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Chapter 47: operations of South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, under Rear-admiral Dahlgren, during latter end of 1863 and in 1864.

  • Fort Sumter bombarded.
  • -- damages to the Fort and iron-clads. -- loss of the Weehawken. -- attack on batteries in Stono River. -- review of work done by South Atlantic Squadron under Dahlgren. -- actions in which iron-clads were engaged. -- destruction of blockade-runners. -- operations of Confederate torpedo corps. -- plans to blow up fleet. -- destruction of the Housatonic. -- sublime patriotism. -- originators of torpedo. -- operations of gun-boats in Florida Rivers. -- destruction of steamer Harriet A. Weed and transport Maple-Leaf. -- hazardous cutting-out expeditions. -- hot receptions from masked batteries. -- capture of U. S. Steamer water Witch and River-boat Columbine. -- treatment received by Assistant Surgeon Pierson. -- prisoners exposed in dangerous places. -- failure of expedition to cut railroads. -- Miscellaneous expeditions. -- blockade of whole Southern coast. -- extremities of Confederate armies, etc. -- vessels and officers of South Atlantic blockading Squadron, January, 1864.


On the 26th of October, 1863, General Gillmore opened fire upon Fort Sumter from his battery on Morris Island, his object being to complete the reduction of this work, drive out the garrison, and occupy it with Union troops. This, as a matter of sentiment, might have been a good move; but, as the Confederates still commanded Fort Sumter with the guns of Fort Moultrie and other batteries, they could have rendered the place untenable, as they did in the time of Colonel Anderson.

But the Navy was desirous of performing its share in this useless operation, and the Monitors Lehigh and Patapsco were ordered to take positions at a distance of from 1,600 to 2,000 yards of the fort, and open fire upon it with their rifled guns.

These vessels were within range of Fort Moultrie for some time, but suffered little damage, while their rifle projectiles told on the walls of Fort Sumter with considerable effect. Large masses of masonry were displaced, heavy timbers thrown into the air, gun-cartridges destroyed, and, in fact, the work reduced to a great heap of ruins; but there it stood as unassailable by land forces as ever, and Dahlgren was no nearer getting into Charleston than DuPont had been when he relinquished the command because of an implied reflection on his ability to decide whether a proper force had been placed at his disposal or not. About eight hundred and fifty shells were fired by the Navy at the ruins of Fort Sumter, which helped to crumble the works more and more; but that business had better have been left to General Gillmore with his siege-guns, and the attack of the Monitors should have been turned upon Moultrie and Beauregard, where their rifle projectiles would have done good service.

On November 16th more congenial work offered. General Gillmore telegraphed: “The enemy have opened a heavy fire on Cummings' Point. Will you have some of your vessels move up, so as to prevent an at-tack by boats on the sea-face of the Point?” That night the Monitors moved up at about 10 o'clock, and boats were placed on patrol to prevent any attack of the enemy at the place indicated.

On November 17th the Lehigh grounded, and the enemy, perceiving her dilemma, opened heavily on her from Fort Moultrie [660] and adjacent batteries. Signal was at once made to all the Monitors to get under-way and cover the Lehigh, and the Admiral himself went up in the Passaic to attend the operations in person. The Nahant, Lieutenant-Commander Cornwell, was already alongside the Lehigh, and, by getting out hawsers, succeeded in towing her off at high water. Both vessels were subjected to a brisk fire, but they received no serious damage. The Lehigh received twenty-two hits, nine of which were on her deck-plates, and she had one officer and six men wounded. The Montauk also assisted in getting the Lehigh off, but there were no casualties in the assisting vessels.

Assistant-Surgeon Wm. Longshaw was handsomely mentioned on this occasion for going to and fro in a small boat, carrying out hawsers under a heavy fire of shot and shell. This kind of service always deserves recognition, and especially when, as in this case, it is voluntarily undertaken by an officer who would never have been called upon to perform it in the ordinary course of his profession. Surgeon Longshaw was recommended for promotion in his corps by the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

On December 6th, Rear-Admiral Dahlgren had the misfortune to lose the Monitor Weehawken under the following circumstances, as given in the report of Commander J. M. Duncan:

On the morning of the 5th I arrived here, and in the evening took command of her [the Weehawken] and went up on the advanced picket, and remained there until 9:30 of the morning of the 6th; then came down; made fast to buoy No. 2; then came on board this vessel [the flag-ship].

About 1:30 P. M. a signal was made that the Weehawken wanted assistance. I immediately got in a boat with the pilot of this vessel. Before we could reach her she went down. Boats from all the vessels around went to the assistance of the men that were overboard, and succeeded in saving all but four of the engineers and twenty-seven of the men. When I left the vessel everything appeared to be right; the anchor-hold was all dry, no water coming through the hawse-pipe. * * * * Not being on board myself at the time, I am not able to give any account of the sad accident.

Very respectfully, etc.

From statements of officers who were on board the Weehawken at the time of the disaster. it appears that the immediate cause of her sinking was that a heavy sea swept over her forecastle, and entering the fore-hatch, filled the anchor-well. This, under ordinary circumstances, would not have proved fatal to the ship's safety; but she was heavily loaded forward with ammunition, and the slight increase of weight, due to the water in her forward compartment, caused an opening between the overhang and the hull, which made itself manifest by numerous leaks. As the water accumulated forward, her bow commenced to settle rapidly, and she soon went to the bottom, with a number of her brave officers and men.

This was a serious loss to Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, who was at that moment urging the Government to send him more Monitors, in view of the necessity of defending his command against the iron-clads which the Confederates were building at Charleston. No doubt the Confederates considered that the sinking of the Weehawken was due to the shot and shell which they fired at the Lehigh--as they could not tell one from another.

Nothing of interest occurred in Dahlgren's command from November 6th up to December 25th, when the Pawnee, Commander G. B. Balch, the Marblehead, Lieuteiiant-Commander R. W. Meade, Jr., and the schooner C. P. Williams, Acting-Master S. N. Freeman, were attacked by Confederate batteries in Stono River.

Lieutenant-Commander Meade reports that on December 25th the enemy opened fire on the Marblehead, at 6 o'clock in the morning, from two batteries of field and siege pieces posted advantageously in the woods. At the time mentioned, the Marblehead had steam on the port boiler only. The gun-boat returned the enemy's fire vigorously, and, slipping his cable, Lieutenant-Commander Meade took a position nearer the batteries, and after a short encounter caused them to retreat in disorder, leaving two guns and caissons.

No attempt was made by the Marblehead to retire from this unequal contest, though she was struck over twenty times and much cut up, having three men killed and four wounded. Officers and men stood to their guns with great gallantry, and the precision of their fire was shown by the complete discomfiture of the enemy. Acting-Ensign Geo. F. Winslow and the officers of the gun divisions are handsomely mentioned in this report.

During the action, the Pawnee took an enfilading position in the Keowah River, while the Williams was ordered to work up towards Legareville. The three vessels kept up such a fire that the enemy fled precipitately. Commander Balch speaks in the highest terms of Lieutenant-Commander Meade's coolness and bravery, the management of his vessel, and the remarkable rapidity of his fire.

On the conclusion of the firing, General Gordon, commanding the troops at the south end of Folly Island. sent an infantry force to bring off the guns left by the Confederates; which, on reaching the spot where the batteries were posted, found two guns, one soldier in the throes of death, six dead artillery horses, and all the enemy's [661] intrenching tools, knapsacks, etc. As night was coming on, and it was found impossible to bring off the guns in face of a heavy force of the enemy, not far off, they were disabled and abandoned.

This was a handsomely-executed affair, particularly on the part of the Marblehead, which bore the brunt of the fire from the enemy's 8-inch guns. There was some dispute as to the credit due the different vessels, which ought not to have been the case where all did so well. In addition to Lieutenant Commander Meade's gallantry in the action, he made a reconnoissance of the ground abandoned by the enemy, and then, by direction of Commander Balch, headed an expedition to bring off the guns which General Gordon had failed to take possession of. His force consisted of 3 boats, 3 officers, and 50

Captain (now Rear-Admiral) George B. Balch.

men from the Pawnee; 4 boats, 4 officers and 20 men from the Marblehead, and 1 officer and 12 men from the C. P. Williams--total, 8 boats, 8 officers and 82 men, of which 22 were marines, under Sergeant W. Fredlickson, of the Pawnee.

On reaching the earthworks, near a bayou which flows southwesterly of Legareville, Acting-Ensign Moore was directed to take the Pawnee's men and get the nearest gun into her cutter. The other gun in the most northern work was then raised with great difficulty, lashed to the carriage of a 12-pound howitzer, and hauled with great exertion to the bayou, a distance of a mile, and finally gotten into the Marblehead's launch.

The whole affair was a perfect success; the two guns, 8-inch seacoast howitzers, were taken off, the gun-carriages and implements thrown into the river, and all done in the space of two hours.

Though

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