Civil War Naval History
1 In order to cope with the powerful rifled batteries erected by Confederates along the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, Rear Admiral Lee, commanding the Mississippi Squadron, strengthened the forces of Lieutenant Commander Fitch with ironclads U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Carondelet. Major General Thomas, responsible for halting General Hood's advance at Nashville, wired Major General Halleck this date: "I have two ironclads here, with several gunboats, and Commander Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland or blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry." In the coming battle, as in the whole Tennessee campaign, the Mississippi Squadron played a key role in covering Union armies, en-gaging shore batteries in support of troop movements, and insuring river lines of supply.
U.S.S. Rhode Island, Commander Stephen D. Trenchard, captured blockade running British steamer Vixen off Cape Fear, North Carolina, with cargo including arms.
2-3 U.S.S. Pequot, Lieutenant Commander Braine sighted blockade running steamer Ella off the coast of South Carolina and pursued her for nearly seven hours before darkness halted the chase. Early in the morning, 3 December, U.S.S. Emma, Acting Lieutenant Thomas Dunn, sighted Ella steering for the western bar of the Cape Fear River, and, attempting to intercept her, forced the runner aground near the light at Bald Head Point. Ships of the blockading squadron shelled the grounded Ella for two days before a boarding party commanded by Acting Ensign Isaac S. Sampson burned Ella on 5 December.
2–6 Joint Army-Navy expedition, including sailors from U.S.S. Chicopee, Commander Harrell, cap-tured and burned a large quantity of Confederate supplies and equipment near Pitch Landing, on the Chowan River, North Carolina. In addition, a quantity of cotton and over $17,000 in Con-federate money and bonds were brought off.
3 As Union pressure on Savannah increased, the Squadron under Captain W.W. Hunter, CSN, played an increasing role in the defense of the city and the important railway above it. This date Hunter wrote Lieutenant Joel S. Kennard, C.S.S. Macon: "The Charleston and Savannah Railway Bridge at the Savannah River is a very important point to defend, and, should it become necessary, endeavor to be in position there to defend it. In order to do so, and also to patrol the Savannah River, watch carefully the state of the river, and do not be caught aground or be cut off from the position at the bridge."
Boat expedition from U.S.S. Nita, Stars and Stripes, Hendrick Hudson, Ariel, and Two Sisters, com-manded by Acting Lieutenant Robert B. Smith, destroyed a large salt work at Rocky Point, Tampa Bay, Florida.
U.S.S. Mackinaw, Commander Beaumont, captured schooner Mary at sea east off Charleston with cargo of cotton, tobacco, and turpentine.
3-4 U.S.S. Moose, Lieutenant Commander Fitch, U.S.S. Carondelet, Acting Master Charles W. Miller, U.S.S. Fairplay, Acting Master George J. Groves, U.S.S. Reindeer, Acting Lieutenant Henry A. Glassford, and U.S.S. Silver Lake, Acting Master Joseph C. Coyle, engaged field batteries on the Cumberland River near Bell's Mills, Tennessee, silenced them, and recaptured three transports taken by the Confederates the preceding day. Fitch and his gunboats, employed protecting Major General Thomas' right flank before Nashville, had started downriver on the night of 2 December after hearing that Confederate troops under Major General Forrest had erected a battery on the river at Bell's Mills. Fitch succeeded in surprising the batteries and a sharp engagement ensued. With visibility severely limited by darkness, smoke, and steam, small paddle-wheelers Moose and Reindeer and stern-wheeler Silver Lake nevertheless drove the Southern gunners from the bank. Carondelet and Fairplay passed below the batteries and after a short battle re-captured the three transports Prairie State, Prima Donna, and Magnet and many of the prisoners taken earlier from the transports. In addition, Fitch was able to return to Nashville with val-uable intelligence on the composition and strength of Southern forces opposing Thomas' right flank, information which was to prove vital in the coming battle for Nashville.
4 Major General Maury, CSA, commanding troops at Mobile, wired Secretary of War Seddon: "Farragut has gone North. The Hartford and other heavy vessels have disappeared from down bay." Maury also commented on John P. Halligan, builder of torpedo boat Saint Patrick.' "Hal-ligan, recently appointed lieutenant, has not yet used his torpedo boat. I do not believe he ever will. His boat is reported a most valuable invention." Next day, Maury wrote Commodore Farrand, commanding naval forces at Mobile: "Every opportunity and facility having been afforded Mr. Halligan to enable him to use his boat against the enemy, and he evidently not being a proper man to conduct such an enterprise, please order a suitable officer of your command to take charge of the Saint Patrick at once and attack without unnecessary delay." In January 1865 Saint Patrick was transferred to Maury's authority and an energetic young naval officer, Lieutenant John T. Walker, put in command.
C.S.S. Shenandoah, Lieutenant Waddell, captured and burned whaling bark Edward off Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic. Waddell recorded in his journal: "Her outfit was of excellent quality, and I lay by her two days supplying the steamer with deficiencies. . . . Two of her boats were flew, and took the place of my old and worthless ones.
U.S.S. Chocura, Lieutenant Commander Meade, captured schooner Lowood south of Velasco, Texas, with cargo of cotton. Calling Lowood "a notorious blockade runner", Meade said: "We had been watching this schooner for some time and finally laid a trap for her, which has proved successful."
U.S.S. Pembina, Lieutenant Commander James G. Maxwell, seized blockade running Dutch brig Geziena Hilligonda near Brazos Santiago, Texas, with cargo including medicines, iron, and cloth.
Boats from U.S.S. Pursuit, Acting Lieutenant George Taylor, captured Peep O'Day near Indian River, Florida, with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. R.R. Cuyler, Commander Caldwell, U.S.S. Mackinaw, Commander Beaumont, and U.S.S. Gettysburg, Lieutenant R. H. Lamson, captured blockade running steamer Armstrong at sea (33o N., 78o W.). Cuyler and Gettysburg, joined by U.S.S. Montgomery, picked up a number of bales of cotton thrown over by Armstrong during the chase. Mackinaw had earlier in the day captured brig Hattie E. Wheeler with cargo of sugar.
5 In his fourth annual report to the President, Secretary Welles noted the great impact on the Confederacy made by Union seapower. Of the tireless blockaders he wrote: "The blockade of a coast line . . . greater in extent than the whole coast of Europe from Cape Trafalger to Cape North, is an undertaking without precedent in history." Welles observed that while successful rims through the blockade brought huge profits, "the blockade has not been violated with impunity. Heavy losses have befallen most of those who have been engaged in the illicit trade. Sixty-five steamers, the aggregate value of which, with their cargoes, will scarcely fall short of thirteen millions of dollars, have been captured or destroyed in endeavoring to enter or escape from Wilmington. Over fifty such results have occurred since Rear-Admiral Dahlgren anchored -his monitor inside of Charleston bar and closed that port to commerce." By this date the United States Navy, consisting of only 42 ships on active duty in March 1861, had grown to 671 ships mounting more than 4,600 guns. A total of 203 ships had been built for the naval service since March 1861, including 62 ironclads. This growing force had ringed the South with an increasingly close blockade which by December 1864 had taken nearly 1,400 prizes. In addition, the Secretary noted four ships had been lost to the Southern naval cause in the course of the year: the commerce raiders Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and the fearsome ram Albemarle. Moreover, the last major Gulf port had been closed with the Union victory at Mobile Bay. The fierce en-gagement, Welles wrote, was one which ''in many respects [is] one of the most remarkable on record, and which added new lustre even to the renown of Rear-Admiral Farragut. . . ."
Confederate force under Acting Master William A. Hines, CSN, captured tug Lie Freeman by boarding near Smithfield, Virginia. The daring raid took place shortly before midnight while the Union tug, with two Army officers on board, lay at anchor.
U.S.S. Chocura, Lieutenant Commander Meade, seized blockade running British schooner Julia south of Velasco, Texas, with cargo including bar iron, medicines, cotton bagging, and rope.
5-9 The naval landing force under Commander Preble participated in heavy fighting around Tulifinny Crossroads, Georgia, while Federal troops attempted to cut the Savannah-Charleston Railway and join with the advancing forces of General Sherman. The Naval Brigade was withdrawn from Boyd's Landing, Broad River, on 5 December, and while Union gunboats, made a feint against the Coosawwatchie River fortifications, soldiers and sailors landed up the nearby Tulifinny River. During the next four days, the versatile naval brigade participated in a series of nearly continuous heavy actions, though plagued by rain and swampy terrain. Union forces advanced close enough to the strategic railway to shell it but failed to destroy it.
5-6 Monitors U.S.S. Saugus, Onondaga, Mahopac, and Canonicus participated in a lively engagement with strong shore batteries at Howlett's, James River, Virginia. Saugus received a solid 7-inch shot which disabled her turret.
6 U.S.S. Neosho, Acting Lieutenant Howard, with Lieutenant Commander Fitch embarked, with the three small steamers U.S.S. Fairplay, Silver Lake, and Moose and several army transports in company, moved down the Cumberland River from Nashville and engaged Confederate batteries near Bell's Mills, Tennessee. With ironclad Neosho in the lead and lightly protected ships to the rear, Fitch steamed slowly up and single-handedly engaged the Southern artillery. As the gallant officer reported later: ''I had also great faith in the endurance of the Neosho, and therefore chose this position [directly in front of the main Confederate battery] as the most favorable one to test her strength and at the same time use canister and grape at 20 to 30 yards range. Our fire was slow and deliberate, but soon had the effect to scatter the enemy's sharpshooters and infantry, but owing to the elevated position of the batteries directly over us we could do but little injury. The enemy's fire was terrific, and in a very few minutes everything perishable on our decks was completely demolished." After holding his position for about two and a half hours, Fitch withdrew upstream, and aware that his lighter-armed vessels would not survive a passage of the batteries, returned with them to Nashville. During this fierce action, Quartermaster John Ditzen-back, seeing Neosho's ensign shot away by the concentrated Southern fire, coolly left the pilot house, and, despite the deadly shot raking Neosho's decks, took the flag which was drooping over the wheelhouse and made it fast to the stump of the highest mast remaining. For this courageous act Ditzenback was awarded the Medal of Honor. Later in the day, Fitch in the Neosho joined by Carondelet again engaged the batteries, and, choosing a different firing position disabled some of the Confederate guns. Attesting to the endurance of Neosho under fire, Fitch was able to report to Rear Admiral Lee: "During the day the Neosho was struck over a hundred times, but received no injury whatever."
Major General Grant wrote Major General Butler regarding the objectives of the proposed joint expedition against Wilmington, one of the most ambitious of the war: "The first object of the expedition under General Weitzel is to close the port of Wilmington. If successful in this, the second will be to capture Wilmington itself. . . . The object of the expedition will be gained by effecting a landing on the mainland between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic north of the north entrance to the river, then the troops should intrench themselves, and by cooperating with the Navy effect a reduction and capture of those places. These in our hands, the Navy could enter the harbor and the port of Wilmington would be sealed."
U.S.S. Chocura, Lieutenant Commander Meade, seized blockade running British schooner Lady Hurley off Velasco, Texas, with cargo including bar iron, steel, salt, and medicines. Lady Hurley, according to Meade was the "consort to the Carrie Mair, captured by the Itasca few days since off Pass Cavallo [see 30 November]." She was the third prize taken by Meade in as many days as the Union naval forces pulled ever tighter the blockade of the Texas coast.
U.S.S. Princess Royal, Commander Woolsey, captured blockade running schooner Alabama after forcing her aground near San Luis Pass, Texas. Her crew abandoned ship, Woolsey's boarding party worked her free and took the prize to Galveston. Her cargo included iron bars, rope, flour, and soda.
U.S.S. Sunflower, Acting Master Charles Loring, III., seized blockade running sloop Pickwick off St. George's Sound, Florida.
7 U.S.S. Narcissus, Acting Ensign William G. Jones, struck a Confederate torpedo in a heavy storm while lying off the city of Mobile. Jones reported: ''. . . the vessel struck a torpedo, which exploded, lifting her nearly out of water and breaking out a large hole in the starboard side, amidships . . . causing the vessel to sink in about fifteen minutes." The tug went down with-out loss of life and was raised later in the month. Mobile Bay was in Union hands, but Southern torpedoes took a heavy toll of Northern ships.
Blockade running steamer Stormy Petrel was run ashore and fired upon by gunboats of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron while attempting to enter Wilmington. Stormy Petrel was totally destroyed a few days later by a gale. In his report of the incident, Rear Admiral Porter remarked: "Within the last fifty days we have captured and destroyed $5,500,000 worth of enemy's property in blockade runners. To submit to these losses and still run the blockade shows the immense gains the runners make and the straits the enemy are in."
8 Rear Admiral Porter wrote to Lieutenant Commander Watmough, senior officer off New Inlet, North Carolina, regarding the' plan to explode a vessel laden with powder off Fort Fisher: "I propose running a vessel drawing 8 1/2 feet (as near to Fort Fisher as possible) with 350 tons of powder, and exploding her by running her upon the outside and opposite Fort Fisher. My calcu-lations are that the explosion will wind up Fort Fisher and the works along the beach, and that we can open fire with the vessels without damage." Major General Butler had suggested the powder ship late in November, and Porter, anxious to get the long-delayed Wilmington attack underway, agreed to attempt this unlikely means of reducing the fort before the landing.
U.S.S. J.P. Jackson, Acting Lieutenant Pennington, with U.S.S. Stockdale, Acting Master Thomas Edwards, in company, captured blockade running schooner Medora in Mississippi Sound with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. Cherokee, Lieutenant William E. Dennison, captured blockade running British steamer Emma Henry at sea east of North Carolina with cargo of cotton.
U.S.S. Itasca, Lieutenant Commander George Brown, chased blockade running sloop Mary Ann ashore at Pass Cavallo, Texas. Brown removed her cargo of cotton and destroyed her.
9 U.S.S. Otsego, Lieutenant Commander Arnold, sank in the Roanoke River near Jamesville, North Carolina, after striking two torpedoes in quick succession. Double-ender Otsego, along with U.S.S. Wyalusing, Lieutenant Commander English, Valley City, Acting Master John A. J. Brooks, and tugs Belle and Bazely, had formed an expedition to capture Rainbow Bluff, on the Roanoke River, and the Confederate ram rumored to be building at Halifax, North Carolina. Commander Macomb anchored his squadron at Jamesville to await the arrival of cooperating troops, and Otsego struck two torpedoes while anchoring. Bazely, coming alongside to lend assistance, also struck a torpedo and sank instantly. Lieutenant Commander Arnold and part of his crew remained on board the sunken Otsego to cover that portion of the river with her guns above water on the hur-ricane deck, and the rest of the group slowly moved upriver, dragging for torpedoes, to commence the attack on Rainbow Bluff (see 20 December).
10 U.S.S. O.H. Lee, Acting Master Oliver Thacher, captured blockade running British schooner Sort off Anclote Keys, Florida, with cargo of cotton.
10-12 C.S.S. Macon, Lieutenant Kennard, C.S.S. Sampson, Lieutenant William W. Carnes, and C.S.S. Resolute, Acting Master's Mate William D. Oliveira, under Flag Officer Hunter, took Union shore batteries under fire at Tweedside on the Savannah River. Hunter attempted to run his gunboats downriver to join in the defense of Savannah, but was unable to pass the strong Federal batteries. Resolute was disabled in this exchange of fire, 12 December, and was abandoned and captured. Recognizing that he could not get his remaining two vessels to Savannah, and having destroyed the railroad bridge over the Savannah River which he had been defending, Hunter took advantage of unusually high water to move upstream to Augusta.
11 Commander Preble, commanding the Naval Brigade fighting ashore with the forces of Major General Foster up the Broad River, South Carolina, reported to Rear Admiral Dahlgren concerning a unique "explosive ball" used by Confederate forces against his skirmishers: ''It is a conical ball in shape, like an ordinary rifle bullet. The pointed end is charged with a fulminate. The base of the ball separately from the conical end, and has a leaden standard or plunger. The explosion of the charge drives the base up, so as to flatten a thin disk of metal between it and the ball, the leaden plunger is driven against the fulminate, and it explodes the ball. . . . It seems to me that use of such a missile is an unnecessary addition to the barbarities of war."
12 Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote to President Lincoln, reporting news of the greatest importance to the Union: "I have the great satisfaction of conveying to you information of the arrival of General Sherman near Savannah, with his army in fine spirits. . . . This memorable event must be attended by still more memorable consequences, and I congratulate you most heartily on its occurrence." The value of seaborne supply to Sherman was inestimable. His army switched from rail logistics at Chattanooga to sea logistics on the Atlantic.
13 Rear Admiral Farragut arrived in New York on board his battle-scarred veteran flagship, U.S.S. Hartford. A New York newspaper hailed him in verse:
To Farragut all glory!
The Sea-King's worthy peer,
Columbia's greatest seaman,
Without reproach or fear.
Returning to the Confederacy from London, Captain Semmes had landed a month before at Bagdad, Mexico, near Matamoras. This date, en route to his home at Mobile for a brief respite before making his way to Richmond, Semmes crossed the Mississippi River with his son, Major O.J. Semmes. He later wrote: 'We reached the bank of the Mississippi just before dark. There were two of the enemy's gunboats anchored in the river, at a distance of about three miles apart. . . . the enemy had converted every sort of a water craft, into a ship of war, and now had them in such number, that he was enabled to police the river in its entire length, without the necessity of his boats being out of sight of each other's smoke . . . . Semmes described the night crossing of the river in a crowded skiff: "Our boat was scarcely able to float the numbers that were packed into her. . . . As we shot within the shadows of the opposite bank, our conductor, before: landing, gave a shrill whistle to ascertain whether all was right. The proper response came: directly, from those who were to meet us, and in a moment more, we leaped on shore among friends." Federal naval forces on the river had been alerted in an effort to capture the elusive Captain Semmes of C.S.S. Alabama, but he succeeded in getting home, and later to Richmond, to receive the thanks of the Confederacy and promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral.
The Union fleet massed for the bombardment of Fort Fisher departed Hampton Roads for Wilming-ton. Wooden double-ender U.S.S. Sassacus, Lieutenant Commander John L. Davis, was assigned the duty of towing the powder ship Louisiana to Beaufort, North Carolina, where she was to take on more powder Army transports carrying the invasion force commanded by Major General Butler left Hampton Roads at approximately the same time as the supporting naval group.
14 Foreseeing the fall of Savannah, Secretary Mallory wrote Flag Officer Hunter, commanding the naval squadron at that city:" Should the enemy get and hold Savannah, and you can do no further service there, you are expected to dispose of your squadron to the greatest injury to him and the greatest benefit to our country. If necessary to leave Savannah, your vessels, except the Georgia, may fight their way to Charleston. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed until every proper effort to save them shall have been exhausted." Three days later, Captain S. S. Lee, CSN, addressed a similar letter to Hunter: ''Under any circumstances, it is better for the vessels, for the Navy, for our cause and country, that these vessels should fall in the conflict of battle, taking all the risks of defeat and triumph, than that they should be tamely surrendered to the enemy or destroyed by their own officers."
14-21 Union gunboats supporting General Sherman aided in the capture of Forts Beaulieu and Rose-dew in Ossabaw Sound, Georgia, the outer defenses of Savannah. Wooden steamer U.S.S. Winona, Lieutenant Commander Dana, U.S.S. Sonoma, Lieutenant Commander Scott, and mortar gunboats shelled the forts until they were abandoned by the defenders on 21 December. Winona's log recorded on that date: "At 10:05 saw the American Ensign flying on Fort Beaulieu. Ships cheered; captain left in the gig and proceeded up to the fort."
15 President Lincoln wrote in a message to Congress: ''I most cordially recommend that Lieutenant William B. Cushing, U.S. Navy, receive a vote of thanks from Congress for his important, gallant, and perilous achievement in destroying the rebel ironclad steamer Albemarle on the night of the 27th October, 1864, at Plymouth, N.C. The destruction of so formidable a vessel, which had resisted the continued attacks of a number of our vessels on former occasions, is an important event touching our future naval and military operations, and would reflect honor on any officer, and redounds to the credit of this young officer and the few brave comrades who assisted in this successful and daring undertaking."
An expedition under Acting Master William G. Morris, including U.S.S. Coeur De Lion and U.S.S. Mercury, seized and burned more than thirty large boats which the Confederates had been massing on the Coan River, Virginia, and drove off defending soldiers in a brief engagement.
15-16 As Major General Thomas opened his offensive in the pivotal battle of Nashville, gunboats of the Mississippi Squadron, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Fitch, operated closely with the Union Army by engaging batteries on the Cumberland River and helping to secure a resounding victory for Thomas. On the night of 14 December, Fitch, together with the seven gunboats of his command, had moved down toward the main Confederate battery guarding the river and Major General Forrest's far left. Fitch described the joint effort: "Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Howard then returned to where I was, just above their works, and reported but four guns in position. These I could easily have silenced and driven off, but our army had not yet sufficiently advanced to insure their capture. I therefore maneuvered around above them till the afternoon, when our cavalry had reached the desired position in the rear; the Neosho and Carondelet then moved down again and the rebels, finding the position they were in, had tried to remove the guns, but were too late; our cavalry closed in and took them with but little resistance." The Union gunboats then engaged other batteries down the river, in some cases silencing them with gun- -fire and in others absorbing the attention of the Confederate gunners while Union cavalry encircled them. By the afternoon of 15 December, Hood's batteries on the Cumberland had been captured and his left flank, further inland, was in full retreat. In reply to congratulations from President Lincoln on his important victory, Thomas remarked: "I must not forget to report the operations of Brigadier-General Johnson in successfully driving the enemy, with the cooperation of the gunboats, under Lieutenant Commander Fitch, from their established batteries on the Cumberland River below the City of Nashville.
16 U.S.S. Mount Vernon, Acting Lieutenant James Trathen, in company with U.S.S. New Berne, Acting Lieutenant T. A. Harris, captured and burned schooner G. O. Bigelow in ballast at Bear Inlet, North Carolina.
16-17 Acting Master Charles A. Pettit, U.S.S. Monticello, performed a dangerous reconnaissance off New Inlet, North Carolina, removing several Confederate torpedoes and their firing apparatus near the base of Fort Caswell. Pettit's expedition was part of the extensive Union preparations for the bombardment and assault on Fort Fisher and the defenses of Wilmington planned for late December.
18 U.S.S. Louisiana, Commander Rhind, arrived off Fort Fisher, having that day been towed from Beaufort, North Carolina, by U.S.S. Sassacus, Lieutenant Commander J. L. Davis, in company with Rear Admiral Porter and his fleet. Louisiana had been loaded with powder and was to be blown up as near Fort Fisher as possible in the hope of reducing or substantially damaging that formidable Confederate work. The day before, Porter had sent detailed instructions to Commander Rhind, adding: "Great risks have to be run, and there are chances that you may lose your life in this adventure; but the risk is worth the running, when the importance of the object is to be considered and the fame to be gained by this novel undertaking, which is either to prove that forts on the water are useless or that rebels are proof against gunpowder. . . . I expect more good to our cause from a success in this instance than from an advance of all the armies in the field." Rhind and his brave crew of volunteers proceeded in toward Fort Fisher towed by U.S.S.
Wilderness, Acting Master Henry Arey, but finding the swells too severe, turned back. Major General Butler, seeing the worsening weather at Beaufort, asked Porter to postpone the attempt until the sea was calm enough to land his troops with safety.
19 C.S.S. Water Witch, captured from the Union on 3 June, was burned by the Confederates in the Vernon River near Savannah, in order to prevent her capture by General Sherman's troops ad-vancing on the city.
U.S.S. Princess Royal, Commander Melancthon B. Woolsey, captured schooner Cora off Galveston with cargo of cotton.
20 U.S.S. Hartford was turned over to Rear Admiral Paulding at the New York Navy Yard for repairs. Rear Admiral Farragut wrote Secretary Welles: ". . . my flag [was] hauled down at sunset. . . ." Thus did the two, man and ship, who had served so heroically for so many months together, close their active Civil War careers.
Boats from U.S.S. Chicopee, Valley City, and Wyalusing under the command of Commander Macomb on an expedition to engage Confederate troops at Rainbow Bluff, North Carolina, were fired upon while dragging for torpedoes, seven miles below the Bluff. Macomb then put out skirmishers to clear the banks, but made only slow progress against the Southern force along the river. After the destruction of U.S.S. Otsego and Bazely (see 9 December), the Union gunboats moved laboriously up the tortuous river, dragging for torpedoes in small boats and being harassed by Confederate riflemen. As many as 40 torpedoes were found in some bends of the river. Union troops intending to operate with the gunboats were delayed. By the time they were ready to advance on Rainbow Bluff, the Confederate garrison there had been strongly reinforced. Torpedoes in the river, batteries along the banks below that point, and the difficulty of navigating the river forced abandonment of the operation. The wrecks of Otsego and Bazely were destroyed to prevent their falling into Confederate hands on 25 December. The expedition got back to Plymouth three days later.
20-21 Boat expedition under the command of Acting Master Pennell, U.S.S. Ethan Allen, carried out a reconnaisance of the Altamaha River, South Carolina, engaging Confederate pickets and bringing off prisoners and horses.
21 The Confederate Navy continued vigorous efforts to save the remnants of the Savannah squadron still at that city on the eve of its capture. On 10 December Commander Thomas W. Brent, C.S.S. Savannah, ordered the torpedoes in Savannah harbor removed in order that his vessels might fight their way to Charleston. As Brent later reported to Flag Officer Hunter: ". . . after every endeavor he [Lieutenant McAdam] found that with all the appliances at his command, grapnels, etc., he was unable with the motive power of the boats to remove any one of them, the anchors to which they are attached being too firmly embedded in the sand. . . . Under these circum-stances it did not seem to me possible to carry out the instructions of the Department in regard to taking the Savannah to sea and fighting her way into this [Charleston] or some other port." After attempting futilely to move the smaller of his vessels upriver, Hunter this date destroyed C.S.S. Savannah, Isondiga, Firefly, and floating battery Georgia. General Sherman occupied Sa-vannah on 23 December having fought his way across Georgia to the sea where he knew the mobility of naval power would be ready to provide him with support, supplies, and means of carrying out the next operation.
Blockade runner Owl, Commander Maffitt, departed Wilmington through the Federal blockaders with large cargo of cotton. Owl, owned by the Confederate government, was one of several blockade runners commanded by Southern naval officers.
23 President Lincoln signed a bill passed the preceding day by Congress which created the rank of vice admiral. A fortnight before Secretary Welles had written in his report to the President: "In recommending, therefore, that the office of vice-admiral should be created, and the appointment conferred on Rear-Admiral David G. Farragut, I but respond, as I believe, to the voice and wishes of the naval service and of the whole country." Thus was Farragut made the first vice admiral in the Nation's history as he had been its first rear admiral. The Army and Navy Journal wrote of him: "In Farragut the ideal sailor, the seaman of Nelson's and Collingwood's days, is revived, and the feeling of the people toward him is of the same peculiar character as that which those great and simple-hearted heroes of Great Britain evoked in the hearts of their countrymen.
U.S.S. Acacia, Acting Master William Barrymore, captured blockade running British steamer Julia off Alligator Creek, South Carolina, with cargo of cotton.
23-24 After many days of delay because of heavy weather, powder ship U.S.S. Louisiana, Commander Rhind, towed by U.S.S. Wilderness late at night, anchored and was blown up 250 yards off Fort Fisher, North Carolina. After Rhind and his gallant crew set the fuzes and a fire in the stern, they escaped by small boat to Wilderness. Rear Admiral Porter and General Butler, who was wait-ing in Beaufort to land his troops the next morning and storm Fort Fisher, placed great hope in the exploding powder ship, hope that Dahlgren as an ordnance expert no doubt disdained. The clock mechanism failed to ignite the powder at the appointed time, 1:18 a.m., and after agonizing minutes of waiting, the fire set by Rhind in the stern of Louisiana reached the powder and a tremendous explosion occurred. Fort Fisher and its garrison, however, were not measur-ably affected, although the blast was heard many miles away; in fact, Colonel Lamb, the fort's resolute commander, wrote in his diary: "A blockader got aground near the fort, set fire to herself and blew up." It remained for the massed gunfire from ships of Porter's huge fleet, the largest ever assembled up to that time under the American flag, to cover the landings and reduce the forts.
24 Rear Admiral Lee, commanding the Mississippi Squadron, arrived off Chickasaw, Alabama, in an attempt to cut off the retreat of Confederate General Hood's army from Tennessee. At Chick-asaw, U.S.S. Fairy, Acting Ensign Charles Swendson, with Lee embarked, destroyed a Confederate fort and magazine, but even this small, shallow-draft river boat was unable to go beyond Great Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River because of low water. On 27 December, gunboats engaged and destroyed two fieldpieces near Florence, Alabama, but by this time the water of the Tennessee River had fallen drastically, and Lee's vessels were compelled to withdraw toward Eastport.
24-25 Naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Porter and Army units under Major General Butler launched an unsuccessful attack against Fort Fisher. Transports carrying Butler's troops had retired to Beaufort in order to avoid the anticipated effects of the explosion of the powder boat Louisiana, and fleet units had assembled in a rendezvous area 12 miles from the fort. At daylight on 24 December, the huge fleet got underway, formed in line of battle before the formidable Confederate works, and commenced a furious bombardment. The staunch Southern defenders, under the command of Colonel William Lamb, were driven from their guns and into the bombproofs of Fort Fisher, but managed to return the Federal fire from a few of their heavy cannon. Trans-ports carrying the Union soldiers did not arrive from Beaufort until evening; too late for an assault that day. Accordingly, Porter withdrew his ships, intending to renew the attack the next day. Most of the casualties resulted from the bursting of five 100-pounder Parrott guns on board five different ships. By taking shelter the defenders, too, suffered few casualties, despite the heavy bombardment.
At 10:30 the following morning the ships again opened fire on the fort and maintained the bombardment while troops landed north of the works, near Flag Pond Battery. Naval gunfire kept the garrison largely pinned down and away from their guns as Butler landed about 2,000 men who advanced toward the land face of the fort.
Meanwhile, the Admiral attempted to find a channel through New Inlet in order to attack the forts from Cape Fear River. When Commander Guest, U.S.S. Iosco and a detachment of double-ender gunboats encountered a shallow bar over which they could not pass, Porter called on the indomitable Lieutenant Cushing, hero of the Albemarle destruction, to sound the channel in small boats, buoying it for the ships to pass through. Under withering fire from the forts, even the daring Cushing was forced to turn back, one of his boats being cut in half by a Confederate shell.
Late in the afternoon, Army skirmishers advanced to within yards of the fort, supported by heavy fire from Union vessels. Lieutenant Aeneas Armstrong, CSN, inside Fort Fisher, later described the bombardment: "The whole of the interior of the fort, which consists of sand, merlons, etc., was as one eleven-inch shell bursting. You can now inspect the works and walk on nothing but iron." Union Army commanders, however, considered the works too strongly defended to be carried by assault with the troops available, and the soldiers began to reembark. Some 700 troops were left on the beaches as the weather worsened. They were protected by gun-boats under Captain Glisson, U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba, who had lent continuous close support to the landing. By 27 December the last troops were embarked; the first major attack on Fort Fisher had failed. Confederate reinforcements under General R. F. Hoke were in Wilmington and arrived at Confederate Point just after Union forces departed. The Army transports returned to Hampton Roads to prepare for a second move on the Confederate bastion, while Porter's fleet remained in the Wilmington-Beaufort area and continued sporadic bombardment in an effort to prevent repair of the fort.
26 Blockade runner Chameleon, formerly the dread raider C.S.S. Tallahassee, under the command of Lieutenant Wilkinson, slipped out of Wilmington amid the confusion in the aftermath of the first attack on Fort Fisher. In Bermuda, Chameleon loaded badly needed foodstuffs for the Confed-erate armies, but by the time Wilkinson could get her back to Wilmington in January, the port had already fallen.
27 Shortly after midnight a boat crew under the command of Acting Ensign N. A. Blume from U.S.S Virginia, cut out schooner Belle in Galveston harbor with cargo of cotton. Belle was at anchor only some 400 yards from Confederate guard boat Lecompte when Blume's party boldly boarded and sailed her out of the harbor.
28 The military situation having been stabilized in the Tulifinny River area of South Carolina (see 5-9 Dec.), Rear Admiral Dahlgren withdrew the naval brigade under Commander Preble and returned the sailors and marines comprising it to their respective ships. The 500-man brigade, hastily brought together and trained in infantry tactics, performed vital service in the arduous four-week campaign. Major General Foster, commanding the Military District of the South, complimented Dahlgren on the Brigade's courage and skill: "-its gallantry in action and good conduct during the irksome life in camp won from all the land forces with which it served the highest praises." Although the Savannah-Charleston railroad was not cut by the expedition, it did succeed in diverting Confederate troops opposing Sherman's march across Georgia.
U.S.S. Kanawha, Lieutenant Commander Taylor, forced an unidentified blockade running sloop ashore near Caney Creek, Texas, and destroyed her.
29 Major General Thomas, summarizing the successful repulse of General Hood's Confederate Army in Tennessee, paid tribute to the assistance of the Navy in a letter to Rear Admiral Lee: ''Your efficient cooperation on the Tennessee River has contributed largely to the demoralization of Hood's army. With the big guns and mobility of the river warships efficiently aiding his forces ashore, General Thomas had succeeded in virtually destroying the most effective Con-federate force in the West, thus protecting General Sherman's line of communications on his march to Georgia.
C.S.S. Shenandoah, Lieutenant Waddell, captured and destroyed bark Delphine in the Indian Ocean with cargo of rice. Delphine was Waddell's last capture of the year and ninth prize in eight weeks.
30 Determined to take Wilmington and close the South's last important harbor but dissatisfied with General Butler's leadership, Rear Admiral Porter strongly urged the General's removal from com-mand. General Grant wrote Porter: "Please hold on where you are for a few days and I will endeavor to be back again with an increased force and without the former commander." Ships of Porter's squadron kept up a steady bombardment of Fort Fisher to restrict the erection of new works and the repair of the damaged faces of the fort.
U.S.S. Rattler, Acting Master Willets, parted her cables in a heavy gale, ran ashore, struck a snag and sank in the Mississippi River near Grand Gulf. Willets, after salvaging most of Rattler's supplies and armament, was forced to abandon his small paddle wheeler, which was subse-quently burned by Confederates.
31 Vice Admiral Farragut received a gift of $50,000 in government bonds from the merchants of New York as a symbol of the esteem in which he was held by them. A letter from the merchants added: "The citizens of New York can offer no tribute equal to your claims on their gratitude and affection. Their earnest desire is, to receive you as one of their number, and to be permitted, as fellow citizens, to share in the renown you will bring to the Metropolitan City.''
Two launches from U.S.S. Wabash and Pawnee under the command of Acting Master's Mates Albert F. Rich and William H. Fitzgerald ran aground and were captured in Charleston harbor by Confederate pickets. While on guard duty in the harbor, the two launches were driven aground close to Fort Sumter by a strong good tide and freshening wind. Rich later reported: "I made every attempt that lay in my power to work the boat off shore; but all my efforts proved unsuc-cessful. A total of 27 sailors were captured.''
U.S.S. Metacomet, Lieutenant Commander Jouett, captured schooner Sea Witch southeast of Galveston, Texas, with cargo of coffee and medicine.
As the year 1864 ended at sea, far from the Confederacy, Lieutenant Waddell, captain of the raider C.S.S. Shenandoah, wrote in his journal: Thirty-first of December closed the year, the third since the war began. And how many of my boon companions are gone to that bourne from whence no traveler returns. They were full of hope, but not without fears, when we last parted." Even the tireless Waddell could by this time sense the impending defeat of the South, despite great gallantry, overwhelmed by Union advantages especially the ceaseless, crushing power of the sea.