Naval battles of the American Civil War
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The naval engagements of the American Civil War changed the foundations of naval warfare due to the first-time use of ironclads and submarines, and the introduction of newer and more powerful naval artillery.
The first shots of the naval war were fired on April 13, 1861, during the Battle of Fort Sumter, by the Revenue Service cutter USRC Harriet Lane and the final on June 22, 1865, by the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, in the Bering Strait, more than two months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Confederate Army.
The battles that occurred in the water played a major role in helping the troops that were marching all over the country. The navies of the Union and Confederates not only fought against each other but also served primarily as transportation of foot troops, equipment, and supplies. This is why each navy battled against each other. Without a navy, neither the Union or the Confederate armies could have had the supplies and man power necessary to successfully carry out the war. The ships also served a very important purpose for their armies. The Civil War had a great number of casualties. Therefore, the naval ships served as floating hospitals for the soldiers that had been injured in battle. Blockades also played a huge role in the defeat of the Confederate military. Naval Blockades kept the south from trading and obtaining supplies for their soldiers, which in part led to their surrender to the Union.
Supply running was one of the biggest components that the Navy played during the American Civil War. If the Confederacy or the Union did not receive the supplies that they needed, both armies would suffer heavy casualties and essentially become combat ineffective. The major strategy that the Union navy used in the civil war was blockading southern ports. This would prevent the south from receiving any help from allies via shipping ports. Vital supplies such as food, water, ammunition, guns, clothes, or medical supplies would never make it to the Confederate troops. However, the south still had a sufficient amount of resources needed to withstand such a blockade and thus the tactic wasn't immediately effective. The Union had to maintain the blockade for an extended period of time before it began to take a toll on the South. This was tough for the union because of several things. One, since the south kept fighting during the blockading, the union received more casualties and deaths. Two, this made the war last longer than was expected. Eventually, the confederate army could not hang on much longer and surrendered and the feet of the union.
Hospitals were very much needed during the civil war as well. There were so many injuries that occurred that soldiers were in desperate need of medical attention. The naval ships were secondarily used as floating hospitals for soldiers. Both the confederates and the union used this tactic. It helped out the armies because the more room they had for medical use the better off they would be.
One of the most important and famous naval battles of the Civil War was the clash of the ironclads, between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. The battle took place on March 8, 1862. The battle lasted for several hours and resulted in a tactical draw. Both ships were very well protected by thick armor plating, which prevented any lasting damage to either ship.
Another great naval battle that did not end well for the Union was in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865. This battle was very poorly carried out by the North. This is when the Union was sent to attack the Confederate army from sea to land. The Confederates held off the Union and made them retreat during this battle. Admiral Du Pont was sent with 9 ironclads to attack Charleston. When he was given the news, he did not expect to come out victorious from this battle. He would have to steer his ships up to the fort and stand still in order to attack Charleston. This gave the Confederates a valuable edge on the Union. The Union Naval Force was so vulnerable during this battle that within two hours they were forced to retreat from the attack in order to not receive too many casualties in one single battle. The result of this failed battle was that the Union would be blockaded for two more years. Also, the south had set up several forts alone the coast of South Carolina where they could easily attack the Union.
The sinking of the CSS Alabama by the USS Kearsarge was an intense naval battle that ended in the sinking of one of the best Confederate ships in its fleet. The Alabama fired the first shot. Soon after the Kearsarge shot back. Both of the ships had their main weapons and cannons on their starboard side (right side), therefore, both ships were fighting in a circular pattern. The Kearsarge was slightly faster, had more fire power, and a bigger crew than the Alabama. This gave the Union an advantage in this naval battle. The confederate ship had taken many shots and casualties and eventually began to sink. Once the south realized that they were slowly leaking, they tried to run back to shore. They did not make it very far. The water started rising quickly and shut off their engines. When this happened, the confederates had no other choice but to surrender. The remaining survivors were rescued by the Kearsarge. This was an important battle for the Union since it was towards the end of the Civil War.
|Battle||Start date||End date||Notes|
|First Battle of Fort Sumter||April 13, 1861||April 14, 1861||First shots of the naval war fired, first battle of the war|
|Battle of Gloucester Point||May 7, 1861||May 7, 1861||First naval battle of the war|
|Battle of Sewell's Point||May 18, 1861||May 19, 1861|
|Battle of Aquia Creek||May 29, 1861||June 1, 1861||First use of torpedoes by Confederate forces in combat|
|Battle of Pig Point||June 5, 1861||June 5, 1861|
|Battle of Mathias Point||June 27, 1861||June 27, 1861|
|Sinking of the Petrel||July 28, 1861||July 28, 1861||One of the last naval battles in history involving a privateer ship|
|Battle of Cockle Creek||October 5, 1861||October 5, 1861|
|Battle of the Head of Passes||October 12, 1861||October 12, 1861||First use of ironclad ram in the war|
|Battle of Port Royal||November 7, 1861||November 7, 1861||First major naval battle of the war|
|Battle of Cockpit Point||January 3, 1862||January 3, 1862|
|Battle of Lucas Bend||January 11, 1862||January 11, 1862||First battle involving Union ironclads in the war|
|Battle of Fort Henry||February 6, 1862||February 6, 1862|
|Battle of Elizabeth City||February 10, 1862||February 10, 1862|
|Battle of Hampton Roads||March 8, 1862||March 9, 1862||First naval battle between ironclad warships|
|Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip||April 16, 1862||April 28, 1862||Led to the Union capture of New Orleans|
|Battle of Island Number Ten||February 28, 1862||April 8, 1862||First Confederate defeat on the Mississippi River|
|Battle of Plum Point Bend||May 10, 1862||May 10, 1862||First sinking of Union ironclads by Confederate River Defense Fleet|
|Battle of Drewry's Bluff||May 15, 1862||May 15, 1862|
|Battle of Memphis||June 6, 1862||June 6, 1862||Confederate River Defense Fleet destroyed by Union rams and ironclad gunboats|
|Battle of Saint Charles||June 17, 1862||June 17, 1862|
|Battle of Tampa||June 30, 1862||July 1, 1862|
|Battle of Corpus Christi||August 12, 1862||August 18, 1862|
|Battle of Galveston Harbor||October 4, 1862||October 4, 1862|
|Battle of Crumpler's Bluff||October 3, 1862||October 3, 1862|
|Battle of Fort Hindman||January 9, 1863||January 11, 1863||Led to the largest surrender of Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River prior to the end of the war|
|Battle off Galveston Lighthouse||January 11, 1863||January 11, 1863|
|Battle of Fort McAllister||March 3, 1863||March 3, 1863|
|Battle of Fort Pemberton||March 11, 1863||March 11, 1863|
|First Battle of Charleston Harbor||April 7, 1863||April 7, 1863|
|Battle of Wassaw Sound||June 17, 1863||June 17, 1863|
|Battle of Portland Harbor||June 27, 1863||June 27, 1863|
|First Battle of Fort Wagner||July 10, 1863||July 11, 1863|
|Second Battle of Fort Wagner||July 18, 1863||July 18, 1863|
|Second Battle of Charleston Harbor||August 17, 1863||September 8, 1863|
|Second Battle of Sabine Pass||September 8, 1863||September 8, 1863||Most one sided Confederate victory of the war|
|Second Battle of Fort Sumter||September 9, 1863||September 9, 1863|
|Attack on USS New Ironsides||October 5, 1863||October 5, 1863||CSS David becomes the first torpedo boat to make a successful attack on an enemy warship in combat|
|Battle of Fort Brooke||October 16, 1863||October 18, 1863|
|Sinking of USS Housatonic||February 17, 1864||February 17, 1864||H. L. Hunley becomes the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat|
|Battle of Fort Pillow||April 12, 1864||April 12, 1864|
|Battle of Plymouth||April 17, 1864||April 20, 1864|
|Battle of Albemarle Sound||May 5, 1864||May 5, 1864|
|Battle of Cherbourg||June 19, 1864||June 19, 1864||Led to the sinking of the Confederate raider CSS Alabama|
|Battle of Mobile Bay||August 2, 1864||August 23, 1864||Greatest Union naval victory of the war|
|Bahia Incident||October 7, 1864||October 7, 1864||Led to the capture of the Confederate raider CSS Florida, international incident with Brazil|
|Capture of Plymouth||October 29, 1864||October 31, 1864|
|Jamesville Incident||December 9, 1864||December 9, 1864|
|Second Battle of Fort Fisher||January 13, 1865||January 15, 1865||Largest amphibious assault of the war|
|Battle of Trent's Reach||January 23, 1865||January 25, 1865||One of the final major naval battles of the war|
|Blockade of the South||April 19, 1861||1865||Part of the Anaconda Plan|
- Union Navy
- Confederate States Navy
- Bibliography of early American naval history
- History of the United States Navy
- History of the United States Coast Guard
- Canney, D (2013). The Navies of the Civil War. Retrieved from: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/navy.html
- Fowler, William. (1990). Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War. Naval Institute Press.
- Hearn, Chester. (2000). Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the American Civil War. California: Thunder Bay Press
- Naval History and Heritage Command (2008). USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama 19 June 1864. Retrieved from: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/civilwar/cw-cru/kear-ala.htm
- "USS and CSS Navy Ships and Battles: American Civil War".
- Naval History of the Civil War March 1862
- U.S. Coast Guard History