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Chapter 7: the siege of Charleston to the close of 1863.--operations in Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas.

There was comparative quiet along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia for some time after the attack of the iron-clad squadron on Fort Sumter. Dupont kept a careful watch over the movements of the Confederates, especially those on Morris Island. He had been instructed not to allow them to erect any more fortifications on that strip of land, for it had been determined to seize it, and begin a regular and systematic siege of Charleston by troops and ships.

General Hunter was relieved of the command of the Department of the South, and General Q. A. Gillmore, who captured Fort Pulaski the year before,1 was assigned to it.

June 2, 1863.
He arrived at Hilton Head on the 12th of June, and immediately assumed command. He found there not quite eighteen thousand land troops, mostly veterans. A greater portion of them were the men left there by General Foster. The lines of his Department did not extend far into the interior, but were of great length, parallel with the coast. He had to picket a line about two hundred and fifty miles in length, besides establishing posts at different points. This service left him not more than eleven thousand men that might be safely concentrated for operations directly against Charleston. He had at his disposal ninety-six heavy guns, but only eighty were effective, a dozen 13-inch mortars being too large. He was well supplied with materials of every kind to carry on a siege, and he worked diligently in preparations for it. The National forces were then in possession of most of the sea-coast islands west of the Stono River, and also of Folly Island, eastward of Stono inlet, where their pickets confronted those of the Confederates on Morris Island, at Light-House inlet.

At about the time of Gillmore's arrival, rumors reached Dupont that his blockading vessels were in danger from a very powerful iron-clad ram, which for fourteen months had been in preparation at Savannah, and was then completed. The rumor was true. A swift British blockade-runner, named Fingal, built in the Clyde, which had gone up the Savannah River full eighteen months before with a valuable cargo, and had not been able to get out to sea again, had been converted into a warrior which the Confederates believed would be a match for any two monitors then afloat. She was thoroughly armed with a coat of thick oak and pine, covered with heavy [199] bars of iron. She bore four great guns, and was provided with a powerful beak. She was named Atlanta, and her commander was Lieutenant W. A. Webb, formerly of the National Navy, who had a crew of one hundred and sixty men.2

Deserters from the Atlanta reported her ready for work, and Admiral Dupont sent the Weehawken, Captain Rodgers, and Nahant, Commander Downes, to Wassaw Sound, to watch her. She was considered by her commander a match for both, and on the morning of the 17th of June, she was seen moving rapidly down the Wilmington River to attack them, accompanied by two wooden gun-boats of Tattnall's Mosquito Fleet, which were intended to tow up to Savannah the captured monitors. After the battle, the Atlanta was to proceed to sea, and destroy or disperse the blockading squadrons off Charleston and Wilmington. She was provided with instruments, and with stores of every kind for a long cruise, especially of choice liquors. No one among the Confederates doubted her invincibility. The gun-boats that accompanied her were crowded with people from Savannah, many of them women, who went down to see the fight and enjoy the victory; and when the National vessels appeared in sight, Captain Webb assured the “audience” that the Yankee monitors would be in tow before breakfast.

Like many prophesies of the Confederates, Webb's was not fulfilled, and the spectators were grievously disappointed. As the ram pushed swiftly toward the Weehawken, the latter held back its fire until its antagonist was within short range, when a gun, sighted by Rodgers himself, sent a fifteen-inch solid shot, which carried away the top of the Atlanta's pilot-house, wounded two of her pilots, and sent her aground. Rodgers fired only four more shots. The last one struck the ram point blank, fearfully bent her iron armor, and shivered twelve inches of live-oak planking and five of Georgia pine back of it. One man was killed and seventeen were wounded by the blow, when Webb ran up a white flag. In the space of fifteen minutes after the first shot was fired, the Atlanta was prisoner to the Weehawken, and the astonished Webb said to his crew, “Providence, for some good reason, has interfered with our plans, and we have failed of success. I would advise you to submit quietly to the fate that has overtaken you.”

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