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Early operations in the Gulf.

Professor J. R. Soley, U. S. N.
After the seizure of the Pensacola Navy Yard and the movements connected with the relief of Fort Pickens (Vol. I., p. 32), the Gulf Coast remained comparatively quiet until the establishment of the blockade. Hitherto the vessels in this quarter had formed a part of the Home Squadron, under Flag-Officer Pendergrast; but on June 8th, 1861, Flag-Officer William Mervine assumed command of the station, his vessels constituting the Gulf Blockading Squadron. Already the blockade had been set on foot by the Powhatan, at Mobile, and by the Brooklyn, at New Orleans; and soon after Mervine arrived in the steamer Mississippi, he had twenty vessels in his fleet. On July 2d, Galveston, the third port of importance in the Gulf, was blockaded by the South Carolina.

The first collision occurred in August, when one of the tenders of the South Carolina, blockading Galveston, was fired on by a battery on the shore. Commander Alden, commanding the South Carolina, laid his ship close to the shore and returned the fire. A few shells were accidentally discharged into the town, but the affair was in no sense a bombardment of Galveston.

In September Flag-Officer William W. McKean replaced Mervine in command of the squadron. Shortly after, the blockading vessels off the mouths of the Mississippi, commanded by Captain John Pope, moved up to the Head of the Passes. Early on the morning of the 12th of October this squadron, consisting of the Richmond, Vincennes, Preble, and Water Witch, was attacked by the ironclad ram Manassas, under Lieutenant A. F. Warley. The Manassas rammed the Richmond without inflicting serious injury, and, being herself damaged by the blow, withdrew up the river. At the same time, the Richmond and her consorts turned their heads down-stream, and retreated as fast as possible to the mouth of South-west Pass. The Preble got over the bar, but the Vincennes and the Richmond grounded. In this position they were attacked by a small flotilla of converted river boats under Commodore G. N. Hollins. Notwithstanding the evident panic that prevailed in the fleet, the Confederate attack was not sustained with any great spirit, and the result was indecisive, neither party obtaining an advantage. The Water Witch was skillfully and boldly commanded by Lieutenant Francis Winslow; while the action of the captain of the Vincennes in abandoning his vessel while she was ashore, but under cover of the Richmond's heavy battery, was a subject of well-merited reproach.

On the night of the 13th of September occurred the destruction of the Confederate privateer Judah, in Pensacola harbor (see Vol. I., p. 32).

A similar exploit was performed at Galveston early in November. The attacking party, under Lieutenant James E. Jouett, set out in two launches from the frigate Santee, Captain Henry Eagle, on the night of the 7th, and captured and burnt the privateer schooner Royal Yacht, carrying one 32-pounder. Thirteen prisoners were taken. The casualties in the Union force were 2 killed and 7 wounded.

On the 16th of September, Ship Island, an important point commanding the passage of Mississippi Sound, which formed the water connection between New Orleans and Mobile, was evacuated by the Confederate forces. On the next day the steamer Massachusetts, under Captain Melancton Smith, landed a force and took possession of the island. The fort was strengthened by a formidable armament of rifles and 9-inch Dahlgren guns. Occasional attempts were made to recover the island, but without success. On the 19th of October the Confederate steamer Florida (Captain George N. Hollins) made a demonstration, and an encounter took place between that vessel and the Massachusetts. The Florida, having the advantage of higher speed and less draught, was able to choose her distance, and exploded a 68-pounder rifle shell in the Massachusetts, but without doing serious damage. The engagement was indecisive. In December a detachment of 2500 troops under Brigadier-General John W. Phelps was posted on the island, which had up to this time been held by the navy.

According to Secretary Welles (in “The Galaxy” for Nov., 1871), the Navy Department first conceived the idea of an attack on New Orleans in September, 1861, and the plan took definite shape about the middle of November,1 from which time the department was busily engaged in preparation for the expedition. As a part of the plan, it was decided to divide the Gulf Squadron into two commands, and when, on the 23d of December, Farragut received his preparatory orders, they directed him to hold himself in readiness to take command of the West Gulf Squadron and the expedition to New Orleans. Farragut received his full orders as flag-officer on the 20th of January, 1862, and sailed from Hampton Roads in the Hartford on the 3d of February, arriving at Ship Island on the 20th.

The East Gulf Squadron, comprising the vessels on the west coast of Florida, remained under the command of Flag-Officer McKean. On May 10th, 1862, Pensacola was evacuated, and came once more into the possession of the United States. A month later, on June 4th, Flag-Officer McKean was relieved by Captain J. L. Lardner, who was followed by Commodores Theodorus Bailey and C. K. Stribling. Operations in this quarter during the remainder of the war consisted chiefly of boat expeditions, encounters with blockade-runners or armed schooners, attacks upon guerrillas in the neighborhood of the coast, raids upon salt-works, and other small affairs of like character.

1 Commander D. D. Porter undoubtedly had the scheme in mind as early as June, 1861, when he was off the Passes in the Powhatan.--J. R. S.

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