Du Pont and the Port Royal expedition.1
After the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln
of the United States
, in March, 1861, a painful lethargy seemed to pervade every branch of the Administration, while the South
was arming and organizing with extraordinary activity for the avowed purpose of destroying the Government
, which apparently supinely awaited that event.
The attack on
Union post-office, Hilton head.
From a war-time sketch.|
broke the spell, after which an almost frantic energy manifested itself at the North
in raising troops and in the purchase and armament of vessels to blockade the thousands of miles of Southern coasts.
Naturally, the Navy Department sought the advice of Professor Alexander D. Bache
of the Coast Survey, and it was at his suggestion that the department secured a board of conference composed of Captain S. F. Du Pont
, of the Navy, as President
, and Major J. G. Barnard
, U. S. Engineers, Professor Bache
and Commander Charles H. Davis
, U. S. Navy, as members.
In a private letter Captain Du Pont
wrote, on the 1st of June: “It may be that I shall be ordered to Washington
on some temporary duty, on a board to arrange a programme of blockade-first suggested by Professor Bache
The first memoir of the conference in the confidential letter-book of the Navy Department is written in pencil, has many erasures and interlineations, and is evidently the original draft of a paper, probably referred and never returned.
It closes as follows:
Finally, we will repeat the remark made in the beginning of this report, that we think the expedition to Fernandina should be undertaken simultaneously with a similar expedition having a purely military character.
We are preparing a brief report on the latter, which we shall have the honor to submit in a few days.
A carefully prepared memoir, evidently the third, dated July 16th, discusses the question of blockade of the coast from Cape Henry
to Cape Romain
in one section, and from thence to Cape Florida
in another section.
These were afterward the limits of the North
and South Atlantic
A fourth report, dated July 26th, in treating of the methods to be employed in carrying out the blockade, states:
Our second memoir, in which we discussed the occupation of Bull's Bay, St. Helena Sound, and Port Royal Bay, has left us little to say on the first of those subsections.
When the three anchorages above mentioned are secured, the whole of this part of our coast will be under complete control.
But you are better aware than ourselves of the favorable manner in which our foreign political relations would be affected by the possession of one or more of the three points, the seizure of which was the topic of the second memoir.2 A preceding discussion would be incomplete, if we were not to repeat at the conclusion that an inland passage from Savannah to Fernandina, long used by steamboats drawing five feet of water, unites in one common interest and intercourse all the bays, sounds, rivers, and inlets of which we have given little more than the names.
A superior naval force must command the whole of this division of the coast.
On July 25th, Captain Du Pont
They have our memoirs, and, Mr. Fox tells me, are at them.
We are to see the Secretary, Mr. Welles, to-night, at our request, to talk over cur labors.
“. . . [July 26th.]” Last night our conference had a meeting with the Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Fox, when the subject of the expeditions was entered into.
The Cabinet had our papers again. [July 28th.] I sat up last night in the Navy Department until eleven, with Charles Davis, to prepare for this meeting, by condensing into notes the pith of our reports, and to read them to the board when called upon; but General Meigs seemed to desire that our full reports should be read, which I could not, of course, ask to be done, without seeming to attach too much importance to them.
General Scott said at the conclusion, they were of singular ability, and he adopted every word of them; and General Totten told me there was not a criticism made.
The meeting consisted of General Scott, General Totten, General Meigs, Colonel T. W. Sherman, Captain H. G. Wright, of the Engineers, and Colonel Cullum, aide-de-camp to the general.
Memoirs dated August 9th, September 2d and 3d, follow, giving a discussion of the blockade on the west coast of Florida
, and to the border of Mexico
A memoir dated September 12th discusses a proposition submitted from the department in relation to the taking of Fort Macon
, which closes as follows:
We beg leave to observe that here, and in all our previous reports and memoirs, we have confined ourselves to the treatment of cases, more or less special or general, connected with; and
tending to promote, the efficiency and activity of the blockade of the Southern shores.
We have not entered upon the exclusive consideration of the great military expeditions alone; we have treated mixed expeditions compounded of military and naval operations, and requiring combined naval and military action.
In the above extracts we can note the inception of the Port Royal expedition
, so ably executed and so important in its results, as well as the creation of a systematic plan of blockade, practically extending from Cape Hatteras
to the Rio Grande
It seems just to the memory of the late Rear-Admiral Du Pont
and his associates in the conference, all of whom have passed away, to present these important facts in a substantial and reliable form.
The early attempts at blockading the coast from Hatteras to Florida
revealed the necessity of the occupation of as many Southern ports as possible.
A blockade from within a harbor may be made effective by one or more ships without the fatigue and uncertainty attendant upon an exterior blockade, which must be maintained beyond the range of the guns of an enemy in possession of the adjacent coasts.
Even thirty vessels blockading the two entrances to the Cape Fear River
were unable to prevent the frequent arrival and departure of blockade-runners.
The only possible policy for the Navy Department was to secure the cooperation of the army.
And after a well-outlined preliminary agreement, General Thomas W. Sherman
, on the 2d of August, 1861, was directed “to proceed immediately to New York and organize, in connection with Captain Du Pont
, of the navy, an expedition of twelve thousand men. Its destination,” said his orders, “you and the naval commander will determine after you have sailed.”
A dozen or more small gun-boats were then under construction in the Northern States
on contract, and vessels of every size, from a canal steamboat to the
largest coasting steamers, were purchased and fitted with batteries, shell-rooms, and magazines, both for this expedition and to supply the general wants of the service in establishing and maintaining the most extended and effective blockade ever known in history.
Under date of August 22d, 1861, Captain Du Pont
wrote from New York:
We drove where several of the purchased vessels were being altered, and examined the Alabama, Augusta, and Stars and Stripes.
it is like altering a vest into a shirt to convert a trading steamer into a man-of-war.
Except that there is a vessel and a steam-engine, all else is inadaptable; but there is no help for it — the exigency of the blockade demands it. “[August 23d.]” The Tuscarora (new steam sloop-of-war) was launched at Philadelphia yesterday.
She was built in fifty-eight days, and thoroughly built too. Her keel was growing in Sussex county, Delaware, seventy days ago.
On the 19th of October, 1861, eighty days after the date of the order to General Sherman
above quoted, Flag-Officer Du Pont
(as officers in command of squadrons were then styled) left New York on board of the steam-frigate Wabash
, followed by numerous men-of-war, among which were four small vessels, the Unadilla
, and Seneca
, built in great haste and called “ninety-day gun-boats,” as the contract had required their completion within that time.
Other vessels purchased and improvised for war purposes proceeded when ready to Hampton Roads
, where the large troop transports had already congregated, as well as war vessels, regular, irregular, and defective.
Among them were ferry-boats and the old steamer Governor
, never in her best days adapted to a sea voyage, on board of which were six hundred marines, sent as a force to operate speedily and without embarrassment in conjunction with naval vessels.
Twenty-five chartered schooners, laden with coal, were also on hand, and, after being partially lightened by filling the bunkers of the squadron, were sent to sea under convoy of the sailing sloop Vandalia
the day before the departure of the fleet.
On the morning of the 29th of October, the vessels of war and the army transports of all classes steamed outside and formed in order of sailing, which was the double echelon.
The reader may know that this is in the shape of an inverted V, the leading vessel being the point, and the other vessels stretching out in lines but heading in a common direction.
Our process of formation was not complete when the gun-boat Unadilla
became disabled, and the signal was made to take her in tow. Our rate of speed was quite slow, due to a head-wind, and to the varied character of the vessels composing the fleet, which was larger than was ever before commanded by an American officer.
, little more than a hundred miles from Cape Henry
, was not reached until 1 o'clock on the morning of the 31st, when two of the heavier transports struck slightly on the shoals, which caused all of us to make for the south-east; and soon after, when south of the cape, we bore away.
The wind had hauled more to the eastward before we reached Hatteras, and that, with a rough sea, had caused considerable indraught; and the drift from the action of the wind on the large hulls, added to our low speed, had set us considerably to leeward.
Hatteras is known to navigators as being subject to great and sudden
changes in the weather: there are few nights in the year when lightning cannot be seen from the top of the light-house, usually to seaward, over the Gulf
Stream, which here approaches nearer to the coast than at any other point.
An ocean depth of 2000 fathoms or more stretches almost in a direct line from the low sand islands east of Nassau
to within a distance of 12 miles of the cape; from the shore the water deepens very rapidly to 100 fathoms, and then falls abruptly to a depth of 2500 fathoms.
This great depth, so near the land, and the Gulf
Stream sweeping even nearer, are the probable causes of the sudden and violent changes of the weather there prevailing, which were discussed in one of the memoirs of the conference.
On rounding the cape, the wind gradually rose, the sea became heavy, a dull leaden sky shut out the light, and not long after midday there were assurances of a south-east gale.
About 2:30 P. M. the weather was so rough that signal was made from the flag-ship to commanders of
vessels to disregard the order of sailing and take care of their individual commands.
In order to make the best of our way, and the better to avoid collisions with other vessels of the fleet, the Seneca
was kept on the port tack, and “hove to,” barely turning the engines, the vessel being under close-reefed fore and main sails.
Had she been square-rigged, the other tack would have been necessary to her safety.
In the drifting mists and rain, it soon grew dark.
The greater part of that night I stood under the lee of the weather bulwark, near the wheel, casting glances to windward, to be in readiness to bear away should a vessel be seen coming down upon us. It was a long, weary, and anxious night.
On peering to windward, the rain-drops pelted the face like sleet, and the phosphorescent spray broke over us in superlative grandeur.
At 3 o'clock I observed what had been an object of watchfulness — an arch rising in the west, precursor of a sudden change of wind.
The mainsail was lowered, and when the squall struck us the foresheet was shifted over.
At 9 or 10 A. M. the gale had abated greatly, and the flag-ship was well under our lee; we then wore ship and were soon in her wake.
Later in the day several other vessels fell into line.
We will now note the actual losses from the gale, that became known to us some days later.
The Isaac Smith
was disabled and her commander forced
to throw his battery overboard, with the exception of one 30-pounder rifle, to enable him to go to the assistance of the Governor
, which foundered at sea.
The Young Rover
, fortunately coming up, was able to signal to the sailing frigate Sabine
in the distance, and, after most strenuous exertions, the marine battalion and crew of the Governor
, with the exception of seven who were lost, were transferred to the Sabine
Of the army transports, the Peerless
, laden with stores, went down, the crew being rescued by the Mohican
The steamers Belvidere
, and Osceola
, having army stores on board, but no troops, either sank or never reached their destination.
The large army transport Winfield Scott
was so disabled that she never left Port Royal harbor after entering.
The morning of November 3d was a bright Sunday, with a moderate breeze and a smooth sea. Several others of the small steamers with the Seneca
were following in the wake of the flag-ship.
In obedience to signal, I went on board that vessel, and received orders to be delivered to Captain Lardner
of the Susquehanna
, the senior officer blockading Charleston
, distant about thirty miles. These directed certain vessels to rendezvous off Port Royal
entrance, but not to leave the line of blockade until after nightfall.
No sooner was the Seneca
fairly in sight of Sumter
than the signal guns were fired, to announce the arrival of the avant-courier
of the fleet that they knew was intended for the attack of Port Royal
After passing Bull's Bay
, I had the belief that we were bound for Port Royal
, but no actual knowledge of the fact until going on board of the Wabash
, as my orders were marked “Confidential — not to be opened unless separated from the flag-ship.”
At the very time we were weathering the gale, the following telegram was sent:
Richmond, Nov. 1, ‘61. Gov. Pickens, Columbia, S. C. I have just received information, which I consider entirely reliable, that the enemy's expedition is intended for Port Royal. J. P. Benjamin, Acting Secretary of War.
The same telegram was sent to Generals Drayton
, commanding respectively at Port Royal
It was a charming mild afternoon when I stepped on the deck of the Susquehanna
. Captain Lardner
was delighted with his orders, and, after giving
him such information as would be of interest, I obtained permission to go up to the entrance to the swash channel, which was well known to me previously, when sounding out the bar on Coast Survey duty.
After the sun went down, all the vessels designated left the line of blockade, proceeding, like ourselves, to the entrance of Port Royal harbor, some sixty miles away.
Following the seven-fathom curve, the Seneca
rounded the shoal lying east of the main channel, known as “Martin
's industry,” at early daylight, and soon after found a small black barrel-buoy, which, we rightly conjectured, had been put there by the enemy.
An hour after sunrise, aided by the refraction, the tops of the pine-trees on both sides of the headlands were plainly in sight, although twelve miles off. At that hour the flag-ship Wabash
was at anchor with several other vessels about two miles distant, and the eastern horizon was flecked with approaching vessels.
We steamed out to the flag-ship at a later hour, reported the finding of the barrel-buoy, and were informed that the entrance would soon be sounded out. About noon, Captain C. A. Boutelle
, in the Coast Survey steamer Vixen
, with the gun-boats Pawnee
, and Seneca
, crossed the bar and went far enough in to have a good view of the faces and embrasures of the earth-works that we were soon to engage, the one on Hilton Head
known as Fort Walker
and the other on Bay Point
as Fort Beauregard
After the surveying steamer had planted some buoys, to serve as general guides, the four gun-boats last named anchored in the channel some distance apart, as additional guides, the one farthest in being
some three miles from Fort Beauregard
, the Vixen
and the Pawnee
going out to pilot the vessels across the bar. This was done without delay; all of them that came in had no more than eighteen feet draught.
They anchored a mile or so outside of the gun-boats, and from the shoal ground to seaward.
Near sunset three steamers came outside of the headlands and fired at our gun-boats at long range.
The steamers were under the command of Josiah Tattnall
, a commodore in the Confederate
service, who had been a distinguished officer of our navy, and had resigned some time before, on the secession of Georgia
, of which State he was a citizen.
His vessels were river boats; as men-of-war they were in every respect of the most vulnerable class.
The four advanced gun-boats of our squadron got under way, pivoted their heavy shell-guns over the starboard bow, and headed to the westward so as to bring
their guns to bear.
This course with that of the enemy would soon have brought Tattnall
's steamers in unpleasant proximity, and in consequence they turned abruptly, passed between the headlands, and disappeared in the distance.
Soon after sunrise the next day, three steamers commanded by Tattnall
made their appearance in like manner.
It so happened that General H. G. Wright
, of the army, and Captain John Rodgers
, of the navy, had gone on board of the Ottawa
, under the instructions of their commanding officers, to make a reconnoissance of the forts, and had brought within supporting distance the Pawnee
, carrying a heavy battery, and the Isaac Smith
, carrying one 30-pounder rifle.
They were approaching when Tattnall
was pretty well out, and had opened fire on the smaller gun-boats.
Signal was made to the Seneca
to follow the movements of the Ottawa
, and we went in, following Tattnall
's steamers, then in retreat, and firing on them, until we were nearly on an air-line between the two earth-works before named.
They opened fire on us, at rather too long a range for effective work, with smooth-bore guns; several rifles were also used by the forts, as well as by the Confederate vessels.
One of our shells blew up a caisson in Fort Beauregard
, and we soon became fairly informed of the number of the enemy's guns bearing on the entrance, and in a measure as to their caliber.
On signal, we went out of action and anchored, without having received any material damage; the rigging of all of the vessels was cut more or less.
After seven bells, “when the sun is over the foreyard,” Tattnall
's flag-ship Savannah
, accompanied by a steamer, came out on the flats, or shoaler waters, to the westward of the channel.
They flew about somewhat wildly, had considerable headway, and threw a rifle-shell occasionally, firing “promiscuously,” but mostly at the nearest vessel, which was the Seneca
Her executive officer was directed to call the eleven-inch pivot gun's crew to quarters and fire a shell at ricochet, the distance supposed to be about 2500 yards. The gun was at once reported ready, and the request made to fire at an elevation.
Appreciating the fact that
one rarely does well when not doing what he thinks best, I took the matter personally in hand, had the gun leveled and trained as desired, and pulled the lanyard.
The huge shell skipped along the surface of a glassy sea, and, as reported from aloft, struck the vessel abaft the starboard wheel-house.
In a moment the head of the flag-ship was turned for the harbor, and she lost no time in entering, followed by her consort.
It was soon afterward known that the captain of the vessel, had availed himself of the temporary absence of Tattnall
, and had sallied out to have a little diversion, which would have proved serious had the shell exploded that lodged in the hog-braces.
About the time of this occurrence, the flag-ship Wabash
crossed the bar, followed by all of the heavy vessels, including the transports, and anchored some two miles outside of Fishing Rip Shoal, some five miles from the forts, the bar being about twelve miles outside of the headlands.
Very soon after the flag-ship anchored, signal was made for officers commanding
vessels to come aboard.
On their arrival, those who commanded vessels detailed for the main line were invited into the cabin, and instructions were given as to position and plan of battle; and afterward those commanding vessels in the flanking line received their instructions, which differed as to the duties to be performed after passing within and beyond the earth-works.
It was the intention of the flag-officer
at that time to go at once into action, although the hour would of necessity be late.
The main line was to be on the west or Hilton Head
side, in line ahead, and the vessels one ship's-length apart.
The report of the flag-officer
states: “The order of battle comprised a main squadron ranged in line ahead, and a flanking squadron, which was to be thrown off on the northern section of the harbor to engage the enemy's flotilla, and prevent their raking the rear ships of the line when it turned to the southward, or cutting off a disabled vessel.”
The leading ship of the main squadron was the frigate Wabash
, Commander C. R. P. Rodgers
, followed by the frigate Susquehanna
, Captain J. L. Lardner
; sloop Mohican
, Commander S. W. Godon
; sloop Seminole
, Commander J. P. Gillis
; sloop Pawnee
, Lieutenant Commanding R. H. Wyman
; gun-boat Unadilla
, Lieutenant Commanding N. Collins
; gun-boat Ottawa
, Lieutenant Commanding T. H. Stevens
; gun-boat Pembina
, Lieutenant Commanding J. P. Bankhead
; and the sailing sloop Vandalia
, Commander F. S. Haggerty
, towed by the Isaac Smith
, Lieutenant Commanding J. W. A. Nicholson
flanking squadron was led by the gun-boat Bienville
, Commander Charles Steedman
, followed by the Seneca
, Lieutenant Commanding Daniel Ammen
; gun-boat Curlew
, Lieutenant Commanding P. G. Watmough
; gun-boat Penguin
, Lieutenant Commanding T. A. Budd
; and the gun-boat Augusta
, Commander E. G. Parrott
The plan of attack was to pass up midway between Forts Walker
, receiving and returning the fire of both, to about two and one-half miles north of the forts, then to turn toward and close in with Fort Walker
, encountering it on its weakest flank, and at the same time enfilading its two water faces.
While standing to the southward the vessels would be head to tide, with just enough headway to preserve the order of battle in passing the batteries in slow succession, and to avoid becoming a fixed mark for the enemy's fire.
On reaching the extremity of Hilton Head
and the shoal ground making off from it, the line was to turn to the north by the east, and, passing northward, to engage Fort Walker
with the port battery, but nearer than on entering.
These evolutions were to be repeated.
A plan of battle was sent to the Navy Department.
The “New York
Herald” of November 20th, 1861, contains a diagram in accord with the above statement, and was probably taken from the official one.
There was another point in the instructions given by the flag-officer
to officers commanding vessels in the flanking line that is not mentioned in his report.
He said in substance, if not 4n words, that, in passing in, the flanking line was to deliver its fire against the fort on Bay Point
, and then to guard the fleet of transports within the bar from any attempts of Tattnall
; that he knew him well; that he had courage and power to plan, and in the heat of action might try to run out to destroy the transports which it was the special duty of the flanking squadron to protect; and that when Tattnall
was disposed of, the vessels would take an enfilading position somewhere to the northward of the Hilton Head
After receiving our instructions, the officers
Ten-inch shell gun which threw the opening shot from the flag-ship “Wabash.”
from a war-time sketch.|
commanding vessels returned without delay to their commands, and made preparations for immediate movement.
Soon after, the flag-ship made signal and got under way, as did all of the men-of-war.
stood in toward the forts, and got aground.
“In our anxiety to get the outline of the forts before dark,” the flag-officer reported, “we stood in too near to Fishing Rip Shoal, and the vessel grounded.
By the time she was gotten off it was too late, in my judgment, to proceed, and I made signal for the squadron to anchor out of gunshot of the enemy.”
The shoal where the Wabash
grounded was a little short of three miles from the forts.
The vessels anchored in convenient positions for the formation of the lines when signaled, and were sufficiently inside of the transports to be unembarrassed by them in forming.
The following day [November 7th] we had a heavy westerly wind.
The report of General Thomas F. Drayton
, the Confederate
commander, states: “On the 6th, the fleet and transports, which had increased to about forty-five sail, would probably have attacked us had not the weather been very boisterous.”
This conjecture was quite right.
was impatiently awaiting the abatement of the wind, and about noon was almost on the point of going in, but wisely deferred the attack until we could make it without disadvantage.
's picturesque report of the engagement continues: “At last the memorable 7th dawned upon us, bright and serene; not a ripple upon the broad expanse of water to disturb the accuracy of fire from the broad decks of that magnificent armada about advancing, in battle array, to vomit forth its iron hail, with all the spiteful energy of long-suppressed rage and conscious strength.”
On the 7th, as soon as the morning light permitted, signals were made indicating that we would soon move.
The flag-ship was then at anchor near where she had grounded, nearly three miles from the forts.
In consequence of a hawser fouling her propeller, some delay occurred in forming after the vessels were under way, and it was 9 o'clock when signal was made for close order.
's flotilla at that time was nearly in line between the forts.4
As we advanced, at 9:26, the forts, as well as the enemy's vessels, lying right ahead, opened fire on the foremost ships.
Soon after, the flag-ship yawed sufficiently to bring a heavy pivot gun on her bow to bear on Tattnall
's command, which forced him to retreat, as his vessels would soon have been within reach of our broadside guns.
At that time our rate of speed was about six miles, and we were soon making good use of our batteries; the enemy on both sides of the bay had the full benefit of all the shells that both lines could send with precision.
So great was the cannons' roar that it was distinctly heard at Fernandina
, seventy miles away.
There was deafening music in the air, which came from far and near and all around; heavy clouds of dust and smoke, due to our bursting shells and the enemy's fire, partly obscured the earth-works, while our vessels were but dimly seen through the smoke from their own guns which hung over the water.
The logbook of the flag-ship states: “At 9:45 the Bienville
ranged alongside our starboard beam.”
This was eighteen minutes after the enemy had opened fire on the fleet, and eight minutes before the flag-ship ceased firing and turned toward Hilton Head
to repass the fort in heading toward the sea. This was the opportunity for the Bienville
to open wide her throttles: with her great speed, possibly she might have run down Tattnall
's vessels before they could have been pointed fairly and reached the entrance to Scull Creek
The log-book of the Bienville
states: “At 10:30 the flag-ship winded the line, turning to the southward, when we engaged for a few minutes three steamers that were within long range up the river.
We soon put them to flight, and then followed the line in the order of battle, down within close range of the large battery
on Hilton Head
. . . .”
The same authority establishes the fact that the Bienville
thereafter, during the engagement, followed in the main line.5
The report of the Seneca
On the morning of the 7th we took position assigned us in the line, and, passing up, delivered our fire at Bay Point, and on arriving out of the fire of the enemy's batteries, made chase, as directed by instructions, on the rebel steamers.
They, being river boats, soon left us.
The log-book of the same vessel states that when she turned to join in the attack on Hilton Head
's steamers turned also and came toward the fleet, only retreating when she again steamed toward them, so as to make an engagement unavoidable should they advance farther.
They then entered the intricate channel to Scull Creek
and disappeared behind a wooded point, after which the Seneca
, with other vessels of the flanking line, took up an enfilading position to the northward of Fort Walker
, as previously instructed.
Several vessels of the main line were also delivering an enfilading fire, among others the Mohican
, properly next in the main line to the Susquehanna
, who commanded her, was very excitable, and it may be on seeing a strange vessel ahead in his line, imagined that the well-planned attack had been transformed into a “free fight,” and the best he could do was to serve his battery well from the most effective point he could take up.
As an exhibition of physical force, allied to human action,
I can conceive nothing more grand than a view of the main deck of the Wabash
on this occasion.
The hatches being battened down, a faint light only came through the ports, as did the flashes from the discharged guns, which recoiled violently with a heavy thud.
As far as the smoke would
permit, hundreds of men were visible in very rapid motion, loading and running out the guns with the greatest energy.
Such a view, accompanied by the noise of battle, is weird and impressive to the highest degree.
The vessels in the main line slowly passed toward the sea, throwing their shells into the earth-work with the utmost precision, and this destruction was supplemented by the fire of ten of the vessels from an enfilading position.
As the main line headed seaward, the enemy may have had an idea that his fire was so destructive that the vessels were retreating, and Tattnall
, with his three weak vessels, was then disposed to swoop down and pick up “lame.
ducks” ; but, being confronted by one small gun-boat, he thought it best to enter Scull Creek
, where at least he would be available for carrying off the Southern
troops, if they were defeated.
was a brave and skillful seaman, the law of force was inexorable; and when an officer is a free agent, looking only to the success of his cause, he should not lead his command into destruction without being able to secure a commensurate advantage.
Arriving at the shoal ground off Hilton Head
, the flag-ship and her followers turned again within the harbor, and in passing northward availed themselves of the occasion to give Fort Beauregard
the benefit of their broadsides.
Meantime the enfilading vessels had been steadily throwing their shells into Fort Walker
In relation to this hour [about 10 A. M.], General Drayton
Besides this moving battery, the fort was enfiladed by two gun-boats anchored to the north, off the mouth of Fish Hall Creek, and another at a point on the edge of the shoals to the south.
This enfilading fire, on so still a sea, annoyed and damaged us excessively, particularly as we had no gun o n-either flank of the bastion to reply with.
The vessel near the shoal, to the south, was probably the Pocahontas
, commanded by Percival Drayton
, brother of the general in command of the Confederate forces; she only crossed the bar about noon, having been delayed by deranged machinery.
The main line passed nearer Fort Walker
than on entering, and delivered its fire “with all the spiteful energy of long-suppressed rage and conscious strength.”
Arriving at the turning-point, signal was again made to its vessels to take position, when the Wabash
led once more, and to within six hundred yards of the fort.
The nearness of the ships was the probable cause of their suffering so little damage, the enemy's shots passing over the hulls.
The flagship was naturally the most conspicuous target, but the shots received by her were high up, the enemy presumably delivering his fire for a distance of a thousand yards or more.
At this time a shell was seen to pass between the flag-officer
and the captain of the vessel, who were standing on the “bridge” extending across the vessel, just forward of the mainmast.
The flag-officer expressed officially his great admiration of the firing of the batteries of the Wabash
and of the Susquehanna
, which was next in line.
In a private letter, written just after the engagement, he said of the former:
In our first attack I was not satisfied with the execution of this ship, though the effect turned out to be much greater than I thought, but in the second attack I can remember nothing in naval history that came up to this ship in the terrific repetitions of her broadsides, and, to use the illustration of the reporter of the London News, the rising of the dust on shore in perpendicular columns looked as if we had suddenly raised from the dust a grove of poplars.
At 1:15 the Ottawa
signaled that the enemy was leaving the fort, and fifteen minutes later the same signal was made by the Pembina
At this time the flag-ship and her followers had returned from their tour, and were again ready to swoop down and deliver other broadsides.
Two pivot guns fired from the flag-ship received no response, and signal was made to cease firing.
Captain John Rodgers
, who was serving as aide to the flag-officer
, was sent on shore with a flag of truce.
On landing he found no garrison, and at 2:20 P. M. hoisted the Union flag over the fort.
When that honored emblem appeared, the rigging was manned in an instant on board the flag-ship and on all of the vessels of war at anchor; three cheers were wafted over the waters, so loud that they startled the defenders of Fort Beauregard
. 6 Commander C. R. P. Rodgers
, with the marines of the flag-ship and a division of small-arm men, landed and threw out pickets.
The transports at once steamed in. Soon after sunset the fort was delivered by the naval force to General H. G. Wright
, who now held watch and ward as far as the pine-trees some hundreds of yards distant.
Soon after the hoisting of our flag, a vessel was directed to make a reconnoissance of Bay Point
, but at
nightfall, as nothing had been heard from her, the Seneca
was sent to ascertain the situation.
When we arrived in front of Fort Beauregard
, it was so dark that the bow of the vessel was run up on the low beach.
There, outlined on the horizon, was the earth-work lying in grim repose, the embrasures being plainly visible.
The silence was unbroken; the work had evidently been abandoned.
The flood-tide was setting in strongly.
The crew of one hundred men were sent as far aft as possible and the engines backed.
We at once slid off, and the flag-officer
was fully informed as soon as we could steam over.
Orders were then given to return to Bay Point
at early daylight to reconnoiter, and, if we were not met by force, to hoist our flag at sunrise.
This was duly executed, and at noon the fort was turned over to General Isaac I. Stevens
of the army.
The flag-staff was on the gable of a small frame-house fifty yards from the fort.
I went within, saw some books lying on a table, and went out and toward some tents in the distance.
In a few minutes an explosion was heard, and, on turning, I saw a cloud of smoke where the house had stood.
A quantity of powder had been put under it, arranged so as to ignite from a friction-tube, and a sailor, in passing along outside, had struck his foot against a small wire attached to the tube, thus causing the explosion.
He was knocked over, and partially stunned, but soon revived.
It may be said that it is natural in warfare to harm your enemy as much as possible, but it strikes the man who has escaped being blown up that such devices are essentially mean.
The armament found on Fort Walker
was as follows: on the right angle of the sea-face, a 6-inch rifled-gun, six 32-pounders (three dismounted and with carriages ruined and another with the cascabel knocked off), one 10-inch and one 8-inch Columbiad, three sea-coast 7-inch howitzers; on the left angle of the sea-front, a 6-inch rifle; on the left wing, one 32-pounder and one sea-coast howitzer; on the outer work, in rear, two 32-pounders, one 8-inch heavy howitzer, and two English siege 12-pounders; on the right wing, three 32-pounders,--total, 23 guns.
Twenty guns were found in Fort Beauregard
, one of which was a 6-inch rifle, burst, and the carriage entirely destroyed.
The heaviest guns were a 10-inch and an 8-inch Columbiad; the other guns mostly 32-pounders.
A The armaments of the attacking vessels, and the losses on both sides, will be found on page 691.
In his report General T. W. Sherman
The beautifully constructed work on Hilton Head was severely crippled and many of the guns dismounted.
Much slaughter had evidently been made there, many bodies having been buried in the fort, and some twenty or thirty were found some half-mile distant.
The number of pieces of ordnance that have fallen into our hands is fifty-two, the bulk of which is of the largest caliber, all with fine carriages, etc., except eight or nine, that were ruined by our fire, which dismounted their pieces.
On the afternoon of the 8th General Sherman
made a reconnoissance, on
thus describes the resistance made to the attack of the Union fleet, referring at the outset to the first shot from Fort Walker
The shell from the Dahlgren exploded near the muzzle, and was harmless.
Other shots followed from both forts, and soon the fire became general on land and water.
In spite of our fire, directed with deliberation and coolness, the fleet soon passed both batteries apparently unharmed, and, then returning, delivered in their changing rounds a terrific shower of shot and shell in flank and front.
Besides this moving battery, the fort was enfiladed by two gun-boats anchored to the north, off the mouth of Fish Hall Creek, and another at a point on the edge of the shoals to the south.
This enfilading fire, on so still a sea, annoyed and damaged us excessively, particularly as we had no gun on either flank of the bastion to reply with, for the 32-pounder on the right flank was shattered very early by a round shot, and on the north flank for want of a carriage no gun had been mounted.
After the fourth fire the 10-inch Columbiad bounded over the limber and became useless.
The 24-pounder rifled cannon was choked while ramming down a shell, and lay idle during nearly the whole engagement.
The shells for the 9-inch Dahlgren were also too large.
The fourth shell attempted to be rammed home could not be driven below the trunnions, and was then at great risk discharged.
Thus far the fire of the enemy had been endured and replied to with the unruffled courage of veterans.
At 10:30 our gunners became so fatigued that I left the fort, accompanied by one of my volunteer aides, Captain H. Rose, and went back to Captain Read's battery (one and three-quarter miles to the rear of the fort) and brought the greater part of his men back to take the places of our exhausted men inside the fort.
... Two o'clock had now arrived, when I noticed our men coming out of the fort, which they had bravely defended for four and a half hours against fearful odds, and then only retiring when all but three of the guns on the water-front had been disabled, and only 500 pounds of powder in the magazine; commencing the action with 220 men inside the fort, afterward increased to 255 by the accession from Read's battery.
These heroic men retired slowly and sadly from their well-fought guns, which to have defended longer would have exhibited the energy of despair rather than the manly pluck of the true soldier.
Of the attack upon Fort Beauregard
, General Drayton
The attack upon the fort, though not so concentrated and heavy as that upon Walker, was nevertheless very severe.
Its armament was 19 guns, of which the following, viz., 1 8-inch Rodman, bored to 24-pounder and rifled, 2 42-pounders, 1 10-inch Columbiad, 2 42-pounders, reamed to eight inches, and 1 32-pounder in hot-shot battery, were the only guns capable of being used against the fleet.
The force on Bay Point was 640 men, commanded by Col. R. G. M. Dunovant, 12th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers.
Of the above, 149 garrisoned Fort Beauregard, under the immediate command of Capt. Stephen Elliott, Jr., Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, Company A 9th Regiment South Carolina Volunteers.
The infantry force of Colonel Dunovant's regiment was intrusted with the protection of the eastern part of the island, and of the defense of the bastion line at the Island Narrows, where an attack was expected from the enemy.
The old headquarters, Hilton head.
From a war-time sketch.|
board of the Seneca
, several miles up the Beaufort River
On the following day that vessel was sent to Beaufort
, supported by two gun-boats.
This visit brought to view an extraordinary scene.
On the wharves were hundreds of negroes, wild with excitement, engaged in carrying movables of every character, and packing them in scows.
As the gun-boats appeared, a few mounted white men rode away rapidly.
A very beautiful rural town had been abandoned by all of the white inhabitants, quite as though fire and sword awaited them had they remained.
Instead of that, I was directed by the flag-officer
to assure the peaceable inhabitants that they would be protected in life and property.
message was delivered to the only white man found, who sat in the. post-office and seemed quite dazed.
At General Drayton
's headquarters was found a chart of the coast, and, in red-pencil marks, a very valuable addition, no less than the position of all the earth-works within his command, the number of guns being shown by the number of red marks in each locality.
All of the batteries indicated from North Edisto
south to Tybee
were found to be abandoned; the guns, however, had been removed, with the exception of some inferior pieces.
Wherever the gunboats penetrated, into harbors or rivers, huge columns of white smoke were seen on all sides from the burning cotton, far out of our reach, had it been the special object of our visit to secure it. Thus the enemy inflicted upon the inhabitants injuries they
Pope's House, Hilton head, used by the union army as a signal-station.
From a war-time sketch.|
would otherwise have escaped, even had it been within the power of the crews of the gun-boats to inflict them.
On the 10th, on board the Seneca
, the flag-officer paid a visit to Beaufort
and endeavored, by proclamation printed and distributed, to assure peaceable inhabitants of his protection.
A planter whose house was on Paris Island
, plainly in view from the anchorage at Port Royal
, remained without molestation for weeks, and was then constrained to leave only under threats of dire penalties from his Confederate friends.
After abandoning his works on Hilton Head
, the enemy did not succeed in getting off the island, at Seabrook Landing
, only six miles from the fort, until 2 A. M. of the 8th.
On the Bay Point
side, owing to a much longer march and the indifferent means of crossing a small stream, it was not until the following afternoon that the force reached an adjacent island or the mainland.7
Every man of them, whether in the one fort or the other, was doubtless greatly impressed with the power of gun-boats when brought face to face with those batteries which only a few hours before they had regarded as quite capable of sinking or driving off any force that would be brought against them.
The battle of Port Royal
, occurring a little less than seven months after the fall of Fort Sumter
, was of surpassing value in its moral and political effect, both at home and abroad.
It gave us one of the finest harbors on the Atlantic sea
-board, affording an admirable base for future operations; and, by the establishment of coaling stations, shops, and supply depots, made it possible to maintain an effective blockade within the entrances of the whole coast from Charleston
to Cape Florida
, except at Fernandina
the casualties during the engagement were inconsiderable, military men and readers who note results will not measure its importance by the small number of the killed and wounded, indicative, in this case, of the professional ability and tactical skill with which the victory was won. The capture of the forts at Hatteras Inlet, August 28th, 1861, was the result of a bombardment rather than of a battle; owing to shoal water, extending far to seaward, the heavy vessels were held at so long a range that not a single projectile of the enemy reached them.
Although 9-inch shells were fired from the broadside guns of the squadron the first day of the bombardment, it is doubtful if they reached the forts: the pivot-guns, being of
larger caliber and having more elevation, dropped heavy shells on weak bomb-proofs and on insufficient coverings to the magazine, and compelled
the surrender of the garrison.
Nevertheless, the capture of Hatteras Inlet was an event of great military importance.
So far as the relative merits of ships and earth-works were concerned, the battle of Port Royal
asserted in such positive terms the power of shell-guns afloat that the enemy at once abandoned all minor points of defense along the coast not covered by difficult water approaches, and ever after seemed to regard the obstruction of channels as the main element in successful defense.
The establishment and maintenance of our most efficient system of blockade along all the Southern
coasts was largely due to the intelligence and ability with which Rear-Admiral Du Pont
and his co-laborers formulated the principles involved at the very outset of the contest.
His long experience in blockade duty during the Mexican
war was of the greatest value to the conference, and indeed prompted his selection as its president.
In a private letter, dated on board the Cyane
, July 27th, 1847, Du Pont
stated, quite prophetically, the value of his study of the subject of blockades:
I have exhausted Kent,Wheaton, and Vattel on the subject,--a right good piece of professional work and study, which may be invaluable in the future.
Three or four issues have been started not covered at all by those authorities, of which I have made notes.
Previous to our civil war no higher rank was known in the American
navy than that of captain, although the law accorded the title of flag-officer, with additional pay, to captains in command of recognized naval stations.
The engagement at Port Royal
, the taking of New Orleans, and other successful operations of our navy doubtless led to the creation of the higher grades of commodore and rear-admiral, July 16th, 1862, on which date Flag-Officer Du Pont
became a rear-admiral, ranking second on the list.
Eminently adapted to command, he knew well how to secure the best services of his subordinates.
Intelligent, cheerful in manner, of tall and commanding mien, he naturally invited and obtained the confidence of those who were fortunate enough to serve under his orders.
During the past half century the navy of the United States
has not had an officer of more distinguished appearance, or endowed with more manly virtues.
Though fitted by nature to be a leader among men, he thoroughly appreciated the necessity for study to make himself equal to every professional requirement.
It is not given to man to be preeminent without an earnest exertion to that end, however much nature may have done in his behalf.
In the erection of a statue at Washington
, and in the naming of Du Pont Circle, in which it stands, the American
people, through Congress, have paid a proper tribute to the memory of this worthy representative of the naval service.
Ammendale, Md., September, 1887.