Civil War Naval History
1 Ironclad U.S.S. Montauk, Commander Worden, with U.S.S. Seneca, Wissahickon, Dawn, and mortar schooner C. P. Williams, again tested the defenses of Fort McAllister described by Rear Admiral Du Pont as "rather a thorn in my flesh." On the 28th of January, Worden had learned, through "a contraband," the position of the obstructions and torpedoes which bad effectively blocked his way in the assault of 27 January. "This information," Worden reported," with the aid of the contraband, whom I took on board, enabled me to take up a position nearer the fort in the next attack. . . "
Ammunition supplies replenished, Montauk moved to within 600 yards of McAllister in the early morning; the gunboats took a position one and three-quarters miles below the fort. Worden opened fire at 7:45 a.m., and reported at ''7:53 a.m. our turret was hit for the first time during this action at which time the enemy were working their guns with rapidity and precision. The Confederate fire was concentrated on the ironclad, which took some 48 hits in the 4-hour engagement.
Colonel Robert H. Anderson, commanding Fort McAllister, paid tribute to the accuracy of the naval gunfire: ''The enemy fired steadily and with remarkable precision. Their fire was terrible. Their mortar fire was unusually fine, a large number of their shells bursting directly over the battery. The ironclad's fire was principally directed at the VIII- inch columbiad, and the parapet in front of this gun was so badly breached as to leave the gun entirely exposed."
General Beauregard added: ''For hours the most formidable vessel of her class hurled missiles of the heaviest caliber ever used in modern warfare at the weak parapet of the battery, which was almost demolished; but, standing at their guns, as became men fighting for homes, for honor, and for independence'. the garrison replied with such effect as to cripple and beat back their adversary, clad though in impenetrable armor and armed with XV and XI inch guns, supported by mortar boats whose practice was of uncommon precision.
Rear Admiral Porter wrote Secretary Welles: "I have the honor to report that, hearing that there was a lot of cotton at Point Chicot, on the Mississippi, belonging to the so-called Confederate Government, and that the agents were moving it back into the country or about to burn it, I sent up the ram Monarch, Colonel Ellet, and the Juliet, Acting Lieutenant [Edward] Shaw, and seized 250 bales, which I now have and am using to protect the boilers of those vessels that are vulnerable. There are now altogether 300 bales in the squadron, which I recommend should be sold when no longer needed and the proceeds placed in the Treasury. All cotton on the river
belongs to the rebel Government, and on that they depended to carry on the war. I recommend that it be all seized and sold for the benefit of the Government. There is authority enough on record to justify me in taking cotton under certain circumstances, but not enough to take it in all cases. Eight thousand bales will pay the expenses of the squadron per year, and I think there will be no difficulty in obtaining that amount when Colonel Ellet gets his brigade ready and we can penetrate some 6 or 8 miles into the interior, where it is all stowed away.''
Captain Percival Drayton reconnoitered the Wilmington River, Georgia, with U.S.S. Passaic and Marblehead. He reported to Du Pont: ". . . I went within sight of Wassaw or Thunder-bolt, and two and a quarter miles distant when I was stopped by shallow water. . . . The Batteries were very extensive, and large bodies of troops drawn up on the shore. I was not fired on although quite within range; a battery which is about a mile nearer than ones I saw, was covered by the wood and I was not high enough to open it. I saw two small steamers but nothing that looked like the Fingal.'' Du Pont's ships were constantly active, enabling the Union forces to prevent the Confederates from launching a decisive counteroffensive along the South Atlantic coast.
U.S.S. Two Sisters, Acting Master William A. Arthur, seized sloop Richards from Havana off Boca Grande, Mexico.
U.S.S. Tahoma, Lieutenant Commander A. A. Semmes, and U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson, Lieutenant David Cate, captured blockade running British schooner Margaret off St. Petersburg.
2 Ram U.S.S. Queen of the West, Colonel C. R. Ellet, attacked Confederate steamer City of Vicksburg, which lay under the batteries of that citadel. Ellet had hoped to get underway to make the attack before daybreak, but the necessity of readjusting the wheel put the engagement off until it was fully light and "any advantage which would have resulted from the darkness was lost to us." The Confederates opened a heavy fire on Queen of the West as she approached the city, but succeeded in hitting her only three times before she reached the steamer. Ellet reported: ''Her position was such that if we had run obliquely into her as we came down the bow of the Queen would inevitably have glanced. We were compelled to partially round to in order to strike. The consequence was that at the very moment of collision the current, very strong and rapid at this point, caught the stern of my boat, and, acting on her bow as a pivot, swung her around so rapidly that nearly all her momentum was lost."
Having anticipated this eventuality, Ellet had ordered the starboard gun shotted with in-cendiary shell, which now set City of Vicksburg aflame, though this was rapidly extinguished by the Confederates. City of Vicksburg fired into Queen of the West, which had bulwarks of cotton built up around her sides and one shell set the ram afire near the starboard wheel; meanwhile, the dis-charge of her own gun set Queen in flames in the bow. "The flames spread rapidly and the dense smoke rolling into the engine room suffocated the engineers. I saw that if I attempted to run into the City of Vicksburg again that my boat would certainly be burned. . . . After much exertion, we finally put the fire out by cutting the burning bales loose." Queen of the West then steamed downstream under orders to destroy all Confederate vessels encountered.
Unable to ascend the Big Black River because of the narrowness of the stream, Ellet continued down the Mississippi. On 3 February, below the mouth of the Red River, he met Confeder-ate steamer A. W. Baker coming up river. Baker, "not liking the Queen's looks," ran ashore but was captured. She had just delivered her cargo to Port Hudson and was returning for another. Ellet had placed a guard on board when another steamer, Moro, was seen coming down stream. "A shot across her bows," Ellet reported, "brought her to laden with 110,000 pounds of pork, nearly 500 hogs, and a large quantity of salt, destined for the rebel army at Port Hudson."
Running short of coal, Ellet turned back upriver, destroying 25,000 pounds of meal awaiting transportation to Port Hudson. Stopping at the mouth of the Red River to release the civilians captured on Baker and Moro, he also seized steamer Berwick Bay. She, too, carried a large cargo for Port Hudson: 200 barrels of molasses, 10 hogsheads of sugar, 30,000 pounds of flour, and 40 bales of cotton. Ellet ordered his prizes destroyed and returned to his position below Vicksburg. Some $200,000 worth of property had been destroyed by Queen of the West.
Of the intrepid Ellet, Porter remarked: "I can not speak too highly of this gallant and daring officer. The only trouble I have is to hold him in and keep him out of danger. He will under-take anything I wish him to without asking questions, and these are the kind of men I like to command." This was one of a series of important operations that seriously disrupted Confederate supply channels and built up to the eventual fall of Vicksburg in mid-summer.
C.S.S. Alabama experienced a fire on board which was rapidly extinguished but which prompted Captain Semmes to write: ''The fire-bell in the night is sufficiently alarming to the landsman, but the cry of fire at sea imports a matter of life and death--especially in a ship of war, whose boats are always insufficient to carry off her crew, and whose magazine and shell-rooms are filled with powder, and the loaded missiles of death."
U.S.S. Mount Vernon, Lieutenant James Trathen, drove blockade running schooner Industry aground off New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina, and burned her.
3 The long, tortuous Army-Navy operation against Fort Pemberton at Greenwood, Mississippi, was begun with the opening of the levee at Yazoo Pass to gain access to the Yazoo River above Haynes' Bluff and reach Vicksburg from the rear. The next day Acting Master G. W. Brown, of U.S.S. Forest Rose, which was standing by to enter the opening, reported that "the water is gushing through at a terrible rate. . . . After cutting two ditches through and ready for the water, we placed a can of powder (so pounds) under the dam, which I touched off by means of three mortar fuzes joined together. It blew up immense quantities of earth, opening a passage for the water, and loosened the bottom so that the water washed it out very fast. We then sunk three more shafts, one in the entrance of the other ditch, and the other two on each side of the mound between the two ditches, and set them off simultaneously, completely shattering the mound and opening a passage through the ditch. . . . [creating] a channel 70 or 75 yards wide. It is thought that it will be at least four or five days before we can enter.'' The plan of attack called for gunboats and Army transports to go through the Pass into Moon Lake, down the Coldwater and Tallahatchie Rivers to the Yazoo, take Pemberton, effect the capture of Yazoo City, and proceed down to assault Vicksburg on its less strongly defended rear flanks.
U.S.S. Lexington, Fairplay, St. Clair, Brilliant, Robb, and Silver Lake, under Lieutenant Commander Fitch, supported Army troops at Fort Donelson and repulsed a Confederate attack at that point. Proceeding up the Cumberland River on convoy duty from Smithfield, Kentucky, Fitch's squadron met steamer Wild Cat coming down river some 24 miles below Dover, Tennessee, bearing a mes-sage from Colonel Abner C. Harding, commanding at Donelson, which reported that he was being assaulted in force by Confederate troops. Fitch pushed his squadron "on up with all possible speed" and arrived in the evening to find the defending troops "out of ammunition and entirely surrounded by the rebels in overwhelming numbers, but still holding them in check." Not expecting the presence of the gunboats, the Confederates had taken a position which enabled the mobile force afloat to rake them effectively with a telling fire from the guns. "The rebels were so much taken by surprise," Fitch reported, "that they did not even fire a shot, but im-mediately commenced retreating. So well directed was our fire on them that they could not even carry off a caisson that they had captured from our forces, but were compelled to abandon it, after two fruitless attempts to destroy it by fire.'' Fitch then stationed his vessels to prevent the return of the Southern forces.
C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned at sea schooner Palmetto, bound from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with cargo of provisions. Of the chase of Palmetto, Semmes said: "It was beautiful to see how the Alabama performed her task, working up into the wind's eye, and overhauling her enemy, with the ease of a trained courser coming up with a saddle-nag."
U.S.S. Sinoma, Commander Stevens, captured blockade running British bark Springbok off the Bahamas.
3-8 U.S.S. Tyler, Lieutenant Commander James M. Prichett, patrolled the Yazoo River and confis-cated 113 bales of cotton. This was in keeping with Porter's plan to seize all Confederate cotton for the dual purpose of preventing its being shipped out through the blockade and to protect the vessels of his Mississippi Squadron. Porter advised Secretary Welles: ''Three hundred more bales are in my possession, captured from rebel parties, but I am using it at present for protecting the boilers of the different boats. When no longer needed, I will forward it to Cairo."
4 Rear Admiral Du Pont wrote Major General David Hunter: ''Among the defects in matters of detail on the ironclads is the absence of all means of making the navy signals. . . . It has been suggested to me, however, that the army code, which we have on various occasions found so useful, might be employed at times on these vessels from the side not engaged or exposed at the moment. In order to effect this, I propose, if agreeable to you, that several of the young officers of the squadron should be instructed in the code, and will be greatly obliged if you will issue the necessary orders, with such restrictions as may be required." Du Pont added, ''I learn the code now forms part of the instruction at the Naval Academy." Hunter replied in the usual spirit of cooperation: "It will afford me sincere pleasure to comply with your request in regard to the army signal code, orders having been already issued to the chief signal officer of this De-partment to furnish all requisite facilities and instruction to such of your officers as you may assign to this service."
U.S.S. New Era, temporarily under Acting Ensign William C. Hanford, captured steamer W. A. Knapp with cargo of cloth at Island No. 10.
6 Rear Admiral Porter ordered Lieutenant Commander W. Smith to command the expedition through Yazoo Pass aimed at the capture of Yazoo City as part of the planned move on Vicksburg: "You will proceed with the Rattler and Romeo to Delta, near Helena, where you will find the Forest Rose engaged in trying to enter the Yazoo Pass. You will order the Signal, now at White River, to accompany you; and if the Cricket comes down while you are at Delta, detain her also, or the Linden. . . . Do not engage batteries with the light vessels. The Chillicothe will do the fighting." To this force was later added U.S.S. Baron De Kalb and Marmora and towboat S. Bayard in lieu of Cricket and Linden. "If this duty is performed as I expect it to be," Porter wrote, ''we will strike a terrible blow at the enemy, who do not anticipate an attack from such a quarter.
Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, U.S.S. Conestoga, reported intelligence gathered from a reconnaissance mission one of many which the Navy conducted to facilitate precise planning and preparation for future operations. From the information gathered by Lieutenant [Cyrenius] Dominy, of the Signal, I should judge the rebels have no heavy guns in the river up to Little Rock. A passenger told him that after the capture of the post [Arkansas Post] the gunboats were daily expected, but the idea was now generally given up. The [Confederate] ram Pontchartrain has not had steam up for some time. Some men are still at work upon her. She requires a good deal of pumping to keep her free. She has as yet no guns. She has no officers of consequence. . . She is represented as being casemated with 20 inches of wood and railroad iron to abaft her wheels. [Thomas C.] Hindman is represented with 16,000 troops at Little Rock, [James] McCullough with 6,000 at Pine Bluff fortifying, [John S.] Marmaduke with 3,000 cavalry at Dardanelle. These numbers are greatly overestimated as effective troops, as Little Rock is represented as full of sick soldiers.'' Selfridge also proposed an immediate attack on Little Rock and the destruction of the ram. Though his plan was not followed, both his aims were achieved during the year; Little Rock was occupied on 10 September and Pontchartrain was de-stroyed by the Confederates to prevent her capture. The Union's ability to move on the river highways in Arkansas, as elsewhere, pinned down Confederate strength and caused constant loss.
7 Rear Admiral Porter reported to Secretary Welles: " Vicksburg was by nature the strongest place on the river, but art has made it impregnable against floating batteries-not that the number of guns is formidable, but the rebels have placed them out of our reach, and can shift them from place to place in case we should happen to annoy them (the most we can do) in their earthworks. . . . The people in Vicksburg are the only ones who have as yet hit upon the method of defending themselves against our gunboats, viz, not erecting water batteries, and placing the guns some distance back from the water, where they can throw a plunging shot, which none of our ironclads could stand. I mention these facts to show the Department that there is no possible hope of any success against Vicksburg by a gunboat attack or without an investment in the rear of the city by a large army. We can, perhaps, destroy the city and public buildings, but that would bring us no nearer the desired point (the opening of the Mississippi) than we are now. . . . The fall of Vicksburg came only after a long combined land and water siege and attack as Porter indicated.
U.S.S. Forest Rose, Acting Master G. 'V. Brown, succeeded in entering Yazoo Pass and proceeded into Moon Lake as far as the mouth of the Old Pass. Brown learned that Confederates were obstructing Coldwater River by felling trees across it. He reported another difficulty to Porter: ''We cannot enter the pass with this boat until the trees are trimmed and some of the overhanging trees cut down." The density of the woods would slow the vessels greatly and damage the smokestacks and upper works severely.
In a letter to Secretary Mallory, a daring plan for a raiding expedition on the Great Lakes was proposed by Lieutenant William H. Murdaugh, CSN. Four naval officers would make their way to Canada and purchase a small steamer, man her with Canadians, and reveal the object of the cruise only when underway'. The crew was to be armed with revolvers and cutlasses. The steamer was to carry torpedoes, explosives, and incendiary materials.
At Erie, Pennsylvania, Murdaugh planned to carry U.S.S. Michigan by boarding, and then advance on Lake Ontario through the Welland Canal to destroy locks and shipping. The scheme was to pass through Lake Huron into Lake Michigan, "and make for the great city of Chicago. At Chicago burn the shipping and destroy the locks of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. Then turn northward, and, touching at Milwaukee and other places, Pass again into Lake Huron, go through the Sault St. Marie, and destroy the lock of the Canal of that name. Then the vessel could be run into Georgian Bay, at the bottom of which is a railway connecting with the main Canadian lines, and be run ashore and destroyed." The bold venture was approved by the Navy Department, but, as Lieutenant Murdaugh wrote, President Davis believed that ''it would raise such a storm about the violation of the neutrality laws that England would be forced to stop the building of some ironclads and take rigid action against us everywhere. So the thing fell through and with it my great chance."
Commander Ebenezer Farrand, CSN, reported to Governor John G. Shorter of Alabama the success-ful launching of ironclads C.S.S. Tuscaloosa and Huntsville at Selma, ''amid enthusiastic cheering.'' Both warships were taken to Mobile.
U.S.S. Glide, Acting Ensign Charles B. Dahlgren, was destroyed accidentally by fire at Cairo, Illinois.
8 U.S.S. Commodore McDonough, Lieutenant Commander Bacon, and an Army transport reconnoitered the Stono and Folly Rivers, South Carolina, at the request of Major General John G. Foster and "discovered that the enemy had not taken advantage of our absence to erect any new batteries."
9 Illustrative of the continuing, vital importance of the inland rivers was the report of Lieutenant Commander Fitch, commanding U.S.S. Fairplay, from Smithfield, Kentucky: "I have the honor to report my return from Nashville, having landed in safety at that place with some 45 steamers. This makes 73 steamers and 16 barges we have convoyed safely to Nashville since the river has been navigable for our boats."
Rear Admiral Du Pont wrote Secretary Welles of the difficulties in obtaining logistical support for his blockading squadron a major problem for all naval commanders: "Our requisitions for general stores, I have reason to believe, are immediately attended to by the bureaus in the Department but there seem to be unaccountable obstacles to our receiving them. . . We have been out of oil for machinery. Coal is not more essential . . . We were purchasing from transports or wherever it could be found, two or three barrels at a time. Finally the Union came with some, but it was stored under her cargo and the captain wished to defer its delivery until his return from the Gulf, which, however, I would not allow. The vessel was to have brought important parts of the ration, such as sugar, coffee, flour, butter, beans and dried fruit with clothing but she did not. The articles named are exhausted on the store ships of this squadron. My commanding officers complain that their wants are not supplied, and I have been so tried by the increasing demands for articles which I could not supply that I can defer no longer addressing the Department on the subject."
U.S.S. Cocur de Lion, Acting Master Charles H. Brown, captured blockade running schooner Emily Murray off Machodoc Creek, Virginia, with cargo of lumber, sugar, and whiskey.
10 Confederate troops disabled ram Dick Fulton at Cypress Bend, Arkansas, by gunfire.
11 Rear Admiral Porter was continually concerned with supply problems. He wrote Commander Pennock at Cairo: ''As circumstances occur I have to change the quantity of coal required here and find it impossible to hit upon any particular quantity. It is likely that we shall want a large amount, and I want a stack of 160,000 bushels sent to the Yazoo River, besides the monthly allowance already required, viz, 70,000 bushels here, 40,000 at White River and 20,000 at Mem-phis." Stressing the need to have logistic support rapidly available for his mobile forces, Porter added: "You will also have the Abraham filled up with three months' provisions and stores for the squadron, or as much as she can carry, and keep her ready at all times with her machinery in order and in condition to move at a moment's notice to such point as I may designate. Circumstances may occur when it will be necessary to move the wharf boat, and you will arrange for the most expeditious plan to do so. . . . You will see from what I have written the importance of carrying out my order to the letter, for much depends on my being in such a position with the squadron that I can not be hampered, and can be in a condition to move where I please."
12 As on the East Coast and on the western waters at and above Vicksburg, great demands were placed on Farragut's fleet in the lower Mississippi and along the Gulf coast. Farragut observed: ''Everyone is calling on me to send them vessels, which reminds me of the remark of the musician, 'It is very easy to say blow! blow! but where the devil is the wind to come from?'
Starting to visit his blockading units at Ship Island, Mobile, and Pensacola, Farragut was called back to New Orleans by conditions at Vicksburg. He wrote Secretary Welles:'' . . . I have the same appeal made to me from all quarters, viz, for more force. The ships are all out of coal, and the enemy threatens to attack us. The Susquchanna has kept on the blockade, to my astonish-ment. I had hoped that the Colorado would have been here to relieve her before this. My force in this river is reduced to the fixed force of the Pensacola and Portsmouth and the Hartford, Richmond, Essex, and three gunboats, viz, Kineo, Albatross, and Winona. This is a very small force to give protection to the river commerce and be ready to pass or attack the batteries on the river. Com-modore H. H. Bell does not think it prudent to leave Galveston without a ship, and Commodore [Robert B.] Hitchcock does not think it proper to leave Mobile without a ship, as the enemy have doubtless a much stronger force inside than we have outside. Still, they would not come out except on a very calm day. The moment that I can withdraw a ship from the river I will do so, as the gunboats will be all-sufficient when Port Hudson and Vicksburg are taken and the other high points on the river occupied to prevent the enemy from fortifying them."
U.S.S. Queen of the West, Colonel C. R. Ellet, steamed up Red River and ascended Atchafalaya River where a landing party destroyed twelve Confederate Army wagons. That night, Queen of the West was fired on near Simmesport, Louisiana, Next day, Ellet returned to the scene of the attack and destroyed all the buildings on three adjoining plantations in reprisal. The vessel had previously run below Vicksburg to disrupt Confederate trade in the Red River area.
Lincoln conferred with Assistant Secretary Fox on the projected naval assault on Charleston. Two days later, the President discussed ammunition for the ironclads to be used against that port with Captain Dahlgren. Lincoln was reported to be "restless about Charleston."
C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Maffitt, captured ship Jacob Bell in West Indian waters, bound from Foo-Chow, China, to New York with cargo of tea, firecrackers, matting, and camphor valued at more than $2,000,000. Jacob Bell was burned on the following day.
U.S.S. Conestoga, Lieutenant Commander Selfridge, seized steamers Rose Hambleton and Evansville off White River, Arkansas.
13 U.S.S. Indianola, Lieutenant Commander George Brown, ran past the batteries at Vicksburg to join U.S.S. Queen of the West in blockading the Red River. Rear Admiral Porter's instructions to Brown added: "Go to Jeff Davis' plantation load up with all the cotton you can find and the best single male Negroes." Towing two barges filled with coal, Indianola steamed slowly past the upper batteries undetected. Abreast the point, Indianola was sighted and a heavy fire opened upon her without effect.
Lieutenant Commander W. Smith, commanding the light draft expedition into Yazoo Pass, arrived at 'Helena, Arkansas. Porter ordered U.S.S. Baron Dc Kalb Lieutenant Commander J. G. Walker, to join the forces. Unable to enter the pass with his vessels, Smith observed: "A heavy army force is clearing this, which in places at turns, may not admit of our vessels getting through. Our force takes the trees from the stream while the rebels on the other end cut them from both sides to fall across. The army is expected to be through with this pass in one week."
Commander A. Ludlow Case, U.S.S. Iroquois, reported the steady strengthening of Confederate positions in the Wilmington area. Noting that they were "working like beavers," Case wrote: "From their apparent great energy I am induced to believe that in the event of our capture of Charleston this is to be the point for the blockade runners. . . . They now have four casemated batteries west of Fort Fisher completed and a fifth nearly so, each mounting two or three guns, built of heavy framework, and covered deeply with sand and sodded. . . . The defenses are much more formidable and much more judiciously arranged, on account of detached batteries, than those at the South Bar, Fort Caswell, etc. . . . If a vessel now gets inside of the blockaders she can soon run under cover of the batteries and anchor until the tide serves for crossing the bar. A few months ago this would have been impossible, the defenses at that time being such as to make an immediate crossing of the bar absolutely necessary.'' Wilmington did, in fact, become the primary port for blockade runners in the last half of the Civil War for precisely this reason.
Commander James H. North, CSN, wrote from Glasgow to Secretary Mallory: "I can see no prospect of recognition from this country [Great Britain]. . . If they will let us get our ships out when they are ready, we shall feel ourselves most fortunate. It is now almost impossible to make the slightest move or do the smallest thing, that the Lincoln spies do not know of it.'
U.S.S. New Era, Acting Ensign Hanford, captured steamer White Cloud, carrying Confederate mail, and steamer Rowena, carrying drugs, on the Mississippi River near Island No. 10.
14 U.S.S. Queen of the West, Colonel C. R. Ellet, patrolling the Red River, seized steamer Era No. 3 with a cargo of corn some 15 miles above the mouth of Black River. Ellet continued up river to investigate reports of the presence of three Confederate vessels at Gordon's Landing. Queen of the West was taken under heavy fire by shore batteries. Attempting to back down river, the pilot ran her aground, directly under the Confederate guns. "The position," Ellet wrote, "at once became a very hot one; 60 yards below we would have been in no danger. As it was, the enemy's shot struck us nearly every time.'' Queen of the West's chief engineer reported that the escape pipe had been shot away; the steam pipe was severed. Ellet ordered the ship abandoned. A formidable vessel was now in Confederate hands.
Though efforts steadily increased to maintain the tight blockade of the Southern coast, daring Confederates stirred by patriotism and the lure of profit continued to elude the Union warships. Captain Sands, U.S.S. Dacotah, off Cape Fear River, North Carolina, reported a typical example: ''I had a picket boat from this vessel inside the bar, and one from the Monticello was anchored on the bar in 13-feet of water. The latter saw nothing of the blockade runner [Giraffe], but my picket boat, in charge of Acting Master W[illiam] Earle, saw her pass between him and the shore, and came near being run over by her soon after discovering her. The boat was an-chored in 12-feet of water on the western side of the channel, with the fort [Fort Fisher] bearing N.N.E., and the steamer passed between her and the beach, evidently having tracked the beach along, where, under cover of the dark land, she could not be seen a quarter of a mile off in the obscurity of the hour before daylight. . . . The Chocura was stationed at the Western Bar, the Monticello farther west, near the shore, and the Dacotah guarding the approaches to the bar. Yet neither vessel, with all their accustomed watchfulness, saw anything of the blockade runner, and it is with much chagrin that I am obliged thus to report a rebel success.
U.S.S. Forest Rose, Acting Master G. W. Brown, captured stern-wheel steamer Chippewa Valley with cargo of cotton at Island No. 63.
Commander Clary, U.S.S. Tioga, reported the capture of blockade running British schooner Avon with cargo including liquor near the Bahamas.
15 Rear Admiral Porter ordered Acting Lieutenant Robert Getty, U.S.S. Marmora: ''Proceed to Delta, the old Yazoo Pass, and report to Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith as part of his expedi-tion. . . . If you meet any vessel taking in cotton below White River, seize vessel, cotton, and all, and leave her at White River. . . By this time, as Brigadier General Gorman remarked, secrecy was "out of the question," and it had become necessary to prepare for a more extended expedition than had been originally anticipated.
U.S.S. Sonoma, Commander Stevens, captured brig Atlantic, bound from Havana to Matamoras.
16 President Lincoln, greatly interested in the naval assault on Charleston, reviewed plans for the attack with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox.
17 Rear Admiral Porter wrote Secretary Welles: "I have reason to believe that the enemy's troops at Port Hudson are in a strait for want of provisions, and if pushed by General [Nathan P.] Banks' troops that fort will fall into our hands. It is situated in a swampy, muddy region 60 miles from any railroad, and the rains, which have exceeded anything I ever saw in my life, have rendered hauling by wagon impossible. Our vessels above them cut off all hope of supply or aid of any kind from Red River and they must, in a short time, make a retreat. . ." Porter's estimate was overly optimistic. Loss of Queen of the West and other events to follow would re-open the Red River supply line so that Port Hudson sustained its position into the summer of 1863.
Confederate troops captured and burned U.S. tug Hercules opposite Memphis. The Confederates attempted to seize seven coal barges at the same place, but were unable to "run them off,'' accord-ing to Captain McGehee, commanding the Southern force, "owing to the terrific fire from the gunboats which were lying at the Memphis wharf."
18 U.S.S. Victoria, Acting Lieutenant Edward Hooker, captured brig Minna near Shallotte Inlet, North Carolina, with cargo of salt and drugs.
Cutter from U.S.S. Somerset, Lieutenant Commander Alexander F. Crosman, captured blockade runner Hortense, bound from Havana to Mobile.
19 The Confederate Navy Department made a decision to mount an expedition to attempt to destroy the Union monitors at Charleston. Secretary Mallory sent the following orders to Lieutenant William A. Webb, CSN, for a strike against the Northern forces: ''Should it be deemed advisable to attack the enemy's fleet by boarding, the following suggestions are recommended for your consideration: . . . First-Row-boats and barges, of which Charleston can furnish a large number. Second-Small steamers, two or three to attack each vessel. Third-the hull of a single-decked vessel without spars, divided into several watertight compartments by cross bulk-heads, and with decks and hatches tight, may have a deckload of compressed cotton so placed on either side, and forward and aft, so as to leave a space fore and aft in the centre. A light scaffold to extend from the upper tier of cotton ten or fifteen feet over the side, and leading to the enemy's turret when alongside the iron-clad, and over which it can be boarded, at the same time that boarding would be done from forward and aft. This could be made permanent or to lower at will. The boarding force to be divided into parties of tens and twenties, each under a leader. One of these parties to be prepared with iron wedges, to wedge between the turret and the deck; a second party to cover the pilot house with wet blankets; a third party of twenty to throw powder down the smoke-stack or to cover it; another party of twenty provided with turpentine or camphine in glass vessels to smash over the turret, and with an inextinguishable liquid fire to follow it; another party of twenty to watch every opening in the turret or deck, provided with sulphuretted cartridges, etc., to smoke the enemy out. Light ladders, weighing a few pounds only, could be provided to reach the top of the turret."
Rear Admiral Du Pont wrote of the blockade: ''No vessel has ever attempted to tun the blockade except by stealth at night which fully established internationally the effectiveness of the blockade-but it is not sufficient for our purpose, to keep out arms and keep in cotton-unfortunately our people have considered a total exclusion possible and the government at one time seemed to think so. A cordon of ships covering the are from Bulls Bay to Stono, some twenty-one miles moored together head and stern-would do it easy but that we have not the means to accom-plish. I have forty ships of all classes, sometimes more never reaching fifty-a considerable number are incapable of keeping at sea or at outside anchorage-the wear and tear and ceaseless breaking of American machinery compared with English or even French now, keep a portion of the above always in here [Port Royal] repairing. If I had not induced the Department to estab-lish a floating machine shop, which I had seen the French have in China, the blockade would have been a total failure. . . . Steam however is the new element in the history of blockades, which no one at first understands, as both sides have it-but it is all in favor of the runner-he chooses his time, makes his bound and rushes through, his only danger a chance shot-while the watcher has banked fires, has chains to slip, has guns to point and requires certainly fifteen minutes to get full way on his ship. It is wonderful how many we catch, how many are wrecked, there is another on the beach now with the sea breaking over her. . . "
C.S.S. Retribution. Acting Master Power, captured brig Emily Fisher in West Indian waters.
20 U.S.S. Crusader, Acting Master Thomas I. Andrews, captured schooner General Taylor in Mobjack Bay, Virginia.
21 Lieutenant Commander W. Smith reported the readiness of his expedition to enter Yazoo Pass: ''Our party, consisting of the Chillicothe, Baron De Kalb, Marmora, Romeo, Forest Rose, S. Bayard (side-wheel towboat), and three barges of coal, containing 12,000, 10,000 and 5,000 bushels, are all snug at the entrance of Yazoo Pass, ready to go through the moment the stream is clear and the working boats get out of the way. A small army transport is to go through with us, with the excess of men over the 500, which the light-drafts will carry. . . . I expect the Signal from Memphis tonight. I am to receive the troops tomorrow. The difficulty in removing both Confederate placed and natural obstructions had slowed the proposed movement to a crawl.
C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned at sea ship Golden Eagle and bark Olive Jane. Of the former, Semmes wrote: "I had overhauled her near the termination of a long voyage. She had sailed from San Francisco, in ballast, for Howland's Island, in the Pacific; a guano island of which some adventurous Yankees had taken possession. There she had taken in a cargo of guano, for Cork. . . . This ship [Golden Eagle had buffeted the gales of the frozen latitudes of Cape Horn, threaded her pathway among its ice-bergs, been parched with the heats of the tropic, and drenched with the rains of the equator, to fall into the hands of her enemy, only a few hundred miles from her port. But such is the fortune of war. It seemed a pity, too, to destroy so large a cargo of a fertilizer, that would else have made fields stagger under a wealth of grain. But those fields would have been the fields of the enemy, or if it did not fertilize his fields, its sale would pour a stream of gold into his coffers; and it was my business upon the high seas, to cut off, or dry up this stream of gold. . . . how fond the Yankees had become of the qualifying ad-jective, 'golden,' as a prefix to the names of their ships. I had burned the Golden Rocket, the Golden Rule, and the Golden Eagle."
U.S.S. Thomas Freeborn, Lieutenant Commander Samuel Magaw, and U.S.S. Dragon, Acting Master George E. Hill, engaged a Confederate battery below Fort Lowry, Virginia, while recon-noitering the Rappahannock River. Freeborn was struck and one Confederate gun was silenced.
23 Boat crews from Coast Survey schooners Caswell, William H. Dennis, and Arago, William S. Edwards, hoarded and seized blockade running schooner Glide, aground near Little Tybee Island, Georgia, with cargo of cotton. Possession of the prize was relinquished to U.S.S. Marblehead, Lieutenant Commander Robert 'V. Scott, upon her arrival at the scene.
U.S.S. Dacotah, Captain Sands, and U.S.S. Monticello, Lieutenant Commander Daniel Braine, closed Fort Caswell, North Carolina, to engage a large steamer attempting to run the blockade. The fort opened on the Union ships and an exchange of fire ensued; the steamer was out of range of the Union warships.
U.S.S. Potomska, Acting Lieutenant William Budd, captured blockade running British schooner Belle in Sapelo Sound, Georgia, with cargo of coffee and salt.
U.S.S. Kinsman, Acting Lieutenant Wiggen, transporting a detachment of troops, struck a snag and sank in Berwick Bay, Louisiana. Six men were reported missing.
24 C.S.S. William H. Webb and Queen of the West, with C.S.S. Beatty in company, engaged U.S.S. Indianola, Lieutenant Commander G. Brown, below Wartenton, Mississippi. The Confederate squadron, under Major Joseph L. Brent, CSA, had reached Grand Gulf just 4 hours behind the Northern vessel which was returning upstream to communicate with Rear Admiral Porter above Vicksburg.
Knowing his speed was considerably greater than that of Indianola, Brent determined to attempt overtaking the ironclad and attacking her that night Shortly before 10 pm. the Con-federate vessels were seen from Indianola and Brown "immediately cleared for action. . . Queen of the West opened the action, attempting to ram the Indianola; she knifed into the coal barge lashed to the ship's port side and cut it in two but did little damage to Indianola. Webb dashed up and rammed Indianola at full speed. The impact swung Indianola around; Queen of the West again struck only a glancing blow. Queen of the West maneuvered into a position to ram, this time astern, and succeeded in shattering the framework of the starboard wheelhouse and loosening iron plating. At this time Webb completed circling upstream in order to gain momen-tum and rammed Indianola, crushing the starboard wheel, disabling the starboard rudder, and starting a number of leaks.
Being in what Brown termed "an almost powerless condition," Indianola was allowed to fill with water to assure her sinking, run on to the west bank of the river and surrendered to Lieutenant Colonel Frederick B. Brand of C.S.S. Beatty, which had been "hovering round to enter the fight when an opportunity offered." Loss of Indianola was keenly felt. Secretary Welles wrote Porter: ''The disastrous loss of the Indianola may, if she has not been disabled, involve the most serious results to the fleet below.'' Porter expressed the view: "The importance of this move to our army here can not be estimated. We had already broken the communications of the enemy in Texas with Vicksburg and Port Hudson. We had cut off all supplies and means of transportation, having destroyed some of their best boats. In a week more the water would have surrounded Port Hudson, and there being no means of getting away, they would have been obliged to evacuate in time. We hoped in a short time to force this thing by getting one or two more gunboats below, and troops enough to land close to Port Hudson. That place evacuated, General Banks could have ascended the river. . . . There is no use to conceal the fact, but this has in my opinion, been the most humiliating affair that has occurred during this rebellion.
My only hope is that she has blown up." This ended Porter's move to blockade the Red River by detached vessels while he kept the body of the fleet above Vicksburg. The South also held Queen of the West and had bright prospects for raising Indianola and placing her in a serviceable condition.
A deserter from Confederate receiving ship Selma gave the following information about submarine experiments and operations being conducted by Horace L. Hunley, James R. McClintock, B. A. Whitney, and others, at Mobile, where the work was transferred following the fall of New Orleans to Rear Admiral Farragut: ''On or about the 14th an infernal machine, consisting of a submarine boat propelled by a screw which is turned by hind, capable of holding five persons. and having a torpedo which was to be attached to the bottom of the vessel, left Fort Morgan at 8 p.m. in charge of a Frenchman who invented it. The invention was to come up at Sand Island, get the bearing and distance of the neatest vessel.'' He added that this failed but that other attempts would be made. This submarine went down in rough weather off Fort Morgan, but no lives were lost. Hunley and his colleagues built another in the machine shop of Park and Lyons, Mobile; this was to be the celebrated H. P. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel in combat.
Cutters from U.S.S. Mahaska, Lieutenant Elliot C. V. Blake, captured and destroyed sloop Mary Jane and barge Ben Bolt in Back Creek, York River, Virginia.
U.S.S. State of Georgia, Commander James F. Armstrong, seized blockade running British schooner Annie at sea off Cape Romain, South Carolina, with cargo of salt and drugs.
Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey, commanding the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, reported the capture of schooner Stonewall by U.S S. Tahoma, Lieutenant Commander A. A. Semmes, near Key West.
24-25 U.S.S. Conemaugh, Lieutenant Commander Thomas H. Eastman, chased blockade running British steamer Queen of the Wave aground neat the mouth of the North Santee River, South Carolina. Unable to get Queen of the Wave off the bar, he destroyed her on 7 March.
25 The light draft gunboat expedition entered Yazoo Pass after a lengthy delay while Army troops cleared away obstructions in the river. Reporting to Rear Admiral Porter the next day, Lieu-tenant Commander W. Smith briefly noted some of the difficulties encountered: "If we get through this with our casemates still up and wheels serviceable, it will be as much as can reasonably be expected. There is about room for one of your tugs handled skillfully. Our speed is necessarily less than the current, as backing is our only and constant resort against dangers and to pass the numerous turns. This gives every vagrant log a chance to foul our wheels, and as many do foul them; delays are frequent. Our damages so far, though not serious, are felt.''
Confederates worked feverishly to raise ex-U.S.S. Indianola. C.S.S. Queen of the West was sent up river to Vicksburg to obtain a pump and other materials, but soon was seen returning below Warrenton. She brought news of a large Union "gunboat" passing the Vicksburg batteries and approaching the small Confederate squadron. According to Colonel Wirt Adams, CSA, "All the vessels at once got underway in a panic, and proceeded down the river, abandoning without a word the working party and fieldpieces on the wreck." He continued: "The Federal vessel did not approach nearer than 2,'2 miles, and appeared very apprehensive of attack."
After making further fruitless efforts to free Indianola of water, the next evening the work-ing patty fired the heavy XI-inch Dahlgren guns into each other and burned her to the water line. The Union ruse had worked. The "gunboat" was a barge, camouflaged to give the appearance of a formidable vessel of war, that Rear Admiral Porter had floated down river. A Con-federate paper reported bitterly: "The Yankee barge sent down the river last week was reported to be an ironclad gunboat. The authorities, thinking that this monster would retake the India-nola, immediately issued an order to blow her up. . . . It would really seem we had no use for gunboats on the Mississippi, as a coal barge is magnified into a monster, and our authorities immediately order a boat that would have been worth a small army to us-to be blown up.
U.S.S. Vanderbilt, Acting Lieutenant Charles H. Baldwin, seized blockade running British steamer Peterhoff off St. Thomas. An international dispute arose as to the disposition of the mails carried on board the steamer, and eventually Lincoln ruled that they should be returned to the British. Though Peterhoff was initially condemned as a lawful prize, some 4 years later this decision was reversed.
27 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and released on bond ship Washington in the mid-Atlantic. Semmes noted: "She was obstinate, and compelled me to wet the people on her poop, by the spray of a shot, before she would acknowledge that she was beaten."
28 U.S.S. Montauk, Commander Worden, supported by U.S.S. Wissahickon, Seneca, and Dawn, shelled and destroyed blockade runner Rattlesnake, formerly C.S.S. Nashville, lying under the guns of Fort McAllister in the Ogeechee River. For some 8 months Rattlesnake had been lying at the fort, awaiting an opportunity to run the blockade. The day before (27 February), Worden had noticed Rattlesnake's renewed movements above McAllister; subsequent reconnaissance indicated that the vessel had grounded. "Believing that I could, by approaching close to he battery," Worden reported, "reach and destroy her with my battery, I moved up at daylight this morning. . . The Union squadron found Rattlesnake still aground, and, under heavy fire from the fort, began bombarding her. The gunboats contributed enfilading fire from long range. Within 20 minutes Rattlesnake was aflame. Montauk dropped down river about 8:30 and struck a torpedo. The explosion-described by her Second Assistant Engineer, Thomas A. Stephans, as "violent, sudden" – fractured the iron hull and caused sufficient damage to warrant running Montauk onto a mud bottom to effect repairs. About 9:30, Rattlesnake's magazine ignited and the vessel blew up "with terrific violence, shattering her smoking ruins." Thus occurred the "final disposition," as Worden wrote, "of a vessel which has so long been in the minds of the public as a troublesome pest.
The Navy portion of the expedition through Yazoo Pass reached the Coldwater River and spent the next 2 days (through 2 March) waiting for the Army transports to join up. The time was utilized in making repairs on damaged smokestacks and wheels, in readying the rams Fulton and Lioness which, along with gunboat U.S.S. Petrel, had joined on the 28th, and in collecting bales of cotton for protecting the bulwarks of the vessels.
U.S.S. Wyandank, Acting Master Andrew J. Frank, captured schooners Vista and
A.W. Thompson at Piney Point, Virginia.
U.S.S. New Era, Acting Ensign Hanford, seized steamer Curlew, at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River.