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Messages regarding the USS Powhatan

Confederate Intelligence, Secretary of the Navy's Orders and On-site Commander at Ft. Sumter G.V Fox (later Undersecretary of the Navy)

 

The first is an intelligence report addressed to General Beauregard who was the Confederate commander at Charleston.

 

General BEAUREGARD:

Minnesota ordered to sea, supposed to be for mouth of Mississippi; Powhatan to sail next week; Pawnee ordered to sea on Saturday. Three companies artillery (one of sappers and miners) ordered to New York; probably for the South. Be on lookout.

L. P. WALKER.

 

These are the orders of the Secretary of the Navy to the Captain of the Powhatan to accompany the expedition to Fort Sumter. The ship was ordered to reinforce Fort Pickens by the General-in-Chief of the Army, Winfield Scott and President Lincoln. They apparently overlooked the detail of informing the Secretary of the Navy. Two days after these orders were dated, the ship, with Captain Rufus Ingalls, departed for Ft. Pickens, Florida.

NAVY DEPARTMENT, Washington, April 5, 1861.

Captain SAMUEL MERCER,

Commanding U. S. S. Powhatan, New York:

SIR: The United States steamers Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Harriet Lane will compose a naval force, under your command, to be sent to the vicinity of Charleston, S. C., for the purpose of aiding in carrying out the objects of an expedition of which the War Department has charge.

The primary object of the expedition is to provision Fort Sumter, for which purpose the War Department will furnish the necessary transports. Should the authorities at Charleston permit the fort to be supplied, no further particular service will be required of the force under your command, and after being satisfied that supplies have been received at the fort, the Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Harriet Lane will return to New York, and the Pawnee to Washington.

Should the authorities at Charleston, however, refuse to permit or attempt to prevent the vessel or vessels having supplies on board from entering the harbor, or from peaceably proceeding to Fort Sumter, you will protect the transports or boats of the expedition in the object of their mission-disposing of your force in such manner as to open the way for their ingress and afford, so far as practicable, security to the men and boats, and repelling by force, if necessary, all obstructions towards provisioning the fort and re-enforcing it; for in case of resistance to the peaceable primary object of the expedition a re-enforcement of the garrison will also be attempted. These purposes will be under the supervision of the War Department, which has charge of the expedition. The expedition has been intrusted to Captain G. V. Fox, with whom you will put yourself in communication, and co-operate with him to accomplish and carry into effect its object.

You will leave New York with the Powhatan in time to be off Charleston Bar, ten miles distant from and due east of the light-house, on the morning of the 11th instant, there to await the arrival of the transport or transports with troops and stores. The Pawnee and Pocahontas will be ordered to join you there at the time mentioned, and also the Harriet Lane, which latter vessel has been placed under the control of this Department for this service.

On the termination of the expedition, whether it be peaceable or otherwise, the several vessels under your command will return to the respective ports, as above directed, unless some unforeseen circumstance should prevent.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

GIDEON WELLES,

Secretary of the Navy.

 

Obviously, they also forgot to tell the commander (an ex-naval officer) of the Ft. Sumter expedition. He was less than pleased to find his gunboat missing after his arrival off Ft Sumter!

Numbers 5. Report of Captain G. V. Fox, U. S. agent, of second expedition for the relief of Fort Sumter.

STEAMER BALTIC,

New York, April 19, 1861.

SIR: I sailed from New York in this vessel Tuesday morning, the 10th instant, having dispatched one steam-tug, the Uncle Ben, the evening previous to rendezvous off Charleston. The Yankee, another chartered tug, followed us to the Hook, and I left instructions to send on the Freeborn .

We arrived off Charleston the 12th instant, at 3 a.m., and found only the Harriet Lane. Weather during the whole time a gale. At 7 a.m. the Pawnee arrived, and, according to his orders, Captain Rowan anchored twelve miles east of the light, to await the arrival of the Powhatan. I stood in with the Baltic to execute my orders by offering, in the first place, to carry provisions to Fort Sumter. Nearing the bar it was observed that was had commenced, and, therefore, the peaceful offer of provisions was void.

The Pawnee and Lane immediately anchored close to the bar, notwithstanding the heavy sea, and though neither tugs or Powhatan or Pocahontas had arrived, it was believed a couple of boats of provisions might be got in. The attempt was to be made in the morning, because the heavy sea and absence of the Powhatan's gunboats crippled the night movement. All night and the morning of the 13th instant it blew strong, with a heavy sea. The Baltic stood off and on, looking for the Powhatan, and in running in during the thick weather struck on Rattlesnake Shoal, but soon got off. The heavy sea, and not having the sailors (three hundred) asked for, rendered any attempt from the Baltic absurd. I only felt anxious to get in a few days' provisions to last the fort until the Powhatan's arrival. The Pawnee and Lane were both short of men, and were only intended to afford a base of operations whilst the tugs and three hundred sailors fought their way in.

However, the Powhatan and tugs not coming, Captain Rowan seized an ice schooner and offered her to me, which I accepted, and Lieutenant Hudson, of the Army, several Navy officers, and plenty of volunteers agreed to man the vessel, and go in with me the night of the 13th. The events of that day, so glorious to Major Anderson and his command, are known to you. As I anticipated the guns from Sumter dispersed their naval preparations excepting small guard-boats, so that with the Powhatan a re-enforcement would have been easy. The Government did not anticipate that the fort was so badly constructed as the event has shown.

 

I learned on the 13th instant that the Powhatan was withdrawn from duty off Charleston on the 7th instant, yet I was permitted to sail on the 9th, the Pawnee on the 9th, and the Pocahontas on the 10th, without intimation that the main portion-the fighting portion-of our expedition was taken away. In justice to itself as well as an acknowledgment of my earnest efforts, I trust the Government has sufficient reasons for putting me in the position they have placed me.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

G. V. FOX.

 

 

 

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