UNION SHIPS FOUND DANGER IN SOUTH CAROLINA’S WATERS

Posted By : manager

Posted : January 30, 2024

By Michael Thomas

Union vessels, both sail and steam-powered, cruised the coastal waters and rivers of the Palmetto State during the war. Large heavily armed warships, fast sloops, and ironclads lurked around Charleston. Small shallow-draft gunboats made inland foraways via the various rivers. Supporting this fleet were transports, large and small, capable of carrying men, livestock, and supplies. Twelve of these vessels were sunk by Confederate gunfire or storms, many others in-curred major damage, and one was captured.
The earliest recorded losses are from the Port Royal Expedition destined for Beaufort and occurred November 2nd, 1861 when a gale wreaked havoc on it. The transport Governor, carrying a battalion of marines, foundered just off Charleston. Somehow, all but 7 men were rescued. Peerless, a transport loaded with beef cattle, foundered very near Charleston’s harbor without loss of crewmen. Another transport carrying cattle, barrels of potatoes, and other supplies, Osceola, foundered off Georgetown, and two boatloads of her survivors were captured.

The year 1863 was disastrous for the Union fleet. On January 30th, the gunboat Isaac Smith became the only warship captured by land forces in the war after sailing into a well-coordinated ambush by Confederate batteries on Charleston’s Stono River. The very next day, Union blockaders were routed when Confederate ironclads Palmetto State and Chicora emerged from early morning darkness and fog intent on breaking the Union blockade. Though no blockaders were sunk, Union war-ships Mercedita, Keystone State, Augusta, and Quaker State, were heavily damaged in the ensuing engagement.

It got worse as the year went on. The ironclad Keokuk sustained such battle damage during the Ironclad attack in Charleston Harbor, on April 7th, that she sank off Morris Island the next day. Two days later Confederate guns along Whale Branch River near Beaufort ambushed and destroyed the Union army gunboat George Washington. The October 5th spar-torpedo attack by David inflicted much damage to the warship New Ironsides. On December 6th, a gale caused ironclad Weehawken to sink off Morris Island with a loss of 31 men.

Just three Union ships were lost in 1864. The Housatonic, sunk by the Hunley on February 17th, was the most notable as it was the target of the world’s first successful submarine attack. On May 26th a Union expedition to cut the Charleston and Savannah railroad was stopped when the transport Boston, loaded with troops and horses ran aground on the Ashepoo River. Blasted by Confederate artillery, it was set afire by the Yankees and burned to the waterline after the crew abandoned the ship. A gale on December 9th sank the schooner coal ship and lightship Robert B. Howlett off Morris Island.

Three more Union vessels were lost in just six weeks in 1865. Ironclad Patapsco sank after hitting a mine in Charleston harbor on January 15th. The warship Dai Ching ran aground on January 26th in the Combahee River near Beaufort and was set afire as its crew abandoned ship after being raked by Confederate cannon. The last ship lost was the Harvest Moon which sunk February 29th after hitting a mine in Georgetown’s harbor. Truly, Union operations off coastal South Carolina were costly and dangerous. 

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