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of the 31st of January, during the obscurity of a thick haze, two iron-clad steam rams came out of Charleston by the main ship channel, unnoticed by the squadron, and commenced an assault upon the blockading fleet, which, just at this time, was mostly composed of the light class of purchased vessels. The first onset was made upon the steamer Mercedita, formerly a merchant vessel, by the ram commanded by D. N. Ingraham, formerly of the United States service. Almost immediately the Mercedita was rendered helpless by a large shell passing diagonally through the vessel, exploding in the boiler, and blowing a hole some four or five feet square in its exit on the port side. The Mercedita, of necessity, gave up the contest, and her officers and crew having surrendered, were paroled by the rebels.
The other rebel ram attacked the Keystone State about the same time, and was joined by Ingraham's vessel directly after disabling the Mercedita. The Keystone State was actively engaged in bringing her guns to bear upon the enemy, when a shell exploded in her fore hold and set her on fire. Having got the fire under after a time, the captain of the Keystone State bore down, under full head of steam, upon the nearest ram, intending to sink her; but a shot having passed through both steam chests, she became virtually powerless, and accomplished nothing. The other vessels on the station at the time, not being able to cope with the rebel force, kept prudently aloof. Ingraham and his two rams, about half-past seven o'clock, retired into the Swash channel
behind the shoals. The Mercedita and Keystone State were taken to Port Royal for repairs.
Notwithstanding this bold attempt, no practical advantage was gained by the rebels beyond disabling the two vessels above named7; still, they thought something might be made of it by taking the ground that the fleet had been dispersed and the blockade raised. Accordingly, there was published in the Richmond papers of February 2d, a dispatch stating that, in the engagement near Charleston, two United States vessels had been sunk, four set on fire, and the remainder driven away. Beauregard, the military, and Ingraham, the naval, commanders at Charleston, also issued a proclamation, which is worth reading, as a specimen of lofty pretensions resting on a very small basis: "At about five o'clock this morning, the Confederate States naval force on this station attacked the United States blockading fleet off the harbor of the city of Charleston, and sank, dispersed, and then drove out of sight, for a time, the entire hostile fleet; therefore, we, the undersigned, commanders respectively of the naval and land forces in this quarter, do hereby formally declare the blockade by the United States of the said city of Charleston, South Carolina, to be raised by a superior force of the Confederate States, from and after this 31st day of January, A.d. 1863." Further efforts for the same end were put forth; the foreign consuls in Charleston took a pleasant sail the same day in one of the rebel steamers, to see for themselves that no blockade existed; Benjamin, the rebel
secretary of state, gave notice of the gratifying condition of affairs to his agents abroad, and it was hoped that foreign nations would act accordingly, on the faith of his word; all this, however, was quite useless. They paid no attention to Beauregard or his fellow rebels; and when Dupont sent an emphatic refutation of the above proclamation, and set forth the real state of the case, there was no further talk made of the glorious results attained on the morning of January 31st.
In order to test the capabilities of the iron-clads, recently arrived, Capt. Drayton was ordered, on the 3d of March, to take the Passaic, the Patapsco, and the Nahant, and make a concentrated attack upon Fort McAllister (see p. 290). Three mortar boats were also added to the attacking force. The latter, sheltered by a bend of the stream, opened fire, followed by the monitors. The firing was kept up during the day, and by the mortar boats during the night. The result was so far decisive as fully to prove the strength and good qualities of the monitors. The sand fort, protected from a concentrated attack by the channel and obstructions, though often struck, resisted, without serious damage, the mass of metal thrown upon it. The fleet of monitors, after a third trial, returned to Port Royal to prepare for the attack on Charleston.
In view of the projected naval attack, and in order to increase the strength of the military arm in the department of the South, Gen. Foster, in command of the North Carolina department, was sent with a large siege equipage, and
a considerable force to aid in this important undertaking. He, however, for some unexplained reason, returned to North Carolina, leaving his troops to take part in the work now close at hand. On the 5th of March, Hunter issued a general order, announcing the long, expected forward movement, and promising the due rewards of bravery and good conduct, and his force, consisting of about 7,000 men, was brought to Stono Inlet.* As their share in attacking the rebels depended on the success of the naval operations, they were compelled to be lookers-on, and, we are sorry to say, had no opportunity of responding to the appeals in Hunter's address to them.
Beauregard, in command at Charleston, and not an inattentive observer of what was going on, had been actively engaged for a long time in employing all his engineering skill to render Charleston impregnable ; and as early as the 18th of February, apprehending what was to come, he issued a proclamation, urging all non-combatants to retire, and appealing to "all the able-bodied men, from the seaboard to the mountains, to rush to arms. Be not too exacting (hesaid) in the choice of weapons; pikes and scythes will do for exterminating your enemies, spades and shovels for
* In order that the troops in the department might be placed in active service, Hunter, at the same time, ordered that the able-bodied male negroes between the ages of eighteen and fifty, within the military lines of the department, be drafted to serve for garrison pur. poses. As a matter of general interest, in this connection, we may mention here, that the negro troops sent to Florida, in March, did excellent service, and sustained the opinion of those who held that with proper drilling and with fair opportunity, they would show themselves capable of becoming good and reliable soldiers.
protecting your firesides. To arms, fellow-citizens! Come to share with us our danger, our brilliant success, our glorious death."
During the month of March the preliminary preparations for the attack having been completed, the vessels of the fleet and transports were forwarded to the place of rendezvous on North Edisto Eiver. As it was important for crossing the bar with the iron-clads, to secure the advantage of the high spring tides at the beginning of April, Dupont watched carefully the opportune moment. On the 5th of April, after several days of high wind, the sea being very smooth and the tides favorable, the fleet left its anchorage, and early in the forenoon arrived at the blockading station off Charleston harbor. Here, Commander Boutelle, of the Coast Survey, assisted in sounding and marking out the channel,—a new one, formed by the sinking of the "stone fleet," which was found of a greater depth of water than the old. These and other matters occupied the day. Early on the following morning, the 6th, the iron-clad fleet crossed the bar and was ranged opposite Morris Island, at the southern entrance of the harbor, within a mile of the shore; but that day was lost for active operations by a thick haze which prevented any observations of the shore. At noon, on the 7th of April, signal was given by the Admiral from his flag ship, the New Ironsides, for the vessels to weigh anchor. According to the plan of attack, they were to take position in the following order, at intervals of one cable's length, viz.: 1. Wee
hawken, Capt. Jno. Rodgers; 2. Passaic, Capt. Drayton; 3. Montauk, Commander Worden; 4. Patapsco, Commander Ammen; 5. New Ironsides, Commodore Turner; 6. Catskill, Commander G. W. Rodgers; 7. Nantucket, Commander Fairfax; 8. Nahant, Commander Downes; 9. Keokuk, LieutCommander A. C. Rhind. The flag ship, New Ironsides, was a formidable iron-covered battery, mounted eighteen guns; sixteen 11-inch and two 200pounder Parrots; the rest were xm3 of the monitor class, and had each two guns, mostly an 11-inch and 15-inch gun in a single turret, with the exception of the Keokuk, which had two turrets with an 11-inch gun in each. The Canandaigua, and four other gunboats of the squadron, constituted a reserve outside the bar, and were to support the iron-clads, when Fort Sumter being reduced, they should be ready to attack the batteries on Morris Island.
The preparations made by Beaure gard and his fellow laborers for the defence of Charleston were of the most extensive and formidable character. Beginning with the northern or eastern entrance by way of Maflit's Channel, there were, on Sullivan's Island, beside Fort Moultrie, two large and powerful sand batteries guarding the channel; there was Fort Sumter, built on an artificial island in the middle of the channel near the entrance of the inner harbor, a mile and a half west of Fort Moultrie, and strengthened to the very highest degree; there was Battery Bee, Mount Pleasant battery cm the main land, and Castle Pinckney built on an Ch. XXVII.]
BOMBARDMENT IN CHARLESTON HARBOR
island, about a mile from the city,— all on the northerly side of the harbor. On the other side of the harbor were Wappoo battery, on James Island, near Charleston, and Fort Johnson; between this latter and Castle Pinckney was Fort Ripley, built on an artificial island in what is called the "middle ground." On Cumming's Point, Morris Islet, opposite Fort Moultrie, was Battery Gregg, and a mile south of this Fort Wagner, and a fort at Light House Island covering the landing at that place. Several hundred guns were mounted on these numerous works; and in addition, the channel between Fort Sumter and Sullivan's Island was obstructed by rows of floating casks, supporting torpedoes and other submarine obstacles; there were also, in the i channel between Sumter and Cumming's Point, no less than four rows of piles extending nearly up to Charleston.
At half past twelve o'clock on Saturday, April 7th, the fleet began to move. The line of battle was formed in the order assigned to each ship in the admiral's programme, the Keokuk, which brought up the rear of the line, lying down nearly opposite Lighthouse Inlet, and the Weehawken leading the van. The head of the line was some four miles from the position designated for the fleet to occupy before opening fire, and the batteries on Morris Island were meanwhile to be passed. Soon after starting, an hour's delay occurred, in consequence of a raft attached to the Weehawken, for exploding torpedoes and clearing away obstacles, having got deranged. Slowly the leading vessel, followed by
the others, moved onward, expecting the batteries on Morris Island to deliver their fire; but the rebels allowed them to pass in entire silence. Ere long the iron-clads reached the entrance to the inner harbor, and about three P.m. came within range of Fort Sumter and the batteries on Sullivan's Island. Directly the guns of Fort Moultrie opened on the Weehawken, and were speedily followed by those of Fort Sumter, and the several tremendous batteries on Sullivan's and Morris Islands. The plan was, to pass round and assault Fort Sumter on the northwest face, as the weakest and most assailable part of the fort; but Capt. Rodgers found, almost immediately, that he could not force the Weehawken through the obstructions in her path. Some confusion followed, on Capt. Rodgers turning his ship to get a better position, for the channel was narrow and the tide strong. The flag ship, too, was caught by the tideway, and became in measure unmanageable; while, to add to the annoyance, the Catskill and Nantucket fell foul the Ironsides, and it took time and labor to get them clear and allow them to pass on.
In this state of affairs, Dupont made signal to the fleet to disregard the movements of the flag ship and assume such positions as were deemed most available. This was at once done, and a little before four o'clock, the eight iron-clads were ranged opposite the eastern and north-eastern front of Fort Sumter, at distances of from 550 to 800 yards. Of course, the rebels were not idle or inactive in the meanwhile; on the contrary, they poured forth from their vast batteries both shells and shot in immense profusion, and with a rapidity almost beyond conception. During the climax of the fire, as a looker-on declares, 100 shots were counted in a single minute. Some of the officers of the iron-clads affirmed that the shots struck their vessels as fast as the ticking of a watch. It was estimated that 3,500 rounds were fired by the rebels during the brief engagement.
In the midst of this terrible fire, enveloping, as it were, the iron-clads, they nevertheless devoted themselves to their especial work, the assault on Fort Sumter. The gallant Rhind pushed his vessel up to within 500 yards of the fort, and became a special target for the rebels; the captains of the other vessels followed his daring lead; and to the extent of their ability strove to accomplish the great object in view. But it was impossible to endure long the rebel hurricane of fire. The Keokuk received her death blow within half an hour; she was struck ninety times, and had nineteen holes above and below the water line, and got away inst in time to sink out of sight by evening. Others of the iron-clads began to show signs of disablement, and it became evident that the contest was too unequal to render it expedient to continue it; Dupont, therefore, about five o'clock, gave the signal to withdraw from action, intending to resume the attack next morning. On ascertaining, however, the injuries received by the several vessels, and estimating his force as quite unable to overcome the obstructions in the harbor and si
lence the vast works on every hand, the admiral expressed his conviction that it was utterly impracticable to take the city of Charleston, as matters now stood. The entire fleet had been able to fire only 139 shots against Sumter, with comparatively small injury to the fort; while the rebels had hurled against the iron-clads thousands of shells, shots and steel-pointed bolts, and had inflicted upon them serious damage. Although the admiral's opinion as to the inefficiency of iron-clads of the monitor class was not shared by all,* yet, at his order, the several vessels were taken to Port Royal for repairs, except the New Ironsides, which anchored outside Charleston bar. The casualties were very few, considering the fierceness of the rebel fire; one man died of injuries received, and about twenty-five were wounded, chiefly on the Keokuk and Nahant.
Gen. Hunter and his men at Stono Inlet were waiting for an opportunity of joining in the attack; but the ill success of the fleet prevented their doing so. Hunter wrote a letter to Dupont, lauding very highly the gallantry of the fleet. "A mere spectator (he said) I could do nothing but pray for you, which, believe me, I did most heartily, for you and all the gallant men under your command, who sailed so calmly and fearlessly into and under and through a concentric fire which has never heretofore had a parallel in the history of warfare. . . . Thank
* For an interesting sketch of the opinions and views of officers in the navy respecting the value and efficiency of iron-clad vessels of the Monitor class, see Appleton's "Annual Cyclopedia" for 1863, pp. 664667.