Chapter 4: raid of the Confederate ironclads off Charles-Ton.—attack on Fort M'Allister.
Early in the morning of January 31, 1863, two ironclad vessels, known afterward as the Palmetto State
and the Chicora
, built and lying in Charleston
, came out of the main channel.
A thick haze and an entire call favored the movement.
The Powhatan and the Canandaigua
, the two most powerful vessels on the blockade, were temporarily absent, coaling at Port Royal
, leaving only one vessel of size built for war purposes, the Housatonic
, with nine other vessels blockading.
The others, except the gunboats Ottawa
, were purchased vessels whose steam-pipes, chimneys, and machinery were much exposed when under fire.
Such vessels, built of iron, if penetrated by a shot or shell would receive little injury from the ingress, but if it were not arrested by some solid body within, on its egress a whole sheet would be carried away, perhaps at the water-line, and the vessel might sink at once, as did the Hatteras
, after an engagement with the Alabama
off Galveston, Texas
, Captain F. S. Stellwagen
, just such an iron vessel as described, was the first approached by a ram. In the early part of the evening she had overhauled a transport missing with troops and afterward returned to her position and anchored.
About 4 A. M., one of the armor-plated vessels (the Palmetto
State) suddenly appeared through the mist.
She was hailed and an order given to fire, but it was found the ram was so close that the guns of the Mercedita
could not be sufficiently depressed to strike her. A heavy shell from a rifled gun on the ram entered the starboard side of the Mercedita
, passed through the Normandy
condenser and the steam-drum of her port boiler, exploding against the port side of the vessel and tearing a hole four or five feet square.
The shell killed the gunner in his room, and the escape of steam three firemen and coal-heavers, and badly scalded three others.
The enginery was disabled, and as demanded, an officer was sent on board of the attacking vessel and gave a parole for the officers and men ‘not to take up arms against the Confederate States
during the war, unless legally and regularly exchanged as prisoners of war.’
Repairs of a temporary character enabled the Mercedita
to reach Port Royal
during the day without being towed.
The rams then approached the Keystone State
An extract of the log-book of that vessel, over the signature of her commanding officer, is more circumstantial than his official report given also in the appendix to the Report of the Secretary of the Navy
, and therefore forms the basis of what appears below.
Between 4 and 5 A. M. a gun, supposed from the Mercedita
, was heard, lights were seen, and soon a dark object a little ahead of her, and a column of black smoke rising as was supposed from a tug; another column of black, smoke was seen more to the north and east.
The suspicions of the captain were aroused, and he ordered the forward rifle trained upon the vessel approaching from the Mercedita
The battery was made ready, engineer directed to have steam, the cable was slipped and the vessel was under steerage way. The vessel was hailed, a reply of ‘Halloo’ with unintelligible
words following, and a gun was fired which was at once responded to by the ram. The order was given to fire the starboard battery as the guns would bear, the helm was put aport for a northeast course, when a ram was seen on each quarter.
The shell from the enemy had entered forward and there was fire in the fore-hold; in ten minutes it was found the water was shoaling and the course was changed to southeast for about ten minutes longer, to extinguish the fire, which was supposed to have been effected, but it broke out again.
After it was extinguished, full steam was ordered, a black smoke was seen and steered for, with the intention of running the vessel down, and approaching exchanged shots rapidly with the ram, striking her repeatedly but making no impression, while every shot from her was striking.
About 6.17 a shell entering on the port side forward of the forward guard destroyed the steam-chimneys, filling all of the forward part of the ship with steam.
The port boiler emptied, the ship heeled to starboard nearly to the guard, and the water from the boilers and two shot-holes under water led to the impression that the vessel was sinking; eighteen inches of water was reported in the well.
The steam forward cut off the supply of ammunition for the time.
Boats were got ready for lowering, the signal-books thrown overboard, and also some small arms.
‘The ram being so near, and the ship helpless, and the men slaughtered by almost every discharge of the enemy, I ordered the colors to be hauled down, but finding the enemy were still firing upon us directed the colors to be rehoisted and resumed our fire from the after battery.
Now the enemy, either injured or to avoid the squadron approaching, sheered off toward the harbor, exchanging shots with the Housatonic
, which vessel was in chase.
Fore and aft sail was put on the ship, sent yards aloft and bent sails; the Memphis
took the vessel in
tow for Port Royal
The port battery was run in to heel the ship, to prevent inflow from shot-holes at the water-line.’1 Surgeon Gotwold
and 19 men were killed and 20 wounded, the greater number of the casualties being caused by the steam.
, Captain William Rogers Taylor, senior
officer present on the blockade, was at anchor farthest to the north and east, near Rattlesnake Shoal.
The firing had been heard, but as it was a very usual occurrence, no apprehension of attack was entertained; the cause of the firing was conjectured to be due to an attempt to run the blockade.
At early dawn the Housatonic
got under way and shaped her course for three vessels, one of which was known as the Augusta
, next in station on the line of blockade.
Some time previous this vessel had made a night signal which was not understood.
As the Housatonic
proceeded, a black smoke was seen ahead, and as the light increased, ‘an ironclad ram bearing the Confederate
flag’ was made out, steering toward the entrance of the harbor, and the Augusta
was firing; later, another ram was seen to the southward and westward, also making for the harbor.
was sheered in as near as the soundings would permit, and opened fire on the nearest ram, which deviated twice from her course in order to return the fire.
was not struck, however, and it was supposed she had injured the pilot-house of the ram and shot away her flag-staff.
The rams entered Charleston Harbor
, and were not seen until late in the afternoon, when the mist partially lifted and showed them at anchor in the Maffitt Channel
, near Fort Moultrie
, visible from the assigned anchorage of the Housatonic
The following proclamation was issued:
The results of the engagement are: two vessels sunk, four set on fire, and the remainder driven away.
Yesterday afternoon General Beauregard placed a steamer at the disposal of the foreign consuls to see for themselves that no blockade existed.
The French and Spanish Consuls accepted the invitation.
The British Consul, with the commander of the British war-steamer Petrel, had previously gone five miles beyond the usual anchorage of the blockaders, and could see nothing of them with their glasses.
Late in the evening four blockaders reappeared, keeping far out. This evening a large number of blockaders are in sight, but keep steam up ready to run. The foreign consuls here held a meeting last night.
They are unanimously of the opinion that the blockade of this port is legally raised.
[This information appended is not attested.]
In relation to this extraordinary proclamation, Colonel Leckler
and others wrote Admiral Dupont
Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
At an earlier date the commanding officers
of vessels blockading that were sufficiently near to be cognizant of the facts wrote the following letter:
The reader may well wonder at the several preceding pages; the proclamation and the refutation at such length.
The first-named shows that however able and brave the officers were who signed it, they did not limit their devotion to fighting
for the Confederacy
; they were willing to go far beyond that.
The refutation is inserted somewhat maliciously, to embarrass such persons as either believe what they choose, or assert a belief in what is absurd in itself.
In the face of the character of the blockading force off the bar at that time, with three exceptions so entirely destructible by such vessels as the rams, it seems unaccountable that they did not remain outside of the bar during the day at least.
These Confederate rams never ventured out again, although Flag-Officer Ingraham
states in his report that they were not struck by a projectile during the raid.
The construction of such vessels at Charleston
must have been imperfect from a lack of plant of suitable materials, and of skilled workmen.2
The wonder is, that under so man disadvantages, they should have ventured to construct any vessels.
In every case the labor was without compensating result, if we except the structure on the hull of the frigate Merrimac
, known as the Virginia
to the Confederates
, which, after the destruction of the sailing frigates Congress
at Newport News, was soon after consigned to the flames as a result of the fall of Norfolk
Soon after this raid, the New Ironsides, then at anchor in Port Royal
, a vessel built under far more favorable auspices than could obtain within the limits of the Confederacy
, was added to the blockading force off Charleston
We may suppose, without derogation to the enemy, that she exercised a powerful restraining influence on the Confederate rams within that port.
The enemy, as we have seen, having felt the power of guns afloat where many of them could be brought to bear, no longer contested inferior points of defence, and fully aware of an intended attack on Charleston
and under an apprehension of attack on Savannah
, turned his attention to strengthening the defences of those cities by every means within his power.
He looked with apprehension, as the people of the North
looked with hope and expectation, upon the arrival of the monitor class of vessels that were completed and of others under construction, intended particularly for the attack on Charleston
In the early part of January several of them were already south of Cape Hatteras
, where the Monitor
, the original vessel of that type, foundered at sea, and at the same time the Montauk
and the Passaic
were in great peril.
Several of these vessels which arrived out in advance of others of their class intended for the attack on Charleston
were sent by Rear-Admiral Dupont3
to the Great Ogeechee River
informed the Department on the 28th of January that he considered it desirable in every way to test the ironclads of the Monitor
type, and to avail himself of their usefulness until the intended number might arrive, he had sent the Montauk
, Commander John L. Worden
, to Ossabaw,
to operate up the Great Ogeechee
, and capture, if he could, the fort at Genesis Point (known afterward as Fort McAllister
), under cover of which was lying the Nashville
, a large side-wheel steamer, a blockade-runner fitted for a cruiser under the Confederate
flag, and there for the purpose of escaping to foreign waters.
If Commander Worden
should be successful against the fort, it was thought that the Nashville
might be destroyed, and afterward a railroad bridge lying two miles above the fort.
reported his arrival off Ossabaw Bar on the 24th of January, in tow of the James Adger
He crossed the bar at 5 P. M. but had to anchor on account of fog, which also held him fast the following day. The commanding officers
of the Seneca
, Dawn, and Williams
were called together and instructions given as to the plan of attack on the fort.
On the 26th the Montauk
anchored just out of range, followed by the other vessels.
After dark, Lieutenant-Commander John L. Davis
, with two armed boats, went up the river to reconnoitre, and to destroy range marks placed by the enemy.
He examined the line of piles driven across the river diagonally below the fort, and found indications that the piles supported torpedoes.
At 7 A. M. the Montauk
moved to a position about one hundred and fifty yards below this line of piles, and opened fire, and at the same time the other vessels moved into effective range for shells and opened also.
The fort at first returned the fire briskly, with fair aim, striking the Montauk
thirteen times without inflicting serious damage.
Before noon the shells of the Montauk
were expended and the vessel withdrew and by signal directed the withdrawal of the other vessels.
No casualties occurred on board of any of the attacking force.
The fort was found to mount nine guns and was provided with ample bomb-proofs.
On February 1st the Montauk
again took position, supposed to be within six hundred yards of McAllister
, supported by the same vessels as before.
The falling of the tide made it necessary to drop down to a distance of fourteen hundred yards, and the firing of shells and the return fire from the fort continued until near noon, when, Commander Worden
says, ‘finding it useless to shell any longer, I withdrew out of range with the supporting gunboats.’
had been struck forty-six times without sustaining any serious damage, and although her fire had been delivered with accuracy, no further harm was done than to tear up the parapet and traverses of the fort.4
On March 2d the Rear-Admiral
had the satisfaction of reporting the destruction of the Nashville
, which vessel had been successfully blockaded for eight months. He says:
Through the extreme vigilance and spirit of Lieutenant-Commander Davis of the Wissahickon, Lieutenant Barnes of the Dawn, and later, Lieutenant-Commander Gibson, I have been able to keep her so long confined to the waters of the Ogeechee.
For some months the Nashville had been loaded with cotton, constantly watchful, yet never ventured an effort to escape.
Then she withdrew up the river, and reappeared after a length of time fitted as a privateer.
To defend her and the railroad bridge above, Fort McAllister was strengthened, and a diagonal row of piles driven, having a line of torpedoes below them.
The vessel had appeared from time to time ready to make a dash should an opportunity offer.
The vessel was armed with a heavy rifle mounted on a circle,
and was “proverbially fast.”
Through the ability and zeal of the officers before mentioned she had been held, and through the quick perception and rapid execution of Commander Worden she has been destroyed.
On the evening of February 27th Commander Worden
observed the Nashville
in movement above McAllister
In a reconnoissance it was discovered that she had grounded in a bend known as the seven-mile reach, and supposed to be within reach of the guns of the Montauk
in her former position when attacking the fort.
At daylight she went up with her consorts, into their former positions.
was seen aground at a distance of twelve hundred yards across the marsh, and a few shells thrown determined the range.
In less than twenty minutes she was on fire forward, amidships, and aft. Soon after, the large pivot gun, mounted abaft the fore-mast, exploded from the heat.
Twenty minutes later the smoke-stack went by the board, and soon after ‘the magazine exploding shattered the smoking ruins.’
During this time McAllister
was busily engaged firing at the Montauk
, but in the attendant excitement only struck her five times, without damage to the vessel, and at the same time the firing from the fort on the gunboats was wild and without injury to them.
The fire upon the fort destroyed one gun-carriage.5
The destruction of the Nashville
completed, the Montauk
withdrew with her assisting force beyond the reach of guns; in doing so, she ran over a torpedo placed by the enemy, inflicting an injury so serious that, had she not been run aground soon after, she would have sunk.
Once on the bottom, a piece of boiler iron was secured over the hole, and stanchioned temporarily, and then secured with tap-bolts,
which enabled her to perform such other service as was required during her continuance on the Southern
thought it desirable to further test the mechanical appliances of the monitors in an attack on McAllister
before entering on more important operations, and as well to give the officers and men the advantage of target practice with their new ordnance; he therefore ordered such vessels as were available to a renewed attack.
They were the Passaic
, Captain Percival Drayton
; the Patapsco
, Commander Daniel Ammen
; and the Nahant
, Commander John Downes
, aided by three mortar schooners throwing Xiii-inch shells.
reported that on March 3d the bombardment had been maintained for eight hours by these vessels, the Passaic
squarely in front of the fort, upon which seven guns were mounted, protected from an enfilading fire by high traverses.
Owing to the slowness of the fire from the monitors, the men in the fort never exposed themselves, usually discharging their pieces while the vessels were loading, or just before the ports came into line.
The row of piles and depth of water did not permit a nearer approach to the fort, which was found by spirit-level and necessary elevations to be twelve hundred yards, and seven-second fuzes were found necessary.
Two of the guns of the fort were disabled during the engagement; immense craters were dug into the parapet and traverses, but still no injury was done that could not be readily repaired during the night.
The three mortar schooners, at a distance of four thousand yards, kept up an ineffective firing daring the attack, and until the
next morning, the shells generally falling short.
The guns on board the Passaic
worked satisfactorily, ‘except that the box round the Xv-inch gun, on examination, was found to be almost detached from the side, owing to the breaking of the bolts which secured it to the turret.’7
A close observation showed that a few more rounds would have broken it. The decks of the Passaic
were badly injured, being considerably grooved; a mortar-shell filled with sand fell On the deck, and had it not struck over a beam, it would inevitably have gone through.
As it was, it completely crushed the planking at the side of the beam, opening quite a hole.
The measurement of a fragment of the shell showed it to be but ten inches. The fort directed nearly all its fire at the Passaic
During the action she was struck thirty-four times; nine of the hits were on the side armor; thirteen on the deck, breaking bolts and causing a leak; five on the turret; two on the pilot-house; one on the roof of the turret, and one on the smoke-stack.
The indentations were from one-half to two inches; many bolts were broken.
Neither of the other ironclads engaged were struck except with Whitworth
bolts of small size, and no injury was sustained.
The report of the Passaic
does not give the number of shells expended, but the Confederate
reports give ninety.
Her battery, and that of the Montauk
and the Nahant
, was a Xv-inch and a Xi-inch smooth-bore; and of the Patapsco
, one Xv-inch smooth-bore, and one 150-pounder rifle.
Forty-six shells were fired from this rifle, and fourteen shells from the smooth-bore of the vessel last named, the gun machinery working satisfactorily.
On board of the Nahant
, the compresser of the Xv-inch gun became disarranged at various times, and at the twentieth discharge, the rivets securing the brass guides on the after-part of the carriage gave way, the guides falling down into the turret-chamber, without, however, disabling the gun. A cast-iron ‘yoke’ put in to allow the use of an Xi-inch gun temporarily on a carriage made for a Xv-inch gun was broken at the thirty-ninth discharge, thus disabling the gun until a new ‘yoke’ could be put in. The foundries were not able to furnish a sufficient number of Xv-inch guns when the vessels were completed, hence the temporary use of a smaller calibre, and the fitment of a ‘yoke’ to hold the trunnions of a smaller gun. It should have been made of bronze, cast-iron not having the tenacity to resist the strain brought upon it. The rifle of the Patapsco
had, months before, carried away its ‘yoke’ in like manner, and the Ordnance Bureau, being thus informed, had bronze ‘yokes’ sent down, which were substituted, and cured that defect.
After the bombardment the vessels withdrew, as did the mortar schooners and the gunboats Seneca
, and Dawn
, that had laid two miles from the fort to signal the effect of the shells.
On the 6th, early in the day, the Passaic
, Patapsco, and Nahant
left Ossabaw Sound
in tow of suitable vessels, and the same evening entered Port Royal Harbor.
was at once put under repairs, which were not fully effected until the 28th.
She also had a bronze ‘yoke’ put in to avoid a future mishap, such as the Patapsco
The last-named, and indeed all of the monitor class, had bronze ‘yokes’ placed in the carriages upon which the Xi-inch guns were mounted.
All of them, too, had one-inch plates of iron placed over the
magazines, and the vessels that had not powerful centrifugal pumps already were so fitted.
On the 25th the Weehawken
, Patapsco, and Catskill
left Port Royal
under tow for North Edisto Inlet—an excellent harbor within twenty miles of Charleston Bar. The repairs and fitments of the Passaic
, and Keokuk
detained them until the 1st of April, when they also proceeded to North Edisto
, where they had been preceded by the Nantucket
—another monitor which had arrived from the North
on the 13th of March.
The vessels were amply supplied with ammunition, and were fully prepared, as far as they could be, to make the intended attack on Fort Sumter