Reports of the Blockade Strategy Board
First Report: Blockade reprovisioning station; July 5, 1861.
Second Report: Division of squadron and North Carolina coast; July 16, 1861.
Third Report: South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (Atlantic) coasts; July 26, 1861.
Fourth Report: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coasts; August 9, 1861.
Fifth Report: Texas and Florida (Gulf) coasts; September 3, 1861.
Sixth Report: Seizure of Ship Island and Head of the Passes; September 19, 1861.
First Report: ORN I:12, pp. 195-198
WASHINGTON, D. C., July 5, 1861.
SIR: We have the honor to inform you that the conference, in compliance with your wishes, communicated through Captain Du Pont, has had under consideration that part of your letter of instructions of the 25th ultimo which relates to the necessity of occupying two or more points on the Atlantic coast, Fernandina being particularly mentioned as one of those points.
It seems to be indispensable that there should exist a convenient coal depot on the southern extremity of the line of Atlantic blockades, and it occurs to the conference that if this coal depot were suitably selected it might be used not only as a depot for coal, but as a depot of provisions and common stores, as a harbor of refuge, and as a general rendezvous, or headquarters, for that part of the coast.
We separate in our minds the two enterprises of a purely military expedition and an expedition the principal design of which is the establishment of a naval station for promoting the efficiency of the blockade. We shall have the honor to present plans for both expeditions; but we will begin with the latter, premising, however, that we think both of them should be conducted simultaneously.
Fernandina is, by its position, obviously the most desirable point for a place of deposit, answering at one end of the line, to Hampton Roads at the other. In addition to its position in this respect it enjoys several other advantages almost peculiar to itself and well suited to the object in view.
It has 14 feet of water on the bar at low water and 20 at high water, a convenient depth for all steam vessels of the Navy either propelled by screws or rode wheels, rated as "second-class steam sloops," and under; for all of those rated as "first-class steam sloops," which are propelled by screws, and by most of the same class propelled by side wheels when light, and by all the newly purchased and chartered steamers of every description, with the exception, perhaps, of one or two of the very largest mail-packet steamers, when deeply loaded.
These depths are perfectly convenient for the new sloops and gunboats now on the stocks, and for the ordinary merchant vessels purchased or chartered for freight.
The main ship channel over St. Mary's Bar into Fernandina Harbor, though not direct, is by no means tortuous or difficult. It is easily defined by buoys, and a range by means of beacons renders the passage of the bar itself secure. A steam tug will always be at hand to take in sailing vessels when necessary.
Inside of the bar there is an unlimited extent of deep-water accommodation, and also the protection of smooth water before reaching the landlocked basins.
The anchorage in Amelia River possesses the quiet and safety of an enclosed dock. Repairs of all kinds may be carried on there without the fear of accidents arising from motion of the water.
The town of Fernandina and the wharves and depots of the Florida Railroad Company furnish conveniences the value of which need not be enlarged upon. If the seizure were conducted so suddenly as to prevent the destruction of property and buildings (which it would [be] difficult to replace), the facilities for landing and storing coal and other materials will be found ready for use.
Another feature of this port, and one which has appeared to us to be of sufficient importance to engage your particular attention, is the isolated position of Fernandina territorially and in population. Fernandina is on an island, bounded by the ocean on one side, and having on the other an interior, poor and uninviting in all respects, sparse in population, remote from large cities or centers of military occupation, and not easily accessible by railroad or water communication.
By the census of 1850 the population of Fernandina was about 600; it is now 1,000. St. Mary's was about 700; Darien was about 550; Jacksonville was about 1,145; St. Augustine was about 1,934.
The distance by water from Fernandina to St. Mary's is 9 miles; Fernandina to Brunswick is 35 miles; Fernandina to Darien is 51 miles; Fernandina, by railroad, to Baldwin is 47 miles; from Baldwin to Jacksonville is 20 miles, and from Fernandina, by water, to Savannah, 120 miles; Fernandina, by water, to Charleston, ---- miles; Fernandina, by railroad, to Cedar Keys, 154 miles, and from Fernandina to Tallahassee, by the railroad to the Baldwin Junction (Alligator), nearly 200 miles (192).
With all the above-mentioned places there is water communication, except Cedar Keys, Tallahassee, and the railroad stations between them. But it is apparent that any military opposition of weight must come from Savannah and Charleston, and principally through Cumberland Sound, and the depth (less than 10 feet in some places) of this line of interior navigation would require the transportation of the troops in the light steamers that are employed there. These steamers are so light and devoid of shelter that an expedition would hardly be undertaken if Amelia Island were properly garrisoned.
The environs of Fernandina form a natural protection against an attack by land. They consist of marsh and sand, which alone compose the shores of the rivers and bayous
We are careful to avoid making this communication unnecessarily long by entering upon a comparison of Fernandina with other places in the same region of coast, such as Brunswick, for example, which is now connected by railroad with Savannah, and being more in the interior is less healthy; or St. John's entrance, which could be easily fortified against us, and has an insuperable objection in its bar; but we take pains to say that such comparisons have formed a large part of our study of the whole subject.
We have not spoken of the peculiar advantages of Fernandina as a depot and naval station without attaching a meaning to the word.
Although an open and rapid communication with the Gulf of Mexico by the Florida Railroad to Cedar Keys, accomplished in eleven hours, would undoubtedly be desirable, still it has not entered into our project to recommend the maintenance of this communication. To do so would employ a force disproportioned to the possible benefit to be derived from it. The Central Railroad to Tallahassee, which connects with this road at Baldwin, is completed as far as Alligator, and for a certain distance from Tallahassee east, about 20 miles. The country on the line of the road is thickly wooded and has few inhabitants. A road of such length (154 miles) in an obscure and inhospitable district may be easily rendered impassable.
Fort Clinch is not thought to be defensible in its present condition, and the sand batteries on the shore can probably be easily turned.
The water is so smooth in ordinary times, on the outer shore of Amelia Island, that a landing can be effected there with facility, and will, in our opinion, be advisable at more than one point. This landing can not be covered by large ships, especially such as the screw frigates. Vessels of small draft must be selected for this duty, and when the points of landing are fixed upon the lines of approach for the covering vessels must be distinctly traced out.
The Florida Railroad from the west shore of Amelia Island, across the river, is built on piles for the distance of about 1 mile, similar to the long bridges across the Bush and Gunpowder.
When the attack is made, one or more small gunboats might take the back entrance through Nassau Inlet and Sound and prevent the destruction of this bridge by the rebels. Nassau entrance is, no doubt, unguarded, Nassau Bar has only 5 feet on it, and even this depth is not to be relied upon. A rapid survey immediately preceding the attack will correct any misapprehension on this point; launches may therefore be employed.
The preservation of this trestle bridge is worth an effort; the remainder of the road can be replaced with less cost, because it runs through a naturally level country.
It is estimated that 3,000 men would take and hold the place, with the assistance of such force as could be furnished by the fleet. After the place was taken a portion of the defensive force would be found on board the vessels in port. Thus the number of troops to be added to the marines and seamen employed in the attack and subsequent defense would not probably at any time exceed this number of 3,000.
The details of the expedition to Fernandina, if decided upon, will fall under the several bureaus of the War and Navy Departments and the chiefs of the expedition, to whom the conference will be always ready to offer such information and make such suggestions as may result from their careful study of the ground.
The sailing directions for the port of Fernandina, the instructions for the disposition of the buoys and beacons, the outer and inner anchorages, the pilotage, and the meteorology of this section of the coast, will be hereafter furnished by the conference from the archives of the Coast Survey.
It is known that Fernandina is healthy and that it can supply wood-and water in abundance. Its market supplies remain to be developed.
Finally, we will repeat the remark made in the beginning of this report, that we think this expedition to Fernandina should be undertaken simultaneously with a similar expedition having a purely military character.
We are preparing a brief report on the latter, which we shall have the honor to submit in a few days.
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington.
Second Report: ORN I:12, pp. 198-201
WASHINGTON, D. C., July 16, 1861.
SIR: We have the honor to inform you that one of the results of our study of the Southern Atlantic coast of the United States in reference to its blockade is to recommend that it be divided into two sections, one of which will extend from Cape Henry to Cape Romain, about 370 miles, and the other from Cape Romain to St. Augustine, about 220 miles. The geographical features of the northern or upper section are very different from those of the southern or lower section, and accordingly the treatment of the two should be distinct. The former is characterized by narrow belts of sand which separate large inland waters from the ocean, and are divided at irregular intervals by openings or inlets through which the ocean tides ebb and flow and access is obtained to the enclosed sounds. The latter is distinguished by the ordinary ports and bays. The subject of the present communication will be the first of these sections; the second is reserved for a future report. In order to show the importance of this section of the coast, which embraces the whole seaboard of North Carolina and a portion of that of South Carolina and Virginia, we must observe, in the first place, that the Elizabeth and James rivers (the ports of Norfolk and Richmond) are not effectually blockaded until the entrance into Albemarle, Pamlico, and Core sounds is stopped against the enemy. The external boundary of these sounds, the narrow belt of sand separating them from the sea, is sparsely inhabited, except at summer watering places like Nag's Head, or the few and distant towns like Portsmouth. The inner shore line consists chiefly of marshes and cedar swamps, but the interior communication with Norfolk by the Dismal Swamp Canal and by the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal and by the rivers and railroads with North Carolina and Virginia is complete. All this is so apparent upon the maps that it is only necessary to allude to it. The several towns of Elizabeth City, Edenton, Washington, and New Berne; the rivers North, Pasquotank, Pamlico, and Neuse, are connected in trade and intercourse by numerous steamers suited to the navigation of these shallow waters. This trade includes a considerable foreign commerce with the West Indies, of no great importance (for revenue) to the United States, but vastly important to the rebels while they are debarred the use of the entrance to the Chesapeake. But for this the sterile or half drowned shores of North Carolina might be neglected.
But it is an important object in the present war that this trade, home and foreign, should be interrupted, and for this purpose it is desirable to adopt some general method by which the approaches from the sea and the channels inside from sound to sound may be shut up.
The most obvious method of accomplishing this object is by putting down material obstructions; and the most convenient form of obstruction, for transportation and use, is that of old vessels laden with ballast in a neighboring port, and sunk in the appropriate places. They would entirely obliterate the old channels; new channels would be formed in time, but their general use would be almost impossible, certainly very precarious, until they were reexamined at leisure. The part of the coast of which we are speaking is peculiarly adapted to this course of action by the smallness of the tides, which have a rise of only 1 feet at Cape Hatteras, 2 feet at Cape Henry, 109 nautical miles north, and 2 feet at Cape Lookout, 68 miles south. They flow but a short distance into Pamlico Sound, where the inner bars or "bulkheads," as they are defined on the Coast Survey charts, mark the places of principal deposit of the moving sands and of meeting, therefore, of the inner and outer waters.
The chief rise and fall of the waters of these sounds are caused by the winds; wherever the obstacles are so placed as to be sheltered from them they would probably remain; but in very severe storms, in which the waters are heaped up on one side of the sound, their return to a state of equilibrium is attended with so much violence that the smaller hulks could hardly fail to be acted upon and removed.
These are extreme cases. There would be no force arising from regular currents, or the momentum of large bodies of water that would probably undermine them, except in heavy gales. Piles might be driven in the interior of the sounds, but their employment is less simple and more laborious. Our sunken hulks should be visited frequently to guard against their removal, but with the means at hand the enemy could effect but little in that way. Besides the inlets, there are two harbors that may have to be blockaded from outside, Beaufort and Cape Fear River, unless expeditions were undertaken to capture Forts Macon and Caswell, which would form a separate subject of consideration. It is said that the alarm of the people of Wilmington has led them to close New Inlet. If, instead of being closed, it should be fortified, the batteries, we imagine, could be easily turned, whether on the main or on Smith's Island. If we carry our operations as far as Georgetown, that harbor may be closed or blockaded, as found most convenient.
This long stretch of coast of about 350 miles, one-third of the whole coast from Cape Henry to Cape Florida, requires the watching or closing of only ten or twelve harbors and inlets. In this respect, and in respect to population, supplies, fertility, or natural resources, it is the weakest part of the coast of the United States of the same extent.
The seaboard itself would furnish but little resistance, except where the inlets have been fortified, and expeditions from the sounds and from the rivers emptying into them must be conducted in small vessels and steamers of light draft, such as would be easily met and discomfited. It is certain that the distance of the seacoast from the interior, and the thinly distributed population, will prevent any rally in time to interfere with our operations.
Wood and water are found on the sand beaches, and the latter may be obtained in some places by boring the cedar swamps. The coast of South Carolina, between the boundary of North Carolina and Georgetown, includes the famous Horry district, the forests and swamps of which come down nearly to the ocean shore. Major Prince, U. S. Army, explored it for the Coast Survey, and the triangulation was carried on by cutting through nearly every step of the way after leaving the sounds south of. Cape Fear entrance. The vicinity of Cape Hatteras is one of the worst regions on our coast for tempestuous weather, the cape itself being the point of separation between the storms peculiar to the two divisions of the country--the West India hurricanes at the south, the course of which, after skirting the ocean borders of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, turns to the eastward before arriving at Cape Hatteras, and the common northeast storms of our Northern States, which begin at the southwest extremity of their track and make their progress to the northward and eastward. We will now proceed to name these inlets, from north to south, in order in which they stand on our notes, and specify the manner in which they ought, in our opinion, to be treated.
1. Oregon, or New Inlet, 35 miles north of Cape Hatteras, Pamlico Sound, coast of North Carolina, has a dangerous shifting bar, on which there is 7 feet at low and 9 feet at high water. It should be blocked up by sinking as many hulks as necessary for the purpose. The place for these hulks will be shown on the chart.
2. Loggerhead Inlet. Not well known by us.
3. Hatteras Inlet, 11 miles southwest of Hatteras, opening also into Pamlico Sound, has 19 and 21 feet on the ocean bar, with a good, easy entrance; 13 and 15 feet in the Oliver's Channel anchorage, and 7 and 9 feet on the inside bar or bulkhead, which it is necessary to cross to enter the sound. We recommend the final obstruction of the inner bar, reserving the anchorage for a harbor of refuge.
4. Ocracoke Inlet, 14 miles southwest of Hatteras Inlet, with 10 and 12 feet on the outer bar, and a good and easy entrance for 10 feet; has safe anchorage in 19 feet. This inlet may be treated like that of Hatteras.
Before closing the two last inlets on the inside it will be well to decide upon the course to be pursued in relation to the interior navigation. It may be threatened or controlled by a force of small steamers armed with rifled cannon. It may be kept open for the purpose of capturing the towns on the Pasquotank, the Chowan, the Roanoke, the Pamlico, and Neuse rivers; or it may be obstructed by sinking hulks between Core and Albemarle sounds, between Albemarle and Roanoke sounds at Roanoke Island, and elsewhere, as future enquiry may point out. We strongly advise the latter. This whole region of marshes and cedar swamps is fatally unhealthy at this season of the year (except on the immediate seashore) to our Northern constitutions.
5. Beaufort, or old Topsail Inlet, may be both blockaded and obstructed. The main channel has 15« and 18 feet low and high water.
We have already suggested the propriety of taking Fort Macon. The people at Beaufort are said to be loyal. How this may be we have no certain means of knowing.
6. Bogue Inlet, 10 leagues west of Cape Lookout, with 8 feet on the bar; 7, New River Inlet, 14« leagues, with the same depth, and 8, New Topsail Inlet, 20« leagues west of Cape Lookout, with 10 feet over the bar, must all be obstructed.
9. New Inlet, near Cape Fear, as we before mentioned, is said to have been closed by the people of Wilmington; if not, its obstruction can be easily effected.
10. The Western Bar, at the entrance of Cape Fear River, must probably be blockaded. It lies under the guns of Fort Caswell, and unless the fort is taken the sinking of obstructions on the bar will be difficult. This bar has 8 and 12 feet.
11. Lockwood's Folly Inlet, and 12, Tubb's Inlet, may be obstructed.
13. And finally, Georgetown entrance, or Winyah Bay, may be both obstructed and blockaded.
The archives of the Coast Survey will furnish the best information concerning this region of coast.
These plans may undergo some modification in the hands of the person to whom their execution shall be intrusted.
We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy.
Third Report: ORN I:12, pp. 201-206
WASHINGTON, D. C., July 26, 1861.
SIR: In the last memoir of the conference we had the honor to propose that the Southern Atlantic coast of the United States should be divided into two sections having distinct geographical and physical features and requiring, therefore, distinct management. The first of these sections, extending from Cape Henry to Cape Remain, formed the subject of our last communication. In the present we shall treat of second section, comprised between Cape Remain and Cape Florida.
We shall be able to present our views more clearly if we separate this second section into three subdivisions, each one of which is distinguished from the others by circumstances either of physical condition or of population too striking to be overlooked. The first of these sections will extend from Cape Romain to Tybee Island and embraces the greater part of the coast of South Carolina; the second, from Tybee Island to Cumberland Sound, St. Mary's entrance, Fernandina, covering the whole coast of Georgia, and the third, from Fernandina to Cape Florida, including St. John's River, the harbor of St. Augustine, and all the east coast of Florida.
Our second memoir, in which we discussed the occupation of Bali's Bay, St. Helena Sound, and Port Royal Bay, has left us but little to say on the first of these subsections. The field, which is only 112 miles in linear extent, is one that requires the application of the ordinary rules and practice of blockade. When the three anchorages above mentioned are secure the whole of this part of our coast will be under complete control. It will rarely be necessary for the blockading vessels to leave the coast on account of stress of weather. Though they may be driven from before the ports for a time, it will be easy for them to resume their stations when the storm has subsided. This is a consideration of the last importance, as regards the efficiency of the blockade.
But you are better aware than ourselves of the favorable manner in which our foreign political relations would be affected by the possession of one or more of the three points, the seizure of which was the topic of our second memoir. The second of our subsections, which takes in the whole coast of Georgia, is of peculiar formation.
Throughout an extent of 107 nautical miles a chain of islands separates a water space of varying breadth from the open sea, and these islands are divided from each other by frequent inlets, several of which are available for the purposes of navigation. The islands and the inland waters constitute a series of sounds and harbors. The former afford uninterrupted smooth-water navigation for steamers drawing 5 feet from the Savannah to the St. Mary's River; the latter may be regarded as harbors of refuge, or as openings from the sounds by which an active cruiser can pass at any moment into the ocean and change its field of observation at convenience. The rivers of the coast generally empty into these interior bays and sounds. We may complete what we have to say of the navigation of these sounds and bays by observing that it demands the most thorough local knowledge and an accurate acquaintance with the times and heights of the tides to follow all its circuitous paths, and, further, that the best pilot information concerning this navigation that can be put on paper is to be found in the "Notes on the Coast of Georgia," prepared by the Superintendent of the Coast Survey from the archives of his office.
Concerning the islands forming the external barrier to the sea, it may be remarked, as a general rule, that they have a moderately straight sea beach on the ocean side, with the common sand hills or hillocks (dunes or downs), and occasionally a fringe of wood. On the inner side, upon the sounds, they are marshy, except in rare cases. The middle part is much diversified, and cotton plantations are general. Several of the islands furnish fresh water; but it will be better, perhaps, to treat the whole subject of fresh water supplies on the Atlantic Southern Seaboard in a separate paper.
The inlets, taken in connection with the interior navigation, resemble on a smaller scale the peculiar geographical distribution of land and water which, on the coasts of Holland and Belgium on a grand scale, are especially adapted to the pursuits of commerce and of well sheltered interior water communication. The example on the coast of Georgia is comparatively minute; but the frequent and convenient entrances from the sea, affording a protection always accessible, at such easy distances apart that there is little danger or necessity for exposure to the storms of the ocean, constitute the most important feature as well here as on the eastern border of the North Sea.
The difference in breadth and depth of the passes between the numerous islands, and of the sounds and bays to which they lead, requires vessels of a smaller draft. The rivers, or so-called rivers, discharging into these bays and sounds are not always of real value. But a very hasty glance at these different geographical features, in order, will serve, we think, to satisfy you that the control of these waters would greatly tend to the reestablishment of the authority of the United States in the whole of this region by imposing a severe check upon the movements of the rebels.
We will speak first of the inlets and second of the sounds and rivers together.
The inlets are Tybee (beginning at the north), Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Sapelo, Doboy, Altamaha, St. Simon's, St. Andrew's, and Cumberland, all of which, however, are not equally useful; it is worth while to describe in a few words the most prominent only.
Tybee is the entrance to Savannah River, and must, for the present, be blockaded, though large vessels could lie safely in the channel inside the outer buoys, and beyond the reach of the guns of Fort Pulaski, in smooth weather.
Passing over Wassaw, which is difficult of entrance, and has not been surveyed, we come to Ossabaw Inlet, 3« miles wide, between Great Wassaw Island on the north and Ossabaw Island on the south. Seventeen feet may be carried over the outer bar through a narrow channel which divides inside, where a second bar, having 14 feet of water upon it, must be passed to enter Ogeechee River. Passing again over St. Catherine's Inlet, of which the bar is bad, we come to Sapelo Inlet, the entrance to Sapelo Sound, seven-eighths of a mile wide, between St. Catherine's and Blackbeard islands.
This is one of the easiest entrances on the Southern coast. The bar, which is very narrow, has 18 feet of water, and it is only necessary to change the course once to enter the sound. A new channel across this bar, south of the old one, was discovered by the Coast Survey. Breakers, north and south of the channel, mark the entrance, which was a most convenient one when buoyed.
Doboy Inlet is one of the entrances to Altamaha Sound and River, and the first through which the town of Darien is reached. The bar is farther to seaward [or to leeward] than Sapelo Bar, about 4 miles off, and the entrance is more than a mile wide between Sapelo and Wolf islands.
The depth of water is sufficient (not less than 24 feet), but the channel is so winding that all the assistance of lights and buoys is wanted to navigate it in safety. Again, passing over Altamaha Inlet, which is so inferior to Doboy that the latter will always be preferred, we come to St. Simon's Inlet, the entrance to St. Simon's Sound, leading to Brunswick and Blythe islands, which is about a mile wide between St. Simon's and Jekyl islands. The bar is 5 miles from the general line of coast, but is only about one-fourth of a Nile wide, and had upon it a depth of 17 feet at low and about 24 feet at high water; it is one of the best of these openings. Passing again over the entrance to St. Andrew's Sound, of which the bar is bad, we come to the last of the series, Cumberland Sound, St. Mary's entrance, Fernandina, which we have described at length in our first memoir on the occupation of Fernandina.
Thus you will perceive from our brief enumeration that in this extent of coast of but little more than 100 miles there are, exclusive of Tybee, five harbors of refuge, convenient, well situated, and by no means unequally distributed throughout this short distance.
An equally brief notice of the sounds and inlets will enable you to form an estimate of the business and navigation which would be brought under control by the military and naval occupation of these waters and their tributaries. We will take them as they stand in their natural order of position from north to south.
All that relates to Calibogue Sound and Tybee entrance must be treated separately, because the possession of them involves the capture of Fort Pulaski and Savannah.
Wassaw Sound and St. Augustine River [Creek] are next. They form, in fact, a second entrance into Savannah River, St. Augustine Branch uniting with the main stream 4 miles below Savannah. Steamboats from Savannah to Fernandina, or the St. John's River, pass out at Wassaw Sound, reentering at Ossabaw or Sapelo; or else they pass by a narrow, tortuous, and shoal channel through the Romerly Marsh, south of Skiddaway Island, where there is but 3« feet at low water. Vessels are warped through.
Ossabaw Sound.--After entering this sound the channel divides. The west branch leads into the Great Ogeechee River, which has a bar of 14 feet; the east, into Vernon River, which has a bar of 12 feet at the entrance. Deep water is carried up the Vernon River to the bar at the mouth of the Little Ogeechee, on which there is 14 feet of water. Thirteen feet can be carried up to Montgomery on the Vernon River, the site of a proposed city, but in fact a plantation. The Ogeechee River heads high up in the State of Georgia and has rich rice plantations upon its banks; there is 10 feet of water 7 miles up. The so-called Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad, from Savannah south west, crosses the Ogeechee about 26 miles from the Ossabaw Bar and 15 from Savannah.
St. Catherine's Sound.--Into this sound empty the Medway, or Sudbury River, which has rice plantations upon its banks and the small village of Sudbury, about 9 miles from the sea, and also Newport River.
Sapelo Sound is a broad and deep sheet of water, which receives numerous rivers and arms of the sea, or creeks of no special importance. Sapelo River is merely a continuation of Sapelo Sound.
Doboy Sound and the arms of the sea connected with it occupy a space some 12 miles wide between Sapelo and Altamaha rivers. Darien River is one of these arms and the old town of Darien, once a place of considerable business, stands on the left hand about 13 miles from Sapelo light-house. Fifteen feet of water can be carried to Darien.
Altamaha Sound is much interrupted in its navigation by islands and shoals, but Altamaha River and its tributaries reach the center of the State, Macon being upon the Ocmulgee, one of its two principal branches.
St. Simon's Sound and Turtle River lead to Brunswick and Blythe Island, purchased by the United States for the site of a naval depot.
Frederica, Mackay's, and Back rivers, which are, in fact, arms of the sea or creeks, come in at the eastern head of the sound. Frederica River is on the main passage between Altamaha and St. Simon's Sound, next to St. Simon's Island.
The sound is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. From the bar to Brunswick is about 13 miles and to the site of the proposed naval depot about 15 miles. The navigation is easy and 3« fathoms can be carried to near the shore of Blythe Island. The Brunswick Railroad now connects with the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad. It will be remembered that we spoke of St. Simon's as one of the best entrances on the Southern coast, and we may add that it is specially adapted for a naval depot at this period and for the particular service under consideration.
St. Andrew's Sound receives the Saltilla [Satilla] River that drains the interior of the southern part of Georgia, from which it receives many tributaries; among them are the Little Saltilla [Satilla] on the northeast and the Jekyl on the north, or rather the Jekyl Creek, which, running close by Jekyl Island, forms part of the communication between Savannah and Frederica.
Cumberland Sound, already described in our first memoir, completes the list.
In the above enumeration we have not included all the particulars in our possession. We have merely presented a sketch or outline of this region, or, of its means of intercommunication, and of its fertility; even designed to be, as it is, a mere sketch, it would be incomplete if we were not to repeat at the conclusion that an inland passage from Savannah to Fernandina, long used by steamboats drawing 5 feet of water, unites in one common interest and intercourse all the bays, sounds, rivers, and inlets of which we have given but little more than the names. A superior naval power must command the whole of this division of the coast. It will be occupied by the party or nation, whichever it may be, that chooses to place armed steamers of suitable draft in its interior waters, and fortifications of sufficient strength at the mouth of its inlets. And the naval power that commands the coast of Georgia will command the State of Georgia.
For what would be the means and resources of the government of the State of Georgia in the hands of rebels if its peculiar productions could only find a market by passing through the hands of its loyal citizens holding offices by appointment of the General Government.
Beyond the bars of the inlets, which are at distances from the land varying from 1 to 5 miles, the exterior seacoast is free from dangers. As a general thing between 4 and 5 fathoms are to be found at from 4 to 6 miles from the land all the way from Tybee to St. Andrew's. Farther south the slope of the bottom is more steep. And it will serve to give you an idea of the facility with which this coast can be approached at night and in thick weather to mention that at an average distance of 12 miles the depth is 9 fathoms. At an average distance of 24 miles the depth is 11 fathoms; at an average distance of 36 miles the depth is 13 fathoms; at an average distance of 48 miles the depth is 15 fathoms, and at an average distance of 60 miles the depth is 17 fathoms.
At the same time the depth is not a uniform and unfailing test of the distance from the land at every part of the coast; we are speaking of averages only.
Our third subsection extends from Fernandina to Cape Florida, and embraces the mouth of the St. John's, the harbor of St. Augustine, and all the east coast of Florida. St. John's and St. Augustine will be blockaded, we presume, in the usual manner.
The lower coast may be placed under the scrutiny of two or more small cruisers, by which its shores will be continually traversed, and its bays inspected. It can hardly be said to be inhabited, and is of no great consequence as a convenient place of resort for pirates. Having finished all we have to say upon the sections and subsections separately, we will offer one or two remarks upon the general blockade of the Southern Atlantic coast of the United States from Cape Henry to Cape Florida.
In the administration of the military affairs of the country, it has been found expedient to increase the number and diminish the extent of the military departments, so also the number of home squadrons has been doubled.
But we have been led in the preparation of these memoirs to entertain the opinion that it would be advantageous, that it would conduce still further to the efficiency of the blockade, if each of the two sections into which we have divided this coast were made a naval station and comprised the limits of a separate command analogous to the military departments. We have aimed to show that these sections possess distinct geographical features and require distinct treatment, and on those distinctions our opinion mainly rests. But we may add, that if this plan were adopted, and if vessels were assigned to ports and stations under the common rule of the naval service, that is, until relieved, then the commander in chief while at sea within the limits of his command could, so short is the distance, communicate with the whole line of his blockading squadron, either in person or by his tender, every day, or every two days during ordinary weather.
We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy.
Fourth Report: ORN I:16, pp. 618-630
WASHINGTON, D. C., August 9, 1861.
SIR: In our last memoir we completed our remarks and recommendations concerning the Atlantic coast of the United States from Cape Henry to Cape Sable.
We are now to take up the shores of the United States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Here we purpose to pursue the same course as before, dividing this region of coast into several sections, all of which are distinguished from each other by peculiar geographical features--or by different degrees of settlement, and require, therefore, different modes of treatment. Our sectional divisions are as follows:
1. The Florida keys and reefs.
We propose to take these sections, not in the order of their succession from cast to west, or the reverse, but in the order of their importance, and we shall begin, therefore, with the fifth, which, in its whole extent, embraces the city of New Orleans, together with its various approaches from the sea. Between Cat and Ship islands, which we have taken to define the northeastern limit of this section, and Atchafalaya and its adjacent bays, is comprised the great Delta of the Mississippi, through which are discharged all the streams that are fed by the Mississippi River, and within these limits are embraced all the military approaches to New Orleans by means of these streams and their dependencies, bays or lakes. A curved line drawn from Cat Island to Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and thence to Vermilion Bay, including Atchafalaya and C“te Blanche bays, and skirting along the seashore of the Delta proper, will measure about 170 geographical miles; the distance from the Mississippi River to the eastern limit being about 60 miles, and to the western about 110 miles.
From Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the Delta of the Mississippi extends beyond this curved line about 30 miles. The principal and characteristic features of this portion of the coast are apparent. They are large and shallow sheets of water, called either lakes or bays, and long, narrow, crooked, and deep bayous, shoal at the entrance, and frequently entering into shoaler basins.
But while these general features may be correctly said to belong to the whole section, it will be convenient, for the sake of more minute and accurate description, to subdivide into smaller sections, containing--
(a) Lakes Borgne, etc., and their approaches and connections;
The rivers fall generally into the bays from the north, and, taking their rise in the interior, are independent water courses. The bayous are generally narrow, crooked, and dependent streams, shallow at the mouth (with from 3 to 6 feet of water on the bars), and quite deep within; they frequently afford available channels for boats into and through the great Delta and between the lakes, often connecting with the great river and the city of New Orleans.
The lakes are three in number, Lake Borgne on the east, Lake Pontchartrain, and Lake Maurepas, which connects with the Mississippi River 110 miles above New Orleans.
We rely upon the charts of the Coast Survey for the only correct information about the shores of lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain and their intermediate channels, with which we are principally concerned.
The first of these channels, between Mississippi Sound and Lake Borgne, runs between St. Joseph's Island (on the north), on which there is a light-house, and Grand Island, and is called Grand Island Pass. It has sufficient water at the east entrance, but shoals rapidly as it expands into Lake Borgne to 9 feet of water only, which is the least depth before reaching The Rigolets. This depth limits the size of the vessels navigating this channel of approach. There is a light-house at The Rigolets, and between this and the light before mentioned empties the Pearl River, the largest between the Pascagoula and Mississippi rivers, which takes its rise in the heart of the State, and is about 250 miles long. Pearl River is worthy of notice, not only on account of the great extent of country it drains, but because it forms the eastern limit of the Delta of the Mississippi. East of it the country is sanded and woody with pines; west of it, low and marshy.
We have said that the main channel has only 9 feet of water at the entrance into Lake Borgne. The lake itself has an average depth of 10 feet only, which diminishes toward the shores. At the head of the south bay of the lake is the small town of Proctorsville, the termination of the Mexican Gulf Railroad, which meets the levee of the Mississippi River 12 miles from New Orleans.
This is one of the approaches to New Orleans, and might be made useful if possession is taken of the river above the forts. In the southwest bay of the lake the shore is broken by several bayous practicable for boats nearly to the river. The depth and directions of these bayous are furnished by the military reconnoissance of 1842 by the topographical engineers.
Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain are connected by two crooked channels known as The Rigolets, and called severally Chef Menteur and Rigolet, in both of which the lowest depth descends to 7 feet, and this is the most important fact for us to know. The first named of these channels is defended by a small fort, called Fort Wood, at the mouth of the Bayou Sauvage; the second by a fort of moderate size, called Fort Pike, so situated as to command a long passage known as the Eastern Reach. These channels bring us into Lake Pontchartrain, which is by far the largest lake of the whole Mississippi Delta, and which is immediately connected with New Orleans by two railroads, one canal, and one bayou and canal. This connection takes place on the southern shore; the pier or wharf at the termination of Pontchartrain Railroad has 8 feet of water at the end of it, and there is about the same depth at the piers of the Bayou St. John, and of the Carrollton and Jefferson railroads. Along the whole of this shore the character of the bottom is the same at the same depths; hard near the shore and in 5 feet, and in 10 feet, soft blue mud and shells. The currents and depths are affected by the winds. It does not seem worth while to extend our enquiries to the northern shore of this lake, or beyond it into Lake Maurepas, and to trace the communication north by the [New Orleans, Jackson and] Great Northern Railroad, or west to the Mississippi through the rivers Amite and Iberville. We have only intended to follow the principal routes in this quarter to the city of New Orleans, and to show the navigable value of these waters and their defenses as far as known to us. Having done this, we think we can safely draw the conclusion that the approach to New Orleans through the lakes, The Rigolets, and the railroads, canals, and hard roads, connecting it with the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, would be difficult and very tedious.
(b) Our second division is from Ship Island south to the southern extremity of the Delta of the Mississippi. This portion of the coast is characterized by immense marshes cut into innumerable islands, and by shallow lakes and by long, narrow, crooked bayous, deep inside, with shallow entrances, and emptying into shallow bays.
Outside of these bars lies a large body of water 50 miles long by about 15 wide, divided into two sounds known as Chandeleur Sound and Isle au Breton Sound, and separated from the Gulf of Mexico by an irregular chain of islands, the largest group of which chain is the Chandeleur Islands.
Outside of the Chandeleurs there are well-marked soundings and good water. At a distance of 5 or 6 miles (east) there are about 11 fathoms, with light-blue mud, and 20 miles east of Grand Gozier there are 8 and 9 fathoms with fine sand, broken shells, and black specks.
Beyond these depths, to the eastward and southward and eastward off the Chandeleurs, and off Grand Gozier Island, the depths increase with characteristic soundings.
Inside of the Chandeleur and Grand Gozier islands, on the contrary--that is, in Chandeleur and Isle au Breton sounds--the waters and shores have not been examined by the Coast Survey and are but little known. Useful channels are reported to exist; so, also, convenient anchorages and places of refuge, for small vessels especially. There is a good anchorage inside of the Chandeleur on the north; and good holding ground behind Grand Gozier Island supplies an excellent harbor of refuge. There is also a channel of 5 fathoms around the south side of Isle au Breton, which terminates in an anchorage of 18 feet, well protected from easterly winds. But it is generally understood that the sounds are very shallow on the west shore, with numerous crooked channels leading into the various bayous, separating the infinite multitude of islands. The line of the shores takes the form of bays, separated from each other by long spits of lowland of marsh and sand. The military reconnoissance of 1842 furnishes a minute description of these bays, of the principal bayous leading out of them into the interior of the marsh of the Delta, of the inner lakes and swamps, and of the connections through them all with the Mississippi River. It is not difficult to conceive a state of things in which these water communications, that look like a labyrinth on the map, might be turned to account in military operations.
But it does not enter into our present views to consider this question, and we will pass therefore to the next division or section of the coast. We will notice in conclusion that the bays are a resort in summer for fishing parties and bathing parties. The waters abound with fish, and the islands and marshes with game. Hard sand beaches are to be found on the islands.
(c) The Delta of the Mississippi, including the Head of the Passes: The distance from New Orleans to the Head of the Passes by the river is about 95 or 100 miles; the average velocity of the river current varies from 2 to 4 miles an hour. At the Head of the Passes the river branches off in three different directions--to the east to the south, and to the southwest--and these branches, with the exception of' Pass … l'Outre, take the name of the course they follow. Two of them, the Pass … l'Outre and the South West Pass, retain the velocity of the river above the fork. The general character of the soil is soft mud, but in close proximity to the river the marsh is harder and more elevated.
From the narrow neck of land on which Forts Jackson and St. Philip stand the Mississippi runs for about 20 miles in nearly a south-east direction with an average width of about two-thirds of a mile and a varying depth of from 6 to 15 fathoms. At the termination of this distance it widens suddenly and blanches into its mouths. The Lower Mississippi is at its lowest level from November to January, when it begins to rise and continues till it reaches its highest state in May, which it maintains during June and July; the fall begins in August. The tides of the Delta are small, rising to between 1 and 2 feet and occurring once only in twenty-four hours. The water of the river, of a dirty yellow color, extends over 20 miles into the Gulf, and its coolness, compared with the higher temperature of the sea water, occasions fogs; and the increase of depth from the bar to the south and to the south and east rapidly, and more slowly to the north and east and south and west, added to the above features, all combine to render the approach to the Mississippi from the sea safe and easy.
We have observed that the river widens suddenly as it nears the fork; above it is 1 mile wide, and at the fork its breadth is 1 miles, and in this place the banks are much more solid and firm than at the Passes. In general, this compact ground is only a few hundred yards broad and consists of firm grazing pasture or dry wooded land. On the east bank the firm soil, beginning about 1 mile below the house of Richard Cubit, continues up 5 miles close along the edge of the river (see accompanying sketch). And the same is the case (nearly) on the opposite side. Numerous cattle graze on both banks, living there winter and summer. The west bank contains reed and canebrakes, but the east bank looks like cultivated and rich pasture ground. Opposite the "Jump" (see sketch) the shore is of the same character as near Cubitt's house and is used for grazing purposes. On the west side above the "Jump," a thick growth of wood, and bushes, running a few hundred yards back, extends several miles along the shore.
At the Head of the Passes, between the South West and South Passes, there formerly stood a large tower with a second-class light; some years ago the building was removed and the materials were used in constructing the tower at Pass … l'Outre; the brick foundation of the old tower still remains. The solid ground, which has been made by ditching and filling, has not been kept in order, and suffers from neglect. There is good anchorage here in 12 feet of water. We give a particular description of this place because it is to be used hereafter in our proposed plan of proceeding.
We will say a few words on the Passes, after having remarked that of the two fortifications of the Mississippi, Fort St. Philip is an irregular Spanish work that has been enlarged and strengthened by extensive outworks; and that Fort Jackson, situated just below the old French work, Fort Bourbon, is of modern construction, and is surrounded by swamps and bogs.
The depth of water in Pass … l'Outre, proper, one of the three branches of the Pass … l'Outre, which is itself one of the three great arms into which the Mississippi is divided at the fork, was, in 1852, 12 or 13 feet. The bar of this Pass, however, has shown for the last ten years a decided tendency to improve, and it is at present the best of the outlets.
We have said that in 1852 there were 12 or 13 feet on the bar; in 1860 there were 17 feet; in January, 1861, there were not less; but, owing to the soft bottom, a steamer drawing 19 feet can pass over at spring tides, and in 1860 a ship drawing 18« feet was taken out by a towboat without stopping. There is a light-house at Pass … l'Outre, and a settlement 3 miles above, at which there is a revenue station and a pilot station. The New Orleans and Mississippi Towboat Company has a coal depot, and the New Orleans and Belize Telegraph Company a terminus also, at this settlement. There is another settlement at the junction of the North East and South East passes (branches of the Pass … l'Outre) called the Balize (sea mark), and this word has been adopted as a general term for the whole Delia. Here stands a very largo observatory or lookout, some 70 or 80 feet in height, visible far out at sea, which resisted the severe gale of 1860. The town consists of about 50 houses, including several stores, a school, etc.
The South Pass, the second of the three principal arms or outlets of the river, is rarely entered by vessels of any kind, on account of the small depth of water on the bar (not more than 6 feet) and on account of the difficulty of navigating the Pass after crossing the bar up to the main river, a difficulty arising from the narrowness of the Pass even where the water is sufficient. There is a light-house at this Pass, but no other settlement.
The third and last of the great outlets is the South West Pass, which was formerly the deepest of all and the main channel of entrance for the commerce of New Orleans. The course over the bar is nearly straight, and up to 1852 there was never less than 15 feet of water, and sometimes 18 and 19 feet. Of late years this depth has diminished, according to the best information to be derived from pilots. There is now but little more than 13 feet on the bar, and the Pass has become inferior to Pass … l'Outre. There are about 30 private houses, inhabited principally by pilots and their families, a revenue station, and a telegraph office at the South West Pass; but no levees, as at the Balize, except a small one inclosing a private garden.
The bays and islands at the fort (so to speak) of the Delta are of no importance to our present investigation.
Fig, orange, pomegranate, lime, and citron trees are to be found on some of the islands. The bays are shoal, and, in some of them, particularly East Bay, there are numerous oyster beds.
(d) The west coast of the Delta to Bayou la Fourche: The hydrography of the coast to the westward of the Delta is the same as that to the northward, except that the islands lie closer to the marsh, and that the body of water inside of them is smaller. Advancing along the coast west of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 15 or 20 miles, the land becomes more firm; and still farther west on the La Fourche and its tributaries, the plantations and settlements are extensive and numerous. From the South West Pass to Grande Pass, Timbalier Bay, into which one of the outlets of the La Fourche discharges itself, it is 50 miles on a west course. North of this line, a deep gulf makes up about 20 miles, the northeast portion of which (Green Bay) extends to within 1 or 2 miles of the Mississippi River, and is bounded by the neck on which stands Fort Jackson. The water is shoal and the ground not well known, but it is reported that 8 or 10 feet can be carried up to the head of the bay. It is therefore one mode of approach to Fort Jackson. And, moreover, a bayou leads out of the northwest corner of Green Bay (into which boats of 3 feet draft can enter) and runs up in a line with the river, through Cyprien's Canal [Bayou], three-quarters of a mile long to the levee of the Mississippi 10 or 12 miles above Fort Jackson. This bayou connects also with Bayou Shute, which enters Bastian Bay, the next bay to the westward, into which enter several other bayous, not important (as far as they are known to us) in this enquiry.
But the next bay on the west, Barataria, is entitled to a more particular notice, because the first access to New Orleans west of the Delta, or Balize, is through this bay. The main entrance is through Grande [or Barataria] Pass, the bar of which had 8 feet of water on it in 1853, according to the Coast Survey. Between this bay and New Orleans there is a considerable trade by water through the bayous, in which several steamboats and more than a hundred luggers were engaged in 1853. The principal of these routes is by either Bayou St. Denis, or Grand Bayou, from the northwest corner of the bay, to Little Lake, thence by Bayou Pierrot [Perot] to Lake Washa [Ouacha], and thence by canal entering the river nearly opposite Carrollton, about 10 miles above the city; the whole distance is 65 miles, and the depth of water is from 4 to 6 feet. Again from the north end of this bay, Wilkinson's Bayou leads to the north and east toward the Mississippi, and thence the passage through is by Wilkinson's Canal, having 4 feet, by Smuggler's Bayou, with the same depth, and by several other bayous and canals through which 3 feet can be carried. And finally, Barataria Bayou, running toward English Turn in the river, is connected by a great system of canals (having from 2 to 4 feet depth) with the river opposite New Orleans and with nearly every plantation for 25 miles below. The northeast corner of Barataria Bay, called Bay Batiste, is supposed to approach the Mississippi within 5 miles; and so also Felix Bay on the north, which makes a neck of land only 8 or 10 miles across, about 60 miles above the South West Pass.
This description of Barataria Bay, its passes or entrances, its bayous, roads, and canals, its connections with the Mississippi and New Orleans, and its trade, are taken from the military reconnoissance of 1842, and from the reconnoissances and surveys of the Coast Survey of the United States. It might be extended and made more intelligible with the maps, but our purpose is to produce a strong and distinct impression of the importance of Barataria Bay and its relations to our future plans of operations.
From Barataria Bay the shore tends in a southwest direction nearly 25 miles to the entrance into Timbalier Bay, and in this distance there are several bays, but the only bayou of importance is La Fourche, and this is the largest stream in the whole Delta of the Mississippi to which this term is applied. La Fourche flows into the Gulf through three principal channels and several smaller ones; the largest mouth is Pass Fourchon. Pass Fourchon had 6 feet on the bar in 1854 and was then deepening; inside the bayou was quite deep. Three approaches from the Gulf of Mexico to the city of New Orleans, by Bayou La Fourche, are practicable; one through the whole bayou by the way of Donaldsonville and the Mississippi River; one by the bayou to Thibodeaux, and thence by the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad, and the third by the bayou and the Company Canal.
The first of these approaches requires 185 miles navigation in not less than probably 4« feet of water; the second requires 70 miles of navigation and 46 of railroad; the third, by the La Fourche and the Canal de la Compagnie [Company Canal], requires 45 miles of river navigation, and the addition of the canal route through Lake Salvador or Washa [Ouacha], of which the distance is not given; 4« feet can be carried this way.
From Donaldsonville to Thibodeaux, and even 20 miles below, both sides of the bayou are thickly settled, and rich plantations lie close to each other in succession; below this, some 25 miles farther, extends an interrupted cultivation.
(e) From Bayou La Fourche to Atchafalaya and Vermilion bays: About 25 miles to the south and west of Barataria entrance and about 60 miles from the South West Pass is the main entrance into Timbalier Bay, called Grande Pass. This bay is about 10 miles long and 4 broad, and is separated from another small bay to the northward by a line of islands; it is shallow, and not more than 6 feet of water can be taken in. In 1853 there were 11« feet on the bar at Grande Pass, of which there exists a preliminary reconnoissance by the Coast Survey of that date, similar to the sketch of the Pass Fourchon. West of Timbalier is Terre Bonne Bay, similar to it in general character; it is screened from the Gulf in part by the long island of Isle DerniŠre, and runs up 15 miles, north and west, into the marshes. The west end of the DerniŠre (the island is 22 miles long, with an average breadth of 1 mile) was once the resort of the surrounding parishes as a watering place, but the settlement which, in 1852, counted 100 houses, has since been nearly destroyed by a hurricane. This vicinity is one that requires careful navigation on account of the inequalities of the bottom. There are good channels and available anchorages for vessels of small draft possessed of a pilot's knowledge of the ground. This knowledge is furnished by the Coast Survey of the United States, but it would be out of place to cite it here, where our object is to describe the general hydrographical and topographical features, and to distinguish the mode and extent of preparation essential to an efficient blockade.
From Isle Derniere the coast trends W. N. W. 25 miles, and 5 northwest to the entrance of Atchafalaya Bay. Thence the trend of the coast is (45 miles) W. N. W.; and throughout the whole of this distance extends one vast sheet of water, divided into several arms, and separated from the Gulf by a series of oyster beds and by Marsh Island, 25 miles long and 8 broad.
These several arms are Atchafalaya, Cote Blanche, and Vermilion bays, the former of which is the largest bay on the coast and receives more water than any other, since through it the Atchafalaya River, the greatest branch of the Mississippi, discharges its waters. This bay is shallow, being much obstructed by banks of oysters and broken shells; the channels have but 6 or 7 feet of water. Fortunately we possess an admirable preliminary chart (by the Coast Survey) of the difficult entrance to and navigation of the east end of this bay, into which empties the Atchafalaya River, together with sailing directions, including sailing marks, buoys, and lights. They are the peculiar property of the seaman and pilot.
We return to the descriptive geography of this region. Atchafalaya River, which empties into the bay of the same name at its northeast corner, is the largest and most important stream from Galveston to the Balize. It receives many tributary streams and bayous, of which the most important is Bayou Plaquemine and the largest Bayou Teche. Bayou Plaquemine is the most important because it connects it with the Mississippi, and is the channel of trade between the country bordering on the Atchafalaya and New Orleans. After the Teche joins the Atchafalaya, the latter becomes nearly as broad as the Mississippi itself, though not so deep, yet there are 60 feet of water at its mouth. A very large trade is carried on in luggers and small steamboats on the Teche and its connecting waters.
That part of the Atchafalaya River, which is comprised between the bay and Grand Lake (called sometimes Chetimanches [Chestimachee] and sometimes Atchafalaya Lake) is more directly joined in trade and intercourse with New Orleans. In this space the river is navigable for the largest steamboats; the difficulty is in the bay below. The steamboat route from the lower Atchafalaya River, from Berwick landing, and from the Peche Bayou to New Orleans, is through Grand Lake, up Grand River, or Bayou, and by Bayou Plaquemine, entering the Mississippi at the town of Plaquemine; the distance is 108 miles.
This route was formerly the principal highway for all produce shipped to New Orleans; since, however, the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad has been in operation, the number of steamboats by Grand Lake has decreased, and a large amount of cotton, sugar, and molasses is transported on that road by the way of Thibodeauxville [Thibodeaux] and Algiers. This railroad (for Texas as it is called) has been running for several years from the city of New Orleans to the Atchafalaya River, terminating at Berwick Bay, about 10 miles below the mouth of Teche Bayou. This terminus is called Brashear City, where there is now a town; opposite is Berwick City, a town of greater pretensions. From Berwick west the road is still unfinished. Atchafalaya Bay is the most important of the three, on account of its business connections with the neighboring parishes and with New Orleans. Cote Blanche, divided into East and West Cote Blanche bays by Malony's [Marone] Point, on the mainland, and the northeast point of Marsh Island, is shallow, and encumbered with shoals composed principally of shells. Several channels run through the series of bays, lengthwise, in which 7 to 8 feet of water can be relied upon; but their directions and the positions of the shoals are liable to change from season to season.
Westernmost of the three is Vermilion Bay, about 15 miles long in an E. N. E. and W. S. W. direction, and 10 miles broad at its widest part, which is in the middle of its length.
This bay is quite shallow, excepting some small channels in the southwest corner, which afford good anchorage in 5 or 6 feet of water just inside of that entrance from the Gulf which is called Grande Pass. On the bar of this pass there is a depth of 9 feet. Marsh Island, which bounds Cote Blanche and a part of Vermilion bays on the south or Gulf side, is the largest and the last of islands lying on the coast from Mobile to Vermilion bays.
It is 25 miles long, and though somewhat marshy, as its name implies, can boast of some fine land, with oaks. There are several sugar plantations on it and also in the vicinity of the great bays it borders upon.
The examination of the shores of the great Delta of the Mississippi, which we have now completed, has been made with a twofold object; first, to point out its various connections and communications with the Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans, and, second, to exhibit the suitableness or unsuitableness of the bays, harbors, rivers, and bayous for naval operations.
It will be apparent to a careful reader of this memoir that New Orleans has so many lateral outlets and channels of trade, less direct and convenient indeed than the river, but not less certain and practicable, that the blockade of the river above does not close the port.
The question is, whether the present plan of proceeding should embrace the conquest of this city or the scaling up its trade and navigation. We regard its conquest as incompatible with the other nearer and more urgent naval and military operations in which the Government is now and will be for some time hereafter engaged. It is an enterprise of great moment, requiring the cooperation of a large number of vessels of war of a smaller class, but of formidable armament, a great many troops, and the conduct of sieges, and it will be accomplished with slow advances.
On the east side the defense of the city against an attack is well understood, and appears to be provided for. On the west side the channels by which the city must be approached are more shallow and more difficult, and there exist no such obvious military relations between the two sides as would suggest combined and simultaneous attempts from both quarters. We recommend, therefore, that the subject of the capture of New Orleans be deferred for the present; be deferred at least until we are prepared to ascend the river with vessels of war sufficiently protected to contend with the forts now standing and the temporary fortifications which, in the event of invasion, would be established at every defensible point.
As a final consideration, we may add that while the outlet of this great river has lost none of its value to the Southwestern States of the Union in consequence of the changes and improvements of recent times in the modes of interior communication, it is quite otherwise with the Western and Northwestern States. They are bound to the East and to the Atlantic Ocean by railroads and by water connections, through canals and the Great Lakes, which render them in a measure independent of the Mississippi for the means of access to the sea.
Instead, then, of presenting a plan for the capture of the city of New Orleans, we shall offer one for shutting it up, for suspending its trade, and obstructing the freedom of its intercourse with the ocean and with the neighboring coasts, feeling assured that the moral effect of such a course will be quite as striking as that of its possession by the United States. The details into which our notes have carried us in the beginning of this memoir can not but prove serviceable to the commander in chief of this station. We will lay down our recommendations briefly in order:
1. That complete military possession be taken of Ship Island as the depot, harbor of resort, and point d'appui of the blockading vessels, which will control the access to New Orleans through the lakes and along the east coast of the Delta. Ship Island is also the key to the blockade and possession of Mississippi Sound and the control of the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama; we shall have occasion, therefore, to recur to it when we speak of this section.
2. A persistent supervision and watchfulness kept up by cruising vessels of proper size along the east coast of the Delta, in Chandeleur and Isle au Breton sounds, and the Passes of the Mississippi, east and south. It may prove desirable for the promotion of this part of the service that the northwest extremity of the Chandeleur Islands should be seized and fortified, with special reference to the security of the light-house and the protection of the snug anchorage under this point.
3. The complete fortification of the fork of the Mississippi at or just above the Passes.
On this subject, and on the occupation of Ship Island and Barataria Bay, and their defenses, we shall have a word to say in a special memorandum.
4. A careful watch by cruising vessels over the Passes of the Mississippi from the south and west, and of the west coast of the Delta to Grand Pass, Barataria Bay.
5. The capture of Fort Livingston and the occupation of Barataria Bay, where vessels of the lightest draft must be employed to cruise in the upper waters and interrupt, as far as possible, the trade with New Orleans.
6. The blockade and supervision of the coast between Barataria and Atchafalaya bays, in the execution of which Caminada, Timbalier, Terre Bonne, and the smaller bays are to be visited.
7. The military and naval occupation of the east end of Atchafalaya Bay, and the frequent inspection, by cruisers of light draft, of Vermilion and C“te Blanche bays, which are traversed by the fiats that bring down sugar and cotton from the upper country.
We said on page 24 that Ship Island would constitute our naval headquarters for the projected operations in Mississippi Sound; and this introduces the fourth of the divisions into which we have separated the Gulf coasts, viz:
4. The coast of part of northern and western Florida and the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi, from the river Perdido to Ship Island: This section includes Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound, with its numerous and subsidiary waters.
This is a stretch of coast of but 75 nautical miles, the only interest of which attaches to Mobile entrance, bay, and city, and to the approaches.
The bar of Mobile entrance is next to that of Pensacola in depth, having 20 feet upon it, which can be carried to the fine protected anchorage known as the Lower Fleet. From this to the city wharves 8 feet can be carried. The entrance is defended by a finished work of considerable size (Fort Morgan) at Mobile Point, on the eastern side, and by a work in progress (Fort Gaines) of smaller dimensions, on Dauphin Island Point, on the western side.
Mobile City has a population of 41,131 by the last census, and is the great cotton exporting port of the Gulf, next to New Orleans. The Mobile River, the Alabama River, and its branches, head in the upper part of the State of Alabama. A railroad connects it with Cairo, at the entrance of the Ohio into the Mississippi River.
Besides the main entrance to Mobile Bay, there is an artificial side entrance between Dauphin Island and the mainland, at Grant's Pass, with 5 feet at low water and about 6 at high. This pass was excavated through oyster reefs and mud, and has remained open. There was a light there before the rebellion. This pass is 7 miles in a straight line from Fort Morgan, and 25 miles from the city of Mobile. Mississippi Sound has several good entrances directly from the Gulf. It is not known whether any attempt has yet been made to fortify them or the pass just mentioned. These are:
1. Through the east spit of Petit Bois a passage was cut in the hurricane of 1852, having 12 feet as the least water.
2. Horn Island Pass, between Petit Bois and Horn Island, has 16 feet water.
3. There is a fine, wide channel between Ship and Cat islands, with 21 feet least water, except upon two 17-foot lumps. This, however, is in part closed by the fort on Ship Island.
There is a good channel from Ship Island to Dauphin Island for vessels drawing not more than 15 feet.
Cat and Ship Island harbors are probably both fortified. Into the former 17 feet, and into the latter 19 feet can be carried. The possession of the eastern part of Mississippi Sound, or the blockade of the entrances, will be necessary, besides watching the main entrance of the bay, to the effective blockade of Mobile.
Unless Grant's Pass is effectually defended, or is obstructed, the defenses at Mobile may be turned by a force of suitable character.
Before speaking of the approaches to the city of Mobile we must recur to the fortifications on Ship Island, which constitute one of our principal means for closing up New Orleans.
The military possession of Ship Island is no less important to our naval operations in Mississippi Sound than to the blockade of New Orleans.
We require it as a depot of coal and provisions, as well as a harbor for repairs and refuge. The small semicircular work which was commenced by the U hired States, and has since been seized by the rebels, was scarcely above ground when the rebellion broke out. We regard it as not much more defensible than the Hatteras forts. However this may be, the entire possession of Ship Island and its substitution for Pensacola as a naval station are indispensable, and its defense might be partly naval and partly military.
The most hasty glance at the map will be sufficient to recognize at once the importance (not to be overrated) of a rigid blockade on a portion of the coast, distinguished by the geographical features which are most favorable to trade and intercourse by water, and sheltered from the destructive influence of storms by a barrier of out-lying islands.
It fortunately happens here, as elsewhere, that the blockading fleet can perform its duty strictly while it is enjoying the protection of the enemy's harbors.
We must add a word on the approach to Mobile by land.
From the Gulf shore, the nearest land approach to Mobile leads from Pascagoula 45 miles by hard, level, sandy roads through pine woods, clear of underbrush, and easily known by the telegraph poles.
Six miles out, a rough bridge of 30 feet crosses a deep, muddy stream, bordered with dense bushes.
Thence on about 30 miles farther the route is over flat country, with only scattering log houses, and a low population, to Dog River, which is 40 feet wide, muddy, and unfordable. The well-worn bridge there has probably been replaced. Yellow pine is plenty near both streams; other streams along the road are mere rivulets of fresh water.
From Dog River to Mobile the track rolls gently, showing better land (sparsely settled by uncultivated people); and at a distance of 9 miles it meets Government street, Mobile, about 2 miles west of the Mobile wharves.
There is a deep ravine on the road, perhaps not far from the Dog River.
Mobile may also be reached from Pensacola by the Perdido Bay and River: and from Portersville, Ala., a small village opposite the west end of Dauphin Island, through which the New Orleans mail once passed, having been brought from Mobile by stages and carried thence to New Orleans by steamboats. We can furnish some of the particulars concerning the route (from the archives of the Coast Survey) when they are wanted.
But we will not lengthen out this already tedious memoir.
In this paper we have treated, first, the great Delta of the Mississippi from its eastern to its extreme western boundary; and, second, in connection with it, as an inseparable part of the system of operations recommended, Mississippi Sound and Mobile, with its adjacent waters.
We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy.
Fifth Report: ORN I:16, pp. 651-655
WASHINGTON, September 3, 1861.
SIR: The last of the memoirs we had the honor to present contained our examinations and recommendations relating to two of the six great divisions into which we have separated the Gulf coast, viz, the fifth and the fourth. It remains for us now to speak of the other four divisions, which we will take up in numerical order (see fifth memoir, dated August 9, 1861).
1. Florida keys and reefs: This portion of the coast, which commands the great outlet of the Gulf of Mexico by the course of the Gulf Stream, begins at Virginia Key, in latitude 25° 44' N. and longitude 80° 08' W., and extends to the Tortugas, in latitude 24° 37' N. and longitude 82° 55' W., at distance of 200 nautical miles. The Coast-Survey notes cover the details relating to the hydrography of nearly the whole of this part of the coast, especially those of them which refer to the keys and reefs.
Fort Jefferson, at the Tortugas, and Fort Taylor, at Key West, with certain supplementary works, will easily hold this part of the coast against any but a first-rate naval power. Subsidiary small works may be needed at a few points which will be referred to hereafter. At Key West are stores of coal, water, and munitions of war. Water may be had near Fort Dallas, on the Miami River, Key Biscayne Bay, at Indian Key, about midway of the reef, and at Fort Jefferson, on the Tortugas.
The lights, buoys, and beacons are under the supervision of the United States Government.
The sailing directions for entering the harbors of Key Biscayne, Key West, and the Tortugas, and the anchorages of Legar‚, Turtle Harbor, etc., and minor ones in the hydrographic notes and on the charts, are ample. Special directions are given for using the Hawk Channel and the outer channel between the reef and the keys, and for crossing the reef at different points; also for passing into the interior sounds.
The beacons placed by the Light-House Board are carefully described, and a special chart showing their positions is given with the notes. The tides and tidal currents, the great current of the Gulf Stream, and the winds which prevail at different seasons are briefly described.
The fortifications and the calls of war vessels passing along this coast not only insure the control of the commerce, but of the wrecking business, the admiralty courts, etc. The world is interested in having this control in the safe hands of the Government of the United States, to which the inhabitants, moreover, are generally well affected.
It is not supposed that under present circumstances a special blockading force is required here, though if Indian Key and the entrance to the Miami be occupied by small forts, which we recommend, then two or three steam gunboats should cruise constantly up and down the reef. These vessels would afford relief in case of wrecks, exercise a salutary control over the wreckers, and would be on hand in case of molestation to the coal and water stations and to lights and beacons.
2. The west coast of Florida, from Cape Sable to Cedar Keys: This is one of the most sparsely settled sections of the coast of the United States. The five counties which border the western side of the Florida peninsula contain, by the census of 1860, only 8,567 inhabitants.
There is very little communication of any sort, either from the coast or along it.
The 10-fathom curve is from 13 to 30 nautical miles from the shore. An extended flat of coral mud stretches out from 100 to 150 miles. The immediate shore is lined by innumerable islands, scattered irregularly through the bays or forming curved barriers in the general direction of the coast.
There are two beautiful bays--Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay--which by their facilities for entering and navigating offer fine opportunities for commerce, and which must some day doubtless be connected with the railroad system farther north; at present they are scarcely used.
Cedar Keys affords also a reasonably good harbor, though inferior either to Charlotte Harbor or Tampa. Into these harbors can be carried--18 feet into Charlotte Harbor; 21 feet into Tampa Bay, and into Old Tampa 14 feet; and 9 feet into Cedar Keys. The depth on the bars closing these entrances varies very considerably with the direction of the wind, a northerly wind depressing the water and a southerly elevating it. The connection with Fernandina by railroad gives Cedar Keys its chief importance.
Garrisoned forts at these three harbors would probably enable the United States to retain jurisdiction over this territory, if it is desirable. One or more gunboats plying up and down the coast, with the occasional call of supply vessels, would amply suffice to maintain a blockade.
It would be convenient to establish a coal and water depot in Tampa Bay for the gunboats, in which case the Coast-Survey chart shows the best location for the purpose.
The few particulars in regard to this coast which are known are given in the Coast Survey hydrographic notes.
3. Northern division of Florida, from Cedar Keys to the Perdido: This division covers about 290 nautical miles. It has the cities of St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola within it; the bays of Apalachicola, St. Joseph's, and St. Andrew's, Santa Rosa, Pensacola, and Perdido, and the sounds of St. George, St. Vincent, and Santa Rosa.
Ocilla [Aucilla] River entrance, St. Marks River, St. George's and St. Vincent sounds and entrances, St. Andrew's Bay, and Pensacola Bay and its dependencies, have been examined by the Coast Survey, and are described in the hydrographic notes by the Superintendent, which accompany this memoir.
St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola are well-known ports for the export of cotton, timber, etc., and Aucilla River furnishes good timber.
A railroad connects St. Marks with Tallahassee, 22 miles. Apalachicola is near the entrance of the river of the same name, formed by the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee, which brings the cotton of a large region of Georgia to this port.
The Pensacola and Georgia Railway is completed 60 miles from Tallahassee.
Though St. Joseph's and St. Andrew's bays are fine sheets of water, with easy entrances of 20 and 16 feet, respectively, they have no commerce, and the same may be said of the thinly peopled coast generally, with the exceptions which we have noted. St. Marks River entrance has 9 feet.
East entrance, or Duer Channel, into St. George's Sound has 15, or to Duer anchorage, 18 feet.
The East Pass, or middle entrance to St. George's Sound, has 15 feet upon the bar. The West, or Main Pass, into the same sound has 12 feet on its bar. The last entrance to Santa Rosa Sound had 8 feet on the bar in 1826.
Pensacola entrance is a mile wide, with a clear channel nowhere less than three-eighths of a mile wide, and with 21 feet on the bar. Aucilla River has but 5 feet on the bar, and the Perdido only from 3 to 4 feet.
In fact the blockade of St. Marks, Apalachicola, and Pensacola is the blockade of this coast. A single gunboat for each of the two first-named ports would suffice.
The narrow, crooked, and shoal passage to St. Marks might be easily obstructed by sinking a vessel in it.
Apalachicola might be converted into a cotton port if desired; the excellently sheltered bay of St. Vincent affording a fine roadstead for a fleet.
In such a case batteries could be established at the eastern and western extremities of the sound.
There is a pretty good, but sandy, road from Apalachicola to St. Joseph's Bay, about 18 miles, and onward to St. Andrew's Bay, about 30 miles farther. If an attempt were made to ship cotton from Apalachicola by this route from either of the bays, an occasional visit of a cruiser, or a small work at each of the main entrances, would arrest the movement and bring the cotton into our possession.
The military importance of this road should by no means be lost sight of.
The military and naval operations in front of Pensacola and its approaches having been determined upon, we do not propose to refer to the subject in this memoir. The operations there show how strong a position may become which has the advantage of a double defense by a fort and a fleet.
5. Coast of part of Louisiana and the whole coast of Texas, from Grande Pass, Vermilion Bay, to the Rio Grande del Norte: From Vermilion Bay to the Sabine River is about 100 nautical miles, and the coast of Texas, from the Sabine to the Rio Grande, extends about 325 miles.
The chief interest of this section centers at Galveston entrance, 55 miles from the Sabine River and 270 from the Rio Grande. Galveston entrance itself is but the analogue of Charleston, [S. C.], in its depth of water, having 12 feet at low water over a shifting bar. This chief maritime city of Texas had, in 1860, but 8,117 inhabitants and a small foreign trade. The number of vessels which arrived at Galveston in 1856, from beyond the limits of the collection district, was 269, of which 27 were foreign vessels. New Orleans is the great entrepot which it uses, from which it is distant 280 miles by the steamer route to Berwick Bay, and thence by the Opelousas, New Orleans [and Great Western] Railroad.
There are small steamers trading from Galveston up the bay and Trinity River, and to the various rivers and bays of the coast by a precarious navigation, part of which is exposed to the dangers arising from the storms of the Gulf. An efficient blockade of Galveston is, in fact, the blockade of the coast of Texas. Of the six other entrances, one, the Rio Grande, has but 4 feet on its bar at low water, and 4.9 feet at high water; Aransas Pass, 9 feet; Matagorda, 9 feet; Brazos River, 8 feet; San Luis Pass, 8 feet; Sabine Pass, 7 feet at low water, with a rise of tide of less than one foot and a half at the several ports.
The smooth-water navigation, to be effected by connecting the sounds by artificial means, has been begun by the State of Texas, but not completed even for the minimum proposed depth.
Three or four efficient Vessels, which can take care of themselves at sea against storms and enemies, are required for the blockade of this portion of the coast, three being the least number which it would probably be safe to trust, considering the northers and hurricanes to which the coast is exposed, and the possible presence of fevers among the unacclimated crews. One of the vessels, besides, should be of the lightest draft, free to move up and down the coast, to interrupt the small commerce carried on by the interior sounds, which are nearly continuous from Galveston to the Rio Grande. A visit to Galveston, Corpus Christi, and Aransas to recover the United States movable property seized there from the Revenue and Coast Survey services, or to obtain indemnity for the seizures, would also form [one] of the objects of such an expedition. The Coast Survey hydrographic notes which we attach to this memoir are accompanied by maps and sketches showing the general character of this coast, and giving minute information in regard to the harbors and passes. We take this occasion earnestly to recommend that a Coast Survey vessel be attached to each of the principal blockading squadrons to complete, under general instructions from the Superintendent, the examination of such parts of the coast not yet surveyed in detail. The importance of this measure can not be overrated. Protection may readily be afforded to the surveying vessels without interfering at all with the regulations of the strictest blockade.
We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.
Sixth Report: ORN I:16, pp. 680-681
WASHINGTON, September 19, 1861.
SIR: On page 25 of our fifth memoir, we had the honor to say that we should furnish some additional memoranda concerning--
(1) Ship Island; (2) The Fork of the Mississippi; and (3) Fort Livingston, Barataria Bay.
This information, which is chiefly of a military character, is herewith submitted:
1. Ship Island: The work on Ship Island is circular (diameter about 200 feet) and is intended to have one tier of 18 or 20 guns in casemate and another in barbette. It was to be surrounded by a wet ditch. In the actual condition in which it was left the walls were raised somewhat about the level of the parade. The wet ditch was not formed (except so far as the necessary excavation to get in the foundations of the scarp wall may have made one). No arches nor cover of any kind existed, nor were the embrasures in the scarp wall completed.
Since the place has been held by the secessionists, it is likely they have tried to avail themselves of the existing work, but it is probable that the utmost they have done is to throw up sand parapets inside of the unfinished scarp, in which case the work would be no stronger than an unflanked fieldwork of strong profile. As vessels drawing 18 feet may nearly surround the work, choosing their own distance, it is not likely it can resist a naval bombardment. A naval expedition must be accompanied by a small body of troops prepared to land to assist if necessary) in the capture, and to hold it when taken.
2. Fork of the Mississippi: It is not supposed that the seizing of the Head of the Passes would be attended with any difficulty, or even be resisted. We have no information of any defensive works below the strong permanent works, Jackson and St. Philip.
But it is likely that the permanent holding of this important point so near the great city of New Orleans, this hermetically closing of the great outlet of the Southwestern States, would invite the most determined attacks.
The naval force permanently maintained here should be strong, and doubtless here, if anywhere, is the place for ironclad ships, which, unless a permanent obstruction (in our opinion impracticable) is placed across the river, could run the gantlet of the forts above and attack New Orleans. To give mobility to the squadron, and to secure a depot of coal and other supplies, a strong fieldwork for 2,000 men should be constructed on the point between the South West and South Passes, if the ground will permit, as it probably will. Should this not be the case, well-armed hulks, anchored near the shores, must be resorted to. They might be useful even if a fieldwork should be built. They would aid in commanding the Passes, and furnish quarters for troops who need not, in general, be kept in the work. Among the means of attack, fire ships and explosive vessels will figure conspicuously. The conference should state that in all the plans of operations and estimates of forces necessary, it has had in view to give the Government some basis by which to judge of the magnitude and requirements of the things it has to undertake.
It would be a great mistake, without regard to circumstances, the time of the expedition, and state of the country, to take such estimates and plans as rigid. The officer who fits out and commands such expeditions must have the most recent information of the state of the enemy; he must study each locality himself, and (when fortifications are to be attacked) be furnished with the plans of the Engineer Bureau and all accessible information as to the actual condition of the works, etc.
8. Fort Livingston and Barataria Bay: Fort Livingston is a small, diamond-shaped work. Its two land faces are covered by a counter-scarp and glacis, and the faces of the work are flanked by a counter-scarp gallery and casemates. There are ample casemate accommodations for the garrison within the work, but no gun casemates.
When the work was suspended (many years ago, owing to settlement) its breast-height walls and parapets were partially formed. No gun platforms had been built, but it is believed the stone was procured for them and is on hand. No guns were on hand. It is likely that the rebels have mounted some heavy guns on the ramparts of this work, and that they have armed the flanking casemates. It is probable the work would require a short siege.
The places, though so near New Orleans, are in communication with it only by small boats and very light-draft steamers.
It is likely that a regiment would be sufficient for a disembarking force and for the holding of the place in conjunction with the gunboats, which must necessarily be kept permanently here. A large number of launches, armed with boat howitzers, would be necessary in these waters. The character of the naval force sent for the capture would be governed by the fact that nothing drawing more than 8 feet can cross the bar or he outside within 2 or 3 miles of the work. The cooperating squadron must, therefore, consist of vessels of small draft, and must, in getting into positions to cannonade the work, cross the bar and be subjected in approaching to a raking fire.
Very respectfully, your most obedient servants,
S. F. DU PONT,
Secretary of the Navy.