150 years ago: “…open fire on Fort Sumter when within easy range…”

On April 4, 1863, Rear-Admiral Samuel DuPont wrote orders for the long anticipated ironclad attack on Charleston harbor.

Flagship James Adger

North Edisto, South Carolina, April 4, 1863

The bar will be buoyed by the Keokuk, Commander Rhind, assisted by C.O. Boutelle, assistant, U.S. Coast Survey, commanding the Bibb; by Acting Ensign Platt, and the pilots of the squadron.

The commanding officers will, previous to crossing, make themselves acquainted with the value of the buoys.

The vessels will, on signal being made, form in the prescribed order ahead, at intervals of one cable’s length.

The squadron will pass the main Ship Channel without returning the fire of the batteries on Morris Island, unless signal should be made to commence action.

The ships will open fire on Fort Sumter when within easy range, and will take up a position to the northward and westward of that fortification, engaging its left or northwest face at a distance from 600 to 800 yards, firing low and aiming at the center embrasure.

The commanding officers will enjoin upon them the necessity of precision rather than rapidity of fire.

Each ship will be prepared to render every assistance possible to vessels that may require it.

The special code of signals prepared for the ironclad vessels will be used in action.

After a reduction of Fort Sumter it is probable that the next point of attack will be the batteries on Morris Island.

The order of battle will be the line ahead in the following succession:

  1. Weehawken.
  2. Passaic.
  3. Montauk.
  4. Patapsco.
  5. New Ironsides
  6. Catskill
  7. Nantucket.
  8. Nahant.
  9. Keokuk.

A squadron of reserve, of which Captain J.F. Green will be the senior officer, will be formed outside the bar and near the entrance buoy, consisting of the following vessels:

Canandaigua. Wissahickson. Housatonic. Houron. Unadilla.

And will be held in readiness to support the ironclads when they attack the batteries on Morris Island.

S.F. DuPont,

Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Once disseminated, the warships had to wait for weather, wind, and tides for the right time to sortie.  Several interesting aspects within DuPont’s orders – marking the channel, signal coordination, order of movement, intended ranges, and the posting of reserves.  But consider the firing instructions.  Slow, aimed, and deliberate.  For the initial target, Fort Sumter, the fires were to concentrate on a specific point in the middle of the fort’s face.  In other words, the objective was a breach of the wall.  Contrast those instructions to those used a year before at Fort Pulaski.

And the objective of these fires was the “reduction” of Fort Sumter.  Not “silencing” or “neutralizing” but reduction.  The word has a specific meaning and a specific intention.

(DuPont’s orders are from the Naval ORs, Series I, Volume 14, pages 8-9.)

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