previous next

Chapter 28:

  • A brief Resume of the history of the war, between the commissioning of the Sumter and the commissioning of the Alabama
  • -- Secretary Mallory, and the difficulties by which he was surrounded -- the Reorganization of the Confederate States Navy.

Although, as before remarked, I design only to write a history of my own proceedings, during the late war, yet it will be necessary, to enable the reader to understand these proceedings correctly, to run a mere thread of the general his tory of the war along parallel with them. I have done this up to the date of commissioning the Sumter. It will now be necessary to take up the thread again, and bring it down to the commissioning of the Alabama. I shall do this very briefly, barely enumerating the principal military events, without attempting to describe them, and glancing very cursorily at the naval events.

We ran the blockade of the Mississippi, in the Sumter, as has been seen, on the 30th of June, 1861. In July of that year, the first great battle of Manassas was fought, to which allusion has already been made. This battle gave us great prestige in Europe, and contributed very much to the respect with which the little Sumter had been received by foreign powers. A long military pause now ensued. The enemy had been so astonished and staggered by this blow, that it took him some time to recover from its effects. He, however, turned it to useful account, and set himself at work with great patience, and diligence, at the same time, to collect and thoroughly drill new troops. The victory, on the other hand, had an unfavorable effect upon our own people, in giving them an [362] undue impression of their superiority over their enemy, and lulling them into supineness.

During the summer of 1861, two naval expeditions were fitted out, by the enemy, and sent to operate against our coast. The first of these expeditions, under command of Commodore Stringham, captured two hastily constructed, and imperfect earth-works at Hatteras Inlet on the coast of North Carolina, and made a lodgement on Pamlico Sound. The capture of these works, is no otherwise remarkable, in a naval point of view, than for the circumstance that a Confederate States naval officer fell into the hands of the enemy, for the first time during the war. Commodore Samuel Barron, of the Confederate States Navy, commanded the forts, and surrendered, after a gallant resistance, to the overwhelming force which assaulted him, on condition that he should be treated as a prisoner of war. The battle of Manassas had occurred to humble the pride, and appeal to the fears of the enemy, and the condition named by Barron was readily assented to. The other naval expedition, under command of Commodore Dupont, captured Port Royal, in South Carolina as mentioned in a former page. The ‘Trent Affair,’ already described, came off in November, 1861, and Commodore Hollins' attack upon the enemy's fleet at the mouths of the Mississippi, in which he gave him such a scare, occurred, as already related, in October of the same year. This brings us to the close of the first year of the war.

The year 1862 was big with events, which we will, for the most part, merely string on our thread. The Confederates, in the beginning of the year, occupied a position at Bowling Green, in Kentucky, which was seemingly a strong position, with railroad communication, in their rear, with all parts of the South, but they could not hold it, for the simple reason, that the enemy, having command of the western rivers by means of his superior naval force, penetrated into their rear, and thus compelled a retreat. When the enemy, by means of his gunboats, could send armies up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, to the heart of Tennessee and Alabama, it was folly to think of holding Bowling Green, with our limited forces. Our army fell back to Nashville, and even abandoned that city, [363] after the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, which were captured by the Federal forces, in February, 1862.

The evacuation of all these points, one after another, and afterward the loss of Island No.10, on the Mississippi, and New Madrid, were serious blows for us. But our disasters did not end here. The battle of Shiloh followed, in which we were defeated, and compelled to retreat, after we had, to all appearance, gained a victory almost complete on the first day of the fight. Naval disasters accompanied, or followed our disasters upon the land. Early in 1862, a naval expedition of the enemy, under the command of Commodore Goldsborough, entered Pamlico Sound, and captured Roanoke Island. Commodore Lynch, of the Confederate States Navy, with six or seven small, ill-armed gunboats, which had been improvised from light and frail river steamers, assisted in the defence of the island, but was obliged to withdraw before the superior forces of the enemy. The enemy, pursuing his advantages, followed Lynch's retreating fleet to Elizabeth City, in North Carolina, where he captured or destroyed it.

The enemy was now not only in possession of the western waters—Vicksburg and Port Hudson alone obstructing his free navigation of the Mississippi as far down as New Orleans— but Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, in North Carolina, and the bay of Port Royal in South Carolina and Georgia, were open to him. To complete the circle of our disasters, New Orleans was captured by Farragut and Porter, in April—the small Confederate fleet under Commodore John K. Mitchell, making a gallant but disastrous defence, in which it was totally destroyed, with great loss of life of both officers and men.

Let us turn now to a more pleasing picture; for all was not disaster for the Confederates, during the year 1862. In March of that year, the memorable naval engagement occurred in Hampton Roads, between the Confederate States iron-clad steamer Virginia, and the enemy's fleet, resulting in the destruction, by the Virginia, of two of the enemy's wooden frigates. Great consternation and alarm were produced in the enemy's fleet, and at Fortress Monroe, by Admiral Buchanan and his armored ship, as well there might be, for the ship was perfectly invulnerable, and but for her great draught of water, [364] might have destroyed or driven off the whole Federal fleet. Our people were greatly elated by this victory, coming as it did, in the midst of so many disasters. It attracted great attention in Europe, also, as being decisive of the fate of all the old-time wooden ships, which had, up to that period, composed the navies of the world. It so happened, that the Federals had completed the first of their Monitors, at this very time, and this little iron ship, arriving opportunely, engaged the Virginia on the second day of the fight. Like her great antagonist, she, too, was invulnerable, and the result was a drawn battle. From this time onward, the enemy multiplied his armored ships very rapidly, and it is scarcely too much to say, that he is almost wholly indebted to them, for his success in the war.

Another very creditable affair for the Confederates came off on the 15th of May. In the interval between the fight of the Virginia, with the enemy's fleet in Hampton Roads, and the day last named, Norfolk had been evacuated, and the Virginia, which had passed under the command of Commodore Tatnall, was blown up. The consequence was that the James River was open to the navigation of the enemy. Taking advantage of this state of things, five of the enemy's gunboats, two of which were iron-clad, ascended the river, with intent to reach, and shell Richmond, if practicable. They met with no serious obstruction, or any opposition, until they reached Drury's Bluff. Here the river had been obstructed, and a Confederate earth-work erected. The earth-work was commanded by Captain Eben Farrand, of the Confederate States Navy, who had some sailors and marines under him. The Federal fleet having approached within 600 yards, opened fire upon the fort, which it kept up for the space of three hours. It was so roughly handled, however, by Farrand and his sailors, that at the end of that time, it was obliged to retire, with several of its vessels seriously damaged. No further attempt was made during the war, to reach Richmond by means of iron-clads; the dose which Farrand had given them was quite sufficient.

But the greatest of all the triumphs which crowned the Confederate arms during this year of 1862, were the celebrated campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, in the Shenandoah Valley, [365] and the seven days fighting before Richmond. I will barely string these events, as I pass along. Banks, Fremont, and Shields, of the enemy, were all operating in this valley, with forces greatly outnumbering those of Jackson. The latter, by a series of rapid and masterly movements, fell upon his enemies, one after the other, and defeated them all; Banks, in particular, who having been bred to civil life, was devoid of all military training, and apparently wanting, even, in that first and most common requisite of a soldier, courage, flying in disorder, and abandoning to his pursuer all the supplies and materiel of a large and well-appointed army. Such frantic efforts did he make to escape from Jackson, that he marched thirty-five miles in a single day; passing through the good old town of Winchester, which he had formerly occupied, with so many signs of trepidation and alarm, that the citizens received him and his troops, with shouts of derisive laughter!

The enemy, after his defeat at Manassas, put General McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac, and the balance of the year 1861 was devoted, by this officer, to the collecting and drilling of troops. In the spring of 1862, he landed at Fortress Monroe, with a splendidly appointed army of 90,000 men, provided with 55 batteries of artillery, consisting of 350 field pieces. Magruder held him in check, for some time, with 11,000 men, which enabled the Confederate commanders to gather together their forces, for the defence of Richmond. He moved at length, was checked a while at Williamsburg, by Longstreet, but finally deployed his immense forces on the banks of the Chickahominy.

A series of battles now took place, commencing on the 30th of May, and extending through the month of June, which resulted in the raising of the siege, and the total rout and precipitate retreat of the Federal commander. I will barely enumerate these battles, as follows: Seven Pines; Mechanicsville and Beaver Dam; Gaines' Mills; Savage Station; Frazer's Farm; and Malvern Hill;—names sufficient alone to cover the Confederate cause with immortal glory, in the minds of all true men, as the highest qualities of courage, endurance, patriotism, and self-sacrifice, that any men could be capable of, were exhibited on those fields, destined to become classic in American annals. [366]

Following up the defeat of McClellan, by Johnston and Lee, Stonewall Jackson gained his splendid victory of the Second Manassas over Pope; defeating him with great loss, and driving him before him to the gates of Washington. Thus, notwithstanding our disasters in the West and South, an entirely new face had been put upon the war in Virginia. The enemy's capital, instead of Richmond, was in danger, and McClellan was hastily withdrawn from Fortress Monroe, for its defence.

We must now pause, for we have brought the thread of the war down to the commissioning of the Alabama, and the reader will see with what forebodings, as well as hopes, we took the sea, in that ship. The war may be said now to have been at its height. Both the belligerents were thoroughly aroused, and a few blows, well struck, on the water, might be of great assistance. I resolved to attempt to strike these blows.

A few words, now, as to the status of the Confederate States Navy. As remarked in the opening of these memoirs, the Confederate States had no navy at the beginning of the war, and the South being almost entirely agricultural, with few or no ships, and but little external commerce, except such as was conducted in Northern bottoms, had but very indifferent means of creating one. Whilst the North was one busy hive of manufacturing industry, with its ship-yards and work-shops, resounding, by night and by day, with the busy-strokes of the hammer, the adze, and the caulking-iron; whilst its steam-mills and foundries were vomiting forth their thick smoke from their furnaces, and deafening the ears of their workmen by the din of the trip-hammer and the whirr of the lathe; and whilst foreign material of every description was flowing into open ports, the South had neither ship-yards nor work-shops, steam-mills nor foundries, except on the most limited scale, and all her ports were as good as hermetically sealed, so far as the introduction of the heavy materials of which she stood in need was concerned.

It will be seen what a difficult task the Secretary of the Navy had before him, and how unjust are many of the censures that were cast upon him, by persons unconversant with naval affairs. Indeed, it is rather a matter of surprise, that so much was accomplished with our limited means. Work-shops [367] and foundries were improvised, wherever it was possible to establish them; but the great difficulty was the want of the requisite heavy machinery. We had not the means, in the entire Confederacy, of turning out a complete steam-engine, of any size, and many of our naval disasters are attributable to this deficiency. Well-constructed steamers, that did credit to the Navy Department and its agents, were forced to put to sea, and to move about upon our sounds and harbors, with engines disproportioned to their size, and incapable of driving them at a speed greater than five miles the hour.

The casting of cannon, and the manufacture of small arms, were also undertaken by the Secretary, under the direction of skilful officers, and prosecuted to considerable efficiency. But it took time to accomplish all these things. Before a ship could be constructed, it was necessary to hunt up the requisite timber, and transport it considerable distances. Her armor, if she was to be armored, was to be rolled also at a distance, and transported over long lines of railroad, piecemeal; her cordage was to be picked up at one place, and her sails and hammocks at another. I speak knowingly on this subject, as I had had experience of many of the difficulties I mention, in fitting out the Sumter in New Orleans. I was two months in preparing this small ship for sea, practising, all the while, every possible diligence and contrivance. The Secretary had other difficulties to contend with. By the time he had gotten many of his ship-yards well established, and ships well on their way to completion, the enemy would threaten the locus in quo, by land, and either compel him to attempt to remove everything movable, in great haste, and at great loss, or destroy it, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Many fine ships were, in this way, burned on the very eve of completion.

It must be recollected, too, that in the early days of the war, we had no finances. These were to be improvised along with other things. I travelled to the North, on the mission which has been described in these pages, on money borrowed from a private banker. If we had had plenty of funds in the beginning of the war, it is possible that we might have accomplished more than we did, in Europe, in the matter of getting out [368] ships to prey upon the enemy's commerce—that is, in the way of purchase, for it soon became evident, from the experience we had had, in building the Alabama, and other ships contracted for by the Navy Department, that we could not rely upon constructing them. The neutral powers became too watchful, and were too much afraid of the Federal power. When the Government did put the Secretary in funds, several months had elapsed, the war had begun, the coast was blockaded, and all the nations of Europe were on the alert.

With reference to the personnel of the Navy, a few words will describe the changes which had taken place in its organization, since I last referred to the subject. It will be recollected that it then consisted of but four captains, four commanders, and about thirty lieutenants, and that the writer was the junior, but one, of the four commanders. A considerable accession was made to the navy-list, as Virginia, North Carolina, and other States seceded, and joined their fortunes with those of their more impulsive sisters, the Cotton States. A number of old officers, past service, disdaining to eat the bread of ignoble pensioners upon the bounty of the Northern States, which were seeking to subjugate the States of their birth or adoption, came South, bringing with them nothing but their patriotism and their gray hairs. These all took rank, as has been remarked, according to the positions they had held in the old service. These old gentlemen, whilst they would have commanded, with great credit, fleets and squadrons of well-appointed and well-officered ships, were entirely unsuited for such service as the Confederacy could offer them. It became necessary, in consequence, to re-organize the Navy; and although this was not done until May, 1863, some months after the Alabama was commissioned, I will anticipate the subject here, to avoid the necessity of again referring to it. I had been promoted to the rank of captain in the Regular Navy, in the summer of 1862. The Act of May, 1863, established what was called the Provisional Navy; the object being, without interfering with the rank of the officers in the Regular Navy, to cull out from that navy list, younger and more active men, and put them in the Provisional Navy, with increased rank. The Regular Navy became, thus, a kind of retired list, and the Secretary of the [369] Navy was enabled to accomplish his object of bringing forward younger officers for active service, without wounding the feelings of the older officers, by promoting their juniors over their heads, on the same list. As late as December, 1861, we had had no admirals in our Navy. On the 24th of that month, the Act organizing the Navy was so amended, as to authorize the appointment of four officers of this grade. There was but one of these admirals appointed, up to the time of which I am writing—Buchanan, who was promoted for his gallant fight in the Virginia, with the enemy's fleet in Hampton Roads. Buchanan, being already an admiral in the Regular Navy, was now transferred to the Provisional Navy, with the same rank; and the captains' list of this latter Navy was so arranged that Barron stood first on it, and myself second. I was thus, the third in rank in the Provisional Navy, soon after I hoisted my pennant on board the Alabama. In reviewing these matters, my only regret now is, that the older officers of whom I have spoken, and who made so many sacrifices for principle—sacrifices that have hastened several of them to the tomb, were not made admirals on the regular or retired list. The honors would have been barren, it is true, as no commands, commensurate with the rank, could have been given them, but the bestowal of the simple title would have been a compliment, no more than due to veterans, who had commanded squadrons in the old service, and who had abandoned all for the sake of their States. The reader is now in a condition to accompany me, whilst I describe to him the commissioning of the Alabama.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (8)
Alabama (Alabama, United States) (7)
Europe (4)
North Carolina (North Carolina, United States) (3)
Hampton Roads (Virginia, United States) (3)
Fortress Monroe (Virginia, United States) (3)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (2)
Port Royal (South Carolina, United States) (2)
Pamlico Sound (North Carolina, United States) (2)
Bowling Green (Indiana, United States) (2)
Winchester, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
Tennessee River (United States) (1)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Seven Pines (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Roanoke Island (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (1)
Port Hudson (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Pamlico (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Norfolk (Virginia, United States) (1)
Malvern Hill (Virginia, United States) (1)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Island Number Ten (Missouri, United States) (1)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
Fort Henry (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Fort Donelson (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Elizabeth City (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Cumberland River (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Chickahominy (Virginia, United States) (1)
Beaver Dam (Wisconsin, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Stonewall Jackson (4)
McClellan (3)
Eben Farrand (3)
Samuel Barron (3)
Lynch (2)
Buchanan (2)
Banks (2)
Trent (1)
Tatnall (1)
Stringham (1)
Shields (1)
David Porter (1)
Pope (1)
John K. Mitchell (1)
Stephen R. Mallory (1)
Magruder (1)
Longstreet (1)
Robert E. Lee (1)
Joseph E. Johnston (1)
Hollins (1)
Goldsborough (1)
Fremont (1)
Farragut (1)
Dupont (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1862 AD (6)
May, 1863 AD (2)
1861 AD (2)
February, 1862 AD (1)
December, 1861 AD (1)
November, 1861 AD (1)
June 30th, 1861 AD (1)
October (1)
July (1)
June (1)
May 30th (1)
May 15th (1)
April (1)
March (1)
24th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: