IRONCLADS STRIKE: CSS PALMETTO STATE AND CSS CHICORA

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Map, “The Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, SC, August 1863.”
Robert Knox Sneden, artist, 1832-1918. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.   Read more

Battle of Albemarle Sound: CSS Albemarle Remains Defiant

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CSS Albemarle, R. G. Skerrett, artist, 1899. Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 57815

The ironclad CSS Albemarle’s stunning victory at Plymouth gave the Confederacy tremendous hope to expand their control of eastern North Carolina. Major General Robert Hoke was given permission to march against New Bern. However, the Confederate plans became disrupted when the Kinston-based ironclad, CSS Neuse, ran hard aground in its attempt to steam down the Neuse River to attack New Bern.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, head of the Confederate district of North Carolina, believed that Albemarle could be used to support the New Bern assault. “With its assistance,” he wrote, “I consider capture of New Bern easy.”   Read more

Gosport Navy Yard is Captured

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The Navy Yard at Norfolk. Harper’s Weekly, 1861. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The crisis at Gosport had reached its zenith by the morning of April 20, 1861. Flag Officer Charles Stewart McCauley appeared to have given up all hope of saving or defending Gosport Navy Yard. Early that morning, he learned that militia troops had seized Fort Norfolk and an extremely useful magazine filled more than 250,000 pounds of gunpowder. Therefore, McCauley believed he had no choice but to destroy the shipyard so that it would not fall into the hands of the Virginians. 

Escape Plan    Read more

Siege of Yorktown, Part One: The Navies

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The Siege of Yorktown, April 1862. Ch. Worret, contributor. Courtesy Library of Congress.
CSS Virginia Enables the 1862 Defense of Yorktown 

In spring 1862, Union general George Brinton McClellan had assembled a very powerful army around Washington, D.C. The Union had already recently achieved several major victories along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, as well as they had captured the North Carolina Sounds. McClellan’s army was poised and ready to strike at the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. General McClellan, often called ‘Young Napoleon’ or ‘Little Mac,’ wanted nothing to do with a march overland toward Richmond. 

This path was blocked by General Joseph E. ‘Joe’ Johnston’s 45,000-strong army defending Manassas. In an effort to flank and isolate Johnston’s army away from Richmond, McClellan conceived the Urbanna Plan to move his army to the Rappahannock River at Urbanna, Virginia, and then strike directly at Richmond. Before the Union general could implement his campaign, Joe Johnston abandoned his Manassas defenses beginning March 6, 1862, and fell back to Fredericksburg. McClellan quickly offered a secondary amphibious operation to strike at Richmond by way of the Virginia Peninsula.   Read more