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:

NavalStationsJan1_SC1

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.:

NavalStationsJan1_SC2

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:

NavalStationsJan1_GA

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.)

“A large propeller ran in and a side-wheel steamer ran out”: Inefficiencies of the Charleston blockade, October 1864

Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren urged his subordinates to maintain their vigilance on the blockade outside Charleston in the fall of 1864.  With one port after another closed by Federal advances, now Charleston and Wilmington, North Carolina remained on the eastern coast as major ports serving blockade runners.  To a hard pressed Confederacy, every blockade runner arrival or departure represented a boost of energy to the war machine – with valuable supplies coming in or cargo sold on European markets.

But the inefficiencies lamented in September continued into October.  In the morning of October 6, 1864, Commander T.H. Patterson of the USS Wamsutta reported finding a blockade runner, but not in the manner desired:

At daylight this morning, while laying at anchor on my station in 2½ fathoms water, the inner buoy on Rattlesnake Shoal bearing S. ½ W., distant about half a mile, I discovered a strange steamer sunk near the wrecks of the Georgiana and Mary Bowers.  She has two masts, two smokestacks, and side wheels.

The runner was the steamer Constance, which was making a run from Halifax into Charleston.  On the run in, she’d hit the wrecks.  Although the captain tried to back off, damage was too severe to save the ship.  The Constance sank about 250 yards from the Georgiana.  Patterson felt salvage crews might save the cargo, but the ship was already breaking up (later to be found by E. Lee Spence in the 20th century).

But the Constance was not the only runner to transit the waters that evening.  On October 8, Captain Joseph Green, commanding the blockade of Charleston, reported with embarrassment:

Night before last [night of October 6] we had two alarms of attempts to run the blockade. On the first a steamer outward bound was turned back by the inside blockade. On the second, from the best information I have at present obtained, a large propeller ran in and a side-wheel steamer ran out. Neither were seen by the outside blockading vessels….

Thus in the span of some thirty hours, four runners tested the blockade.  That is assuming the one turned back at the first alarm was not the same clearing on the second.  Regardless, that’s four chances.  One turned back.  One wrecked.  And two eluded the Federals.  The wreck, of course, was the Constance.  I suspect the blockader making port on the night of October 6-7 was the General Whiting, but can only offer circumstantial evidence.  The name of the runner clearing port that night eludes my identification, but was likely one of those making regular runs to Nassau.

Green had already re-assigned blockade stations in reaction to the failures.  He related those on October 7, and offered Dahlgren a detailed description:

I think the outside blockading vessels are now stationed to the best advantage, and herewith send you the position of each vessel:

Flambeau, south of Swash Channel about 1½ miles, in latitude 32° 43′ N., longitude 79° 48′ 25″ W.

Azalea, short distance north of North Channel, in about latitude 32° 44′ 20″ N., longitude 79° 48′ 50″ W.

Laburnum, 1½ miles or less (according to the darkness of the night) off Breach Inlet, in about latitude 32° 45′ N., longitude 79° 48′ 10″ W.

Pontiac, 1½ miles or less (according to the darkness of the night) southeast of Breach Inlet, in about latitude 32° 45′  35″ N., longitude 79° 47′ 12″ W.

Wamsutta, in about latitude 32° 46′ N., longitude 79° 46′ 10″ W.

Nipsic: Her former cruising ground was from west end of Rattlesnake Shoal to the southward and westward until Housatonic bore S. nearly 1 mile. Last night she was anchored in about latitude 32° 44′ N. 15″ N., longitude 79° 46′ 15″ W. To-night she will move nearer to Rattlesnake Shoal.

Pawnee, since she has been disabled, has remained at anchor near the Housatonic.

Mingoe keeps underway, and has cruised from a little to the northward of the Housatonic to the Flambeau, and thence skirting the shoal to the southward one-half mile and back.

James Adger keeps underway, and has cruised from the Housatonic toward the center of Rattlesnake Shoal and back, bringing the Housatonic to bear N.E. by N.

I inclose a rough tracing showing the position of vessels.

Well, unfortunately, the note provided in the Official Records indicates that tracing was not found at the time of compilation.  So, let me give you my “rough estimate” of what was on the “rough tracing.”

Blockade_Oct_7_64

Green referenced the wreck of the USS Housatonic in relations to these dispositions, as on the debris remained visible on the otherwise featureless surface.  You see it there at the lower right edge of the map.  I’ve also added the location of the monitors, as per Dahlgren’s orders in September.  Not depicted are the inner screen of tugs and picket boats.

This looks, on paper, as a very complete seal of the harbor approaches. One wonders how any runner c0uld even get within sight of Fort Sumter, much less past it into harbor.  Yet somehow those vessels eluded the Federals – coming and going.  Granted not in great numbers as at Wilmington.  No more than ten arrivals/departures are recorded for Charleston in October 1864.  But every load of cargo was fuel to keep the war machine running.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 8-10.)

 

“I was forced to surrender”: Loss of a picket boat from the USS Nipsic

During the middle and late war years, the waters in front of Fort Sumter were the equivalent of a no-man’s-land, though without the firm ground for a picket to place a foot.  By day, monitors stood in the channel occasionally trading shots with the Confederate batteries.  At night, picket boats from both sides patrolled, scouted, and, not too infrequently, sparred.

BoatsSumter

One such engagement occurred 150 years ago last night (February 26-27) in 1864.  That evening, Lieutenant-Commander John Davis, of the USS Montauk, ordered out boats from the USS Nipsic and USS Flag as pickets:

The boats from the Nipsic and Flag were to patrol across the channel in advance of [the Montauk], not more than two or three ship’s lengths above, and to keep within sight; the flood tide was running, water smooth, atmosphere hazy.

Acting Master’s Mate William H. Kitching commanded the boat from the Nipsic.  These boats were part of a screen, set most every night unless prevented by heavy weather, to prevent any Confederate boats from reaching the monitors. The loss of the USS Housatonic just over a week earlier raised the importance of these pickets.

A boat from the USS Supply, led by Lieutenant Gilbert C. Wiltse, also set out on a reconnaissance near Fort Sumter.  So Wiltse’s boat moved far in advance of the picket boats.  Approaching to within 300 yards of Fort Sumter, Wiltse noticed a large boat against the northeast face.  Wiltse managed to avoid the Confederate boat by altering his course.  Then about a half hour later, he saw the boat again.  This time the Confederates were bearing down on one of the picket boats.  Wiltse heard “Patapsco, this is the Nipsic’s boat” and shortly after some musketry.  The Confederate boat had intercepted Kitching’s boat.

Submitted months later, Kitching reported:

I have the honor to report to you the capture of the USS Nipsic’s first cutter, with 5 men in my charge, while on picket duty in Charleston Harbor, on the night of February 26, 1864.  I left the Nipsic between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m., and was towed up to the advanced monitor by tugboat, and at 7 p.m. shoved off from the monitor, with instructions to proceed up the channel in the direction of Forts Sumter and Moultrie.  The night was thick and hazy and the tide was on the flood, running strong.  I pulled leisurely up until I had got abreast of Fort Sumter, when I changed the direction of the boat and pulled toward the fleet.  I had got about 150 yards from Fort Sumter when I caught sight of a dark object directly ahead, and almost immediately after was hailed, “Boat ahoy!” Under the supposition that the hail proceeded from one of our picket boats, I gave them in answer, “Nipsic’s first cutter,” as I did not wish the enemy to know the countersign.  They hailed me again;  I gave them the countersign “Patapsco.” they hailed the third time, and beginning to have suspicions that all was not right, I gave in return, “Catskill.”  My object in doing this was that the rebels should not know the true countersign.  I had scarcely returned the hail when I received a volley of musket balls, which passed over our heads, doing us no damage.  I immediately ordered my men to take to their oars and pull strong, in the hope of escaping, for I could see that the enemy’s boat was superior to my own.  I soon saw it was useless, so ordered my men to trail oars and give them a volley in return.  I kept it up, but as no assistance arrived, I was forced to surrender, which I did, after throwing the arms overboard.  None of my men was wounded; myself but slightly.  As near as I could find out, there were 19 men in the enemy’s boat.  We were taken on board their flagship, the Charleston, where we spent the night; the next morning were sent up to the city and placed under confinement. On the 17th of May I was sent to Macon, Ga., and my men to Andersonville.  That is the last I saw of them.  I have since learned they are dead.

There was somewhat a discrepancy in regards to Kitching’s orders.  According to Davis, the boat had drifted off it’s station and was therefore exposed and captured.  But Kitching, perhaps with the benefit of eight months to reflect, said he was to move up the channel towards Fort Sumter.

Kitching listed the names of his landsmen:

George P. Johnson, Martin L. Atkinson, Uriah B. Marshall, William O’Brien, and Lyman Holbrook.

As part of an effort to showcase information about the Andersonville prisoners, Fold3 has pages for George P. Johnson and  Uriah B. Marshall.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 341-4.)