Fort Fisher

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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Civil War "Reverberations" Took Place In Wilmington, NC

From the May 22, 2014, Wilmington (NC) Star- News "Local Civil War sites plan commemoration Saturday" by Ben Steelman.

"Reverberations" took place Saturday, May 24, at three New Hanover County sites.

Ranger Emmanuel Dabney of the Petersburg National Battlefield spoke at the Fort Fisher site focusing on the increasingly supply link between Fort Fisher and Wilmington and Lee's Army at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864.  This took place at 11 AM.  As General Grant's Overland Campaign and later Petersburg Siege took place, military supplies coming to Lee's Army from Wilmington played a much increasing role of importance.

At 3 PM, there was a special program at the Confederate Mound at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington to honor Confederate soldiers who served at Petersburg.

Then, at 8 PM, a candlelight program was held at the Wilmington National Cemetery to honor Union troops who served at Petersburg and were later transferred South for the Fort Fisher expedition.

This free event was sponsored by the National Park Service in honor of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Wish I Had Been There.  --Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago-- May 30-31st, 1864

MAY 30TH, 1864:  The USS Massachusetts captured the blockade-runner Caledonia at sea off Cape Fear, NC.  More on the Caledonia next week.

MAY 31ST, 1864:  The USS Commodore Perry engaged Confederate artillery on the James River in Virginia.  After a two-hour engagement the Perry, a converted ferry boat,  was damaged by six hits.

Secretary Welles ordered the USS Constellation detached from duty in the Mediterranean and to report to Farragut in the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, May 30, 2014

Growing Fears of Confederate Naval Attack on James River

MAY 30TH, 1864:  Mounting evidence pointed to a Confederate assault on Union forces in the James River below Richmond.  This date, John Loomis, a deserter from the CSS Hampton, reported that three ironclads and six wooden gunboats, all armed with torpedoes, had passed the obstructions at Drewry's Bluff and were below Fort Darling, awaiting the opportunity to attack.

The ironclads were the CSS Virginia II, CSS Richmond and CSS Fredericksburg.  They were commanded by Flag Officer John K. Mitchell.

Two days after that, Archy Jenkins, a Negro from Richmond, confirmed the statement and added:  :"They are putting two barges and a sloop lashed together, filled with shavings and pitch and with torpedoes, which they intend to set on fire, and when it reaches the fleet it will blow up and destroy the fleet....They all say they know 'they can whip you all; they are certain of it'  They believe in their torpedoes in preference to everything."

Rear Admiral Lee wrote: "In view of the novel attack or more ironclads could be added to my force here, considering the importance of this river to the armies of generals Grant and Butler.".

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Louis Hebert, CSA-- Part 3: At Wilmington

After his transfer to the Army of Tennessee, Louis hebert was transferred to North Carolina and put in command of the heavy artillery at Fort Fisher (protecting Wilmington) and served as North Carolina's chief engineer for the Confederate War Department until the end of the war.

At one point, he was at Southport (then called Smithville) when Union Lt. Cushing tried to capture him at his headquarters, but the general had gone to Wilmington.

After the war, he returned to Louisiana where he was a newspaper editor and taught at private schools.

He died 7 January 1901 in St. martin Parish.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Louis Hebert, CSA-- Part 2: Captured Twice

Louis Hebert was captured along with most of his regiment, the 3rd Louisiana, at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern 8 March 1862.  Exchanged 26 May 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of of Brigadier general Henry Little's 1st Division in Major General Sterling Price's Army of the West and fought at Iuka, Corinth and surrendered with the garrison at Vicksburg.

Hebert was exchanged again and transferred to the Army of the Tennessee.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, May 26, 2014

Louis Hebert, CSA-- Part 1: From Louisiana

From the May 19, 2014, Blue Gray Daily.

Louis Hebert was born March 13, 1820, in Iberville Parish, Louisiana,, the son of a wealthy sugar planter.  He was schooled at home and attended Jefferson College in the state before going to West Point where he graduated in 1845 as #3 in his class,

He entered Confederate service as colonel of the 3rd Louisiana and saw his first action at Wilson's Creek.  He then was captured along with most of his regiment at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) 8 March 1962.

--Old B-Runner

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Red River Campaign Draws to Close and Farragut Watching Mobile Torpedoes

MAY 26TH, 1864:  The unsuccessful Red River Campaign was drawing to a close.  On May 20th, general Banks' Army  crossed the Atchafalaya River near Simmesport, Louisiana, protected by Porter's ships.  Admiral Porter's health was beginning to fail.

This date, Rear Admiral Farragut wrote about torpedo preparations in Mobile Bay:  "I can see his boats (Admiral Buchanan's)  very industriously laying down torpedoes, so I judge that he is quite as much afraid of our going in as we are his coming out, but I have come to the conclusion to fight the devil with fire, and therefore shall attach a torpedo to the bow of each ship, and see how it will work on the rebels--if they can stand blowing up any better than we can."

--Old B-R'er

Matters on the Great Lakes and Japan

MAY 26TH, 1864:  Most action involving the Union Navy during the Civil War took place along rivers and coasts of the Confederacy, but, there were other areas of concern.

This date, Commander Carter of the USS Michigan reported to Secretary Welles from Buffalo New York regarding his ship's cruise on Lake Erie: "relative to supposed armed vessel intended to raid on the lake cities...."  but, he could "find no foundation for the rumors relative thereto....matters quiet at present...."

There had been rumors that a ship was being armed to rescue the prisoners at Johnson's Island.

Also, this date:  U.S. Minister to Japan, Robert H. Pruyn, requested that the USS Jamestown come without delay to the port of Kanagawa, which the Japanese threatened to close to foreign commerce.

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Action in South Carolina

MAY 25TH, 1864:  A joint Army-Navy expedition up the Ashepoo and South Edisto rivers, South Carolina was launched to cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  Union vessels included the USS Commodore McDonough and wooden steamers USS E.B. Hale, Dai Ching and Vixen and a detachment of Marines.

The Navy pushed up the the South Edisto and the Army transports up the Ashepoo.  the Navy force landed Marines and opened fire on the town of Willstown on the 26th.  Unable to make contact with the Army force, they withdrew the next morning.  The transport Boston ran aground in the Ashepoo and was destroyed to prevent capture.

Action You Don't Hear About.  --Old B-R'er

An Attempt to Sink the CSS Albemarle: Union Uses Torpedoes

MAY 25TH, 1864:  A boat crew from the USS Mattabesett made an unsuccessful attempt to sink the CSS Albemarle in the Roanoke River near Plymouth, North Carolina.    After ascending the Middle River with two 100-pound torpedoes, Charles Baldwin, coal heaver, and John W. Lloyd, coxswain, swam across the Roanoke carrying a towline with which they hauled the torpedoes to the Plymouth shore.

Baldwin planned to swim down to the ram and position a torpedo on either side of her bow.  Across the river, Alexander Crawford, fireman, would then explode the weapons.

However, a sentry discovered Baldwin when he was within a couple yards of the Albemarle and the daring mission was abandoned.

John Lloyd cut the guidelines and swam back across the river to join John Laverty, fireman, who was guarding the far shore.  They made their way to the dinghy in which they had rowed up the river and, with Benjamin Lloyd made their way back to the Mattahesett.

Baldwin returned to the ship on the 29th, completely exhausted.

The ship's captain, M. Smith recommended each of the five sailors for a Medal of Honor and they received them.

A Bit of Bravery Well rewarded.  --Old B-Runner

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Action in Arkansas

MAY 24TH, 1864:  Confederate troops captured and burned steamer Lebanon near Ford's Landing, Arkansas.  Six days later, Union transport Clara Eames and her cargo of cotton were taken and burned near Gaines Landing, Arkansas, after she had been disabled by artillery fire.

Confederates continually ranged along the banks of western rivers engaging Union shipping in hit-and-run raids.

--Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago-- May 24th, 1864: Lincoln Recognizes Distinguished Conduct in Battle With the CSS Albemarle

MAY 24TH, 1864:  President Lincoln, ever ready to recognize the efforts ofthe men in the Navy, recommended the promotions of Lt. Cmdr. Roe and First Assistant Engineer James H. Hobby for their distinguished conduct in the fierce battle between the USS Sassacus and CSS Albemarle in Albemarle Sound, NC, on May 5th.

Also, accurate gunfire from the USS Dawn forced Confederate troops attacking Union positions at Wilson';s Wharf on the James River to break off the attack.

--Old B-Runner

The USS Columbine and Battle of Horse Landing-- Part 3

The wreck of the USS Columbine was recently discovered and identified by sport  divers according to the Wreck Site.

Bill Rivers, on his site, said that he started researching the USS Columbine in October 2003.  In November that year, the wreckage was discovered and was identified in 2005 by an archaeologist.  The reason it took so long to figure out the Columbine's location is because the Horse Landing of today is not at the site it was back then.

Most of the underwater work has been done and research suggests that soldiers and sailors killed during the battle may still be at the bottom of the river.

There is a long article about the search for the Columbine in the Dec. 18, 2005, Florida Times Union "Waiting for the Truth to Surface" by Roger Bull.

--Old B-R'er

The USS Columbine and Battle of Horse Landing-- Part 2

Union Colonel William H. Noble of the 13th Connecticut was wounded and captured.

The Columbine's rudder was damaged and a steam pipe wrecked so it could no longer be steered and ran aground after 45 minutes of engagement.  Its commander, Acting Ensign Frank Sandburn went ashore and surrendered to Captain John Jackson Dickison.

One landsman and three black seamen jumped overboard, swam to shore and made a five day escape to St. Augustine.  I imagine the blacks really didn't want to be captured by the Confederates.  More than half of the Columbine's crew were wounded and the official records indicate that one was killed.  The surrendered enlisted men were sent to Andersonville and officers to Macon, Georgia.

Dickison burned the Columbine to prevent it from being captured by the USS Ottawa which was operating five miles upstream.  

The capture and destruction of the Columbine was one of the few instances where a Union warship was destroyed by Confederate land forces in Florida.    Also, during the spring of 1864, Confederates also sank four other Union ships in the St. John's River with underwater mines called torpedoes at the time.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, May 19, 2014

Confederate Torpedo Discovered at Fort Fisher Fifty Years Ago

From the May 11, 2014, Wilmington (NC) Star-News "Back Then" by Scott Nunn.

He referred to it as a mine, which it actually was, but back then, they were called torpedoes.

On May 13, 1964, a Civil War mine loaded with 500 pounds of black powder was pronounced harmless shortly after being uncovered by two college students at Fort Fisher.  It was buried in the sand at the high tide mark.

The cylindrical object was declared safe after it was discovered that water had mixed with the powder.  The Coast Guard stood by as Stanley South, archaeologist with the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, assisted by a demolition crew from Fort Bragg opened it.  (I'm sure Mr. South was wondering what this had to do with his job description.)

The cone-shaped mine, approximately, 3 feet in diameter, had cones on each end and was found about 3/4 of a mile south of the fort.

Scott Nunn thinks this may be the mine on display at the Fort Fisher museum.  It is the one and the same.

The development of torpedoes (mines) was a major element in the Confederacy's battle against the huge Union fleet.  Torpedoes sank quite a few Union ships.

--Old B-R'er


The USS Columbine and Battle of Horse Landing-- Part 1

From Wikipedia.

The USS Columbine was a 117-foot side-wheel steamer, originally built as a tugboat in New York City in 1850 by the name of A.H. Schultz with a 6-foot draft, crew of 25 and mounted two 20-pdr Parrott rifles.  It was purchased by the U.S. Navy 12 December 1862 and assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

From January to February it was off Port Royal, SC and March 9-12, was on an expedition up St. John's River in Florida.


In May 1864, Confederate spy Lola Sanchez  alerted Southerners that the Union forces were planning a secret attack and the 2nd Florida Cavalry under Captain John Jackson Dickison,  crossed the St. John's River and set a trap with a cannon  from the Milton Light Artillery.

On the morning of May 22nd, the Union force was ambushed in skirmish that came to be known as the Battle of Horse Landing.      

Old B-Runner                                                                                                           

Loss of USS Columbine

MAY 23RD, 1864: The USS Columbine was captured after a heated engagement with Confederate batteries and riflemen at Horse Landing, near Palatka, Florida, on the St. John's River.  The 130-ton side-wheel steamer Columbine was operating in support of Union troops and lost steerage control and ran aground on a mud bank, where she was riddled by accurate Confederate fire.

With some 20 men killed or wounded, the Columbine surrendered.  Shortly afterwards, the ship was destroyed by the Confederates to prevent its capture  by the USS Ottawa which was also cooperating with the Army on the same operation and had itself been fired on the night before and suffered damage, but no casualties.  It had forced the Confederate battery at Brown's Landing to withdraw.

Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote: "The loss of the Columbine will be felt most inconveniently; her draft was only 5 or 6 feet, and having only two such steamers, the services of which are needed elsewhere, can not replace her.

--Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago-- May 19-22nd, 1864: Farragut Wants Old Friend Buchanan to Come Out and Play

MAY 19TH, 1864:  The USS General Price engaged a Confederate battery attempting to destroy the transport steamer  Superior along the Mississippi River at Tunica Bend, Louisiana.

MAY 21ST, 1864:  The USS Atlanta (formerly the CSS Atlanta) and USS Dawn dispersed Confederate cavalry attacking Fort Powhatan on the James River, Virginia.

MAY 22ND, 1864:  Rear Admiral Farragut wrote his son from off shore of Mobile Bay: "I am lying off here, looking at Buchanan and awaiting his coming out.  He has a force of four ironclads and three wooden vessels.  I have eight or nine wooden vessels.  We'll try to amuse him if he comes....  I have a fine set of vessels here just now, and am anxious for my friend Buchanan to come out."

The USS Kineo seized the British blockade running schooner Sting Ray off Velasco, Texas.  However, the prize crew put on board it was overwhelmed by the original crew.  The Sting Ray was grounded off the Texas coast, where the Union sailors were turned over to Confederate troops.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Price's Creek Lighthouse-- Part 2

The first keeper assigned to the lighthouse was Samuel C. mason, but for some reason, he never took the position.  John Bell worked as the first keeper.  In 1855, the lighthouse inspector noted that the new lenses saved 198 gallons of oil a year, almost enough to cover the keeper's salary.

During the Civil War, the Price's Creek range lights served to help blockade-runners navigate the treacherous Cape Fear River.

The brick lighthouse keeper's house was turned into a signal station.

--Old B-R'er

CSS Tennessee Gets Over the Bar and CSS Florida Captures a Ship

MAY 18TH, 1864:  After much difficulty, Admiral Buchanan, CSN, was able to get his ironclad ram Tennessee over the Dog River Bar and into Mobile Bay.  Meanwhile, Farragut was strengthening his fleet outside that bay and the stage was being set for the August Battle of Mobile Bay.

The CSS Florida, now commanded by Lt. Morris unstead of John Maffitt, captured and burned the schooner George Latimer.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, May 16, 2014

150 Years Ago-- May 16, 1864: Action in Mississippi and Louisiana

MAY 16TH, 1864:  Ships of the Mississippi Squadron were constantly occupied with protecting river transportation from Confederate attack.  This day the side-wheeler USS General price engaged a Southern battery which had opened fire on the transport steamer Mississippi near Ratliff's Landing. Miss..

It was joined by the USS Lafayette and General Bragg and they forced the battery back from the river enabling the Mississippi to proceed,

Also, a landing party from the USS Stockdale was fired upon by Confederate cavalry at the mouth of the Tchefuncta River in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana.  They forced the Confederates to with draw, but had two officers captured and one killed.

--Old B-R'er

Finally a Break of Porter

MAY 16TH, 1864:  Having crossed the rapids of the Red River at Alexandria, Rear Admiral Porter's next had to get over the many bars in the river near its mouth.  He was happy to find the water there much higher than he expected and wrote Secretary Welles: "Providentially we had a rise from the backwater of the Mississippi, that river being very high at that time, the backwater extending to Alexandria, 150 miles distant, enabling us to pass all the bars and obstructions with safety."

After battling low water, rapids, and the harassing Confederate forces of General Taylor for two months along the red river, Porter and his gunboats were finally back in the Mississippi River.

I can imagine the smile on the admiral's face when the last of his ships got into the Mississippi.

Don't Say R.R. Around David D..  --Old B-Runner

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cape Fear Lighthouse System and Price's Creek Lighthouses-- Part 1

From the Friends of Price's Creek Lighthouse site.

Range lights, such as at Price's Creek, were built in pairs, with the shorter one in front of the taller.  By centering the two, boats knew they were in the center of the channel and in safety.

All the Cape Fear lights were built between 1849 and 1850, except the lightship which went into service in 1851 and the Upper Jettee (Upper Jetty) which received range lights in 1855.

The 20-foot Price's Creek front range light was all brick and had a sister light 700 to 800 feet behind it which also served as keeper's quarters.  The rear range light was 35-feet high and also built of brick.  In a photo of the structure, the light appeared to be on top of the keeper's quarters, so was most likely a self-standing structure.

Both originally had 8 lamps and eight 14-inch reflectors which were replaced in 1855 by a 6th-order Frensl lenses.

--Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago: May 15th, 1864: Action Continues on Red River

MAY 15TH, 1864:  As Rear Admiral Porter's fleet neared the mouth of the Red River, they faced continued Confederate resistance from Confederate batteries and riflemen.  The USS St. Clair engaged a battery near  Eunice's Point, Louisiana.

The USS Kansas captured the blockade running British steamer Tristram Shandy at sea east of Fort Fisher with cargo of cotton, tobacco and turpentine.

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

NC Civil War Lighthouses-- Part 7: Price's Creek Lighthouses

From Friends of Price's Creek Lighthouse site.

There were two lights arranged in range form.  The front one today, the only one remaining, is described as a "rather decrepit and inaccessible structure."  It is the largest remaining piece of a light system designed to get ships up and down the Cape Fear River from its mouth to the port of Wilmington, 25 miles upstream.

Merchants had long lobbied and pushed for it.

Finally, on August 14, 1848, $35,000 was appropriated for seven beacons to be placed along the river and a lightship.  From south to north, they were: the range light on Oak Island, range light at Price's Creek, lightship at Horseshoe Shoal, beacon on Orton's Point, beacon on Campbell's island and beacon at Upper Jeffie.

Price's Creek and the lightship were across from each other.

--Old B-R'er

Action at Apalachicola, Fla. and Alligator River, NC

MAY 12TH, 1864:  Boat expedition from USS Somerset transported a detachment of troops to Apalachicola, Florida, to disperse a Confederate force thought to be in the vicinity.

After disembarking the troops, the ship discovered Confederate sailors embarking on their own boat expedition.  After a brief exchange, the Confederates were driven into town and their boats and supplies captured.

The Confederates, led by Lt. Gift, CSN, had been planning to capture the USS Adela.

The USS Beauregard seized the blockade-running sloop Resolute off Indian River, Florida.

MAY 13TH, 1864:  The side-wheeler USS Ceres with Army transport Rockland and 100 embarked soldiers conducted a raiding expedition on the Alligator River, NC, and captured the Confederate schooner Ann S. Davenport. and disabled a mill supplying ground corn to Southern armies.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Last Red River Ships Cross Over the Alexandria Rapids

MAY 13TH, 1864:  Climaxing two weeks of unceasing effort to save the gunboats of the Mississippi Squadron and bring to a close the unsuccessful red river Campaign, the USS Louisville, Chillicothe and Ozark, the last ships above the rapids, succeed in passing over.

By mid-afternoon, porter's ships are steaming downriver, convoying troops ending one of the most daring exploits of the war, as Lieutenant Colonel Bailey's ingenuity and the inexhaustible energy of the men working on the obstructions raised the level of the river enough to save the Mississippi Squadron.

--Old B-R'er

CSS Alabama and Rafael Semmes Near End of Arduous Service

MAY 12TH, 1864:  Flag Officer Barron in Paris wrote Mallory: "To-day I have heard indirectly and confidentially that the Alabama may be expected in a European port on any day.  Ship and captain both requiring to be docked.  Captain Semmes' health has begun to fail, and he feels that rest is needful to him.

"If he asks for relief, I shall order Commander T.J. Page to take his place in command, and shall not hesitate to relieve the other officers if they ask for respite from sea duty after their long, arduous, and valuable service on the sea.

"There are numbers of the fine young officers here who are panting for active duty on their proper element, and will cheerfully relieve their brother officers who have so handsomely availed themselves of the opportunities afforded them of rendering such distinguished service to their country and illustrating the naval profession."

Is That It For Semmes?  --Old B-Runner

Monday, May 12, 2014

Special James River Torpedo Unit Established

MAY 12TH, 1864:  150 Years Ago.  Rear Admiral Lee, prompted by the recent losses of the USS Commodore Jones and Shawsheen on the James River, ordered Lt. Rosweell H. Lamson to command a special "torpedo and picket division" on that river.

The force would include the side-wheelers USS Stepping Stones, Delaware and Tritonia.  In addition to patrolling and reconnoitering the river banks and dragging the river itself for torpedoes, Lee directed  Lamson: "By night keep picket vessels and boats ahead and underway with alarm signals to prevent surprise from rebel river craft, rams, torpedo 'Davids,' and fire rafts."

The Confederates Had a Lot of New and Old technology to Worry About.  --Old B-R'er

Meanwhile, Back On the Red River: Ironclads A-Running

MAY 10TH, 1864:  The USS Mound City and USS Carondolet grounded near the work on the dam across the Red River rapids above Alexandria.

On MAY  11TH, as the river continued to rise behind the two wing dams, these two ironclads and the USS Pittsburg were hauled across the upper falls by throngs of straining soldiers.  As troops looked on, the ironclads, with all hatches battened down, successfully lurched through the gap between the dams to safety.
The USS Ozark, Louisville and Chillicothe were preparing to follow on the 12th.

Admiral Porter later wrote Secretary Welles: "The passage of these vessels was a beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen."

Bet He Was Breathing a Sigh of Relief By This Time.  --Old B-Runner

Army Transport Harriet A. Weed Destroyed By Torpedo in Florida

U.S. Army transport Harriet A. Weed, supporting troop movements on St. John's River in Florida, was destroyed by a torpedo.  It sank in less than a minute and became the third victim of torpedo activity in the river in six weeks.

While reconnoitering the river near where the Weed sank, the USS Vixen found a  torpedo of the type that destroyed the ship.  The keg torpedo was described as simple, but effective.

--Old B-R'er

A Most Excellent Capture (Actually Two Captures)

MAY 9TH, 1864:  The USS Connecticut, Commander Almy, seized the blockade-runner British steamer Minnie with cargo of cotton, tobacco, turpentine and $10,000 in gold.  The steamer was a well-known successful runner.  I imagine the gold was money received from the in bound voyage.  Considering it often went to Bermuda, I'd have to figure it had probably run out of Wilmington.

And, very important to the Minnie's owners, it was paid for.  On April 16, 1864, John T. Bourne, Confederate commercial agent in St. Georges, Bermuda, had advised  B.W. Hart Company, of London: "Steamer Minnie, Captain  [Thomas S.] Gilpin, has made a splendid trip, bringing 700 & odd bales of cotton & good lot of Tobacco paying for herself & the Emily."

MAY 1OTH, 1864:  The USS Connecticut, Commander Almy, captured blockade-running British steamer Greyhound, Lt. George H. Bier, CSN, with cargo of cotton, tobacco and turpentine on Government account.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Farragut Needs Ironclads to Attack Mobile Bay

MAY 9TH, 1864:  Rear Admiral Farragut wrote Secretary Welles requesting ironclads for the reduction of Mobile Bay: "I am in hourly expectation of being attacked by almost and equal number of vessels, ironclads against wooden vessels, and a most unequal contest it will be, as the Tennessee .is represented as impervious at Mobile so that our only hope is to run her down, which we shall certainly do all in our power to accomplish, but should we be unsuccessful the panic in this part of the country will be beyond all control.  It is imagined that New Orleans and Pensacola must fall."

What Farragut did not know was that Confederate Admiral Farragut was trying to test the use of watertight caissons, or "camels" to float the CSS Tennessee so it could get over the Mobile Bar.  Until he figured out how to do that, there was no way he could attack Farragut's fleet.

--Old B-Runner

Union and Confederate Warships Lost May 1st-7th, 1864

I was thinking there seemed to be quite a few warships lost on both sides during this one week stretch in 1864.  I went back and started counting.  There sure were a lot.


BOMBSHELL (previously captured in April) recaptured by Union.
CSS RALEIGH, ironclad ram, ran aground in Cape Fear River and destroyed


USS SASSACUS-- put out of action by CSS  Albemarle.
USS SIGNAL--  captured and destroyed
USS COMMODORE JONES--  destroyed by torpedo
USS WAVE--  captured
USS SHAWSHEEN--  captured and destroyed

--Old B-R'er

Using Those Captured Union Guns

MAY 7TH, 1864:  The Confederacy, hampered by limited armaments and foundries, sought to make optimum use of every piece of captured Union ordnance.

This date, Major general Camille J. Polignac, CSA, pointed out the significance of the Southern capture of the USS Signal and Covington and their two Parrott guns:  "It is very important and desirable that these fruits of our victories over the enemy's gunboats shall be saved to us, as well as lost to them."

And it sure did seem that a lot of ships, besides blockade-runners, were being lost during the first part of May (on both sides).

--Old B-Runner

Friday, May 9, 2014

USS Shawsheen

From Wikipedia.

The USS Shawsheen was a steam sidewheel tug launched in New York City in 1855 as the Young American and acquired by the U.S. Navy 21 September 1861: 180 tons, 40 crew and mounting two 20-pdr. Parrott rifles.

It was initially ordered to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron but was too damaged to do so so based out of Newport News, Virginia where it helped guard the USS Congress and Cumberland.  On December 2, 1861, it engaged the CSS Patrick Henry.

On 5 February 1862 it helped capture Roanoke Island, NC, and later the Union victory at Elizabeth City.  On 12 December 1862, it and other Union ships were to assist the Union attack on the railroad bridge at Goldsboro, NC, but low water in the Neuse River prevented them from getting farther than 12 miles upstream.

On March 23 and 14, 1863, it helped drive off a Confederate attack on Fort Anderson and then was sent to Hampton Roads for much needed repairs and overhaul.

On May 1, 1864, it operated in the Pamunkey River, Virginia as the Union troops occupied West Point.  On May 8th it was ordered to drag the James River for torpedoes when it was captured.

--Old B-R'er

USS Shawsheen Destroyed

MAY 7TH, 1864:  The USS Shawsheen was disabled, captured and destroyed by Confederates in the James River, Virginia.  The 180-ton sidewheel steamer had been ordered to drag the river for torpedoes above Chaffin's Bluff and had anchored near shore to allow the crew to eat when it was surprised by Confederate infantry and artillery.

A shot through the boiler forced many crew overboard to avoid being scalded.  the Shawsheen surrendered and the Confederates destroyed the ship.  

--Old B-Runner

150 Years Ago-- May 6, 1864: Other Operations

MAY 6TH, 1864:  The USS Dawn transported troops to capture a signal station at Wilson's Wharf, Virginia.

The USS Grand Gulf captured b-r Young Republic at sea east of Savannah with cargo of cotton and tobacco.

Five ships  supported landing of U.S. troops  at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia.

--Old B-R'er

USS Wave

From Wikipedia.

The other ship the Confederates captured 150 years ago at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana, was the USS Wave.

It was built at Monogahela, Pennsylvania and launched in 1863 as the Argossy No. 2, purchased by the U.S. Navy and turned into a tinclad, mounting six guns.  Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and on April 24, 1864, was ordered, along with the USS Granite City, to the Calcasieu Pass to collect Confederate renegades for service in the U.S. Navy and to confiscate or destroy all items of use to the Confederate military.

It was captured on May 6, 1864.

The Confederates employed it as a cargo steamer.  Its fate is not known, but believed to have been destroyed at end of the war to prevent capture.

--Old B-Runner

USS Granite City

From Wikipedia.

This ship in the previous post had an interesting history, starting out as a blockade-runner, captured, then in the service of the U.S. Navy, then recaptured by the Confederates and turned into a blockade-runner again before being sunk while running the blockade.

It was built in Dumbarton, U.K. and launched 13 November 1862.  It was captured off the Bahamas 22 March 1863 by the USS Tioga and bought at prize court by the Navy 16 April 1863.  It was 160 feet long and mounted six 24-pdr. howitzers and one 12-pdr. rifle.

Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, it arrived in New Orleans 17 August 1863 and participated in the ill-fated Sabine Pass expedition, but escaped capture.  During the next 8 months, it patrolled the Texas coast, making three captures.  The Granite City then supported landings at Pascavallo, Texas,  31 December 1863 and Smith's Landing, Tx., 19 January 1864.

After three more months of blockade duty, it was captured at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana (southwest) on May 6, 1864.

It was fitted out as a blockade-runner in Galveston and on 20 January, ran out on a foggy night from Velasco, Texas,. but was spotted the next day and chased ashore by the USS Penguin and broke up on the beach.

--Old B-R'er

USS Granite City and USS Wave Captured in Louisiana

MAY 6TH, 1864:  It seems that a lot of ships on both sides were being captured or destroyed during this period of time.

On this date the steamer USS Granite City and USS Wave, a tinclad, were captured by Confederate troops in Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana.  They had been dispatched to  to receive refugees on April  28 and were engaged in this when Southern artillery and about 350 sharpshooters from the Sabine Pass garrison overwhelmed the landing party and opened fire on the ships.

The Granite City was hit in the boiler and surrendered and the Wave did the same a short time later.

Unaware of their surrender, the USS New London arrived on the scene on May 10th and sent a boat over to the Granite City which did not return.    On the 11th, it sent another one which saw the Confederate flag flying from her mast.  The boat attempted to shoot it down, but its commander, Acting Ensign  Henry Jackson was killed in return fire.

Once Farragut heard about the captures, he immediately started making plans for recapture, but didn't have enough light draft vessels to do it at the time.

--Old B-Runner

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ironclad CSS Raleigh Attacks Off Wilmington, Grounds and Is Destroyed

MAY 6TH, 1864:  Early in the evening, the ironclad ram CSS Raleigh, under Flag Officer Lynch, steamed over the bar at New Inlet, NC, and engaged the USS Britannia and Nansemond, forcing them to withdraw temporarily and enabling a blockade-runner to escape.

Captain Sands, senior officer present, commented: "The principal object [of Raleigh's attack], it seems to for her to aid the outgoing and incoming of the runners by driving off the vessels stationed on or near the bar...."

Early in the next morning, the CSS Raleigh renewed the engagement, exchanging fire with the wooden steamers USS Howquah and Nansemond.  Two other steamers, the USS Mount Vernon and Kansas, also opened fire, and at 6 AM, Lynch broke off the action.

Attempting to cross the bar back into the river, the Raleigh grounded and was severely damaged.  Lynch ordered her to be destroyed and his action was later upheld by a court of inquiry.  I understand, the Raleigh's remains are still there.

Thus ended the career of another Confederate ironclad ram, one the Couth was counting so heavily on to break the Union's blockade.

Goodbye CSS Raleig.  --Old B-Runner

USS Commodore Jones Detroyed By a Torpedo

MAY 6TH, 1864:  The USS Commodore Jones, Acting Lt. Thomas Wade, was destroyed by a huge 2,000 pound electric torpedo in the James River while dragging for torpedoes with the USS Mackinaw and USS Commodore Morris.

From the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Wade later reported that the torpedo "exploded directly under the ship with terrible effect, causing her destruction instantly, absolutely blowing the vessel to splinters."

Others reported that the hull of the converted ferry boat was lifted completely out of the water by the force of the explosion which claimed some 40 lives.

A landing party of sailors and Marines went ashore immediately and captured two torpedomen and the galvanic batteries which had detonated the mine.  One of the Confederates, Jeffries Johnson, refused to divulge information regarding the locations of torpedoes under interrogation, but he "signified his willingness to tell all" when he was placed in the bow of the forward ship on river duty, and Johnson became the war's "unique minesweeper."

Funny How That Might Change Your Mind.  Tell or Be Blown Up.  --Old B-R'er

Problems At the New Charlotte, NC, Navy Yard

MAY 5TH, 1864:  Chief Engineer Henry A. Ramsay at the new Charlotte Confederate Navy Yard advised Commander Brooke, Chief of the Naval Bureau of Ordnance, that he was having problems recruiting skilled workers and a shortage of mechanics, he was unable to operate some of the equipment for arming Southern ironclads.  He also wasn't able to repair the locomotives assigned to the yard by Secretary Mallory.

He added: "I understand from you that the iron-clad Virginia [No. II] at Richmond is now in readiness for action except her gun carriages and wroght-iron projectiles, which are being made at these works.  If we had a full force of mechanics this work would have been finished in one-half the time....."

Two days later, Lt. David P. McCorkle wrote Brooke a similar letter from the Naval Ordnance Works in Atlanta, Georgia.

This chronic shortage of skilled workers combined with material shortages occasioned by the blockade could not be surmounted.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Problems Continue on the Red River" Loss of Three Union Ships

MAY 5TH, 1864:  While Porter's fleet waited for the dam to be constructed above the Alexandria rapids, the ships below were incessantly attacked by Confederates.

On this date, three Union ships: the USS Covington, USS Signal and transport Warner were lost in a fierce engagement near Dunn's Bayou, Louisiana.

On May 4, the Covington and Warner engaged Confederate infantry and the next day, the Confederates returned with two pieces of artillery.  The Warner was in the lead and became disabled and out of control and blocked the river.  The Covington was burned after running out of ammunition.

The Signal, now alone, continued to fight but was forced to surrender.  Her captors then sank it in the channel as an obstruction.

--Old B-R'er

Commander Cooke, CSN, Not So Impressed

The Albemarle's commander, James Cooke, was more critical of its performance.  Three days later, he wrote Secretary Mallory that the ram "draws too much water to navigate the sounds well, and has not sufficient buoyancy.  In consequence she is very slow and not easily managed.

"Her decks are so near the water as to render it an easy task for the enemy's vessels to run on her, and  any great weight to submerge the deck."

Even so, for the next five months, the Albemarle remained a definite  threat to Union ships in the area and every effort was made to find a way to destroy her.

--Old B-Runner

Union Officers Weigh In on CSS Albemarle's Power: More Formidable Than the Merrimack

Captain M. Smith of the USS Mattabesett reported: "The ram is certainly very formidable.  He is fast for that class of vessel, making from 6 to 7 knots, turns quickly, and is armed with heavy guns....."

Lt. Commander Roe of the USS Sassacus noted:  "...I am forced to think that the Albemarle is more formidable than the Merrimack or Atlanta, for our solid 100-pounder rifle shot flew into splinters upon her iron plates."

The New Confederate Leviathan.  --Old B-R'er

North Carolina Civil War Lighthouses-- Part 6: Cape Fear River-- Price's Creek Lighthouse

Actually this was a lighthouse and ranging light, two lighthouses, built on the west bank of the Cape Fear River at the mouth of Price's Creek, opposite where the current Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry docks.  The  lights were authorized by Congress in 1848, along with several other Cape Fear River lights.

The main Price's Creek Lighthouse was built on top of the keeper's house.  It was illuminated for the first time on January 4, 1851.  The light on it is thought to have been damaged during the war, but the keeper's quarters remained standing for many years afterwards.  It is no longer there.

The other lighthouse stood between the keeper's house and the Cape Fear River.  It stood 20 feet high of hard brick.  During the Civil War, Confederates utilized it as a signal station.  The remains  of this tower can still be seen by persons on the ferry, although it is on private land.

The light atop  the keeper's quarters was thought to have been severely damaged during the Civil War, but long remained a prominent Brunswick County landmark.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, May 5, 2014

The CSS Albemarle Attacks Again

MAY 5TH, 1854:  The CSS Albemarle, under Commander Cooke, accompanied by the Bombshell and Cotton Plant, steamed into Albemarle Sound and engaged Union naval forces in a fierce action off the mouth of the Roanoke River.

The Bombshell was captured early in the action after coming under heavy fire from the USS Sassacus and the Cotton Plant withdrew up the river.

The Albemarle continued the action and was rammed by the Sassacus but with little effect.  The ram then sent a shell into the Sassacus' starboard boiler, putting her out of action.    Sidewheelers USS Matahessett and Wyalusing continued fighting for three hours until darkness halted the fight.

The Albemarle withdrew to the river and the small sidewheelers USS Commodore Hull and Ceres took up picket duty at the mouth of the Roanoke in case the Albemarle returned.

--Old B-R'er

North Carolina Lighthouses During the War: Federal Point-- Part 5

From North Carolina Lighthouses and Lifesaving Stations" by John Hairr.  This book covers the whole histories of all the lighthouses.  I am just covering the ones with a connection to the Civil War.

Continued from April 8, 2014.

The second Federal Point Lighthouse, at what became Fort Fisher,  had been destroyed by Confederates in 1863.  After the war, it was rebuilt farther south on the peninsula, near where the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher stands today.

Its use was discontinued in 1879, when the US Army Corps of Engineers closed New Inlet with the structure locally known as "The Rocks."

According to a notice published in the Wilmington Star, the lighthouse on federal Point was burned on the afternoon of August 23, 1881.  The article noted: "This lighthouse has not been  in use since the closing of New Inlet, but was occupied as a dwelling by Mr. Taylor, the former keeper.  It was a wooden structure, situated about one mile from Fort Fisher."

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Capture of Tampa, Florida

MAY 4-7TH, 1864:  Steamers USS Sunflower and Honduras and sailing bark J.L. Davis supported the capture of Tampa, Florida, in a combined operation with the Army.    They carried the troops there and provided a naval landing party.  Acting Master Edward Van Sice of the Sunflower reported: "At 7 A.M., the place was taken possession of, capturing some 40 prisoners, the naval force capturing about half, which were turned over to the Army, and a few minutes after 7 the Stars and Stripes were hoisted in the town by the Navy."

They also captured the blockade running sloop Neptune on May 6th with a cargo of cotton.

It wasn't a major port, but shows the ability of the Union to strike anywhere at any time along the Confederacy's coast.

--Old B-Runner

Confedereate Raiders Georgia and Rappahannock in Europe

MAY 4TH, 1864:  Flag Officer Barron in Paris, wrote secretary Mallory:  "I have the honor to inform you that the Georgia, after having received in the port of Bordeaux all necessary aid and courtesy, has arrived in Liverpool, where I have turned her over to Commander J.D. Bulloch, agent for the Navy Department in Europe, to be disposed of  for the benefit of the Government....  the plans which I had formed for equipping the Rappahannock for service as a man-of-war have been a second time frustrated by the unexplained and unjustifiable action of the French authorities in detaining the Rappahannock in the port of Calais.

Had she been permitted to sail on the day appointed by her commander her concerted meeting with the Georgia would have taken place in a fine, out-of-the-way harbor on the coast of Morocco, in and about which place the Georgia had six days of uninterrupted good weather and secure from the notice of all Europeans."

The Georgia was to transfer its cannons to the Rappahannock at that Moroccan port.

As the tide of war increasingly turned against the Confederacy, foreign governments became more reluctant to involve themselves by allowing raiders to outfit in their harbors and, at the same time, Union diplomatic moves to choke off this source of Southern sea power intensified.

As good as the Southern diplomats were, the Union ones were up to the game just as much.

--Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago-- May 3rd, 1864: Capturing Runners in Texas

MAY 3RD, 1864:  The USS Chocura captured blockade-running British schooner Agnes off the mouth of the Brazos River, Texas, with cotton cargo.  Later that day, the Chocura also captured the Prussian schooner Frederick the Second, also with cotton, which had run out with the Agnes.

I did not know that the Prussians were involved in blockade-running.

The USS Virginia captured the schooner Experiment off the Texas coast with a cargo of cotton.  After removing the cotton, the Virginia destroyed it.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, May 2, 2014

Quite the Accomplishment-- Part 2: In Porter's Words

Porter later recalled this thrilling moment: "Thirty thousand voices rose in one  deafening cheer, and universal joy seemed to pervade the face of every man present."  But, all of his ships were not yet safe as the larger warships remained above the  falls.  "The accident to the dam," the admiral recalled, "instead of disheartening Colonel Bailey, only induced him to renew his exertions, after he had seen the success of getting four vessels through.."

Bailey and his men, despite the fact that eight days of their endeavors had been swept away, turned immediately to work on a new dam.

I doubt that the Confederates were too happy about the dam's success.

--Old B-R'er

Quite the Accomplishment: Getting Porter's Ships Over the Dam-- Part 1

MAY 2ND-9TH, 1864:  Colonel Bailey and his Maine and New York regiments succeeded, after eight days of gruelling work, in nearly completing the dam across the Red River at Alexandria, Louisiana, and hopes rose that Porter would be able to save his Mississippi River Squadron, marooned above the rapids.

On May 9th,  two of the stone-filled barges which had been sunk as parts of the dam gave way to the increasing pressure of the backed-up water.  These barges, however, swung into position such that they formed a chute over the rapids and Porter quickly ordered his lighter draft vessels to attempt a passage through the gap.

As the water was falling, ironclads Osage and Neosho and wooden steamers Fort Hindman and Lexington careened over the rapids with little damage.

That was some of his ships however.  One has to wonder had the dam plan not come up or worked, and the fleet had to be destroyed, would Porter have received command of the Fort Fisher expedition.  And then, there was Thomas O. Selfridge, commanding the USS Osage who had to be wondering, "What if I lose another ship?"  At least it did not begin with the letter "c."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Frank Vizetelly's Fort Fisher

The above drawing by London Illustrated News Special Frank Vizetelly pf the inside of Fort Fisher was featured in the May 2012 National Geographic Magazine in its Civil War Art article.

I've seen the drawing many times in the past, but didn't know it was done by Vizetelly.  I was always struck by the two Confederates being obviously hit by Union shells/shot during the bombardment and there were several cannonballs in the air.  In the meantime gun crews stood by their guns going about their duties.  One gun had been dismounted.

A little more research showed that this drawing was of the Northeast Salient or Bastion, where the land and sea defenses of the fort came together.  But, it was my understanding that the forts gunners spent much of the bombardment in their bunkers.

The caption accompanying the article reads: "English war artist Frank Vizetelly huddled inside Fort Fisher while it was being shelled by more than fifty Union warships.  His drawing of the attack ran two months later as an engraving in the Illustrated London News.

--Old B-Runner

So That Explains the Blockade-Runner Harriet Lane

Two posts ago, I mentioned the escape of three blockade-runners from Galveston on April 30, 1864, one of them being the Harriet Lane.  I knew there had been a US revenue cutter named Harriet Lane, but had evidently forgotten that it had been captured by the Confederates.  And then, obviously turned into a blockade-runner.

As a young boy, I put together a model of the blockade-runner Harriet Lane and always wondered why it had several guns mounted on its deck.  Blockade-runners didn't carry cannons as they were not intended to fight, just sneak and flee when necessary.

That Would Explain It.  --Old B-R'er

Union Navy Operating in the York and Pamunkey Rivers

MAY 1ST, 1864: USS Morse and General Putnam convoy 2,500 troops up the York River to West Point where the soldiers landed and occupied the town.  The USS Shawsheen joined them and patrolled the Pamunkey River with the General Putnam.

150 Years Ago-- April 30, 1864: Escape at galveston

APRIL 30TH, 1865:  Cpnfederate blockade runners Harriet Lane, Alice (also called Matagorda) and Isabel run the blockade at Galveston under cover of darkness and rain squalls

The Harriet Lane was sighted at 9:15 p.m. at Southwest Channel by the USS Katahdin but didn't alert other blockaders so they would remain at the Main Channel.  The Harriet Lane passed withing 100 yards of the Union ship but was not seen clearly because of the heavy rain.

The Katahdin gave chase and in the early morning saw four ships trying to elude him.  It gained on the ships and fired all its Parrott shells, but they eventually pulled away and escaped.  All were carrying cotton, but the Alice had to throw 300 bales overboard to gain speed.

The Harriet Lane had been closely watched and its escape raised indignation in Washington.

--Old B-Runner

Special Attention Needed for Training of Confederate Naval Officers

APRIL 30TH, 1864:  Secretary Mallory reported to President Davis regarding the operation of the Confederate Navy Department:  "Special attention is called to the necessity of providing for the education and training of officers for the navy, and to measures adopted by the department upon the subject.

Naval education and training lie at the foundation of naval success; and the power that neglects this essential element of strength will, when the battle is fought, find that its ships, however formidable, are but built for a more thoroughly trained and educated enemy....

While a liberal education at the ordinary institutions of learning prepares men for useful service not only in the Army, but in more branches of public affairs, special education and training, and such as these institutions cannot afford, are essential to form a naval officer.

In recognition of the necessity of this special training, every naval power of the earth has established naval colleges and schools and practice ships, and the radical and recent changes in the chief elements of the naval warfare have directed to these establishments marked attention."

On other words, it is harder to train naval officers than Army and schools are needed.

--Old B-R'er

State of Confederate Navy On the East Coast

APRIL 30TH, 1864:  Secretary Mallory reporting on strength of Navy on the east coast.

JAMES RIVER, under  Flag Officer French Forrest, eight ships mounting 17 guns in commission, including school ship Patrick Henry.

INLAND WATERS IN NORTH CAROLINA:  under Commander Robert Pinckney there were two commissioned ships mounting four guns (the Albemarle and Neuse).

CAPE FEAR RIVER, under Flag Officer William F. Lynch, there were three ships and a floating battery in commission mounting a total of 12 guns.

What about Charleston and Savannah?

--Old B-Runner