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HATTERAS AND PORT ROYAL
NE of the first questions which the British
Cabinet asked of the new American Minister sent to England by Mr. Lincoln was, whether the President was serious in his proclamation of a blockade of all the ports of the States in insurrection. The coast was very extensive, said, Lord John Russell, stretching some three thousand miles along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico: “Was it the design of the United States to institute an effective blockade in its whole extent, or to make only a declaration to that effect as to the whole, and to confine the actual blockade to particular Adams to points 9" Mr. Adams replied that he had every May 21,1861 reason for affirming that the blockade would be made effective; that although the coast line was in reality very long, yet the principal harbors were comparatively few, only some seven to ten in number, and those not very easy of access. It would therefore not require so numerous a fleet to guard them as might appear at first thought.
P A MLICO SOUND
This reply to some extent satisfied the inquiry. But even had it been strictly accurate, the ability of the American Government to fulfill its announce
ment might naturally have been doubted by foreign CHAP. I. powers. Our navy was rapidly falling into decadence. Of its ninety ships more than one-half had become useless. Among the remaining number there were only about twenty-four that might be called really serviceable vessels, that is, those supplied with the indispensable modern adjunct of steam power. These however were, at the date of Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, not immediately available. Thirteen of them were on distant foreign stations ; two were returning home from Vera Cruz; two were stationed at Pensacola, tied up by the conditions of Mr. Buchanan's “Sumter and Pickens truce”; and only three steamships were in loyal ports, where they could be with certainty called to the instant service of the Government.
If the Government had been compelled to deal with an established naval power; if the Administration had been less vigorous and prompt in its action; or, if the patriotism of the people of the North had lacked its striking unanimity, the want of a large fleet ready for service at a critical moment might have been followed by very serious consequences. On the whole, the favoring conditions were on the side of the Union. Notwith
1 The fleet before Charleston twenty-two gans, and St. Louis, harbor consisted of the war twenty guns. steamers Pawnee, eight guns,
These with the steamers CruPocahontas, five guns, and the sader, eight guns, Mohawk, five revenue cutter Harriet Lane, five guns, the store-ship Supply, four guns.
guns, and the sailing ship CumThe fleet before Pensacola con- berland, twenty-four guns, consisted of the war steamers Pow- stituted the whole naval force of hatan, eleven guns, Brooklyn, the United States to which orders twenty-five guns, Wyandotte, five for immediate service could be guns, and the sailing ships, given on the day when the PresiSabine, fifty guns, Macedonian, dent established the blockade,
CHAP. I. standing the rebels had received an acknowledg
ment of belligerent rights, the vigorous diplomacy of Mr. Seward deterred European powers from extending further concessions, and led them to await the actual experiment of establishing the blockade which had been announced. Secretary Welles made all possible haste to improvise a navy, and the rapidity with which he accomplished his task will remain the marvel of future generations.
In awarding the credit of the achievement, a due share must be allotted to the accomplished assistant secretary, Gustavus V. Fox, who had suggested and fitted out the Sumter expedition. Mr. Fox was a man of exceptional abilities, with an exceptional experience. He had passed eighteen years of his life in various grades of naval service from midshipman to lieutenant, including also detached service as captain of one of a line of coast merchantmen. Resigning his commission in 1856, he had since passed five years in charge of an important manufacturing establishment. To his thorough professional training was thus added a familiarity with the personnel and qualities of the navy on one hand, and the currents of thought and action in civil life on the other, which was of great value in his departmental duties. He had affable manners, a quick and accurate judgment, and an equipoise of personal bearing that neither elation of victory nor depression of defeat appeared ever to disturb or change. With such an assistant at his elbow Secretary Welles, from the first, was able to apply to every administrative act a professional scrutiny as to its need, fitness, and future effect which avoided
many mistakes at the beginning, and secured cumulative advantages.
The absent ships were ordered home, but with the exception of the steam frigate Niagara, which returned from Japan a fortnight after the fall of Sumter, help came slowly owing to the long distances orders had to be sent by mail. The ships of the Mediterranean squadron did not get back till midsummer, and those of the African squadron not till autumn. The first increase had therefore to be made by purchase and charter of merchant steamers, a resource which was promptly and largely resorted to. Every species of craft propelled by steam, which could be strengthened and fitted to carry a gun, was made to do war duty. The result was a motley collection of vessels; nevertheless, under the peculiar conditions, many of them rendered admirable service in the blockade, particularly those capable of considerable speed. While these extemporized cruisers were sent as rapidly as possible to blockade stations, the Navy Department began building new vessels with all the haste of which our public and private shipyards were capable. Seven sloops of war had been authorized by Congress prior to Mr. Lincoln's inauguration. These, with another of the same class, were immediately begun at the several navy yards; while twenty-three smaller gunboats were put under contract at private establishments, and some of them were ready for service in the autumn of 1861. Three ironclads were also designed and contracted for, and the early achievement of one of them became historic.
Foreign powers looked with incredulous eyes on