Friday, January 7, 2011

USS Brooklyn and Fort Sumter

In early January 1861, with a crisis growing at Charleston, South Carolina, the Secretary of the Navy dispatched the Sloop-of-War USS Brooklyn on a mission to deliver a message.

Commissioned in January 1859, the Brooklyn was among the US Navy's newest ships and reflected some of the cutting edge naval technology of the time. Her horizontal action steam engines turned a screw propeller which gave the ship an 11 knot top speed. She carried twenty-two IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns. Such reflected naval ordnance trends towards all big gun batteries capable of firing both shell and solid shot.

In the first days of January, 1861, the Brooklyn lay at Hampton Roads, Virginia. On January 7, Secretary Isaac Toucey sent orders to Captain William S. Walker, commanding the Brooklyn, to sail toward Charleston.

Walker's orders were to proceed to the bar off Charleston harbor and deliver revised instructions to the army officer commanding a detachment of troops on the steamer Star of the West. The Star of the West had left New York several days earlier carrying reinforcements and supplies for Fort Sumter. According to the revised instructions the steamer would proceed to Hampton Roads, where the troops would disembark. If the troops were already unloaded at Fort Sumter, Walker was to return to Virginia. Although authorized to give "aid and succor" if the Star of the West was fired upon, Walker was not to take the Brooklyn past the bar outside Charleston.

Walker did not receive those orders until the morning of January 9. Even though he set sail by 11:45 a.m. that day, events had already overtaken his mission. That same morning, cadets from the Citadel, stationed on Morris Island outside Charleston, fired upon the Star of the West. The aggressive act caused the ship's captain to abandon the effort and turn back for New York.

Walker arrived off Charleston on January 12 to learn of the Star's repulse. He reported navigation lights dampened, passages blocked with obstructions, and batteries along the shorelines. Thus, one of the first missions of the war for the US Navy ended with a failed rendezvous and undelivered message.

Only following four years of war would US Navy warships venture again past the bar into Charleston Harbor.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion; Series I - Volume 4, pages 220-221.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion; Series 1 - Volume 1, page 134.

No comments:

Post a Comment