Something unusual occurred in the early morning darkness of January 31, 1863, when the Confederate ironclad rams, CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, crossed the Charleston Bar and struck the Union ships guarding that blockade runners’ haven. It was the first time that Confederate ironclads had entered the open sea and, in the opinion of Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, had broken the blockade. While the Federal gunboats were quickly back on station, it was a great boost to the defenders of Charleston who were expecting a Union ironclad attack on their harbor.
When General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia on September 24, 1862, he immediately realized the need for active support of the Confederate navy in order to defend harbors like Charleston and Savannah. Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and the Battle of First Manassas, knew that ironclad rams armed with rifled cannon offered the best opportunities not only to protect harbors; but also, to perhaps break the Union stranglehold on Confederate commerce — the cotton for cannon trade so important for the Southern war effort.