When the war broke out, Charles Harrod Boyd’s survey team moved up to Passamaquoddy Bay, Maine, to get away from the fighting in South Carolina, where it had been working. While the Coast Survey schooner Arago, Boyd’s ship, was in Maine it captured two Confederate ships, Express and Alice Ball, that were trying to run a naval blockade in late summer 1861. The survey team moved back to South Carolina to work with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In May 1862, while doing survey work along the James River, Boyd captured six Confederate soldiers from the 24th South Carolina Regiment.
Charles O. Boutelle was fleet hydrographer to Rear Admirals Samuel DuPont and John Dahlgren for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He helped secure the Union victory at the Battle of Port Royal Sound in November 1861 outside Charleston, S.C. Boutelle took command of the Coast Survey steamer Vixen and piloted the Union fleet into Port Royal Sound, though the Confederates had taken out all of the navigational aids, to shell two enemy forts there. The victory at Port Royal cut the sea route between Charleston and Savannah, Ga., forcing the South to garrison 20,000 soldiers in Charleston.
Oscar Hinrichs served in the Coast Survey before the Civil War, spending most of his time surveying the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. He defected to the South, taking Coast Survey charts with him. Son of a Saxe-Coburg diplomat who was married to the daughter of a prominent Elizabeth City, N.C., businessman, Hinrichs was assigned to Maine when the war broke out, but friends in Maryland who were Confederate sympathizers smuggled him across the Potomac River into Virginia. He was wounded in action twice, and shortly after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Va., he was arrested and accused of playing a role in the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy. The charges were later dropped.
A U.S. Navy midshipman at age 13, John Newland Maffitt used his experience as a sailor in the Coast Survey to become a successful Confederate raider. He worked for the Coast Survey for 15 years, becoming intimately familiar with the Atlantic coast and its waterways and inlets. Maffitt resigned his commission at the outbreak of the war and joined the Confederate navy. He was assigned as a blockade runner, bringing supplies to Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, and Mobile, Ala. Commanding the CSS Florida, Maffitt reportedly captured 22 ships in 18 months, including the Jacob Bell, which had $2.5 million on board.
Preston C.F. West was sent by the Coast Survey to serve on the staff of Gen. William Baldy Smith for most of the Civil War. He made contributions as a scout, topographer and combat intelligence officer. He was involved in more than 20 battles, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Cold Harbor. After the war, he left the Coast Survey to become the chief mining engineer for Alexander Agassiz at the Calumet & Hecla Mine in Michigan.
Joseph H. Smith joined the Coast Survey in 1854. Eight years later, he volunteered to take his brother’s appointment with the U.S. Navy. In command of the Uncas, he left New York on Feb. 28, 1862 for the Gulf Coast, and en route witnessed the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Afterward, his crew switched to another ship, the Sachen. Aboard Sachen, Harris and the other surveyors established survey markers along the Mississippi River to serve as control points for indirect artillery fire into Confederate forts defending the approaches to New Orleans. Their work paved the way for the Navy’s first combat use of blind artillery fire during the battle for Fort Jackson in April 1862.
Edited from the NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s “Charting a More Perfect Union.”
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This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.