Union Navy Leadership: Samuel Francis Du Pont
Union forces specifically needed an adequate and well executed naval component in order for the mission to be successful. This would prove a daunting task for officials in Washington as well as the newly installed South Atlantic Blockading Squadron Commander Samuel Francis Du Pont. Du Pont knew about blockade strategy already in his naval career, serving on the blockade of California in the twighlight days of the Mexican American War. The seasoned Flag Officer, who served in the United States Navy since 1815, took command of the SABC on 18 September 1861. He would uphold the command until June 1863. Port Royal would arguably be his greatest test, now in the waning years of his life.
For the aging Squadron Commander, preparations were anything but slow. Decisions were made so fast that Du Pont felt officials in Washington, including President Lincoln, were not being realistic to the start date of the expedition (originally in early October). The burden of leadership indeed weighed on Du Pont. In coordination with Brig. General Thomas Sherman's 13,000 troops, 77 ships under Du Pont would assemble at Port Royal.
If all went well, this early engagement would be a hallmark of combined Army/Navy operations utilized by Union forces during the war.
Confederate Navy Leadership: Josiah Tattnall
For the Confederacy, Captain Josiah Tattnal would be responsible for the Southern naval defense of Port Royal. Although Tattnall opposed secession, he nonetheless resigned his U.S. Navy commission and became a senior naval officer for the state navy of Georgia, his home state. As the war progressed, he soon found himself in command of the Georgia and South Carolina coastline, which included Port Royal. He would have very little resources to put against the amassed fleets: several converted tugboats and harbor vessels with 2 mounted cannon.
It would seem that any subsequent defense of Port Royal would have to rely on its hastily built up forts (Walker and Beauregard). The forts would become the focus of both Union and Confederate forces in the days to come before the attack.