Category Archives: Naval

“My artillery officers are not sailors”: Gillmore requests gunnery training for his steamers

As my blogging pal XBradTC likes to point out on occasion, the U.S. Army owns and operates a number of watercraft.  These are mostly for intra-theater logistic support.  The LCU 2000 class is an example of such:

These are, as sharp observers will notice, very similar to the Navy’s landing craft in layout to include the bow ramp.  And bringing me back to the Civil War topic, the Army christened many of these vessels after Civil War battles:  Aldie, Brandy Station, Bristoe Station, Broad Run, Cedar Run, Chickahominy, and others. In fact, I think that is USAV Broad Run closest to the camera in the view above.

The Army’s use of boats and ships for these roles is nothing new and dates for all practicality to the Revolution.  During World War II, the Army operated thousands of vessels.  But few of those were armed with anything more than anti-aircraft weapons.  However, during the Civil War the Army operated what was for all considerations “gunboats.”  These operated along inland waterways, patrolling and transporting.  Those familiar with the Mississippi River campaigns will recall the numerous steamboats and rams operated by the Army in support of operations there.  Likewise along the Atlantic Coast, the Army operated a small fleet of vessels to support operations.

The history of these boats in the Department of the South was varied, in some cases very interesting, but generally obscure.  The steamer Darlington was originally employed by the Confederates. After capture by the USS Pawnee in March 1862, the Navy used the Darlington for a few months then passed the ship to the Army.

Well known is the steamer Planter, which Robert Smalls piloted in his famous escape from Charleston in 1862. The Navy used that vessel for a few months before passing it to the Army.  And the Army used Planter actively right to the end of the war.

In an earlier post I covered the loss of the steamer Washington in South Carolina waters.  Other vessels, such as the steamer Island City, I’ve never found illustrations and scant few details about their history.  But these names show up occasionally in the reports and correspondence from the Department of the South. (And some day I will compile a list of such and post for review.)

So why do I bring this up on the first full day of spring?  Well 150 years ago today, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent an interesting request to his naval counterpart, Commodore Stephen C. Rowan, acting in place of Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren (who was on leave at that time, due to the death of his son).  Gillmore asked for a naval officer to help train his steamer crews on the operation of guns on these vessels:

Sir: I have now in use in this department five armed steam transports, their service being chiefly picket duty; they are also used for transportation or convoys along those of our inland routes of communication where there is danger of meeting the enemy, also for scouting. These operations are not deemed important enough to call for the co-operation of your branch of the service. I have experienced, as you well know must be the case, the inconvenience of  having no officer possessing sufficient experience to properly outfit and command such vessels. My steam-boat masters are citizens and know nothing of artillery. My artillery officers are not sailors and are not acquainted with naval gunnery.

It would be of advantage to this army if I could avail myself of the services of one of the young officers of your squadron for the duty above indicated. I take the liberty of suggesting Acting Ensign William C. Hanford, now executive officer of the U.S. brig Perry, on the Fernandina Station, as a most suitable officer for this duty, from his large experience in similar service to that above designated in our Western rivers under Admiral Porter. If you will order him to report to me for temporary duty I will esteem it a favor.

The Army and Navy did share some cannon types, notably the Parrotts.  And often guns were used interchangeably between the services.  But form did follow designed function, with naval guns often carrying external fixtures, such as breeching loops, to support handling.  When mounted afloat, guns required naval carriages for better operation on the ship’s deck.  Likewise, ammunition storage and handling were different on board a ship, compared to a fortification.  And perhaps more importantly for the actual use of the weapon, aiming a gun from a moving ship against a fixed target required an adjustment in gunnery practice.

So indeed, artillery officers are not sailors.  So training was in order.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 24-5.)

Grounding of the schooner Arletta and the “ingenuity of men who have a passion for whiskey”

Despite Federal strongholds outside Savannah, Georgia and presence of the blockading ships, blockade runners still attempted to make that port in the winter of 1864.  One such attempt occurred during the first days of March that year.  The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, which garrisoned Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island at that time, saved details of the event in their regimental history:

March 2. During the night a small fast-sailing schooner, of thirty-five tons, loaded with coffee, pepper, alcohol, and whiskey, commanded by John N. Wicks, of Brooklyn, N.Y., assisted by a crew of four, direct from the neutral docks of John Bull, at Nassau, in trying to dodge into the mouth of the Savannah under cover of the night-fog, struck the shoals east of the Roads towards Braddock’s Point, and disabled her rudder, but succeeded in getting to sea again.

Braddock’s Point is the southern end of Hilton Head Island:


The ship was the schooner Arletta.  And she was not out of danger:

March 3.  During the night the disabled schooner was swept by the winds and currents upon the southern extremity of Tybee Island, where Captain [David ] Churchill and his Company (F), captured crew, vessel, and cargo.  The navy coming in after the ceremonies were over, wished to gain possession of the prize.  But Major [James E.] Bailey, Captain Churchill, and Quartermaster [Frederic] Wilcoxson were unable to see the point. The craft had an English flag – neutral of course – and claimed to be named the Artella [sic].  The cargo was safely landed by our men and stored, in part, for the time, with Captain Churchill at the Martello Tower.  In a few days the whole was removed and stored in Fort Pulaski.

The navy officer mention, Lieutenant William Kennison, seemed more concerned with saving the Arletta itself.  While the army officers insisted they needed no help, Kennison looked for means to work the schooner off the beach.  But he later assessed that impractical, leaving the potential “prize” for the army.

The real concern from the Navy’s perspective was not the cargo or the vessel. Rather it was the number of blockade runners still active.  An enclosure to Kennison’s report called this out, “Three-fourths of steamer blockade runners get through, and about one-fourth of sailing vessels.”  One steamer was at that time in Savannah, waiting to make a run out.  Two sailing schooners had earlier used Ossabow and Wassaw Sounds to clear Savannah for Nassau earlier in the year.

While the naval officers fretted over the blockade, the army officers gladly added the cargo to the garrison’s stores.  While some of the coffee was damaged, much of the remaining cargo was eventually shipped to Fort Pulaski.  Including the whiskey:

The ingenuity of men who have a passion for whiskey was well illustrated by some of the prisoners then in the fort who were detailed to roll the casks of liquor from the south wharf up the plank causeway and into the fort. The men worked in pairs two to each cask, one at each chime.  Before the men started on this duty some genius initiated them into the mystery of drawing the liquor while the casks were in motion.  They furnished themselves with gimlets and pine taps, and went on duty with empty canteens.  Starting from the jetty with a cask, the man at the left chime would shortly insert the gimlet into the centre of the head of the cask, and hold it firmly till the revolutions of the cask carried it through; then withdrawing the gimlet he held his canteen till it was full, when his pine tap was inserted, driven hard, broken off, and the scar smoothed over with dirt from the sides of the cask.  The art was handsomely practiced, and probably would have passed undetected had it not been for one man who drew his canteen full from a cask of alcohol, from which he took so heavy a drink that it made him wild and —-.

There’s always one at the party who spoils it for everyone!

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 230; ORN, Series 1, Volume 15, page 355.)

“The expedition was a failure, caused by a defective tube”: USS Memphis eludes CSS David

Last night I posted another entry at the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial site.  That installment discussed a failed attack by the CSS David on the USS Memphis, in the North Edisto River on March 6, 1864.

Please head over the the CWN 150 site for details on that action.

As I mentioned in “my take” on the H.L. Hunley, I find the countermeasures employed by the Federals against the torpedo-craft to be a significant overlooked story.  And at the same time, the weapon employed by the Confederates was ineffective even given the standards of the time period.  In the action of March 6, the spar torpedo device suffered from exposure and didn’t fire when struck.  Otherwise, the Memphis would probably have become another shipwreck in the waters of South Carolina.