Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hillsborough River Raid

Unadilla-Class gunboat USS Tahoma.  Source:  Naval History and Heritage Command via the Florida State Archives
The Hillsborough River drains into Hillsborough Bay, a northeastern "arm" of Tampa Bay on the west central Gulf coast of Florida. In the fall of 1863, Lt. Commander A. A. Semmes (cousin of the famed Confederate raider captain  Raphael Semmes) of the USS Tahoma received intelligence that the Confederate steamer Scottish Chief and sloop Kate Dale were moored up the Hillsborough River, loaded with cotton and ready to run the blockade. Joined by the side wheel steam gunboat USS Adela (itself a captured and converted blockade runner), he dispatched six boats on 16 October with a landing force of 100 sailors and marines, plus officers and guides, under the command of his Executive Officer, Acting Master Thomas R. Harris.

Illustration of the side-wheel steam gunboat USS Adela by one of it's crew.  Source:  Naval History and Heritage Command.

Putting ashore near Ballast Point, the landing party made their way by land up the Hillsborough River. They at first tried to bring with them a small boat to cross the river, but eventually had to leave the boat in a hiding place, due to the difficulty of transporting it. Master Harris later wrote in his after action report:

After this we moved along very rapidly under the direction of our excellent guides, and reached the banks of the Hillsboro (sic) River about 4 a.m. October 17, having marched about 14 miles. Having stationed lookouts, the party lay down till daylight. Shortly after daylight we discovered the steamer and sloop on the opposite side of the river about 9 miles above us. The force was immediately moved to a point opposite of where they lay and those on board ordered to send a boat to us. When the boat reached [us] I sent Acting Ensigns Randall and Balch, with a suitable number of men, on board of the vessels, where they made prisoners of all except two, who escaped on the Tampa side. Hauling the vessels over, I fired both effectually.”

The landing party returned to the beach area where they came ashore, and boats were dispatched from the gunboats to retrieve them. The Confederate forces had by now been alerted to the presence of the naval landing party, and sent troops to pursue them. An intense firefight ensued between the navy men and southern troops, a mix of infantry and dismounted cavalry. Union casualties were three killed, six wounded, and four taken prisoner.

Ship's boat crewed by USN sailors landing marines at the Hillsborough River Raid re-enactment in 2010.  Source:  USS Ft. Henry web site.

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