At 8:30 on Friday morning, January 13,1865, the U.S.S. New
Ironsides - a powerful iron-plated warship dropped anchor off the North Carolina
coastline and opened fire with explosive broadsides. Supporting the New
Ironsides were four Federal ironclad monitors and dozens of other warships a
total of 59 vessels bringing together the largest naval fleet assembled during
the Civil War. Their target was Fort Fisher, the largest coastal fortification
in the Confederacy and the fort which guarded the North Carolina port of
Wilmington. It was the South's only surviving major port upon which General
Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia depended for desperately needed arms and
equipment from Great Britain. Capturing this fortification would seal Wilmington
and deliver a deathblow against the South. To soften Fort Fisher enough to be
taken by a Federal ground assault, Rear Admiral David Porter's huge fleet
unleashed the largest naval bombardment of the war.
"The Most Terrible Storm of Iron
As the Federal fleet bombarded Fort Fisher,
Admiral Porter's seamen directed the landing of 8,000 Federal troops commanded
by Major General Alfred H. Terry. The fleet held off Confederate forces so
Terry's troops could establish a beachhead and move into place for a ground
"I assure you it was the most terrible storm of iron and lead that I have ever
seen during this war," recalled a Confederate survivor of the bombardment. The
modern-style naval barrage produced devastating results: a Federal eyewitness
reported that "...the Confederate artillerists tried in vain to stand to their
guns. One by one, these were broken or dismounted...."
On January 15,1865, Fort Fisher fell to General Terry's troops after a fierce
defense by its Confederate garrison. The South's greatest coastal fortification
had fallen, the irreplaceable port of Wilmington was closed and the mighty
victory was due in great measure to the Federal navy.
The United States Navy that assembled the huge armada which bombarded Fort
Fisher was a vastly different naval force than what had existed when the Civil
War began in 1861. At that time the U.S. Navy consisted of 1,457 officers and
7,600 enlisted men with barely half of its 90 ships in serviceable condition. By
war's end, the Federal navy had grown to 641 ships with 51,500 men in uniform
and almost 17,000 more employed at Federal navy yards. The dramatic expansion
was the work of U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Assistant Navy Secretary
Gustavus V. Fox. Despite limited experience in naval affairs, Welles
distinguished himself by building a world-class navy in four years. He developed
ironclads and steam-powered warships, encouraged joint operations with the army,
and equipped warships with heavy artillery. He was ably assisted by Fox, a
career naval officer with influential political connections, who encouraged
Welles to build ironclad warships, upgrade the U.S. Naval Academy and implement
important new naval procedures.
President Abraham Lincoln brought the navy into the war immediately. Less than a
week after the surrender of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, Lincoln declared a
naval blockade of the Southern coast. It was an ambitious attempt that required
blockading 3,500 miles of coastline on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Success
looked unlikely, but by war's end the powerful navy developed by Welles and Fox
had captured or destroyed more than 1,500 blockade runners, seized or sealed all
major Southern ports, and placed a naval stranglehold on the imports dependent
Confederacy. While 90 percent of blockade runners were able to penetrate the
Northern naval blockade in 1861, only one of every three blockade runners
succeeded in making port by war's end.
Joint Operations Open the Mississippi
Aided by the technological developments of the
Industrial Revolution, the Federal navy emerged during the war as a powerful
force that despite remarkable Southern resourcefulness could not be matched by
Once refueling bases for the Federal North Atlantic and South Atlantic
Blockading Squadrons were established on the North and South Carolina coasts,
the Federal blockade was extended from Virginia to Texas.
In 1862, the U.S. Navy struck a mighty blow to the South by capturing New
Orleans, the largest city in the Confederacy and a major port on the Mississippi
River. In the same year, the innovative Confederate ironclad, the C.S.S.
Virginia, dealt the U.S. Navy the worst defeat of its history at Hampton Roads,
Virginia, but the Federal navy redeemed itself the next day with a successful
defense by the U.S.S. Monitor in the first battle between ironclad warships.
The U.S. Navy's cooperation with army forces in joint operations produced many
victories throughout the war. Among the most important was penetration of the
Southern heartland via the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which resulted in
the capture of Forts Henry and Fort Donelson by Northern forces in 1862. Joint
army-navy operations at Island Number 10, New Madrid and Vicksburg eventually
opened the entire Mississippi to Federal control and split the Confederacy.
One by one, the major Southern ports fell to Federal forces until Lee's
beleaguered army was dependent on the military cargoes shipped through
Wilmington, North Carolina. Taking Wilmington required capturing mighty Fort
Fisher using the greatest naval bombardment in American history at the time.
Until the end, the Federal navy remained a key element of the Northern war
effort. When the Confederate capital of Richmond finally fell to Federal forces
in April of 1865, President Lincoln was escorted into the captured capital by an
armed contingent of Federal seamen.
This is a list of 15 Union Naval Operations that earned the three embroidered
silver stars displayed on the Civil War Battle Streamer:
1. Blockade operations
2. Capture of Hatteras Inlet. N.C. (29 August 1861)
3. Capture of Port Royal Sound. S.C. (7 November 1861)
4. Capture of Fort Henry. Tennessee River (6 February 1862)
5. Capture of Roanoke Island—key to Albemarle Sound (7-8 February 1862)
6. Monitor-Virginia (ex-Merrimack) (9 March 1862)
7. Battle of New Orleans (24 April 1862)
8. Capture of Vicksburg (4 July 1863)
9. Kearsarge-Alabama (19 June 1864)
10. Battle of Mobile Bay (5 August 1864)
11. Destruction of C.S.S
Albemarle(27-28 October 1864)
12. Capture of Fort Fisher. Wilmington, N.C. (13-15 January 1865)
13. Operations on the Mississippi and tributaries
14. Campaigns in the Chesapeake and tributaries
15. Atlantic operations against commerce raiders and blockade runners.
CONFEDERATE STATES NAVY
The Atlanta. When Commander Webb learned of
the two Federal monitors, he decided to engage them before carrying out his
| On June 17,1863, the C.S.S.
Atlanta, a newly-launched Confederate ironclad ram, steamed down Georgia's
Wilmington River toward the Wassaw Sound near Savannah. Commander William A.
Webb had an ambitious mission for the Atlanta: he hoped to clear Wassaw Sound of
Northern warships, break the Federal blockade between Savannah and Charleston,
then turn the powerful ironclad's guns on the Yankees' South Atlantic Blockading
Squadron based near Beaufort, South Carolina.
Warned by Confederate deserters of the Atlanta's pending raid, Rear Admiral
Samuel F. Du Pont hurriedly dispatched two Federal ironclad monitors, the U.S.S.
Weehawken and the U.S.S. Nahant, to surprise
|the Atlanta. When
Commander Webb learned of the two Federal monitors, he decided to engage them
before carrying out his planned raid.
The First Naval Jack
Goes into Battle
At 3:30 a.m., on June 17, Webb took the Atlanta
down the Wilmington River toward the Wassaw Sound, hoping to surprise the
monitors. Fluttering from the Atlanta's jackstaff was the first Confederate
naval jack. At 4:55 a.m., the Atlanta confronted the Weehawken and the Nahant.
The Nahant lay almost a mile away, so Webb headed full speed for the Weehawken.
As he prepared to ram and discharge the Atlanta's spar torpedo, the ironclad
suddenly ran aground. Webb reversed engines, freed the ironclad and tried to
move into deeper water, but the Atlanta again ran aground. Aboard the Weehawken,
Captain John Rodgers saw the Atlanta's dilemma and steamed forward. Webb opened
fire, but nothing slowed the Weehawken's approach. Rodgers held his fire until
at close range, then opened up with his two heavy guns. One round went high, but
the other caused severe damage, disabling two gun crews and inflicting about 30
Hard aground, Webb could not maneuver the Atlanta to effectively return fire.
The Weehawken fired twice more and the battle was over. Realizing that the
Atlanta could not be freed and knowing his ship and her crew could easily be
destroyed, Webb surrendered. Down went the Atlanta's proud banners and up went
the Stars and Stripes. The Confederacy had recently replaced its colors, so the
engagement between the Atlanta and the monitors in June of 1863 was one of the
final appearances of the first Confederate naval jack.
The Confederate States established a Navy Department on February 20,1861,
organized with the prewar U.S. Navy as a model. The new Confederate Navy had
little more than organization. The Southern states had an odd handful of
seaworthy ships, scant shipyards and no factories capable of producing marine
engines. But the South did have one important naval resource: Stephen R.
Mallory. A former U.S. Senator from Florida, Mallory served as the influential
chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, and worked for almost a
decade to expand and strengthen the prewar U.S. Navy. A day after the
Confederate Navy was established, Stephen Mallory was named secretary.
Mallory Builds an Innovative
Unable to match the growing power of the U.S.
Navy, Mallory concentrated on making the Confederate Navy a force to be
respected through innovation and initiative. He dispatched agents to the North,
Canada and Europe to buy vessels. He arranged for the construction of cruisers
in Great Britain, focused on development of torpedo defenses that resembled the
water-borne minefields of the 20th century, and developed construction of new
armored "ironclad" warships.
Through his efforts, the Confederacy launched cruisers against Northern merchant
and whaling fleets in an attempt to damage the Northern economy and siphon
Federal warships away from blockading the Southern coast. Two cruiser
commanders, James Waddell of the Shenandoah and Raphael Semmes of the Alabama
were responsible for the loss of more than 200 Northern vessels and millions of
dollars in shipping.
On March 8,1862, the most famous Confederate ironclad, the C.S.S. Virginia,
ravaged the Federal fleet at Hampton Roads, Virginia and proved the superiority
of ironclad warships over traditional wooden vessels. The next day, the
Virginia, which was built on the refitted hull of the U.S.S. Merrimack, battled
to a standstill with the U.S. Navy's first ironclad, the U.S.S. Monitor, in the
first battle between ironclad warships. Other Confederate ironclads faced the
Federal navy with mixed success.
The Confederacy's torpedoes, used mainly as floating mines in rivers and inlets,
caused serious concern within the ranks of the U.S. Navy and sent several
Northern warships to the bottom. In 1862, the powerful Federal ironclad U.S.S.
Cairo was sunk by a torpedo in Mississippi's Yazoo River, and in 1865, Admiral
John Dahlgren's flagship, the U.S.S. Harvest Moon, was sunk by a torpedo in
South Carolina's Winyah Bay. Southern ironclad rams were often equipped with
torpedoes fixed to a spar on the bow — a fearsome weapon to Northern seamen. The
Confederate Navy also advanced development of submarine warfare with
semi-submersible craft like the David and the H. L. Hunley. In 1864, the Hunley
became the first submarine-type vessel to sink a warship in combat when she sank
the U.S.S. Housatonic off Charleston.
Mallory was the only Confederate cabinet officer to hold his post throughout the
war. Despite his determined efforts, the Confederate Navy could never break the
U.S. Navy's effective blockade of Southern ports. However, the impressive
innovation of Stephen Mallory and the Confederate Navy helped to revolutionize