Chapter 48: Potomac flotilla.
Increase of the Navy, and improvements in naval ships, during the year 1864.
The Potomac Flotilla during 1864 remained under the command of Commander Foxhall A. Parker
, a valuable officer, who conducted the affairs of his little squadron with so much efficiency that he was enabled to carry out all the objects for which the flotilla was intended.
The work of this department of the Navy was not brilliant, but it was useful.
Besides the duties involved in patroling the Potomac
, the Rappahannock River
was added to Commander Parker
There was at one time an extensive contraband trade between Virginia
and the lower part of Maryland
, by which the Confederates
frequently received large amounts of supplies; and the blockade-runners (such as they were) were quite as indefatigable in their attempts to provision the Confederates
as the larger vessels running the blockade on the coast.
The small craft that were engaged in this traffic between Maryland
were well adapted for the business, and calculated to avoid detection.
The traders themselves were reckless and unscrupulous men, not working with any patriotic feeling to serve the Confederate
cause, but to enrich themselves by the large returns they received for the supplies so much needed by private and public parties.
No greater vigilance was exhibited anywhere than was shown by the officers and men of the Potomac
flotilla; and what was done by the blockaders on the coast on a large scale was equally well done by the Potomac
flotilla on a small one.
It was impossible to break up this blockade-running altogether, with such a long line of communication to be patroled, and with so small a number of vessels and boats to do it. Opportunities could almost always be found to elude the blockade, and the temptations were so great that men fearlessly risked their lives to secure the large profits that awaited them in case of a successful run. They were aided by sympathetic friends on either side, who in most cases enabled them to evade detection when they were chased to the shore.
Numbers of them were, however, captured while in transit, while many of their boats were ferreted out of their hiding-places, captured and destroyed.
Most of this work had to be done at night, and throughout the war the most wearing vigilance was kept up by the different commanders and officers who had been employed in the Potomac
Besides the watchfulness required in pursuit of the blockade-runners, the flotilla was at all times ready to give its active and willing co-operation to any military movement, and this assistance was frequently called for. While the Federal Army
was in the vicinity of Fredericksburg
, in the spring
, the services of the smaller steamers were constantly invoked.
They opened communication between military forces, cleared large numbers of torpedoes from the river, made it safe for the transports to move with supplies or troops, drove the Confederate
bushwhackers from the banks of the river, and returned with the sick and wounded from the field of battle.
The gun-boats that served upon this duty were of very light draft, purchased for this particular work, which will account for so many vessels of inferior character being in the Navy.
Consequently, those who served on board of them in a hostile country were exposed to more than ordinary peril.
It was wonderful to see these slightlybuilt vessels go into action against the Confederate batteries, which one would suppose
from their rapid firing would soon cut them to pieces; but the stern discipline existing and precise aiming of the somewhat heavy guns of these “pasteboard” craft would, nine times out of ten, carry the day.
In these operations Commander Parker
made his mark, assisted mostly by gallant volunteer officers, who, towards the end of the war, became very expert in all that related to this kind of warfare.
Had a larger field of operations offered to Commander Parker
, he was just the man who would have done infinite credit to himself and have conferred honor upon the Navy.
The trying work and perilous duties, with the effects of a malarial climate, caused him to contract disease, which brought him to a premature death not long after the close of the war. The Navy lost in him a brave and gallant officer, who had proved himself to be efficient in whatever
position he was placed.
There were many like him who succumbed to disease and exposure, who, but for the war, might be living to-day.
Increase of the Navy and improvements in naval ships up to December, 1864.
As the war progressed, it became evident that the Federal Government
should not only build vessels for blockading the Southern
coast and patroling the Western
and Southern rivers, but for the protection of their own coast against a foreign foe, and for the capture of the Confederate cruisers which were then committing such havoc upon Federal commerce.
No one knew at what time the United States
might be involved in war with England
, particularly the former country, which had afforded the South
so much assistance in fitting out cruisers, that matters could not go on any longer without subjecting the Federal Government
to the contempt of all civilized Powers.
Although the Confederate Government only managed to procure vessels from England
through shifts and stratagems, yet it was very evident that the British Government
was not taking vigorous steps to put a stop to a practice in violation of its “Foreign Enlistment Act,” and was oblivious to the fact that these cruisers were now and then destroying British goods in Federal vessels.
They were willing to suffer the smaller evil that the greater good might accrue to English commerce, which it was hoped would, through the destruction of American shipping, have a monopoly all over the world.
If British goods, properly documented, were not respected on board American vessels, the end would be the destruction of all American commerce — as was seen by the unhesitating manner in which Semmes
directed every vessel he captured, and chose to consider subject to condemnation, to be consigned to the flames.
There is a certain amount of respect which every civilized nation demands for its commerce — that it shall only be captured by belligerents under certain laws laid down for the protection of neutrals, and the country having its commerce subjected to captures is in duty bound to see that the law is respected; while it is the duty of each belligerent to instruct its naval commanders accordingly.
But the Confederate Government took no steps in this matter, leaving its agents to work out their ends, and “burn, sink and destroy” at their discretion.
It seemed as if they did not consider themselves responsible for anything that might happen on the ocean.
The Confederacy was incapable of negotiating with foreign Powers, who could not recognize its diplomatic agents without practically acknowledging the independence of the Confederate States
; and this point should not only have warned neutral Powers against granting belligerent rights, but it should have emboldened them to resort first to emphatic remonstrances against the manner in which the captures of the Confederates
were made, and then to sending out cruisers to enforce their demands, and thus put an end to the violation of their own laws.
The right to capture an enemy's commerce on the high seas is fully recognized by the law of nations; but that law should only apply to regularly recognized governments.
The Confederacy was not and could not be held responsible for anything done by its cruisers, as was shown in the end by its collapse.
The United States
alone could then be held responsible for what the Confederates
had done against the commerce of any other government.
There was in the latter part of 1864 a growing feeling in the Federal States
against the action of Great Britain
, which, though the latter began to pay more attention to its neutral obligations (owing to the strong protests of Mr. Adams
, Federal minister at the Court of St. James), still allowed these cruisers to escape to sea; and several ironclad rams, built by John Laird
& Co., were preparing for sea, at Liverpool
These rams would, no doubt, have escaped but for the earnest remonstrances of the American
minister, who in the most emphatic manner declared to the British Government
that, to permit these vessels to depart, would be considered an act of war. Under these circumstances Her Majesty's Government had no difficulty in finding reasons for seizing and detaining the rains, after a three months controversy over the matter.
Among the most outspoken of the members of the Federal Cabinet
in regard to the violation of neutrality by the British Government
in permitting the Confederate cruisers to escape its vigilance, was Mr. Gideon Welles
, the Secretary of the Navy
He had appealed to Congress time after time to appropriate money to enable the Navy Department to build a class of vessels that would make it possible for him to put a stop to the depredations of the Confederate
commerce-destroyers, but Congress dealt out money in such insufficient amounts that Mr. Welles
could not at once equip the class of vessels desired, not only to put a stop to the destruction of Federal commerce, but to show foreign Powers that, even with the great strain that was laid upon Federal resources, the United States
could not only fit out cruisers against the “Alabamas,” but could build such vessels as would do good service against foreign ships-of-war, in case the Federal Government
was driven to resort to the last extremity to preserve its prestige and its honor.
. in his annual reports, was unceasing in his denunciations of the remissness of the British Government
and the depredations of the Confederate cruisers, whom in his loyal zeal he always maintained were pirates; and he showered invectives on the commanders of those vessels in language not altogether parliamentary, but which he honestly believed to be the truth.
had, no doubt, made efforts, with the intelligent aid of his assistant, Mr. Fox
, to fit out sea vessels of a character that could pursue these cruisers with effect; but, unfortunately, there were obstacles in the way which for a time impeded the progress of his plans.
In the first place, Mr. Welles
attached too much importance to the blockade of the Southern
ports and listened too much to the clamors of commanders of squadrons for more vessels on their stations; for inferior-built steamers could have performed that duty as well as the sea-going corvettes.
Then, his plans were interfered with by Commodore Wilkes
, who not only had a squadron of twelve vessels with which he patrolled the Gulf
and West Indies
, but also seized upon the fastest cruisers the Secretary of the Navy
had sent on special duty to go in pursuit of the Confederates
, and detained the vessels belonging to the neighboring stations and attached them to his squadron.
In one instance, at least, there was a chance of capturing the Alabama
, which had touched at all the ports where her pursuer followed her, but the latter was just a month too late.
Though the Navy Department may have been at fault in its judgment in not sending fast vessels to the channels of trade in the first instance, it more than made up for it by putting its whole energies to work to place the Navy in a condition to meet any emergency that might offer, even at the end of the war.
The Department, as well as the Administration, had been very much abused for the depredations of the Confederate cruisers, especially by those who were sufferers, and the opposition party were glad of the opportunity to berate the Government
for its want of forethought in not anticipating the evils that were falling upon the Federal
For the first time Congress began to be aroused to a sense of the danger that threatened the country, not only by the complete destruction of the foreign trade, but also the danger of being driven into a foreign war to preserve the Federal
honor, if not its nationality.
Under the plea of providing against the commerce-destroyers of the Confederacy
, large strides were made in building up the Navy; which it will be seen in the end was the wisest policy to pursue, as it taught those Powers that were forgetting their neutral obligations that the policy they had hitherto pursued would no more be tolerated, and showed them that the longer the war lasted the stronger the Federal Government
would grow, no matter what might be the drafts upon its treasury.
For attacks on forts and for river work the Federal Government
had by 1863 a sufficient number of vessels to close the Confederate
ports; and it was determined to build a number of large vessels that would be superior to any ships of their class abroad, not only in the power of their guns but in their speed.
At that moment the exigencies of the
times had stimulated the inventive faculties of American ship and engine builders to make vast improvements in vessels-of-war — in machinery, in naval ordnance and in projectiles.
At the commencement of the war, the Federals
may be said to have been in their infancy in such matters, and had to make great exertions to catch up with the powers of Europe
; but by the end of 1864 they were quite in a condition to vindicate their rights and rebuke Great Britain
for the unfair advantage they had taken in their hour of distress.
Besides a number of single-turreted Monitors (the names of which have often appeared in these pages), there were built seven or eight double-turreted Monitors of the Monadnock
class, which alone were quite capable of guarding the coast against the heaviest ships in the French
Seven vessels were building at the Navy Yards
, in which, to gain great speed, some of the armament had to be sacrificed.
This class of vessels was represented by the Ammonoosuc
and the Chattanooga
There were also in process of construction twenty heavily armed vessels.
Ten of these, of the Guerriere
class, were to have covered decks, and to carry twenty heavy guns; two were to be protected against the effect of shells.
The remaining ten built at the Navy Yards
were of somewhat less size, but to be of great speed; and as nearly all of these were of full-sail power.
they were expected to maintain their positions at sea for at least three months, and to be used on the most distant stations.
Among the wonders of the age at that time were built a set of vessels called the Miantonomoh
class — a wooden vessel designed by the naval constructors, and built at the Navy Yards
turrets, the machinery designed by Engineer-in-chief B. F. Isherwood
, chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering
; with a high rate of speed, perfect ventilation, impregnable, and with the enormous battery of four 15-inch guns, all combined in a vessel of the moderate rate of 1,560 tons, drawing only 12 feet of water.
Others of the same type, with increased tonnage and of still higher speed, were also in the course of construction, and the Federal Government
had, apparently, realized at last the importance of having a powerful Navy, by which alone it could maintain its position among the nations of the earth.
's earnest letters and Mr. Adams
' strong protests may have had some influence upon the British Government
in deciding them to carry out the terms of their “Foreign Enlistment Act,” but there was a stronger argument in the heavy ships and guns that the Federals
were building so rapidly; and this will ever be the case as long as we maintain a properly equipped naval force to prevent any interference in our affairs by foreign Powers, and to enable us to assert ourselves whenever occasion may require
The following table will explain all that the Navy Department had done from the outbreak of the war, and the exhibit shows that a great amount of zeal, intelligence and practical ability was manifested by those who were engaged in building up the Navy.
It will be seen in the end that it did more to establish the standing of the United States
abroad than even the advance of the Federal
armies; and, among other things, it completely stopped all attempts of the Confederates
to fit out cruisers in neutral ports.
It was at this crisis that Mr. Fox
, Assistant Secretary of the Navy
, did so much by his influence and his progressive mind, in Congress and in the Department, in furthering all the plans brought to the Secretary
's notice; and it is only fair to say that, without his assistance and the ability he displayed in all professional matters, the Navy Department would not have reached the point of efficiency which at that time existed.
This was appreciated by officers throughout the service; and it is evident, from the latitude given Mr. Fox
by the Secretary of the Navy
, that the latter leaned upon him as his ablest adviser.
Report of the Secretary of the Navy.
A tabular statement is appended of the number of naval vessels, of every class, that had been constructed, or were in the course of construction, since March 4, 1861:
General exhibit of the Navy, including vessels under construction, Dec., 1864.
of vessels. ||Description. ||No.
of guns. ||No.
of tons. |
|113 ||Screw steamers especially constructed for naval purposes ||1,426 ||169,231 |
|52 ||Paddle-wheel steamers especially constructed for naval purposes. ||524 ||51,878 |
|71 ||Iron-clad vessels ||275 ||80,596 |
|149 ||Screw-steamers purchased, captured, &c., fitted for naval purposes ||614 ||60,380 |
|174 ||Paddle-wheel steamers purchased, captured, &c., fitted for naval purposes ||921 ||78,762 |
|112 ||Sailing vessels of all classes ||850 ||69,549 |
|671 ||Total ||4,610 ||510,396 |
Comparative statement of the Navy, December, 1863 and 1864.
of vessels. ||Description. ||No.
of guns. ||No.
of tons. |
|671 ||Total navy, December, 1864 ||4,610 ||510,396 |
|588 ||Total navy, December, 1863 ||4,443 ||467,967 |
|83 ||Actual increase for the year ||167 ||42,429 |
|26 ||Total losses by shipwreck, in battle, capture, &c., during the year ||146 ||13,084 |
|109 ||Actual addition to the navy from December, 1863, to December, 1864 ||313 ||55,513 |
Vessels constructed for the Navy since March 4, 1861.
|No. ||Description. ||Guns. ||Tonnage |
|7 ||Screw sloops, Ammonoosuc class, 17 to 19 guns, 3,213 to 3,713 tons each ||121 ||23,637 |
|1 ||Screw sloop Idaho, 8 guns, 2,638 tons ||8 ||2,638 |
|8 ||Screw sloops, spar deck, Java class, 25 guns and 3,177 tons each ||200 ||25,416 |
|2 ||Screw sloops, spar deck, Hassalo class, 25 guns and 3,365 tons each ||50 ||6,730 |
|10 ||Screw sloops, clippers, single deck, “Contoocook” class.
13 guns and 2,348 tons each ||130 ||23,480 |
|4 ||Screw sloops, Kearsarge class, 8 to 12 guns, and averaging 1,023 tons each ||40 ||4,092 |
|6 ||Screw sloops, Shenandoah class, 8 to 16 guns and 1,367 to 1,533 tons each ||74 ||8,584 |
|2 ||Screw sloops, Ossipee class, 10 to 13 guns and 1,240 tons each ||23 ||2,480 |
|8 ||Screw sloops, Serapis class, 12 guns and 1,380 tons each ||96 ||11,040 |
|4 ||Screw sloops, Resaca class, 8 guns and 831 to 900 tons each ||32 ||3,462 |
|8 ||Screw sloops, Nipsic class, 7 to 12 guns and 593 tons each ||71 ||4,744 |
|23 ||Screw gun-boats, Unadilla class, 4 to 7 guns and 507 tons each ||123 ||11,661 |
|9 ||Screw tugs, Pinta class, 2 guns and 350 tons each ||18 ||3,150 |
|2 ||Screw tugs, Pilgrim class, 2 guns and 170 tons each ||4 ||340 |
|13 ||Paddle-wheel steamers, double-enders, Octorara class, 7 to 11 guns and 730 to 955 tons each ||98 ||11,024 |
|26 ||Paddle-wheel steamers, double-enders.
Sassacus class, 10 to 14 guns and 974 tons each ||272 ||25,324 |
|7 ||Paddle-wheel steamers, of iron, double-enders, Mohongo class, 10 guns and 1,030 tons each ||70 ||7,210 |
|1 ||Paddle-wheel steamer, of iron, double-ender, Wateree, 12 guns and 974 tons ||12 ||974 |
|141 || ||1,142 ||175,986 |
|No. ||Description. ||Guns. ||Ton'age |
|2 ||Sea-going casemated vessels, Dunderberg and New Ironsides ||28 ||8,576 |
|3 ||Sea-going turret vessels, Puritan, Dictator, and Roanoke. ||12 ||9,733 |
|4 ||Double turret vessels, Kalamazoo class, 4 guns and 3,200 tons each ||16 ||12,800 |
|4 ||Double turret vessels, Monadnock class, 4 guns and 1,564 tons each. ||16 ||6,256 |
|1 ||Double turret vessel, Onondaga, 4 guns and 1,250 tons ||4 ||1,250 |
|4 ||Double turret vessels, Winnebago class, 4 guns and 970 tons each ||16 ||3,880 |
|8 ||Single turret vessels, Canonicus class, 2 guns and 1,034 tons each ||16 ||8,272 |
|9 ||Single turret vessels, Passaic class, 2 to 4 guns and 844 tons each ||21 ||7,596 |
|20 ||Single turret vessels, Yazoo class, 1 to 2 guns and 614 tons each ||35 ||12,280 |
|2 ||Single turret vessels, Sandusky and Marietta, 2 guns each ||4 ||953 |
|3 ||Single turret vessels, Ozark, Neosho, and Osage, 2 to 7 guns each ||13 ||1,624 |
|2 ||Casemated vessels, Tuscumbia and Chillicothe, 5 and 3 guns respectively ||8 ||768 |
|62 || ||189 ||73,988 |
|203 ||Total ||1,631 ||249,974 |
The foregoing tabular statement exhibits the number and description of vessels that had been constructed, or put in the course of construction, for the Navy after the institution of active measures for the suppression of the rebellion.
Some of them were built by contract; others by the Government
, in the several Navy Yards
If we add to the number those constructed under similar circumstances, and within the same period, that had been lost by shipwreck, in battle, etc., viz.: the sloops Housatonic
,” and the iron-clads Monitor
, the aggregate would be 210 vessels, 1,675 guns and 256,755 tons.
Picket-boats, and small craft built for especial purposes, are not embraced in this statement.