November 7, 1861
From the start of the war the Union officials felt that command of the water and the coastline of the United States was of utmost importance. They could cut off the Confederates from the outside world, limiting their supplies greatly. One of the first strategic hits along the Confederate coastline was the island of Port Royal. The target was chosen for three reasons: 1. it was positioned conveniently between
Charleston and Savannah; 2. the Port Royal sound was big enough to accommodate the entire Union Navy; and 3. there was the possibility that the ground would provided a good wedge between Savannah and Charleston making it feasible to break the rail line between the two cities.
In October of 1861 DuPont, who headed this operation, gathered a mixed fleet of eleven regular warships, a few converted merchant men, and a large number of Army transport vessels carrying the 12,000-man occupation force of Brigadier General Thomas Sherman, who had no relation to William Sherman. The original plan was to send in troops and ships at the same time allowing for cover by the ships for the soldiers, but a storm forced the Army transports to land. A quick change of plans brought DuPont to the conclusion that he should focus on a naval attack instead.
Upon entering the harbor DuPont focused his power on Fort Walker, which sat on the southern headland, and was the much stronger of the two forts. DuPont felt that if Walker fell than the northern fort, Fort Beauregard, would fall As it turned out his assumptions were correct.
The Commander's ship the Wabash lead the single file line that steamed into the Sound on November 7. DuPont maneuvered his ships straight between the two Forts and then swung a sharp left, heading for Fort Walker. He passed within 800 yards of the fort before swinging left again and heading back out to sea. Once out at sea he headed back and made the same loop again and continued to due so once more before Fort Walker hoisted the white flag.
DuPont possessed several advantages in the battle such as shear number of armaments, maneuverability. The Wabash was equipped with the 123 guns while Fort Walker had only 19. It also proved to be much harder for the Confederates to hit moving target while the Union soldiers had their pick of shots upon the stationary fort. Finally, with the help of gunboats placed in the Sound, DuPonts army was able to pound both bases.
Although the battle was a definite Union victory they could not capitalize from the position, due to the genius of General Robert E. Lee. Lee instantly realized that it was near impossible to beat the Union army at sea due to their superior numbers, so he drew them inland. Lee organized his small, but maneuverable, army to guard the town of Coosawhatchie. The gunboats moved upstream but then soldiers would have to take it from there. That is where Lee would constantly sends his troops, preventing the Union from ever moving inland cutting the railroad between Savannah and Charleston. This was only accomplished near the end of the war with Sherman's March to the South.