Sunday, February 20, 2011

Civil War Blockade Runners and Gunboats

The capture of Hatteras Inlet in late August 1861 was accomplished with a minimum of effort and no ship losses or serious damage to the Federal Navy. While that battle was in progress, a second Federal fleet was being outfitted at Hampton Roads, this one for an attack on Port Royal, SC. Approximately 25 schooners, loaded with coal for the steamers of the fleet, left Hampton Roads for Port Royal on October 29, followed the next day by more than 50 other craft. In all, this was the largest flotilla ever assembled under an American commander up to that time.
     Some of them never got to Port Royal due to a terrific gale encountered off Cape Hatteras—known as The Expedition Hurricane of 1861.
     Two of the vessels foundered: the transport Peerless, loaded with stores and the steamer Governor, carrying a landing force of 600 marines and some 50 naval officers and crewmen. The Peerless was rescued by the Mohegan. At the height of the storm, the Governor’s smokestack was washed away, her engines failed, and she sank. The steamer Isaac Smith attempted to come to her assistance, but shipped so much water that her commander was forced to order the Smith’s guns thrown overboard to keep is vessel afloat. It was left to the sail frigate Sabine to rescue the 650 people aboard the Governor, a feat which was finally accomplished with the loss of only 7 men.

City of New York
     None of the remaining vessels were sunk in the campaign against Port Royal. At its conclusion a third, larger fleet was assembled at Hampton Roads. The destination this time was Roanoke Island and the other fortifications held by the Confederates in the North Carolina Sounds. This fleet was a collection of ferry boats, side-wheel steamers and river craft. Some were armed with a gun or two while others were used for transporting troops, horses and supplies.
     They reached Hatteras Inlet January 12, 1862. Strong winds and a rough sea forced them to anchor offshore until the tempest died down to effect a crossing of Hatteras bar. While anchored, a number of vessels grounded and the steamer City of New York was lost.
     It took nearly one month for the fleet to cross into the sounds and prepare for the actual attack. Once there they made quick work of it, engaging the small Confederate force in Croatan Sound on February 7. It's flagship, the  iron-hulled, side-wheel steamboat Curlew, was sunk off Roanoke Island and 6 Confederate vessels, with a total of 8 guns, were forced to retreat up the Pasquotank River.
     On February 10, a portion of the Federal Fleet, consisting of 14 vessels steamed up the Pasquotank to attack. It took them a mere 39 minutes to capture Elizabeth City and the small fort nearby at Cobbs point. All defending vessels were sunk but the Ellis, which was captured, and the Beaufort, which escaped through the canal to Norfolk—at the time still in Confederate hands:

Sea Bird / Confederate Gunboat / February 10, 1862
A wooden side-wheeler, the Sea Bird had taken the place of the Curlew as the command ship of the Confederate fleet. She was rammed and cut completely in two off Elizabeth City by the Federal gunboat Commodore Perry.

Fanny / Confederate Gunboat  & Balloon Carrier/ February 10, 1862
A former tugboat captured by the Federals at Chicamacomico in December 1861, the Fanny was run ashore and blown up by her commander.

Black Warrior (Prev. M.C. Etheridge) / Armed Confederate Schooner / February 10, 1862. Kept up a sharp fire until she was set ablaze and abandoned.

Appomattox / Confederate Gunboat / February 10, 1862
Attempted to flee through the canal but was “about two inches too wide to enter.” To prevent capture, it was set on fire and blown up near Elizabeth City.

Forrest / Confederate Gunboat / February 10, 1862
Damaged at Roanoke Island and burned at Elizabeth City to prevent capture.

More than 30 Confederate Blockade Runners Became Total Losses in the Vicinity of Cape Fear

By 1863 most of the Atlantic coast seaports as far south as Florida were in Federal hands or effectively neutralized by Federal forces. The lone exception was Wilmington, NC, which remained until January 1865, the main port of entry for foreign goods consigned to the Confederate States of America.
     The same vessels that engaged in the delivery of lumber and other peacetime exports from Wilmington, returned with the military stores and merchandise needed in the South. These were sailing vessels, schooners for the most part, and the Federal government quickly put a crimp in their activities by dispatching a small fleet of coal-burning steamers to blockade the port. The sailing ships, which were no match for the steamers, withdrew and were soon replaced by small, fast Clyde steamers, able to run past the blockading vessels under cover of darkness.
     The introduction of these steamers brought an intensification of the Federal blockade. At one time there were three separate lines of blockading vessels which the steamers had to pass; one about 40 miles at sea, a second about 10 miles out and a third close to shore.
     The blockade runners soon evolved a system where they approached close to land as much as 40 or 50 miles away from Cape Fear, waited for night, and then ran at full speed for Wilmington, hugging the shoreline in the process. A great number of the steamers stranded, and when unsuccessful in getting clear of the sand bars, were discovered at dawn the following morning by the Federal blockading vessels. In most cases a dramatic contest ensued between them. The most frequent result, however, was that neither one salvaged any appreciable amount before the stranded vessel was set on fire by the blockaders' guns or by demolition squads sent out by the Confederates.
     The newspapers of that day, books, magazine articles and pamphlets since published contain numerous accounts of the strandings.
     The Ella was the last of more than 30 blockade runners to become total losses in the vicinity of Cape Fear. But for every one destroyed there was at least one other captured at sea by the Federal naval vessals, which preferred to capture if possible because of the large prize money involved.
Modern Greece
Modern Greece / June 27, 1862 / Cape Fear
One of the first steamers lost in attempting to run the blockade. Modern Greece was an English vessel registered at about 1,000 tons. The crew escaped, and later troops from near-by Fort Fisher succeeded in removing a large part of her valuable cargo, including several badly needed Whiteworth guns, considerable clothing and enough liquor to keep the garrison in high spirits for more than a week.

Golden Liner / April 27, 1863 / Cape Fear River
Kate 2nd / July 12, 1863 / Smiths Island

Hebe / August 18, 1863 / Near Cape Fear
In the last 6 months of 1863 at least 10 blockade runners were destroyed on the coast, one of the finest being the Hebe, described by observers as "a beautiful little steamer," her hull and smoke funnels camouflaged with a coating of graish green paint, and carrying at the time of her loss a cargo of drugs, coffee, clothing and foodstuff.

Alexander Cooper / August 22, 1863 / Near Cape Fear
Arabian / September 15, 1863 / Near Cape Fear
Phantom / September 23, 1863 / Rich Inlet

Elizabeth / September 24, 1863 / Lockwoods Folly
Stranded and burned, supposedly through the activities of a Federal spy who was later found to have been on board.

Douro / October 11, 1863 / Wrightsville
Lost between Fort Fisher and Masonboro Inlet. Had once before been captured by Federal vessels, sold as a prize in Canada, purchased by the Confererate Government, and put right back in the blockage running business again.

Venus / October 21, 1863 / Near Cape Fear
Beauregard / December 11, 1863 / Carolina Beach
Antonica / December 19, 1863 / Frying Pan Shoals
Ranger / January 1864 / Lockwoods Folly
Bendigo / January 4, 1864 / Lockwoods Folly
Vesta / January 10, 1864 / Tubbs Inlet
Iron Age / January 11, 1864 / Lockwoods Folly
Wild Dayrell / February 1, 1864 / Stump Inlet
Nutfield / February 4, 1864 / New River Inlet
Dee / February 6, 1864 / Near Cape Fear
Fanny & Jenny / February 9, 1864 / Wrightsville
Emily of London / February 9, 1864 / Wrightsville
Spunkie / February 9, 1864 / Near Cape Fear
Georgiana McCaw / June 2, 1864 / Cape Fear
Pevensey / June 9, 1864 / Bogue Inlet
Florie / September 10, 1864 / Cape Fear Bar
Badger / September 10, 1864 / Cape Fear Bar
Condor / October 1, 1864 / Near Cape Fear
Ella / December 3, 1864 / Cape Fear
Cape Fear / January 1865 / Cape Fear River
North Heath / January 1865 / Cape Fear River

During the period following the original attacks on the North Carolina coastal fortifications other ships—both Federal and Confederate—foundered, stranded and were sunk.

R. B. Forbes / Federal Steamer / February 25, 1862
329-ton Federal steamer went down on Currituck Banks at about the time of the battle of Roanoke Island.

Monitor / Federal Gunboat / December 30, 1862
Lost off Cape Hatteras while under tow by the Rhode Island. Click HERE to visit my Monitor blog.

Frying Pan Shoals / Confederate Lightship / December 31, 1862
Removed from its station by the Confederates and anchored in the Cape Fear River just above Fort Caswell as a sort of floating fortress. It was burned by a raiding party.

Bainbridge / Federal Brig / August 21, 1863
Normally carried a crew of about 40. Foundered off Hatteras with all hands but one being lost. Surfaced after her cargo of salt dissolved.

Underwriter / Federal Gunboat / February 2, 1864
Sunk at New Bern.

Southfield  / Federal Gunboat / April 19, 1864
Sunk at Plymouth by the powerful Confederate ram Albemarle.which was patterned after the Merimac but much improved.

Raleigh / Confederate Gunboat / May 7, 1864
Abandoned up the Cape Fear River and destroyed.

North Carolina / Confederate Gunboat / 27 September 1864
Found sunk on the Cape Fear River; bottom eaten out by worms.

Albemarle / Confederate Ram / October 27, 1864                                    
The Albermarle made the North Carolina sounds untenable for the Federals who were faced with either retreating from the area or of destroying it. The latter was decided on, and a small fleet of powerful naval vessels was sent out for the purpose. They encountered the Albemarle in the sound for which she was named. Lieutenant W.B. Cushing succeeded in sinking it with a torpedo-like bomb while she was at anchor at her new home base in Plymouth.

Louisiana / Federal Gunboat  / December 24, 1864           
General B.F. Butler, in command of attacking Federal troops, had figured out a scheme whereby he thought Fort Fisher, its defenders and the handful of Confederate ships aiding in its defense could all be leveled at the same time without incurring any loss of life on the part of Federal forces. In carrying out this plan, the old Federal gunboat Louisiana was filled with 300 tons of gunpowder, a special fuse and firing mechanism was rigged out. Late on December 23 the Louisiana was towed close to shore opposite the fort, the time fuse was ignited and the men on board removed.
   General Butler, apprehensive of the disastrous effects of the pending explosion, anchored his fleet off Beaufort, over 50 miles away. The Confederate defenders had heard rumors that a powder boat was being sent to attack, but having no idea of the magnitude of Butler’s plan they prepared for a more conventional attack. The Louisiana blew up at 1:30 a.m. on the 24th, the resultant explosion heard as far away as Wilmington, but even in Fort Fisher it was more like the sound of a large cork being expelled from a bottle of champagne. General Butler himself was not aware that the ship had exploded until a dispatch vessel brought him the news later that morning: About the only thing destroyed was the Louisiana

Tallahassee / Confederate Gunboat / January 15, 1865
Blown up by a Federal gunboat near Cape Fear.

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