Fort Fisher

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Confederate Privateer Savannah Became the USS Chotank

After its capture, the U.S. Navy bought it at the New York City Prize Court on July 2, 1861.  After refitting it was commissioned as the USS Chotank and used for various purposes, but especially in shallow waterways.  It was 56 feet long and mounted two 9-inch smoothbore guns and one 11-inch gun.

In 1862, it was part of the Potomac Flotilla.  At the end of the war, it was laid up in theNew York Navy Yard until sold in August 1862.

Old B-Runner

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's a Brown Water Navy?-- Part 1

From the Winter 2011 Hallowed Ground Magazine.

The Union's "Brown Water Navy" was a term used to descrive those vessels operating along the interior rivers of the United States.  The "Blue Water Navy" operated along the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico.

Just weeks after Fort Sumter, Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was contacted by St. Louis engineer James E. Eads, suggesting that snagboats (used to clear river obstructions) be refiited for Navy use.  Believing the interior rivers were more of an Army thing, Welles passed it along to the War Department.  Under Gen, McClellan, three steamers were procured and refitted under Army control.

The USS Conestoga, Lexington and Tyler were protected by heavy oak and with their shallow draft were soon patrolling the warters south of Cairo, Illinois.

In August 1861, Welles sent Captain Andrew Hull Foote west to command Naval establishing joint command.  Foote was then raised to the rank of Flag Officer, which is the equivalent of that of an Army major general.

More to Come.  --Old B-R'er

Naval Happenings 150 Years Ago: June 28th to 30th: Farragut Runs Past Vicksburg


Flag Officer Farragut's fleet, supported by Commander D.D. Porter's mortar boats, runs by Vicksburg, exchanging heavy fire with Confederate defenders.

Flag Officer Davis wrote Welles that if Union ships are to be kept in the White River, the shallow waters during the dry season require them immediately getting small boats of shallow draft.


US ships support Army withdrawal from White House, Virginia


Confederate troops fire on USS Lexington in the White River.


Union Gen. McClellan is forced to withdraw down the James River and supported and protected by Navy ships.

Old B-Runner

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Digging Those Blockade-Runners-- Part 3: 150th Anniversary of the Loss of the Modern Greece Today

On this, the sesquicentennialof the blockade-runner Modern Greece being chased ashore near Fort Fisher by blockaders.

Sky-high profits were to be made. Cotton bought for pennies a pound at Wilmington sold for as much as a dollar on Britain.Blockade-running companies, many of which were British ventures, could get a 100% return on their investment on a single run.  Some runners never completed even one run, but others amassed twenty or more trips, paying off very handsomely for their owners.

Sixty percent of Confederate small arms came in through the blockade as did 30 % of the lead for bullets and at least 3/4 of the saltpeter, a key ingredient in gunpowder.  Along with those came medicine, cloth for uniforms, boots and, late in the war, even canned meat destined for Confederate troops.  Of interest, some of that canned meat came from Chicago and Cleveland, something you would not expect.

I have to Wonder How the Canned Meat from Chicago Came About?  --Old B-Runner

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Digging Those Blockade-Runners-- Part 2

Researchers have applied for federal grants to locate more wrecks and better document those that are known.  This needs to proceed rapidly as after a century and a half under water, great amounts of damage has been done and continuing.

Mr. Wise is one of several historians speaking at a symposium on the Modern Greece today at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

New Orleans fell to Union forces and Charleston and Savannah were essentially closed off early on in the war.  This left Wilmington and Mobile as major ports of entry and exit.  With its closeness to Richmond and rail connection via the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad,  Wilmington became the major destination of runners.  Plus, its two entrances, separtated by a huge shoal made it difficult to blockade.

Some Wilmington residents did not not like the crews of the runners with all their carousing, drinking and prostitutes.  The murder rate increased alarmingly.  One blockade-runner was even accused of bringing in yellow fever in 1862.

Pay was extremely high for the crews, much like modern-day drug rungs.By 1863, the captain on a runner could earn today's equivalent of $100,000 for a single voyage, a first officer the equivalent of $20,000 to $25,000 and crewmen $5,000.

A few of the crews were Confederate military and received much less.  A Confederate private received the equivalent of $254 a month by today's standards.

More to Come.  --Old B-Runner

Naval Happenings 150 Years Ago: June 19th to June 1862


Commander maury, CSN, reported to Sectretary of the Navy Mallory about placement of mines near Chaffin's Bluff on the James River.  Electric torpedoes (mines)  made of boiler plate encased in water-tight wooden casks and fired by galvanic batteries placed by the first minelayer, the CSS Teaser.


 Commander Semmes, CSN,  wrote Mallory that getting the CSS Alabama out of British waters was going to be a tricky deal due to the vigilence of US envoy Charles Adams.  It would be necessary to leave unarmed and rendezvous somewhere to receive armament.


USS Mount Vernon, Mystic and Victoria chase blockade-runner Emily attempting to run into Wilmington and caused it to ground.  Boarded it and destroyed the ship while under heavy fire from Fort Caswell.


USS Cambridge, under Commander W.A. Parker, chases the blockade-runner Modern Greece ashore off Fort Fisher and ship subsequently destroyed with cargo of gunpowder, rifled cannons and other arms.

Old B-Runner

Monday, June 25, 2012

Digging Those Blockade-Runners-- Part 1

From the June 24th Raleigh (NC) News & Observer "Historians seek answers from a different sort of buried treasure" by Jay Price.

A rather lengthy, but informative article inspired by tomorrow's symposium on the blockade-runner Modern Greece, which ran aground 150 years ago on June 26, 1862.

Blockade-runners were a  "rakish, speed-at-all-costs breed of ship."  Dozens and dozens went aground or were sunk coming into or leaving Wilmington, NC, making the area the largest collection of Civil War-era shipwrecks anywhere.  And that would include my own personal favorite, the Beauregard (Havelock) that was run ashore off what was my grandparent's beach home in Carolina Beach.  You can still see the upper works of it at low tide.  I always dreamed of swimming out to it but was too afraid.

Even with the losses, these sleek ships got through hundreds of times and war-time Wilmington was overrun with rowdy crews spending their big bucks for their efforts at carrying their "fabulously valuable" cargoes, including weapons and military supplies.

Historian and author Stephen Wise, who will be speaking at the symposium said, "For me, its role made Wilmington the single most important place in the Confederacy."  as a very biased person, I would have to agree.  Wise wrote "Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade-Running During the Civil War," which for me is the bible of the subject.

More to Come.  --Old B-R'er

Naval Happenings 150 Years Ago: June 9th to June 17th, 1862: Action in Florida and the White River, New Commander


Secretary of Navy Welles wrote Senator John P. Hale of the Senate Naval Committee that the introduction of ironclads has upset the balance of naval power in the world and the U.S. should use this to become a forefront naval power as the other major navies are primarily wooden ships.


In the oft-forgotten Florida front, the USS Tahoma and USS Somerset crossed the bar of St. Mark's River and shelled Confederates near the lighthouse for forty minutes.  The artillery company there withdrew.  Sailors landed, destroyed the battery and burned the buildings and barracks.


Action in Arkansas: The CSS Maurepas and steamers Eliza G. and Mary Patterson sunk in the White River. Arkansas, to obstruct advance of Union gunboats.


Joint expedition to open US Army communications on the White River in Arkansas.  Gunboats engaged Confederate batteries at St. Charles, Arkansas.  The Mound City took a direct hit that exploded her steam drum causing heavy casualties.  Troops landed and stormed the Confederate earthworks, capturing them and giving the Union control of the White River.

Charles H. Davis appointed Flag Officer and Commander of US Naval forces on the upper Mississippi River, relieving Flag Officer Foote.

Old B-Runner

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Civil War Ironclad on the Move Today-- Part 2

When the hull was brought out of the river in the 1960s, it was cut into three sections.

The Blake Moving Company of Greensboro was hired to move the CSS Neuse and they were hired by Group III Management of Kinston which is overseeing all aspects of the move.  D.S. Simmons, Inc. of Goldsboro is general contractor for the new museum construction.

A steel frame latticework will be built around each section of hull and supports.  Wheels will be attached to the latticework and hitched to a heavy-duty truck and moved to the museum.

It is expected that the move will take three hours and another two hours will be spent getting it into the  museum and installed on its permanent supports.

The museum is expected to be fully operating by late summer or early fall 2013.

Go, Neuse!!  --Old B-Runner

Friday, June 22, 2012

Civil War Ironclad on the Move-- Part 1

From the June 19th Kinston (NC) Free Press "C.S.S. Neuse scheduled to move downtown Saturday" by David Anderson.

Here might be your last chance ever to see a Civil War ship moving, albeit, along a road, as the CSS Neuse begins its final move to its new museum in Kinston Saturday.  The move is scheduled to start at 6 AM.  The three sections of the hull will be pulled apart and slowly moved to their new home in the 100 block of North Queen Street.  It should be inside by afternoon that day.

Groundbreaking for the new 13,000+ square-foot structure took place last spring.  Monday, workers there could be seen putting the last "ghosting" metal framework to show the top of the ship, which was destroyed.

The hull is all that remains of the ship after the war.  In the 1960s, as part of the Civil War's Centennial< Henry Clay Casey, Lemuel Houston and Tom Carlyle got the boat out of the river and the remains were exhibited at West Vernon Avenue since 1965 in the Caswell Memorial Park.  It remained near the Neuse River until the 1990s, when floods in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd swamped the site.  It was then moved farther away from the river and placed in an open-air shelter on Vernon Avenue near the former site.

More to Come.  --Old B-Runner

Lots of Naval Stuff Taking Place in North Carolina

From the June 19th Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial Blog.

Andrew Duppstadt says there are two major things of naval interest going on in North Carolina in the next several days.

June 23rd, tomorrow, the CSS Neuse hull makes a trip to move indoors to its new climate-controlled facility to prevent further deterioration after sitting outside since being raised during the war's centennial.  Hey, your last chance to see a Civil War ship on the move.

Then, next week, all sorts of stuff will be going on in regards to a blockade-runner Modern Greece which was sunk 150 years ago this month and rediscovered in June 1962, 100 years later where a treasure trove of artifacts were found.  A symposium will be held at UNC-Wilmington, a plaque dedicated at Fort Fsher and  the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch at Fort Fisher will have an open house.

I Sure Wish I Could Be There for These Events.  --Old B-R'er

Naval Happenings 150 Years Ago: June 2nd to 8th, 1862

Catching up with events from the Civil War Naval Chronology book.  These are not all the entries, just ones that I consider of interest or important and anything involving the Cape Fear River/Wilmington area.


Union warships provide close fire-support for Army landings on James Island near Charleston, SC.


Confederates evacuate Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River after naval bombardment.  The next day, Union ships moved down the Mississippi River to within two miles of Memphis, Tn.


Battle of Memphis a complete disaster for Confederates.  All but one of the eight Confederate River Defense Fleet captured, sunk or grounded.  Memphis surrendered.


USS Anacostia captures the  sloop Monitor in the Piankatank River, Va.  It would have been neat if the USS Monitor had captured it.


Union ships shell Grand Gulf defenses on the Mississippi River


USS Penobscot burned schooner Sereta, grounded and deserted off Shalotte Inlet, NC.

Things Still Going Real Bad on the Mississippi.  --Old B-Runner

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Naval Happenings 150 Years Ago: May 19th to May 28th, 1862: No More Spirits


Union gunboats occupied the Stono River above Cole's Island, SC


The USS Mount Vernon captured the steamer Constitution attempting to run the blockade at Wilmington.


Lt. Isaac N. Brown, CSN ordered to take command of ironclad CSS Arkansas and finish it regardless of cost.  Captain Lynch inspected the ship and considered it very inferior to the CSS Virginia.  But Brown was able to finish it and make improvements.

US ships bombarded Grand Gulf, Mississippi as Union forces moved northward.

MAY 28TH--

USS State of Georgia and USS Victoria captured steamer Nassau near Fort Caswell, NC.

In a move sure to anger sailors, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (US) wrote to Senator Grimes asking him to add a proviso to the naval bill "abolishing the spirit ration and forbidding any distilled liquors being placed  on any vessel..."  Congressinal Act approved  14 July 1862 abolished the spirit ration.

Old B-Runner

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A New Admiral David D. Porter Book?

From the June 18th Wilmington (NC) Star- News "Bookmarks: Making (or at least editing) history" by Ben Steelman.

Steelman writes that he had lunch with UNC-Wilmington history professor Chris Fonvielle about the upcoming symposium on the blockade-runner (hey, that's one of my ships!) Modern Greece on June 26th.  I sure know one person who would really love to be at that symposium.  I've written about this ship several times.

Fonvielle is a bit of a prolific author as well as probably the foremost expert on Fort Fisher and the Wilmington area during the Civil War, having written several books on the area.  Now, he and another historian are editing the memoirs of David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) .  Porter commanded the Union fleet in both attacks on Fort Fisher and became the second U.S. Naval officer to reach the rank of full admiral (his adopted brother David Farragut was the first)

Porter was also something of an author, having written several novels as well as the book "Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War" in 1885 and "A Naval History of the Civil War" in 1886.  Porter had shopped his memoirs around extensively, but couldn't find anyone to publish it because of his scathing tongue.  If he didn't like you, he said so in no uncertain terms.

Fortunately, a copy of the memoirs were stashed away in boxes at the Library of Congress.

Now, if we could get Mr. Fonvielle to write a book on W.H.C. Whiting, the Confederate general at Fort Fisher and a bit on the outspoken side as well.

Looking Forward to Reading Those Memoirs.  --Old B-R'er

Fall Fires Uncover Confederate Fortification

From the December 8, 1861, Shreveport (La) Times "Fall fires uncover history" by John Andrew Pope.

A drought last fall caused fires that uncovered part of Shreveport's Civil War history near Cross Bayou.  A small battery, or lunette, which would have mounted one or two pieces of artillery was revealed.  It was in perfect position to fire on Union ships on the bayou at a sharp turn where their bows or sterns would be exposed.

Marty Loecher has wanted to get into the area for years, but it was too overgrown.  Back during the war, the site would have been even higher, but the marsh has since been mostly filled in.  It connected Fort Albert Sidney Johnson with other fortifications on the Bossier Parish side of the Red River.

During the 1920s, when the nearby power plant was being built, an old cannon was found and displayed, but it is now missing.  Historians were not sure if it was from the Civil War or perhaps even from Hernando DeSoto in the early 1500s.

Lost and Found.  --Old B-Runner