Published 1883, 1885





The command of the Gulf Blockading Squadron was as­signed to Flag-Officer William Mervine, who had served in California during the Mexican war, and who had now been fifty-two years in the service. He arrived in the Gulf on Juno 8, 1861, whither he was shortly followed by his flagship, the Colorado. Before his arrival the blockade had been set on foot by the vessels already on the station. Some of these had pushed westward late in May, and on the 26th of that month, the Powhatan, under Porter, arrived off Mobile, while the Brooklyn, taking her station on the same day off Pass-a-L'Outre, announced the blockade of New Orleans. The Powhatan remained off Mobile until the 29th, when she was relieved by the Niagara, which came in from Havana. Porter then proceeded off the Southwest Pass of the Missis­sippi, which he blockaded on the 31st. On the 13th of June the Massachusetts arrived off the Passes, where she remained on blockade duty. Galveston was invested by the South Carolina, on the 2d of July. When Mervine arrived at his post on the 8th of June, in the frigate Mississippi, he found a beginning already made, and by July he had a force of twenty-one vessels.

Mervine's first act after his arrival on the station was to publish a proclamation declaring, in the usual form, that "an effective blockade of the port of Key West, Florida, has been established and will be rigidly enforced and main­tained against any and all vessels (public armed vessels of foreign powers alone excepted) which shall attempt to enter or depart from the said port of Key West, Florida." As Key West was wholly in the possession of the United States authorities, and as it is a barren island, dependent on supplies by sea for the barest necessaries of life, the procla­mation caused some consternation among the inhabitants. Next day, however, the order was rescinded, and it was an­nounced that trading with the loyal States and with Cuba would be permitted under certain restrictions.

A cruise made by H. M. S. Jason, Captain Von Donop, shortly after Mervine's arrival, showed the following disposi­tion of the forces in the Gulf: the Cuyler was off Tampa Bay; the Montgomery in Appalachee Bay; the Mississippi, Niagara, and Water Witch off Pensacola; the Huntsville and the sailing-sloop St. Louis off Mobile; and the Brooklyn, Powhatan and two gunboats were off the Mississippi Passes. The Jason did not go to Galveston. This report, coupled with other evidence, goes to show that during the first few months, the main entrances to the principal ports in the Gulf, as in the Atlantic, were efficiently blockaded; but there was no blockade of the intermediate stretches of coast, and the side entrances to the ports were also without a guard.

The general course of operations in the Gulf was similar to that in the Atlantic; and the same plan of converting the blockade at various points into an occupation was gradually but systematically carried out. A lodgment was effected at New Orleans before the first year was over, and the necessity of a blockade was largely obviated at the most important point on the coast. From this base, further operations checked the desultory commerce carried on by small vessels in the Louisiana bayous. The occupation of Ship Island covered the waters of Mississippi Sound, where a small coasting trade with Mobile was, nevertheless, persistently carried on. At Pensacola, Fort Pickens commanded the entrance from the beginning; and in 1862 the city was evacuated, and became the depot of the West Gulf Squad­ron. Galveston was occupied by the United States forces from October, 1862, until the disaster on the first day of 1863. During the following year, possession was taken of various points in Texas, but the land forces were subsequently withdrawn and the blockade re-established. Fi­nally, in August, 1864, Mobile was closed by the surrender of the forts to Admiral Farragut and General Granger.

In the latter part of September, 1861, Mervine was relieved by Flag-Officer William W. McKean. It was decided that a division of the squadrons in the Gulf was necessary, such as had been made in the Atlantic, and the Department only waited until its plan of active operations in that quarter could be matured and a sufficient force sent to the station. Farragut had been selected to command the expedition against New Orleans, and on the 21st of February he as­sumed command of the West Gulf Squadron, with a cruising­ground extending from Pensacola to the Rio Grande. Far­ragut remained in command until late in 1864, when Commo­dore Thatcher was appointed to succeed him.

The Eastern Gulf Squadron extended from Cape Canaveral on the eastern coast of Florida, to Pensacola. Its head­quarters were at Key West. McKean remained in command until June 4, 1862, when he was relieved by Captain Lard­ner. Lardner was soon followed by Commodore Theodorus Bailey, who retained the command two years, and whose health finally broke down, as did that of many of his offi­cers, upon this undesirable station. After a short interval, Commodore Cornelius K. Stribling assumed the command on the 12th of October, and retained it until the close of the war.

The blockade of Florida required a different management from that of other parts of the coast. There were no large commercial centers which might influence the destination of steamers with valuable cargoes; nor were there any points whose position, by giving ready access to the interior, made it indispensable that they should be strongly intrenched. Hence the main force of the blockade could not be concen­trated at a few points. On the other hand, there were innu­merable bays and inlets, difficult and dangerous of access, where small vessels might enter unobserved, and remain concealed for an indefinite time. It was well-nigh impos­sible, no matter how large or vigilant the force in these waters, to prevent absolutely the trade carried on by these vessels. The best that could be done was to keep up a con­stant watch, and to scour the coast at intervals, sending in small parties in boats to seize a vessel whenever its presence was known. Numberless little affairs thus took place on the station -engagements with small batteries, boarding parties, cutting-out expeditions, raids upon salt-works, sud­den dashes into remote and unfrequented inlets, on dark nights, through tortuous channels, usually followed by the capture of cotton-laden schooners, or stray boats, or bales of cotton, with the loss of a man or two here and there.

While the Tahoma was lying off Cedar Keys, on February 23, 1862, a boat expedition was sent in, under Lieutenant Crosman, to cut out a schooner lying in the boat-channel between Cedar Keys and the mainland, and to capture a ferry-boat which had been used for communicating between the land and the Keys. Crosman secured the ferry-boat, but the schooner lay on the other side of the railroad trestle crossing the channel; and, night coming on, he was obliged to defer operations. Going into the channel next morning, he found that the schooner had disappeared; and, as he was coming out of the narrow passage, a heavy fire of small arms was opened from a stockade on the shore. His men were at the oars, pulling against a strong flood tide and a fresh wind; and the two officers of the boats were the only people who could return the fire. The leading boat had barely got out of range, when the prize capsized. Nothing daunted, Crosman pulled back under the fire of the troops, which covered the prize, and endeavored to right her; but after some time spent in unavailing efforts, he scuttled and sank her, returning with the loss of only one man to his ship.

The ferry-boat Somerset, under Lieutenant-Commander Earl English, attacked the salt-works near Depot Key on October 4, 1862. After a few shells had been fired, a white flag was hoisted on the works, and a party was sent on shore to destroy them. No sooner had the party landed, than they were fired upon from the building displaying the flag of truce, and half of them were disabled. Immediately after the affair, the gunboat Tahoma arrived, under Commander John C. Howell. A strong force was landed, led by Crosman with his usual energy and judgment, and fifty or sixty salt-boilers were destroyed.

These are only a few out of numberless small affairs that took place on the coast. They made little noise, but the service was one that involved hardship and danger, and it exacted ceaseless activity and untiring effort. It was more like the old conflicts of the excisemen and smugglers on the Scottish coast than the regular operations of warfare; though the contrabandistas of Florida had no occasion to sell their lives as dearly as the Hatteraicks of eighty years ago.

In the West Gulf, the most important points were Mobile and New Orleans: The latter was by far the largest and wealthiest city at the South; in fact, it ranked sixth in point of population among the cities of the Union. Its tonnage movement was enormous, its export trade being one of the most extensive in the world. There were two principal entrances to the Mississippi, Pass-a-L'Outre and Southwest Pass, though there were several others of less importance. At these two entrances the deposits of mud made by the river were continually altering the channels; and the posi­tion of the bar and the depth of water were shifting and uncertain. The channel was deeper now in one, now in the other, and the commerce of New Orleans varied its course accordingly. The smaller passes admitted only vessels of the lightest draft.

The main passes were about fifteen miles in length and there were from fourteen to seventeen feet of water on the bars at their mouth. The three smaller passes had from six to ten feet. At the point of divergence, known as the Head of the Passes, the stream of the Mississippi is broad and deep, and though the current is strong, there is a safe and roomy anchorage. The two forts that formed the main defenses of New Orleans lay twenty miles above this point, and there was nothing to obstruct the movements of the block­ading fleet between the forts and the bar. It would seem that the first step in the blockade of New Orleans would naturally be to station a force at the Head of the Passes, where all the outlets could be closed at once. It was clearly the most economical and most effectual way to blockade the river; but the position was exposed to sudden attacks by the enemy, and in order to be maintained successfully, it required a force that should combine strength for resisting attack with handiness of movement. A sloop-of-war with one or two small, active, well-armed dispatch-vessels or gun-boats, to act as pickets, could close the passage effectually, and by the exercise of constant vigilance could reduce the risk of lying in the enemy's waters to a minimum.

Early in October, 1861, the squadron was moved up from the bar, and took its post at the Head of the Passes. Pos­session vas taken of the telegraph station, and work was begun on a fortification. The force consisted of the Richmond, commanded by Captain John Pope, the senior officer present; the Vincennes, Commander Robert Handy; the Preble, Commander French; and the side-wheel steamer Water Witch, Lieutenant Francis Winslow. The Vincennes and the Preble were sailing sloops-of-war. The Richmond was one of the smaller of the first-class screw-sloops built shortly before the war, and an admirable vessel, carrying a powerful battery of twenty-two IX-inch guns, one 80-pound­er, and one rifled 30-pounder. The Vincennes carried four VIII-inch shell guns, and fourteen 32-pounders. The Water Witch, a small vessel, well adapted for river service, had one 24-pound howitzer, two 12-pounders, and one Dahlgren 20-pounder. It was known that considerable preparations were making at New Orleans to fit out a naval force under the direction of Commodore Hollins, and in particular that a formidable ram, the Manassas, was in process of construction; but no extraordinary precautions seem to have been taken by the blockading squadron to prevent a surprise.

On the 11th of October, the Water Witch had towed a coaling schooner alongside the Richmond, and had afterward anchored on her starboard quarter, a little inshore. The Preble lay in advance of the Richmond, about one hundred and fifty yards off, on her starboard bow. The Vincennes was lower down the river, on the opposite side.

A little before four o'clock, on the morning of the 12th, while the watch on deck was getting coal on board the Richmond from the schooner alongside, a ram was discovered close aboard. This was the Manassas, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Warley. The Preble saw her at the same moment, as well as the prize-schooner Frolic, and giving the alarm at once, beat to quarters. A moment later, the ram struck the Richmond abreast of the port fore­channels, making a small hole in her side, and tearing the schooner from her fasts. The injury was speedily repaired; and the Richmond, slipping her cable and ranging ahead, avoided a second blow on her quarter. The ram, having been herself seriously injured by the shock, then gave up the attempt, and standing up the river, received broadsides from the Richmond and from the Preble as she passed them. Steaming ahead, the Richmond found herself near the shore, and attempted to turn, but only succeeded in getting half­way round, with her broadside up and down the river. Orders were then given to the two sailing-sloops to proceed down the Southwest Pass, while the Richmond covered their retreat.

As the ram passed up the river she fired a rocket. Imme­diately afterward three lights were seen in motion, which gradually brightened and expanded until they were dis­covered to be fire-rafts, drifting down on the squadron. The Water Witch avoided them without difficulty, steering to the northeast, up the stream, while the rafts, left to the wind and current, drifted to the western shore, doing no injury. The rest of the squadron was already out of their reach, on its way to the bar.

Winslow now remained alone in the Water Witch, near the Head of the Passes, having interpreted the commanding officer's last signal to mean "Act at discretion," and being under the conviction that a force was still required at this point if the blockade was to be efficiently maintained. The rest of the squadron apparently took a different view of the state of affairs. It was now daylight and, making a recon­noissance, Winslow discovered the smoke of four steamers, above a bend in the river, and a bark-rigged propeller higher up, having the appearance of a blockade-runner. As the propeller would have a clear path through Pass-a-L'Outre un­less the squadron could be brought back, the Water Witch steamed at full speed down the Southwest Pass until she overtook the retreating blockaders. When she came up with them, the Richmond was making a general signal to cross the bar. Winslow ranged up alongside and earnestly represented the necessity of returning immediately up the river, but Pope, deeming the position of the squadron un­safe, overruled the suggestion and ordered the Water Witch to the assistance of the sailing vessels. This order was car­ried out. The Preble was piloted across the bar by Davis, the executive of the Water Witch, and the gunboat went her­self to assist the Vincennes; but before Winslow could reach her, the sloop grounded. A moment later the Richmond also ran ashore.

In this position the vessels of the squadron found them­selves when Hollins came down the Pass with his flotilla. It was now about eight o'clock. The enemy's attack was not maintained with any great spirit, and though the cannonade lasted for a couple of hours, no advantage was gained by either side. As the Richmond lay with her broadside up the river, she could rake the channel effectually; and the Confederates, whose force of lightly-armed river-boats was no match for the squadron, kept at a respectful distance from her heavy battery. Their firing was inaccurate, their shells bursting around and beyond the Richmond. On the other hand, the Richmond's shot fell short. She succeeded once or twice in backing off into deeper water, and drifted down with the current, grounding finally about a quarter of a mile below the Vincennes; but the little Water Witch pluckily held her position, although she was obliged to keep actively moving to leave a clear space for the Richmond's fire.

The position of the Vincennes would now have become critical had the enemy shown a bold front and approached her; but they kept off, satisfied with a mere demonstration. Then came the most singular incident of this singular con­flict. The Richmond made signal to the vessels below the bar to get under way. This was erroneously interpreted on board the Vincennes as an order to abandon the vessel. Captain Handy, apparently himself in some doubt as to his interpretation, sent an officer to the Water Witch asking if such a signal had been made, and announcing that he should defend his vessel. Winslow replied to the question that it was im­possible, and suggested to Handy that he should fight his ship. Handy did not adopt the suggestion, however, but concluded to obey the supposed order. Having first caused a slow-match to be applied to the magazine, he manned the boats, and sending a part of his crew on board the Water Witch, he repaired to the Richmond with the rest. From some dramatic fancy, he wrapped a large American ensign about his waist, and in this strange guise he appeared over the side of the commanding officer's vessel. This was at 9.30, when the enemy's forces were beginning to draw off from the attack; and shortly after Captain Handy reached the Richmond they withdrew up the river.

Captain Pope, after waiting "a reasonable time," as he says in his report, for the explosion, and thinking, Q0 from the description of the slow-match," that it had gone out, ordered Handy back to the Vincennes. The latter there­upon divested himself of his colors, and returned to his ves­sel. The next day she was got afloat, with the assistance of the South Carolina, which was ordered up from Barrataria. A new disposition was made of the vessels, and the blockade was continued by keeping a ship off the mouth of each of the Passes.

On the 16th of September Ship Island had been evacuated by the Confederates. A force was landed from the Massa­chusetts, and the fort was occupied. The island became an important station, and facilitated the blockade of Mississippi Sound, where the cruisers might intercept the small vessels running between New Orleans and Mobile. On the 19th of October, the steamer Florida came out, under Commodore Hollins, and engaged the Massachusetts off the island. The Florida, being a faster vessel, and of less draft, was able to choose her distance, and the engagement was carried on at long range. A 68-pounder rifle-shell was exploded in the Massachusetts, but it did not seriously injure the vessel, and the enemy finally retreated out of reach. Ship Island served as the depot of the West Gulf Squadron until the evacuation of Pensacola, which then became the headquarters.

Mobile, the second point of importance in the Gulf, pre­sented few natural difficulties to the blockaders; and the same peculiarities that made it an easy port to defend made it an easy port to blockade. The city lies at the head of a bay twenty-four miles long and ten miles wide in its upper part, expanding to twenty miles at its southern end. Very little, however, of this large sheet of water is accessible for vessels of even moderate draught. The upper anchorage has only twelve feet of water. The lower anchorage has from eighteen to twenty feet, and is five miles north of Mobile Point, at the main entrance to the bay. This entrance lies between two long, narrow sand-spits, and is approached by a channel running north and south. The channel, five miles in length, and only half a mile wide at its narrowest point, has at its southern extremity a bar, upon which there is a depth of nearly twenty-one feet. The northern end was protected by two forts, one of them, Fort Morgan, a work of considerable strength. But as the entrance of the channel was five miles from the forts, the blockading squadron could take a position close to the bar; and the blockade was re­duced to a limited area. At this point, therefore, it could be maintained more effectually and by a smaller force than at almost any other place of trade on the coast.

There were two other entrances to the bay, one to the westward, with so little water as to be comparatively unim­portant, and the other to the northeast, extending, like the Beach Channel at Charleston, close along the shore, and ter­minating directly under Fort Morgan, just as the northeast channel at Charleston terminated at Fort Moultrie. Though it was less than twelve feet deep at low water, and therefore does not appear on the map, it could be used, when the tide served, by many of the blockade-runners; and when they had once entered, it was next to impossible to cut them out. Additional blockading vessels were generally stationed at both these side-entrances.

Early in the war, the force off Mobile consisted sometimes of a single vessel, which might be found cruising eight or ten miles from the entrance; but after the first year a really efficient force was stationed off the port, and toward the end the vessels lay within two hundred yards of the bar buoy, often with a single gunboat posted inside the channel.[1] Especially after the second escape of the Florida, the officers of the squadron were put on their mettle, and during the year before its capture, Mobile was a difficult port for block­ade-runners to attempt.

The simplest operations on the blockade, however, were liable to a variety of accidents and incidents, and no service demanded a higher degree of preparation and perseverance in action. This was illustrated again and again. A case occurred early in 1862, which will serve as one instance out of many. On the 20th of January, the steamer R. R. Cuyler, watching the eastern passage over Mobile bar, dis­covered a schooner at anchor, near the shore, several miles to the eastward. The Cuyler was commanded by Lieutenant Francis Winslow, the same officer who had shown his judg­ment and courage in the affair at the Head of the Passes. Apparently it was a simple enough matter for the Cuyler, a fast and well-armed steamer, to make the schooner an easy prize. As the Cuyler approached, however, the blockade­runner got under way, and steered for the beach. Here she grounded, her crew making for the land. A boat was sent to take possession, and the Cuyler was anchored as near the shore as she could safely go.

Meantime, a party of men had collected on the beach, and opened a sharp fire of musketry, under cover of the dunes. This was returned from the Cuyler, and with the help of an occasional shell, the steamer silenced the fire from the shore. A hawser was carried out, and an attempt was made to start the schooner. The hawser was parted by the strain; and a second attempt met with a similar result, except that this time the hawser fouled the Cuyler's propeller. The largest hawser in the ship was now made fast to the schooner's fore­mast, and the working party was recalled; but just as they got off, their boat swamped. Two other boats at once put off to the rescue, and, as they approached, received a warm fire from the sand-hills, the enemy having now gathered in con­siderable force. As the Cuyler's stern was secured to the schooner, and her propeller was still clogged, her broadside could not be brought to bear, and she could only answer with small arms. One of the boats had a howitzer; but half her crew, including the officer in charge, were already disabled, and the four men who remained could not use the gun. At this critical juncture, the Huntsville arrived with two of the Potomac's cutters in tow. Master Schley pulled gallantly in with the cutters, and the Huntsville opened on the beach; and a series of mishaps which had nearly resulted in disaster finally ended in success.

The most prominent event in the history of the blockade of Mobile was the daring passage of the Confederate cruiser Florida past the blockading squadron, on two separate occa­sions. The first was on the 4th of September, 1862. At this time the blockade was maintained by the sloop-of-war Oneida, and the gunboats Winona and Cayuga. The senior officer was Commander George H. Preble of the Oneida. The Oneida was one of the four sloops built at the beginning of the war, and she was armed with two XI-inch guns, four 32-pounders, and three Dahlgren 30-pounders. The frigate Susquehanna had been lying off the port, but had gone to Pensacola for repairs five days before. The gunboats Pinola, Kanawha, and Kennebec were also attached to the blockad­ing squadron, and temporarily absent for repairs or coal. On the evening of the day before, the Cayuga had been sent to Petit Bois and Horn Island, the entrances of Mississippi Sound, which had been left unguarded. The boilers of the Oneida needed some slight repairs, and on the morning of the day in question, the fire had been hauled under one boiler, while a full pressure of steam was kept on the other. The repairs were nearly completed soon after noon, and at 3.45 P.m., the fire was again started, though a working press­ure of steam was not obtained for some time, and the speed of the vessel was reduced from ten knots to, seven. The blockading force, therefore, on this critical day, consisted only of the Oneida, undergoing repairs, and the Winona.

On the 7th of August the Confederate cruiser Florida had left Nassau, where she had been lying for three months, and had put into Cardenas in Cuba. Intelligence of this fact had been received at Pensacola, the headquarters of the squadron, but no intimation had been sent to the blockading officer off Mobile, though several vessels had come from Pensacola in the meantime. The Florida was in a crippled state; her crew was short; what men she had were most of them sick with yellow fever; and her battery was unprovided with the necessary equipments. Her captain, Maffitt, found it necessary to make a port where he could obtain a crew, and the equipments that he needed; and he decided to attempt Mobile. Knowing that his ship was an exact duplicate of the English gun-vessels that were constantly cruising on the coast and going in and out of the blockaded ports, he adopted the bold course of personating an Englishman, and attempting to run the blockade of Mobile in broad daylight.

At 3.35 on the afternoon of the 4th, the squadron off the port, composed of the Oneida and the Winona, had sighted a sail to the southward and westward, and the Winona was or­dered in chase. The sail was found to be the United States man-of-war schooner Rachel Seaman; and the two vessels were returning towards the Oneida, when at five o'clock an­other sail was reported in the southeast. She was presently discovered to be a steamer with a barkantine rig, burning bituminous coal, and heading directly for the senior officer's vessel. Satisfied that she was an English gun-vessel in­specting the blockade, Preble got under way, and went to quarters, steering for the stranger's port bow. The latter had been carrying a pennant, and she now hoisted the Eng­lish ensign.

The rules adopted on the blockade allowed foreign ships-of-war the privilege of entering the blockaded ports; but this was of course never done without first communicating with the squadron outside. No vessel, whatever her character or nationality, can be permitted to run past a blockading squad­ron without this formality. As the Oneida approached the supposed Englishman, she put her helm to starboard in order not to pass him, and came around until she was heading in the same direction, still a little on his port bow. He kept on at full speed, and when at a distance of about one hundred yards the Oneida hailed him. Receiving no reply, she fired a shot across his bow, from the rifled pivot gun on the forecastle, followed quickly by another, also across his bow, and by a third, close to his forefoot. As these produced no impression, the order was given to fire into him, and the starboard broadside was immediately discharged. This is stated to have been done three minutes after the first shot was fired. But with a blockade-runner alongside running fourteen knots to the blockader's seven, time is counted by seconds. When the broadside was fired, the stranger's ensign and pennant were hauled down. It turned out that orders were given on board the Florida, for such she proved to be, to hoist the Confederate flag, but the quartermaster lost his fingers in the attempt, and the vessel kept on her course without any colors. An attempt was also made on board the Florida to loosen sail; but the Oneida's fire drove the men out of the rigging. According to Maffitt, "had their guns been de­pressed, the career of the Florida would have ended then and there." The Winona and Rachel Seaman joined in the firing, from a greater distance; but the Florida did not slacken her speed, and made no attempt at resistance. An XI-inch shell from the Oneida passed through the coal-bunker on the port side, but did not explode. Another exploded close to the port gangway. A third entered a few inches above the water-line, and passed along the berth-deck; and a shot from the Winona went through the cabin and pantry.

During the firing the Florida had been gaining rapidly on her assailants, and she now passed ahead, making directly for the entrance of the channel. The Oneida was obliged to yaw, to bring her guns to bear, but the chase was continued until the Florida had crossed the bar. Then the blockading vessels hauled off. An hour later, the Florida was safely an­chored under the guns of Fort Morgan.

After remaining four months at Mobile, repairing and completing her equipments, the Florida came out. This time no disguise was possible, and when his ship was ready, Maffitt only waited for a northerly wind and a dark night. On the afternoon of January 15, the prospect seemed favor­able, and the Florida ran down to Mobile Point. The vio­lence of the wind delayed her for a few hours, but at two o'clock on the morning of the 16th, she weighed and stood out by the main ship-channel across the bar.

The blockading fleet now consisted of seven vessels. Among these was the R. R. Cuyler, a fast steamer that had been sent down especially to stop the Florida. When Maffitt had come down in the afternoon, he could see the blockading vessels aligned off the main entrance, two miles from the bar. He was also sighted from the squadron; and the Cuyler was ordered to change her position, and be prepared to give chase, with the Oneida. Between two and three o'clock in the morning, the enemy was reported. He passed be­tween the Cuyler and the flagship Susquehanna, at a distance of three hundred yards from the former. After a consider­able delay, a part of the squadron started in pursuit. It is stated by an officer of the Cuyler, in a letter quoted by Maftt, that half an hour was lost in getting under way, owing to a regulation of the ship by which the officer of the watch was required to report and to wait for the captain to come on deck before slipping the cable. The Oneida, when she saw the signal from the flagship, beat to quarters, but remained at anchor; and at 3.50, "having seen no vessel running out, beat a retreat."[2] So says her log. The Cuyler, however, saw the Florida distinctly, and chased her during the rest of the night and the whole of the day; but though the blockading steamer could make at times fourteen knots, her highest speed that day was twelve and a half. At night the Florida changed her course' and ran off to Cuba, where she was burning prizes the next day, while the Cuyler was looking for her in the Yucatan channel.

On the day after the Florida ran out, the Oneida was sent to Key West with dispatches for Admiral Bailey, informing him of the escape of the Florida. Bailey sent her to the coast of Cuba; but she missed the Confederate cruiser, and Wilkes, commanding the Flying Squadron, having fallen in with her, constituted her a part of his force, as well as the Cuyler, to the no small injury of the blockade; an act which subsequently brought down upon him the displeasure of the Department.

Galveston, the third point of importance in the Gulf, was, like Mobile, comparatively easy of blockade, except against vessels of the lightest draft. The absence of strong fortifi­cations, especially in the early part of the war, enabled the blockading vessels to lie near the shore; and the town was exposed to the fire of the squadron, as it found to its cost in August, 1861, when a shore battery fired upon one of the South Carolina's tenders. Alden was then commanding the blockading force, and he brought the South Carolina, which drew only twelve feet, within a mile of the shore, and opened on the batteries. One or two of his shells fell in the town, which led to a protest from the foreign consuls against bom­bardment without notice; but the injury to the town was afterwards shown to be accidental.

Occupied as he was with active operations in the Missis­sippi, Farragut early turned his attention to the necessities of the Gulf blockade. In a letter written home shortly after his arrival, he had said: "My blockading shall be done inside as much as possible." The special charge of the ves­sels in the Gulf was entrusted to Commodore Henry H. Bell, and the steps already taken to convert the blockade of prom­inent points into an occupation were continued, especially to the westward of the Mississippi, on the coast of Louisiana and Texas. The principal entrances were Atchafalaya Bay and the Calcasieu, on the coast of Louisiana, Sabine Pass, at the western boundary of the State, and Galveston, Pass Cavallo, Aransas, and Corpus Christi, in Texas. Several small vessels were sent to operate in connection with a detachment of troops in Atchafalaya and its inner waters, under Lieutenant-Commander Buchanan. These operations continued for a long period, though Buchanan was killed two months after his arrival, in an engagement in the Teche. The other points were seized by different expeditions, whose operations were attended with varying success; and on the coast of Texas, blockade and occupation alternated at the different passes with considerable frequency during the rest of the war. One great difficulty in holding the occupied points was the want of troops. In December, 1862, Farragut writes " It takes too much force to hold the places for me to take any more, or my outside fleet will be too much reduced to keep up the blockade and keep the river open "-two prim­ary considerations in the operations of the squadron.

At all the passes on the coast of Texas and Louisiana there had been considerable blockade-running by small craft from Havana. To break it up and seize the passes three expedi­tions were sent out, one to Corpus Christi, one to Calcasieu and Sabine Pass, and one to Galveston. The first of these, under Acting-Lieutenant Kittredge, consisted of the bark Arthur, the steamer Sachem, the yacht Corypheus, and one or two smaller sailing-vessels. There were only about one hundred men in all the vessels. Kittredge was confident of success, but he could hardly have counted on meeting with serious opposition. Corpus Christi lies at the mouth of the Nueces River, on a bay which is enclosed by the long nar­row islands that make a double coast along nearly the whole line of the Texas shore. Entering the lagoon, Kittredge proceeded up the bay. On August 16 and 18 attacks were made upon the city, and a battery which had been thrown up on the levee was silenced. On the 18th, a landing party of thirty men with a howitzer was sent into the town, but by this time the enemy had collected a considerable force, estimated at five hundred men; and though their attack was repulsed, there was no possibility of holding the place, and the landing party was withdrawn. The vessels, how­ever, continued to cruise inside of the Passes of Corpus Christi and Aransas. Several vessels were destroyed or captured, and the blockade became really efficient. The only casualty was the capture of Kittredge and his gig's crew, when making an incautious reconnoissance.

The second expedition, under Acting-Master Crocker, set out in September for the Sabine River. The importance of this point as an entrance for blockade-runners had been under­rated, and no adequate blockade had been established. A railroad crossed the river at a point not very far above Sabine City, and the town was actively occupied in the exportation of cotton and the reception of large quantities of munitions of war. The expedition, consisting of the steamer Kensing­ton and the schooner Rachel Seaman, found the mortar­ schooner Henry Janes lying off the entrance. The Janes constituted the whole blockading force, and she had been there only a few days. Crocker was an energetic officer, and at once set about active operations. The vessels as­cended the river and attacked the fort protecting Sabine City. The fort was soon evacuated and the city surrendered. Crocker then made a reconnoissance at the two entrances to the eastward, Mermenteau and Calcasieu, and on his return captured a blockade-running schooner, the Velocity, which he armed and manned as a cruiser. Going once more to Cal­casieu, he pulled up the river eighty miles in boats, and cap­tured the steamer Dan, which he also fitted out for service, putting on board a rifled 20-pounder and a howitzer. This new acquisition was taken around to Sabine, and a few days later Crocker moved her up the river, and destroyed the rail­road bridge, although the enemy were posted there in force. On his return, he found that the pickets from a camp of the en­emy's cavalry, five miles back of Sabine City, had given some annoyance. Landing with a party of fifty men and a howitzer, Crocker marched to the place, drove off the enemy, burned their stables, and broke up their encampment. After these gallant and successful operations, to which were added the capture of several blockade-runners, Crocker returned in the Kensington to Pensacola, leaving the Rachel Seaman, and the prize-vessels Dan and Velocity to keep up a real block­ade at Sabine Pass.

The expedition to Galveston was under the command of Commander W. B. Renshaw, and consisted of the ferry-boat Westfield, Renshaw's vessel, another ferry-boat, the Clifton, under Lieutenant-Commander Law, the side-wheel steamer Harriet Lane, Commander Wainwright, and the gunboat Owasco, Lieutenant-Commander Wilson. The squadron, though small, was a formidable one to send against, Galves­ton, which was imperfectly protected. All the vessels carried for their size heavy batteries.[3]

No fighting took place, however. Several days were spent in negotiations, and a trace was granted by Renshaw, under a verbal stipulation that the force on shore should not be increased. The Confederates took advantage of this some­what loose arrangement to carry off the guns from the fortifica­tions-a proceeding against which Renshaw remonstrated unsuccessfully. At the end of the truce, the city was surren­dered, and the fleet thenceforth occupied a secure position inside the bay.

Captain Renshaw requested that a military force should be sent to hold Galveston, and reported that two or three hundred men, with half a dozen pieces of artillery, could easily defend themselves on Fort Point or Pelican Island. An expedition was accordingly fitted out, which was to land at Galveston, and make that point the base of military oper­ations. The first detachment of troops consisted of three companies of a Massachusetts regiment, under Colonel Bur­rill, numbering two hundred and sixty men, but without any artillery. This force was clearly inadequate to hold the place; but with such an efficient squadron, it seemed un­likely that the enemy would be able to accomplish any great results by an attack, particularly as they had no vessels specially adapted for hostilities in those waters. This ab­sence of an enemy in force seems to have given Renshaw a false sense of security, and he neglected to destroy the railroad bridge connecting Galveston with the mainland­a fatal omission. Whatever may be the disadvantages under which an enemy labors, there is always danger to be appre­hended for a small squadron lying in his waters; and noth­ing can justify the want of vigilance or of preparation.

By the end of November Farragut held nearly all the prin­cipal points in the West Gulf except Mobile. About this time, he writes: "We shall spoil unless we have a fight oc­casionally. Blockading is hard service, and difficult to carry out with perfect success, as has been effectually shown at Charleston, where they run to Nassau regularly once a week. We have done a little better than that; we take them now and then. I don't know how many escape, but we certainly make a good many prizes." Farragut was not quite accurate in his comparison, as the number of prizes reported for Charleston in 1862 considerably exceeded that at Mobile. In December he says again of the blockade at the latter place: “We have taken or destroyed all the steamers that run from Havana and Nassau except the Cuba and Alice, and I hope to catch those in the course of time."

But Farragut's hope of improving the efficiency of the Gulf blockade was destined to be rudely shattered. It was only a few days after he wrote the letter just quoted that the aspect of affairs on the coast of Texas was suddenly changed by the defeat of the squadron at Galveston, and the consequent ces­sation of the blockade at that point.

On the last day of December, intimations were received by both commanders at Galveston, ashore and afloat, that an attack would be made that night. The affair was therefore no surprise; in fact, the presumption is that it was expected. Moreover, there was a bright moonlight on the night chosen for the attack; and the steamers of the approaching force were seen in the bay above, both by the Clifton and the Westfield. This was about half-past one on the morning of the 1st of January.

At this time the troops were occupying a wharf in the town, in order that they might have the fleet as a base. The small steamer Sachem, which had been a part of Kit­tredge's force at Corpus Christi, had come in from Aransas two days before, in a broken-down condition. The schooner­yacht Corypheus had come with her as escort, and the two vessels were lying opposite the wharf. The Harriet Lane was stationed higher up the channel, to the westward, and therefore nearer the enemy. The Westfield lay three or four miles off, in Bolivar channel, a body of water to the northward of the town, only accessible from the harbor of Galves­ton by a roundabout passage to the eastward. With the Westfield were the schooner Velocity, which Crocker had captured at Sabine Pass, and some transports and coal-barks. The Clifton and Owasco were about midway between the two groups of vessels.

Though the enemy first made their appearance at half-past one, it was three o'clock before the attack began in the town, and only at daylight that the Confederate steamers reached the Harriet Lane, the nearest of the blockading force. The latter was at the time under way, and anticipated the attack, herself taking the offensive. Her opponents were two river­steamers, the Bayou City and the Neptune, the first armed with a rifled 68-pounder, the second with two small brass pieces. Each carried from 150 to 200 men, and both were barricaded with cotton bales, twenty or more feet above the water-line.

As the two steamers came down, the Harriet Lane ad­vanced to meet them, firing her bow gun. The Bayou City replied, but her gun burst at the third fire. The Harriet Lane then ran into her, carried away her wheel-guard, and; passing, gave her a broadside, which did her little damage. The Neptune then rammed the Harriet Lane, but she was herself so much injured by the collision that she backed off out of action, and soon after sank on the flats in eight feet of water. The Bayou City rammed the Lane in her turn, and her bow catching under the guard-rail of the other vessel, she was held fast. A sharp fire of musketry was now ex­changed between the two vessels, which caused no great mortality on either side, though it inflicted an irreparable loss on the federal steamer by wounding the captain and first lieutenant, Wainwright and Lea, both excellent officers. The fire drove the Harriet Lane's crew from their guns, and the enemy boarded, and, after a short struggle, carried the vessel. Wainwright was killed at the head of his men, defending his ship gallantly to the last, and fell after having received seven wounds. Lea had already been mortally wounded before the enemy boarded.

After Wainwright fell, no defence was attempted. The surviving senior officer, an acting-master, almost immediately surrendered, though less than a dozen men were seriously hurt out of his crew of 112. Upon this proceeding Farragut makes the following brief comment: "It is difficult to conceive of a more pusillanimous surrender of a vessel to an enemy already in our power."

Meantime the other vessels were variously occupied. The Sachem and Corypheus, lying near the wharf held by the troops, supplied in some measure the want of artillery; and the battle on shore, which had begun about three o'clock, was kept up until daylight, the Confederates gradually com­ing closer to our lines. The Owasco, at the beginning of the engagement in the city, had moved up to a position between the Sachem and Corypheus, and united with them in the support of the troops. When daylight showed the Harriet Lane engaged with two of the enemy's vessels, the Owasco moved up to assist her, occasionally touching the ground, as she steamed up the channel, which was two hun­dred yards wide at this point. After proceeding a short dis­tance, she was driven back by the small-arm fire of the Bayou City; and when the howitzers of the Lane opened on her, she backed down below the Sachem and Corypheus, and took up her berth opposite the town.

It remains to account for the two other steamers, the Westfield and the Clifton, which, despite the fact that they were ferry-boats, were well-fitted to act with effect in such an en­counter as this. The Westfield got under way at the first sight of the enemy's steamers, but had no sooner begun to move than she went fast aground. It was high water at the time, and Renshaw signalled for assistance. In response to the signal, Lieutenant-Commander Law took the Clifton around to Bolivar channel, and made an effort to get the Westfield afloat. In the midst of this operation, the attack began in the town, and Renshaw sent the Clifton back to support the other vessels.

The moon had now gone down, and in the darkness Law made his way back slowly, shelling the Confederate batteries as he passed Fort Point, the eastern end of Galveston Island. On his arrival opposite the town, he came to anchor. Ac­cording to the report of the Court of Inquiry, the Clifton did not proceed up to the rescue of the Harriet Lane, owing to the failure of the Owasco, the intricacy of the channel, and the apprehension of killing the crew of the Harriet Lane, who were then exposed by the rebels on her upper deck."

The enemy now sent a flag of truce to demand the surren­der of the vessels, at the same time offering the privilege of taking one out of the harbor with the crews of all. The bearer of the demands announced the capture of the Lane, and the death of Wainwright and Lea, and represented that two-thirds of her crew were killed and wounded-a misrep­resentation in which he was sustained by an officer of the Harriet Lane, whom he brought with him. It appears that the object of this proceeding was to gain time. Law received the message, made a verbal arrangement for a truce, in which the status quo was to be maintained, and went in a boat to the Westfield, to refer the question to Renshaw. After a long delay, which the Confederates, taking advantage of the absence of written stipulations, occupied in bringing down the Harriet Lane, moving up their artillery, and making pris­oners of the troops, Law returned with Renshaw's refusal.

The truce being now ended, Law proceeded to carry out his instructions, which were to take the vessels out of the harbor; a movement that was accomplished successfully and with celerity. It was Renshaw's intention to blow up the Westfield, which was still hard aground, and to come out in one of the army transports. By some one's carelessness or negligence, the explosion took place prematurely, and Ren­shaw, together with some of his officers, and a few of his crew, who had not yet been transferred, were killed. The remain­der of the vessels, except the two coal-barks, crossed the bar; and in view of the fact that the remains of the squadron were not deemed equal to an engagement with the Harriet Lane, they steamed off at once to Southwest Pass, and the block­ade of Galveston was raised.

The blockade did not long remain broken. Immediately after the arrival of the Clifton, Admiral Farragut sent Com­modore Bell to Galveston with the Brooklyn, the Hatteras, and several gunboats, to resume the blockade. They arrived off the town on the 8th, so that the interruption lasted only seven days. Had they been a day or two later, they would probably have found the Alabama lying snugly in the port. As it was, she was sighted outside, and the Hatteras was sent to overhaul her. The chase resulted in an encounter twenty­five miles from Galveston, which lasted thirteen minutes, and which ended in the sinking of the Hatteras. The squadron cruised all night in search of the Hatteras, and finding the wreck in the morning returned to Galveston.

In consequence of the withdrawal of the squadron from Galveston, after the capture of the Lane, a proclamation was issued, on the 20th of January, by Magruder, the Confederate General commanding in Texas, declaring that the blockade had ceased, and inviting neutrals to resume commercial in­tercourse until an actual blockade had been re-established "with the usual notice demanded by the law of nations." Though the blockade had indisputably been raised, the pro­clamation was a little late in giving the information, and Bell replied by a counter-proclamation of the same date, giving a general warning that an actual blockade was in ex­istence. To another proclamation of Magruder's, announ­cing the cessation of the blockade at Velasco, a port forty miles to the southward of Galveston, Bell could make no reply, as the only vessel assigned to that point was on duty off Aransas.

Shortly after these events, on the 21st, an attack was made on the Morning Light and Velocity, two sailing-vessels blockading Sabine Pass. The enemy's force consisted of two "cotton-clad" steamers. One of the steamers was armed with a rifled 68-pounder, the other with two 24-pounders. The wind was light and the blockaders were maneuvered with difficulty; and after some resistance they surrendered. On receiving news of the event, Commodore Bell dispatched the New London and the Cayuga to Sabine. When they arrived they found that the Morning Light, which was too deep to cross the bar, had been set on fire, and was still burning. Bell's promptness took away any foundation for a claim that the blockade was raised, and the incident led to the conclu­sion that it was impossible to maintain a blockade with small sailing-vessels at points where the enemy had a force of steamers. Altogether the month of January, 1863, was a disastrous period on the Texas blockade.

During the rest of the year there was little change in the state of affairs. An attack on Sabine Pass, now strongly de­fended, was made by an expedition under Acting-Lieutenant Crocker, who had conducted the successful affair at the same point the year before. Upon this occasion Crocker had a larger force, and a detachment of troops was ordered to co-operate. The expedition, however, was a failure. The Clifton and Sachem were forced by the fire of the fort to surrender, and the other vessels,, with the transports, were withdrawn. Toward the 'end of-the year 1863, and in the early part of 1864, a series of combined operations made by the army and navy resulted in the occupation of Brazos, Aransas, and Pass Cavallo, and the blockade of these ports was thenceforth discontinued. In the following summer, it became necessary to withdraw the troops for operations else­where, and early in September the occupation was again re­placed by a blockade, which continued till the end of the war.  




[1] The old theory with reference to the danger of lying off Mobile finds expres­sion in the following passage of Blunt's Coast Pilot (ed. 1841): "Those off Mo­bile should recollect the necessity of getting an offing as soon as there are appear­ances of a gale on shore, either to weather the Balize or, which is better, to take in time the Road of Naso, as destruction is inevitable if you come to anchor out­side Mobile Bar during the gale."

[2] Meaning “beat the retreat."

[3] The general statement gives so imperfect an idea of the powerful armament of Renshaw's squadron, and especially of the ferry-boats, that it may be worth while to mention the guns in detail. They were as follows: Westfield-One 100­pounder rifle, four VIII-inch shell guns (50 cwt.), one IX-inch. Clifton-twa TX-inch, four heavy 32-pounders (57 cwt.), one 30-pounder. Harriet Lane­-three IX-inch, two 24-pound howitzers. Owasco-one XI-inch, one 20-pounder Parrott, one 24-pound howitzer.

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