Potomac Flotilla

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Potomac Flotilla
Attack on the Confederate Batteries at Aquia Creek, June 1, 1861.jpg
Attack on the Confederate Batteries at Aquia Creek by the Potomac Flotilla.
Active 1861 - 1865
Country  United States
Branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Type naval squadron

The Potomac Flotilla, or the Potomac Squadron was a unit of the United States Navy created in the early days of the American Civil War to secure Union communications in the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River and their tributaries, and to disrupt Confederate communications and shipping in the same.

History[edit]

American Civil War[edit]

On April 22, 1861 Commander James H. Ward, who was the commander of the receiving ship USS North Carolina at the New York Navy Yard, wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells to put forth a plan for the protection of the Chesapeake Bay area. Ward suggested a “Flying Flotilla” of light draft vessels to operate in the Chesapeake and it’s tributaries. His commander Captain Samuel L. Breese, commandant of the New York Navy Yard, endorsed his plan. Wells accepted this proposal and wrote back to Wells and Breese on April 27, 1861 authorizing them to begin carrying out Ward’s plan. On May 1, 1861 the first vessels for the new flotilla were acquired. On May 16, 1861 Ward set out from the New York Navy Yard with three vessels, the Thomas Freeborn, Reliance and Resolute. He arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on May 20, 1861 onboard his flagship, the Thomas Freeborn.[1]

On June 27, 1861 Ward’s flotilla engaged the Confederates at Mathias Point, Virginia. While he was sighting the bow gun of the Thomas Freeborn, Ward was shot through the abdomen and died within an hour due to internal hemorrhaging. He was the first United States Naval officer to be killed during the war.[2]

After the death of Ward the flotilla was led by a succession of short-term commanders until the fall of 1862 when Commodore Andrew A. Harwood took command. He was in turn succeeded by Commander Foxhall A. Parker on December 31, 1864.[3]

On July 18, 1865 the Navy Department ordered Parker to disband the flotilla on July 31, 1865. Most of the flotilla’s remaining vessels were sent to the Washington Navy Yard to be decommissioned.[4]

Name of the Flotilla[edit]

It wasn’t until August 1861 that the flotilla became known as the Potomac Flotilla. The designation of Flying Flotilla was dropped when Ward’s force arrived in the theatre of operations. The flotilla was then referred to by a variety of names, including: Flotilla, Potomac River; Potomac Blockade; Flotilla in the Chesapeake; etc. In early August 1861 the flotilla commander and the Navy Department began to consistently refer to the command as the Potomac Flotilla.[5]

Operations[edit]

1861
Engagement with the Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek, Virginia, 29 May-1 Jun 1861
Affair at Mathias Point, Virginia, 27 Jun 1861
Engagement with the Confederate batteries at Potomac Creek, Virginia, 23 Aug 1861
Engagement with the Confederate battery at Freestone Point, Virginia, 25 Sep 1861

1862
Engagement at Cockpit Point, Virginia, 3 Jan 1862
Expedition up the Rappahannock River to Tappahannock, Virginia, 13-15 Apr 1862
Expedition up the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg, Virginia, 20 Apr 1862
Expeditions to Gwynn’s Island and Nomini Creek, Virginia, 3-4 Nov, 1862
Engagement at Port Royal, Virginia, 4 Dec 1862
Engagement at Brandywine Hill, Rappahannock River, Virginia, 10-11 Dec 1862

1863
Destruction of salt works on Dividing Creek, Virginia, 12 Jan 1863
Destruction of Confederate stores at Tappahannock, Virginia, 30 May 1863
Capture of U. S. steamers Satellite and Reliance, 16 Aug 1863

1864
Expedition to the Northern Neck of Virginia, 12 Jan 1864
Expedition up the Rappahannock River, Virginia, 18-21 Apr 1864
Expedition to Carter’s Creek, Virginia, 29 Apr 1864
Expedition to Mill Creek, Virginia, 12–13 May 1864
Expedition up the Rappahannock River, Virginia, 16–19 May 1864
Expedition to the Northern Neck of Virginia, 11-21 Jun l864
Expedition to Milford Haven and Stutt’s Creek, Virginia, 24 Sep 1864

1865
Expedition to Fredericksburg, Virginia, 6-8 Mar 1865
Expedition up the Rappahannock River, 12-14 Mar 1865
Operations in Mattox Creek, Virginia, 16-18 Mar 1865

Ships of the Squadron[edit]

When Commander James H. Ward departed from New York Navy Yard on May 16, 1861 his flotilla consisted of three vessels. The strength of the flotilla would be steadily increased until it reached a strength that hovered between fifteen and twenty-five vessels.[6]

Ship Rate Type Notes
Casco 4th Ironclad Monitor Casco class
Chimo 4th Ironclad Monitor Casco class
Mahopac 4th Ironclad Monitor Canonicus class
Saugus 4th Ironclad Monitor Canonicus class
Pawnee 2nd Screw Sloop
Seminole 3rd Screw Sloop
Wachusett 3rd Screw Sloop Commander Wilkes' Flagship
Allegheny 4th Screw Sloop Receiving Ship at Baltimore
Harriet Lane 3rd Sidewheel Gunboat from United States Revenue Cutter Service
Mahaska 3rd Sidewheel Gunboat
Port Royal 3rd Sidewheel Gunboat
Anacostia 4th Screw Gunboat
Aroostook 4th Screw Gunboat
Crusader 4th Screw Gunboat
Currituck 4th Screw Gunboat
Dawn 4th Screw Gunboat
Don 4th Screw Gunboat Blockade runner captured by USS Pequot 4 Mar 1864 off Beaufort, North Carolina.
Dragon 4th Screw Gunboat
E. B. Hale 4th Screw Gunboat
Eureka 4th Screw Gunboat Steamer captured by USS Anacostia 20 Apr 1862 in Rappahannock River, Virginia.
Fuchsia 4th Screw Gunboat
Little Ada 4th Screw Gunboat Blockade runner captured by USS Gettysburg 9 Jul 1864 in South Santee River, South Carolina.
Mystic 4th Screw Gunboat
Penguin 4th Screw Gunboat
Pocahontas 4th Screw Gunboat
Teaser 4th Screw Gunboat ex-Confederate captured by USS Maratanza 4 Jul 1862 in James River, Virginia
Tulip 4th Screw Gunboat Sunk by boiler explosion off Ragged Point, Virginia, 11 Nov 1864
Valley City 4th Screw Gunboat
Western World 4th Screw Gunboat
Wyandotte 4th Screw Gunboat
Adela 4th Sidewheel Gunboat Blockade runner captured by USS Quaker City 7 Jul 1862 off New Providence in the Bahamas
Banshee 4th Sidewheel Gunboat Blockade runner captured by USAT Fulton & USS Grand Gulf 21 Nov 1863 off Wilmington, North Carolina
Ceres 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Coeur de Lion 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Commodore Barney 4th Sidewheel Gunboat ex-Ferryboat
Commodore Read 4th Sidewheel Gunboat ex-Ferryboat
Delaware 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Jacob Bell 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Isaac N. Seymour 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
John L. Lockwood 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Mercury 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Morse 4th Sidewheel Gunboat ex-Ferryboat
Mount Washington 4th Sidewheel Gunboat Known as USS Mount Vernon to 4 Nov 1861
Nansemond 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Satellite 4th Sidewheel Gunboat Captured by Confederate boarding party 23 Aug 1863 in Rappahannock River, sunk at Port Royal, Virginia, 28 Aug 1863
Stepping Stones 4th Sidewheel Gunboat ex-Ferryboat
Thomas Freeborn 4th Sidewheel Gunboat Commander Ward's Flagship
Underwriter 4th Sidewheel Gunboat
Union 4th Screw Auxiliary
Baltimore 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Ordnance Vessel, Washington Navy Yard
Cactus 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Supply Ship
Ella 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Picket & Dispatch Vessel
Ice Boat 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Icebreaker
King Philip 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Dispatch Vessel, known as USS Powhatan to 4 Nov 1861
Philadelphia 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Transport Ferry
Wyandank 4th Sidewheel Auxiliary Storeship
Juniper 4th Screw Tug
Leslie 4th Screw Tug
Moccasin 4th Screw Tug
Periwinkle 4th Screw Tug
Primrose 4th Screw Tug
Reliance 4th Screw Tug Captured by Confederate boarding party 23 Aug 1863 in Rappahannock River, sunk at Port Royal, Virginia, 28 Aug 1863
Rescue 4th Screw Tug
Resolute 4th Screw Tug
Tigress 4th Screw Tug Sunk 10 Sep 1861 in collision with merchant ship State of Maine off Indian Head, Maryland
Verbena 4th Screw Tug
Watch 4th Screw Tug Known as USS A. C. Powell until Aug 1862, known as USS Alert from Aug 1862 to 2 Feb 1865
Young America 4th Screw Tug ex-Confederate, captured 24 Apr 1861 by USS Cumberland in Hampton Roads
Zeta 4th Screw Tug
General Putnam 4th Sidewheel Tug Also known as USS William G. Putnam
Heliotrope 4th Sidewheel Tug
Island Belle 4th Sidewheel Tug Tug & Dispatch Boat
Yankee 4th Sidewheel Tug
E. H. Herbert - Tug Chartered Vessel
Edwin Forrest - Tug Chartered Vessel
James Murray - Tug Chartered Vessel
Bibb - Sidewheel Steamer from United States Coast Survey
Corwin - Sidewheel Steamer from United States Coast Survey
Adolph Hugel 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Arletta 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Dan Smith 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
George Mangham 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Matthew Vassar 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Racer 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Sophronia 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
T. A. Ward 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
William Bacon 4th Sailing Schooner Mortar Schooner
Bailey - Sailing Schooner from United States Coast Survey
Chaplin 4th Sailing Schooner
Dana - Sailing Schooner from United States Coast Survey
Howell Cobb - Sailing Schooner from United States Coast Survey
Picket Boat No. 4 - Screw Picket Boat
Picket Boat No. 6 - Screw Picket Boat

Commanders[edit]

Squadron Commander From To Notes
Commander James Harmon Ward late Apr 1861 27 Jun 1861 Killed in Action
Commander Stephen Clegg Rowan 27 Jun 1861 10 Jul 1861 Commander pro tem
Commander Thomas Tingey Craven 10 Jul 1861 2 Dec 1861
Lieutenant Abram D. Harrell 2 Dec 1861 6 Dec 1861 Commander pro tem
Lieutenant Robert Harris Wyman 6 Dec 1861 early Jul 1862
Lieutenant Commander Samuel Magaw early Jul 1862 1 Sep 1862 Commander pro tem
Commodore Charles Wilkes 1 Sep 1862 10 Sep 1862
Commodore Andrew Allen Harwood 10 Sep 1862 31 Dec 1863
Commander Foxhall Alexander Parker, Jr. 31 Dec 1863 31 Jul 1865

References[edit]

  • In these notes the abbreviation ORN is used for the work Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
Notes
  1. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 4 (1896), pp. 420, 430, 443, 458, 467, 471.
  2. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 4 (1896), pp. 539-41.
  3. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 4 (1896), pp. 541, 570-1, 575, 757-8, 760-1. ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 5 (1897), pp. 3, 72, 75, 82, 84, 379.
  4. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 5 (1897), pp. 576, 578.
  5. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 4 (1896), pp. 488, 504, 509, 511, 596-600.
  6. ^ ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 4 (1896), pp. xv-xvi, 458, 508, 570, 666. ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 5 (1897), pp. xv-xvi, 60-1, 75, 100, 108, 204-5, 245-6, 260, 287, 361-2, 391, 366-7, 374, 380, 408-9, 461, 496, 502, 506, 508, 515, 531, 548-9, 567, 571-4.
Bibliography