, Virginia. In the exchange of fire which lasted over an hour, Jacob Bell was damaged.

Rear Admiral Farragut stated: "My people are carrying on the war in various parts of the coast, & it takes all my energies to keep them supplied with provisions and coal. I have a great many irons in the fire and have to look sharp to keep some of them from burning . . . We have either taken or destroyed all the steamers that run from Havanna & Nassau to this coast, except the Cuba and Alice . . . I have all the coast except Mobile Bay, and am ready to take that the moment I can get troops.

5 Boats from U.S.S. Mahaska, Commander F. A. Parker, and U.S.S. General Putnam, under Lieu-tenant Elliot C. V. Blake of Mahaska, captured and destroyed "several fine boats," a schooner and two sloops in branches of Severn River, Maryland, and brought back schooners Seven Brothers and Galena. Although the captain of Galena claimed to be a Union man, Commander Parker reported his belief that the captain was endeavoring "to carry water on both shoulders."

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and released on bond schooner Union off Haiti.

Lieutenant Commander John G. Walker, U.S.S. Baron De KaIb, reported capture of steamer Lottie 30 miles above Memphis.

6 U.S.S. Diana, Acting Master Ezra Goodwin, captured steamers Southern Methodist and Naniope near Vicksburg laden with molasses and sugar.

7 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured California steamer Ariel off the coast of Cuba with 700 passengers on board, including 150 Marines and Commander Louis C. Sartori, USN.

8 President Lincoln sent a recommendation of thanks to the Congress on behalf of Commander Worden for his part as commanding officer of U.S.S. Monitor during her Hampton Roads engage-ment with C.S.S. Virginia.

U.S.S. Daylight, Acting Master Warren, seized sloop Coquette off New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina, with cargo of whiskey, potatoes, apples, and onions,

9 Rear Admiral Bailey, on assuming command of the Eastern Gulf Blockading Squadron, stated: "The outward pressure of our Navy, in barring the enemy's ports, crippling the power, and exhausting the resources of the States in rebellion; in depriving them of a market for their peculiar productions, and of the facilities for importing many vital requisites for the use of their Army and peoples, is slowly, surely, and unostentatiously reducing the rebellion to such straits as must result in their unconditional submission, even though our gallant Army does not achieve another victory."

10 U.S.S. Currituck, Acting Master Thomas J. Linnekin, engaged Confederate battery on Brandywine Hill, Virginia.

U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander English, captured British schooner Alicia attempting to run the blockade out of Indian River, Florida, with cargo of cotton.

U.S.S. Southfield, Lieutenant Charles F. W. Behm, was disabled by a shot through the steam chest off Plymouth, North Carolina, while rendering close fire support to troops under attack by Con-federate forces.

11 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox wrote Rear Admiral D. D. Porter of the readying of ironclads for the fleet and observed: "We shall soon be ready to try the Iron Clads against the few southern Forts yet in the hands of the Rebels."

12 U.S.S. Cairo, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, on an expedition up the Yazoo River to destroy torpedoes, was sunk by one of the infernal machines" and Selfridge reported: "The Cairo sunk in about twelve minutes after the explosion, going totally out of sight, except the top of her chimneys, in 6 fathoms of water." Cairo was the first of some 40 Union vessels to be torpedoed during the war. The torpedo which destroyed Cairo was a large demijohn fired with a friction primer by a trigger line from torpedo pits on the river bank. Rear Admiral D. D. Porter later observed: "It was an accident liable to occur to any gallant officer whose zeal carries him to the post of danger and who is loath to let others do what he thinks he ought to do himself." Despite the loss of Cairo, Porter wrote: "I gave Captain Walke orders to hold Yazoo River at all hazards . . . We may lose three or four vessels, but will succeed in carrying out the plan for the capture of Vicksburg."

12-16 Naval force under Commander Murray including U.S.S. Delaware, Shawsheen, Lockwood, and Seymour with armed transports in the Neuse River supported an Army expedition to destroy railroad bridges and track near Goldsboro, North Carolina; low water prevented the gunboats from advancing more than about 15 miles up the river.

15 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox wrote Rear Admiral S. P. Lee, proposing an assault on Wil-mington: "Though the popular clamor centers upon Charleston I consider Wilmington a more important point in a military and political point of view and I do not conceal from myself that it is more difficult of access on account of the shallowness of the bars, and more easily defended inside by obstructions, yet it must be attacked and we have more force than we shall possess again since the Iron Clads must, go South so soon as four are ready." Nonetheless, Wilmington, guarded by the guns of Fort Fisher, remained a bastion of Confederate strength and one of the few havens for blockade runners until nearly the end of the war.

16 General Banks arrived at New Orleans with additional troops to supersede General Butler and prepare for increased operations on the river.

18 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox wrote: "I believe there is no work shop in the country capable of making steam machinery or iron plates and hulls that is not in full blast with Naval orders. Before another year we shall be prepared to defend ourselves with reasonable hopes of success against a foreign enemy, and in two years we can take the offensive with vessels that will be superior to any England is now building." Because of this extensive building program, by war's end the U.S. Navy was the most powerful force afloat in the world.

19 Rear Admiral Farragut advised Secretary of the Navy Welles that he had recommended "the occupation of Baton Rouge" to General Banks on his arrival. "He ordered his transports to proceed directly to that city.'' Commander James Alden in Richmond with 2 gunboats covered the landing. "Baton Rouge is only 12–15 miles from Port Hudson. I am ready to attack the latter place and support General Banks the moment he desires to move against it.'' The powerful combined operations that were destroying the Confederacy at its heart gathered strength for the crushing attacks of 1863.

20 Rear Admiral D. D. Porter in his flagship U.S.S. Black Hawk joined General William T. Sherman at Helena, Arkansas, and prepared for the joint assault on Vicksburg. The fleet under Admiral Porter's command for the Vicksburg campaign was the largest ever placed under one officer up to that time, equal in number to all the vessels composing the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of war.

22 U.S.S. Huntsville, Acting Lieutenant W. C. Rogers, seized schooner Courier off Tortugas with cargo including salt, coffee, sugar, and dry goods.

Captain Dahlgren, confidant of and advisor to the President, went to the White House at the request of President Lincoln to observe the testing of a new type of gunpowder.

24 U.S.S. New Era, Acting Master Frank W. Flanner, arrived off Columbus, Kentucky, to support the Army, which was threatened with imminent attack by a large Confederate force. New Era had been dispatched to Columbus at the urgent request of General J. M. Tuttle, and brought a much-needed Army howitzer, ammunition, and a Master's Mate to take charge of one of the batteries. Confederate occupation of Columbus would have seriously disrupted the flow of sup-plies to the fleet and Army poised below for the Vicksburg assault.

U.S.S. Charlotte, Acting Master Bruner, captured steamer Bloomer in Choctawhatchee River, Florida.

27 Rear Admiral D. D. Porter received a request from Brigadier General Willis A. Gorman for assistance in the forthcoming campaign in Arkansas. Though his fleet was fully employed," Porter nevertheless ordered U.S.S. Conestoga to begin the requested patrolling action ''between the White and Arkansas rivers as occasion may require. But,'' he added in his instructions to Lieutenant Commander Selfridge, "Arkansas is the main point to look after. We will occupy it soon with troops." Meanwhile, that day Porter's squadron was involved in a heated engage-ment with Confederate batteries on the Yazoo. U.S.S. Benton, Lieutenant Commander Gwin, continuing to carry on the removal of torpedoes after Cairo's destruction a fortnight before, with U.S.S. Cincinnati, Baron de Kalb, Louisville, Lexington, Marmora, and ram Queen of the West in com-pany, returned the fire of the battery's eight heavy guns at Drumgould's Bluff. As Porter "served, "The old war horse, Benton, has been much cut up, and the gallant, noble Gwin, I fear, mortally wounded.'' Nonetheless, Porter was able to report that the Yazoo was cleared of torpedoes to within one-half mile of the battery and to remark "we gave the enemy enough to occupy them to-day, and drew off a large portion of their force." Cooperating fully with the Army during the preparations for renewed engagements along the Mississippi, the Navy con-stantly harassed Confederate forces at Drumgould's Bluff, as well as those at Haynes' Bluff and elsewhere, as the squadron's mobile fire power kept Confederate troops off balance and dispersed.

U.S.S. Magnolia, Acting Master Charles Potter, captured British schooner Carmita northwest of Marquesas Keys, Florida, attempting to run the blockade.

U.S.S. Roebuck, Master John Sherrill, captured British schooner Kate attempting to run into St. Mark's River, Florida, with cargo of salt, coffee, copper, and liquor.

28 U.S.S. Anacostia, Acting Master Nelson Provost, seized schooner Exchange in the Rappahannock River.

28-30 Rear Admiral D. D. Porter's gunboats supported General Sherman's attempt to capture Con-federate- held Chickasaw Bluffs, a vantage point upstream from Vicksburg. "Throughout these operations," Porter wrote, "the Navy did everything that could be done to ensure the success of General Sherman's movement." Though the Navy supplied shore bombardment from the squadron and created diversionary movements, the Union troops, hindered by heavy rains and faced by the timely arrival of Confederate reinforcements, were forced to withdraw.

29 U.S.S. Magnolia, Acting Master Potter, seized blockade running British sloop Flying Fish off Tortugas.

31 U.S.S. Monitor, Commander Bankhead, foundered and was lost off Cape Hatteras en route from Hampton Roads to Beaufort, North Carolina. During the short career of the first Union sea-going ironclad, she had fought C.S.S. Virginia in the historic engagement that ushered in a new era in warfare, had supported General McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, and had effected for all time momentous changes in naval tactics and ship construction.

The Confederate embargo, the capture of New Orleans, and the Union Navy's blockade combined to curtail greatly the export of the South's major product, cotton. Meanwhile, the North's control of the seas, threatened only by a few Confederate commerce raiders granted the Union access to the world markets for the importation of war materials and exportation of produce such as wheat, which was a major factor in deterring European powers from recognizing the Confederacy.