Since General Benham’s fiasco last June, the US Navy has been busy working up its own plans for taking Charleston, South Carolina. The ability of the Monitor to withstand punishment in her duel with the more heavily armed Virginia at Hampton Roads last March convinced Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells and his assistant, Gustavus Fox, that the revolutionary little ironclad is just the weapon to bring Charleston to her knees. Lobbying before a Congressional committee for an entire fleet of such ships, Fox rashly asserted that the Monitor is impregnable, and could steam into Charleston Harbor all by herself. It would be a simple matter, Fox contended, for a flotilla of monitors to compel a quick surrender. He was determined that the Navy should have the glory of capturing Charleston, and the sooner the better. As Fox put it, he has two responsibilities: “First to beat our Southern friends; second to beat the Army.” In Fox’s plan for the Charleston operation, the Army will play only a secondary role: Ten thousand soldiers would be landed on the undefended shores of Folly Island, south of the city, and stand by to occupy Charleston once it has been battered into submission by the Navy’s guns. It would be another New Orleans. But unlike New Orleans, which had been defended by two strongpoints downriver, Charleston Harbor is, in the words of a US Navy officer, “a cul-de-sac, a circle of fire” comparable to “a porcupine’s quills turned outside in.” the imposing ring of forts that protect it will have to be silenced; otherwise, they will pound the fleet as it sails through the harbor.
The Federal officer who is to lead the ironclad flotilla against Charleston is Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, a hale and handsome aristocrat nearing his sixtieth year. As commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and hero of the attack on the Port Royal forts, Du Pont possesses impressive credentials. As an old school Navy man who has spent his professional career commanding wooden warships, however, he is mistrustful of the newfangled machines he is to lead into Charleston Harbor. He worries about their maneuverability, their seaworthiness, and their offensive capabilities against strong coastal defenses. Each monitor mounts two guns, a 15-incher and an 11-inch Dahlgren, both in a heavily armored rotating turret. These guns are bigger than any that General Beauregard can bring to bear against them, but under the best of circumstances they can be fired only once every five minutes. (As one wag put it, a man could smoke a cigar between firings.) The monitors are nearly immune to sinking by shore fire, but their delicate machinery is easily damaged. Cannonballs striking their turrets can jam the gun-rotating mechanisms and porthole shutters, leaving the vessels crippled as fighting machines.
By now Du Pont has received the first monitors. To test their firepower and vulnerability, he dispatches a naval force led by the monitor USS Montauk, against Fort McAllister, a huge earthwork on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia. After several hours’ bombardment, the squadron inflicts virtually no damage and withdraws.
There are affairs at Bloomfield, Missouri; near Germantown, Tennessee; a Federal reconnaissance on the Neuse, Dover, and Trent roads, North Carolina; and a skirmish at Deserted House near Suffolk, Virginia.
The proprietor of the Philadelphia Journal, A.D. Boileau, is arrested and taken to Washington for printing anti-Northern material.
President Davis compliments Governor Brown of Georgia for cutting back cotton cultivation and urging produce cultivation, adding, “The possibility of a short supply of provisions presents the greatest danger to a successful prosecution of the war.”