image_pdfimage_print
06/22/16

The Civil War at Sea

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The American Civil War at Sea was a tremendously varied and wide-ranging endeavor. The four years of war would see a massive blockade by the U.S. Navy. It would see the use of combined operations against land targets. There would be amphibious assaults, blockade running and commerce raiding.

The U.S. Navy would engage in a variety of tasks:

  • Conduct a massive coastal blockade;
  • Carry out combined operations with the army against coastal and inland targets;
  • Patrol the commerce sea lanes;
  • Pursue enemy commerce raiders.

The Confederate naval forces would have a much smaller set of tasks:

  • Protect the Southern ports from closure by attacking the blockade squadrons;
  • Conduct commerce raiding against Northern shipping;
  • Attempt to break the blockade with specially equipped steam blockade runners.

The U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia-The Civil War at SeaAt the beginning of the war the small United States Navy was scattered all over the globe. It had a total of 42 warships. Many of them were engaged in intercepting slavers from Africa. The U.S. Navy had another 48 that were partially completed or unmanned. They would become available when crews were recruited to man them. Most of these were sailing ships and were not appropriate for the task at hand. Many of the ships that the U.S. Navy had in the fleet were converted merchantmen that were used primarily for blockade duty.

The variety of combat roles that the U.S. Navy would engage in required an increase in the size of their fleet and diversity of ship types. For example, naval operations on rivers would require ships with shallow drafts. The United States Navy would eventually number some 500 ships with about 84,000 men.

The Confederate States Navy was a much smaller force that began the war with 30 ships, only 14 of which were seaworthy. Eventually, the C.S. NavyC.S.S. Alabama-The Civil War at Sea would include about 101 ships. Over the course of the war the Confederate States Navy used technical innovations in order to maintain some equality with the Union Navy. These included ironclads, submarines, torpedo boats and naval mines.

The Union Navy had at least five shipyards at Portsmouth, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston. All of the Union yards were fully equipped with drydocks and extensive shipbuilding equipment.

The Confederates had one shipyard at Pensacola and had the good fortune to capture the Norfolk Naval Shipyard nearly intact. The shipyard yielded ships, including the soon-to-be C.S.S. Virginia, 1,000 naval guns, much-needed drydocks and a storehouse of equipment. The Confederates also had short-term shipyards to build ships for specific locations.

The Confederate States Navy used a number of commerce raiders to attack Northern merchant vessels. The best known were the C.S.S. Alabama, the C.S.S. Florida, the C.S.S Sumter and the C.S.S. Shenandoah. Most of the Confederate commerce raiders were built in Great Britain but armed at sea because of their neutrality status. Over the course of a two-year career the Alabama took 65 prizes. After the war the United States filed a claim against the government of Great Britain and won millions in compensation because they violated their neutrality by building a number of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama-The Civil War at Searaiders.

The U.S. Navy countered the commerce raiding with roving squadrons of hunters. The most prominent of these was the U.S.S. Kearsarge, a sloop-of-war. The Kearsarge forced the abandonment of the Sumter after a blockade at Gibraltar. On June 19, 1864 the Kearsarge sank the C.S.S. Alabama after a one hour sea battle.

The Confederate States Navy’s other primary task was breaking the Union blockade. Blockade runners were lightly armed steam powered merchant ships that brought high quality military and consumer items through the Union cordon on a regular basis. They ran a gauntlet from Bermuda, the Bahamas or Havana past the Union warships and into ports like Charleston, Savannah, Wilmington and Galveston. Despite having a a high success rate many of them were captured, sunk or run aground.

Both sides used their navies to support land warfare operations although the Union Navy used it to their benefit both on the coast and up the rivers. At New Orleans, Vicksburg and other battles naval support was a key part of the Union’s success. Most of the Confederate fleet was built for coastal defense of their ports and forts along key rivers.

Over the course of this series of posts we will elaborate on the Civil War at sea and its impact on the final outcome of the war.

 

 

11/24/11

The Anaconda Plan

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The Anaconda Plan

At the start of the Civil War General-in-chief, Winfield Scott, proposed the Anaconda Plan (also known as Scott’s Great Snake) to President Lincoln. It was a plan that had two prominent features: the rigorous blockade of all Southern ports and the use of the Mississippi to divide the Confederacy.

At its foundation Scott’s plan proposed to destroy the South’s trade in cotton and other commodities that they used to finance the war. Scott, a The Anaconda PlanVirginian, was leery about invading the Southern states and thought that the Confederacy could be throttled by a complete cutoff of trade with their European trading partners. By doing this he felt that the Confederacy could be brought to terms without resorting to combat.

Scott’s one Army invasion would be the penetration of the Confederacy up the Mississippi and its tributaries by an army of perhaps 60,000 to 80,000 troops. He envisioned a spearhead of amphibious troops that would work their way south from Cairo, Illinois capturing key points all of the way to the Gulf. They would be followed by a large occupation force to secure the objectives from Confederate counterattack. Scott believed that Southern pro-Unionist sympathizers would turn on their Confederate governors and bring them to terms.

Scott’s critics ridiculed his plan and called for a direct overland campaign against the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. “On to Richmond” became the Union rallying cry through the entire war. These critics envisioned a short, victorious war for the Federal side. It took the Federal army almost four years to accomplish this goal.

The Anaconda Plan was not adopted by the Lincoln administration. At the start of the war the Federal government had neither the army or navalGeneral Winfield Scott resources to carry out the Scott plan. On April 19, 1861 President Lincoln did proclaim a blockade of all Southern ports from South Carolina to Texas. This was later extended to Virginia and North Carolina when they too seceded from the Union. It would take the Union some time to mount the blockade but it eventually cut off Southern trade.

The Anaconda Plan was ignored for the prosecution of violent combat between the two sides. However, by 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant and his subordinate William T. Sherman used a revised version of to split the South from Illinois to the Gulf, isolating the two halves of the Confederacy.

Although the Anaconda Plan was not used as General Scott envisioned it, the plan was the the basis of the Union victory in the war. Unfortunately, General Winfield Scott had retired on November 1, 1861 due to ill health and only history has pointed out his part in the ultimate Union victory.

11/26/11

The Trent Affair

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The Trent Affair

The Trent Affair was one of the most notorious episodes in American diplomatic history. It nearly caused a diplomatic break with Great Britain and required a formal apology by President Abraham Lincoln to close.

Since the start of the Civil War the Confederacy strove to gain diplomatic recognition and support from the European powers, particularly Great Britain. The Southern states and the European powers were interdependent on each other. The South shipped cotton to them and in return imported a variety of goods from them. The South expected that the Europeans would recognize them and support their independence from the North based on the power of King Cotton alone. Confederate diplomatic efforts were very passive.

Lord PalmerstonMeanwhile, the Federal government had made active attempts at rapprochement with Great Britain particularly. In the 1840s Washington had resolved the issues of the Oregon territory, British involvement in Texas, and the Canadian border dispute. Secretary of State William Seward practiced a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of foreign nations and expected them to respond in kind.

On the other side of the Atlantic the Europeans had varying opinions. British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was in favor of neutrality. As a naval power the British had a long history of insisting that neutral nations honor their blockades. Based on that fact they were in de fact support of the Union blockade of the Southern coast. French Emperor Napoleon III was contemplating an imperial adventure in Mexico, hoping to resurrect the French overseas empire.

The United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Charles Francis Adams, made it quite clear to the British government that the conflict was an internal insurrection and that the Confederacy had no standing under international law. He also told them that the Union government expected the British to remain neutral. Anything else would be considered an unfriendly act against the United States. The British were inclined to remain neutral, especially since it appeared that the South was fighting to maintain slavery, a practice that Great Britain had abolished in 1833.

In February 1861 the Confederacy dispatched a three-man delegation to meet with the British Foreign Secretary Lord Russell about diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy. After their discussions the British were non-committal. The United States Ambassador Charles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams immediately met with Russell to protest the British declaration of neutrality, concerned that it might be the first step to diplomatic recognition. Russell said that Britain had no intention of formally recognizing the Confederacy.

Under Napoleon III, France’s overall foreign policy objectives were at odds with Britain’s, but France generally took positions regarding the Civil War combatants similar to, and often supportive of, Britain’s. Both countries made attempts to have the Declaration of Paris (1856) that abolished privateering, protected neutral goods shipped to belligerents except for “contrabands of war,” and recognized blockades only if they were proved effective. The United States had not signed it but after the opening of hostilities ordered the ambassadors to Britain and France to reopen negotiations to restrict the Confederate use of privateers.

British opinion was that the victory of the Confederacy was inevitable especially after First Manassas in July 1861. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis appointed to new diplomats to send to Europe: John Slidell of Louisiana and James Mason of Virginia.

The new Confederate Secretary of State R. M. T. Hunter of Virginia instructed the two to emphasize the growth of the Confederacy from 7 states to 11. They were also to point out that a balance of power would return to the Western Hemisphere that would restrict the United States and solidify commercial relationships with Europe. Their major goal was to have Britain break the Union blockade which was becoming more effective every day.

James MasonThe two diplomats traveled to Charleston by October 1st where they intended to take direct passage to Britain on the C.S.S. Nashville. The blockade at Charleston was tightly maintained with five Union blockade ships so alternate plans were made. They took a fast steamer that had a shallow draft. This enabled the ship to use back channels and elude the Union blockaders. They left Charleston at 1:00 AM on October 12th and arrived in Nassau in the Bahamas on the 14th. Having missed their connection with a British mail ship they sailed to Cuba arriving on the 16th. The next mail packet RMS Trent was scheduled to leave Havana in three weeks.

Meanwhile Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto became aware of the plans of Mason and Slidell to leave Havana on November 7th in the RMS Trent, bound first for St. Thomas and then England. The San Jacinto positioned itself in the Bahama Channel and stopped the Trent on November 8th. Aboard was Mason, Slidell, their secretaries and Slidell’s wife and children.

Charles Wilkes was considered a “a distinguished explorer, author, and naval officer” but was also described as having a “reputation as a stubborn, overzealous, impulsive, and sometimes insubordinate officer.”

The San Jacinto fired a shot across the Trent’s bow after they had displayed the Union Jack. The Trent’s captain ignored the shot and continued toJohn Slidell steam through the channel. The San Jacinto fired a second ship and the Trent hove to. Wilkes dispatched his second-in-command Lieutenant D.M. Fairfax with detailed instructions to take Mason, Slidell and their secretaries prisoner. All trunks, cases, packages and bags were to be seized and brought on board the San Jacinto.

Fairfax did as he was ordered despite protests from the British captain. Mason and Slidell identified themselves, were taken into custody and removed to the San Jacinto. Wilkes would later claim that he believed that the Trent was carrying “highly important dispatches and were endowed with instructions inimical to the United States.” Wilkes had declared the persons “contraband” and seized them on that basis. Fairfax was unable to discover any papers because they were being held by a British naval officer on board. This was a clear violation of the Queen’s Neutrality Proclamation.

The San Jacinto steamed to Hampton Roads, Virginia arriving on November 15th. The authorities in Washington ordered him to deliver his prisoners to Boston where they were incarcerated in Fort Warren. When the public learned the news their was a wave of chauvinism in Wilkes’ favor. Over the next month public and government opinion went from approval to fear of a Charles Wilkespotential conflict with Great Britain.

Once the news reached Britain Lord Palmerston dispatched an immediate demand for the prisoner’s release and an official apolgy by the Lincoln administration. On December 17th Ambassador Adams received Secretary of State Seward’s November 30 dispatch that Wilkes had acted without orders. Adams passed this on to Lord Russell who was encouraged. On December 27th Seward met with British Ambassador Lord Lyons and despite siding with Wilkes ordered the release of the prisoners. The two were released on December 29th and took passage to St. Thomas and from there to Southampton.

The British accepted the news as a diplomatic victory. Palmerston noted that Seward’s response contained “many doctrines of international law” contrary to the British interpretation, and Russell wrote a detailed response to Seward contesting his legal interpretations, but, in fact, the crisis was over.

Charles Wilkes was assigned to intercept blockade runners in the West Indies. After his promotion to commodore in July 1862, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles revoked it. Welles’ contention was that Wilkes was too old for the promotion under the act that governed promotions. When Wilkes wrote a scathing letter to Welles he was court martialed in 1864 for disobedience of orders, insubordination and other specifications. He was found guilty and sentenced to a public reprimand and three years suspension. President Lincoln reduced it to a one year suspension and dropped the rest of the charges. n July 25, 1866 he was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list.

Eventually, the tide of war turned in the Union’s favor and after the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation any chance that the Confederacy had of diplomatic recognition from Great Britain disappeared forever.

 

 

 

 

 

11/26/11

Mr. Lincoln’s Admirals: Farragut and Porter

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

Mr. Lincoln’s Admirals: Farragut and Porter

Abraham Lincoln’s Admirals were a varied group who shaped the United States Navy from a small sailing fleet to a 500-ship naval force. The fleet effectively blockaded 3,500 miles of coastline. It penetrated into the interior of Confederate territory and assisted the Army in the capture of major ports. The navy regularly carried out amphibious operations. U.S. Navy ships hunted the oceans of the world for Confederate commerce raiders.

At the onset of the American Civil War the fleet had a mere 42 active vessels, almost all of which were sailing ships. By the end of 1861 that number had risen to 160, mostly steam-driven, screw propelled vessels. Eventually, the navy would increase to 500 ships, most of which were modern steam vessels. It would introduce ironclad ships to combat and pioneer new and innovative methods of naval warfare.

Admiral David Glasgow FarragutLed by a number of admirals the United States Navy was an important factor in the Union victory. Prior to the Civil War the highest rank that a naval officer could achieve was that of captain. This created problems of equivalency with Army ranks. A naval captain was the equivalent of an army colonel and in joint operations the naval officers were almost always outranked. In the summer of 1862 the Navy Department decided to adopt a system of ranks like those in the British Royal Navy: admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral and commodore would be equal to general, lieutenant general, major general and brigadier general.

The first naval officer to be promoted to rear admiral was David Glasgow Farragut on July 16, 1862. He was also the first officer to receive the rank of vice admiral and admiral. Farragut was a southerner by birth, having been born in Tennessee on July 5, 1801. His birth name was James but after the death of his father in 1808 he was adopted by his father’s friend, naval officer David Porter. He adopted David to honor his adoptive father. His adopted brothers were David Dixon Porter and William Porter, two future Union navy officers.

Farragut went to sea at the age of 9 and served in the United States Navy for his entire life. At the outbreak of the war he was given a position on the Naval Retirement Board. His adopted brother David Dixon Porter offered him a special assignment. It turned out to be the command of of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In this position Farragut became one of the most famous naval officers in the history of the United States Navy.

On April 29, 1862 he led his naval force up the Mississippi River, past the defending forts and captured the city of New Orleans. He was promoted to rear admiral in July to honor his victory. Farragut had several failures, most notably at Vicksburg in July 1862 and his premature attack on Port Hudson, Louisiana in March 1863.

David Farragut’s most famous action was the attack on Mobile Bay, Alabama on August 5, 1864. Leading his attacking force while lashed to theFarragut at Mobile Bay rigging of his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, he pressed the assault on the heavily mined Confederate stronghold. After a Union monitor hit a mine (called torpedoes during the Civil War) the rest of the ships began to pull back. It was at this point that Farragut became famous in naval lore. “What’s the trouble?”, he shouted through a trumpet from the flagship to the USS Brooklyn. “Torpedoes!” was shouted back. “Damn the torpedoes!” said Farragut, “Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” The fleet steamed into Mobile Bay past the heavy land batteries and defeated the naval force of Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan. He was promoted to vice admiral by President Lincoln on December 21, 1864 and admiral on July 25, 1866.

Farragut’s adopted brother David Dixon Porter was the second naval officer to be promoted to the rank of admiral July 4, 1863. Porter was born on June 8, 1813 in Chester, Pennsylvania. His father was a serving naval officer David Porter. After his father resigned from the United States Navy in 1824 he was named the commander of the Mexican Navy. He took his sons David and Thomas and his nephew David Henry Porter with him. They were in a number of naval actions while in the Mexican Navy.

In 1829 Porter was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy. He served in a number of positions until the beginning of the Civil War when he took Admiral David Dixon Porterpart in the aborted attempt to relieve Fort Pickens while commanding the U.S.S. Powhatan.

He was then assigned to the West Blockading Squadron which was under the command of his adopted brother David Farragut. He commanded 20 mortar ships that were assigned to bombard Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. The attack began on April 18, 1862 but after five days Farragut grew impatient. In the night of April 24th he sailed his fleet past the forts and on to New Orleans. On the 28th Porter received the surrender of Fort St. Philip after the garrison of Fort Jackson had mutinied and surrendered.

After New Orleans, Farragut’s force moved upriver to Vicksburg where they bombarded the city with Porter’s motor squadron to no avail. Without the assistance of the Army Vicksburg could not be taken. Porter was reassigned to the Peninsula to assist in that campaign.

Porter was appointed to command the Mississippi River Squadron in October 1862 with the rank of Acting Rear Admiral, bypassing the intermediate ranks of captain and commodore. He arrived to take up his command in Cairo, Illinois on October 15, 1862. During this phase of the war Porter became closely associated with William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, two Army commanders who would have a great deal of influence on his career.

The Mississippi River Squadron was used both for the bombardment of Vicksburg and the transport of the troops that eventually surrounded and captured the Confederate stronghold. The Vicksburg campaign lasted from April until July 4, 1863. After the fall of Vicksburg Porter’s squadron was assigned to the Red River Expedition, an idea the General Nathaniel Banks. The campaign began on March 10, 1864 and lasted until May 22nd when Banks withdrew back to his base of operations. The Red River Expedition was noted for its lack of cooperation between the Army and the Navy.

In late summer 1864 Porter switched commands with Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee who was in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles thought Lee was too timorous in his position. The goal of the Federal command was the capture of the lastBombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip Confederate ocean port of Wilmington, North Carolina. The harbor was defended by Fort Fisher, the mostly soil fort that defended the channel.

The army forces were initially commanded by General Benjamin Banks who was in command of the Army of the James. He suggested an explosive-laden ship to demolish the fort. This was tried on December 24, 1864 with little effect. Banks withdrew his forces from the assault. Porter was enraged at Banks’ timidity and complained to Grant who looking for an excuse to remove Banks, relieved him from command.

Grant assigned General Alfred H. Terry to command the operation. On January 13, 1865 the naval bombardment began with selective attacks on the fort’s gun emplacements. After two days of steady bombardment Terry’s forces captured Fort Fisher. This was Porter’s last wartime command. In his later career he was to command the United States Naval Academy. Porter was named a vice admiral in 1866 and eventually admiral, though not without some political infighting.

There will be several other posts on other significant admirals forthcoming in the following weeks.

 

 

 

11/27/11

The First Battle of Ironclads

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

The First Battle of Ironclads

On March 9, 1862 in Hampton Roads at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, the first battle of ironclads took place and naval warfare was changed forever. The U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia dueled to a draw for three hours. Although the battle was inconclusive the events leading to it and after are as interesting as the actual battle.

The C.S.S. Virginia was a steam powered ironclad vessel that was the first ship of her kind built by the Confederate Navy. The Virginia had an CSS Virginiainteresting history. When Virginia seceded from the Union Confederate forces attempted to seize the full-equipped Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia on April 20, 1861. The U.S. Navy resisted their attempt and set fire to various ships and facilities to deny them to the Confederates. One of the ships was the steam frigate U.S.S. Merrimack.

The Merrimack sank at her shallow berth before she could be completely burned. The Confederates managed to raise her and moved the ship to a graving dock where the burned superstructure was removed. After a survey it was determined that her lower hull and engines were intact. Confederate Secretary of War Stephen Mallory selected the hull for conversion to an ironclad since it was the only steam powered ship in Chesapeake Bay area.

Naval designers Lieutenants  John Mercer Brooke and John L. Porter envisioned the new ironclads as a casemate style ship. This type of vessel carries its guns on a casemate structure on the main deck. The guns are fixed. This type of arrangement is considered an intermediate stage between broadside frigates and modern warships.

During the construction of the ship the designers decided to equip her with an iron ram. They had heard rumors that the Union side was buildingFranklin Buchanan their own ironclad. They were concerned that cannon fire would not penetrate the iron shielding. Unfortunately, the Merrimack’s engines were in poor working condition. They had been scheduled for an overhaul before her capture. The additional weight of the iron armor and ballast did not improve her agility. The ship had a turning radius of one mile and needed 45 minutes to complete a full turn. This was to be a deficiency against the nimbler U.S.S. Monitor.

The Virginia had 14 gunports with three at each end and four along each broadside. Her complement consisted of four muzzle-loading single-banded Brooke rifles and six smoothbore 9-inch (229 mm) Dahlgren guns salvaged from the old Merrimack. Two of the rifles, the bow and stern pivot guns, were 7-inch caliber and weighed 14,500 pounds each. They fired a 104-pound shell. The other two were 6.4-inch cannon of about 9,100 pounds, one on each broadside. The 9-inch Dahlgrens were mounted three to a side; each weighed approximately 9,200 pounds and could fire a 72.5-pound shell up to a range of 3,357 yards at an elevation of 15°. The two amidship Dahlgrens nearest the boiler furnaces were fitted-out to fire heated shot. In addition, there were two 12-pounder howitzers.

The Virginia was commissioned on February 17, 1862. Her commanding officer, Flag officer Franklin Buchanan arrived on board shortly before her first sortie. The ironclad was placed in commission and equipped by her executive officer,Lieutenant Catesby Catesby Jonesap Roger Jones.

Meanwhile, Union Navy Secretary Gideon Welles upon hearing about the resurrected Merrimack was determined that the Union navy would have their own ironclad. He created a board of three naval officers to solicit and review designs for the new type of vessel. Three designs were submitted and accepted by the board, including John Ericsson’s U.S.S. Monitor.

John Ericsson was a Swedish-born engineer and inventor who had a varied career in both Sweden and Britain. He moved to New York City in 1939. In the United States Ericsson designed and perfected a twin-screw propeller propulsion system.

Ericsson’s design was selected to be built and the vessel was completed in 100 days, an amazing achievement for the time. It was launched on March 6, 1862 in New York. The Monitor was described as “a cheesebox on a raft.” It was 172 feet long and 41 1/2 feet wide. It had a rotating turret with 2-11 inch Dahlgren guns. The Monitor’s turret built up such momentum that the guns needed to be fired on the move. Later models were equipped with a device to overcome this issue. The Monitor had very little freeboard and was hard to spot once it was at sea. This would also cause problems in rough water.

The Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John L. Worden, had a harrowing voyage from New York to Hampton Roads. It was towed all of theUSS Monitor way there in somewhat rough seas. The ship arrived off Hampton Roads on the afternoon of March 8th, too late for the battle but just in time to help the U.S.S. Minnesota.

 

The two-day Battle of Hampton Roads started as an attempt by the Confederate States Navy to break the ever-tightening Union blockade. On March 8, 1862 the C.S.S. Virginia accompanied by several supporting ships sailed out of Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia. The Virginia engaged The U.S.S. Cumberland first. The Virginia rammed the Cumberland and she rapidly sank. The Virginia almost went down with the Cumberland but was able to disengage in time.

Lt. John L. WordenThe Virginia next turned to the U.S.S. Congress. In an attempt to save his vessel from sinking the Congress’ captain ordered his crew to try to ground her. After about an hour of unequal combat with the Virginia and several other ships of the James River Squadron the Congress surrendered. When a Union shore battery fired on the Virginia, Buchanan ordered heated shot fired at the Congress. Eventually, the fires reached her magazines and she exploded.

Meanwhile, the Virginia had not escaped unscathed. Fire from the Union ships and the shore batteries had caused her smokestacks to be riddled. Two of her guns were out of action and some of her armor plates were damaged. Buchanan had been hit by a Minie ball in the leg when he went topside to return fire at the shore batteries. The James River Squadron set out to attack the grounded U.S.S. Minnesota but a combination of the falling tide and darkness precluded an attack.

The Confederate forces took shelter at Sewell’s Point for the night, removing their wounded and repairing their damage. Meanwhile, the Monitor had arrived on the scene and took up position near the Minnesota. Worden had been ordered to protect the ship from the Confederates. At dawn on March 9th, the Virginia steamed out to attack the Minnesota only to be surprised by the appearance of the Union ironclad. The Virginia fired the first shot which missed the Monitor and hit the Minnesota. The Minnesota returned fire with a broadside.

The two ironclads battled for several hours without an advantage for either side. The Virginia was not equipped with armor-piercing shells. TheBattle of Hampton Roads Monitor was equipped with a standard powder charge which did not give her shells enough momentum to pierce the enemy’s armor. When a shell from the Virginia hit the Monitor’s conning tower Worden was temporarily blinded. The Monitor was forced to draw off since no one else could conn the ship properly. Once the executive officer took command the Monitor returned to combat but the Virginia believing the fight to be over returned to Norfolk.

Each side claimed victory but in reality the first Battle of Ironclads was a draw.

Both ships had somewhat ignominious ends. When Norfolk was recaptured by Union forces the Confederates blew the Virginia up on May 11, 1862. The Monitor sank off the North Carolina coast in rough seas on December 31, 1862.

Both navies continued to build steam powered ironclads throughout the war. The Age of Sail was drawing to a close as steam ships were faster and more efficient to operate.

 

 

 

11/30/11

Confederate Blockade Runners

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

Confederate Blockade Runners

The imposition of the Union blockade eventually brought about the purpose-built Confederate blockade runners. At the start of the Civil War blockade running was not a difficult task. There were few Union ships on blockade duty and ordinary freighters were able to pass through the almost non-existent cordon to reach Southern ports.

Typical blockade runnerAs the Union stepped up the blockade with new and faster blockade ships, blockade running became more dangerous. In order to pass through the cordon blockade runners needed high speed, low draft and a low profile. This enabled the blockade runners to elude discovery or if discovered elude capture. The low draft allowed them to cross sand bars or sail up shallow channels to safety.

Most of the newer ship were built in Britain. They were mostly wooden, sidewheelers powered by steam engines. Their burned smokeless anthracite coal and sailed at about 17 knots. They were mostly captained and crewed by British seaman because the South simply did not have enough of either. They were mostly owned by British or other private interests for profit rather than patriotism.

Because of their shallow drafts they did not carry large amounts of heavy cargo. The blockade runners ran to and from Bermuda, the Bahamas orSS Banshee Cuba where their cargoes were transshipped by regular means to Europe. For a brief period in the late summer of 1864 Halifax, Nova Scotia was used. Outbound ships generally carried cotton, tobacco and turpentine while the inbound leg was confined to medical supplies, brandy, lingerie, rifles and coffee. The ports were about 500 to 700 miles from Confederate ports.

As the war went on, the Confederate government began to control the trade and the cargo. Eventually, about 50% of the cargo inbound was required to be munitions. In fact, the Confederate government even purchased some of the runners and exclusively shipped war materials inbound.

Blockade running was done at night. In fact, moonless nights were preferred or either before or after the moon had set. The ship approached the Advance, blockade runnercoast with all lights doused and quiet. The Union blockaders similarly doused their lights at night to escape detection. If they discovered a blockade runner, the Union ships fired off rockets to alert the rest of the intercepting squadron. Sometimes, the runners fired their own flares or rockets to confuse the blockaders.

In order to make money blockade runners needed to make many trips. A typical ship could carry several hundred tons of cargo at $300-$1,000 per ton. Two round trips per month could earn about $250,000 less $80,000 in expenses. If a blockade runner was captured  the ship and cargo was confiscated. Foreign crew members were released and Confederates were imprisoned.

Here are a few of the more famous blockade runners:

  • The Advance, a 230′, schooner-rigged, sidewheel steamer. Built in Britain. After 20 successful trips she was captured off Wilmington, NC.
  • The Banshee, a 220′, schooner-rigged, sidewheel steamer. One of the first purpose-built blockade runners. Captured on her 9th trip.
  • The Bat, a 230′, steel hulled, schooner-rigged, sidewheel steamer. She had twin, 180-nominal h.p., vertical, double-oscillating, Watt enginesColonel Lamb and capacity for 800 to 850 bales of cotton. She was captured by Union blockaders on the return trip of her maiden voyage on October 8, 1864 off Cape Fear River.
  • Colonel Lamb, a 281′, schooner-rigged, sidewheel steamer. Built in 1864, she survived the war after many blockade runs.
  • Cornubia, a 190′, fast, powerful, iron steamer of 230 h.p., long and low, painted white, with two funnels close together. One her 23rd voyage she was beached while trying to run into Wilmington, NC.

In all it is believed that some 300 blockade runners were either built or purchased to penetrate the Union blockade. Although they were often seen as romantic adventurers most runners were in it for the money. Over the course of the war some 1,500 ships were either captured or destroyed attempting to run the blockade.

12/1/11

Civil War Ironclads: Casemate Type Ships

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

Civil War Ironclads: Casemate Type Ships

The American Civil War was the first conflict in which ironclads were widely used. The Age of Iron and Steam was gradually superseding the Age of Wood and Sail.

Korean Turtle ShipShips clad with some form of protective shielding had been used for some time. The Vikings had used shields to protect their oarsmen by hanging them along the sides of the their long ships. The Korean had invented an oar-powered “turtle” ship in the 16th century.

Other shipbuilders began to experiment with steel-hulled ships but strictly speaking these were not considered ironclads. The French built ironclads during the 1850s to attack Russian forts during the Crimean War. By the beginning of the Civil War the concept of ironclad warships was well-known and well researched by a number of European sea powers.

As the Civil War combatants developed their designs of ironclads, two general types began to emerge. The Confederate ironclads were casemate type ships. This class of ship carried guns on an wooden, armored casemate structure that was built on top of the armored hull. In the case of the Virginia the casemate wooden structure was two feet thick with a 35 degree angle. The angle gave the vessel an improved resistance to penetrating shot.

The casemate type carried anywhere from 2 to 15 guns positioned in the traditional broadside style of wooden warships plus gunports fore and aft. The casemate structure was heavily armored which required a deep draft to maintain stability. Because the guns had to fire through fixed gunports,CSS Palmetto State aiming them required a much larger gun crew of up to 20 men.

The Union Navy did build and utilize casemate type ironclad warships but mostly for use on the Mississippi River. The Confederate Navy utilized them against the Union blockade, protecting ports and river access for blockade runners. The CSS Virginia was the prototype vessel for casemate ironclad warships.

The CSS Virginia was the first steam powered ironclad warship built by the Confederate States Navy. The Virginia was built on the hull of the USS Merrimack which Union sailors had failed to scuttle in Norfolk harbor in April 1861. The Confederates cut away the burned superstructure, used the power plant and built a casemate structure on top of the Merrimack’s hull.

The Virginia had a twin-bladed screw propeller with powered by two steam engines and four boilers. The total displacement of the Virginia was about 4,100 tons. The casemate ironclad was 275 feet long with a beam of 51 feet 2 inches and draft of 21 feet. Her speed was between 5-6 knots per hour. The Virginia carried a crew of  320 officers and men. She had a total of 12 guns: 2-7 inch Brooke rifles, 2-6.4 inch Brooke rifles, 6-9 inch Dahlgren smoothbores and 2-12-pounder howitzers. The ironclad actually had 14 gunports to accommodate the repositioning of guns.

Battle of Hampton RoadsThe Virginia had various thicknesses of armor: the belt armor was between 1-3 inches thick, the deck armor was 1 inch thick and the casemate armor was 4 inches thick. The ship was equipped with an iron ram, a rather anachronistic device for a 19th century warship. The ironclad had a rather large turning radius of about one mile which took 45 minutes to accomplish. This was a definite drawback when fighting the much nimbler USS Monitor.

After the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862 the Confederate States Navy immediately began to implement the lessons learned. Over the course of the next three years the Confederate States Navy commissioned 22 ironclads with one additional one built in France. Several others were built but were never completed. One monitor-type was started but the war ended before its completion.

The CSS Virginia was one of six ships that the Confederates converted into ironclads from different types of vessels. All would have significant design flaws due to their underlying foundation vessels. In late 1862 the Confederates built five new ironclads from the keel up. Four were used for coastal defense while the fifth was a design failure and was eventually used as a floating battery. The other four had divergent designs. All of them were for use on or around the Mississippi River. Only two of the four saw combat; the other two were destroyed to prevent their capture.

In early 1862 the Confederate Navy Department came up with two new designs. The Richmond class had six ships plus several others that wereC.S.S. Manassas never completed. The design called for a length that varied from 150 to 174 feet and a draft of 12 to 14 feet, considerably less than the Virginia. The most vulnerable part of the Virginia was the “knuckle” where the casemate met the hull. In the Richmond class this vulnerable area was protected by a 2″ plate of armor that went all around the hull and 6″ below the waterline.

The later “modified” Richmond class or Charleston class was a 180′ long vessel with heavier armament and thicker armor. The Virginia II had three and in some places four layers of 4″ armor. Only two of these vessels were completed: the Charleston and the Virginia II.

The Tennessee class followed but only one, the Tennessee II was commissioned. It was 189′ long with a 14-16 ‘ draft.

A second type of casemate ironclad was built for use in rivers rather than coastal waters. Often called the “diamond hull” type they were characterized by a smaller casemate and a shallower draft of 8’ to navigate rivers. Neither of the two vessels built in Selma, Alabama ever saw active service. Several other vessels were never completed.

Two Albemarle class ironclads were built in North Carolina but one ran aground on her maiden voyage while the CSS Albemarle had a brief but distinguished career before being destroyed by a torpedo. Both of these vessels were 139′ feet long and carried 4 guns. They were succeeded by the CSS Albemarle170′ long CSS Fredericksburg.

The Confederates built a rear paddle wheel vessel with the paddle wheel being protected by the casemate and a side wheeler. Both of these vessels were built because of the availability of paddle wheels.

The Confederates were never able to build enough ironclads to catch up with the Union’s incredible industrial advantage. They built ships along rivers, on riverbanks, wherever they could do so safely. They often had problems with armor, armaments and power plants. The Union Navy was everpresent and maintained a tighter control on the coasts and rivers as the war progressed.

 

 

12/2/11

Civil War Ironclads: Monitor Type Ships

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

Civil War Ironclads: Monitor Type Ships

The Union Navy used both casemate type and monitor type ironclads. This post will cover the Monitor class ships that were pioneered by the Union Navy.

The Union Navy initially used a design by Swedish-born John Ericsson that was dubbed the Monitor class after the prototype USS Monitor. The Monitor was called by some a “cheesebox on a raft” because of its appearance. Ericsson’s design won the Navy Department competition and was built in a short 100-day time frame.

The ship was 179 feet long with a 41 1/2′ beam and 10 1/2′ draft. The Monitor weighed 987 tons. She was powered by the Ericsson-designed screw propeller and one steam engine also designed by Ericsson. The propeller was recessed into the hull to allow the draft to be very shallow. The ship had a speed of 8 knots per hour. She carried a complement of 49 officers and men.

Ericsson designed a rotating turret that carried 2-11 inch Dahlgren guns. The only problem with the turret was that the momentum required that the guns be fired on the fly. At the short ranges of the early sea battle this did not prove to be a problem. Ericsson designed a better system for stopping the turret on later ships.

The Monitor had very little freeboard being barely above the waterline. The only other projections from the deck besides the turret were the pilothouse, a detachable smokestack and some fittings. The turret had 8 layers of 1 inch plate outside and an additional layer on the inside for sound deadening. The deck was similarly armored.

After the draw at the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862 Union Navy designers made a number of changes from the lessons that they hadUSS Passaic learned in battle. Within a week after the battle funds for ten new monitor class ironclads were voted by Congress. Ericsson had a number of design changes ready for these new Passaic class ships.

Based on reports from the officers of the USS Monitor Ericsson and his design team incorporated the following improvements:

  • All of the new Passaic class monitors were 200′ long with a 46′ beam for greater stability but retained the shallow draft;
  • The hull was streamlined to allow breaking waves to flow off the deck easier;
  • The pilothouse was moved to the top of the turret for better communication with the gun crew;
  • The turret was redesigned to hold 2-15″ Dahlgren guns but a shortage of them forced the use of 1-15″ gun with an 11″ Dahlgren.

USS Passaic's Gun TurretThe Passaic class monitors had several shortcomings. The deck armor was still thin and they remained vulnerable to plunging fire or any fire from forts. The engines were still inadequate and the larger size didn’t help with their speed. After the unsuccessful attack on Fort Sumter during which several monitors had their turrets jammed by shot, a protective ring was fitted to protect the joint between the turret and the deck.

In July 1862 Ericsson was awarded with a contract for nine more monitors in a new Canonicus class. Five of these ships were commissioned before the end of the war. These vessels were longer and sleeker. They were equipped with improved engines for greater speed. These ships carried 2-15″ Dahlgren smoothbore guns with improved gun carriages. After the Fort Sumter defeat the ships were equipped with the protective ring and the pilothouse was given more armor.

Union Navy authorities tried several bizarre experiments. The steam frigate USS Roanoke was converted to an ironclad in 1862 and had 3 Ericsson turrets mounted on its deck. Each turret was equipped with one smoothbore and one rifled gun. The ship was too top-heavy and the turrets strained the deck timbers. The Roanoke was a costly failure and illustrated that too much of a good thing was sometimes just too much. She spent the rest of the war in Hampton Roads as a harbor defense ship.

The USS Dunderberg was another costly failure. She was originally designed as a two turret ship but the failure of the Roanoke convinced the Chief of Naval Construction John Lenthall whose brainchild this was to change the design to a casemate type. The Dunderberg was a 7,000 ton ram that strained the resources of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Due to unseasoned timber there were extensive construction delays. The war ended before theUSS Milwaukee ship was completed.

The Milwaukee class monitors were designed for use on rivers and also in coastal waters. A total of four were built in Carondolet, Missouri. They were equipped with one Ericsson turret and one turret designed by James Eads, the builder. They had the shallow draft necessary for rivers. They were equipped with four engines each with its own propeller with a top speed of 9 knots per hour. The Eads turret was fully steam-powered and was considered a great improvement over the Ericsson turret. Of all the monitors built during the war the Eads monitors are considered the best.

In 1862 the Union Navy built a number of twin-turreted monitors. The USS Onondaga was built in Brooklyn and commissioned in March 1864. She was 226′ long with a 50′ beam and her hull was made completely of iron. Each turret was equipped with a 150-pdr Parrot rifle and a 15″ Dahlgren smoothbore. The Onondaga was used in Virginia on the James River. During the Battle of Trent’s Reach on January 24, 1865 her 15 inch shot USS Onondagapenetrated and seriously damaged the CSS Virginia II. 

The four vessels of the Monodnock class were all criticized for their poor hulls. They were all built in Navy yards with wood hulls, armor plate and twin turrets. They all had the same construction delays as the other Navy yard-built ships with only the the USS Monodnock being commissioned before the end of the war.

Ericsson designed a monitor class that was almost twice the size of the original USS Monitor. Named the USS Dictator this behemoth suffered from engine failure and was never used in combat. Her half-sister the USS Puritan which was even bigger was launched in July 1864 but was never completed and languished in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before being scrapped.

The Casco class monitors were originally designed by Ericsson as shallow drift river monitors but were subsequently modified so many times that they were unstable. Additional weight was added to a point where the freeboard was only 3″. The weight of the reinforced turret structure was too heavy for the decking. The turrets were removed and the first three ships were converted to torpedo boats. They were equipped with an 11″ Dahlgren smoothbore in an open mount and a spar torpedo. These three were the only ships of this class that were ever commissioned.

12/22/11

Civil War Ironclads: Union River Ironclads Part One

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

Civil War Ironclads:

Union River Ironclads Part One

Once the Union Navy began its assault up the Mississippi River and its tributaries, there was a need for river ironclads to duel with the fortifications along the rivers. Without these squat, ugly ships the Union forces would have been hard pressed to split the Confederacy up the Mississippi.

USS Cairo 1862Starting with the attacks on Fort Donelson and Fort Henry in February 1862, the Western Gunboat Flotilla helped to win the campaign in the West. The Union ironclads reduced Confederate forts on the Mississippi, Yazoo, Cumberland, Tennessee and Red Rivers. They assisted in the advance of the Union army into the Confederate Heartland and ultimately destroyed it from the inside out.

The initial designer and builder for the new Union “brownwater” navy was James Eads of St. Louis. Eads owned a shipyard just outside of the city where he built commercial vessels. He sent a letter to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that detailed a plan for several types of ships plus a base.

Unfortunately, the Navy didn’t have funding for an inland naval force due to the expense of rapidly building a blockading force. Welles passed the plans on tho Secretary of War Simon Cameron who discussed them with Maj. Gen. George McClellan who was in command of the Western Theater from his headquarters in St. Louis.

Welles and Cameron agreed that the Army would be responsible for the inland navy with assistance from the Navy on technical matters. Welles sent Comdr. John Rodgers to St. Louis to join McClellan in discussing the plans with James Eads. The Union Army moved rapidly, setting up a base at Cairo, Illinois as Eads had suggested. They then began to build ships for the new flotilla. The first vessels were three conversions of commercial river ships into warships.

The Naval Department had sent a Naval Constructor named Samuel M. Pook to oversee the conversions and work with Eads and Rodgers on a new design. They determined that it had to mimic the river boats with a flat bottom and a shallow draft. The paddle wheel would be centrally located for protection. The vessels would have armored casemates for the guns.

The first seven vessels were to be 175 feet long, a 51 foot beam and a draft of no more than 6 feet. They would carry at least 13 guns: 3 in the bow, 4USS Carondelet on each broadside and 2 in the stern. “Pook’s Turtles”, as they were called, had5-24 foot long multi-flued boilers that were 3 feet in diameter, two Merrit engines with shafts leading to the 20 foot diameter paddle wheel. The casemate was covered with 2″ thick iron plate. They weighed 512 tons. Eads quoted a price of $89,000 per ironclad ($191,000 including the guns) and promised to deliver them on October 10th.

All seven ironclads were ready starting on October 12th, despite production delays caused in some part by the government. They were all taken to the base at Cairo, Illinois where they fitted out with a motley collection of guns. None of the ironclads carried a standard complement of guns. The City class of ironclads included the St. Louis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Carondolet, Cairo, Mound City and Cincinnati. With the addition of two of the converted river boats the Union Western Gunboat Flotilla totaled 9 ironclads.

The Union Army followed up the first 9 ironclads with a total of 4 more built by Eads and 5 by other shipyards. All of the new vessels incorporated improvements suggested by the men who served on the ironclads. Several of the vessels were “rams” with paddle wheels in the stern. Several of them had casemates that were too heavy for the hulls which caused serious crushing issues.

James Buchanan EadsThe river ironclads were called upon to assault major fortifications, duel shore batteries, fight wooden gunboats and, quite possibly, other river ironclad gunboats. The last only occurred once, between the USS Carondolet and the ironclad CSS Arkansas, with the near-loss of  the Union ironclad.

Almost all of the river ironclads lacked protection from plunging fire, so their commanders limited their exposure to that type of fire. Generally, they were bettered armored in the bow area, so tactics were planned with this in mind.Most of the routine patrolling was done by wooden or tinclad gunboats. The ironclads were used as a battering ram in major actions against either fortifications or enemy flotillas.

The first major actions that the ironclads participated in were the assaults of Forts Donelson and Henry in February 1862. These two key fortifications guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was in command of the overall operation.

Grant’s first target was Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. On February 6th he began the attack with a bombardment from 4 of the ironclads under the overall command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote. Steaming up and down the river, the ironclads bombarded the fort into surrender before the Army troops could advance.

On the 13th and the 14th the same four ironclads bombarded Fort Donelson. However, the naval action at Fort Donelson due to the plunging fire. All of the vessels were hit and suffered considerable damage. Two days later the fort surrendered to Grant. In the future the ironclad commanders would stack extra timber or iron on the top deck for protection.

Island No. 10 was a fortified sandbar, one mile long, 450 yards wide. Starting in early March 1862 Flag Officer Foote had his 7 ironclads plus mortar boats bombard the island for about three weeks. He had his flotilla stand off and fire at long range to eliminate the problem with plunging fire. On April 6th he sent the USS Carondolet past the island in the dark, followed by the USS Pittsburgh two nights later. This maneuver effectively isolated the 7,000 man Confederate garrison from any reinforcements. When Brig. Gen. John Pope’s Union troops crossed the river the Confederate commander surrendered his entire force.

At Fort Pillow (also known as Plum Point Bend) on May 10, 1862 8 Ironclad under the overall command of Flag Officer Charles H. Davis were initially surprised by a Confederate River Defense Fleet under the command of Captain James Montgomery. Two of the Union ironclads were rammed and sank in shallow water. The Union force sank two Confederate ships. The firepower of the Union gunboats caused serious casualties Battle of Memphis, June 6, 1862among the Confederate crews. The two Union ironclads were later raised and returned to service.

The two forces met again at the Battle of Memphis in June 1862. Davis had a force of 5 ironclads and 2 rams which met the 8 cottonclad rams of the Confederate River Defense Force. On June 6th the two forces clashed on the Mississippi River north of the city of Memphis. The Confederate command structure was non-existent with every ship’s captain deciding on his own tactics. After a melee fight, all but one Confederate ram was either sunk or captured. The Union side had one disabled ram, The Queen of the West.

During the White River Expedition the USS Mound City suffered serious damage when she got too close to a Confederate fort and was hit by solid shot from a 64-pounder. The shot penetrated the casemate and exploded a boiler. The explosion killed 125 crew member and  wounded another 25. It proved that the City class ironclads was vulnerable to close-range fire.

Part Two will appear tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/23/11

Civil War Ironclads: Union River Ironclads Part Two

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series The Civil War at Sea

In yesterday’s post we discussed the design and construction of the Union river ironclads. We also discussed some of their engagements in order to understand their strengths and their deficiencies. We’ll continue with the rest of the primary engagements and their outcomes.

On June 28, 1862 the “brownwater” navy of Charles Davis joined the “bluewater” navy of Admiral David Farragut above Vicksburg. As they USS Carondeletconferred they heard rumors of a Confederate ironclad on the Yazoo River. Davis dispatched the USS Carondelet and two wooden gunboats to investigate. On July 15th this small flotilla encountered the CSS Arkansas and a running battle ensued. The two gunboats used the Carondolet for cover from the Arkansas. The Carondelet was badly damaged and the Arkansas sailed on through the Union fleet to the safety of Vicksburg.

A week later, on the 22nd, the Union navy had an opportunity to exact a measure of retribution against the Arkansas. In a night action, four Union ironclads accompanied by two wooden rams attempted to disable the Arkansas. The USS Essex attempted to ram the Arkansas but ran aground where she was subjected to heavy fire from the shore batteries. After a battering, the Essex managed to get free and retire. Once again the Arkansas escaped the Union ironclads.

Farragut received permission to return to the New Orleans area and he departed on July 24th. Davis took his force to Helena, Arkansas on the Mississippi River where they could maintain watch north of Vicksburg.

There really wasn’t much activity other than patrolling until General Ulysses Grant began the siege of Vicksburg. The Confederate stronghold had CSS Arkansas passing through the Union Fleet above Vicksburgbeen impervious to every attempted attack. Positioned on a bend of the Mississippi River, the city controlled the flow of supplies to the Confederate armies in the Eastern Theater.

David Dixon Porter had taken over the naval command in the west. In October 1862 he was promoted to rear admiral and given the command of the newly-renamed Mississippi River Squadron. The responsibility for the riverine squadron was transferred from the Army to the Navy.

Grant had devised a plan for the assault and capture of Vicksburg. His plan required Porter’s squadron to run past the city and ferry Grant’s troops to the east side of the river. On the night of April 16, 1863, Porter with his ships protected from plunging fire from the enemy shore batteries successfully sailed past the city.

On April 29th seven of Porter’s ironclads attacked Confederate defenses at Grand Gulf, Mississippi in an all-day action. They were able to silence the batteries at Fort Wade but the guns at Fort Cobun were out of range. The Tuscumbia was put out of action and the Benton was damaged.  The transports were able to embark troops south of Grand Gulf and then disembark them further downriver.

After more than two months of constant land and naval battles, Vicksburg and its Confederate Army surrendered on July 4, 1863. Approximately 3,200 men were killed or wounded and almost 30,000 men were captured. The Vicksburg campaign was costly for the Mississippi River Squadron had lost four ironclads, although one, the Cincinnati was raised and repaired.

From the fall of Vicksburg until March of 1864, the riverine squadron patrolled the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The squadron with 13 ironclads embarked on a joint operation up the Red River towards Shreveport, Louisiana. The Army contingent was led by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks who was not in favor of the expedition. According to William T. Sherman it was “One damn blunder from beginning to end.”

The falling water of thye river almost trapped the squadron but a major engineering feat of building tow dams to trap the water that was there allowed the ships to escape to the Mississippi.

In December 1864 two ironclads, the Carondolet and the Neosho, accompanied by wooden gunboats moved up the Cumberland River to support the Union army at Nashville. In less than two weeks the small flotilla recaptured three Union transports, shelled a number of Confederate shore batteries and provided supporting fire when General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland turned the Confederate right flank.

In the closing days of the war the Mississippi River Squadron participated in actions around Mobile Bay in conjunction with Union monitors. Despite suffering the loss of two ships the Union force was able to force the surrender of Fort Blakely on April 8, 1865. Four days later, the city of Mobile fell. The USS Cincinnati pursued the CSS Nashville up the Tombigbee River where it surrendered on May 10, 1865.