A List of Ten Historical Works that Mention USS Keokuk, Part One

A steam ship, with a brown deck and two turrets, that is black at the top and red underneath.

USS Keokuk, propelled by twin screws and armed with two 11-inch Dahlgren guns as well as a ram, was an ironclad that served in the United States Navy during the War of the Great Rebellion. The steam battery was assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and was ordered to buoy the Charleston bar on the 6th of April, 1863, by Rear-admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont. USS Bibb, a United States Coastal Survey vessel, assisted the ironclad while two monitors of the Passaic class guarded the buoys during the night. USS Keokuk joined USS New Ironsides and seven Passaic-class monitors during the first bombardment of Fort Sumter on the 7th of April, 1863, but withdrew after its hull was perforated by Confederate shot. The First Battle of Charleston Harbor, as the bombardment is also known, caused some interested parties to question the effectiveness of iron-plated warships. Lieutenant-Commander Alexander Colden Rhind, who commanded USS Keokuk during the battle, lost faith in ironclads after his vessel foundered on the following morning and adopted the opinion that speed was of greater value than armour in naval engagements. Du Pont received criticism for his refusal to renew the attack on the Confederate batteries on the morning of the 8th of April, 1863, and for abandoning the wreck of USS Keokuk off the southern end of Morris Island. No practical means of destroying the wreck had existed, Du Pont had been informed by his officers, after a torpedo raft had proven to be unsuitable for the task. The Confederacy, therefore, was able to salvage the guns that had been left in the turrets of the ironclad and it is said that these cannons were the heaviest artillery pieces to enter into Confederate service. Du Pont, as a result of these setbacks, was replaced as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Below is a list of ten historical works, all of which were written in the nineteenth-century, that mention USS Keokuk on at least one occasion.

1) Leaves from a Lawyer's Life, Afloat and Ashore by Charles Cowley.

Charles Cowley describes the first bombardment of Fort Sumter on Chapter IV of Leaves from a Lawyer's Life, which was published in 1879, and mentions that USS Keokuk participated in the clash between the iron-plated steam batteries of the United States Navy and the seacoast batteries of the Confederate States Army. Chapter IV, which spans from page 67 to page 85, covers the tenure of Rear-admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Cowley explains that Du Pont used USS New Ironsides, which was captained by Commander Thomas Turner, as his flagship during the First Battle of Charleston Harbor. Cowley, on page 78, names General P.G.T. Beauregard as the commander of the Department during the engagements between the Federal ironclads and the Confederate seacoast batteries and states that Brigadier-General R.S. Ripley was in command of the First Military District. Sumter, Moultrie, Bee, Beauregard, Wagner and Gregg are named as the six Confederate fortifications that engaged the Federal ironclads in the harbour. Colonel Alfred Rhett is reported to have commanded Fort Sumter while the superior officers of Battery Moultrie, Battery Bee, Battery Beauregard and Battery Gregg are named as Colonel William Butler, Colonel J.C. Simkins, Major C.K. Huger as well as Lieutenant H.R. Lesesne. Fort Sumter, on page 80, is named as the main point of attack for the Federal vessels. CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, a pair of ironclads which were under the command of Captain J.R. Tucker, are reported to have taken position near the masonry fort. Cowley states that the Federal vessels were divided into two groups of four, with the flagship being independent of these two divisions, and that USS Keokuk was assigned to the second group. Lieutenant-Commander A.C. Rhind is named as the captain of the ninth, and final, ironclad to engage the batteries of Fort Sumter on the 7th of April. 

2) Official Dispatches and Letters of Rear Admiral Du Pont, U. S. Navy. 1846-48. 1861-63 by Samuel Francis Du Pont.

Official Dispatches and Letters of Rear Admiral Du Pont, U.S. Navy is a series of written communications between the commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, certain politicians as well as various subordinates. This compilation of official documents, that was published in 1883, includes information about the activities of USS Keokuk during the time of the first bombardment of Fort Sumter. A letter from Rear-admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont to Commander T. Turner that was written on the 2nd of April, 1863, orders the naval officer to assist USS Keokuk and USS Bibb in their task of buoying a navigation channel in Charleston Harbor. Turner was in command of USS New Ironsides, which was the most powerful ironclad in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, but the order to assist USS Keokuk may have extended to the Passaic-class monitors that were blockading Charleston at the time. Du Pont composed his plan of attack onboard USS James Adger, which was anchored in the North Edisto River, and reiterated that USS Keokuk should buoy the bar of the harbour as a prelude to the bombardment. The plan of attack was released on the 4th of April, 1863, and USS Keokuk was placed last in the line of nine attacking ironclads. Du Pont informed Gideon Welles of his decision not to renew the attack on Fort Sumter on the 8th of April, 1863, and sent Rhind to Washington D.C. to deliver the dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy. It is revealed in a different letter, which was written on the same day, that USS Keokuk had sunk and that Rhind was appointed to the command of USS Paul Jones while on his way to the Federal capitol. On the 17th of April, 1863, Du Pont informs Welles of his intention to destroy USS Keokuk via underwater explosions but explains that the bombs could only be used when the water was smooth. Du Pont informs Welles, in a letter which was composed on the 22nd of April, that the torpedo raft was an impractical device for the demolition of underwater wrecks.

3) Farragut and Our Naval Commanders by Joel Tyler Headley.

Joel Tyler Headley, publishing his work of history in 1867, wrote Farragut and Our Naval Commanders in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War and provides some details about the role of USS Keokuk in the conflict. Chapter V is dedicated to the life and naval career of Samuel Francis Du Pont, who was promoted to Rear-admiral after his victory over the Confederates at Port Royal, and features the failure of the ironclads under his command to reduce Fort Sumter during the bombardment that occurred on the 7th of April. It is explained, on page 142, that Du Pont lost control of USS New Ironsides at the beginning of the battle and ordered the commanders of the advancing ironclads to disregard his movements. Steering problems experienced by the flagship, therefore, caused a break down in command and previous plans that had been agreed upon were discarded. Commander Alexander C. Rhind, it is stated on page 143, felt free to act as he pleased and brought USS Keokuk into close range of Fort Sumter. It is claimed that Rhind entered into a broadside engagement with the masonry fort, as if it were a contest between two ships, before he was compelled to retreat by the overwhelming force of the Confederate guns. The fight, however, lasted a mere half-an-hour before the stricken ironclad withdrew from the guns of the seacoast fort. It is reported, on page 144, that the ironclad was able to fire three shots during the entire battle and sank the next morning. It is claimed, on page 147, that the Navy Department censured Du Pont for allowing the Confederates to recover the guns from the wreck of USS Keokuk and that the Rear-admiral considered the blame that had been placed upon himself as an injustice. Du Pont, alongside Rhind and other naval commanders, is portrayed in a positive light while the politicians in the Navy Department are written about in less favourable terms. It could be said, therefore, that the fifth chapter is a panegyric to Du Pont and his subordinates.

4) The Defense of Charleston Harbor, Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands by John Johnson.

John Johnson, who published The Defense of Charleston Harbor in 1890, was a military engineer and  Confederate officer who was an eye-witness to the events that he described. This important work of history provides valuable insights into the exchange of fire between USS Keokuk and Fort Sumter, the loss of the vessel near Morris Island and the fate of its wreck. Chapter II, which focuses on the First Battle of Charleston Harbor, describes the events that led up to the battle and the bombardment of Fort Sumter itself. The ironclad, on page 43, is described as having sloping sides and a freeboard of around five-feet. Two 11-inch guns, each of which was housed in a turret that was protected by six and a quarter-inches of armour, were the main armaments onboard the vessel. USS Catskill, USS Nantucket and USS Nahant are reported to have joined USS Keokuk in the second division of ironclads to attack Fort Sumter of the 7th of April and A.C. Rhind is named as the commander of the latter vessel. USS Nahant, it is claimed on page 52, opened fire on Fort Sumter at 4 'o clock in the afternoon while USS Keokuk is reported to have fired its first shot ten minutes later from a distance of between 600 and 900-yards. The ironclad, it is reported on pages 53 and 54, remained in the fight for twenty-minutes to half-an-hour before it withdrew. Ninety shots struck the vessel, of which nineteen perforated the turrets and hull, while only three shots were fired in return. Chapter III explains how Adolphus W. LaCoste, after the Confederates had reconnoitered the wreck site, was able to salvage the pair of 11-inch guns from inside their turrets. Johnson explains, on page 63, that the wreck was situated 1,300-yards from the southern end of Morris Island and that it was visible from Fort Sumter at low tide. The guns, after the working party had removed the tops of the turrets, were lifted by timber outriggers at the beginning of May and were taken to Charleston by a barge that was towed by a transport steamer.

5) Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV by Clarence Clough Buel and Robert Underwood Johnson.

The fourth volume of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, is a compilation of written works by different authors about important events during the American Civil War as well as the individuals who participated in them. USS Keokuk is mentioned in The Defense of Charleston by General P.G.T. Beauregard,  Du Pont's Attack on Charleston by Rear-admiral Christopher Raymond Perry Rodgers and The Army Before Charleston in 1863 by Brevet Major-General Quincy A. Gillmore. USS Keokuk is included in a list of naval vessels that were assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, appearing at the end of The Boat Attack on Fort Sumter by Rear-admiral Thomas H. Stevens, and names its commander as A.C. Rhind and its armament as two 11-inch smoothbore cannons. Beauregard, who commanded the Department of South Carolina and Georgia during the events that occurred on the 7th of April, states that USS Keokuk was the last of a procession of ironclads to attack Fort Sumter. Beauregard states that USS Keokuk came within 300-yards of the underwater rope obstructions, which were integrated with static torpedoes, while claiming that the monitors never came within 600 yards of these submarine impediments. The distance between the fort and the ironclad, however, is given as 900-yards. Rodgers claims that the nine ironclads, of which USS Keokuk was the last in the line of procession, began their advance against Fort Sumter at noon. Rodgers claims that the forward gun was disabled early in the battle and that the ship, struck ninety times, was perforated on nineteen occasions. Commander Alexander Rhind, who was wounded during the engagement, is said to have stood on the deck and announced that USS Keokuk was disabled as he withdrew from the affray. Gillmore states that the ironclad sank near Morris Island and that the Confederates, as described by John Johnson, were able to salvage its guns.

6) Rebellion Records: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc., Sixth Volume by Frank Moore.

Rebellion Records: A Diary of American Events is a eleven-volume history of the War Between the States and the sixth volume, which was edited by Frank Moore, contains information about USS Keokuk as well as the personnel that served aboard it. An article that is dated to the 28th of March, 1863, reports a sighting of USS Keokuk during the Federal expedition to Charleston. USS Expounder, situated off the coast of South Carolina, was ferrying the One Hundredth New York Volunteers regiment from St. Helena Island to Cole's Island at the time in which the ironclad was spotted on its journey from Fortress Monroe to Hilton Head. Cole's Island, situated at the confluence of the Folly River and the Stono River, was nine miles from Charleston. The ship, as described on page 488, was spotted by USS Expounder at eight 'o clock in the morning. A different article that is dated to the 7th of April, 1863, describes the bombardment of Fort Sumter and mentions the preliminary events in the harbour that led up to the battle. On the afternoon of the 6th of April, which was a Sunday, Rear-admiral Du Pont ordered Commander Rhind to take USS Keokuk to the mouth of the harbour and buoy Charleston bar. Rhind was assisted in his task by C.O. Boutelle, the commander of USS Bibb, Acting Ensign Platt and various pilots from the fleet. USS Bibb, assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, was a United States Coastal Survey vessel. Once the buoys had been laid in the harbour it was possible for the other ironclads of the squadron to enter the Pumpkin Channel, which was situated north of the main ship channel, and to prepare for the attack on Fort Sumter. At half-past twelve 'o clock in the afternoon, it is explained on page 506, USS Keokuk remained at the rear of the advancing unit of ironclads and was situated near Lighthouse Inlet. Rhind, who was injured during the fight with Fort Sumter, signaled to Du Pont that USS Keokuk was sinking as he withdrew from the fight.

7) The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, 1861 to 1865 by Alfred Roman.

Alfred Roman, who was a veteran of the Confederate States Army, wrote Military Operations of General Beauregard in 1887 and included a number of written correspondences between General P.G.T. Beauregard and other persons of importance in the appendix. The events that led up to the First Battle of Charleston Harbor, the armed contest itself and its aftermath are all included in the text. USS Keokuk, which was the most notable casualty of the battle, makes several appearances in Chapter XXX and is mentioned in the appendix on more than one occasion. On the 5th of April, 1863, Rear-admiral Du Pont is reported to have crossed the bar and entered the main ship channel in Charleston Harbor with nine ironclads. USS Keokuk, as reported on page 67, was among the iron-plated fighting vessels to weigh anchor at the entrance of the harbour. Roman, in relating the events of the 7th of April, states that USS Keokuk was in the second division of attacking vessels and this corroborates other sources that make the same assertion. Roman, citing a dispatch that was made by Du Pont to the commanders of the ironclad fleet, states that the main objective of the operation was to reduce Fort Sumter before turning their guns on the Confederate batteries on Morris Island. Fort Sumter is reported to have possessed forty-four guns and mortars, a number that is contradicted by other sources, while a total of seventy-six artillery pieces are said to have been divided across the various Confederate batteries in the harbour. Roman states, on page 73, that USS Keokuk took its position in the line of battle at five minutes past four 'o clock in the afternoon and was situated 900 yards from Fort Sumter and 1000 yards from Fort Moultrie. A report by Colonel Rhett, cited by Roman, states that the turrets and hull of the ironclad were perforated by several wrought-iron bolts that had been fired from a 7-inch Brooke rifle and claims that the stricken warship withdrew from the action after forty minutes of fighting.

8) History of the Confederate States Navy from its Organization Until the Surrender of its Last Vessel by John Thomas Scharf.

John Thomas Scharf published History of the Confederate States Navy in 1887 and mentions USS Keokuk, sometimes in disparaging terms, on more than one occasion. An annotation on page 43, detailing the inherent floors of a class of light-draft monitors that were built for the United States Navy, draws attention to the vulnerability of certain Union ironclads to Confederate shot. The sinking of USS Keokuk by the guns of Fort Sumter is compared to the rough handling that USS Galena received at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff, on the James River, that resulted in its armour being perforated by Confederate shot. Scharf regards USS Keokuk, in comparison to the ironclads that were built in Southern shipyards, as an example of inferior warship design and a waste of money. The celebration, in Charleston, of the victory of CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State over the wooden fighting vessels of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron is described on page 685 and presages the arrival of the Union ironclads in the harbour. It was necessary for the Federal government to send ironclads to Charleston Harbor to neutralize the threat posed by the Charleston rams, as CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State were sometimes known, to the unprotected warships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. USS Keokuk, which Scharf describes as a Whitney monitor, is named as one of the new ironclads that blockaded the harbour. Signal flags, with which the fighting ships of the Federal fleet communicated with one another, were among the trophies that the Confederates were able to salvage from the wreck of the ironclad. Scharf describes, on page 699, that the secessionists used these flags to decipher the secret code that was used by the Federal blockaders. Captain Pliny Bryan, who was attached to the staff of General Beauregard, obtained the information by impersonating a prisoner-of-war and questioning a captive sailor who was familiar with the secret codes.

9) Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Volume I by Gideon Welles.

Gideon Welles, who served as Secretary of the Navy during the administration of Abraham Lincoln, kept a diary during the American Civil War that was published after his death. Volume I of Diary of Gideon Welles contains entries on the 10th and 12th of April, 1863, which mention the loss of USS Keokuk in Charleston Harbor. The entry of the 10th, which was a Friday, addresses the recent Federal defeat at the hands of the Confederates on the 7th of April but manages to remain optimistic about the effectiveness of the ironclads of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Welles is not discouraged by the loss of USS Keokuk nor the reports, which would later prove to be unfounded, that USS New Ironsides had been disabled. Losing an ironclad was, in the mind of the Secretary of the Navy, a reasonable price to pay for the capture of Charleston. The assault on Fort Sumter was intended to be a reconnaissance mission and the protected vessels, partaking in a preliminary action against the seacoast batteries, were setting the stage for a larger attack on Charleston. On the 12th of April, which was a Sunday, the Secretary of the Navy reports that he received a visit from Commander Rhind and Lieutenant Forrest. John A. Dahlgren, who at this point of time was the Commander of the Washington Naval Yard, had sent the two naval officers to deliver dispatches to Welles. The Secretary of the Navy offers an intimate portrait of Rhind, providing insight into his mental state after the sinking of USS Keokuk, and it appears that the commander had lost faith in the effectiveness of protected vessels in wake of recent defeats. Rhind, according to Welles, now believed that speed was of greater value to the United States Navy than protective plates of iron. Welles was of the opinion that it was the submarine obstructions in the harbour, more than the seacoast batteries, that had prevented the ironclads from reaching Charleston and maintained his faith in the monitors that Ericsson had designed.

10) Ironclads in Action by Herbert Wrigley Wilson.

Herbert Wrigley Wilson mentions USS Keokuk on pages 90 through to 95 of Ironclads in Action, which was published in 1897, in relation to its conduct during the First Battle of Charleston Harbor. The claim, made by Wilson on page 90, that the ship had a mere two inches of protective iron plating contradicts other sources that describe the vessel as possessing a greater depth of armour. No mention, for example, is made of the composite layers of iron and wood that protected the ship above the waterline. The thickness of the iron hull, situated under the layers of armour protection, is given as three-quarters of an inch. Armaments on board the ironclad are named as being two guns of 11-inches in diameter, which other sources attest as being the type that was designed by John A. Dahlgren, that were situated in oval towers at the fore and aft of the vessel. A near collision with USS Nahant, which is described on page 93, is said to have occurred as the two ships approached Fort Sumter. It is claimed, on page 91, that the Rebel batteries possessed seventy-four guns of different caliber. The reports of the distance that existed between USS Keokuk and Fort Sumter during the engagement of the 7th of April, which is explored on page 93, indicate a discrepancy between Union and Confederate sources. Union sources, the author states, claimed that a distance of 550-yards was maintained between the Federal ironclad and the Rebel batteries while the Confederate sources are more inclined to state that the distance between the two was no closer than 900-yards. During the engagement, which the author states lasted thirty minutes, the ship was struck ninety times in both the hull and the turret. Some of the shots perforated the ironclad at the waterline, where the sea brine could enter the hull, and the ship was forced to withdraw. No deaths are reported to have occurred among the crew but it is explained, on page 95, that blood-stained clothing washed ashore after the ironclad sank.

Updated: 15/03/2024


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