Naval History of the Civil War October 1862

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Civil War Naval History


OCTOBER 1862

1 The Western Gunboat Fleet, brought into being by Commander J. Rodgers and Flag Officer Foote, under jurisdiction of the War Department for operations on the western waters, was transferred to the Navy Department and renamed the Mississippi Squadron. David Dixon Porter was appointed Acting Rear Admiral and ordered to relieve Rear Admiral Davis, who had commanded naval forces on the western waters since 17 June. Noting that the naming of Porter, then a Commander, would be open to criticism, Secretary of the Navy Welles observed: ''His selection will be unsatisfactory to many, but his field of operations is peculiar, and a young and active officer is required for the duty to which he is assigned." However, Rear Admiral Foote, 55 years old when he took command, bold and indefatigable, had achieved miracles. No fleet commanders in the west achieved as much as he and Farragut, who was even five years older. Audacity and drive are born of the soul, and do not die ever in some great leaders.

2 Commodore Harwood reported the capture of sloop Thomas Reilly by U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Lieu-tenant Commander Magaw.

3 Responding to a request for assistance in an anticipated assault on gathering Confederate forces at Franklin, Virginia, a naval expedition under Lieutenant Commander Flusser, comprising U.S.S. Commodore Perry, Hunchback, and Whitehead, engaged Confederate troops on the Blackwater River for six hours. The river having been obstructed, the gunboats could not reach Franklin and returned down stream as Confederate troops were felling trees in the river behind the gunboats in an attempt to "blockade the river in our rear." Enclosing the reports of the gunboat captains, Commander Davenport, Senior Officer in the Sounds of North Carolina, wrote Rear Admiral S. P. Lee: "While I can not praise too highly the gallantry and heroism displayed by officers and men on the occa-sion, I think it extremely hazardous for our gunboats unprotected as the men are by bulwarks or any other defenses, to go on expeditions up these narrow and tortuous channels."

A joint expedition under Commander Steedman and Brigadier General John M. Brannon engaged and captured a Confederate battery at St. John's Bluff and occupied Jacksonville, Florida, which had been almost entirely evacuated by Southern troops. The Union forces had arrived at the mouth of the river on 1 October and, in operations through 12 October, the gunboats convoyed and supported the Army troops, forcing a general withdrawal by the Confederates. Calling Steedman's action ''most hearty and energetic,'' General Brannon reported: "The entire naval force under his command exhibited a zeal and perseverance in every instance, whether in aiding my forces to effect a landing, the ascent of St. John's River (230 miles), or the assistance to one of my transports unfortunately injured in crossing the bar, that is deserving of all praise.'' Cap-tain Godon, temporarily commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, noted at oper-ation's end: ''We retain possession of St. John's River as far as Jacksonville.'' Amphibious assaults continued to force Confederate defenses away from the coastal areas.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured ship Brilliant, bound from New York to Liverpool, near 400 N, 500 W. Semmes later commented that ". . . her destruction must have disappointed a good many holders of bills of exchange drawn against her cargo . . . for the ship alone and the freight-moneys which they lost by her destruction [came] to the amount of $93,000. The cargo was probably even more valuable than the ship."

Naval forces under Commander William B. Renshaw in U.S.S. Westfield, including U.S.S. Harriet Lane, Owasco, Clifton, and mortar schooner Henry Janes, bombarded and captured the defenses of the harbor and city of Galveston. Six days later, Galveston formally surrendered to Commander Renshaw. Rear Admiral Farragut reported to Secretary of the Navy Welles: I am happy to in-form you that Galveston, Corpus Christi, and Sabine City and the adjacent waters are now in our possession. . . . All we want, as I have told the Department in my last dispatches, is a few soldiers to hold the places, and we will soon have the whole coast.'' The failure to have a sizeable effective Marine Corps to send ashore in conjunction with fleet operations reduced considerably the effectiveness of the Navy and may have lengthened the war.

4 U.S.S. Somerset, Lieutenant Commander English, attacked Confederate salt works at Depot Key, Florida. The landing party from Somerset was augmented by a strong force from U.S.S. Tahoma, Commander John C. Howell, and the salt works were destroyed. Salt at this time was among the most critical ''strategic materials'' in the Confederacy. This action at Depot Key was one of innumerable such landing and raiding operations all along the far-flung Confederate coastline which, often lacking dramatic appeal, nonetheless exacted ceaseless activity and untiring effort, and were instrumental in bringing the Confederacy to defeat.

Raiding party from U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Lieutenant Commander Magaw, entered Dumfries, Virginia, and destroyed the telegraph office and wires of the line from Occoquan to Richmond via Fredericksburg.

6 U.S.S. Rachel Seaman, Acting Master Crocker, captured British schooner Dart attempting to run the blockade at Sabine Pass.

7 William Gladstone, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, remarked at a banquet in Newcastle, England, that "there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making it appears a navy; and they have made, what is more than either they have made a nation." Upon reading of Gladstone's statement, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox observed: "It is a most interesting piece of history".

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Wave Crest and brig Dunkirk south-east of Nova Scotia.

Lieutenant Commander Edward P. Williams in Army transport Darlington, with sailors and troops embarked, captured steamer Governor Milton in St. John's River, Florida. In continuing Union operations in the river, Williams had seized the vessel- termed by Commander Steedman "one of their best boats' '- which had been used in transporting guns and munitions to St. John's Bluff.

8 Steamer Blanche, anchored off Havana, was set afire to prevent seizure by U.S.S. Montgomery, Commander C. Hunter.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and released on bond packet Tonawanda southeast of Nova Scotia.

11 U.S.S. Monticello, Lieutenant Commander Braine, captured blockade running British schooner Revere off Frying Pan Shoals, North Carolina.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned Manchester southeast of Nova Scotia bound from New York to Liverpool. "The Manchester," Semmes wrote, "brought us a batch of late New York papers. . . . I learned from them where all the enemy's gun boats were, and what they were doing. . . . Perhaps this was the only war in which the newspapers ever explained, before-hand, all the movements of armies and fleets, to the enemy.

U.S.S. Maratanza, Commander Scott, was damaged by Confederate battery at Cape Fear River, North Carolina, and was forced to retire seaward.

12 Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, on board blockade runner Herald, departed Charleston for England to attempt to purchase vessels for the Confederacy. Midshipman James M. Morgan, who accompanied Maury, recorded an interesting incident that demonstrated that the "Path-finder of the Seas" had lost none of his famed abilities. The captain of Herald, according to Morgan, was new to deep water sail, lost his way, and "told Commander Maury that something terrible must have happened, as he had sailed his ship directly over the spot where the Bermuda Islands ought to be." Maury advised him to slow down till evening when he could shoot the stars. At that time, having obtained a fix, Maury gave the captain a course and speed that would raise the light at Port Hamilton about 2 o'clock in the morning. Maury and his son turned in; the rest anxiously stayed up to watch: "four bells struck and no light was in sight. Five minutes more passed and still not a sign of it; then grumbling commenced and the passengers generally agreed with the man who expressed the opinion that there was too much D . . . d science on board . . . at 10 minutes past 2 the masthead lookout called 'Light Ho!' " Lacking funds and under close scrutiny by Union officials who immediately protested through diplomatic channels any attempts to outfit vessels for the Confederacy, Maury, like other Confederate agents, met with only limited success. Nonetheless, he did purchase and arrange for the outfitting of C.S.S. Georgia the following spring. Maury was adamant in his opinion that the South had to pursue a policy that would bring about the existence of an effective Navy. Earlier he had written under the pseudonym of Ben Bow: "We cannot, either with cotton or with all the agricultural staples of the Confederacy put together, adopt any course which will make cotton and trade stand us as a nation in the stead of a navy.

U.S.S. Restless, Acting Lieutenant Conroy, captured blockade running schooner Elmira Cornelius off the South Carolina coast.

13 U.S.S. America, Acting Master Jonathan Baker, seized schooner David Crockett attempting to run the blockade out of Charleston with cargo of turpentine and rosin.

14 U.S.S. Memphis, Acting Lieutenant Watmough, captured blockade running British steamer Ouachita at sea off Cape Romain, South Carolina.

15 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Lamplighter southeast of Nova Scotia.

Boat crew under command of Master's Mate Edwin Janvrin of U.S.S. Rachel Seaman, and boat crew under command of Second Assistant Engineer Timothy W. O'Connor of U.S.S. Kensington, destroyed Confederate railroad bridge by fire at Taylor's Bayou, Texas, preventing the transporta-tion of heavy artillery to Sabine Pass, and burned schooners Stonewall and Lone Star and barracks. The constant drain on the South of these unceasing attacks along her sea perimeter and up the rivers is portrayed almost daily in similar accounts. Some were quite unusual even for versatile sailors. In a river expedition during the month Lieutenant Commander Ransom "captured 1,500 head of cattle en route for the enemy, and succeeded by great perseverance in getting them down to New Orleans."

Boat crews from U.S.S. Fort Henry, Acting Lieutenant Edward Y. McCauley, reconnoitering Apa-lachicola River, Florida, captured sloop G.L. Brockenborough with cargo of cotton.

20 Steamer Minho ran aground after running the blockade out of Charleston. Rear Admiral Du Pont reported that". . . it appears that she will perhaps become a wreck, as there is much water in the hold, and part of the cargo [is] floating about in the vessel. So much of the cargo, it is stated ["by the Charleston papers''], as may be destroyed by water will be nearly a total loss."

21 U.S.S. Louisville, Lieutenant Commander Meade, escorted steamer Meteor, whose embarked Army troops were landed at Bledsoe's Landing and Hamblin's Landing, Arkansas. The towns were burned in reprisal for attacks by Confederate guerrillas on mail steamer Gladiator early in the morning, 19 October. "The people along the river bank," Meade reported to Rear Admiral D. D. Porter, "were duly informed that every outrage by the guerrillas upon packets would be similarly dealt with.''

22 A naval battery consisting of three 12 pounder boat howitzers from U.S.S. Wabash took part in and furnished artillery support for Union infantry troops at the battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina. One of the gun crew, who was seriously injured, was ordinary seaman Oscar W. Faren-holt, the first enlisted man in the Navy to reach flag rank. The battery from Wabash took part as artillery in amphibious operations all along the South Atlantic coast.

U.S.S. Penobscot, Commander Clitz, captured blockade running British brig Robert Bruce off Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Lieutenant William B. Cushing reported that U.S.S. Ellis captured and destroyed blockade runner Adelaide at New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina, with cargo of turpentine, cotton, and tobacco.

23 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned American bark Lafayette south of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

24 Sailors on horseback-a landing party from U.S.S. Baron De KaIb, Captain Winslow, debarked at Hopefield, Arkansas, to engage a small Confederate scouting party. Mounting horses which were procured, as Captain Winslow reported, "by impressement," the Baron De Kalb sailors engaged in a 9 mile running fight which ended with the capture of the Confederate party.

25 Rear Admiral Du Pont again wrote Secretary of the Navy Welles of the reported building of iron-clads by the Confederacy in its attempt to break the blockade. Du Pont remarked: "The idea seemed to be to open the Savannah river, then come to Port Royal, and thence off Charleston, and raise the blockade. . . . I submit that the Ironsides and Passaic should be dispatched at an early day."

26 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned schoonerCrenshaw south of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

27 Boat crews from U.S.S. Flag, Lieutenant Commander Charles C. Carpenter, captured British steamer Anglia at Bull's Bay, South Carolina.

Rear Admiral S. P. Lee wrote Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox regarding the difficulty of blockading the coast of North Carolina: "Our supremacy in the Sounds of N[orth] C[arolina] can . . . only be maintained by iron-clads adapted to the navigation there. . . . The defense of the Sounds is a very important matter.

28 Party led by' Lieutenant John Taylor Wood, CSN, boarded, captured, and fired ship Alleghanian at anchor in Chesapeake Bay off the mouth of the Rappahannock River with cargo of guano from Baltimore for London.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned bark Lauraetta south of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

U.S.S. Montgomery, Commander C. Hunter, captured blockade running steamer Caroline near Pensacola.

U.S.S. Sagamore, Lieutenant Commander George A. Bigelow, captured blockade running British schooner Trier off Indian River Inlet, Florida.

29 Landing party from U.S.S. Ellis, Lieutenant Cushing, destroyed large Confederate Salt works at New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina. Cushing reported that'' it could have furnished all Wilming-ton with salt.''

U.S.S. Dan exchanged fire with Confederate troops near Sabine Pass; Dan shelled the town and on 30 October a party was landed under protection of the ship's guns to burn a mill and several buildings.

C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, seized brigantine Baron de Castine south of Nova Scotia, "The vessel being old and of little value," Semmes reported, "I released her on a ransom bond and converted her into a cartel, sending some forty-five prisoners on board of her– the crews of the three last ships burned."

30 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox wrote Edward G. Flynn regarding that man's expressed desire to attempt capture or destruction of commerce raider 290 (C.S.S. Alabama): "The [Navy] Department has published that it will give $500,000 for the capture and delivery to it of that vessel, or $300,000 if she is destroyed; the latter however is to be contingent upon the approval of Congress." The concern over Alabama's highly successful commerce raiding was attested to when Fox wrote Rear Admiral Farragut: The raid of '290' [Alabama] has forced us to send out a dozen vessels in pursuit."

U.S.S. Connecticut, Lieutenant Commander Milton Haxtun, captured blockade running British schooner Hermosa off the mouth of the Sabine River.

U.S.S. Daylight, Acting Master Warren, captured schooner Racer between Stump Inlet and New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina, with cargo of salt.

Rear Admiral Du Pont issued a general order which provided that, on capture of foreign vessels attempting to run the blockade, "the flag of the country to which they belong must be worn until their cases are adjudicated. The American flag will be carried at the fore to indicate that they are, for the time, under charge of United States officers."

31 During October the Confederate Congress formalized a Torpedo Bureau in Richmond under Brigadier General Gabriel J. Rains and a Naval Submarine Battery Service under Lieutenant Hunter Davidson. The purpose was to organize and improve methods of torpedo (mine) warfare, in which Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury had pioneered. The Confederacy, of necessity, developed a variety of underwater torpedoes, for it had a long coastline with many navigable rivers to protect and slight naval strength with which to oppose the formidable Union fleet, That the efforts, while failing to lift the ceaseless pressure of the Northern naval forces, were nonetheless a serious threat was attested to at war's end by Secretary of the Navy Welles, who observed that the torpedoes were "always formidable in harbors and internal waters, and. . . . have been more destructive to our naval vessels than all other means combined."

U.S.S. Reliance, Acting Master Andrew J. Frank, captured sloop Pointer at Alexandria, Virginia. Although cleared through the Alexandria Custom House as being without cargo, Pointer was found to be carrying groceries, dry goods, and whiskey.

U.S.S. Restless, Acting Lieutenant Conroy, captured sloop Susan McPherson off the coast of South Carolina.

Landing party from U.S.S. Mahaska, Commander Foxhall A. Parker, destroyed Confederate gun positions on Wormley's Creek and at West Point, Virginia. The attack was continued on 1 November.

31 OCTOBER– 7 NOVEMBER
Naval expedition under Commander Davenport, comprising U.S.S. Hetzel, Commodore Perry, Hunchback, Valley City, and Army gunboat Vidette, opened fire on an encampment at Plymouth, North Carolina, forcing the Confederate troops there to withdraw. Davenport was subsequently ordered to meet General John G. Foster at Williamston on 3 November to support an Army assault on Hamilton, North Carolina. "It was agreed upon," Commander Davenport reported, that we would begin our advance on Hamilton that night. At 11 a.m. [4 November], having failed as yet in receiving any signal from the army, I made general signal 'to get underway' and proceeded up the river. The force also included U.S.S. Seymour, which had arrived that morning. Hamilton was evacuated by the Confederates and Union troops took possession of the town. Davenport's gunboats "proceeded a few miles farther up the river to divert the attention of the enemy, while the army continued its march to Tarboro"; Seymour was sent down river the next day (5 November) to destroy the works at Rainbow Bluff. On 7 November the Union troops, failing to reach Tarboro, returned to Hamilton, and 300 sick and wounded soldiers were placed on board the gunboats to be transported to Williamston.