Dahlgren Goes to Sea

John Dahlgren wanted a sea command as a pathway to promotion, and in 1863 he got his wish,

thanks to his personal influence with President Lincoln.

On 24 June 1863, Rear Admiral Joh n Dahlgren was detached from the Washington Navy Yard,

As well as relieved as the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, with orders to rel ieve Rear Admiral Samuel F.

DuPont in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

This promotion was against the wishes of Navy Secretary Welles, but President Lincoln had the final say.

Among Dahlgren’s new tasks were to continue to effectively blockade the southern coast and attempt to capture Savannah,

Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, if at all possible.

His assignment called for his squadron to blockade nearly 300 miles of coastline, including 21 ports.

Savannah was Dahlgren’s first major target, bur as the case with DuPont, Dahlgren would be unable to capture Savannah, much less take Charleston.

Throughout his Savannah campaign Dahlgren, like DuPont before him, faced one insurmountable problem-the climate.

On 10 August 1863, Dahlgren wrote his sister, “Our worst enemy here is the climate. Officers and men break down daily and have to be sent away.”

The water approaches to Savannah also proved a challenge, as they had been planted with submerged mines and obstacles.

Dahlgren feared mines, then called “torpedoes,” and for good reason.

More Union vessels were sunk or damaged by torpedoes than by any other means. In all,

50 Union naval vessels were destroyed or severely damaged by mechanical or electrically detonated torpedoes.

Throughout much of the war, the federal governmem had little use for torpedoes, believing them a dishonorable way to fight.

The north initially thought so little of torpedoes char federal authorities publicized chat they would hang or shoot anyone engaging in building or placing mines.

Northern sentiments at the time dubbed torpedoes “infernal machinations of the enemy,”

“assassination in its worst form,” and “mischievous things.” John Dahlgren believed otherwise.

Confederate blockade-runners in those same ports,

thus rendering them useless to the south.

In time he would convince his superiors of their usefulness, and, in 1863, he asked Benjamin Maillefert,

A mining engineer and underwater demolitions expert hired by the government to locate and disable Confederate mines, to produce 100 torpedoes of his own design for use by the Union Navy.

Another of Dahlgren’s duties in assuming responsibility for the Southern Blockading Squadron was to support General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in any way possible.

Dahlgren used his sailors and marines to create multiple beachheads along the coast to link up with Sherman’s army and provide anticipated bases of support whenever and wherever Sherman’s army emerged on the coast.

After marching across Georgia to the coast, where he knew John Dahlgren’s squadron was waiting to provide supplies and support, Major General William T. Sherman’s army occupied Savannah on 23 December 1864, offering it up to President Lincoln as a Christmas present.

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