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Battle of Portland Harbor
Part of the American Civil War
File:Caleb-cushing.jpg
Caleb Cushing burning during the Battle of Portland Harbor.
Date June 27, 1863
Location off Portland, Maine
Result United States victory
Belligerents
File:Flag of the United States.svg United States Confederate States of America Confederate States
Commanders
unknown File:Confederate States Naval Ensign after May 26 1863.svg Charles Read
Strength
2 armed steamers 1 armed steamer,
1 captured revenue cutter
Casualties and losses
1 revenue cutter captured 1 armed steamer captured
1 captured revenue cutter scuttled

Template:Campaignbox New England Theater of the American Civil War

The Battle of Portland Harbor was a naval battle of the American Civil War, fought on June 27, 1863, in the waters off Portland, Maine. Two United States Navy warships engaged two vessels under Confederate States Navy employment.

Background[]

On June 26, a Confederate raiding party, led by Captain Charles Read, entered the harbor at Portland, sailing past the Portland Head Light.

Two days prior to this, a Confederate raider named the Tacony was being pursued by the Union Navy at sea. To thwart the pursuers, the Confederates captured Archer, a Maine fishing vessel out of Southport. After transferring their supplies and cargo onto Archer, the Confederates set fire to Tacony hoping the Union Navy would believe the ship was destroyed. The rebels then slipped into Portland Harbor late in the evening under the guise of fishermen. Their plan was to slip back out of the harbor and try to destroy the commercial shipping capability of the area.

Battle[]

Sometime after midnight, the raiders slipped into the port area itself and proceeded to the federal wharf. Having the advantage of surprise, the crew seized a cutter belonging to the Revenue Service, the USRC Caleb Cushing, named after a Massachusetts congressman. Their original intent was to seize a steamer called the Chesapeake, but its boilers were cold. Too much time would be needed to get the steam up in her, so they abandoned it for Cushing. They made their escape and fled out to sea. News spread of the Confederate actions and the military was informed of the rebel intrusion. They had been observed by several persons while taking over the cutter, and public fury was fanned by the incident.

Along with the soldiers went a six pound field piece and a 12 pound howitzer. The soldiers commandeered the steamer Forest City, a cruise ship, and the steamer Chesapeake, whose steam was finally up. All of the civilians on board were issued muskets to defend against the Confederates. Forest City, a faster boat, caught up to Cushing and Archer first. Cushing opened fire upon Forest City when it was within the 2 mi (3.2 km) range of Cushing. The captain of Forest City was afraid to pursue any further.

Cushing, being a revenue cutter, had two secret compartments hidden in the captain's stateroom. Captain Read had not discovered the cache of powder and ammunitions that were stored there. If he had, the outcome could have been very different.

Chesapeake, which had left port sometime after Forest City, finally caught up and continued on toward Cushing. The wind was beginning to blow against the Confederate sailors and the steamers soon caught sight of Cushing. Read ordered Cushing torched.

The munitions exploded and destroyed the cutter after it was abandoned by his 24 crewmen who escaped in the lifeboats. They were subsequently captured and held as prisoners of war at Fort Preble. Archer was also soon captured and all the rebels were returned to Portland.

Aftermath[]

It was discovered that the Confederates were in possession of over $100,000 in bonds. These were to be paid after a treaty for peace was ratified between the North and the South.

File:CWguardhouse.jpg

Fort Warren in 1861.

Public anger against the Southerners was high, and additional troops to safeguard the prisoners were requested. They had to be spirited out of Portland during the night to prevent a riot from breaking in July, when they were removed to Boston Harbor, where they were then held at Fort Warren.

References[]

fr:Bataille de Portland Harbor

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