Fort Fisher

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Loss of the USS Dai Ching

JANUARY 26TH, 1865:  The USS Dai Ching, operating on the right flank of General Sherman's Army crossing through the state of South Carolina on the Combahee River, ran aground while engaging Confederate batteries.

After a seven hour battle, and only after all her guns were out of operation, the Dai Ching was abandoned and fired by her crew.  The tug USS Clover, which had been along with the Dai Ching, captured blockade-runner Coquette with a cargo of cotton.

--Old B-R'er

Confederate Attack Down the James River-- Part 2: Grounded Out

JANUARY 23-24, 1865:  This serious Confederate thrust, however, came to naught when both the Virginia No. 2 and the Richmond ran aground while passing the obstructions at Trent's Reach and were brought under heavy fire from Union sore batteries.  Gunboat CSS Drewry and torpedo boat Scorpion also went aground.

The Drewry was shattered by an explosion resulting from a mortar shell penetrating her magazine, and the Scorpion, thought to be damaged by that nearby explosion, was abandoned.

The USS Onondaga, flagship of Parker's squadron, returned to Trent's Reach the following morning and took the stranded Confederate ironclads under fire.  Her 15-inch Dahlgren guns spoke with devastating effect, and the damaged Virginia No. 2 and Richmond withdrew upriver as soon as they were refloated.

Although Parker was severely criticized for failing to engage the Confederates at once, the war's last battle of ironclads ended favorably for the North.  Grant's supply line remained unbroken and he could move inexorably toward Richmond.  Control of the James and Potomac Rivers was of inestimable value to the North.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Confederate Attack Down the James River-- Part 1

JANUARY 23-24, 1865:  Flag Officer Mitchell's James River Squadron launched its downstream assault against the Union fleet still in the river.  The fleet had been depleted with many ships taking part in the attack on Fort Fisher, so there was great hope of success.

The Union fleet there only had one double turreted monitor, the USS Onondaga and ten gunboats, while the Confederate fleet had three ironclads and eight gunboats.

The Union fleet withdrew upon the Confederate advance.  Commodore W.A. Parker explained that he moved downstream "because I thought there would be more room to maneuver the Onondaga and to avoid the batteries bearing on Dutch Gap."

--Old B-R'er

Mitchell Unable to Pass Obstructions on James River

JANUARY 22ND, 1865:  Flag Officer Mitchell of the Confederate James River Squadron reported that he was unable to get underway to pass the obstructions at Trent's Reach as he had planned because of heavy fog.  Mitchell had also received no report from Boatswain Thomas Gauley, whom he had dispatched on the 21st to remove Confederate torpedoes that had been placed in the channel near Howlett's Landing.

He wrote Major General Pickett: "To-morrow night, if the weather is sufficiently clear for the pilots to see their way, our movement will be made, and I will be glad to have your cooperation as agreed upon for to-night."

A successful downriver thrust by Mitchell's squadron could spell a major setback for the Union cause as General Grant would be deprived of his great water-supplied base at City Point and his armies would be divided by Confederate control of the James River.

A Move Against the Enemy Imminent.  --Old B-Runner

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Confederate Steamer Granite City Chased Ashore in texas

JANUARY 21ST, 1865:  The USS Penguin chased steamer Granite City ashore off Velasco, Texas.  The blockade runner was under the protection of Confederate shore batteries.

The Penguin's commander reported that he was "of the opinion that the steamer could not be got off, and would eventually go to pieces, as there was a heavy sea rolling in and continually breaking over her, I did not think it was prudent to remain longer under the enemy's fire, as their guns were of longer range than ours."

--Old B-Runner

Confederate Steamers Granite City and Wave Run Louisiana Blockade

JANAUARY 17-19TH, 1865:  Confederate steamers Granite City and Wave (ex-U.S. Navy ships captured May 6, 1864) elude the USS Chocura, Lt.Cmdr. Richard W. Meade, Jr., on a "dark, foggy, and rainy" night and escaped from Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana.  The Granite City was reported to carry no cargo, but the Wave had a load of lumber for the Rio Grande.

Meade gave chase for 60 miles, "but our boilers being in disabled condition, and leaking badly, the speed of the ship was so much reduced that I reluctantly gave up hope of overtaking the Granite City before she could make a port."

Fix My Ship!!  --Old B-R'er

Action in Alabama and Florida

JANUARY 17TH, 1865:  Naval forces of the Mississippi Squadron cooperated with Army cavalry in a successful attack on the town of Somerville, Alabama.  They expedition resulted in the capture of 90 prisoners, 150 horses and one piece of artillery.

Two armed boats from the USS Honeysuckle captured the British blockade running schooner Augusta at the mouth of the Suwanee River with cargo of pig lead, flour, gunny cloth and coffee.

--Ole B-Runner

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Regulating Vessel Movement on the Cape Fear River Above Fort Fisher

JANUARY 22ND, 1865:  Rear Admiral Porter ordered Commander John Guest of the USS Iosco, to "regulated the movements of the vessels in the Cape Fear River above Fort Fisher...."

Porter sought to move the line of ships as near Fort Anderson, the position to which the Confederates had withdrawn following the fall of Fort fisher and adjacent forts, "as is consistent with safety, and in doing so care must be taken of the torpedoes and other obstructions."

The same day, the USS Pequot, Lt.Cmdr. Daniel L. Braine, steamed upriver and opened on Fort Anderson to reconnoiter and test its defenses.  The Confederates brought only two "small rifle pieces" in action, but, Braine reported: "I observed 6 guns, evidently smoothbore, pointing down the river, protected by the ordinary sand traverses."

Having sealed off Wilmington, the last major port of the South, the Union was now moving to occupy it.

Had they done so earlier than they did in late February, they would have captured a whole lot more supplies destined for Lee's Army which was in the process now of being hurriedly evacuated.

--Old B-Runner

23rd Army Corps Reach Cincinnati

JANUARY 21ST, 1865:  Elements of Major General Schofield's 23rd Army Corps disembark from transports at Cincinnati, Ohio, which they had reached in five days via the Tennessee and Ohio rivers from Clifton, Tennessee (See Jan. 16th in this blog).  The troops entrained for Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia, and Annapolis, Maryland, where the first groups arrived Jan. 31st.

They were later by transport ships to the Cape Fear River for operations against Wilmington.

--Old B-R'er

Two Blockade-Runners Run Into Cape Fear and Get Captured

JANUARY 20, 1865: Blockade-Runners Stag and Charlotte, unaware that Fort Fisher and fortifications of the Cape Fear River had fallen, anchored in the harbor of Smithville near the USS Malvern, flagship of Rear Admiral Porter (which had been a former blockade-runner itself), and were captured.

Porter wrote: "I intrusted this duty to Lt. [Commander] Cushing, who performed it with his usual good luck and intelligence.  They are very fast vessels and valuable prizes."

Earlier I had written that Porter had insisted that the lights used for the blockade-runners be kept on in case something like this might happen.

The Stag was commanded by Lt. Richard H. Gayle, CSN, who had previously been captured while commanding the blockade-runner Cornubia on 8 November 1863.
The Ruse Worked.  --Old B-Runner

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blockade-Runner Chameleon Runs Into Cape Fear and Then Out Again

JANUARY 19TH, 1865:  The blockade-runner Chameleon (formerly the raiser CSS Tallahassee) under Lt. John Wilkinson, from Bermuda ran into the Cape Fear River loaded to the rails with commissary stores and provisions for General Lee's Army.

The ship had departed on this special  mission on December 24, 1864, during the First Battle of Fort Fisher.

Upon his return, Wilkinson successfully ran the blockade again (as he had done on 21 separate occasions during 1863 in the blockade-runner Robert E. Lee) and had entered the harbor before learning that Union forces had captured Fort Fisher during his absence.

The Chameleon reversed course and rushed safely back out to the sea.

He gave credit to his escape only because the ship had twin screws, which "enabled our steamer to turn as if on pivot in the narrow channel between the bar and the rip."

After an unsuccessful attempt to enter Charleston and in the absence of orders from Secretary Mallory, Wilkinson took the Chameleon to Liverpool and turned the ship over to Commander Bulloch, the Confederate naval agent.  Ironically, he arrived on 9 April, the same day Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

Quite An Escapade.  --Old B-R'er

Lights Out for Fort Fisher-- Part 3; The Naval Attack Fizzles

JANUARY 15TH, 1865:

Continuing with the Naval Column.

Some 60 men under Lt.Cmdr. Thomas O. Selfridge reached and broke through the palisade, but it was the high water mark of the attack.  They were hurled back and others recoiled under the withering fire coming at them from atop the fort's parapets.

Ensign Evans wrote: "All the officers in their anxiety to be the first into the fort, had advanced to the heads of the columns, leaving no one to steady the men in behind; and it was in this way we were defeated, by the men breaking for the rear."

The significance of the naval attack was perceived by Confederate Col. Lamb when he wrote that "their gallant attempt enabled the army to enter and obtain a foothold, which they otherwise could not have done."

It seems that this naval assault had a lot to do with the Navy capturing the fort instead of the Army.

--Old B-Runner

Bragg Orders Evacuation of Remaining Fortifications at Mouth of Cape Fear River

JANUARY 16TH, 1865:  With Fort Fisher lost and foreseeing the Union fleet's entrance into the Cape Fear River would cut his waterborne communications system, General Bragg ordered the evacuation of the remaining Confederate positions at the mouth of the river.

At 7 a.m. Forts Caswell and Campbell were abandoned and destroyed.  Fort Holmes on Smith's Island and Fort Johnson at Smithville were likewise destroyed by the retreating garrisons, which fell back on Fort Anderson, on the west bank of the Cape Fear River between Fort Fisher and Wilmington.

One Confederate wrote: "The Yankees have made a barren capture...."  In fact, however, Wilmington, the last major port open to blockade runners, was now effectively sealed and General Lee was cut off from his only remaining supply line from Europe.

Rear Admiral Porter was only too aware of the import of this capture and wrote Captain Godon:  "...the death knell of another fort is booming in the distance.  Fort Caswell with its powerful batteries is in flames and being blown up, and thus is sealed the door through which this rebellion is fed."

A Really Big Loss.  --Old B-R'er

Sherman Want Dahlgren's Cooperation

JANUARY 17TH, 1865:  Delayed in departure from Savannah, General Sherman wrote Rear Admiral Dahlgren: "When we are known to be in rear of Charleston, about Branchville and Orangeburg, it will be well to watch if the enemy lets go of Charleston, in which case Foster will occupy it, otherwise the feint should be about Bull's Bay.

"We will need no cover about Port Royal; nothing but the usual guard ships.  I think that you will concur with me that, in anticipation of the movement of my army to the rear of the coast, it will be unwise to subject your ships to the heavy artillery of the enemy or to his sunken torpedoes.

"I will instruct Foster, when he knows I have got near Branchville, to make a landing of a small force at Bull's Bay, to threaten, and it may be occupy, the road from Mount Pleasant to Georgetown.  This will make the enemy believe I design to turn down against Charleston and give me a good offing for Wilmington.

"I will write you again fully on the eve of starting in person."

So, Sherman had no plans to attack Charleston from the rear.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lights Out at Fort Fisher-- Part 2: "Under a Perfect Hail of Lead"

JANUARY 15TH, 1865:

The Naval Brigade Attacks.

The Union attack land attack on the fort consisted of two columns who were supposed to strike at the same time, but the naval one, approaching along the beach targeting the Northeast Bastion, where the land and sea faces joined, got off first.

Ensign "Fighting Bob" Evans, later Rear Admiral, suffered four wounds in the attack, two that crippled his legs.  He later vividly described the naval assault: "About five hundred yards from the fort, the head of the column suddenly stopped, and, as if by magic,  the whole mass of men went down like a row of falling bricks....

"The officers called on the men, and they responded instantly, starting forward as fast as they could go.  At about three hundred yards they again went down, this time under the effect of canister added to the rifle fire.  Again we rallied them, and once more started to the front under a perfect hail of lead, with men dropping rapidly in every direction."

A Lot Different From Fighting On Ships.  --Old B-Runner