Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Fifth Report

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The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board: Fifth Report

3 September 1861 — ORN, I, volume 16, pages 651–655. ORN (Official records, navies). Officially known as the Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.

This report deals with Gulf coast other than the parts not considered in report of 9 August. (See The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Reports.)
 
Fifth Report: ORN, I, vol. 16, pp. 651–655.
 

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 3, 1861.
Honorable GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy:

SIR: The last of the memoirs we had the honor to present contained our examinations and recommendations relating to two of the six great divisions into which we have separated the Gulf coast, viz, the fifth and the fourth. It remains for us now to speak of the other four divisions, which we will take up in numerical order (see fifth memoir, dated August 9, 1861).

 

1. Florida keys and reefs: This portion of the coast, which commands the great outlet of the Gulf of Mexico by the course of the Gulf Stream, begins at Virginia Key, in latitude 25 44' N. and longitude 80 08' W., and extends to the Tortugas, in latitude 24 37' N. and longitude 82 55' W., at distance of 200 nautical miles. The Coast-Survey notes cover the details relating to the hydrography of nearly the whole of this part of the coast, especially those of them which refer to the keys and reefs.

 

Fort Jefferson, at the Tortugas, and Fort Taylor, at Key West, with certain supplementary works, will easily hold this part of the coast against any but a first-rate naval power. Subsidiary small works may be needed at a few points which will be referred to hereafter. At Key West are stores of coal, water, and munitions of war. Water may be had near Fort Dallas, on the Miami River, Key Biscayne Bay, at Indian Key, about midway of the reef, and at Fort Jefferson, on the Tortugas.

 

The lights, buoys, and beacons are under the supervision of the United States Government.

 

The sailing directions for entering the harbors of Key Biscayne, Key West, and the Tortugas, and the anchorages of Legar‚, Turtle Harbor, etc., and minor ones in the hydrographic notes and on the charts, are ample. Special directions are given for using the Hawk Channel and the outer channel between the reef and the keys, and for crossing the reef at different points; also for passing into the interior sounds.

 

The beacons placed by the Light-House Board are carefully described, and a special chart showing their positions is given with the notes. The tides and tidal currents, the great current of the Gulf Stream, and the winds which prevail at different seasons are briefly described.

 

The fortifications and the calls of war vessels passing along this coast not only insure the control of the commerce, but of the wrecking business, the admiralty courts, etc. The world is interested in having this control in the safe hands of the Government of the United States, to which the inhabitants, moreover, are generally well affected.

 

It is not supposed that under present circumstances a special blockading force is required here, though if Indian Key and the entrance to the Miami be occupied by small forts, which we recommend, then two or three steam gunboats should cruise constantly up and down the reef. These vessels would afford relief in case of wrecks, exercise a salutary control over the wreckers, and would be on hand in case of molestation to the coal and water stations and to lights and beacons.

 

2. The west coast of Florida, from Cape Sable to Cedar Keys: This is one of the most sparsely settled sections of the coast of the United States. The five counties which border the western side of the Florida peninsula contain, by the census of 1860, only 8,567 inhabitants.

 

There is very little communication of any sort, either from the coast or along it.

 

The 10-fathom curve is from 13 to 30 nautical miles from the shore. An extended flat of coral mud stretches out from 100 to 150 miles. The immediate shore is lined by innumerable islands, scattered irregularly through the bays or forming curved barriers in the general direction of the coast.

 

There are two beautiful bays--Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay--which by their facilities for entering and navigating offer fine opportunities for commerce, and which must some day doubtless be connected with the railroad system farther north; at present they are scarcely used.

 

Cedar Keys affords also a reasonably good harbor, though inferior either to Charlotte Harbor or Tampa. Into these harbors can be carried--18 feet into Charlotte Harbor; 21 feet into Tampa Bay, and into Old Tampa 14 feet; and 9 feet into Cedar Keys. The depth on the bars closing these entrances varies very considerably with the direction of the wind, a northerly wind depressing the water and a southerly elevating it. The connection with Fernandina by railroad gives Cedar Keys its chief importance.

 

Garrisoned forts at these three harbors would probably enable the United States to retain jurisdiction over this territory, if it is desirable. One or more gunboats plying up and down the coast, with the occasional call of supply vessels, would amply suffice to maintain a blockade.

 

It would be convenient to establish a coal and water depot in Tampa Bay for the gunboats, in which case the Coast-Survey chart shows the best location for the purpose.

 

The few particulars in regard to this coast which are known are given in the Coast Survey hydrographic notes.

 

3. Northern division of Florida, from Cedar Keys to the Perdido: This division covers about 290 nautical miles. It has the cities of St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola within it; the bays of Apalachicola, St. Joseph's, and St. Andrew's, Santa Rosa, Pensacola, and Perdido, and the sounds of St. George, St. Vincent, and Santa Rosa.

 

Ocilla [Aucilla] River entrance, St. Marks River, St. George's and St. Vincent sounds and entrances, St. Andrew's Bay, and Pensacola Bay and its dependencies, have been examined by the Coast Survey, and are described in the hydrographic notes by the Superintendent, which accompany this memoir.

 

St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola are well-known ports for the export of cotton, timber, etc., and Aucilla River furnishes good timber.

 

A railroad connects St. Marks with Tallahassee, 22 miles. Apalachicola is near the entrance of the river of the same name, formed by the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee, which brings the cotton of a large region of Georgia to this port.

 

The Pensacola and Georgia Railway is completed 60 miles from Tallahassee.

 

Though St. Joseph's and St. Andrew's bays are fine sheets of water, with easy entrances of 20 and 16 feet, respectively, they have no commerce, and the same may be said of the thinly peopled coast generally, with the exceptions which we have noted. St. Marks River entrance has 9 feet.

 

East entrance, or Duer Channel, into St. George's Sound has 15, or to Duer anchorage, 18 feet.

 

The East Pass, or middle entrance to St. George's Sound, has 15 feet upon the bar. The West, or Main Pass, into the same sound has 12 feet on its bar. The last entrance to Santa Rosa Sound had 8 feet on the bar in 1826.

 

Pensacola entrance is a mile wide, with a clear channel nowhere less than three-eighths of a mile wide, and with 21 feet on the bar. Aucilla River has but 5 feet on the bar, and the Perdido only from 3 to 4 feet.

 

In fact the blockade of St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola is the blockade of this coast. A single gunboat for each of the two first-named ports would suffice.

 

The narrow, crooked, and shoal passage to St. Marks might be easily obstructed by sinking a vessel in it.

 

Apalachicola might be converted into a cotton port if desired; the excellently sheltered bay of St. Vincent affording a fine roadstead for a fleet.

 

In such a case batteries could be established at the eastern and western extremities of the sound.

 

There is a pretty good, but sandy, road from Apalachicola to St. Joseph's Bay, about 18 miles, and onward to St. Andrew's Bay, about 30 miles farther. If an attempt were made to ship cotton from Apalachicola by this route from either of the bays, an occasional visit of a cruiser, or a small work at each of the main entrances, would arrest the movement and bring the cotton into our possession.

 

The military importance of this road should by no means be lost sight of.

 

The military and naval operations in front of Pensacola and its approaches having been determined upon, we do not propose to refer to the subject in this memoir. The operations there show how strong a position may become which has the advantage of a double defense by a fort and a fleet.

 

5. Coast of part of Louisiana and the whole coast of Texas, from Grande Pass, Vermilion Bay, to the Rio Grande del Norte: From Vermilion Bay to the Sabine River is about 100 nautical miles, and the coast of Texas, from the Sabine to the Rio Grande, extends about 325 miles.

 

The chief interest of this section centers at Galveston entrance, 55 miles from the Sabine River and 270 from the Rio Grande. Galveston entrance itself is but the analogue of Charleston, [S. C.], in its depth of water, having 12 feet at low water over a shifting bar. This chief maritime city of Texas had, in 1860, but 8,117 inhabitants and a small foreign trade. The number of vessels which arrived at Galveston in 1856, from beyond the limits of the collection district, was 269, of which 27 were foreign vessels. New Orleans is the great entrepot which it uses, from which it is distant 280 miles by the steamer route to Berwick Bay, and thence by the Opelousas, New Orleans [and Great Western] Railroad.

 

There are small steamers trading from Galveston up the bay and Trinity River, and to the various rivers and bays of the coast by a precarious navigation, part of which is exposed to the dangers arising from the storms of the Gulf. An efficient blockade of Galveston is, in fact, the blockade of the coast of Texas. Of the six other entrances, one, the Rio Grande, has but 4 feet on its bar at low water, and 4.9 feet at high water; Aransas Pass, 9 feet; Matagorda, 9 feet; Brazos River, 8 feet; San Luis Pass, 8 feet; Sabine Pass, 7 feet at low water, with a rise of tide of less than one foot and a half at the several ports.

 

The smooth-water navigation, to be effected by connecting the sounds by artificial means, has been begun by the State of Texas, but not completed even for the minimum proposed depth.

 

Three or four efficient Vessels, which can take care of themselves at sea against storms and enemies, are required for the blockade of this portion of the coast, three being the least number which it would probably be safe to trust, considering the northers and hurricanes to which the coast is exposed, and the possible presence of fevers among the unacclimated crews. One of the vessels, besides, should be of the lightest draft, free to move up and down the coast, to interrupt the small commerce carried on by the interior sounds, which are nearly continuous from Galveston to the Rio Grande. A visit to Galveston, Corpus Christi, and Aransas to recover the United States movable property seized there from the Revenue and Coast Survey services, or to obtain indemnity for the seizures, would also form [one] of the objects of such an expedition. The Coast Survey hydrographic notes which we attach to this memoir are accompanied by maps and sketches showing the general character of this coast, and giving minute information in regard to the harbors and passes. We take this occasion earnestly to recommend that a Coast Survey vessel be attached to each of the principal blockading squadrons to complete, under general instructions from the Superintendent, the examination of such parts of the coast not yet surveyed in detail. The importance of this measure can not be overrated. Protection may readily be afforded to the surveying vessels without interfering at all with the regulations of the strictest blockade.

 

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,

S. F. DU PONT,
Captain, U. S. Navy, President.
A. D. BACHE,
Superintendent U. S. Coast Survey, Member.
J. G. BARNARD,
Major, U. S. Engineers, Member.
C. H. DAVIS,
Commander, U. S. Navy, Member and Secretary.

Recommended Reading: Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Studies in Maritime History Series). From Library Journal: From the profusion of books about Confederate blockade running, this one will stand out for a long time as the most complete and exhaustively researched. Though not unaware of the romantic aspects of his subject, Wise sets out to provide a detailed study, giving particular attention to the blockade runners' effects on the Confederate war effort. It was, he finds, tapping hitherto unused sources, absolutely essential, affording the South a virtual lifeline of military necessities until the war's last days. This book covers it all: from cargoes to ship outfitting, from individuals and companies to financing at both ends. An indispensable addition to Civil War literature.

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Recommended Reading: Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History. Reader’s Review: In the thirty years since this book was published, one always hoped another would equal or surpass it. None has, or perhaps ever will. It is a marvelous history of the Forts along the American Seacoast, both Atlantic and Pacific, and even the Philippines. …Any Fort enthusiast must read this book. The author captures so much information, so many views, so much perspective in so few pages, the book is breathtaking. It is easily the finest book on its chosen subject, which is why it never goes out of print. “If forts interest you, read it, period.” Continued below...

The photographs from the author's collection, the army's files, the National Archives, etc., make it an invaluable edition. But the text, the clear delineation of the periods of fort building since 1794 in the US, and the differentiation of the periods, are so worth while. Ray manages to be both terse, and pithy. It is a great tribute to any author to say that. “This is a MUST read for anyone interested in the subject, even one only interested in their own local Fort, and how it relates to the defense plans of the United States when it was built.” “[T]here is NO better book to read on the subject.”
 

Recommended Reading: Gray Raiders of the Sea: How Eight Confederate Warships Destroyed the Union's High Seas Commerce. Reader’s Review: This subject is one of the most fascinating in the history of sea power, and the general public has needed a reliable single-volume reference on it for some time. The story of the eight Confederate privateers and their attempt to bring Union trade to a halt seems to break every rule of common sense. How could so few be so successful against so many? The United States, after Great Britain, had the most valuable and extensive import/export trade in the world by the middle of the 19th century. The British themselves were worried since they were in danger of being surpassed in the same manner that their own sea traders had surpassed the Dutch early in the 18th century. Continued below…

From its founding in 1861, the Confederate States of America realized it had a huge problem since it lacked a navy. It also saw that it couldn't build one, especially after the fall of its biggest port, New Orleans, in 1862. The vast majority of shipbuilders and men with maritime skills lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in the United States, and mostly in New England. This put an incredible burden on the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory. When he saw that most of the enemy navy was being used to blockade the thousands of miles of Confederate coasts, however, he saw an opportunity for the use of privateers. Mallory sent Archibald Bulloch, a Georgian and the future maternal grandfather of Theodore Roosevelt, to England to purchase British-made vessels that the Confederacy could send out to prey on Union merchant ships. Bulloch's long experience with the sea enabled him to buy good ships, including the vessels that became the most feared of the Confederate privateers - the Alabama, the Florida, and the Shenandoah. Matthew Fontaine Maury added the British-built Georgia, and the Confederacy itself launched the Sumter, the Nashville, the Tallahassee, and the Chickamauga - though these were generally not as effective commerce raiders as the first four. This popular history details the history of the eight vessels in question, and gives detailed biographical information on their captains, officers, and crews. The author relates the careers of Raphael Semmes, John Newland Maffitt, Charles Manigault Morris, James Iredell Waddell, Charles W. Read, and others with great enthusiasm. "Gray Raiders" is a great basic introduction to the privateers of the Confederacy. More than eighty black and white illustrations help the reader to visualize their dramatic exploits, and an appendix lists all the captured vessels. I highly recommend it to everyone interested in the Confederacy, and also to all naval and military history lovers.

 

Recommended Reading: American Civil War Fortifications (1): Coastal brick and stone forts (Fortress). Description: The 50 years before the American Civil War saw a boom in the construction of coastal forts in the United States of America. These stone and brick forts stretched from New England to the Florida Keys, and as far as the Mississippi River. At the start of the war some were located in the secessionist states, and many fell into Confederate hands. Although a handful of key sites remained in Union hands throughout the war, the remainder had to be won back through bombardment or assault. This book examines the design, construction and operational history of those fortifications, such as Fort Sumter, Fort Morgan and Fort Pulaski, which played a crucial part in the course of the Civil War.

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and His Admirals (Hardcover). Description: Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "little about ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by prize-winning historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history. Continued below…

Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter--a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience--Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "little about ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age. A unique and riveting portrait of Lincoln and the admirals under his command, this book offers an illuminating account of Lincoln and the nation at war. In the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, it offers a memorable portrait of a side of his presidency often overlooked by historians.

 

Recommended Reading: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

A cabinet-level Department of the Navy followed in 1798. The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy. Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era's political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.

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