Fort Sumter

Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Messages
201
#1
I remember reading an article years back saying that there those on the Union side (I believe Gustavus Fox?) who believed that Fort Sumter could be held by using naval power. That sending in a fleet and having them maneuver at right angles would make them almost impossible to hit from shore and they could then rescue the garrison.

Did the USN have enough naval firepower to accomplish this plan? Could the USN in April of 1861 have won an artillery duel versus Charleston?

healthy and happy New Year!
mike
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Joined
Jan 8, 2016
Messages
798
Location
Charlestonian displaced to Bodrum,Turkey
#2
The US Navy had a very limited number of serviceable vessels at the start of the war (and most of those were on service abroad) and none were equipped to do proper battle with the shore defenses in Charleston- remember there was only one (if memory serves) ironclad then (serving on the Great Lakes), so all would be wooden hulled and most were mainly sail-powered. They all would have had to expose their broadsides, which is their largest surface area for targeting.
Even by 1864, when guns had grown in size, strength, and firing range, the Union vessels could not properly compete with the shore defenses protecting the harbor. The monitors were a terrible disappointment in this respect, so I would say it is very doubtful that an effective naval campaign could have been launched.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Messages
3,597
Location
Denmark
#3
Until the Crimean war it was common knowledge that forts won against ships 90% of the time.

Even field guns would be a serious challenge.
In 1849 the danish navy lost a ship of the line and a frigate to 6x 12pounders in earth works and a field battery.
(they where to bombard the 12 pound battery the SoL got into the correct position, but firing a lot of 30 pound solid round shots really don't have much effect on earth. They where becalmed, the field battery moved so it could shell the Sol in the rear putting it on fire... and with no wind there was no way to get out of the trap... the Sol blew up and the frigate surrendered)

The game changer was steam powered warships. Until now dropping anchor and just trading cannonballs was the normal way to do it.
Now the warships could vary their distance and use both sides making the fight more even.
(and just as importantly, making running past the fort was now possible as was shown at New Orleans)
But exactly how much this had changed was an open question.
---
About the situation at Sumter.
Rescuing the garrison was not relevant. resupplying it was.

A handful of steam warships with support from the fort might have been able to keep the guns occupied for the time needed to get a stream transport to drop of food and more men to try man more of the forts guns. but I would call that risky.
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,351
Location
Pennsylvania
#5
I don't get the bit about maneuvering at right angles. Allowing one's ship to be raked - the enemy firing down the length of the ship from ahead or astern - was a disadvantage that commanders sought to avoid. Solid shot - most of what the Confederates would be firing - would smash up people, guns, or whatever until it expended all its energy, while the ship's own broadside guns would be useless. A ship end-on would present a narrow target in azimuth but a longer one in range.

Even in April 1861, there were multiple Confederate batteries around the harbor, so a ship could not be at right angles to all of them. Also, a ship's orientation would be largely determined by the channel it had to follow, particularly for a large, powerful warship.

As JohnD mentioned, many of our ships were overseas or laid up in ordinary; the latter included the most powerful, Merrimack's four sisters, which were recommissioned between May 2 and June 20. Ships were able to overcome Confederate forts at Hatteras, Port Royal, etc.; but Sumter was a particularly challenging situation, being inside the harbor, surrounded by rebel batteries. Again, navigating the harbor or maneuvering to engage the batteries would be difficult.

As thomas said, the goal was not to rescue the garrison; the Confederates would have been delighted to let them go! If the fort was successfully reinforced/resupplied, it would still be subject to bombardment. The rebels would repair and reinforce their batteries, and the Federals would have to repeat the mission as long as they wished to hold the fort. In the long term, they would probably have to assemble and land an army to reduce at least some of the Confederate positions; even in early 1861 Scott estimated this would take 20,000 troops.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Messages
201
#6
I don't get the bit about maneuvering at right angles. Allowing one's ship to be raked - the enemy firing down the length of the ship from ahead or astern - was a disadvantage that commanders sought to avoid. Solid shot - most of what the Confederates would be firing - would smash up people, guns, or whatever until it expended all its energy, while the ship's own broadside guns would be useless. A ship end-on would present a narrow target in azimuth but a longer one in range.

Even in April 1861, there were multiple Confederate batteries around the harbor, so a ship could not be at right angles to all of them. Also, a ship's orientation would be largely determined by the channel it had to follow, particularly for a large, powerful warship.

As JohnD mentioned, many of our ships were overseas or laid up in ordinary; the latter included the most powerful, Merrimack's four sisters, which were recommissioned between May 2 and June 20. Ships were able to overcome Confederate forts at Hatteras, Port Royal, etc.; but Sumter was a particularly challenging situation, being inside the harbor, surrounded by rebel batteries. Again, navigating the harbor or maneuvering to engage the batteries would be difficult.

As thomas said, the goal was not to rescue the garrison; the Confederates would have been delighted to let them go! If the fort was successfully reinforced/resupplied, it would still be subject to bombardment. The rebels would repair and reinforce their batteries, and the Federals would have to repeat the mission as long as they wished to hold the fort. In the long term, they would probably have to assemble and land an army to reduce at least some of the Confederate positions; even in early 1861 Scott estimated this would take 20,000 troops.
Thanks for the reply. Admittedly, I read this article years ago in CW times or one of those publications. I'll see if I can find it, I may be remember the right angles incorrectly.
 



(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top