Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 1, 1862 - The Fernandina Fleet Moves South

Admiral Dupont and officers aboard USS Wabash
The Federal fleet of Flag Officer S.F. Dupont steamed south through the overnight hours and arrived off the northern tip of Cumberland Island, Georgia, on the morning of March 1, 1862, 150 years ago today.

Obtaining passage aboard one of the warships was a war correspondent from The New York Times. Although his report was filed two weeks later, it included a good description of the movement of the fleet south from Port Royal, South Carolina:

...It was a clear starlight night when the fleet weighed anchor and proceeded southward, the navy first, led by the Wabash and Susquehannah, and followed by the transports. The next morning found the fleet anchored off St. Andrew's Sound, about twenty miles from Fernandina. Here the transports and the deep-draught naval vessels remained at anchor all day, while the smaller gunboats went forward to reconnoutre. - Correspondent of The New York Times, March 15, 1862.

USS Wabash
Both of the ships heading the fleet already had achieved note in the annals of American naval history. The USS Wabash, Dupont's flagship, had played an instrumental role in breaking up William Walker's filibustering activities in Nicaragua during the late 1850s. Measuring 301.5 feet in length, the Wabash was a heavily armed frigate. Her armament consisted of two 10", fourteen 8" and twenty-four 9" Dahlgren guns. Prior to leading the fleet south against Fernandina, she had participated in the attacks on Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal.

USS Susquehanna
The USS Susquehanna was also a ship of note. A 257' long side-wheel steamer, the Susquehanna was armed with two 150-pounder Parrott rifles, twelve 9-inch Dahlgren guns and one 12-pounder rifle. She had served as Commodore Matthew Perry's flagship during his historic expedition to Japan in 1853. Since the beginning of the war in 1861, Susquehanna had been under fire and had participated in the Union attacks on Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal Sound.

The large warships remained off Cumberland Island throughout the day of March 1, 1862, with smaller vessels probing forward. The Confederates at Fernandina and Amelia Island, meanwhile, began to scramble as they realized the strength of the menace approaching them. I will post more on that tomorrow.

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