January 16, 1865: Dahlgren sees “a sign of the end.”

Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren’s official diary as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was generally constrained to operational matters.  So one would expect mention of the USS Patapsco on January 16, 1865.  And there was mention, along with other matters:

January 16 – General Sherman has sent me the key of the cipher of the Government, only confided to some half dozen persons. The Patapsco’s pipe just peeps above the water and marks her place, 800 yards outside of Sumter. The rebel telegram read, telling the news from Sullivan’s Island to Charleston. Letter from Judge [O.C.] Hopkins, of McIntosh County, asking that he and others might not be molested – a sign of the end.

Interesting what made the “news” in Dahglren’s world:

  • He was, as of that day, part of the “inner circle” of top level leaders managing the prosecution of the war.  He held THE cipher!
  • Dahlgren’s command had lost a major combat vessel, but that only warranted one lamenting sentence.
  • The Federals were still monitoring the Confederate signals across the harbor.  (IMO a SIGINT story that really needs more research on my part.)
  • And lastly, McIntosh County, having been the target of naval raids through the summer and bummers into the last fall, was ready to rejoin the Union.

Nothing came forward in Dahlgren’s correspondence, either to Washington or his command, that indicated the loss of the Patapsco caused any pause or reconsideration.  To Washington, Dahlgren stressed the nature of the work in the Monitors:

No one who has not witnessed it can appreciate the harassing nature of the never-ceasing vigilance with which the monitor duty is sustained in this harbor, no matter what the weather may be – amid the heat of summer and the cold of winter, or the heavy gales and bad weather which so often visit this anchorage.

A year earlier … even six months earlier … the fear of losing just one monitor restrained action at Charleston.  But on January 16, 1865, Dahlgren simply took the loss in stride and looked forward to reinforcements, due to arrive within days.   There was little time to reflect at the Patapsco‘s loss. All that could be done to counter the torpedoes had been done.  Now it was up to the sailors to tend them as best possible. Dahlgren’s focus, and that of the squadron, was to  actions in support Major-General William T. Sherman’s next march.

As Dahlgren wrote 150 years ago today, “a sign of the end.”

(Citations from ORN Series I, Volume 16, pages 174 and 365.)


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