Welden Railway raid thwarted by Torpedoes

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#1
The following is taken from Torpedoes and Torpedo Warfare, Sleeman, 1880, pg 191

"Welden Railway - A notable instance of the effect of torpedoes on the war was the saving of the Welden line of communication in December, 1864. The Welden Railway was the principal artery of communication to Richmond for the Confederates. To intercept this, by destroying the railway bridges, a fleet of nine Federal gunboats was sent up the Roanoke river; when nearly arrived at their destination, and though every precaution in the shape of bow projecting spars, creeping, &C, was taken, seven of the vessels were either sunk or severely injured by submarine mines. Thus the expedition ended in a most disastrous failure."
 

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DaveBrt

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#2
The following is taken from Torpedoes and Torpedo Warfare, Sleeman, 1880, pg 191

"Welden Railway - A notable instance of the effect of torpedoes on the war was the saving of the Welden line of communication in December, 1864. The Welden Railway was the principal artery of communication to Richmond for the Confederates. To intercept this, by destroying the railway bridges, a fleet of nine Federal gunboats was sent up the Roanoke river; when nearly arrived at their destination, and though every precaution in the shape of bow projecting spars, creeping, &C, was taken, seven of the vessels were either sunk or severely injured by submarine mines. Thus the expedition ended in a most disastrous failure."
The "Weldon RR" was in fact the Petersburg RR and it had been cut months earlier by Grant. Richmond was being supplied through Greensboro and Danville, using the new Piedmont RR.

The Confederacy had anticipated such a naval attack since early 1862. Guns had been emplaced and a chain placed across the Roanoke River. I'm sure mines would also have been used, but have not seen it stated. I would like to know the detail of this December 1864 expedition.
 
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#3
The "Weldon RR" was in fact the Petersburg RR and it had been cut months earlier by Grant. Richmond was being supplied through Greensboro and Danville, using the new Piedmont RR.

The Confederacy had anticipated such a naval attack since early 1862. Guns had been emplaced and a chain placed across the Roanoke River. I'm sure mines would also have been used, but have not seen it stated. I would like to know the detail of this December 1864 expedition.
You and me both. I hadn't heard of this before. The writer was British. I wonder if it got confused from another action.
 

ErnieMac

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#5
While the Weldon had been cut at Reams Station / Globe Tavern area the Confederates continued to use the line as far Stony Creek Depot. At that point the supplies were offloaded onto wagons that travelled through Dinwiddie Court House to the Boydton Plank Road and then onto Petersburg. Inconvenient yes, but not a deal breaker.
 

DaveBrt

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#6
While the Weldon had been cut at Reams Station / Globe Tavern area the Confederates continued to use the line as far Stony Creek Depot. At that point the supplies were offloaded onto wagons that travelled through Dinwiddie Court House to the Boydton Plank Road and then onto Petersburg. Inconvenient yes, but not a deal breaker.
This was tried, but proved to be easy to disrupt by the Union. In the January 1, 1865 Petersburg RR Annual Report, it was reported that the track was destroyed for 16 miles south from Petersburg and a similar 16 miles between the Nottoway River and Belfield station. Three bridges were destroyed, too. Repairs were completed from Stoney Creek to Weldon in early March 1865. The Confederate officer, Capt. J. M. Robinson, QM, reported to the QMG that the Stoney Creek cavalry unit was being maintained from Weldon, but the rest of the supplies were going to Greensboro.

In October, 1864, the QMG wrote Capt. T. R. Sharp, in Columbia, S. C., that the army depended on the road from Augusta to Richmond and that it just be worked to its maximum capacity -- to the point of stopping all private traffic, if necessary. In fact, the QMG was continually concerned about the amount of supplies carried up from Greensboro; I have found no such concern about the traffic being wagoned around the Petersburg RR.
 
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#7
In December 1864 General Warren led a second operation to break the railroad further south than what had previously been accomplished. He was generally successful, though he did not maintain occupation of section that was damaged. This should have been sufficient to isolate Wilmington, NC and Fort Fisher, and enable Butler's force to capture the fort, but Butler was never one to engage the enemy when he could come up with an excuse not to. So the naval expedition was not going to accomplish much, and should not have taken unnecessary risks.
 
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#8
Hey everyone! Been absent for a bit. What y'all are referring to is called the Roanoke Expedition. The Otsego and Basely were sunk by torpedoes. The Weldon bridge was a distant target of the raid but the most pressing target was Fort Branch. The larger number of ships sunk comes from a notation in Catherine Edmonton Devereux's diary. A good diary to read on this action is "Reminiscences Of Two Years In The United States Navy" by John Batton. Truly, only two boats were sunk, a double ender and a tug. But, once they hit the torpedoes the rest of the flotilla were forced to drag the entire way upriver towards Branch. This slowed the boats so much that their infantry support for the attack on Fort Branch lost contact with the flotilla. The infantry was in the area of Branch on Dec 11-12, 1864 while the Navy was dragging around Jamesville, NC 20 miles down stream. By the time the infantry got to Branch they were out of ammo and food and their resupply was on the General Berry (army supply transport ship) in the flotilla. Col. Jones Frankle decided to take his force back to Plymouth NC for rest and resupply. By the time the Navy got to Poplar Point the infantry was back in Plymouth. The Navy being stopped at Poplar Point by artillery and sharpshooters is known as the 'Poplar Point Engagement". Yes an assault up the Roanoke River did occur, yes boats were sunk (2), torpedoes were used (Frettwell/Singers, 90+), major failure was in coordination between military branches. This was the closest that the Navy ever got to Fort Branch, and there is another 50 miles to go up river to get to the Weldon Bridge. So the US Navy never got close to the bridge.
 

rebelatsea

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#9
Hey everyone! Been absent for a bit. What y'all are referring to is called the Roanoke Expedition. The Otsego and Basely were sunk by torpedoes. The Weldon bridge was a distant target of the raid but the most pressing target was Fort Branch. The larger number of ships sunk comes from a notation in Catherine Edmonton Devereux's diary. A good diary to read on this action is "Reminiscences Of Two Years In The United States Navy" by John Batton. Truly, only two boats were sunk, a double ender and a tug. But, once they hit the torpedoes the rest of the flotilla were forced to drag the entire way upriver towards Branch. This slowed the boats so much that their infantry support for the attack on Fort Branch lost contact with the flotilla. The infantry was in the area of Branch on Dec 11-12, 1864 while the Navy was dragging around Jamesville, NC 20 miles down stream. By the time the infantry got to Branch they were out of ammo and food and their resupply was on the General Berry (army supply transport ship) in the flotilla. Col. Jones Frankle decided to take his force back to Plymouth NC for rest and resupply. By the time the Navy got to Poplar Point the infantry was back in Plymouth. The Navy being stopped at Poplar Point by artillery and sharpshooters is known as the 'Poplar Point Engagement". Yes an assault up the Roanoke River did occur, yes boats were sunk (2), torpedoes were used (Frettwell/Singers, 90+), major failure was in coordination between military branches. This was the closest that the Navy ever got to Fort Branch, and there is another 50 miles to go up river to get to the Weldon Bridge. So the US Navy never got close to the bridge.
Welcome back. was about to suggest someone asked you.
 

USS ALASKA

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#11
Interestingly enough, to me at least, after operations failed to clear the river, Commander Macomb of Porter's command requested 100 torpedoes to block the river to prevent the egress of Albemarle's 'sister' ship...
197

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USS ALASKA
 
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#14
In fact, there was another nest of torpedoes that the Navy never made it to. At Fort Branch, we had a 3" link barrier chain across the river. The chain was well protected by our guns. Just down stream of the chain was a nest of 23 torpedoes (no information whether Frettwell/Singer or Raines type). Once a ship entered our "kill zone" it had two choices, sink or fall back. Branch was the "line in the sand" on the Roanoke River. And while Fort Branch was manned, no US Navy vessels ever even got close to placing the Weldon bridge in danger.
 
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#15
On another tangent with regards to the US Navy on "my" river: I have two things that do not understand about their descesion making. First is the size of boats they were determined to move up the Roanoke. Double Enders 205' long and Commodore Class converted ferry boats (Perry) at 202'. Take a look at a map of the Roanoke from Fort Branch down to the Albemarle Sound. Any assault up the river should have been undertaken by as short a boat as they could employ. Batton's diary goes into great detail about the difficulty they faced with the swift current and tight turns of the river. Second, I have never seen any reference to mortars being added to the armament on the boats. IF the Navy did ever get to a point that it could fire on Fort Branch, direct fire from cannons would do little. The bluff is so high, I am not sure the cannons on the decks of boats on the river could have been elevated enough to even hit the river face embrasure wall with direct fire.
Has anyone ever seen a reference to the US Navy using indirect mortar fire from decks of gunboats to attack Confederate River Bluff forts and batteries?
 



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