The Battle of Mobile Bay, by Louis Prang

The naval battles of the American Civil War, fought between the Union and the Confederacy, changed the foundations of naval warfare with the first use of ironclads and submarines, and the introduction of newer and more powerful naval artillery.

The first shots of the naval war were fired on April 12, 1861, during the Battle of Fort Sumter, by the US Revenue Cutter Service cutter USRC Harriet Lane. The final shots were fired on June 22, 1865, by the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah in the Bering Strait, more than two months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Confederate Army.

Significant battles

Hampton Roads

One of the most important and famous naval battles of the American Civil War was the clash of the ironclads, between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. The battle took place on March 8, 1862, and lasted for several hours, resulting in a tactical draw. These revolutionary new warships were protected by the thick armor plating that gives them the name ironclad, which prevented any lasting damage to either ship.

New Orleans

The battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip in 1862 can be divided into two parts: a mostly-ineffective bombardment of the Confederate-held forts by the raft-mounted mortars, and the successful passage of the forts by much of Farragut's fleet on the night of April 24. During the passage, one Federal warship was lost and three others turned back, while the Confederate gunboats were virtually obliterated. The subsequent capture of the city, achieved with no further significant opposition, was a serious, even fatal, blow from which the Confederacy never recovered.

First Charleston

A second great naval battle occurred at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863. In this battle, called the First Battle of Charleston Harbor, the Union Navy sent Admiral Du Pont with nine ironclads to attack Charleston. When given the order, the admiral did not expect to be victorious. He would have to steer his ships upriver to the fort and attack it from a standstill, giving the Confederates a valuable edge. The Union Navy was forced to retreat within two hours to prevent too many casualties in a single battle, which would irreparably cripple the navy. Because of this failure, the Union would blockade Charleston for two more years, while the Confederacy was able to set up several more forts along the coast of South Carolina.[1]


The Battle of Cherbourg was an intense naval battle that ended in the sinking of CSS Alabama, one of the most powerful ships in the Confederate fleet, by USS Kearsarge. Alabama fired the first shot, but Kearsarge was slightly faster, had more firepower, and carried a larger crew complement than Alabama, giving the Union the advantage. The Confederate ship took many hits and casualties, and the rising water shut off its engines, leaving the surviving crew with no other choice but to surrender and be rescued by Kearsarge.[2]

Other purposes

The navies on both sides not only engaged in battle, but also transported foot soldiers, equipment, and supplies. Without a navy, neither army would have had the supplies or manpower necessary to successfully carry out the war.[3]

Thus, one major strategy of the Union navy involved blockading Southern ports, preventing the South from receiving supplies or aid from allies via shipping ports. Vital supplies such as food, water, ammunition, guns, clothes, and medical supplies never made it to the Confederate troops. The Confederates retained a sufficient amount of resources to withstand the blockade for an extended period of time, causing the war to last longer than expected. However, the blockade continued to prevent the Confederate troops from replenishing their supplies, which in part led to their eventual surrender.[4]

Naval ships on both sides also served as much-needed floating hospitals, housing and treating soldiers who had been injured in battle.


Battle Start date End date Notes
First Battle of Fort Sumter April 12, 1861 April 13, 1861 First shots of the naval war fired, first battle of the war
Battle of Gloucester Point May 7, 1861 May 7, 1861 First naval battle of the war
Battle of Sewell's Point May 18, 1861 May 19, 1861
Battle of Aquia Creek May 29, 1861 June 1, 1861 First use of torpedoes by Confederate forces in combat
Battle of Pig Point June 5, 1861 June 5, 1861
Battle of Mathias Point June 27, 1861 June 27, 1861
Sinking of the Petrel July 28, 1861 July 28, 1861 One of the last naval battles in history involving a privateer ship
Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries August 28, 1861 August 29, 1861 The first battle of the war involving both the Union Army and Navy.
Battle of Cockle Creek October 5, 1861 October 5, 1861
Battle of the Head of Passes October 12, 1861 October 12, 1861 First use of ironclad ram in the war
Battle of Port Royal November 7, 1861 November 7, 1861 First major naval battle of the war
Battle of Cockpit Point January 3, 1862 January 3, 1862
Battle of Lucas Bend January 11, 1862 January 11, 1862 First battle involving Union ironclads in the war
Battle of Fort Henry February 6, 1862 February 6, 1862
Battle of Elizabeth City February 10, 1862 February 10, 1862
Battle of Hampton Roads March 8, 1862 March 9, 1862 First naval battle between two ironclad warships
Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip April 16, 1862 April 28, 1862 Led to the Union capture of New Orleans
Battle of Island Number Ten February 28, 1862 April 8, 1862 First Confederate defeat on the Mississippi River
Battle of Plum Point Bend May 10, 1862 May 10, 1862 First sinking of Union ironclads by Confederate River Defense Fleet
Battle of Drewry's Bluff May 15, 1862 May 15, 1862
Battle of Memphis June 6, 1862 June 6, 1862 Confederate River Defense Fleet destroyed by Union rams and ironclad gunboats
Battle of Saint Charles June 17, 1862 June 17, 1862
Battle of Tampa June 30, 1862 July 1, 1862
Battle of Corpus Christi August 12, 1862 August 18, 1862
Battle of Galveston Harbor October 4, 1862 October 4, 1862
Battle of Crumpler's Bluff October 3, 1862 October 3, 1862
Battle of Fort Hindman January 9, 1863 January 11, 1863 Led to the largest surrender of Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River prior to the end of the war
Battle off Galveston Lighthouse January 11, 1863 January 11, 1863
Battle of Fort McAllister March 3, 1863 March 3, 1863
Battle of Fort Pemberton March 11, 1863 March 11, 1863
First Battle of Charleston Harbor April 7, 1863 April 7, 1863
Battle of Grand Gulf April 29, 1863 April 29, 1863
Battle of Wassaw Sound June 17, 1863 June 17, 1863
Battle of Portland Harbor June 27, 1863 June 27, 1863
First Battle of Fort Wagner July 10, 1863 July 11, 1863
Second Battle of Fort Wagner July 18, 1863 July 18, 1863
Second Battle of Charleston Harbor August 17, 1863 September 8, 1863
Second Battle of Sabine Pass September 8, 1863 September 8, 1863 Most one-sided Confederate victory of the war
Second Battle of Fort Sumter September 9, 1863 September 9, 1863
Attack on USS New Ironsides October 5, 1863 October 5, 1863 CSS David becomes the first torpedo boat to make a successful attack on an enemy warship in combat
Battle of Fort Brooke October 16, 1863 October 18, 1863
Sinking of USS Housatonic February 17, 1864 February 17, 1864 H. L. Hunley becomes the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat
Battle of Fort Pillow April 12, 1864 April 12, 1864
Battle of Plymouth April 17, 1864 April 20, 1864
Battle of Albemarle Sound May 5, 1864 May 5, 1864
Battle of Cherbourg June 19, 1864 June 19, 1864 Led to the sinking of the Confederate raider CSS Alabama
Battle of Mobile Bay August 2, 1864 August 23, 1864 Greatest Union naval victory of the war
Bahia Incident October 7, 1864 October 7, 1864 Led to the capture of the Confederate raider CSS Florida, international incident with Brazil
Capture of Plymouth October 29, 1864 October 31, 1864
Jamesville Incident December 9, 1864 December 9, 1864
Second Battle of Fort Fisher January 13, 1865 January 15, 1865 Largest amphibious assault of the war
Battle of Trent's Reach January 23, 1865 January 25, 1865 Final major naval battle of the war
Blockade of the South April 19, 1861 1865 Part of the Anaconda Plan

See also


  1. ^ Hearn, Chester (2000). Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the American Civil War. California: Thunder Bay Press.
  2. ^ "USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama 19 June 1864". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. 2008.[dead link]
  3. ^ Canney, D. (2013). "The Navies of the Civil War". Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  4. ^ Fowler, William (1990). Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War. Naval Institute Press.