Civil War Naval History
JANUARY 1 Confederate warships under Major Leon Smith, CSA, defeated Union blockading forces at Gal-veston in a fierce surprise attack combined with an assault ashore by Confederate troops that resulted in the capture of the Northern Army company stationed there. Smith's flotilla included the improvised cotton-clad gunboats C.S.S. Bayou City and Neptune, with Army sharpshooting boarding parties embarked, and tenders John F. Carr and Lucy Gwin. The Union squadron under Commander William B. Renshaw, U.S.S. Harriet Lane, Owasco, Corypheus, Sachem, Clifton, and Westfield, was caught off guard. Despite the surprise, Harriet Lane, Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright, put up a gallant fight. She rammed Bayou City, but without much damage. In turn she was rammed by Neptune, which was so damaged by the resulting impact and a shot from Harriet Lane taken at the waterline that she sank in 8 feet of water. Bayou City, meanwhile, turned and rammed Harriet Lane so heavily that the two ships could not be separated. The troops from the cotton-clad clambered over the bulwarks to board Harriet Lane. Commander Wainwright was killed in the wild hand-to-hand combat and his ship was captured.
In the meantime, Westfield, Commander Renshaw, had run aground in Bolivar Channel prior to the action, could not be gotten off, and was destroyed to prevent her capture. Renshaw and a boat crew were killed when Westfield blew up prematurely. The small ships comprising the remainder of the blockading force ran through heavy Confederate fire from ashore and stood out to sea. Surprise and boldness in execution, as often in the long history of warfare, had won another victory. The tribute paid by Major General John Bankhead Magruder, CSA, was well deserved. "The alacrity with which officers and men, all of them totally unacquainted with this novel kind of service, some of whom had never seen a ship before, volunteered for an enterprise so extraordinarily and apparently desperate in its character, and the bold and dashing manner in which the plan was executed, are certainly deserving of the highest praise."
The extensive use of Confederate torpedoes in the western waters required similar ingenuity on the part of Union forces to cope with them. Colonel Charles R. Ellet proposed a plan to clear the Yazoo of torpedoes, to enable the gunboats to operate more freely. He wrote: "My plan was to attach to the bow of a swift and powerful steamboat [Lioness was chosen] a strong frame-work, consisting of two heavy spars, 65 feet in length, firmly secured by transverse and diagonal braces and extending 50 feet forward of the steamer's bow. A crosspiece 35 feet in length, was to be bolted to the forward extremities of these spars. Through each end of this crosspiece and through the center a heavy iron rod, 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 10 feet long, descended into the river, terminating in a hook. An intermediate hook was attached to each bar 3 feet from the bottom. The three bars were strengthened by a light piece of timber halfway down, through which they were passed and bolted. . . . The torpedoes are sunk in the water, but the cords by which they are fired are attached to buoys floating on the surface. My belief was that the curved hooks of the rake would catch these cords, and, driven by the powerful boat, would either explode the torpedoes or tear them to pieces and break the ropes, thus rendering them harmless to suc-ceeding vessels.'' In fundamental principle, the method compares with the sweeping of mines in World War II and Korea.
JANUARY 3 U.S.S. Currituck, Acting Master Thomas J. Linnekin, captured sloop Potter between the mouths of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.
Confederate commerce raiding schooner Retribution, Master Thomas B. Power, chased merchant ships Gilmore Meredith and Westward back into the harbor at Havana.
JANUARY 4 A joint Army-Navy expedition under Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Major General W. T. Sherman got underway up the White River, Arkansas, aiming at the capture of Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. Hindman, described by Porter as a "tough little nut," mounted 11 guns. With a small coal supply available, Porter had the gunboats towed upriver by Army transports to conserve his fuel as much as possible. The gunboats included U.S.S. Baron de Kalb, Louisville, Cincinnati, Signal, Marmora, Lexington, New Era, Romeo, Rattler, Glide, and flagship Black Hawk. This date Porter also ordered ram Monarch to join him at the mouth of the Arkansas River.
Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont wrote Charles Henry Davis regarding the Confederate defenses of Charleston: ''The work on the defenses of Charleston has never ceased since the fall of Sumter, some 20 long months under successive generals; and the man who commenced it [General Beaure-gard] is now giving the closing touches and I believe he has exhausted his science and applied every conceivable means. He is fully confident that he can successfully defend the harbor, and the British officers who go in, and the blockade runners whom we catch smile at the idea of its being taken, representing it stronger than Sebastopol. A deserter from Morris Island confirms the above feeling of confidence, and says they expect to sink every gunboat as fast as they approach."
Referring to the proposed Union attack on Charleston, Du Pont said "I have always been of the opinion that it should be a joint operation, carefully devised-and I trust that I am not insensible to the honor of a naval capture-Though I am infinitely more alive to the absolute necessity of success than any special glory to our arm of service, or of personal distinction to myself. We cannot afford a failure in this crisis, political as well as military through which we are now passing-the more so, that desirable as the taking of Charleston is, the contest will still go on, until the rebel armies are broken and dispersed."
Major General Ulysses S. Grant wired Commander Alexander M. Pennock at Cairo, asking for gunboat support as Confederate troops began renewed attempts to regain positions in Tennessee: "Some light-draft gunboats now in Tennessee would be of great value. Forrest has got to the east bank, but there are strong signs of his recrossing in the vicinity of Savannah [Tennessee]. Can any be sent?" Though hampered by low water on the rivers, Pennock had foreseen the possible Southern action; he replied: "Have already ordered all available boats to ascend [the] Tennessee with the rise."
This date, Pennock received word from Army headquarters at Evansville, Indiana, that 14 steamers had departed for Nashville with essential supplies and would need convoy service from Smithland, Kentucky. The fleet captain at Cairo wired back: "Two gunboats have been waiting since yesterday at Smithland. Commanding naval officer will make such arrangements as he deems proper on arrival of the fleet at Smithland." Control over the inland waterways by the Union Navy assured the Army of continuous logistic and convoy support. As on the railroads, troops and supplies moved freely on the rivers. In addition, the powerful armament of the gun-boats swept aside opposition.
U.S.S. Quaker City, Commander James M. Frailey, captured sloop Mercury off Charleston with important Confederate dispatches on board. Rear Admiral Du Pont described "the most impor-tant of all" as a letter bearing on the ironclads building in England which urged "the absolute importance of hastening them forward as the only thing that offers succor and relief . . . We want succor or we must die."
JANUARY 5 Boat crews from U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander Earl English, seized blockade running British sloop Avenger in Jupiter Inlet, Florida, with cargo of coffee, gin, salt, and baled goods.
JANUARY 6 Confederate troops captured and burned steamboat Jacob Musselman near Memphis. The com-mander of the Confederate company, Captain James H. McGehee, was acting under orders to reconnoiter the area, "burning cotton in that country and annoying the enemy on the Mississippi River" wherever possible. Attacks such as this emphasized the Union's reliance on naval control of the waterways to transport and convoy troops and supplies in areas already dominated by the North. Had this force afloat been weaker, the Confederacy might well have re-established vital positions in the west and elsewhere.
Assistant Adjutant General John A. Rawlins, writing from Holly Springs, Mississippi, informed Colonel William W. Lowe, commanding at Fort Henry, of a reported large number of "flat boats and other craft for crossing the Tennessee. You will therefore please request the gunboats, which are reported to be up the river, to use every means for their destruction, that the enemy may be prevented from crossing into West Tennessee and Kentucky. They should proceed up the river as far as the water will permit." The gunboats had constant work to do on the upper waters as well as near Vicksburg.
U.S.S. Pocahontas, Lieutenant Commander William M. Gamble, captured blockade runner Antona off Cape San Blas, Florida.
JANUARY 7 Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory wrote Commander James D. Bulloch in Liverpool regarding urgently needed ships to be built in England: ". . . Push these ships ahead as rapidly as possible. Our difficulty lies in providing you with funds, but you may rely upon receiving cotton certificates sooner or later. You speak of having under consideration plans of armored ships of about 2300 tons and to draw 14 feet, and of certain parties who are willing to build without cash advances, and to deliver the ships armed and equipped, beyond British juris-diction. Close with this proposition at once by all means, and give any reasonable bonus after agreeing upon the times of such delivery, for earlier delivery, together with a bonus for extra speed. . . . I am convinced that every ship may and should be used as a ram when opportunities are presented. . . Our river high-pressure boats, carrying their boilers on deck, frequently run against a sand bar or a snag, going at great speed, and bring all up standing, without deranging their boilers or engines in the least. The contact of the Virginia with the Cumberland was not felt on board the former, and the moving vessel that runs squarely into a stationary one rarely receives injury.''
JANUARY 7-9 Joint Army-Navy expedition up the Pamunkey River destroyed boats, barges and stores at West Point and White House, Virginia. U.S.S. Mahaska and Commodore Morris, under Commander Foxhall A. Parker, supported the Army movement and convoyed transport May Queen. Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee reported: "A more extensive enterprise was projected, but want of water at the obstructions prevented its full success; as a reconnaissance it is valuable.'' Major General Erasmus D. Keyes felt that ''the success of the land part of the expedition was largely indebted to Captain Parker's admirable management of his vessels. On this and many other occasions I have noticed the zeal and good judgment of that naval officer."
JANUARY 8 General Grant wired Commander Pennock in Cairo:" Can I have gunboats at Memphis to convoy reinforcements to Vicksburg? I will want them by the eleventh." The fleet captain, facing problems that had beset the gunboats since the squadron's inception, replied: 'Will send one light-draft gunboat, bullet-proof, one-fourth manned. I can do no more. Can't you place under the command of her captain soldiers enough to work her guns?" The next day, 9 January, Grant. and Pennock again exchanged telegrams relative to the Army's need for gunboats. "There is no gunboat in Tennessee River above Fort Henry," the General wired Cairo. ''There is 10 feet water and rising." Pennock reported: "Two [gunboats] have orders to ascend Tennessee with rise."
U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander English, seized blockade running British sloop Julia off Jupiter Inlet with cargo of salt.
U.S.S. Tahoma, Lieutenant Commander Alexander A. Semmes, captured blockade runner Silas Henry, aground in Tampa Bay with cargo of cotton.
JANUARY 9 Boat crews from U.S.S. Ethan Allen, Acting Master Isaac A. Pennell, destroyed "a very large salt manufactory" south of St. Joseph's, Florida. Pennell noted that the works were "capable of making 75 bushels of salt per day" and reported that it was "the fourth salt manufactory I have destroyed since I have been on this station."
JANUARY 9-11 U.S.S. Baron De Kalb, Louisville, Cincinnati, Lexington, Rattler, and Black Hawk, under Rear Admiral Porter in tug Ivy, engaged and, with the troops of Major General W. T. Sherman, forced the surrender of Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. Ascending the Arkansas River, Porter's squadron covered the landing of the troops and shelled Confederates from their rifle pits, enabling McClernand's troops on 9 January to take command of the woods below the fort and approach unseen. Though the Army was not in a position to press the attack on 10 January, the squadron moved to within 60 yards of the staunchly defended fort to soften the works for the next day's assault. A blistering engagement ensued, the fort's 11 guns pouring a withering fire into the gunboats. U.S.S. Rattler, Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, attempted to run past the fort to provide enfilade support, but was caught on a snag placed in the river by the Confederates, received a heavy raking fire, and was forced to return downstream.
Porter's gunboats renewed the engagement the next morning, 11 January, when the Army launched its assault, and "after a well directed fire of about two and one-half hours every gun in the fort was dismounted or disabled and the fort knocked all to pieces. . ." Ram Monarch and U.S.S. Rattler and Glide, under Lieutenant Commander W. Smith, knifed upriver to cut off any attempted escape. Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill, CSA, surrendered the fort-including some 36 defending Confederate naval officers and men after a gallant resistance to the fearful pounding from the gunboats. Porter wrote Secretary of the Navy Welles: "No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: 'You can't expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.' "
After the loss of Fort Hindman, Confederates evacuated other positions on the White and St. Charles Rivers before falling waters forced the gunboats to retire downstream. Porter wrote: 'The fight at Fort Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock [C.S.S. Pontchartrain], which could have caused the Federal Navy in the West a great deal of trouble, was ensured. . . . Certain it is, the success at Arkansas Post had a most exhilarating effect on the troops, and they were a different set of men when they arrived at Milliken's Bend than they were when they left the Yazoo River." A memorandum in the Secretary's office added: ''The importance of this victory can not be estimated. It happened at a moment when the Union arms were unsuccessful on three or four battlefields. . . "
JANUARY 10 Under orders from Farragut to ''reestablish the blockade as soon as you can" at Galveston, Commodore Henry H. Bell in U.S.S. Brooklyn, with other ships in company, bombarded the port. Because of the danger of grounding, Bell decided not to attempt to force an entrance. "It is with a bitter and lasting sense of grief I give it up," he wrote, "as the blockade of the port with Harriet Lane is a difficult task for so small a fleet as is in the Gulf. There will be censure, incon-siderate censure, but I can't help it. I can't overcome the difficulty of shoal water and a crooked, narrow channel without pilots, or small draft vessels to assist such [ships] as ground."
U.S.S. Octorara, Commander Napoleon Collins, captured blockade running British schooner Rising Dawn in North West Providence Channel with large cargo of salt.
C.S.S. Retribution, Master Power, captured brig J. P. Ellicott, bound from Boston to Cienfuegos. Next day, she was retaken by her own crew from the Confederate prize crew and sailed to St. Thomas Island where she was turned over to U.S.S. Alabama, Commander Edward T. Nichols.
JANUARY 11 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Raphael Semmes, sank U.S.S. Hatteras, Lieutenant Commander Homer C. Blake, after a heated and close night engagement some thirty miles off Galveston. "My men," reported Semmes, "handled their pieces with great spirit and commendable coolness, and the action was sharp and exciting while it lasted; which, however, was not very long, for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light, and fired an off-gun, as a signal that he had been beaten. We at once withheld our fire, and such a cheer went up from the brazen throats of my fellows, as must have astonished even a Texan, if he had heard it." Hatteras was severely punished, whereas damage to Alabama was so slight ''that there was not a shot-hole which it was necessary to plug, to enable us to continue our cruise; nor was there a rope to be spliced." Hatteras went down in 9 1/2 fathoms, Alabama saving all hands. Other Union ships in the Galveston area steamed out in vain in chase of the raider. Semmes observed: ''There was now as hurried a saddling of steeds for the pursuit as there had been in the chase of the young Lochinvar, and with as little effect, for by the time the steeds were given the spur, the Alabama was distant a hundred miles or more."
Confederate troops captured steamboat Grampus No. 2 near Memphis laden with large cargo of coal, and later burned her at Mound City, Arkansas.
U.S.S. Matthew Vassar, Acting Master Hugh H. Savage, captured schooner Florida off Little River Inlet, South Carolina, with cargo of salt.
JANUARY 13 Joint Army-Navy expedition from Memphis on board U.S.S. General Bragg, Lieutenant Joshua Bishop, destroyed buildings at Mound City, Arkansas, in reprisal for Confederate attacks on river steamers. Bishop reported: ''Ascertained that there was quite a force of guerrillas in the neighborhood, who intended destroying steamers; that their rendezvous was at Mound City, Marion, and Hopefield. . . . At 9 a.m. left Bradley's Landing and proceeded to Mound City, firing shells at intervals into the woods, as it was supposed there were guerrillas thereabouts. At 10 landed at Mound City and disembarked the troops. The infantry made prisoners of several citizens, who had been harboring guerrillas.
U.S.S. Currituck, Acting Master Linnekin, captured schooner Hampton at Dividing Creek, Virginia. The day before, Linnekin destroyed the salt works at Dividing Creek, works that had been "ex-tensively engaged" in supplying Richmond with the important item.
JANUARY 14 Joint Army-Navy forces, including U.S.S. Kinsman, Estrella, Calhoun, and Diana, under Lieutenant Commander Thomas McK. Buchanan, attacked Confederate defenses in Bayou Teche, below Franklin, Louisiana. Vigorous prosecution of the action by the naval vessels forced withdrawal of the Southern defenders and permitted removal of the formidable obstructions sunk in an effort to halt the ships. Gunboat C.S.S. Cotton, Lieutenant Edward W. Fuller, engaged the attacking force, but was compelled to withdraw, subsequently being set afire and destroyed by her crew to prevent capture. During the engagement, a torpedo exploded under U.S.S. Kinsman, Acting Lieutenant George Wiggin, unshipping her rudder. Lieutenant Commander Buchanan was killed by shore fire.
Joint expedition under Lieutenant Commander John G. Walker and Brigadier General Willis A. Gorman, including gunboats U.S.S. Baron De Kalb and Cincinnati with two Army transports in tow, arrived at St. Charles, Arkansas, on the White River in a move to follow up the advantage gained by the Fort Hindman victory. The commanders discovered that the Confederates had abandoned their position and withdrawn up river on board Blue Wing. While Cincinnati remained at St. Charles, Baron De KaIb proceeded up the White River in pursuit.
U.S.S. Columbia, Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthouy, ran aground on the coast of North Carolina High winds and heavy seas aborted initial attempts to get her off, and by the 17th, when the weather moderated, Columbia was in Confederate hands. She was destroyed by fire and Couthouy and some 11 other crew members were taken prisoner.
JANUARY 15 President Lincoln conferred with Captain John A. Dahlgren at the Washington Navy Yard regard-ing gunpowder development in one of his frequent trips to the yard to observe tests and weapon progress.
U.S.S. Octorara, Commander Collins, seized blockade running British sloop Brave in North West Providence Channel, Bahamas, with cargo of salt and sponge.
JANUARY 16 C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant John N. Maffitt, ran the blockade out of Mobile in the early morning after having remained in that port for some 4 months in order to complete repairs to her equip-ment. Confusion in the blockading fleet enabled Florida to escape, for the Confederate commerce raider passed within 300 yards of U.S.S. R.R. Cuyler, Commander George F. Emmons. Upon her arrival at Havana on 20 January to debark prisoners from her first prize, U.S. Consul-General Robert W. Shufeldt described the raider: ''The Florida is a bark-rigged propeller, quite fast under steam and canvas; has two smoke-stacks fore and aft of each other, close together; has a battery of four 42's or 68's of a side, and two large pivot guns. Her crew consists of 135 men . . . is a wooden vessel of about 1,500 tons." Farragut was concerned by Florida's escape: "This squadron, as Sam Barron used to say, 'is eating its dirt now'-Galveston skedaddled, the Hatteras sunk by the Alabama, and now the Oreto [Florida] out. . . . The Admiral's son, Loyall Farragut, com-pleted the letter: ''Father's eyes have given out; so I will finish this letter. He has been very much worried at these things, but still tries to bear it like a philosopher. He knows he has done all in his power to avert it, with the vessels at his disposal. If the Government had only let him take Mobile when he wished to, the Oreto would never have run out."
Captain Semmes, with a keen interest in the advancement of scientific knowledge, recorded the following observation from on board C.S.S. Alabama.' . . . the old theory of Dr. Franklin and others, was, that the Gulf Stream, which flows out of the Gulf of Mexico, between the north coast of Cuba, and the Florida Reefs and Keys, flows into the Gulf, through the channel between the west end of Cuba, and the coast of Yucatan, in which the Alabama now was. But the effectual disproof of this theory is, that we know positively, from the strength of the current, and its volume, or cross section, in the two passages, that more than twice the quantity of water flows out of the Gulf of Mexico, than flows into it through this passage. Upon Dr. Franklin's theory, the Gulf of Mexico in a very short time would become dry ground. Nor can the Mississippi River, which is the only stream worth noticing, in this connection, that flows into the' Gulf of Mexico, come to his relief, as we have seen that that river only empties into the Gulf of Mexico, about one three thousandth part as much water, as the Gulf Stream takes out. We must resort, of necessity, to an under-current from the north, passing into the Gulf of Mexico, under the Gulf Stream, rising to the surface when heated, and thus swelling the volume of the outflowing water."
U.S.S. Baron De Kalb, Lieutenant Commander J. G. Walker, arrived at Devall's Bluff, Arkansas, on the White River. A landing party went ashore and "took possession of all the public prop-erty," including guns and munitions. Walker reported: "Upon. the arrival of General Gorman's troops I drew off my men and turned everything over to the army." Next day, Baron De Kalb continued the pursuit of Confederate steamer Blue Wing, which was reported to have departed Devall's Bluff just before the Union gunboat arrived.
JANUARY 17 U.S.S. Baron De Kalb, Lieutenant Commander Walker, with U.S.S. Forest Rose and Romeo and an Army transport in company, proceeded up White River to Des Arc, Arkansas. "At that place," Walker reported, "I found 39 rebel soldiers in the hospital, whom I paroled. I also found and brought away 171 rounds of fixed ammunition, 72 cartridges, and 47 shot for 12-pounder rifled gun. I took possession of the post-office. . . . The troops reached Des Arc about an hour after me, and searched the town for arms and public property." Having cleared out Confederate strong points, the squadron withdrew downstream.
JANUARY 18 Following the operations on the White River, Rear Admiral Porter once more turned his atten-tions to the Southern citadel at Vicksburg. In a general order to gunboats on the Yazoo River, he directed: "All the gunboats on their way up will return down river and give convoy to the transports as far as Milliken's Bend, where they will cover them."
Porter wrote Secretary Welles concerning the unsuccessful Vicksburg operation of December 1862, then added: "The operations to come will be of a different character; it will be a tedious siege, the first step, in my opinion, toward a successful attack on Vicksburg, which has been made very strong by land and water. I have always thought the late attempt was premature, but sometimes these dashes succeed . . . The operations of the navy in the Yazoo are worthy to be ranked amongst the brightest events of the war. The officers in charge of getting up the torpedoes and clearing 8 miles of river distinguished themselves by their patient endurance and cool courage under a galling fire of musketry from well-protected and unseen riflemen, and the crews of the boats exhibited a courage and coolness seldom equaled. The navy will scarcely ever get credit for these events; they are not brilliant enough to satisfy our impatient people at the North, who know little of the difficulties . . . or how much officers and men are exposing them-selves. . . . The Department may rest assured that the navy here is never idle. The army depends on us to take entire charge of them on the water. . . . We expect to disembark the troops opposite Vicksburg in four or five days. In the meantime, I want to gather up the fleet, which are operating at different points with the army. My opinion is that Vicksburg is the main point. When that falls all subordinate posts will fall with it." The buildup was begun.
U.S.S. Wachusett, Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, and U.S.S. Sonoma, Commander Thomas H. Stevens, seized steamer Virginia off Mugeres Island, Mexico. Virginia was sent to Key West for adjudication.
U.S.S. Zouave, Pilot John A. Phillips, captured sloop J. C. McCabe in the James River.
Confederate steamer Tropic accidentally caught fire and burned attempting to run the blockade at Charleston with cargo of cotton and turpentine.
JANUARY 19 C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Maffitt, captured and burned brig Estelle bound from Santa Cruz to Boston with cargo of sugar, molasses, and honey. The master of Estelle wrote: "Generosity and courtesy on the part of enemies should not pass unheeded by, as the rigors of a sad and un-natural war may be somewhat mitigated by politeness and manly forbearance. I would add that Captain Maffitt returned our personal effects, but retained the chronometer and charts."
Secretary Welles wired Commander Pennock in Cairo, asking that he give all possible assistance to the Army: ''General Rosecrans desires a naval force to protect the transports in the Cumber-land. Can you not send some vessels for the purpose?" Next day, 20 January, Rosecrans tele-graphed Pennock, pressing the issue: "It is very desirable that a couple of good gunboats should go up the Cumberland and destroy means of crossing as high up as Somerset. How soon can it be done?" After receiving two more such messages on 22 January, Pennock advised the harried General on the 24th: "The Silver Lake leaves for Cumberland River to-day. Has short crew. The Lexington, with heavy guns, will also leave to-morrow evening. No more boats to send; with these there will be five in that river. . . . Will do all I can to assist you.'' Rosecrans responded that he was "greatly obliged" and would "furnish more crews if possible." This joint cooperation kept the upper rivers open to the Union and prevented the Confederates from mounting an effective counteroffensive. Secretary Welles advised Porter of President Lincoln's personal interest in the Vicksburg operation: "The President is exceedingly anxious that a canal from which practical and useful results would follow should be cut through the peninsula op-posite Vicksburg. If a canal were cut at a higher point up the river than the first one, as you some time since suggested, so as to catch the current before it has made the curve, and also avoid the bluffs below the city, it would probably be a success. The Department desires that this plan may be tried whenever you may deem it expedient and can have the cooperation of the army."
This was one of several plans to get the Army transports downstream past Vicksburg so that the Union troops could encircle the stronghold from the rear. The batteries were thought to be too powerful for a successful run past them with the big and cumbersome transports. When the "ditch" was begun, as Porter later wrote, "it was hoped that when the river rose it would cut its way through, but that wished for event did not come to pass until after the fall of Vicksburg. The enemy mounted heavy guns opposite the mouth of the canal and prevented any work upon it."
An intercepted letter from Nassau indicated the blockade's effectiveness: "There are men here who are making immense fortunes by shipping goods to Dixie. . . . Salt, for example, is one of the most paying things to send in. Here in Nassau it is only worth 60 cents a bushel, but in Charleston brings at auction from $80 to $100 in Confederate money, but as Confederate money is no good out of the Confederacy they send back cotton or turpentine, which, if it reaches here, is worth proportionally as much here as the salt is there. . . . It is a speculation by which one makes either 600 to 800 per cent or loses all.''
JANUARY 20 C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Maffitt, entered Havana. A correspondent for the New York Herald noted that: "Captain Maffitt is no ordinary character. He is vigorous, energetic, bold, quick and dashing, and the sooner he is caught and hung the better it will be for the interest of our commercial community. He is decidedly popular here, and you can scarcely imagine the anxiety evinced to get a glance at him. . Nobody, unless informed, would have imagined the small, black-eyed, poetic-looking gentleman, with his romantic appearance, to be a second Semmes, probably in time to be a more celebrated and more dangerous pirate."
JANUARY 21 C.S.S. Josiah Bell and Uncle Ben, under Major Oscar M. Watkins, CSA, attacked and captured the small blockaders U.S.S. Morning Light, Acting Master John Dillingham, and Velocity, Acting Mas-ter Nathan W. Hammond, at Sabine Pass. The two Confederate cottonclads came down into the Pass the preceding evening, and in the morning stood out to meet the Union blockaders. Watkins reported: "When within 1,000 yards of the enemy Captain [Matthew] Nolan's sharpshooters [on Josiah Bell] opened a terrific fire, which swept their decks [on Morning Light] and soon caused their commanding officer to strike his flag. . . . In the meantime the Ben bore down gallantly on the schooner [Velocity], receiving her fire and the broadside from the sloop of war at short range . . . The schooner was surrendered unconditionally, and, putting Captain [Charles] Fowler in charge of the sloop, we started for Sabine Pass." Two days later the Confederates burned Morning Light because she could not be brought over the bar at Sabine Pass. As Watkins later observed: "The captured vessels would be worse than useless in battle, for I could not spare seamen enough to maneuver them, nor were there among my excellent artillerists any who were skillful in the use of guns mounted on ship carriages."
The ceaseless, if not always dramatic, operations of the Potomac Flotilla, Commodore Andrew A. Harwood, were continually evidenced by the maintenance of the blockade in the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers area, where Confederates repeatedly attempted to smuggle goods from shore to shore. Union barges J.C. Davis and Liberty broke loose from their anchorage at Corn-field Harbor, Maryland, and drifted to Coan River, Virginia, where they were boarded this date and captured. Upon hearing of the incident, Acting Master Benjamin C. Dean, U.S.S. Dan Smith, ordered a cutter into Coan River ''to rescue the crews and recapture or destroy the boats." This was accomplished under Acting Ensign Francis L. Harris--an unnoticed act that typified the constant pressure that kept the South always on the defensive.
U.S.S. Ottawa, Lieutenant Commander William D. Whiting, captured schooner Etiwan off Charles-ton with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. Chocura, Lieutenant Commander William T. Truxtun, seized blockade running British schooner Pride at sea east of Cape Romain, South Carolina, with cargo of salt.
U.S.S. Daylight, Acting Master Joshua D. Warren, forced a blockade running schooner (name unknown) aground off New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina, and destroyed her.
JANUARY 22 U.S.S. Commodore Morris, Lieutenant Commander James H. Gillis, keeping a constant vigil for contraband goods being carried on the river, seized oyster sloop John C. Calhoun, schooner Harriet, and sloop Music near Chuckatuck Creek, Virginia.
The chronic shortage of iron, as well as other critical materials, plagued the Confederacy thoughout the conflict. The Secretary of War appointed a committee to determine what rail-road tracks could best be "dispensed with" in order to provide iron "for the completion of public vessels.''
C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Maffitt, captured and burned brigs Windward and Corris Ann near Cuba.
JANUARY 23 U.S.S. Cambridge, Commander William A. Parker, captured schooner Time off Cape Fear, North Carolina, with cargo of salt, matches, and shoes.
JANUARY 24 Rear Admiral Porter reported his arrival at the mouth of the Yazoo River to Secretary Welles and noted the progress at Vicksburg: "The army is landing on the neck of land opposite Vicksburg. What they expect to do I don't know, but presume it is a temporary arrangement. I am covering their landing and guarding the Yazoo River. The front of Vicksburg is heavily fortified, and unless we can get troops in the rear of the city I see no chance of taking it at present, though we cut off all their supplies from Texas and Louisiana." Observing that his gunboats had trapped 11 Confederate steamers up the Yazoo obtaining provisions for Port Hudson, Porter wrote: "This will render the reduction of that place [Port Hudson] an easier task than it otherwise would have been, as there are no steamers on the river except two that will he kept at Vicksburg.''
With reference to the projected attack on Charleston, Rear Admiral Du Pont wrote Welles: "The Department is aware that I have never shrunk from assuming any responsibilities which circum-stances called for nor desired to place any failure of mine on others. But the interests involved in the success or failure of this undertaking strikes me as so momentous to the nation at home and abroad at this particular period that I am confident it will require no urging from me to induce the Department to put at my disposal every means in its power to insure success especially by send-ing additional ironclads, if possible, to those mentioned in your dispatch."
Secretary Mallory wrote President Davis rejecting a request that an Army officer be named to command Harriet Lane, captured at Galveston on 1 January, "over the heads of nine-tenths of the naval officers . . . even could it be done legally, which it cannot.
JANUARY 25 U.S.S. Currituck, Acting Master Linnekin, captured sloop Queen of the Fleet at Tapp's Creek, Virginia. On 30 January Commodore Harwood, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, advised Secretary Wells of the recent activity of Currituck. ''I enclose for the information of the Department," he reported, "a certificate of capture of a sloop and nine canoes, with thirteen prisoners and a quan-tity of contraband goods, by the Currituck. I have this day placed them in the hands of the civil authorities. All the captures have been made between the mouths of the Potomac and the Piankatank rivers. . . . These canoes were full of freight, which has been brought to the [Washington Navy] yard."
JANUARY 26 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Golden Rule off Haiti in the Caribbean Sea. Semmes noted in his log: "This vessel had on board masts, spars, and a complete set of rigging for the U.S. brig Bainbridge, lately obliged to cut away her masts in a gale at Aspinwall [Panama]." He later added: "I had tied up for a while longer, one of the enemy's gun-brigs, for want of an outfit. It must have been some months before the Bainbridge put to sea."
JANUARY 27 ironclad U.S.S. Montauk, Commander John L. Worden, and U.S.S. Seneca, Wissahickon, Dawn, and mortar schooner C. P. Williams engaged Confederate batteries at Fort McAllister, Georgia, on the Ogeechee River. Worden was acting under orders from Rear Admiral Du Pont to test the new ironclads; though McAllister was an important objective itself, Du Pont was primarily readying his forces for the spring assault on Charleston-for the success of which the Department relied greatly on the monitor class vessels. Worden, unable to proceed within close range of the fort because of formidable sunken obstructions which "from appearances" were "protected by torpedoes," engaged for four hours before withdrawing. Worden reported that the Confederate fire was "very fine, striking us quite a number of times, doing us no damage."
Du Pont wrote to Benjamin Gerhard: "The monitor was struck some thirteen or fourteen times, which would have sunk a gunboat easily, but did no injury whatever to the Montauk-speaking well for the impenetrability of those vessels though the distance was greater than what could constitute a fair test. But the slow firing, the inaccuracy of aim, for you can't see to aim properly from the turret . . . give no corresponding powers of aggression. . . . I asked myself this morning while quietly dressing, if one ironclad cannot take eight guns– how are five to take 147 guns in Charleston harbor."
C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned brig Chastelaine off Alta Vela in the Carib-bean Sea. Chastelaine was en route to Cienfuegos, Cuba, to take on sugar and rum for delivery in Boston.
U.S.S. Hope, Master John E. Rockwell, seized blockade running British schooner Emma Tuttle off Charleston.
JANUARY 28 Secretary Welles noted that the official report of the 1 January Confederate attack at Galveston had not yet come in, but added: "Farragut has prompt, energetic, excellent qualities, but no fondness for written details or self-laudation; does but one thing at a time, but does that strong and well; is better fitted to lead an expedition through danger and difficulty than to command an extensive blockade; is a good officer in a great emergency, will more willingly take great risks in order to obtain great results than any officer in high position in either Navy or Army, and unlike most of them, prefers that others should tell the story of his welldoing rather than relate it himself."
U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander English, captured and destroyed blockade running British sloop Elizabeth at the mouth of Jupiter inlet, Florida.
JANUARY 29 U.S.S. Lexington, Lieutenant Commander Samuel L. Phelps, and other gunboats on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers continued to convoy Army transports and maintain supply lines. During one expedition between Cairo and Nashville, Phelps reported: "Meeting with a transport that had been fired upon by artillery 20 miles above Clarksville, I at once went to that point and, landing, burned a storehouse used by the rebels as a resort and cover. On leaving there to descend to Clarksville, where I had passed a fleet of thirty-one steamers with numerous barges in tow, convoyed by three light-draft gunboats under Lieutenant Commander [LeRoy] Fitch, Lexington was fired upon by the enemy, who had two Parrott guns, and struck three times, but the rebels were quickly dislodged and dispersed. I then returned to Clarksville and, agreeable to the arrangement already made by Lieutenant Commander Fitch, left that place at midnight with the whole fleet of boats, and reached Nashville the following night [30 January] without so much as a musket shot having been fired upon a single vessel of the fleet. Doubtless the lesson of the previous day had effected this result."
Rear Admiral Du Pont continued to experiment with the ironclads in hopes of improving their efficiency. The smokestack of U.S.S. New Ironsides, Captain Thomas Turner, was cut to within 4 feet of the deck to leave the line of sight ahead entirely clear, rather than partially obstructed. The problems created were greater than those solved. Turner reported that". . . the alteration can not be made without seriously impairing the efficiency of this ship in action . . .I am inclined to believe that under any circumstances, enduring for several hours with the smokestack down the whole ship would be so filled with gas as to create much suffering and partially to disable the crew, and that it might hazard the chances of a successful expedition." Du Pont ordered the smokestack restored. "So," he wrote, "we will have to go it blind . . . If we don't run ashore going in, it will be because God is with us.
U.S.S. Brooklyn, Commodore H. H. Bell, with gunboats U.S.S. Sciota, Owasco, and Katahdin, tested Confederate batteries under construction at Galveston. He learned that two of the fort's guns were capable of firing past the squadron-more than 2 1/2 miles.
U.S.S. Unadilla, Lieutenant Commander Stephen P. Quackenbush, seized British blockade runner Princess Royal attempting to run into Charleston with cargo of arms, ammunition, and two steam engines for ironclads. ''The P[rincess] R[oyal]," Du Pont wrote, ''we have had on our list, traced her through consular reports from the Thames to Halifax, etc. She has a valuable cargo.
JANUARY 30 U.S.S. Isaac Smith, Acting Lieutenant Francis S. Conover, conducted an expedition up the Stono River, South Carolina. Above Legareville, on her return, she was caught in a heavy cross fire, forced aground, and captured by the Confederates. U.S.S. Commodore McDonough, Lieutenant Commander George Bacon, attempted without success to prevent the capture.
U.S.S. Commodore Perry, Lieutenant Commander Charles W. Flusser, on a joint expedition with Army troops, landed at Hertford, North Carolina, and destroyed two bridges over the Perquimans River. As a result of the successful mission, Flusser reported: ''There are now no bridges remain-ing on the Perquimans, so that the goods sent from Norfolk to the enemy on the south side of the Chowan (by whom they are conveyed to Richmond) have to be passed over a ford, and the roads leading from that ford can be guarded by the troops at Winfield." Three days later (2 February), Commodore Perry anchored at the mouth of the Yeopim River; two boats were sent into the river and succeeded in capturing three Confederate small boats. Two of the captures contained cargoes including salt. The constant harassment and interruption of supply lines through the Union Navy's control of the waterways hurt the Confederacy sorely.
Grant informed Porter of a plan to cut a canal through Lake Providence, Louisiana, to effect the passage of troops to the rear of Vicksburg. "By enquiry," he wrote, "I learn that Lake Prov-idence, which connects with Red River through Tensas Bayou, Washita [Ouachita] and Black rivers, is a wide and navigable way through. As some advantage may be gained by opening this, I have ordered a brigade of troops to be detailed for the purpose, and to he embarked as soon as possible. I would respectfully request that one of your light-draft gunboats accompany this expedition." Porter immediately ordered U.S.S. Linden, Acting Master Thomas E. Smith, to cooperate with General Grant. The Admiral later noted of this operation: "Several transports were taken in, but there were miles of forest to work through and trees to be cut down. The swift current drove the steamers against the trees and injured them so much that this plan had to be abandoned."
JANUARY 31 Under Flag Officer Duncan N. Ingraham, rams C.S.S. Chicora, Commander John R. Tucker, and C.S.S. Palmetto State, Lieutenant John Rutledge, attacked the Union blockading fleet off Charleston early in the morning in a fog. Palmetto State rammed U.S.S. Mercedita, Captain Stellwagen, and fired into her, forcing the gunboat to strike her colors in a "sinking and perfectly defenseless condition." Chicora engaged U.S.S. Keystone State, Commander William E. LeRoy, severely crippling her before U.S.S. Memphis, Captain Pendleton G. Watmough, took her in tow "in a sinking condition." Commander LeRoy reported: "Our steam chimneys being destroyed, our motive power was lost and our situation became critical. There were 2 feet of water in the ship and leaking badly, water rising rapidly, the forehold on fire. . . . I regret to report our casualties as very large, some 20 killed and 20 wounded." U.S.S. Quaker City was damaged by a shell "which,'' Commander Frailey reported, ''entered this vessel amidships about 7 feet above the water line, cutting away a portion of the guard beam and a guard brace, and thence on its course through the ship's side, exploding in the engine room, carrying away there the starboard entablature brace, air-pump dome, and air-pump guide rod, and making sad havoc with the bulk-heads." U.S.S. Augusta, Commander Enoch G. Parrort, took a shot "in the port side, passing a little above our boiler.'' U.S.S. Housatonic, Captain William R. Taylor, engaged the two rams before they withdrew toward Charleston harbor. General P. G. T. Beauregard, who claimed in vain that the blockade had been broken, wrote Flag Officer Ingraham: "Permit me to congratulate you and the gallant officers and men under your command for your brilliant achievement of last night, which will be classed hereafter with those of the Merrimack and Arkansas."
Major General Horatio G. Wright wrote Commander Pennock in Cairo and noted "the impor-tance to the army service of keeping the line of the Cumberland River between its mouth and Nash-ville constantly open to the use of our steam transports, and requested that he ''assign to that portion of the river an ironclad gunboat, plated with sufficiently heavy iron to resist field artillery, to assist in the above object." Recognizing the Army's dependence on the gunboats, Pennock and the gunboat commanders had complied with the request before it was made. Lexington had been added to the naval forces in the River, and, the same date that Wright was making his request of Pennock, Lieutenant Commander Fitch was advising from Smithland, Kentucky, that: "The Robb joined me yesterday at this place. Nothing very serious up Tennessee River. Have sent the Robb and St. Clair to Paducah to bring up our coal barge. . . Have another large convoy to take to Nashville and one to bring down. No danger of either being blockaded by the rebels."
C.S.S. Retribution, Master Power, captured schooner Hanover, in West Indian waters.