Re-enforcements for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron

The fall of Fort Fisher allowed the Navy to shift some weight around on the Atlantic coast.  At the start of the month the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron (NABS) had almost sixty warships concentrated at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  And with the fall of the bastion, the Federals could reduce that commitment.  Commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (SABS), Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren hoped some of those ships could proceed to Charleston in anticipation of supporting Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.

On January 19, 1865, some of those warships from the NABS arrived at Charleston and Port Royal.  Reporting to the Navy Department on January 20, Dahlgren detailed the arrivals:

The monitors Canonicus and Mahopac arrived here yesterday; also the Shenandoah, Juniata, Ticonderoga, Tuscarora, and State of Georgia.

The Mohican has arrived at Port Royal.

To-day arrived the Monadnock and Keystone State.

These were indeed some powerful additions to the blockade off Charleston.  The monitors USS Canonicus and USS Mahopac were mates in a class of monitors which improved upon the basic Passaic-class.  These carried two XV-inch Dahlgren guns in the turret.  This view of the Mahopac on the Appomattox River shows their wartime appearance:

Note the signal tower in the background.

The Canonicus-class worked their way into a lot of photos, mostly due to their long service life.  You’ll note in the distant background of the photo below the profile of a four-stacked warship, indicating a new era in naval warship design:

As the last Civil War monitor afloat at that time, the Canonicus represented the type during the Jamestown Exposition of 1907. Just a few months later, she was scrapped.

The USS Monadnock, however, was a beast of a different class. She was from a class of two-turreted monitors, carrying four XV-inch Dahlgrens.

Dahglren had asked for these type monitors earlier in the year as a counter to Confederate ironclads.  Though larger and heavier than the Canonicus class monitors, the Monadnock actually drew about a foot less water – Just over 12 feet compared to 13 feet of the single-turret monitors.

The other vessels listed were wooden steamers of various types.  Most useful was the USS Shenandoah which could make 15 knots while carrying an armament including a 8-inch Parrott rifle and two XI-inch Dahlgrens.  The USS Juniata, armed with a 6.4-inch Parrott and an XI-inch Dahlgren, could make 9 knots, in good condition.  And the USS Ticonderoga rated 11 knots, when in top condition, while carrying an 8-inch Parrott, six IX-inch Dahlgrens, and a 50-pdr Dahlgren rifle.  Certainly the type of vessels needed to tighten the blockade at Charleston.

Did I say “good condition”?  That was a problem.  Some of these vessels were in poor shape when sent south, as Dahlgren related:

The Canonicus is in good order, but the Mahopac has a XV-inch burst, which can not be replaced here; her decks are reported to leak badly.

The Ticonderoga and Juniata are reported in immediate need of much repair in the steam department; they are now in this harbor, and orders have been given to place them in serviceable condition.

Furthermore, a request from Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the NABS, would remove one of Dahlgren’s monitors.  On January 19, Porter requested:

I send you the Monadnock.  She is a splendid vessel, but draws rather too much water for my purposes.

Will you send me without delay one of your lightest draft monitors in exchange for her? There are one or two forts on the [Cape Fear] river that I cannot wind up without an ironclad.

What Porter needed was one of the original Passaic-class monitors which drew 10 feet, 6 inches, as they lacked some of the improvements of the later monitors.  That request pressed, Dahlgren sent the USS Montauk.  This put the Montauk on a course that would intersect later in the spring with John Wilkes Booth.

Certainly not content with swapping one monitor for three, Dahlgren continued to press for more.   On January 22, he wrote to the Navy Department asking for more ships and supplies as part of a report on support for Sherman’s plans:

I can not, however, avoid comparing the force at my disposal with that which has been assigned to other admirals.  I have not a single good broadside even of one deck; the Pawnee is the heaviest, 8 guns.

I hope, therefore, the Department may be able to dispatch some vessels of the kind with a draft not exceeding 15 feet, and as much lighter as may be.

I find that the monitors which come here bring no ammunition with them, and thus rendering my stock per gun too low.

I send a steamer to inform the Bureau of this, and ask that a supply of XV-inch ammunition may be sent with all possible dispatch.

Among the more coveted ships, Dahlgren would not receive the USS New Ironsides or the USS Brooklyn.  Those vessels were in need of refit.  Given the work of both vessels at Charleston at earlier points in the war, the presence of both vessels when Fort Sumter finally fell to Federal troops would have been poetic.  But history is prose.

(Citations from ORN, Series I,  Volume 11, page 615; Volume 16, pages 183-185.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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