“The schooner and cargo… were entirely consumed”: New Year’s Day at Murrell’s Inlet

Following the “blundering affair” on December 5, 1863 at Murell’s Inlet, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren ordered an expedition to destroy any blockade runners anchored there and to drive off any Confederates operating in the vicinity.  Captain Joseph F. Green left Charleston, South Carolina on December 29 in command of a detachment of warships that included the USS Mary Sanford, USS Nipsic, USS Daffodil, and USS Ethan Allen.  The Nipsic had several boats in tow, for use by the landing party. The schooner USS George Mangham joined the force when the detachment arrived off Murrell’s Inlet.

MurrellInlet

While Green’s force prepared to carry out the mission, early on  January 30 a storm blew in.  With his plans disrupted, Green ordered the Ethan Allen to return to Rattlesnake Shoal, off Charleston.  And the George Mangham returned to a blockade station off Murrell’s Inlet.  The remainder of the ships rode out the storm while laying off Georgetown.

Despite the storm, a boat with thirteen escaped slaves made it out to the George Mangham on December 30.  According to Acting Master John Collins, “They imparted considerable information respecting this locality and the salt works now in progress, which, if correct, must prove of value.”  More importantly, they related details of the schooner, “within the inlet loaded with a cargo of turpentine, awaiting an opportunity to evade the blockade and proceed to Nassau.”  Protecting these assets were four companies of cavalry which patrolled the beaches.  This information guided Green’s next move.

Not until late on December 31 did the storm clear sufficiently to allow operations to resume.   Green dispatched Commander James H. Spotts in the Nipsic to the inlet.  Spotts did not have sufficient force to carry out the whole of Dahlgren’s orders.  But he was able to at least achieve some of the desired results when he arrived on January 1, 1864:

I discovered the schooner designated by [Green] laying inside the inlet and opened fire upon her, but did not succeed in setting her on fire in consequence of a sand spit which concealed her hull.  I therefore fitted out an expedition under command of Acting Master Churchill, executive officer of this ship, consisting of two launches with howitzers and 40 men, and two cutters with 30 marines.  Landed one howitzer on the spit in charge of Acting Ensign Taylor, of the [USS] South Carolina, and marines under command of Lieutenant Fagan, of the marines; opened fire on the schooner at 300 yards with howitzer, and the fifth shell set her on fire.

The schooner and cargo, which consisted of turpentine, were entirely consumed.

At that point, Spotts withdrew his force and left the station.   The Nipsic returned to Charleston the next day.

So from Dahlgren’s original orders for this “corrective action” only one of the three explicit objectives was achieved – the destruction of the schooner.  Again, I’m drawn to compare this operation with that planned and executed almost concurrently from the Confederate side.  The Legareville Christmas Day ambush was foiled, in my view, a subordinate commander (Colonel P.R. Page) altered the original plan.  The Murrell’s Inlet raid, on the other hand, suffered because of Mother Nature sent a storm to kick the boats about.

Either way, the Confederacy was less one blockade runner and a cargo of turpentine at the end of the first day of 1864.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 155-8.)