Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 2, 1863 (Monday): Defending Charleston Harbor

CSS Palmetto State (

Charleston, S. C., August 2, 1863.
Captain J. R. TUCKER,
Commanding C. S. Naval Forces Afloat, Charleston Harbor, S. C.:
    CAPTAIN: In reply to your request for my opinion whether the private steam vessels which have been seized by you "can render more important service by going abroad than by being retained for the defense of the harbor," I have to say, that I am convinced the time for their effective employment for the defense of this harbor is now, in some effort to destroy at night the Ironsides and other iron-clad vessels of the enemy, which are being formidably used for the reduction of our works on Morris Island. If they are not speedily applied to that end, or cannot be with sufficient hope of success to warrant or induce the attempt, but are to be held in the inner harbor, only to be resorted to in the last extremity against iron-clads that shall have overpowered our out-works and reduced or passed Forts Sumter an Moultrie, then I am clearly satisfied their further retention as a means of defense is useless, and that it will be far better to release them at once, as requested by the Quartermaster's Department, to be sent abroad for military supplies.
      Respectfully, your obedient servant,

      General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 24, Part 3, Page 1070.

At various times the Confederates had a makeshift fleet of as many as 20 vessels in Charleston Harbor.  The vessels alluded to here were medium sized steamers which would not have been very effective in combat against the more powerful Union fleet blockading the harbor.  But they were, unlike the improvised ironclads of the Confederacy, capable of putting to sea and escaping to Europe.  Beauregard wanted them to hazard an attempt on the Union ships, but only if it were done before additional northern ships could be added to the blockade.


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