Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Third Report

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The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board: Third Report

26 July 1861 — ORN, I, volume 12, pages 201–206. ORN (Official records, navies). Officially known as the Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
This report deals with the parts of the Atlantic blockade not covered in the reports of 13 and 16 July. (See The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Reports.)
Third Report: ORN, I, vol. 12, pp. 201–206

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 26, 1861.
Secretary of the Navy:

SIR: In the last memoir of the conference we had the honor to propose that the Southern Atlantic coast of the United States should be divided into two sections having distinct geographical and physical features and requiring, therefore, distinct management. The first of these sections, extending from Cape Henry to Cape Remain, formed the subject of our last communication. In the present we shall treat of second section, comprised between Cape Remain and Cape Florida.


We shall be able to present our views more clearly if we separate this second section into three subdivisions, each one of which is distinguished from the others by circumstances either of physical condition or of population too striking to be overlooked. The first of these sections will extend from Cape Romain to Tybee Island and embraces the greater part of the coast of South Carolina; the second, from Tybee Island to Cumberland Sound, St. Mary's entrance, Fernandina, covering the whole coast of Georgia, and the third, from Fernandina to Cape Florida, including St. John's River, the harbor of St. Augustine, and all the east coast of Florida.


Our second memoir, in which we discussed the occupation of Bali's Bay, St. Helena Sound, and Port Royal Bay, has left us but little to say on the first of these subsections. The field, which is only 112 miles in linear extent, is one that requires the application of the ordinary rules and practice of blockade. When the three anchorages above mentioned are secure the whole of this part of our coast will be under complete control. It will rarely be necessary for the blockading vessels to leave the coast on account of stress of weather. Though they may be driven from before the ports for a time, it will be easy for them to resume their stations when the storm has subsided. This is a consideration of the last importance, as regards the efficiency of the blockade.


But you are better aware than ourselves of the favorable manner in which our foreign political relations would be affected by the possession of one or more of the three points, the seizure of which was the topic of our second memoir. The second of our subsections, which takes in the whole coast of Georgia, is of peculiar formation.


Throughout an extent of 107 nautical miles a chain of islands separates a water space of varying breadth from the open sea, and these islands are divided from each other by frequent inlets, several of which are available for the purposes of navigation. The islands and the inland waters constitute a series of sounds and harbors. The former afford uninterrupted smooth-water navigation for steamers drawing 5 feet from the Savannah to the St. Mary's River; the latter may be regarded as harbors of refuge, or as openings from the sounds by which an active cruiser can pass at any moment into the ocean and change its field of observation at convenience. The rivers of the coast generally empty into these interior bays and sounds. We may complete what we have to say of the navigation of these sounds and bays by observing that it demands the most thorough local knowledge and an accurate acquaintance with the times and heights of the tides to follow all its circuitous paths, and, further, that the best pilot information concerning this navigation that can be put on paper is to be found in the "Notes on the Coast of Georgia," prepared by the Superintendent of the Coast Survey from the archives of his office.


Concerning the islands forming the external barrier to the sea, it may be remarked, as a general rule, that they have a moderately straight sea beach on the ocean side, with the common sand hills or hillocks (dunes or downs), and occasionally a fringe of wood. On the inner side, upon the sounds, they are marshy, except in rare cases. The middle part is much diversified, and cotton plantations are general. Several of the islands furnish fresh water; but it will be better, perhaps, to treat the whole subject of fresh water supplies on the Atlantic Southern Seaboard in a separate paper.


The inlets, taken in connection with the interior navigation, resemble on a smaller scale the peculiar geographical distribution of land and water which, on the coasts of Holland and Belgium on a grand scale, are especially adapted to the pursuits of commerce and of well sheltered interior water communication. The example on the coast of Georgia is comparatively minute; but the frequent and convenient entrances from the sea, affording a protection always accessible, at such easy distances apart that there is little danger or necessity for exposure to the storms of the ocean, constitute the most important feature as well here as on the eastern border of the North Sea.


The difference in breadth and depth of the passes between the numerous islands, and of the sounds and bays to which they lead, requires vessels of a smaller draft. The rivers, or so-called rivers, discharging into these bays and sounds are not always of real value. But a very hasty glance at these different geographical features, in order, will serve, we think, to satisfy you that the control of these waters would greatly tend to the reestablishment of the authority of the United States in the whole of this region by imposing a severe check upon the movements of the rebels.


We will speak first of the inlets and second of the sounds and rivers together.


The inlets are Tybee (beginning at the north), Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Sapelo, Doboy, Altamaha, St. Simon's, St. Andrew's, and Cumberland, all of which, however, are not equally useful; it is worth while to describe in a few words the most prominent only.


Tybee is the entrance to Savannah River, and must, for the present, be blockaded, though large vessels could lie safely in the channel inside the outer buoys, and beyond the reach of the guns of Fort Pulaski, in smooth weather.


Passing over Wassaw, which is difficult of entrance, and has not been surveyed, we come to Ossabaw Inlet, 3 miles wide, between Great Wassaw Island on the north and Ossabaw Island on the south. Seventeen feet may be carried over the outer bar through a narrow channel which divides inside, where a second bar, having 14 feet of water upon it, must be passed to enter Ogeechee River. Passing again over St. Catherine's Inlet, of which the bar is bad, we come to Sapelo Inlet, the entrance to Sapelo Sound, seven-eighths of a mile wide, between St. Catherine's and Blackbeard islands.


This is one of the easiest entrances on the Southern coast. The bar, which is very narrow, has 18 feet of water, and it is only necessary to change the course once to enter the sound. A new channel across this bar, south of the old one, was discovered by the Coast Survey. Breakers, north and south of the channel, mark the entrance, which was a most convenient one when buoyed.


Doboy Inlet is one of the entrances to Altamaha Sound and River, and the first through which the town of Darien is reached. The bar is farther to seaward [or to leeward] than Sapelo Bar, about 4 miles off, and the entrance is more than a mile wide between Sapelo and Wolf islands.


The depth of water is sufficient (not less than 24 feet), but the channel is so winding that all the assistance of lights and buoys is wanted to navigate it in safety. Again, passing over Altamaha Inlet, which is so inferior to Doboy that the latter will always be preferred, we come to St. Simon's Inlet, the entrance to St. Simon's Sound, leading to Brunswick and Blythe islands, which is about a mile wide between St. Simon's and Jekyl islands. The bar is 5 miles from the general line of coast, but is only about one-fourth of a Nile wide, and had upon it a depth of 17 feet at low and about 24 feet at high water; it is one of the best of these openings. Passing again over the entrance to St. Andrew's Sound, of which the bar is bad, we come to the last of the series, Cumberland Sound, St. Mary's entrance, Fernandina, which we have described at length in our first memoir on the occupation of Fernandina.


Thus you will perceive from our brief enumeration that in this extent of coast of but little more than 100 miles there are, exclusive of Tybee, five harbors of refuge, convenient, well situated, and by no means unequally distributed throughout this short distance.


An equally brief notice of the sounds and inlets will enable you to form an estimate of the business and navigation which would be brought under control by the military and naval occupation of these waters and their tributaries. We will take them as they stand in their natural order of position from north to south.


All that relates to Calibogue Sound and Tybee entrance must be treated separately, because the possession of them involves the capture of Fort Pulaski and Savannah.


Wassaw Sound and St. Augustine River [Creek] are next. They form, in fact, a second entrance into Savannah River, St. Augustine Branch uniting with the main stream 4 miles below Savannah. Steamboats from Savannah to Fernandina, or the St. John's River, pass out at Wassaw Sound, reentering at Ossabaw or Sapelo; or else they pass by a narrow, tortuous, and shoal channel through the Romerly Marsh, south of Skiddaway Island, where there is but 3 feet at low water. Vessels are warped through.


Ossabaw Sound.--After entering this sound the channel divides. The west branch leads into the Great Ogeechee River, which has a bar of 14 feet; the east, into Vernon River, which has a bar of 12 feet at the entrance. Deep water is carried up the Vernon River to the bar at the mouth of the Little Ogeechee, on which there is 14 feet of water. Thirteen feet can be carried up to Montgomery on the Vernon River, the site of a proposed city, but in fact a plantation. The Ogeechee River heads high up in the State of Georgia and has rich rice plantations upon its banks; there is 10 feet of water 7 miles up. The so-called Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad, from Savannah south west, crosses the Ogeechee about 26 miles from the Ossabaw Bar and 15 from Savannah.


St. Catherine's Sound.--Into this sound empty the Medway, or Sudbury River, which has rice plantations upon its banks and the small village of Sudbury, about 9 miles from the sea, and also Newport River.


Sapelo Sound is a broad and deep sheet of water, which receives numerous rivers and arms of the sea, or creeks of no special importance. Sapelo River is merely a continuation of Sapelo Sound.


Doboy Sound and the arms of the sea connected with it occupy a space some 12 miles wide between Sapelo and Altamaha rivers. Darien River is one of these arms and the old town of Darien, once a place of considerable business, stands on the left hand about 13 miles from Sapelo light-house. Fifteen feet of water can be carried to Darien.


Altamaha Sound is much interrupted in its navigation by islands and shoals, but Altamaha River and its tributaries reach the center of the State, Macon being upon the Ocmulgee, one of its two principal branches.


St. Simon's Sound and Turtle River lead to Brunswick and Blythe Island, purchased by the United States for the site of a naval depot.


Frederica, Mackay's, and Back rivers, which are, in fact, arms of the sea or creeks, come in at the eastern head of the sound. Frederica River is on the main passage between Altamaha and St. Simon's Sound, next to St. Simon's Island.


The sound is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. From the bar to Brunswick is about 13 miles and to the site of the proposed naval depot about 15 miles. The navigation is easy and 3 fathoms can be carried to near the shore of Blythe Island. The Brunswick Railroad now connects with the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad. It will be remembered that we spoke of St. Simon's as one of the best entrances on the Southern coast, and we may add that it is specially adapted for a naval depot at this period and for the particular service under consideration.


St. Andrew's Sound receives the Saltilla [Satilla] River that drains the interior of the southern part of Georgia, from which it receives many tributaries; among them are the Little Saltilla [Satilla] on the northeast and the Jekyl on the north, or rather the Jekyl Creek, which, running close by Jekyl Island, forms part of the communication between Savannah and Frederica.


Cumberland Sound, already described in our first memoir, completes the list.


In the above enumeration we have not included all the particulars in our possession. We have merely presented a sketch or outline of this region, or, of its means of intercommunication, and of its fertility; even designed to be, as it is, a mere sketch, it would be incomplete if we were not to repeat at the conclusion that an inland passage from Savannah to Fernandina, long used by steamboats drawing 5 feet of water, unites in one common interest and intercourse all the bays, sounds, rivers, and inlets of which we have given but little more than the names. A superior naval power must command the whole of this division of the coast. It will be occupied by the party or nation, whichever it may be, that chooses to place armed steamers of suitable draft in its interior waters, and fortifications of sufficient strength at the mouth of its inlets. And the naval power that commands the coast of Georgia will command the State of Georgia.


For what would be the means and resources of the government of the State of Georgia in the hands of rebels if its peculiar productions could only find a market by passing through the hands of its loyal citizens holding offices by appointment of the General Government.


Beyond the bars of the inlets, which are at distances from the land varying from 1 to 5 miles, the exterior seacoast is free from dangers. As a general thing between 4 and 5 fathoms are to be found at from 4 to 6 miles from the land all the way from Tybee to St. Andrew's. Farther south the slope of the bottom is more steep. And it will serve to give you an idea of the facility with which this coast can be approached at night and in thick weather to mention that at an average distance of 12 miles the depth is 9 fathoms. At an average distance of 24 miles the depth is 11 fathoms; at an average distance of 36 miles the depth is 13 fathoms; at an average distance of 48 miles the depth is 15 fathoms, and at an average distance of 60 miles the depth is 17 fathoms.


At the same time the depth is not a uniform and unfailing test of the distance from the land at every part of the coast; we are speaking of averages only.


Our third subsection extends from Fernandina to Cape Florida, and embraces the mouth of the St. John's, the harbor of St. Augustine, and all the east coast of Florida. St. John's and St. Augustine will be blockaded, we presume, in the usual manner.


The lower coast may be placed under the scrutiny of two or more small cruisers, by which its shores will be continually traversed, and its bays inspected. It can hardly be said to be inhabited, and is of no great consequence as a convenient place of resort for pirates. Having finished all we have to say upon the sections and subsections separately, we will offer one or two remarks upon the general blockade of the Southern Atlantic coast of the United States from Cape Henry to Cape Florida.


In the administration of the military affairs of the country, it has been found expedient to increase the number and diminish the extent of the military departments, so also the number of home squadrons has been doubled.


But we have been led in the preparation of these memoirs to entertain the opinion that it would be advantageous, that it would conduce still further to the efficiency of the blockade, if each of the two sections into which we have divided this coast were made a naval station and comprised the limits of a separate command analogous to the military departments. We have aimed to show that these sections possess distinct geographical features and require distinct treatment, and on those distinctions our opinion mainly rests. But we may add, that if this plan were adopted, and if vessels were assigned to ports and stations under the common rule of the naval service, that is, until relieved, then the commander in chief while at sea within the limits of his command could, so short is the distance, communicate with the whole line of his blockading squadron, either in person or by his tender, every day, or every two days during ordinary weather.


We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,

Captain, U. S. Navy, President.
Superintendent U. S. Coast Survey, Member.
Major, U. S. Engineers, Member.
Commander, U. S. Navy, Member and Secretary.

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