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Chapter 30:

  • General Beauregard orders the Cummings's Point Battery to be strengthened.
  • -- Citadel Cadets assigned to the New Bridge defences. -- the ironclads cross the bar on the 5th. -- Admiral Dupont makes his attack on the 7th. -- order in which the ships came up. -- their armament. -- Admiral Dupont's plan of battle. -- Fort Sumter the Chief object of attack. -- its reduction supposed to be inevitable. -- commanders of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, and the various batteries engaged. -- how they were armed. -- number of guns employed by the Confederates. -- cautious approach of the monitors. -- Fort Moultrie opens fire on them. -- Fort Sumter does likewise. -- description of the fight. -- Fort Sumter Cripples the New Ironsides. -- the Passaic Withdraws from the fight. -- two more ironclads forced to retire. -- the Keokuk engages Fort Sumter. -- she is badly damaged. -- importance of the defeat inflicted on the enemy. -- the Keokuk sinks near Morris Island on the 8th. -- on the 12th the monitors steam, and are towed southward. -- condition of Sumter after the attack. -- exhibit of shots fired on both sides. -- fleet keeps outside of line of torpedoes and rope obstructions. -- General Beauregard's efforts to organize an attack on the monitors with torpedo-boats. -- his letter to Lieutenant Webb, C. S. N. -- his plan foiled by the withdrawal of the fleet. -- letter to General Cooper. -- failure to complete torpedo-rams and gunboats.

Being still apprehensive that the enemy's monitors might take a position in ‘main ship channel,’ as near the shore as prudence would admit, and attempt to batter down the southeast angle and gorge-wall of Fort Sumter—for that was its most vulnerable part —General Beauregard, on the 4th of April, ordered the Commander of the First Military District to add a 10-inch columbiad, or a 42-pounder rifled gun, to the Cummings's Point Battery, the object being to keep the Federal ironclads as far off as possible and, at the same time, increase the efficiency of that important work. The sequel proved the wisdom of this precaution.

The day following, the Commanders of the First District and of James Island were given specific instructions as to the reinforcements, and guns and mortars were called for and received from Georgia. The Citadel Cadets, of Charleston, were anxious to take part in their country's defence, and their services having been accepted, they were assigned to the works protecting the [67] ‘New Bridge,’ on the Ashley River. The 2500 men from Savannah had arrived, and the Chief of Subsistence was ordered to make proper provision for them.

The storm was evidently approaching. Its premonitory signs, as reported by the Signal Corps, were—first, the increase of the enemy's force in the Stono and the North Edisto; second, the unusual activity visible among the vessels composing the fleet. In fact, during the evening of the 5th, the ironclads, including the frigate New Ironsides and eight monitors, had actually crossed the bar, and anchored in the main ship channel. Though out of range as yet, they had not before approached so near. There was but one conclusion to draw: the long-delayed and anxiously expected attack was now about to take place.

At last, on the 7th of April, a little after 2 P M., the monitors advanced for action. It was with a feeling akin to relief that officers and men stepped into their positions, at the different batteries and pieces assigned them. The long roll was beaten. There would have been loud cheering, had not discipline and strict orders prevented. By order of the Commandant at Sumter three flags, the garrison, regimental, and Palmetto flags, were hoisted; the band played ‘Dixie,’ and thirteen guns were fired, to salute the ensigns that floated high in the air, as if to say, ‘We are ready!’

Admiral Dupont's ships came up in the following order: four monitors—the Weehawken, the Passaic, the Montauk, the Pa-tapsco; then the New Ironsides, as flag-ship; then the Catskill, the Nantucket, the Nahant, and, bringing up the rear, the doubleturreted monitor Keokuk. They were commanded by experienced and gallant officers of the United States Navy. Their armament, including that of the New Ironsides, consisted of thirtythree guns ‘of the heaviest calibre ever used in war, to wit, 15 and 11 inch Dahlgren guns, and 8-inch rifled pieces.’ The steam-ers Canandaigua, Housatonic, Unadilla, Wissahickon, and Huron constituted the reserve, and were kept outside the bar.

It may be of interest to submit an extract from the plan of attack and order of battle, adopted by the Admiral and distributed to the various commandants who took part in the engagement:

* * * The squadron will pass up the main ship channel without returning the fire of the batteries on Morris Island, unless signal should be made to commence action. [68] The ships will open fire on Fort Sumter when within easy range, and will take up a position to the northward and westward of that fortification, engaging its left or northeast face at a distance of from one thousand to eight hundred yards, firing low, and aiming at the centre embrasures.

The commanding officers will instruct their officers and men to carefully avoid wasting a shot, and will enjoin upon them the necessity of precision rather than rapidity of fire.

Each ship will be prepared to render every assistance possible to vessels that may require it.

The special code of signals prepared for the ironclad vessels will be used in action.

After the reduction of Fort Sumter1 it is probable the next point of attack will be the batteries on Morris Island. * * *

F. S. Dupont, Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

From the order given above it is manifest that there was not only hope, but a feeling of certainty, on the part of Admiral Dupont that the fleet would succeed in reducing Port Sumter, and against that work alone was to be hurled the combined fury of his attacking squadron. This Confederate stronghold was doomed. The Admiral was to attack it, necessarily reduce it, and then destroy or capture the other works around the harbor. How his turreted monitors went about the accomplishment of their object will be farther shown, as we proceed with the narrative of the engagement of the 7th, characterized at the time by a Northern correspondent who witnessed the scene as ‘sublimely terrific.’

Let us flow see what works we had with which to confront the formidable armada, so carefully and expensively prepared by the North, for the capture of Charleston. We mention only those that were engaged against the fleet.

First among them was Fort Sumter, under Colonel Alfred Rhett, with Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Yates, commanding the parapet guns, and Major Ormsby Blanding, in charge of the casemate batteries. The garrison consisted of seven companies of the First South Carolina Artillery (Regulars), under Captains D. G. Fleming, F. H. Harleston, J. C. King, J. C. Mitchel, J. R. Macbeth, W. H. Peronneau, and C. W. Parker. The guns brought into action were: two 7-inch Brookes, four 10-inch columbiads, two [69] 9-inch Dahlgrens, four 8-inch columbiads, four 8-inch navy guns, seven banded and rifled 42-pounders, one banded and rifled 32-pounder, thirteen smooth-bore 32-pounders, and seven 10-inch sea-coast mortars—in all, forty-four guns and mortars.

Next in importance was Fort Moultrie, under Colonel William Butler, assisted by Major T. M. Baker, with five companies of the 1st South Carolina Infantry (Regulars), commanded by Captains T. A. Huguenin, R. Press Smith, B. S. Burnett, C. H. Rivers, and Lieutenant E. A. Erwin. The guns engaged were: nine 8-inch columbiads, five rifled and banded 32-pounders, five smooth-bore 32-pounders, and two 10-inch mortars—in all, twenty-one guns and mortars.

Battery Bee, on Sullivan's Island, was under Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Simkins, with three companies of the 1st South Carolina Infantry (Regulars), Captains R. de Treville, Warren Adams, and W. Tabourn. The guns it used against the fleet were five 10-inch and one 8-inch columbiad—six guns.

Battery Beauregard was under Captain J. A. Sitgreaves, 1st South Carolina Artillery (Regulars), with two companies, one from Fort Sumter, the other from Fort Moultrie. The first was commanded by Lieutenant W. E. Erwin, the second by Captain J. H. Warley. The guns engaged were one 8-inch columbiad and two 32-pounders, rifled.

Battery Wagner was under Major C. K. Huger, with two companies belonging to the 1st South Carolina Artillery (Regulars). One gun was engaged—a 32-pounder, rifled.

At Cummings's Point Battery, Lieutenant H. R. Lesesne commanded, with a detachment of the 1st South Carolina Artillery (Regulars). The guns engaged were one 10-inch columbiad and one 8-inch Dahlgren—two guns.

Thus, it will appear that sixty-seven guns were actually used in the engagement, and not more than nine mortars, making an aggregate of seventy-six, instead of the three hundred, three hundred and fifty, or four hundred, erroneously reported by Northern correspondents and other writers concerning the events now occupying our attention. ‘There were not three hundred guns mounted in all the defences of Charleston, and the guns of the second and third circles of fire were not engaged.’ So states an ex-member of Admiral Dahlgren's staff in a work, well written and, as a whole, remarkably fair, entitled ‘Leaves from a Lawyer's Life, [70] Afloat and Ashore.’2 A And it is but fair to add that this statement is entirely correct.

Captain P. A. Mitchell, with a few companies from the 20th South Carolina Infantry, had been placed on Sullivan's Island, to prevent an assault by land, should any be attempted; and Lieutenant-Colonel Dargan, of the 21st South Carolina, had been charged with the same duty on Morris Island.

General Beauregard had also requested Commodore Ingraham to join in the movement, with the two gunboat-rams Palmetto State and Chicora, should circumstances allow it. The Commodore and Commanders Tucker and Rutledge readily prepared to do so, and took up their position accordingly. Neither vessel, however, participated in the engagement.

Sullivan's Island, constituting the second subdivision of the First Military District of South Carolina, was, at that time, under Brigadier-General J. H. Trapier, lately withdrawn from Georgetown for that purpose by order of General Beauregard. Colonel Lawrence M. Keitt was the Commandant of the post, and had stationed himself at Battery Bee, where he remained during the fight. Morris Island, the third subdivision, was under Colonel R. F. Graham. Brigadier-General Gist had charge of the first subdivision, composed of James Island and St. Andrew's Parish. He was at Fort Johnson, with his staff, in order to be as near as possible to the scene of action, and take part in it, if necessary. Brigadier-General Ripley, whose command included the three subdivisions just referred to, had selected the recognized post of danger —Fort Sumter—for his headquarters during the engagement. He was in Charleston, however, at the beginning of the attack; and when, a few minutes later, he hurried off, with the declared intention of going to the fort, the concentration of fire against it was already such as to induce him to change his course and land at Battery Bee, on Sullivan's Island, where he remained until the fight was over.

Steadily, but slowly and cautiously, did the monitors advance. Their commanders had been warned that rope obstructions, connected with torpedoes containing heavy charges of powder, were thrown across the channel into which they must steer their way. [71] It was said by Northern correspondents, and officially repeated by Mr. Seward, that the Weehawken, their leading vessel, at the outset ‘fell into these entanglements,’ and that the others, fearing a like mishap, sheered off at once, and did not occupy the position they had been originally ordered to take. This report is erroneous and needs correction, for, as will be seen, none of the ironclads ever reached the Confederate line of obstructions. Another cause must, therefore, be assigned for the slow advance of the Weehawken, and for the new and safer position selected on that day by the attacking fleet. The following communication, forwarded, six months later, by General Beauregard to General Cooper, relative to the reasons alleged at; Washington for the failure of this grand expedition against Charleston, confirms the foregoing statement. The reader will, no doubt, read it with interest, as a part of the history of this period of the war:

Headquarters, Department S. C., Ga., and Fla., Charleston, S. C., Oct. 15th, 1863.
General Samuel Cooper, Adjt. and Insp.-Genl., Richmond, Va.:
General,—In a published circular (No. 39) of the State Department at Washington, signed by Mr. William H. Seward, and addressed to the diplomatic agents of this Government abroad, I notice a statement relative to the defeat of the enemy's ironclad fleet in the attack on Fort Sumter, on the 7th of April last, so contrary to the facts of the case, that I feel called upon, as Commander of this Military Department, most emphatically to deny the truth of that version, which is as follows: “An attack by the fleet, on the 7th of April last, upon the forts and batteries which defend the harbor (of Charleston) failed because the rope obstructions in the channel fouled the screws of the ironclads, and compelled them to return, after passing through the fire of the batteries. These vessels bore the fire of the forts, although some defects of construction were revealed by the injuries they received. The crews passed through an unexampled cannonade with singular impunity. Not a life was lost on board a monitor.”

From the enclosed reports of Brigadier-General R. S. Ripley, Colonel William Butler, and Colonel Alfred Rhett, who commanded at that period respectively this Military District, the batteries on Sullivan's Island and Fort Sumter, it will be seen that—

1st. No ironclad came nearer than about six hundred yards of the rope obstructions except the disabled Keokuk, which dropped in, to about three hundred yards, before it could get again under way, but in a sinking condition; consequently, the propellers of the ironclads never could have become entangled in the rope obstructions.

2d. The ironclads never passed through the fire of the batteries, for they never approached nearer than from eleven hundred to thirteen hundred yards [72] of the outer batteries, except the Keokuk, which came up to about nine hundred yards, and was sunk. None of the ironclads came within range of the heaviest batteries in Fort Sumter and on Sullivan's Island, which they would have been compelled to do in entering the harbor.

3rd. The fleet did not escape without material injury, for one of the number, the Keokuk, was sunk, and its armament is now in position for the defence of Charleston in our own batteries. Another monitor had to be sent to New York for extensive repairs, and several others were sent to Port Royal, also for repairs.

4th. Not a life may have been lost in the ironclads, but, on examination of the wreck of the Keokuk, its hull was found penetrated, and the 11-inch round-shots and 7-inch rifled bolts had made clean holes through its turrets. Several U. S. flags, three officer's swords, pistols, etc., a quantity of bloody clothes and blankets, were found on board.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

At three o'clock P. M., and as soon as the leading ironclad had apparently come within range, the Commander at Moultrie, believing that the enemy's object was to run by Sumter, ordered fire to be opened. This explains how the first shot on the assaulting squadron came from Fort Moultrie. The vessel fired at kept on her course until she approached to within about fourteen hundred yards of Sumter, when she opened upon it with two guns, but without any result. Colonel Rhett, on the parapet, waited some two or three minutes, and then replied, firing by battery. Fort Moultrie and batteries Bee and Beauregard did likewise. The other monitors steamed up to their respective positions, and the action soon became general. Sumter was evidently the chief object of the attack. Five turreted ironclads, formed in line of battle, were now pouring a continuous fire upon it, and only sending an occasional shot at Fort Moultrie and batteries Bee and Beauregard. It was a grand, an impressive, and at the same time a terrible spectacle. There seemed to be a hail-storm of shot and shell, ploughing up the waters of the bay, apparently submerging each monitor of the fleet, and shattering the massive walls of the grim fortress that stood sentry over the old city.

About three-quarters of an hour after the report of the first gun was heard the New Ironsides advanced to within some sevteen hundred yards of Fort Sumter and opened upon it. This immediately drew on that frigate (Admiral Dupont's flag-ship) the concentrated fire of Forts Sumter and Moultrie and of all the batteries. It was more than she could stand, as became evident [73] by the hurried manner in which she withdrew out of effective range. The Passaic had already left the contest, visibly crippled; and the other monitors, which had ‘slowly passed in front of the fort in an ellipse,’ one of them at a distance of a thousand yards, found themselves exposed to the crushing missiles aimed with deliberate accuracy by our well-trained and intrepid artillerists. Two of these vessels were now compelled to retire, as the Passaic and the Ironsides had previously done.

At five minutes past four o'clock P. M. the double-turreted monitor Keokuk gallantly advanced, alone, within nine hundred yards of the batteries of Sumter, and one thousand of those of Moultrie. The fate of her consorts had not deterred her from this attempt, but she soon repented her defiant act; for the guns of our first circle of fire were now directed against her, and she soon abandoned the fight, worsted, and unable to endure the ordeal to which she had been subjected. Colonel Rhett thus refers to this incident in his official report:

‘She received our undivided attention, and the effect of our fire was soon apparent. The wrought-iron bolts from a 7-inch Brooke gun were plainly seen to penetrate her turret and hull, and she retired in forty minutes, riddled and apparently almost disabled.’

After being under the fire of our forts and batteries for two hours and twenty-five minutes, at distances varying from nine hundred to seventeen hundred yards, the whole ironclad fleet finally withdrew, and anchored beyond the range of our guns. The battle was fought. The day was ours.

In his report, already referred to, Colonel Rhett says:

‘The enemy's fire was mostly ricochet, and not very accurate; most of their shot passed over the fort, and several to the right and left. The greater portion of their shots were from thirteen to fourteen hundred yards distant, which appeared to be the extent of their effective range; some shots were from a greater distance, and did not reach the fort at all. * * * With regard to the conduct of the garrison, it is impossible for me to draw any distinction. Officers and men were alike animated with the same spirit, and I cannot speak in too high terms of their coolness and gallantry throughout the action. All acted as though they were engaged in practice, and the minutest particulars of drill and military etiquette were preserved.’

General Trapier, in his report, says:

‘It is due to the garrison of Fort Moultrie and their soldierly and accomplished commander, Colonel Butler, that I should not close this report without [74] bearing testimony to the admirable skill, coolness, and deliberation with which they served their guns. They went—all, men as well as officers—to their work cheerfully and with alacrity, showing that their hearts were in it. There was enthusiasm, but no excitement. They lost no time in loading their guns, but never fired hastily or without aim.’

Of the other works on Sullivan's Island engaged with the enemy on that memorable day he says:

‘The reports of Colonel Keitt, Lieutenant-Colonel Simkins, and Captain Sitgreaves give me every reason to believe the garrisons of batteries Bee and Beauregard acquitted themselves equally well, and are equally entitled to the thanks and gratitude of their commander and their country.’

General Ripley confirmed the above in the following words:

The action was purely of artillery—forts and batteries against the ironclad vessels of the enemy—other means of defence, obstructions and torpedoes, not having come into play. Fort Sumter was the principal object of the attack, and to that garrison, under its gallant commander, Colonel Alfred Rhett, ably seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Yates and Major Ormsby Blanding, and all the officers and men, special credit is due for sustaining the shock, and, with their powerful armament, contributing principally to the repulse. The garrison of Fort Moultrie, under Colonel William Butler, seconded by Major Baker and the other officers and soldiers, upheld the historic reputation of that fort, and contributed their full share to the result. The powerful batteries of Battery Bee were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Simkins, and were served with great effect. Battery Wagner, under Major C. K. Huger; Cummings's Point Battery, under Lieutenant Lesesne; and Battery Beauregard, under Captain Sitgreaves, all did their duty with devotion and zeal.3

General Beauregard, in his official communication to the War Department, dated Charleston, May 24th, 1863, recapitulates as follows the salient features of Admiral Dupont's attack:

The action lasted two hours and twenty-five minutes; but the chief damage is reported by the enemy to have been done in thirty minutes. The Keokuk did not come nearer than nine hundred yards of Fort Sumter. She was destroyed. The New Ironsides could not stand the fire at the range of a mile. Four of her consorts, monitors, were disabled at the distance of not less than thirteen hundred yards. They had only reached the gorge of the harbor, never within it, and were baffled and driven back before reaching our lines of torpedoes and obstructions, which had been constructed as an ultimate defensive resort, as far as they could be provided. The heaviest batteries had not been employed; therefore it may be accepted, as shown, that these vaunted [75] monitor batteries, though formidable engines of war, after all, are not invulnerable or invincible, and may be destroyed or defeated by heavy ordnance, properly placed and skilfully handled; in reality they have not materially altered the military relations of forts and ships.

On this occasion the monitors operated under the most favorable circumstances. The day was calm; and the water, consequently, was as stable as that of a river. Their guns were fired with deliberation, doubtless by trained artillerists. According to the enemy's statements the fleet fired one hundred and fifty-one shots, eight of which were ascribed to the New Ironsides, three to the Keokuk, and but nine to the Passaic, which was so badly damaged. Not more than thirty-four shots took effect on the walls of Fort Sumter—a broad mark—which, with the number of discharges, suggests that the monitor arrangement, as yet, is not convenient for accuracy or celerity of fire.

Fort Moultrie and other batteries were not touched in a way to be considered, while in return they threw one thousand three hundred and ninetynine shots. At the same time Fort Sumter discharged eight hundred and ten shots; making the total number of shots fired two thousand two hundred and nine, of which the enemy reports that five hundred and twenty struck the different vessels—a most satisfactory accuracy, when the smallness of the target is considered. This precision was due, not only to the discipline and practice of the garrisons engaged, but in no slight degree to an invention of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph A. Yates, 1st Regiment South Carolina Artillery, which had been applied to many of our best guns, and which shall, as fast as possible, be arranged for all the heavy ordnance in the Department. By this felicitous device our guns were easily held trained upon the monitors, although the latter were constantly in movement, and this with but five men at the heaviest pieces. The reports of the Engineers (herewith) will show the precise extent of the damage inflicted on Fort Sumter. It is sufficient for me to say, that at the time the enemy quit these waters the work was capable of resisting as formidable an attack as the one we had just foiled.

‘For the casualties of the day (so slight) I must refer you to the reports herewith. Too much praise cannot be given to the officers and men, in all the works engaged, for their spirit, gallantry, and discipline, which, indeed, I had a right to expect, from the high soldierly condition into which those garrisons had been brought by their officers. My expectations were fully realized; and the country, as well as the State of South Carolina, may well be proud of the men who first met and vanquished the iron-mailed, terriblyarmed armada, so confidently prepared, and sent forth by the enemy to certain and easy victory.’

This was not the first defeat the enemy had suffered since the opening of the war, but it was undoubtedly one of the most significant, and produced a feeling of most profound depression at the North. The preparations for this naval attack, by means of supposed invulnerable and invincible engines of war, ‘such as the hands of man had never yet put afloat,’ had been made with [76] no less prodigality than care, and upon them centred the anxious attention of both sections of the country. It was the conviction of the North that no opposing force could resist such an expedition. Fort Sumter must inevitably fall, and Charleston likewise. Sharing in this belief, the Federal Government was convinced that the fears of Mr. Adams, United States Minister to England, to the effect that the current of opinion, in both Houses of Parliament, was then leaning towards ‘recognition of the insurgents,’ would be quieted by such a victory, and the power, authority, and resources of the United States clearly demonstrated to the world. Hence the disappointment at the repulse of Admiral Dupont's fleet. The Northern press was extremely bitter on the subject; so much so that efforts were made to conceal the extent of the defeat, by speaking of the movement in front of Charleston as having been a ‘simple reconnoissance,’ not an attack. But the facts of the case were soon spread abroad. It was known that, thirty minutes after the action commenced, Admiral Dupont became ‘convinced of the utter impracticability of taking the city of Charleston with the force under his command,’ and that all his officers were of a like opinion. He had even declared that ‘a renewal of the attack on Charleston would be attended with disastrous results, involving the loss of this (the South Carolina) coast.’4 The revulsion of feeling in the North was complete, and exaggerated hope was changed into despondency, openly expressed. The New York Herald characterized the repulse of the monitors, ‘though almost bloodless, as one of our most discouraging disasters.’ The Baltimore American, denounced it as ‘a shameful abandonment of the siege.’

When day dawned on the morning of the 8th, ‘says General Ripley, in his report,’ the enemy's fleet was discovered in the same position as noticed on the previous evening. About nine o'clock the Keokuk, which had been evidently the most damaged in the action, went down, about three and onehalf miles from Fort Sumter and three-fourths of a mile from Morris Island. The remainder of the fleet were repairing damages. Preparations for repulsing a renewed attack were progressed with, in accordance with the instructions of the Commanding General, who visited Fort Sumter on that day. * * * Towards evening of the 9th a raft, apparently for removing torpedoes or [77] obstructions, was towed inside of the bar. Nothing of importance occurred during the 10th.

‘On the 11th there were indications that the attacking fleet was about to withdraw; and on the 12th, at high-water, the Ironsides crossed the bar and took up her position with the blockading fleet; and the monitors steamed and were towed to the southward, leaving only the sunken Keokuk as a monument of their attack and discomfiture.’

It appeared, on a close examination of Fort Sumter after the engagement, that the injuries inflicted on it were not of a character to impair its efficiency, though ‘fifty-five missiles—shot, shell, and fragments’5—as shown by the Engineers' reports, struck, at divers places, the walls and parapets of the work. ‘The effect of impact of the heavy shot sent by the enemy against the fort * * * was found to have been much less than had been anticipated.’6

The following is an exhibit of the number of rounds fired by the enemy on the 7th of April, and the number of shots received by each ironclad, as copied from United States journals:

Roads Fired.
New Ironsides8

Shots Rec'd.
New Ironsides65

Thomas Jordan, Chief of Staff.

This was the real cause—there existed no other—of Admiral Dupont's failure to carry out his programme against Fort Sumter and the other defensive works in Charleston Harbor. The ‘torpedoes’ and the ‘rope obstructions,’ so much spoken of, had nothing whatever to do with it; though we readily admit that ‘the enemy's evident and just dread of torpedoes, as evinced in his preparations for their explosion by the Devil, or [78] torpedo-searcher,’7 was no insignificant factor in his unwillingness to engage the Confederate batteries at closer quarters. It only remains to be said, however, that, had all the ironclad vessels of Admiral Dupont's attacking fleet adopted the course followed by the Keokuk, and steered nearer to the walls of Sumter, in all probability they would have shared the ill fate of Commander Rhinds's double-turreted monitor. All would have been not merely crippled but destroyed.

The presence of the monitors in the outer harbor after the action, without even a timber guard or fender around them, led General Beauregard to believe that a fine opportunity was now offered him to test the efficiency of the spar torpedo-boats he had held in readiness for some such purpose. On the 10th he had a conference on the subject with two of the naval officers then in Charleston. He found them perfectly willing, and even anxious, to carry out his plan. Accordingly, on the following day he addressed the subjoined letter to Lieutenant Webb—one of the two officers above referred to—whose gallantry and daring were already established:

Dear Sir,—Upon further reflection, after the discussion yesterday with Captain Tucker and yourself, I think it would be preferable to attack each of the enemy's seven ironclads (six monitors and the Ironsides), now inside of the outer bar, with at least two of your spar-torpedo row-boats, instead of the number (six in all) already agreed upon. I believe it to be as easy to surprise, at the same time, all the ironclads as a part of them.

If you permit me I will give you here my general views upon the expedition.

About dark, on the first calm night (the sooner the better), I would rendezvous all my boats at the mouth of the creek, in rear of Cummings's Point, Morris Island. There I would await the proper hours of the night, which should not be too late, in order to take advantage of the present condition of the moon. I would then coast quietly along the beach of Morris Island to a point nearest the enemy's present position, where General Ripley shall station a picket, to communicate with you, and to show proper lights immediately after your attack, to guide the return of your boats. Having arrived at the point of the beach designated, I would form line of attack, putting also my torpedoes in position, and would give orders that my boats should attack, by twos, any monitor or the Ironsides they should encounter on their way out, answering to the enemy's hail, “Boats on secret expedition,” or merely “Contrabands.”

After the attack each boat should make for the nearest point of the [79] shore, where, if necessary, to save itself from pursuit, it can be stranded; otherwise, it will return to the rendezvous at Cummings's Point. Care should be taken to have a proper understanding with commanding officers of the batteries in that vicinity, so as not to be fired into.

I feel convinced that, with nerve and proper precautions on the part of your boats' crews, and with he protection of a kind Providence, not one of the enemy's monitors, so much boasted of by them, would live to see the next morning's sun.

Please submit this letter to Captain Tucker, and assure him that whatever assistance I can give for this expedition, the success of which must contribute so materially to the safety of this city, will be freely and heartily furnished.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

But, ‘as ill-luck would have it,’ says General Beauregard, the very night (April 12th) on which the attack was to have been made some of the monitors were sent to Port Royal for repairs, and the others to the North Edisto. The Ironsides was still with the blockaders, however, and, as General Beauregard looked upon her as ‘our most dangerous antagonist,’ he determined to strike her a blow—destroy her, if possible—and so raise the blockade, on that occasion, as to forbid all denial of the fact. Captain Tucker was again ready to execute General Beauregard's plan, which had assumed much larger proportions than heretofore, when, at the eleventh hour, as it were, a telegram was received from the Navy Department, at Richmond, ordering back to that city the officers and men of the ‘special expedition’ who had been sent to aid in the defence of Charleston, and under whose charge—our own ironclad boats joining in—was to lave been placed that hazardous but, at the same time, very tempting enterprise. General Beauregard did all he could to retain their services, but without success.

He had also, and for the third or fourth time, appealed to the War Department for the completion of the ‘marine torpedoram’ so often referred to in a preceding chapter. To General Cooper, on the 22d of April, he wrote as follows:

* * * It will be remembered that the work was undertaken with the understanding that the sum of fifty thousand dollars would be supplied by the State of South Carolina, and such material as the Navy Department had available. The money has been received, and is exhausted. Some materials have been furnished by the Navy Department, but, thus far, the substantial assistance of iron-plating has been denied, and hence the progress in the work has been incommensurate with its importance, and very far behind what I was led to expect when I was induced to undertake the construction. [80]

Meantime the great value of the invention has been demonstrated so as to secure general conviction; and Captain Tucker, commanding Confederate States naval forces afloat on this station, declares, unhesitatingly, that this one machine of war, if finished, would be more effective as a means of defence and offence than nearly all the ironclads here afloat and building—fact of which I am and have been fully assured. Had it been finished and afloat when the enemy's ironclads entered this outer harbor several weeks ago, but few of them, probably, would have escaped. Be that as it may, I trust the Department will have the matter inquired into—at is, the relative value, as war engines, of the “Lee torpedo-ram,” and of the ironclad rams Chicora and Palmetto State, and others of the same class now building in this harbor, to the absorption of all the material and mechanical resources of this section of the country.

I cannot express to the War Department in too strong terms my sense of the importance of the question involved, and of its intimate connection with the most effective defence of this position. I do not desire to impose my views, but feel it my duty to urge an immediate investigation, by a mixed board of competent officers, to determine whether it be best for the ends in view to continue to appropriate all the material, and employ all the mechanical labor of the country, in the construction of vessels that are forced to play so unimportant and passive a part as that which Captain Tucker, C. S. N., their commander, officially declares to me must be theirs in the future, as in the past. * * *

The Engineer in charge estimates that it will take twenty thousand dollars to pay off existing obligations for workmanship and material, and to complete the vessel, with the exception of floating her.

The plating can only be furnished by the naval authorities, who have control of the rolling-mills and all suitable iron; and unless they will agree to divert from the vessels of the class they are building enough plating for the completion of the ram, I may as well give up further hope.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

But all efforts were unavailing. The War Department, no less than the Navy Department, remained, in appearance, as incredulous as ever. No reasoning, no inducement, could awaken sufficient interest in either to disturb the ‘masterly inactivity’ which was proverbially the bent of both, from the beginning to the end of the war.

1 The italics are ours.

2 Charles Cowley, late Judge-Advocate of the South Atlantic blockading squadron.

3 From Brigadier-General R. S. Ripley's official report, dated April 13th, 1863, to be found in ‘Record of the Rebellion,’ vol. x. (Doc.), pp. 520-522.

4 The reports of Admiral Dupont and of his officers accompanying Secretary Welles's Report for the year 1863, appear, in substance, in the second volume of Boynton

5 Major Echols's report. See Appendix.

6 General Ripley's report, ‘Rebellion Record,’ vol. x., p. 520 (Doc.).

7 Report of Major Harris, Chief-Engineer. See Appendix.

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