Mr. McKay's American Civil War Notes

The Naval War


USS St. Louis ironclad gunboat


 

This section explores the naval war in the Western Theater, which involved three major arenas of action: the Union naval blockade of the Southern coastline and ports, the fights for the rivers, and amphibious operations of joint Union Army and Naval forces.

The naval actions reflect some of the best and worst of both sides military prowess, with some of the most incompetent commanders imaginable taking center stage in some battles, and some of the most deeply heroic and inspiring actions of the entire war taking center stage in others. When you mention naval actions in the Civil War, however, most people routinely recall only four things, five if they are especially well read: the Battle for Mobile Bay and the quote, "Damn the Torpedoes!", the Union blockade, the fight between the Monitor and the Merrimac, and the Confederate submarine Hunley. Some may also recall the landmark naval battle between the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama. Just for illustration, and bearing in mind we have a collection of unusually highly educated and intelligent folks here tonight, how many hear have ever heard of the:

-       The Battle for Mobile Bay

o      It was really a battle for the entrance to the large bay, and the quote everyone knows so well is most likely false, as we will discuss later.

-       Union blockade, and Confederate attempts to break it?

o      We will talk more about this later tonight.

-       The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac?

o      It never happened. The USS Monitor fought a landmark battle with the CSS Virginia, and ironclad built over the captured and burned hull of the USS Merrimac, on March 9, 1862, off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

-       The submarine Hunley?

o      It wasn't a true submarine, it was a submersible, which means it was able to operate underwater for relatively short periods of time, but had to surface to navigate. We will talk more about it later.

-       The battle between the Kearsarge and the Alabama?

o      It occurred off the coast of France in 1864, and really not within the subject matter of this lecture series, but there is one small, rather amusing connection that I would like to point out; do we have any University of Alabama fans here tonight? That school's heroic battle cry for their so-called football team (or was that instead the so-called battle cry for their heroic football team?) is "Roll Tide," which was adapted from a well-known period song about the intrepid Confederate raider, "Roll, Alabama, Roll."

 

Background to the Naval War

            As I mentioned in our last session, after Lincoln's election, and the parade of Southern states seceding from the Union, it was not at first thought that any grand scheme or strategy for defeating the strong Confederate armies would have to be devised. Aged USA General Winfield Scott, Commander-in-Chief of all Union armies, suggested early on a plan that would cut off trade and supply to the South, effectively starving it into submission. This so-called "Anaconda Plan" was initially rejected by Northern politicians, who in the manner of politicians everywhere and throughout history, demanded a "quick'n'easy" solution to a complex and deadly problem. Their idea, unfortunately happily carried out by the army, was to simply march out, "show the grand old flag," and the Southerners would run screaming from the field.

            Southerners proved a bit more intractable than the Northern politicians had predicted. With the Union disaster at the First Manassas (First Bull Run to the Yankees), realization set in that this was not going to be any sort of "90-day war," and that a real, workable strategy would have to be adopted. Based on Scott's plan, a three-part strategy was approved and adopted; first, a tight naval blockade of the entire Southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts, to cut off supplies and trade with foreign nations; second, an invasion of Virginia as soon as possible with the goal of capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond; and third, the capture and control of the major river systems in the heartland of the Confederacy, the Mississippi, Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.

            The naval blockade was initially put into place on over 3,500 miles of Southern coastline by July, 1861, but USA Major General George Brinton McClellan's feeble attempts to take Richmond proved much less successful. To carry out the third portion of the grand plan, USA Brigadier General Ulysses Simpson Grant and USA Flag-Officer Andrew Hull Foote (various sources list him as a Captain, Commodore or Admiral at this point in time) were given the mission of opening up the great Southern rivers to Union control. Together, they decided to initially concentrate on taking control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in northern Tennessee.

 

Riverine Warfare and "Brown Water" Naval Tactics

            The U.S. Navy prior to the outbreak of war was nearly completely devoted to "blue water" naval vessels and tactics, those suitable to fighting on the open seas. Following the lead of Britain's Royal Navy, the rather smallish fleet was largely comprised of "ships of the line," massive multi-decked battle ships designed to fight in the even by-then archaic battle-line concept, using grouped large smooth-bore cannons to wreck the rigging and pierce the hulls of enemy combatants. The U.S. Navy possessed 90 ships of all types when the war began, but only 42 were listed "in-service" at spots all around the globe, only 8 were actually available for combat service in U.S. waters, and not a single warship would suffice for river warfare. Although other navies had experimented with metal-clad armored, shallow-draft warships, and the French had used several to good success in the Crimean War, almost every U.S. ship was both of wooden construction and sail-powered.

            On the other hand, the fledgling Confederate Navy had not a single ship at the outbreak of hostilities, and a host of problems to overcome. Another part of the Union strategic plan called for a tight blockade of the Southern coastline and ports, which the C.S. Navy would be charged with either breaking or at least prevented from totally closing down the most critical ports. It was obvious that the Mississippi River was going to be a major area of conflict, and suitable ships for port defense there were needed as well. The final and greatest problem was where these ships would come from, as nearly every major shipyard and heavy industrial facility was located in the North.

One of the major problems for both sides was designing a whole new class of fighting ship, along with developing a whole new doctrine of warfare, at the same time the war these were going to be used in was already raging. While the naval authorities on both sides had a wealth of experience in fighting and sailing in the open oceans, they were both going to have to adapt to fighting in shallow, narrow river channels, with little room to maneuver, and always within easy range of shore batteries.

 

Tennessee and Columbia Rivers Campaign

            Grant and Foote agreed to start their Western Rivers campaign on the Cumberland River near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, the success of which would open up a river corridor straight inland to Nashville. Foote had overseen the construction of a new class of navy craft specifically designed for such inter-service operations, the ironclad riverboat. These boats were relatively small, 75 feet long and 50 feet wide on average, shallow draft craft with protected mid-ship paddlewheels for propulsion, ironclad either entirely or at least protecting the gun decks, with rectangular casements covered by sloping iron armor with small hatches for cannon. These were initially nicknamed "Pook" boats, after the naval architect responsible for their basic design, Samuel Pook (an enigmatic figure about whom nearly nothing is documented), but quickly rechristened after what they most closely resembled, "Turtleboats."

            Early on, most of the available gunboats were simply modified civilian riverboats, with widely varying sizes and gun capacities. One carried only four 8-pounder guns, while others carried guns as heavy as 42-pounders and mounting as many as 12 guns. Foote commanded three unarmed boats and four ironclads in the opening battles, manned by a rather motley assortment of 500 sailors who were formerly riverboat crewmen, Maine lumberboat sailors, New England whalers, New York ferrymen, and several only described as "Philadelphia sea-lawyers." I do not believe this was a compliment!

            On the army side, Grant had about 15,000 soldiers organized into a two divisions with five brigades. USA Brigadier General Charles Ferguson Smith took charge of three brigades, while USA Brigadier General John Alexander McClernand had two brigades under his command.

 

            The Confederate Plan

            In overall charge of the defense of the Mississippi River and it's approaches was CSA Major General Leonidas Polk, an Episcopalian Bishop who was quite frankly more at home in the ministry than the military. He was convinced that the main Union attack would move down the Mississippi, and accordingly placed most of his men and material in the buildup of fortifications at Columbus, Kentucky, for the defense of Memphis. He refused several requests for manpower and supplies to build up defenses on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, believing that these were "backwater accesses with no real strategic value."

            Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris, more concerned about the loss of the middle of his state than Polk was, personally ordered CSA General Daniel S. Donelson to construct fortifications on these two rivers at the Kentucky border, where they are only 12 miles apart. Donelson choose a very poor site for the post guarding the Tennessee River; later named Fort Henry, it was placed on a flood plain that frequently flooded, and was commanded by high ground across the river. The Cumberland River post was much better; later named Fort Donelson in his honor, the earthwork fort consisted of 2 1/2 miles of fortifications surrounding two heavily entrenched artillery emplacements atop a 70-foot bluff overlooking the river.

 

            The Battle of Fort Henry

            Grant and Foote started their campaign with a river and overland assault on Ft. Henry. Foote started up the Tennessee River with his seven gunboats closely followed by Grant's force loaded on transport barges. Grant's plan was to land his force on either side of the fort, to prevent escape of the garrison, and march overland towards an assault while Foote's gunboats weakened the Confederate defenses by continuous bombardment.

            Inside Ft. Henry, things were getting soggy. The river was flooding again, and water was standing two feet deep in parts of the fort. Post commander CSA Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman was disgusted, calling the fort's condition "wretched," he sent most of the 2,500 man garrison to nearby Ft. Donelson and kept only a single 60-man artillery company to man the 17 guns.

            On February 6, 1862, with Grant's troops landed and on their way over muddy, flooded roads, Foote sailed his gunboats nearly to the ramparts of the fort and opened fire. With the fort continuing to flood, Tilghman's gunners returned a telling fire, disabling two gunboats and killing or wounded nearly two score of their crew. The fort's crew faired little better, with four guns flooded out or disabled by enemy fire and 20 men killed or wounded. After less than two hours of bombardment, Tilghman surrendered his post, even before Grant had a chance to close in. The fort was so flooded by that point that the Union officers accepting the surrender floated in the main gate by boat. Lost in the brief confrontation were 11 killed, 31 wounded and five missing for the Union force; Tilghman reported his losses at 20 killed or wounded, and all the rest made prisoner.

 

            The Battle for Ft. Donelson

            The day after the fall of Ft. Henry, Commander of the Western Theater, CSA General Albert Sydney Johnston ordered the abandonment of Columbus and Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the movement of most of his armies south of the Cumberland River. To facilitate this movement and make safe his new positions, he ordered that Ft. Donelson must be reinforced and held.

            Ft. Donelson originally held a garrison of 5,000 troops, soon reinforced to a total of 18,000 (as few as 12,000 by some accounts) but burdened with a weird command structure where three generals shared the responsibility; CSA Brigadier General John Buchanan Floyd, CSA Brigadier General Gideon Pillow and CSA Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. To add to the unworkable situation of having three commanders, Buckner and Pillow were bitter political enemies back home in Kentucky, Pillow was a lawyer with no formal military training and a bad case of arrogance, Buckner was the only professional soldier of the three, and Floyd was a weak-willed politician who had been Buchanan's Secretary of War. Floyd took over as senior commander, strictly by virtue of his earlier date of commission.

 

            The Advance to Ft. Donelson

            Grant waited several days before marching on Ft. Donelson, building up his forces to as many as 27,000, with about 15,000 ready for an immediate investment of the Confederate stronghold. On the afternoon of February 13, the Union troops were in position to the south on west of the fort, with Foote on the way upriver with his gunboats and more troops to land on the north side of the fort. The day was clear and sunny, with quite warm temperature for a winter's day, leading many of the Union soldiers to ditch their heavy overcoats by the side of the road as they marched in.

            The night of February 13 a winter storm blew in, dropping the temperature down to 10 degrees and set off a raging blizzard on the unprotected troops. Campfires had been forbidden, as any light brought a barrage from Ft. Donelson's guns. A brief skirmish earlier in the day had resulted in numerous Union wounded, many of whom froze to death during the long night.

 

            The Gunboats Enter the Action

            Late in the afternoon of February 14 Foote arrived and swung into action. His four heavily armored gunboats closed within 400 yards of the fort, exchanging heavy fire with the Confederate artillery crews until darkness set in. Foote was decisively defeated, his gunboats raked with heavy cannon fire until rendered useless, and most of his sailors aboard killed or wounded. Foote himself was seriously injured aboard his flagship, the St.Louis, ultimately dying of complications caused by the wound 16 months later.

            Although the Confederate force had been quite successful resisting the waterborne assault, it was obvious that they would not be able to make much of a stand against Grant's land based assault, sure to come in the following days. The three generals agreed to break out towards the east and rejoin the rest of Johnston's force in Nashville. Launching a strong attack on the Union lines across the Nashville Road at daybreak, Pillow and Buckner managed to force the road open by noon. Unbelievably, though, Pillow ordered a retreat back into the fort on hearing a report that the Union troops in the area might be receiving reinforcements. Floyd, still in the fort, supported Pillow and all the Southern soldiers who had forced the breakout were smartly marched back into the besieged garrison.

            Pillow later claimed that he ordered the return to the fort because of a "confusion over orders", stating that he thought the men were to go back, pack their belongings and presumably tidy up the place before leaving. Once back in the fort, he insisted that his men needed food and rest before embarking on such a long march, and Floyd timidly backed him up against the violently agitated Buckner, who rightfully insisted they had to leave immediately for any hope of escaping the Union envelopment. As they stood arguing, Grant launched his own attack.

            Correctly assessing that, as the attack had come from the Confederate left, their right must be weaker, USA General Charles Ferguson Smith led his division in a strong assault against the Confederate trenchlines, now held only by a single regiment of infantry. Buckner immediately moved his men back to counter-attack, but Smith was able to capture and hold the outer line of defenses on that side of the fort before darkness brought an end to the days fighting.

 

            The Surrender of the Fort

            The three Confederate generals again conferred, Pillow and Floyd in a shear panic at their own capture, and Buckner disgusted with their amateurish attempts at command. Floyd passed command of the post to Pillow, who immediately passed it to Buckner, who had made it clear that the only choice available was surrender. As Buckner made ready to end his resistance, Floyd and Pillow commandeered a steamboat and got themselves to safety across the river, along with a few hundred soldiers of Floyd's command. Newly appointed cavalry officer, CSA Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, disgusted with Buckner's intention to surrender, received his permission to escape through the surrounding swamps with as many men as possible.

            On the morning of February 16, Buckner sent a message across to Grant asking for his surrender terms. Grant replied in a famous message (later used as his nickname), "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender." Meeting at the Dover Inn later that afternoon, Buckner surrendered his command and the post. Casually discussing the action later with his pre-war friend Grant, Buckner mentioned that he must have been disappointed not to have captured Pillow and Floyd as well. Grant, well aware of Pillow's alleged "abilities" as a battlefield commander, remarked that had he captured him, he would have immediately released him, as he was more a danger to the Confederacy than an asset!

            Numbers of those engaged, casualties and prisoners made vary wildly from source to source, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 27,000 Union and 21,000 Confederate troops were involved in the action, with Grant losing about 2,800 dead, wounded or missing. The Confederate force lost about 2,000 dead or wounded, and had about 14,500 made prisoner, the rest escaping with Forrest or "bugging out" on their own.

 

Upper Mississippi Campaign

With the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson, followed quickly by the evacuation of Columbus, Kentucky, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, chose Island No. 10, about 60 river miles below Columbus, to be the strongpoint for defending the Mississippi River. Nearby was New Madrid, one of the weak points. Brig. Gen. John Pope, commander of the Union Army of the Mississippi, set out from Commerce, Missouri, to attack New Madrid, on February 28, 1862. The force marched overland through swamps, lugging supplies and artillery, reached the New Madrid outskirts on March 3, and laid siege to the city.

Brig. Gen. John P. McCown, the garrison commander, defended both New Madrid and Island No. 10 from the fortifications. He launched a sortie, under Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, Missouri State Guard, against the besiegers and brought up heavy artillery to bombard them. On the 13th, the Confederates bombarded the Yankees to no avail. Since it did not appear possible to defend New Madrid, the Confederate gunboats and troops evacuated to Island No. 10 and Tiptonville. On the 14th, Pope's army discovered that New Madrid was deserted and moved in to occupy it. A U.S. Navy flotilla, under the command of Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote, arrived March 15 upstream from Island No. 10. The ironclad Carondelet on the night of April 4 passed the Island No. 10 batteries and anchored off New Madrid. Pittsburgh followed on the night of April 6. The ironclads helped to overawe the Confederate batteries and guns, enabling Pope's men to cross the river and block the Confederate escape route. Brig. Gen. William W. Mackall, who replaced McCown, surrendered Island No. 10 on April 8. The Mississippi was now open down to Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

After the Confederate River Defense Fleet, commanded by Capt. James E. Montgomery and Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson (Missouri State Guard), bested the Union ironclads at Plum Run Bend, Tennessee, on May 10, 1862, they retired to Memphis. Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard ordered troops out of Fort Pillow and Memphis on June 4, after learning of Union Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck's occupation of Corinth, Mississippi. Thompson's few troops, camped outside Memphis, and Montgomery's fleet were the only force available to meet the Union naval threat to the city.

From Island No. 45, just north of Memphis, Flag-Officer Charles H. Davis and Col. Charles Ellet launched a naval attack on Memphis just after 4:00 am on June 6, 1862. Arriving off Memphis about 5:30 am, the battle began. In the hour and a half battle, the Union boats sank or captured all but one of the Confederate vessels; General Van Dorn escaped. Immediately following the battle, Col. Ellet's son, Medical Cadet Charles Ellet, Jr., met the mayor of Memphis and raised the Union colors over the courthouse. Later, Flag-Officer Davis officially received the surrender of the city from the mayor. The Indiana Brigade, commanded by Col. G.N. Fitch, then occupied the city.  Memphis, an important commercial and economic center on the Mississippi River, had fallen, opening another section of the Mississippi River to Union shipping.

 

Lower Mississippi Campaign

            After the fall of the Confederate river forts and outposts from Memphis northward along the Mississippi, the major points of concern for the Union Navy were New Orleans, Port Hudson and Vicksburg. New Orleans would be the immediate problem; the largest city in the Confederacy, it had the greatest number of ship building and other industrial facilities than any other single area of the South, and to leave it untouched was to guarantee a strengthened Confederate military. However, it was located on a curve of the Mississippi surrounded by swamps and marshy lowlands that precluded an overland campaign, and was well protected from attack by sea by two powerful forts 70 miles downstream just above the Head of the Passes, Forts Jackson and St. Philip.

            The two masonry forts originally ordered constructed by Andrew Jackson in 1822 following his victory over the British force in the area in 1814. Fort Jackson was the larger of the two, roughly star shaped positioned on the western bank of the river, manned by about 700 troops and mounting 74 guns, including several 10-inch Columbiads, the largest gun in the Confederate inventory at the time. A smoothbore cannon, the Columbiad was capable of throwing a 128 pound shell over 1,800 yards with deadly accuracy. It was more than capable of destroying any of the U.S. Navy's wooden ships of the day. Fort St. Philip was across the river on the opposite bank, about one-half mile further upstream, and was an unusual construction of thick brick walls covered by dirt ramparts in a sort of "squished" star arrangement, also manned by about 700 troops and mounting 52 guns. (No images of this fort, contemporary or today, could be located) Both forts were well located in a bend in the river that any ship would have to slow down to navigate, making any attempt to "blow by" the posts unlikely.

            To add to the riverborne defenses, a third ancient fort just upstream was also garrisoned and armed, Fort Chalmette, which was the site where Jackson had fought the British during the War of 1812 (where this battle was fought over two weeks after the war was over). No-one thought it really necessary to man this old post, but it provided some insurance in case an enemy fleet managed to get past the two forts downstream. Between Forts Jackson and St. Philip, heavy chains holding several old ships hulks were placed across the river, and strongly anchored blocking the rver passage.

 

            The Navies

The defense at Forts Jackson and St. Philip was further backed up by the fledgling Confederate Navy's western gulf fleet, consisting of four ships of the line, backed up by two ships of the Louisiana Navy, and six converted riverboats mounting a single gun each and rather grandiosely called the "River Defense Fleet". Records are incomplete, but the ships probably mounted a total of about 100 guns.

By the end of March, 1862, US Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut had assembled two small fleets to take on the enormous task of opening up the lower Mississippi, an 18-ship gunboat fleet led by his own flagship, the Hartford, a 2,900 ton screw sloop 225 feet long and 44 feet wide, that had a top speed of just under 14 knots. The two frigates, five sloops and 11 ironclad gunboats mounted a total of 243 guns. A second fleet known as the "Mortar Flotilla," commanded by USA Commander David Dixon Porter, Farragut's own foster brother, consisted of 22 two-masted sail powered schooners roughly 100 feet long each, mounting a single 13-inch mortars that fired a 200-pound shell up to 4,000 yards, landing nearly vertical and easily lobbed over fortification walls. These mortar schooners sailed under their own power while at sea, but were towed upriver by their own assigned support fleet of 8 gunboats and unarmed towboats.

On April 8, 1862, Farragut moved all but one of his ships across the shallow passes and sandbars that marked the entrance to the Mississippi River at the Head of the Passes. A few days later he was followed by a large troop ship fleet bearing USA Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler and his 18,000 man army command, and both began moving upriver on their campaign to take New Orleans.

 

            The Battle of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip

            Farragut decided to let Porter's mortar flotilla handle the problem of the powerful Confederate forts before he brought his own fleet into firing range. On April 18, the 22 mortar schooners were towed into position just south of a bend in the river below Fort Jackson, and commenced a heavy bombardment of the two posts. Over the next five days about 17,000 rounds of ammunition were fired, which slightly damaged the forts but failed to kill many men of the garrisons, or destroy any of their gun emplacements.

Farragut, displaying his usual impatience, decided to cancel the bombardment (which was not doing much good anyhow) and send his fleet in to directly attack the Confederate stronghold, and as quickly as possible get past it upriver; his main goal being to capture New Orleans as soon as possible. The first of several obstacles in his way was the chained-together old ships across the river below the two forts, and he assigned USA Lieutenant Charles H.S. Caldwell, captain of the Itaska, to find a passage through.

            After several failed attempts to blast through the line of obstacles by cannon fire and explosives, Caldwell decided to simply ram his way through. Bringing his gunboat up to full speed, he hit the chains about midchannel and swiftly parted them, leaving a clear passage for the rest of the fleet. Farragut arranged his gunboats into three divisions, then signaled for them to move out at 2 AM on April 24.

The first division was led by the large gunboat Cayuga, in front of two screw sloops, two corvettes and three more gunboats strung out in a single column. The small task force was not seen until nearly upon Fort Jackson, but then the Confederate gunners opened up with every available cannon. The Cayuga was raked by fire not only from the forts, but also from three of the Confederate gunboats lying anchored nearby. All three gunboats were quickly sunk by the lead Union ship and two others that rapidly closed in.

The second division, led by Farragut's own flagship Hartford soon entered the growing fight, and was nearly immediately attacked by a Confederate ship pushing a fire raft, which struck and nearly threatened to set ablaze the Union ship. Farragut calmly ordered the fire to be doused and the enemy ship sunk, both of which occurred in rapid secession, then just as calmly turned his attention the rest of the battle.

A wild naval melee had broken out by now, with the Confederate ram Manassas attacking the Union ships Mississippi and Brooklyn, both of which escaped with little damage, before moving downstream towards the rest of the Union fleet. Before she could mount another attack, the Mississippi turned on her and forced the Confederate ship aground under a near blizzard of shot and shell. The crew barely escaped with their lives while the boat was shot to pieces on the bank.

While this drama was unfolding downstream, the Louisiana navy steamer Governor Moore attacked the onrushing Union fleet led now by the corvette Varuna. Each ship raked the other with concentrated fire, inflicting heavy casualties on both, while the Governor Moore actually shot it's own bow away in order to place point-blank fire into the Union gunboat. After a follow up ramming attack, the Union corvette sank near the far bank, taking most of her crew with her. The Governor Moore did not have much time to celebrate; moments later, as she turned away from the sinking Union ship, exposing her sides to the rest of the Union fleet, a heavy blast of fire from several ships exploded her magazine and sent her burning to the bottom with almost all her crew.

            Seeing the burning and wrecked Confederate ships drifting past his schooners just downstream, Porter ordered his mortars to renew their fire on the forts. The fort's gunners were forced to stop their own fire on the Union fleet, but once again, little physical damage was done to the two Confederate outposts. However, the real damage was already done, as Farragut's fleet was now safely past the two forts, having wrecked the Confederate naval fleet at the cost of 37 dead, 149 wounded, one ship sunk and two damaged. Farragut signaled Butler to bring his troopships on upriver and bypass the forts, which would be allowed to simply starve themselves out when New Orleans was taken and their supplies cut off.

 

            The End of the Battle for New Orleans

            As soon as Butler had moved his troopships above the two Confederate forts, Farragut ordered his fleet to set sail once again towards New Orleans. Nearing old Fort Chalmette, he noticed that the Confederate defenders had installed river batteries on both banks, threatening his passage. The Brooklin opened fire on both sides with her swivel mount 80-pounder Dahlgren gun, sending only about 20 shots into the batteries before their gunners broke and ran, leaving the river passage open. This action was probably the best showing of the entire war for that particular model of Dahlgren gun, as most 80-pounders had a tendency to burst after just a few rounds.

            Watching Farraguts actions from a levee nearby, New Orleans garrison commander CSA Major General Mansfield Lovell at once ordered his 4,000 man command to destroy what supplies they could, along with the tons of cotton bales sitting on the docks ready for shipment, then pulled out of the city before Farragut's ships approached.

            On the morning of April 25, Farragut's fleet sailed into the New Orleans port and docked without a single shot being fired, although his gun crews were standing by at the ready. The civil authorities of the city acted with a quite ill-thought impudence at first, actually daring Farragut to "try and take the city," but finally bowed to the obvious and formally surrendered the city on April 29. The commanders of Forts Jackson and St. Philip originally intended to hold fast to their posts, but the men mutinied and demanded the forts be abandoned. On April 28 the forts guns were spiked and the officers formally surrendered their posts to Butler's men. The short action had cost the Confederates only 12 dead and 40 wounded, but lost one of the most critical ports in the entire western theater.

 

            Last Guardian of the River: Port Hudson

            With New Orleans and Memphis successfully taken, only two last Confederate outposts remained in the way of complete control of the river by the Union Navy - the heavy batteries controlling access between Port Hudson, Louisiana, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Worse, for the success of the grand Union strategy, this stretch of Confederate controlled river included the mouth of the Red River, giving a clear waterborne supply and communications route to the Trans-Mississippi Theater.

            Despite several months of attempts by Farragut to blast through the Confederate river defenses, it became obvious that a land attack or series of attacks to neutralize the position would be necessary. A series of assaults and counter-assaults over the next three months proved futile for both sides. Another general assault was scheduled for July 7, but was postponed due to poor weather. Before it could be rescheduled news arrived about the fall of Vicksburg; the Confederate commanders of the outpost decided they could not hold out alone against additional Union forces surely heading his way. Formal surrender of the garrison took place on July 9, with 5,500 prisoners walking into captivity. With this act, the Mississippi River was at long last once again under full Union control, and the Confederacy had suffered a devastating breach from which it would never recover.

 

(Good place for a break!)

 

St. Johns River Campaign

Although a casual look at a map would indicate that northeastern Florida today would be a prime candidate for a strategic stronghold, the situation there in 1862 was far different. Although St. Augustine had been established in 1565, and small outposts on Amelia Island and Jacksonville to the north for nearly as long, there was very little to attract the immediate attention of the Union Army or Navy. Manufacturing facilities and warehouses for supplies were non-existent, there were no major cities or troop concentrations anywhere nearby from which to launch raids using the area as a base, transportation lines to the interior were restricted to narrow roads and a single rail line, while most heavy traffic was confined to the St. Johns River, which was quite large but flowed very close to the coast itself.

Naval actions in this area were confined to exactly two incidents, the capture of Ft. Clinch on Amelia Island, and the advance up the St, Johns to Jacksonville. Both were entirely bloodless actions, with almost no resistance on the part of the miniscule Confederate forces in the area. If I recall correctly the only exchange of gunfire in either action occurred at Commodore's Point, about two miles upriver from the Jacksonville docks, where a small group of Union soldiers was sent in to drive off an equally small group of Confederate pickets.

We will discuss further the actions that took place subsequent to these in north Florida in our next session.

 

Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers Campaign

During the Civil War, Columbus was one of the Confederacy's most critical logistical centers, second only to Richmond in the amounts of war materials produced and supplied to the Confederate armies. The war greatly expanded the capacity and scope of the Columbus Iron Works and the city's other industries.  As the textile mills tripled their output and new companies started manufacturing uniforms, swords, pistols, and rifles, the Iron Works began fabricating small cannons for local military units.  These weapons included the "Ladies Defender," cast from brass collected by the city's women and the "Red Jacket," used by the Columbus Guards to salute Jefferson Davis at his inauguration in Montgomery.  By 1862, the Iron Works was molding and manufacturing mortars, brass twelve-pounders, and wrought iron rifled cannons under contract from the Confederate Ordinance Department.  An experimental breech loading cannon revealed the expertise of the company's employees, but they only produced one.

In June of 1862, the Confederate Navy leased the Columbus Iron Works.  James H. Warner, formerly a Chief Engineer in the U.S. Navy, converted the C. S. (Columbus) Naval Iron Works into the largest manufacturer of naval machinery within the Confederacy.  Its engines and boilers drove at least half of the steam-powered vessels built by the Confederacy, including the gunboat Chattahoochee and the ironclad Jackson.  (Portions of the Chattahoochee's engines, extremely rare Civil War artifacts, are preserved at the James W. Woodruff, Jr. Confederate Naval Museum).  The C.S. Naval Yard, a separate organization, built the Jackson in cooperation with the adjacent C.S. Naval Iron Works. 

The Jackson, an ironclad ram scream steamer, was to be a huge ironclad, especially considering it was meant to operate on the inland rivers. It was 223 feet long, with a 58 foot beam and an 8 foot draft, mounting four 7-inch Brooke Rifles; two 6.4-inch Brooke Rifles; two 12 pounder boat howitzers.

Workers from both facilities joined other militia units who tried to prevent General James Wilson from capturing Columbus on the night of April 16, 1865.  General Emory Upton, with about 400 dismounted men, assaulted and carried the breast-works of Columbus, saving, by the impetuosity of his attacks, the bridges over the Chattahoochee, and capturing 52 field guns in position, besides 1,200 prisoners. The CSS Jackson, nearly ready for sea, and carrying an armament of six 7-inch guns, fell into the Union raiders hands and was destroyed, as well as the navy-yard, foundries, the arsenal and the armory, sword and pistol factory, accouterments, shops, paper-mills, 4 cotton factories, 15 locomotives, 200 cars, and an immense amount of cotton, all of which were burned. The next morning, eight days after Robert E. Lee's surrender, Union troops burned the city's cotton warehouses, the Jackson , and all the war-related industries, which collectively had supplied the Confederacy with more manufactured goods than any city except Richmond.

            One of the gunboats fitted out and docked at Columbus was the CSS Chattahoochee, 141 feet long, with a 30 foot beam and a 7 foot draft, mounting four 32 pounders, one 9-inch Dahlgren; one rifled and banded 32 pounder, and manned by 120 officers and crew. The Chattahoochee was built in 1862-63 at Saffold, Ga., but was plagued by machinery failures throughout her entire aborted career. In June, 1864, while she was undergoing repairs at Columbus, 11 of her officers and 50 crewmen tried unsuccessfully to capture the USS Adela blockading Apalachicola, Fla. The USS Somerset drove off the raiders with a rapid fire and heavy cannonade, capturing much of their arms and munitions in the process. When the Confederates abandoned the Apalachicola River in December 1864, the Chattahoochee was destroyed to prevent capture.

 

The Union Naval Blockade and Blockade Runners

As I mentioned earlier, one of the pillars of the Union overall war strategy was to establish a blockade of the sudden coastline harbors.  This had the effect of legally prohibiting those waters to neutral shipping.  The Union declaration was very much a bluff as at the beginning of the war, as the US Navy only had 8 ships suitable for battle in port, and the relative handful of other, newer ships were on far-flung overseas stations from Japan to the Mediterranean.  To enforce a blockade the Union brought its industrial capacity to bear and commenced a massive shipbuilding program that was supported by the conversion of suitable merchant ships to warships.  Although ships were built in record time (one class was known as the "90 day gunboats" referring to the duration of their construction), blockade took time to become effective, however, the Confederacy never took advantage of this to declare it broken and open the ports to neutral shipping with war supplies that they so desperately needed.

The South never had the naval capacity to break the blockade although the came close to it once.  In early 1863 to small Confederate ironclads, Chicora and Palmetto State sortied out of Charleston harbor.  The blockading squadron had no armored ships and was completely outclassed.  One Yankee ship was sunk while two others struck their colors.  It appeared that the blockade had been broken, if only for a very short time.   However since the Southern ironclads were unable to put prize crews on the surrendered Northern ships, they both unsurrendered themselves, raised their colors again and sailed off in the confusion.  The Union Navy reinforced Charleston with ironclads that put a stop to any further sorties by Chicora and her consort.  Whilst all is fair in love and war, you can understand why most Southerners felt that Northern officers were not quite gentleman.

As the war progressed the blockading got tighter and tighter.  More Union ships were available and more Southern ports were closed by Union attacks.  Although never completely watertight, a blockade of the South eventually proved effective.  In the final analysis the Confederacy was choked to death. It has been estimated that the blockade was violated 8,200 times during the war and that 1,500 runners were captured or destroyed. In 1862, one out of eight attempts to run the blockade was unsuccessful; in 1863, one in four; in 1864, one in three; and in 1865, the chances were still no worse than one in two. For the entire war, five out of six runners got through the cordon. At the end of the war there were still about 150 runners operating in and out of Southern ports. The side-wheeler R.E. Lee ran the blockade 21 times in less than a year. The Port of Wilmington shipped out $65 million worth of cotton in the last year of the war and brought in vast amounts of material to help sustain the Confederacy.

These figures, however, are just one side of the story. The blockade may have been violated- by both runners and all other ships entering or leaving the ports- a total of 8,200 times during the war, but for the four years prior to the war more than 20,000 vessels had operated out of those same ports. The runners may have been able to keep trade alive, but they could not compensate for the great merchant marine that would have been able to sustain the Confederacy had the blockade not been in force.

 

The Submarine Hunley

         It may seem odd that I talk about one of the true genius military innovations of the Confederacy at this juncture, where we are discussing the Union blockade, but this was very much indeed a single-purpose weapon, and it's purpose was to break the blockade around a critical port. The H.L. Hunley was a Confederate submersible that demonstrated the advantage and danger of undersea warfare. Although not this nation's first submarine (believe it or not, that distinction belongs to the Turtle, constructed and employed during the American Revolutionary War!), Hunley was the first submarine in the world to engage and sink a warship in action.

         Privately built in 1863 by Park and Lyons of Mobile, Alabama, Hunley was fashioned from a cylindrical iron steam boiler, which was deepened and also lengthened through the addition of tapered ends. Hunley was designed to be hand powered by a crew of nine: eight to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. As a true submarine, each end was equipped with ballast tanks that could be flooded by valves or pumped dry by hand pumps. Extra ballast was added through the use of iron weights bolted to the underside of the hull. In the event the submarine needed additional buoyancy to rise in an emergency, the iron weight could be removed by unscrewing the heads of the bolts from inside the vessel.

On 17 February 1864, the Confederate submarine made a daring late night attack on USS Housatonic, a 16-gunned sloop-of-war, in Charleston Harbor off the coast of South Carolina. H.L. Hunley rammed Housatonic with it's spar torpedo packed with explosive powder and attached to a long pole on its bow. The spar torpedo embedded in the sloop's wooden side was detonated by a rope as Hunley backed away. The resulting explosion that sent Housatonic with five crew members to the bottom of Charleston Harbor apparently also damaged and eventually sank Hunley with its crew of eight. The Hunley was recently salvaged, is undergoing archeological investigation and preservation, and should be placed on display in five to seven more years.

 

Land-Sea Battle Along the Outer Banks

To counter the threat of the Union naval blockade on the Outer Banks, Confederate authorities had given their blessing to a quasi-military fleet of small sailing vessels, dubbed the "mosquito fleet" by the Southerners and "privateers" or outright "pirates" by the Union, which ran supplies through the blockade, helped defend the coastline and raided Union ships when the opportunity arose. To back up these small ships, five strong forts and associated batteries were constructed all along the narrow coastal islands, and placed under the overall command of CSA Brigadier General Walter Gwynn and CSA Brigadier (later Major) General Theophilus Hunter Holmes.

 

            Battle of Hatteras Inlet

            To defend the vital access to the mainland ports, North Carolina had constructed two forts on either side of the small village on the north bank of Hatteras Inlet; Fort Hatteras, mounting twelve 32-pounder guns, was on the west side and closer to the channel itself, while Fort Clark, mounting five 32-pounders, was a smaller post closer to the ocean. Commanding the Hatteras Island Garrison was CSA Colonel William F. Martin, with about 400 men and 35 artillery pieces. With news of the approach of Union naval forces, Martin requested and received somewhere between 200 and 400 reinforcements (accounts vary significantly on this point).

            Sailing down from Fort Monroe, Virginia, was a Union naval force of seven ships mounting 143 cannon, under the direct command of Stringham, accompanied by transports carrying the USA Colonel Rush Christopher Hawkins 9th ("Hawkins' Zouaves") and USA Colonel Max Weber's 20th ("United Turner Rifles") New York Infantry Regiments and the 2nd United States Artillery Battery, under overall command of Butler. Arriving off the Outer Banks on the afternoon of August 27, Stringham spent the rest of the night getting his ships into position to begin a bombardment of the Confederate posts the next morning.

            On the morning of August 28, Stringham opened a heavy bombardment of Fort Clark, and landed roughly half of Weber's Regiment under it's cover. Weber's men easily overran the Confederate defenses, after Fort Clark's defenders ran out of ammunition and retreated to Fort Hatteras. Watching the Confederates running over the sand dunes towards the westernmost fort, Stringham initially thought both posts had been abandoned. The USS Monticello was ordered into the inlet to give chase, only to be pounded by heavy fire from the still-ready and able defenders at Fort Hatteras. Ironically, the only Union casualty of the day's action was an infantryman killed by one of Stringham's guns. As the seas were rough, Stringham was forced to pull offshore, leaving Weber's small command to hold Fort Clark.

            During the night, as Martin was preparing to attack and retake Fort Clark, CSA Commodore Samuel Barron, Chief of Confederate Coastal Defenses, landed with about 200 reinforcements, and took over command of the operation. His first action was to cancel any offensive plans, and spent the rest of the night repairing and building up the sandwork fort.

            The next morning, August 29, Stringham sailed back into the inlet over calm seas, and began a heavy bombardment of Fort Hatteras. Unusual for the time, he kept his ships moving while firing, and stayed just out of range of the Confederate guns. After just three hours of intense fire, Barron was forced to surrender his post and troops.

 

            After Hatteras

            After the fall of Forts Clark and Hatteras, Confederate authorities saw that defense of the narrow Outer Banks was going to be manpower and resource intensive, neither of which was in abundance. Fort Morgan at Ocracoke Inlet and Fort Oregon at Oregon Inlet were quickly evacuated and just as quickly taken over by Butler's forces, leaving just Fort Fisher at the Cape Fear River inlet to guard the outer coast.

            The only other action on this part of the Outer Banks was a bizarre set of pursuits between Hatteras and Chicamacomico (now called Rodanthe). On October 5, 1861, Hawkins had advanced towards the tiny north Hatteras Island town, aiming to capture and garrison it against the threat of a Confederate overland attack. As they closed in, six Confederate gunboats suddenly appeared, as well as part of a small Georgia infantry regiment (the 3rd Georgia Volunteers). A chase ensued, with the Union force running the twenty miles back to the safety of Fort Hatteras. The next morning, the chase ensued again, this time Hawkins' men chasing the Confederates all the way back to Chicamacomico. Both sides navies joined in on the fun, running on either side of the narrow banks in support of their troops. Besides a relative handful of casualties, absolutely nothing came out of what the locals referred to as the "Chicamacomico Races."

 

            Burnside's 1862 North Carolina Expedition

            With the quick fall of all Confederate defenses on the Outer Banks, two things became glaringly obvious: first, there would be a major effort by Union forces to capture the mainland ports, and second, the only thing standing in their way was the small garrison on Roanoke Island. As the defense of the entire area was now under Confederate control, Governor Clark had little control over the buildup of a strong defense network, as the civilian population was demanding from him. Richmond responded to his appeals by simply stating that all available trained men were urgently needed in Virginia (not coincidentally where the officials stating this were also located), and that only newly recruited units were available.

            CSA Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin was placed in command of the newly formed CSA Department of North Carolina. Gatlin placed CSA Brigadier General Henry Alexander Wise in charge of the area north of Roanoke Island, and CSA Brigadier General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch in charge of the stretch from Roanoke Island to New Bern.

            Exact numbers are very hard to pin down, but Wise and Branch had somewhere around 8,000 men between their commands, most with Branch in New Bern. Roanoke Island itself was guarded by a few earthwork forts; on the east (seaward) side of the island was a tiny, unnamed, two gun redoubt at Ballast Point, in the center was Fort Russell, a three gun redoubt having a clear field of fire over the only road. On the northwest (landward) side of the island were three small sandwork forts, Forts Huger, Blanchard and Bartow, mounting a total of 25 guns. No posts were established on the southern side of the island, possibly because the land was marshy and difficult to build on.

            The most unusual defensive position was Fort Forrest, a partially sunken ship on the mainland side of the sound that had been reinforced and mounted with eight guns. The entire Confederate garrison numbered a mere 1,434 North Carolinians and Virginians, soon placed under direct command of CSA Colonel H. M. Shaw, after Wise became too ill to lead the defense. Shaw was intensely disliked by his own men, one source quotes a soldier remarking that he was "not worth the powder and ball it would take to kill him."

            Sailing rapidly towards this unhappy situation was the largest amphibious force the United States had ever mounted to that time; 67 gunboats and troop transports under command of USA Commodore (later Rear Admiral) L. M. Goldsborough, carrying over 13,000 soldiers under command of USA Brigadier (later Major) General Ambrose Everett Burnside, an undistinguished commander better known for his namesake whiskers than his military prowess. In his postwar memoirs, USA General in Chief Ulysses S. Grant said that Burnside was "an officer who was generally liked and respected. He was not, however, fitted to command an army." By February 4, 1862, the fleet had crossed Hatteras Inlet safely, and prepared to sail north into combat.

 

            The Assault of Roanoke Island

            Burnside's fleet moved north through Pamlico Sound and arrived just off Roanoke Island on February 7, opening fire on Fort Barrow between 10:30 and 11 AM. Out of range, none of the Confederate batteries were able to return in kind the pounding artillery barrage. The Union Navy kept up their fire all day long, and as darkness approached, Burnside began landing his infantry at Ashby's Harbor, about three miles south of the southernmost Confederate fortification. A scouting force of about 200 Confederates were nearby when the first Union troops came ashore, but elected to retreat to Fort Russell without firing a shot. By midnight, over 10,000 Union soldiers were ashore, along with several artillery batteries, and making preparations to move north at first light.

            At dawn, three Massachusetts infantry regiments (the 23rd, 25th and 27th) attacked Fort Russell, strung in a line formation across the road and into the swamps on both sides. The four hundred Confederate defenders opened a heavy fire down the road, blocking the 25th Massachusetts advance, but were soon forced to pull out when the other Union infantry appeared out of the swamps on both flanks. As the Massachusetts men entered the redoubt to take the abandoned guns, Hawkins' Zouaves (the 9th New York Infantry Regiment) burst out of the woods and ran screaming over the redoubts walls. Hawkins claimed ever after that his men had bravely charged and taken the "heavily defended" post.

            As the rest of the Union infantry regiments rapidly advanced north on the small island towards the remaining three forts, Shaw decided that any further action was futile, and surrendered without firing another shot. In all, 23 Confederate soldiers were killed in the brief action, including Wise's own son, 58 were wounded, 62 missing, and about 2,500 captured, including nearly a thousand newly landed reinforcements from Nag's Head. Burnside reported his losses at 37 killed, 214 wounded and 13 missing, including six sailors killed and 17 wounded by return fire from Fort Bartow.

 

Amphibious Warfare along the Carolina Mainland Coasts

            With the Outer Bank and Roanoke Island secured and available as staging bases, Burnside turned his attention to the mainland. His overall strategy from this point on seems a little less clear cut than the assault on the Outer Banks; his postwar writings in Battles and Leaders only state that he had presented a rather vague plan to USA General of the Army George B. McClellan, to outfit an amphibious force "with a view to establishing lodgements on the Southern coast, landing troops, and penetrating into the interior..." As the operations on Roanoke Island were still winding down, other offensive actions were just starting.

            With the Confederate "mosquito fleet" fleeing with hardly a shot fired before the powerful Union naval task force, elements of Goldsborough's fleet set off after their base at Elizabeth City, across Albemarle Sound from the newly captured island, taking it with little resistance on February 10. Part of Burnside's infantry command joined the navy for "assaults" on other, non-defended towns off the sound; Edenton was ransacked on February 11, and Winton was burned to the ground on the 20th. Burnside and Goldsborough then turned their attention to the south, across Pamlico Sound towards New Bern and Morehead City, taking both port cities with minimal difficulty. The last east coast port remaining open to the Confederacy by January, 1865, was Wilmington, a city too far inland to be assaulted by purely naval means, and guarded by no less than six fortified outposts, including the imposing Fort Fisher.

 

            Wilmington, 1864-65

            The Union blockade fleet had at first considered Wilmington an insignificant port, ignoring it at first and then placing only a single ship, the USS Daylight, off the coast in July of 1861. By late 1864 it's importance was clear even to Union planners in Washington, by that time more than 50 blockade ships lay just offshore. Even with this tight noose around the supply lanes, blockade runners managed to slip through up until the time of the battle here itself.

 

            The Battles for Wilmington

            While Grant was tied up in the months-long battle around Petersburg, he realized that in order to bring the stalemated fight to a successful conclusion, he was going to have to cut Lee's supply lines. Until the only remaining port supplying the Army of Northern Virginia, Wilmington, could be cut off or taken over, this was not going to be possible. Grant ordered USA General Benjamin Franklin Butler and USA Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter to take their forces south and capture the city. Butler had two divisions of infantry, with a grand total of nearly 8,000 men. Porter commanded the largest force of ships ever assembled at that time in the U.S. under one command, nearly 60 ships mounting a total of 627 guns.

            As attack on the port city was likely at some point, Confederate President Davis sent CSA General Braxton Bragg to take over command of the defenses. The previous area commander, CSA Major General William Henry Chase Whiting, was a competent officer well liked by both his troops and the local citizens, and Davis' choice of the notoriously inept Bragg to replace him (he was actually placed over Whiting, who stayed on to directly command the garrison) was loudly protested. The size of the command then around Wilmington is highly debatable, but it can be safely assumed that Bragg initially commanded somewhere around 3,000 men.

 

            The First Battle for Fort Fisher

            Butler, considered by many on both sides to be Bragg's equal in ineptness, was determined to open the Cape Fear River by reducing it's strongest defense, Fort Fisher. On December 20, 1864, the Union fleet began arriving off the Wilmington coast in the midst of a severe storm, taking nearly three days to get organized. Finally, on the night of December 23, with nearly all his command present and ready to assault, Butler sprang his "secret weapon" on the unsuspecting Confederates.

            Butler had decided that a ship loaded to the gills with gunpowder, floated to the outer defenses of Fort Fisher and then exploded, would reduce at least one wall of the sandwork post to dust, and allow his troops to pour in through the opening. Amazingly, he had managed to sell Porter on the idea, and got Grant's grudging approval to go ahead (Butler and Grant were mortal enemies, and the supreme Union commander had simply wanted to fire Butler rather than allow him another chance to screw up, but could not due to Butler's political connections).

            At 1:45 AM on December 24, an unnamed "powder ship" loaded with 215 tons of gunpowder was sailed to within 200 yards of the fort, and then exploded. The resulting massive blast failed to even superficially damage the well-constructed fort, and the sleepy defenders peered out wondering if one of the Union ships had just suffered a boiler explosion, or something of a similarly innocuous nature. Despite the failure of his "secret weapon," Butler ordered the planned attack to proceed.

            As dawn crept over the horizon, Porter's gunboats began a heavy bombardment of the fort, while Butler ordered his troops ashore on the peninsula just north of the Confederate stronghold. Capturing two small batteries and pushing back Confederate skirmishers, the Union troops had made it to within 75 yards of the fort by the morning of Christmas Day. Butler learned that Hoke was then only five miles away and moving in fast. Panicking, Butler ordered his troops to break off and return to the troop transports, which he in turn ordered to hoist anchor and sail away so fast that over 600 infantrymen were left stranded on the beach. Porter, who had no idea what Butler was up to, was forced to send his own ships and sailors to the beachhead, under fire from the defenders of Fort Fisher, in order to rescue the stranded troops. Butler reported a loss of 15 wounded and one killed in action (by drowning), while the Confederates suffered about 300 killed, wounded and captured, as well as the loss of four precious artillery pieces.

            A furious Grant immediately fired Butler, damning the political consequences, hurriedly assembled another, stronger assault force under USA Major General Alfred Howe Terry, and sent Porter a message, "Hold on, if you please, a few days longer, and I'll send you more troops, with a different general." Porter pulled about 25 miles offshore, to the general line of the Union blockade fleet, to await Terry's arrival.

 

            The Second Battle for Fort Fisher

            Porter did not have long to wait. Terry left Bermuda Landing, Virginia, on January 4, 1865, with a total of 8,000 soldiers. Joining Porter's squadron just off Beaufort, the force sailed once again for the Cape Fear River, again through a strong storm, arriving late on the afternoon of January 12.

            Whiting had received word that the Union force was enroute to try again, and fearing that this attempt would be much stronger, personally led 600 North Carolina troops to reinforce CSA Colonel William Lamb's garrison of 1,200. Hoke's newly arrived command deployed on the peninsula north of the fort, in case the second assault followed Butler's attempted route.

            A few hours after the Union fleet arrived, Porter ordered all guns to open fire on the Confederate fort while the infantry landed north of Hoke's line. Terry spent the next two days carefully bringing his total force ashore and deploying them in a semi-circle around the fort. One brigade under USA Colonel Newton Martin Curtis was sent to the western end of the peninsula, capturing a small redoubt and digging in close to the fort.

            At dawn on January 15 Porter's ships once again opened up a massive fire, lasting over five hours, until Terry signaled his men to advance. RIflemen from the 13th Indiana Infantry Regiment led the assault, dashing forward under fire to dig in less than 200 yards from the fort, and then rake the parapets with a deadly accurate fire.

            While this rifle fire kept the Confederate defenders heads down, Terry ordered forward Curtis' brigade, now reinforced with USA Colonel Galusha Pennypacker's Brigade, against the western face of the fort. As the Union troops cut through the wooden palisades and dashed up the sand walls, Lamb's men rose out of their shelters and met the Union soldiers with fixed bayonets and drawn swords.

            As the western wall defenses broke down into a massive hand to hand melee, 2,200 sailors and marines from Porter's command sprang forward to assault the northeastern corner of the fort. There, the Confederate defenders were able to return a disciplined fire, killing or wounding over 300 of the naval command, and forcing them to quickly retreat.

            Terry left the rest of his command before Hoke's line, and Hoke never sent any of his men to help relieve the fort's defenders, at Bragg's direct order. About 10 PM, after hours of unrelenting and vicious hand to hand combat and the commitment of the last Union reserves, the seriously wounded Lamb finally surrendered his post. The exact numbers of dead and wounded Confederates are difficult to assess, as records of this fight are spotty and highly debatable on accuracy, but somewhere between 500 and 700 were killed or wounded, and another approximately 2,000 captured. Whiting himself was mortally wounded during the assault, dying less than two months later. Terry reported losses of 184 killed, 749 captured and 22 missing, including the seriously wounded Curtis, who was shot three times while leading the way over the ramparts, while Porter reported the loss of 386 in addition to the casualties in his marine assault force.

            As a sort of morbid postscript to the hard fought battle, on the morning of January 16 two drunk sailors (sometimes identified as U.S. Marines) were walking around looking for something worth stealing, when they came to a heavy bunker door. Opening it, they lit a torch and stuck it in the dark opening. The resulting explosion of about 13,000 pounds of gunpowder killed 25 more Union soldiers, wounded another 66 and killed an unknown number of wounded Confederate prisoners in the next bunker.

 

            The Fall of Wilmington

            With the main defense post now in Union hands, Bragg wasted little time mounting any sort of renewed defense. The next day Fort Caswell's garrison was withdrawn and the walls blown up, followed in quick order by most of the rest of the forts, batteries and redoubts. Fort Anderson was left manned to cover Bragg's withdrawal. This post stayed until February 20, when USA Major General Jacob Dolson Cox's XXIII Corps moved up river and forced them out without much of a fight. The next day Hoke's troops were finally withdrawn and escaped north with the last remnants of Bragg's force to Goldsboro. On February 22, Wilmington Mayor John Dawson rode out to surrender his city to the Union invaders, bringing an end to the campaigns to secure the Carolinas coasts.

 

 

Gulf Coast Campaigns

Mobile Bay: Damn the Torpedoes

            Mobile, Alabama, lies at the southernmost point in the state, at the northwestern tip of a 36 mile long and 18 mile wide bay that allows the state it's only sea access. With a population of just over 29,000 when the war started, it was one of the largest cities on the state and second only to New Orleans as a port for international trade. Although never a city noted for strong secessionist feelings, no doubt due to the strong ties with Northern traders, Mobile was proposed by local boosters as the first capital of the Confederacy. Some radical secessionists felt that the Confederacy was bound to eventually include Mexico and some or all of the Caribbean islands, so it would be in a favorable central location.

            After Lincoln's election in 1860, secession fever swept the state, and Governor Andrew B. Moore soon moved to provide for military defense. On January 3, 1861, several days before a state convention met to formally declare Alabama free from the Union, he ordered local companies of the 1st Alabama State Troops to seize and man forts and arsenals around Mobile Bay. The next day, two companies moved to take Forts Morgan and Gaines, while several other companies went thirty miles north to seize the Mount Vernon Arsenal. Seven days later, on January 11, 1861, Alabama formally declared secession.

 

            Fortress Mobile

            Mobile had not only a valuable and large deepwater port to help supply the newly formed Confederacy, it had a series of fortifications to protect it, thanks to the U.S. Army Engineers. At the east side of the entrance to the bay stood massive Fort Morgan, supported by Fort Gaines and Fort Grant across the ship channel on Dauphin Island. Mobile itself was protected by a series of small forts and artillery batteries on both shores of the northern end of the bay, as well as a series of trenchlines surrounding the city on the west (landward) side.

            Within days of Alabama's secession a massive project was underway to clean up and improve the still unfinished forts. With volunteer citizens and slaves provided by local planters, all available guns were mounted, living quarters for the garrisons built up outside the walls, wells cleaned out and sloping glacis' constructed. In March, when the Confederate government took over responsibility for area defense from the state, CSA Colonel (later Lieutenant General) William Joseph Hardee was named as commander of Fort Morgan.

            Hardee, the author of the then standard text on infantry tactics, only was in command at Mobile for three months, but managed a near whirlwind of action. The untrained militia and local guard infantrymen were properly trained, artillerymen trained and readied to repel the inevitable naval attack, and Hardee's own command was soon expanded to the entire Mobile Bay area. In addition, he was placed in command of the "Mobile Navy," the revenue cutter Lewis Cass, soon augmented by a grossly inadequate "ironclad," the CSS Baltic. Later, after Hardee had departed, this "navy" was expanded to include two ironclad rams, the CSS Tennessee and CSS Nashville, two ironclad 'floating batteries' (gunboats similar to the rams), the CSS Huntsville and CSS Tuscaloosa and three sidewheeler gunboats, the CSS Morgan, CSS Gaines, and the CSS Selma, all at the time of the major last battles under the command of CSA Admiral Franklin Buchanan. The CSS Tennessee, Buchanan's flagship, was typical of the large, powerful Confederate designed ironclads -- 209 feet long with a 48 foot beam, covered with four to six inches of armor plating and mounting two 7-inch and four 6.4 inch Brooke rifled guns.

 

            Fort Morgan

            The centerpiece of Mobile's defense against naval attack was a massive, 5-sided masonry post at the very tip of Mobile Point, Fort Morgan, supplemented by two other smaller forts across the ships channel on Dauphin Island. The three-story high brick fort still under construction when hostilities broke out in 1861 had replaced earlier defense posts dating back to a French outpost in 1699 at the site. However, it was only after the Spanish concession of Florida to the fledgling United States in 1813 that any attempts were mounted for strong, permanent fortifications on the two narrow barrier islands guarding Mobile Bay.

            First proposed in 1821, Fort Gaines was still unfinished when the war began, described as a "shell of masonry" by one visitor. Although mounting few guns and for all practical purposes nearly unmanned early in the war, it still posed an impressive defensive obstacle, with a five sided outer wall 22 1/2 feet tall and 4 1/2 feet thick. Unlike so many other Gulf Coast fortifications, Fort Gaines possessed gun emplacements well situated to defend against attacks from either land or water. By 1864 the garrison under CSA Colonel Charles D. Anderson consisted of about 800 infantry and artillerymen, about half poorly trained local militia, and 26 heavy guns. Some of the garrison were of the "Pelham Cadets," boys as young as 14 who ended up fighting about as well as any other irregular unit there.

            Fort Morgan was a star-shaped pentagon of similar construction begun in 1819 and completed in 1834, although with a particular design feature that proved seriously hazardous during the battle. A three-story tall, 10-sided barracks building in the center of the fort known as the "citadel" stuck up well above the surrounding parapet, lending both a perfect aiming point for Union gunners, and providing a shrapnel hazard if hit during battle. To help protect the fort's gunners wooden traverses across the side and rear of the casements, as well as sandwork glacis' all around the exterior masonry walls were planned, although little work was completed before the Union attacks commenced. At the time of the last battle for control of the bay, CSA Brigadier General Richard L. Page commanded a garrison of 400 regular army and artillery troops, and the fort mounted 45 guns of various size and calibers.

            A third major defensive point centered around Fort Powell, a smaller earthwork redoubt named for the former commander of Fort Morgan, CSA Colonel William Llewellyn Powell, who had died on duty in September of 1863. Guarding (and formally named for) the westernmost approach to Mobile Bay, Grant's Pass, the post only mounted eight heavy guns and contained at it's peak only 140 troops under CSA Lieutenant Colonel James M. Wilson, but was able to stand up against repeated Union attacks with little damage.

            Perhaps the most famous, and certainly one of the most effective defense arrangements was the stringing of a series of 'torpedoes' across the bay from Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines. The floating mines were built to explode when touched by a ship or gunboat, and had enough power to shatter an armored ironclad's hull. By the third year of the war, every water approach to Mobile Bay had at least one line of torpedoes across most of the passage, and the main ship channel was guarded by no less than 180 in three rows that covered the entire channel up to within 700 feet of Fort Morgan.

 

            Background to the Battle of Mobile Bay

            Despite the extreme value Mobile posed to the Confederacy as both a rail center and port, neither side made any serious early moves to take or protect it. The series of Confederate Western Theaters commanders in the first years of the war consistently looked to Forts Morgan and Gaines to provide the majority of protection for the city, supplemented by small infantry and artillery redoubts and emplacements in and around the city to guard against the 'unlikely' event of a land-based attack. USA Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler and USA Flag Officer (later Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut determined to concentrate their forces initially on New Orleans and the Mississippi River, leaving Mobile (and Pensacola) for a later attack.

            A few months after Confederate troops had abandoned Fort Massachusetts on nearby Ship Island, Butler and Farragut moved to seize the strategically positioned island. On December 3, 1861, 1,900 Union soldiers stepped ashore to take back possession of the post 12 miles off the shore of Gulfport, Mississippi, providing the Union army and navy an ideal base from which to threaten the entire Gulf Coastal region of eastern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. However, Mobile remained securely in Confederate hands for nearly three more years, with Farragut busy along the Mississippi River, and the land forces concentrating on VIcksburg and the Mississippi interior. Prior to the 1864 battle, the only serious attack was a weak attempt by USA Commander David D. Porter to force a passage into Mobile Bay in the summer of 1862, easily repulsed without any immediate Union followup.

 

            Naval Attacks on Mobile Bay

            Due primarily to it's isolated location, well south of any other major city or supply depot, any military action at Mobile was probably going to be either purely naval or an amphibious landing heavily supported by naval gunfire. This was confirmed by the first action, in December 1861, when the part-ironclad (armor only protected the boilers, leaving the gundeck open and exposed to enemy fire) CSS Florida sailed out from Fort Morgan's pier to engage the blockade steamer USS Huntsville near Sand Point. Typical for early-war encounters, naval or otherwise, both sides withdrew after firing a relatively few ill-aimed shots that did little or no damage, and subsequently both sides claimed victory.

            In April, 1862, Mobile Bay naval commander CSA Captain Randolph ordered the newly readied wooden gunboats CSS Morgan and CSS Gaines to sail out and try to break through the Union blockade 'fleet,' which consisted of only two ships at the time. Even with this weak enemy force to attack, the two Confederate gunboats only fired a total of about a dozen shots before retreating at high speed back to the safety of their harbor. In the next two years, five other such small naval actions against the blockade fleet or the Confederate forts were mounted; all had the same negative results.

            The most serious attack during this period, although actually only a feint to draw attention away from a Union army attack towards Meridian, Mississippi, had Farragut sailing four gunboats and six 'mortar schooners' (wooden small ships mounting heavy mortars, that could stand off from the main action a bit and lob shells inside a fort's walls) into Grant's Pass. Over the course of five days of bombardment in February, 1864, his ships fired about 2,000 shot and shell into the earthwork fort, killing one man and wounding five, including post commander Williams. In exchange, the fort stood nearly intact with the little damage done being repaired in one day, and one of Farraguts own mortar schooners was hit by Confederate gunners and nearly sunk. Although the channel had been seeded with torpedoes, and Union gunboats struck several, none exploded as expected. An after-action inspection revealed that marine worms had infested the wooden casks and rendered the triggers inoperative.

 

            The Battle of Mobile Bay

            With most of the Gulf coast and Mississippi River now under Union control, Farragut's next objective was to shut down the port of Mobile once and for all. Using his assembled naval force, his primary objective was to neutralize the three main Confederate forts and completely cut off the blockade runners from a safe port. A separate army force under USA Major General Gordon Granger would land on Dauphin Island with about 1,500 men and attack the two forts there. To oppose the assault, 3rd Brigade (District of the Gulf) Commander Page could muster about 1,040 men in the three forts and their surrounding batteries.

            At dawn on August 5, 1864, Farragut began his attack. 14 wooden, lightly armored gunboats and four ironclad monitors sailed towards the main ship channel in a tight formation, the gunboats lashed together in pairs with the better-protected monitors alongside starboard (eastward) to protect them from Fort Morgan's artillery fire. Well aware of the torpedoes strung across the channel, Farragut deliberately ran his small fleet close to Fort Morgan, attempting to sail through the narrow space between the fort and the first line of torpedoes, although at a terrible risk from near point-blank Confederate fire. At about 7 AM Farragut ordered his point vessel, the USS Tecumseh, to open fire, which was followed in short order by a concentrated fire from Page's guns. For the next 45 minutes both sides kept up a blistering fire, but amazingly, although they were literally only a few yards apart, very little damage was done to either side.

            One of Farragut's major objectives was the sinking or disabling of the CSS Tennessee. As his fleet sailed past Fort Morgan, the USS Tecumseh swung slightly west to engage the Confederate ironclad awaiting her near the middle of the ship channel, but almost immediately struck a torpedoe, shattering her hull and sending her quickly to the bottom. Only 21 of her 114 man crew managed to escape. The wooden gunboats USS Brooklyn, next in line to the USS Tecumseh, slowed and started turning away from the lethal minefield back towards Fort Morgan. Confederate gunners cheered, then quickly loaded their guns with grapeshot and cannister, preparing to rake the enemy decks as soon as they hoved within range.

            Farragut, lashed by his crew into the rigging of his flagship, USS Hartford (to keep him from being killed from falling to the deck if wounded while in his high observation post), screamed out to his helmsman, "Damn the torpedoes! Drayton! Ahead, Full Speed! Hard astarboard; ring four bells! Eight bells! Sixteen bells!", and thus ordered his own ship to take the lead.

 

(I should mention here that this famous, oft-misquoted quote, was first mentioned in Foxhall Parker's Battle of Mobile Bay in 1878, 14 years after the battle and 8 years after Farragut's death it is not universally accepted that he actually said this; Farragut himself recalled later that he could not remember what, if anything, he said at the time)

 

Moving at near maximum speed, the small Union fleet pushed through the torpedoe belts, for some reason without setting any more off, although several officers reported hearing fuses firing as their ships hit the floating mines.

 

            Buchanan's own fleet opened fire as soon as their guns were unmasked to the onrushing Union gunboats. While their shots raked the Union ships for several minutes before they were able to return fire, the Confederates definitely got the worst of the exchange. Within a few minutes the CSS Gaines was sinking from multiple shots below the waterline, the CSS Selma was run down by the USS Metacomet and forced to surrender, and the CSS Morgan soon broke contact and fled east to the safety of her namesake. Only the CSS Tennessee remained by 8 AM to threaten Farragut's assault, and the Union fleet now safely past the forts quickly turned on the powerful but slow and ungangly ironclad.

            The CSS Tennessee moved in for her own attack, but Farragut's ships surrounded her and begin maneuvering for ram attacks. At 9:25 AM the USS Monogahela, the USS Lackawanna and Farraguts own ship rammed the Confederate ship in turn, inflicting little damage but disrupting the gun crews ability to fire. Buchanan suffered a broken leg when an 11-inch solid shot struck the after port cover he was standing next to. In the meantime, the three surviving Union ironclad monitors had moved up alongside the CSS Tennessee and began a hammering fire on her armored decks. At 10 AM, with his steering gear shot away and his gun crews no longer able to return fire, CSA Captain James D. Johnston surrendered his ship, effectively surrendering the port of Mobile to the Union Navy.

            The short naval action resulted in 12 Confederates killed, 20 wounded and 280 captured. Farragut reported a loss of 145 killed, 170 wounded and 4 captured.

 

            Summary

            The end came much more quietly than the beginning. This photo of the Union fleet at abandoned and newly captured Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, was taken on the afternoon of April 14, 1865, a few hours before President Lincoln was assassinated.




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