Letter from S. P. Lee to Gideon Welles, August 26, 1864
This primary source is a naval missive sent from Rear Admiral Lee, commander of the North Atlantic blockade, to the Secretary of the Navy in August 1864. The missive relates the failure of the Union blockade to prevent the C. S. S. Tallahassee from gaining access to the port of Wilmington. The admiral gave an in-depth account of the engagement with the Tallahassee and finished his account with an explanation that it was difficult to maintain an effective blockade against steam craft that were running the blockade during night time and were specially outfitted to evade capture. The effectiveness of the Union blockade was quite weak when the blockade was first initiated in 1861, but by 1864 was far more effective. This letter relays the advances that the Confederacy had gained in terms of protecting its traffic: i.e. using ports such as Wilmington that were hard to police effectively and protecting those ports with installations such as Fort Fisher as well as utilizing ships that were specially designed to run the blockade. The letter also displays the special emphasis that the Union placed to maintaining the blockade, as a large number of Union ships were involved in the attempted maintenance of the blockade and many of those ships had names that were in Spanish, which probably implies that they were retrofitted merchant vessels. The port of Charleston was still open in 1864 so Wilmington was not the only option that the Confederates had in terms of open ports, but Wilmington was still considered important enough by the Union to station a significant number of ships around it to maintain the blockade.
FLAGSHIP, NORTH ATLANTIC BLOCKADING SQUADRON,
SIR: The Monticello arrived to-night with a dispatch from Captain Glisson, reporting that the Tallahassee, or some other armed steamer, ran into New Inlet, Wilmington, last night, and, hoisting rebel colors, this morning exchanged salutes with the fort.
Acting Master Phelon, temporarily commanding the Monticello in the absence of Lieutenant Cushing, reports that while near the shore about 8 miles N. E. by N from Fort Fisher last night, and heading to the southward, he discovered a steamer, distant about 500 yards, coming from N. by E. and heading inshore. Receiving no answer to his repeated challenge, he fired into the stranger and threw up rockets in the direction of New Inlet. The strange vessel sheered and returned his fire and kept on.
The Santiago de Cuba, Captain Glisson, and the Mercedita came up promptly, but the stranger being low in the water and fast, was soon out of sight, pursued and fired at by the Monticello, who was fired upon by the batter above Fort Fisher.
I leave for Wilmington in the morning, and the Department may feel assured that every effort is being made by myself, the officers and men of my command, to make the blockade off Wilmington effectual. But it is impossible to prevent some violations of the blockade on dark nights by steamers built expressly for the purpose.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, yours,
Acting Rear Admiral, Comdg. North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of Navy, Washington.
Beaufort, August 26, 1864.
S. P. LEE.
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