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[503]

The following narrative will, it is hoped, afford material for a just appreciation of the events that transpired in Charleston harbor to-day during those two brief but pregnant hours. It is necessary to premise, however, that in this contest every thing is so novel and unprecedented that we must be cautious in applying the old standards of judgment to a new order of events.

Terrific though the action of to-day was, it can hardly be called a battle, for the fleet only felt the outposts of the enemy, and, owing to the obstructions, it was never even able to plate it-self where it was designed to begin operations — namely, on the north-west face of Fort Sumter. It was, in fact, though not in name, yet in reality, a reconnoissance in force. Every thing was untried. Both the work to be done, and the tools with which it was to he done, were comparatively untested. We knew but imperfectly the engines we were to use against the enemy; and we knew still more imperfectly the. engines the enemy were to use against us. It is unfortunate, no doubt, that the revolution in the means and methods of offensive and defensive warfare now dawning on the world, and the urgency of the struggle in which the nation is engaged, should have necessitated the hazarding of a great battle on elements which are all but unknown. The trial, however, had to be made. It has been made, and though we are not gainers in what is always the aim of battle — direct material success — we have at least enriched our experience with that which, if rightly profited by, will yet bring success.

It would be folly for me to conceal from you that the result of this reconnoissance produces but one conviction on the mind of unprejudiced observers, the conviction of the utter insufficiency of our iron-clad fleet to take Charleston, alone. I feel it necessary at the outset, however, to indicate to you briefly the considerations that go to create this conviction, and the more so that I readily foresee that there will be some who, simply because the whole fleet was not left at the bottom of Charleston harbor, will be disposed to assert that the trial was insufficient, and will be clamorous for a renewal of it.

The result of the engagement, as already indicated, was to put out of the fight five of the nine iron-clads. One of these the Keokuk, or Whitney battery, was so horribly riddled that though she was brought out to her old anchorage, she has sunk.

The other four, though now that they come to be examined by the engineers, fortunately prove to be not so injured but that they can be soon repaired, were yet so damaged as to be put for the time being quite hors du combat. Remember that this tremendous effect — the disabling of one half the entire fleet — was accomplished in less than half an hour. Remember, again, that this took place simply at the entrance of the Inferno of fire through which the fleet must have had to pass to reach Charleston, and that there was before it a double line of batteries stretching up for four miles before the city is gained, at each point of which the ships must have been exposed to a fire equal in intensity to that it felt under the walls of Sumter. But finally, remember that rebel artillery was not the most formidable foe our ships had to withstand; that, commencing at the point our fleet reached, directly across from Sumter, and extending all the distance up to the city, are successive lines of piles, effectually barring the progress of the vessels, and detaining them at known ranges within the focus of fire; that there are other lines of nets and ropes for the purpose of fouling the propellers, and that the whole channel is studded with submarine batteries, of proportions never before dreamed of in naval warfare.

That the entire fleet was not destroyed and left in the hands of the enemy is due to the skill of the gallant sailor commanding the expedition, and to the tact and pluck of the captains of the respective ships. That skill, tact, and pluck rendered what, in the hands of any man less able, must have been a most crushing and terrible disaster, a simple repulse, very distressing and mortifying, 'tis true, but one which leaves no blot on the fame of those engaged, and one which, rightly viewed, need abate not a jot of the heart or hope with which the nation holds to the awfully sacred work which God has given it to do.



Ii.

Certainly never did a fleet bent on so great a mission, set out with so little of pomp and circumstance as marked the departure of the expedition, so long preparing, against Charleston. Those who have read the volumes of Mr. Motley will remember the magnificent description in the History of the Netherlands, of the sailing of the Spanish Armada, with its hundreds of galleons and galleasses in their high state and bravery. There is absolutely nothing of this to tell in the story of our expedition. Indeed, so quietly had the fleet been dropping away from Port Royal for a week or ten days previous to the departure of the naval and military chiefs of the expedition — now a couple of iron-clads, now a convoy of gunboats with transports — that one rubbed his eyes at the time of the official announcement of the inauguration of operations on the first of April, to see that the vast fleet, numbering over one hundred vessels, had really gone. On Thursday, the first of April, Admiral Du Pont and staff left Port Royal on the James Adger, General hunter and staff sailing on the following day in the steamer Ben Deford.

The fleet, which for a week or ten days had been dropping away from Port Royal, had been during the same time meeting in rendezvous in North Edisto River, which, you will observe, empties into the sea somewhat over half-way between Port Royal and Charleston harbor, and forms a safe and convenient entrepot for the expedition.

Arriving at Edisto on Friday afternoon, (April third,) we found the whole fleet assembled in the embouchure of the river. Tides and winds were now the only conditions that remained to control the movement of the expedition. The iron-clads

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