The surrender of the Ariel

At the end of that year the battalion of 136 Marines under Maj Addison Garland were not so successful. Embarking at New York on the mail steamer Ariel on December 1, they were assigned as a permanent garrison for the new naval base at Mare Island, California. Six days into her voyage the Ariel was off Cape Maysi, on the eastern tip of Cuba, when she was intercepted by the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, commanded by Capt Raphael Semmes. Initially forming his Marines to repel boarders, Garland changed his mind when shots from the Alabama

Raphael Semmes

The crew of the ironclad USS Galena gather for the photographer after the engagement at Drewry's Bluff in May 1862. Several Marines are seated on the bulwark in the foreground. (Naval Historical Center photo NH53984)

Siege Charleston

1863: The siege of Charleston

During July 1863, Maj Zeilen, by then post commander at Brooklyn Marine Barracks, was ordered to recruit a Marine battalion to assist Rear Adm John A.Dahlgren and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in the siege operations against Charleston, South Carolina. The 276-strong battalion arrived at Morris Island, SC, on August 6. With those already taken from the vessels of his squadron Dahlgren now had at his disposal about 540 Marines, who were formed into a four-company battalion. By September 4, Zeilen had been taken ill and replaced in command by LtCol John Reynolds.

Men from the Marine battalion, under Capt Charles G.McCawley. joined a volunteer force of sailors, plus Marines from ships' guards which conducted a disastrous assault on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on September 8. This attack was prompted by the Confederate refusal to surrender Charleston following the Federal capture of Morris Island the day before. Due to a remarkable lack of communication between the Army and the Navy, Gen Quincy A.Gilmore, commander of the Department of the South, also planned for the Army to mount a boat attack on the fort on September 8. When he discovered the Navy plan Gilmore suggested that an Army officer assume overall responsibility for a combined operation; but Dahlgren declined to place his naval forces under Army control. The two boat attacks proceeded independently, although the Army attack was cancelled once the alarm had been raised following the failure of the Navy operation.

Arriving at the flag-steamer Philadelphia from Light House Inlet aboard the side-wheel tug DaffodilXate in the afternoon of September 8, McCawley's Marines transferred to several large launches and waited for darkness. They then took their place among 25 boats containing naval personnel towed by the Daffodil. When they reached the fort the Marines were to give covering fire while the sailors landed, and were then to go in with the bayonet. Acting Master John P.Carr, commanding came crashing into the rigging of the crowded steamer, endangering the lives of the Chilian passengers aboard. The Ariels flag was struck, and moments later the Confederate boarding party, led by Lt Richard F.Armstrong, CSN, climbed aboard. Garland ignominiously surrendered the weapons of his command, which consisted of over 200 new Enfield rifles with accoutrements, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, plus the officers' sidearms. The whole battalion was required to sign a parole, agreeing not to take up arms against the Confederacy again until formally exchanged.

Captain Semmes originally planned to land the Ariels passengers on Jamaica, but changed his mind when he learned that yellow fever had broken out on the island. Thus the vessel was released on December 10, under a bond that $261,000 - the appraised value of the ship and its cargo - would be paid to the Confederate government within 30 days of the end of the war. With control returned to its crew, the Ariel continued its voyage, and the Marines reached Aspinwall on the Isthmus of Panama two days later. Crossing the isthmus by train, they embarked on the steamer Constitution, finally arriving in San Francisco on December 27. They were officially "exchanged" on January 1, 1863.

Lt Andrew W.Ward was one of a battalion of 136 US Marines under Maj Addison Garland aboard the USS Ariel who were captured by the Confederate commerce raider Alabama on December 7, 1862. (National Archives photo 127-N-515334)

Marine Corps 1863
A Marine battalion commanded by Capt Charles G.McCawley took part in the unsuccessful boat attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on September 8, 1863 - see Plate C. (Battles & Leaders)

the Daffodil, took the boats as close in as possible, nearly running his vessel aground, and then cast them off a quarter of a mile from Fort Sumter. In the confusion that followed, LtCdr EdwTard P.Williams hastily formed five boats into the first division, and ordered the crews to "lay on their oars" in silence while the tide swept them towards the fort.

Unknown to the assault force, the Confederates had captured and deciphered a Federal signal book and knew that an attack was imminent. Spotting the cutter commanded by Williams in the gloom, a Confederate challenged it twice, without a response. Finally, Williams replied, "Passing!" Not deceived, the sentry fired, alerting the garrison. Private Charles Leaman, one of the Marines in the boat commanded by Lt Horatio B.Lowry, recalled, "We waited there for a few minutes and then moved up, our boat being ordered up on the left... and just as we got our position, the sentry fired." A rocket then signaled the harbor batteries to open fire. Leaman continued: "In a minute we heard the guns from Moultrie, Johnson and the batteries on Sullivan's Island, and Sumter was playing with musketry and hand grenades as fast as she could." Confederate Marines aboard the nearby ironclad CSS Chicora, under 2nd Lt Henry Melville Doak, also joined the fray, pouring volleys of musketry into the Federal boats as the attackers clambered on to the rubble at the shoreline.

Williams' cutter beached and his party of seamen dashed for the walls, where they were pinned dowTn beneath a protrusion of masonry level with the second tier of casemates, and could advance no further. A second boatload of sailors managed to land, only to find themselves in the same predicament. A cutter from the USS Powhatan, containing 15 Marines, also attempted to land, but its commander lost his nerve and ordered his oarsmen to pull away - leaving only one Marine, Cpl Thomas Calley, and a Navy boatswain's mate, stranded ashore. Meanwhile, the Marines in the boats off shore commenced giving covering fire as ordered. Lieutenant Robert L.Meade recalled:

"I opened fire and kept it up for a short while when I heard a voice ashore (that of Lieutenant Commander Williams) to 'stop firing and land,' which I did as well as possible; my men suffering from the musketry fire and the bricks, hand grenades and fireballs thrown from the parapet. Immediately on striking the beach, I gave orders to land and find cover, which the men lost no time in executing." Meade's boat was the exception. Upon hearing orders to cease fire, all of the vessels containing Marines turned about and pulled away, joining those from the other divisions that had failed to land.

Meanwhile, the men ashore remained pinned down by a galling fire from the ramparts and loopholes. Scattered around the base of the fort, and unable to gather together, they began to surrender; in pairs and squads they descended the slope of rubble, and were ordered to march to the south face, where they climbed the debris to the parapet. On his way round, Lt William Remey found Lt Charles H.Bradford lying seriously wounded in the groin; he was carried into the fort, but died 15 days later.

Of the 25 boats that set out, only 11 managed to land at Fort Sumter; the rest were driven off or, as in the case of that commanded by Marine Lt John Harris, simply got lost in the confusion and returned to the ships. Of the 133 Marines who volunteered to take part in this attack, two were killed, six were mortally wounded, and two more were wounded but withdrew and recovered fully. Of the 34 Marines who were

The Marine detachment aboard the USS Kearsarge, armed with M1855 Harper's Ferry .58 caliber rifle muskets. (National Archives 127-N-515390)

The Marine detachment aboard the USS Kearsarge, armed with M1855 Harper's Ferry .58 caliber rifle muskets. (National Archives 127-N-515390)

Confederate Marines UniformsThe Battle The Kearsarge And Alabama
Wearing full dress in this retouched portrait, Cpl Austin Quimby served aboard the Kearsarge, and provided a graphic account of the battle with the Alabama, June 19, 1864. (Naval Historical Center photo NH 42388)

captured, 16 were eventually paroled, while the remainder died as prisoners in Camp Sumter at Andersonville, Georgia.

Following this fiasco, Reynolds' Marine battalion went into camp on Folly Island and was broken up in late November 1863, its members being sent to garrison navy yards or to form much needed ships' guards.

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