The Siege of Fort Pulaski

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Aerial view of Fort Pulaski.
Courtesy of the National Park Service.

The capture of Fort Pulaski on the mouth of the Savannah River had many significant implications. When the fort surrendered on April 11, 1862, it closed the port of Savannah. Accordingly, cotton exports had to be transported to Charleston or Wilmington to reach European markets. Most importantly was the impact of large rifle cannons on US coastal defense fortifications. These brick forts were considered indestructible, yet, after a 36-hour bombardment, Pulaski’s walls were breached, and it was forced to surrender. More than 40  years of military planning was changed in clouds of brick dust.

Why Savannah?

Savannah was Georgia’s largest city. Located on the Savannah River, just over 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it was a leading cotton export port. Harbor activities made the town a major industrial and commercial center. The railroads that passed through Savannah northward were a primary supply link between the Deep South and Richmond, Virginia. Furthermore, Savannah featured several shipbuilding facilities and was home to the Georgia State Arsenal.   Read more

Fabulous Fotos: Meet Cricket, the mighty tinclad

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USS Cricket (1863-1865, “Tinclad” # 6), The Mariners’ Museum and Park, #MS0091-02.-01-0096

Upon first glance, this vessel appears to be just another steamboat. The word tinclad piqued my interest. Naturally, I am familiar with ironclads from our exhibition Ironclad Revolution and the conservation of USS Monitor’s turret in our Batten Conservation Complex. But tinclad vessels? Sounds a bit wimpy to me.  It turns out that Cricket has a great history, albeit not significant, in the American Civil War.   Read more

Coastal Ironclads Other Than Monitors

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Inventor John Ericsson, ca. 1862. Photographer unknown.
Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 305.

The American Civil War is often considered the first modern industrial war. Both North and South endeavored to mobilize their resources to wage total war. This experience revolutionized naval warfare, and in doing so, forever changed America’s political, social, and economic fabric. 

Proponents of seapower had witnessed significant changes in ordnance, motive power, and ship design during the first half of the 19th century. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory was the first to recognize that a new class of vessels, hitherto unknown in naval service, was needed. Mallory knew the possession of an armored ship was a matter of first necessity. The question then begged an answer: How could the agrarian South create such a warship? [1]   Read more

River Monitors

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Map of Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Courtesy OhioRiverCorridor.com.

At the onset of the Civil War, General Winfield Scott noted that a Union victory could be achieved by controlling the Mississippi River. Scott believed the entire Mississippi Valley could be controlled using only 12 to 20 gunboats and 60,000 soldiers. More resources would eventually be needed; however, the Federals ultimately enabled, as President Abraham Lincoln said, the ‘Father of All Rivers to flow unvexed to the sea.’ 

Because the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was preoccupied with establishing a blockade of the Confederate coastline, he placed control of the Western Gunboat Flotilla to the War Department. This action would give a strong unity of command as the Union army and naval forces endeavored to wrestle the river from the Confederacy. Commander John Rodgers was initially placed in command of the flotilla; however, he was soon replaced by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote.    Read more

Naval Intelligence in Hampton Roads: 1861-1862

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CSS Virginia.
The Mariners’ Museum.

There was no formal naval intelligence system established during the American Civil War. While a few examples exist of Northern sympathizers, free Blacks, like Mary Louvestre of Portsmouth, sent messages to various Union commanders about the Confederate ironclad construction effort. These links were unofficial and were generally between one Union officer and an individual. The Union nor the Confederacy needed to rely on such clandestine methods since Northern and Southern newspapers provided ample information, usually in a boastful manner. Each antagonist simply needed to obtain a copy of The New York Times or Mobile Register to gather all they needed to know about ironclad development. 

Union intelligence was able to receive valuable knowledge about the construction and impending attack of CSS Virginia. The information appeared to flow back and forth across Hampton Roads. On October 6, 1861, Major General John Ellis Wool, stationed at Fort Monroe as commander of the Union Department of Virginia, wrote to Lieutenant General Winfield Scott:   Read more