Civil War Naval History January 1864 - History

Civil War Naval History January 1864 - History

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1 As the New Year opened, the Union once more focused its attention on Wilmington. Since 1862 the Navy had pressed for a combined assault on this major east coast port, ideally located for blockade running less than 600 miles from Nassau and only some 675 from Bermuda. Despite the efforts of the fleet, the runners had continued to ply their trade successfully. In the fall of 1863, a British observer reported that thirteen steamers ran into Wilmington between 10 and 29 Septem-ber and that fourteen ships put to sea between 2 and 19 September. In fact, James Randall, an employee of a Wilmington shipping firm, reported that 397 ships visited Wilmington during the first two and a half to three years of the war. On 2 January, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles again proposed an attack on the fortifications protecting Wilmington, the only port by which any supplies whatever reach the rebels. He suggested to Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton that a joint operation be undertaken to seize Fort Caswell: 'The result of such operation is to en-able the vessels to lie inside, as is the case at Charleston, thus closing the port effectually." However, Major General Henry W. Halleck advised Stanton that campaigns to which the Army was committed in Louisiana and Texas would not permit the men for the suggested assault to be spared. Thus, although the Navy increasingly felt the need to close Wilmington, the port remained a haven for blockade runners for another year.

U.S.S. Huron, Lieutenant Commander Francis H. Baker, sank blockade running British schooner Sylvanus in Doboy Sound, Georgia, with cargo of salt, liquor, and cordage.

2 Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, Army commander at Memphis, wired Secretary Welles: 'The Tennessee at Mobile will be ready for sea in twenty days. She is a dangerous craft. Bu-chanan thinks more so than the Merrimack Commander Robert Townsend reported the seizure of steamer Ben Franklin in the lower Mississippi River "for flagrant violation of the Treasury Regulations."

3 U.S.S. Fahkee, with Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee embarked, sighted steamer Bendigo aground at Lockwood's Folly Inlet, South Carolina. Three boat crews were sent to investigate: after it was discovered that the blockade runner had been partially burned to prevent capture and that there was seven feet of water in the hold, Lee ordered Bendigo destroyed by gunfire from U.S.S. Fort Jackson, Iron Age, Montgomery, Daylight, and Fahkee.

4 Estimating the situation west of the Mississippi, Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith, CSA, wrote to Major General Richard Taylor, CSA: "I still think Red and Washita [Ouachita] Rivers, es-pecially the former, are the true lines of operation for an invading column, and that we may ex-pect an attempt to be made by the enemy in force before the rivers fall. .Within eight weeks Rear Admiral David D. Porter was leading such a joint expedition aimed at the penetration of Texas, which would not only further weaken Confederate logistic support from the West, but also would counter the threat of Texas posed by the French ascendancy in Mexico.

U.S.S. Tioga, Lieutenant Commander Edward Y. McCauley, seized an unnamed schooner near the Bahamas, bound from Nassau to Havana with cargo including salt, coffee, arms, shoes, and liquors.

5 Commander George B. Balch reported to Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, that prices continue to rocket in blockaded Charleston: " . boots sell at $250 a pair."

7 Following reports from an informant, Rear Admiral Dahlgren ordered all ships of the Charleston blockading force to take stringent precautions against attack by Southern torpedo boats, and noted: "There is also one of another kind, which is nearly submerged and can be entirely so. It is intended to go under the bottoms of vessels and there to operate." Regarding the submarine H.L. Hunley, he warned: "It is also advisable not to anchor in the deepest part of the channel, for by not leaving much space between the bottom of the vessel and the bottom of the channel it will be impossible for the diving torpedo to operate except on the sides, and there will be less difficulty in raising a vessel if sunk."

Major General Benjamin F. Butler's plan to send Army steamer Brewster, Ensign Arnold Harris, Jr., into Wilmington harbor under the guise of a blockade runner "for the purpose of making an attempt upon the shipping and blockade runners in the harbor" was abandoned upon learning of the Confederates' protective precautions. Brigadier General Charles K. Graham reported to Rear Admiral Lee that while it might be possible to run past Forts Caswell and Fisher under the proposed ruse, it would be frustrated by the chain that stretched across the channel at Fort Lee; all blockade runners were required to come to at that point until permission for their further advance was received from Wilmington. Under these circumstances, Graham concluded, "it would be madness to make the attempt."

U.S.S. Montgomery, Lieutenant Edward H. Faucon, and U.S.S. Aries, Lieutenant Edward F. Devens, chased blockade runner Dare. The steamer, finding escape impossible, was beached at North Inlet, South Carolina, and was abandoned by her crew. Boat crews from both Montgomery and Aries boarded but, failing to refloat the prize, set her afire.

U.S.S. San Jacinto, Lieutenant Commander Ralph Chandler, captured schooner Roebuck at sea, bound from Havana for Mobile.

8 Captain Raphael Semmes, C.S.S. Alabama, noted in his journal that he had identified himself to an English bark as U.S.S. Dacotah in search of the raider Alabama. The bark's master replied: "It won't do; the Alabama is a bigger ship than you, and they say she is iron plated besides." Had Semmes' ship been armored in fact, the outcome of his battle with U.S.S. Kearsarge six months later might have been different.

U.S.S. Kennebec, Lieutenant Commander William P. McCann, chased blockade runner John Scott off Mobile for some eight hours and captured her with cargo of cotton and turpentine. John Scott's pilot, William Norval, well known for his professional skill and for aiding the blockade runners, was sent by Commodore Henry K. Thatcher to New Orleans, where he was imprisoned.

9 Reflecting the increased Union concern over Confederate torpedoes, President Abraham Lincoln granted an interview to one Captain Lavender, a New England mariner, to discuss a device for discovering and removing underwater obstructions. Though many ideas for rendering Confed-erate torpedoes ineffective were advanced, none solved the problem, and torpedoes sank an increas-ing number of Union ships.

Mr. James O. Putnam, U.S. Consul at L'Havre, France, notified Captain John Winslow of U.S.S. Kearsarge "that it was the purpose of the commanders of the Georgia, the Florida, and Rappahannock, to rendezvous at some convenient and opportune point, for the purpose of attacking the Kearsarge after she has left Brest." This attack never took place; six months later it was Kearsarge which met another Confederate raider, Alabama, off Cherbourg.

Rear Admiral Charles H. Bell, commanding the Pacific Squadron, advised Secretary Welles of the report that a Confederate privateer was outfitting at Victoria, Vancouver Island: "I would also respectfully suggest the expediency of having at all times a small steamer, under the direction of the [Mare Island] navy yard, ready to be despatched at a few hours' notice whenever a similar occasion arises. The want of a vessel so prepared may be of incalculable injury to the mercantile interests of our western coast.

10 While helping to salvage the hulk of grounded and partially burned blockade runner Bendigo near Lockwood's Folly Inlet, South Carolina, U.S.S. Iron Age, Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Stone, herself grounded. Efforts to get her off were futile, and, as Confederates positioned a battery within range, the ship was ordered destroyed to prevent her capture. Reporting on the loss of the small screw steamer and on blockade duty in general, Rear Admiral Lee noted: "This service is one of great hardship and exposure; it has been conducted with slight loss to us, and much loss to the rebels and their allies, who have lost twenty-two vessels in six months, while our loss has only been two vessels on the Wilmington blockade during the war."

Boat crews from U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master John Sherrill, captured blockade-running Confed-erate sloop Maria Louise with cargo of cotton off Jupiter Inlet, Florida.

11 Flag Officer Samuel Barron, senior Confederate naval officer in France, reported to Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, that he had placed Lieutenant Charles M. Morris in command of C.S.S. Florida, relieving Commander Joseph N. Barney whose ill health prevented active service afloat. Florida had completed her repairs and on a trial run "made 13 knots under steam." C.S.S. Rappahannock was "repairing slowly but surely;" she would be armed with the battery from C.S.S. Georgia, no longer fit for duty as a cruiser. He concluded: "You are doubtless, sir, aware that three Confederate 'men-of-war' are now enjoying the hospitality and natural courtesies of this Empire-a strange contrast with the determined hostility, I may almost say, of Earl Russell Louis Napoleon is not Lord John Russell!"

U.S.S. Minnesota, Daylight, Aries, and Governor Buckingham intercepted blockade-runner Ranger, Lieutenant George W. Gift, CSN, and forced her aground at the Western Bar of Lockwood's Folly Inlet, South Carolina. Since Southern sharpshooters precluded salvage, Ranger, carrying a cargo for the Confederate government, was destroyed by Union forces. Aries, Acting Lieutenant Edward F. Devens, also investigated a fire observed between Tubb's and Little River Inlets and found the "fine-looking double propeller blockade runner" Vesta beached and in flames. Vesta had been sighted and chased the night before by U.S.S. Keystone State, Quaker City, and Tuscarora.

U.S.S. Honeysuckle, Acting Ensign Cyrus Sears, captured blockade running British schooner Fly near Jupiter Inlet, Florida.

Boat crews from U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master Sherrill, captured blockade running British schooner Susan at Jupiter Inlet with cargo including salt.

12 Under cover of U.S.S. Yankee, Currituck, Anacostia, Tulip, and Jacob Bell, commanded by Acting Lieutenant Edward Hooker, Union cavalry and infantry under General Gilman Marston landed on the peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, capturing "a small body of the enemy and a large number of cavalry horses." The small gunboats supported the Army operations on the 13th and 14th, and covered the reembarkation of the soldiers on the 15th.

13 Captain Thornton A. Jenkins, senior officer present off Mobile, wrote Commodore Henry H. Bell, temporary commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron: "I must be permitted to say that, in my judgment, our present weakness at this point, and the incalculable benefits to accrue in the event of success, are a most tempting invitation to the enemy to attack us and endeavor to raise the blockade by capturing or destroying our vessels and to open the way to other successes.

Rear Admiral Farragut, who had arrived in Key West, Florida, on 12 January, was soon to resume command of the West Gulf Squadron.

Rear Admiral Dahlgren urged Secretary Welles to employ torpedo boats in Charleston harbor similar to the Confederate "David". "Nothing better could be devised for the security of our own vessels or for the examination of the enemy's position," he wrote. "The length of these torpedo boats might be about 40 feet, and 5 to 6 feet in diameter, with a high-pressure engine that will drive them 5 knots. It is not necessary to expend much finish on them."

Boat crew from U.S.S. Two Sisters, Acting master Thomas Chatfield, captured schooner William off Suwannee River, Florida, with cargo of salt, bagging, and rope.

14 C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes, captured and burned ship Emma Jane off the coast of Malabar, southwest India.

Small boats from U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master Sherrill, chased blockade running British sloop Young Racer and forced her aground north of Jupiter Inlet, Florida, with cargo of salt. The sloop was destroyed by her crew.

Having failed in efforts to pull the grounded U.S.S. Iron Age off the beach at Lockwood's Folly Inlet, the Federal blockaders applied the torch and blew her up. "As an offset to the loss...." reported Lieutenant Commander Stone, "I would place the capture or destruction of 22 blockade runners within the last six months by this squadron [the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron]."

U.S.S. Union, Acting Lieutenant Edward Conroy, captured blockade running steamer Mayflower near Tampa Bay, Florida, with cargo of cotton.

15 Regarding Southern Red River defenses, Major General Taylor, CSA, wrote to Brigadier General William R. Boggs: "At all events, we should be prepared as far as possible, and I trust the re-maining 9-inch gun and the carriages for the two 32-Dahlgrens will soon reach me. For the 9-inch and 32-pound rifle now in position at Fort De Russy, there were sent down only 50 rounds of shot and shell; more should be sent at once. The Missouri, I suppose, will come down on the first rise.

Secretary Mallory ordered Commander James W. Cooke to command C.S.S. Albemarle at Halifax, North Carolina, and to complete her. Under Cooke's guidance she was rapidly readied for service and played a major role in Albemarle Sound from April until her destruction in October.

Commodore H. H. Bell wrote confidentially to Commander Robert Townsend, U.S.S. Essex, off Donaldsonville, Louisiana: "The rams and ironclads on Red River and in Mobile Bay are to force the blockade at both points and meet here [New Orleans], whilst the army is to do its part. Being aware of these plans, we should be prepared to defeat them. The reports in circulation about their ironclads and rams being failures may be true in some degree; but we should remember that they prevailed about the redoubtable Merrimack before her advent." Of the ironclads, however, only C.S.S. Tennessee could be regarded as formidable.

U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Francis Burgess, captured blockade running British schooner Minnie south of Mosquito Inlet, Florida, with cargo including salt and liquor.

16 Secretary Mallory wrote Captain John K. Mitchell of the Confederate James River Squadron urging that action be taken against the Union squadron downriver at the earliest opportunity.

I think that there is a passage through the obstructions at Trents' Reach. I deem the opportunity a favor able one for striking a blow at the enemy if we are able to do so. In a short time many of his vessels will have returned to the River from Wilmington and he will again perfect his obstructions. If we can block the River at or below City Point, Grant might be compelled to evacuate his position. The clamor for action increased as the months passed- On 15 May Lieutenant Robert D. Minor, First Lieutenant and ordnance officer for the Squadron, wrote his wife: "There is an insane desire among the public to get the iron dads down the river, and I am afraid that some of our higher public authorities are yeilding to this pressure of public opinion- but I for one am not and in the squadron we know too much of the interest at stake to act against our judgement even if those high in authority wish to hurry us into an action unpre-pared and against vastly superior forces. ."

The Richmond Enquirer reported that 26 ships on blockading station off Wilmington "guard all the avenues of approach with the most sleepless vigilance. The consequences are that the chances of running the blockade have been greatly lessened, and it is apprehended by some that the day is not far distant when it will be an impossibility for a vessel to get into that port without incurring a hazard almost equivilant to positive loss. Having secured nearly every seaport on our coast, the Yankees are enabled to keep a large force off Wilmington."

Henry Hotze, commercial agent of the Confederate States, wrote from London to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin suggesting complete government operation of blockade running: "The experiments thus far made by the Ordnance, Niter, and other Bureaus, as also the Navy Depart-ment, demonstrates that the Government can run the blockade with equal if not greater chances than private enterprise. But the public loses the chief advantages of the system, first, by the competition of private exportation; secondly, by the complicated and jarring machinery which only serves to grind out large profits in the shape of commissions, etc.; thirdly, by confounding the distinctive functions of different administrative departments. If blockade running was con-stituted an arm of the national defense, each would perform only its appropriate work, which therefore would be well done, The Treasury would procure without competition the raw material and regulate the disposition of the proceeds; the Navy, abandoning the hope of breaking the blockade and throwing all its available energies into eluding it, would purchase, build, and man the vessels for this purpose. As the war progressed, more and more blockade runners commanded by naval officers did operate under the Confederate government.

Boat crews from U.S.S. Fernandina, Acting Master Edward Moses, captured sloop Annie Thomp-son in St. Catherine's Sound, Georgia, with cargo of cotton, tobacco, and turpentine.

U.S.S. Gertrude, Acting Master Henry C. Wade, captured blockade running schooner Ellen off Mobile with an assorted cargo.

17 Rear Admiral Farragut, eager to attack at Mobile but needing ironclads to cope with Confederate ram Tennessee, wrote Rear Admiral Porter: "I am therefore anxious to know if your monitors, at least two of them, are not completed and ready for service; and if so, can you spare them to assist us? If I had them, I should not hesitate to become the assailant instead of awaiting the attack. I must have ironclads enough to lie in the bay to hold the gunboats and rams in check in the shoal water."

18 Rear Admiral Farragut arrived off Mobile Bay to inspect Union ships and the Confederate de-fenses. He had sailed from New York in his renowned flagship Hartford after an absence of five months, and was to officially resume command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron on Janu-ary 22 at New Orleans. Farragut was concerned about the reported strength of the Confederate ram Tennessee, then in Mobile Bay, and determined to destroy her and silence the forts, closing Mobile to the blockade runners, To this end, he immediately began to build up his forces and make plans for the battle.

Secretary Welles directed Captain Henry Walke, U.S.S. Sacramento, to search for "the piratical vessels now afloat and preying upon our commerce," adding: "You will bear in mind that the principal object of your pursuit is the Alabama." Alabama had by this date taken more than 60 prizes, and the effect of all raiders on Union merchantmen was evident in the gradual disappearance of the U.S. flag from the ocean commerce lanes. Boat crews from U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master Sherrill, captured sloop Caroline off Jupiter Inlet, Florida, with cargo of salt, gin, soda, and dry goods.

U.S.S. Stars and Stripes, Acting Master Charles L. Willcomb, captured blockade running steamer Laura off Ocklockonee River, Florida, with cargo including cigars.

19 Boats from U.S.S. Roebuck, Acting Master Sherrill, seized British schooner Eliza and sloop Mary inside Jupiter Inlet, Florida. Both blockade runners carried cargoes of cotton. Three days later Mary, en route to Key West, commenced leaking, ran aground, and was wrecked. The prize crew and most of the cotton were saved. In ten days, Sherrill's vigilance and initiative had enabled him to take six prizes.

Thomas E. Courtenay, engaged in secret service for the Confederacy, informed Colonel Henry E. Clark, that manufacture of "coal torpedoes" was nearing completion, and stated: "The castings have all been completed some time and the coal is so perfect that the most critical eye could not detect it." These devices, really powder filled cast iron bombs, shaped and painted to resemble pieces of coal, were to be deposited in Federal naval coal depots, from where they would eventu-ally reach and explode ships' boilers. During the next few months Rear Admiral Porter, commanding the Mississippi Squadron, became greatly concerned over Confederate agents assigned to distribute the coal torpedoes, and wrote Secretary Welles that he had "given orders to commanders of vessels not to be very particular about the treatment of any of these desperadoes if caught- only summary punishment will be effective.

21 U.S.S. Sciota, Lieutenant Commander George H. Perkins, in company with U.S.S. Granite City, Acting Master Charles W. Lamson, joined several hundred troops in a reconnaisance of the Texas coast. Sciota and Granite City covered the troops at Smith's Landing, Texas, and the subsequent foray down the Matagorda Peninsula. From the war's outset this type of close naval support and cooperation with the army had been a potent factor in Union success in all theaters of the conflict.

22 Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox regarding Charles-ton: '. do not suppose that I am idle because no battles are fought; on the contrary, the blockade by four monitors of such a place as this, and the determined intentions of the rebels to operate with torpedoes, keep all eyes open.

Acting Ensign James J. Russell, U.S.S. Restless, accompanied by two sailors, captured blockade running schooner William A. Kain in St. Andrew's Bay, Florida. Russell and his men had intended originally to reconnoiter only, but after discovering and capturing the Captain and several of the crew members of the blockade runner in the woods near the vessel, he determined to take her himself. Compelling his prisoners to row him out to Kain, Russell captured the remaining crew members and managed to sail Kain from Watson's Bayou out into the bay and under the protection of Restless's guns.

23 Rear Admiral Dahlgren in a letter to President Lincoln wrote: "The city of Charleston is converted into a camp, and 20,000 or 25,000 of their best troops are kept in abeyance in the vicinity, to guard against all possible contingencies, so that 2,000 of our men in the fortifications of Morris and Folly Islands, assisted by a few ironclads, are rendering invaluable service. No man in the country will be more happy than myself to plant the flag of the Union where you most desire to see it." The Union's ability to attack any part of the South's long coastline from the sea diverted important numbers of Confederate soldiers from the main armies.

26 William L. Dayton, U.S. Minister to France, noted in a dispatch to Secretary of State Seward: "I must regret that, of the great number of our ships of war, enough could not have been spared to look after the small rebel cruisers now in French ports. It is a matter of great surprise in Europe, that, with our apparent naval force, we permit such miserable craft to chase our commerce from the ocean; it affects seriously our prestige."

28 Captain Henry S. Stellwagen, commanding U.S.S. Constellation, reported from Naples "It is my pleasant duty to inform you of the continued [friendly] demonstrations of ruling powers and people of the Kingdom of Italy toward our country and its officers." When the problems of blockading the hazardous Atlantic and Gulf coasts and running down Confederate commerce raiders compelled the Navy Department to employ its steamers in these tasks, sailing warships were sent out to replace them on the foreign stations. These slow but relatively powerful vessels, the historic Constellation in the Mediterranean, St. Louis west of Gibraltar on the converging trade routes, Jamestown in the East Indies, became available to escort merchant ships and, more important, to deter the approach of raiders. Though they received few opportunities to carry out their military missions, these veterans of the Old Navy rendered most effective service pro-tecting American interests and maintaining national prestige abroad.

U.S. Army steamer Western Metropolis seized blockade running British steamer Rosita off Key West with cargo including liquor and cigars. Acting Lieutenant Lewis W. Pennington, USN, and Acting Master Daniel S. Murphy, USN, on board as passengers, assisted in the capture.

U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Burgess, seized blockade running British sloop Racer north of Cape Canaveral, Florida, with cargo of cotton.

29 Commander Thomas H. Stevens, U.S.S. Patapsco, reported to Rear Admiral Dahlgren on an ex-tended reconnaissance of the Wilmington River, Georgia, during which Confederate sharpshooters were engaged. Stevens concluded: "From what I can see and learn, an original expedition against Savannah at this time by a combined movement of the land and sea forces would be prob-ably successful." Though the Navy kept the city under close blockade and engaged the area's defenses, troops for the combined operation did not become available until late in the year.

Lieutenant Commander James C. Chaplin, U.S.S. Dai Ching, reported to Dahlgren information obtained from the master of blockade runner George Chisholm [see 14 November 1863 for capture]: ,'. vessels running out from Nassau, freighted with contraband goods for Southern ports . always skirt along on soundings and take the open sea through the North East Providence Channel by Egg and Royal Islands, steering from thence about N.N.W. course toward Wilmington or ports adjacent on the Carolina coast, while those bound to Mobile run down on the east side of Cuba through Crooked Island Passage, sweeping outside in a considerable circle to avoid the United States cruisers in the vicinity. The vessels bound to the coast of the Carolinas take their point of departure from a newly erected light-house in the neighborhood of Man of War Cay. They are provided with the best of instruments and charts, and, if the master is ignorant of the channels and inlets of our coast, a good pilot. They are also in possession of the necessary funds (in specie) to bribe, if possible, captors for their release. Such an offer was made to myself . of some £800. The master of a sailing vessel, before leaving port, receives $1,000 (in coin), and, if successful, $5,000 on his return; those commanding steamers $5,000 on leaving and $15,000 in a successful return to the same port."

31 In planning the strategy for the joint Army-Navy Red River Campaign, Major General William T. Sherman wrote to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks: "The expedition on Shreveport should be made rapidly, by simultaneous movements from Little Rock on Shreveport, from Opelousas on Alexandria, and a combined force of gun-boats and transports directly up Red River. Admiral Porter will be able to have a splendid fleet by March 1." The Army relied on Porter's gunboats both to spearhead attack with its powerful guns and to keep open the all-important supply line.

An expedition comprising some 40 sailors and 350 soldiers with a 12-pound howitzer, under command of Lieutenant Commander Charles W. Flusser, marched inland from the Roanoke River North Carolina, "held the town of Windsor several hours, and marched back 8 miles to our boats without a single shot from the enemy."

USS New Hampshire (1864)

USS New Hampshire (1864) was a 2,633-ton ship originally designed to be the 74-gun ship of the line Alabama, but she remained on the stocks for nearly 40 years, well into the age of steam, before being renamed and launched as a storeship and depot ship during the American Civil War. She was later renamed to USS Granite State.

  • burned, 23 May 1921
  • sunk under tow, July 1922
  • 4 × 100-pounder Parrott rifles
  • 6 × 9 in (230 mm) Dahlgren guns

As Alabama, she was one of "nine ships to rate not less than 74 guns each" authorized by Congress on 29 April 1816, and was laid down by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Maine, in June 1819, the year the State of Alabama was admitted to the Union. Though ready for launch by 1825, she remained on the stocks for preservation an economical measure that avoided the expense of manning and maintaining a ship of the line.


Researchers think they have found the wreck of the noted Civil War vessel the Planter -- a Confederate ammunition ship commandeered in 1862 by the slave Robert Smalls who then steamed it out of Charleston and turned it over to the Union Navy.

Archeologists with the National Marne Sanctuary Program are releasing a report Tuesday outlining their research findings. They used maps and newspaper accounts to identify an area at Cape Romain where they think what remains of the Planter is buried.

They found metal items buried under about 15 feet of sand just offshore that is thought to be the Planter. There is probably not much left of the vessel which wrecked in an 1876 storm. Much of its equipment was salvaged at that time.

The Civil War’s Landmark Naval Battle Is Remembered for a Unique Rallying Cry

More than three years into the Civil War, the Union naval blockade of Southern ports had choked most of the Confederacy’s nautical lifelines. Blockade runners, however, still operated out of one major haven along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico—Mobile, Alabama.

Ever since his capture of New Orleans in April 1862, Union Admiral David Farragut had itched to storm Mobile Bay, but his commanders had held him back. “If I had the permission I can tell you it would not be long before I would raise a row with the rebels in Mobile,” he wrote to his son in February 1864. When General Ulysses S. Grant, who made the capture of the Alabama port one of his top priorities, assumed command of the Union forces weeks later, Farragut finally received his chance.

On August 5, 1864, the sailors in Farragut’s 18-ship flotilla awoke at 3 a.m. to prepare for battle. A formidable obstacle awaited them. The imposing knuckles of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines guarded the entrance to the bay, which was so heavily seeded with floating sea mines�lled “torpedoes” during the Civil War—that ships were forced to thread a narrow channel directly under the citadels’ guns.

The good news for Farragut was that if his fleet could slip by the torpedoes and forts, Mobile Bay was defended by only four Confederate ships under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the only man to hold that rank in the Confederacy. Few dogs were saltier than “Old Buck,” who had spent 49 years at sea, but the 63-year-old Farragut was one of them. The Union admiral had joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 9. Three years later he became a prize master responsible for captured British vessels during the War of 1812. The Civil War successes of the man whose naval career spanned more than a half-century were particularly rankling to the South, which viewed him as a traitor. Born in Tennessee, Farragut was raised in New Orleans, the city he had seized earlier in the war, and married to a Southerner. (Buchanan, a Maryland native, shared a similar treacherous reputation in the North.)

Implementing a battle plan he had plotted on a map using small wooden boats carved by his ship’s carpenter, Farragut ordered his vessels into two parallel columns, with four ironclad monitors in one line to pass nearest Fort Morgan and seven pairs of wooden vessels in the other. Larger ships were lashed side by side to smaller gunboats to shield them from Fort Morgan’s devastating fire. Farragut initially announced that his flagship, USS Hartford, would take the lead, but the admiral reluctantly changed his mind after his captains lobbied to have USS Brooklyn, which had a mine-sweeping device under its bow, go first.

Shortly before 7 a.m., the battle commenced as shots rang out through the overcast skies. With black cannon smoke mixing with the summer haze, Farragut could no longer see the action. Although he suffered from vertigo, the admiral climbed 20 feet up the rigging, nearly level with the pilot, for a better perch. With one hand clinging to the ropes and another clutching a pair of binoculars, Farragut surveyed the battle as shots whizzed by him. Percival Drayton, Hartford’s captain, worried for the admiral’s safety and dispatched a signalman with a piece of line to tie Farragut to the rigging.

Then suddenly on Hartford’s starboard side, an explosion rang out and the bow of one of the Union’s iron-hulled monitors, USS Tecumseh, suddenly heaved up out of the water. It turned on its starboard side like a wounded whale. The stern rose high in the air with Tecumseh’s exposed propeller still revolving before the ship suddenly sank out of sight with 90 men still on board.

Realizing that a torpedo had sunk Tecumseh and fearful of striking another, the commander of the lead ship, Brooklyn, ordered the engines stopped. Farragut watched as confusion spread across the Union fleet as it began to pile up directly in the firing line of Fort Morgan’s pounding guns. A private reported that Hartford’s 𠇌ockpit looked more like a slaughter house.” Sensing impending disaster, the admiral took control to rally his confused charges and ordered Hartford and its consort to pass through the minefield to get to the front of the line. Although not prone to swearing, Farragut supposedly exhorted, �mn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Nervous sailors heard the bobbing torpedoes banging and scraping Hartford’s hull as well as the primers snapping on the mines. Fortunately for Farragut’s men, the torpedoes were either faulty or corroded by salt water and failed to ignite.

Hartford safely led the Union flotilla through the mines and out of range of Fort Morgan’s guns. All that remained was the badly outnumbered Confederate force. Although he faced overwhelming odds, Buchanan ordered his flagship, the 200-foot-long ironclad CSS Tennessee, to charge Hartford. The two vessels passed so closely to each other that a sailor on board Hartford threw a spittoon at the enemy while a rebel leaned out of a gun port and stabbed a Union sailor with a bayonet. Farragut’s forces pounded Tennessee until it could no longer fight. The crippled iron monster raised a white flag in surrender.

The Union had seized control of Mobile Bay and sealed it off from blockade runners. Fort Gaines surrendered three days later followed by Fort Morgan on August 23. The city of Mobile itself remained too fortified to capture, and it did not surrender until April 12, 1865, three days after Appomattox.

The Battle of Mobile Bay was Farragut’s crowning achievement and also the last naval combat he ever saw. The admiral never claimed to have spoken his immortal words, but they became legendary. By Farragut’s death in 1870, they began to find their way into print with variations of the second line of the order including 𠇏our bells!” or “Go ahead!” Whether Farragut’s iconic phrase was ever uttered or not, his actions in Mobile Bay certainly embodied the words.

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Civil War Naval History January 1864 - History

Get a close up view of the artifacts which impacted Naval and Marine medicine and strategy during the Civil War

US Naval and Marine Exhibit

On January 18-19, 2020 the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is partnering with the United States Marine Corps Historical Company for a weekend devoted to the history of the US Navy and Marine Corps in the Civil War. Visitors to the Museum will be treated to a special temporary exhibit about the evolving tactics, weaponry, and medical care afloat and ashore during the Civil War. With tables full of original and reproduction artifacts, visitors will have a rare opportunity to get a close look at the items which presented challenges and opportunities for members of the US Navy and Marines during America’s bloodiest conflict.

The exhibit will focus heavily on the Battle of Fort Fisher (January 13-15, 1865). Although the assault by the Federal naval (and Marine) brigade was eventually checked, it diverted the attention of the Confederate defenders allowing Union Army forces to penetrate the defenses and capture the bastion. A moment in Naval history that is often overlooked, the involvement of the U.S. Marines and sailors in the operations against Fort Fisher would lead to paramount lessons learned and have a direct impact on advancements in technology and operational methods that would lead to the shaping of today’s Marine Corps and Naval Services.

The Naval and Marine Medicine weekend is included with admission, and FREE for NMCWM members.

Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War

Given the wealth of available information about Civil War soldiers, the comparative poverty of such knowledge about Civil War sailors borders on the astonishing. Two explanations account for this imbalance. First, the broad narrative of presidential leadership and the clash of armies in Virginia that Ken Burns's The Civil War told so powerfully all but excludes naval forces from the tale. Second, existing accounts of the naval Civil War have focused on the strategic role of naval forces in the contest, the governmental architects of naval policy, the naval officers who masterminded operations, and the innovations in technology and weaponry to the near exclusion of the enlisted sailors' war. No image of "Jack Tar" comparable to Bell I. Wiley's classic portraits of "Billy Yank" and "Johnny Reb" fills the popular imagination or the works of Civil War historians.1

Because the navy, unlike the army, was racially integrated, understanding the history of black sailors requires some effort but even more interpretive caution to unravel it from that of all Civil War sailors. Exploring the similarities and differences in the experiences of black and white enlisted men must avoid viewing the racial groups in strictly monolithic terms that do not allow for internal complexity and diversity and shifting, if not altogether porous, borders. The work must also beware currently popular understandings of the black soldiers' experience. Often framed around the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, that tale depicts stoic sacrifice and daunting perseverance in pursuit of freedom and equality that in the end was crowned with "Glory," the impression conveyed by the popular feature film. The black sailors' story fits awkwardly, if at all, within that image.

The study of African Americans in the Civil War navy must begin with determining their numbers. During the first decade of the twentieth century, when the secretary of the navy was quizzed about the service of black men in the Civil War, senior officers who had served in the conflict recalled that approximately one-quarter of the enlisted force was black. In a grand display of false precision, the secretary's office concluded that 29,511 black men had served by taking the known figure of Civil War enlistments (118,044) and dividing by four.2 That figure remained essentially unchallenged until 1973, when David L. Valuska's dissertation revised it downward to slightly less than ten thousand men, based upon his survey of surviving enlistment records.3 Over the past decade, a research partnership among Howard University, the Department of the Navy, and the National Park Service has made possible an examination of a fuller array of records than earlier researchers, working as individuals, were able to explore.4 As a result, nearly eighteen thousand men of African descent (and eleven women) who served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War have been identified by name.5 At 20 percent of the navy's total enlisted force, black sailors constituted a significant segment of naval manpower and nearly double the proportion of black soldiers who served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.6

At the start of the conflict, the army and the navy drew upon separate traditions regarding the service of persons of African descent. Following adoption of the federal Militia Act in 1792, the army excluded black men, and the prohibition remained in effect until the second summer of the Civil War. The navy, in contrast, never barred black men from serving, although from the 1840s onward regulations limited their numbers to 5 percent of the enlisted force. When the war began, several hundred black men were in the naval service, a small fraction of those with prewar experience and a figure well below the prescribed maximum. During the first ninety days after Fort Sumter, when nearly three hundred black recruits enlisted, fifty-nine (20 percent) were veterans with an average of five years of prior naval service per man.7 Over succeeding months, the proportion of black men in the service increased rapidly. At the end of 1861, they made up roughly 6 percent of the crews of vessels. By the summer of 1862, the figure had climbed to nearly 15 percent.8

At first, navy officials did not treat black manpower separately from their general need for men as the service expanded and as volunteer army units competed for the able-bodied. With enlistment centers at the major Atlantic ports from Chesapeake Bay through New England, recruiters could draw upon the international seafaring fraternity to supplement the recruits from the seaboard states. By the end of the war, some 7,700 of the roughly 17,000 men whose place of nativity is recorded had been born in states that remained within the Union. Not surprisingly, the coastal states contributed the largest numbers of men: New York and Pennsylvania roughly 1,200 each, and Massachusetts and New Jersey more than 400 each. Many of these men had been mariners before the war, and still others had worked on the docks and shipping-related businesses of the seaport cities. Additional recruits with prior maritime experience on the lakes and rivers of the nation's interior also enlisted these included 420 natives of Kentucky. The largest number of black men from any of the northern states— more than 2,300 in all— hailed from Maryland. The maritime culture of Chesapeake Bay, with its numerous tributaries and the port of Baltimore, offer part of the explanation for the large number of Marylanders in naval service. The size of the Maryland contingent also benefited from a spring 1864 agreement between army and navy officials to transfer nearly eight hundred black Marylanders from incomplete units of the U.S. Colored Troops into the navy.9

Another fifteen hundred men were born outside of the United States, chiefly Canada and the islands of the Caribbean.10 Like their counterparts from the United States, the foreign-born men entered service for a variety of reasons. John Robert Bond, for instance, a mariner of mixed African and Irish descent from Liverpool, England, enlisted during 1863 "to help free the slaves," as his descendants recall. Seriously wounded the following year, he was discharged and pensioned after a long recuperation. He settled in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, amid other black Civil War veterans.11

The remainder of the 17,000 men whose place of nativity is recorded— some 7,800 in all— were born in the seceded Confederate states. The firsthand experience that these men had with slavery distinguished them from their freeborn northern counterparts. Moreover, whereas northern freemen could enlist when they chose, men held in bondage often had to rely on the circumstances of war for the opportunity to do so. Not simply awaiting their fate, black men escaping from slavery helped create opportunities for the federal government to protect them and accept their offers of service. By September 1861, the volume of requests from commanders of naval vessels regarding authorization to enlist fugitive slaves reached such proportions that Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, a Connecticut native of antislavery bent, felt obliged to act. Welles permitted the enlistment of former slaves whose "services can be useful," stipulating that the "contrabands" be classified as "Boys," the lowest rung on the rating and pay scales and one traditionally reserved for young men under the age of eighteen.12 (The term "contraband" itself had within weeks of Fort Sumter sprung into widespread use throughout the North as a rationale for treating such persons as plunder under international conventions of warfare.) The practical effect of this policy became evident when Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont established federal control of the harbor at Port Royal, South Carolina, in November 1861. This beachhead eventually became the home port of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, with repair and supply facilities that employed nearly a thousand contrabands. At the same time, vessels in all the squadrons began taking fugitive slaves on board, enlisting the men as needed and forwarding others to places of safety.13

The large concentrations of enslaved African Americans on the plantations along the Mississippi River and the strategic importance of the river to both sides assured that Secretary Welles's directive regarding the employment of contrabands would have special relevance to the Mississippi Squadron. In April 1863, as the combined army and navy assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, took shape, Flag Officer David D. Porter instructed the commanders of vessels to take full advantage of "acclimated" black manpower.14 Under these guidelines, more than two thousand men enlisted on the vessels that plied the Mississippi and its tributaries.15 The refugee camps that sprang up in Union-occupied areas also proved a rich source of recruits. In the camps of coastal North Carolina, for instance, recruiters from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron displayed posters promising good pay and other amenities and urging volunteers to "Come forward and serve your Country."16

The success of these efforts to recruit black men from the Union-occupied regions of the South tipped the demographic balance among black sailors. Largely free men with considerable naval experience at the start of the war, over time the force included growing numbers of recently enslaved men with only limited maritime experience. Not surprisingly, most were from the states where Union naval forces operated: the Carolinas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The largest contingent of southern-born men, however, was the Virginians, more than twenty-eight hundred strong, numbers of whom had been sold before the war from their native state to plantation regions farther south. The fact that nearly six thousand (roughly 35 percent) of the black sailors whose nativity is known came from the Chesapeake Bay region is striking. Even more so is that more than eleven thousand men were born in the slave states as against four thousand born in the free states. Even allowing for the fact that a small fraction of those from the slave states had been born free, nearly three men born into slavery served for every man born free. Hardly predictable from the record of black sailors in the antebellum navy, this demographic division profoundly influenced the black naval experience during the war.

Quarterly muster rolls of vessels clearly demonstrate the navy's reliance on black manpower between 1862 and 1864, as the following table indicates.17

Table 1: Aggregate Percentages of Black Enlisted Men Serving on Board U.S. Naval Vessels by Quarter of the Calendar Year, 1862 - 1865
Quarter Percentage
1st Quarter 1862 8
2nd Quarter 1862 through 2nd Quarter 1863 15
3rd Quarter 1863 through 3rd Quarter 1864 23
4th Quarter 1864 through 3rd Quarter 1865 17
4th Quarter 1865 15
Source: Muster Rolls of Vessels, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group (RG) 24, National Archives.

From the spring of 1861 through the fall of 1864, the percentage of black men increased steadily from a starting point of less than 5 percent to a peak of 23 percent. In this context, the Navy Department's rule-of-thumb estimate from early in the twentieth century that one quarter of the enlisted force was black comes very close to describing the reality from summer 1863 through summer 1864. By the fall of 1865, after most wartime volunteers had been discharged, black men still constituted 15 percent of the enlisted force, more than three times the percentage of black men in service at the start of the war.

The racial demographics of the enlisted force varied— often significantly— by squadron and by vessel. In the European Squadron, for instance, a handful of ships cruising the North Atlantic in pursuit of Confederate commerce raiders and blockade runners, the number of black sailors was small. Given that most of the ships were outfitted and manned early in the war, the demographic profile of Kearsarge, perhaps the most famous of the bunch, wherein black men made up 5 to 10 percent of the crew, was entirely typical. In the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which drew men from the traditional enlistment points along the northeast Atlantic seaboard as well as from the coastal regions of Virginia and North Carolina, the proportion of black enlisted men was considerably higher than that of the European Squadron. The Mississippi Squadron, which drew recruits from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cairo, Illinois, as well as from its areas of operations along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, relied most on black manpower. In David Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron, the proportion of black sailors fell well short of that in the Mississippi Squadron or the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Table 2: Percentages of Black Enlisted Men Serving on Board U.S Naval Vessels in Three Representative Squadrons, Second Quarter of 1864
Squadron Percentage
North Atlantic 25
West Gulf 20
Mississippi 34
Source: Muster Rolls of Vessels, RG 24, National Archives.

At the level of individual vessels, the racial demographics of crews reflected a more complex array of variables, including the type of vessel, its tactical mission within a larger unit of operations, and the personality of the captain, his officers, and the ship's company. The broader cultural biases that associated persons of African descent with menial labor and personal service also influenced these demographic patterns. The disproportionate presence of black sailors on supply ships illustrates this point. During 1863 and 1864, virtually every man attached to USS Vermont, moored at Port Royal and serving as the supply ship for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, was black.18 At Hampton Roads, where another vintage ship-of-the-line, USS Brandywine, stored supplies for the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, the proportion of black enlisted men ranged between 47 and 57 percent during 1863 and 1864.19

In analogous fashion, black men filled an inordinately large number of the enlisted billets on the barks and schooners that served as colliers and ordnance storeships. Between 67 and 100 percent of the enlisted men serving in Charles Phelps, Fearnot, J. C. Kuhn, Albemarle, Arletta, and Ben Morgan were black.20 In the supply steamers New National (Mississippi Squadron), William Badger (North Atlantic Blockading Squadron), and Donegal (South Atlantic Blockading Squadron), the proportion of black enlisted men ranged from 63 to 100 percent.21 Conversely, black men made up the smallest proportion of men in the sloops of war and other ocean-going warships that were the backbone of the late antebellum navy and the workhorses of the blockading squadrons.

The black enlistees who had been slaves— in many instances down to the time of enlistment— stood apart from the freemen of all colors and nations. Often accepted into service on a supposition of inferiority, stigmatized as "contrabands," and rated and paid at the lowest levels of the rating and pay scales, these men often could not escape the stereotypes cast upon them no matter how creditably they performed their assigned duties. In, but not necessarily of, the crews with which they served, the contrabands performed the manual labor necessary to keep a steam vessel functioning and the busywork that officers considered the foundation of good order and discipline on warships: holystoning, scrubbing, scraping, painting, and polishing. Although black men routinely served on gun crews at general quarters, they stood a far greater chance of serving with small-arms crews, armed with swords, rifles, and pistols, for repelling boarders, and with damage control units, armed with water hoses for dousing fires and battle-axes for cutting away damaged spars and rigging. Small-arms crews consisting of contrabands generally exercised separately from those consisting of white sailors.22

Given the pervasive prejudice among white officers and enlisted men, black men sought out their own company as much as possible. Such a pattern of association derived largely from the rating structure, but enlistment patterns and prewar associations also played a part. A surviving photograph of USS Miami illustrates. Around the time of the photograph, about one-quarter of the approximately one hundred enlisted men were of African descent, nearly all contrabands rated as boys and recently enlisted at Plymouth, North Carolina a number shared the surnames of Etheridge, Johnson, White, and Wilson.23 In a similar photograph of Hunchback, the cluster of black men to the right invites similar scrutiny. During the middle of 1864, approximately twenty-five of the roughly one hundred enlisted men were of African descent. Fifteen of the men were contrabands from Maryland who had recently been transferred from the army to the navy.24

Civil War Naval History January 1864 - History

Dickison deployed two field guns and his sharpshooters in the swamps on the banks of the St. Johns River near a location known as Horse Landing. The afternoon of 23 May 1864, a smudge of coal smoke on the upriver horizon indicated that the Columbine was coming down. Surprisingly, her commander, Acting Ensign Frank Sanborn, expected a possible ambush at Horse Landing and had his guns fire a few shells into the adjacent swamps. Dickison and his men took cover and re-manned their positions after the USN gunboat ceased firing. As the tug passed by at a range of about 60 yards, Dickison’s men opened fire. The first salvos were deadly, disabling the ship’s rudder, killing most of the men in the pilothouse, and causing other damage. Although Sanborn and his crew put up a gallant defense, many of the men on board were African-american soldiers and feared for their lives, so they began to jump overboard and try to make their way to shore. Sanborn surrendered the ship and remaining crew to Dickison, who confiscated all of the weaponry and supplies he could off of the ship, including its two Dahlgren boat howitzers. He then burned and sank the ship due to fears that the Ottawa would be back upriver soon to provide defense/revenge.

Legends of America

Reenactment of Civil War siege Bridgeport, Alabama by Carol Highsmith.

The birthplace of the Confederacy, the State of Alabama, was central to the Civil War. For years tensions had been building before Abraham Lincoln was elected as president in November 1860. Afterward, many politically powerful Alabamians viewed the election as an opening wedge that threatened to destroy slavery, and across the state came cries for state rights.

Governor A. B. Moore took several decisive steps to safeguard the state’s financial status and defensive capabilities. He ordered the state militia to seize the arsenal at Mt. Vernon and Forts Morgan and Gaines on Mobile Bay. He contributed more than 500 troops to assist Florida Governor Madison S. Perry in capturing the Federal forts at Pensacola. He then called for a constitutional convention, and on January 11, 1861, Alabama passed an Ordinance of Secession, declaring Alabama a “Sovereign and Independent State.” From January through March, Alabama invited other states to form a Southern Republic and develop constitutions to legally run their own affairs. On February 4, 1861, delegates from six states that had recently seceded from the Union met in Montgomery, Alabama, to establish the Confederate States of America. Four days later, this provisional Confederate Congress, comprising representatives of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, organized the Confederacy with the adoption of a provisional constitution. On February 22nd, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama, which served as the Confederate capital until it was moved to Richmond, Virginia, in May.

The White House of the Confederacy, Montgomery, Alabama by Carol Highsmith.

During the war, Alabama provided numerous troops and leaders, military material, supplies, food, horses, and mules to their cause. The state was not the scene of any significant military operations, yet it contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all the white population capable of bearing arms. Most were recruited locally and served with men they knew, which built morale and strengthened ties to home. Medical conditions were severe about 15% died of disease, and 10% from battle. Alabama had few well-equipped hospitals, but it had many women who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded. Soldiers were poorly equipped, especially after 1863, and often resorted to pillaging the dead for boots, belts, canteens, blankets, hats, shirts, and pants.

Uncounted thousands of slaves worked with Confederate troops they took care of horses and equipment, cooked and did laundry, hauled supplies, and helped in field hospitals. Other slaves built defensive installations, especially those around Mobile. They graded roads, repaired railroads, drove supply wagons, and labored in iron mines, iron foundries, and even munitions factories. As they were enslaved, the labor of slaves was involuntary their unpaid labor was forcibly impressed by their unpaid masters. About 10,000 slaves escaped and joined the Union Army, along with 2,700 white men loyal to the Union.

In 1863 Federal forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama despite spirited opposition from Confederate cavalry under General Nathan B. Forrest. At the southern coast, the Alabama ports remained open for almost four years until the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. The Battle of Fort Blakeley in April 1865 forced Mobile to surrender the last major Confederate port.

Alabama Campaigns and Battles:

Confederate General Nathan Forrest pursues Union Colonel Abel Streight, by Clyde Heron

Streight’s Raid in Alabama – April-May 1863 – Union Colonel Abel D. Streight led a raid through Alabama and Georgia from April 19 to May 3, 1863. His goal was to destroy parts of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, supplying the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The raid was poorly supplied and planned and was hindered by locals who had the advantage of home territory and opposed the Union. The raid ended with the defeat and capture of Streight and his 1,700 men at Cedar Bluff, Alabama, by Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had 500 men.

Day’s Gap – April 30, 1863 – Also called the Battle of Sand Mountain, this battle occurred in Cullman County, Alabama, on April 30, 1863. Union Colonel Abel D. Streight led a provisional brigade on a raid to cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad that supplied General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army in Middle Tennessee. From Nashville, Tennessee, Streight’s command traveled to Eastport, Mississippi, and then proceeded east to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in conjunction with another Union force commanded by Brigadier General Grenville Dodge. On April 26, 1863, Streight’s men left Tuscumbia and marched southeast with their initial movements screened by Dodge’s troops. On April 30, Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brigade caught up with Streight’s expedition and attacked its rearguard at Day’s Gap on Sand Mountain. The Federals repulsed this attack and continued their march to avoid further delay and envelopment. Thus began a running series of skirmishes and engagements at Crooked Creek and Hog Mountain on April 30, Blountsville on May 1, and Black Creek/Gadsden and Blount’s Plantation on May 2. Forrest finally surrounded the exhausted Union soldiers near Rome, Georgia, where he forced their surrender on May 3. The running battle resulted in a Union victory, though Streight’s Raid ultimately failed. Total casualties were estimated at 88, with 23 from the Union and 65 of the Confederate.

Operations in North Alabama, 1864

Athens – January 26, 1864 – Also called the Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle, this battle took place in Limestone County on January 26, 1864. This battle occurred when the Confederate cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel Moses W. Hannon, led about 600 men in attacking Athens, Alabama, which was being held by Union troops. At about 4:00 am on the morning of January 26, 1864, the Rebels attacked Union Captain Emil Adams and his force of about 100 soldiers. Even though the Union defenders had no fortifications and were outnumbered six to one, they could repulse the Confederate attack and force them into a retreat after a two-hour battle. The Union victory resulted in an estimated 50 casualties – 20 Union and 30 Confederate.

Franklin-Nashville Campaign, 1864 – The Franklin-Nashville Campaign, also known as Hood’s Tennessee Campaign, was a series of battles in the Western Theater, conducted from September 18 to December 27, 1864, in Alabama, Tennessee, and northwestern Georgia. The Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood drove north from Atlanta, threatening Major General William T. Sherman’s lines of communications and central Tennessee. After a brief attempt to pursue Hood, Sherman returned to Atlanta and began his March to the Sea, leaving Union forces under Major General George H. Thomas to deal with Hood’s threat. The first two battles of the campaign were fought in Allatoona, Georgia and Decatur, Alabama. Six more battles would be fought in Tennessee before the campaign ended.

Battle of Decatur, Alabama

Decatur – October 26-29, 1864 – Taking place in Morgan County and Limestone Counties, on October 26-29, 1864, this battle was part of Confederate General John B. Hood’s Franklin-Nashville Campaign during the fall of 1864. When Hood was marching through northern Alabama on his way to Union-held Tennessee, he originally planned to cross the Tennessee River at Guntersville, Alabama. However, when he learned that it was highly guarded, he changed directions and decided to cross at Decatur, 40 miles to the west. When he and his troops arrived on October 26, they found that this crossing was also heavily fortified with a Federal infantry force of 3,000 to 5,000 men, two forts, two gunboats, and 1,600 yards of rifle pits. On October 27, Hood and his men encircled Decatur, and the next morning, he sent Confederate skirmishers through a dense fog to a ravine within 800 yards of the main fortifications. At about noon, a Federal regiment drove the Confederate troops out of the ravine, capturing 125 men. “With the soldiers hungry and supplies scarce,” Hood knew he could not afford the casualties from a full-scale assault and decided to cross the Tennessee River elsewhere. He then marched further westward and crossed near Tuscumbia, Alabama, where Muscle Shoals prevented the Federal gunboats’ interference. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 155 Union and 450 Confederate.

Great naval victory in Mobile Bay, August 5th, 1865, Currier Ives

Mobile Campaign, 1865 – During the Civil War, Mobile, Alabama, was the South’s fourth-largest city and second-largest port city, home to several shipbuilding companies, an economic trade hub. In the Spring of 1865, the Union was determined to take the city, and the Union Army besieged mobile from March 25 to April 12, 1865. The city was captured on April 12. Two important battles were fought at Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley.

Spanish Fort – March 27-April 8, 1865 – Occurring in Baldwin County, between March 27 and April 8, 1865, this battle took place as Union Major General E.R.S. Canby led his forces along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Pushing the Confederate troops back into their defenses, the Union forces then concentrated on Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely. On March 27, Canby’s forces rendezvoused at Danley’s Ferry and immediately undertook a siege of Spanish Fort. The Union had enveloped the fort by April 1, and on April 8, captured it. Under the command of Brigadier General Randall L. Gibson, most of the Confederate forces escaped and fled to Mobile, but Spanish Fort was no longer a threat. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 657 Union and 744 Confederate.

Fort Blakely, Alabama today courtesy Civil War Journeys.

Fort Blakely – April 2-9, 1865 – Taking placed in Baldwin County on April 2-9, 1865, as Union Major General E.R.S. Canby led his forces along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Pushing the Confederate troops back into their defenses, the Union forces then concentrated on Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely. By April 1, Union forces had enveloped Spanish Fort, thereby releasing more troops to focus on Fort Blakely. Confederate Brigadier General St. John R. Liddell, with about 4,000 men, held out against the much larger Union force until Spanish Fort fell on April 8, allowing Canby to concentrate 16,000 men for the attack on April 9. Sheer numbers breached the Confederate earthworks compelling the Confederates to surrender. The siege and capture of Fort Blakely was the last combined-force battle of the war. African-American forces played a major role in the successful Union assault. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 629 Union and 2,900 Confederate.

Mobile Bay – August 2-23, 1864 – Taking place in Mobile and Baldwin Counties of Alabama August 2-23, 1864, a combined Union force of Army soldiers and the Navy initiated operations to close Mobile Bay to blockade running. Some Union forces landed on Dauphin Island and laid siege to Fort Gaines. On August 5, Admiral David G. Farragut’s Union fleet of 18 ships entered Mobile Bay and received devastating fire from Forts Gaines and Morgan and other points. After passing the forts, Farragut forced the Confederate naval forces, under Admiral Franklin Buchanan, to surrender, which effectively closed Mobile Bay. By August 23, Fort Morgan, the last big holdout, fell, shutting down the port. The city, however, remained uncaptured. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 322 Union and 1,500 Confederate.

Newton – March 14, 1865 – The Battle of Newton was a minor skirmish in the small town of Newton, Alabama, on March 14, 1865, during the final days of the Civil War. It was fought between local Home Guard troops and elements of the 1st Florida Cavalry of the Union, who had invaded the Wiregrass region of Alabama in violation of a directive given by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, commanding Union forces in Pensacola, Florida. Led by Second Lieutenant Joseph Sanders, a former captain in the Confederate Army who had switched sides and joined with the Federals, the Floridians intended to burn the courthouse of Dale County, located in Newton. However, their movement toward the town was detected by local citizens, and they were ambushed and routed on the town square by Newton’s Home Guard before they could do any damage. Sanders reported three dead and five wounded, while no casualties were reported among the Confederate Home Guard troops.

Union General James H. Wilson

Wilson’s Raid in Alabama, 1865 – Major General James H. Wilson’s Raid was a cavalry operation through Alabama and Georgia in March and April 1865. Wilson led approximately 13,500 men in three divisions to destroy Southern manufacturing facilities. He and his men were opposed unsuccessfully by a much smaller force under Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest with about 2,500 troopers. The raid consisted of four battles – Tuscaloosa and Selma in Alabama, and West Point and Columbus in Georgia. It was a great success as Wilson, and his men captured four fortified cities, 288 cannons, and 6,820 prisoners.

Tuscaloosa – March 31-April 4, 1865 – During Major General James H. Wilson’s Raid of Alabama and Georgia, he detached a 1,500 man brigade under Brigadier General John T. Croxton and sent them south and west to burn the Roupes Valley Ironworks at Tannehill and Bibb Naval Furnace at Brierfield on March 31. They then burned the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, a prominent military school, on April 4. This movement diverted Confederate Brigadier General James R. Chalmers’ division away from General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s main force.

Ebenezer Church – April 1, 1865 – This battle was fought near Plantersville, Alabama, between Union Army cavalry under Major General James H. Wilson and his troops against the Confederate States Army cavalry under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest on April 1, 1865. Forrest had at least 1,500 and as many as 5,000 troops, but some were ill-trained Alabama State Troops. Wilson had at least 9,000 troopers of his original 13,480-man force available. Forrest had been unable to concentrate scattered Confederate forces to face Wilson’s larger force, armed with 7-shot Spencer repeating carbines. After a brief but initially heavy engagement, the Alabama State Troops’ line broke, and Wilson’s men drove the Confederates back toward the defenses of Selma, Alabama. Selma had an arsenal and industry that Wilson attacked and destroyed after his men again defeated the Confederate troopers at the Battle of Selma the following day. After the battle at Ebenezer Church, the Union troops burned the railroad depot at Plantersville and a cotton warehouse. Confederate casualties were not reported, but Wilson’s force captured 300 of Forrest’s men and 3 artillery pieces. Wilson’s command had 12 killed and 40 wounded. Forrest received a slight saber wound, which he later said would have been fatal if the Union officer, Captain James D. Taylor, had struck him with the point rather than the blade. Forrest killed Taylor, the last of 33 men he killed during the war, with a pistol shot.

Selma – April 2, 1865 – Taking place in Dallas County, Alabama on April 2, 1865, this battle occurred after Major General James H. Wilson led his men south from Gravelly Springs, Alabama, on March 22, 1865. Opposed by Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan B. Forrest, Wilson skillfully continued his march and eventually defeated him in a running battle at Ebenezer Church on April 1. Continuing towards Selma, Wilson split his command into three columns. Although Selma was well-defended, the Union columns broke through the defenses at separate points forcing the Confederates to surrender the city. However, many of the officers and men, including Forrest and Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, escaped. Selma demonstrated that even Forrest, whom some had considered invincible, could not stop the unrelenting Union movements deep into the Southern Heartland. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 319 Union and 2,700 Confederate.

Munford – April 23, 1865 – The Battle of Munford took place in Munford, Alabama, on Sunday, April 23, 1865, during the raid through the state by 1,500 Union Army cavalrymen under General John T. Croxton, part of the force participating in Wilson’s Raid. The Battle of Munford and a minor action at Hendersonville, North Carolina, on the same day were the last battles of the American Civil War in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War (east of the Mississippi River). The Confederate soldiers in the battle were described as convalescents, home guards, and pardoned deserters, while the Union cavalry was a veteran force armed with 7-shot Spencer repeating carbines. General Benjamin Jefferson Hill commanded the Confederate forces. Confederate Lieutenant Lewis E. Parsons had two cannons, which fired a couple of rounds before they were overrun. The Union troops quickly won the brief battle. Parsons was appointed the provisional governor of Alabama in June after the war’s end. One Union trooper and one Confederate killed that day are described by author Rex Miller as the last to die in open combat by contending military forces.

Fort Gaines, Alabama Cannon, Carol Highsmith

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

The Early Architect of Amphibious Doctrine

The influences of several generations of officers who shaped the practices and doctrine of amphibious warfare are well known to scholars of U.S. Marine Corps history. Especially noteworthy are the contributions made by Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, to whom historians generally give credit for transforming the Corps into the modern amphibious force we recognize today. No mention is made of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren’s influence on the evolution of this field of naval warfare.

Dahlgren is known to most historians as an inventor and a Civil War–era naval officer, but his vision of using sailors and Marines as a landing force featured elements found in modern Marine Corps amphibious doctrine. He not only put his ideas on paper, but also applied them during the Civil War. His views of an exclusive and coherent amphibious unit with prescribed doctrine are at the core of the principles the Marine Corps implemented decades later and perfected during World War II.

Weapons for Landing Forces

John Dahlgren, like most naval officers, spent much of his career at sea, but less than many of his contemporaries. During his extensive pre–Civil War service ashore, he developed new ordnance for the Navy. His most famous invention, the Dahlgren gun, was the most common cannon mounted on board U.S. Navy ships during the Civil War.

In 1857–58, he commanded the ordnance sloop Plymouth for two cruises as a gunnery-practice ship. His goals were to standardize training for gun crews and test his Dahlgren guns for shipboard use. On board, Dahlgren also developed ideas for the use of Marines and sailors ashore. During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of rear admiral and commanded the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron from 1863 to 1865.

Dahlgren, wishing to pursue his ideas on amphibious operations, issued orders to his squadron’s commanding officers to exercise and drill their men with small arms for service ashore. He also prescribed that members of naval landing parties use another of his inventions: the Model 1861 Navy rifle, more commonly known as the Plymouth rifle, which had been designed and tested while he commanded the Plymouth. Based on a French design, the 50-inch-long weapon fired a .69-caliber Minié ball or a load of buckshot. It could accommodate a short, broad-bladed bayonet or a longer sword bayonet, depending on circumstances. 1

Dahlgren designed a boat howitzer specifically with amphibious operations in mind. Several 12-pounder versions were eventually produced, as well as a 24-pounder. The guns could be mounted on carriages at the bow of launches and then quickly remounted on wrought-iron field carriages, which were designed to be pulled by about a dozen men using a drag rope.

The admiral’s manual for their use instructed that the howitzers be organized in batteries of three sections of two guns each. Four smoothbore and two rifled 12-pounders would compose each battery. Dahlgren did not foresee that a landing force would use these guns massed in large numbers, instead believing that mobile artillery was more effective. He also believed that by dispersing his guns in combat, his men would be less exposed to enemy counterbattery fire. 2

Inauspicious Beginning

Dahlgren first put his ideas to work in July 1863 during the Morris Island siege operations near Charleston, South Carolina. Mounting Union losses, combined with the Army’s increasing fears of Confederate counterattacks, spurred the admiral into action to help end the siege. Dahlgren decided to organize three naval battalions—one composed of Marines and the other two of sailors—to serve ashore to assist with operations. Marine Major Jacob Zeilin commanded the Marine battalion. The Navy Department sent Dahlgren about 260 men, and he also stripped as many servicemen as possible from blockading ships to form the command. 3

The sole purpose of this 500-man force was to make quick amphibious landings. The admiral instructed Zeilin to clothe his men comfortably for the hot climate, to divest them of extra baggage, and to carry cooked rations as well as buckshot for close action. Dahlgren provided a detail of boats to land the force and four boats each armed with a howitzer and a field carriage to cover the landings. 4

After only a week ashore, Zeilin wrote Dahlgren that the plan to forge a coherent fighting force from his Marine unit was not progressing well. The major reported that his men, who were accustomed to the organization on board ships, had never participated in large-unit maneuvers. Many of the Marines were raw recruits removed from Northern receiving ships and sent south. During their week ashore, the heat and the collateral duties of soldiering such as cooking interfered with drills. Zeilin thought it would be hazardous to use his Marines in an assault until he could drill them extensively and they learned discipline. Only then did he believe they could perform under fire with “coolness and promptness.” This news distressed Dahlgren, who wrote with despair in his diary: “Rather hurtful. What are marines for?” 5

He did not forget these problems and would implement improved doctrine and training for the next mission. In June 1864, Dahlgren wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that he would train the Marines with muskets as “light infantry” so they could serve as “sea infantry.” The admiral believed this would make them more serviceable while allowing them to retain their identity when operating with Army units. 6

Birth of the Fleet Brigade

On the afternoon of 24 November 1864, the admiral got another chance. Dahlgren received a note from Major General John G. Foster, who commanded the Department of the South, requesting naval cooperation to assist with Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Days earlier, Sherman’s forces had captured Milledgeville, Georgia, but they were still about 150 miles from Savannah. Envisioned was a diversionary expedition against the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. If Union forces could sever this rail line near Grahamville, South Carolina, they might prevent Rebel reinforcements from reaching Savannah, thus forcing its evacuation. Bringing “all the disposable” troops in his department, General Foster would collect about 5,000 men but would delegate command of the expedition to Brigadier General John P. Hatch. Dahlgren jumped at the opportunity to participate and before he turned in that night issued orders to collect light artillery, sailors, and Marines. 7

Dahlgren referred to this force as the Fleet Brigade and detached Commander George Henry Preble to command the unit, which was assembling at Bay Point on South Carolina’s Phillip’s Island. Preble was one of the most senior officers in the Navy, having served more than 29 years. The naval force totaled 493 officers and men. Its 30 officers led three battalions: a naval artillery battalion (140 men), a naval infantry battalion (155), and a Marine battalion (157). Eleven African Americans served as hospital stewards and nurses. 8

Dahlgren’s detailed instructions attached 20 men to each boat howitzer—13 to service the gun and another 7 armed with Plymouth rifles to act as infantry support. In addition, four pioneers were assigned to each howitzer to prepare firing positions or construct breastworks. Divided into 50-man companies, the Marines would serve as skirmishers to protect the artillery during engagements and as infantry. Learning from his previous effort, Dahlgren assigned an additional 40 African Americans to perform fatigue duty. Each battalion would have men to cook, pitch tents, etc., freeing the combatants to focus on fighting. To ensure his force could move quickly without a supply train if needed, each seaman in the naval artillery sections carried a round of ammunition. Reserve ammunition would follow in small hand wagons under the fatigue parties. Because the Navy did not have the means to supply horses, forage, and rations ashore, the Army quartermaster fulfilled the Fleet Brigade’s needs in these areas. 9

This project had Dahlgren excited as a schoolboy. His flagship, the USS Harvest Moon, picked up Marines from various ships of the squadron. From 26to 28 November, he personally helped organize the seamen and Marines. Dahlgren had his men conduct drills so they would be more certain to act as a disciplined infantry force. Thus, the admiral had them dashing “through the bushes and over sand-hills with howitzers.” 10

On the afternoon of the 28th, the men prepared to embark on the expedition. Three sidewheel gunboats arrived to transport the Fleet Brigade. The Pontiac carried the artillery, the Mingoe the naval infantry, and the Sonoma the Marines. Other vessels arrived to transport Hatch’s troops. 11

Advance on Grahamville

Dahlgren and Hatch planned to land their force up the Broad River at Boyd’s Landing, 35 miles northeast of Savannah. They would march through Grahamville, a distance of seven miles, and take possession of the railroad just west of there. Fog delayed the expedition for several hours, but the naval contingent began landing at 0900 on the 29th. Within 30 minutes, all of the seamen, guns, and Marines were ashore. Dahlgren landed on the ruins of a wharf, walked a mile with the advance units of his brigade, and remained ashore until 1100. The fog also delayed the Army, and arriving at noon, the troops did not land until that afternoon. 12

The Fleet Brigade “pushed to the front” to occupy a crossroad about two miles inland from the landing. The Marines, under the command of First Lieutenant George G. Stoddard, began the march by deploying two companies on each side of the road, with the third in reserve. Following were eight howitzers forming the artillery battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Commander E. Orville Matthews, and the battalion of sailors commanded by Lieutenant James O’Kane. The men halted at a road fork, and Preble deployed the artillery in a defensive position. 13

The brigade’s orders were to occupy the point where the Coosawhatchie and Grahamville roads converged. Without a proper map to guide him, Preble was concerned his men might not be at the right crossroad. Taking his adjutant, Lieutenant Commander Alex F. Crossman, and 15 men, Preble reconnoitered two miles in advance of the column. After exchanging shots with Confederate pickets, the scouting party returned, and Preble moved his men, along with an Army regiment that had just arrived, to a crossroad one and a half miles to the north. Union Brigadier General Edward E. Potter rode up later that afternoon and informed Preble that neither of the crossroads he had occupied was the one intended for his men to defend. Once again, Preble moved his “tired and hungry” sailors and Marines. They finally made camp that night at their initial site. 14

At 0700 on the 30th, Preble had his men moving again, and an hour later he reported to Hatch, who had him send his two lightest howitzers back to the crossroad. Soon after, the Fleet Brigade, along with their remaining howitzers, joined Hatch’s advance toward Grahamville and the railroad. The confused movement of the Union forces allowed the Confederates to assemble a hodgepodge force of about 1,500 men comprising Georgia militia troops, a pair of Georgia infantry regiments, and South Carolina artillery and cavalry units to oppose the Union advance. Before 0930, the Union forces had pushed the Confederates back toward an earthwork on Honey Hill. The Southerners had prepared well by clearing trees and undergrowth in front of the works and situating the defenses between a marsh and dense woods that discouraged attacks from either flank. 15

The Rebels easily repulsed two Union Army frontal attacks, inflicting severe losses. At noon, the 25th Ohio Infantry Regiment, supported by the Marine battalion, formed on the right flank for a third assault. After advancing nearly a mile through the woods, the Marines came under heavy artillery fire but continued to engage the enemy until 1500. When the Union Army units began to withdraw a half hour later, the Marines also fell back. 16

The Fleet Brigade “behaved splendidly,” reported Preble, but most of it played only a reserve role. The sailors moved two howitzers into line late in the afternoon, firing for about three hours, including discharging the last shots of the battle. One Army officer observed the naval gunners and commented on their enthusiasm. He said it was “laughable” to see them serve the guns with “great dexterity,” firing off a shot and then withdrawing to a nearby ditch. This allowed them to escape the volley of cannon and musket fire that the enemy subjected the pieces to after each discharge. The sailors then “sprang again to their guns.” Thus, they avoided the losses suffered by the Union Army artillery units earlier deployed in the same location. 17

The brigade retired in good order and took a position at a crossroad to cover the withdrawal of Hatch’s forces. In the Battle of Honey Hill, Preble’s force suffered trifling casualties of two killed, seven wounded, and one missing. The Union Army suffered just more than 750 killed, wounded, and missing, while Confederates returns reported fewer than 100 casualties. 18

Second Attempt at the Railroad

For several days, Union Army units made probing attacks with no clear results. Not satisfied, Dahlgren and Foster agreed to try another advance on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, near Tulifinny Crossroads. The Fleet Brigade meanwhile remained in a defensive position along the Grahamville Road. The men entrenched and spent time drilling from 1 December until the evening of the 5th. Receiving orders to withdraw, the Fleet Brigade embarked for the expedition up the Tulifinny River and at midnight on 6 December disembarked at Gregory’s Landing, about ten miles northeast of their previous position. The naval infantry landed with Army units and advanced to support troops already ashore. The Marines and guns came ashore at a lower landing. This location proved to be a poor choice because of the marshy terrain. Once landed, the men dragged their howitzers through a swamp with “great labor.” 19

Fighting broke out at 0900, and Preble hurried his men toward the sound of musketry. As the main body of the Fleet Brigade reached an open field about two hours later, an enemy cannon began raking its position. With Rebel musket fire also pouring in from nearby woods, Preble wheeled his howitzers into position and, with other Union artillery, drove back the Confederate infantry and silenced their gunfire. The Navy and Marine battalions served as skirmishers on the Union right flank, advanced to near Tulifinny Crossroads, and then moved to a position on the left. This encounter is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Gregory’s Landing. 20

The Fleet Brigade slept on the battlefield that night, and soon after daylight on the 7th, Confederates skirmishers renewed the fighting. Preble ordered his howitzers into action and dispersed the skirmishers with artillery and rifle fire. The Confederates then pressed the Union force, and Preble received instructions to leave two heavy howitzers at their present location and to withdraw the rest of his command to the rear and entrench. Amid a hard rain during the latter part of the day and all day on the 8th, the brigade worked to improve its entrenchments. 21

On the 9th, the Union leadership opted to clear a road to the railroad to give the artillerists an opening to fire on passing trains. Preble again ordered his men forward on the right. He placed four guns in position to shell the woods in front of a column of advancing Union troops. A Union regiment forged into the woods with axes to clear a 100-foot-wide lane. The Marines, part of the force protecting the axmen, took their position on the extreme right, flanked on the left by two Army regiments. This three-quarter-mile line advanced almost due north under the cover of ten artillery pieces. The Confederates mustered fewer than 1,000 men to oppose the Union advance.

About 350 yards from the railroad, Confederate pickets opened fire on the advancing Yankees. The Union line pushed forward 150 yards, and the Marines, under First Lieutenant Stoddard, made a “gallant attempt” to flank an enemy battery, advancing to within 50 yards of it. Exposed to a “severe fire,” the Union regiment to their left retreated at about the time Stoddard was preparing to charge the battery. Instead, the Confederates advanced and he ordered a withdrawal, with the Marines passing toward the rear alongside the Tulifinny River. The Navy howitzers maintained a continuous fire into the woods on both flanks to discourage any enemy movements that might disrupt the axmen. With the firing lane completed, the Army withdrew without successfully cutting the rail line. During the three days of intermittent fighting, the Fleet Brigade suffered about three dozen casualties while Union Army losses were about 200 Confederate casualties were 52. 22

Ideas to Build On

Dahlgren was proud of the actions of the Fleet Brigade. He authorized distinguishing pennants for each battalion—red for the naval artillerists, blue for the naval battalion, and white and blue for the Marines—all marked with an anchor. On 20 December, Confederate troops evacuated Savannah, which was occupied by Sherman’s troops the next day. Dahlgren disbanded his brigade on 5 January, and the men returned to their ships. 23

Union attempts to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad had little impact on the war effort. Had either probe succeeded, it would have materially helped Sherman’s campaign. The Marines and sailors behaved well under fire and fought as a disciplined and effective force. Hatch held the Fleet Brigade in high esteem, commending their “gallantry and action and good conduct during the irksome life in camp.” He believed any “jealousy” that existed between the service branches disappeared after they fought in harmony. 24

The Honey Hill and Tulifinny engagements were not a sufficient test for Dahlgren’s concept of a naval landing force. His ideas, however, were models for later amphibious operations. Dahlgren’s Fleet Brigade exhibited many of the components of a modern Marine Corps expeditionary force. It had specialized equipment and designated logistical elements. It participated in an expeditionary warfare mission to seize the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, part of a task-oriented force closely integrated with Army units. The brigade was forward deployed and had sustainable power projection. This matches the doctrine in the Department of Defense’s Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations, Joint Publication 3-02. 25

While Dahlgren’s ideas were more simplistic than the tenets of current amphibious doctrine, advanced modern technology thoroughly has shaped the contemporary principles of amphibious warfare. Dahlgren’s foresight is worth taking into account when considering John Lejeune as the visionary of amphibious warfare. But while Dahlgren’s concepts predate some of Lejeune’s by decades, the admiral can never take Lejeune’s place as the father of the modern Marine Corps.

1. Robert H. Rankin, Small Arms of the Sea Services (New Milford, CT: N. Flayderman and Co., 1972), 118 John A. Dahlgren, Boat Artillery and Infantry, 8 August 1864, Orders to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1863–1865, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (hereafter HSP).

2. CAPT John A. Dahlgren, USN, “Form of Exercise and Manoeuver for the Boat-Howitzers of the U.S. Navy” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1862) Preble to Dahlgren, 5 December 1864, Richard Rush et. al., Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894–1927), ser. 1, vol. 16, 78 (hereafter ORN).

3. Madeleine Dahlgren, Memoirs of John A. Dahlgren Rear Admiral United States Navy (Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1882), entries for 12 July, 8 August 1863, 400, 406 Dahlgren to Parker, 12 July 1863, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 14, 337 Dahlgren to Welles, 29 June 1863, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 14, 303 Welles to Dahlgren, 3 July 1863, Dahlgren Papers, Library of Congress Manuscripts (hereafter cited as LCM) Dahlgren to Welles, 6 August 1863, LCM, 428.

4. Dahlgren Instructions, 7 August 1863, LCM, 428–29 Zeilin to Dahlgren, 10 August 1863, LCM, 434.

5. Zeilin to Dahlgren, 13 August 1863, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 14, 439–40 Dahlgren, Memoirs, 14 August 1863, 407.

6. Dahlgren to Welles, 15 June 1865, Dahlgren Papers, LCM.

7. Dahlgren, Memoirs, 24 November 1864, 477–78, 608 Foster to Halleck, 7 December 1864, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office), ser. 1, vol. 44, 420 (hereafter ORA) Hatch to Burger, December (nd) 1864, ibid., 421–22.

8. Preble to Hatch, 2 December 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 74.

9. Dahlgren to Preble, 26 November 1864, ORN, 66–67 Hatch to Preble, 4 October 1866, Preble Journal, Operations of the Fleet Brigade, Subject File HJ, Joint Military-Naval Engagements, Record Group 45, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC (hereafter NARA) General Instructions, John A. Dahlgren, 26 November 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 67–68 William A. Courtney, “Fragments of War History Relating to the Coast Defense of South Carolina 1861–65 and the Hasty Preparations for the Battle of Honey Hill, November 30, 1864,” Southern Historical Society Papers 69 (1898) John A. Dahlgren, Dahlgren Biography, 229, John A. Dahlgren Papers, Navy Department Library, Washington, DC Dahlgren to Reynolds, 25 November, 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 63 Entry for 28 November 1864, George H. Preble Diary, George H. Preble Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA (hereafter AAS).

10. Dahlgren took all the Marines off the blockaders along the southeastern coast. Green to Patterson, 25 November 1864, Green Journals, Port Columbus Dahlgren, Memoirs, 25–28 November 1864, 478 Dahlgren to Reynolds, 25 November 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 63.

11. Dahlgren to Preble, 28 November 1864, ORN, 69 Dahlgren to Welles, 26 November 1864, ORN, 65.

12. Dahlgren Order No. 101, 28 November 1864, Orders to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1863–1865, HSP Dahlgren, Memoirs, 28 November 1864, 479–80 Dahlgren to Welles, 30 November 1864, Dahlgren Papers, LCM Dahlgren to Balch, 29 November 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 71 Hatch to Burger, December (nd) 1864, ORA, ser. 1, vol. 44, 421–22.

13. Preble to Hatch, 4 December 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 76 Stoddard to Zeilin, 5 January 1864, ORN, 63.

14. Charles Soule, “The Battle of Honey Hill,” Peter Cozzens and Robert Girardi (eds.), The New Annals of the Civil War (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004), 449. Potter was also confused he took the wrong road and marched his men six miles before returning. Preble to Hatch, 4 December 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 76 Preble to Dahlgren, 5 December 1864, ORN, 78–81 Hatch to Burger, December (nd) 1864, ORA, ser. 1, vol. 44, 422–25.

15. Smith to Hardee, 6 December 1864, ORA, ser. 1, vol. 44, 415–16.

16. Preble to Dahlgren, 5 December 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 78–81 Smith to Hardee, 6 December 1864, ORA, ser. 1, vol. 44, 415–16.

17. Entry for 4 December 1864, Preble Diary, Preble Papers, AAS Soule, “The Battle of Honey Hill,” 463.

18. Confederate casualties were probably higher because several units made no reports. Dahlgren to Welles, 1 January 1865, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 96.

19. Preble to Dahlgren, 7 December 1864, Dahlgren Papers, LCM Preble to Dahlgren, 8 December 1864, 10 January 1865, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 84–87, 105–6.

20. Stoddard to Zeilin, 5 January 1864, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 100.

21. Preble to Dahlgren, 10 January 1865, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 107–8 Dahlgren to Welles, 1 January 1865, ibid., 97 Entry for 7 December 1864, Preble Diary, AAS.

22. Preble to Dahlgren, 10 January 1865, ORN, ser. 1, vol. 16, 107–9 Stoddard to Zeilin, 5 January 1864, ORN, 101 Woodford to Perry, 15 December 1864, ORA, ser. 1, vol. 44, 441.

23. Dahlgren to Preble, 9 December 1864, ORN, 1, vol. 16, 88.

24. Hatch to Dahlgren, 7 February 1865, Dahlgren Papers, LCM.

25. Department of Defense, Joint Staff. Joint Publication 3-02, Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations, Washington, DC, 2001.

Battle of Plymouth (1864)

In the midst of the Civil War, the Confederate army succeeded capturing the county seat of Washington County in April of 1864. Referred to as &ldquothe most effective Confederate combined-arms operation of the Civil War&rdquo by historian William S. Powell, the Battle of Plymouth was the result of both Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke&rsquos infantry division and the naval support of the Confederate ironclads, the Albermarle and the Neuse.

The Union army had set up their eastern headquarters of North Carolina in Plymouth and the town of New Bern in 1862, and the North led several offenses from their bases in these towns. Plymouth was strategically located close to the Roanoke River, making naval warfare a necessity to capture the town. In hopes to regain a stronghold in Carolina&rsquos waterways, the Confederacy conspired to build two ships, the Albermarle and Neuse, in 1862. Once the two naval vessels were completed, General Hoke developed a plan to attack Union forts off the coast of North Carolina. Plymouth was the first town Hoke decided to invade.

On April 17, 1864, General Hoke, along with 10,000 infantrymen, started the advance on Plymouth. Henry W. Wessell commanded only 3,000 men in Plymouth, but the Union forces repelled many of Hoke&rsquos ground forces. Early the next day, Hoke increased artillery fire on the Union Fort Gray and Battery Worth, and the Union ship, the Bombshell, soon gave way to the heavy Confederate bombings.

Although Hoke continued his pressure on the Union defenses, the ground soldiers needed help in taking Fort Gray. The Albermarle, captained by James Cooke, answered the call of duty. Unusually high river levels on the Roanoke allowed the Albermarle to scamper past Fort Gray without alerting the Union forces during the early hours of April 19th. However, the USS Southfield and Miami, met Cooke&rsquos vessel and a naval battle ensued. Although the Miami was considered the most powerful ship on the river, the Albermarle managed to sink the Southfield as the Miami retreated from the engagement.

General Hoke finally had naval artillery support, and Confederate troops attacked Plymouth from the east and west on April 20th. General Wessell refused to accept his predicament as General Hoke surrounded Fort Williams, the last defense in Plymouth. Union forces remained in Fort Williams even though both Hoke&rsquos artillery and the Albermarle bombarded their defense throughout the entire morning. Finally, General Wessell surrendered, and Hoke&rsquos victory renewed Confedarte war vigor in North Carolina.

The victory at Plymouth opened Washington County back to the Confederacy, and much-needed naval stores were made available to the army once again. In addition, the Roanoke River was freed from Union blockades, allowing for a trade and military transportation route for Confederate forces.


&ldquoBattle of Plymouth.&rdquo William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

&ldquoBattle of Plymouth.&rdquo North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed November 30, 2011).


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