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Du Pont's attack at Charleston.

by C. R. P. Rodgers, rear-Admiral, U. S. N.,--during the attack chief-of-staff.
As Boston was regarded as the cradle of American liberty, where the infancy of the Union was nurtured, so Charleston, in later days, came to be considered the nursery of disunion. Therefore, during our civil war, no city in the South was so obnoxious to Union men as Charleston. Richmond was the objective point of our armies, as its capture was expected to end the war, but it excited little sentiment and little antipathy. It was to South Carolina, and especially to Charleston, that the strong feeling of dislike was directed, and the desire was general to punish that city by all the rigors of war.

Charleston too, in spite of an energetic blockade, conducted with great hardihood and patience, was one of the two chief points through which munitions of war and other supplies from Europe found entrance to the Confederate States. Naturally, then, the Government of the Union looked longingly for its capture, to give fresh hope and much-needed encouragement to the North, and to strike a heavy blow at the rebellion.

The most dramatic conflict between the Monitor and the Merrimac, with its incidents and consequences, gave to the Navy Department the hope that its turret vessels might do what unarmored ships could not attempt. Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a skillful and well-tried naval officer, a man of much ability and energy, pushed the new monitors forward with his whole power, having formed the highest opinion of their irresistible force and invulnerability. The first monitor had done so much, had saved such great interests in a moment of supreme peril, that Mr. Fox's strong imagination led him to hopes that were not destined to be fully realized. To carry them into execution he now addressed himself with his usual vigor; the preparation of [33] the armored ships for the attack on Charleston was hastened, their commanders were selected by Mr. Fox himself, who knew the navy well, and he chose the best commanding officers in it who were available for the great work he had so much at heart. Percival Drayton, John Rodgers, Worden, Ammen, George Rodgers, Fairfax, Downes, and Rhind were chosen for the turret ships, and Commodore Thomas Turner for the Ironsides. It would have been difficult to find in the navy men of higher reputation for skill and courage, of better nerve, or more fully possessing the confidence of the service. As fast as their ships were ready, they were hurried to Port Royal, where they found in command Rear-Admiral Du Pont, who, by his skillful capture of Port Royal and his vigorous repossession of the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, had won the thanks of Congress and the complete confidence of the Navy Department. He had not only its confidence, but also to an extraordinary degree that of the commanding officers under him. Few commanders-in-chief have had the good fortune to inspire the same admiration, affection, and trust that the officers who came in contact with Admiral Du Pont felt for him.

The Montauk, Captain John L. Worden, was the first monitor to arrive, and as months would pass before all the others could be expected, Admiral Du Pont, on the 1st of February, 1863, sent that officer in the Montauk, supported by the gun-boats Wissahickon, Lieutenant-Commander John Lee Davis; the Seneca, Lieutenant-Commander William Gibson; and the Dawn, Lieutenant-Commander John S. Barnes, to try her powers against the earth-works of Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee River, behind which the Confederate steamer Nashville was waiting for an opportunity to sail, on a cruise of pillage and destruction, against our ships of commerce upon the high seas.

On the 28th of February, 1863, Captain Worden was so fortunate as to find the Nashville, aground, near Fort McAllister, and to approach within twelve hundred yards of her. He was able to set her on fire and destroy her with his shells, while he patiently endured the fire of the batteries, giving his whole attention to the cruiser. The so-called Alabama claims were much diminished by this episode of Worden's, characterized by his usual skill and judgment. The Monttauk, in retiring from the fort, was injured by a torpedo and compelled to run upon a bank to repair damages, her pumps keeping her afloat with difficulty. The injury was at once repaired, temporarily, and more permanently upon her return to Port Royal.

Still desirous to measure the iron-clads against forts on obstructed channels, Admiral Du Pont sent Captain Drayton with the Passaic, accompanied by the Patapsco, Commander Ammen, and the Nahant, Commander Downes, to try the batteries of these three monitors against Fort McAllister; with them were three gun-boats and three mortar-schooners. The result of this attack by the monitors, conducted by one of his ablest officers, led Admiral Du Pont to say to the Navy Department that “whatever degree of impenetrability they might have, there was no corresponding quality of destructiveness as against forts.” [34]

The two operations left the admiral impressed with the great value of the resisting power of the monitors, but revealed some of their points of weakness, and satisfied him. that their power had been overrated by the Navy Department, and that he should need as many of them as the department could give him to take Charleston. He fully appreciated the great desire of the Government to repossess that city, and he addressed himself earnestly and loyally to carry out his Government's wish. He expressed no doubts even to his most confidential officers, and. did his best with the means supplied. The Assistant Secretary had written to him repeatedly that such vessels could steam into Charleston harbor and come out unharmed, that even the original monitor could do so; to use his own words, “can go all over the harbor and return with impunity. She is absolutely impregnable.” His sanguine temperament had led him to imaginations that were not destined to be fulfilled; for even after Admiral Du Pont's brave and ambitious successor, Admiral Dahlgren, the foremost gunnery officer of the navy, had secured a greater number of monitors, and after the army had taken Battery Wagner by regular approaches, had captured all the batteries on Morris Island, and had reduced Fort Sumter to a heap of ruins, no monitor ever ventured to pass into the harbor and attempt to take Charleston by the purely naval attack which Admiral Du Pont had declared impracticable.

It had always been the opinion of Admiral Du Pont that the attack on Charleston should be a combined effort by the army and the navy, and when he visited Washington, in the fall of 1862, he stated to the Navy Department

Map of the blockade of Confederate ports.

[35] that at least twenty-five thousand. troops should attack from James Island, while the fleet attacked the harbor. No such force could be spared.

Assistant Secretary Fox, the executive officer of the Navy Department, patriotic fertile of resource, full of zeal, resolute, and always able, rendered great service to the Union in creating so rapidly the new navy that did such good work in crushing the great rebellion; for this the country owes him a lasting debt. He now did his best to strengthen Admiral Du Pont's squadron, and in March, 1863, the Catskill, the last available iron-clad, reached Port Royal. The others had been somewhat strengthened and improved by the light of the Ogeechee experience, and the naval force was ready for the attack. The monitors assembled at North Edisto, and on the 6th of April crossed the Charleston bar and anchored off Morris Island; for after crossing, the weather had become so hazy that the pilots could not see the landmarks to direct their course, and the attack was necessarily deferred until the following day.

On the 7th at noon the signal was made to weigh anchor; it was the earliest hour at which the pilots would

Rear-Admiral C. R. P. Rodgers. From a photograph.

consent to move, owing to the state of the tide. The movement was still further delayed by the Weehawken, whose chain became entangled with one of the grapnels of the cumbrous torpedo raft devised by Mr. Ericsson, and it was a quarter-past one when. the iron-clads left their anchorage, in the following order: the Weehawken, Captain John Rodgers; the Passaic, Captain Percival Drayton; the Montauk, Captain John L. Worden; Patapsco, Commander Daniel Ammen; New Ironsides, Commodore Thomas Turner; Catskill, Commander George W. Rodgers; Nantucket, Commander Donald M. Fairfax; Nahant, Commander John Downes; and Keokuk, Commander Alexander Rhind. The admiral had arranged to lead in the Ironsides, but, much against his will, after earnest persuasion from his captains, consented to occupy the center. As the fleet slowly passed near the beach of Morris Island, no shot was fired from ship or.shore; Battery Wagner was also silent as it was passed; but as the leading monitor came within range of Fort Moultrie the Confederate and Palmetto flags were hoisted on the batteries, and a salute of thirteen guns was fired.

It was 3 o'clock when the first shot was fired from Moultrie and returned by the Weehawken. Then Sumter and Batteries Bee and Beauregard, Cumming's Point, and Wagner opened fire, and the action became general. The Ironsides, flat-bottomed and with greater draught than the monitors, found [36] herself within one foot of the bottom, and under the influence of the current steered so badly that it became necessary to drop an anchor to bring her head to tide. The anchor was quickly raised, and she was again under way, but the delay threw the line into some unavoidable confusion, and two of the following monitors came in harmless collision with the flag-ship. They were directed to go on, disregarding the order of sailing, and the Ironsides quickly followed them; but when it was fifteen hundred yards or less from Sumter, the same difficulty in steering occurred, and the anchor was again dropped to prevent stranding and to bring the ship's head in the right direction. As the Ironsides swung to the tide into deeper water, she came directly over a huge torpedo, made from an old boiler, filled with gunpowder, and connected with Battery Wagner by an electric wire; but, fortunately for those, on board, the electrician at Battery Wagner, to his great disgust, could not send the electric spark to the powder. The officers of the Ironsides were unaware of their danger until a letter from Mr. Cheves, the electrician in charge, to an officer on board the Atlanta, and captured in that vessel, revealed the fact, stating that had he himself been allowed to place the Yankee flag-ship, he could not have put her more precisely over his great torpedo. [See map, p. 3.]

In his order for the day, Admiral Du Pont had planned to deliver his first attack upon the north-west face of Sumter, passing inside the gorge of the harbor for that purpose, and lingering before the fort until he should have reduced it, or at least silenced its fire. The Weehawken, the leading monitor, pressing forward with this view, came to the floating obstructions between Sumter and Moultrie, and the probability of her screw being entangled and the vessel held immovable under a fire more deadly than any ship had ever before encountered led her commander to turn from the obstructions and begin the attack short of the place designated in the plan of battle. As he turned, a torpedo exploded under him, giving a shock but no serious injury to the monitor. In the whole navy there was no cooler, more gallant, more judicious man than John Rodgers. It was he who had fought the Galena so desperately under the fire at Drewry's Bluff, and continued the action until his ammunition was exhausted, his ship riddled, and his loss of men very severe. [See Vol. II., p. 270.] It was he to whom Secretary Welles wrote, June 25th, 1863:

To your heroic daring and persistent moral courage, beyond that of any other individual, is the country indebted for the development, under trying and varied circumstances on the ocean, under enormous batteries on land, and in successful rencontre with a formidable floating antagonist, of the capabilities and qualities of attack and resistance of the monitor class of vessels and their heavy armament.

No officer in the navy was better qualified to command its confidence when he decided not to attempt to force the obstructions. He was followed by Percival Drayton, Farragut's trusted and well-tried chief-of-staff, by John Worden, of monitor fame, and by that grim, true-hearted, fighting man, Daniel Ammen. These, all turning short of the obstructions, threw the vessels following into some confusion, and caused the Ironsides to lose her steerage-way and to anchor as already mentioned. [37]

While the anchor was being lifted to move forward, Admiral Du Pont turned to his chief-of-staff and asked the time. Upon being told that it was nearly 5 o'clock he quietly said, “Make signal to the ships to drop out of fire; it is too late to fight this battle to-night; we will renew it early in the morning.” At that time he had not the slightest thought of abandoning the attack; no such idea had occurred to him or to any of his staff who were with him. He had chosen the north-west face of Sumter as his point of attack, because after careful study he found it the point where his ships would be least exposed to the enemy's fire from the surrounding batteries. The northeast face was struck, as was afterward learned, fifteen times, the attacking vessels never having reached the position chosen by the admiral; the east pan-coupe five times, the east face thirty-one times. Very few shots were aimed at Moultrie. Admiral Du Pont did not wish the Ironsides to fire until very close to Sumter, and her fire was accordingly withheld; but after he had made the signal to retire for the night, he was asked to permit the men to try their guns, and with his habitual consideration for the feelings and wishes of those under his command, he allowed them to fire one broadside, eight guns, at Moultrie. This caused the enemy to open a heavy fire on the flag-ship, and as it was coincident with her retirement, it was supposed at Fort Moultrie to have injured her and caused her withdrawal.

The day on which this engagement took place was very beautiful; there was little wind and the sea was smooth. When the Confederate guns of 10-inch, 9-inch, 8-inch Columbiads and 7-inch Brooke rifles, with many other rifled and smooth-bore guns, were turned upon the iron-clads, the sight was one that no one who witnessed it will ever forget; sublime, infernal, it seemed as if the fires of hell were turned upon the Union fleet. The air seemed full of heavy shot, and as they flew they could be seen as plainly as a base-ball in one of our games. On board the Ironsides, the sense of security the iron walls gave those within them was wonderful — a feeling akin to that which one experiences in a heavy storm when the wind and hail beat harmlessly against the windows of a well-protected house. This, however, was not equally felt in the monitors; for in their turrets the nuts that secured their laminated plates flew wildly, to the injury and discomfiture of the men at the guns, while the solid plates of the Ironsides gave no such trouble; and although she was reported to have been struck ninety-five times, she was uninjured except by the loss of a port shutter and the piercing of her unarmored ends. In fact the Ironsides may be considered to have taken no active part in the attack, for she fired no shot except as she passed out of action, although she fairly tested her endurance.

As the Ironsides lifted her anchor to drop down to the anchorage for the night, the admiral meaning to close with the enemy and force his way into the harbor the next morning, the other vessels, retiring from closer action in obedience to his signal, came near, some of them within hail. The first was the Keokuk [see p. 11], riddled like a colander, the most severely mauled ship one ever saw, and on her deck the daring and able Rhind, than whom no braver man ever commanded a ship, and who came limping forward, wounded, [38]

Bombardment of Fort Sumter and adjacent forts by the Union fleet, April 7, 1863. The monitors engaged were the Weehawken, Passaic, Montauk, Catskill, Nahant, Patapsco, and Nantucket.

to tell in a few emphatic words that his ship was disabled. Then followed two or three of the monitors, their captains telling the story of disabled guns or crippled turrets. The others reported by signal. Orders were at once given to the mechanics of the squadron to work all night in repairing damages, and after dark the commanding officers, having made their ships secure, came on board the flag-ship to report in person. They assembled in the large cabin of the Ironsides and sat at the table where the admiral had already taken his seat. Each captain then told the story of his ship, its action and its condition, and when they had done, Admiral Du Pont went to his state-room and, having already given his orders to his staff, he was seen no more that night.

The approaching darkness, and the difficulties presented by the outer obstructions in the channel, had decided Admiral Du Pont to defer the attempt to reach the city or pass inside Sumter until the following morning should give him a long day for such serious work. Before the morning came, he had learned the crippled condition of his iron-clad ships, and had become convinced that the force given him could not accomplish the end desired. His effort, therefore, on the evening of the 7th of April, may be looked upon as a reconnoissance in force, showing that the plan he had formed for the capture of Charleston was impracticable.

During the war there had been instances of similar reconnoissances by land, where deference to the public clamor for action at any cost had produced hopeless but very bloody and disastrous battles; and perhaps the public mind had been more sympathetically thrilled by them and better satisfied than if those in command had been guided by wiser and more prudent conclusions, and had spared the lives of their men, hopelessly hurled [39] against insurmountable barriers. Admiral Du Pont never showed greater courage or patriotism than when he saved his ships and men, and sacrificed himself to the clamor and disappointment evoked by his defeat.

In the brief engagement of the 7th of April, the Keokuk, the ironclad that was nearest to Sumter, was struck ninety times; nineteen shots pierced her armor at or below the water-line; both her turrets were pierced in many places; the forward gun was disabled early in the contest, and the vessel was with great difficulty kept afloat until the next morning, when she fell over on her side and sank at the lower anchorage. No ship was ever more gallantly fought or better handled. The Weehawken was struck fifty-three times; her deck was pierced so that the water ran through it; her side armor was in one place so shattered by repeated blows that it only remained in splintered fragments which could be picked off by hand, and at one time the turret revolved with difficulty, owing to heavy blows. The Passaic was struck thirty-five times. Early in the action, shot striking the turret disabled the 11-inch gun, rendering it useless for the remainder of the engagement. Soon after, the turret was found to be jammed, and for a time immovable, but this injury was so far repaired that it could be revolved, although for a time irregularly. In his report, Captain Drayton says, “A little after, a very heavy rifle-shot struck the upper edge of the turret, broke all its eleven plates, and then, glancing upward, took the pilot-house, yet with such force as to make an indentation of two and a half inches, extending nearly the whole length of the shot. The blow was so severe as to considerably mash in the pilot-house, bend it over, open the plates, squeeze out the top, so that on one side it was lifted up three inches above the top on which it rested, exposing the inside of the pilot-house and rendering it likely that the next shot would take off the top itself entirely.”

The Montauk was struck fourteen times but was not materially injured. The Patapsco, the fourth vessel in the line, was struck forty-seven times, and her 150-pounder rifle was disabled at its fifth discharge and could not be used again during the action, and that monitor was able to fire only five shots from each of its two heavy guns. The Catskill was struck twenty times, but was in no point disabled. The Nantucket was struck fifty-one times, and its 15-inch gun was disabled after its third discharge, by shots received on its port-stopper and turret, driving in the plating, and rendering the gun useless for the rest of the day. The turret was jammed for a time, so that it would not turn; the deck was much cut, and the side plates so much injured in one part that, in the opinion of the reporting officer, another blow in that quarter would have knocked them off. The Nahant was struck thirty-six times and was badly mauled. The turret was jammed by the blows of heavy shot so that it was disabled and could no more be revolved during the day. A piece of iron weighing seventy-eight pounds was broken from the pilothouse and thrown across it, deranging the steering gear, killing the quarter-master at the helm, striking down the pilot, and leaving the commander alone in the pilot-house. The vessel was entirely disabled and was compelled to drop out of action, as were the Passaic and. Keokuk also, before the signal to retire [40] was made. These statements are taken from the official reports of the commanders of the vessels engaged, which give much more elaborate and striking statements of the injuries received; they are significant of what would have happened in a prolonged conflict.

The Confederate officers, in preparing for the defense, had moored buoys at proper places to give them accurate ranges, and as the Union ships came in line with these buoys, the forts fired by batteries with perfect precision and tremendous effect. Each ship was only about forty-five minutes under the heavy fire, and they encountered only the outer line of defense, but their battered armor, their crippled turrets, and their disabled guns proved the power of the forts and the coolness and skill of the Southern gunners.

Rear-Admiral D. M. Fairfax. From a photograph.

At daylight, when the chief-of-staff went on deck, he found the admiral already there, who said to him, with his usual straightforward frankness, “I have given careful thought during the night to all the bearings of this matter, and have come to a positive determination from which I shall not swerve. I ask no one's opinion, for it could not change mine. I have decided not to renew the attack. During the few minutes we were under the heaviest fire of the batteries we engaged, half of our turret-ships were in part or wholly disabled. We have only encountered the outer line of defense, and if we force our way into the harbor we have not men to occupy any forts we may take, and we can have no communication with our force outside except by running the gauntlet. In the end we shall retire, leaving some of our ironclads in the hands of the enemy, to be refitted and turned against our blockade with deplorable effect. We have met with a sad repulse; I shall not turn it into a great disaster.”

Grieved as was his listener by the thought of losing a success which had been looked forward to with great hope, he was compelled to admit that the reasoning and the conclusion were sound and wise. And so it was announced to the fleet and to the army that the attack would not be renewed. The monitor Patapsco was sent at once to Port Royal to make that place secure, and the other monitors were ordered to be ready to sail as soon as the Ironsides could cross the bar.

As the morning passed the captains of the iron-clads came on board the flag-ship in a body to pay their respects to the admiral. He asked for no expression of their opinion, but they took occasion to assert it frankly and fully, and all concurred in the belief that it would be useless and unwise to [41] renew the attack with the existing force. This unasked opinion was, of course, gratifying to Admiral Du Pont. It came from men of recognized judgment and experience, and they never flinched from it in later days when they might have won favor in high places had they wavered in their disinterested allegiance to their old leader. The iron-clad captains stood like a wall of iron about Admiral Du Pont's reputation, and there was no joint to be pierced in their armor.

While still at anchor inside the bar, and near Morris Island, Admiral Du Pont received the following order, brought with all speed by Colonel John Hay, the President's private secretary, and delivered on the 8th of April, the day after the battle:

(Confidential.) Navy Department, April 2d, 1863.
Sir: The exigencies of the public service are so pressing in the Gulf that the Department directs you to send all the iron-clads that are in a fit condition to move, after your present attack upon Charleston, directly to New Orleans, reserving to yourself only two. Very respectfully,

There came also at the same time this informal letter from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy:

Navy Department, April 2d, 1863.
dear Admiral: Matters are at a standstill on the Mississippi River, and the President was with difficulty restrained from sending off Hunter and all the iron-clads directly to New Orleans, the opening of the Mississippi being considered the principal object to be attained. It is, however, arranged, as you will see by to-day's order, that you are to send all the iron-clads that survive the attack upon Charleston immediately to New Orleans, reserving for your squadron only two. We must abandon all other operations on the coast, where ironclads are necessary, to a future time. We cannot clear the Mississippi River without the ironclads, and as all the supplies come down the Red River, that stretch of the river must be in our possession. This plan has been agreed upon after mature consideration and seems to be imperative.

With my sincere prayers in your behalf, my dear Admiral, I remain, sincerely, yours,

G. V. Fox. Rear-Admiral S. F. Du Pont, Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Port Royal.

These communications made it still more necessary to get the monitors ready for service with the least possible delay, and on the 11th, there being a sufficient depth of water, the Ironsides and the monitors crossed the bar: the former resuming her station on the blockade, the latter returning to the workshops at Port Royal. Late at night on the 8th of April, after Admiral Du Pont had received the letters just quoted, General Hunter sent his chief-of-staff and his chief-of-engineers to propose to the admiral that the army should land on Morris Island and occupy it, supported by the naval force. Admiral Du Pont showed these officers the order he had received from the Navy Department, and declined the proposition they brought him. After leaving the admiral's cabin, these distinguished staff-officers sought the naval chief-of-staff and wished him to urge their proposal. He again showed them the order from the Navy Department directing the transfer of the iron-clads to the Mississippi, and asked them if any right-minded officer in his position, in the face of such an order, could urge his chief to do what they proposed. The chief-of-engineers, Colonel Duane, replying, frankly admitted he could not. [42]

The monitor “Weehawken” capturing the Confederate iron-clad ram “Atlanta” (formerly the blockade-runner “Fingal” ), Wassaw Sound, Georgia, June 17, 1863.

Before leaving Port Royal, General Hunter had constantly insisted that with his force he could do nothing until the navy should put him in possession of Morris Island by the capture of its batteries. At that time [Spring, 1863] it was known that thirty thousand or more troops were at Charleston and its immediate neighborhood. These, by interior lines covered by strong defenses, were in easy communication with Morris Island. The island itself had at its north end the Cumming's Point battery, and it was completely crossed from sea to marsh by Battery Wagner, that strong work which the army attempted to carry by assault in July, and from which it was repulsed with great slaughter.

The inland side of Morris Island is in some measure protected from a naval fire by sand dunes and ridges forming in places a natural parapet; and when General Hunter, on the 8th of April, proposed to occupy that island, the Confederate troops, in force three times greater than his, passing to the island by their well-protected interior lines, might have overwhelmed the Union troops by their superior numbers, and have captured them, or driven them to their ships. In July, when General Gillmore, who on the 12th of June had succeeded General Hunter, executed his very skillful and well-arranged movement upon Morris Island, the thirty thousand troops who were present in April, and had witnessed Admiral Du Pont's attack and stood ready to oppose it, had been withdrawn from Charleston to distant fields of service. [See p. 13.] In fact, so small a force was left for its occupation as to create the gravest apprehension in the minds of its defenders, who were very anxious lest a night landing should be made at Sullivan's Island, for the defense of whose long line only about six hundred Confederate troops could be made available.

Upon the failure to carry Battery Wagner by assault, General Gillmore besieged it until it was at last taken by regular approaches, the enemy evacuating it and the whole island on the 7th of September, when our [43] engineers had pushed their trenches up to its ditch. During all the operations against Wagner, Admiral Dahlgren [succeeded Du Pont, July 6th, 1863] gave the army his most vigorous support by the fire of his monitors and the Ironsides. On the 17th of August, in one of the many engagements with this fort, Commander George W. Rodgers, Admiral l)ahlgren's chief-of-staff, was killed, while temporarily commanding the Catskill, the same monitor he had commanded under Admiral Du Pont in the action of the 7th of April. He had taken his ship very close to the enemy, resolved that no one should be closer than he, when a heavy shot struck the pilot-house and, breaking through its armor, instantly killed him and Paymaster Woodbury, who was standing by his side. Commander Rodgers was an officer of great courage and rare skill in his profession, a man of very pure and devout character.

Cumming's Point and Battery Wagner having been occupied by General Gillmore, that skillful officer turned his increased fire upon Sumter; the fleet battered it with heavy guns, and the fort became in appearance a heap of ruins. Its artillery fire ceased, but its garrison held the ruins with tenacious grasp; the attempt to occupy it by our forces was repulsed with heavy loss, and it remained in the possession of the rebels until General Sherman's march to the sea and through the Carolinas in February, 1865, placed him in the rear of Charleston and compelled the evacuation of that city and its defenses. This was nearly two years after Admiral Du Pont had declared it could not be taken by a purely naval attack, and had declined General Hunter's proposal to make Morris Island his base of operations. Admiral Du Pont believed that the troops should attack from James Island with at least double the force General Hunter could put in the field. Events proved the wisdom of this belief, but it brought the admiral professional mortification and great wrong. History abounds in examples of the anger and bitterness with which, under popular governments, ministries have been ready to sacrifice commanders who have not strengthened their administration by success in war. The great President was superior to such littleness; so much cannot be said for his Navy Department. Admiral Du Pont's failure to take Charleston with the means allotted for its capture occurred before General Grant's magnificent strategy and persistence had defeated the rebel armies in the field and taken Vicksburg, and before Meade and Hancock with the Army of the Potomac had broken the back of the rebellion at Gettysburg. It was of immense importance that some great feat of arms by land or by sea should cheer the supporters of the Union, strengthen our Government, and discourage the friends of our dismemberment on the other side of the ocean. Iron-clads and fast cruisers were being built in England and France for the so-called Confederate States, the French Emperor was seeking opportunity to declare against us, and the ruling class in England was too ready to join hands with him. The “plain people” of that country were steadfastly our friends, a fact we should never forget. The Navy Department had formed extravagant ideas of the power and invulnerability of what Mr. Fox called “these marvelous vessels,” ideas not fully shared, while they were in their tentative and undeveloped state, by their great designer, as [44] may be seen in his paper on the monitor class of vessels in “The century” magazine for December, 1885. [See p. 31.]

On the 31st of January the Secretary of the Navy had sent the following hedging letter to Admiral Du Pont, a letter contradictory in its terms, but declaring that the necessity for the capture of Charleston had become imperative, and that the department would share tile responsibility with commanders who made the attempt:

Sir: Your confidential dispatch, No. 36, dated the 14th instant, has been received.

The department does not desire to urge an attack upon Charleston with inadequate means; and if, after careful examination, you deem the number of iron-clads insufficient to render the capture of that port reasonably certain, it must be abandoned. The department is not acquainted with the harbor obstructions constructed by the rebels, and therefore cannot advise with you in regard to those obstacles. If they are not considered sufficient to prevent your entrance, it is not believed possible for the rebels to prevent your success with all other means combined. The five iron-clads sent you are all the

Rear-Admiral Daniel Ammen. From a photograph.

department has completed on the Atlantic coast, with the exception of one retained at Newport News to watch the iron-clad Richmond.1 No others are likely to be finished and sent to sea within the next six weeks. A large number of our best wooden vessels, necessary for the blockade, but not for the attack, are unfortunately required in the West Indies to pursue the Florida and Alabama. This withdrawal of blockading vessels renders the capture of Charleston and Mobile imperative, and the department will share the responsibility imposed upon the commanders who make the attempt. Inclosed is a copy of a memorandum furnished by the Secretary of War.

Very respectfully,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. Dear-Admiral S. F. Du Pont, commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Port Royal, S. C.

It was impossible for an admiral to decline the responsibility which the Secretary offered to share, or to consider discretionary what the Secretary told him was imposed, or to abandon what the Secretary told him was imperative. On the 26th of March Assistant Secretary Fox wrote to Admiral Du Pont: “General Halleck told the President that you had serious doubts as to the capture of Charleston. In our department, where we know best your character and the skill and judgment you bring to bear upon the great undertaking, there does not exist a doubt of your complete success.” Fox had always favored a purely naval attack, with the army looking on, as at Port Royal. [45]

The attack was delivered as the Navy Department wished. That it was earnestly and loyally delivered, those accomplished and well-tried fighting men who commanded the iron-clads have established by their testimony. That Admiral Du Pont was right in his decision not to renew the attack, the events of the next two years conclusively proved. No ship of the navy entered the harbor of Charleston, even after Sumter was in ruins, its fire silenced, and the batteries of Morris Island in our possession. The harbor was a cul-de-sac, a circle of fire not to be passed. It was not the same problem so magnificently solved by the great sea king, Farragut. He passed the guns of his enemies, and having passed, his fleet was in a place of safety, whence he compelled surrender.

Admiral Dahlgren, an officer of great personal intrepidity, long our chief of ordnance, goaded by newspaper attacks, chafed under his inability to do what had been expected from him; but his judgment concurred with that of his predecessor, and he recognized the fact that his force could not take Charleston. The councils of war that he called on the 22d of October, 1863, and on the 12th of May, 1864, advised against the attempt, and it was never made. Since his death, we learn from his biography, written by his most trusted confidante, his very clever and devoted wife, that he addressed a long letter to the Navy Department, justifying his course and vindicating the navy from the unfair attacks made against it. The biographer goes on to say:

But the Navy Department seems to have lacked, at the time, the moral courage to assume fearlessly the full responsibility of its action which this publication would have involved, and the letter was read and returned to Admiral l)ahlgren. We hold the manuscript in our possession, thus indorsed by the admiral, “Withdrawn November 8th, 1865, the department objecting to the introduction of Du Pont and the opinion of the officers, and to those parts where it is assumed, or seems to be so, that the department did. not send vessels enough.--J. A. D.” The department was too inimical and revengeful to Du Pont to be just or to be willing to have him relieved in any measure, through any act of theirs, of any possible effect of their continuous displeasure.

The journal kept by Admiral Dahlgren during his service before Charleston, recording from day to day the difficulties he encountered month after month, against which he struggled manfully but hopelessly, is the perfect vindication of Admiral Du Pont's sound judgment and wise discretion.

The story of the first attack upon Charleston is finished. Grieved by his unsuccessful effort to take that city, Admiral Du Pont was deeply pained by the attitude of the Navy Department toward him. Swift stories of harsh comment, perhaps exaggerated, were brought to him from Washington, wounding him. to the quick, as did also the significant silence of the Secretary in relation to his reports. A correspondence followed that at last became acrimonious. He did not ask to be relieved from his command, but in one of his letters to the Navy Department, in speaking of an implied censure, he said, “I have the honor to request that the department will not hesitate to relieve me by any officer who, in its opinion, is more able to execute the service in which I have had the misfortune to fail — the capture of Charleston.” Anxious to throw the blame upon any shoulders but its own, the brave veteran was deprived of his command by the Navy Department. [46] It was the old story, but a very sad one. Admiral Du Pont took with him to his retirement the respect and sympathy of those who had been with him in his active service. In the words applied to another commander-in-chief, by the historian, General Sir William Napier, they “had served long enough under his command to know why the soldiers of the tenth legion were attached to Caesar.”

Arriving at Port Royal, Admiral Du Pont hurried forward the repairs of the monitors with the view of sending them to the Gulf, as directed by the Secretary of the Navy. On the 16th, however, came orders to renew the menace against Charleston, but his monitors were not repaired, nor could the Ironsides cross the bar until the next spring-tides. Meanwhile, the dispatches reciting the details of the battle

Rear-Admiral J. A. Dahlgren. From a photograph.

of the 7th of April had, on their way north, crossed the orders from the Government, and after they were received with their development of weakness in the attacking force, the obstructions in the channel, and the strength of the defenses to be overcome, the order for continuing to menace Charleston was not reiterated, nor was the proposal of the admiral to make the next demonstration from Edisto, instead of Morris Island, rejected, approved, or made the subject of the Department's letters. The plan of sending the monitors to the Gulf was abandoned, and the Navy Department sent a large body of workmen to strengthen the monitors, work that was estimated to require twelve weeks labor. General Gillmore, General Hunter's successor, began his preparations to occupy Morris Island, and while they were in progress Admiral Du Pont received notice that Admiral Foote had been appointed to succeed him. This distinguished officer died on the 26th of June, and Admiral Dahlgren, who was to have been Footers second in command, was appointed commander-in-chief. It is curious to observe in Admiral Dahlgren's biography how little he approved the scheme of attacking Charleston by Morris Island, and how inadequate he thought the force assigned for this important undertaking. One notes also how sanguine of success he found the high functionaries of the Navy Department. [47]

Awaiting the arrival of his successor, Admiral Du Pont would not commit him to a plan that did not commend itself to his own judgment. He had always thought Charleston could not be taken from Morris Island, but, with the loyal fidelity that had always characterized him, he put his whole force in preparation to move at a day's notice if his successor should so elect. The ammunition and coal vessels were made ready, the repairs on the monitors were held in readiness to be ended at a day's notice, preparatory orders were sent to the force off Charleston, and had Admiral Dahlgren so desired, the fleet could have moved to the attack the moment his arrangements with General Gillmore were completed.

The new and the old admirals exchanged cordial greetings; they were old friends, and the good feeling between them was not disturbed. Both had the same object at heart, the suppression of the rebellion and the restoration of the Union. Admiral Dahlgren assumed command on the 6th of July, and Admiral Du Pont left forever the active service of the navy. When, some-what later, he was offered the command of the Pacific Squadron, far from the seat of war, he repelled with indignation the proposal that he should be employed. anywhere but in the face of the enemy.

Those who did him great wrong have passed away, but his statue in imperishable bronze stands to-day in one of the most conspicuous quarters of the capital of the Republic, a quarter called by his name, to show how highly the country valued his services.

1 The Richmond was built in 1862 with means raised by subscription, and was the first fully armored ship put afloat on James River by the Confederates. She remained in the James River Squadron to the end of the war.--editors.

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