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Chapter 53: operations of the West Gulf Squadron in the latter part of 1864, and in 1865.--joint operations in Mobile Bay by Rear-Admiral Thatcher and General Canby.

  • Gallant services of Commodore Palmer
  • -- blockade-runners on Texas coast. -- demoralizing tenacity of Confederate government. -- cutting out of the schooner Golden Belle. -- capture of the Delphina, Annie Sophia, and pet, prize-laden schooners. -- the steamer will-o‘--the-wisp boarded and set on fire. -- exciting and hazardous adventures. -- the Confederate privateer Anna Dale captured and burned. -- conspicuous gallantry of the volunteer element of the navy. -- Acting-rear-admiral Thatcher relieves Commodore Palmer. -- shelling Confederate batteries near Mobile. -- capture of Spanish Fort, forts Alexis, Huger and Tracy. -- Mobile surrenders. -- operations of the gun-boats in rivers of Alabama. -- Confederate rams Huntsville and Tuscaloosa sunk. -- Federal gun-boats sunk by torpedoes. -- Confederate gun-boats and other property surrendered to the navy. -- conditions of surrender. -- instructions to Flag-Captain Simpson. -- parole given by and list of officers and men surrendered. -- entrance of gun-boats into blakely river. -- complimentary letter relative to Commodore Palmer. -- destruction of Confederate ram Webb. -- Galveston surrenders. -- list of vessels and officers of West Gulf Squadron, 1865.

Commodore James S. Palmer commanded the West Gulf Blockading Squadron up to the time Rear-Admiral Thatcher took command in the latter part of February or early part of March, 1865. After being relieved, he continued to give Rear-Admiral Thatcher that hearty and effective support that always distinguished him in his former commands under Admiral Farragut on the Mississippi and elsewhere, marking him as one of those cool and gallant men who perhaps in time of peace would not attract much attention, but whose services in time of war are strongly marked by judgment and gallantry combined. These qualities always leave a strong impression on a ship's company that has the good fortune to possess such a commander. Whatever duty Commodore Palmer undertook he performed it bravely and intelligently, and this is seen in the records of the war, where the commanders under whom he served never parted with him without the warmest eulogiums in his praise, all of which were deserved. While he had the temporary command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron he kept the vessels of the fleet actively employed, which will be better appreciated and understood by a brief outline of the operations.

Commodore Palmer was one of those who encouraged intrepidity in young officers; and as there was not a large field for daring deeds, and as the duty of the vessels under his command was chiefly confined to the dull routine of blockading the Texas coast, no opportunity was lost to obtain distinction, and at the same time inflict injury upon the enemy.

Since the closing of the Confederate ports on the Atlantic coast, the blockade-runners [776] made attempts to reach the coast of Texas, though it would seem that it was scarcely profitable for them to carry on their illicit trade in the Gulf, where they could be so easily cut off, and at the time when the war must have appeared to any one with an observant mind to be so rapidly approaching a close. But as long as there was life there was hope, and the Confederate Government, to the very last moment of its existence, put on a bold front and acted as if in the heyday of its power. The only way it could keep up its credit abroad was by now and then getting out a load of cotton on a steamer, or some of the schooners that had been left to them after the several raids that had been made on such coasting vessels

Commodore (afterwards Rear-Admiral) James S. Palmer.

as they possessed. Though the communications with Texas and the northern portion of the Confederacy had been almost entirely cut off by the vigilant watchfulness of the Navy on the coast and on the great river which divided the Confederacy, yet the Texans were as active as ever in carrying on operations, particularly in the introduction of arms of all kinds, provisions, clothing and military stores, apparently with a view to carrying on the war on their own account if Richmond fell, or to offer a place of retreat to those dissatisfied spirits who could see nothing good in a union with the Northern States. The Federal invasions had, so far, been so unsuccessful, and were, as a rule, so badly conducted, that the Texan soldiers — a very brave set of men — had never felt that they had been worsted in the least. On the contrary, they had not only prevented the Federal generals from making a permanent lodgment in their State, but had given a large quota of their troops to assist the Confederates in every other quarter of the Southern domain. It would have been, indeed, a grievous infliction if the Texans had succeeded in drawing to their State the remains of the Confederate armies who had not been driven to surrender, for they might have kept up the war two or three years longer, with great loss to the North in expense and with no gain to themselves.

But the same demoralization of the Confederacy which was so painfully apparent in Richmond was also felt in Texas. Though they appeared to be imbued with the popular enthusiasm that had done so much to prolong the contest, and though they had given as many proofs of devotion to the cause and evidences of endurance and noble sacrifice, yet they were not carried away with the bitterness of feeling that seemed to animate the people further north.

The Texans could see plainly enough that official mismanagement on the part of the Confederate authorities, together with the Union victories and the popular resolution of the Northern people to prosecute the war with renewed vigor, had made it probable [777] that Texas would become the great battleground, and that, whatever way the tide of war might turn, the State would be impoverished. So far, Texas had borne no hardships that soldiers could not reasonably endure, for her plains were full of hogs and cattle, and her fields were well supplied with corn, and they had sufficient military ardor to uphold them to the last.

But there were large amounts of cotton on hand from which no revenue was derived, and attempts were now and then made to get the fabric to market in anything that would float, which, in many cases, succeeded when success was least expected. Emboldened by their first attempts, the blockade-runners from the Texan ports became more audacious, so much so that the Federal naval officers were put upon their mettle, and hence resulted a number of small but gallant affairs which, in justice to the officers concerned in them, should not be omitted. They are the small links that make up the chain of history, and were as important in the eves of the performers as more prominent affairs.

On the 26th of December, 1864, a large schooner, named the Golden Belle, was lying in Galveston harbor, watching a chance to evade the blockaders outside, and make a run to Havana or Nassau. Acting-Ensign N. A. Blume, of the Virginia, asked and received permission from his commanding officer, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant Charles H. Brown, to go in and cut out the schooner. Obtaining volunteers from the crew for the expedition, he left with the third cutter about 8:30 P. M. Having five miles to pull against a heavy head sea, Mr. Blume did not reach Boliver Point and get in sight of the schooner until 1 A. M. of the 27th. She was lying about a quarter of a mile from Fort Jackson, about a mile from Fort Greene, and less than four hundred yards from the Confederate guard-schooner Lecompte. When within five hundred yards of the schooner, a light was seen moving about her decks. The boat passed her and came up astern, not being discovered till alongside. She was then immediately boarded and carried, and the prisoners secured. The captors immediately made sail, slipped the schooner cable and stood down the bay, the guardboat supposing that she had started out to run the blockade. Coolness and clever management was manifested in piloting the Belle out of Galveston harbor, which is an intricate one. In going out. the prize had to pass almost within hail of Fort Point on Galveston Island, then find her way in the dark through the main channel and cross the bar at the right point; all of which was done without a mistake. At daylight, the fleet was sighted bearing northwest, and that morning the owner of the Golden Belle could see her from Galveston carefully anchored under the guns of the Federals.

As it resulted, there was no loss of life on this expedition, and the glamour which generally attends a bloody affair was missing; but it was none the less a dangerous one, and all engaged in it deserve as much credit as if some had been shot. We have made it a rule to mention the names of the participants when good work was performed, and, this being a case in point, the following are entitled to a place: N. A. Blume, Acting-Ensign; William Stevenson, Master-at-Arms; James Webster, Gunner's Mate; Thomas Wallace, Coxswain; Jacob Bowman, Captain Forecastle; William Thompson, Captain Forecastle; Augustus Miller, Captain After-guard; Peter Miller, Seaman; Thomas K. Fenley, Landsman.

On January 24th, 1865, quite as clever an affair took place off Calcasieu River, by a cutting-out expedition. under Lieutenant-Commander Richard W. Meade, which was a complete success without any casualties. A three-masted schooner, loaded with cotton, was lying at the second bend of the Calcasieu River, about two and a half miles from its mouth, ready to slip out at the first opportunity, and the object of the expedition was her capture. As a large force of the enemy was encamped close at hand, it was deemed best to take a force sufficiently large to insure success. Lieutenant-Commander Meade accordingly fitted out the Chocura's launch and first cutter, and took forty men of her crew under his personal command. The night of the 22d of January was chosen for the attempt, and as it was cold and dark, with drizzling rain and a norther blowing, it was just such a night as a blockade-runner would select to evade the blockaders. The party left the Chocura at dark and pulled in silently for the river. Just as they entered it, the schooner was discovered coming down under sail with a fresh breeze. Had the boats been ten minutes later she would have reached open water and escaped. She was at once boarded and carried; but, unfortunately, her captain saw the boats before they reached his vessel, and, putting his helm hard down and letting fly his sheets, ran the schooner hard and fast aground on the flats close to the beach and not far from the enemy's force. Six prisoners were secured at once, and a boat that was towing astern was seen to push off and pull rapidly up the river, in which, doubtless, some of the crew escaped. The prize proved to be the schooner Delphina, with one hundred and eighty bales of cotton on board--one of those small ventures the Texans were in [778] the habit of making to raise money, which, though small in quantity, was none the less valuable to the captors when it could be secured. This cargo would have been worth in

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