Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 13, 1863 (Sunday): Ironclads Revisited

Montauk Striking a Mine (www.history.navy.mil)

Hilton Head, Port Royal, S. C., March 13, 1863.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
    GENERAL: I have the honor to acquaint you that, having had an interview yesterday with Rear-Admiral S. F. DuPont, I find that the recent experiments with the iron-clads against Fort McAlister have demonstrated certain defects grave enough in the opinion of the admiral to call for a postponement of active operations until they shall have been remedied. The exact nature of the alterations shown to be necessary I need not state precisely, but may say in general that the deck plating will have to be strengthened and the magazines more securely armored. Large fatigue parties of my command are now at work cutting timber to coat the deck, and the admiral has sent North the steamer Ericsson for a fresh layer of iron plates for each deck.
     The result of the torpedoes which exploded under the Montauk has also made the admiral anxious for certain submarine torpedo-exploders, for which he has also sent North.
    Owing to these causes a delay of some weeks would now be inevitable-a thing to be regretted, but which is wholly unavoidable. The repose shall be used to perfect the troops selected in all matters necessary to the work before them, and I respectfully ask that to this end you will assign to service in this department the two brigadier-generals asked for in my last.
    There is nothing of the least consequence new. Three deserters from Savannah to-day announce that a third ran is now ready to receive her armament, the Atlanta and Georgia being complete and afloat below
Fort Jackson, and that two additional rams have been commenced.  The men are Northern and appear reliable.
     Last night the enemy made a dash across Skull Creek, near Spanish Wells, and captured an officer and some few men belonging to the Signal Corps, immediately getting back into their boats and escaping before our infantry, through very alert, could overtake them.
    I take this occasion of again renewing my request for a regiment of cavalry, the one battalion of the First Massachusetts Cavalry stationed in the department being utterly unable to furnish the necessary reliefs for patrols and pickets, while the exposed situation of these islands, liable to sudden forays of the enemy from the main-land, renders it peculiarly desirable that we should have speedy means for the transmission of intelligence.
     I have the honor to be, general, with high esteem, your most obedient servant,

     D. HUNTER,
     Major-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 14, Part 1, Pages 427-428.

In the initial euphoria over the performance of the Monitor against the Virginia there was a feeling of invincibility about these ships.  But the bombardment of Fort McAllister proved there were vulnerabilities even in the most modern, advanced warships.  Deck plating worked loose under shore fire and the Montauk had to be run aground to prevent sinking after it struck a torpedo (mine) in the channel.  The Union still held the high cards in South Carolina and could afford to wait for modifications to the ironclad fleet.

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