Wednesday, May 28, 2014

April 24, 1864 (Monday): The Threat of A Single Gunboat

Union Gunboats Advancing on New Berne

New Berne, N. C., April 24, 1864.
Commander H. K. DAVENPORT,
Senior Naval Officer, Sounds of North Carolina:
    SIR: I wish to call your attention to a few facts which, mentioned kindly, I hope you will take the same way, as I only say these things as a matter of duty, believing it for the best interests of both services.
    You understand perfectly the situation of affairs here as far as the rebel ram on the Neuse is concerned, and you must be aware that if that ram is permitted to come into this harbor the shipping, gun-boats, &c., must be destroyed or driven away, and the town itself liable to destruction. I have done everything in my power to avoid such a disaster. The forces under my command have picketed
river on both sides, and the work on the blockade has been pushed as rapidly as possible. For months there has been no boat stationed anywhere near the blockade.
    You will recollect that on the day before yesterday I earnestly urged you to send one of the small-boats, under your orders, to a point up the river where all parts of the blockade could be seen from her decks, and that small boats should at night row up nearer, in order to give us timely notice of any attempt to interfere with the work or to break through. There are points where such a gun-boat can lie perfectly well, and on the night before last I did find at mid-night when I made the rounds that the Lockwood or some other of the small gun-boats was lying in the channel between Fort Stevenson and Fort Anderson in a good position to see everything. Last night, however, there was no boat on the watch, and at 1.30 o'clock this morning, when Lieutenant Ward returned from his reconnaissance up to Swift Creek, there were no naval boats of any description seen higher up the river than where the Commodore Hull is lying.
    Now, commander, do you not think that as these gun-boats lie quietly at their moorings for twenty-five days or more in every month that they ought to render some assistance at such a time as this? I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they will not unless you give your personal attention to it and make your authority felt by your subordinates here.
     I can say with pleasure that you have never refused to co-operate with me in any special undertaking, but you must recollect that I have frequently conversed with you concerning the precautions to be taken against surprise on the river and about keeping at least one of the small gun-boats busy in running into and examining the small rivers on the other side of the Neuse, where boat expeditions against us could be assembled. Have these things been done? I tell you, commander, that it is my firm belief that if that ram does get down the river it will be more on account of the utter indifference manifested by the naval forces here than anything else. You may be sure that I would not say this to you if I did not feel it my duty, and I repeat that I hope you will take it kindly, even if you are convinced that I am all wrong in the matter.
    I am, commander, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    I. N. PALMER,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 33, Part 1, Page 969-970.

The threat posed by the ram Albemarle was very real to Union  planners.  An ironclad loose among wooden support ships could wreck the Union supply line by river.   New Berne had defenses, but none strong enough to stop the ram from running the fortifications and shelling Union troops there. 

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