Sunday, September 11, 2016

2nd Lieutenant Norman J. Hall's Notes: Probably Presented to Lincoln and his Cabinet March 15, 1861

I have the honor to state that I could not concur with Captain Rodgers, with whom I was directed to confer, in his plan for the entrance of the harbor of Charleston with men and provisions for Fort Sumter. He proposes to procure a vessel (steamboat), with a draught of not over six and one-half feet, in some Northern port, and with the cargo to be cleared for Charleston, letting it be known, as if in confidence, that the design is to force a landing on the southern extreme of Morris Island; to carry the batteries by the rear and destroy the channel; to bring in the vessel, the vessel to regulate her speed so as to arrive off the bar in a dark night and at high tide, and to proceed through the Swash Channel with her lights extinguished; in case of discovery and being fired at, to drop a cork with a light in it, which would deceive the gunners. If the batteries are lighted up the men cannot see in the distance; if they are not, the lights will not be visible. The commander is to be allowed to back his vessel in case of a storm on the way down.

My objections to this plan are very numerous. In the first place, the deception would be apparent, as no one would attempt a forced landing with means possible to such a vessel. Secondly, not being a sea-going vessel the danger to life and the success of the undertaking is so great as to appear imprudent at best. Thirdly, it is unsafe to calculate upon not being seen off the bar, as a number of watch vessels, some with troops and cannon, are stationed off and along the entrance. Fourthly, even though the above dangers should all be safely passed and it should prove a moonless night and high tide at a proper time, still a chance shot through the machinery would defeat the enterprise.

The plan is grounded upon the most fortunate and improbable circumstances. It might succeed; but I think failure would be the rule. By an examination of the chart of the harbor of Charleston it will be seen that the Swash Channel passes outside the range of all the batteries erected along the entrance, except, perhaps, the small one near Cummings Point (of one 32-pounder and one 12-pounder), and this can be safely neglected. Fort Moultrie can bring several guns to bear for a mile and a half (not ten minutes), but their field has been greatly reduced by the traverse with small embrasures lately thrown up on the parapet. Considering as effective all the means in the hands of those hostile to the undertakings, the following are at present to be noticed: The channel will not admit of more than six and one-half feet draught with ease in sailing; at least one steamer with troops and field guns will be near the bar; a line of pilot schooners and signal vessels form a cordon outside the bar; the main ship channel is obstructed with sunken ships; Maffitt's Channel is raked and crossed by the fires of Moultrie and batteries placed along Sullivan's Island; the buoys and range lights are removed; the anchorage, except a small area, is under the fire of guns from the several fortified points; the Swash Channel is readily followed by ranging Fort Sumter on St. Michael's till within five hundred yards of the fort, where a detour to the right will be necessary. Carefully navigated, passing very near the north side of the fort, the vessel may be brought to the wharf at high tide. If not successful, small boats may be furnished by the fort. The only effective guns are those of Fort Moultrie on this entrance. I have the honor to propose that a war vessel (the Brooklyn best) be dispatched with two schooners and two ordinary steam-tugs, each of not more than six feet and a half draught, and under the same pretension as that first proposed, and this combination will give color to the rumor. One of the schooners is to be loaded with  provisions entirely, and the hay is to be stored on the starboard. The other, with some provisions, is to carry the troops. The vessels arrived off the bar, the Brooklyn can keep all hostile vessels at a distance and make the following arrangement:

The vessel with provisions is to be placed upon the right, next a screw-tug, next the vessel with troops, and again a tug. The right-hand vessel will cover those on the left, protecting from fire the troops and means of locomotion. The vessels should arrive off the bar two hours before high tide, so that the tide will be rising all the way in, and if grounded may be floated off in a short time. To prevent vessels from the city and the cutters inside the harbor from interfering, the fort shall be signaled, and will reply by lowering its flag or showing a light, and will prevent any vessel going out. Signals should be agreed upon, and the time, day or night, also. Two field pieces, loaded with canister, might be used to meet a desperate attempt to board the vessels. The hay in bales should be wet, to prevent heated balls from setting fire to the vessels.

SOURCE: 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. 201-2

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