“I desire…to administer some corrective”: Dahlgren launches retalitory raid to Murrell’s Inlet

On this day (December 23) in 1863, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren gave orders to Captain Joseph F. Green of the USS Canandaigua to lead an expedition back to Murrell’s Inlet.

I desire to send a suitable force for operation at Murrell’s Inlet under your command.

The Ward and Perry have each lost a boat’s crew there, owning somewhat to the want of proper plan on the part of the commanding officers, as well as to carelessness or inexperience of their subordinates.

I desire, then, to administer some corrective to the small parties of rebels who infest that vicinity, and shall detail for that purpose the steamers Nipsic, Sanford, Geranium, and Daffodil, also the sailing bark Allen and the schooner Mangham, 100 marines for landing, and four howitzers, two for the boats, two on field carriages, with such boats as may be needed.

Commander Ammen and Acting Master C.B. Dahlgren will act as aids.

It is desirable that nothing shall be done to attract the attention of the rebels previously to striking the blow, as it is to derive its efficacy from being sudden as well as sharply given.

Nothing must be seen, therefore, of your vessels from the land until the moment for action has come.

It will be a matter for decision at the time whether the attack shall be made early at night or only a little before dawn.

You are to capture as many of the cavalry, said to be there, and other armed rebels as can be reached, destroy the schooner inside the sand spit and such apparatus for making salt or oil as may be accessible.

Take possession of whatever arms and ammunition may be within reach, and afford every facility to the colored people for the enjoyment of the privileges held out by law and the proclamation of the President.

Give shelter to the inhabitants who may entertain Union sentiments.

Allow no injury to be done to defenseless women and children nor to their habitations and necessaries of life.

Let the men who land be kept together: straggling is forbidden. As there is reported to be 7 feet inside at low water, the two small steamers can easily enter with the boats, while the larger vessels will cover with their heavy guns.

I do not contemplate any permanent lodgement at the place, but it may be advisable to have axes, picks, and spades in the boats, and if there is a prospect for detention let the men throw up a slight breastwork of sand across the spit, and post a field piece behind it.  Pits for riflemen can also be made.

Let the boats have some common signal rockets to fire toward the cavalry and frighten their horses.

The horsemen are said to harbor in a house on the mainland near the water, and it may be that by entering rapidly at night and surrounding the house many of them will be secured.

The vessels are to be brought in at night whether you find it preferable to operate by day or night.

Let the howitzers use grape or canister mostly.

When you have accomplished as much of the purposes of the expedition as can be attained without undue risk, you will return to the vessels, unless it is advisable to retain temporarily an intrenched post on the sand spit.

I hope the vessels will be able to leave here on Thursday.

The commanders of the vessels, etc., who are to be under your command will be directed to report, and you will proceed when ready without further orders.

Dahlgren was sending an expedition north to Murrell’s Inlet almost concurrent to the Confederate mission to attack gunboats in the Stono River. Both operations were designed more to insult than achieve any strategic objectives.  Neither side was in the “festive” spirit that December.

Comparing Dahlgren’s orders to that of General P.G.T. Beauregard, both addressed the core elements of a mission order.  More or less.  But Dahlgren included more of what we might call “rules of engagement.”  Even after years of hard war, the naval commander was concerned with collateral damage his sailors and marines might inflict.  And he was just as motivated to extend the “privileges held out by law and the proclamation” made by his friend the President.

(Dahlgren’s order to Green is from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 154-5.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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