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2 U.S. Revenue Schooner Henry Dodge, First Lieutenant William F. Rogers, USRM, was seized at Galveston, as Texas joined the Confederacy.
4 Forty-two vessels were in commission in the United States Navy. Twelve of these ships were assigned duty with the Home Squadron, four of which were based on Northern ports. Beginning with the
return of Powhatan to New York and Pocahontas to Hampton Roads on 12 March and Cumberland to Hampton Roads on 23 March, the Department moved to recall all but three ships from foreign stations, where they were badly needed, in order to meet the greater needs of the Nation in this hour of crisis.
7 Gideon Welles of Hartford, Connecticut, took office in Washington as Secretary of the Navy.
13 It was reported by Captain J. M. Brannon, USA, commanding Fort Taylor that "everything is quiet at Key West to this date"-a tribute to the firm policing of the area by Union naval vessels. Throughout the early months of 1861 the "showing of the flag" by the Fleet maintained a peaceful equilibrium in a situation fraught with tension. The much-feared attack, expected to accompany Florida's secession (10 January), did not materialize.
17 Confederate Navy Department sent Commander Lawrence Rousseau, Commander Ebenezer Farrand, and Lieutenant Robert T. Chapman to New Orleans to negotiate for the construction of gunboats.
18 Brigadier General Braxton Bragg, CSA, issued an order forbidding passage of supplies to Fort Pickens and the U.S. squadron off Pensacola.
20 U.S. sloop Isabella, carrying supplies for U.S. squadron at Pensacola, was seized at Mobile.
21 Gustavus V. Fox, ex-naval officer now a civilian, reconnoitered Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, as directed by President Lincoln, to determine the best means of relieving the Fort. Based on his observations, Fox recommended relieving Sumter by sea: "I propose to put the troops on board of a large, comfortable sea steamer and hire two powerful light draft New York tug boats, having the necessary stores on board. These to be convoyed by the U.S.S. Pawnee . and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane . Arriving off the bar, I propose to examine by day the naval preparations and obstructions. If their vessels determine to oppose our entrance, and a feint or flag of truce would ascertain this, the armed ships must approach the bar and destroy or drive them on shore. Major Anderson would do the same upon any vessels within the range of his guns and would also prevent any naval succor being sent down from the city."
31 Secretary of the Navy Welles ordered 250 men transferred from New York to the Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia.
When Ironclads Clashed: How Hampton Roads Changed Naval Warfare Forever
In early 1862, the Union and the Confederacy were locked in one of the most influential arms races of the Civil War. While their navies still relied on wooden ships, both sides had gambled on building revolutionary “ironclad” vessels that boasted steam engines, hulking cannons and armor plating protecting their hulls. In Brooklyn, Federal forces were prepping the iron vessel USS Monitor. At Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, the rebels were finishing their own metal colossus, CSS Virginia.
Monitor’s crew on its deck. (Credit: U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)
The Union’s Monitor was by far the more unusual of the two craft. Designed by Swedish-born engineer John Ericsson, the ship was around 173 feet long and featured a main deck that sat just 18 inches above the waterline. Its armaments were limited to two 11-inch Dahlgren guns, but they were housed in a revolving turret powered by a steam engine. This never-before-seen feature gave the ship’s gun crews a 360-degree range of fire.
In contrast to the nimble and innovative Monitor, the Confederacy’s Virginia was the maritime equivalent of a wrecking ball. Improvised from the ruins of the ruined American frigate USS Merrimack, the 275-footer was constructed from wood reinforced with four-inch-thick iron plate. Its most eye-catching feature was a large, sloping casemate that housed a floating battery of 10 cannons𠅏our on each side and one at both ends. The ship’s bow bristled with a 1,500-pound iron battering ram.
CSS Virginia. (Credit: U.S. Navy Art Collection)
Neither of the ironclads was much to look at—the Monitor was labeled a “tin can on a shingle” and the Virginia a 𠇏loating barn roof”𠅋ut critics were silenced the minute their destructive power was put on display. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia left Gosport on its maiden voyage and steamed toward nearby Hampton Roads, a vital sea junction that was patrolled by a Union blockading fleet. As the ironclad neared the Federals’ wooden flotilla, Confederate commander Franklin Buchanan addressed his crew. “Sailors,” he announced, “in a few minutes you will have the long-expected opportunity to show your devotion to your country and our cause.”
The men of the Union blockading fleet had heard rumors about the “great Southern bugaboo” lurking at Gosport, but nothing could have prepared them for actually facing the Virginia in combat. At around 2 p.m., the ironclad entered Hampton Roads and made a beeline for the American ships USS Cumberland and USS Congress. The Congress unleashed a broadside, but its cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Virginia’s metal armor. Ignoring the enemy guns, Buchanan steamed toward the Cumberland and plowed into it with his ram, cleaving a seven-foot-wide hole in its hull. The Cumberland instantly began to sink, and it nearly took the Virginia down with it before the ironclad’s ram broke off. When the crippled Cumberland refused to surrender, the Virginia pummeled it with cannon fire. “The once clean and beautiful deck was slippery with blood, blackened with powder and looked like a slaughterhouse,” one Cumberland crewman later remembered.
John Worden, Monitor’s commander.
While the Cumberland sank, the Virginia turned its attention to USS Congress, which had intentionally run itself aground in shallow water to avoid being rammed. Despite knowing that his own brother was among its crewmen, Buchanan raked the Congress with cannon fire for several minutes, inflicting horrific casualties and eventually setting it ablaze. The ironclad would have moved on to the steam frigate USS Minnesota, which was also grounded in the shallows, but after Buchanan was wounded in the thigh, acting commander Catesby Jones elected to call off the attack and return the following morning. By then, the Virginia had sunk two Union ships and killed over 240 sailors. The battle would remain the bloodiest day in U.S. naval history until World War II.
The Virginia’s rampage had been a serious blow to the Union navy, but the remainder of the blockading fleet soon received an imposing reinforcement. On March 6, the ironclad USS Monitor had left Brooklyn and sailed south under the command of Lieutenant John Worden. By dawn on March 9, its sleep-deprived crew had arrived in Hampton Roads and positioned their vessel alongside the stranded Minnesota. “I will stand by you to the last if I can help you,” Worden vowed to the Minnesota’s captain.
Catesby Jones, Virginia’s commander. (Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center)
Later that morning, having steeled his crew with a ration of two jiggers of whiskey per man, the Virginia’s acting commander Catesby Jones steered his ship back into Hampton Roads to finish off the Minnesota. It was only when he neared the grounded vessel that he noticed the Monitor floating alongside it. The rebels initially mistook the peculiar looking ironclad for a raft or even a ship’s boiler, but they quickly set aside their surprise and let loose with the first cannon salvo of the day. Moments later, the Monitor replied with a burst from its twin Dahlgren guns.
For the next three hours, the Monitor and the Virginia engaged in a ferocious cannon duel—the first ever waged by ironclad warships. “The fight continued with exchange of broadsides as fast as the guns could be served and at very short range, the distance between the vessels frequently being not more than a few yards,” the Monitor’s executive officer Samuel Dana Greene later wrote. The waters of Hampton Roads soon filled with the groan of steam engines, the thunderclap of naval guns and the clang of cannonballs ricocheting off iron plate. Inside their sweltering and smoke-filled metal machines, the gun crews of both ships worked frantically to fire and reload their cannons. Virginia’s chief engineer Ashton Ramsay later noted that the hellish scene could only be compared “with the poet’s picture of the lower regions.”
Both ship’s armor plating fared well under the constant barrage of cannon fire, but their crews soon ran into technical problems. The Monitor’s revolving turret continued to turn, but its operator could not easily stop it, which forced the gunners to fire on the fly. The Virginia, meanwhile, was finding it difficult to outmaneuver the faster and more agile Monitor. At one point, the Confederate ironclad even briefly ran aground in shallow water and had to push its engines to the breaking point to dislodge itself. Sensing that his guns were causing no serious damage to the Monitor, Jones eventually tried to ram it. The Virginia succeeded in colliding with the Yankee ship, but having lost its iron ram the previous day, it was unable to deal any significant damage.
This Civil War Battle Changed Naval Warfare Forever
To say that the Battle of Hampton Roads changed naval history is an understatement.
Key Point: Almost overnight, every wooden ship of the line of every naval power in the world became obsolete.
The subsequent careers of the Monitor and Merrimack were not as dramatic as their first clashes. The two ironclads never met in combat again after their infamous battle on March 9, 1862. They remained on station roughly where they were when their classic battle ended. The Monitor continued to protect the blockading squadron, and the Merrimack guarded the entrance to the James River, leading to the Confederate capital of Richmond, and Elizabeth River at Norfolk.
Neither side seemed willing to risk its most powerful ship. Merrimack made a sortie into the Roads in early April, and with her consorts captured three Federal vessels lying unguarded, then beat a hasty retreat when Monitor appeared to challenge her. She made two more appearances in the Roads, but did not remain to give battle. Monitor also would probe toward the mouth of the James on occasion, but likewise was not looking for a fight.
No Place to Call Home:
When Norfolk fell to Union forces on May 10, the Merrimack had no place to call home. It was suggested that she might ascend the James and help in the defense of Richmond, but once again, her pilots refused to try. Shoal water between the mouth of the river and the Confederate capital would prevent such a move. Her new commander, Josiah Tatnall, saw no course left open to him but to destroy his vessel lest she be captured. He ran her ashore on Craney Island, disembarked the crew, and set her afire fore and aft. She burned for nearly an hour before she blew up as the flames reached her magazines. It was said that no part of her remained of sufficient size to give anyone an idea of the details of her construction.
With Merrimack gone, Federals tried taking Monitor up the James to attack Richmond. She made it up as far as Drewery’s Bluff where a sharp turn in the river and a steep bank nearly 200 feet high brought her in range of Fort Darling, a hastily constructed battery. Monitor, and her wooden consorts Galenaand Naugatuck, could not elevate their guns enough to trade shots with the Confederates, and the wooden vessels began to take a beating from the Rebel guns. The sailors also discovered that the river ahead had been blocked by pilings, sunken vessels, and other barriers. The Federal fleet withdrew with their noses bloodied.
Changing Naval History Forever:
By now, the Peninsular campaign was under way, and the Monitor was used to protect McClellan’s right flank along the York River. She remained there until the end of the year, when she was ordered to Beaufort, S.C. On December 31, 1862, she foundered in a storm off Cape Hatteras and went down about six miles offshore. Sixteen of her crew went with her but 47 were saved by the heroic efforts of her escorts.
To say that the Battle of Hampton Roads changed naval history is an understatement. Almost overnight, every wooden ship of the line of every naval power in the world was obsolete. It settled once and for all the wood-vs.-iron debate, just as the battleship-vs.-carrier debate would be settled 80 years later when the Japanese sank powerful U.S. and British battleships in December 1941.
Today, the Monitor wreck is a protected sanctuary. It is unlikely that her hull will ever be raised as it is considered too fragile after more than 130 years under water. But her anchor has been brought to the surface, and just recently her innovative steam engines. There are plans to raise her turret.
You can read more about the efforts to preserve the Monitor and her parts at the following websites:
This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network in 2018.
American Civil War March 1862
March 1862 finally saw McClellan make some kind of move against Richmond – some two months after being ordered to do so by Lincoln. In March Jefferson Davis appointed Robert E Lee to be his military advisor.
March 1 st : Richmond was put under martial law while a number of prominent citizens were arrested for proclaiming that the war should be brought to an end.
March 2 nd : Confederate forces abandoned Columbus, Kentucky, seen as a major Confederate stronghold but one that was vulnerable to attack after the fall of Fort Donelson.
March 3 rd : General Halleck accused General Grant of “neglect of duty, inefficiency and drunkenness”. McClellan gave Halleck permission to arrest Grant if he thought it was necessary. This argument was the result of Grant’s popularity in the North after the capture of Fort Donelson, which Halleck claimed the credit for coupled with Halleck’s lack of any real progress in Missouri.
March 4 th : General Robert E Lee was appointed military advisor to Jefferson Davis. Halleck removed Grant from his command. Halleck was appointed commander of all the Union’s western armies – his reward for the victory at Fort Donelson.
March 6 th : Lincoln asked Congress to approve Federal funding to assist states thinking about introducing emancipation of slaves legislation. The Confederate Congress agreed that a scorched earth policy could be used in Virginia if Unionist forces broke through. The aim was to ensure that no cotton or tobacco fell into the hands of the North.
March 7 th : McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac into Virginia. His target was the Confederate force based at Manassas.
March 8 th : Lincoln finally agreed with McClellan’s plan to invade Virginia from the sea. However, the President did insist that sufficient men had to be left behind to defend the capital. The Confederates suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge losing nearly 800 men with 1000 captured. The former ‘USS Merrimac’ – now the Confederate ‘Virginia’ – inflicted major losses on a small Union naval fleet of three ships resulting in the North losing 2 ships and 250 men at Hampton Roads. Only the night saved the third ship. The ‘Virginia’ was a heavily armoured ironclad that stood up to six full broadsides with little damage done to her. However on the evening of the 8 th the ‘USS Monitor’ entered the Hampton Roads.
March 9 th : The Army of the Potomac moved off in search of a Confederate force they thought was at Rappahannock – but it was not and they returned to their base at Alexandria without having made contact with the enemy. The ‘USS Monitor’ engaged the ‘Virginia’ at Hampton Roads. After a series of attacks on one another neither saw an opportunity to win and both broke off the engagement. Both ships were simply too heavily armoured to be susceptible to the firepower of the other.
March 11 th : Another War Order by Lincoln stated that McClellan was now only commander of the Army of the Potomac. This was a temporary move only to ensure that McClellan could concentrate all his energy on a successful campaign in Virginia.
March 13 th : Union forces captured $1 million of Confederate supplies at Point Pleasant, Missouri.
March 15 th : Grant was handed a command once again – he was placed in charge of Unionist forces in Tennessee.
March 17 th : McClellan started his campaign to attack Virginia from the coast by moving his troops to Fortress Monroe.
March 19 th : The South puts into place a plan to stop the North taking two vital rail lines – the Chattanooga to Georgia and the Corinth to Memphis lines. If the North took either line, they would have an easier route into the South’s heartland.
March 23 rd : The Battle of Winchester was fought (in the South this was known as the Battle of Kernstown). The South took heavy casualties with 270 killed and as many as 1000 missing. The North suffered 103 killed with 400 wounded and missing. A large Unionist force gathered at Camp Shiloh and made ready for an attack on Corinth, Mississippi. As the Confederates expected such an attack, their forces in Corinth were being increased.
March 24 th : Lincoln became convinced that the South was about to launch an attack on Washington DC and ordered troops who were to have supported McClellan’s campaign in Virginia to remain in the capital.
March 29 th : The Confederates continued their build-up of men at Corinth, Mississippi, and waited for the North to attack. The size of the force gathered in Corinth showed that the South was not prepared to let the town fall to the North in view of its importance with regards to the two vital rail lines identified by the South.
Civil War Naval History March 1862 - History
The Cedar Keys, on the Gulf Coast of Florida (consisting of Way, Depot, Atsena Otie, Seahorse, Snake, and North Keys), was an important port at the start of the Civil War, in part because a newly constructed rail line connected the port to interior parts of the state and ran all the way up to Fernandina on the Atlantic coast. Seahorse Key had a light station (constructed in 1854 under the direction of then Lt. George Gordon Meade) which guided ships into the Port of Cedar Key and the nearby mouth of the Suwannee River. The Town of Cedar Key itself was located on Atsena Otie Key.
On 16 January 1862 the Union gunboat USS Hatteras hove to off Cedar Key and debarked ships boats which entered the harbor and burned four schooners, three sloops, a scow, a sailboat, and a launch. Some of the schooners were loaded with cotton, turpentine, rosin, and lumber, ready to run the blockade. The railroad depot and wharf, seven railroad cars, the telegraph station and a storehouse were also burned, and arms and equipment confiscated. To add to all this, the ship’s crew captured most of a small Confederate garrison manning a gun battery on Seahorse Key, including the officer and 13 soldiers. Needless to say, the bluejackets of the Hatteras earned their pay that day.
Not long after Hatteras departed, the USS Tahoma arrived off Seahorse Key on 1 February 1862 and commenced shelling the battery, just in case it had been reoccupied. Ships boats were sent ashore and the battery was found abandoned, with the destruction wrought by the crew of Hatteras still evident. For the remainder of the war, Seahorse Key with its lighthouse (which had been disabled by the Confederates) remained under Union control, and was used as a secondary base of operations by the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, thus depriving the Confederacy of the use of Cedar Key as a port for the remainder of the War. Thanks to the Florida Dept. of State and NHHC on-line photo archives for the illustrations.
Civil War Naval History March 1862 - History
Old river-men say each bend in the Mississippi River has at least one story to tell. Well Plum Point and Craighead Bends collectively have several hundred. One of those occurred on May 10, 1862.
After the fall of Island No.10 on April 8, 1862, the Federal Mississippi River Squadron moved down stream to the next Confederate bulwark. Roughly thirty miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, the river made a series of sharp bends - first west, then east, then west again - as the river flowed around Plum and Craighead Points. Inside these bends were a maze of snags and sandbars. Pilots considered this stretch of the river one of more dangerous sections. Mark Twain described it as "the famous and formidable Plum Point."
If that was not enough, terrain on the Tennessee side of the river made the Confederate defenses even more formidable. After passing around Craighead Point, the river turns west against the foot of the First Chickasaw Bluff. The crest of this rise is about 125 to 150 feet above the river level. And on top of that bluff, the Confederates built Fort Pillow with some forty heavy guns.
For a month and a half during the spring of 1862, these river bends were the front lines of the war along the Mississippi. Federal mortar boats lay on the downstream reach of Plum Point Bend, lobbing shells at Fort Pillow. Federal gunboats covered the bombardment. On the morning of May 10, a flotilla of Confederate rams rounded Craighead Point, aiming to disperse the Federal fleet. And they came close to accomplishing that goal. The USS Mound City and the USS Cincinnati, both ironclad river gunboats, were so seriously damaged they sank along the river banks. Other Federal boats moved into the shallow waters, where the rams could not go. So with a tactical victory, the Confederate rams fell back to the protection of Fort Pillow. The siege continued until the early days of June when the Confederates withdrew to Memphis.
Today, changes to the river's course have drastically altered the terrain over which the siege of Fort Pillow and the naval battle of Plum Point Bend occurred. The map below provides a rough outline of the river channel as it ran during the Civil War (very rough):
There are three points, marked on the map, that provide visitors glimpses of a battlefield lost.
Just south of Osceola, Arkansas, a state road leads out to old Sans Souci landing (blue push pin) on the river's bank. Several interpretive markers discuss the history of the river bend to include the naval battle. The view up river from there takes in what remains of Plum Point.
|Riverboat and barges heading past Plum Point|
During the Civil War, the river turned to the northeast. Today it bypasses the old bend, running more southeasterly. So the bend in the river, where the mortar boats tied off and Confederate rams fought the Federal gunboats, is now isolated in the swampy bottom land on the Tennessee side.
|Looking "across" Plum Point Bend|
|View from Fort Pillow Overlook|
Fort Pillow (green push pin) today is configured to optimize interpretation for the April 1864 battle. As such, the works orient to the land side.
|Interior of the Fort Pillow reconstruction|
But the park visitor center/museum exhibits some artifacts from the 1862 fighting.
|Mortar fragments at Fort Pillow|
|Section of Confederate outer works|
River channel shifts. Collapsing bluffs. It's Old Man River, not development, which has altered this battlefield.
Marines Fighting Marines: The Battle of Drewry's Bluff
President Abraham Lincoln was in a somber mood on 8 July 1862 when he visited Harrison's Landing on the James River in Virginia, where the USS Galena lay anchored.
Less than two months before, on 15 May, the Galena had been the lead vessel of a Union naval squadron ordered to steam up the James, disable Confederate batteries along the shoreline, and bombard Richmond into submission. But the fleet never got past Fort Darling, situated on Drewry's Bluff, some eight miles below the Rebel capital. Confederate artillerists and sharpshooters unleashed a barrage of shot, shell, and lead, compelling the Galena and her support vessels to withdraw.
The Galena had taken the worst of it. After Lincoln and his entourage boarded the ship and inspected the damage, the President turned to the assembled crew and remarked, "I cannot understand how any of you escaped alive." He then delivered a short speech, thanking the officers and men "for their magnificent service." 1
' The Young Heroes'
Three crew members were singled out for special recognition. The captain of the Galena, Commander John Rodgers Jr., called on them to step forward: Marine Corporal John F. Mackie, Quartermaster Jeremiah Regan, and First-class Fireman Charles Kenyon. "Mr. President," Rodgers announced, "these are the young heroes of [the] Fort Darling battle."
Lincoln approached each of them, shook hands, and thanked them "for their gallant conduct." He then turned to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and ordered that the men receive a promotion and the Medal of Honor. 2
Little did those on deck realize that this was a singular moment. It was the first and only time that a President of the United States (rather than an officer) recommended combatants for this highest military award. For John Mackie it was a double distinction not only did he receive the medal at the behest of the commander-in-chief, but he was also the first U.S. Marine to be so honored.
Yet there was more than a twist of tragic irony to the event. The Battle of Drewry's Bluff, as it became known, where Mackie demonstrated bravery well beyond the call of duty, was the only engagement in the history of the Corps where U.S. Marines and former Marines met in direct combat.
Of course, it was only a matter of time until such a clash would unfold. Once the states of the deep and upper South left the Union during the secession crisis of 1860-61, like the other military services, the U.S. Marine Corps suffered its share of defections. In sheer numbers, however, the resignations were few compared to the Army and Navy, if for no other reason than the Corps itself was the smallest branch of the U.S. military. Its prewar strength was around 1,800 men, a little more than 10 percent the size of the Army and 20 percent of the Navy. 3
Confederate Marine Corps
Despite its slim numbers, the Corps was hit hard. While few enlisted men quit, this was not the case in terms of officer defections, especially on the junior level. For whatever reason, the states of the upper South were a primary source of Marine officers, and once the states severed bonds with the Union, most of their native sons followed suit. Nearly one-third (20 of 63) of its officers left. Of those, 19 served as the principal architects and leaders of the newly created Confederate States Marine Corps.
The Corps lost some of its most promising and brightest officers, many from Virginia. First Lieutenant Israel Greene was perhaps the best known at the time because he had led the Marines who subdued John Brown and his followers in 1859 at Harpers Ferry. Another son of the Old Dominion, Captain George H. Terrett, had distinguished himself at the battle of Chapultepec in the Mexican War. And still another Virginian and hero of Chapultepec was First Lieutenant John D. Simms, who, along with First Lieutenant Julius E. Meiere of Maryland, would see action at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff. 4
Defections notwithstanding, the role Marines played in the Civil War would be the same as it had been since the creation of the Corps in 1798. Unlike 20th- and 21st-century Leathernecks, who would serve (and continue to serve) on extended expeditionary missions or as amphibious strike forces, 19th-century Marines functioned primarily as an arm of the Navy. Whether it be ashore or afloat, Marines performed a variety of tasks, such as guarding shipyards, enforcing shipboard discipline, serving on deck as sharpshooters, repelling boarders, manning guns on ships, and occasionally joining landing parties for brief operations ashore. 5 In fact, if Union commanders had recognized the tactical import of this last role, the outcome at Drewry's Bluff might have been different.
There were indeed a number of "might-have-beens" regarding Union operations in the spring of 1862. If, for example, Major General George B. McClellan, at the head of a 100,000-man army on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James Rivers, had not spent most of April in an unnecessary siege at Yorktown, but instead chose to conduct a rapid 70-mile march up the peninsula, he might have taken Richmond. The delay allowed Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to move his forces into position to oppose a Union advance. 6
After finally taking Yorktown on 4 May, McClellan, nicknamed the "Virginia Creeper" for his geophysical pace, inched slowly toward Richmond. As Confederate troops withdrew to protect their capital, the Rebel-held Norfolk Navy Yard had to be abandoned. Retreating Southerners blew up or set fire to everything of military value, including the famous (or in Union eyes, the infamous) CSS Virginia, which had engaged the USS Monitor in the historic battle of ironclads at Hampton Roads, Virginia, two months before. Without a supply base for the ship and unable to lighten her draft to get up the James River to help defend Richmond, the Confederates had no choice but to destroy the vessel rather than allow her to fall into enemy hands. On the morning of 11 May, after the crew removed the Virginia's guns, they set her on fire, a blaze that eventually reached the magazine and blew the ironclad to bits. 7
Up the River
The Union Navy then swung into action. With the Virginia's destruction, the James River was left virtually defenseless. Given the problems McClellan was encountering (or creating for himself) on land, why not attack Richmond by water? That was precisely what Secretary of the Navy Welles had in mind when he telegraphed Flag Officer Louis R. Goldsborough to send a Union squadron up the James straight to the Rebel capital. 8
The squadron was composed of five ships, led by the Galena. Named in honor of then-Major General Ulysses S. Grant's hometown in Illinois, the Galena was armed with six guns, her sides protected by horizontally laid interlocking iron plating some three inches thick. Her captain, Commander Rodgers, a veteran officer and member of one of the most celebrated families in American naval history, was in charge of the task force, which included two other ironclads, the Monitor and Naugatuck, and two wooden gunboats, the Port Royal and Aroostook. 9
With Rodgers in command, the Monitor as part of the flotilla, and the Virginia no longer a threat, victory, it seemed, was within the Union's grasp. So thought U.S. Marine First Lieutenant William H. Cartter. Writing to his mother from Hampton Roads on 11 May, Cartter predicted, "Richmond will be ours" within the next day or so. "The game is nearly up with them. I am in hopes that we shall start for home soon. . . ." 10
A bit more guarded in his optimism, Flag Officer Goldsborough nevertheless was also of the opinion that Rodgers and his squadron would have an easy time of it. Despite reports that the Rebels were placing obstructions in the river, since they were put down "very hurriedly," Goldsborough was convinced that "there will be no great difficulty . . . in clearing a passageway." 11
Rebel Capital in Danger
Richmond was in a state of panic. Though Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with military adviser General Robert E. Lee at his side, told his cabinet that Richmond would be held at all cost, plans were under way for evacuation. The Confederate treasury's gold supply was packed and ready for shipment on board a waiting train, while the government had already sent its records to Columbia, South Carolina. 12
But all was not yet lost. The Rebels were planning a last ditch stand at a site on the James River—Drewry's Bluff. Additional artillery, reinforcements, and river obstructions were being put into place there to challenge the Union flotilla and prevent it from steaming up the James and shelling Richmond.
As things turned out, the Confederates could not have chosen a better defensive position. The bluff, named after its wealthy owner, Captain Augustus H. Drewry, was about 100 feet above the water on a sharp bend in the river. From that vantage point, Confederate gunners had an unobstructed line of fire for more than a mile in both directions. A local artillery company under the command of Captain Drewry originally had manned the bluff (officially known as Fort Darling). But once those in Richmond grasped its potential, preparations got under way to create a "Gibraltar of the South." 13
General Lee dispatched several infantry units, a company of sappers and miners, and a battalion of artillery, led by former U.S. Marine Colonel Robert Tansill, who oversaw the emplacement of three additional heavy guns. At the same time, the crew of the Virginia (elated that they would have another opportunity to do battle with their nemesis, the Monitor) had arrived in the area. The men would man the cannon on the opposite side of the James (the north bank) known as Chaffin's Bluff, a mile and a half from Drewry's Bluff. In this thickly wooded area, the Virginia's Marine detachment (more than 50 strong) would serve as sharpshooters, picking off any exposed Union Sailors above or below decks. 14
Another Confederate Marine unit—a battalion of two 80-man companies under Captain John D. Simms—occupied the south bank on the Drewry's Bluff side. Simms, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, had tendered his resignation with much reluctance. One of his company commanders, First Lieutenant Julius E. Meiere, was also a former U.S. Marine officer, whose wedding President Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had attended. Despite a promising career, Meiere, who had married a Southern belle, left the Corps and offered his services to the Confederacy. 15
With anywhere between 8 to 14 guns in place (the number is in dispute) and more than 200 Confederate Marines in rifle pits on both sides of the river, the Rebels were hopeful that the Union task force could be stopped. And if all else failed, the obstructions placed in the river—pilings, cribs of stone, and sunken canal boats and steamers (including the scuttled gunboat Jamestown)—placed just below the bluff, made it virtually impassable without a massive clearing effort. 16
Undaunted, the Union flotilla steamed up the James. Its commander, John Rodgers, planned to unleash the firepower of his flagship, the Galena, against the Confederate defenders, while the rest of the expedition slipped by and headed for the wharves of Richmond. After all, only three weeks before, the Union Navy's Rear Admiral David G. Farragut had implemented a similar strategy on the lower Mississippi against Rebel batteries defending New Orleans, and it had proved successful. Rodgers, however, was destined to be disappointed—but not for lack of trying.
Maneuvering the Flotilla
At around 0630 on Thursday, 15 May, the Galena, followed by the Monitor, Aroostook, Port Royal, and Naugatuck, came within view of the Confederate defense works at Drewry's Bluff. As planned, Rodgers ran the Galena within 600 yards of the enemy position, and, despite the narrowness of the channel (it was no more than twice as wide as the ship itself), he was able to position the vessel perpendicular to the flow of the river and bring her guns to bear on the Rebel artillery emplacements.
Though impressed with Rodgers' nautical skills (one Confederate onlooker later wrote that "it was one of the most masterly pieces of seamanship of the whole war"), the Southerners lost no time in firing the first rounds. The Galena responded in kind, and the fate of Richmond, less than eight miles away, with its windows rattling from the roar of the cannon, stood in the balance. 17
For the next several hours, the Confederate Marines and other Rebel riflemen on both banks of the river sniped at the Union crewmen whenever they showed themselves on deck (or even below when exposed through gun ports), while the artillery gunners on the bluff unleashed a barrage of shot and shell, much of it targeting the Galena. Other ships in the Union task force that attempted to come to her aid were quickly eliminated from the action. The Naugatuck's main gun malfunctioned, compelling the vessel to withdraw. Confederate shells hit both the wooden gunboats, the Port Royal and Aroostook, forcing them to retreat downstream as well. At one point in the battle the Monitor passed above the Galena, hoping to shield her and at the same time shell the Rebel positions. But her guns could not be elevated enough to reach the top of the bluff. Like the others, the Monitor had no choice but to drop back.
The Galena, however, refused to back down and made a fight of it, hammering the enemy's gun emplacements with explosive shells, and silencing at least two of them. Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before the ship's Achilles' heel became apparent. Unlike the Monitor's thick iron sheathing, which was able to repel the Confederate shot, the armor plating affixed to the Galena proved too thin to protect her from the merciless hail of fire. 18
A ' Perfect Slaughterhouse'
In his postbattle report, Commander Rodgers noted with considerable understatement that the Galena was "not shot proof: balls came through and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron." The ship's assistant surgeon described the scene as "[a] perfect slaughterhouse." The Rebels "poured into our sides a shower of solid shot and rifled shell, many of which came through our mail [armor] as if it had been paper, scattering our brave fellows like chaff."19
With nearly a quarter of her crew wounded or killed, the Galena stubbornly held her position, in part thanks to her 14-man Marine detachment. Throughout the battle, the ship's Marines were firing their muskets from the deck and through gun ports at their Confederate counterparts on shore. Return fire from the Rebel Marines must have been intense. When a port cover on the Galena jammed and a Yankee Sailor exposed his arm to shake it loose, a burst of rifle shots from the bushes rang out, and the arm dropped into the water. 20
Then came "the decisive moment of the action," as a Marine on the Galena later put it. Three rounds, one after the other, crashed into the vessel, two of which passed "completely through her thin armor." 21 The gun deck below was a horrific sight, according to William Keeler, the Monitor's assistant paymaster, who went on board the Galena immediately after the battle.
Here was a body with the head, one arm & part of the breast torn off by a bursting shell—another with the top of his head taken off the brains still steaming on the deck, partly across him lay one with both legs taken off at the hips & at a little distance was another completely disemboweled. . . . [The deck was] covered with large pools of half coagulated blood & strewn with portions of skulls, fragments of shells, arms, legs, hands, pieces of flesh & iron, splinters of wood & broken weapons were mixed in one confused, horrible mass. 22
With several gun crews decimated and their guns rendered inoperable, Marine Corporal John F. Mackie, a 26-year-old silversmith from New York City, "seized the opportunity" and shouted to his comrades, "Come on, boys, here's a chance for the Marines!" Mackie and his men removed the wounded, threw sand on the gun deck, "which was slippery with human blood," and got the heavy guns at work once again. "Our first shots," Mackie recalled with pride, "blew up one of the [Rebel] casemates and dismounted one of the guns that had been destroying the ship." 23
Mackie and his fellow Marines manned the guns until word was passed that the ammunition was nearly expended. Around 1130, after almost four hours of continuous combat, Commander Rodgers ordered a halt to the action and a withdrawal.
Richmond breathed a sigh of relief. True, the Rebel capital was not out of the woods yet. McClellan's army was still advancing along the York River on the other side of the peninsula, but the general's ponderous movements and dilatory tactics would prove fruitless in the end.
Aftermath on the Galena
As for the repulsed Union flotilla, the Galena had withstood the worst of it, sustaining 43 hits, of which 13 shots penetrated her armor, with one passing entirely through the ship. In view of the scope and scale of the damage, it is incredible that the human cost was not heavier: 13 killed (including one Marine) and 11 wounded. Yet despite the structural damage and human carnage, the Galena somehow managed to inflict casualties on the victorious Confederates: seven dead, eight wounded. 24
In the aftermath of the battle, leaders on both sides realized how easily the outcome could have been different. As several Confederate officers later observed, if Union troops, acting in concert with the ironclads, had attacked the stronghold, they could have taken Drewry's Bluff and cleared a path to Richmond. Commander Rodgers agreed. It was "impossible," he concluded, "to reduce such works except by the aid of a land force." 25
Actually, the Union had created a special amphibious Marine battalion in the autumn of 1861, but it never made a combat landing. Its officers feared that if the Corps engaged in such tactical actions, it would eventually merge with the Army and lose its identity.
Whatever the case, those Marines who fought at Drewry's Bluff distinguished themselves all the same. In his official report, Rodgers maintained with his usual understatement that, "the Marines were efficient with their muskets, and . . . when ordered to field vacancies at the guns, did it well." 26
Captain Simms, who had commanded the Confederate Marines defending the bluff, also praised his men. As he reported a day after the battle:
I stationed my command on the bluffs some two hundred yards from them [the Union flotilla] to act as sharpshooters. We immediately opened a sharp fire upon them, killing three of the crew of the Galena certainly, and no doubt many more. The fire of the enemy was materially silenced at intervals by the fire of our troops. It gives me much pleasure to call your attention to the coolness of the officers and men under the severe fire of the enemy. 27
That Marines on both sides acquitted themselves with honor is beyond question. Yet it was a peculiarly tragic sense of honor when American Marines fought each other rather than an external foe. Fortunately, the Battle of Drewry's Bluff was unique. While U.S. Marines and former U.S. Marines would participate in other battles—Mobile Bay, Savannah, Fort Fisher, to name a few—none would place them in direct confrontation as had occurred on that bloody Thursday morning in mid-May 1862.
1. Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel, Deeds of Valor: How America's Heroes Won the Medal of Honor (Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1902), vol. II, pp. 29-30.
2. Ibid. See also Frank H. Rentfrow, "On to Richmond," The Leatherneck, January 1939, pp. 10-11 David M. Sullivan, The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War—The Second Year (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Company, Inc., 1997), p. 35.
3. Sullivan, The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War, p. xi Allan R. Millet, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980) p. 88.
4. Ralph W. Donnelly, The Confederate States Marine Corps: The Rebel Leathernecks (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Company, Inc., 1989), pp. 170-71, 173 J. Robert Moskin, The U.S. Marine Corps Story (New York: McGraw - Hill Book Company, 1987), p. 78 Joseph H. Alexander, The Battle History of the U.S. Marines: A Fellowship of Valor (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), p. 16.
5. Millet, Semper Fidelis, pp. 91-91 Donnelly, Confederate States Marine Corps, p. 270 Jeffrey T. Ryan, "Some Notes on the Civil War Era Marine Corps," Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, II (1992), p. 189.
6. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 424-27 Spencer C. Tucker, Blue & Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), pp. 175-77.
7. Edwin C. Bearss, River of Lost Opportunities: The Civil War on the James River, 1861-1862 (Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1995), p. 42 William C. Davis, Duel Between the First Ironclads (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975), pp. 152-54 William M. Robinson, Jr., "Drewry's Bluff: Naval Defense of Richmond, 1862," Civil War History, VII (June 1961), pp. 170-71.
8. Bearss, River of Lost Opportunities, pp. 42-43 Robinson, "Drewry's Blufff," pp. 172-73 John M. Coski, Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron (Campbell, CA: Savas Woodbury Publishers, 1996), pp. 37-38.
9. Harper's Weekly, 5 April 1862 Kurt Hackemer, "The Other Union Ironclad: The USS Galena and the Critical Summer of 1862," Civil War History XL (September 1994), pp. 227-30 David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, CA: 2000), IV, p. 1669 Tucker, Blue & Gray Navies, pp. 36-37, 178-79.
10. Sullivan, United States Marine Corps in the Civil War—Second Year, p. 30.
11. U.S. Naval War Records Office, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894-1927), Series I, Vol. 7, p. 355 (hereafter cited as ORN).
12. Virgil Carrington Jones, The Civil War at Sea: March 1862-July 1863 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1961), II, pp. 34-35 Bearss, River of Lost Opportunities, p. 56.
13. Robinson, "Drewry's Bluff," pp. 167-68 Coski, Capital Navy, pp. 39-40 Hackemer, "The Other Union Ironclad," pp. 232-33.
14. Bearss, River of Lost Opportunities, pp. 48-51 Sullivan, United States Marine Corps in the Civil War—The Second Year, p. 31 Donnelly, Confederate States Marine Corps, p. 212 Tucker, Blue & Gray Navies, pp. 179-80.
15. Coski, Capital Navy, pp. 111-12 Bearss, River of Lost Opportunities, pp. 51, 54 Donnelly, Confederate States Marine Corps, p. 209.
16. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing office, 1880-1901), Vol. XI, Part I, p. 636 (hereafter cited as OR).
17. Coski, Capital Navy, pp. 43-44 Sullivan, United States Marine Corps in the Civil War—The Second Year, p. 32 Robinson, "Drewry's Bluff," pp. 173-74 Tucker, Blue & Gray Navies, p. 180.
18. Beyer and Keydel, Deeds of Valor, 26-27 ORN, Series I, Vol. 7, p. 357 Hackemer, "The Other Union Ironclad," pp. 235-37.
19. ORN, Series I, Vol.7, p. 357 Hackemer, "The Other Union Ironclad," pp. 238-39.
20. Jones, The Civil War at Sea, II, p. 38 ORN, Series I, Vol. 7, p. 370 Robert W. Daly, ed., Aboard the USS Monitor, 1862: The Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U. S. Navy to his wife, Anna (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1964), p. 126 Beyer and Keydel, Deeds of Valor, p. 26.
21. The Story of American Heroism: Thrilling Narratives of Personal Adventures During the Great Civil War as told by the Medal of Honor Winners and Roll of Honor Men (Philadelphia, PA: B. T. Calvert & Co., 1897), p. 658.
22. Daly, Aboard the USS Monitor, p. 130.
23. The Story of American Heroism, pp. 654, 658 Beyer and Keydel, Deeds of Valor, p. 28.
24. ORN, Series I, Vol. 7, pp. 357, 359, 370 Sullivan, United States Marine Corps in the Civil War—The Second Year, pp. 37-38.
25. New York Herald, 19 May 1862 Bern Anderson, By Sea and By River: The Naval History of the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), pp. 82-83 Beyer and Keydel, Deeds of Valor, p. 25 OR, Series I, Vol. XI, Part I, p. 636 ORN, Series I, Vol 7, p. 362.
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The fighting at Hampton Roads cost the Union navy the loss of USS Cumberland and Congress, as well as 261 killed and 108 wounded. Confederate casualties were 7 killed and 17 wounded. Despite the heavier losses, Hampton Roads proved a strategic victory for the Union as the blockade remained intact. The battle itself signaled the demise of wooden warships and the rise of armored vessels built of iron and steel.
Over the next several weeks a standoff ensued as Virginia attempted to engage Monitor on several occasions but was refused as Monitor was under presidential orders to avoid battle unless absolutely required. This was due to President Abraham Lincoln's fear that the ship would be lost allowing Virginia to take control of the Chesapeake Bay. On May 11, after Union troops captured Norfolk, the Confederates burned Virginia to prevent its capture. Monitor was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras on December 31, 1862.
The USS Monitor’s Story
This site offers an overview of the development and career of the USS Monitor from her conception by John Ericsson, through her short career as a warship of the United States Navy, to her loss off Cape Hatteras in December 1862 and her subsequent discovery and recovery.
On March 9, 1862, the Civil War battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack ) heralded the beginning of a new era in naval warfare. Though indecisive, the battle marked the change from wood and sail to iron and steam.
Today, the remains of the Monitor rest on the ocean floor off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where the ship sank in a storm on December 31, 1862. Discovered in 1973, the Monitor wreck site was designated the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (MNMS) and is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The purpose of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is to preserve the historic record of this significant vessel and to interpret her role in shaping US naval history. Over the past several years NOAA has made extensive surveys of the wreck site and recovered a number of artifacts from the Monitor.
Diver on the USS Monitor’s wreck site, courtesy of NOAA
A statue of John Ericsson, the Monitor’s inventor, in Battery Park, New York City, with a Monitor model in hand
The Mariners Museum & Park 100 Museum Drive Newport News, VA 23606
(757) 591-7789 cons [email protected] Hours and admission prices