I did some more reading in Neptune’s Inferno, an excellent book on the Navy in Guadalcanal.
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Day 2
I left off just when Admiral Lee was able to determine which ships on his radar were friendly or enemy. Meanwhile, the battleship South Dakota was taking fire, and was unable to respond due to an unlucky short-circuit that killed all power to the ship.
But the battleship Washington was undetected and was able to fire on the Japanese battleship at point-blank range and riddle it. Even shells that fell short shot through the water and holed the ship under the waterline. The rudder was jammed and the Kirishima was forced to steam in helpless circles, listing severely.
This was the second battleship to be lost in two days. The Washington was damaged more by the concussion of its own guns than by the Japanese. The Japanese fleet fled back to base, and Henderson field was spared bombardment.
The Battle of Tassafaronga
The battle was a victory, but the two battleships were withdrawn due to the severe damage taken by the South Dakota. Again a scratch force of cruisers and destroyers was collected to defend the slot. This time, however, the Japanese were not interested in destroying Henderson Field as much as trying to get supplies to their starving troops.
This battle did not go so well. Admiral Carleton Wright denied an initial request by his destroyer group to fire torpedoes. By the time he gave permission, the angle of fire was all wrong and they all missed. The inexperienced squadron grouped all its fire on the lead ship in the Japanese squadron, giving away their position while leaving the bulk of the enemy free to respond.
And respond they did. The cruisers whipped around 180 degrees and fired a huge spread of torpedoes at the USN line, blowing the bow off of the cruiser New Orleans, sinking the Northampton, and severely damaging two more cruisers. Luckily for the US, the Japanese retired from the scene and abandoned the resupply mission, making this a costly victory, trading four cruisers for one destroyer.
Even with these losses, the balance of power was shifting away from the Japanese. They were planning an evacuation now, instead of any further attacks. The troops on the island were starving to death.