June 6, 1862.--naval engagement off Memphis, Tenn., and occupation of that city by Union forces.
Report of Col. Charles Ellet, jr.
Memphis, in which two of the rams of my fleet participated. A reconnaissance at Fort Pillow on the evening of the 4th, made by two of my steamers, satisfied me that the fort was evacuated. I approached with the Queen of the West close enough to invite the fire of the rebel guns, but received no shot, while very considerable smoke and flames indicated the burning of the property of the enemy. Before daylight Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet, at his own suggestion, went in a yawl with a small boats crew down to the fort, found it deserted, and planted the Stars and Stripes there. I followed almost simultaneously with a portion of my fleet. After a brief delay I proceeded with three vessels to Randolph and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet ashore with a flag of truce. He there ascertained that the rebel forces had been hastily withdrawn the night before, after destroying their artillery, burning a good deal of cotton, and doing what other mischief they could in the short time they could venture to remain. Later in the day the gunboats under Commodore Davis moved down the Mississippi toward Memphis, while I collected my fleet and passed the night on the Tennessee shore some 18 miles above Memphis. Having seen the rebel fleet abandon a position whence they coul( choose their own time of attack, with Fort Pillow to fall back upon, I had no expectation that they would make a stand at Memphis, which was represented to be entirely unfortified. Nevertheless I left the shore at daybreak on the morning of the 5th, keeping four of my strongest steamers in the advance, prepared for any emergency. On approaching Memphis I found the gunboats under Commodore Davis anchored across the channel. I accordingly rounded to with the Queen (my flagship), and made fast to the Arkansas shore, with the intention of conferring with Commodore Davis and collecting information preparatory to the next movement. But my flag-ship (the Queen of the West) had been but a few minutes secured to the bank before a shot, which seemed to pass over her, announced the presence of the enemy. I immediately ordered the lines to be cast off, signified to Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet, on the Monarch, whose place was next in order, to follow, hoisted the flag, which was the signal I had prescribed for going into action, rounded to with head downstream, and passing between the gunboats, which were then returning the enemy's fire with considerable vivacity, bore down upon the enemy, expecting to be followed by the Monarch, the Lancaster, and the Switzerland in order. I found the rebel gunboats, all of which were rams, armed with guns, heading boldly upstream toward our fleet, while the levee at Memphis was crowded with spectators. I directed my attack upon two rebel rams which were about the middle of the river very close together, and supported by a third a little in their rear and a little nearer to the Memphis shore. These two rams held their way so steadily, pointing their stems directly upon the stern of the Queen, that it was impossible for me to direct the pilots, between whom I had taken my stand, upon which to direct our shock. But as  the distance between us and the enemy, short at first, became dangerously small, the two rebel boats, apparently quailing before the approaching collision, began first to back water and then to turn, thus presenting their broadsides to my attack. It was impossible to choose between these boats which to attack, for there was still a third ram within supporting distance to which I would be exposed if I struck the second, while the second would be sure to reach me if I selected the first. My speed was high, time was short, and the forward rebel presented rather the fairer mark, I selected her. The pilots, now animated by the deep interest of the scene, brought the prepared bow of the Queen of the West against the broadside of the rebel ram just forward of the wheel-house. The crash was terrific. Everything loose about the Queen — some tables, pantry ware, and a. half-eaten breakfast-were overthrown and broken by the shock. The hull of the rebel steamer was crushed in, her chimneys surged over as if they were going to fall over on the bow of the Queen. Many of her crew, I have been told, leaked overboard, yet the rebel wreck, in consequence of the continued motion of the Queen, still clung to her bow. Before the collision the rebel made a feeble effort to use her guns, and succeeded in firing a charge of grape and canister, which was lost in the water. In less than half a minute from the moment of collision and before the Queen could clear herself from the wreck she was herself struck by another rebel steamer on her larboard wheel-house. This blow broke her tiller-rope, crushed in her wheel and a portion of her hull, and left her nearly helpless. All this, from the time of leaving the shore and passing the gunboats to the sinking of the rebel gunboat and the disabling of my flag-ship, . do not think occupied over seven or eight minutes. The moment the Queen was herself struck I left the pilot-house and went out on deck, when I was instantly disabled by one of a number of shots from a rebel steamer which seemed to have come into accidental collision with the Queen and was at that moment drifting by her but still in contact with her. From the moment of the collision of the Queen with the rebel steamer to the time when I was brought to her deck could not have exceeded one minute, yet I saw from her deck the surface of the Mississippi strewn with the fragments of the rebel vessel. While these things were occurring the Monarch, Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet commanding, and Captain Dryden, master, having followed the Queen and passed below our own gunboats, directed her shock upon the rebel ram immediately following the one that struck the Queen and sank her. The blow of the Monarch was so severe that piles of furniture were precipitated from the rebel steamer upon the forecastle of the Monarch and were found there in large quantities after the action. Many versions, differing froum each other entirely, have been given by eye-witnesses of these occurrences, who stood in plain view on the levee at Mempbis, in our own gunboats, and on the Arkansas shore. These discrepancies are attributable to the fact that there were three rebel rams and two of our own mingled together and crashing against each other and that other rebel steamers were coming up and close at hand. In this confusion the different boats were mistaken for others, and the steamer struck by the Queen disappeared from view beneath the surface of the river. This uncertainty of view was doubtless increased by the accumulation of smoke from the chimneys of so many boats and the fire from our own gunboats. The general impression was that it was the Queen that went down and not the boat she struck. After being disabled the Queen worked herself to the Arkansas shore with only one wheel and without a rudder. The disabled rebel which  had come in collision with the Queen worked herself in to shore near the same place, and I sent a portion of the crew of the Queen, at their own solicitation, to take the rebel and secure her crew as prisoners. Our hope at first was to save this rebel gunboat, which is reported to be a very fine vessel, but she soon settled; but though Commodore Davis has sent a force to raise her, success, I understand, is regarded as doubtful.1
Incidents of the naval engagement at Memphis.
U. S. Steam-Ram Switzerland, June 10, 1862.The rebel boats were all rams, provided with guns, so as to serve both as rams and gunboats. My boats were not provided with guns. The rebel boats were very heavily plated with railroad iron. My boats were without iron plating and had been spoken of in ridicule as the “brown-paper rams.” The General Lovell, the boat which was first struck by the Queen, had a crew of 86 men, of whom 18 only are said to have been saved. The General Price, another rebel boat which also came into collision with the Queen and was disabled, had a crew of 18 men, according to the count made by the crew of the Queen, to whom they surrendered. The Queen and the Monarch together struck five boats, one of which was sunk, simultaneously; another in a few minutes ; a third floated long enough to be towed to shore by the boat that struck her; a fourth, the General Price, sank very slowly, and it was at first supposed could be easily raised. The fifth was chased to the shore by the Monarch and received but a slight blow, and will therefore be saved. These facts go to show that ram fighting and prizes are scarcely compatible. The boilers of the rebel boats, so far as we have had a chance to see, are placed below decks, and the hulls are consequently weak. The boilers of our rams were not covered, and their hulls therefore could be made as strong for ramming as we could desire. ...