Washington's Leadership Concern
As war torn North America entered its fourth summer of the American Civil War, the Lincoln Administration was desperately seeking key military successes throughout the south to ensure the re-election of the Chief Executive. The armies in Virginia began a long drawn out siege of Petersburg, and General Sherman was slowly being detained through Northern Georgia. It was beginning to look like the Democrats would secure the White House in November.
By August, Admiral Farragut had sailed his vessels up into Mobile Bay and won a commanding victory in Alabama. Once again, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, wished to make the Gibraltar of the South, Wilmington, North Carolina his next decisive target.
Fort Fisher, constructed on the southern end of Wilmington, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River was protector to both seaport, as well as the blockade runners supplying the Confederate Armies with necessary military stores from overseas. In order to place the American Public, back in the president's corner, Fort Fisher and Wilmington, must fall.
Admiral Samuel Lee had been the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and the fleet at Wilmington fell under his managerial eye. The Secretary of the Navy knew, however, that to take Wilmington would not only require the help of the army, but the Navy would require a far more aggressive commander for such an undertaking. Although Lee was well liked by Secretary Welles and Washington overall, he didn't seem to be the man to do the job.
In his recent crowning victory on August 5, 1864 at Mobile Bay, Gideon Welles wanted Admiral David Farragut to command the Wilmington Armada. Farragut was gratified, yet, after the long and arduous duties performed in the south, he backed out on the Secretary, requesting rest at a time he was needed most. After a long list of highly qualified admirals had been scratched, Washington called on Admiral David Dixon Porter, who happened to be in Washington at the time of the grand strategy.
On the 17th of September 1864, Admiral Porter met with Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox at Montgomery Blair's Washington home. The grand Naval Strategy against Wilmington was thus discussed and command of the armada offered to him. Porter, himself, wished to stay with the fleet in Mississippi, yet accepted the position offered, as duty called. He would ultimately do anything the Navy asked of him.
Self promotion was a characteristic that described the admiral well. The publicity a campaign such as this one was liable to bring to his fame, greatly intrigued him. The official orders were sent on the 22nd of September, appointing the new commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The new fleet was presently being fitted out along Hampton Roads, and ready to make the unsuspecting garrison on North Carolina's Federal Point shake in their boots. The stage was thus set for a grand invasion, if only the Armies would accommodate the Navy's time schedule.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org