Naval battles of the American Civil War

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The "Battle of Mobile Bay", by Louis Prang.

The naval engagements of the American Civil War changed the foundations of naval warfare due to the first-time use of ironclads and submarines, and the introduction of newer and more powerful naval artillery.

The first shots of the naval war were fired on April 13, 1861, during the Battle of Fort Sumter, by the Revenue Service cutter USRC Harriet Lane and the final on June 22, 1865, by the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, in the Bering Strait, more than two months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Confederate Army.

Naval purpose[edit]

The battles that occurred in the water played a major role in helping the troops that were marching all over the country. The navies of the Union and Confederates not only fought against each other but also served primarily as transportation of foot troops and supplies. This is why each navy battled against each other. Without a navy, either the Union or the Confederate armies could not get the supplies and man power that they needed to successfully carry out the war.[1] The ships also served a very important purpose for their armies. The Civil War had a great number of casualties. Therefore, the naval ships served as floating hospitals for the soldiers that had been injured. Blockades also played a huge role in the defeat of the Confederate military. Naval Blockades kept the south from trading and gaining supplies for their soldiers, which caused them to have to surrender to the Union.

Supply running was one of the biggest parts that the Navy played during the American Civil War. If either the confederates or the union did not receive the supplies that they needed, then they would suffer more and more until they would receive it. The major strategy that the union took in the civil war was blockading southern ports. This would not allow the south to get help from any other countries via shipping ports. There would be no food, water, ammunition, guns, clothes, or medical supplies for them. Now, this strategy was not effective right away. The south still had a lot of supplies with them before the blockading started. The union had to hold off the south for a while until they would eventually run out of supplies and surrender. This was tough for the union because of several things. One, since the south kept fighting during the blockading, the union received more casualties and deaths. Two, this made the war last longer than was expected. Eventually, the confederate army could not hang on much longer and surrendered and the feet of the union.[2]

Hospitals were very much needed during the civil war as well. There were so many injuries that occurred that soldiers were in desperate need of medical attention. The naval ships were secondarily used as floating hospitals for soldiers. Both the confederates and the union used this tactic. It helped out the armies because the more room they had for medical use the better off they would be.

Naval battles[edit]

One of the most important and famous naval battles of the Civil War was the clash of the ironclads, between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. The battle took place on March 8, 1862. The battle lasted for several hours and resulted in a tactical draw. Both ships were very well protected by thick armor plating, which prevented any lasting damage to either ship.

Another great naval battle that did not end well for the Union was in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865. This battle was very poorly carried out by the North. This is when the Union was sent to attack the Confederate army from sea to land. The Confederates held off the Union and made them retreat during this battle. Admiral Du Pont was sent with 9 ironclads to attack Charleston. When he was given the news, he did not expect to come out victorious from this battle. He would have to steer his ships up to the fort and stand still in order to attack Charleston. This gave the Confederates a valuable edge on the Union. The Union Naval Force was so vulnerable during this battle that within two hours they were forced to retreat from the attack in order to not receive too many casualties in one single battle. The result of this failed battle was that the Union would be blockaded for two more years. Also, the south had set up several forts alone the coast of South Carolina where they could easily attack the Union.[3]

The sinking of the CSS Alabama by the USS Kearsarge was an intense naval battle that ended in the sinking of one of the best Confederate ships in its fleet. The Alabama fired the first shot. Soon after the Kearsarge shot back. Both of the ships had their main weapons and cannons on their starboard side (right side), therefore, both ships were fighting in a circular pattern. The Kearsarge was slightly faster, had more fire power, and a bigger crew than the Alabama. This gave the Union an advantage in this naval battle. The confederate ship had taken many shots and casualties and eventually began to sink. Once the south realized that they were slowly leaking, they tried to run back to shore. They did not make it very far. The water started rising quickly and shut off their engines. When this happened, the confederates had no other choice but to surrender. The remaining survivors were rescued by the Kearsarge. This was an important battle for the Union since it was towards the end of the Civil War.[4]


BattleStart dateEnd dateNotes
First Battle of Fort SumterApril 13, 1861April 14, 1861First shots of the naval war fired, first battle of the war
Battle of Gloucester PointMay 7, 1861May 7, 1861First naval battle of the war
Battle of Sewell's PointMay 18, 1861May 19, 1861
Battle of Aquia CreekMay 29, 1861June 1, 1861First use of torpedoes by Confederate forces in combat
Battle of Pig PointJune 5, 1861June 5, 1861
Battle of Mathias PointJune 27, 1861June 27, 1861
Sinking of the PetrelJuly 28, 1861July 28, 1861One of the last naval battles in history involving a privateer ship
Battle of Cockle CreekOctober 5, 1861October 5, 1861
Battle of the Head of PassesOctober 12, 1861October 12, 1861First use of ironclad ram in the war
Battle of Port RoyalNovember 7, 1861November 7, 1861First major naval battle of the war
Battle of Cockpit PointJanuary 3, 1862January 3, 1862
Battle of Lucas BendJanuary 11, 1862January 11, 1862First battle involving Union ironclads in the war
Battle of Fort HenryFebruary 6, 1862February 6, 1862
Battle of Elizabeth CityFebruary 10, 1862February 10, 1862
Battle of Hampton RoadsMarch 8, 1862March 9, 1862First naval battle between ironclad warships
Battle of Forts Jackson and St. PhilipApril 16, 1862April 28, 1862Led to the Union capture of New Orleans
Battle of Island Number TenFebruary 28, 1862April 8, 1862First Confederate defeat on the Mississippi River
Battle of Plum Point BendMay 10, 1862May 10, 1862First sinking of Union ironclads by Confederate River Defense Fleet
Battle of Drewry's BluffMay 15, 1862May 15, 1862
Battle of MemphisJune 6, 1862June 6, 1862Confederate River Defense Fleet destroyed by Union rams and ironclad gunboats
Battle of Saint CharlesJune 17, 1862June 17, 1862
Battle of TampaJune 30, 1862July 1, 1862
Battle of Corpus ChristiAugust 12, 1862August 18, 1862
Battle of Galveston HarborOctober 4, 1862October 4, 1862
Battle of Crumpler's BluffOctober 3, 1862October 3, 1862
Battle of Fort HindmanJanuary 9, 1863January 11, 1863Led to the largest surrender of Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River prior to the end of the war
Battle off Galveston LighthouseJanuary 11, 1863January 11, 1863
Battle of Fort McAllisterMarch 3, 1863March 3, 1863
Battle of Fort PembertonMarch 11, 1863March 11, 1863
First Battle of Charleston HarborApril 7, 1863April 7, 1863
Battle of Wassaw SoundJune 17, 1863June 17, 1863
Battle of Portland HarborJune 27, 1863June 27, 1863
First Battle of Fort WagnerJuly 10, 1863July 11, 1863
Second Battle of Fort WagnerJuly 18, 1863July 18, 1863
Second Battle of Charleston HarborAugust 17, 1863September 8, 1863
Second Battle of Sabine PassSeptember 8, 1863September 8, 1863Most one sided Confederate victory of the war
Second Battle of Fort SumterSeptember 9, 1863September 9, 1863
Attack on USS New IronsidesOctober 5, 1863October 5, 1863CSS David becomes the first torpedo boat to make a successful attack on an enemy warship in combat
Battle of Fort BrookeOctober 16, 1863October 18, 1863
Sinking of USS HousatonicFebruary 17, 1864February 17, 1864H. L. Hunley becomes the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat
Battle of Fort PillowApril 12, 1864April 12, 1864
Battle of PlymouthApril 17, 1864April 20, 1864
Battle of Albemarle SoundMay 5, 1864May 5, 1864
Battle of CherbourgJune 19, 1864June 19, 1864Led to the sinking of the Confederate raider CSS Alabama
Battle of Mobile BayAugust 2, 1864August 23, 1864Greatest Union naval victory of the war
Bahia IncidentOctober 7, 1864October 7, 1864Led to the capture of the Confederate raider CSS Florida, international incident with Brazil
Capture of PlymouthOctober 29, 1864October 31, 1864
Jamesville IncidentDecember 9, 1864December 9, 1864
Second Battle of Fort FisherJanuary 13, 1865January 15, 1865Largest amphibious assault of the war
Battle of Trent's ReachJanuary 23, 1865January 25, 1865One of the final major naval battles of the war
Blockade of the SouthApril 19, 18611865Part of the Anaconda Plan

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canney, D (2013). The Navies of the Civil War. Retrieved from:
  2. ^ Fowler, William. (1990). Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War. Naval Institute Press.
  3. ^ Hearn, Chester. (2000). Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the American Civil War. California: Thunder Bay Press
  4. ^ Naval History and Heritage Command (2008). USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama 19 June 1864. Retrieved from: