Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher, NE Bastion. Frank Vizetelly (National Geographic)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Union Attack On Wilmington Imminent

From the October 28, 2014, Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News "Back Then" by Scott Nunn.

Looking at the October 1864 newspapers there were stories of intelligence being received by military officials regarding an imminent Union attack on the city and its defenses.

General Lee warned the Cape Fear military authorities that if Wilmington fell, he would not be able to maintain his lines at Petersburg, Virginia.

The survival of his Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederacy now depends on Wilmington, North Carolina, "The Lifeline of the Confederacy."

--Old B-Runner

Cushings in the Union Civil War Navy-- Part 2

STEPHEN CUSHING:  Acting Assistant Surgeon 11 June 1864.  Honorably discharged 10 October 1865.

THOMAS B.: CUSHING:  Acting Assistant Paymaster 14 August 1863.  Resigned 9 March 1865.

WILLIAM BARKER CUSHING:  Acting Midshipman 25 September 1857.  Resigned 23 March 1861.  Acting Master's Mate 1861.  Lieutenant 16 July 1862, Lt. Cmdr. 27 October 1864 (after sinking of the CSS Albemarle), Commander 31 January 1872.  Died 17 December 1874.

--Old B-R'er

Cushings in the Union Civil War Navy-- Part 1

From the Officers of the Continental and U.S. Navy and Marines 1775-1900.

I have been writing a lot in the past month on the four Cushings from the same family, three of whom made quite a name for themselves: William, Alonzo and Howard (the last two being in the Army Artillery).

William and Milton Cushing were in the Navy, but upon looking up the name Cushing, I found quite a few others in the Navy during the war.

CHARLES C. CUSHING:  Acting Ensign on Admiral Lee's staff November 1864.  Honorably discharged 3 October 1865.

EDMUND H. CUSHING:  Acting Assistant paymaster, 30 June 1863.  Passed Asst. Paymaster 23 July 1866, Paymaster 16 September 1868.  Died on USS Tuscarora 11 March 1869.

HENRY CUSHING: Acting Assistant Paymaster 29 July 1862.  Discharged 3 October 1865.

MILTON CUSHING:  (brother of William) Acting Assistant Paymaster 20 August 1864, Passed Assistant Paymaster 23 July 1866, Paymaster 12 March 1869.  Retired List 1 April 1882.  Died 1 June 1887.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

General Butler's Headquarters Steamer Destroyed, Perhaps By a Coal Torpedo

NOVEMBER 27TH, 1864:  An explosion and fire destroyed General Benjamin Butler's headquarters steamer Greyhound, on the James River, Virginia, and narrowly missed killing the general, Major General Schenck and Rear Admiral Porter, on board for a conference on the upcoming Fort Fisher expedition.

because of the nature of the explosion, it is likely that one of the deadly Confederate coal torpedoes had been planted in the Greyhound's boiler.

Butler recalled: "The furnace door blew open and scattered coals throughout the room."

Coal torpedoes were finely turned pieces of cast iron containing ten pounds of powder and made to resemble closely a lump of coal, and was capable of being used with devastating effect.

Rear Admiral Porter later described the event: "We had left Bermuda Hundred five or six miles behind us when suddenly an explosion forward startled us, and in a moment large volumes of smoke poured out of the engine room."

He continued: "In devices for blowing up vessels the Confederates were far ahead of us, putting Yankee ingenuity to shame."

Coal torpedoes are suspected as being the cause of several unexplained explosions during the war.  I know that is one possible reason for the explosion and sinking of the tragic SS Sultana six months later.

Who Knows, Maybe a Left-Over Confederate Coal Torpedo Was responsible for the Sinking of the USS Maine in 1898?  --Old B-R'er

Attacking the Salt Works in Florida

NOVEMBER 30TH, 1864:  A boat expedition from the USS Midnight landed at St. Andrew's Bar, Florida, and destroyed a slat work and took prisoners.

--Old B-R'er

Action in Western Mississippi,Monitors in Action, No Whiskey or Opium for You

NOVEMBER 27TH, 1864:  Ram USS Vindicator and USS Prairie Bird transported and covered a successful Union cavalry attack on Confederate communications and transportation in western Mississippi.  Thirty miles of track and an important railroad bridge over the Big Black River, east of Vicksburg, were destroyed.

These two ships were in the 6th Division Mississippi Squadron.

Double-turret monitor USS Onondaga and single-turret USS Mahopac engaged Howlett's Battery on the James River, Virginia, for three hours.  This was part of ongoing operations below Richmond.

A ship's boat from the USS Elk captured an unidentified small craft with a cargo of whiskey and opium near Mandeville, Louisiana.

--Old B-Runner

Harsh Work on the Blockade, Especially on Launch Duty

NOVEMBER 27TH, 1864:  Blockade-running British steamer Beatrice was captured by picket boats of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Charleston, S.C..  The prize crew accidentally grounded the Beatrice near Morris Island and she soon was a total wreck.

Rear Admiral Dahlgren noted the ship was captured by small boats and not seagoing vessels, adding: "The duty is severe beyond what is imagined.  I  the launches the men may be said to live in the boats, and all of them are, in these long nights, exposed to every hardship of sea, wind, and weather; in the stormiest nights they are cruising around close int o the rebel batteries."

The Federal Navy spared no efforts to tighten the blockade now that final victory was coming into sight.

Bad enough to be out on a full-sized ship, but imagine in a little launch.

--Old B-R'er

Capturing Blockade-Runners

NOVEMBER 24TH, 1864:  USS Chocura, Lt. Cmdr. Meade, sighted schooner Louisa and chased her ashore on the bar off San Bernard River, Texas.  A heavy gale totally destroyed the schooner before it could be boarded.

NOVEMBER 27TH, 1864:  USS Princess Royal seized blockade-running British schooner Flash in the Gulf of Mexico off Brazos Santiago with cargo of cotton.  Later that day, the Princess Royal also captured blockade-running schooner Neptune.

Lots of prize money for the Princess Royal, but Commander Woolsey reported: "The vessel was empty, having just a cargo of salt, said salt having, according to the master's statement, 'dissolved in her hold'."

The USS Metacomet, Lt.Cmdr. James Jouett, captured blockade-running steamer Susanna in the Gulf of Mexico off Campeche Banks.  Half her cargo of cotton was thrown overboard in the chase.  Rear Admiral Farragut had regarded the Susanna as "their fastest steamer."

NOVEMBER 30TH, 1864:  USS Itasca seized blockade-running British schooner Carrie Mair off Pass Cavallo, Texas.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, November 17, 2014

Milton B. Cushing, USN

I have been writing about the four Cushing brothers who served in the U.S. military during the Civil War.  Milton and William were in the Navy and Alonzo, who just received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Howard were in the Army.

I have just made an entry on Milton Cushing in my Saw the Elephant Civil War blog.  He was an Assistant Paymaster on the USS Seneca during the war.  This ship was one of the 90-Day Gunboats and took part in the attacks on Fort Fisher.

--Old B-Runner

Baker's Plan to Capture Fort Pickens-- Part 2

A month later, after having conferred with President Davis and General Braxton Bragg, Mallory ordered Baker to proceed with his plan.

On 25 October James McC Baker departed Mobile with a number of sailors on the steamer Dick Keys and rendezvoused with 100 soldiers from general Dabney Maury's command that night in Blakely, Alabama.

As they were preparing to get underway, Maury ordered a temporary delay because of information received which reported that Union forces had landed at Pensacola Navy Yard near Fort Pickens.  By the 30th this intelligence was demonstrated to be inaccurate, but Maury still was reluctant to go ahead.

Concerned that the Northerners now had knowledge of the attempt, he suggested the soldiers return to their units  Maury intimated that the expedition might proceed in the future "with more secrecy and certainty of success."

On the 24th of November, Maury called it all off: "I regret that circumstances beyond the control of the department or yourself should have thus terminated an enterprise which seemed to promise good results."

If the expedition had gone undetected and if there were just two soldiers posted at Fort Pickens, I'm sure it would have been a success, but I'm sure the Confederates would have quickly been cut off by Union ships and soldiers on the peninsula of land and eventually forced to surrender.

But, it Would Have Made Up a Little for Cushing's Success Against the CSS Albemarle.  --Old B-R'er


Lt. James McC Baker, CSN, Wants to Take Fort Pickens-- Part 1

NOVEMBER 24TH, 1864:   Lt. James McC Baker's preparations for the capture of Union-held Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida,  were terminated by Secretary Mallory: "Major-General Maury having withdrawn his men from the enterprise to the command of which you were assigned, its prosecution becomes impracticable."

It was a bitter blow to the daring young Confederate naval officer who had first undertaken the scheme in April and had fought persuasively for months to bring it off.  By mid-August, still unable to obtain authorization from the local command to proceed with the plan, the bold lieutenant had written Mallory outlining his scheme to seize Fort Pickens.

"Not dreaming that we have any designs upon it, and deluding themselves with the idea that its isolated position renders it safe from attack, they have been exceedingly careless, having only two sentinels on duty...."

Baker proposed to take a landing force of sailors and soldiers in small boats and, "...pulling down the eastern shore of the bay (evidently Mobile Bay) into Bon Secours, and, hauling the boats across qa narrow strip of land into Little Lagoon, I would enter the Gulf at a point 20 miles east of Fort Morgan and be within a seven hours' pull of Fort Pickens, with nothing to interrupt our progress.

A Daring Move.  --Old B-Runner


Admiral Lee Looking for More Ships in Western Waters

NOVEMBER 23RD, 1864:  Constantly alert to the need to strengthen his squadron for the difficult work of convoying and patrolling the Western Rivers, Rear Admiral Lee on this date dispatched a group of officers on a confidential mission to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh "and other places if necessary, for the purpose of purchasing ten sound, strong, and swift light draft steamers to be converted into gunboats."

Ten were eventually bought, converted and added to the Mississippi Squadron in early 1865.

--Old B-R'er

Engagement on the Mississippi River and Capture of Blockade-Runner

NOVEMBER 21ST, 1864:  Boats from the USS Avenger capture a large quantity opf supplies on the Mississippi River near Bruinsburg, Mississippi after a brief engagement.  Union gunboats maintained a vigilant patrol to prevent Confederate supplies from crossing the Mississippi River for the armies in Tennessee and Alabama.

Also, the USS Iosco captured blockade-running schooner Sybil with a cargo of cotton off the North carolina coast.

--Old B-Runner

USS Louisiana to Become Powder Boat Experiment at Fort Fisher

NOVEMBER 20TH, 1864:  Rear Admiral Porter directed Commander Macomb to send the USS Louisiana to Beaufort, N.C..  The Louisiana was to become the powder ship which Porter and General Butler hoped to use to level Fort Fisher and obviate the need for a direct attack on the big sand fort.

The hope was that the concussion from a huge explosion might knock down the ramparts of the fort.

Early in December, she was taken to Hampton Roads, where she was partially stripped and loaded with explosives.

--Old B-R'er

Confederate Submersible Torpedo Boat Saint Patrick

NOVEMBER 20TH, 1864:  Edward La Croix of Selma, Alabama, writing Secretary Welles from Detroit (spy?), reported that a torpedo boat had been constructed at Selma for use against Union forces at Mobile Bay.

he described her:  "Length, about 30 feet; has watertight compartments; can be sunk or raised as desired; is propelled by a very small engine, and will stow five men.  It has some arrangement of machinery that times the explosions of the torpedoes, to enable the operators to retire to a safe distance.

"the boat proves to be a good sailer on the river and has gone to Mobile to make last preparations for trying its efficacy on the Federal vessels."

La Croix was referring to the submersible torpedo boat Saint Patrick built by John P. Halligan who was also her first commander.  It was a source of concern for Federals in Mobile Bay and in 1865, did attempt to sink a blockader.

--Old B-Runner