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Naval actions along the shore

A busy scene on the James, 1864: army tugs 4 and 5 in the foreground; the monitor “Onondaga” in the offing — with Grant at City Point, the river became the artery for army and navy communication


A ferryboat ready for battle Take away the background of this picture of the “Commodore Perry,” substitute for it the lonely shore of the Carolina sounds or the Virginia rivers lined with men in gray uniforms, and you have an exact reproduction of how this old converted ferryboat looked when going into action. Here the men have been called to quarters for gun-drill. The gun-captains are at their places and the crews with training lines in hand await the order from the officers above to aim and fire. Many times was this scene repeated aboard the “Commodore Perry” after she sailed with the motley fleet that Admiral Goldsborough led against Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in January, 1862. In addition to her four 9-inch smooth-bores, the “Perry” carried a 12-pounder rifle and a 100-pounder rifle, it being the policy to equip the light-draft gunboats with the heaviest armament that they could possibly carry. Under command of the brave Lieutenant Charles W. Flusser, the guns of the “Perry” were kept hot as she skurried about the sounds and up the rivers, gaining a foothold for the Federal forces. Flusser, after a record of brilliant service in recovering inch by inch the waters of the Carolinas, lost his life in the “Miami” in the engagement with the “Albemarle.”


An emergency gunboat from the New York ferry service This craft, the “Commodore Perry,” was an old New York ferryboat purchased and hastily pressed into service by the Federal navy to help solve the problem of patrolling the three thousand miles of coast, along which the blockade must be made effective. In order to penetrate the intricate inlets and rivers, light-draft fighting-vessels were required, and the most immediate means of securing these was to purchase every sort of merchant craft that could possibly be adapted to the purposes of war, either as a fighting-vessel or as a transport. The ferryboat in the picture has been provided with guns and her pilot-houses armored. A casemate of iron plates has been provided for the gunners. The Navy Department purchased and equipped in all one hundred and thirty-six vessels in 1861, and by the end of the year had increased the number of seamen in the service from 7,600 to over 22,000. Many of these new recruits saw their first active service aboard the converted ferryboats, tugboats, and other frail and unfamiliar vessels making up the nondescript fleet that undertook to cut off the commerce of the South. The experience thus gained under very unusual circumstances placed them of necessity among the bravest sailors of the navy.


The “Commodore Perry.” The “Commodore Perry,” under Lieutenant-Commander C. W. Flusser, was in the division of Commander Rowan, which distinguished itself at Roanoke Island. An old converted ferryboat, she was on the advance line of the action of February 10, 1862, when the signal for a dash at the Confederate gunboats was given. She pursued and captured the “Sea Bird,” the flagship of Captain Lynch, C. S. N., upon that occasion, making prisoners of nearly all her officers and crew.

On July 9, 1862, she led two other frail gunboats up the Roanoke River on a reconnaissance. Commander Flusser's orders were to go to Hamilton; and despite the fact that the river banks were lined with sharpshooters, he braved their fire for ten hours, reached his destination, took possession of the Confederate steamer “Nelson,” and returned with his prize. Flusser in the old “Perry” achieved a brilliant record on the shallow Carolina waters, where he finally lost his life.


A plucky light-draft

The navy ashore — crew of the “foster” with howitzers

The gunboat “Massasoit While the Federals with both army and navy closed in upon Richmond, heroic efforts were made by the Confederates to drive them back. Batteries were built along the river banks for the purpose of harassing the gunboats, and it was frequently necessary to land the crews of vessels — such as this detachment from the army gunboat “Foster,” near Point of Rocks — in order effectually to drive off hostile detachments. In the lower picture the “Canonicus,” one of the newer monitors, is seen coaling on the James. Under Commander E. G. Parrott, the “Canonicus” participated in the six-hour engagement with Battery Dantzler and the Confederate gunboats on June 21, 1864, and on August 16th and 18th, she, with other vessels, engaged the “Virginia” and the “Richmond” and Confederate troops under General R. E. Lee, to cover the advance of Federals under General Butler. The “Canonicus” participated in the Fort Fisher expedition, and to her belongs the honor of capturing the British blockade-runner “Deer” off Charleston, February 18, 1865. In the center appears the gunboat “Massasoit.” In the last action that took place with the Confederate flotilla on the James, at Trent's Reach, January 24, 1865, it was the “Massasoit” that received the only damage from the guns of the hostile vessels and the battery at Howlett's house. In the two-hour action after the return of the “Onondaga” up-stream, five men on the “Massasoit” were wounded. She was one of the third-class double-ender armored vessels and mounted ten guns. During this action she was commanded by Lieutenant G. W. Sumner, who displayed the utmost coolness and bravery in handling his vessel.

The monitor “Canonicus


The movements of the naval forces on the Atlantic coast south of Cape Charles and Cape Henry, and along the borders of the Gulf States, were primarily to forward the maintenance of a strict blockade, and secondly, to act in cooperation with the various land expeditions in the establishment of naval bases and the convoying of troops intended for inland service. The armed ships of the navy lent their mighty aid in the reduction of the formidable forts that commanded the chief ports of entry.

Besides the universal adoption of armor and the recurrence to the ram of ancient days, there were introduced three important principles. They were not new — the minds of our forefathers had roughly imagined them — but they were for the first time put successfully into practice. The first was the revolving turret; the second, the torpedo, in both its forms, offensive and defensive, and the third was the “submergible” and actually the submarine, the diving ship of to-day. The purposes and methods of their employment have not been changed; only in the details of construction and in the perfection of machinery and mechanism can the difference be seen.

The first notice of the torpedo in Civil War annals is when two were found floating down the Potomac on July 7, 1861. They were made of boiler-iron and were intended for Commander Craven's little flotilla that was protecting Washington. Out in the West, when Foote and his gunboats made their way up the Tennessee they actually steamed past, without touching, some mines that had drifted out of the channel. The gunboat Cairo was the first victim of this new style of warfare, in the Yazoo River, December 12, 1862.

With the exception of the actions along the Potomac and in [267]

The beginnings of submarine warfare: a Confederate photograph of 1864--the first “David,” figuring in an heroic exploit This peaceful scene, photographed by Cook, the Confederate photographer at Charleston, in 1864, preserves one of the most momentous inventions of the Confederate navy. Back of the group of happy children lies one of the “Davids” or torpedo-boats with which the Confederates made repeated attempts to destroy the Federal vessels in Charleston Harbor, and thus raise the blockade. The Confederates were the first to employ torpedoes in the war, at Aquia Creek, July 7, 1861. Captain F. D. Lee, C. S. N., was working on designs for a torpedo ram early in the war, and Captain M. M. Gray, C. S. N., in charge of the submarine defenses of Charleston, with a force of sixty officers and men under him, was particularly active in developing this mode of warfare. The “David” in the picture appears to be the first one built in the Confederacy; she was constructed at private expense by Theodore Stoney, of Charleston. She was driven by steam, and on the night of October 5, 1863, in command of Lieut. W. T. Glassell, with a crew of three volunteers from the Confederate gunboats, she succeeded in exploding a torpedo under the new “Ironsides,” putting her out of commission for a time. The little “David” was almost swamped. Her crew took to the water to save themselves by swimming. Lieutenant Glassell and James Sullivan, fireman, were captured after being in the water nearly an hour. Engineer C. S. Tombs, seeing that the “David” was still afloat, swam back to her, where he found Pilot J. W. Cannon, who could not swim, clinging to her side. Tombs clambered aboard and pulled Cannon after him, and together they managed to build a fire under the boiler and bring the little vessel safely back to Charleston.


Chesapeake Bay, described in another chapter, and which were between small naval forces and land batteries, no regular vessel of the United States navy had discharged a gun at a floating foe until on July 28, 1861, the Confederate privateer Petrel, formerly the United States revenue cutter Aiken, was sunk by the sailing frigate St. Lawrence after receiving two shots broadside. Out of her crew of forty, thirty-six were rescued by the St. Lawrence's boats.

To the Federal navy belongs the honor of achieving the first signal success along the coast, in the bombardment and capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark at Hatteras Inlet, on the 28th and 29th of August, 1861. From Hatteras Inlet offensive operations could be carried on by means of light-draft vessels along the entire coast of North Carolina. The inlet was the key to Albemarle Sound, and was, besides, a good depot for outfitting and coaling, and a refuge, owing to its sheltered position, from the fierce winter storms that raged along the shore.

In the Gulf, there had been some skirmishing. The squadron under Captain John Pope that had been sent, after the escape of the Sumter to sea, to the mouth of the Mississippi, had a chance to bring on an action, in October, 1861, with several of the Confederate naval vessels. But Pope's ships got aground in the passes of the delta, and he and his captains exercising undue caution, refused offer of battle and made out into the Gulf. There were two brilliant bits of boat-work at Pensacola and Galveston. Lieutenant John H. Russell cut out and destroyed the unfinished Confederate privateer Judah, at the Pensacola Navy-Yard, on September 13, 1861, and Lieutenant James E. Jouett, of the frigate Santee, took and destroyed the privateer Royal Yacht in Galveston Harbor, in November.

Many were the gallant acts of the enlisted men and petty officers in the fighting along the shore. In the expedition under Flag-Officer Goldsborough against Roanoke Island, in February, 1862, there were two brave little fights between the [269]

“Hearts of oak in wooden ships” a fleet of Federal vessels riding out a storm in Hampton roads, December, 1864 Such scenes were oft repeated from the beginning to the close of the war. The vessels that took part in the various expeditions along the shore were accustomed to rendezvous in this harbor before setting out. On August 26, 1861, a squadron under Commodore Silas H. Stringham (afterwards rear-admiral) sailed from Hampton Roads in the first naval expedition of the war. It achieved the first victory for the Federal cause, capturing Forts Hatteras and Clark at Hatteras Inlet on August 29th. Commodore Stringham, a veteran of the old navy, had with him four of the old ships of live oak in which American officers and men had been wont to sail the seas; and the forts at Hatteras Inlet were no match for the 135 guns which the “Minnesota” (flagship), “Wabash,” “Susquehanna,” and “Cumberland” brought to bear upon them, to say nothing of the minor armament of the “Pawnee,” “Harriet Lane,” and “Monticello.” But before another naval expedition could be undertaken, many of the gallant officers had to come down from their staunch old ships to command nondescript vessels purchased for the emergency, whose seaworthiness was a grave question. Yet these brave men never inquired whether their vessels would sink or swim, caring only to reach the post of danger and serve as best they could the flag under which they fought.


Confederate flotilla commanded by Flag-Officer William F. Lynch and the much heavier naval division under Commander S. C. Rowan, that resulted in the destruction or capture of all but three of the Confederate vessels.

After the expedition to Hatteras Inlet, the most important movement against the coast was set on foot when Flag-Officer Samuel F. Du Pont hoisted his broad pennant on board the Wabash, commanded by Lieutenant C. R. P. Rodgers. This magnificent frigate was to lead the fleet of fighting ships and the transports that were to carry twelve thousand troops, under command of General Thomas W. Sherman, the whole expedition being destined for Port Royal, South Carolina, the entrance to which was guarded by Fort Walker, on Hilton Head, and Fort Beauregard, on Bay Point. Driven in all directions by a violent gale, the fleet reassembled off the bar with the loss of but two vessels, the transports Governor and Peerless. The crew of the first had been saved through the exertions of the crews of the frigate Sabine and the steamer Isaac Smith, and only seven men had been lost. This was out of a human cargo of over six hundred and fifty souls. Everyone on the Peerless was saved by the crew of the Mohican. On the first high tide, all of the vessels were gotten over the bar. At daybreak, on the 7th of November, 1861, the war-ships weighed anchor and started in to attack Fort Walker. The fleet was divided into two columns, the Wabash leading.

Lying back of the forts was Flag-Officer Tattnall's little flotilla of Confederate river steamers, but as it would have been madness to have opposed the Federal vessels with such make-shifts, Tattnall withdrew into Skull Creek and took no part in the action. The Confederate forces on shore were commanded by General Thomas F. Drayton. The circling tactics used by Flag-Officer Du Pont and the tremendous and concentrated fire of his heavy guns quickly bore results, and the lighter-draft vessels, which had taken up an enfilading position to the north of Fort Walker, soon had the latter at their mercy. At twenty [271]

The “Unadilla

Under Lieutenant-Commander N. Collins, the “Unadilla” took part in the expedition that succeeded in capturing Port Royal, November 9, 1861. The “Unadilla” was but one of the fifty vessels that had assembled in Hampton Roads by October 27th to join the largest fleet ever commanded by an officer of the American navy up to that time. In contrast to the number of the vessels was the nondescript character of most of them. The “Unadilla” is described officially as a steam gunboat, but she was typical of the sort of hastily converted vessels that made up the fleet — river steamers, ferryboats, tugs, almost anything that would turn a wheel or propeller. These frail craft, loaded down with heavy guns, set forth in the face of foul weather to engage in battle for the first time with two of the strongest fortifications of the Confederacy. It was a momentous trial of wooden ships against most formidable earthworks. But Flag-Officer Du Pont, who possessed in an eminent degree all the qualities of a great commander, succeeded in demonstrating to Europe that even with a fleet of so uncertain a character the American navy could win by a masterly plan of battle, originated by him.

Men of the “Unadilla,” after playing their part in the navy's crucial test

The “Unadilla

[272] minutes after two in the afternoon, Commander John Rodgers landed with a small force and raised the Federal flag over the deserted batteries. Fort Beauregard, across the harbor entrance, seeing the fate of Fort Walker, was abandoned by Captain Elliott, its commander, late in the afternoon, and now the most important position that either the army or the navy had yet gained was in the possession of the North, and the coveted naval base established.

Early on the morning of January 1, 1863, General Magruder made a vigorous attempt to recapture the city of Galveston, which had been taken by Farragut's squadron the previous October. The side-wheel steamer Harriet Lane bore the brunt of the naval attack, and she was captured by two small steamers after her commander and lieutenant-commander had been killed. The ferry-boat Westfield was burned. The military force in the town surrendered, and the blockade was broken for a week.

On the 31st of this month, the Confederate iron-clad rams Chicora and Palmetto State, built and equipped at the navy-yard in Charleston, steamed down past the forts and took the inner line of the blockading fleet by surprise. The Mercedita was captured, and the Keystone State was badly injured. As it was calm weather, the Chicora and the Palmetto State proceeded out to sea, and as the outer line of the blockading squadron was far off the coast, they came back and reported that the blockade was raised. In fact, General Beauregard attempted to bring this point before the foreign consuls at Charleston.

It was on the 28th of February that the cruiser Nashville, lying up the Ogeechee River above Fort McAllister, Georgia, was destroyed by the monitor Montauk while she was waiting for a chance to get to sea. One well-directed shot from the monitor's 15-inch gun struck the Nashville fair amidships, and in a few minutes she burst into flame, and blew up.

The Confederate ram Atlanta, on the 17th of June, 1863, running down into Wassaw Sound, secure in the protection of [273]

A fearless blockader — U. S. S. “Kansas This little screw steamer, under Lieutenant-Commander P. G. Watmough, with four other vessels no more formidable than she, stood her ground when the great ironclad ram “Raleigh” came down from Wilmington on May 7, 1864, and attempted to raise the blockade at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The “Raleigh” trained her ten guns on the little vessels for nine hours. But they replied with vigor, and finally Flag-Officer W. F. Lynch, C. S. N., under whose direction the “Raleigh” had been built, judged it best to retire, since she was hardly in a state of completion to warrant coming to close quarters. To the “Kansas” belongs the honor of capturing the famous blockade-runner “Tristram Shandy,” May 15, 1864. The “Tristram Shandy” afterward became despatch vessel to Porter's fleet.

[274] her heavy armor and big guns, was pounded into submission by the monitors Weehawken and Nahant, and surrendered after a stubborn defense.

The many attempts to gain possession of Charleston Harbor, that were animated as much by sentimental reasons as they were dictated by military necessity, were crowned by at least one success. Part of Morris Island was evacuated by the Confederates on September 7th. The enfilading and breaching batteries in the swamps, together with the combined efforts of the ironclads and other vessels, had not succeeded in the reduction of Fort Sumter. Every kind of invention was tried by the inhabitants of Charleston to raise the blockade. Floating mines were sent out on the receding tides by the score; many were anchored at night in places where the day before the Federal vessels had occupied vantage spots in the bombardment.

On September 6th it was that the New Ironsides, directly off Fort Wagner, lay over a huge mine whose two thousand pounds of powder would have been sufficient to have torn her in two. On shore, the engineering officer who had placed the mine and laid the wires, surrounded by a large body of officers, was making every effort to produce the contact that would destroy the hostile ironclad. It was all in vain. By the most miraculous circumstances the wagons that had been driven along the beach to gather sand for the reenforcement of the parapet had rubbed off the insulation of the wires, and they would not work.

It was now that the invention of the torpedo-boat and the submergible came to be enforced on the attention of the public. In all the history of any war there will be found no such record of continuous daring and almost certain death as is to be found in the story of the H. L. Hunley, the first submarine boat. This vessel, a cylindrical, cigar-shaped craft only thirty-five feet in length, could actually dive and be propelled under water and rise to the surface. The motive power was furnished by the crew, who, sitting vis-à--vis on benches, turned a crank [275]

The U. S.S. “Mendota.”

From the time General Grant established his headquarters at City Point, there was no rest for the gunboats in the James River. There was an active and determined foe to contend with, and alertness was the watchword for every officer and man in the Federal flotilla. Underneath, one of the huge 100-pounder Parrott guns is being brought into position on the gunboat “Mendota” in July, 1864, ready to be trained upon the Confederates whenever they attempted to plant batteries along the shores. The work of the “Mendota's” gunners on July 28th at Four Mile Creek spoke eloquently of their coolness and accuracy of aim. With equal smartness, and scarcely more excitement than is apparent in the picture above, they served their guns under fire of shot and shell.

The U. S.S. “Mendota.”

Constant preparedness on the “Mendota” 1864: looking along the 100-lb Parrott gun

[276] connecting with the propeller-shaft. The torpedo was attached to the end of a spar which could be projected in front of the craft. H. L. Hunley, of Mobile, was the designer, and the vessel was built in his native city.

After several unsuccessful and fatal attempts at Mobile and Charleston, Hunley went to the latter city to take command of his invention in person. Volunteers seemed easy to find, for he picked six men, and starting out in the harbor made several spectacular dives. She was gone overlong on one of these. It was a week before she was brought to the surface. Her inventor and all of his crew were huddled together under one of the manholes. Nothing daunted, Lieutenant George E. Dixon, a friend of the boat's inventor, got together another crew, and on the 17th of February, 1864, silently they moved out to where the fine sloop-of-war Housatonic was lying at anchor. The torpedo plunged against her side and exploded, blew her almost out of the water and she sank immediately. But the little Hunley never returned. She found a resting-place on the ocean bed beside her gigantic victim.

On the 27th of October, 1864, the indomitable Lieutenant W. B. Cushing, who had been constantly proposing wonderful and almost impossible things, succeeded in getting eight miles up the Roanoke River in North Carolina and sinking, in an open launch, with a torpedo, the Confederate ram Albemarle.

The gunboat Otsego ran afoul of a torpedo in the Roanoke River on December 9th and went to the bottom, and after the fall of the last fort, Fort Fisher, the Patapsco was sunk in Charleston Harbor, January 15, 1865, and officers and crew were lost to the number of sixty. Still later in the war, in April, the monitors Milwaukee and Osage suffered a like fate. They were in Admiral Thatcher's fleet that was assisting Generals Canby and Steele in the capture of Mobile. After the forts had been taken by the army, the war-ship advanced up the torpedofilled channel. A tin-clad, a wooden gunboat, and several tugs were also blown up before the ships anchored off the city.

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