Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ship Island-The Unsinkable Tender

To borrow a modern U.S. Navy term, each of the U.S.N's blockading squadrons needed a "forward deployed" base near the war zone if it had any hopes of keeping ships on their stations for lengthy periods of time. The Gulf Blockading Squadrons' base was Ship Island.

Located about 15 miles south of the mainland of Mississippi, Ship Island had been used for decades before the Civil War as a safe anchorage. The island's value to national security was evident with the construction of Fort Massachusetts in the 1850s (not finished until the end of the war).

The 4th Louisiana occupied the island at the beginning of the war, but it soon became evident that it would difficult for Confederate forces to hold while U.S. Navy ships were the area. Confederate Major-General G.E. Twiggs noted in September 1861 that a squadron of "Two heavy frigates, two steamers, a brig, and two tenders" were bearing down on his garrison. Fearful of being cut off and not waiting for further instructions, he wisely ordered an evacuation.

Union ground forces formally occupied the island a few weeks later. For the rest of the war, Ship Island served as a major repair and resupply base for blockading ships and as a jumping off point for operations all along the Gulf Coast.

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