12/19/14

The Second Battle of Fort Fisher

After the disastrous assault on Fort Fisher in late December 1864, Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry replaced Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler as the commander of the Union Army Provisional Corps. Terry was assigned by General Grant to lead the assault and capture of Fort Fisher.

Fort Fisher was a massive earthworks defensive fortification at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. It was the primary fortification that defended the approach to the final Confederate port, Wilmington, North Carolina. The approaches to Wilmington were among the moist heavily defended in the Fort Fisher Mapentire Confederacy with a number of forts and batteries guarding the two inlets from the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape Fear River.

Fort Fisher was the key to the overall Confederate defensive plan. The fort had been constructed by Colonel William Lamb who commanded it from July 4, 1862 until its capture on January 15, 1865. Although he had not been trained as an engineer, Lamb supervised the construction of Fort Fisher into the Confederacy’s largest bastion.

General Terry’s force of 9,000 included two divisions of infantry, a brigade of infantry and a brigade of siege artillery. The two divisions were commanded by Brig. Gen Adelbert Ames and Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine. The brigade was commanded by Col. Joseph C. Abbott. The siege artillery was under the command of Brevet Brig. Gen. Henry L. Abbot.

Admiral David Dixon Porter commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron which included some 60 warships plus transports for the Army troops. Porter’s squadron included four of the newer monitors and ironclads such as the USS New Ironsides. Porter had a bombardment plan that was designed to smother the Confederate defenses.

The overall Confederate commander of the District of Cape Fear was Major General W.H.C. Whiting who was an experienced military engineer. His superior was General Braxton Bragg who was in command of the Department of North Carolina. Whiting had two commands reporting to him. One was the Defense, Mouth of Cape Fear led by Brigadier General Louis Hébert. The primary force was the Fort Fisher garrison of 1,900 men commanded by Colonel Lamb. The other force that was present was  Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division of 6,400 in four brigades.

Terry was a perfect choice for the joint operation. He understood the importance of cooperation in this type of operation, having commanded General Alfred Terrytroops during the siege operations around Charleston, South Carolina.

The joint plan was to land Paine’s division of United States Colored Troops on the peninsula north of Fort Fisher. Their assignment was to hold off Hoke’s division from relieving Fort Fisher. Ames’ division and Abbott’s brigade would land in the same area and attack south down the peninsula. They would attack the fort on the land face side facing the river. Porter had organized a force of 2,000 marines and sailors to assault the sea face side of the fort.

On January 13th, the Union forces landed and established their positions. Hoke remained unengaged while Paine’s division set up their defensive line across the peninsula. Terry ordered scouts to reconnoiter the Confederate positions to the south. From these reports he determined that an assault would succeed.

By January 15th, all was in readiness. Porter ordered the naval bombardment on the sea face to commence at dawn. By noon all but four guns were silenced. Hoke had attempted to send reinforcements to the fort but only 400 of the 1,000 men were able to land. The rest were forced to turn back.

Colonel William LambAt about the same time the naval landing force of 1,000 led by Lt. Commander Kidder Breese attempted to storm the Northeast Bastion. Their original plan was to advance in three waves but in the heat of combat they attacked as one unorganized mass. General Whiting personally led the Confederate defense that turned back the naval force causing heavy casualties.

The attack distracted the Confederate defenders at the river gate. At about 2:00 PM Ames ordered his first brigade, commanded by Brevet Brig. Gen. Newton Martin Curtis, forward. Using axes, Curtis’ men chopped their way through the abatis and the palisade fence, suffering heavy casualties in the attack. They overran the outer works and stormed the first traverse. Ames then ordered Colonel Galusha Pennypacker’s brigade forward, accompanying them on the attack.

Union troops fought their way inside the fort. Terry ordered his men to fortify a position within the interior of the fort. The young Pennypacker, 20 at the time, led his brigade until he was severely wounded. His citation for the Medal of Honor, reads, “Gallantly led the charge over a traverse and planted the colors of one of his regiments thereon, was severely wounded.”

The Confederates at Battery Buchanan on the northern end of the fort attempted to repulse the Union troops by turning their artillery on them. Battle of Fort FisherAmes then ordered the Colonel Louis Bell’s brigade into action but Bell was killed by a sharpshooter before he even entered the fort. General Whiting personally led a counterattack against Curtis’ men but was shot and severely wounded in the attempt.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships provided superb close fire support for the attacking troops. They were able to clear out Confederate troops who were defending the traverses. Curtis’ men were able to capture the important fourth traverse. At this point, Colonel Lamb led a desperate counterattack but was severely wounded and evacuated to the hospital. About an hour into the battle Curtis was also wounded.

The battle lasted for hours as Ames’ division became increasingly more disorganized. By now all three of brigade commanders were out of the battle with one killed and two wounded. Both Confederate commanders were also out of action and the garrison was now commanded by Major James Reilly. As darkness fell, Terry order Abbott’s independent brigade into action.

Meanwhile, Bragg had become tired of Whiting’s pleas for additional troops and believing everything was under control at Fort Fisher, he sent General Alfred H. Colquitt to relieve Whiting and assume command. Colquitt landed at 9:30 PM as the Confederate wounded were being evacuated to Battery Buchanan.

Capture of Fort FisherTerry was determined to capture the fort before the end of the day. He ordered a force to advance down to land side of the fort, outside of the wall and flank the Confederate position at the Southern tip of the fort. Colquitt and his staff rushed back to their boats before the Union troops could capture the wharf. Major Reilly, holding a white flag, offered to surrender the fort. Just before 10:00 PM General Terry accepted Fort Fisher’s surrender from General Whiting.

Once Fort Fisher surrendered, the Confederate defense of Wilmington fell apart. Within a month, the city fell to a Union army under General John M. Schofield. With the loss of Wilmington, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was cut off from the vital supplies that were necessary for them to continue the fight.

Colonel William Lamb survived his wound but spent 7 years on crutches. General Whiting died from dysentery that had entered his wounds on March 10, 1865. Colonel Newton Curtis survived his wound, was promoted to brigadier general and was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Colonel Galusha Pennypacker survived what General Terry had thought was a mortal wound. On February 18, 1865, he received a full promotion to brigadier general of volunteers at age 20. He remains the youngest person to have held the rank of general in the U.S. Army.

 

12/17/14

The First Battle of Fort Fisher

Prior to the first Battle of Fort Fisher, there were two minor actions in East Carolina that were failures for the Union.

In the first action on December 9, 1864, an Army expedition commanded by Colonel Jones Frankel left Plymouth, North  Carolina to investigate reports of an ironclad ram being built up the Roanoke River at Halifax. They were followed by a small force of naval vessels, that included the USS Wyalusing, USS Otsego and the tug USS Bazely.

Union_Attack_on_Fort_Fisher_North_Carolina_January_15_1865The naval component of the expedition proceeded upriver in an attempt to capture Rainbow Buff. While they were anchored near Jamesville, the Otsego was struck by two torpedoes (mines) and sank up to her gun deck in the shallows. The Bazely attempted to render assistance but she too was struck by a torpedo and was partially sunk.

The rest of the expedition moved further upriver to Rainbow Bluff the Confederates had reinforced the position, so they withdrew back downriver. The expedition returned to Plymouth on December 28th. The Bazely was later destroyed by the Union Navy while the Otsego eventually sank.

Meanwhile, Frankel’s command proceeded up the river to attack Fort Branch. The fort had originally been constructed to defend the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Bridge from Union attacks. Twelve pieces of artillery were stationed at the fort. The fort was commanded by Colonel John Hinton.

On the night of December 12, 1864, members of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, 27th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, 176th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Battery A of the 3rd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, and the 12th Regiment New York Volunteer Cavalry moved against the Confederate outpost. Colonel Hinton was easily captured by the New York Artillery gun crews but the attack was too slow which allowed the Confederates to regroup. The Union force retreated back to Williamston, North Carolina.

These two disappointing preludes set the stage for an even bigger disappointment that was to come. The Union Army forces for the Fort Fisher attack were led by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler with units from his Army of the James. After his failure at Bermuda Hundred, General Ulysses Grant had originally assigned one of Butler’s subordinates, Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, to lead the expedition. Butler, ever the glory seeker, insisted thatGeneral Benjamin Butler he would lead the expedition himself. Grant agreed.

Butler’s force included 2nd Division of the XXIV Corps and the 3rd Division from the XXV Corps, along with two battalions of heavy artillery and engineers. Grant’s own staff engineer, Colonel Cyrus Comstock, went along as chief engineer. Butler had also brought along the USS Louisiana, a hulk, that he had filled with 200 tons of gunpowder for what he hoped was an ingenious attack on the fort. The naval forces were led by Admiral David Dixon Porter and nearly 60 vessels of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron plus troop transports.

The fleet were supposed to start out from Hampton Roads on December 10th but they were delayed by winter storms for three days. The Navy needed to tow the monitors and they needed to stop at Beaufort to refuel. Eventually after a second storm, all was in readiness and the attack commenced on the night of December 222-23, 1864. The army transports returned to Beaufort due to the second storm.

The opening gambit was to use the Louisiana as a floating bomb. Near midnight, the ship was towed close to the fort’s seawall and set on fire. However, the Louisiana was farther out to sea than the navy thought, perhaps as far as a mile offshore. As a result, Fort Fisher was undamaged by the blast.

In the morning, the Union Navy moved closer to Fort Fisher and began a massive bombardment of the fortification. During the course of the day, the fleet fired close to 10,000 shells, causing very little damage with four seacoast gun carriages disabled, one light artillery caisson destroyed, and 23 casualties in the garrison. In fact, the Union Navy lost 45 men from exploding guns and Confederate artillery hits.

First Battle of Fort FisherWhen the Union Army arrived on the evening of the 23rd, Butler felt that the Confederates were alerted to his amphibious assault by the premature Louisiana explosion and the naval bombardment. Porter convinced him to land a reconnaissance party for scouting purposes. On Christmas morning, Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames’ division began to land.

The Union troops captured a battery north of Fort Fisher and the 4th and 8th North Carolina Junior Reserve battalions. Ames sent a brigade toward the fort to report on the possibility of an attack. The brigade commander, N. Martin Curtis, reported that the land wall was lightly defended. Ames refused to give him permission for an attack and ordered him to withdraw.

Butler had convinced himself that the fort was undamaged and would be too difficult to capture. He ordered his forces to re-embark after he received word the Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division was in the area and there was a threat of yet another storm. The entire fleet then returned to Hampton Roads, having accomplished nothing.

Benjamin Butler was relieved of command by General Grant and eventually dismissed from the Army. He was replaced by Major General Alfred H. Terry. Confederate losses amounted to five killed and mortally wounded, fifty-six wounded, and six hundred captured, while the damage caused by the bombardment was quickly repaired. Blockade runners continued using the port, the next ships to arrive did so the very night the Union fleet withdrew.

12/15/14

The Wilmington Defense

With the neutralization of Mobile, the only remaining major Confederate Port was Wilmington, North Carolina. The city was major Atlantic Ocean port city which served as a lifeline for Confederate trade with Europe. The city was located 30 miles upstream from the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

For its time, Wilmington was a rather large city, being the 13th in population in the Confederacy with 9,553 in the 1860 census. That made it about the same size as Atlanta, Georgia.The port traded cotton and tobacco in exchange for foreign goods, such as munitions, clothing and foodstuffs.

The city was the terminus for the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad which transported freight through Petersburg to Richmond. By the middle of 1864, the railroad became a virtual lifeline of supplies for the Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The loss of the port facilities at Wilmington would spell slow starvation to the defenders at Petersburg.

The Union Navy found that blockading Wilmington was very difficult. There were two outlets out to the Atlantic Ocean that required blockade ships to be positioned on either side of Smith Island. The channels were rather shallow and were protected by a number of fortifications.

There were two paths to gain access to the Cape Fear and Wilmington: Old Inlet, to the south and west of Bald Head Island, and New Inlet, formed during a major hurricane in 1769, to the north of Bald Head Island. The existence of two inlets resulted in a crucial advantage: guided by the Confederates, the blockade runners simply had to change course unexpectedly, alternatively between the two inlets.

In order to hold the port open for blockade runners, the Confederate Army sited a number of fortifications to defend the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The largest of these was Fort Fisher which was sited along a peninsula that protected the river. The fort was named for Colonel Charles F. Fisher of the 6th North Carolina Infantry who fell at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).

Fort Fisher had both a land defense and a sea defense plus a battery at one end. The land face was 1,800 feet long over 15 dirt mounds. It had 25 guns which were positioned at 32 feet above sea level. In the mounds there was a tunnel network plus magazines for ammunition. In front of this wall of dirt, there was a 9 foot tall fence of wooden stakes.

The sea defense was one mile long and had a total of 22 guns at 12 feet above sea level plus two large batteries at the ends. Two additional bombproof-structures were also constructed to house the hospital and the telegraph office. The Buchanan battery was built at the extreme tip of the peninsula.

Fort Fisher was equipped with a variety of artillery pieces. This weaponry include a number 8 inch Columbiads, a few 10 inch Columbiads, a variety of 32-pounder rifled guns and Brooke rifles. An 8 inch Blakely was mounted in the Northeast Bastion. The innovative 150 pound Armstrong  rifled gun was placed along the sea face.

To protect the guns barbette carriages were installed around each of the guns. These were early protective circular armor to protect the gun and its crew.

Siege weapons included 4.5 inch Parrott Rifles at the Shepherd Battery, and two 24-pound Coehorn Mortars and one 10 inch seacoast mortar along the land face. Along the entrance was stationed a 12 pound Napoleon-M1857 and a 3 inch Parrott Rifle. The middle sally port along the fort’s landface was protected by 2-12 pounders.

Fort Fisher was not the only defensive fortification guarding the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Both inlets had been seeded with obstacles and torpedoes (mines) that required the blockade runners to have an escort to enter the estuary.

Forts Caswell, Campbell, and Battery Shaw on Oak Island, along with Fort Holmes on Bald Head Island guarded the Old Inlet entrance to Cape Fear. Fort Pender built at Smithville. Smith Island, guarding the New Inlet, had a battery sited on it. Opposite the island on the mainland, there was Battery Lamb with a battery of 10 inch guns. A short distance up the river was Fort Anderson with 13 additional guns to prevent the penetration of the Cape Fear River. Throughout the passage upriver there were additional obstacles in the water.

The Wilmington defense was truly a formidable one and it would require a huge effort to defeat the Confederates.

Sea Face at Fort Fisher

 

12/12/14

Union Reversal at Galveston

Galveston, the island city along the Texas coast, had been under blockade since July 1861. Admiral David Farragut was at loose ends after the capture of New Orleans and the failure to take Vicksburg by the Navy. The Army had not sent enough troops to assist him in the latter task so he looked around for another target and Farragut decided to capture Galveston. The city had become a center of manufacturing and service businesses specializing in the shipping trade. Before the outbreak of the war two-thirds of all cotton exported from Texas had come through its port.

With the capture of New Orleans, Galveston was one of only two ports on the Gulf Coast that was open to blockade runners. Mobile Bay was the other one and Farragut did not have enough troops to capture it.

Galveston Bay in 1862Farragut ordered Commander William Renshaw to move his squadron to Galveston Harbor on October 4, 1862 and demanded the surrender of the city. The Confederate commander, Colonel Joseph Cook, agreed but only on the condition of a four-day truce. Inexplicably, Renshaw agreed to this condition and Cook was able to evacuate personnel and military supplies to Fort Hebert on the mainland.

The citizens who remained in the city were either Union sympathizers or were willing to act as if they were. The Union occupation of Galveston was only during the daytime at first with Union marines returning to their ships at night.

Renshaw’s squadron included seven warships and three companies of army troops from the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry, led by Colonel Isaac Burrell. The army troops arrived at Galveston on December 24th. Farragut had asked for more troops but the lack of cooperation by the Army and especially Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler was to prove the undoing of the Galveston enterprise.

The Massachusetts infantry secured the area around the wharfs and waterfront warehouses at the end of Kuhn’s Wharf as best they could. Burrell ordered his men to reinforce a large three-story warehouse as a strong point. He also had them pull up all of the planks on the wharf but one to impede any Confederate attack.

Despite all of his caution, Burrell left the bridge from the mainland to Galveston unguarded. Army transports with field artillery arrived in the harbor but the guns were not landed. Generally, the important port of Galveston was lightly defended.

In late November 1862, Maj. Gen. John Magruder assumed command of all Confederate forces in Texas. Magruder had seen action with Johnston General John B. Magruderand later, lee during the Peninsula campaign earlier in the year. He made the retaking of Galveston one of his primary goals.

Magruder envisioned a joint Army-Navy operation to retake Galveston. There was one problem with his plan; he had no naval forces to carry out that part of his plan. All that he had available were several companies of artillery and a handful of militia. Some of his subordinates questioned the feasibility of Magruder’s plans.

Magruder did have Leon Smith, an experienced steamboat captain, who was able to assemble a small flotilla of “cottonclads” to assist in the operation. The “cottonclads”, Bayou City and Neptune, used two or three layers of cotton bales to protect their vulnerable points on the ships. Each of the vessels was equipped with artillery from the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery. The Bayou City was equipped with a 32-pounder rifled gun and the Neptune with two 24-pounder howitzers.

Magruder was able to cajole a local commander for the use of 300 men. He equipped them with Enfield rifles and double-barreled shotguns. They were assigned to the “cottonclads” as sharpshooters and boarders. Smith added two armed tenders to his flotilla.

Magruder ordered his forces to attack in the pre-dawn hours of January 1, 1863. Magruder positioned 20 pieces of artillery along the waterfront to bombard the Union ships in the harbor. After firing the first gun at the USS Owasco, Magruder retired to his headquarters about ten miles from the waterfront.

The Confederate infantry waded on either side of Kuhn’s Wharf with ladders to climb up the wharf and arrive in the enemy rear. The ladders turned out to be too short and the Confederates were forced to wade back to shore while under heavy fire. Once it lightened, the Union warships began to target the Confederate artillery positions with deadly accurate fire. Things looked bad for Magruder’s forces and considered ordering a general retreat.

Battle of Galveston BayAt this point in the battle Smith and his small flotilla arrived on the scene. Expecting a midnight attack and when it didn’t happen Smith had grown tired of waiting for the attack. He had moved his vessels up the bay. When he heard the first guns firing, he mad a dash back into position. The 32-pounder on the Bayou City exploded after four shots but Smith was undeterred. He orded his ships to close with the Union vessels.

An unsuccessful attack on the USRC Harriet Lane caused the Neptune so much damage that she began to sink. The captain managed to settle her on a sandbar where the sharpshooters were able to continue the fight. The Bayou City attacked the Harriet Lane for a second time. They managed to board and capture the ship, killing both the captain and the first officer. Ironically, the first officer, Lt. Comdr. Edward Lea’s father was serving as a volunteer on Magruder’s staff. He was able to be with his son before he died.

The Confederates arranged a truce and called for Commander William Renshaw to surrender. He refused and ordered Commander Richard Law, captain of the USS Clifton, to withdraw from the bay with the rest of the squadron. Renshaw’s vessel, the USS Westfield, had run aground in the Bolivar Channel. Renshaw resolved to scuttle her and leave on longboats. Before they could depart, the fires reached the magazine and exploded killing all on board. The other vessels escaped from the bay.

The Confederate attack was a shocking victory. The Union side lost two ships and sustained 414 casualties while the Confederates lost the Neptune, along with 26 dead and 117 wounded.

But this wasn’t the end of activity around Galveston. Farragut dispatched the USS Brooklyn and six gunboats to retake the city. On January 11th, they encountered the Confederate raider CSS Alabama. Captain Henry Bell, the squadron commander, dispatched the lightly-armed USS Hatteras to investigate the ship sighting. Totally overmatched, the Alabama sank the Union side-wheeler in 13 minutes.

The sinking of the Hatteras forced Captain Bell to break off his attack on the city and within the month Farragut abandoned any plans to retake Galveston. It was to remain in Confederate hands until June 2, 1865.

The Galveston reversal pointed out that there needed to be stronger cooperation between the Army and the Navy when attempting to secure the Southern ports.

 

12/10/14

The Mobile Bay Naval Attack

Admiral David Farragut had planned that the two prongs of the Mobile Bay naval attack, the Navy and the Army, would be simultaneous. However, the naval part of the attack was delayed because the USS Tecumseh didn’t arrive until August 4th.

Admiral David Glasgow FarragutThe Army brigade led by Brig. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on Dauphin Island, to the rear of Fort Gaines, on August 3rd. His force moved to invest the fort of August 4th.

Farragut planned the attack into Mobile Bay with the 4 monitors leading the way. With their shallow draft, they would be able to hug the shoreline and avoid the minefield. Their low profiles and heavy armor plating would protect them from the guns of Fort Morgan. They were to be followed by the wooden warships which would be echeloned to the left of the monitors for protection.

Farragut ordered the smaller gunboats to be lashed to the port sides of the larger vessels. This would not only protect the smaller ships but if the larger vessels engines were damaged, the gunboats could act as tugs and pull them to safety. Once they were past the fort and inside the bay, the ships could then be separated and operate independently.

David Farragut was known as a meticulous planner and the night before the attack proved it. He ordered that any unnecessary spars and rigging be removed to facilitate the speed and maneuverability of his fleet. Chain garlands were hung from the starboard sides of his wooden ships to protect them from torpedoes (mines). Sandbags were stacked “from stem to stern, and from the berth to the spar deck” in order to protect the ships from artillery fire.

At dawn on August 5th, the Union fleet was ready to attack. Although he wished to lead the attack on the USS Hartford, Farragut’s officers convinced him that as the commanding officer, he should not expose himself to that kind of danger. He regretfully agreed with them and placed the USS Brooklyn in the fore with the Hartford in the middle of the battle line.

The attack commenced shortly after 6:30 AM with the USS Tecumseh firing a ranging shot and leading the Union battle line. On the Union side, Battle of Mobile Baythere were 30 vessels with 252 guns and 3,000 crewmen. The Union fleet included 4 ironclad monitors. The Confederate fleet had one ironclad and 3 wooden gunboats with a total of 22 guns and 473 men. The Confederate commander Admiral Franklin Buchanan exhorted his sailors from his flagship, the CSS Tennessee, “…whip and sink the Yankees or fight until you sink yourselves, but do not surrender.”

Fort Morgan returned fire at 7:10 AM at a range of one-half mile. The Brooklyn returned the fort’s fire, after which as Farragut observed, “the action became lively.” Buchanan brought his four ships out from behind Mobile Point, just behind the minefield, crossing the Union “T”. His ships sent a raking fire down the Union battle line.

The Brooklyn with its superior speed had drawn even with the monitors. If they did not slow down they would be leading the attack. At this point Captain James Alden of the Brooklyn saw a suspicious row of buoys just off his bow. He ordered his ship to back off to clear the hazards but this maneuver compressed the Union line and exposed it to fire from Fort Morgan. The USS Tecumseh was struck by a torpedo and sank in 25 seconds with the captain and 92 members of the crew.

It was at this point in the attack that David Farragut was to make history. Despite his 63 years, he climbed the rigging where he was reluctantly secured by one of his crew. From this vantage point, he was able to see the entire action. Telling his crew, “I shall lead. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.” On August 5, 1864, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut set an example that has been followed by U.S. naval officers ever since.

Farragut at the battle of Mobile BayWith his famous command, Farragut ordered the USS Hartford with the USS Metacomet lashed to its sides across the minefield and into Mobile Bay. By turning the Union ships were able to use their starboard batteries on Fort Morgan and drive the Confederate gunners from their positions. The fort was able to return fire after the large vessels had passed, damaging several of the smaller boats in the rear.

The Union ships began to pound the CSS Tennessee but the heavy armor of the ironclad was barely dented by the broadsides. With the Union fleet, about a mile into the bay, Farragut ordered that the gunboats be cut loose and attack the three Confederate gunboats. The Confederate ships were quickly neutralized with the CSS Selma being captured, the CSS Gaines beached and burned by her crew and the CSS Morgan fleeing the scene.

The Tennessee was a bigger problem with her heavy army and 6 big guns. The three remaining Union ironclads attempted to ram the Confederate flagship, to no avail. The Tennessee also attempted to ram the Union monitors but because of her lack of speed and maneuverability, they were able to avoid the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Confederate ironclad was taking a terrific battering from the Union fleet. Some of her gunports had been jammed, her smokestack CSS Tennesseehad been shot away and the crew was unable to build up boiler pressure. When her rudder chains were parted, the ship lost all steering. The Chickasaw and the Manhattan began to pound her with their big 15 inch guns. Casualties, including Buchanan, began to pile up. A little more than three hours after the Tecumseh opened the attack, Buchanan gave Commander James D. Johnston permission to surrender.

With the surrender of the CSS Tennessee, the naval part of the attack on Mobile Bay’s defenses was over. Farragut and the Army could now turn to the reduction of the forts that were guarding the entrances to the bay. This portion of the campaign would take another two weeks to accomplish.

The total casualties for both sides were low by comparison to other Civil War battles. The Union force of 3,000 lost a total of 151 killed and 177 wounded. This included the 93 men who perished with the sinking of the Tecumseh. The Confederates lost a much higher percentage of men. Of the 473 men engaged, they sustained 319 casualties, killed, wounded or captured. They had one gunboat sunk, another gunboat captured and as well as the ironclad Tennessee taken.

 

 

12/8/14

The Mobile Bay Land Battles

The land battles around Mobile Bay started on August 4, 1864 when the Union troops of Brig. Gen. Gordon Granger landed on Dauphin Island in the rear of Fort Gaines.

The overall commander of the Confederate forces in the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana was Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury. Even though Mobile was the location of his department headquarters, he did not exercise command over the forts at the entrance of the bay. He was not present at the battle or the following siege. Brig. Gen. Richard L. Page exercised local control over the forts.

Mobile Bay MapThe three forts were Fort Powell on Tower Island at Grant’s Pass, Fort Gaines on the eastern end of Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan on the mainland opposite Fort Gaines. Fort Powell was the smallest with between 12 and 18 guns and a garrison of 140 men. Fort Gaines was equipped with 26 guns and had a garrison of 600 men. Fort Morgan, the largest of the three, had 47 guns and also had a garrison of 600 at the start of the battle.

After the Union fleet dispatched the Confederate naval forces, Admiral David Farragut dispatched the USS Chickasaw to bombard Fort Powell and assist further troop landings at Fort Gaines. The bombardments of both forts exposed one of the major weaknesses that they had. They were highly vulnerable to attack from the rear.

Lt. Col. James Williams, Fort Powell’s commander, asked Brig. Gen. Page for instructions. What he received was a highly ambiguous response, “When no longer tenable, save your garrison. Hold out as long as you can.”  Williams realized immediately that his situation was hopeless. He spiked his guns and blew up his magazines. He then led his men across to the mainland and withdrew to Mobile.

Col. Charles D. Anderson, the commander of Fort Gaines, held out several days longer than Williams. The Union force on Dauphin Island outnumbered his own. They were able to use their naval and land guns to assault the fort from the rear. Anderson, despite orders from Page, opened up communications with Farragut and Granger under a flag of truce. On August 8th, he surrendered the fort and its garrison.

As soon as Fort Gaines surrendered, Brig. Gen. Granger immediately moved his force to invest Fort Morgan. The fort was a star-shaped fort with a total of 47 guns so Granger decided to siege it using traditional methods.His men dug a series of trenches, moving ever closer to the walls. They were assisted by the USS Chickasaw, USS Winnebago and the USS Manhattan. They were joined after a time by the newly-named USS Tennessee. The captured Confederate ironclad was repaired and refitted for combat.

On August 22nd the fort was bombarded from 16 siege mortars, 18 field guns and the guns of the fleet. Fearing that his magazines which contained Fort Morgan after the siege80,000 pounds of gunpowder might be hit, Brig. Gen. Page ordered that they be flooded. Realizing that further resistance was futile, Page ordered the guns spiked and surrendered Fort Morgan on August 23rd.

With the capture of Fort Morgan, the campaign for the lower Mobile Bay was complete. Maj. Gen. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, the commander of the Military Division of West Mississippi,  and Farragut had already decided before the first landings on Dauphin Island that the army could not provide enough men to attack Mobile itself.

The Dog River Bar that had impeded bringing CSS Tennessee down now prevented Farragut’s fleet from going up. Mobile did come under combined army-navy attack, but only in March and April 1865, after Farragut had been replaced by Rear Adm. Henry K. Thatcher. The city finally fell in the last days of the war.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Mobile Bay and Admiral David Farragut, here are some resources:

Last Stand at Mobile (Civil War Campaigns and Commander Series) by John C. Waugh

Lincoln’s Admiral: The Civil War Campaigns of David Farragut by James P. Duffy

 

12/5/14

The Mobile Bay Plan

This is the first of three posts on the assault on Mobile Bay.

Mobile Bay, along the Alabama Gulf coast was one of the remaining major ports available to the Confederacy by 1864. The Union blockading squadrons had been able to shut all the other ports except for Mobile Bay and Wilmington, North Carolina.

Mobile Bay MapMobile Bay is a large inlet some 31 miles deep and at places 24 miles wide, extending north from the Gulf of Mexico. Feeding into the bay were the Mobile and Tenshaw Rivers which were part of a network of inland waterways. Thirty miles north of the city of Mobile, the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers joined to form the Mobile River. The Mobile & Ohio Railroad ran from the city to Columbus, Kentucky. It was the longest rail line in the Confederacy.

The city of Mobile had been the second-largest cotton exporting port in the South, next to New Orleans. Blockade runners steamed between Mobile and Bermuda, Nassau and Cuba with commodity exports and high value material imports. The state of Alabama was second only to the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond as the South’s center for manufacturing iron and rolling heavy plate.

Selma was 130 miles north of Mobile along the Alabama River. Henry D. Bassett’s Ship Yard there was in the process of building three ironclads. In all, eight ironclads were being constructed on the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers. Only one, the CSS Tennessee was to be completed in time to see action. The need to halt further ironclad production by the Confederacy was one of the more important reasons to capture the bay and the city.

Mobile Bay was a difficult target. The bay entrance narrowed to only three miles wide. On the western side of the entrance Fort Gaines guarded it on Dauphin Point. The fort is a masonry fortification that was established in 1821. During the battle the fort was equipped with 26 guns and had a garrison of 600 soldiers. East from the fort, the Confederates had sunk a series of pilings that reduced the width of the opening by over half.

From the pilings east, the Confederates had placed three lines of torpedoes (mines). Those and the shallow water reduced the entrance even further. Each line of torpedoes was staggered behind the other in order to prevent a vessel of any size from slipping through. Brig. Gen. Gabriel Fort Gaines in 2002Rains, who had pioneered the use of land mines during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, had been the architect of these defensive measures.

On the eastern edge of this formidable minefield, there was a narrow 200 yard opening for the passage of blockade runners. Fort Morgan, a large star-shaped masonry fort guarded this entrance. The fort had been completed in 1834. At the time of the assault the fort was equipped with 47 guns and garrisoned by about 600 men.

A third smaller fort, Fort Powell, guarded Grant’s Pass a narrow intercoastal waterway north of Dauphin Island. Fort Powell was equipped with 12 guns (another source says that it had 18 guns) and was garrisoned by about 140 men from the 21st Alabama Infantry.

Fort Morgan planWithin the bay itself, the Confederates had the CSS Tennessee and three sidewheel steamer gunboats, the CSS Selma, CSS Morgan and CSS Gaines. The Tennessee’s captain was Commander James D. Johnston. The Tennessee carried six guns as did the Morgan and the Gaines. The Selma carried four guns. The overall naval commander was Admiral Franklin Buchanan, who had been the original commander of the CSS Virginia before being wounded. The Tennessee was Buchanan’s flagship.

The Tennessee was a formidable weapon with six inches of armor on her casemate, five inches on her sides and two inches on her deck. She was equipped with six Brooke rifles. Two were 7 inch and four were 6.4 inch rifles. Due to the extreme weight of armor and armament, the Tennessee was inadequately powered and could only make 5 knots. This lack of power made her difficult to maneuver.

The force that Admiral David Farragut had assembled was formidable, Included in it were four newer ironclads. The USS Manhattan and the USS Tecumseh were large vessels that mounted 2-15 inch Dahlgren guns that were protected by 11 inches of turret armor. The USS Chickasaw and the USS Winnebago were twin-turreted river monitors equipped with 4-11 inch Dahlgren smoothbores.

In addition to the powerful ironclads, Farragut had 14 wooden vessels and an Army contingent of 2,000 men. Included among Farragut’s ship was his flagship, the USS Hartford and the USS Brooklyn. The Hartford was a 24-gun sloop-of-war. The Brooklyn carried 21 guns.

The campaign to take Mobile Bay was to begin on August 2, 1864 and conclude on the 23rd.

 

 

 

12/3/14

The Naval Assault on Charleston: 1864-1865

Admiral John DahlgrenAfter an investigation into the failed attack Welles had come to the conclusion that Du Pont was correct. Charleston harbor could not be taken by an all-Navy assault. However, he had lost confidence in the admiral and recalled him on June 3rd. He was replaced by Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote. Unfortunately, Foote died from a previous wound before he could take command. He, in turn, was replaced by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren.

John Dahlgren was well-known throughout the United States Navy as a master of naval ordnance. Dahlgren established the U.S. Navy’s Ordnance Department; became an ordnance expert; developed a percussion lock; and wrote a number of books. He established the Navy’s own foundry, and its first product was the Boat Howitzer, which was designed to be used on both ship and in landings.

It was during this time period that the Ordnance Department developed the “shell” gun that was to bear his name, the Dahlgren gun. His “shell gun” design was an improvement on the shell-gun invented by the French Admiral Henri-Joseph Paixhans. By 1856, the Dahlgren gun had become the standard armament of the United States Navy.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Dahlgren was a Lieutenant. His commander at the Washington Navy Yard resigned to join the Confederate Navy and Lincoln wanted to promote Dahlgren to command of the yard. The position required a Captain and Lincoln persuaded Congress to pass a special act promoting Dahlgren to that rank. By February 1863 he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and was given command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron after Andrew Foote’s death.

On June 12, 1863 Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore had assumed command of the Department of the South. Gillmore was an expert in the use of long-range artillery. Between Dahlgren and Gillmore, two of the top experts on artillery and its use were now in command of the siege of Charleston Harbor.

From July to September, the Navy would keep up a steady bombardment of the Confederate fortifications of Charleston Harbor. Meanwhile, on July 10th, Gillmore ordered a landing of nearly 3,000 troops to the south end of Morris Island. They advanced to within one half mile of Fort Wagner (also known as Battery Wagner). The naval guns dueled with the fort for nearly 12 hours, while the Army troops dug trenches to shelter their Parrot guns for the anticipated siege.

Over the next two months, the Union forces launched 25 separate attacks in an attempt to capture the rest of Morris Island but to no avail. Most Americans are familiar with the attempted storming of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Led by their young colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a unit of African-Americans with white officers, attempted to storm the sand fort.

In a coordinated assault consisting of two brigades with a total of nine regiments, the attack commenced at dusk. Led by the 54th Massachusetts, the Union Charleston Harbor 1862forces reached the top of the wall only to be repulsed with tremendous losses. Colonel Shaw was said to have been shot seven times with a fatal wound to the chest. In all, 1,515 Union soldiers were killed, captured, or wounded in the assault of July 18, although this number has never been accurately ascertained. The Confederate commander of the fort reported burying 800 Union soldiers.

It was in this action that the first Medal of Honor was awarded to William Carney, an African-American and a sergeant with the 54th for returning the U.S. flag to the Union lines. After the battle the 54th Massachusetts had only 315 men left. The Confederates suffered total 174 casualties. The Confederates abandoned the fort on September 7, 1863, after resisting 60 days of shelling. It was deemed untenable because of the damage from constant bombardment, lack of provisions, and the close proximity of the Union siege trenches.

On August 17th, both the Navy and the Army began a week long bombardment of Fort Sumter. On August 23rd and again on September 1st, Dahlgren ordered his ironclads to attack Fort Sumter. By this point the fort had been turned to rubble from the combined artillery assaults. General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered the removal of as many of Sumter’s artillery pieces as possible. Gillmore wired the War Department that “Fort Sumter is a shapeless and harmless mass of ruin”.

Gillmore attempted to force the surrender of the city. On August 21st, he sent a demand to Beauregard for the evacuation of Fort Sumter and Morris Island within four hours. If his terms were not met, he threatened to begin the bombardment of Charleston immediately. The Confederates refused and Gillmore’s artillery began to fire at 1:30 AM on August 22nd. Using a massive 200-pound Parrott rifle named the “Swamp Angel”, the Union forces hurled 35 shots into the city of Charleston itself, but on the 36th shot the gun exploded.

On September 7th Dahlgren, thinking that Fort Sumter had been evacuated, sent a force of 400 sailors and marines in small boats to capture the force. The Confederates were ready for the attack and it was repulsed. More than 100 Union troops were taken prisoner.

Dahlgren withdrew most of his ironclads to Port Royal for repairs but continued to harass the forts around Charleston Harbor with naval and army artillery fire. The Confederates had removed most of Fort Sumter’s heavy guns to Forts Moultrie and Jackson where they continued to duel with the Union forces.

The most famous innovation that came out of the siege of Charleston Harbor was the submersible CSS H.L. Hunley, a 40 foot long cigar-shaped submarine. The submarine had already caused the deaths of 13 crew men when on the night of February 17, 1864, it attacked and sank the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo. The USS Housatonic became the first ship to be sunk by a submarine. However, the blast also sank the Hunley, killing 8 more crew men.

Eventually, the Federal authorities decided that Charleston was not worth the cost and settled into a more passive siege. It was to be left to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army to capture Charleston after it was evacuated by the Confederates on February 17-18, 1865.

 

 

12/1/14

The Naval Assault on Charleston: 1861-1863

Fort Sumter in 1860Of all the cities and states that had gained the animus of Union soldiers and sailors was the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina. They saw the two entities as the primary Originators of the secession of the Southern states. Diaries, letters and books attest to the fact that Union soldiers and sailors believed that Charleston and South Carolina were both a den of traitors.

When Union troops under General William T. Sherman entered Columbia, the South Carolina state capital, one man wrote that this is where treason began and this is where we’ll end it.

Finally, the Union men saw the attack on Fort Sumter as the final treason. The nearly defenseless fort was pounded mercilessly until its commander, Major Robert Anderson surrendered to the Confederates.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Union government planned to first shut and then capture the harbor and the city of Charleston. It was being used by blockade runners on a continuous basis and the Union Navy planned to institute an air-tight blockade to prevent egress and ingress.

Admiral Samuel Du Pont urged the War Department to attack Charleston soon after Port Royal was taken in early November of 1861. He knew that it would require a joint sea and land assault but the Army had other priorities. The 10,000 troops assigned to the operation were commanded by Maj. Gen. David Hunter but they proved to be too few for a successful assault.

The first attempt to shut the port was made by using a “Stone Fleet” of ship hulks that were filled with rocks and scuttled to obstruct the main channel. Twenty-four whaleships were sunk starting from December 1861 to January 1862. Between 12 and 20 more vessels were sunk later in 1862. The powerful tides and storms washed the hulks away over a period of a year or two. Meanwhile, other channels remained open to the blockade runners.

The Union forces had a more promising opportunity when they received word that the Confederates had abandoned their positions that were guarding the seaward approaches to James Island to the south of the city. On June 2, 1862, Du Pont immediately landed two of Hunter’s divisions on James Island. They were positioned to come in the rear of Charleston’s defenses.

The Union Army was faced with meager Confederate resistance but Hunter convinced himself that he was outnumbered by the enemy. The reality was that the Union forces far outnumbered the Confederates. He left Brig. Gen. Henry Benham in charge and instructed him not to act until ordered.

In the ensuing two weeks while the Union troops sat by idly, the Confederates reinforced the island. On June 16th, Benham disobeyed orders and attacked. He was badly beaten near the town of Secessionville. Hunter withdrew his force and relieved Benham who was demoted to lieutenant colonel.

This was followed by a raid that probed the outer defenses of the city. There was a bloodless skirmish at Simmon’s Bluff on June 21st, just south of Charleston. The 55th Pennsylvania Infantry had been assigned to sever the railroad line from the city. Upon landing, they surprised the 16th South Carolina, razed their camp and routed the troops. They then boarded their transport, foregoing the raid on the railroad and returned to their base.

Meanwhile, the Confederates had been strengthening the defenses surrounding the city, creating a three-tier defensive system. The outer defenses consisted of fortifications that protected the mouth of the harbor and the channels from the barrier islands. These included Fort Wagner and Battery Greg on Morris Island on the south side of the harbor entrance. Fort Sumter was directly ahead in the center of the harbor mouth. Fort Moultrie, Battery Bee and Battery Beauregard were on the right side of the harbor on Sullivan Island. Battery Greg, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie combined to deliver three-sided fire on the harbor entrance.

The second line of defenses consisted of artillery batteries ringing the harbor that were sited to engage any vessel that might break through the outer ring. On James Island, there was Fort Jackson and Battery Glover. Fort Ripley and Castle Pinckney were situated in the harbor itself. On the Battery in the city itself was Battery Ramsey. The flank approaches to the city were protected by a series of land forts.

The Confederates had removed the buoys marking the various channels making navigation without a pilot nearly impossible. Du Pont referred to Charleston Harbor as a “bag” and a “cul de sac”. The admiral believed that Charleston would be a trap for his warships.

After the unsuccessful assault on Fort McAllister, Du Pont had returned to the problem of solving the Charleston Harbor defenses. The Washington authorities, particularly Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and President Abraham Lincoln were particurly keen for Du Pont to force the harbor defenses defenses using the new weapons that he had been assigned.

Du Pont’s attacking force now included the latest warships in the Union’s arsenal. He had been given seven Passaic class monitors, the new USS Ironsides and the experimental USS Keokuk. Other naval operations were sidetracked in order for these resources to be sent to Charleston.

Charleston Harbor 1861Du Pont felt that any assault on the Charleston harbor defenses needed the accompaniment of the Army. His views on Army-Navy cooperation were well known in Washington but had been ignored.

Meanwhile, the general wartime situation in early 1863 was not promising for the Union cause. In December 1862 the huge Federal army had been repulsed at Fredericksburg with serious losses. The Army of the Potomac was in serious disarray. Along the Mississippi, the campaign around Vicksburg was bogged down. Galveston had been retaken by the Confederates. A general war weariness had overtaken the North with signs that the Republicans might fare poorly in the fall elections.

Under this cloud, Du Pont was being pushed into attacking the defenses of Charleston harbor with his powerful but flawed force. At this stage of their development, the Passaic class monitors were slow-moving and slow-firing behemoths. They were somewhat longer and twice as heavy as the original USS Monitor. The New Ironsides moved at the same rate of speed, 7 knots per hour while the Keokuk was slightly faster at 9 knots.

Du Pont did not share the enthusiasm of the Navy Department for the armored vessels. Although they could withstand whatever punishment the coastal artillery inflict, their offensive capabilities were severely restricted. New Ironsides carried 16 guns (broadside, so only 8 could be brought to bear at one time), but each of the others carried only two guns. Each Passaic had one 15-inch (380 mm) and one 11-inch (280 mm) gun, while Keokuk carried two 11-inch (280 mm) guns. Although they were larger than the typical 32-pounder weapons that would be used against them, their rate of fire was much less. Seven minutes was needed to swab, reload, and aim between shots.

The Army, led by Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, was unwilling to send any more than 10,000 to 15,000 untrained troops to assist in the operation. First Battle of Charleston HarborEven with those, they would only send them in to exploit the naval successes, if they occurred.

Charleston, blockaded as it was, had become a target of only limited military significance, as the active centers of combat were mostly in Virginia and the interior of the country. Its value as a port for blockade runners was not much greater than that of Mobile, Alabama or Savannah, Georgia, and all were eclipsed by Wilmington, North Carolina. It was selected as a target more for its symbolic worth than for its strategic importance. In the words of one of the participants in the naval attack, “Fort Sumter was regarded in the public mind, North and South, as the citadel of the fortress, the incarnation of the rebellion, and as such it was attacked and defended.”

All of this set the stage for the First Battle of Charleston Harbor on April 7, 1863. Du Pont on his flagship, the New Ironsides, was positioned in the middle of the Union line of battle. The attack commenced at noon. The Union line was led by the USS Weehawken, Passaic class monitor. A special raft with grappling hooks had been constructed in an attempt to sweep the Confederate torpedoes. The Weehawken almost immediately fouled her anchor on the grappling hooks of the raft. This slowed her speed considerably to 3 knots. The rest of the battle line were slowed behind her.

USS KeokukIt took two hours for the Union vessels to reach their firing positions. Due to handling problems from the strong currents and shallow waters, the New Ironsides was forced to drop out of line and anchor in order not to run aground. The following ships were forced to steam around her. Meanwhile, at the head of the line the Weehawken had moved out of the channel and the others following had become confused by her maneuvering.

The Union ships were now in an area where the Confederate shore batteries were able to pummel them. In the course of two hours, the Confederates fired 2,000 shots of which 520 were hits. By contrast, the Union fleet only fired a mere 154 shots. Although the heavy armor protected the crews, many of the ships suffered mechanical damage, such as, jammed turrets and damaged gunports. The worst hit was the Keokuk which was hit 90 times, including 19 times at or below the waterline. The near stationary movement of the Union vessels made them easy targets for the Confederate gunners.

As the tide began to turn, Du Pont ordered his fleet to withdraw. In his official report Du Pont asserted that he planned on renewing the attack the following day but his captains refused. The USS Keokuk sank during the night, after her crew had been evacuated. The USS Keokuk sank in an area where here smokestack was above the water which marked her position. Under cover of darkness, a crew led by Charleston salvager, Adolphus W. Lacoste, was able to recover her tw0 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns from the wreck.

Several of the other ships required repairs that would take between days and weeks to complete. Fort Sumter had sustained some damage but it was quickly repaired. The Union casualties were one killed and 21 wounded while the Confederates had 5 killed and 8 wounded.

 

11/28/14

Confederate Commerce Raiders

The Confederate States Navy was considerably smaller than the United States Navy. In order to have an impact in the war at sea the Confederate government built a number of commerce raiders. They were used, as their name implies, to raid the sea lanes for Northern merchantmen and impede trade between the Union and Europe.

These rebel cruisers did not “alter the outcome of the war,” wrote James M. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom, but “they diverted numerous C.S.S. AlabamaUnion navy ships from the blockade, drove insurance rates for American vessels to astronomical heights, forced these vessels to remain in port or convert to foreign registry [the raiders concentrated their attacks on ships flying the American flag], and helped topple the American merchant-marine from its once-dominant position, which it never regained.”

These commerce raiders were wooden cruisers were steam powered and screw propelled ships. A number of them were built in Great Britain. In order to avoid problems relating to neutrality they were armed in international waters.

Perhaps, the most famous of the Confederate commerce raiders was the C.S.S. Alabama. Built in secrecy by John Laird Sons and Company in Birkenhead, United Kingdom the Alabama was launched on July 29, 1862. She was sailed to Azores for commissioning and arming. There her captain, Raphael Semmes, took command.

Over the course of her career the C.S.S. Alabama burned 65 Union vessels of various types, most of them merchant ships. Captured ships’ crews and passengers were never harmed, only detained until they could be placed aboard a neutral ship or placed ashore in a friendly or neutral port. The Alabama was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge in a one-hour gun battle off Cherbourg on June 19, 1864.USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabam

The C.S.S. Florida was the first of the foreign-built commerce raiders. She was built by William C. Miller & Sons of Toxteth, Liverpool and departed port on March 22, 1862 as the Oreto.  She was commissioned as the C.S.S. Florida in the Bahamas on August 17, 1862 where she was also armed and provisioned. At first, the Floridawas commanded by Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt but he was replaced due to ill health by Lieutenant Charles Manigault Morris in February 1864.

During her career the Florida took 37 prizes while two of her prizes took another 23 ships. On October 7, 1864 the Florida was captured illegally in the neutral port of Bahia, Brazil by the U.S.S. Wachusett. The Florida was sailed to Newport News, Virginia where in a strange end to the raider, she was sunk after some say a deliberate collision with a troop ferry.

The C.S.S. Sumter was originally the merchantman Habana. Built in 1859 in Philadelphia, she was purchased by the Confederate government in April 1861. She was converted to a cruiser and under the command of Raphael Semmes was renamed the Sumter in June 1861. From then until January 1862 the Sumter took 18 prizes. While coaling at Gibralter the Sumter was trapped by Union warships and was forced to become inactive. Many of her crew including Semmes were reemployed on the C.S.S. Alabama. In December 1862 she was disarmed and sold at auction.

The C.S.S. Shenandoah was the last Confederate ship to surrender. She was designed as a British commercial transport vessel for the East Asia tea trade and troop transport. She was built on the River Clyde in Scotland by Alexander Stephen & Sons. The Confederate Government purchased her in September 1864 for use as an armed cruiser to capture and destroy Union merchant ships.

CSS ShenandoahThe Shenandoah was captained by Lieutenant James Iredell Waddell. The ship traveled from Britain through the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on January 25, 1865. Over the her period of service she took 38 prizes. The Shenandoah first learned of Lee’s surrender from a prize on June 27, 1865. At the same time Waddell also read Jefferson Davis’ proclamation that the “war would be carried on with renewed vigor.”

On August 2nd Waddell learned of the final Confederate collapse and the surrender of the remaining Confederate armies. He disarmed his ship and proceeded to Liverpool. He surrendered his ship and crew to British naval authorities in order to avoid a trial for piracy by the victorious Union authorities. The British turned the ship over to the United States who eventually sold it to the Sultan of Zanzibar. Eventually, all of the crew returned to the United States.

Confederate commerce raiders had great success disrupting Union merchant shipping. Over the course of the war they captured and sank numerous Union merchant vessels. They discouraged many more from sailing under the United States flag. In the end the war at sea was not a major factor in the Union victory but we still remember these daring raiders of the sea.