Distribution of Vessels, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, January 1, 1865

During the war the commanders of the Navy’s operating squadrons provided periodic reports on the assignments of vessels in their respective commands.  Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren did so twice a month (with some variance, but more or less on the 1st and 15th of each month).  As was the practice, he submitted a report on January 1, 1865.  The report was the first since the fall of Savannah.  So there were adjustments due to the changing situation and mission.  Obviously, with no need to blockade Savannah and no threat from rams from that port, Dahlgren could reallocate his forces.  Considering the operations that followed in the first months of 1865, it’s worth a look at the Navy’s dispositions on the first day of the year.

The first grouping to look at is the area from the South Carolina border to Charleston:


As of January 1, no vessel patrolled Murrell’s Inlet.  The furthest north assignment was the steamer USS Canadaigua covering Winyah Bay, approaches to Georgetown, and Cape Romain.  The sailing vessels USS George Mangham and USS James S. Chambers covered Bull’s Bay.  Of course, north of the state line was the jurisdiction of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  There was a significant naval force operating off Cape Fear against the Confederate defenses there.  But that falls outside the scope of my post.

Laying outside the bar of Charleston, the blockade consisted of the steamers USS James Adger, USS Wamsutta, USS Nipsic, USS Mary Sanford, USS South Carolina, USS Flambeau, USS Memphis, and USS Potomska.  The tugs USS Laburnum, USS Azalea, and USS Sweet Brier also operated outside the bar.  These vessels formed the primary force to intercept blockade runners inbound to Charleston.

Inside the bar, with the mission to block either runners or rams from exiting the harbor, was the strongest elements of the squadron.  This force included seven monitors – USS Patapsco, USS Montauk, USS Nahant, USS Passaic, USS Nantucket, USS Lehigh, and USS Catskill (under repairs).   The tugs USS Gladiolus, USS Catalpa, USS Hydrangea, USS Jonquil, USS Geranium, and USS Oleander supported the monitors and patrolled the ship channels.  Other vessels inside the bar off Charleston were the sailing vessels USS John Adams, USS Orvetta, USS Sarah Bruen, and USS Sea Foam.  The tender USS Home was also in the waters off Morris Island.

Also off Morris Island, but operating in support of the Army, were the gunboats USS Wissahickon and USS Commodore McDonough, along with the mortar schooners (abbreviated M.S. for my map) USS T.A. Ward, USS Dan Smith, and USS C.P. Williams.:


South of Charleston, several vessels covered the waterways of South Carolina.  The sailing ship USS St. Louis covered the North Edisto.  The gunboat USS Stettin and schooner USS Norfolk Packet covered St. Helena Sound.

At Port Royal were the steamers USS Philadelphia and USS Pawnee; the tugs USS Arethusa, USS Carnation, USS Larkspur, and USS O.M. Pettit; and the sailing vessel USS Houghton.  In addition the steamers USS Mingoe and USS Pontiac, along with tugs USS Daffodil and USS Dandelion, were operating up the Broad River in direct support of Army operations there.  Other vessels listed at Port Royal were tenders and hulks, which included the old ship of the line USS New Hampshire and the old blockade runner USS Chatham.

Also at Port Royal, but not available due to servicing and repairs (and thus not tallied on my maps), were the monitor USS Sangamon; steamers USS Cimarron, USS Ottawa, and USS Winona; tugs USS Acacia, USS Amaranthus, USS Iris, USS Camelia, and USS Clover;  and the sailing ships USS Braziliera and USS George W. Rogers.

Covering the coast of Georgia, the squadron was now able to spread itself thin:


Posted to the Savannah River was the steamer USS Sonoma and mortar schooner USS Racer.   The mortar schooner USS John Griffin was posted to Wassaw Sound.  The steamer USS Flag and mortar schooner USS Para policed the waters of Ossabow Sound.  The bark USS Fernandina covered St. Catherine’s Sound.  The steamer USS Lodona‘s assignment was Sapelo Sound.  The USS Saratoga was in Doboy Sound.   The bark USS Ethan Allen plyed the waters off St. Simon’s Island.  And the USS Dai Ching covered St. Andrew’s Sound.  The latter vessel, one of Dahlgren’s light draft steamers, was due to move north and cover South Carolina waters.

The brig USS Perry provided support to Army posts at Fernandina, Florida.  further south in Florida (and off my map), the steamers USS Norwich and USS E.B. Hale operated in the St. Johns River.

Add to these forces the various armed transports operated by the Army, for whom there is scant accounting in the official records.  All considered, a formidable force ranging from ironclads to armed tugs confronted the Confederate forces along the southern Atlantic coastline.

NOTE: Several of the sailing vessels had been rated as mortar schooners earlier in the war.  In some cases, with the mortars removed, those vessels served as blockaders.  I’ve tallied those former mortar schooners as sailing blockaders for this post.  So if you sense there is some mis-match of the ratings, keep that in mind.

(The Distribution of vessels of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, January 1, 1865, is recorded in ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 154-5.)

October 13-17, 1864: Another Navy raid along the Georgia coast

In to the fall of 1864, the Federal Navy remained active along the Georgia coastline.  Having established a pattern through the summer months, the blockaders continued with raids into the tidal extents covering the Satilla and other rivers near Brunswick, Georgia.  The crews of the USS Braziliera and USS Mary Sanford made such a raid on October 13-15, 1864.  The initial objective of this raid was not to destroy any supplies or works, but one of emancipation.  In his report on the action, Acting Master William T. Gillespie, commanding the Braziliera, wrote:

On the night of the 13th instant I went in charge of an expedition up the White Oak River, with two boats from my vessel and one from the Mary Sanford.  We succeeded in securing 50 negroes belonging to J. Morrison, a planter.  During the time two of my men, in some manner, became detached from me. I waited, and sent two officers to search for them, as long as I considered it prudent.

Other than the two missing men, this initial objective of Gilliespie’s raids was a complete success.  The party then returned to the Mary Sanford, which was laying off Penniman’s Mills in the Satilla River.


Gilliespie then set out on a second raid.  Acting Master Zackeus Kempton of the Mary Sanford provided details of the second outing:

Having learned [from the escaped slaves] that there was a large quantity of corn and rice stored at the town of Jeffersonton, on the river 12 miles above Penniman’s Mills, in transit to Savannah, for the Confederate Government, taking with me Captain Gillespie, his pilot, and boats, at 2:30 p.m. got underway and proceeded up the river.  While passing Yellow Bluff was fired upon by a company of cavalry that was secreted behind trees and in the grass. They were driven from their hiding place in five minutes with canister and shrapnel, and as they were not over 200 yards from our guns they must have been punished severely.  I regret to state that the fourth shot fired at us instantly killed Peter Collins, our pilot, the ball passing through his body near the heart. The killing of Mr. Collins is the only casualty that happened during the fire of the enemy.  We passed above the bluff about a mile.  Having lost our pilot, I was obliged to abandon further proceedings and return down the river.

Kempton’s party passed Yellow Bluff a second time on the way back without incident and safely made the Mary Sanford.

In regard to the two missing sailors, Gillespie added:

On the 17th Edward Sheridan, one of the men, returned and reported Charles Thompson, the other man, a prisoner in the hands of the Confederates. The cause of this misfortune originated in these two men having found some liquor. When Thompson became intoxicated he went back to the house after plunder. Sheridan made the best of his way to the vessel in a canoe he found in the marshes.

Yes, another drunken sailor story for the records….

Throughout the sesquicentennial, I’ve brought up minor incidents such as this, particularly from the lesser known and followed fronts.  My purpose in doing so has been to shed light on the scope of the war beyond the major campaigns, and to some extent demonstrate how these minor affairs fit into the bigger picture.  In the case of the Navy’s raids along the Georgia coast, we see that even up into the last months of the war, emancipation factored into the military operations.  Depriving the Confederacy of fifty (47, by Kempton’s count) slaves, and by the same move giving freedom to those in bondage, was a military gain for the Federals.  As we consider the course of “Civil War to Civil Rights,” we must look at episodes such as occurred on October 14, 1864 as waymarks along that journey.  Emancipation was, as implemented, a military operation.  There are reasons it had to be such… and we would do well to understand, as it sets up the next steps in the trip towards what is today.

But for the sailors on the Satillia, they were less concerned with the war’s objectives that day.  They felt the loss of their pilot:

We anchored for the night at the mouth of White Oak River.  On the morning of the 15th instant we returned down the river, and round to St. Simon’s, landed the contrabands at that place, and buried the corpse of Mr. Collins in due form.  Mr. Collins was a brave officer, and died at his post.  His death is very much lamented by the officers and crew….

And looking towards the next round of operations along the coast, Kempton added, “My officers, men, and myself are all anxious for a pilot, so that we can raid on these rivers when an opportunity offers.”

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 15-16.)



“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.


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.)