Battle of Port Royal Sound

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Samuel Francis du Pont, ca. 1863. Carte-de-visite. Mathew B. Brady, photographer. National Library of Brazil/World Digital Library online. wdl.org. Accessed October 27, 2020.

The Civil War’s second major amphibious operation was the capture of Port Royal Sound on  November 7, 1861. Flag Officer Samuel Francis Du Pont was the newly minted commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He needed to capture Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, to use as a base for his squadron. Du Pont placed his warships on an elliptical course and forced forts Walker and Beauregard to surrender. The Sound enabled the Federals to maintain a blockade of Charleston and Savannah. The Union’s occupation of South Carolina’s Sea Islands resulted in the Port Royal Experiment. Abolitionists toiled to assist these formerly enslaved people become literate and self-reliant wage earners. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was made law, this coastal region became a recruitment center for African American soldiers.

Blockade Strategy Board

When Fort Sumter fell to the Confederates on April 14, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the southern coastline from Virginia to Texas. Winfield Scott, then general in chief of the US Army, suggested the Union’s primary war aim be a blockade of southern ports, including the capture of the Mississippi River. Scott knew that  the closure of  these ports would end the cotton for cannon trade which was so necessary for the South’s survival. A commission was formed known as the Blockade Strategy Board, also known as the  Du Pont Board.   Read more

Gosport Navy Yard is Recaptured

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Ruins of Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia. Alexander Gardner, photographer, ca. 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Confederate Retreat from the Peninsula 

Time was running out for the Confederate navy in Hampton Roads. On the evening of May 3, 1862, General Joseph Eggleston Johnston ordered the evacuation of the Confederate Warwick-Yorktown Line. Johnston believed that the “fight for Yorktown must be one of artillery, in which we cannot win. The result is certain, time only doubtful.”

Johnston’s retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond forced the Southerners to make plans to abandon the port city and navy yard. When he learned of Johnston’s withdrawal, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory telegraphed Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall that Virginia alone would have to prevent the enemy from ascending the James River.   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