This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Oct. 29 1861

It was the biggest fleet, and the largest joint Army-Navy effort, ever assembled to this date in North America. A total of 77 Union vessels had been brought together at or near Ft. Monroe at Hampton Roads, Virginia. In addition to the captains and crews of the ships, who were under the command of Flag Officer Samuel du Pont, there were assembled more than 16,000 soldiers under Gen. Thomas W. Sherman (no relation to William Tecumseh Sherman, incidentally.) They departed today for Port Royal, S.C., where they knew they would face considerable danger as it had been heavily fortified by the Confederacy. They faced dangers of another sort as the expedition was getting underway, as a gale had blown up off Cape Hatteras and all landlubbers were miserable.

Wednesday Oct. 29 1862

In the days before refrigeration for meat and other perishables, a reliable supply of salt was essential if produce was to be kept safely for any period of time. One source of salt was mines, which were the residues of salt from ancient evaporated ocean beds. Lacking those, the alternative involved taking water from whatever ocean was currently available, putting it in large kettles or pans over fires to evaporate the water and leave the salt and sea minerals behind. One such salt works was in operation today at New Topsail Inlet, North Carolina. At least it was until Lt. Cushing landed a party from the USS Ellis in the inlet, as they destroyed the works. “It could have furnished all Wilmington with salt,” Cushing said in his report.

Thursday Oct. 29 1863

The campaign to open the “cracker line” to get supplies to the Union forces in Chattanooga swung into full gear today. Hooker’s men, under Geary, made a final sweep of Raccoon Mountain to flush out and drive off Confederate sharpshooters and artillery which had been threatening the river crossing at Brown’s Ferry. And Admiral D. D. Porter authorized the departure of quite a bit of Naval support for the effort. The war- and supply-ships Robb, Romeo, Peosta, Lexington, Hastings, Key West and Cricket were all sent up the Tennessee River today. Several others would be joining the effort as soon as they could be repaired, resupplied and refueled.

Saturday Oct. 29 1864

The dreaded CSS Albemarle was no more, thanks to the courage of Lt. William B. Cushing and the sacrifice of his men who had taken small boats from the USS Shamrock up the Roanoke River and blown her up with a spar torpedo. Cushing himself was the only one to both survive the sinking of his own ship and escape capture by the Confederates, and as soon as he made his way back to Union lines plans had started to exploit the accomplishment. Today Commander Macomb took five ships up the Roanoke while sending a sixth, the USS Valley City, up the nearby Middle River, in hopes of taking out Confederate artillery there. Alas, the expedition got only as far up the Roanoke as the site of the sunken USS Southfield, which blocked half the channel. It turned out that the other half was now blocked as well, by a couple of schooners creative Confederates had towed there and sunk. There was some long-range shooting at the offending artillery, then everybody steamed for home.

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