Chapter 6: naval expedition against Port Royal and capture of that place.
Owing to the increase of the Confederate forces in the States of Tennessee
, it became necessary to fit out armed vessels on the Western
In May, 1861, Commander John Rodgers
, U. S. N., was directed to report to the War Department, which in the early stages of the conflict practically assumed the control of the Western
flotilla, although the vessels were under command of naval officers.
proceeded at once to the West
and purchased a number of river steamers, which were fitted and armed as gunboats; and this was the commencement of the Mississippi Squadron which afterwards performed such efficient service for the Union
Captain Andrew H. Foote
was afterwards ordered to the command of the flotilla, which under him swelled to the proportions of a fleet, all his talents and energies being devoted to the task of making it a formidable force such as the necessities of the case demanded.
In this work Captain Foote
was assisted by that distinguished engineer, James B. Eads
, who planned and built that class of iron-clads known on the Mississippi
as “turtle backs,” which gave such a good account of themselves during the war,and fought their way through many a bloody encounter, from Fort Henry
to Grand Gulf
, Port Hudson
and the Red River
After the capture of Fort Hatteras, Commodore Stringham
was relieved of the command at his own request.
Two squadrons were organized on the Atlantic coast
, one to guard the shores of Virginia
and North Carolina
under Flag Officer L. M. Golds
-borough; the Southern Squadron.
extending from South Carolina
to the Capes of Florida
, was assigned to Flag Officer S. F. Dupont
, and the Gulf Squadron to Flag Officer W. W. McKean
Although the capture of the ports at Hatteras Inlet was an important achievement, yet it did not accomplish all the Navy Department aimed at.
There was no entrance to the Sounds
except for vessels of very light draft of water, and there was no harbor in the vicinity where a depot could be established for large vessels to carry on operations along the Southern
A depot was required for supplying coal, provisions and stores at a point where our ships could find safe anchorage at all times, and where machine shops and docks could be constructed for refitting vessels.
The work of supplying vessels was one of vital importance, and a harbor was also
needed as a base of operations against the whole Southern States.
The choice of harbors lay between Bull's Bay
, Port Royal
The latter, for some reasons, was considered an available place, but finally the Department concurred in the opinion of Flag Officer Dupont
that Port Royal
contained all the required advantages.
is one of the finest harbors in the United States
, with water sufficient for the largest vessels.
It is about equidistant between Charleston
, and so well aware were the Confederates
of its importance that one of their first acts was to fortify it against the entrance of our ships.
It was determined by the Government
to fit out a naval expedition against Port Royal
under command of Flag Officer Dupont
, reinforced by an Army corps under General T. W. Sherman
Notwithstanding that the greatest precautions were taken to keep the proposed expedition a secret, the Confederates
ascertained that a movement against Port Royal
was on foot, and with their accustomed energy prepared to receive it by mounting all the guns they could collect, with a proper force to man them.
By the 27th October, 1861, all the ships of war, transports for troops, and supply vessels had assembled at Hampton Roads
, presenting a formidable appearance.
They numbered fifty sail, not including twenty-five coal vessels which had sailed the day previous.
Never before in our history had any officer command of so large a fleet.
The weather had been unpleasant for some time, but now gave promise of a change for the better; and when on the 29th the signal went up from the flag-ship Wabash
--“underway to get” --the sounds all through the fleet showed that sailors and soldiers were equally glad to move towards the scenes of glory that opened before them.
By the time the expedition reached Fort Hatteras it came on to blow a gale, which increased to a hurricane, scattering the fleet in every direction.
On the fourth day out there was but one vessel to be seen from the deck of the flag-ship.
What were the feelings of Flag-officer Dupont
on that occasion can be imagined.
Many of the naval vessels were far from staunch.
The transports, of course, were still weaker, and it was doubtful if half of them would ever be seen again.
The sufferings of the men on board the transports, the decks of which were swept by the heavy seas, were extreme and but little appreciated by those on shore who afterwards read the vivid accounts of these hardships.
Such sufferings are part of the unwritten history of the war, which because they are not surrounded by the glamor of battle have but little interest for the public.
Who is there that in reading an account of these scenes of suffering and disaster which often overtake naval and military expeditions, ever realize the sufferings of officers and men battling for their lives against the stormy ocean?
Certainly the soldiers in these transports would have dared a dozen battles on shore, rather than experience one such night of storm as raged around their vessels.
A better seaman than Dupont
never trod a ship's deck, but he could do nothing for that scattered fleet; he could only trust to his subordinates, whom he knew would do all that was possible to avert disaster.
All things have an end, and the gale which had so jeopardized the expedition at length abated with less damage to the fleet than might have been expected.
On the morning of the 4th of November, 1861, twenty-five vessels in company with the flag-ship Wabash
, came to anchor off the bar of Port Royal
, while the remainder of the squadron were continually heaving in sight.
Although the gale was over, the safety of the expedition was by no means assured.
The bar or shoalest water at the entrance of Port Royal
extended ten miles out to sea. All buoys and other guides to the navigator had been removed.
As soon as the flag-ship came to anchor Captain C. H. Davis
, Chief of Staff
, and Assistant Boutelle
of the Coast Survey, proceeded in search of the channel, which by three P. M. was sounded out and buoyed, and before dark the smaller naval vessels and the transports were anchored in Port Royal Roads. Some small Confederate steamers, under Commodore Tatnall
, formerly of the U. S. Navy, were chased and took refuge under the Confederate batteries.
Next morning the Wabash
, and Atlantic
were piloted into deep water inside the bar. and a reconnoissance in force was made of the harbor by Commander John Rodgers
and Brigadier-General Wright
, with four gun-boats.
These drew the fire of the batteries on Hilton Head
and Bay Point
, which were shown to be strongly built and fortified.
When the fleet was safely anchored within this spacious roadstead, the Flag-Officer
had cause to congratulate himself on his selection of Port Royal
in preference to any other point on the Southern
coast for the establishment of a naval depot; and having perfected all his arrangements made preparations for battle.
The Confederates, attaching great importance to Port Royal
as a strong military position, had built two large forts, Fort Walker
on Hilton Head
, and Fort Beauregard
on Bay Point
, opposite; and it seems strange that the Navy Department did not send a couple of gun-boats early in the war and prevent the enemy from erecting these works.
Of the two earthworks defending the entrance, Fort Walker
was considered the stronger, and the Flag-Officer
therefore determined to direct the weight of his fire upon this work, and after reducing it to make the final attack on Fort Beauregard
The order of battle comprised a main squadron ranged in line ahead, and a flanking squadron to engage the gun-boats under Tatnall
, which might prove troublesome and therefore required attention.
The following is a list of vessels which comprised the fighting squadron of Flag Officer Dupont
, which operated in line ahead, steaming in an ellipse from the commencement to the close of the action.
Steam frigate Wabash
(flagship), Commander C. R. P. Rodgers
; steam frigate Susquehanna
, Captain I. L. Lardner
; steam sloop Mohican
, Commander S. W. Godon
; steam sloop Seminole
, Commander J. P. Gillis
; steam sloop Pawnee
-Commanding R. H. Wyman
; steam gunboat Unadilla
, Lieut-Commanding N. Collins
; steam gunboat Ottawa
-Commanding T. H Stevens
; steam gunboat Paulina
-Commanding J. P. Bankhead
: sailing sloop Vandalia
, Commander F. S. Haggerty
, towed by steamer Isaac Smith
The flanking squadron consisted of the steam gunboat Bienville
, Commander Charles Steedman
, leading ship; steam gunboat, Seneca
-Commanding Daniel Ammen
; steam gunboat Curlew
-Commanding P. G. Watmough
; steam gunboat Penguin
-Commanding T. A. Budd
; and the steam gunboat Augusta
, Commander E. G. Parrott
The plan of attack was to pass up midway between Forts Walker
, which were distant from each other about two and one-third miles, receiving and returning the fire of both.
When about two and a half miles north of Beauregard
the line was to turn southward, round by the west, and close in with Fort Walker
, encountering that work in its weakest flank, and enfilading in nearly a direct line its two water faces.
When abreast of Fort Walker
the engines were to be slowed and the movements of the fleet reduced to a speed just sufficient to preserve the order of battle.
On reaching the extremity of the shoal ground making off from Hilton Head
the line was to turn north by the east and passing to the northward engage Fort Walker
with the port battery nearer than when they passed it on the same course before.
These evolutions were to be repeated as often as necessary.
The two forts had been constructed with great skill and were sufficiently armed, one would have thought, to have beaten off a squadron of the size of Dupont
's, which was indeed scarcely large enough for so important a service.
The attack on the Hatteras
forts had given a very fair idea of what our guns and shells could effect against earthworks, but those works were small affairs in comparison with the defences of Port Royal
, and Commodore Stringham
's force was comparatively much more powerful than that of Dupont
, to say nothing of a clear sea in which Stringham
had plenty of room to perform his elliptical movements.
The forts at Hatteras
had inflicted little injury on the Union ships, but here it looked as if the case would be different, and that our squadron would have as much as it could attend to.
Upon the sea front were mounted upon the best improved modern barbette carriages and circular railways, the following guns:
1 6-inch rifle.
6 32-pdrs. of 62cwt., 1845, navy pattern.
1 10-inch Columbiad, of 13.220lbs.
1 8-inch Columbiad, 9,018lbs.
3 sea-coast howitzers, 7-inch, 1,600lbs.
1 rifled, 6 inch.
In the left wing were:
1 32 pdr., same class as others before mentioned.
1 sea-coast howitzer, 42 pdr., not mounted.
Outer work in rear commanding land approach:
1 8-inch heavy howitzer, mounted on navy carriage, commanding approach to angle of outer work,the only gun in embrasure.
1 English siege gun, 12 pdr., behind embankment at right of right wing.
1 English siege gun, mounted to the right of the magazine to command the ditch of the main work.
In the right wing were mounted:
3 32-pdrs., same class as others before mentioned.
Making a total of 23 guns.
The fort had four faces upon which guns were mounted, each face looking on the water, and each gun so mounted as to command the water approach to Broad
and Beaufort Rivers
The guns were 13 in number, of the following sizes:
5 32-pdrs, navy pattern, 1845.
1 rifled, 6-inch, new.
5 sea-coast guns, 42 pdrs., long and very heavy.
1 ten-inch Columbiad, weight 13,226 lbs.
1 8-inch Columbiad.
Upon the outer works on the left flank were mounted
Upon outer works on right flank:
3 32-pdrs. of 63 cwt., navy pattern, 1845.
Within the fort were also two field pieces, 6-pounders, old Spanish pattern, making in all 20 pieces of ordnance.
Several circumstances prevented Dupont
from moving against the enemy until the 9th of November, when early in the morning the signal was made to get under way, form line of battle and prepare for action.
The sailors had previously had their breakfast, for Dupont
knew the necessity of looking after their comfort and not to take them into a fight on empty stomachs.
By 9 o'clock the squadron was in line ahead in close order, the flanking column in position.
The vessels passed within 800 yards of Fort Walker
, on which work the main line poured in its fire, while the flanking line opened on Beauregard
as soon as it came within range.
It was soon evident that the accuracy of the naval fire would be too much for the Confederates
Our shells burst with great regularity inside Fort Walker
, throwing sand into the guns and into the eyes of the gunners.
, who was watching the operations from his flotilla of fragile river steamers, which were entirely unfit to go into action against our vessels, wisely withdrew into Skull Creek
, a convenient waterway just north of Hilton Head
The Confederate gunners, when they found our ships seemingly unaffected by their fire, were very much surprised, as they had expected to destroy them all. They had no idea how strong were those old wooden hulls that had so long braved the storms of ocean, or what dreadful blows those shell guns could deal out under the management of skillful officers and men.
When the ships again swept by Fort
Walker from the north, passing within five hundred yards, the fire from their batteries was withering.
Again the vessels turned into the harbor, delivering their broadsides as coolly and dexterously as if they were engaged in exercising.
This was too much for the enemy's gunners, who had never formed any idea of what the effect of a fifty-gun frigate's broadside would be, firing shrapnell and shell aimed by the steady eye of American sailors, with whom the idea of rebellion was simply mutiny against the highest authority.
The Confederates stood three or four broadsides as well as could be expected, but as the ships got their range, and shells fell right in their midst, tearing everything to pieces, scattering the gun-carriages to fragments, and killing the gunners, they could bear it no longer, but turned and fled.
These deluded people had believed their position impregnable and their force sufficient to sink or scatter all the ships that could be sent against them.
But when they saw the fleet pass and repass with automatic regularity, the hulls and spars of the vessels showing no signs of injury, and the ponderous cannon each time firing with more rapidity and accuracy, they became panic-stricken.
What hope could they have?
Their guns were shattered to pieces, and whole guns' crews swept away, while they could inflict no injury upon the wooden ships.
It was evident to the Confederates
that the Union fleet was having its own way, and that it was only a matter of time when every gun in the forts would be destroyed and every gunner killed who remained at his post.
In addition to the broadside firing in front, the enemy's works were enfiladed by gunboats stationed on either flank.
This fire distressed the garrison of Fort Walker
very much, for there were no guns on either flank of the bastion to reply with.
On the right flank a long 32-pounder had been shattered by a shot from the ships, and there was no gun mounted on the other.
After the fourth fire a ten-inch Columbiad and a twenty-four pounder rifle gun in the fort became useless.
The whole affair on the part of Dupont
squadron had been conducted in a masterly manner.
Hardly a shot was sent from the ships that did not reach its mark.
What shots did not strike the guns and kill the gunners, rebounded and fell among the troops encamped outside Fort Walker
When the Confederates
commenced to run they went in a body, officers and all, for no one cared to leave his bones in the sacred soil of Hilton Head
; yet these men were doubtless as gallant soldiers as were to be found in the South
They had reckoned without their host, and had certainly forgotten the history of the Navy, and the sea fights where our ships had been made slaughter-pens ere they would strike their flag to the foe.
The Navy had come with a determination to wipe the mutineers off the face of the earth if necessary, and no one in the fleet had any idea of failure; all were as certain of victory when the first gun was fired, as if the horoscopes of the Confederates
had been cast beforehand.
At a little past one o'clock P. M., the Confederates
were reported as leaving Fort Walker
At this time the enfilading vessels were within 600 yards of the fort, having everything their own way, throwing in eleven-inch shells, twenty-pounder rifle shots and even shots from twenty-four-pound howitzers.
Before the close of the bombardment the steam gunboat Pocahontas
, Commander Percival Drayton
, came into port and joined in the attack.
Her commanding officer
was brother to General Drayton
, the Confederate
commander of the forts.
, although attached to the South
by the strongest ties of consanguinity and friendship, chose to sever them all rather than prove faithless to the Government
to which he had sworn allegiance, and to which he considered himself bound by every honorable sentiment.
He condemned the action of the South
from the beginning, and now he had an opportunity to strike a blow for his country before the Confederate
flag was hauled down, and his brother with the forces under his command had retreated from the well beaten fort.
As soon as the flag officer learned that Fort Walker
was being evacuated he sent Commander John Rodgers
on shore with a flag of truce, and at half past 2 this officer hoisted the flag over the deserted post, and three hearty cheers went up from the fleet.
The enemy had left behind them the greater portion of their effects, their main idea being evidently to get out of the reach of our shells, but they were treacherous to the last.
Honorable men when defeated accept the situation and bide their time, in the hope of getting even with their foes in a legitimate way, but on this occasion an unworthy attempt at revenge was made by the defeated foe.
went into the house which had been used as headquarters, and over which he had hoisted the American
A sailor moving about the premises caught his foot in a wire which was attached to some kind of torpedo.
There was an explosion, a cloud of smoke, and the framer building was demolished.
The sailor was knocked senseless but soon recovered, so that no loss of life occurred.
had not been considered by Dupont
as an important point of attack.
although. fired upon at long range as the vessels wheeled into the ellipse.
At sunset it was seen that the work had been abandoned.
and next morning the Union flag was hoisted over that fort, and thus a permanent lodgment was gained on the Southern
coast that proved of great advantage to the Union
The victory had been gained entirely by the Navy, for although there were troops at hand yet they took no part in the engagement, nor was it necessary that they should.
They went along simply to hold the place after the Navy had captured it, and after the works had been occupied a short time by the marines of the squadron the Flag officer
turned them over to General T. W. Sherman
made but little resistance, and hauled down its flag when it ascertained that Fort Walker
was evacuated, the commanding officer remarking to his subordinates: “This work is evidently not suited for the purpose for which it was intended, and we had better leave it.”
Although very little firing was concentrated on Fort Beauregard
, yet it had thirteen men wounded.
, commanding the Confederate forces, reported that in Fort Walker
there were ten killed and twenty wounded. In De Saussier
's Regiment, one killed, four wounded severely and twenty missing--a small number, considering the severe fire to which the enemy were subjected.
On board the ships eight were killed, six severely wounded and seventeen slightly wounded.
The small number of casualities on board the ships is due to the furious and destructive fire kept up on Fort Walker
, which from the first rendered the Confederate
gunners' aim very uncertain.
The attack on the defences of Port Royal
was ably planned and skilfully executed.
No time was lost by vacillating movements.
and although this cannot be considered a great naval engagement, yet it
was undoubtedly one of the best exhibitions of naval tactics that occurred during the Civil War
, and has stood the test of criticism both at home and abroad.
It was not so momentous an affair as the battles of New Orleans, Mobile
or Fort Fisher
; but it was of greater importance to the country, for it was a gleam of sunshine bursting through the dark clouds which enveloped the Union
The Union forces had met with little save misfortune from the day when the Confederates
fired on Fort Sumter
, and the battle of Bull Run
had humiliated us before the world and incited France
to meddle in our affairs.
The victory at Port Royal
put new life into Union hearts.
had seen arsenals and fort all
along the Southern
coast fall into Confederate hands with scarcely an effort made to prevent it, and now, when least expected,the Union
people were exalted in their own estimation.
The Navy had come to the rescue and gained a complete victory in the immediate vicinity of Charleston
, the hotbeds of secession, establishing a permanent foothold, and affording an opportunity of throwing into the heart of the South
a great army, had we of the North
been wise enough to force the fighting in a quarter where it would have eventually brought matters to a speedy conclusion.
This happened in the end when Sherman
's legions swept through the South
,and the Army and Navy closed up the last outlet of the enemy, leaving it only a matter of a short time when he would be compelled to submit.
The battle of Port Royal
gave the powers of Europe
(who were longing for and expecting the success of the South
) notice that we could and would win back the forts that had been filched from us, and that our hearts of oak in wooden ships could bid defiance to well-constructed earthworks and solid masonry.
This affair showed conclusively that the time-honored theory that one gun on shore was equal to five on shipboard no longer held good, when applied to the heavy artillery carried by modern ships and served with skill and precision.
demonstrated that ships under steam were much more powerful factors against forts than when they had only sails to propel them, and that to make success certain all that was required was skill in their management, and a determination to attempt anything within the bounds of reason.
All the qualities of a great commander were possessed in an eminent degree by Dupont
He was well informed in everything relating to naval matters, had great influence in naval circles, and at the first sign of obtaining a command,he gathered around him a fine corps of officers, whose zeal and intelligence greatly lightened the labors by which he was oppressed, during his service on the Southern
was a man of fine presence, and
there was something so winning in his manner to all with whom he came in contact, that no man in the Navy had more friends and admirers.
The battle of Port Royal
in more ways than we have enumerated.
Its moral effect counted prodigiously.
It opened the way for the more important operations with wooden ships against the enemy's forts at a later period of the war. There might be more difficult places to conquer than Port Royal
, but no man could hereafter decline to attack an enemy's works with a squadron of war vessels.
From the experience gained at Port Royal
there could be no difficulty in estimating hereafter what number of ships and guns would be necessary for a certain service.
So no matter in what aspect we view this victory, its importance cannot be overestimated.
Later in the war it was attempted to take from Dupont
some of the laurels he had won, and to mention with faint praise the work he had accomplished; but this scheme of detraction did not affect his reputation, for he lived honored and died regretted by all who knew him.
The good he did lives after him in the hearts of those in whom he implanted the seeds of discipline, and encouraged that chivalrous conduct which was once paramount in the Navy.
gave all his officers full credit for their gallantry in the affair of Port Royal
; but for these particulars we must refer the reader to the official reports of the day, since this is intended to be a general review
of naval events and cannot enter into all the particulars.
Flag Officer Dupont
highly commends the services of Fleet-Captain C. H. Davis
, Commander C. R. P. Rodgers
,and some of the subordinate officers of the flag-ship; but leaves it to the commanding officers
of vessels to mention the personnel of their own ships.
The first thing to be done after the capture of the forts was to establish the Army under General T. W. Sherman
securely on Hilton Head Island
This Island is bordered on the north by “Skull Creek
,” a fair waterway of from two and one half to four fathoms, through which Tatnall
escaped with his steamers, and where it was thought he should have been followed by our gunboats, though from some unexplained reason they failed to do so. A few heavy guns at Seabrook Landing
, midway in Skull Creek
, would have commanded a long stretch of the waterway and completely closed it against ordinary gunboats; but, as it happened, there were no defences of the kind, and our forces lost the opportunity of capturing General Drayton
and all his command, who escaped either in Tatnall
's steamers or in army transports.
, of the Engineers
, made a thorough survey of the vicinity, and his plans for defence were adopted, making the island of Hilton Head
secure against any attack from the enemy.
Thus our forces were established in South Carolina
, a constant menace to the enemy; the hostile movements from Hilton Head
and South Carolina
in constant alarm.
Hilton Head Island
became in course of time a place of refuge for hundreds of slaves, fleeing from their masters, who had forced them to throw up intrenchments against their friends, who offered them liberty and protection.
's recnnoissance after the battle showed the demoralized condition of the retreating enemy.
The road from Fort Walker
to Seabrook Landing
was strewn with accoutrements thrown away by the soldiers in their flight, and at the landing a quantity of commissary stores had been abandoned.
It may seem surprising that the Secessionists were enabled in so short a time after the breaking out of the hostilities, to erect so many formidable earth-works armed with heavy guns.
This was owing to the United States Government allowing Norfolk Navy Yard, with its abundant supply of guns and munitions of war,to fall into the hands of the insurgents.
the guns were sent all along the Southern
coast, by way of the Dismal Swamp Canal
, and through the inland channels with which our coast is supplied, as far as Florida
The number of guns captured at Norfolk
is variously estimated from 1,400 to 1,500, but at all events the number was amply sufficient to provide a barrier against the entrance of such small vessels as we could get into commission on the first breaking out of the war.
But for the misfortune of losing, or we may say throwing away, the Norfolk Navy Yard
, all the unarmed ports of the South
would have easily fallen into our hands, and thus enabled us to break up blockade running at a much earlier date than we were able to accomplish it.