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Introduction — the Federal Navy and the blockade

F. E. Chadwick, Rear-Admiral, United States Navy

The value of discipline — practice on the “Mendota Though lamentably unprepared for war in 1861, the Federal Navy by 1864 set an example of constant arduous training and drill, even during lulls in the actual fighting such as when this photograph was taken, on the James River in 1864.


Custodians of the coast Looking out from the mouth of every important harbor along the Southern seacoast, the Confederates were confronted by just such a grim menace as this. Riding at anchor or moving swiftly from point to point, the Federal fighting-ships, with sleepless vigilance, night and day sought every opportunity to destroy the vessels which attempted to keep up the commercial intercourse of the Confederacy with the outside world. At first it was chiefly a “paper blockade,” and the fact that its mere announcement accorded to the Confederacy the status of belligerents was hailed at the South as a fortunate diplomatic mistake. Swift merchantmen abroad were easily induced to enter the bold enter-prise which meant such profitable trade; laughing at the inadequate Federal patrol, they began to dump huge cargoes of the munitions of war at every Southern port, taking in return cotton, so necessary to keep the looms of Europe going. With the rapid growth of the Federal navy the blockade, whose early impotence had been winked at by European powers, became more and more a fact. The cordon was drawn tighter and tighter from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. One venturesome vessel after another was overhauled or driven ashore and both they and their cargoes became the rich prizes of the Federal navy. While this served vastly to increase the difficulty and danger of dealing with the South, it did not deter greatly the bold spirits to whom this war-time commerce was so profitable and necessary, and down to the fall of the last Southern seaport swift blockade-runners were found that could continue to show the beleaguering fleet a clean pair of heels. From the war's very beginning the Confederates were hopeful of being able to oppose the Federal navy with fighting-vessels that would raise the blockade, but they could not build boats fast enough, and almost as soon as they were finished they were captured or destroyed in one bold attempt after another to contend with the superior numbers that opposed them. Once at Mobile and again at Charleston, after a naval victory the Confederates proclaimed the blockade raised, only to find that in a few days the investing fleet had been doubled in strength. Meanwhile the blockade-runners continued to ply between Nassau, Bermuda, and other convenient depots and the ports of the Confederacy. Charleston, S. C., and Wilmington, N. C., the two most closely guarded ports, continued to be made by these greyhounds of the sea until the Federal land forces at last compassed the evacuation of the towns. Enormous as was the quantity of the merchandise and munitions of war that got by the blockade, it was the work of the Federal navy that first began to curtail the traffic, and finally ended it.


A fleet of Federal blockaders in 1864

[16] Full of enthusiasm and military spirit, but suspecting little what trials lay before them, the Confederate volunteers pictured here are drilling at one of the forts that had been abandoned by the Federal Government, even before the momentous shot was fired at Sumter. Fort Pickens, through the forethought of Commander Henry Walke, who disobeyed his orders most brilliantly and successfully, had been saved to the Federal Government. The other batteries and forts at Pensacola, however, had been handed over to the Confederacy, and here we see the men in gray, early in 1861, taking advantage of the gift. Note the new uniforms, the soldierly and well-fed appearance of the men, the stores of ammunition for the great guns.

Confederates in the newly-captured Pensacola fort--1861. where the blockaders came too late


Many of these soldiers pictured here were soon fighting miles away from where we see them now; a great many were drafted from New Orleans, from Mobile, Savannah, and Charleston; Florida and Georgia furnished their full quota to the Confederate army. This photograph was taken by Edwards, of New Orleans, who, like his confrere Lytle, succeeded in picturing many of the stirring scenes and opening tableaux of the war; they afterward took advantage of their art and used their cameras as batteries at the command of the Confederate Secret Service, photographing ships and troops and guns of the Federal forces, and sending them to the commanding generals of their departments. Over the chase of the gun is Pensacola harbor.


The American Civil War marks one of the great social reconstructions which are ever taking place as we advance from plane to plane of mentality. The American and the French revolutions; the overthrow of European feudalism by Napoleon, who was but the special instrument of a great movement, are among the special reconstructions more immediately preceding that of 1861, but all had, in a way, a common impulse — the impulse which comes from having arrived at a new mental outlook.

Such revolutions may be bloodless if mental development is equal to meeting the emergency, as it was in the formation of the American Constitution, in 1787. They are, however, far more apt to be in blood, as was that of 1861, which was brought about by the immense and rapid development, in the last century, of mechanism, the press, and the mobility of populations. We had to step to a new mental, moral, and psychic plane, and war was made certain by the want of a wisdom and foresight which, in the circumstances, it was, perhaps, too much to expect.

The present volume deals with the part taken by the navy in the great contest — a part of vastly greater importance than has generally been recognized. Historians are, however, beginning to see that the role of the navy was a vital one, absolutely necessary to success; that the blockade was a constrictive force which devitalized Southern effort. Whatever doubt may have existed at the outset as to the strategy of the [19]

The “Sabine,” the first blockader in the South Atlantic The towering masts of this fine sailing frigate arrived in Pensacola Harbor on April 12, 1861, the day Fort Sumter was fired upon. With the “Brooklyn,” she landed reenforcements at Fort Pickens. On May 13th, Captain H. A. Adams of the “Sabine” issued notice of the blockade at Pensacola, the first Atlantic port to be thus closed. The “Sabine,” like her prototypes, the “United States” and the “Constitution,” mounted 44 guns. She sailed on the expedition to Paraguay in 1858-9, and became one of the first ships of the old navy to see active service in the Civil War. She served in Admiral Du Pont's squadron on the expedition to Port Royal in November, 1861. Her commander on that expedition was Captain Cadwalader Ringgold. It was largely due to the heroic efforts of his officers and crew that 650 marines were saved from drowning when the transport “Governor” foundered on the 3d. In February, 1862, when the “new-fangled” “Monitor,” the latest “Yankee notion” in war vessels, was going begging for officers and men, a crew was at last formed largely of volunteers from the “Sabine.” Of such stuff were made the tars of the old American sailing-ships of war

[20] army, there was no question as to naval action, which was to close the Southern ports and cut off the Confederacy's supplies from the Southwest by occupying the Mississippi.

In comparison with the blockade, such war as there was to be upon the high seas was a negligible matter. There were to be Southern cruisers which preyed upon merchantmen of the North, and the losses of these were considerable, but the actual money value of such losses was but half the value of ships and cargoes captured or destroyed by the blockading ships. The injury to our carrying trade which came from destruction of ships only hastened, a moderate number of years, the end to which we were already rapidly tending through our adherence to the sailing ship and our inability, which still continues, to develop oversea lines of steamers. The Alabama and her kind were but a trifling element in causes already in full action; causes which will continue operative as long as our present Cromwellian laws stand in the Federal statute-books.

After the destruction of the Merrimac, it was not until the very end of the war that there appeared an iron-clad Confederate vessel which could give the North real concern as to what might happen at sea. This ship was the Stonewall, built in France. Before she could act on this side of the Atlantic, the war was over. Under the able and energetic Confederate naval agent in England, Captain Bulloch, two more of like character had been built by the Lairds at Birkenhead, but England by this time had become wiser than at the time of the advent of the Alabama, and they never flew the Confederate flag. Such damage as the Confederate cruisers which earlier got to sea caused, never decided a war.

The blockade of the Southern coast, south of North Carolina (this State and Virginia not having yet seceded), was declared April 19, 1861; eight days later it was extended to that of North Carolina and Virginia. The force with which [21]

Caught by her own kind The blockade-runner “A. D. Vance.” It frequently took a blockade-runner to catch a blockade-runner, and as the Federal navy captured ship after ship of this character they began to acquire a numerous fleet of swift steamers from which it was difficult for any vessel to get away. The “Vance” brought many a cargo to the hungry Southern ports, slipping safely by the blockading fleet and back again till her shrewd Captain Willie felt that he could give the slip to anything afloat. On her last trip she had safely gotten by the Federal vessels lying off the harbor of Wilmington, North Carolina, and was dancing gleefully on her way with a bountiful cargo of cotton and turpentine when, on September 10, 1864, in latitude 34° N., longitude 76° W., a vessel was sighted which rapidly bore down upon her. It proved to be the “Santiago de Cuba,” Captain O. S. Glisson. The rapidity with which the approaching vessel overhauled him was enough to convince Captain Willie that she was in his own class. The “Santiago de Cuba” carried eleven guns, and the “Vance” humbly hove to, to receive the prize-crew which took her to Boston, where she was condemned. In the picture we see her lying high out of the water, her valuable cargo having been removed and sold to enrich by prize-money the officers and men of her fleet captor.

[22] this was begun was most meager. The whole steam-navy of the United States (and steamers were the only vessels effective for this service, now that almost all the blockade-runners were to be swift, light-draft steamers built on the Clyde) consisted of but twenty-nine ships. Five of these, the large steam frigates of the Wabash class, were at the moment laid up. Only one was ever really utilized, this being the Wabash, at the capture of the forts at Hilton Head, Port Royal, November 7, 1861. There were five screw ships of the Hartford class; three good side-wheel ships; eight small screw sloops, such as the Mohican; five still smaller, and two small side-wheelers. But even these were scattered over the seven seas; in Asia, in the Pacific, in the South Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and, worst of all, on the distant and almost (at the time) unreachable coast of Africa. It was late in the summer of 1861 before the last arrived home. On the 4th of March, there were but three in Northern ports with which to begin a blockade of three thousand six hundred miles of coast. Such a blockade could for the moment be only a “paper” one, as, to justify the seizure on the high seas of a neutral attempting to enter a port declared blockaded, there must be a force off the port sufficient to make entry dangerous. To enable captures of such ships to be made, the Federal Government soon had to yield its theory of insurgency and treat the situation as one of belligerency.

The indecisive attitude of the administration during the period between the secession of South Carolina, December 20, 1860, and the 4th of March, 1861, was of a character to encourage the secessionist movement to the utmost. The only forts of the South which were garrisoned were Monroe and Sumter. Notwithstanding General Scott's report of inability to garrison the Southern forts for want of men, there can be no question, from the returns of the War Department itself, that there was a number quite sufficient to hold them against any but tried soldiers in large force. Two hundred men at each [23]

A fighting inventor rear-admiral John A. Dahlgren on board the U. S. S. “Pawnee” in Charleston harbor Over the admiral's right shoulder can be seen the ruins of the still unsurrendered Fort Sumter. It was for his services on land that Dahlgren was made rear-admiral, Feb. 7, 1863. He had been employed on ordnance duty between 1847-57. With the exception of a short cruise, he had spent the ten years in perfecting the Dahlgren gun, his own invention. In 1862 he was chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. From this he stepped into command of the South Atlantic blockading squadron, July 6, 1863. From that time on he showed the qualities of a great commander in active service. Not only did he bravely and wisely direct the naval activities in Charleston Harbor, but in February, 1864, he led the naval expedition up the St. John's River that was to cooperate with the troops in gaining a hold in Florida. In December, 1864, he cooperated with General Sherman in the capture of Savannah, and on Feb. 18, 1865, he had the satisfaction of moving his vessels up to Charleston, the evacuated city that he had striven so long to capture.

[24] would have been ample to hold the important forts below New Orleans, at Mobile, Pensacola, Savannah, and Wilmington. There were at the Northern posts, which might, of course, have been completely denuded of men with safety, over one thousand men. Fort Monroe was sufficiently garrisoned for protection; the total garrison of Sumter was but eighty-four. As it was, the other forts had simply to be entered and occupied by the raw secessionist volunteers. Such occupancy, which gradually took place, naturally gave an immense impetus to the Southern movement. Had these forts been occupied by Federal troops and had Sumter been properly reenforced, there can be little question that secession would have ended with the act of South Carolina. For with her ports in Federal hands, the South was powerless. Communication with the exterior world was to her a necessity in the strongest meaning of the word, because she was lacking in many things of vital importance. She could not have gone to war; she would not have gone to war, in so helpless a situation.

Even the one effort to hold any of these forts, the retention of which was so vital, was made abortive by the action of Scott in causing to be embarked in New York, in the merchant steamer Star of the West, a raw company of artillery under a lieutenant for the reenforcement of Fort Sumter, instead of a force of the older soldiers from Fort Monroe, in the Brooklyn. The Star of the West made a feeble effort to enter Charleston Harbor. She was fired upon, and seeing no colors hoisted at Sumter or sign of assistance from the fort, turned and went to sea. Had the Brooklyn been sent, as President Buchanan, to his credit be it said, intended, and as had been first arranged, the secessionist battery would not have dared to fire upon the powerful man-of-war, or, had it dared, the few guns of the battery or of all of the improvised defenses, none of which had before fired a shot, would have been quickly silenced by the Brooklyn's guns; the ship would have occupied the harbor; Sumter would have been manned and provisioned, and [25]

Leaders of diplomacy in 1863: secretary Seward and nine foreign diplomats at the time when Confederate cruisers abroad were an international problem No military picture of moving troops, no group of distinguished generals, could possibly hold the interest for students of the history of the Civil War that this photograph possesses. It is the summer of 1863. Gathered at the foot of this beautiful waterfall, as if at the end of a day's outing for pleasure, are ten men of mark and great importance. Here are William H. Seward, American Secretary of State, standing bareheaded, to the right. With him, numbered so that the reader can easily identify them, are (2) Baron De Stoeckel, Russian Minister; (3) M. Molena, Nicaraguan Minister; (4) Lord Lyons, British Minister; (5) M. Mercier, French Minister; (6) M. Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; (7) M. Bertenatti, Italian Minister; (8) Count Piper, Swedish Minister; (9) M. Bodisco, Secretary Russian Legation; (10) Mr. Sheffield, Attache British Legation; (11) Mr. Donaldson, a messenger in the State Department. These were ticklish times in diplomatic circles. Outwardly polite to one another, and on an occasion such as this probably lowering the bars of prescribed convention, many of these men would have liked to know what was going on in the brains of their associates, for diplomacy is but a game of mental hide-and-seek. More than any one else would Mr. Seward have desired at this moment to be gifted in the art of mind-reading. He would have liked to hear from Lord Lyons exactly what stand the British Government was going to take in relation to the Confederate cruisers that had been outfitted in Great Britain. He would have liked to hear also from Minister Mercier more on the subject of the vessels building in France that he had been in correspondence with John Bigelow about, and he would have liked to know exactly what Napoleon III was trying to do in Mexico, in the ambitious game of which Maximilian was a pawn. The Nicaraguan Minister would have appreciated a word himself on the latter subject; and Lord Lyons, in view of the presence of the Russian fleet, would have liked to pick the brain of Baron De Stoeckel, whose royal master, the Czar, had made such firm offers of friendship to the United States at just this hour. Mr. Schleiden, in view of what was to happen in the next few years, would have welcomed an outburst of confidence from M. Mercier, and for that matter, so would M. Bertenatti. But here they are, sinking all questions of statecraft and posing for the photographer as if the game of diplomacy was far from their minds and they were ordinary “trippers” seeing the sights


Charleston Harbor would have been permanently in the hands of the Federal authorities.

Equal folly, inefficiency, and, in cases, disloyalty were shown in the failure to take steps to protect the great navy-yard at Norfolk and in the surrender of that at Pensacola. The former could have been saved had the incoming administration acted more promptly; the latter could, at any moment in the two months succeeding its surrender in January, have been reoccupied, had there been a show of wisdom in government affairs. With the loss of these two great establishments went the loss of some thousands of cannon, which went to arm the Southern batteries. Had these untoward events not happened, affairs would have assumed a very different phase; for a time, at least, war would have been deferred, and soberer thought might have had its weight.

Whether it were better that the war should be fought, and the pick of the manhood of the South and much of that of the North perish, need not be discussed; but the patent fact remains that the failure to employ the Brooklyn instead of the Star of the West, the failure to garrison the other forts of the South, the failure to save Norfolk and Pensacola were governmental failures of surpassing ineptitude and folly, only to be made good by four years of a war which brought three millions of men into the field, six hundred ships to close the Southern ports, engulfed the treasure of the North, and laid waste the South. The change to our new mental and psychical plane, a change which had to be made, was dearly bought for want of wisdom and foresight beyond our powers at the moment.

Leaving aside the what-might-have-beens and coming to things as they happened, the blockade, by the end of 1861, had become so effective that in the governmental year of 1861-62, the total cotton exported from the South was but thirteen thousand bales as against the two million of the previous season. During the quarter beginning September 1, 1861, less [27]

Foreign allies Here in the harbor of Alexandria, Va., the crew of the Russian frigate “Osliaba” have climbed into the rigging to view with the officers on the bridge the strange land to which they had been sent on a friendly mission. England was almost openly hostile to the North at the beginning of the war, while France better concealed its sympathies. Its diplomats were highly in favor of joining with Germany and Italy to aid Maximilian in setting up his monarchy in Mexico. The Federal navy was confronted from the start, not only with the problem of the blockade, but with that of providing sufficient fighting-ships to enable it to contend successfully with the navies of foreign powers in case complications arose. When Emperor Alexander ordered his warships to proceed to American waters, there was an end to rumors of foreign hostilities; and when one division of the Russian fleet entered New York Harbor and the other the Golden Gate, feasts of welcome awaited both officers and men who had come to augment the Federal navy at its most critical period.

[28] than one thousand bales of cotton left Charleston Harbor, as against one hundred and ten thousand for a like period in 1860; but four thousand four hundred bushels of rice as against twenty-three thousand; one thousand five hundred barrels of naval stores as against thirty-three thousand. Only thirty-two thousand and fifty bales of cotton left Charleston from July 1, 1861, to April 1, 1863.1

How much this means may be seen by the remarks of Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States, in a speech on November 1, 1862. He said:

I was in favor of the Government's taking all the cotton that would be subscribed for eight-per-cent. bonds at ten cents a pound. Two million bales of last-year's crop might have been counted on. This would have cost the Government a hundred million bonds. With this cotton in hand and pledged, any number short of fifty of the best iron-clad steamers could have been contracted for and built in Europe — steamers at two millions each could have been procured. Thirty millions would have got fifteen. Five might have been ready by the 1st of January last to open one of our blockaded ports. Three could have been left to keep the port open, while two could have conveyed the cotton across, if necessary. Thus, the debt could have been paid with cotton at a much higher price than it cost, and a channel of trade kept open until others could have been built and paid for in the same way. At less than one month's present expenditure on our army, our coast might have been cleared. Besides this, at least two million more bales of the old crop might have been counted on; this, with the other, making a debt in round numbers to the planters of two hundred million dollars. But this cotton, held in Europe until the price shall be fifty cents a pound [it went much higher], would constitute a fund of at least one billion dollars, which not only would have kept our finances in sound condition, but the clear profit of eight hundred million dollars would have met the entire expenses of the war for years to come.2


A friendly visitor The Russians, although in some degree a maritime nation, did not devote much attention to their navy, as can be seen from a glance at this picture of one of the visiting Russian vessels during the Civil War, the “Osliaba.” In another photograph has been shown a group of their sailors. They are as different in appearance from the trim American and English men-of-warsmen as their vessel is different from an American or English man-of-war. The Russian sailors were all conscripts, mostly taken from inland villages and forced to take up a sea-faring life in the service of the Czar. There had to be a sprinkling of real seamen among the crew, but they, like the poor serfs from the country, were conscripts also. The Russian harbors are practically cut off from the world by ice for at least five months of the year. This fact has prevented Russia from taking a place among maritime nations. It has been Russia's purpose to reach warm-water harbors that has brought on two of its greatest wars.


Stephens waives the great questions of international law involved, as to the furnishing of ships to a belligerent by a neutral, and takes no note of the stringent blockade which came so soon to prevent the sending abroad of cotton. His remarks, however, illustrate the enormous financial advantage which the South would have had, had it been able to send its cotton abroad, and to bring in freely the many things which go to make an army efficient and without which, in so large degree, the South waged the war until it came to the extremity of want.

Christopher G. Memminger (aforetime Confederate Secretary of the Treasury) wrote Stephens, September 17, 1867,

As for the notion, since promulgated, of shipping cotton to England early in the war and holding it there as the basis of credit, that is completely negatived, as you know, by the fact that at the early stage of the war no one expected the blockade or the war to last more than a year.3

The South itself thus helped the North by its want of grasp of the situation. The North, in the former's view, driven by European command that cotton must not be interfered with, was to yield quickly to the Southern demands. The South did not recognize that, in the rapidly developing events, to hesitate was to lose all. The quick grip of the navy was to be the Union's salvation. Though England's weekly consumption of cotton was reduced in a year from fifty thousand to twenty thousand bales of cotton, the people of Lancashire stood by the North. Recognition of the Confederacy did not come. The South attempted a change of policy, but the chance to exploit its cotton was gone.

At the basis of the South's belief in the quick ending of the war, was the profound conviction of most of the Southern leaders that Europe's deprivation of cotton would quickly bring European intervention. Senator James H. Hammond, [31]

Messengers from the czar of Russia Here again the reader is introduced to some guests of the North--the officers of one of the little fleet that put into the Hudson and paid visits along the coast. It was not the Russian people at large who showed any friendliness to the United States during the Civil War; they knew little, cared less, and were not affected by the results of the conflict more than if it had been waged between two savage tribes in the heart of Africa. It was the Czar, for reasons of state or for his own purposes — which are much the same thing — who made the friendly overtures. Still smarting from the crushing disaster of the Crimea, where England, France, and Sardinia had combined to aid the hated Turk in keeping the Russians from the Bosphorus and the Mediterranean, the Czar would have given a great deal to have seen the “Trent” affair open hostilities between America and the mother country. Great Britain then would have its hands full in guarding its own shores and saving its Canadian possessions. The eyes of Napoleon III. were directed westward also at this time. King Victor Emmanuel, of Sardinia, who in 1861 had had placed on his head the crown of United Italy, was trying to juggle the disjointed states of his new kingdom into harmony. Besides this, the Czar had unproductive land to sell--Alaska. It was Russia's chance. This friendship was in the game of diplomacy. But different from what Russia expected was the attitude of England.

[32] of South Carolina, in a speech in the Senate on March 4, 1858, had said:
But if there were no other reason why we should never have war, would any sane nation make war on cotton? Without firing a gun, without drawing a sword, should they make war on us we could bring the whole world to our feet.... What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? I will not stop to depict what everyone can imagine, but this is certain: England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it.

And again:

I firmly believe that the slaveholding South is now the controlling power of the world — that no other power would face us in hostility. This will be demonstrated if we come to the ultimate . . . cotton, rice, tobacco, and naval stores command the world, and we have sense enough to know it.

With such views, and they were practically the views of the whole South, it is not surprising that, with the belief that to withhold cotton would bring the world to terms, the South was slow to adopt such ideas as those put forth by Stephens. It was soon to be reduced largely to its own resources. “Buttons were made of persimmon seeds; tea of berry leaves; coffee of a variety of parched seeds; envelopes and writing-paper of scraps of wall-paper; shoes of wood and canvas.” 4

The South, however, aided by adventurous British merchants and her own able Secret Service abroad, of which Captain Bulloch, formerly of the United States navy, was the head, displayed a wondrous energy. Notwithstanding the blockade, the advent of very fast shallow-draft steamers, built principally on the Clyde and specially for the purpose of running the blockade, did much to alleviate the situation for the Confederacy until the Federal navy's hold on the coast gradually tightened. The [33]

Manning the yards — a visitor from Brazil The lack of skill at manning yards that is pictured here shows that in Civil War times the Brazilians, never a maritime nation, had much to learn. Occasionally during the war, along the South Atlantic coast, while the blockade was still in existence and rigidly enforced, strange vessels would be seen by the cordon of outlying scouts, and more than once mistakes were narrowly averted. It was hard to tell under what guise a blockade-runner might approach the starting-line for the final dash for shore. In July, 1864, late one evening, a vessel was seen approaching and her actions were so peculiar that a little gunboat started at once for the guard-ships and made report. Two vessels were despatched to intercept the stranger. There was a slight fog and the moon was bright, a combination that made it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. All at once the mist lifted, and there — lying within half pistol-shot between the two Federal cruisers — lay the suspected one. Immediately she was hailed and told to surrender. A voice replied through the speaking trumpet in broken English, stating that she was the French sloop-of-war “Alerte,” and wished to make the nearest port, as she was suffering from “occasional discomposure of her engines.” This having been ascertained to be the truth, the Frenchman was allowed to drop anchor for repairs. Now and then visitors from South American ports would also drop in, and in this picture of the barkentine-rigged side-wheeler is shown a Brazilian warship.


United States was backward then, as in fact it always has been, if the truth be spoken, in marine engineering. Changes came in machinery and material of construction abroad which we were slow to follow, so that the high-powered and lean model of the Clyde iron-built blockade-runner had a distinct advantage in speed over her chasers. Thus, even during the last two months of 1864, the imports of Charleston and Wilmington comprised over eight million five hundred thousand pounds of meat, one million five hundred thousand pounds of lead, nearly two million pounds of saltpeter, five hundred thousand pairs of shoes, three hundred and sixteen thousand pairs of blankets, over five hundred thousand pounds of coffee, sixty-nine thousand rifles, forty-three cannon, ninety-seven packages of revolvers, and two thousand six hundred and thirty-nine packages of medicine. The traffic across the Mexican border was of the same character, but there was still the gantlet to be run of the Mississippi River, now in Federal possession through the dauntless spirit of Farragut, greatest of naval commanders, not excepting Nelson himself.

But the grip of the navy was closing upon the Confederate ports. Charleston was, with the aid of the army, at last closed. Savannah was sealed; Mobile and New Orleans had, of course, long before been lost, as also Pensacola. Wilmington, so long closely watched, finally fell after the capture of Fort Fisher, and then happened that which, as already explained, might have occurred in the beginning had the Buchanan administration but acted with vigor, that is, the complete segregation of the South from the rest of the world. She still had men in plenty, but men to be effective must be fed and clothed. With open ports the war could have been indefinitely continued. With ports closed, the Southern armies were reduced to a pitiful misery, the long endurance of which makes a noble chapter in heroism.

The whole naval warfare of the secession period was thus one of closure. It was a strife to control the waters of the [35]

Memphis and the Mississipi.

“A spear-thrust in the back” was delivered to the Confederacy by the inland-river fleet that cut it in two. The squadron of Flag-Officer Davis is here lying near Memphis. Thus appeared the Federal gunboats on June 5, 1862, two miles above the city. Fort Pillow had been abandoned the previous day, but the Confederate river-defense flotilla still remained below and the Federals, still smarting from the disaster inflicted on the “Cincinnati,” were determined to bring on a decisive engagement and, if possible, clear the river of their antagonists. Meanwhile four new vessels had joined the Federal squadron. These were river steamers which Charles Ellet, Jr., had converted into rams in the short space of six weeks. Their principle was as old as history, but it was now to be tried for the first time in aid of the Federal cause. On these heights above the river the inhabit ants of Memphis were crowded on the morning of June 6, 1862, as the Federal squadron moved down-stream against the Confederate gunboats that were drawn up in double line of battle opposite the city. Everyone wanted to see the outcome of the great fight that was impending, for if its result proved adverse to the Confederates, Memphis would fall into Federal hands and another stretch of the Mississippi would be lost to the South. In the engagement at Memphis two of the Ellet rams accompanied the squadron — the “Queen of the West” commanded by Charles Ellet, and the “Monarch” commanded by his younger brother, Major Alfred Ellet. The Confederate flotilla was destroyed, but with the loss of Charles Ellet, from a mortal wound.

The fleet that cleared the river

Memphis, Tennessee on the heights

Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred W. Ellet: one of the three Ellets at Memphis


Southern coast. The Alabama and her kind, as already said, counted for nought, excepting as their exploits should influence European opinion and action. The destruction they caused was a property destruction only, not a destruction of naval power, which was what really counted. And the actual property destruction was finally found to amount to less than ten million dollars, or not more than the fiftieth part of that endured by San Francisco in the catastrophe of 1906.

It was not until the ironclad came upon the scene that the Federal cause was in jeopardy. The frigate Merrimac was sunk at Norfolk when the navy-yard was so unfortunately yielded through the administration's unwillingness to use its strength, and the thousands of cannon there in store, along with those at Pensacola, went to arm the Confederacy. With immense energy on the part of the Southern officers, the Merrimac was raised, her upper decks removed, and the ship reconstructed as an armored vessel. Her advent in Hampton Roads, March 8, 1862, where in the first moment were but some wooden ships, among them the large steam frigate Minnesota and the sailing frigates Congress and Cumberland, brought on a memorably heroic fight, in which the Congress was burned and the Cumberland sunk with her colors flying. That night came almost providentially the Monitor, with her heroic commander, Lieutenant Worden, and her equally courageous first lieutenant, S. Dana Greene. The fight of the next day, its outcome, the withdrawal of the Merrimac, her later destruction by the Confederates, and the effect upon the world, we all know. Besides saving to the Union the possession of Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay, it saved a possible appearance of what, up to that moment, was an irresistible force off Northern ports, the appearance of which would have had a disastrous effect upon Federal interests in the development of European action in favor of the South.

Other ironclads had, in Europe, preceded the Monitor and Merrimac, some armored batteries having been used by the French in 1855, during the Crimean war; and the French, [37]

The “Blackhawk,” Porter's famous Mississippi flagship photographed off Memphis, June, 1864 This wooden vessel, formerly a powerful river steamer, was armed and added to the Mississippi squadron soon after Porter took command. She was the admiral's flagship on the first expedition up the Yazoo. As the Stars and Stripes were run up on the court-house at Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, the “Blackhawk,” bearing Admiral Porter and his staff, swept proudly up to the levee and received on board General Grant, with many of his officers. They “were received with that warmth of feeling and hospitality that delights the heart of a sailor.” Outwardly unmoved, Grant received the congratulations of the officers of the navy upon the greatest victory of the war so far — a victory which the river squadron had helped so materially to win. Again the “Blackhawk” steamed away on active service as Porter's flagship to lead the futile Red River expedition.

[38] following their success, had built the Gloire. The British were building four large broadside shins of the Warrior type; others were to follow in the Confederate navy, the Tennessee at Mobile, the Atlanta in Wassaw Sound, the Albemarle in the North Carolina sounds, and the formidable French-built Stonewall; but it was the Monitor which was to give the standard for future types. Said the London Times after the Hampton Roads fight, “Whereas we had one hundred and forty-nine first-class war-ships, we have now two, [the large broadside ships Warrior and Black Prince] . . . There is not a ship in the English navy apart from those two that it would not be madness to trust to an engagement with that little Monitor.” The type of hull of the latter has now been wholly discarded, but the revolving turret remains the basic principle in the mounting and protection of heavy guns. Notwithstanding the defects of the system, the Monitor was the forerunner and type of fifty-eight turreted vessels built or laid down during the Civil War.

The Federal navy during the war rose to a force of five hundred and sixty-nine steam vessels and over fifty thousand seamen. Three hundred and thirteen steamers had been purchased and two hundred and three had been built or were well advanced to completion. Over seven thousand five hundred volunteer officers from the merchant service, many of great ability and value, were employed, some of whom, at the end of the war, were taken into the regular service, rising to the highest ranks and filling with credit most important posts.

The fight of the Monitor and Merrimac, the passage of the Mississippi forts (April 24, 1862), Port Hudson (March 14, 1863), Mobile (August 5, 1864), the fight between the Weehawken and Atlanta, the destruction of the Albemarle, and the duel of the Kearsarge and Alabama were notable battles, three of which rank in the forefront of naval actions in daring and in effect. It is not too much to say that Farragut's deeds in the Mississippi and at Mobile have not their parallel in [39]

The silenced guns at Fort Fisher--the final Link in the blockading chain, 1865. The wreckage in this picture of the dilapidated defenses of Fort Fisher marks the approaching doom of the Confederate cause. The gun dismounted by the accurate fire of Porter's fleet and the palisade broken through by the attackers from the sea-front are mute witnesses to the fact that the last port of the South has been effectually closed and that all possibility of securing supplies and munitions of war from the outside world is at an end. Since the beginning of hostilities Fort Fisher had kept open the approach to Wilmington, North Carolina, and even at the beginning of 1865 the blockade-runners were able in many cases to set at naught the efforts of the Federal squadron to keep them out of Wilmington. The fall of Fort Fisher, making the blockade at last a complete accomplished fact from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, marked the last act in the long drama of achievements by the navy in a war that could never have been won so soon without its help. Nor could the navy alone have closed the port. In the second attack the army had to help.

[40] naval history. Says Charles Francis Adams, “It may safely be claimed that the running of the forts at the mouth of the Mississippi and the consequent fall of New Orleans was as brilliant an operation, and one as triumphantly conducted, as Sherman's march through Georgia,” which, as he mentions later, was itself made possible by the undisputed maritime supremacy of the North. “Throttling the Confederacy by the blockade throughout,” he says, “the navy was also a spear-thrust in its back.”

Great, however, as was the effect of cutting in twain the Confederacy by the occupancy of the Mississippi, much greater was the effect of the monotonous and unheroic work of the blockade in Atlantic waters. By the end of the war there were captured and destroyed, in all, one thousand five hundred and four vessels, of a value of over thirty million dollars, much of which was British property. Large as was the money value, it was as nothing in comparison with the effect in deciding the great question at issue, through the loss of that without which the South could not live.

The failure of historians, with few exceptions, through nearly fifty years to recognize this great service done by the navy, shows a want of philosophic perception without which history is but a diary of events. Blockade is from a dramatic standpoint but a poor offset to great battles with thousands killed and wounded, the losses in which come keenly to tens of thousands of men and women. The fortunes of a million men in an army thus overshadow in the mind of the great public those of a comparatively meager fifty thousand in ships, and a blockade may go unnoticed by the public in war, much as the constant diplomacy of the navy goes unnoticed in peace.

To place New Orleans, Mobile, and Hampton Roads in the category of commonplace events is not to know war. As acts, they are among the lime-lights of history; in results, two, at least, were among the most momentous; for whatever went far to save this Union must be in such a category.

1 Schwab.

2 M. L. Avary. Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens. His diary, etc., 1910.

3 M. L. Avary. Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens. His diary, etc., 1910.

4 Schwab.

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