previous next

Chapter 38: review of the work done by the Navy in the year 1863.

A summary of the events of 1863 may serve to keep in mind the details of the several squadrons that were operating along a sea-coast of over 3,500 miles in extent, and in the Western rivers, a further distance of 4,000 miles. The harbors and indentations of the Atlantic coast, which afforded refuge for blockade-runners, or points for landing their munitions of war, amounted to at least 180 in number.

Thus the Navy had to guard a line of coasts and rivers over 7,500 miles in extent, a task compared with which the famous blockade of the French coast by the British, during the wars with Napoleon, was a mere bagatelle.

Day by day the blockade of the Southern sea-coast became more stringent, and as Congress was made to feel the urgent appeals of Mr. Secretary Welles for an increase of the Navy, and became aware that the resources of the enemy diminished in proportion as those of the Navy increased, and realized that, without an adequate force of war-vessels, the Rebellion would never be conquered, it showed due liberality, and success began to attend the Federal arms in all quarters.

By increasing the stringency of the blockade, the enemy were driven from the coast, as they realized the uselessness of contending against combined military and naval operations. The great rivers and their tributaries were no longer safe resorts for marauders, as the capture of the principal towns in the West, and the occupation of the surrounding country by the Union forces, had relieved a large number of troops from siege-duty, who could now be employed from Tennessee to Louisiana.

The power of the Navy at the same time was largely increased on the Western rivers by the addition of some 800 guns mounted in war-vessels improvised from merchant steamboats; and these aided in transporting the Army from one point to another where-ever the enemy showed himself.

The operations of the Navy up to the end of the year 1863 had borne with great severity on those who had risen in arms against the National Government, and the idea has been suggested that the almost superhuman efforts of this arm of the service to crush the Rebellion has been a serious embarrassment to its advance since the close of the civil war; that the Southern influence in Congress has, in a great measure, prevented the rebuilding of the Navy and ringing it to a condition befitting a great nation. Certain it is, the Navy has been brought to so low an ebb that it almost seems as if this state of affairs had been produced by some concert of action.

The best illustration of what the Navy had accomplished up to the close of the year 1863 is afforded by the official reports of the commanding officers of squadrons and single ships; but, as these cannot be embodied in a narrative of this kind, we must content ourselves with an abstract from the records.

Acting-Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, in command of the North Atlantic squadron, ably seconded by the zeal of his officers, had penetrated the waters of Virginia wherever his gun-boats could reach, and had occupied the sounds of North Carolina to such an extent that the Confederates could be said to have no foothold in that quarter. Wilmington, near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, was really the only point in North Carolina where the enemy could boast that they had defied the Federal arms, and this point was found extremely difficult to close owing to two separate entrances to the river some thirty miles apart, both protected by the heaviest description of land defences and obstructed by shallow bars. These obstacles at the time were [463] considered such as to preclude any attempt to capture Wilmington from the sea.

Many reasons existed why the Army could not co-operate in an attack upon Wilmington, which thus remained upwards of a year longer than it should have done the great depot of supplies for the Confederate armies. Many fast steamers from the Clyde, and other parts of Great Britain, continued to elude the utmost efforts of the blockading squadron, and reached Wilmington with valuable cargoes of arms and munitions of war, though numbers were captured or driven on shore and destroyed.

In all the operations of the North Atlantic squadron its officers and men exhibited bravery and zeal second to no other organization in the Navy. There was no field for great achievement except the capture of Fort Fisher and the other defences of Wilmington, which might have been taken earlier in the war, but the task was postponed until it required nearly half of the Navy to overcome the obstacles then presented.

The South Atlantic squadron, during the year 1863, had performed most valuable service in blockading the Southern coast, and had succeeded in maintaining a force in Charleston harbor which completely closed that port as a refuge for blockade-runners, and prevented the Confederates from obtaining further supplies in that quarter.

The Navy Department had made great efforts to capture the heavy defences inside Charleston bar, and Rear-Admiral DuPont had made a vigorous attack with his iron-clads and Monitors on the heaviest line of works; but, owing to the destructive fire of the enemy and the insufficiency of his force of vessels, DuPont very properly withdrew. The wisdom of his course was subsequently shown during the combined Army and Navy operations against Charleston, under Rear-Admiral Dahlgren and Brigadier-General Gillmore. On the later occasion, sixty siege-guns were brought to bear on the enemy, and Fort Sumter was “reduced to pulp,” yet the difficulties of an advance of the naval vessels were so great owing to the obstructions in the channel, that notwithstanding the energy and bravery of the commander-in-chief, his officers and men, at the end of 1863 Charleston still remained in possession of the Confederates, although practically useless to the latter.

If the Federal Government could not boast of having captured the hot-bed of secession, it had at least the satisfaction of knowing that Charleston was only held at vast expense to the enemy, merely from a sentiment of pride, and a wish to keep the Federal soldiers and sailors ignorant of the sufferings the citizens had undergone in their mistaken zeal for a desperate cause. As Charleston was the first place to take up arms against the Union, its leading men considered that it should be the last to lay them down. Their gallantry was unquestionable, but their policy, in a military point of view, was open to criticism, and the city had finally to surrender on the approach of General Sherman's indefatigable soldiers, who did not always extend to conquered cities that consideration they would have received from the Navy.

The Eastern Gulf squadron had no important military operations to co-operate with, Acting-Rear-Admiral Bailey being engaged in blockading the entire east and west coasts of Florida, capturing many prizes, annihilating the illicit traffic in that quarter, and preventing all supplies from reaching the Confederate armies by way of the Florida coast.

The duties of Rear-Admiral Farragut, in command of the West Gulf squadron, had been extremely harassing, but they gave that gallant officer an opportunity to exhibit the highest qualities as commander-inchief.

Soon after the memorable battle below New Orleans and the surrender of that city, Farragut made a junction with the squadron of Flag-officer Davis above Vicksburg, and, had the Army contingent that was sent to support him been as large as it should have been, Farragut would have had the satisfaction of capturing Vicksburg. The military part of the expedition, however, though commanded by a most able and gallant general, was too small to effect anything by an attack on the city; and Farragut, after subjecting his squadron to the fire of the enemy's guns, which were daily increasing in number and power, and finding it was a mere waste of time and strength to lay before the city, returned to New Orleans to co-operate with the Army in maintaining order in Louisiana.

This omission of a proper military force to co-operate with the Navy gave the Confederates time to render Vicksburg the Gibraltar of the West, and for a long period it bade defiance to the Army and Navy combined. The Vicksburg miscarriage enabled the enemy to fortify Port Hudson and Grand Gulf, which thus became two formidable barriers against the advance of the Navy.

When Vicksburg was invested in 1863 by the Army under Major General Grant, and a large naval force under Rear-Admiral Porter, many efforts were made by the latter officer to send vessels down to blockade the mouth of the Red River, and thus cut off supplies from Port Hudson and Vicksburg; but, owing to casualties in the [464] vessels sent on this duty, there was a failure to bring about the desired result.

Rear-Admiral Farragut then attempted to push up past Port Hudson with his squadron, and met with serious loss. However, with the Hartford and Albatross, he reached the mouth of Red River, and established so stringent a blockade that the Confederates in Port Hudson and Vicksburg could no longer obtain supplies from that quarter.

Farragut was engaged a part of the season with his ships below Port Hudson in bombarding that place. In these operations the Mortar vessels bore a conspicuous part, until Port Hudson fell, with Vicksburg, on the 4th of July, 1863, and the Mississippi was once more opened to the sea.

The blockade of the Southern coast,within the limits of Admiral Farragut's command, had, in the main, been efficient and successful, although reverses at Galveston and Sabine Pass gave the enemy something on which to congratulate themselves. These reverses, however, of the Union arms were of no permanent advantage to the Confederates, as the whole coast, from the mouth of the Mississippi to that of the Rio Grande, was so closely guarded by the Union Navy that blockade-running was reduced to very insignificant proportions.

The Mississippi squadron, under Rear-Admiral Porter, had been actively engaged in the work of suppressing the Rebellion, and co-operated zealously with the Army whenever its services were needed. The capture of Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River, and the constant effective attacks on the batteries of Vicksburg, the bombardment of the city and its defences, the battle of Grand Gulf and the landing of Grant's army at Bruensburg, and the final reduction of the great stronghold on July 4th, 1863, are among the successful achievements of the Mississippi squadron in co-operation with the Army.

It is simple justice to the officers and men of this squadron that their heroic exertions should receive proper credit, and we cannot better do justice to the occasion than by repeating the eulogistic terms in which Mr. Secretary Welles speaks of them:

In the appendix to this report (1863) will be found correct records of the extraordinary adventures attending the efforts to get control of the Yazoo, by sweeping from the channel the net-work of torpedoes, explosive machines, and contrivances of submarine warfare, near its confluence with the Mississippi. These efforts were followed by the novel and singular Yazoo Pass expedition and the expedition of Steele's Bayou and Deer Creek. On the right bank of the Mississippi scenes of interest were enacted by the hardy sailors and boatmen in the rivers of Arkansas and northern Louisiana. The Cumberland and Tennessee have been actively patrolled by our vigilant and skillful naval officers; and the exciting chase of Morgan, by our steamers on the Ohio, over a distance of five hundred miles, intercepting him and his band when attempting to escape, naturally attracted the attention of the country.

But the great and important exploits of this squadron were in the vicinity of Vicksburg, where the main strength of the naval as well as the military forces were centred. The magnitude of the defences of the place — which were intended to repulse any force, naval or military, that could be brought against them — made the siege formidable, and seemed for a time to defy all attempts at their reduction. In overcoming them, the Navy necessarily performed a conspicuous and essential part. For forty-two days, without intermission, the mortar-boats were throwing shells into all parts of the city, and even the works beyond it.

Heavy guns mounted on scows commanded the important water batteries, and for fourteen days maintained an incessant tire on them. Thirteen heavy guns were landed from the vessels [the Secretary should have said twenty-two], and officers and men — when they could be spared — were sent to man them.

The gun-boats below the city, in co-operation with the Army, were continually engaged in shelling the place.

During the siege sixteen thousand shells were thrown from the mortars, gun-boats and naval batteries upon the city and its defences before it capitulated.

The creation and organization of this huge squadron, which has done such effective service on the upper Mississippi and its tributaries, extending over a distance of more than 3,500 miles, may justly be considered among the most wonderful events of the times. It is but little over two years since we had not a naval vessel on all those waters, where we now have a squadron of 100 vessels, carrying 452 guns, with crews amounting, in the aggregate, to about 5,500 men.

Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas, the upper portions of Mississippi and Louisiana, and the southern portions of those States which border on the Ohio River on the north, have been relieved and liberated through the instrumentality of the gun-boats, acting by themselves or in earnest and cordial co-operation with the armies.

Rear-Admiral Porter has well sustained the renown which the gallant and lamented Foote so nobly earned, and has carried forward to successful results a larger and more powerful force than was ever at the disposal of that heroic officer. [The Honorable Secretary does not make his meaning quite clear at this point, but it is presumed he wished to be complimentary.]

In creating and organizing this squadron, and arming and manning the vessels, it must not be forgotten that the service labored under many and great disadvantages, for the Government had no Navy Yard or establishment of its own on which the Department could depend. In the absence of any Government shops, yards, store-houses, and other necessary facilities and aids for a naval establishment, and also of mechanics and laborers, it became necessary to collect and send out and receive supplies from some central and secure position. This work has been chiefly performed at Cairo, etc., etc.

The Honorable Secretary might have said that the then commander-in-chief of the Mississippi squadron, finding only the ghost of a squadron and the skeleton of a Navy yard in the West, had built up a naval station, with shops and machinery, to meet the wants of the occasion, had increased the squadron from 21 vessels, all out of repair, to 121, mounting 680 guns, with which force, co-operating with the Army, the Mississippi [465] was opened to the sea, and all its tributaries brought under control of the Federal Government.

Mr. Welles, in his official report, is almost as chary of praise for the services of the Navy before Vicksburg as was the military commanding officer in the West, who, only in his last days, in the year 1885, in a few words, gave the officers and men of the Navy full credit for their services on that occasion.

The result of the herculean efforts of the Mississippi squadron was the establishment of Federal rule along the banks of the great river and its tributaries. The Confederacy was cut in twain, never to be reunited; and from this time the cause of the Rebellion began rapidly to sink.

While the Federal Government was supposed to be almost overwhelmed with the severe pressure brought to bear on it at home, the Navy was sustaining its reputation abroad, and closely guarding American interests whenever an opportunity offered. The Confederate cruisers were still pursuing their destructive career; but ships-of-war had been sent in pursuit of them in every direction, and their end was near.

In the East Indies and the China seas, the respect due to the American flag was exacted by Commander David McDougal, commanding the U. S. S. Wyoming, who, learning of some injustice suffered by an American vessel at the hands of the Japanese, repaired to the locality (Simonosaki), and inflicted severe punishment on some forts and vessels-of-war.

These people were taught that while the Federal Government had a gigantic task to perform at home in putting down the Rebellion, yet its naval officers were just as ready as ever to resent an insult to the flag. This prompt vindication of the honor of the country abroad had the happy effect of convincing people that the strength of tile American Republic only increased when it seemed to be threatened with destruction, and that it was quite competent to guard its interests abroad as well as at home.

It will be remembered that, at the commencement of the civil war, the naval force consisted of about forty-two effective vessels, scattered over the world, with about thirty-four more at the Navy Yards available for service after undergoing extensive repairs. Up to the end of 1863 the Navy Department had exhibited great energy, and, for the first time in its history, the United States had a Navy commensurate with its importance as a maritime power.

The following table exhibits the progress made in increasing the Navy since December, 1862, and shows what the country was capable of achieving under a pressure that would have almost crushed any other nation:

Comparative exhibit of the Navy, Dec., 1862, and 1863.

  No. of Vessels. No. of Guns. Tons.
Navy at date of present Report--Dec., 1863. 588 4,443 467,967
Navy at date of last Report--Dec., 1862. 427 3,268 340,036
Total increase 161 1,175 127,931

Vessels of the Navy lost since Dec., 1862.

In What Manner Lost. No. of Vessels. No. of Guns. Tons.
Captured 12 48 5,947
Destroyed to prevent falling into hands of Confederates 3 29 2,983
Sunk in battle or by torpedoes 4 28 2,201
Shipwreck, fire and collision 13 61 4,854
Total 32 166 15,985

Vessels placed under construction since Dec., 1862.

Description. No. of Vessels. No. of Guns. Tons.
Double-end iron steamers, 1,030 tons each 7 84 7,210
Single turret iron-clads, 614 tons each. 20 40 12,280
Double turret iron-clads, 3,130 tons each 4 16 12,520
Clipper screw-sloops, 2,200 tons each 12 96 26,400
Screw-sloops, spar-deck, 2,200 tons each 8 160 17,600
Screw-sloops of great speed, 3,200 tons each 5 40 16,000
Screw-sloops of great speed, 3,000 tons each 2 16 6,000
Total 58 452 98,010

General exhibit of the Navy when the vessels under construction are completed.

  No. of Vessels. No. of Guns. Tons.
Iron-clad steamers coast service. 46 150 62,518
Iron-clad steamers, inland service 29 152 20,784
Side-wheel steamers 203 1,240 126,517
Screw steamers 198 1,578 187,892
Sailing vessels 112 1,323 70,256
Total 588 4,443 467,967

There were added to the Navy during the year 1863, by purchase, some thirty tugs, over fifty steamers for blockading and supply purposes, and over twenty other vessels for tenders and store-ships. At least twenty of the steamers were captured in endeavoring to violate the blockade.

It will be noticed that the additions to the Navy comprised vessels of the most formidable kind, and far more powerful than those of European navies.

It is due to history to state that this addition to the Navy was owing the energy and ability of Mr. G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who had the supervision of all improvements and additions of ships, Mr. Welles wisely approving all his suggestions; while the able Chief Constructor, Mr. John Lenthall, brought all his ability to bear on the models of the vessels, and Mr. B. F. Isherwood, the talented Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, devised the engines, which, even to the present day, have scarcely been equalled.

The consequence of all this was that Governments disposed to be meddlesome failed to interfere when they saw that the Republic was not only determined to crush [466] the Rebellion, but to resent any outside interference.

The year 1864 opened hopefully for the success of the Union arms by land and sea, and it will be seen that the history of the American Navy was enriched by many brilliant actions, which stand high in the annals of maritime war.

It must not be supposed that during the year 1863 the Navy Department was indifferent to the ravages committed by the Confederate cruisers fitted out in England for the destruction of Federal commerce. The prompt recognition of the Confederates as belligerents by foreign powers, on the breaking out of the Rebellion, gave to the insurrection a character and strength it could never otherwise have obtained. It encouraged the Confederates to persevere, and assured them of support abroad in any measures they might think proper to undertake, and gave them an opportunity to strike a blow at the most vulnerable point of the North--its commerce.

The apparent intention of the declaration of neutrality by the powers of Europe was to exhibit a semblance of fairness, a deception of which the Confederates naturally took advantage, and which operated very unjustly against the United States. The Government was obliged to acquiesce in this acknowledgment of belligerent rights, and assume all the consequences resulting therefrom.

While the United States had a large mercantile marine scarcely second to that of Great Britain, the Confederates had actually none whatever. In a short time the latter were able by various means to get afloat and at sea several very formidable cruisers. The United States had squadrons on every foreign station representing a bona fide Government, while the insurgents, at the time of their receiving belligerent rights, had not a single man of-war, a fact well understood by the Governments which, in proclaiming their “neutrality” and desire to treat both parties alike, seriously crippled the American Navy and well-nigh destroyed its mercantile marine.

The cruising of Federal ships-of-war was limited and all sorts of obstacles thrown in the way of their capturing the Confederate cruisers. The maritime powers of Europe, after granting belligerent rights to the Confederates, declared that both belligerents should be treated alike in their ports, that the public armed vessels of neither should remain longer than twenty-four hours in their harbors, nor receive supplies or assistance except such as might be absolutely necessary to carry them to their own coasts, and for three months thereafter they should not again receive supplies in any of the ports of those Governments. While this proclamation did not at the time of its issue affect the Confederates, for the simple reason that they had then no vessels afloat, it excluded the naval ships of the United States from the principal ports of the world. As to the fairness which assumed to be the motive of the proclamation of neutrality, that must be judged from the history of the times, which will show that these proclamations were merely excuses to allow Confederate cruisers to prey upon American commerce and then find protection from United States vessels-of-war within the jurisdiction of the great European powers that were professedly in close amity with the United States.

The Sumter, the very first Confederate cruiser fitted out, affords a fair sample of how this acknowledgment of belligerent rights operated, and how much fairness there was on the part of Great Britain in carrying out the proclamation she claimed to have issued to insure equal treatment to both the contending parties. The Sumter, after escaping to sea from New Orleans through the carelessness of the officer on blockade, and capturing many American merchant-vessels, was chased into the harbor of Gibraltar, where she was permitted to remain twelve months--instead of twenty-four hours--under the protection of British guns. Not daring to venture to sea, as she was closely watched by several Federal cruisers, the Sumter's officers finally transferred the vessel to an English subject, who took her to another British port, where she was refitted, loaded with a contraband cargo, and ran the blockade, carrying supplies to the Confederates.

The Alabama, Georgia and Florida were fitted out in England, and supplied with an English armament. Their crews were mostly Europeans, and they sailed sometimes under the British, sometimes under the Confederate, flag, dealing destruction to Federal commerce wherever it could be found.

As soon as the existence of these Confederate cruisers was known to the Secretary of the Navy, ships were sent in pursuit. While in the West Indies, the Confederate cruisers were protected whenever they were able to escape into a “neutral port” --an opportunity which was offered on every hand — or get within a marine league of a neutral island. Strange to say, most of the colonial authorities in various parts of the world were in sympathy with the Confederates and hostile to the war-vessels of the United States; and, while giving aid and comfort to those quasi vessels-of-war, threw every obstacle in the way of Federal cruisers obtaining supplies of coal and provisions. Not only that, the “neutrals” all through the West Indies furnished the commanding officers [467] of the Confederate cruisers (by means of the mail-steamers plying between the different ports) with information of the intended movements of every United States vessel-of-war in those waters. Worse than all, the most unfriendly feelings were manifested by the officials generally, from governor down to the lowest subordinate, in regard to the lawful operations of United States vessels.

It can easily be imagined, under such circumstances as these, how difficult it would be for a United States vessel-of-war to capture one of these sea-rovers, especially in the West Indies. The islanders, not satisfied with transmitting information to the Confederates, in some cases assumed an intimacy with the commanders of United States vessels, and deceived them with false reports.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (12)
Vicksburg (Mississippi, United States) (11)
Port Hudson (Louisiana, United States) (6)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (6)
Wilmington, N. C. (North Carolina, United States) (5)
England (United Kingdom) (5)
Louisiana (Louisiana, United States) (4)
Europe (4)
West Indies (3)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (3)
Arkansas (Arkansas, United States) (3)
North Carolina (North Carolina, United States) (2)
Mississippi (United States) (2)
Mississippi (Mississippi, United States) (2)
Grand Gulf (Mississippi, United States) (2)
Yazoo Pass (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Steele's Bayou (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Sabine Pass (Texas, United States) (1)
Red River (Texas, United States) (1)
Ohio (United States) (1)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Gibralter (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Galveston (Texas, United States) (1)
Fort Fisher (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Florida (Florida, United States) (1)
East India (1)
Deer Creek (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Charleston Harbor (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Cape Fear (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Cairo, Ill. (Illinois, United States) (1)
Arkansas (United States) (1)
Alexandria (Louisiana, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1863 AD (12)
December, 1862 AD (5)
July 4th, 1863 AD (2)
1885 AD (1)
1864 AD (1)
December, 1863 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: