150 Years Ago: Assumptious orders from the Navy Department

Let me get back to my schedule of work leading to Charleston harbor. On this day, April 2, in 1863, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells cut orders that, in the lens of 150 years, assumed much:

Navy Department, April 2, 1863.
Rear-Admiral S. F. DuPont,
Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Port Royal, S.C. :

SIR: The exigencies of the public service are so pressing in the Gulf that the Department directs you to send all the iron-clads that are in a fit condition to move, after your present attack upon Charleston, directly to New Orleans, reserving to yourself only two.

Very respectfully,
Gideon Wells,
Secretary of the Navy.

Elaborating on the brief instructions, Assistant Secretary Gustavus Fox added:

Navy Department, April 2, 1863.
Rear-Admiral S. F. DuPont,
Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Port Royal, S.C.:

Dear Admiral: Matters are at a stand-still on the Mississippi River, and the President was with difficulty restrained from sending off Hunter and all the iron-clads directly to New Orleans, the opening of the Mississippi being considered the principal object to be attained. It is, however, arranged, as you will see by to-day’s order, that you are to send all the iron-clads that survive the attack upon Charleston immediately to New Orleans, reserving for your squadron only two. We must abandon all other operations on the coast where iron-clads are necessary to a future time. We cannot clear the Mississippi River without the iron-clads, and as all the supplies come down the Red River that stretch of the river must be in our possession. This plan has been agreed upon after mature consideration and seems to be imperative.

With my sincere prayers in your behalf, my dear admiral, I remain, sincerely, yours,
G. V. Fox.

On the day these orders left Washington, D.C., DuPont had already left Hilton Head and was steaming towards Charleston. The attack had not started, yet the monitors already had follow on instructions.

Even the Army commander on the scene remained aloof to the notion events might turn less than successful.

Headquarters Department of the South,
On board the Ben De Ford, North Edisto River, April 3, 1863.
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,
General-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:

General: I have the honor to report that one-half the command intended to co-operate with the Navy in the joint attack upon Charleston is now safely in this vicinity, on Cole’s and North Edisto Islands, and that the remainder, at the time of my leaving Hilton Head this forenoon, were partially embarked and ready to sail. It is possible they may be detained a day or two by a violent easterly storm, which sprang up late this afternoon; but as the Navy cannot move until the storm, which may detain them, has fully subsided, the possible delay is not material. I have seen Admiral DuPont this afternoon, and find that he is merely awaiting fine weather, all his preparations being complete in so far as the means at his disposal will permit. On the first day that is clear and calm he will move into action.

I have the honor to be, general, with the highest esteem, your very obedient servant,

D. Hunter,
Major-General, Commanding.

Just a few days of good weather is all they needed.

Hunter had spent the better part of the winter dispatching elements of his department on raids along the coast, most recently to Jacksonville, Florida. Oh, and skirmishing with his subordinates Major-General John G. Foster and Brigadier-General Henry M. Naglee, as well as anyone else who suggested a more active operation against Charleston. He dismissed suggestions to invest Fort Sumter by way of Morris or Sullivan’s Islands. Now his role in the assault on Fort Sumter amounted to waiting for the navy.

Yet the chickens were being counted well before the eggs were even laid.

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