In early April 1863, a large number or Northern war correspondents were assigned to their fleet to cover the story of the glorious victory of the navy and capture of the seat of rebellion, Charleston. It was not to be; the day following his defeat Admiral Samuel F. DuPont wrote “that a merciful Providence permitted me to have a failure, instead of a disaster.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Patriots Defeat the Invincible Iron Armada
“On both sides of the harbor mouth the Confederate shore batteries were firing at long range: Fort Moultrie and Batteries Bee and Beauregard on the northern shore and Battery Gregg at Cummings Point on Morris Island. [The] crisis of the battle had come; the entire force of the ironclad fleet except the flagship was concentrated on Fort Sumter.
More than a hundred of the heaviest cannon ever used in the war were thundering together. The thick walls of and arches of Sumter trembled under the impact of the great fifteen-inch and eleven-inch shells; when at the moment of impact the shells burst, deep craters were blasted into the brick walls of the fort.
Most of the [enemy] ships were hidden or half-hidden in smoke. [The Passaic had] retired . . . Her pilot-house had been wrecked and a cloud of steam was issuing from her deck. The Weehauken, too, seemed to be in trouble, her funnel . . . was riddled; her side armor was cracked and split. The Nahant and the double-turreted Keokuk were sustaining the hottest fire of Sumter. All round them the water seethed with the rain of projectiles.
[The Nahant’s turret was] impenetrable, but the heavy blows jammed it so that it could not revolve and her guns were rendered useless. Her steering gear apparently had also been disabled, for she was drifting helplessly . . . The Keokuk turned bow-on and headed straight for Sumter. Immediately she received the concentric fire of all the fort’s guns that could be brought to bear. Firing from her forward turret . . . she was hit repeatedly. Her eleven-inch bow-gun had been silenced; a solid shot crashed into her forward turret; a bolt from a Brooke rifle ripped open her hull ten feet from her stem and barely above the waterline. Her headway slackened, then ceased; she drifted toward the fort under a hail of fire.
The guns of Sumter, served with almost perfect precision, were hammering her to death. Her sloping turrets were cracked and dented; her armored hull was torn and ripped, her funnel riddled. With ninety wounds in her – all the high courage of her officers and crew made fruitless by the cool skill of Sumter’s gunner’s – the Keokuk, mortally-stricken, moved slowly out of the fight.
The smoke cloud over Fort Sumter [was now] less dense [and clearly visible was] the Confederate flag at the top of its tall staff. Through a thin white veil of drifting smoke it shone like a flame. There was a great hole through its red union with the stars of the Confederate States, but the blue flag of South Carolina at the western angle of the gorge was unscarred.
The half-circle of [enemy] ironclads in front of the fort was shifting, breaking up. The battered Nahant, her steering gear repaired, was steaming slowly out of range. The other monitors, still firing sullenly, were retiring [with orders] to withdraw.
[A shirtless, powder-blackened up-countryman sang] in a high cracked voice: “King Abraham is very sick, Dupont has got the measles, Old Sumter we have got it still, Pop goes the weasel.” Another man joined him, two more – half the battery. They were singing madly, waving their caps. But now it was Dixie.
[The] order was to continue to firing as rapidly as accuracy permitted. Until they passed beyond extreme range, the retreating ironclads were pursued by the persistent Confederate shells.
[Dupont] got his flag-ship under way and followed his broken and beaten fleet. He was wondering perhaps . . . how Washington would receive the news that he had to give. Defeat instead of victory that had seemed so sure. The invincible iron armada flung back from the gate of the hated city. The vaunted Keokuk sinking, four other ships disabled. The “Rebel” flag still flying over Sumter . . . “
(Look Back to Glory, Herbert Ravenel Sass, Bobbs-Merrill, 1961; A Tricentennial Anthology of South Carolina Literature, 1670-1970, Calhoun & Guilds, editors, USC Press, 1971, excerpts, pp. 465-470)