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Battle of the Ironclads

April 7, 1863

The band inside Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor struck up “Dixie” while others of the garrison raised the flags and fired a 13 gun salute to the Confederacy. They were defiantly greeting the attack of nine Union ironclad ships under the command of Adm. Samuel F. Du Pont upon the battered fort that protected Charleston, S.C. The Rebels were ready; obstructions and torpedoes (mines) littered the narrow channels into the harbor, and buoys had been placed in the waterways to mark the ranges for the 77 guns in Fort Sumter and the surrounding harbor forts.

On the afternoon of April 7, 1863, the Union ironclads, carrying 32 of the heaviest cannon yet to be used in naval warfare, slowly steamed into the harbor as if on parade, and neared Fort Sumter, the object of the attack. The battle that began at 3:00 P.M. was described by a Union participant: “The fires of hell were turned upon the Union fleet. The air seemed full of heavy shot, and as they flew they could be seen as plainly as a base-ball in one of our games.”

The ironclads managed to get off only 139 shots during the battle, while the Rebel batteries fired more than 2,200. The huge naval guns hit Fort Sumter only 55 times, knocking off large chunks of masanry but leaving the fort intact. The Union fleet, on the other hand, was badly riddled during the 40 minute battle. The Keokuk looked like a colander, having received more than 90 direct hits, and only with great difficulty did the Union sailors keep her afloat until she sank the next morning. The Weehawken received 53 hits, Passaic 35, Montauk 47, Nantucket 51, and the Patapsco 47. Their guns were disabled, the turrets jammed, and the smokestacks shredded, and the armor ripped up. Du Pont withdrew his battered fleet and decided not renew the contest. The Union losses were only 1 dead and 22 wounded. The Confederates suffered 4 dead and 10 wounded.

Fascinating Fact: Working clandestinely at night for two weeks within range of federal guns, the Confederates were able to salvage the two eight ton 11 inch guns from the sunk Keokuk and mounted them in defense of Charleston. Shortly afterward, Du Pont resigned his command.