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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Arletta


The Navy retained the name that this schooner had when acquired.


(Schooner: tonnage 200; length 103'; beam 27'; depth of hold 8'6"; draft 10'6"; complement 39; armament 1 13" mortar, 2 32-pounder smoothbores, 2 12-pounder smoothbores)


Arletta—a schooner built in 1860 at Mystic, Conn.—was purchased by the Navy at New York City on 7 September 1861 and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 30 January 1862, Acting Master Thomas E. Smith in command.


The schooner departed New York on 4 February 1862 as a part of the Mortar Flotilla assembled to become a part of Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut's newly established West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Besides sealing off the Confederate coast between Pensacola and the mouth of the Rio Grande, Farragut was charged with leading a Union task force from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi to capture New Orleans. Once he had taken the "Crescent City," the flag officer was to continue on upstream until he met the warships of the Western Flotilla which were fighting their way down from the Ohio and upper Mississippi. The Lincoln Administration hoped that, if all went well, this strategy would cut the Confederacy in two and thus hasten the end of the rebellion.


Two formidable defensive works, however, Forts Jackson and St. Philip, lay on opposite sides of the Mississippi below New Orleans, protecting the Southern metropolis from seaborne enemies. The Mortar Flotilla -- commanded by Comdr. David Dixon Porter -- had been formed to neutralize the batteries within those Confederate fortresses while Farragut's deep-draft warships dashed past them to take the city.


Following a stop at Key West, Fla., from 18 February to 6 March 1862, Arletta performed blockade duty off Mobile Bay, Ala., from 11 to 15 March and then proceeded to Ship Island, Miss., whence she was towed by revenue cutter Harriet Lane to the Mississippi Delta. She crossed over the bar at Pass a l'Outre on the 18th and entered the river.


Much needed to be done before Farragut could launch his attack. His deep-draft steamers had to be worked laboriously over a bar that was far too shoal for them to cross under normal circumstances; surveying parties had to work almost within the shadows of the forts to locate and mark the positions of each schooner during the impending action; and the mortar boats had to be stripped for action and camouflaged with local underbrush and foliage to reduce their vulnerability to Southern artillery.


Everything lay in readiness by mid-afternoon of 16 April 1862 when Porter embarked in Arletta and took her—accompanied by two of her sister schooners—upriver to anchor at predetermined sites to test the mortars and their mounts and to determine the ranges of their targets. Confederate cannon fired intermittently upon the small Northern sailing ships, but the Southern rounds all fell short. Meanwhile, Arletta's mortar answered with five shells, three of which exploded inside Fort Jackson. After an hour's action, Porter—highly satisfied with the performance of his mortars, gunners, and ships—ordered his captains to retire downstream.


The next day, hoping that it would collide with and set fire to one or more of the Union warships, Southerners put the torch to an incendiary-laden fire raft and cast it adrift. When Union lookouts spotted the blazing barge, Arletta launched boats which took the menacing raft in tow, pulled it ashore, and put out the fire.


On the morning of 18 April 1862, the steamers of the flotilla towed the schooners into position to begin a steady and prolonged bombardment of the forts. Arletta—assigned to the first division of schooners, commanded by Lt. Watson Smith—got off 96 shells during the first day, but lost one man who was killed by an 8-inch solid shot from Fort Jackson which also briefly put her mortar out of action. For the next few days, the schooners kept up the shelling. Then, during the early hours of the 24th; they greatly increased the tempo of their cannonade to give Farragut's steam warships the maximum possible support during their run by the forts.


That evening, after the flag officer's force had reached safety beyond range of Southern shot and shell, Arletta and her division mates dropped downriver to Southwest Pass where they anchored to prepare for a return to sea. During ensuing weeks, they operated in the gulf, helping to enforce the blockade while awaiting the return of Farragut and his deep-draft warships to join them in operations against Mobile.


The most notable event in Arletta's service during this period proved to be her chase on 21 May 1862 of a cotton-laden steamer which apparently had slipped out of Mobile Bay. The schooner ". . . put a shot into ..." the blockade runner and forced her to jettison cargo in order to escape to windward.


Meanwhile, Farragut—perplexed by ambiguous, conflicting, and unrealistic orders—had postponed his attack on Mobile and, instead, had ascended the Mississippi to Vicksburg. There, he found Confederate cliffside fortifications far too strong to be captured without the help of a cooperating ground force many times larger than that which accompanied him. As a result, Farragut dropped downstream with the intention of next striking Mobile. Upon reaching New Orleans, however, he found messages from Washington rebuking him for not remaining near Vicksburg and stating that Northern strategy demanded that he return upstream immediately, clearing the Mississippi as he went, until meeting the Union's Western Flotilla.


At the suggestion of the Army commander in the area, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Farragut called ten of his schooners back to the Mississippi to support an attack on Vicksburg. Porter complied by bringing, not just ten, but the whole flotilla. The schooners departed Pensacola on 3 June 1862 and crossed the bar at Pass a l'Outre three days later. Once they were in the river, however, their ascent was delayed until steamers could be obtained from the Army to tow them upstream against the current. When this indispensable support finally became available about a fortnight later, Arletta departed New Orleans and headed up the Mississippi under tow. Southern shore batteries fired upon her as she was passing Grand Gulf, Miss.; but her return fire and that of sister ships silenced the Confederate cannon before they did any damage.


Arletta arrived on station just below Vicksburg late in the month and first opened fire on 27 June 1862. Before dawn the following morning, the entire flotilla began shelling the Southern batteries; and the schooners kept up their fire until most of Farragut's ships had reached safety well out of range of the Vicksburg guns. Over the ensuing days, while they awaited news of events above Vicksburg and further orders from Farragut, Arletta and her sister schooners from time to time bombarded the cliffside forts. In the meantime, events had recently occurred in Virginia which would soon deprive the flag officer of most of these mortar boats.


Lee's Seven Days Campaign in late June and early July 1862, had turned back a Union drive toward Richmond and had penned up the Federal army in a small area at Harrison's Landing on the northern bank of the James. Support fire from Federal gunboats already operating on the river had helped to save the Union force from destruction; and, on 8 July, Washington—recognizing the value of naval firepower—wired Farragut to send 12 of these schooners to Hampton Roads to reinforce the James River Flotilla. Arletta headed downstream with the largest division of the flotilla on the 11th, stood out to sea on the 17th, and entered Hampton Roads on the 30th. Following repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard, she was towed up the James by the side-wheeler Satellite on 9 August and, the next day, took station off Claremont Plantation. For most of the rest of the month, she operated in the James to protect McClellan's troops as they withdrew from the peninsula to return to Northern Virginia to strengthen the defenses of Washington.


On 29 August 1862, while the Second Battle of Bull Run was beginning, Arletta headed down the James under tow in preparation for transfer to the Potomac to bolster Union naval power there against possible attacks on the National capital. She left Hampton Roads on the last day of the month and arrived at Washington on 5 September. The schooner remained in that vicinity, ready to help to defend the seat of the Federal Government in the event that Lee's army—which had crossed the Potomac into Maryland—attack. After the Union stand at Antietam had repelled this invasion of the North, Arletta left Washington on 18 September to begin operations downstream with the Potomac Flotilla. She continued this duty until returning to the Washington Navy Yard at the end of October to have her mortar removed and to be fitted out as an ordnance vessel.


Reassigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Arletta departed Washington on 28 November 1862 and arrived at Fort Monroe, Va., on 2 December. There she took on a cargo of ammunition and stores and stood to sea on 23 December, two days before Christmas. She reached the vicinity of Wilmington, N.C., on 4 January 1863 and began delivering ammunition to Union warships on blockade duty, a task she continued into the spring.


On 19 April 1863, she headed for Beaufort, N.C., her station for the last two years of the Civil War.


On 17 September 1865, Arletta departed the North Carolina Sounds and headed north. She reached the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the 25th and was decommissioned there on 28 September 1865. The schooner was sold on 30 November 1865.


Minor corrections, 12 December 2007