Tag Archives: Gulf of Mexico

The Battle of Mobile Bay

August 5, 1864 – Federal naval forces under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut won a sensational victory that closed a vital Confederate seaport to shipping and boosted sagging northern morale.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut had been assembling a naval fleet and planning to capture Mobile Bay since January. His flotilla consisted of 14 wooden warships and four ironclads. To access the bay, the ships had to pass through a narrow, 200-yard channel guarded by Confederates at Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island to the west and Fort Morgan to the east. The secondary bay entrance to the far west was guarded by Fort Powell.

Confederates placed 67 floating mines (or torpedoes) in the main entrance, which were marked with buoys. The Federals could avoid them, but they would have to steer closer to Fort Morgan and its 46 guns. Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan had a small naval fleet in the bay consisting of the wooden sidewheel gunboats C.S.S. Morgan, Gaines, and Selma, and the ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee. The 18 Federal ships outgunned the four Confederate vessels 147 to 22.

The Federal vessels began advancing on the flood tide at 5:30 a.m., with the ironclad monitors in a column closest to Fort Morgan that protected the wooden vessels. The wooden ships were lashed together in pairs so that if one was disabled, the other could pull her along. The U.S.S. Tecumseh led the ironclads, and the U.S.S. Brooklyn lashed to the Octorara led the wooden ships. The Brooklyn had a “cowcatcher” used to dredge for torpedoes. The admiral’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, was behind the Brooklyn, lashed to the Metacomet.

Buchanan’s crew aboard the Tennessee woke him at 5:45 a.m. Buchanan assembled them on the gun deck and announced: “Now, men, the enemy is coming, and I want you to do your duty. If I fall, lay me on the side and go on with the fight.” Farragut reported, “The attacking fleet steamed steadily up the Main Ship Channel, the Tecumseh firing the first shot at 6:47.” An officer aboard the Hartford recalled:

“The calmness of the scene was sublime. No impatience, no irritation, no anxiety, except for the fort to open; and, after it did open, full five minutes elapsed before we answered. In the mean time the guns were trained as if at a target, and all the sounds I could hear were, ‘Steady boys, steady! Left tackle a little; so!’ then the roar of a broadside, and an eager cheer as the enemy were driven from their water battery.”

The Federal momentum temporarily halted as the fleet came under heavy bombardment from Fort Morgan, and the Tecumseh struck a mine and sank. Captain James Alden of the Brooklyn wrote:

“I observed the ill-fated Tecumseh which was then about 300 yards ahead of us and on our starboard bow, careen violently over and sink almost instantaneously. Sunk by a torpedo! Assassination in its worst form! A glorious though terrible end for our noble friends, the intrepid pioneers of that death-strewed path! Immortal fame is theirs; peace to their names.”

As Farragut sent the Metacomet to collect the Tecumseh survivors, the Brooklyn began reversing, which halted all the ships behind her. Farragut asked Alden why he was reversing, and he replied, “Torpedoes.” Farragut yelled, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead, Drayton! Hard astarboard; ring four bells! Eight bells! Sixteen bells!”

Farragut climbed the rigging to see better, and a boatswain lashed him to the shrouds to prevent him from falling. The Hartford moved directly through the minefield, hitting some torpedoes. However, they did not detonate because they were waterlogged. The remaining 16 vessels followed the Hartford into the bay by 8:35 a.m., in time to serve breakfast to the crew.

Soon after the Federal vessels entered Mobile Bay, Buchanan brought his small fleet forward to give battle. Farragut said, “I did not think old Buck was such a fool,” and trained his ships on the Confederates. The Morgan was grounded, the Gaines was sunk, and the crew of the Selma surrendered. This left the Tennessee alone to face Farragut’s 17 ships.

The fight in the bay | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Buchanan had moved the Tennessee under the guns of Fort Morgan, but now he brought her out in a last-ditch effort to drive the Federals out of the bay. The Hartford and two other vessels rammed the enemy vessel at five-minute intervals. Three more Federal ships converged with broadsides that destroyed Buchanan’s smokestack. And when fire destroyed Tennessee’s steering gear, a wounded Buchanan finally raised the white flag around 10 a.m.

A lieutenant from the U.S.S. Manhattan went aboard the Tennessee to collect her colors and later wrote that “her decks looked like a butcher shop. One man had been struck by the fragments of one of our 15-inch shot, and was cut into pieces so small that the largest would not have weighed 2 lbs.”

Without their ironclad, the Confederates could do little to stop the mighty Federal fleet from entering the lower bay and capturing the last port in the Gulf of Mexico east of Texas. The Federals suffered 145 killed (93 drowned on Tecumseh, including Commander Tunis A.M. Craven), 170 wounded, and four captured. Confederates lost 12 killed, 20 wounded, and 270 captured.

Northern morale, which had been at its lowest point of the war, was greatly boosted by this sensational Federal victory. However, the Confederates still held the forts at the bay’s entrance and the city of Mobile, 30 miles north. The Federals soon began working to take the forts.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177-78; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 195; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 145-47, 156; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15324; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 444; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480-82; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 503-04; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 183-84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 551-52; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 760-61; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 209-12; Melton, Maurice, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504, 746; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 325-26

 

The Mobile Bay Campaign

August 4, 1864 – Federal naval forces under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut prepared to attack one of the last remaining Confederate seaports open to blockade runners.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut had sought to capture Mobile Bay ever since he took New Orleans in April 1862. Farragut intended to not only close the port, but to divert attention from Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal threat to Atlanta. However, blockading duty and the opening of the Mississippi River took precedence until January, when Farragut finally began planning in earnest to take this vital seaport.

Capturing Mobile Bay meant subduing the forts defending the channel. These included (from east to west) Fort Morgan on the western edge of Mobile Point, Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, and the smaller Fort Powell, all commanded by Brigadier General Richard L. Page. The forts lacked sufficient firepower, but the Confederates made up for this by placing 67 floating mines (i.e., torpedoes) in the bay, as well as a small defense fleet under Admiral Franklin Buchanan. The fleet included the wooden gunboats Morgan, Gaines, Selma, and the ironclad ram C.S.S. Tennessee.

Farragut reported to his superiors:

“I am satisfied that if I had one ironclad at this time I could destroy their whole force in the bay and reduce the forts at my leisure, by cooperation with our land forces–say 5,000 men… Without ironclads we should not be able to fight the enemy’s vessels of that class with much prospect of success, as the latter would lie on the flats, where our ships could not go to destroy them. Wooden vessels can do nothing with them, unless by getting within 100 or 200 yards, so as to ram them or pour in a broadside.”

Farragut spent the first half of 1864 assembling his attack fleet, but the ironclads were slow in coming. He wrote pessimistically in May, “One thing appears to be certain, that I can get none of the ironclads. They want them all for Washington.” Farragut also reported on the Confederate progress in gathering a fleet during that time:

“I am watching Buchanan in the ram Tennessee. She is a formidable-looking thing, and there are four others and three wooden gunboats. They say he is waiting for the two others to come out and attack me, and then raid until New Orleans. Let him come. I have a fine squadron to meet him, all ready and willing.”

However, Buchanan would not bring his fleet out to confront the Federals, and Farragut soon became frustrated:

“I am tired of watching Buchanan and Page, and wish from the bottom of my heart that Buck would come out and try his hand upon us. The question has to be settled, iron versus wood; and there never was a better chance to settle the question as to the sea-going qualities of ironclad ships. We are today ready to try anything that comes along, be it wood or iron, in reasonable quantities. Anything is preferable to lying on our oars.”

In July, Farragut directed his fleet commanders, “Strip your vessels and prepare for the conflict. Send down all your superfluous spars and rigging. Trice up or remove the whiskers.” Farragut had 14 wooden ships and three ironclads–the U.S.S. Chickasaw, Manhattan, and Winnebago–with a fourth, the U.S.S. Tecumseh, on her way from Pensacola. Farragut wrote on July 31:

“The Confederates at Fort Morgan are making great preparations to receive us. That concerns me but little. I know Buchanan and Page, who commands the fort, will do all in their power to destroy us, and we will reciprocate the compliment. I hope to give them a fair fight, if I once get inside. I expect nothing from them but that they will try to blow me up if they can.”

He chose the 4th “as the day for landing of the troops and my entrance into the bay,” but he began panicking as the day approached and the Tecumseh had not yet arrived. Farragut planned to land about 1,500 Federal troops under Major General Gordon Granger on Dauphin Island while the ships advanced in two lines. The ironclads would move between Fort Morgan and the wooden vessels, with gunboats protecting the wooden ships’ western sides.

Granger’s Federals landed on the 3rd, but instead of assaulting Fort Gaines, Granger directed his men to deploy artillery and besiege the fort. That day, Farragut’s fleet captain, Percival Drayton, sent an urgent message to the Federal commander at Pensacola:

“If you can get the Tecumseh out to-morrow, do so; otherwise I am pretty certain that the admiral won’t wait for her. Indeed, I think a very little persuasion would have taken him in to-day, and less to-morrow. The army are to land at once, and the admiral does not want to be though remiss.”

Farragut postponed his attack for a day in hopes that the Tecumseh would arrive. He wrote:

“I have lost the finest day for my operations. I confidently supposed that the Tecumseh would be ready in four days, and here we are on the sixth and no signs of her, and I am told has just begun to coal. I could have done very well without her, as I have three here without her, and every day is an irretrievable loss.”

Farragut followed up Drayton’s message with one of his own: “I can lose no more days. I must go in day after to-morrow morning at daylight or a little after. It is a bad time, but when you do not take fortune at her offer you must take her as you can find her.”

That night, Federal vessels made their final reconnaissance of the bay in a heavy storm, as men tried deactivating as many torpedoes as possible and marking the locations of those they could not. Gunboats fired on Fort Powell, situated on the secondary channel west of the main bay entrance.

Major General Dabney H. Maury, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, reported, “Thirty-seven vessels have already assembled off Mobile Bar. A large force of infantry landed on Dauphin Island last night and reported moving on Fort Gaines.” A correspondent from the Richmond Examiner wrote on the 4th:

“Yesterday and last evening, the enemy threw an infantry force upon Dauphin Island, 7 miles from Fort Gaines. The fleet outside is larger this morning… General Maury call on all to enroll themselves in battle. Great confidence prevails.”

The Winnebago briefly shelled Fort Gaines, as Farragut called a council of war to review the attack plan for the next day. Farragut explained:

“The service that I look for from the ironclads is, first, to neutralize as much as possible the fire of the guns which rake our approach; next to look out for the ironclads when we are abreast of the forts, and, lastly, to occupy the attention of those batteries which would rake us while running up the bay.

“After the wooden vessels have passed the fort, the Winnebago and Chickasaw will follow them. The commanding officer of the Tecumseh and Manhattan will endeavor to destroy the Tennessee, exercising their own judgment as to the time they shall remain behind for that purpose.”

Farragut planned to bypass the forts and occupy Mobile Bay, which would then starve the Confederates in the forts into surrender. Granger’s troops on Dauphin Island “will simultaneously attack Fort Gaines with our passage into Mobile Bay. What torpedoes or obstructions are in the ship channel we are ignorant. An effort on our part to pass in will be made, but the result is in the hands of the Almighty, and we pray that He may favor us.”

That night, Farragut wrote his wife: “I write and leave this letter for you. I am going into Mobile Bay in the morning, if God is my leader, as I hope He is, and in Him I place my trust… The Army landed last night, and are in full view of us this morning. The Tecumseh has not yet arrived.”

The Tecumseh finally arrived late that night and joined the line of battle. To succeed, the Federals had to enter a channel only 200 yards wide and avoid the torpedoes while under fire from Fort Morgan and the Confederate vessels in the bay.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177-78; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143, 145; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15315-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 444; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-80; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10394-414; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 183-84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 550-51; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 209

Banks Targets the Texas Coast

November 2, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks embarked on a campaign to conquer eastern Texas by seizing control of the Rio Grande River and the Texas coast.

The Lincoln administration wanted control of eastern Texas, not only for its extensive cotton but to stop illicit trade between that state and French-controlled Mexico. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had originally ordered Banks to move his Army of the Gulf up the Red River and invade Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana. However, Banks was a politician, and he feared that failure would damage his political career. Thus, the Federal high command agreed to allow Banks to take the safer route along the Texas coast.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks had sent a force to capture Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border, but it suffered a humiliating defeat in September. He had also launched a force from Fort Bisland that was stopped at Opelousas in October. So Banks personally led this third effort, which consisted of a 3,500-man division under Major General Napoleon J.T. Dana. The troops left New Orleans on transports and steamed west, intending to capture Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The gunboats U.S.S. Monongahela, Virginia, and Owasco escorted the troop transports.

The Federals landed unopposed as the Confederate defenders retreated. Banks triumphantly reported, “The flag of the Union floated over Texas today at meridian precisely. Our enterprise has been a complete success.” From this foothold, Banks moved inland and quickly occupied Brownsville as well. The Federals were now positioned about 30 miles from inland opposite Matamoros (spelled “Matamoras” then), as well as Point Isabelle. Banks notified Texas’s Unionist governor, Andrew Hamilton, who had awaited the Federal arrival near Texas’s southern tip.

Ten days later, Banks expanded his occupation zone by capturing Corpus Christi. The Federals then continued moving east along the coast. On the 17th, about 1,000 troops and two sailor-manned artillery batteries landed on Mustang Island at Aransas Pass from transports supported by the Monongahela. The Federal howitzers bombarded the Confederate garrison into surrender. The U.S.S. Granite City seized the Confederate schooner Amelia Ann and the Spanish bark Teresita.

Banks next targeted Fort Esperanza on Matagorda Island, which the Confederates abandoned after a one-week bombardment. Federal gunboats now controlled about 300 miles of the Texas coast, from the Rio Grande to Port Lavaca. But Banks would not risk another defeat by approaching Galveston or Sabine Pass.

Meanwhile, a portion of Banks’s force moved overland about 100 miles up the Rio Grande and captured Rio Grande City. These Federal victories restricted the contraband trade coming through Mexico via Matamoros. However, since the Mississippi River was already in Federal hands, it only restricted trade with the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, which was insignificant compared to the east. Also, trading continued farther inland at Laredo, and the operation did nothing to scare the French into leaving Mexico.

The Federal presence in southern Texas merely kept Banks’s army busy when it could have been more useful elsewhere, such as Mobile Bay.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338-39, 341-42; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 871; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 543-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 366-69, 372-75, 380; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 428-31, 434; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 683; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 172

The Alabama Versus the Hatteras

January 11, 1863 – The famed Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama engaged Federal warships trying to reinstate the blockade of Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico.

After losing Galveston to the Confederates on New Year’s Day, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut sent the U.S.S. Brooklyn and five gunboats under Commodore Henry H. Bell to try taking the port city back with a naval bombardment. Farragut told Bell, “The moral effect must be terrible if we don’t take it again. May God grant you success for your own sake and the honor of the Navy.”

During this time, the C.S.S. Alabama under Captain Raphael Semmes was headed to Galveston. Semmes learned from a New York newspaper aboard a captured Federal vessel that an army-navy expedition was also headed for the port city, and he hoped to destroy as many transports as possible before the Federals could catch him.

As Semmes approached, he realized the story had been false. Seeing the Federal warships off Galveston, he tried luring one out into the open sea to do battle. He raised a British flag, making the Alabama appear to the Federals to be a blockade runner. When the Confederate ship came within sight late on the afternoon of the 11th, Lieutenant Commander Homer C. Blake received orders to investigate. He commanded the U.S.S. Hatteras, a side-wheel ferryboat fitted with five guns.

Semmes lured the Hatteras out about 20 miles offshore, where Blake hailed, “What Ship is That?” The Alabama’s crew replied, “Her Majesty’s Steamer Petrel.” As Federal crewmen dropped a boat to row over, the Confederates quickly raised their colors and fired a broadside into the Hatteras. The shocked Federals tried to fight back, but despite the Hatteras’s size advantage, the Alabama had superior firepower and the element of surprise.

The Alabama attacks the Hatteras | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The fight ended after just 13 minutes, when the Federals raised the white flag. The Hatteras sank six minutes later, with two Federals killed and five wounded. Semmes rescued the remaining 121 crewmen and hurried off before the remaining Federal vessels could catch him. The Federals in the rowboat returned to shore to report what happened. The Alabama headed for Jamaica, where Semmes later released the prisoners.

This was a rare naval battle between two warships, and it marked the first time in the war that a steam powered vessel sank another steam powered vessel in the open sea. A Federal naval court of inquiry later concluded that Blake’s conduct had been “commendable and proper” during the engagement.

Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “It becomes my painful duty to report still another disaster off Galveston.” By the time Commodore Bell regrouped his fleet, the Confederates had fortified Galveston enough to make the city invulnerable to a naval bombardment. The Confederates held Galveston for the rest of the war, but the Federals were now more determined than ever to seek and destroy the dangerous Alabama.

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References

Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 125; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 253; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 310-11; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 129-30; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 142

The Battle of Galveston

January 1, 1863 – Confederate army and naval elements attacked Federal occupation forces to take back the vital port city of Galveston on the Texas coast.

Maj Gen J.B. Magruder | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John B. Magruder had worked to regain Galveston ever since taking command of the Confederate District of Texas in late 1862. He dispatched about 1,500 troops to the island town after midnight on New Year’s Day, using the unguarded bridge from the mainland. They quietly marched down Strand Street and prepared to attack the Federal garrison near the wharves. The garrison consisted of 250 men of the 42nd Massachusetts. The Confederates posted artillery within 300 yards of the Federal ships docked in the harbor.

Meanwhile, Major Leon Smith led a Confederate flotilla of two steamers converted into “cotton-clad” gunboats (the Bayou City and Neptune), and their tenders (the John F. Carr and Lucy Gwin). Texas cavalry led by Colonel Thomas Green manned the gunboats. This flotilla advanced into the west end of Galveston Harbor before dawn to attack the Federals.

The Confederate troops in town attacked the Federals but soon found themselves pinned down at the barricades. The U.S.S. Westfield under Commander William B. Renshaw began moving to support the 42nd Massachusetts, but the ship ran aground and sat helpless as the Confederate flotilla approached.

The copper gunboat U.S.S. Harriet Lane (named after President James Buchanan’s niece) sprang into action, led by Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright. The ship rammed the Bayou City with little effect. The Neptune rammed the Harriet Lane but sunk herself from the blow. The Bayou City then rammed the Harriet Lane, locking the two vessels together. The Texans boarded the Federal ship and fought the crewmen hand-to-hand, killing Wainwright and Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea. The Texans forced the ship’s surrender.

The capture of the Harriet Lane at Galveston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

From the Westfield, Renshaw ordered Lieutenant Commander Richard L. Law of the nearby U.S.S. Clifton to pull the four remaining Federal ships out to sea to avoid capture. Federals tried destroying the Westfield before the Confederates could take her, but a magazine aboard the ship exploded prematurely, killing Renshaw and his crew. The Federals on land had held their own against their attackers, but when they saw the carnage in the harbor, they surrendered at Kuhn’s Wharf.

The Confederates captured nearly all the Federals on shore, regaining their town after a four-hour fight. A Confederate wrote, “The victory was won, and a New Year’s gift was made to the people of Texas.” The Federals sustained 414 casualties, along with the Westfield and Harriet Lane. The other four Federal vessels (the Clifton, Sachem, Corypheus, and Owasco) escaped. The Confederates lost 143 men (26 killed and 117 wounded), along with the Neptune. Magruder reported:

“This morning, the 1st of January, at three o’clock, I attacked the enemy’s fleet and garrison at this place, captured the latter and the steamer Harriet Lane, two barges, and a schooner. The rest, some four or five, escaped ignominiously under cover of a flag of truce. I have about 600 prisoners and a large quantity of valuable stores, arms, etc. The Harriet Lane is very little injured…”

Magruder transferred his headquarters from Houston to Galveston the next day, where he reported to Richmond, “We are preparing to give them a warm reception should they return.” He then issued a proclamation:

“Whereas the undersigned has succeeded in capturing and destroying a portion of the enemy’s fleet and in driving the remainder out of Galveston Harbor and beyond the neighboring waters, and the blockade has thus been raised, he therefore hereby proclaims to all friendly nations, and their merchants are invited to resume their usual commercial intercourse with this Port.”

Meanwhile, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks issued orders recalling all Federal troops on transports going from New Orleans to Galveston. This temporarily broke the Federal blockade along the Texas coast and freed Texas from Federal occupation. Confederates held Galveston until the end of the war.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15771-89; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296-97; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 18-19, 58-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 249; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 48-49; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 116; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 306-07; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 566-67

Federals Capture Galveston

October 5, 1862 – Federal army-navy forces occupied Galveston, the most important port on the Texas coast.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron had seized various points on the Texas coast, from the Sabine River to Corpus Christi. The most important point was Galveston, which had been under Federal blockade for 15 months.

Naval Commander William B. Renshaw confronted Galveston with a gunboat squadron consisting of the U.S.S. Westfield, Harriet Lane, Owasco, Clifton, and the mortar schooner Henry James. The vessels neutralized the Confederates forces in the town, forcing Colonel Joseph J. Cook to surrender.

Renshaw had demanded unconditional and immediate surrender, but he ultimately agreed to give Cook four days to evacuate his troops and equipment. On the 5th, a Federal colonel and 260 men came ashore to begin occupation duty. The two sides agreed the Confederates would not move artillery into Galveston via the two-mile-long bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

Federals now had a foothold in Texas, leaving Alabama as the only Confederate state that still did not have at least one point under Federal occupation. However, Farragut knew that even though his ships had taken several ports along the coast, they could not hold those points without army support.

He wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I have the coast of Texas lined with vessels. If I had a military force I would go down and take every place from the Mississippi River to the Rio Grande.” Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding Federal occupation troops in New Orleans, had pledged to give Farragut some men to occupy these ports, but they did not materialize. This led Farragut to inform Renshaw, “I fear that I will find difficulties in procuring the few troops we require to hold the place.”

Meanwhile, the Davis administration, which had not responded to urgent calls for help in reinforcing Galveston, now scrambled to regain the port. Major General John B. Magruder was given command of the Confederate District of Texas, headquartered at Houston. Magruder, who had gained fame by holding off a superior Federal force at Yorktown earlier this year, soon began planning to liberate Galveston and other coastal points from Federal occupation.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15753-63; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296-97; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 746; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 221; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 275, 277; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 126-27; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 526; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 750-51

The Fall of Pensacola

May 10, 1862 – Confederate forces abandoned a key naval base on the Gulf of Mexico after holding out against a powerful Federal threat for over a year.

Earlier this year, Major General Braxton Bragg had led most of the Confederates stationed at Pensacola and Mobile west to reinforce General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Army of Mississippi. Colonel Thomas M. Jones of the 27th Mississippi began directing the withdrawal of the remaining forces. On May 7, Jones received word from Brigadier General John H. Forney, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama and West Florida, that a Federal naval fleet was approaching to threaten Mobile.

Jones quickly prepared to lead his Confederates out of Pensacola to reinforce Mobile. Abandoning Pensacola included “the destruction of the beautiful place which I had labored so hard night and day for over two months to defend, and which I had fondly hoped could be held from the polluting grasp of our insatiate enemies.”

Pensacola Navy Yard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Pensacola Navy Yard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates in the area had held out for over a year against the Federal garrison at Fort Pickens, as well as various threats from the Gulf Blockading Squadron. The Federals had already destroyed the Pensacola Navy Yard’s dry dock as well as portions of Fort McRee protecting the town.

The evacuation began on the 9th. The Confederates burned the navy yard, destroying the unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Fulton and all other ships that had been under construction. In addition, the troops burned Fort McRee, the marine hospital and barracks, factories and mills, and warehouses filled with lumber and cotton.

That night, Federals stationed across Pensacola Bay saw the fires in the town and determined that the Confederates were evacuating. Brigadier General Lewis G. Arnold, commanding the Western District of the Federal Department of the South, sent his chief of staff across the bay to accept Pensacola’s surrender.

By dawn on May 10, about 1,000 Federals landed to occupy the town. Commander David D. Porter stated, “The Rebels have done their work well. The yard is a ruin.” However, the navy yard was soon rebuilt and used as an important supply base for the Federal blockading fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 574; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 276-77