[Ed. Note – The exploits of the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War have long been overshadowed by the skirmishes and battles on land. Blockade duty may well have been less glamorous than the land campaigns, but it was just as, if not more, crucial to the success of General Scott’s overall plan to interdict supplies flowing to the Confederacy.
The USS Wissahickon was a 691-ton Unadilla class screw steam gunboat built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She initially served in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Mississippi River where she was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans. She made two runs past the Confederate fortifications at Vicksburg and engaged in a battle with the ironclad CSS Arkansas. After repairs at Philadelphia late in 1862, Wissahickon joined the blockade of the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and eastern Florida. In addition to her actions surrounding Fort McAllister and the burning of the CSS Nashville (formerly the privateer Rattlesnake) during the summer of 1863 she bombarded Forts Wagner and Sumter, off Charleston, South Carolina. Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the greatest naval strategist and historians was her commander for a brief period in 1864.
Fort McAllister was an earthwork fort built on the McAllister plantation southeast of Savannah and protected the approaches to the city up the Ogeechee river. Despite the quick reduction of the masonry-built Fort Pulaski further down the river, Fort McAllister resisted seven different attempts by the Union fleet to reduce the earthen bastions. McAllister stood until taken from the rear by General Sherman’s army in 1864.]
Boston Post & Statesman
P.2; c. 5
Letter from Georgia.
Correspondence of the Boston Post.
U.S. Steam Gun-Boat “Wissahickon”
Off Ossabaw Sound, Georgia,
Wednesday, 4th of March, 1863
Fort McAlister would seem to be destined to as prominent a position in the present rebellion as was Fort Moultrie in the old revolutionary time. One cannot but express admiration at the plucky and gallant defense which its garrison has made in several recent attacks. So far they have successfully resisted all our attempts to silence and take possession of the fort, and the question has been asked, how much probability is there of the forthcoming attack upon Charleston being successful, if one little sand-battery can withstand the efforts of our iron-clads? That McAlister will be taken I do not doubt, for it has become a point of honor to take it, and take it we must and shall. Last Saturday I sent you a brief and hurried account of the destruction of the “Nashville.” I have since learned her destination was Nassau. The following extract from a letter I have seen will explain what was the intended nature of her cruise: — “the Nashville’ was expected every hour at Nassau, it being rumored that she had discharged her cotton and was fully iron-clad, ready to run the blockade.” Supplies, recruits and the remainder of her armament awaited her ether, and had she succeeded in escaping she would have proved no less formidable upon the seas than the “Alabama,” for her speed is well known – indeed she had the reputation of being the fastest steamer sailing out of the United States. When the very great difficulty of keeping one of these fast steamers in is taken into consideration, as proved in the cases of the “Sumpter,” “Alabama” and “Florida,” I think considerable credit attaches to the three or four vessels whose untiring vigilance along prevented the escape of this much to be dreaded privateer. The “Wisahickon” was sent down to the Ossabaw station in October of last year, where she has since remained, with the exception of a single fortnight spent in refitting and repairing at Port Royal, and during which fortnight the only evasion of the blockade which has occurred since we were appointed to the station took place – a small schooner, taking advantage of the increased chances of escape afforded by our absence, getting out by the north passage. During the greater part of this time our commanding officer, Lieut. Commander John L. Davis, has been the senior officer on the station, and it is in no small degree owing to his energetic efforts, and the assistance of his executive officer, Lieut. Silas Casey, that we are able to present so fair a record. The “Wissahickon” has taken part in four attacks upon Fort McAlister, besides having been under the fire of the fort in two other instances, one of them being the occasion in which the “Nashville” was destroyed, that vessel laying under the guns of the fort, obliging us to go within range of the guns of the fort to get at her. We were once nearly sunk by a plunging shot from their largest gun, which hit us five feet below the water line, obliging us to beach the vessel for repairs. On this occasion the “Wissahickon” was acting as flag-ship in an attack upon the fort. We have also, assisted by the “Dawn,” obliged the Confederates to burn a schooner to prevent her falling into our hands, we having attacked her as she lay at anchor under the guns of their battery on Coffee Bluff, loaded with cotton and turpentine, waiting an opportunity to sail in hourly anticipation of an attack upon us by the iron-clad “ram.” Atlanta, formerly the “Fingal.” In the last attack, upon Fort McAlister we acted as signal-ship for the iron-clads, being the farthest up of any of the wooden vessels towards the fort, coming next to the iron-clads, and were the only wooden ship under fire, with the exception of the mortar schooners.
We are now on our way to Port Royal to take in provisions and coal, preparatory to joining the fleet off Charleston. We should have preferred to have remained at Ossabaw until the stars and bars on Fort McAlister had been lowered to make way for the old flag, and we regret that we are not to be permitted to be in at the death. But honor awaits the brave everywhere, and we hope to be permitted to make our mark at Charleston.
My letter would hardly be complete without some description, of our last attack upon McAlister. To us was permitted the honor of carrying the good news of the destruction of the “Nashville” to the Admiral at Port Royal. We entered Port Royal at 8 o’clock Sunday morning last, having passed, on our way up, the iron-clads “Patapsco” and “Nahant,” under convoy of the steamers “Sebago” and “Flambeau.” At 11 o’clock we were again under way on our return trip, having delivered our despatches, and received orders to return to Ossabaw. As we passed Warsaw, we perceived the “Passaic” coming out conveyed by the “Locust Point,” and understood that the destination of the iron-clads was Fort McAlister. The expedition had been gotten up previous to the reception of the news of the Nashville’s having been destroyed; and having been started, it was thought best to allow the iron-clads which had never yet been under fire an opportunity to test their guns and get into working order – and they had it. By the morning of Tuesday (yesterday) the preparations had all been elaborated, the vessels had all been assigned their stations and duties, and precisely at 8 in the morn they iron-clads got under way and ascended the river; the “Passaic” taking the lead as flag-ship, followed by the “Patapsco” and “Nahant.” The “Montauk” having received her “baptism of fire” – she bears some sixty or seventy honorable scars received at the hands, or more properly, from the guns of Fort McAlister – did not participate in the attack. Mortar schooners No’s. One, four and five had previously been towed up to their positions. The “Montauk” steamed up within range so as to have a good view of the affair, the “Wissahickon” took up her position in advance of the mortar schooners, and immediately astern of the “Montauk,” in order to watch the effect of the shots from the iron-clads and signal to them to elevate or depress as should be necessary, and at 15 minutes to 9 the ball opened by the Fort, always ready, and which by the way, seemed to have wonderfully increased in size in the two days intervening between the last and present attack, opening fire on the “Passaic,” who did not return the fire for fully ten minutes, at the expiration of which interval she returned the fire with great good will and equally good effect. By 9 the mortar schooners were at work, and the action general. For eight hours the iron-clads poured in a steady and very effective fire, their range having been quickly obtained, and their shots well placed, and for eight hours did the Fort respond with a vigor certainly worthy of a better cause, and which as I before stated, excited the well deserved admiration of all the spectators to the contest. It really appeared to be the old story of an irresistible force coming in contact with an immovable body. We must have inflicted great damage upon them, how much of course we cannot say with any certainty. But, although it is as nearly sure as possible that we dismounted or disabled a large number of their guns; still, at the end of the fight, or between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, the Fort still replied with their heaviest and most dangerous gun. At about one o’clock, they threw a few shell and rifled projectiles towards us, none of which did any damage, with this exception, they concentrated their attention and efforts upon the “Passaic,” the other two iron-clads being hardly noticed. The lack of ammunition caused our vessels to draw off; the “Daffodil” was immediately sent to Port Royal for a supply, and I presume the attack will be resumed tomorrow morning at the latest. Our mortar schooners kept to work all night, in order to give the enemy no opportunity to repair damages. The Fort can hardly, I think, hold out through such another attack, and you may even hear of its reduction before the receipt of this, by way of the Southern journals.
I am, very respectfully, &c., yours,