Civil War Naval History April 1861 - History

Civil War Naval History April 1861 - History

2 President Lincoln visited the Washington Navy Yard. The President returned frequently to confer with Commander Dahlgren on the defense of the Capital and the far reaching strategy of sea power in general.

3 Confederate battery at Morris Island, Charleston, fired on American schooner Rhoda H. Shannon. 4 President Lincoln gave final approval to Gustavus Fox's plan to relieve Fort Sumter by sea.

5 U.S.S. Powhatan, Pawnee, Pocahontas, and Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane were ordered by Secretary of the Navy Welles to provision Fort Sumter; squadron commander was Captain Samuel Mercer in Powhatan.

6 Lieutenant David Dixon Porter, ordered to take command of U.S.S. Powhatan by President Lincoln and to reinforce Fort Pickens, Pensacola, instead of Fort Sumter, departed New York. The following day Lieutenant John L. Worden, USN, departed Washington, D.C., by rail with orders to Captain Henry
A. Adams, commanding U.S.S. Sabine and senior officer present in the Pensacola area, to reinforce Fort Pickens.

8 Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane, Captain John Faunce, USRM, departed New York
for relief of Fort Sumter.

9 Gustavus V. Fox sailed from New York in chartered steamer Baltic for the relief of Fort Sumter.

10 U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Stephen C. Rowan, departed Hampton Roads for relief of Fort Sumter.

General P. G. T. Beauregard, CSA, commanding at Charleston, was instructed to demand evacuation of Fort Sumter and, if refused, to "proceed, in such manner as you may determine, to reduce it."

Secretary of the Navy Welles alerted Captain Charles S. McCauley, Commandant Norfolk Navy Yard, to condition U.S.S. Merrimack for a move to a Northern yard should it become necessary. At the same time Welles cautioned McCauley that, "There should be no steps taken to give needless alarm."

11 Commander James Alden was ordered to report to Captain McCauley to take command of Merrimack. The following day Chief Engineer Benjamin Isherwood was sent to Norfolk to put the ship's engines in working order as soon as possible.

General Beauregard's demand for evacuation of Fort Sumter refused by Major Anderson.

U.S. steamship Coatzacoalcos arrived in New York, returning Union troops from Texas.

12 Fort Sumter fired on by Confederate batteries-the conflict begins.

U.S. steamship Baltic, under Gustavus Fox, U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander Rowan, and Harriet Lane, Captain Faunce, USRM, arrived off Charleston to reinforce Fort Sumter. But, as Fox observed, "war had commenced" and he was unable to carry out his mission.

Under secret orders from Secretary of the Navy Welles carried by Lieutenant Worden, Fort Pickens was reinforced by landing of troops under Captain Israel Vogdes, 1st U.S. Artillery, and Marines under First Lieutenant John C. Cash, from the squadron composed of U.S.S. Sabine, Captain H. A. Adams, Senior Officer Present, U.S.S. Brooklyn, Captain W. S. Walker, U.S.S. St. Louis, Commander Charles H. Poor, and U.S.S. Wyandotte, Lieutenant J. R. Madison Mullany.

13 Fort Sumter surrendered by Major Anderson. Troops were evacuated the next day by Fox's expedition. U.S.S. Sabine, Captain Adams, blockaded Pensacola Harbor.

Lieutenant Worden was seized near Montgomery, Alabama, and placed in prison, but his Pensacola mission had been accomplished.

14 Captain Du Pont wrote: "I hope those Southern gentlemen will declare war, for that will stop the shilly shallying, unite the North if it be not so already, and the line will have to be drawn by the strategic points involved, which for the defense of the Capital includes Maryland."

15 Seventeen vessels from Southern ports without U.S. clearances were seized at New York.

16 Secretary of the Navy Welles wrote Flag Officer Garrett J. Pendergrast, commanding U.S.S. Cumberland at Norfolk: "Until further orders the departure of the Cumberland to Vera Cruz will be deferred. In the meantime you will lend your assistance, and that of your command, towards putting the vessels now in the Yard in condition to be moved, placing the ordnance and ordnance stores on board for moving, and, in case of invasion, insurrection, or violence of any kind, to suppress it, repelling assault by force, if necessary."

17 U.S.S. Powhatan, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, arrived off Pensacola. Under her protecting guns, 600 troops on board steamer Atlantic were landed at Fort Pickens to complete its reinforcement. President Lincoln had stated "I want that fort saved at all hazards." The President's wish was fulfilled, and use of the best harbor on the Gulf was denied the Confederacy for the entire war, while serving the Union indispensably in the blockade and the series of devastating assaults from the sea that divided and destroyed the South.

Jefferson Davis' proclamation invited all interested in "service in private armed vessels on the high seas" to apply for Letters of Marque and Reprisal.

Confederates placed obstacles in the channel at Norfolk, attempting to prevent the sailing of U.S. naval vessels. The subsequent passage of the obstructions by Pawnee and Cumberland proved the effort ineffective.

18 U.S.S. Merrimack was reported ready for sea at Norfolk by Chief Engineer Isherwood.

Secretary of the Navy Welles wrote Captain Hiram Paulding: "You are directed to proceed forthwith to Norfolk and take command of all the naval forces there afloat On no account should the arms
and munitions be permitted to fall into the hands of insurrectionists, or those who would wrest them from the custody of the government; and should it finally become necessary, you will, in order to prevent that result, destroy the property."

U.S. schooner Buchanan (lighthouse tender), Master Thomas Cullen, was seized and taken to Richmond, Virginia.

19 President Lincoln issued proclamation declaring blockade of Southern ports from South Carolina to Texas Of the blockade Admiral David Dixon Potter was to later write: "So efficiently was the blockade maintained and so greatly was it strengthened from time to time, that foreign statesmen, who at the beginning of the war, did not hesitate to pronounce the blockade of nearly three thousand miles of coast a moral impossibility, twelve months after its establishment were forced to admit that the proofs of its efficiency were so comprehensive and conclusive that no objections to it could be made."

Washington having been cut off by rail from the North, Captain Du Pont and others embarked troops at Philadelphia and head of the Chesapeake Bay to proceed to the relief of the Capital. Steamer Boston departed Philadelphia with New York Seventh Regiment on board, and ferryboat Maryland embarked General Benjamin F. Butler's Massachusetts Eighth Regiment at Perryville for Annapolis.

U.S. steamer Star of the West was seized by Confederates at lndianola, Texas.

Captain David Glasgow Farragut, though born in the South and with a southern wife, chose to remain loyal to the Union and left his home in Norfolk, Virginia, to take up residence in New York City.

20 Norfolk Navy Yard partially destroyed to prevent Yard facilities from falling into Confederate hands and abandoned by Union forces. U.S. Pennsylvania, Germantown', Raritan. Columbia, and Dolphin were burned to water's edge. Delaware, Columbus, Plymouth, and Merrimack (later C.S.S. Virginia)
were burned and sunk. Old frigate U.S.S. United States was abandoned. Pawnee, Commodore Paulding, and tug Yankee. towing U.S.S. Cumberland, escaped; Pawnee returned to Washington to augment small defenses at the Capital. This major Yard was of prime importance to the South. The Confederacy had limited industrial capacity, and possession of the Norfolk Yard provided her with guns and other ordnance materiel, and, equally as important, gave her a drydock and an industrial plant in which to manufacture crucially needed items. In large measure, guns for the batteries and fortifications erected by the Confederates on the Atlantic coast and rivers during 1861 came from the Norfolk Yard.

U.S.S. Constitution, Lieutenant George Rodgers, moored in Severn River off Annapolis, was towed into Chesapeake Bay by steamer Maryland with General Butler's troops on board. This action, preceded by resolute measures by Naval Academy staff and midshipmen. prevented Confederates from seizing historic "Old Ironsides."

U.S. Anacostia, Lieutenant Thomas S. Fillebrown, was ordered to patrol off Kettle Bottom Shoals, Virginia, to prevent the obstruction 'of the channel at that point; the crew was augmented by 20 Marines from the Washington Navy Yard

Cornelius Vanderbilt offered the government the fast steamer Vanderbilt. Eventually the Navy acquired many private ships by charter or purchase to strengthen its blockade fleets.

U.S. coast survey schooner Twilight, Andrew C. Mitchell, was seized at Aransas, Texas.

21 Colonel Charles F. Smith. USA, reported to Secretary of the Navy Welles he had seized and placed under guard steamers Baltimore, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia. and Powhatan near Washington, D.C. Steamers plied between Aquia Creek and Washington; these were ordered to be outfitted at Washington Navy Yard for defense of the Capital. Aquia Creek, terminal point of railroad connection with Richmond, was the first location on the Potomac where Confederate naval officers erected batteries.

U.S.S. Saratoga, Commander Alfred Taylor, captured slave shipNightingale with 961 slaves on board.

Secretary of the Navy Welles instructed Captain Du Pont, Commandant Philadelphia Navy Yard, to procure five staunch steamers from ten to twelve feet draught, having particular reference to strength and speed and capable of carrying a nine-inch pivot gun or coast service." Similar orders were sent to Commandants of the Navy Yards in New York and Boston.

22 Captain Franklin Buchanan, Commandant Washington Navy Yard, submitted his resignation and was relieved by Commander John A. Dahlgren; Buchanan joined the Confederate Navy and was promoted to Admiral, CSN. on 26 August 1862. Dahlgren spurred the buildup of Union ordnance and operation of ships for the defense of Washington and Potomac River. Of the ships (primarily chartered commercial steamers) assigned to Dahlgren's command at the Navy Yard, Secretary of the Navy Welles reported: "For several months the navy, without aid, succeeded, more effectually than could have been expected. in keeping open for commercial purposes, and restricting. to a great extent, communication between the opposite shores [Potomac]."

Steamer Boston arrived at Annapolis with New York 7th Regiment on board, found Maryland aground after towing U.S.S. Constitution into Chesapeake Bay, and got her off, troops from both ships disembarking. This timely arrival by water transport, recommended by Captain Do Pont at Philadelphia, was instrumental in defending Washington against possible Confederate seizure, and significant in keeping Maryland in the Union. In the following days Butler's troops repaired the railroad and opened communications with Washington, which had been severed since the 19 April Baltimore riots. Commander James H. Ward of U.S.S. North Carolina proposed to Secretary of the Navy Welles the organization of a "flying flotilla" of ships for service in Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The proposal was approved, ships purchased and fitted out in New York, and on 20 May 1861, U.S.S. Freeborn, with two small craft in tow, Commander Ward in command, arrived at Washington Navy Yard.

Secretary of the Navy Welles ordered Commander William W. Hunter to move Receiving Ship Allegheny at Baltimore to Fort McHenry because of strong secessionist activity in the city.

23 U.S.S. Pawnee reached Washington where Commodore Paulding reported to the Navy Department on the loss of the Norfolk Navy Yard. Pawnee's arrival strengthened the Capital's defenses at a critical juncture.

24 U.S.S. Cumberland, Flag Officer Pendergrast, captured Confederate tug Young America and schooner George M. Smith with cargo of arms and ammunition in Hampton Roads.

U.S.S. Constitution, Lieutenant G. W. Rodgers, departed with midshipmen on board for New York and Newport, Rhode Island, under tow of U.S.S. Curler with Harriet Lane in company. to transfer U.S. Naval Academy.

26 U.S.S. Commerce. Lieutenant Peirce Crosby, captured steamer Lancaster at Havre de Grace, Maryland. He also pursued a steam tug "in obedience to the written orders that I had received from you [Commander Charles Steedman] to seize all tugs south of Havre de Grace," but could not catch her.

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Mallory reported: "I propose to adopt a class of vessels hitherto unknown to naval services. The perfection of a warship would doubtless be a combination of the greatest known ocean speed with the greatest known floating battery and power of resistance . agents of the department have thus far purchased but two [steam vessels], which combine the requisite qualities. These, the Sumter and MacRae, are being fitted as cruisers . Vessels of this character and capacity cannot be found in this country, and must be constructed or purchased abroad." Mallory discussed naval ordnance: "Rifled cannon having attained a range and accuracy beyond any other form of ordnance . I propose to introduce them into the Navy . Small propeller ships, with great speed, lightly armed with these guns. must soon become as the light artillery and rifles of the deep, a most destructive element of naval warfare."

27 President Lincoln extended the blockade to ports of Virginia and North Carolina.

Secretary of the Navy Welles issued order for Union ships to seize Confederate privateers upon the high seas.

Steamer Helmick, loaded with powder and munitions of war for the Confederacy, was seized at Cairo, Illinois.

29 U.S.S. United States ordered commisioned as the first ship in the Virginia navy by Major General Robert E. Lee, Commander in Chief Military Forces of Virginia.

30 Flag Officer Pendergrast issued notice of the blockade of Virginia and North

Civil War and Later Navy Personnel Records at the National Archives, 1861-1924

United States Navy personnel records for the period 1861-1924 are one of the best secrets in genealogical research. These records commonly contain information that is otherwise unobtainable in federal records. The personnel records include military service records and pension records. The former document volunteer military service, and the latter document compensation due a veteran or widow for disability, age, or loss.

Military Service Records

These documents give information such as dates of service and vessel of duty. Before 1885 there are no naval service records that correspond to army compiled military service records. For the navy, rendezvous reports, keys to enlistments, and muster rolls document a veteran's service. It is also possible to find information related to a veteran's service in the various pension indexes (described later in the article).

Records for Civil War Union and Spanish-American War personnel are easy to use. If the researcher does not already know if the veteran was an officer or enlisted man, consult Lewis R. Hamersly's General Register or Edward W. Callahan's List of Officers. 1 Either of these sources will reveal the veteran's rank if he is listed. The absence of a veteran's name from the latter index usually means that the veteran was not an officer.

If the veteran is an officer, there are several different sources in which to look for information on his service. First, Hamersly or Callahan usually give information concerning the officer's early service, such as the date he became a midshipman and the succession of commands that he held. Second, a researcher should consult National Archives Microfilm Publication M330, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1798-1893, and M1328, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1829-1924. These abstracts give a basic overview of an officer's service life along with key information like ship assignments and important events such as death in the line of duty or a court-martial. These sources will also suggest additional records to search. For example, if a researcher finds a reference to a court-martial in a given file, then he or she should check M273, Records of General Courts-Martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department, 1799-1867.

If the veteran was an enlisted man, look for his name in T1099, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Civil War, 1861-1865. This alphabetical index gives the name of the ship that the serviceman rendezvoused with and the date he enlisted in the navy. It is also a good idea to check T1098, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Before and After the Civil War, 1846-1861, 1865-1884. Remember that Civil War navy servicemen may also have served in the pre-Civil War navy. After finding an entry in the index, the researcher may then order the rendezvous report and record any additional information found in it. Request copies of these reports from the Textual Reference Branch. 2 You may also view the original rendezvous reports and ship muster rolls at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

For service after 1884 and before 1900, there are only a few resources available to locate service record information. First, if the researcher knows the name of the vessel(s) aboard which the veteran served, it is possible to check the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24) to see if there is a muster roll or conduct book for the ship in question for the right time period. Second, a veteran who served after 1885 may have a personnel file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. 3

Pension Records

Pension records are more likely than military service records to contain genealogical information because a dependent had to prove his or her relationship to the veteran. The proof the federal government required included signed affidavits, marriage licenses, and in the case of an invalid pension, personal testimonies of service. From these records you can learn such information as the sailor's name and rank, name of ship and period of service, and the sailor's date of birth or age and place of residence. Other information may be included in a sailor's file, as well. Because pension indexes are arranged without regard to rank, a researcher can use the same indexes to search for either an enlisted man or an officer.

Civil War Union and Spanish-American War pensions are also easy to use. Researchers should consult T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, which is an alphabetical index to pensions for those years. As with pension indexes for other time periods, T288 will give the serviceman's name, dates of service, alias if any, and the ship(s) on which he served. If a researcher is unsuccessful with T288, there are two other pension indexes that may lead to navy pensions.

The first is T289, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, which is organized by unit rather than alphabetically by surname. Although it primarily lists army veterans, its miscellaneous section does list naval personnel. The next index is on microfiche publication M1279, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans ("Navy Widows' Certificates"), 1861-1910. This is an alphabetical and numerical compilation of approved navy pensions. A researcher who knows the veteran's full name, application number, and certificate number may then look at the microfiched pensions. A book index accompanies this series. M1274, Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans ("Navy Widows' Originals"), 1861-1910, and M1391, Lists of Navy Veterans for Whom There are Navy Widows' and Other Dependents' Disapproved Pension Files ("Navy Widows' Originals"), 1861- 1910, may help if there is some question as to whether the veteran received a pension or if cards in the previous indexes are illegible.

Confederate Records

Confederate records are probably the most difficult military records in the National Archives to use. Comparatively few Confederate records survived the war, and those that did were generally in poor condition. The United States government made an effort to preserve Confederate records during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This effort resulted in the War Department's Collection of Confederate Records (Record Group 109) and the Navy Department's Subject File, which contain several microfilmed series that are useful in researching Confederate navy service. 4 Researchers can use these records to reconstruct a Confederate veteran's service. It should be noted, however, that Confederate pensions are not federal records, and they are held by various state archives, historical societies, and record centers. Write to the National Archives for more information.

Examples of Record Searches

As an example of a search for a Civil War veteran, let us look at the records of Lt. Comdr. Charles W. Flusser. Even though it was unnecessary to check Hamersly's General Register or Callahan's List of Officers to determine Flusser's rank, we checked it anyway to see what information was there. From Hamersly we learned that Flusser became a midshipman on June 10, 1853 he was promoted to master on September 15, 1855, then to lieutenant on September 16, 1855. He was promoted to lieutenant commander on July 16, 1862. The last note of his service stated that he was killed in action on April 19, 1864, aboard the gunboat Miami.

Next we looked at microfilm publication M330 to determine the particulars of his service. On roll 11, entry 325, we found a notation that Lt. Commander Flusser was killed in the line of duty on April 19, 1864. This confirmed the information that we found in Hamersly and gave us two additional avenues to search. The first was to check pension records. His death in the line of duty would probably yield a pension if he had any dependents.

The second, less obvious, resource was ship deck logs. Since he was an officer on board the Miami, it was possible that there might be useful information about Flusser and his activities prior to his death. When we checked the various deck logs from the Miami, we determined that he was killed during an engagement with the Confederate ironclad Albemarle. This and other interesting facts, however, were obtained only after hours of research. Researchers with limited time should ignore deck logs and concentrate instead on pension records, if available.

We checked T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, to see if we could find a pension record for Lt. Commander Flusser. On roll 156 we found an entry for Charles Flusser: application #226, certificate #670, and the name of the dependant, his mother, Juliana Flusser. It was therefore unnecessary to check any of the other various indexes such as disapproved pensions in M1391. We then ordered the pension record.

The pension record contained many interesting facts. First, the cause of death was listed as vulnus sclepticum, Latin for gunshot wound. Second, we learned that Juliana Flusser had depended on her son for her support because her husband, Charles T. Flusser, had died, and her one remaining child was unable to support her. She was granted an initial pension of thirty dollars a month dated April 19, 1864. Her pension was later increased to eighty dollars a month after an appeal. The pension provided the following additional information: a physical description of the late Lt. Commander Flusser the date of Juliana Flusser's marriage, November 24, 1827, in Anne Arundel, Maryland and the place of her current (1865) residence in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

This information, in turn, suggests other avenues of research outside of navy records. For example, the date and place of Juliana and Charles T. Flusser's marriage is useful if one wanted to try to obtain a copy of their marriage certificate.

Our example of a search for a Spanish-American War enlisted man is Michael Murphy, who served on board the USS Niagara during that war. Needless to say, there were quite a number of Michael Murphys in the U.S. Navy at the time. We could not use T1098 (Index to Rendezvous Reports) because it covers the wrong time period. Our next step was to try the pension index on T288. Fortunately, on roll 342 we found an entry for a Michael Murphy, #44,581, who served as a machinist first class on board the USS Niagara.

The pension itself yielded some interesting information. Michael Murphy's pension request was originally rejected by the government on the grounds that his deafness was not a result of his duties in the navy. The navy first claimed that Murphy's hearing had begun to deteriorate shortly before he entered the navy and that his subsequent deafness was not a result of his service. Michael Murphy appealed the ruling and produced affidavits stating that his hearing was fine before he entered the navy. The special examiner of the U.S. Pension Claims Office interviewed Charles H. Reeder, who had been Michael Murphy's foreman in the "five or six years" that Murphy lived in Baltimore. Reeder states that Murphy "lost no time from work because of sickness" and that "he was not deaf." The special examiner also checked the records of the naval hospital in New York. The records stated that Michael Murphy was admitted to the hospital on December 25, 1898, suffering from erysipelas. According to Murphy, he was "infected in the sickbay (?) of the USS Vermont." The record further states, however, that the patient's "fight ear is much swollen and patient states that he was struck with a club. He is just recovering from a debauch, December 26. His mind is wandering and he is suffering from acute alcoholism." The navy implied that this condition was the probable reason for the loss of his hearing, and if so, the navy was not responsible. The matter was finally settled in a compromise that stated that "there is testimony tending to show prior unsoundness as well as prior soundness . . . but . . . the fact remains that there is no evidence to show that the claimant was ever deaf before he joined the navy." Michael Murphy was granted his pension.

The research strategies illustrated here for Charles Flusser's and Michael Murphy's navy records are typical for searching for an enlisted man or officer in the National Archives' Civil War and Spanish-American War navy records. First, determine the veteran's rank and dates of service. Once you know the rank and dates of service, you can then look through the various indexes and appropriate microfilm publications to determine the ship(s) on which the veteran served. Next, determine if there were any events in the veteran's service that would suggest another avenue of search such as court-martial records. Last, look for a pension record even if you are not sure if the veteran received a pension. A successful pension search usually gives a wealth of genealogical information on a veteran that is not available in other types of records.

Researchers who are unable to visit the National Archives to research navy records in person may request copies of records through the mail. This request is made on a National Archives Trust Fund (NATF) Form 80 [see NATF note]. To obtain this form, write to the National Archives (NWCTB), Washington, DC 20408. The fee for providing copies for each search request is $10 allow eight to ten weeks for the request to be processed.

Using all of the available navy resources not only improves the chances of finding information relating to a veteran of the Civil War and Spanish-American War periods but also increases the likelihood of finding information about the veteran that will in turn lead to other nonnavy sources for genealogical research.

NATF Note: NATF Form 80 was discontinued in November 2000. Use NATF 85 for military pension and bounty land warrant applications, and NATF 86 for military service records for Army veterans discharged before 1912.

Lee D. Bacon is on the staff of the User Services Division of the National Archives and Records Administration. He received his B.A. in European history at the University of Maryland.

1 Lewis R. Hamersly, General Register of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1792-1892 (1900) and Edward W. Callaban, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 (1901, reprinted 1969).

2 Write to the Old Military and Civil Branch (NWCTB), Room 13W National Archives, Washington, DC 20408.

3 The National Personnel Records Center also has records for both enlisted personnel and officers for service in 1900 and later. The Center has records relating to U.S. Navy officers separated after 1902 and enlisted personnel separated after 1885 and Marine Corps officers separated after 1895 and enlisted personnel separated after 1904. Genealogical requests for information should be submitted on Standard Form 180, "Request Pertaining to Military Records." These forms may be obtained from local Veterans Administration offices or from the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.

4 M260, Records Relating to Confederate Naval and Marine Personnel M1091, Subject File of the Confederate States Navy, 1861-1865 M909, Papers Pertaining to Vessels of or Involved With the Confederate States of America: "Vessel Papers" M918, Register of Confederate Soldiers, Sailors, and Citizens who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North, 1861-1865 M275, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865.


Smith's birth date is unknown, and he may have been born either in Connecticut or Alfred, Maine. He was a Freemason, and according to some wartime and post-war reports, Caleb Blood Smith, a cabinet member under President Lincoln, was his half-brother. [3] [5] [6] [4]

Smith was married, and had a son, named Leon B. Smith. [3] [7]

A mariner from the age of 13, by the time he was 20 Smith was in command of the United States mail steamship Pacific that sailed between San Francisco and Panama. [3] [4]

According to some sources he served in the Texas Navy during the Republic of Texas period. [8] [9] [10]

He met John B. Magruder in the late 1840s when engaged in shipping on the West coast. In the 1850s he sailed in the Gulf of Mexico, working for the Southern Mail Steamship Company. [3]

1861 – December 1862 Edit

In February 1861 he was the captain of the steamer General Rusk and transported General John Salmon Ford and his troops to the mouth of the Rio Grande to receive the surrender of Union Major Fitz John Porter. Unattached to either side, Smith then contracted with Major Porter to transport the Union troops to New York. [3]

In April 1861, back in the Gulf of Mexico, he and his ship General Rusk volunteered for service for the Confederates. On April 18, 1861, Smith and his ship assisted Colonel Earl Van Dorn in the capture of Star of the West (notable for being the target of the first shots of the civil war on January 9, 1861, in Fort Sumter) off Matagorda Bay via trickery: pulling alongside her under the pretense of transferring "friendly" troops which were expected from the transport Fashion. [3] [11] Smith reportedly replying to a hail from Star of the West with "The General Rusk with troops on board. Can you take our line now ?" and explaining that the Fashion would be arriving later with the luggage and the rest of the troops. The boarding troops promptly seized the Star of the West at bayonet point. [12]

Between October 1861 and December 1862 Smith and the General Rusk were under the command of CSN Commander William W. Hunter. On 7 November 1861, Smith and the General Rusk extinguished the fire aboard the stricken Royal Yacht following her encounter with USS Santee, and towed her back to port. [3] [13]

December 1862 – January 1863: Appointment to command, Battle of Galveston Edit

Following the retreat from Galveston in the Battle of Galveston Harbor (1862), General Paul Octave Hébert was relieved from command and replaced in November 1862 by General John B. Magruder who arrived in Texas. [14] Previously acquainted with Smith, in December Magruder placed Smith in charge of all the steamers at his disposal. [3] [15]

On Christmas Day 1862, [16] Smith was charged with hastily improvising the CS Bayou City, CS Neptune, along with the tenders Lucy Gwinn and the John F. Carr for battle as improvised Cottonclad warships. The Bayou City was outfitted with a single 32-pounder rifled cannon and the Neptune with two 24-pounders howitzers. Cotton bales were used to provide a semblance of protection that was somewhat effective in stopping small arm fire, however when asked by a soldier about artillery protection Smith bluntly replied: "None whatsover. our only chance is to get alongside before they hit us". Boarding devices resembling the Roman Corvus were placed on the hurricane deck of each boat. [17] Facing Smith's forces were vastly superior Union naval forces: USS Clifton, USS Harriet Lane, USS Westfield, USS Owasco, USS Corypheus, USS Sachem, and four smaller vessels. [3] [18] [19]

The attack initially planned for 27 December 1862 was delayed to New Year's Eve, the Battle of Galveston. Smith's force was to attack from sea into the Harbor as General Magruder attacked from land crossing over the railroad trestle connecting the island to the mainland. Smith was to wait to be signaled by gunfire that the battle had begun, which was expected to occur at midnight. However, Magruder's forces were delayed by the difficulty of crossing his artillery over the trestle. [20] After no signal came after midnight passed, Smith pulled back from the harbor to Red Fish Bar, a point fourteen miles away. Hearing the attack commencing at 04:00, Smith directed the naval contingent back to the harbor, probably reaching it an hour after the initial shots were fired. [21]

Attacking just before daybreak, the CS Neptune was severely damaged and sunk, but Smith, aboard the CS Bayou City managed to ram into the Harriet Lane, board, and capture her, reportedly personally killing US Navy Commander Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright and recovering a valuable signal book. [6] [22] Though still outnumbered, Smith demanded the surrender of US fleet from commander William B. Renshaw, who had run aground aboard the USS Westfield. While under the flag of truce, Renshaw blew up his vessel and died in the explosion. [23] Smith boarded the USS John F. Carr and captured her as well, while the rest of the US Navy ships escaped to sea. [3] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] Aboard the captured USS John F. Carr, Smith gave chase to the fleeing Union ships, however the small ship was unable to match the speed of the larger warships. Turning around back to the bay, Smith captured three small Union ships (the Cavallo, Elias Pike, and Lecompte) with their cargo. [29] [30] [31]

Following the battle, Smith won praise for his gallant conduct, [32] including a mention in a joint resolution of the Congress of the Confederate States. [33] General Magruder attempted to secure a regular Naval commission as commander for him, one of several repeated attempts, which did not result in an actual commission being granted. [3] [2]

January 1863 – August 1864 Edit

Following the battle, the Confederate States Navy sent Lieutenant Joseph Nicholson Barney to take charge of naval operations in Galveston, including the captured Harriet Lane. However, after discussions with Magruder who was not willing to relinquish control of the cottonclads, Barney conceded the appointment, and in a letter to Confederate naval secretary Stephen Mallory recommended that the Navy relinquish control. Barney later explained that he made his recommendation since he considered that the presence of two separate marine forces with independent commanders would lead to discord and confusion. [34] [35] [3]

Smith remained in charge of all vessels in Texas, and by order of General Magruder appointed "Commander, Marine Department of Texas". [a] [3]

On September 5, 1863, he was at Orange, Texas, inspecting the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. On September 8 he was at Beaumont, Texas, when a Union force under the command of Major General William B. Franklin with four gunboats, eighteen transports, and 5,000 infantry assaulted up the Sabine River in the Second Battle of Sabine Pass. Smith immediately ordered all Confederate troops in Beaumont, some eighty men, aboard the steamer Roebuck and sent them down the river to reinforce Fort Griffin. Smith and a Captain Good rode to the fort on horseback, reaching the fort some three hours before the steamer, arriving just as the Union gunboats USS Clifton and Sachem came within range of Fort Griffin, which was manned by forty-seven troops. Assisting in the defense of the Fort, Smith took charge of the Clifton and Sachem which were captured during the battle which was one of the most one-sided Confederate victories of the war: no Confederate losses versus 200 killed, wounded or captured Union troops and two lost gunships. [3] [36] [37] [38] [39]

From November to December 1863, he was sent by Magruder to direct the naval side of the defense of Indianola, Texas, where Colonel William R. Bradfute was commanding the land forces. As part of the engagement, the Confederates retreated in the Battle of Fort Esperanza. Smith commanded John F. Carr, Cora, and eleven small vessels with sharpshooters and artillery however disagreements with Bradfute were a hindrance to operations. Smith chose not to take the offensive, fighting defensively. [3] [40]

In early 1864 Brig. Gen. William Steele, who was given command of Galveston, attempted to take control of the naval forces there, however Magruder asserted Smith's authority. [3]

In the summer of 1864, due to better land fortifications and the developing state of the war (most Texas troops were transferred to Louisiana in March), the marine contingent was less needed and Smith was relieved from duty at his request by Captain Henry S. Lubbock (the brother of governor Francis Lubbock and who had been the captain of CS Bayou City (Smith's flagship) in the Battle of Galveston) [41] who commanded the marine department sub-district at Galveston. Smith was ordered by Magruder to report "by letter" to the Confederate States Secretary of the Navy. [3]

August 1864 – June 1865 Edit

By 1864, Smith was well known by name to Federal authorities. Following a news report in the Houston Daily Telegraph that Smith was going to be sent to London to acquire a fast steamboat for privateering, that was reprinted by New York papers, Federal authorities attempted to disrupt the alleged scheme. [3] [42] [43] [44]

Smith, however, did not depart Texas immediately, and in September 1864 he captured the US schooner Florence Bearn at the mouth of the Rio Grande. In November 1864 he was in Havana where his presence was noted by Union officials, and where he was detained by Spanish authorities for a time. He subsequently piloted the steamer Wren to Galveston through the Union blockade. In an April 1865 letter Magruder writes that Smith will bring in a valuable Confederate steamer probably in the next dark moon. [3] [45] On 20 June 1865 he reportedly left Texas with other notable Confederate figures. [46]

Following the war he was for a time at Havana, then went to San Francisco where his wife and son were living, [3] and was involved in steamer operations along the western coast. [47] Smith was involved in with unsuccessful efforts to introduce petroleum as fuel for steamers. After the failure of this scheme and the Alaska Purchase, in 1868 he freighted a small vessel with goods to Alaska, however this vessel was shipwrecked and little of the cargo was saved. [48] A subsequent trip with a second vessel was successful, and Smith took up residence at Fort Wrangel with his family. [7] In Fort Wrangel, he operated a trading post and bowling alley in partnership with William King Lear. On October 29, 1869 he was involved in a beating of an Indian who he believed struck his son, Leon B., though later Smith discovered this was not the case. [3]

On 25 December 1869 a Stikine Indian named Lowan bit off Mrs. Jaboc Muller's third right finger, and was killed in an ensuing fight by soldiers who severely wounded an additional Stikine Indian. The following morning, Scutd-doo, who was the father of the deceased, entered the fort and shot Smith fourteen times. Smith died some 13 hours later. The US army made an ultimatum demanding Sccutd-doo's surrender, and following bombardment of the Stikine Indian village, the villagers handed Scutd-doo over to the military in the fort, where he was court-martialed and publicly hanged before the garrison and assembled natives on 29 December, [49] [50] stating before he was hanged that he had acted in revenge against the occupants of the fort for the killing of Lowan and not against Smith in particular. [51] [52] Smith's body was sent for burial in San Francisco, [3] [53] [54] [55] and possibly onward to Texas in the city cemetery in Houston. [4]


On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Blockade Against Southern Ports: [1]

Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein comformably to that provision of the Constitution which requires duties to be uniform throughout the United States:

And whereas a combination of persons engaged in such insurrection, have threatened to grant pretended letters of marque to authorize the bearers thereof to commit assaults on the lives, vessels, and property of good citizens of the country lawfully engaged in commerce on the high seas, and in waters of the United States: And whereas an Executive Proclamation has been already issued, requiring the persons engaged in these disorderly proceedings to desist therefrom, calling out a militia force for the purpose of repressing the same, and convening Congress in extraordinary session, to deliberate and determine thereon:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, with a view to the same purposes before mentioned, and to the protection of the public peace, and the lives and property of quiet and orderly citizens pursuing their lawful occupations, until Congress shall have assembled and deliberated on the said unlawful proceedings, or until the same shall ceased, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States, and of the law of Nations, in such case provided. For this purpose a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade, a vessel shall approach, or shall attempt to leave either of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the Commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning, and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port, she will be captured and sent to the nearest convenient port, for such proceedings against her and her cargo as prize, as may be deemed advisable.

And I hereby proclaim and declare that if any person, under the pretended authority of the said States, or under any other pretense, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such person will be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

Scope Edit

A joint Union military-navy commission, known as the Blockade Strategy Board, was formed to make plans for seizing major Southern ports to utilize as Union bases of operations to expand the blockade. It first met in June 1861 in Washington, D.C., under the leadership of Captain Samuel F. Du Pont. [2]

In the initial phase of the blockade, Union forces concentrated on the Atlantic Coast. The November 1861 capture of Port Royal in South Carolina provided the Federals with an open ocean port and repair and maintenance facilities in good operating condition. It became an early base of operations for further expansion of the blockade along the Atlantic coastline, [3] including the Stone Fleet. Apalachicola, Florida, received Confederate goods traveling down the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Georgia, and was an early target of Union blockade efforts on Florida's Gulf Coast. [4] Another early prize was Ship Island, which gave the Navy a base from which to patrol the entrances to both the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay. The Navy gradually extended its reach throughout the Gulf of Mexico to the Texas coastline, including Galveston and Sabine Pass. [5]

With 3,500 miles (5,600 km) of Confederate coastline and 180 possible ports of entry to patrol, the blockade would be the largest such effort ever attempted. The United States Navy had 42 ships in active service, and another 48 laid up and listed as available as soon as crews could be assembled and trained. Half were sailing ships, some were technologically outdated, most were at the time patrolling distant oceans, one served on Lake Erie and could not be moved into the ocean, and another had gone missing off Hawaii. [6] At the time of the declaration of the blockade, the Union only had three ships suitable for blockade duty. The Navy Department, under the leadership of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, quickly moved to expand the fleet. U.S. warships patrolling abroad were recalled, a massive shipbuilding program was launched, civilian merchant and passenger ships were purchased for naval service, and captured blockade runners were commissioned into the navy. In 1861, nearly 80 steamers and 60 sailing ships were added to the fleet, and the number of blockading vessels rose to 160. Some 52 more warships were under construction by the end of the year. [7] [8] By November 1862, there were 282 steamers and 102 sailing ships. [9] By the end of the war, the Union Navy had grown to a size of 671 ships, making it the largest navy in the world. [10]

By the end of 1861, the Navy had grown to 24,000 officers and enlisted men, over 15,000 more than in antebellum service. Four squadrons of ships were deployed, two in the Atlantic and two in the Gulf of Mexico. [11]

Blockade service Edit

Blockade service was attractive to Federal seamen and landsmen alike. Blockade station service was considered the most boring job in the war but also the most attractive in terms of potential financial gain. The task was for the fleet to sail back and forth to intercept any blockade runners. More than 50,000 men volunteered for the boring duty, because food and living conditions on ship were much better than the infantry offered, the work was safer, and especially because of the real (albeit small) chance for big money. Captured ships and their cargoes were sold at auction and the proceeds split among the sailors. When Eolus seized the hapless blockade runner Hope off Wilmington, North Carolina, in late 1864, the captain won $13,000 ($215,109 today), the chief engineer $6,700, the seamen more than $1,000 each, and the cabin boy $533, compared to infantry pay of $13 ($215 today) per month. [12] The amount garnered for a prize of war widely varied. While the little Alligator sold for only $50, bagging the Memphis brought in $510,000 ($8,438,872 today) (about what 40 civilian workers could earn in a lifetime of work). In four years, $25 million in prize money was awarded.

Blockade runners Edit

While a large proportion of blockade runners did manage to evade the Union ships, [13] as the blockade matured, the type of ship most likely to find success in evading the naval cordon was a small, light ship with a short draft—qualities that facilitated blockade running but were poorly suited to carrying large amounts of heavy weaponry, metals, and other supplies badly needed by the South. They were also useless for exporting the large quantities of cotton that the South needed to sustain its economy. [14] To be successful in helping the Confederacy, a blockade runner had to make many trips eventually, most were captured or sunk. Nonetheless, five out of six attempts to evade the Union blockade were successful. During the war, some 1,500 blockade runners were captured or destroyed. [13]

Ordinary freighters were too slow and visible to escape the Navy. The blockade runners therefore relied mainly on new steamships built in Britain with low profiles, shallow draft, and high speed. Their paddle-wheels, driven by steam engines that burned smokeless anthracite coal, could make 17 kn (31 km/h 20 mph). Because the South lacked sufficient sailors, skippers and shipbuilding capability, the runners were built, commanded and manned by British officers and sailors. [ citation needed ] Private British investors spent perhaps £50 million on the runners ($250 million in U.S. dollars, equivalent to about $2.5 billion in 2006 dollars). The pay was high: a Royal Navy officer on leave might earn several thousand dollars (in gold) in salary and bonus per round trip, with ordinary seamen earning several hundred dollars.

The blockade runners were based in the British islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas, or Havana, in Spanish Cuba. The goods they carried were brought to these places by ordinary cargo ships, and loaded onto the runners. The runners then ran the gauntlet between their bases and Confederate ports, some 500–700 mi (800–1,130 km) apart. On each trip, a runner carried several hundred tons of compact, high-value cargo such as cotton, turpentine or tobacco outbound, and rifles, medicine, brandy, lingerie and coffee inbound. Often they also carried mail. They charged from $300 to $1,000 per ton of cargo brought in two round trips a month would generate perhaps $250,000 in revenue (and $80,000 in wages and expenses).

Blockade runners preferred to run past the Union Navy at night, either on moonless nights, before the moon rose, or after it set. As they approached the coastline, the ships showed no lights, and sailors were prohibited from smoking. Likewise, Union warships covered all their lights, except perhaps a faint light on the commander's ship. If a Union warship discovered a blockade runner, it fired signal rockets in the direction of its course to alert other ships. The runners adapted to such tactics by firing their own rockets in different directions to confuse Union warships. [15]

In November 1864, a wholesaler in Wilmington asked his agent in the Bahamas to stop sending so much chloroform and instead send "essence of cognac" because that perfume would sell "quite high". Confederate patriots held rich blockade runners in contempt for profiteering on luxuries while the soldiers were in rags. On the other hand, their bravery and initiative were necessary for the nation's survival, and many women in the back country flaunted imported $10 gewgaws and $50 hats as patriotic proof that the "damn yankees" had failed to isolate them from the outer world. The government in Richmond, Virginia, eventually regulated the traffic, requiring half the imports to be munitions it even purchased and operated some runners on its own account and made sure they loaded vital war goods. By 1864, Lee's soldiers were eating imported meat. Blockade running was reasonably safe for both sides. It was not illegal under international law captured foreign sailors were released, while Confederates went to prison camps. The ships were unarmed (the weight of cannon would slow them down), so they posed no danger to the Navy warships.

One example of the lucrative (and short-lived) nature of the blockade running trade was the ship Banshee, which operated out of Nassau and Bermuda. She was captured on her seventh run into Wilmington, North Carolina, and confiscated by the U.S. Navy for use as a blockading ship. However, at the time of her capture, she had turned a 700% profit for her English owners, who quickly commissioned and built Banshee No. 2, which soon joined the firm's fleet of blockade runners. [16]

In May 1865, CSS Lark became the last Confederate ship to slip out of a Southern port and successfully evade the Union blockade when she left Galveston, Texas, for Havana. [17]

The Union blockade was a powerful weapon that eventually ruined the Southern economy, at the cost of very few lives. [18] The measure of the blockade's success was not the few ships that slipped through, but the thousands that never tried it. Ordinary freighters had no reasonable hope of evading the blockade and stopped calling at Southern ports. The interdiction of coastal traffic meant that long-distance travel depended on the rickety railroad system, which never overcame the devastating impact of the blockade. Throughout the war, the South produced enough food for civilians and soldiers, but it had growing difficulty in moving surpluses to areas of scarcity and famine. Lee's army, at the end of the supply line, nearly always was short of supplies as the war progressed into its final two years.

When the blockade began in 1861, it was only partially effective. It has been estimated that only one in ten ships trying to evade the blockade were intercepted. However, the Union Navy gradually increased in size throughout the war, and was able to drastically reduce shipments into Confederate ports. By 1864, one in every three ships attempting to run the blockade were being intercepted. [19] In the final two years of the war, the only ships with a reasonable chance of evading the blockade were blockade runners specifically designed for speed. [20] [21]

The blockade almost totally choked off Southern cotton exports, which the Confederacy depended on for hard currency. Cotton exports fell 95%, from 10 million bales in the three years prior to the war to just 500,000 bales during the blockade period. [13] The blockade also largely reduced imports of food, medicine, war materials, manufactured goods, and luxury items, resulting in severe shortages and inflation. Shortages of bread led to occasional bread riots in Richmond and other cities, showing that patriotism was not sufficient to satisfy the daily demands of the people. Land routes remained open for cattle drovers, but after the Union seized control of the Mississippi River in summer 1863, it became impossible to ship horses, cattle and swine from Texas and Arkansas to the eastern Confederacy. The blockade was a triumph of the Union Navy and a major factor in winning the war.

A significant secondary impact of the naval blockade was a resulting scarcity of salt throughout the South. In Antebellum times, returning cotton-shipping ships were often ballasted with salt, which was bountifully produced at a prehistoric dry lake near Syracuse, New York, but which had never been produced in significant quantity in the Southern States. Salt was necessary for curing meat its lack led to significant hardship in keeping the Confederate forces fed as well as severely impacting the populace. In addition to blocking salt from being imported into the Confederacy, Union forces actively destroyed attempts to build salt-producing facilities at Avery Island, Louisiana (destroyed in 1863 by Union forces under General Nathaniel P. Banks), outside the bay at Port St. Joe, Florida (destroyed in 1862 by the Union ship Kingfisher), at Darien, Georgia, at Saltville, Virginia (captured by Union forces in December 1864), and various sites hidden in marshes and bayous. [22]

Impact on International Trade Edit

The southern cotton industry began to heavily influence the British economy. On the eve of the war, 1,390,938,752 pounds weight of cotton were imported into Great Britain in 1860. Of this, the United States supplied 1,115,890,608 pounds, or about five-sixths of the whole. [23] Not only was Great Britain aware of the impact of Southern cotton, but so was the South. They were confident that their industry held large power, so much, that they referred to their industry as "King Cotton." This slogan was used to declare its supremacy in America. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator James Henry Hammond declaimed (March 4, 1858): "You dare not make war upon cotton! No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is king." [24] The South proclaimed that many domestic and even some international markets depended so heavily on their cotton, that no one would dare spark tensions with the South. They also viewed this slogan as their reasoning behind why they should achieve their efforts in seceding from the Union. The Southern Cotton industry was so confident in the power of cotton diplomacy, that without warning, they refused to export cotton for one day.

Imagining an overwhelming response of pleas for their cotton, the Southern cotton industry experienced quite the opposite. With the decisions of Lincoln and the lack of intervention on Great Britain's part, the South was officially blockaded. Following the U.S. announcement of its intention to establish an official blockade of Confederate ports, foreign governments began to recognize the Confederacy as a belligerent in the Civil War. [25] Great Britain declared belligerent status on May 13, 1861, followed by Spain on June 17 and Brazil on August 1. This was the first glimpse of failure for the Confederate South.

The decision to blockade Southern port cities took a large toll on the British economy but they weighed their consequences. Great Britain had a good amount of cotton stored up in warehouses in several locations that would provide for their textile needs for some time. But eventually Great Britain began to see the effects of the blockade, "the blockade had a negative impact on the economies of other countries. Textile manufacturing areas in Britain and France that depended on Southern cotton entered periods of high unemployment. " [26] in the so-called Lancashire Cotton Famine. The article written in the New York Times further proves that Great Britain was aware of the influence of cotton in their empire, "Nearly one million of operatives are employed in the manufacture of cotton in Great Britain, upon whom, at least five or six millions more depend for their daily subsistence. It is no exaggeration to say, that one-quarter of the inhabitants of England are directly dependent upon the supply of cotton for their living." [27] Despite these consequences, Great Britain concluded that their decision was crucial in terms of reaching abolition of slavery in the United States.

Confederate response Edit

The Confederacy constructed torpedo boats, tending to be small, fast steam launches equipped with spar torpedoes, to attack the blockading fleet. Some torpedo boats were refitted steam launches others, such as the CSS David class, were purpose-built. The torpedo boats tried to attack under cover of night by ramming the spar torpedo into the hull of the blockading ship, then backing off and detonating the explosive. The torpedo boats were not very effective and were easily countered by simple measures such as hanging chains over the sides of ships to foul the screws of the torpedo boats, or encircling the ships with wooden booms to trap the torpedoes at a distance.

One historically notable naval action was the attack of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, a hand-powered submarine launched from Charleston, South Carolina, against Union blockade ships. On the night of 17 February 1864, Hunley attacked Housatonic. Housatonic sank with the loss of five crew Hunley also sank, taking her crew of eight to the bottom.

The first victory for the U.S. Navy during the early phases of the blockade occurred on 24 April 1861, when the sloop Cumberland and a small flotilla of support ships began seizing Confederate ships and privateers in the vicinity of Fort Monroe off the Virginia coastline. Within the next two weeks, Flag Officer Garrett J. Pendergrast had captured 16 enemy vessels, serving early notice to the Confederate War Department that the blockade would be effective if extended. [28]

Early battles in support of the blockade included the Blockade of the Chesapeake Bay, [29] from May to June 1861, and the Blockade of the Carolina Coast, August–December 1861. [30] Both enabled the Union Navy to gradually extend its blockade southward along the Atlantic seaboard.

In early March 1862, the blockade of the James River in Virginia was gravely threatened by the first ironclad, CSS Virginia in the dramatic Battle of Hampton Roads. Only the timely entry of the new Union ironclad Monitor forestalled the threat. Two months later, Virginia and other ships of the James River Squadron were scuttled in response to the Union Army and Navy advances.

The port of Savannah, Georgia, was effectively sealed by the reduction and surrender of Fort Pulaski on 11 April. [31]

The largest Confederate port, New Orleans, Louisiana, was ill-suited to blockade running since the channels could be sealed by the U.S. Navy. From 16–22 April, the major forts below the city, Forts Jackson and St. Philip were bombarded by David Dixon Porter's mortar schooners. On 22 April, Flag Officer David Farragut's fleet cleared a passage through the obstructions. The fleet successfully ran past the forts on the morning of 24 April. This forced the surrender of the forts and New Orleans. [32]

The Battle of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864 closed the last major Confederate port in the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 1864, Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles sent a force against Fort Fisher, which protected the Confederacy's access to the Atlantic from Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open Confederate port on the Atlantic Coast. [33] The first attack failed, but with a change in tactics (and Union generals), the fort fell in January 1865, closing the last major Confederate port.

As the Union fleet grew in size, speed and sophistication, more ports came under Federal control. After 1862, only three ports east of the Mississippi—Wilmington, North Carolina Charleston, South Carolina and Mobile, Alabama—remained open for the 75–100 blockade runners in business. Charleston was shut down by Admiral John A. Dahlgren's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1863. Mobile Bay was captured in August 1864 by Admiral David Farragut. Blockade runners faced an increasing risk of capture—in 1861 and 1862, one sortie in 9 ended in capture in 1863 and 1864, one in three. By war's end, imports had been choked to a trickle as the number of captures came to 50% of the sorties. Some 1,100 blockade runners were captured (and another 300 destroyed). British investors frequently made the mistake of reinvesting their profits in the trade when the war ended they were stuck with useless ships and rapidly depreciating cotton. In the final accounting, perhaps half the investors took a profit, and half a loss.

The Union victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July 1863 opened up the Mississippi River and effectively cut off the western Confederacy as a source of troops and supplies. The fall of Fort Fisher and the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, early in 1865 closed the last major port for blockade runners, and in quick succession Richmond was evacuated, the Army of Northern Virginia disintegrated, and General Lee surrendered. Thus, most economists give the Union blockade a prominent role in the outcome of the war. (Elekund, 2004)

The Union naval ships enforcing the blockade were divided into squadrons based on their area of operation. [34]

Atlantic Blockading Squadron Edit

The Atlantic Blockading Squadron was a unit of the United States Navy created in the early days of the American Civil War to enforce a blockade of the ports of the Confederate States. It was originally formed in 1861 as the Coast Blockading Squadron before being renamed May 17, 1861. It was split the same year for the creation of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron Edit

The North Atlantic Blockading Squadron was based at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was tasked with coverage of Virginia and North Carolina. Its official range of operation was from the Potomac River to Cape Fear in North Carolina. It was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops. It was created when the Atlantic Blockading Squadron was split between the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons on 29 October 1861. After the end of the war, the squadron was merged into the Atlantic Squadron on 25 July 1865. [34]

Commanders Edit

Squadron Commander From To
Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough 18 September 1861 [35] 4 September 1862
Acting Rear Admiral [35] Samuel Phillips Lee 5 September 1862 [35] 11 October 1864
Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter 12 October 1864 27 April 1865
Acting Rear Admiral [35] William Radford 28 April 1865 [35] 25 July 1865

South Atlantic Blockading Squadron Edit

The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops operating between Cape Henry in Virginia down to Key West in Florida. It was created when the Atlantic Blockading Squadron was split between the North and South Atlantic Blockading Squadrons on 29 October 1861. After the end of the war, the squadron was merged into the Atlantic Squadron on 25 July 1865.

Commanders Edit

Gulf Blockading Squadron Edit

The Gulf Blockading Squadron was a squadron of the United States Navy in the early part of the War, patrolling from Key West to the Mexican border. The squadron was the largest in operation. It was split into the East and West Gulf Blockading Squadrons in early 1862 for more efficiency.

Commanders Edit

East Gulf Blockading Squadron Edit

The East Gulf Blockading Squadron, assigned the Florida coast from east of Pensacola to Cape Canaveral, was a minor command. [36] The squadron was headquartered in Key West and was supported by a U.S. Navy coal depot and storehouse built during 1856–61. [37]

Commanders Edit

Squadron Commander [38] From To
Flag Officer William McKean 20 January 1862 3 June 1862
Flag Officer James L. Lardner 4 June 1862 8 December 1862
Acting Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey 9 December 1862 6 August 1864
Captain Theodore P. Greene
(commander pro tem)
7 August 1864 11 October 1864
Acting Rear Admiral Cornelius Stribling 12 October 1864 12 June 1865

West Gulf Blockading Squadron Edit

The West Gulf Blockading Squadron was tasked primarily with preventing Confederate ships from supplying troops and with supporting Union troops along the western half of the Gulf Coast, from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Rio Grande and south, beyond the border with Mexico. It was created early in 1862 when the Gulf Blockading Squadron was split between the East and West. This unit was the main military force deployed by the Union in the capture and brief occupation of Galveston, Texas in 1862.

Commanders Edit

Squadron Commander [38] From To
Rear Admiral David Farragut 20 January 1862 29 November 1864
Commodore James S. Palmer 30 November 1864 22 February 1865
Acting Rear Admiral Henry K. Thatcher 23 February 1865 12 June 1865

Retrospective consideration Edit

After the war, former Confederate Navy officer and Lost Cause proponent Raphael Semmes contended that the announcement of a blockade had carried de facto recognition of the Confederate States of America as an independent national entity since countries do not blockade their own ports but rather close them (See Boston Port Act). [39] Under international law and maritime law, however, nations had the right to stop and search neutral ships in international waters if they were suspected of violating a blockade, something port closures would not allow. In an effort to avoid conflict between the United States and Britain over the searching of British merchant vessels thought to be trading with the Confederacy, the Union needed the privileges of international law that came with the declaration of a blockade.

However Semmes contends that by effectively declaring the Confederate States of America to be belligerents—rather than insurrectionists, who under international law were not eligible for recognition by foreign powers—Lincoln opened the way for Britain and France to potentially recognize the Confederacy. Britain's proclamation of neutrality was consistent with the Lincoln Administration's position—that under international law the Confederates were belligerents—and helped legitimize the Confederate States of America's national right to obtain loans and buy arms from neutral nations. The British proclamation also formally gave Britain the diplomatic right to discuss openly which side, if any, to support. [13]

Civil War Naval History April 1861 - History

On 17 April 1861 (two days prior to Lincoln’s declaration of a blockade), CSA President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation authorizing privateering against Union commercial shipping by southern vessel owners (see post by Gordon on 14 April 2011). This authorization was subsequently ratified by the Confederate Congress. Privateering was often the strategy used by an inferior navy against a superior one and this was in fact the strategy used by the US Navy against the British in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The Confederate privateers were thus the first naval blow of the Civil War struck against the Union.

Just over a week after Davis’ proclamation, a sidewheel steam towboat emerged from the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico as the CS Privateer Calhoun. Commanded by Capt. John Wilson, possessing a Letter of Marque and Reprisal from the CSA government, over the next two weeks this ship captured six Union merchant vessels three cargo vessels (the bark Ocean Eagle, the freighter Milan, and the schooner Ella) and three whalers (the schooners John Adams and Mermaid and the brig Panama). The Calhoun’s exploits were ended by the arrival of the steam sloop USS Brooklyn off the Mississippi in late May (post by yours truly on 12 June 2011). The prizes captured by the Calhoun were adjudicated in the CS District Court for Louisiana, in New Orleans, for a total of $26,650, which was distributed to the owners, officers and crew of the privateer. As the war progressed, this type of profit became less expected, due to the difficulty of getting prizes back through the blockade, the eventual financial poverty of the Confederacy, and the refusal of European powers to allow prizes to be adjudicated in their courts. The Calhoun was eventually captured by the US Navy blockade in January 1862 and converted into a US gunboat under the same name.

Over on the Atlantic Coast, an active area of privateering developed off the North Carolina coast in the Hatteras Inlet area during July-August 1861. Ships of the NC Navy (the NCS Winslow, Raleigh, and Beaufort) and the “true” privateer CS Gordon would hide in the shallow bays and sounds behind the barrier islands and strike out of the inlet, capturing a number of Union merchant ships. This appears to be one of the factors driving the Union raid against the Inlet in August of 1861 (more to come on that in a couple weeks).

Finally, off the South Carolina coast, a fast sailing brig was converted into the privateer CS Jefferson Davis. Under the command of Capt. Louis M. Coxetter (a former US Navy officer), she terrorized Union shipping. Armed with five ancient English guns, and a crew of 75 well armed with small arms and cutlasses, she captured prize after prize, sending them back to Charleston for adjudication. The “Jeff Davis” ended her career wrecked off St. Augustine after a gale recent underwater archaeological work in the area appears to have found her remains, and they are currently being explored and recovered. Coxetter earned a reputation for treating the officers and crews of the captured vessels in an exceptionally decent manner, and went on to earn greater glory in the CW as a captain of blockade runners.

NOTE ON SOURCES – I have found that a good source for information on the Confederate Navy is the series of books written by R. Thomas Campbell. Some of these are edited works presenting accounts by CS Navy personalities, others are original compilations discussing the privateers, the Confederate fleets, the commerce raiders, the ironclads, etc. You can find his books at his web site:

Campbell, R. Thomas. Fire & Thunder. Exploits of the Confederate States Navy. Shippensburg: Burd Street Press, 1997.

Fowler, William M., Jr. Under Two Flags. The American Navy in the Civil War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990.

Simson, Jay W. Naval Strategies of the Civil War. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2001.

American Civil War April 1861

The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 with the Confederate attack on the federal fort, Fort Sumter.

At 04.30 Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour. The order to attack was given by Captain George S James at Fort Johnson. The first shot was said to have been fired by 70 years old Edmund Ruffin, a Virginian highly hostile to the Union. The attack continued throughout the day. On Santa Rosa Island, Florida, Union troops landed to secure the vital Gulf Coast stronghold at Fort Picken.

Major Robert Anderson surrendered the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. With no food and few supplies, he had little choice. Over 40,000 shells had been fired at Fort Sumter. While there were injuries, no Federal soldier was killed.

President Lincoln in Washington DC received his first confirmation that Fort Sumter had surrendered. Lincoln called for volunteers to “still the insurrection in South Carolina”. Two Union soldiers were killed at Fort Sumter after an accident when the US flag was being lowered. They were the first fatalities of the war.

Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight to save the Union. Many thousands responded.

The governors of North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri all responded negatively to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers. Governor Harris of Tennessee said “Tennessee will furnish no man for coercion, but 50,000, if necessary for the defence of our rights, or those of our Southern brethren.”

The Virginia Convention passed the Ordinance of Succession. Jefferson Davis said that the Confederacy would issue Letters of Marque opening up the High Seas to privateers.

Lincoln offered the command of the Federal Army to Colonel Robert E Lee, a former Superintendent of West Point. Lee decided to turn down the offer and to serve his home state, Virginia, instead. Union troops fled the huge military arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on the River Potomac.

Lincoln announced that all Confederate ports would be blockaded. A riot of Confederate sympathisers occurred in Baltimore. The rioters attacked men from the 6 th Massachusetts Regiment. Four soldiers were killed along with nine civilians.

Robert E Lee resigned from the US Army. The order was given by Commandant Charles Macauley for the destruction of the navy yards in Norfolk, Virginia, to stop them falling into Confederate hands. Though great damage was done after the order was carried out, the Confederacy still managed to salvage much that was of value including the hull and mechanism from the ‘USS Merrimac’, a powerful steam frigate. She was to later appear as ‘USS Virginia’.

Riots in support of the Confederacy continued in Baltimore. This cut off the rail links the Union wanted to use for the movement of troops and they had to use sea routes instead, which were slower and more vulnerable to poor weather. A meeting took place in western Virginia in support on the Union and Lincoln’s power.

The Federal arsenal at Fayetteville in Arkansas was taken over by the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis announced his determination to offer some kind of help to the supporters of the Confederacy in Baltimore.

Rioting continued in Baltimore. General B F Butler marching south to Washington DC with troops from Massachusetts offered to restore order. Robert E Lee was promoted to General and give the command of all land and sea forces in Virginia.

Rumours began to circulate in Washington DC that the capital itself was under threat from Confederate forces advancing towards it. Barricades were built around the city.

The 7 th New York Regiment arrived in Washington DC.

The people of Washington DC felt sufficiently safe to start dismantling the barriers they had hastily erected.

The blockade was extended to the ports of North Carolina and Virginia after both states officially seceded from the Union. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus in the region between Philadelphia and Washington DC to allow the military to deal with the rioters in Baltimore. Virginia offered Richmond as the capital city of the Confederacy.

Maryland voted against succession. The second Provisional Confederate Congress met in Montgomery, Alabama. Jefferson Davis told the gathering that “with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence and self-government.”

Union forces abandon the Indian Territory forts to the Confederacy. The ‘Five Civilised Nations’ were placed under the control of the Confederacy.

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Transatlantic telegraph cable, 1857–1858 Edit

Niagara sailed from New York on 22 April 1857 for England, arriving Gravesend on 14 May. A log of the ship's voyage across the Atlantic [1] was kept by the correspondent of the New York Daily Times, where it was published on Thursday, 14 May 1857. On arrival in England Niagara was equipped to lay cable for the first transatlantic telegraph, which was to follow the shallow tableland discovered between Newfoundland and Ireland by Matthew F. Maury. By 11 August, when a break in the cable defied recovery, she had laid several hundred miles westward from Valentia Island, Ireland. She returned to New York 20 November and decommissioned 2 December to prepare for a second essay at cable-laying. Recommissioning 24 February 1858, Captain William L. Hudson in command, she sailed 8 March, arrived Plymouth, England, 28 March, and experimented with HMS Agamemnon. The ships returned to Plymouth to fit out, then made a mid-ocean rendezvous on 29 July, spliced their cable ends, and each sailed toward her own continent. On 5 August, Niagara's boats carried the end of the cable ashore at Bay Bulls Arm, [2] Newfoundland, and the same day Agamemnon landed her end of the cable. The first message flashed across 16 August, when Queen Victoria sent a cable to President James Buchanan. This first cable operated for three weeks ultimate success came in 1866.

Voyage to Africa, 1858 Edit

During the summer of 1858, the U.S. Navy experienced increased pressure to interdict slave traffic in the Caribbean Sea. On 21 August, the USS Dolphin captured the slave ship Echo off of Cuba with men, women, and children taken from Kabenda, Guinea. There were originally 450 to 470 Africans, but that number had dwindled to 306 when they arrived at Castle Pinckney, Charleston, South Carolina. Congressional law required the return of the Africans to Monrovia, Liberia and the huge size of the Niagara made her well suited for returning them. On 20 September, Captain John S. Chauncey boarded 271 Africans who were suffering terribly from scurvy and dysentery. Chauncey expected to reach Africa in twenty days, but that changed when a heavy northwest wind took the Niagara way off course. Seventy-one Africans died before he reached Monrovia on 9 November. Captain Chauncey sent 200 survivors ashore and arrived back in New York Harbor on 11 December. Six days later, the Niagara was decommissioned. [3]

Voyage to Japan, 1860–1861 Edit

Niagara recommissioned on 14 May 1860, Captain William McKean in command. Another unique assignment awaited she was to carry Japan's first diplomatic mission to the United States from Washington to New York, and then home. Leaving New York on 30 June, Niagara called in Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands São Paulo-de-Loande (now Luanda), Angola Batavia (now Djakarta), Java and Hong Kong . The frigate entered Tokyo Bay on 8 November to land her distinguished passengers, then sailed on 27 November for Hong Kong, Aden, and Cape Town, returning Boston on 23 April 1861 to learn of the outbreak of the Civil War. The cruise of the Niagara.

Civil War, 1861–1865 Edit

Quickly preparing for duty on the blockade of southern ports, USS Niagara arrived off Charleston, South Carolina on 10 May, and two days later captured blockade runner CSS General Parkhill attempting to make Charleston from Liverpool. [4] Through the summer she gave similar service at Mobile Bay, and was at Fort Pickens, Florida on 22 September when Flag Officer William McKean in Niagara took command of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. She engaged Confederate defenses at Fort McRee, Pensacola, and Warrington on 22 November, and was hulled twice above the waterline. On 5 June 1862 she sailed for repairs at Boston Navy Yard, where she decommissioned 16 June. Recommissioned 14 October 1863, Niagara steamed from New York on 1 June 1864 to watch over Confederate warships then fitting out in Europe. She reached her base at Antwerp on 26 June, and from there roved the English Channel, the French Atlantic Coast and the Bay of Biscay. On 15 August she took steamer Georgia, a former Confederate warship, off Portugal. In February and March, with USS Sacramento she lay at Ferrol, Spain, to prevent Confederate ironclad Stonewall from departing, but the much more powerful southern ship was able to make good her escape. William B. Gould served onboard the Niagara. [5]

Niagara patrolled with the European Squadron until 29 August when she cleared Cadiz for Boston, arriving on 20 September. There she decommissioned on 28 September 1865, remaining in the Boston Navy Yard until sold on 6 May 1885.

1861 April 12: WAR! WAR! WAR!

The American Civil War is generally considered to have started with the bombardment by Confederate forces of the federally-held Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, April 12, 1861.

Although the news will not appear in The Hudson North Star until five days later—April 17, 1861—surely the news was known sooner by telegraph and from daily newspapers arriving from elsewhere, like the Saint Paul (Minn.) Pioneer. Here are the main articles from that April 17th issue.


The Conflict Commenced.


Charleston, April 12.
The ball is opened. War is inaugurated. The batteries of Sullivan Island, Morris’ Island, and other points were opened on Fort Sumter at 4 o’clock this morning. Fort Sumter has returned the fire and a brisk cannonading has been kept up. No information has been received from the seaboard yet. The military are under arms, and the whole of our population are in the street, and every available space facing the harbor is filled with anxious spectators.

New York, April 12.
The Herald’s special correspondent says Fort Moultrie began the bombardment with two guns to which Major Anderson replied with three from his guns, after which the batterries [sic] at Mount Pleasant, Cummings Point and the Floating batterry [sic] opened a brisk fire of shots and shells. Major Anderson replied only at long intervals until between 7 and 8 o’clock, when he opened from two tiers of guns looking towards Moultrie and Stevens battery, and at 3 o’clock failed to produce serious effect. During the greater part of the day Anderson directed his shots principally against Moultrie, Stevens’ and the floating battery and Fort Johnson, they being the only ones operating against him. Fifteen or eighteen shots struck the Floating battery without effect, breaches to all appearance being made in the sides of Sumter, exposed to the fire. Portions of the parterre were destroyed, and several guns shot away. The firing will continue all night. The fort probably will be carried by storm. It is reported that the Harriet Lane 1 received a shot through her wheel house in the offing. 2 No other government ships are in sight. The troops are pouring into the city by thousands.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the Batteries of the Confederate States in "Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War"

Charleston, April 12.
The firing has continued all day without intermission. Two of fort Sumpter’s [sic] guns have been silenced. It is reported that a breach has been made in the south east ward. The answer to General Bauregard’s demand by Major Anderson, was, that he would surrender whenever his supplies were entirely exhausted, tha is, if he was not reinforced—not a casuality has yet happened to any of the forces of the floating battery in position. Several have opened a fire on Fort Sumpter, the remainder held in reserve for the expected fleet. Two thousand men reached this city this morning and embarked for Morris Island and the neighboring Forts.

Charleston, April 12.
The firing has ceased. The fight to be renewed early in the morning. Ample arrangements are made to prevent reinforcements to-night. Special to the Herald says that two were wounded on Sullivan’s Island, and a number struck by spent shot. Three ships were visible in the offing. It is believed an attempt will be made to-night to reinforce Sumpter [sic]. From the regularity of the firing throughout, Major Anderson has a larger force than was supposed. It has rained all day.

LATER.—Bombardment is continuing with mortars and will be kept up all night. It is supposed that Anderson is resting his men for night.

The bombardment continued from the floating battery. Steven’s and other batteries. Sumpter continues to return the fire. It is reported that three war vessels are off the bar.

Vessels cannot get in as a storm is raging and the sea rough, making it impossible to effect a reinforcement to night. The floating battery works well.

1. The Harriet Lane was a revenue cutter, named for the niece of President James Buchanan.
2. Offing is an old naval expression meaning near at hand it is the part of the sea that can be seen from the shore, but is beyond the anchoring area.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE.—The author has drawn the material primarily from his personal notes, from persons living at the time, and from notes and reminiscences of his father. The main facts, dates, etc., may be verified by reference to the War Records, Abraham Lincoln—A History—the Border States, by J. G. Nicolay and John Hay Soley's and Benjamin's Histories of the Naval Academy Riley's History The Ancient City and Anne Arundel County Maryland's Great Part In Saving The Union, by Seabrook, "Ben" Butler's book, and from minor authoritative sources.

Prior to his retirement in 1933 Mr. Magruder was secretary of the Naval Academy for many years. The son of the Civil War Mayor of Annapolis, he had an intimate knowledge of Naval Academy history based both upon his broad acquaintance among officers of the service and upon his research among the archives of the Academy. He was the author of a number of articles concerning Annapolis and the Naval Academy which appeared in the PROCEEDINGS in former years.

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