Lewis Randolph Hamersly.

The records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles online

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Online LibraryLewis Randolph HamerslyThe records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles → online text (page 29 of 42)
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in obtaining information of the enemy's position and in forming plans for the
attack. Roanoke Island lies between the two bodies of water known as Pamlico
and. Albemarle sounds, being separated from the mainland by a shallow channel,
Croatan sound. Opposite the southern extremity of the island the mainland
juts out in a low marshy point, around which the vessels threaded their way,
and on the morning of February 7th moved up Croatan sound in three columns,
commanded respectively by Lieutenants Werden, Murray and Davenport, the
whole under the immediate command of Commander S. C. Rowan. The enemy
had formed an extensive obstruction, of a double row of piles and sunken vessels,
stretching across the sound between the batteries on Pork and Wier points, and
behind this their vessels, eight in number, were drawn up. By half-past ten
o'clock the squadron had approached near enough to begin the attack, directing
most of its fire against the fort on Pork Point, but not neglecting the vessefi
or the other works, all of which returned the fire, though with but slight
effect. By noon the engagement had become general, and was continued so hotly
that at two o'clock the battered barracks behind the fort were burning furiously,
and at half-past four the batteries for the most part ceased for a while, to reply
to the firing of the fleet ; five of the enemy's steamers, apparently injured,
retired behind the point, and the first landing of troops took place. Throughout
the sound the depth of water is but slight, and even at the distance of a mile or
more from the shore it scarcely exceeds a general depth of seven feet. As noua


of the vessels, with one or two exceptions, drew less than this amount of water,
and some of them drew more than eight feet, the discretion of their commanders
was taxed to the utmost in placing them so that their guns would tell effectively.
The landing was effected, in light-draught steamers and boats, at Ashby's
harbor, a large body of the enemy guarding the shore being soon cleared away
by some shrapnels from the guns of the Delaware. At five o'clock the batteries
again opened, and the vessels of the enemy again came out, but were soon com-
pelled to retire, and at six, the firing being only from Pork Point and at long
intervals, the signal to cease firing was made. By midnight some 10,000 troops
had been safely landed at Ashby's harbor, where they were joined by six
launches from the fleet, with their howitzers, to hold the road during the night,
and be ready for active operations in the morning.

It was arranged by General Burnside that his forces should move at a very
early hour on the morning of the 8th, and begin their attack upon the enemy ;
and it was agreed that, as the direction they would have to take would probably
soon bring them into the line of fire of the fleet, the vessels should not renew
operations until it was known that their fire would not be destructive to friend
and foe alike. At nine o'clock, a continuous firing in the interior of the island an-
nounced that the army was hotly engaged about midway between the landing and
Pork Point, and the vessels at once moved up to re-engage the forts. This they
continued until the firing in the interior slackened, when, taking it for granted
that General Burnside was carrying everything before him and approaching the
rear of the batteries, Flag-Officer Goldsborough gave the order to desist, and pro-
ceeded to the task of clearing a passage-way through the obstructions. By four
o'clock this was accomplished, and at about the same time that the vessels
succeeded in bursting through the barricades, the American flag was unfurled
over the battery on Pork Point. A few minutes afterwards the enemy himself
fired the works on Redstone Point, together with a steamer which had taken
refuge under its guns, and thus ended the eventful struggle of two days, which
secured complete possession of the island of Koanoke./

Retreating from Roanoke Island, the rebel naval fleet fled up the sound and
into Pasquotank river, towards Elizabeth City, Commander Rowan pursuing
them with a flotilla of fourteen vessels, and anchoring for the night a few miles
from Port Cobb. On the morning of the 10th, the rebel steamers were dis-
covered drawn up behind the battery, which mounted four heavy guns, and sup-
ported by a schooner — the Black Warrior — moored to the opposite bank, and
carrying two heavy 32-pounder3. When within long range fire was opened
from the battery, the schooner and the steamers; but the vessels moved on
silently and steadily, shot and shell falling thick and fast among them. When
within three-quarters of a mile of the battery. Commander Rowan gave the signal
for a dash at the enemy; fire was opened with telling effect, and the vessels put at
their utmost speed. The enemy was completely demoralized by this bold and
wholly unexpected movement; the Black Warrior was set on fire by her officers
and destroyed, the fort abandoned, and the entire fleet captured or destroyed.

Passing up the river the flotilla took possession of Elizabeth City, which the
enemy had attempted to fire before hastily leaving it, and Lieut. Murray was
dispatched with a small force to Edenton, of which he quietly took possession
on the 12_th, and was then sent to obstruct the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal,
a duty which he successfully accomplished. At the same time. Commander Rowan
made a reeonnoissance of the Chowan river as far as Win ton, where a sharp engage-
ment took place on the 19th, but which was, the following morning, occupied by
the troops under Col. Hawkins, who entered the town and destroyed the military
stores and quarters found there.


riag-Officer Goldsborougli having been recalled to Hampton Roads, leaving
Commander Rowan in command of the naval forces in the sound, a combined
expedition of the navy and army, under that officer and General Burnside, left
Hatteras Inlet on the morning of the 12th of March, for an attack upon Newborn,
N. C. The fleet, numbering fourteen sail, besides the transports, entered the Neuse
river in the afternoon, and at nightfall anchored in three columns off Slocum's
creek, the point selected for the debarkation of the troops, about fifteen miles
distant from Newbern. Early the following morning the gunboats were deployed
at either side of the mouth of the creek, and opened with grape and canister
upon the landing place, while the troops started from the transports, the fire
ceasing as soon as the first brigade had landed. At the same time six naval boat
howitzers, under command of Lieutenant R. S. McOook, were sent ashore to
assist in the attack upon the enemy's works. As soon as all the troops had em-
barked, the flag-ship, with another vessel, proceeded on a reconnoissance up the
river, where fire was opened upon it by the battery Fort Dixie, and a spirited
fire was kept up until dark, when all the vessels anchored for the night in a
position to support the troops on shore. At daylight, on the morning of the 14th,
General Burnside engaged the enemy in force, and Commander Rowan advanced
steadily up the river with his fleet. The passage of the river was obstructed by
a formidable line of piles and torpedoes, and defended by six well constructed
forts, at distances of half a mile to a mile and a-half from each other, mounting
some thirty-two heavy guns ; but under pressure of the combined attack the rebels
abandoned their defences in succession, the army and navy contesting the honor
of raising the American flag on their ramparts, so that at noon the fleet arrived
before the deserted town of Newbern. The attempt had been made by the re-
treating enemy to fire the fbwQ, as was not unusual during the war, but the
injury effected was not great, except that the railroad bridge was destroyed by
fire communicated from a raft loaded with cotton, saturated with turpentine, which
had been prepared to send down against the fleet. A large quantity of public
stores fell into the hands of the navy, and were turned over to the victorious
troops, who arrived and took possession of the town at two o'clock.

After the fall of Newbern, Lieut. Commanding Murray was dispatched with
a naval column, accompanied by a detachment of troops, to take possession of
"Washington, N. C, which he did without opposition on the 21st, the defences
of the town having been abandoned, and most of the arms and stores removed
or destroyed. Lieut. Murray was met at the wharf by the authorities, to whom
he explained the object of his visit, and then proceeded with the troops to the
court house, where the American flag was raised with all the ceremonies. The
occupation of Washington restored to the government the important Hatteras
light-house property, the most valuable portion of which, however, the lenses, had
been removed by the rebels to Tarboro before his approach. On the 1st of April,
Commander Rowan dispatched to New York and Philadelphia nine vessels
freighted with prize naval stores, some of the fruits of the capture of Newbern.

Fort Macon, Beaufort harbor, was the next object which engaged the atten-
tion of the army and navy. On the morning of the 25th April, fire was opened
upon the fort from the batteries on shore, and Commander Samuel Lookwood,
the senior officer of the blockading fleet off Beaufort, prepared his vessels for
action and proceeded within range of the fort, his three steamers, the Daylight,-
State of Georgia and Chippewa, steaming round in a circle, and delivering their
shot as they came within range, at a distance of a mile and a quarter from the
fort. The firing continued for an hour and a quarter, when the heavy sea
rendering the guns unmanageable, the navy was obliged to withdraw, hoping
that a subsidence of the wind would enable him to renew the action in the


afternoon. The wind and sea, however, increased in violence, rendering a renewal
of the engagement on the part of the navy impossible ; but toward evening a
flag of truce appeared on the fort, and on the following morning the gallant
fellows, who had been reluctantly compelled to leave the action, where their fire
had rendered most essential service in withdrawing the fire of the enemy from
the land batteries, were enabled heartily to cheer the reappearance of the old
flag over the ramparts of Fort Macon. Entering the fort, Commander Rowan
had an interview with General Burnside, with whom he signed the terms of
capitulation on the part of the United States. It is not a little remarkable
that this important post should have been taken with a loss of but one killed
and two wounded in the army, and a single officer wounded in the naval

At the same time, Commander Rowan, finding that the army had failed to
accomplish the object for which it was landed at Elizabeth city, and had
returned without destroying the canals, determined to undertake this duty
with the navy, and accordingly sent Lieutenant Hurser with the three gunboats
and two schooners, one carrying apparatus for blowing up the banks, and the
other filled with sand to block up the Albemarle and Chesapeake canal. This
he successfully performed, by sinking the sand schooner at the mouth of the
canal, and obstructing the passage for fifty yards with brush, stumps and earth,
accomplishing in two days what many months' labor could hardly undo.
The same officer also, during the following season, rendered varied service in the
neighboring waters, in the destruction of stores, etc., and in the recovery of the
Wade's Point light-house apparatus, which was found stored in a barn near
Elizabeth city, and in numerous expeditions to points upon the sound.

While the operations we have recorded were in progress, most exciting scenes
had been enacted in Hampton Roads. On the 8th of March, one of the look-
out vessels of the squadron lying there reported, by signals, that the enemy was
coming out from the James river; and soon the iron-plated steam-battery Merri-
mack, accompanied'ijy several small gunboats, was seen passing Sewell's Point
and standing toward Newport -News. Passing close by the frigate Congress, to
which she delivered a destructive broadside, this formidable monster bore down
upon the Cumberland sloop-of-war, in command, in the temporary absence of
Commander Radford, of Lieut. George U. Morris. The Cumberland at once
opened fire, but entirely without efiect, upon her antagonist, which stood on and
struck her under the starboard fore-channels, at the same time delivering her fire.
The destruction was terrible. So great, indeed, was the injury inflicted by this
crushing blow, that notwithstanding the pumps were kept actively at work, the
water rose rapidly in the hold, and in about two hours had drowned the forward
magazine. All this time the gallant crew had kept up an active fire, and did
not desist until, at 3.35 P. M., when the water had risen to the main hatchway, the
ship canted to port, and after a parting volley, each man took his chance of life
by jumping overboard. All of the wounded who were able to walk had been
ordered up, but those who had been carried into the sick-bay were so mangled
that it was impossible to save them, and they were left to go down with the
vessel they had served so well. Of the gallantry of this action, which has fur-
nished one of the brightest, as well as one of the saddest pages to the naval his-
tory of the world, it is difficult to speak in fitting terms; and perhaps no better
words can be found than the simple sentence in which Lieut. Morris concluded
his report to his commanding officer, who arrived at Newport News only in time
to see his vessel go down : " I will only say, in conclusion, that all did their duty,
and we sank with the American flag at the peak." The Cumberland lost more
than a hundred men, nearly one-third of her crew.


While tbe Merrimack was engaged with the Cumberland, the smaller vessels
accompanjing her attacked the Congress, killing and wounding many of her
crew ; and her commander, seeing the fate of the Cumberland, set sails, and
with the assistance of a tug, ran the vessel ashore. At half-past three the Mer-
rimack took position astern of her at a distance of a hundred and fifty yards, and
raked her with shells ; one of the smaller steamers meanwhile keeping up a fire
on her starboard quarter, and two others approaching from up the James river,
opening fire with precision and doing great damage. The two stern guns were
now the only means of defence left the Congress, and these were soon disabled,
one being dismounted and the other having its muzzle knocked away, and the
men were swept away from them rapidly and with terrible slaughter by the cruel
fire of the enemy.

Meanwhile, the steam-frigate Roanoke, the vessel of Capt. Marston, the
senior officer, and the Minnesota, the most powerful vessel in the Eoads, were
aground at some miles' distance ; and Lieut. Pendergrast, on whom, at the death
of Lieut. Smith, who fell at his post, at half-past 4 o'clock, devolved the com-
mand of the Congress, seeing the rapid slaughter of his men, without any pros-
pect of relief, and being unable to bring his guns to bear upon the enemy,
while his ship was on fire in several places, concluded to haul down his colors,
and suffer no further loss of life. An officer from the Merrimack boarded the
vessel, and soon after a tug came along-side, whose captain demanded of the
crew to surrender and leave the ship, as he intended to burn her imme-
diately. A sharp fire from the troops on the shore, however, soon compelled
the tug to leave, and the Merrimack again fired several shell, after which she
hauled off to engage the Minnesota, and Lieut. Pendergrast, left to himself, made
all haste to get his men ashore, the ship being on fire in several places, and near
the magazine.

The Minnesota, upon the first appearance of the battery, had got under way
to engage her, but after proceeding to within a mile and a-half of Newport
News, had there grounded, and as the tide was ebbing she could not be floated off.
Here, then, the great frigate lay at 4 o'clock, when the Merrimack, with her two
consorts, leaving the Congress to her fate, bore down upon her. Fortunately,
however, the iron battery drew too much water to come within a mile of her ;
but the two other steamers, firing rifled guns, did much damage in killing and
wounding men, until the heavy gun of the Minnesota drove them off, followed
at 7 o'clock by the Merrimack, when all three steamed towards Norfolk.

The firing of her broadside guns had crowded the Minnesota still further
upon the mud bank, and although all hands were at work during the night with
tugs and hawsers, it was found impossible to move her. The situation of the
vessel, hopelessly grounded, with the certainty of the renewal of the attack by
her apparently invulnerable antagonist in the morning, was unpleasant in the
extreme ; but at midnight a new and powerful actor arrived upon the scene. The
iron-clad Monitor, Commander John L. Worden, the first of three iron-clad ves-
sels which had been built by the Navy Department, had arrived, most oppor-
tunely, at Hampton Roads, at 9 o'clock, and immediately received orders from
Captain Marston to proceed to Newport News and protect the Minnesota from
the attack of the Merrimack ; and all untried as the strange little craft was,
she was warmly welcomed as she anchored alongside.

At eight o'clock the following morning the Merrimack was perceived ap-
proaching. When she had come within a mile of the Minnesota, that vessel
opened upon her and signaled the Monitor to attack. Then came the contest
which was to exert so important an influence upon naval architecture. Running
down the wake of the frigate, the tiny Monitor placed herself alongside of her


huge antagonist and fired gun after gun, which were returned by whole broad-
sides without efiect. After a time the little vessel began maneuveriDg, shooting
by her antagonist and sending her shots first into her bow, and again raking her
stern, while broadside after broadside was fired from the Merrimack, either pass-
ing quite over, or, if they struck, glancing harmless from her bomb-proof turret.

Finding that she could make no impression on the Monitor, the Merrimack
again gave her attention to the Minnesota, returning a tremendous broadside from
the frigate with a shot from her rifled bow gun, which went crashing through
the vessel, bursting in the boatswain's room and setting fire to the ship. The
fire was, however, promptly extinguished. Her second shell exploded the boiler
of the tugboat alongside ; but an incessant fire from the frigate was now concen-
trated upon her, some fifty solid shot striking upon her sides, without^ however,
any apparent effect. The Monitor by this time again came between the con-
tending vessels, forcing the battery to change her position. In doing this she
grounded, and the broadsides of the Minnesota were again poured upon her. As
soon as she got off she stood down the bay, chased at full speed by the Monitor.
Suddenly she turned and made for her antagonist, but a plunging shot through
the roof arrested her dash, and for a time the encounter between this seemingly
ill-matched pair was again hot and furious. After a time the Merrimack seemed
to tire of the fray, and again headed toward the frigate. It was a trying moment
for the Minnesota, fast aground and badly crippled ; but the enemy had no mind
to renew the experience of the morning, and, it being then shortly after noon,
retreated to Sewell's Point. During the night Captain Van Brunt succeeded
in getting his ship afloat, and next morning was safely at anchor near Fortress

Toward the close of this terrific engagement, a percussion shell exploded
against the look-out chink of the pilot house of the Monitor, where Captain
Worden, who so brilliantly fought his little vessel, and who thus made him-
self in a few hours the hero of the day, was stationed throughout the engagement.
The result was a severe injury to the eyes of that officer, which, with the effects
of the concussion, so disabled him as to oblige him to place the vessel in com-
mand of Lieutenant Greene, executive officer, and to be subsequently removed
to Washington. One officer and one seaman were also injured by concussion
during the day, the only casualties on board the Monitor, whose impregnability
was thus abundantly proven. This remarkable combat operated in a great
degree to alter the ideas of the whole world in regard to naval operations, and
its influence was immediately apparent in the construction of vessels, not only
by the American Navy but by those of European nations, though it is doubtful
whether it effected so great a revolution in naval affairs as was at the time
anticipated. The capacities of the Monitor class are more limited than they
were, after this affair, supposed to be, but we shall have abundant instances of
their achievements to note in the course of our record.

The arrival of the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula rendered it neces-
sary to detail several gunboats from the North Atlantic Squadron, to convoy the
transports and to protect the flank of the army on its march. Gen. McClellan
occupied Yorktown, May 4th, and immediately afterwards telegraphed to Comman-
der William Smith to come up and assist in the communication with Gloucester.
Commander Smith accordingly proceeded up York river with his flotilla, and
was enabled to render the army valuable assistance. On the 7th, the enemy,
in large force, attacked Gen. Franklin's division, the right wing of the army, at
West Point, and he having requested the assistance of the navy, Commander
Smith dispatched the Wachusett, Maratanza and Sebago to his support. These
gunboats, taking position near the rebels, opened upon them with great effect,


giving most essential aid to Gen. Franklin, and enabling him to hold his posi-
tion and repel the attack.

On the 8th of May, the Monitor moved up and shelled Sewell's Point.
The Merrimack came out, but though the Monitor kept well up toward her,
she refused to engage her plucky adversary, and soon retired under the
point. This was her last appearance, for two days after Norfolk surrendered
to the military forces under G-en. Wool, and the next morning a terrific explo-
sion, in the direction of Craney Island, announced to the navy in Hampton
Eoads that the once dreaded battery was no more. Lieut. Selfridge, of the
flag-officer's staff, proceeding in a tug to Sewell's Point, raised the American
flag over the abandoned works, and the ships sailed up to Norfolk unmolested.

Two days before the fall of Norfolk, three gunboats, the G-alena, Aroostook and
Port Royal, under Commander John Kodgers, were sent up the James river, in
accordance with the orders of the President. On the 11th, the Monitor and Nau-
gatuok joined the expedition at Jamestown Island, and the little squadron, after
numerous engagements with the enemy's batteries and sharp-shooters, arrived at
Drury's Bluff, eight miles from Kichmond, where they encountered a heavy battery
and two barriers formed of piles and sunken vessels. The Galeaa and Monitor ran
within six hundred yards of the Bluff, but the latter was obliged to drop down
again some distance, being unable to elevate her guns sufficiently to make them
tell efficiently upon the battery. After an action of three hours the gunboats,
having exhausted their ammunition, returned to City Point, the Naugatuck disa-
bled by the bursting of a gun. Other expeditions were also made up the James
and Pamunkey, and other rivers, during the summer, though none of them
were important in their results.

On the 5th of September, Bear Admiral Goldshorough was, at his own re-
quest, relieved of command of the North Atlantic Squadron, by Acting Bear
Admiral P. P. Lee. The operations of the squadron during the remainder of
the year embrace nothing of special importance, with the exception of two or
three incidents, which, although without practical results, deserve more than a
mention by reason of the courage and gallantry displayed in them. The opera-
tions to which we allude were those of the fleet in the waters of North Caro-
lina, at that time under Commander S. K. Davenport. The intricacies of
these waters called for continual activity on the part of the naval force, more
especially as the army, scattered at a number of points, was frequently in need
of support; as on one occasion, the 6th of September, when the enemy attacked

Online LibraryLewis Randolph HamerslyThe records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles → online text (page 29 of 42)