Monday, September 5, 2011

Civil War Lighthouse Report

Lighthouses were key to protecting and controlling shipping, hence they were of vital strategic importance in the Civil War. Confederates dismantled or sabotaged many lighthouses to keep them out of Union hands, with varying success.

Per the 1863 Journal of the Franklin Institute: "this wicked rebellion has extinguished 125 lights [out of 556], many of them of the highest importance."

Below are some noteworthy excerpts from a "report of the operations and condition of the light-house establishment for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1863" submitted to the Secretary of the Treasury:
In the fifth light-house district, embracing the coasts from Metomkin inlet, Virginia, to New River inlet, North Carolina, including Chesapeake bay and tributaries, Albemarle and Pamplico sounds, circumstances have not permitted the board to make many improvements...

The new illuminating apparatus ordered for Cape Hatteras main light, combining the latest and highest improvements, has been placed in its position

The light-houses at Roanoke marshes, northwest point of Royal Shoal, Croatan, Cape Lookout, and Ocracoke [NC] have been refitted and the lights re-exhibited.

The light-house at Wade's Point [NC] was also re-established, but early in May last it was visited by a guerilla force from the main land and again destroyed....

The light-houses at Craney Island shoal, Back river, and Cape Henry [VA] have been repaired, renovated, and refitted, and are now in operation, the important light at Cape Henry being protected from the enemy by a military guard detailed by the general commanding at Fortress Monroe....

A new fog-bell, frame, and machinery has been placed at Old Point Comfort light-house, and extensive general repairs made at that station....

The light-vessels in this district have received careful attention, and with but one or two exceptions have remained securely at their stations. The light-vessel built under contract for Frying Pan shoals, off Cape Fear, North Carolina, has been sent to her station, but the lights have not been exhibited in compliance with the wishes of the naval authorities....

In the sixth light-house district, embracing the coasts from New River inlet, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral light-house, Florida, inclusive, the same reason which called for a brief summary of operations in the last annual report still exists, i.e., the slow recovery of the territory by the United States military forces.

Congress, at its last session, having made an appropriation for the establishment of range lights to facilitate the entrance into Port Royal harbor, early measures were adopted to secure the designed end. The necessary preliminary examinations were made, the plans and estimates of the engineer approved, and the construction of the buildings completed at Portland, Maine.

When ready they were sent out to Port Royal and put up. These ranges consist of two lights on Hilton Head island, one light on Bay Point, and a light-vessel anchored on Fishing Rip. Through the courtesy of the general commanding the United States forces at Port Royal, the necessary details of soldiers were made to assist in opening a vista through the woods for the inner range on Hilton Head, and by the kindness of the admiral commanding the South Atlantic Gulf squadron, a suitable vessel for Fishing Rip was placed at the disposal of the board. These lights have been completed and lighted, to the great benefit of the increasing commerce seeking that port.

Early in the year a competent engineer was sent to this district to make, as far as possible, a detailed examination into the condition of the light-houses, &c., on this coast, and the damage done by the enemy thereto. He performed the duty confided to him with marked promptitude and ability, and his report conveys the intelligence that the following named lights have been more or less completely destroyed:
  • St. Helena sound [SC] light-house, blown up.
  • Hunting Island [SC], undermined and thrown down.
  • Combahee Bank [SC] light-vessel, removed and burnt.
  • St. Simon's Island [GA] light-house, blown up.
  • Wolf Island [GA] beacons, blown up.
He reported the almost total destruction or removal of the buoys by the enemy, and a large number of suitable sizes and kinds, with the necessary accessories, was promptly forwarded from the buoy depots of the north. Upon their arrival at Port Royal [SC; captured in 1861] they were, as far as required, placed in position under the direction of the officers of the Coast Survey on duty on that station.

In addition to the light-vessel for Fishing Rip [Port Royal Sound, SC], placed at the service of the board, the kindness of Admiral DuPont secured the services of a small schooner, a prize to the naval forces, as a tender for the district. She has been officered, manned, and placed in commission, and has proved of the greatest possible assistance in the performance of various works in the district, such as buoyage, transporting materials, supplies, &c.

The seventh light-house district embraces the coast of Florida from St. Augustine to Egmont key. The lights in this district have been maintained in useful operation.

Cape Florida light has not been re-exhibited. The necessary materials for its repair, and a suitable illuminating apparatus to replace the one destroyed by the enemy, have been provided and stored at Key West, so that the work may be prosecuted to early completion whenever it may be found safe and prudent to do so.

The eighth and ninth light-house districts have received the especial attention of the board, and in view of the many serious difficulties to be overcome in the re-establishment of the various aids to navigation, it has reason to congratulate itself upon having accomplished so much.

The important light at Pensacola has been repaired and re-exhibited, showing temporarily a fourth order, instead of the first order lens, which is allotted to that station, and the placing of which is not deemed advisable until the occupancy of a greater portion of the surrounding country by the United States forces shall have placed the station beyond risk of damage and spoliation.

Extensive repairs to the light-house at Ship island [MS] (whose re-establishment was stated in the last annual report) have been made, and further needful renovations are in progress.

The screw-pile structure at Merrill's Shell Bank [Pass Marianne, LA] was found in measurably good condition. A new illuminating apparatus was provided, the necessary repairs made, and the light re-exhibited.

Pleasanton's island [LA] light-house has been repaired, refitted temporarily, and the light exhibited.
West Rigolets light-house [LA] has been repaired temporarily, and the light reestablished.

The light-houses at Port Pontchartrain, Bayou St. John, and New Canal [LA] have been refitted and the lights put into operation.

Pass à 1'Outre [LA] light-house has been thoroughly repaired, a new keeper's dwelling erected, and the light exhibited.

The old light-house at the head of the Passes [LA] was burned at the commencement of the rebellion. A new structure has been erected, and the light shown.

South Pass and Southwest Pass lights [LA] have been renovated, extensive repairs being made to the latter, and the lights re-exhibited.
Illustration: Price's Creek, NC, lighthouse ruin by Gerald C. Hill, from Southeast Lighthouses Illustrated Map & Guide.

No comments:

Post a Comment