The Siege of Charleston – The Stone Fleet

“The Siege of Charleston” is a fascinating chapter in The Lost Cause: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (see previous post) by William C. Davis, and provides excellent information about naval operations in the area over the course of the war. I found of particular interest that Lincoln packed a couple of fleets of aged merchant and whaling ships with granite and floated them into the mouth of the harbor where he had them intentionally scuttled. The obvious intent was to foil those who would run the blockade. I found conflicting references as to the utility of the tactic. Davis indicated that the bottom was soft and so they sunk into the muck and accomplished little. But other sources indicate that the main channel off of Morris Island was blocked for at least some period of time. But that didn’t sufficiently slow blockade runners and so a second Stone Fleet was launched in early 1862 and its twenty ships sunk.

The good folks over at sonofthesouth.net have provided a copy of the December 14, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly which features a story about and a sketch of the fleet “as seen by the brig Castillian on Nov. 21.” Dubbed by Harper’s as “The Rat-Hole Squadron,” the story chronicles the sorted history of one of the whaler’s headed for the bottom.the-stone-fleet.jpg

Herman Melville’s poem titled “The Stone Fleet” published in December, 1861, names several of the ill-fated ships. You can read it in its entirety on Print Read. He wrote prolifically about the Civil War and this and other war-related works can be found in Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.

Herman Melville

 Herman Melville

Harry Smeltzer over at Bull Runnings has pictures of the Charleston Harbor in a post on his blog that’s definitely worth a look-see.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Straight talk on soldiers and presidents

Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Modern War Studies) The Lost Cause

I’m reading The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy by William C. Davis. The approach Davis has taken is to profile the primary players in the conflict – foibles and all. W. C. presents a fascinating portrait of Jefferson Davis which borders on being psychoanalytic. It helps to explain why Davis and his generals had such poor relationships, the exception being Lee who was a master at determining how to handle the man and won his loyalty and friendship. Three of Lee’s practices stood out. First, he kept Davis informed on a daily basis – unlike Beauregard and Johnston. Second, he asked Davis for his opinion, which stroked his ego. Third, he stayed away from the press and didn’t criticize Davis behind his back. Lee’s peers struggled with either their own self-importance or lack of ability and found outlet by back-biting in the press.

All in all a very good read largely because Mr. Davis pulls no punches. Also worth the read because of the details provided; case in point, the sinking of the “Stone Fleet” at the mouth of the harbor leading into Charleston. This strategy by the Federals to block traffic in and out of the harbor failed miserably due to the soft mud bottom into which the fleet – whose holds were filled with granite – sank.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree