Civil War Naval History May 1864 - History

Civil War Naval History May 1864 - History

1 Wooden side-wheelers U.S.S. Morse, Lieutenant Commander Babcock, and U.S.S. General Putnam, Acting Master Hugh H. Savage, convoyed 2,500 Army troops up the York River to West Point, Virginia, where the soldiers were landed under the ships' guns and occupied the town. Another side-wheel steamer, U.S.S. Shawsheen, Acting Master Henry A. Phelon, joined the naval forces later in the day and operated with General Putnam in the Pamunkey River "for covering our troops and resisting any attack which might be made by the enemy." Morse patrolled the Mattapony River where, Babcock reported, "my guns would sweep the whole plain before the entrenchments." Army movements, as Rear Admiral Lee had observed of an earlier plan by Major General Benjamin F. Butler, required "a powerful cooperating naval force to cover his landing, protect his position, and keep open his communications."

U.S.S. Fox, Acting Master Charles T. Chase, captured sloop Oscar outbound from St. Marks, Florida, with cargo of cotton.

2-9 Colonel Bailey and his regiments of Maine and New York soldiers succeeded, after eight days of gruelling work, in nearly completing the dam across the Red River at Alexandria, and hopes rose that Rear Admiral Porter would be able to save the Mississippi Squadron, marooned above the rapids. On 9 May, two of the stone-filled barges which had been sunk as parts of the dam gave way under the increasing pressure of the backed-up water. The barges, however, swung into position to form a chute over the rapids, and Porter quickly ordered his lighter draft vessels to attempt a passage through the gap. As the water was falling, ironclads Osage and Neosho and wooden steamers Fort Hindman and Lexington careened over the rapids with little damage. As Porter later recalled about this thrilling moment: "Thirty thousand voices rose in one deafening cheer, and universal joy seemed to pervade the face of every man present. But all of Porter's vessels were not yet safe, as the larger ships of the squadron remained above the falls. "The accident to the dam," the Admiral related, "instead of disheartening Colonel Bailey, only induced him to renew his exertions, after he had seen the success of getting four vessels through." Bailey and his men, despite the fact that eight days of the heaviest labor had been swept away, turned immediately to work on a new dam.

3 U.S.S. Chocura, Lieutenant Commander Bancroft Gherardi, captured blockade running British schooner Agnes off the mouth of the Brazos River, Texas, with cargo of cotton. Later that same day, Chocura overhauled and captured Prussian schooner Frederick the Second, also laden with cotton, which had run the blockade with Agnes.

U.S.S. Virginia, Acting Lieutenant C. H. Brown, captured schooner Experiment off the Texas coast and destroyed her after removing the cotton cargo.

4 Flag Officer Barron in Paris wrote Secretary Mallory: "I have the honor to inform you that the Georgia, after having received in the port of Bordeaux all necessary aid and courtesy, has arrived in Liverpool, where I have turned her over to Commander J. D. Bulloch, agent for the Navy Department in Europe, to be disposed of for the benefit of the Government. the plans which I had formed for equipping the Rappahannock for service as a man-of-war have been a second time frustrated by the unexplained and unjustifiable action of the French authorities in detaining the Rappahannock in the port of Calais. Had she been permitted to sail on the day appointed by her commander her concerted meeting with the Georgia would have taken place in a fine, out-of-the-way harbor on the coast of Morocco, in and about which place the Georgia had six days of uninterrupted good weather and secure from the notice of all Europeans." As the tide of war turned relentlessly against the Confederacy, foreign governments became increasingly reluctant to involve themselves in the conflict by allowing raiders to outfit in their harbors, and Union diplomatic moves to choke off this source of Southern sea power intensified.

4-7 Steamers U.S.S. Sunflower, Acting Master Edward Van Sice, and Honduras, Acting Master John H. Platt, and sailing bark J. L. Davis, Acting Master William Fales, supported the capture of Tampa, Florida, in a combined operation. The Union ships carried the soldiers to Tampa and pro-vided a naval landing party which joined in the assault. Van Sice reported of the engagement: "At 7 A.M. the place was taken possession of, capturing some 40 prisoners, the naval force capturing about one-half, which were turned over to the Army, and a few minutes after 7 the Stars and Stripes were hoisted in the town by the Navy." The warships also captured blockade running sloop Neptune on 6 May with cargo of cotton. Brigadier General Daniel Woodbury later wrote to Rear Admiral Bailey, Commander of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron: "I wish to acknowledge the important service you have rendered to the army department by placing the gunboat Honduras in my charge, and by your special and general instructions to the commanding Officers of your squadron to assist and cooperate in any military operations."

5 C.S.S. Albemarle, Commander Cooke, with Bombshell, Lieutenant Albert G. Hudgins, and Cotton Plant in company, steamed into Albemarle Sound and engaged Union naval forces in fierce action off the mouth of the Roanoke River. Bombshell was captured early in the action after coming under severe fire from U.S.S. Sassacus, and Cotton Plant withdrew up the Roanoke. Albemarle resolutely continued the action. Sassacus, Lieutenant Commander Roe, gallantly rammed the heavy ironclad but with little effect. Sassacus received a direct hit in her starboard boiler, killing several sailors and forcing her out of action Side-wheelers U.S.S. Mattabesett, Captain M. Smith, and U.S.S. Wyalusing, Lieutenant Commander Walter W. Queen, continued to engage the Southern ram until darkness halted the action after nearly three hours of intensive fighting. As Assistant Surgeon Samuel P. Boyer, on board Mattabesett, wrote: "Shot and shell came fast like hail." Albemarle withdrew up the Roanoke River and small side-wheelers U.S.S. Commodore Hull and Ceres steamed to the river's mouth on picket duty to guard against her reentry into the sound. The ironclad had returned to her river haven, but she had given new evidence that she was a mighty force to be reckoned with. Captain Smith reported: "The ram is certainly very formidable. He is fast for that class of vessel, making from 6 to 7 knots, turns quickly, and is armed with heavy guns. ." And Lieutenant Commander Roe noted: ". I am forced to think that the Albemarle is more formidable than the Merrimack or Atlanta, for our solid l00– pounder rifle shot flew into splinters upon her iron plates." Albemarle's commander was more critical of her performance. Three days later he wrote Secretary Mallory that the ram "draws too much water to navigate the sounds well, and has not sufficient bouyancy. In consequence she is very slow and not easily managed. Her decks are so near the water as to render it an easy task for the enemy's vessels to run on her, and any great weight soon submerges the deck." For the next five months Union efforts in the area focused on Albemarle's destruction.

While Rear Admiral Porter's fleet awaited the opportunity to pass over the Red River rapids, the ships below Alexandria were incessantly attacked by Confederate forces. This date, wooden steamers U.S.S. Covington, Acting Lieutenant George P. Lord, U.S.S. Signal, Acting Lieutenant Edward Morgan, and transport Warner were lost in a fierce engagement on the Red River near Dunn's Bayou, Louisiana. On 4 May, Covington and Warner had been briefly attacked by infantry, and the next morning the Confederates reappeared with two pieces of artillery and a large company of riflemen. Warner, in the lead, soon went out of control, blocked the river at a bend near Pierce's Landing, and despite the efforts of Lord and Morgan was forced to surrender. Signal also became disabled and although Covington attempted to tow her upstream, she went adrift out of control and came to anchor. The gunboats continued the hot engagement, but Lord finally burned and abandoned Covington after his ammunition was exhausted and many of the crew were killed. After continuing to sustain the Confederate cannonade alone, the crippled Signal was finally compelled to strike the colors. The Southerners then sank Signal as a channel obstruc-tion.

Chief Engineer Henry A. Ramsay of the newly established Confederate Navy Yard, Charlotte, North Carolina, advised Commander Brooke, Chief of the Naval Bureau of Ordnance, that be-cause of difficulties in recruiting skilled workers and a shortage of mechanics he was unable to operate some of the equipment for arming Southern ironclads; nor could he repair the locomo-tives assigned to that station by Secretary Mallory. He added: "I understand from you that the iron-clad Virginia [No. II] at Richmond is now in readiness for action except her gun carriages and wrought-iron projectiles, which arc being made at these works. If we had a full force of mechanics this work would have been finished in one-half the time. Two days later, Lieutenant David P. McCorkle wrote Brooke in a similar vein from the Naval Ordnance Works at Atlanta, Georgia. This chronic shortage of skilled workers combined with the material shortages occasioned by the blockade could not be surmounted by the Confederacy.

6 U.S.S. Commodore Jones, Acting Lieutenant Thomas Wade, was destroyed by a huge 2,000-pound electric torpedo in the James River while dragging for torpedoes with U.S.S. Mackinaw and Commodore Morris. From the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Wade later reported that the torpedo "exploded directly under the ship with terrible effect, causing her destruction instantly, absolutely blowing the vessel to splinters." Other observers said that the hull of the converted ferryboat was lifted completely out of the water by the force of the explosion which claimed some 40 lives. A landing party of Sailors and Marines went ashore immediately and captured two torpedomen and the galvanic batteries which had detonated the mine. One of the Confederates, Jeffries Johnson, refused to divulge information regarding the location of torpedoes under interrogation, but he "signified his willingness to tell all" when he was placed in the bow of the forward ship on river duty, and Johnson became the war's "unique minesweeper."

Early in the evening, C.S.S. Raleigh, Flag Officer Lynch, steamed over the bar at New Inlet, North Carolina, and engaged U.S.S. Britannia and Nansemond, forcing them to withdraw temporarily and enabling a blockade runner to escape. Captain Sands, senior officer present, commented: "The principal object [of Raleigh's attack], it seems to me . is for her to aid the outgoing and incom-ing of the runners by driving off the vessels stationed on and near the bar. ." Early the next morning, Raleigh renewed the engagement, exchanging fire with wooden steamers U.S.S. Howquah and Nansemond. Two other steamers, U.S.S. Mount Vernon and Kansas, also opened on the ram, and at 6 a.m. Lynch broke off the action. Attempting to cross the bar at the mouth of Cape Fear River, Raleigh grounded and was severely damaged. Lynch order her destroyed; his action was sanctioned by a subsequent court of inquiry. Thus, the Confederacy lost another formidable ram, one upon which Southern Army commanders had been depending to defend the inner bars from Union attack.

U.S.S. Granite City, Acting Master C.W. Lamson, and U.S.S. Wave, Acting Lieutenant Benjamin A. Loring, were captured by Confederate troops in Calcasieu River, Louisiana. Steamer Granite City and tinclad Wave had been dispatched to Calcasieu Pass to receive refugees on 28 April and both ships carried out this duty until the morning of the captures, landing a small army de-tachment on shore as pickets. The Southerners, with artillery and about 350 sharpshooters from the Sabine Pass garrison, overwhelmed the Union landing party, and took the ships under fire on the morning of 6 May. After an hour's engagement, Granite City surrendered; upon receiving shot in her boiler and steam drum, Wave shortly followed suit. On the 10th U.S.S. New London, Acting Master Lyman Wells, unaware that the Confederates had surprised and taken the Union vessels, arrived off Calcasieu. Wells sent one boat to Granite City, which did not return. On the morning of the 11th, he sent another boat, under the command of Acting Ensign Henry Jackson, toward Granite City under flag of truce. Seeing a Confederate flag flying from her, Jackson tried to shoot it down and was killed by a Southern sharpshooter. Upon receiving Acting Master Wells' report, Rear Admiral Farragut immediately planned to recapture the vessels but, having insufficient ships of light draft available, was forced to postpone his efforts.

U.S.S. Dawn, Acting Lieutenant John W. Simmons, transported soldiers to capture a signal station at Wilson's Wharf, Virginia. After landing the troops two miles above the station, Simmons proceeded to Sandy Point to cover the attack. When the soldiers were momentarily halted, a boat crew from Dawn spearheaded the successful assault.

U.S.S. Grand Gulf Commander George M. Ransom, captured blockade running British steamer Young Republic at sea east of Savannah with cargo of cotton and tobacco. Two weeks later, Rear Admiral Lee congratulated Ransom on the seizure and wrote: "Every capture made by the blockaders deprives the enemy of so much of the 'sinews of war,' and is equal to the taking of a supply train from the rebel Army."

U.S.S. Eutaw, Osceola, Pequot, Shokokon, and General Putnam, side-wheelers of Rear Admiral Lee's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, supported the landing of troops at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia.

7 U.S.S. Shawsheen, Acting Ensign Charles Ringot, was disabled, captured and destroyed by Confederates in James River. Shawsheen, a 180-ton side-wheel steamer, had been ordered to drag the river for torpedoes above Chaffin's Bluff, and had anchored near shore shortly before noon so that the crew could eat, when Confederate infantry and artillery surprised the gunboat. A shot through the boiler forced many sailors overboard to avoid being scalded. Lieutenant Colonel W.M. Elliott, CSA, reported that Shawsheen was completely disabled and "though reluctantly, she nevertheless hauled down her colors and displayed the white flag in token of surrender. A boat was dispatched to enforce the delivery of the prisoners on board, the enemy's boats being made available to bring them off. The officer was also instructed to fire the vessel, which was effectively done, the fire quickly reaching the magazine, exploding it, consigning all to the wind and waves.

The Confederacy, hampered by limited armaments and foundries, sought to make optimum use of every piece of captured Union ordnance. This date, Major General Camille J. Polignac, CSA, pointed out the significance of the Southern capture of U.S.S. Signal and Covington and their two Parrott guns (see 6 May): "It is very important and desirable that these fruits of our victories over the enemy's gunboats shall be saved to us, as well as lost to them."

9 Rear Admiral Farragut again wrote Secretary Welles requesting ironclads for the reduction of Mobile Bay: "I am in hourly expectation of being attacked by almost an equal number of vessels, ironclads against wooden vessels, and a most unequal contest it will be, as the Tennessee is repre-sented as impervious to all their experiments at Mobile so that our only hope is to run her down, which we shall certainly do all in our power to accomplish; but should we be unsuccessful the panic in this part of the country will be beyond all control. They will imagine that New Orleans and Pensacola must fall." At this time Admiral Buchanan was trying to float Tennessee over the Mobile bar using watertight caissons or "camels". Until that could be effected, there would be no engagement with Farragut's fleet.

U.S.S. Connecticut, Commander Almy, seized blockade running British steamer Minnie with cargo of cotton, tobacco, turpentine, and $10,000 in gold. The steamer was a well-known suc-cessful blockade runner. On 16 April 1864, John T. Bourne, Confederate commercial agent at St. Georges, Bermuda, had advised B.W. Hart Company, of London: "Steamer Minnie, Captain [Thomas S.] Gilpin, has made a splendid trip bringing 700 & odd bales of cotton & good lot of Tobacco paying for herself & the Emily."

10 U.S. Army transport Harriet A. Weed, supporting troop movements in the St. John's River, was destroyed by a torpedo. Sinking in less than a minute, the steamer became the third victim of stepped-up Confederate torpedo activity in the St. John's River in less than six weeks. While reconnoitering the river near Harriet A. Weed's hulk, U.S.S. Vixen recovered a torpedo of the type that destroyed the transport. The keg torpedo was, reported Charles O. Boutelle of the Coast Survey, "simple and effectual".

U.S.S. Mound City, Acting Lieutenant Amos R. Langthorne, and U.S.S. Carondelet, Lieutenant Commander John G. Mitchell, grounded near where work was proceeding on the wing dams across the Red River rapids above Alexandria. Next day, as the Red River slowly continued to rise behind the two wing dams, ironclads Mound City, Carondelet, and U.S.S. Pittsburg, Acting Lieutenant William R. Hoel, were finally hauled across the upper falls above the obstructions by throngs of straining soldiers. As the troops looked on in tense anticipation, the gunboats, all hatches battened down, successfully lurched through the gap between the dams to safety. Rear Admiral Porter later reported to Secretary Welles: "The passage of these vessels was a beauti-ful sight, only to be realized when seen." U.S.S. Ozark, Louisville, and Chillicothe, ironclads which had crossed the upper falls, were preparing to follow the next day.

U.S.S. Connecticut, Commander Almy, captured blockade running British steamer Greyhound, Lieutenant George H. Bier, CSN, with cargo of cotton, tobacco, and turpentine on the Govern-ment account.

12 Rear Admiral Lee, prompted by the recent loss of U.S.S. Commodore Jones and Shawsheen, ordered Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson to command a special "torpedo and picket division" in the James River. The force would comprise side-wheelers U.S.S. Stepping Stones, Delaware, and Tritonia. In addition to patrolling and reconnoitering the river banks and dragging the river itself for torpedoes, Lee directed Lamson: "By night keep picket vessels and boats ahead and underway with alarm signals to prevent surprise from rebel river craft, rams, torpedo 'Davids,' and fire rafts."

Flag Officer Barron in Paris wrote Secretary Mallory: "To-day I have heard indirectly and confidentially that the Alabama may be expected in a European port on any day. Ship and captain both requiring to be docked. Captain Semmes' health has begun to fail, and he feels that rest is needful to him. If he asks for a relief, I shall order Commander T.J. Page to take his place in command, and shall not hesitate to relieve the other officers if they ask for respite from sea duty after their long, arduous, and valuable service on the sea. There are numbers of fine young officers here who are panting for active duty on their proper element, and will cheerfully relieve their brother officers who have so handsomely availed themselves of the opportunities afforded them of rendering such distinguished service to their country and illustrating the naval profession."

Boat expedition under Acting Lieutenant William Budd, U.S.S. Somerset, transported a detachment of troops to Apalachicola, Florida, to disperse a Confederate force thought to be in the vicinity.

After disembarking the troops, Budd and his launches discovered a body of Confederate sailors embarking on a boat expedition, and after a brief exchange succeeded in driving them into the town and capturing their boats and supplies. The Confederates, led by Lieutenant Gift, CSN, had planned to capture U.S.S. Adela.

U.S.S. Beauregard, Acting Master Edward C. Mealy, seized blockade running sloop Resolute off Indian River, Florida.

13 Climaxing two weeks of unceasing effort to save the gunboats and bring to a close the unsuccessful Red River campaign, U.S.S. Louisville, Chillicothe, and Ozark, the last ships of Rear Admiral Porter's stranded fleet, succeeded in passing over the rapids above Alexandria, Louisiana. By mid-afternoon the gunboats steamed down the river, convoying Army transports; thus ended one of the most dramatic exploits of the war, as Lieutenant Colonel Bailey's ingenuity and the inexhaust-ible energy of the men working on the obstructions raised the level of the river enough to save the Mississippi Squadron. Porter later wrote to Secretary Welles: "The water had fallen so low that I had no hope or expectation of getting the vessels out this season, and as the army had made arrangements to evacuate the country I saw nothing before me but the destruction of the best part of the Mississippi squadron. ." He rightly praised the work of Colonel Bailey: "Words are inadequate to express the admiration I feel for the abilities of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey. This is without a doubt the best engineering feat ever performed . he has saved to the Union a valuable fleet, worth nearly $2,000,000. ." Bailey's services received prompt recognition, for in June he was promoted and he later received the formal thanks of Congress.

Small sidewheel steamer U.S.S. Ceres, Acting Master Henry H. Foster, with Army steamer Rockland and 100 embarked soldiers in company, conducted a raiding expedition on the Alligator River, North Carolina, captured Confederate schooner Ann S. Davenport and disabled a mill supplying ground corn for the Southern armies.

15 As ships of Rear Admiral Porter's gunboat fleet neared the mouth of the Red River, they met continued resistance from Confederate shore batteries and riflemen. U.S.S. St. Clair, a 200-ton stern-wheeler under Acting Lieutenant Thomas B. Gregory, engaged a battery near Eunice's Bluff, Louisiana. Gregory exchanged fire with the artillerists until the transports he was con-voying were out of danger, then continued downriver.

U.S.S. Kansas, Lieutenant Commander Pendleton G. Watmough, captured blockade running British steamer Tristram Shandy at sea east of Fort Fisher with cargo of cotton, tobacco, and turpentine.

16 Ships of the Mississippi Squadron were constantly occupied with safeguarding river transportation from Southern attack. Side-wheeler U.S.S. General Price, Acting Lieutenant Richardson, engaged a Confederate battery which had taken transport steamer Mississippi under fire near Ratliff's Landing, Mississippi. Lafayette, Lieutenant Commander J.P. Foster, and U.S.S. General Bragg, Acting Lieutenant Cyrenius Dominy, converged upon the battery and the three heavy steamers forced the Confederate gunners back from the river, enabling the transport to proceed.

Having crossed the rapids of the Red River at Alexandria, Rear Admiral Porter next had to traverse the many bars in the River near its mouth. The Admiral found that the water was higher there than had been anticipated and reported to Secretary Welles: "Providentially we had a rise from the backwater of the Mississippi, that river being very high at that time, the back-water extending to Alexandria, 150 miles distant, enabling us to pass all the bars and obstruc-tions with safety." After battling low water, rapids, and the harassing forces of General Taylor for two months along the Red River, Porter and his gunboats again entered the Mississippi.

A landing party from U.S.S. Stockdale, Acting Lieutenant Thomas Edwards, was fired upon by Confederate cavalry at the mouth of the Tchefuncta River in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. Edwards succeeded in forcing the Confederates to withdraw, but not until two of his officers had been captured and one killed.

18 After encountering many difficulties and setbacks Admiral Buchanan succeeded in floating the formidable Confederate ram Tennessee over Dog River Bar and out into Mobile Bay. With Rear Admiral Farragut's fleet forming outside the bay, the stage was now being set for one of the most dramatic and decisive naval battles of the War.

C.S.S. Florida, Lieutenant Morris, captured and burned schooner George Latimer of Baltimore at 34o55' N, 55o13' W, with cargo of flour, lard, bread, and kerosene.

19 U.S.S. General Price, Acting Lieutenant Richardson, engaged a Confederate battery on the banks of the Mississippi River at Tunica Bend, Louisiana. The Southerners, who had been attempting to destroy transport steamer Superior, were forced to evacuate their river position. Richardson put ashore a landing party which burned a group of buildings used by the Confederates as a headquarters from which attacks against river shipping were launched.

21 Gunfire from ironclad steamer U.S.S. Atlanta, Acting Lieutenant Thomas J. Woodward, and U.S.S. Simmons, dispersed Confederate cavalry attacking Fort Powhatan on the James Rivet, Virginia. Dawn, a wooden steamer, remained above the fort during the night to prevent another attack.

22 During the long period of watchful waiting and preparation off Mobile, Rear Admiral Farragut wrote his son Loyall: "I am lying off here, looking at Buchanan and awaiting his coming out. He has a force of four ironclads and three wooden vessels. I have eight or nine wooden vessels. We'll try to amuse him if he comes. I have a fine set of vessels here just now, and am anxious for my friend Buchanan to come out.

U.S.S. Kineo, Lieutenant Commander John Waters, seized blockade. running British schooner Sting Ray off Velasco, Texas. However, the prize crew put on board the schooner was overwhelmed by the original crew. The schooner was grounded on the Texas coast, where the Union sailors were turned over to the custody of Confederate troops.

U.S.S. Crusader, Lieutenant Peter Hays, captured schooner Isaac L. Adkins at the mouth of the Severn River, Maryland, with cargo of corn and oats.

23 U.S.S. Columbine, Acting Ensign Sanborn, was captured after a heated engagement with Con-federate batteries and riflemen at Horse Landing, near Palatka, Florida. Columbine, a 130-ton side-wheeler operating in support of Union Army forces and with soldiers embarked, lost steer-ing control and ran onto a mud bank, where she was riddled by the accurate Confederate fire. With some 20 men killed and wounded, Sanborn surrendered "to prevent the further useless expenditure of human life." Shortly after taking the prize, the Southerners destroyed her to avoid recapture by U.S.S. Ottawa, Lieutenant Commander Breese. Ottawa, cooperating with the Army in the same operation, had also been fired upon the night before and suffered damage but no casualties before compelling the Confederate battery at Brown's Landing to withdraw. Rear Admiral Dahlgren wrote: "The loss of the Columbine will be felt most inconveniently; her draft was only 5 or 6 feet, and having only two such steamers, the services of which are needed elsewhere, can not replace her.''

24 President Lincoln, ever ready to recognize the contributions of the officers and men in service afloat, recommended the promotion of Lieutenant Commander Francis A. Roe and First Assistant Engineer James M. Hobby for their distinguished conduct in the fierce battle between U.S.S. Sassacus and C.S.S. Albemarle in Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, on 5 May.

Confederate soldiers captured and burned steamer Lebanon near Ford's Landing, Arkansas. Six days later, Union transport Clara Ames and her cargo of cotton were taken and burned near Gaines Landing, Arkansas, after she was disabled by artillery fire. Confederates continually ranged along the banks of the western rivers engaging Union shipping in hit-and-run raids. The actions were a constant reminder of the continuing need for naval gunboat support and vigilance on these all important waterways.

Accurate gunfire from wooden steamer U.S.S. Dawn, Acting Lieutenant Simmons, compelled Confederate troops to break off an attack on the Union Army position at Wilson's Wharf on the James River. Other ships quickly moved to support the troops. Rear Admiral Lee later reported that General E.A. Wild, commanding the Army defenses, praised the Navy's work: "He stated to me that the gunboats were of great assistance to him in repelling their attack."

25 Boat crew from U.S.S. Smith, made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy C.S.S. Albemarle in the Roanoke River near Plymouth, North Carolina. After ascending the Middle River with two 100-pound torpedoes, Charles Baldwin, coal heaver, and John W. Lloyd, coxswain, swam across the Roanoke carrying a towline with which they hauled the torpedoes to the Plymouth shore. Baldwin planned to swim down to the ram and position a torpedo on either side of her bow. Across the river, Alexander Crawford, fireman, would then explode the weapons. However, Baldwin was discovered by a sentry when within a few yards of Albemarle and the daring mission had to be abandoned. John Lloyd cut the guidelines and swam back across the river to join John Laverty, fireman, who was guarding the far shore. They made their way to the dinghy in which they had rowed upriver and, with Benjamin Lloyd, coal heaver, who had acted as boatkeeper, made their way back to the Mattabesett. On 29 May Baldwin and Crawford, exhausted, returned to the ship. Captain Smith reported: "I can not too highly commend this party for their courage, zeal, and unwearied exertion in carrying out a project that had for some time been under consideration. The plan of executing it was their own, except in some minor details. As Smith recommended, each of the five sailors was awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic efforts.

A joint Army-Navy expedition advanced up the Ashepoo and South Edisto Rivers, South Carolina, with the object of cutting the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. Union naval forces, under Lieutenant Commander Edward F. Stone, included converted ferryboat U.S.S. Commodore Mc-Donough, and wooden steamers E.B. Hale, Dai Ching, and Vixen and a detachment of Marines. The Navy pushed up the South Edisto, while Army transports moved up the Ashepoo convoyed by Dai Ching. Stone landed the Marines and howitzers and on the morning of the 26th opened fire on Willstown, South Carolina. The naval commander, unable to make contact with General Birney to coordinate a further assault, withdrew next morning. Transport Boston ran aground in the Ashepoo and was destroyed to prevent her capture.

26 The unsuccessful Red River campaign having drawn to a close, General Banks' army on 20 May crossed the Atchafalaya River near Simmesport, Louisiana, protected by Rear Admiral Porter's fleet. Porter, whose health was beginning to fail after many months of arduous duty on the western waters, arrived at his headquarters at Cairo, Illinois, this date, and reported to Secretary Welles on the end of the expedition: "I have the honor to report my arrival at this place, four days from Red River. The army had all crossed the Atchafalaya, and General Smith's division had embarked; the gunboats covered the army until all were over. The river is quiet be-tween this [Ohio River] and Red River. ."

Rear Admiral Farragut wrote Rear Admiral Bailey, then at Key West, about the torpedo prepara-tions made by Confederate Admiral Buchanan in Mobile Bay: "I can see his boats very industri-ously laying down torpedoes, so I judge that he is quite as much afraid of our going in as we are of his coming out; but I have come to the conclusion to fight the devil with fire, and therefore shall attach a torpedo to the bow of each ship, and see how it will work on the rebels-if they can stand blowing up any better than we can."

Commander Carter, U.S.S. Michigan, reported to Secretary Welles from Buffalo, New York, of the cruise of his iron side-wheeler on Lake Erie "relative to supposed armed vessel intended to raid on the lake cities. ., but he could "find no foundation for the rumors relative thereto . matters quiet at present. ."

Illustrative of the global demands placed on the Union Navy was the request of Robert H. Pruyn, U.S. Minister to Japan, that Captain Cicero Price bring U.S.S. Jamestown without delay to the port of Kanagawa, which the Japanese threatened to close to foreign commerce.

28 After a six-hour chase, U.S.S. Admiral, Lieutenant William B. Eaton, captured blockade running steamer Isabel, south of Galveston, Texas, with a cargo of powder and arms. Eaton commented in his report that "She was ably handled, and her commander evinced the most desperate courage, not surrendering until two broadsides at close quarters had been poured into him, and our Marines pouring in such an incessant fire of musketry that not a man could remain on deck, and not until then did the captain of her show a light as a signal of submission.'' Label, a highly successful blockade runner which was reported to have made more than 20 trips through the blockade at Mobile and Galveston, was severely damaged, and despite Eaton's efforts to save her, sank at Quarantine Station on the Mississippi River on 2 June.

U.S.S. Ariel, Acting Master James J. Russell, captured sloop General Finegan north of Chassahow-itzka Bay, Florida. The blockade runner's crew attempted to set her afire, but Ariel saved the cargo of cotton and turpentine and then destroyed General Finegan as unseaworthy.

29 U.S.S. Cowslip, Acting Ensign Richard Canfield, captured sloop Last Push off the coast of Missis-sippi with cargo of corn.

30 Mounting evidence pointed to a Confederate naval assault on Union forces in the James River be-low Richmond. This date, John Loomis, a deserter from C.S.S. Hampton, reported that three ironclads and six wooden gunboats, all armed with torpedoes, had passed the obstructions at Drewry's Bluff and were below Fort Darling, awaiting an opportunity to attack. The ironclads were C.S.S. Virginia II, Flag Officer John K. Mitchell, C.S.S. Richmond, Lieutenant William H Parker, and C.S.S. Fredericksburg, Commander Thomas R. Rootes. Two days later, Archy Jenkins, a Negro from Richmond, confirmed this statement and added: "They are putting two barges and a sloop lashed together, filled with shavings and pitch and with torpedoes, which they intend to set on fire, and when it reaches the fleet it will blow up and destroy the fleet. They all say they know 'they can whip you all; they are certain of it.' They believe in their torpedoes in preference to everything." "In view of the novel attack contemplated," Rear Admiral Lee wrote Secretary Welles, " . one or more ironclads could be added to my force here, considering the importance of this river to the armies of Generals Grant and Butler."

U.S.S. Keystone State, Commander Crosby, and U.S.S. Massachusetts, Acting Lieutenant William H. West, captured blockade running British steamer Caledonia at sea south of Cape Fear after a three hour chase in which the steamer's cargo of bacon, leather, and medical supplies was thrown overboard.

31 U.S.S. Commodore Perry, Acting Lieutenant Amos P. Foster, engaged Confederate artillery on the James River, Virginia, in a two hour exchange during which the converted ferryboat was dam-aged by six hits.

Secretary Welles ordered U.S.S. Constellation, Captain Stellwagen, detached from duty in the Mediterranean to report to Rear Admiral Farragut in the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron.

One of the Most Daring and Romantic Naval Feats of History

Rain began falling in sheets as the small steamer known as picketboat No. 1 puffed its way through the choppy surf toward the mouth of the river, now just minutes away.

Directly astern, the boat tugged an open cutter full of sailors, all hand-picked, good with “revolvers, cutlasses, and hand-grenades.”

The two boats had departed the Shamrock almost three hours earlier, and now, as the mouth of the river loomed ever-nearer, their sense of casual confidence gave way to grim determination. For they had all volunteered for a mission many senior officers in Washington considered suicidal.

This is a map of eastern portion of the Chowan/Roanoke watershed, showing the Chowan, Meherrin, Nottoway and Blackwater rivers as well as Albemarle Sound

It was October 27, 1864, and the cold, rain-drenched men were slowly departing Albemarle Sound for the Roanoke River.

They were still about ten miles from Plymouth, North Carolina, where their objective – the Confederate ironclad ram, CSS Albemarle – was berthed amongst an array of elaborate defensive measures. Every man realized he was in for a long, dangerous night, and that many would not be returning.

Their task was to either cut the ironclad out or, if that proved unfeasible, torpedo the Albemarle in its berth. Not one man had the slightest notion that within days the New York Times would hail their mission as “one of the most daring and romantic naval feats of history.”

In April of that year the recently completed Albemarle had descended the Roanoke to surprise, then drive-off a small Federal flotilla patrolling near Plymouth and spearhead the Confederate recapture of the town.

Then in May the Rebel ram appeared on the open waters of Albemarle Sound, bound for New Bern, North Carolina. She was promptly attacked by a flotilla of seven Federal gunboats, large and well-armed, sixty naval guns against the Albemarle’s two.

For hours, the battle raged, the Federals surrounding the Confederate vessel as it bobbed about between them, blasting away at virtually point-blank range. When it was all over, the Federals had hurled 557 rounds at the ram, but accomplished little more than riddling its smokestack, shaking loose a few iron plates, and damaging the tube of one naval rifle.

The Federal flotilla, on the other hand, had suffered severely, experiencing damage to every vessel, much of which would require months to repair, even though the Albemarle had fired only 27 shots.

The Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle under construction at Edward’s Ferry.

Because of the Albemarle’s shallow draft, the powerful Federal monitors could not gain the sounds and challenge her on inland waters, creating in turn a serious problem.

For if the Albemarle was allowed to dominate the sounds unchallenged, it would open all of North Carolina again to blockade runners, thus reopening supply routes to Richmond, and extending the duration of the war. President Lincoln bristled at the thought of an extended conflict, so something else, something drastic, had to be done.

But, so far, every attempt to sink or damage the ram had failed, thus in sheer desperation the navy finally turned to a twenty-one-year-old lieutenant named William Barker Cushing. Cushing had already established a long record of special operations style hit-and-run raids along the South Atlantic coast, becoming something of a legend in the Navy even before his twenty-second birthday. But taking on the Albemarle seemed, to many at least, beyond even Cushing’s unique capabilities.

Lt William B Cushing, USN

The Roanoke was picketed, for instance, from Albemarle Sound, clear to Plymouth, and a heavily armed schooner along with an artillery piece established on a wreck in mid-channel awaited anyone who journeyed upriver.

At Plymouth, a full brigade of infantry had been deployed to protect the ram, and a battery of artillery unlimbered at water’s edge to sweep all approaches. The ram’s two Brooke rifles were also reported to extend over the river, capable of blasting any approaching craft to smithereens. Numerous illumination fires had been erected, and the picket posts had warning rockets at their disposal. A successful approach appeared impossible.

Yet the ram still had to be destroyed, so now Cushing and his party were puffing up the narrow channel in the pouring rain, the small steamer’s engine recently muffled to reduce noise. The men hunkered low, complete silence an absolute necessity. There were fifteen men in the steamer, another thirteen in the cutter, all shivering in the cold, driving rain.

Albemarle’s ram sinks Southfield

Around 2:30 AM they approached the wreck and schooner in mid-river, and every man cautiously reached for their weapons.

Suddenly, the schooner emerged from the mist like a phantom, so abruptly, in fact, that Cushing had little choice but to try and slide by on the shore side. Literally holding their breath, the men in both boats slipped past undetected, so near the schooner that the conversations of the Confederate pickets onboard were clearly audible.

Exhaling as the boats rounded the next bend, in another ten minutes the party neared Plymouth, where the ironclad’s silhouette was spotted against the southern bank. Cushing still hoped to cut the ram out, so he headed past the ironclad toward a small wharf where he might put in.

But suddenly a sentry atop the Albemarle turned and called out: “Who goes there!” Then again: “Who goes there!” They’d been spotted!

The encounter at Albemarle Sound, May 5, 1864. From left to right are USS Commodore Hull, USS Wyalusing, USS Sassacus, CSS Albemarle, USS Mattabesett and CSS Bombshell

Boarding the ironclad was now impossible, so Cushing dropped the line to the cutter, ordering those men to go back and take-out the schooner they’d passed downriver. Then he headed in toward the ram but instantly noticed something bobbing in the water.

He pulled alongside – it was a log apron, guarding the ram. Shots began to ring-out, slapping the water. Enormous illumination fires leaped to life along the water’s edge, turning night into day. A siren sounded. Guards began running, shouting, shooting. The back of Cushing’s coat was blown-away by a shotgun blast, the sole of one shoe shot-off.

Back into the shadows Cushing steered the picketboat, recalculating his attack on the fly, focused now upon one desperate effort. He intended to gain enough speed to jump the log apron, then slip into the water near the ram.

If successful, he would extend the spar torpedo and blow a hole in the Albemarle before the guards could respond. It meant he and his men would have no avenue of escape, but escape was no longer a consideration.

Results of a French test of a spar torpedo in 1877.

With bullets ricocheting off the steamer and roiling the water around them, the boat struck the apron at full speed, bouncing into the air, then tilting forward into the pen with the Albemarle.

There was no time to lose. An officer pushed the spar deep into the water, but detonating the torpedo was a tricky affair. Once the spar had been advanced, Cushing had to wait for the torpedo to gain depth. Then he had to tug a release line, allowing the torpedo (something akin to a modern mine) to drift up under the target, before finally pulling the trigger line. If the entire sequence were not executed precisely, the torpedo would not detonate.

Now bullets were flying all around him, and his men were screaming, falling, dodging for cover. One of the Albemarle’s enormous Brooke rifles stared Cushing almost directly in the face, and he could hear the commands of the Confederate gun crew inside as they cranked the barrel lower. He had only seconds before the gun fired, atomizing him in an instant.

Explosive charge lashed to the boom of a spar torpedo

A bullet creased his neck. Four more ripped through his coat. Still, Cushing refused to budge, but worked calmly, finally releasing the torpedo, then counting coolly to ten, allowing the torpedo to float-up under the ram, all this as hell broke loose around him.

A fifth bullet sliced his hand, then another tore away his collar. Inside the ram the Confederates were preparing to fire the Brooke just as Cushing finally counted “ten” and tugged the trigger cord.

The lanyard-mounted torpedo designed by William B. Cushing that sunk CSS Albemarle

An enormous explosion ensued. The steamer dipped momentarily as a gigantic plume of water rose high above the ram, then collapsed, swamping Cushing, his men, and the steamer at once.

The torpedo and the Brooke had gone off virtually simultaneously, the shell from the naval gun passing just over Cushing’s head. For a moment everything was still, both sides numbed by the violent detonations. Then the Rebels began firing again, and Cushing yelled for his men to “save yourselves,” as he tossed his coat, sword, and shoes aside, diving off the stern.*

The torpedo explodes against the Albemarle

The cold water stunned him awake, and he swam for his life as bullets stabbed the water. Soon there were search boats out looking, their lanterns illuminating the surface, so he dove each time they neared, holding his breath to avoid them.

The current began taking him south. He surfaced and swam and swam until cold and exhaustion at last overwhelmed him, and – physically overcome – he finally sank like a stone. But, drifting low, Cushing felt mud in his hand. Frantic, he pulled at the muck, yanking himself forward, discovering the riverbank. He clawed his way up. Utterly exhausted, he took a few steps forward, then collapsed into the mud, unconscious.

A steamboat with a spar torpedo, in transport position

As the sun rose, Cushing awoke, directly under the nose of a Confederate palisade. Carefully timing his movements, he slid across the riverbank to the thick vegetation of the Carolina swamp nearby. There he located a slave whom he paid to go inspect the Albemarle, and minutes later the man was back telling him that the ram now rested on the bottom of the river – the torpedo had done its job!

The slave also pointed the way south through the swamp, so Cushing took off on foot, dodging search parties everywhere.

For hours he beat his way through brush and creeks, tearing his feet to shreds on stickers and thorns, before finally stumbling upon a farm road. Getting his bearings, he headed south, tracking blood across the dirt, until coming upon a Confederate picket post around dinnertime.

CSS Albemarle. According to Millers Photographic History of the Civil War Vol VI “The Navies” .p.87 this picture was taken after the ram had been raised and salvaged

The Rebels had a skiff tied-up in a creek that emptied into the Roanoke, so Cushing dodged tree-to-tree, until the Confederates sat down for dinner. Then he slipped into the water, untied the skiff, and quietly pushed it out toward the channel.

He rolled into the boat, picked up a paddle, and began paddling with what little energy he had left. Soon darkness and mist enveloped him. Cushing fought against exhaustion for hours, paddling until he finally gained Albemarle Sound, then labored hours more out into the widening waters.

At last he spotted the running lights of what appeared to be a Federal patrol boat. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he hollered with everything he had left: “Ship Ahoy!” Then he collapsed unconscious into the bottom of the skiff.

Fearing a Rebel attack, a cutter was sent out from the Valley City to carefully reconnoiter. Finding Cushing alone, they tossed him into the cutter, and rowed back. With his uniform half-shot away, covered in mud, blood, and reeds, no one had any idea who, or what, he really was.

So, still unconscious Cushing was tossed unceremoniously onto the deck of the Valley City as a crowd gathered round for a look. Fortunately, the City’s skipper, J.A.J. Brooks, knew Cushing, and fell to his knees for a closer inspection. “My God, Cushing!” he cried, “is this you?” Cushing came-to, identified himself, and told Brooks of the Albemarle’s demise. The crew exploded in wild cheers.

CSS Albemarle.

Cushing was promptly bathed, attended to by the ship’s surgeon, then rowed to the Shamrock, the fleet’s flagship. News of his success and epic ordeal had already been flashed throughout the fleet, and their response was beyond jubilant.

In a scene that could have been written in Hollywood, crews cheered, ship’s whistle’s peeled, and rockets were thrown up like the 4 th of July, as Cushing stood by the rail and drank it all in. It was an incredible end to an incredible mission.

William Barker Cushing would go on to post one of the most remarkable wartime records of daring and success ever achieved by any officer in the United States Navy. It was Admiral David Farragut, after all – who knew a little something of heroism himself – who once remarked that “young Cushing was the hero of the war.”

On November 3, 1864 the New York Times wrote: “The destruction of the rebel ram Albemarle by Lieut. Cushing proves to be one of the most daring and romantic naval feats of history,” and today, some 156 years later, it has lost none of its luster.

*Only Cushing and one sailor escaped. Two of the steamer’s crew were killed, the other eleven taken prisoner. They were removed to Libby Prison in Richmond, later paroled on February 21, 1865.

By Jim Stempel

For a full list of his current books, please click here:

For a preview of his newest Revolutionary War book, due out this fall, and a full listing of his other works, simply click here:

Jim Stempel is the author of numerous articles and nine books on American history, spirituality, and warfare. His most recent book, American Hannibal: The Extraordinary Account of Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens, is currently available at virtually all online booksellers.

Grant’s Overland Campaign

Grant surged across the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers in Virginia on May 4, hoping to get through the tangled Wilderness before Lee could move. But the Confederate leader reacted instantly and, on May 5, attacked Grant from the west in the Battle of the Wilderness. Two days of bitter, indecisive combat ensued. Although Grant had 115,000 men available against Lee’s 62,000, he found both Federal flanks endangered. Moreover, Grant lost 17,666 soldiers, compared with a probable Southern loss of about 8,000. Pulling away from the Wilderness battlefield, Grant tried to hasten southeastward to the crossroads point of Spotsylvania Court House, only to have the Confederates get there first. In savage action (May 8–19), including hand-to-hand fighting at the famous “Bloody Angle,” Grant, although gaining a little ground, was essentially thrown back. He had lost 18,399 men at Spotsylvania. Lee’s combined losses at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania were an estimated 17,250.

Again Grant withdrew, only to move forward in another series of attempts to get past Lee’s right flank. Again, at the North Anna River and at Totopotomoy Creek, he found Lee confronting him. Finally, at Cold Harbor, just northeast of Richmond, Grant launched several heavy attacks, including a frontal, nearly suicidal one on June 3, only to be repelled with grievous total losses of 12,737. Lee’s casualties are unknown but were much lighter.

Grant, with the vital rail centre of Petersburg—the southern key to Richmond—as his objective, made one final effort to swing around Lee’s right and finally outguessed his opponent and stole a march on him. But several blunders by Federal officers, swift action by Beauregard, and Lee’s belated though rapid reaction enabled the Confederates to hold Petersburg. Grant attacked on June 15 and 18, hoping to break through before Lee could consolidate the Confederate lines east of the city, but he was contained with 8,150 losses.

Unable to admit defeat but having failed to destroy Lee’s army and capture Richmond, Grant settled down to a nine-month active siege of Petersburg. The summer and fall of 1864 were highlighted by the Federal failure with a mine explosion under the gray lines at Petersburg on July 30 (the Battle of the Crater), the near capture of Washington by the Confederate Jubal Early in July, and Early’s later setbacks in the Shenandoah Valley at the hands of Philip H. Sheridan.

American Civil War May 1864

May 1864 saw the start of Sherman’s attmept to capture the vital city of Atlanta. The Army of the Potomac was also ordered by Grant to follow and pursue the army of Robert E Lee wherever it went.

May 1 st : General Sherman started his advance on the Army of the Tennessee.

May 2 nd : The first skirmishes between Sherman’s troops and the Army of the Tennessee occurred.

President Davis also told the Confederate government that there was no hope of any form of recognition of the Confederacy by foreign governments.

May 3 rd : The Army of the Potomac was ordered to start its campaign against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant claimed that the men in the Army of the Potomac were “in splendid condition and feel like whipping somebody”.

May 4 th : The Army of the Potomac, numbering 122,000 men, crossed the River Rapidan in pursuit of Lee’s army. Lee had 66,000 men under his command. General Sherman’s men prepared for their march on Atlanta. He had 98,000 men under his command.

May 5 th : Grant and Lee’s troops engage en masse for the first time in this campaign. Fighting in the ‘Wilderness’, Lee’s troops had the advantage because the terrain was covered in scrub oak, stunted pines and sweet gum. All this made concealment easy and made Grant’s task far more difficult despite a 2 to 1 superiority in terms of troop numbers.

May 6 th : The Battle of the Wilderness continued. Neither side could claim victory at the end but in terms of casualties the Union could afford to lose more men than the South. The North lost 2236 dead, 12,037 wounded and 3383 missing. The Confederates lost 7,500 men in total.

May 7 th : After a short rest the Army of the Potomac moved off again. This time Grant headed towards Richmond. This time it was Lee who had to be wary of Grant’s movements. The Army of the James was already threatening Richmond to the South.

May 8 th : An attempt by Grant to get his army between Lee and Richmond failed when the Union’s V Corps failed to take Spotsylvania Cross Roads.

Sherman continued his march on Atlanta with little, at present, to stop him.

May 9 th : Well-placed and well-dug trenches ensured that the Confederate force opposing Grant was difficult to move and there was a temporary halt to major attacks between Lee and Grant with the Union engaged in a series of reconnaissance raids as opposed to anything more.

May 11 th : The Army of the Potomac spent the day manoeuvring into position for an attack primed for May 12 th.

Six miles from Richmond, J E B (‘Jeb’) Stuart was killed in a skirmish. The South had lost one of its most talented commanders.

May 12 th : The North’s attack against Lee’s army started at 04.30. Their initial assault was a success but a Confederate counter-attack ensured that the North was unable to capitalise on this. The fighting in an area known as ‘Bloody Angle’ – part of the South’s entrenchments – was some of the bloodiest of the war.

May 13 th : The fighting for ‘Bloody Angle’ near Spotsylvania ended at 04.00. The North had lost 6,800 men, the South 5,000. Once again, the Army of the Potomac could afford the losses while the South could not. Grant continued his aggressive approach of looking for Lee’s army. There was little doubt that Grant’s confidence of victory rubbed off on his men.

Sherman encountered determined opposition at Resaca. Here the South had built extensive entrenchments and they proved a major obstacle for Sherman and his army.

May 14 th : Heavy rain meant that all forms of movement were curtailed around Spotsylvania.

May 15 th : A Union force commanded by General Sigel was defeated at New Market. Sigel had been sent to defeat Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. In this he failed. On the side of the successful Confederates was Colonel George Patton, grandfather of the officer with the same name who found fame in World War Two. Sigel was relieved of his command on May 19 th .

Sherman was unable to make a breakthrough at Resaca.

May 16 th : The North suffered a major defeat at Drewry’s Bluff and lost 25% of their manpower during the battle – 4160 men killed and wounded out of 18,000. The blame was later directed at the lacklustre leadership of General Butler.

May 18 th : When the rain stopped Grant launched another unsuccessful frontal assault on Lee’s positions. With increasing casualties, Grant call off the attack. He had clearly underestimated just how well the Confederates entrenchments had been made.

May 19 th : Buoyed by his successes, Lee turned to the Confederates II Corps and ordered an attack on Union lines. This led to heavy fighting between both armies but neither one gained an advantage. By the end of the day the fighting around Spotsylvania had come to an end. The Army of the Potomac had lost 17,500 men. Combined with the loss of men at the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant had lost 33,000 men out of 122,000 in just one month – 27% of the Army of the Potomac’s total. However, Grant still had an army nearly 90,000 strong. There are no accurate figures for Lee’s losses for the same period but they were undoubtedly high. While the Union could sustain their losses, however unpalatable the figure, the South could not.

May 20 th : Sherman continued his advance to Atlanta.

May 23 rd : Grant continued in his policy of shadowing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He had a 2 to 1 advantage in terms of troop strength. The cause of the South was not helped when Lee was taken with a fever and had to retire to bed.

May 24 th : One of the consequences of Sherman’s advance was that he had extended supply lines. On this day a raid by Confederate cavalry on his lines led to the destruction of large quantities of supplies. There was not a great deal Sherman could do about this, as he wanted to continue with his advance to Atlanta and the Confederates were skilled at quick cavalry attacks.

May 28 th : The Army of Northern Virginia moved towards Cold Harbor. By doing this Lee had placed his army between Grant and Richmond.

May 29 th : Lee entrenched his positions around Cold Harbor.

May 30 th : Rather than shy away from contact with Lee, Grant maintained his aggressive stance and faced his army at Cold Harbor.

May 31 st : Sherman’s advance on Atlanta was stalled by Confederate troops commanded by J E Johnston. Their tactics, while never going to defeat Sherman, were sufficient to slow down his army to, on average, just one mile a day.

The Civil War at Sea

Although frequently overlooked, the naval battles of the Civil War played a critical role in determining the war's outcome. In this activity students will learn about several important engagements by studying the ships that participated in them.

Begin by dividing the class into six or eight groups (depending on class size), and have each one conduct online research about a particular naval vessel used by the Union or Confederate navies. The PDF document for this activity entitled "The Civil War at Sea" contains one-page handouts that include web links and directions for each group.

The ships to be studied—and the sites to which they should be directed-are as follows (omit the last two if only six groups are used). Note that all these links may be found at the EDSITEment-reviewed site of the Naval Historical Center.

Some of the sites use abbreviations that will be unfamiliar to students they should be directed to the "Abbreviations and Symbols" page for explanations of these.

Group #1: U.S.S. Monitor:

Group #2: C.S.S. Virginia

Group #3: U.S.S. Housatonic

Group #4: C.S.S. H.L. Hunley:

Group #5: U.S.S. Kearsarge:

Group #6: C.S.S. Alabama:

Group #7: U.S.S. Wachusett:

Group #8: C.S.S. Florida:

    (Note: This page includes information on three different Confederate vessels of this name the one relevant to this activity is the third.)

With the help of these resources, each group should produce (either during class time or as homework) a poster-sized graphic presentation of the group's assigned ship and its history. Each poster should include the following:

  • A drawing of the ship
  • Basic information about the ship, including:
    • Type of vessel (commerce raider, ironclad, submarines, etc.)
    • Dimensions (tonnage, length, beam, etc.)
    • Armament
    • Name of commanding officer
    • When the ship was launched
    • Important assignments
    • Battles in which the ship was engaged
    • When the ship was decommissioned or sunk

    During the next class period each group should make a brief (5-minute) presentation explaining how its ship contributed to the outcome of the war. This should be followed by a discussion of the role that the naval war played in the Union victory. Although this should naturally come up in the discussion, teachers may have to remind students of the importance of the Union's blockade of southern ports, which severely hampered the ability of the Confederacy to sell its cotton abroad and to purchase arms and supplies from other countries.

    Sketches of Life in a Union POW Camp, by a Confederate Prisoner

    These sketches were made by Confederate prisoner Jacob Omenhausser at Point Lookout, Maryland, in 1864. The New-York Historical Society has digitized the artwork, which was preserved in the personal papers of Brigadier General James Barnes, the Union commander in charge of the district that contained Point Lookout.

    The Union Army first used the Point Lookout site, originally a summer resort, as a military hospital. The army began constructing a prisoner-of-war camp there in 1863, to house prisoners taken during the Battle of Gettysburg. The camp was quickly filled over capacity, holding 15,500 soldiers by the summer of 1864 and 20,000 by June 1865. Of 50,000 total soldiers imprisoned at Point Lookout during its years as a POW camp, 4,000 died from the camp’s poor conditions.

    Omenhausser captures the informal systems of barter that prevailed in the prison and depicts scenes of prisoners passing the time with games of chance. Sketches of POWs petitioning camp officials—depicted seated on horseback—seem to emphasize the indignity of a system that required soldiers to beg for favors.

    In two of the sketches below, black Union soldiers appear in positions of authority, issuing commands to Confederate prisoners. Omenhausser seems to have viewed the presence of these guards as a particularly irksome fact of life as a prisoner of war.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

    Correction, Sept. 1, 2015: This post and its headline originally misattributed these drawings to an anonymous prisoner. They were by Jacob Omenhausser.

    The Civil War was the first large and prolonged conflict recorded by photography. During the war, dozens of photographers--both as private individuals and as employees of the Confederate and Union Governments--photographed civilians and civilian activities military personnel, equipment, and activities and the locations and aftermaths of battles. Because wet-plate collodion negatives required from 5 to 20 seconds exposure, there are no action photographs of the war.

    The name Mathew B. Brady is almost a synonym for Civil War photography. Although Brady himself actually may have taken only a few photographs of the war, he employed many of the other well-known photographers before and during the war. Alexander Gardner and James F. Gibson at different times managed Brady's Washington studio. Timothy O'Sullivan, James Gardner, and Egbert Guy Fox were also employed by Brady during the conflict.

    The pictures listed in this select list of photographs are in the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Most are part of the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (Record Group 111) and Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (Record Group 165). The records include photographs from the Mathew B. Brady collection (Series Identifier 111-B), purchased for $27,840 by the War Department in 1874 and 1875, photographs from the Quartermaster's Department of the Corps of Engineers, and photographs from private citizens donated to the War Department.

    Photographs included in this select list have been organized under one of four main headings: activities, places, portraits, and Lincoln's assassination. Items in the first two parts are arranged under subheadings by date, with undated items at the end of each subheading. Photographs of artworks have also been included in the list. Any item not identified as an artwork is a photograph. Names of photographers or artists and dates of items have been given when available, and an index to photographers follows the list.

    Many photographs of the Civil War held by the National Archives are not listed here. A list of selected fully digitized series are included below. Separate inquiries about other Civil War photography should be as specific as possible listing names, places, events, and other details. We have very few portraits of lower ranking individuals and much of our Civil War holdings highlight high-ranking military personnel. In addition, nearly all of our images of Confederates illustrate high-ranking officials and personnel.

    Sandra Nickles and Joe D. Thomas did the research, selection, and arrangement for this list and wrote these introductory remarks when this list was revised in 1999. Additional updates to this introduction were made as recently as May 2021. The photographs within this list are within the public domain and have no Use Restrictions.

    Civil War Naval History May 1864 - History

    Mobile Bay and the City of Mobile, Alabama, are seldom written or talked about in Civil War Naval History except in connection with the famous Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. I’ll be putting together a few posts on Mobile Bay, the city, and naval events transpiring there during the course of the war and leading up to the historic 1864 engagement.

    On the first Christmas Eve of the war, 24 December 1861, the first naval battle at Mobile Bay was fought between the Confederate gunboat CSS Florida and the US Navy blockader USS Huntsville. The Confederate ship in this case was not the famed commerce raider, it was a civilian steamer seized by the state government and turned over to the CS Navy for conversion into a gunboat. The Florida ventured out from its anchorage near Fort Morgan and fired on the Huntsville that morning. The two ships dueled at long range for a bit less than an hour and inflicted little or no damage to one another, but the engagement did attract a considerable crowd of onlookers from Confederate Forts Morgan and Gaines and the adjacent USN blockading vessels.

    The Mobile press reported elatedly (but incorrectly) that the Confederate gunboat scored a resounding victory against the Union blockader. Commander Cicero Price of the Huntsville noted in his after-action report to the Gulf Squadron Command that his smoothbore guns were entirely inadequate for the task and recommended his ship be refitted with better, rifled armament. The Florida was later renamed the CSS Selma (as shown on the illustration) and was a participant in the Battle of Mobile Bay.

    Thanks to the Naval History and Heritage Command web site for the two illustrations of the naval ships involved, along with all the other resources they provide, and best wishes for the holidays and thanks to all the followers of this CWN 150 Blog.

    7. Misconception: The war was fought entirely in the U.S.

    Gettysburg is, perhaps, the classic vision of a Civil War battlefield: green, hilly fields ensconced in artillery smoke. In reality, though, the Civil War was far from land-locked. Naval warfare played a huge role in the conflict, with the Union victory at the Battle of Port Royal and the standstill at the Battle of Hampton Roads among the most pivotal maritime clashes. The Civil War also made a little naval history when the Confederacy's Hunley became the first submarine to sink an opposing warship when it attacked the USS Housatonic in 1864.

    One naval battle is noteworthy because it didn’t take place in the waters of America at all. In June 1864, the North and South came to blows in the waters off Cherbourg, France, in the English Channel. The battle began brewing when the Confederate ship, the CSS Alabama, was docked at Cherbourg Harbor hoping for some repairs. For years, this ship had been wreaking havoc on U.S. vessels, resulting in the plunder of more than 64 ships and causing millions of dollars in damages.

    The USS Kearsarge, helmed by John A. Winslow, had been pursuing the Alabama for months, and once Winslow got word from the U.S. minister in Paris that the ship was docked and prone, he moved in for the kill. Upon hearing that the Kearsarge was ready for a battle, Alabama captain Raphael Semmes prepped his ship and met his Union foe nine miles off the coast of Cherbourg. The Alabama was the first to fire—but there was just one problem: The Kearsarge was draped in a thick anchor chain that protected it from enemy artillery.

    Soon, the Alabama was taking on water, the white flag was up, and Semmes was all but defeated. Instead of capture, though, Semmes and some of his surviving men were saved by a nearby British ship. In all, around 20 Confederate troops died, compared to just one Union soldier.

    Civil War Naval History May 1864 - History

    February 22, 1864 - Battle of Okolona - Class B.
    Strength: Union 7,000 Confederates 2,500.
    Casualties: Union 388 Confederates 144.
    Confederate cavalry under General Nathan Bedford Forrest defeats Union cavalry under General Smith as he makes a late attempt to rendezvous with Sherman's Meridian Expedition. Fight over eleven miles ends when Confederate reinforcements help rout the Union, but can not pursue due to lack of ammunition.

    March 12-14, 1864 - Fort de Russy - Class B.
    Strength: Union 10,000 Confederates 350.
    Casualties: Union 50 Confederates 324, including 317 captured.
    First engagement of the Red River campaign ends with Union victory in General Banks' goal to capture Shreveport, the headquarters for the Confederate Army's operation west of the Mississippi River. Surprise attack takes only twenty minutes and gains central Louisiana for the Union.

    April 8, 1864 - Battle of Sabine Crossroads - Class A. Strength: Union 14,000 Confederates 12,000. Casualties: Union 1,000 Confederates 694 (killed/wounded), 1,423 (captured/missing). In the final major battle of the Union's Red River campaign, a Confederate victory in the battle of staged reinforcements, stops the Federal attempt to capture Shreveport.

    April 9-13, 1864 - Battle of Prairie D' Ane - Class B.
    Strength: Union 13,000 Confederates 7,000.
    Casualties: Union 100 Confederates 50.
    Part of the Camden Expedition launched in conjunction with the Red River Campaign. General Steele was meant to drive south from Little Rock, pinch the Confederate Army, and meet up with General Banks, continuing into Texas. Despite a Union victory here, news of the Confederate victory at Sabine Crossroads caused Steele to abandon his mission and retreat north.

    April 9, 1864 - Battle of Pleasant Hill - Class B.
    Strength: Union 12,000 Confederates 12,100.
    Casualties: Union 1,369 Confederates 1,626, including 426 captured.
    Continuation of the Battle of Sabine Crossroads when Confederate General Taylor decides to assault the Union position sixteen miles southeast of the battlefield from the day before, but is defeated with heavy casualties on both sides. Union continues retreat to Grand Ecore, abandoning plans to capture Shreveport.

    April 12, 1864 - Battle of Fort Pillow - Class B.
    Strength: Union 600 Confederates 1,500-2,500
    Casualties: Union 182 Confederates 100.
    Battle along the Mississippi River in Tennessee forty miles north of Memphis ends in the massacre of black troops by General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

    May 5-7, 1864 - Wilderness - Class A.
    Strength: Union 124,000 Confederates 60-65,000.
    Casualties: Union 17,666 Confederates 11,033.
    First battle in the Overland Campaign between U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee proves inconclusive as the Union continued their offensive toward Richmond.

    May 8-21, 1864 - Spotsylvania Court House - Class A.
    Strength: Union 100-110,000 Confederates 50-53,000.
    Casualties: Union 18,399 Confederates 12,687.
    Subsequent battle in the Overland Campaign between U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, who dug entrenchments along a Mule Shoe line with the battle at the Bloody Angle for eighteen hours one of the most costly of the war. Inconclusive result as Grant continues toward Richmond.

    May 12-16, 1864 - Battle of Drewry's Bluff - Class B.
    Strength: Union 30,000 Confederates 18,000.
    Casualties: Union and Confederate, 6,600.
    Union General Butler attacks the Confederate forces at Proctor's Creek south of Richmond over several days. Cautious and disorganized attacks are met by Confederate General Ransom and defeat, retreating back to Bermuda Hundred.

    May 14-15, 1864 - Battle of Resaca - Class C.
    Strength: Union 98,787 Confederates 60,000.
    Casualties: Union 4-5,000, Confederate, 2,800.
    The battle, an early contest of the Atlanta Campaign, was considered inconclusive, but did not halt Sherman's drive toward the coming battles of the Atlanta Campaign, i.e. Kennesaw Mountain one month later, and the effective occupation of Atlanta in September.

    May 15, 1864 - Battle of New Market - Class B.
    Strength: Union 6,275 Confederates 4,087.
    Casualties: Union 841 Confederates 531.
    Part of General Grant's Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864 under General Sigel is defeated by a haphazard Confederate Army of General Brekinridge and cadets from the Virginia Military Academy. Aftermath of the battle: Union forced from the valley, General Sigel replaced by General Hunter, and Confederate Army able to benefit from the crops harvested by local farmers.

    May 23-26, 1864 - Battle of North Anna - Class B.
    Strength: Union 67,000-100,000 Confederates 50,000-53,000.
    Casualties: Union 3,986 Confederates 1,552.
    Moving south from the Spotsylvania battlefield in the Overland Campaign, General Grant engages Lee in several actions with varying success Telegraph Road Bridge, Jericho Mills, Ox Ford, Quarles Mill, and Hanover Junction. Inconclusive outcome leads to Grant moving southeast toward Cold Harbor.

    May 28-30, 1864 - Battle of Totopotomy Creek - Class B.
    Strength: Union 1 corps Confederates 1 corps.
    Casualties: Union 731 Confederates 1,593.
    General Robert E. Lee attacks the Union 5th Corps with Early's 2nd Corps as the Union moved toward Cold Harbor. Inconclusive outcome. Now part of Richmond National Battlefield Park.

    May 31 - June 12, 1864 - Battle of Cold Harbor - Class A.
    Strength: Union 108-117,000 Confederates 59-62,000.
    Casualties: Union 12,738 Confederates 5,287.
    In the first major battle of the 1864 pursuit of Richmond near the city, Grant encounters fortified positions, yet assaults their front in a series of battles on the south and northern ends of the line. One of the most lopsided engagements of the war.

    June 5, 1864 - Battle of Piedmont - Class B.
    Strength: Union 8,500 Confederates 5,500.
    Casualties: Union 875 Confederates 1,500, including 1,000 captured.
    After replacing General Sigel with General Hunter in command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, Hunter has his first major action against the forces of General Jones. Union rout allows Hunter to occupy Staunton.

    June 10, 1864 - Battle of Brice's Crossroads - Class B.
    Strength: Union 8,100 Confederates 3,500.
    Casualties: Union 2,240 Confederates 497.
    Significant victory for the Confederates under General Forrest, defeating larger force of Union under General Sturgis. Mississippi citizens played a large part in the victory, providing Forrest with important intelligence of Union movements.

    June 11-12, 1864 - Battle of Trevilian Station - Class B.
    Strength: Union 9,286 Confederates 6,762.
    Casualties: Union 1,512 Confederates 813.
    Cavalry battle during the Overland Campaign pitting General Sheridan vs. General Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton. Largest all cavalry battle of the war ends in tactical victory for the Confederates as Sheridan rejoins Grant's main army after failing to permanantly destroy the Virginia Central Railroad.

    June 15-18, 1864 - Second Battle of Petersburg - Class A.
    Strength: Union 13,000 (Day 1) to 62,000 (Day 4) Confederates 5,400 (Day 1) to 38,000 (Day 4).
    Casualties: Union 11,386 Confederates 4,000.
    Four days of battles with increasing reinforcements saw Union assaults and a series of mistakes against smaller Confederate forces in strong defensive positions. Due to the Confederate strength and victory, the Union begins the ten month Siege of Petersburg.

    June 17-18, 1864 - Battle of Lynchburg - Class B.
    Strength: Union 16,643 Confederates 14,000.
    Casualties: Union 75 Confederates 6.
    Valley Campaign of 1864 continues when General Hunter attempts to capture the supply town of Lynchburg, but fails against General Jubal Early's troops, who now, with Hunter's retreat into West Virginia, had free range up the Shenandoah Valley toward Washington, D.C.

    June 21-23, 1864 - Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road - Class B.
    Strength: Union 27,000 Confederates 8,000.
    Casualties: Union 2,962 Confederates 572.
    First battle in Petersburg Campaign to extend Union siege lines west and destroy the Weldon Railroad. Outcome of Union failure to destroy the railroad, but extending their lines lead to battle draw.

    June 27, 1864 - Battle of Kennesaw Mountain - Class B.
    Strength: Union 16,225 Confederates 17,733.
    Casualties: Union 3,000 Confederates 1,000.
    Frontal assault by General Sherman in Atlanta Campaign is defeated by Confederate General Johnston's troops, but victory fails to stop Sherman's march to the city.

    Note: Photo above: Battle walk in the woods of the Wilderness Battlefield during the 150th anniversary in 2014. Casualty and troop strength numbers from Wikipedia Commons.