Chapter 39: Miscellaneous operations, land and sea.--operations in the Nansemond, Cape Fear, Pamunky, Chucka Tuck and James Rivers.--destruction of blockade-runners.--adventures of Lieutenant Cushing, etc.
- Successful military operations.
-- prospects of Southern independence.
-- Confederate commissioners.
-- completeness and discipline of U. S. Navy, 1863.
-- position and strength of opposing forces.
-- combined Army and Navy expedition up James and Nansemond Rivers.
-- destruction of blockade-runners Bendigo, ranger, Venus and dare.
-- capture and destruction of U. S. Steamer Underwriter.
-- destruction of blockade-runners wild Dayrell, Nutfield, Dee, Emily, and Fannie and Jennie.
-- boat expedition up Cape Fear River to Smithville.
-- joint Army and Navy expedition up Pamunky River.
-- boat expedition up Chuckatuck Creek.
-- attack on Minnesota by torpedo-boat.
-- Landing of Army at City Point and Bermuda hundred.
-- destruction of U. S. Gun-boat Commodore Jones.
-- Confederate torpedo defences.
-- Monitors engage Howlett's battery.
-- picking up torpedoes.
-- repulse of attack on Wilson's wharf by gun-boats.
-- Confederate iron-clads and gun-boats below Drury's Bluff.
-- sinking of obstructions in James River.
-- letter from General Butler to Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee.
-- Grant's operations.
-- hulks sunk at Trent's reach.
-- attack on Petersburg.
-- engagement with Confederate iron-clad at mouth of Cape Fear River.
-- daring adventures of Lieutenant Cushing.
The year 1864 opened with flattering prospects for the Union
cause, owing to the important successes gained over the enemy in 1863, and the constantly increasing losses in material by the Confederates
in conse-quence of the stringent blockade of the coast.
The Federal Navy had been so far strengthened with a class of vessels superior to anything of which the powers of Europe
could boast, that it was no longer anticipated that England
would interfere in our domestic affairs.
The battle of Gettysburg
, which caused General Lee
to fall back upon Richmond
, and the surrender of Port Hudson
, which opened the Mississippi
to the sea, were the severest blows the Confederacy
In the opinion of many persons well qualified to judge, the possession of the Mississippi
and its tributaries by the Federals
was the death-blow to the Southern
cause, and the final collapse of the Rebellion
was simply a matter of time, and a short time at that.
The Northern people gave the Administration continued support, while the Confederates
could not repair the rapid waste of their armies, notwithstanding their most vigorous efforts.
the opinion prevailed that, before the year had elapsed, the authority of the Government
would be everywhere restored.
This opinion also prevailed in the Navy, which had been strongly reinforced by a class of vessels able to overhaul the swiftest blockade-runners built on the Clyde
; so that hardly one out of three vessels succeeded in getting into Wilmington
— the two principal ports where these illicit traders congregated.
The Southern coast was so closely invested by the Navy that it was with great difficulty the blockade-runners could get in or out, although a certain proportion of them managed to elude pursuit, and carry out cargoes of cotton, which served to keep up the financial credit of the Confederacy
The Confederates, as a matter of course, felt the want of the munitions of war they had been accustomed to receive in such quantities through the blockade-runners, particularly great guns and small arms manufactured in England
Every port, from Virginia
, was watched with a zeal that had never before been exerted
on such an occasion; for it was felt by the officers of the Navy that this watchfulness would be well rewarded, and the information gained from the crews of the captured vessels confirmed them in the opinion that the end was not far off.
Meanwhile the Confederate
authorities professed to think that the prospects for Southern independence were brighter than ever, and that, before the end of the year 1864, their object would be accomplished, and the following year see them acknowledged as a separate Government by all the world.
Upon what such an opinion was founded is not clear, and it seems impossible to account for the confidence which existed in the hearts of the Southern
leaders, and with which they entered so confidingly on the campaign of 1864.
Any other people in the world, under the circumstances in which they were placed, would have laid down their arms, and accepted terms from their conquerors.
It was pitiable to witness the distress of the Southern
people which came under the notice of naval officers, and which was caused by the determination of their leaders to continue the contest to the bitter end; for a large proportion of them felt that there was no hope of their succeeding.
It was plain to them all that there was no hope of assistance from the Democratic party of the North
The re-election of President Lincoln
convinced many, who had been hitherto blind to the state of affairs, that the Union
cause was as heartily supported by the Democrats as by the Republicans.
Even while the Confederacy
was in the throes of dissolution, the mass of the Southern
people had been hugging the delusion that there was a strong peace party in the North
that would make itself felt in the Presidential election of 1864; that there was such a feeling of impatience at the prolongation of the war that no Administration could stand up under it. All that was required of the South
, therefore, was to make one final effort, and they would gain the rights for which they were contending — exactly what those rights were, the majority of the people seemed to have little idea.
It was proclaimed in Richmond
that the impatience and dissatisfaction of the North
were so great that the people of that section were determined to have peace on any terms.
All that the South
had to do was simply to hold its own; and, merely by securing negative results in the ensuing campaign, the Democratic party would be able to overthrow the Administration, and open negotiations for peace with the Confederacy
In accordance with this idea, President Davis
prepared to open communication with the Democratic party of the North
, and to conduct political negotiations with that party in accordance with the military movements in the coming campaign.
The commissioners appointed for this purpose were Messrs. Thompson
, of Mississippi
, of Virginia
, and Clay
, of Alabama
, who were to proceed to a convenient spot on the northern frontier of the United States
, and to use whatever political opportunities the military events of the war might disclose.
The commissioners succeeded in running the blockade from Wilmington
, and reached Canada
, only to find that the Northern
sentiment in regard to the Confederacy
was practically unanimous, and that all parties were determined to bring the seceding States back into the Union
The Federal Army and Navy in the West
maintained the superiority they had won, and kept open the rivers the enemy had fought so hard to close against them.
By the possession of the Mississippi
, the Confederacy
was cut in twain.
The Union Army was constantly increasing, and, in place of the raw volunteers of 1861, who could hardly handle a musket, the Union
could boast of nearly a million of veteran soldiers.
was now called East to command, as Lieutenant-General
, all the armies of the United States
; while his most able coadjutor, General Sherman
, with an army of veterans famous on many a field, was to commence his march through the South
, and join Grant
before the defences of Richmond
The military history of the year 1864 will show the delusion under which the Southern
leaders rested — that it was “only necessary for the South
to remain in statu quo
, winning no victories in the field, and to demonstrate their endurance, to gain the desired end.”
The Federal Army was most complete in all its equipments, and its discipline was established.
How, then, could the South
hope to contend against such an organization?
The Navy was in no respect behind the Army in completeness and discipline.
At the end of the year 1863, the number of guns afloat amounted to 4,443, the tonnage of the vessels to 467,967, manned by 50,000 seamen.
Among the vessels already built or in process of construction, in 1864, there were 75 iron casemated and turreted vessels, carrying 302 powerful guns, that could destroy any fortress the Confederates
could build on the sea-coast, and bid defiance to any force sent by foreign powers to their assistance.
It may have been chivalric in the South
to attempt a contest with such a power as was brought against them, but it was hardly wise or just to the people on the part of
those who ruled the Confederacy
It cost great waste of life, with no gain in the end to the South
, except the satisfaction of feeling that they only submitted when overcome by greatly superior numbers.
The whole country, although it lost men enough to have made a dozen large armies, gained greatly in prestige, and taught Europe
that our people united were a match for all their powers combined.
In February, 1864, Acting-Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee
, commanding the North Atlantic squadron, was in co-operation with Major-General B. F. Butler
, who commanded the army of the James with his headquarters at Fortress Monroe
. General Meade
commanded the Army of the Potomac, with his headquarters south of the Rapidan
, while the headquarters of the Army of the Shenandoah, under command of Major-General Sigel
, were at Winchester
An important part of the North Atlantic squadron, under the immediate command of Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
, was at Hampton Roads
; some of the vessels were on the James
, others on the York River
, ready as heretofore to co-operate with the Army when the great movement on Richmond
should be made, which was to bring the civil war to a termination.
The available strength of the Federal
army on the Potomac
, including the Ninth Corps and the reinforcements that were held in Washington
, was not less than 170,000 men. The force which the Confederates
had to oppose was much inferior, according to their own account.
The Confederate Army of the Rapidan
, at the beginning of the campaign of 1864, consisted of two divisions of Longstreet
's corps with 8,000 men, Ewell
's corps of 14,000, Hill
's corps of 13,000, three divisions of cavalry, and the artillery.
So that, according to Confederate historians, Lee
's effective force of infantry did not exceed 40,000 men. The cavalry divisions did not each exceed the proper strength of a brigade, and the artillery was in proportion to the other arms, altogether not over 80,000 men of all arms.
But it will not do to rely upon Confederate figures, and General Grant
's estimate placed Lee
's force at 120,000 men, including the militia and local forces in and about Richmond
This was the condition of affairs when Grant
assumed command of all the armies of the Union
, when a move was being made upon Richmond
, and Lee
was collecting all his available forces to meet the emergency.
The battles of the Wilderness
were fought and a terrible resistance was made by the Confederates
, but in vain, and the great Union column, after overcoming the greatest obstacles, marched on its way towards Richmond
While General Grant
was occupied on the Rapidan
he had not lost sight of other forces which were to be used in combination with the Army of the Potomac, which forces were to operate in conjunction with the Navy as near Richmond
as it was possible to get. This was the Army of the James, under Major-General Butler
, numbering 20,000 men. General Grant
to operate on the south side of the James River
in conjunction with the Army of the Potomac, the objective point of both being Richmond
's force was to be added ten thousand men from South Carolina
Q. A Gillmore, while Major-General W. F. Smith
was ordered to report to General Butler
to command the troops sent into the field from his Department.
was directed, when his forces were able to move, to seize and hold City Point
intended that, in case the Confederates
should be forced by his advance into their intrenchments at Richmond
, the Army of the Potomac should follow them up, and by means of transports the two armies would become a unit.
It would seem from this that Grant
expected to fight Lee
between Culpeper Court House and Richmond
, and in case he should not defeat him he could make a junction with Butler
, already established on the James
, and be in a position to threaten Richmond
on the south side, with his left wing resting on the James
, above the city.
In accordance with his instructions, General Butler
moved his forces up the James River
, where he had the assistance of the Navy to cover his landing, which was accomplished without difficulty.
Having been joined by General Gillmore
on the 4th of May, Butler
occupied City Point
and Bermuda Hundred
on the 5th; on the 6th he was in position with his main force and intrenched, and on the 7th made a reconnaissance of the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, and destroyed a bridge a few miles from Richmond
From this, General Butler
formed the opinion that he had succeeded in getting in the rear of the Confederates
, and held the key to the back-door of Richmond
He accordingly telegraphed to Washington
: “We have landed here, intrenched ourselves, destroyed many miles of railroad, and got a position which, with proper supplies, we can hold against the whole of Lee
was, in fact, under the impression that he could capture Richmond
before General Grant
's dispatch caused great satisfaction in Washington
, which was soon dispelled by an unforeseen occurrence.
In the month of April General Beauregard
had been ordered to proceed from
to strengthen the defences of Richmond
He passed through Wilmington
with a large body of troops, receiving constant accessions on the march, and assumed command of the district on the south and east of Richmond
On the 16th of May Beauregard
's advanced position in front of Drury's Bluff, and Butler
was forced back into his intrenchments between the James
and the Appomattox Rivers
; thereupon Beauregard
intrenched himself strongly in his front, covering the city of Richmond
from any further attempts of Butler
in that direction.
This predicament of Butler
gave rise to the celebrated letter of General Grant
, in which he speaks of Butler
's being as completely hors du combat
as if he were enclosed in a bottle with the cork in. General Butler
held his position, although he had the naval vessels on the James
and Appomattox Rivers
to cover his retreat to his transports, in case of further molestation from Beauregard
These military movements are mentioned merely to show the position of affairs in May, 1864, when the Army and Navy were brought into co-operation before Richmond
, and not with any intention of criticising.
The operations of the North Atlantic squadron in the beginning of the year 1864, although not brilliant, were none the less important, as tending to cripple the Confederacy
The blockade of the Southern
coast had been closely maintained, and many blockade-runners captured or destroyed.
On the 3d of January, while the Fah Kee
(temporary flag-ship) was standing up the coast from Little River Inlet
bar, a steamer was discovered at the entrance of Lockwood's Folly Inlet, apparently ashore.
Smoke was issuing from the vessel, and she was evidently abandoned.
Boats were sent from the Fah Kee
, and great efforts made to get the vessel off, under an incessant fire from sharp-shooters on the shore.
Finding it was impossible to get her afloat, she was riddled with shot and shell to destroy her boilers and machinery, and abandoned.
This vessel had been a successful blockade-runner, and was called the Bendigo
On the 11th of January another blockade-running steamer, the Ranger
, was chased on shore by the Daylight
, and was set on fire by her crew after landing her passengers and mail.
The commanding officer
of the Governor Buckingham
, aided by the Daylight
, attempted to extinguish the flames and haul the Ranger
off, but the enemy, posted in force behind the sand-hills, kept up such an incessant fire that the boats' crews could not work.
was therefore riddled with shot and shell, and destroyed.
In the meanwhile, black smoke was seen in the direction of Topsail Inlet, and the Aries
was ordered to chase.
She soon returned, and her commanding officer, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant Edward F. Devens
, reported a fine-looking double-propeller blockade-runner, called the Venus
, beached and on fire, between Tubb's and Little River Inlets
The enemy's sharp-shooters prevented the Aries
boats from boarding the vessel, which had been beached and set on fire to prevent her capture.
This was the twenty-second steamer lost to the Confederacy
and the blockade runners within the last six months, representing a loss to the enemy of five and a half millions of dollars.
These mishaps of the blockade-runners greatly lessened the means of the Confederates
, and increased the difficulties of exporting cotton — the Confederate
sinews of war — and obtaining arms and equipments in return.
On the 9th instant the blockade-runner Dare
was chased on shore and destroyed by the Aries
, as the surf was running so high on the beach that there was no chance of getting her off. On these occasions many acts of gallantry were performed.
mentions, in his report of the Dare
affair, that, while in the breakers, his boat capsized, and the crew were washed on shore and fell into the hands of the enemy.
Acting Master J. W. Balch
, seeing his commanding officer struggling in the water, swam ashore, with two men, and brought Lieutenant Devens
off on his back, and placed him in the Montgomery
Twenty-five officers and men on this occasion, after having a hard struggle for their lives in the breakers, fell into the hands of the enemy.
The service in which the blockaders were engaged was arduous and dangerous, but both officers and men performed their duty unflinchingly.
In the latter part of January the Iron Age
, one of the gun-boats, got fast aground while attempting to get afloat the hull of the blockade-runner Bendigo
, and, through a mistaken order, was blown up and destroyed.
She was, however, no great loss, being a poor vessel.
It could not be expected that, operating along such an extensive line of coast and confronted by an active and intelligent enemy, the North Atlantic squadron could be invariably successful.
On the night of the 2d of February the U. S. steamer Underwriter
was lying in the Neuse River
above the line of army works, when several boats filled with men were seen coming down the stream towards her. The night
was very dark, and the boats were close on board before they were discovered and hailed.
The crew sprang to quarters, and made a stout resistance; but the enemy, with great gallantry, boarded the vessel.
and overpowered the crew, driving part of them below, where they were obliged to surrender, as there was no longer a chance of successfully resisting The officers and crew were ordered into the boats, the vessel was stripped of everything portable and set on fire, when the enemy departed with their prisoners and plunder.
This was rather a mortifying affair for the Navy, however fearless on the part of the Confederates
The most pleasant circumstance connected with the affair was the conduct of Acting-Third-Assistant Engineer G. E. Allen
The captured crew of the Underwriter
were in the enemy's boats, and proceeding up the stream, when Mr. Allen
discovered that, in .the hurry to get away from the Underwriter
, on which the Federals
on shore had opened fire, the enemy had left but two guards in his boat.
One of the other boats was turning back to assist their comrades in Mr. Allen
's boat, when the latter snatched a cutlass from one of the guards, and told the men to pull for their lives.
Some of the men, including the other guard, jumped overboard, and swam ashore, while Allen
headed the boat towards the river-bank, landed at the foot of the line of breastworks, and delivered his one prisoner to the commanding officer
of the fort.
A short time afterwards, the fire reached the Underwriter
's magazine, and she blew up.
This gallant expedition was led by Commander John Taylor Wood
, of the Confederate Navy, who was accompanied by Lieutenants Gardner
, and Wilkinson
. Acting-Master Jacob Wester
-velt, commanding the Underwriter
, was killed on board that vessel, as also several of his crew.
In this expedition fifteen boats, including three large barges, with three hundred men, came down the river with the intention of making a simultaneous attack on the forts and the gun-boat; but, finding the latter above the forts, where she ought not to have been, she was boarded and captured, with little loss to the enemy.
It was to be expected that, with so many clever officers who had left the Federal Navy
and cast their fortunes with the Confederates
, such gallant actions would often be attempted.
They frequently failed, as they would in this instance, in all probability, had the Underwriter
been anchored below the forts.
Had the enemy attacked the forts, the chances are they would have been successful, as the garrison were unprepared for an attack from the river, their most vulnerable side.
About the middle of February the destruction of the blockade-runners, Wild Dayrell
, and Fannie and Jennie
, was reported.
All these were fine vessels, and their cargoes, consisting of munitions of war, etc., were worth at least a million of dollars, a sum which by no means represented their loss to the Confederacy
Many of the vessels destroyed would have made valuable additions to the Navy for the purpose of catching blockade-runners, as they were very fast; but their commanders, rather than be captured, ran them ashore, after throwing overboard what munitions of war they had on board; and the Federal
officers, finding it impossible to get them afloat, set them on fire to prevent the enemy receiving any benefit from them.
The officers who made themselves particularly active in the performance of blockading duties, and who aided in the destruction of these steamers, were Commanders Pierce Crosby
and William F. Spicer
, and Lieutenant-Commander Francis A. Roe
Now and then, amid these exciting scenes, the indomitable Lieutenant Cushing
came forward with some remarkable feat, more daring than important.
was brave to recklessness, not seeming to care for danger, and his superior officers rather encouraged his wild adventures.
In the month of February an idea struck Cushing
that he would make an expedition to Cape Fear River
, and capture the Confederate
commander at Smithville
, where there was a strong fort and a garrison of a thousand men. On the night of the 29th Cushing
passed the forts at the south inlet of Cape Fear River
under cover of the darkness, and proceeded to Smithville
, about six miles above, his force consisting of two boats and twenty men. Smithville
was a famous resort for blockade-runners, and Cushing
intended, if he found any of these vessels at anchor, attempt their capture.
Finding no vessels at Smithville
landed directly in front of the hotel, which was the headquarters of the commanding officer
, concealed his men under the bank, captured some negroes, and obtained from.
them such information as he required.
Leaving some men in charge of the boats, Cushing
, with Acting-Ensign J. E. Jones
's Mate W. L. Howorth
, and one seaman, proceeded to the headquarters of the commanding officer
of the defences, General Herbert
captured the chief-engineer
, but ascertained that the general had gone to Wilmington
was slightly wounded, and made his escape to the woods, without stopping to put on his clothes, under an impression that the garrison had mutinied.
's boats were about fifty yards from
the regular landing-place at the fort, and not so far from the sentinel on the wharf, yet he succeeded in carrying off his prisoners.
By the time the alarm signal-lights were shown Cushing
was abreast of Fort Caswell
, on his way back to the squadron.
The blockade-runner Scotia
passed from the anchorage just before Cushing
got into the river, or he might have made a good night's work of it.
's hazardous undertakings were sometimes criticised as useless, but there was more method in them than appeared on the surface, and important information was sometimes obtained, to say nothing of the brilliant example of courage and enterprise which they afforded to others.
On March 8th Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
accompanied General Butler
to arrange a joint military and naval expedition, to operate, first, up the Pamunky River
against the Confederate forces near King and Queen Court House
, which had attacked the party under command of Colonel Dahlgren
, and killed that officer; and, second, against a force of the enemy reported as about to make an expedition from the peninsula.
Owing, however, to constant fogs, the gun-boats could not co-operate with the Army, and the Confederates
, finding themselves about to be surrounded.
retreated from the peninsula.
A few nights later, a boat expedition, under Acting-Masters Williams
, of tie Commodore Barney
, respectively, ascended the Chuckatuck Creek
, and captured a party of twenty Confederate soldiers.
While these small affairs were being transacted, the Confederate
naval officers were preparing to retaliate on the vessels of the North Atlantic squadron lying in Hampton Roads
. Lieutenant Hunter Davidson
, of the Confederate navy, had given much study to the subject of torpedoes, and had perfected what he considered an excellent torpedo-boat.
It was a small steam-launch, with a torpedo on the end of a pole projecting some twenty feet from the bow of the vessel.
Up to this time both the Union
and Confederate Governments had been singularly oblivious to the torpedo as a means of offence and defence.
Had the Federal Government
made proper use of the torpedo, it would have soon put an end to the business of blockade-running.
Electric batteries could have been established, if necessary, three or four miles outside the entrance to a harbor, and the majority of blockade-runners would not have ventured to run the gauntlet of such dangerous affairs.
There would have been no difficulty in planting any number of torpedoes in the channels, made to explode on contact with a vessel.
Humanitarian ideas probably had originally a good deal to do with the neglect of the Federal Government
to avail themselves of these frightful adjuncts; but the Confederates
were not governed by any such sentimental feelings.
Later in the war they used the torpedo freely, and blew up a number of Federal vessels-of-war — which was as justifiable as any other hostile act.
On the night of April 8th, 1864, while the Minnesota
, flag-ship of Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
, was lying at anchor off Fortress Monroe
, a dark object was seen, about two hundred yards distant, slowly passing the ship.
It was thought to be a row-boat; and, in reply to the hail from the Minnesota
, the answer came, Roanoke
By this time the object was nearly abeam, and apparently motionless.
The officer of the deck sent orders for a tug, which was lying astern, to go and examine the floating object; and while he was endeavoring to get the men in the tug to attend to his orders, the torpedo-boat struck the ship, exploded a torpedo, and made off in the direction of Nansemond River
Several shots were fired at the torpedo vessel, but she escaped in the darkness.
The concussion caused great excitement on board the frigate.
The drums beat to quarters, and the men hurried to their stations, and stood by to lower the boats; but it was soon found that no serious damage had been done.
But for the fact that the torpedo, which weighed fifty pounds, was not placed in contact with the ship, but was prematurely exploded, the Minnesota
's bottom would have been shattered, and the Federals
would have lost one of their finest frigates.
This daring exploit was performed by Lieutenant Hunter Davidson
, who has, no doubt, since rejoiced that he did not succeed in sending many of his old friends and shipmates to the bottom.
It demonstrated the necessity of keeping a brighter look-out for the enemy's torpedo corps, and it also showed the determination with which the Confederates
carried on the war. They were first in the field with this new method of warfare.
and managed it with great dexterity.
It was not until they had blown up a dozen or so Federal vessels that the Government
undertook to employ torpedo-boats; but this was at so late a period in the war as to be of comparatively little use.
One torpedo-boat, under cover of the Monitor
, would have settled the Merrimac
in a very short time, and a Monitor fitted with a torpedo would have destroyed the Tennessee
with equal facility.
But it requires time to become reconciled to a system that was looked upon with horror for many years after its invention.
Such is the progress of ideas that, now-a-days, so far from being struck with horror at the idea of knocking a hole in a vessel's bottom, all Christian Governments are seeking with avidity the most powerful submiarine weapons of destruction.
Early in April, Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
was called upon by General Butler
to co-operate with him in putting down what he called the “pirates of the creeks,” which were, in fact, the irregular forces of the enemy employed along the river to inflict all possible injury on Union vessels, and keep the Federals
from landing along the rivers and capturing Confederate property.
Various expeditions were fitted out, consisting of forces from the Army and Navy, but no great results were obtained.
It was not the kind of warfare calculated to be of any permanent benefit to the Union
cause; and it demonstrated the fact that only large bodies of troops could break up the system adopted by the Confederates
of harassing Federal Army posts with constant attacks.
Some boat expeditions were undertaken, in which great gallantry was displayed and a few men killed, terminating in a retreat from under the enemy's fire, after inflicting the usual damage on him. The only satisfaction gained on the expedition to Pagan Creek
was a temporary scattering of the Confederate
troops, and the fact ascertained that the Davidson
torpedo-boat had arrived at Smithfield
on the 9th inst., and had gone thence to Richmond
On the 5th of May, the army, under General Butler
, landed at City Point
and Bermuda Hundred
, covered by five iron-clads and ten other vessels, without opposition.
The river had been carefully dragged for torpedoes, to assure the safety of the gunboats and transports; but, notwithstanding all the care taken, the gun-boat Commodore Jones
was blown up while dragging for these hidden enemies.
The vessel, it seems, rested directly over an infernal machine, which was fired by a galvanic battery hidden in a pit on the shore.
The destruction of the steamer was complete, as the torpedo, supposed to have contained four hundred pounds of powder, was exploded directly under her bottom.
So great was the concussion that the vessel was lifted bodily out of the water, and her crew hurled into the air, killing and wounding more than half of the ship's company.
This shocking casualty demonstrated the power of the torpedo, when properly managed.
The arrangements in this quarter were under the direction of Lieutenant Hunter Davidson
; and the man who ignited the torpedo which blew up the Commodore Jones
was killed by a musket-ball fired by the coxswain of one of the boats dragging for these infernal machines.
There were three of these torpedo-pits, from which men were ready to act as soon as a vessel should get into the desired position; and it seems as though a few marines as skirmishers, marching along the banks, might have prevented any attempt of the enemy to operate the wires.
In one of the pits two men were captured, ready to explode a torpedo should any vessel pass over it. These were Acting-Master P. W. Smith
, of the Confederate navy, and Jeffries Johnson
, private in the Submarine Corps
In those days such adventurers stood a chance of being shot as soon as captured, though now the case would be different.
These men were quite communicative, and said they had adopted this service to remain near their homes.
Some of their torpedoes would explode by contact, others by lines from the shore, and others by various ingenious contrivances.
All of them could be put down in one day by a torpedo-boat arranged for the purpose by Lieutenant Davidson
, who had been watching the movements of the Federals
since the transports first assembled in Hampton Roads
The investigations of the naval officers soon disclosed a system of defence embracing all the navigable rivers.
The torpedoes were followed up, their positions located, and, wherever practicable, they were destroyed, making the waterways comparatively safe, and enabling General Butler
to reoccupy his line from Trent
's Beach to Appomattox
On the 18th of May the enemy commenced fortifying the heights about Howlett's House, commanding Trent
's Reach, on the James
; and although the gun-boats kept up a steady fire on their position, they persevered, and that night mounted a sufficient number of guns to keep the Federal
gun-boats in check.
The charts indicating less water in the channel than the Monitors
drew, it was not considered advisable to move them too close to the batteries.
The enemy seemed to be prepared all along the river to meet the advance of the Navy.
The pickets of the latter were driven in at Dutch Gap heights, and the Army pickets at City Point
; and Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
considered that his communications were seriously threatened.
By the 19th the Monitors
were advanced nearer Howlett's Battery, on which they opened with seemingly great accuracy of fire, but with no appearance of arresting the progress of this formidable work.
The artillery practice was kept up until the 24th, without any result except that for a time the enemy stopped working.
On the 24th the enemy made an attack on a body of troops stationed at Wilson
's wharf, which attack had been anticipated by the naval commander-in-chief
, who had placed the
following vessels in position to meet it: Pequot
, Lieutenant-Commander S. P. Quackenbush
, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant J. W. Simmons
(iron-clad), and tug Young America
--all under Lieutenant-Commander Quackenbush
At 12:30, on the 24th, the enemy made a vigorous attack at the wharf; the movement was, however, supposed to be a feint to draw the Union
forces from Fort Powhatan.
The enemy were met by the fire of the gun-boats, particularly the Dawn
; and although their decks were swept by musketry, such was the terrible effect of their shells on the Confederates
that the latter were obliged to retreat.
But for the service rendered by the Dawn
, Lieutenant Simmons
, the Confederates
would have, no doubt, accomplished their object and
Lieutenant-Commander (now Rear-Admiral) S. P Quackenbush.|
carried the Union
The engagement lasted upwards of five hours, and demonstrated the value of the Navy in protecting the flanks of the Federal Army
About the 30th of May, the Confederate naval forces came down below Drury's Bluff, and prepared to attack the Union
Their plan was to send down fire-ships with the current, and, following with their vessels, attack those of the Federals
The Confederate squadron consisted of three iron-clads, with batteries of heavy rifled guns, and six gun-boats partially plated with iron.
For some reason, no immediate onset was made by the Confederate rams, which caused them to lose the opportunity of seriously damaging the Federal squadron, and perhaps driving it away.
In the meantime, General Butler
, as part of his campaign, proposed to obstruct the James River
by sinking vessels a mile or so below Howlett's Battery.
This would make his positions at Bermuda Hundred
and at City Point
Part of the vessels to be used for this purpose were received by Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
on the 2d of June, consisting of a bark and three large schooners loaded with shingle ballast.
It is due to Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
to say that he objected to this plan of obstructing the river, as the force of vessels at his disposal was stronger than had been originally proposed.
had only asked for two iron-clads, but the Navy Department furnished Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
with four, although one of them, the Tecumseh
, was soon to leave the James River
for other service.
took the ground that it was not the duty of the Navy to protect itself in this manner; on the contrary, where obstructions existed, they should be removed, if possible; any other course would be admitting the superiority of the enemy and a dread of his naval force.
On the other hand, it was argued that obstructing the river would lessen the chance of injuring the Federal
vessels, on which depended the security of the Army at the points below.
The obstructions would keep off fire-rafts and infernal machines, and a smaller force of vessels would be required in Trent
's Reach to prevent the advance of the Confederate iron-clads.
This latter view of the case was accepted; for, as the operations against Richmond
would be altogether military, and as the naval forces could not get to that city with the land and naval batteries opposed to them, the obstruction proposal was decided upon.
At that time General Grant
was expected to cross the James
and operate against Richmond
from the south side, and, under the circumstances, it was absolutely necessary to hold the river secure against the contingencies of a naval engagement.
There were many reasons why it was not desirable to bring o.n an engagement with the enemy's squadron, the strength of which was unknown.
The river was too narrow to manoeuvre in, and the channel was very shoal in places.
If a battle was won, the Army would be no nearer Richmond
The Navy made no headway when Howlett's Battery had but four guns, and it was not likely that, with the addition of the works at Drury's Bluff, armed with the heaviest ordnance, and with the river guarded by lines of torpedoes, that the squadron could force its way up the James River
There seems to have been a little diplomacy as to whether General Butler
or Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
should assume the responsibility of placing the obstructions in
's Reach, although why there should have been any dispute in such a matter it is difficult to see. It was certainly distasteful to the Confederates
, who saw all their schemes of fire-rafts, torpedo-boats and iron-clad raids completely circumvented.
The following letter from General Butler
to Acting Rear-Admiral Lee
will show the General
's views on the subject:
This diplomatic communication of General Butler
led to a long correspondence between Acting Rear-Admiral Lee
and himself, which ended, as it should have done, in putting the obstructions in the channel.
During the time this discussion of a quite simple matter was pending, from the 1st to the 15th of June, General Grant
had fought the battle of Cold Harbor
, in which he found General Lee
's army less weakened than had been expected by its losses in the battles from the Rapidan
to the James
He did not feel that his own army was in condition to operate further against a well-commanded army of veterans posted behind five miles of strong intrenchments.
In the first attack on the Confederates
at Cold Harbor, Grant
's army was severely handled.
's attack, although at first successful, was finally repulsed, and Warren
were brought to a stand at the edge of the enemy's rifle-pits.
In writing of this battle General Grant
says: “Our loss has been heavy, while I have reason to believe that the loss of the enemy was comparatively light.”
The loss, in fact, in three days operations on the Chickahominy
, was 7,500 men.
No doubt Grant
often wished he could have the aid of the gun-boats that had given him so much help in the West
; but that was an impossibility.
Realizing the fact that he could not operate with any advantage north and east of Richmond
, General Grant
determined to make another movement — throw his army across the James River
, capture Petersburg
, and place himself in communication with the Navy.
had had too much experience in the West
not to know what valuable aid a naval force could afford an army under certain circumstances, not to wish to take advantage of it in the present instance.
In consequence of this resolution Grant
moved by Lee
's right flank, and threw his army across the James River
, with the hope of seizing Petersburg
, while his cavalry could destroy the railroad communication between Richmond
and the Shenandoah Valley and Lynchburg
The movement was skillfully executed, and, on the 14th of June, the Army was safe on the opposite bank of the James
, and in communication with the Army of the James and with the Navy.
The day General Grant
passed the James
he gave an order to sink the obstructions in Trent
's Reach, and on the 15th General Butler
wrote to Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
, informing him of Grant
's order, and saying that he would be glad if the admiral would assist him in carrying it out.
On the 15th of June General Grant
established his headquarters at City Point
The obstructions were sunk in the river, and offered a complete barrier to the enemy's fire-rafts and torpedo-vessels.
had now time to breathe and look about him, and observe the new condition of affairs.
By June 20th Commander T. A. M. Craven
, of the Navy, had sunk in the main channel
's Reach four hulks filled with stone.
There was also stretched across the channel a heavy boom, supporting a chain cable, well secured on each side of the river.
Across the flats was extended a heavy boom, secured by six anchors, and in the channel, along the right bank, was sunk a large schooner loaded with stone, from which a strong boom extended to the shore.
The obstructions were very complete, and were intended to be under the fire of General Butler
's guns as well as those of the iron-clads.
The enemy probably was well pleased at the Federals
obstructing the channel; for, notwithstanding his forts at Howlett's and Drury's Bluff, his fire-rafts, sunken torpedoes, and torpedo-boats, he felt more secure when he knew that his position could not be assailed by a naval force; while General Grant
was equally satisfied now that the
enemy's iron-clads could not get down to City Point
under any circumstances.
The enemy, in order to ascertain the character of the obstructions, made a reconnaissance in the neighborhood of Dutch Gap
; while Howlett's Battery, which had been greatly strengthened by the erection of new works, opened upon the vessels below the obstructions.
These were the iron-clads Tecumseh
. Commander T. A. M. Craven
, Commander E. R. Colhoun
-Commander C. H. Cushman
, Commander E. S. Parrott
, and gun-boat Agawam
, Lieutenant-Commander A. C. Rhind
They returned the fire of the enemy's batteries with considerable effect, receiving little damage in return; while the Confederate iron-clads, from their position behind a wood.
opened a straggling fire, of which no notice was taken.
According to one Confederate account, the battery at Howlett's consisted of but four guns--one large rifle, one large smoothbore, and-two smaller pieces.
Notwithstanding the general impression that the obstructions in the river were impassable, Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
judged it expedient to apply for an increase of the force of iron-clads, and that he might be authorized to detain the Tecumseh
This is the history of the obstruction of the James River
, the credit of which was given to General Butler
who simply approved the proposition when it was mentioned to him, and received General Grant
's order to sink the vessels.
's arrival before Petersburg
, which he attacked on the 14th of June, and the crossing of the James
by General Meade
's army, gave quite a different aspect to affairs at City Point
, and the time had arrived when the Navy stood a chance of making itself very useful.
was one of the strongest outposts of the Confederate
capital, and a formidable resistance in that quarter was, of course, expected.
Part of General Butler
's command commenced the attack on the works covering the approaches to the town, and succeeded in occupying them; but, by waiting the arrival of Hancock
's division and failing to push their advantage, the Confederates
were strongly reinforced, so that, when Hancock
's and Burnside
's divisions assaulted them, the Federals
were repulsed with considerable loss.
Next day another attempt was made and repulsed, with the capture by the enemy of part of a Federal brigade.
About the same time, General Butler
sallied forth from his intrenchments to tear up the railroad leading to Richmond
; but the enemy sent out an army corps from their capital, and Butler
was defeated, after sending intelligence of a splendid victory which he had won!
The result of these attempts on Petersburg
, which had caused great losses to the Federal Army
, convinced General Grant
that his best course was to envelop the town with his forces, without attacking the outworks.
Attempts were made to destroy all the railroads leading to Richmond
, but the enemy was so strongly posted that these efforts were generally of no benefit to the Union
Thus the month of June closed with no immediate results favorable to the Federals
, except that the Army was transported to the south of Richmond
, and was in communication with the Navy; while the Confederates
continued to strengthen daily the fortifications of Richmond
In fact, General Grant
had encountered obstacles far greater than he had anticipated.
A large portion of the naval forces on the
naturally assembled at City Point
, where General Grant
had established his headquarters, while other portions of the North Atlantic squadron were employed in the sounds of North Carolina
and in the blockade of the coast.
About the middle of May, the North Carolina
, an iron-clad resembling the Atlanta
, appeared off Fort Fisher
, at the mouth of Cape Fear River
, accompanied by two tugs.
This vessel commenced an attack at long range on the blockading vessels then employed off the north inlet, which, with the exception of the Tuscarora
, were improvised gun-boats, without sufficient strength to contend with armored vessels.
The little flotilla returned the fire of the iron-clad, and after a desultory engagement which lasted two days, with little damage on either side, the iron-clad and her consorts disappeared over the bar of Cape Fear River
It was doubtless the intention of the Confederates
to disperse the few Union vessels then off the entrance to Wilmington
, and start the cry of “raised blockade,” as had been attempted on a previous occasion at Charleston
; but in this design they failed, and the iron-clad returned to Wilmington
, where her career soon afterwards ended.
The vessels that stood their ground so faithfully, in presence of this apparently formidable iron-clad, were the Tuscarora
, Commander W. A. Parker
, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant S. Huse
; Mount Vernon
, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant James Trathen
, Acting-Master J. W. Balch
, and Nansemond
, Acting-Ensign J. H. Porter
From subsequent developments, it appears that the rams Raleigh
and North Carolina
were constructed at Wilmington
under the direction of Commodore W. F. Lynch
, but were hardly considered fit to go into battle, although they served to keep the blockaders on the look-out.
Lieutenant W. B. Cushing
, with his usual zeal and enterprise, volunteered to attempt the destruction of the vessel that came out to attack the blockaders, and at the same time make a reconnaissance of the defences of Cape Fear River
— a very desirable project, as an expedition for the capture of Wilmington
was then in contemplation.
was always attempting what no one else would think of, and in this case it seemed that he was almost certain to be killed or captured.
Obtaining permission from Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
to attempt the destruction of the Raleigh
proceeded in the Monticello
to the western entrance of Cape Fear River
On the night of June 23d he left the vessel in the first cutter, accompanied by Acting-Ensign J. E. Jones
's Mate William L. Howorth
, and fifteen men, crossed the western bar, and passed the forts and town of Smithville
Near the Zeke Island batteries, Cushing
came very near being run down by a steamer — doubtless a blockade-runner, bound out, with a load of cotton — and also narrowly escaped the notice of a guard-boat.
came abreast of the Brunswick
batteries, fifteen miles from his starting-point, the moon came out from the clouds, and disclosed the party to the sentinels on the river-bank, who hailed the boat, and then opened fire upon her. The people in the fort were roused, and the confusion seemed to be general.
pulled for the opposite bank, and along up the other shore, until he got out of sight.
When within seven miles of Wilmington
both men and boat were secreted in a marsh.
When the sun rose, Cushing
watched for an opportunity to capture some one from whom he could obtain information.
Nearly a dozen steamers passed, three of them fine blockade-runners, and one of them Commodore Lynch
's flag-ship, yet there was no suspicion of Cushing
and his men hidden within a stone's throw.
The Confederates felt so secure in the river, with its powerful defences, that they never dreamed of the possibility of a boat's crew running the gauntlet.
Just after dark two boats were seen rounding a point near by, and, supposing it to be an attacking party, Cushing
prepared for resistance.
It was simply a fishing party returning to Wilmington
Both boats were captured, and the necessary information obtained from them, and the occupants were made to act as guides for a further exploration of the river.
made mental notes of all the obstructions, forts and guns he met along the Cape Fear River
, which were useful at a later date, when Fort Fisher
and the other defences at the entrance of the river were attacked.
Coming to a very narrow creek, Cushing
poled his boat along through it for some distance, till he reached a road, which was the main highway from Fort Fisher
Here he divided his little party, leaving half of them behind, and marching the rest two miles further on the main road, where they halted and concealed themselves.
About noon, a mounted soldier, with a mail-bag from Fort Fisher
, came along, and was much astonished when halted by Cushing
, and ordered to dismount and deliver up his mail.
Two hundred letters were captured, and much information obtained in regard to the enemy's plans.
then waited for the mail-carrier from Wilmington
to appear with dispatches
for Fort Fisher
, but, just as the courier hove in sight, a blue-jacket incautiously exposed himself, and the fellow took to flight instanter, pursued by Cushing
on the captured horse; but after a chase of several miles, finding that the enemy was better mounted, and that there was no chance of overtaking him, Cushing
gave up the pursuit.
All this took place on a traveled highway, where squads of soldiers might have been expected to pass along at any moment.
The party captured several prisoners, and, at length, becoming hungry, Master
's Mate Howorth
dressed himself in the courier's clothes, and, mounting the horse, started into town to market.
After a time he returned with a supply of milk, eggs and chickens, having excited no suspicion, though conversing with many persons.
After destroying the telegraph as completely as possible, Cushing
returned to the creek where he had left the rest of his party, reaching the river by dark.
Then he attempted to land his prisoners on an island, as he had more than he could accommodate, and a steamer coming down the river passed so close that the boat's crew jumped into the water and kept their heads under for fear of being seen.
put his prisoners in the small boats he had captured, and sent them adrift on the river, without oars or sails, to get home the best way they could; while he proceeded down the river with his party in the cutter, retaining one prisoner as a pilot to show him where the ram Raleigh
lay a wreck.
He hoped also to fall in with and destroy some of the Confederate vessels by setting fire to them.
found that there was nothing left of the Raleigh
above water — like most of the Confederate rams, she had been destroyed in a panic.
As for the other iron-clad, the North Carolina
, his prisoners had told him she was then at anchor off Wilmington
under Captain Wm. T. Muse
, but that little confidence was placed in her, and that she would not cross the bar. Cushing
was also informed that the two torpedo-boats built at Wilmington
had been destroyed some time previous in the great cotton fire.
neared the forts, at the east bar of the river, a boat was seen and captured after a short chase.
It contained four soldiers and two civilians, who were taken into the cutter, and their own boat sent adrift.
On questioning his prisoners, Cushing
found that there was a large guard-boat, with seventy-five musketeers, stationed in the narrow passage between Federal Point
and Zeke Island.
Notwith-standing the disparity of force, Cushing
prepared to attack the guard-boat.
Just then the moon shone out brightly; but when a few yards from the guard-boat, three boats pulled out from the battery and five more from the other end of the passage, completely blocking up the avenue to escape.
The cutter at the time was under sail, and the helm was put down; but a large sail-boat filled with soldiers appeared on the scene to windward and close aboard.
This was a trying position, but every one in the cutter behaved with the utmost coolness, relying on the bravery and ingenuity of their young commander to extricate them from the difficulty, for there was not the least idea of surrendering.
Suddenly turning the cutter's head, as if for the west bar, the men shipped their oars, and, pulling vigorously, the enemy soon lost sight of the boat, but they dashed off in pursuit, expecting to intercept Cushing
near the bar. The latter, however, doubled on his pursuers, and, thanks to the extraordinary pulling of his sailors, gained the passage of the island, and dashed into the breakers on Caroline Shoal, a most dangerous place, where the enemy — who doubtless thought the Federals
were lost — dared not follow.
Fortunately, their boat, though so deeply laden, carried Cushing
and his party safely through the breakers; and, just as day broke, they reached the gun-boat Cherokee
, after an absence from the squadron of two days and three nights.
There was not a more daring adventure than this in the whole course of the war. There were ninety-nine chances in a hundred that Cushing
and his party would be killed or captured, but throughout all his daring schemes there seemed to be a method, and, though criticised as rash and ill-judged, Cushing
returned unscathed from his frequent expeditions, with much important information.
In this instance it was a great source of satisfaction to the blockading vessels to learn that the Raleigh
was destroyed, and that the other iron-clad ram was not considered fit to cross the bar.
learned in time that there was a Confederate war-vessel lying at Wilmington
, he would, no doubt, have attempted her destruction, but he only heard of it when on his return down the river.
This young officer was always cool and collected when in the midst of dangers, and, although they were plenty of others equally brave, there was something particularly dashing in Cushing
He seemed more like a free-lance than a regular officer of the Navy, educated in the school of routine, and, in fact, the restraints of discipline were irksome to him, and his career at the Naval Academy gave little promise of the fame he subsequently acquired.