The American Civil War forever changed the course of naval warfare with the introduction of ironclad-protected steam-propelled warships and submarines, in addition to the newer and more powerful naval artilleries. Below are the 17 naval battles that played a significant role in the outcome of the overall Civil war off the ground and into the waters of the divided Americans.

#1 First Battle of Fort Sumter | April 12-13, 1861

At the break of dawn of April 12, 1861, a 10-inch mortar round was shot from Fort Johnson and into Fort Sumter, and like the straw that broke the camel’s back, that single shot marked the beginning of one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

Fort Sumter 1861
The first battle that marked the beginning of the four-year American Civil War began when a 10-inch mortar round was shot at Fort Sumter in 1861. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The shot was fired by Lt. Henry S. Farley under the command of Captain George S. James. The senior officer initially offered the first shot to a notable Virginian secessionist, Roger Pryor, but he declined, saying that he could not fire the first gun of the war. After nearly 36 hours of fighting, with low ammunition and men hungry and exhausted, Union commander Robert Anderson agreed to a truce and surrendered their position to Confederate commander P. G. T. Beauregard’s men. Giving the first victory to the Confederacy. Little did they know, however, that the fight was far from over. In fact, they will be in it for the next four years.

#2 Battle of Gloucester Point | May 7, 1861

Days following the surrender of Fort Sumter to the Confederate Army, tens of thousands of Union drafted men were dispatched to stifle the spread of the uprising. President Abraham Lincoln ordered to include Virginia in the Union blockade, so the Confederates immediately built fortifications to deny the Union access to local estuaries. Upon hearing this, the USS Yankee, under the command of Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., was assigned to scout the said defensive wall at Gloucester Point opposite Yorktown on May 7, 1861. As soon as the Confederates spotted the steam tugboat, cannon fire exchange commenced.

#3 Battle of Aquia Creek | May 29-June 1, 1861

Union Navy gunboats and Confederates shore batteries went head-to-head on the Potomac River on the 29th at the merging streams of the Aquia Creek in Stafford County, Virginia. Unlike the earlier naval action, the Battle of Aquia Creek lasted about 72 hours, the longest thus far. The exchange of cannon fire was a continuation of the Confederates’ efforts to block the Union forces from moving further into the Potomac River, inflicting little-to-no damage or severe casualties for each side. The Confederates fired the first boiler-torpedo weeks following that battle with the support of mines placed around the Aquia Creek, equipped with gunpowders enough to blow up a ship the size of the slop-of-war Pawnee.

Aquia Creek 1861
Union Navy vs. Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek in 1861. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

#4 Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries | August 28-29, 1861

The first combined operation involved Union Army troops and Navy sailors launching an attack on the Confederates’ fortified Hatteras Inlet. It was North Carolina’s busiest port and a vital supply line for Virginia’s secessionists. With little defense and artillery unable to retaliate against the bombarding fleet, Union forces landed on shore and overran both Confederate-guarded forts, Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras. This battle was the first time the naval blockading strategy was used.

Hatteras Inlet Batteries 1861
Union forces captured the two forts on the Outer Banks at Cape Hatteras inlet in 1861. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

#5 Battle of the Head of Passes | October 12, 1861

Six months into the war, the Confederacy launched a naval raid employing its river defense “mosquito fleet” against the Union blockade squadron moored at the Head of Passes. This was the first time the secessionists used the ironclad ram CSS Manassas in combat, supported by three fire rafts chained together. Hours passed, and the Confederates withdrew from the battle because supplies ran low.

Head of Passes 1861
The Confederate ironclad ram CSS Manassas strikes at the USS Richmond in the Battle of the Head of the Passes in 1861. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, the Union fleet found themselves on a “comic opera” when the Captain of the supporting vessel Vincennes misread a signal and ordered his men to abandon the ship in panic. Upon reaching the flagship USS Richmond and the anticipated explosion didn’t occur aboard Vincennes, a fuming Captain John Pope ordered the humiliated Captain to go back. The battle concluded with no casualties, thus dubbed the “bloodless naval battle of the American Civil War.”