Monday, September 12, 2016

Captain Gustavus V. Fox: Memorandum for the Relief of Fort Sumter, February 6, 1861

February 6, 1861,

Since the repulse of the steamer Star of the West at Charleston it may be assumed that all the channels over the bar are obstructed, but as the bar is more than four miles in length the spaces between these channels are too extensive to be closed; therefore at high water and smooth sea the harbor is perfectly accessible to vessels drawing, say, seven feet of water. The United States have no steamers of this draught. The skillful officers at Charleston, aware of this fact, will conclude that relief must go in at high water in boats or light-draught steamers, incapable of bearing a very offensive armament. They will be perfectly prepared for such attempts by arming and heavily manning all the steamers they possess, and at the critical moment will throw themselves alongside of the relief vessels, and thus jeopardize the movement by the very detention of the conflict. To elude their vigilance or attempt a stratagem, however ingenious, I consider too liable to failure. I propose to put the troops on board of a large, comfortable sea steamer, and hire two powerful light-draught New York tug-boats, having the necessary stores on board; these to be conveyed by the U. S. steamer Pawnee, now at Philadelphia, and the revenue cutter Harriet Lane. (The Pawnee is the only available steam vessel of war north of the Gulf of Mexico, draws twelve feet of water, and has seven heavy guns. As a steamer, she seems to be a failure, but may be got ready for this emergency; at least she is, unfortunately, our only resource.) The Harriet Lane I understand to be an excellent and efficient vessel; but either of these steamers alone may be liable to capture by an overwhelming force.

Arriving off the bar I propose to examine by day the naval preparations and obstructions. If their vessels determine to oppose our entrance (and a feint or flag of truce would ascertain this) the armed ships must approach the bar and destroy or drive them on shore. Major Anderson would do the same upon any vessels within the range of his guns, and would also prevent any naval succor being sent down from the city. Having dispersed this force the only obstacles are the forts on Cummings Point and Fort Moultrie, and whatever adjacent batteries they may have erected distant on either hand from midchannel about three-quarters of a mile. At night, two hours before high water, with half the force on board of each tug within relieving distance of each other, I should run in to Fort Sumter.

SOURCES: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 1 (Serial No. 1), p. 203-4; Robert Means Thompson & Richard Wainwright, Editors, Publications of the Naval History Society Volume 9: Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox Assistant Secretary Of The Navy 1861-1865, Volume 1, p. 8-9

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