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Minor operations of the South Atlantic squadron under Du Pont.

by Professor James Russell Soley, U. S. N.
During the six months immediately following the battle of Port Royal [see Vol. I., p. 671] Du Pont was principally engaged in reconnoitering and gaining possession of the network of interior waterways which extends along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, from Bull's Bay to Fernandina. Detachments of vessels under Commander Drayton visited the inlets to the northward, including St. Helena Sound and the North and South Edisto, while other detachments, under Commanders John and C. R. P. Rodgers, examined the southerly waters, especially those about Tybee Roads and Wassaw and Ossabaw sounds. Nearly all the fortifications in these waters, with the exception of Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River, were found abandoned. The coast blockade was thus partially converted into an occupation. In March an expedition on a large scale proceeded farther south, to attack Fernandina and the neighboring posts; but before it reached the spot the greater part of the troops garrisoned there had been withdrawn, under an order of February 23d, issued by General R. E. Lee, at that time in command of the district. The expedition therefore met with little opposition, and occupied all important points in the neighborhood of Cumberland Sound and the St. Mary's River, including Fernandina and Fort Clinch, St. Mary's, and Cumberland Island. Subsidiary expeditions were sent out from this new base, and St. Augustine and Jacksonville to the south, and Brunswick and St. Simon's Island to the north, also came into the possession of the Union forces.

The remainder of the year 1862, after the fall of Fort Pulaski [see Vol.II., p. 1],was passed by I)u Pont's squadron in maintaining the blockade and in strengthening the extended line of maritime occupation, which now reached from Georgetown, in South Carolina, to Mosquito Inlet, in Florida. Small encounters were frequent, and important captures of blockade-runners were made from time to time, but nothing occurred in the nature of a sustained offensive movement. A boat reconnoissance in April from the Penguin and Henry Andrew, at Mosquito Inlet, resulted in the capture of the party and the death of Budd and Mather, the commanding officers of the two ships. A small flotilla occupied the St. John's River, and was constantly engaged in conflicts with guerrillas on the banks of the stream and its tributaries. In one of these encounters Lieutenant John G. Sproston, of the Seneca, an officer of high reputation for gallantry, was killed. The yacht America, the famous winner of the Queen's Cup, was found sunk in one of the neighboring creeks and was recovered. In the North and South Edisto Lieutenant Rhind was actively occupied, and on April 29th, in the E. B. Hale, he captured and destroyed a battery. On the 13th of May the Confederate army steamer Planter was brought out of Charleston Harbor, in broad daylight, by the colored pilot Robert Smalls, and delivered to the blockading squadron. A week later, the Albatross and Norwich, under Commander Prentiss, steamed up to Georgetown, S. C., and, finding the works deserted, passed along the city wharves. No attack was made on the vessels; but Prentiss did not land, as he had no force of troops to hold the city. Toward the end of the same month Commander Drayton, in consequence of information given by the pilot Smalls, ascended the Stono River with a force of gun-boats, occasionally engaging the enemy.

In September, 1862, the Confederates in Florida attempted to regain possession of the St. John's River, and for this purpose constructed a fort at St. John's Bluff, arming it with heavy rifles. Commander Steedman, of the Paul Jones, then in command in the St. John's, supported by a force of troops under General John M. Brannan,1 attacked and captured the battery on the 5th of October. The expedition then made a demonstration two hundred [28] miles up the river. Later in the year a combined expedition, also under Steedman and Brannan, made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the bridge over the Pocotaligo River in South Carolina.

The first month of the year 1863 witnessed two serious disasters in the South Atlantic squadron. Toward the close of the month the force in Stono Inlet was composed of the Commodore McDonough, Lieutenant-Commander George Bacon, and the Isaac Smith, Acting-Lieutenant F. S. Conover. On the afternoon of the 30th Bacon sent the Smith up the Stono River to Legareville on a reconnoissance. Notwithstanding the vigilance of the lookouts, the Smith passed, without observing them, three batteries which the enemy had planted under a thick cover of trees at a bend in the river. The Smith was lying at anchor six hundred yards above the highest battery when it suddenly opened fire. The gun-boat replied, and Conover, seeing that he was caught in a trap, attempted to run down past the batteries, but upon reaching a point at the center of the enemy's concentrated fire, his vessel received a shot in the steam-chimney which disabled the engine. As there was neither wind nor tide to help him, Conover surrendered, after losing 8 killed and 17 wounded. The impossibility of bringing off the wounded prevented him from destroying the vessel. Upon hearing the firing, Bacon moved up the river in the Commodore McDonough to assist his consort, but when he arrived she had already surrendered, and he was compelled to withdraw to avoid a similar fate.

On the following day, the 31st, a second disaster overtook the squadron. Before daybreak on this date the force blockading Charleston was attacked by two Confederate iron-clad rams, the Palmetto State and Chicora, commanded by Flag-Officer D. N. Ingraham. The blockading vessels included the sloop-of-war Housatonic, the gun-boats Unadilla and Ottawa, and seven altered merchant vessels, of which the principal ones were the Mercedita, Augusta, Keystone State, Memphis, and Quaker City, none of which was fitted to engage a ship-of-war, even an unarmored one. The night was dark and thick, the blockading line was strung out over several miles, with long intervals between the vessels, and the arrangements for signaling were imperfect.

The first attack was made on the Mercedita by the Palmetto State. Approaching under cover of the darkness, the assailant was not observed until she was close aboard, and the guns could not be depressed sufficiently to reach her. At the moment of being hailed she fired her heavy rifle, and the shell passed through the Mercedita's condenser and steam-drum, exploding on the opposite side of the vessel. Stellwagen, the commander, finding his ship disabled, surrendered, and in response to a demand from the ram the first lieutenant, Abbott, was sent in a boat to her and gave a parole for the officers and crew.

The Palmetto State now joined the Chicora, which had already attacked the Keystone State, Commander Le Roy. The latter vessel, having been set on fire by the explosion of a shell in her hold, withdrew to extinguish the flames, but, returning presently, renewed the contest, looking for an opportunity to ram one of the Confederates. Her fire produced no impression on the rams, but, after a short struggle, she received a shot in both steam-drums which filled the ship forward with steam and rendered the engine useless. At the same time the ship was filling rapidly from the shot-holes already opened in her side, and Le Roy hauled down his flag and prepared to abandon her. No notice being taken of the surrender, Le Roy presently hoisted his colors again, and gradually withdrew from the scene of action.

Of the other ships, the Memphis, Quaker City, and Augusta took but slight part in the engagement, and the two latter only toward the end. In close action they would have run the risk of being disabled in the same manner as their consorts. The Housatonic, the largest vessel present, was at the other end of the blockading line, and, under the supposition that the firing was caused by blockade-runners, was not aware until daybreak of the necessity for her presence. By this time the rams had discontinued their attack and were returning to Charleston. The Housatonic exchanged shots with them at long range, but without inflicting material injury. A proclamation was issued on the same afternoon by General Beauregard and Flag-Officer Ingraham to the effect that the blockade was raised, and that the rams had sunk, dispersed, or driven off or out of sight the blockading fleet. Counter-statements were made by the captains of the squadron, showing that there had been no cessation of the blockade.

The attack of the rams disclosed the necessity of a more powerful squadron on the Charleston blockade, and the Navy Department had already taken steps to this end, having also in contemplation an active offensive movement against Charleston.2 The great broadside iron-clad New Ironsides had already arrived at Port Royal, and during January and February several monitors joined the station. The original Monitor, sent down for the same purpose at the close of December, had foundered off Hatteras, as already related. [See Vol. I., p. 745.] The Montauk and Passaic had reached their destination safely, and they were followed by the Patapsco, Nahant, Weehawken, Catskill, and Nauntucket, and by the experimental iron-clad Keokuk.

In view of the contemplated movement, Du Pont desired to give the monitors a preliminary trial, and for this purpose the Montauk, Commander John L. Worden, was sent to attack Fort McAllister, on the Great Ogeechee River. A line of obstructions had been placed in the river opposite the fort. The first attack was made January 27th, 1863. The enemy's range-marks having been removed by a party in boats, under Lieutenant-Commander Davis, the Montauk steamed up to a position 150 yards below the obstructions and came to anchor, her attendant gun-boats, the Seneca, Wissahickon, Dawn, and Williams, anchoring a mile astern of her. The bombardment continued for four hours, until all the Montauk's shells had been expended. Lying thus close under the fire of the fort, the [29]

The monitor “Montauk” destroying the Confederate privateer “Nashville,” near Fort McAllister, Ogeechee River, Georgia, February 28, 1863.

monitor was repeatedly hit, and nearly all the enemy's shot that did not hit came within a few feet of her. She was entirely uninjured. On the other hand, it was not apparent that any serious damage had been done to the fort, though its fire gradually slackened. The attack was renewed on the 1st of February, but at a greater distance, owing to the state of the tide. The monitor's shells appeared to do good execution in tearing up the parapets, but the Confederates, by constantly moving their guns, thwarted Worden's attempts to disable them. The Montauk was struck by heavy projectiles forty-six times, but still remained uninjured.

At the time of these attacks, the Confederate steamer Nashville, which had already done considerable service as a cruiser and as a blockade-runner, was lying in the Ogeechee waiting for an opportunity to run out. The prospect of her escaping and attacking the commerce of the United States gave the Government no little uneasiness. She had been sighted from time to time at her anchorage above the obstructions, but these protected her from capture, and upon the approach of the Montauk she always fled out of range. Her movements were closely watched, however, and late on the 27th of February Worden discovered that she had run aground a short distance above the barrier. Waiting until the next morning (28th), in order that he might have daylight for the work, Worden steamed up as close to the barrier as he thought it safe to go. From this point, directly under a hot fire from the fort, to which he made no reply, he attacked the Nashville. Only her upper works were visible across the intervening neck of land. Obtaining the range accurately, Worden opened upon her with his two guns, the 11-inch and the 15-inch, and the exploding shells soon set her on fire. After a short time a fog shut out the Confederate vessel from view, but the Montauk continued firing at intervals, according to the elevation and direction that had been already ascertained. When the fog lifted, the Nashville was discovered to be in flames, and just an hour after the beginning of the engagement her destruction was completed by the explosion of her magazine. The artillerymen in the fort did not fire with their usual accuracy, for the Montauk was struck only five times. In descending the river subsequently, she ran upon and exploded a torpedo which blew a hole in her bottom, and she was beached in the mud. Some days later, she was repaired and her efficiency was completely restored.

On the 30th of March a more protracted attack was made on the fort by the monitors Passaic, Patapsco, and Nahant, under Commander Drayton. The bombardment lasted eight hours, but, as Drayton said in his report, “no injury was done which a good night's work would not repair.”

After Drayton's bombardment, all attempts on Fort McAllister were abandoned, and the efforts of the squadron were directed wholly to the attack on Charleston. [30]

The only event of importance during the remainder of Du Pont's command was the capture of the Confederate iron-clad Atlanta. This vessel, formerly known as the Fingal, an English blockade-runner, had been converted at Savannah into an armored ram of the Merrimac type, armed with six heavy Brooke rifles and a spar-torpedo, and placed under the command of Commander William A. Webb. She was met on the 17th of June, in Wassaw Sound, by the monitors Weehawken, Captain John Rodgers, and Nahant, Commander John Downes. The Weehawken engaged her, firing five shots, of which four struck the Atlanta. The injury inflicted by these was enough to show that a protracted action would end in the demolition of the Confederate vessel, and she accordingly surrendered. She was towed to Port Royal, where the damages received were readily repaired.

1 Later a division commander in the Army of the Cumberland, to which he was transferred in April, 1863.--editors.

2 The history of the projected attack on Charleston is given by Admiral C. R. P. Rodgers in a following article.

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Warsaw Sound (Georgia, United States) (2)
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