Naval battles of the American Civil War

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The "Battle of Mobile Bay", by Louis Prang.

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.

Naval purpose[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.

Naval battles[edit]

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.[3]

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.[4]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canney, D (2013). The Navies of the Civil War. Retrieved from:
  2. ^ Fowler, William. (1990). Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War. Naval Institute Press.
  3. ^ Hearn, Chester. (2000). Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the American Civil War. California: Thunder Bay Press
  4. ^ Naval History and Heritage Command (2008). USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama 19 June 1864. Retrieved from: