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Doc. 75.-battle on White River, Ark. Fought June 17, 1862.

Commander Davis's reports.

United States flag steamer Benton, Memphis, June 19, 1862.
sir: The Conestoga, Lieut. Commanding G. W. Blodgett, arrived here to-day from White River.

She brings information of the capture of two batteries at St. Charles, eighty miles from the mouth; the first of which mounted four Parrott guns, and the second three forty-two-pounder rifled guns.

Three guns, it is understood, were taken from the gunboat Mariposa, which, after being dismounted, was sunk.

There is now but one gunboat remaining in White River, the Pontchartrain, mounting three or five guns, and having her machinery protected by iron and cotton.

The enemy has attempted to block up the river by driving piles and by sinking boats, but no serious obstructions have yet been discovered.

The Conestoga will return to White River tonight with reinforcements, accompanied by an additional transport laden with commissary stores.

The victory at St. Charles, which has probably given us the command of White River, and secured our communication with Gen. Curtis, would be unalloyed with regret but for the fatal accident to the steam-drum and heater of the Mound City, mentioned in my telegraph despatch.

Of the crew, consisting of one hundred and seventy-five officers and men, eighty-two have already died, forty-three were killed in the water or drowned, twenty-five are severely wounded, and are now on board the hospital-boat. Among the latter is Capt. Kilty. They promise to do well. Three officers and twenty-two men escaped uninjured.

After the explosion took place the wounded men were shot by the enemy while in the water, and the boats of the Conestoga, Lexington and St. Louis, which went to the assistance of the scalded and drowning men of the Mound City, were fired into both with great guns and muskets, and were disabled--one of then forced on shore to prevent sinking.

The forts were commanded by Lieut. Joseph Fry, late of the United States navy, who is now a prisoner and wounded.

The Department and the country will contrast these barbarities of a savage enemy with the humane efforts made by our own people to rescue the wounded and disabled under similar circumstances in the engagement of the sixth instant.

Several poor fellows, who expired shortly after the engagement, expressed their willingness to die when they were told that the victory was ours.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. H. Davis, Flag-Officer Commanding Western Flotilla. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

United States flag steamer Benton, Memphis, June 20.
sir: The number of wounded men on board of the hospital boat Red Rover, is forty-one. The account given me yesterday was incorrect. I shall still wait for further knowledge before presenting a final report of the casualties attending the capture of the St. Charles forts.

The Department will be gratified to learn that the patients are must of them doing well.

The surgeon assures me that Capt. Kilty is out of danger, but he is severely crippled in his hands and feet, and suffers a great deal. He is a brave gentleman and a loyal officer. He has always been conspicuous in this squadron for acting his part in the best spirit of the profession. In the attack on the batteries at St. Charles he occupied the leading place, and received his wounds at the head of the line, in the zealous performance of his whole duty. Although himself wounded and helpless, he attended to the wants and comforts of his injured officers and men.

I have gratefully to acknowledge our obligations to Major-Gen. Wallace and to Dr. Jessup, of the Twenty-fourth Indiana, and to Dr. McClellan, of the First Nebraska regiment, for their valuable assistance.

Sister Angela, the Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, (some of whom are performing their offices of mercy at the Mound City Hospital,) has kindly offered the services of the Sisters for the hospital-boat of this squadron when needed. I have written to Com. Pennock to make arrangements for their coming.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Charles H. Davis, Flag-Officer Commanding Western Flotilla.

Secretary Welles's letter.

Navy Department, June 27, 1862.
sir: Your despatch of the nineteenth instant, communicating information of the capture of two batteries at St. Charles, and the removal of obstructions which have probably given us the command of White River, has been received. The intelligence of the continued success of the navy is most gratifying; but the victory of St. Charles is mingled with regret for the lamented dead, and sympathy for the wounded, who were victims of the fatal accident to the Mound City, and of their barbarous opponents who fired upon them after [224] that great calamity. The contrast between these great barbarities of a savage enemy at St. Charles, and the humane efforts of yourself and your command to rescue the wounded and disabled at Memphis is honorable to the gallant men of the flotilla, and will be gratefully remembered. The nation honoring the memory and sufferings of its heroes, sympathizes with the wounded survivors and the bereaved families of the gallant dead. Its noblest tributes are due to those who bleed for their country and die in its cause. I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles. To Flag-Officer Charles H. Davis, Commanding Western Flotilla, Memphis via Cairo.

Official report of Colonel Fitch.

St. Charles, White River, Ark., June 17.
To Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
On arriving eight miles below here last evening, we ascertained that the enemy had two batteries here, supported by a force — number unknown — of infantry.

A combined attack was made at seven o'clock A. M. to-day. The regiment under my command (Forty-sixth Indiana) landed two and a half miles below the battery, and skirmishers were thrown out, who drove in the enemy's pickets.

The gunboats then moved up and opened on their batteries. A rifled shot from one of the batteries penetrated the steam-drum of the Mound City, disabling, by scalding, most of her crew.

Apprehensive that some similar accident might happen to the other gunboats, and thus leave my small force without their support, I signalled the gunboats to cease firing, and we would storm the battery. They ceased at exactly the right moment, and my men carried the battery gallantly. The infantry were driven from the support of the guns, the gunners shot at their posts, their commanding officer Freye (formerly of the United States navy) wounded and captured, and eight brass and iron guns, with ammunition, captured.

The enemy's loss is unknown. We have buried seven or eight of their dead, and other dead and wounded are being brought in.

The casualties among my own command are small, the only real loss being from the escaping steam in the Mound City. She will probably be repaired and ready to proceed with us up the river to-morrow.

A full report will be made as early as possible. Very respectfully,

G. N. Fitch, Colonel commanding Forty-sixth Indiana Volunteers.

Account by a participant.

St. Charles, White River, Arkansas, Saturday, June 21, 1862.
my dear mother: I have not had time to write to you before about the battle that we had up here last Tuesday, of which you have doubtless heard by this time.

When I went over the battle-field of Pittsburgh Landing, I thought I had seen as horrible a sight as it was possible to see, but the horrors of last Tuesday morning surpassed every thing.

I had better give you a full account of the expedition up this river since it left Memphis.

We left Memphis last Friday at five A. M., the Mound City, Capt. A. H. Kilty, commanding the expedition, the St. Louis, Capt. W. McGunnegle, and the Lexington, Capt. James W. Shirk, with a coal-barge in tow. At three P. M. came in sight of Helena, and discovered a steamboat laying there. We kept on, but soon the steamboat, which we made out to be the Clara Dolsen, commenced backing out and rounding to to start down the river. The Mound City signalled us, but we could not make it out, so soon a small boat put off and came alongside with orders to give chase to the Clara Dolsen, we being faster than the iron-clad boats. We ran down to the St. Louis, cast off the coal-barge, and started after the rebel steamer.

The tug Spiteful, which accompanied the Mound City as a tender, had already started in chase, but we passed her in about an hour, rounded to, her machinery having given way. The Mound City being nearest to the Dolsen by half a mile when she left Helena, fired several shots at her, but they all fell short. We continued the chase until about nine in the evening, when, having for some time lost sight of the Dolsen entirely, and knowing her to be one of the fastest boats on the river, we gave up the chase and came to anchor. Next morning, the iron-boats having caught up to us in the mean time, we took the barge in tow and started down the river and came to anchor at ten A. M., some ten miles up White River by a “cut-off” leading into Arkansas River.

The tug Spiteful then went up the river on a “reconnoissance” and returned in the afternoon, followed by the Clara Dolsen, which she had captured some twenty miles up the river. She is a magnificent boat and worth about sixty thousand dollars. We lay there all that night and the next day and night, tortured dreadfully by musquitoes. On Sunday Captain Kilty put the Dolsen in charge of the Third Master of the Lexington, James Fitzpatrick, and sent her up to Memphis. Next morning, (Monday, sixteenth,) at five, the gunboat Conestoga, Captain Blodget, and the transports New National and White Cloud, came up the river and we then all got under way and proceeded up White River. We anchored that night some fifty miles up the river, and sent the Spiteful on ahead to reconnoitre. She returned in about two hours with the information that the enemy had erected a battery at St. Charles, some four miles above. Next morning at six we all got under way, the Mound City leading the St. Louis, Lexington and Conestoga, and the transports White Cloud and New National, with some six hundred men under Col. Fitch.

At eight o'clock we called to quarters and commenced firing our No. One Parrott gun, and, the transports disembarked their troops, who marched out to attack the enemy in the rear. At nine came in sight of three boats sunk in the channel of the river, one of them a gunboat, and at five minutes past nine the flag-ship signalled “Close action,” the enemy opening fire on us at the same [225] time. We could not see the rebel battery, it being concealed from us by a bend in the river, but their balls whistled freely over and around us, striking the water some twenty yards in front of us, and ricocheting some ten feet over our heads, with that peculiar whistling sound by which a rifled ball can always be distinguished. We advanced steadily all the time, the Mound City being only about five hundred yards from the battery, and in full view of it, and we some five hundred yards behind, when precisely at three minutes past ten we suddenly saw steam rushing from all the port-holes of the Mound City, soon enveloping her completely. I turned away sick at heart, for I knew what an awful scene was being enacted on board of the ill-fated boat. When I looked again, a minute afterwards, the violence of the steam had already subsided, and the water was full of men struggling with the swift current which was sweeping them away to a speedy death, but far preferable to the torture which they afterwards endured. All the boats were immediately lowered and sent to pick them up, and soon the poor wretches were trying to crawl into the boats, while the rebels kept up a sharp fire of musketry and grape upon them, sending a shot through the launch of the Conestoga, which was filled with scalded men, killing and wounding several.

Soon the ward-room of our boat was filled with men shrieking with agony. In such a case everybody is a doctor, so I got out my knife, and commenced cutting their clothes off, for wherever they were pulled off, the skin and flesh, which was literally boiled on their bones, came off with them. After getting their clothes off we deluged them with oil and flour, and covered them with raw cotton, they crying to us to shoot them and put them out of their pain. It made me so sick I was obliged to go on deck.

When I got up the firing had ceased. An army officer had come down to the bank and told us that the land forces had surprised the enemy and taken their battery, just as they were about retreating from the fire of our boats. The Conestoga and the Spiteful in the mean time had towed the Mound City down-stream. I went on board of her in the afternoon, but I cannot describe the horrible scene which met my eye. The decks were covered with dead and dying men, here and there skin from men's hands and feet, with the nails yet attached; men crying for water! water! to quench the heat from the steam which was burning them inside.

The Musselman, a small stern-wheel boat we had with us, went alongside of her to take on the wounded. I went into Capt. Kilty's room on the Mound City. A man lay on his bed gasping for water; I went to get him some; when I returned he was dead. We put some sixty-five scalded men on the Musselman, and a quarter of an hour afterwards we had to carry out seven of them which had died.

The Musselman started for Memphis in the evening with fifty-eight scalded, accompanied by the Conestoga, with Captain Kilty dangerously scalded; Paymaster Gunn, dying, (since dead;) Doctor Jones, dying; Mr. Young, pilot, the same; and Lieut. Fry, of the rebel navy, (dangerously shot through the back while running from his battery,) in Capt. Blodgett's cabin, and the ward-room full of wounded men and officers. The Musselman stopped on her way up and buried twenty-seven, and by the time she got to Memphis seven more were dead. We buried fifty-eight that same night, and the men who were not hurt came to take supper on our boat, and out of a crew which in the morning numbered one hundred and eighty-five men, only twenty-two were left. All the masters were scalded to death except the First Master, Mr. Daniel, and he being upon the quarterdeck escaped. All the engineers were killed except the First Assistant, Mr. Clemens, and he had gone up on the Clara Dolsen, also one of the pilots. One of the Master's Mates was killed, the other badly scalded.

The ball that did all this mischief was a thirty-two pound rifled, and entered upon the port side just above gun No. One, and killing two captains of guns, passed clear through the steam-drum and lodged in the forward officers' mess-room. In looking at that poor mess I thought that perhaps it was foreordained, but may God preserve me from such a fate.

Your affectionate son,

feed. Wise.

Missouri Democrat account.

Memphis, June 19, 1862.
The gunboat Conestoga and transport Jacob Musselman have just arrived from White River, and bring the news of the capture of Fort St. Charles, on that river, by the gunboats of the expedition which left here on Friday last. The fleet consisted of the gunboats Mound City, (flagship,) St. Louis, Conestoga and Lexington, and the transports New National, White Cloud and Jacob Musselman, having on board the Forty-sixth Indiana regiment, in command of Col. G. N. Fitch.

On Saturday last the fleet reached the mouth of White River, and on Monday, the eighteenth, began to ascend the stream. On Tuesday morning, at about seven o'clock, being within two miles of the supposed locality of the Fort, and the Mound City being in advance, Capt. Kilty began shelling the woods on each side of the river as they moved up, in order to cover the landing of Col. Fitch's troops from the transports. The landing was effected a little over a mile below the Fort, on the south-west bank of the river.

The Fort, situated on a ridge of about seventy-five feet in height, which runs nearly parallel with and about two hundred feet back from the south-west bank of the river, was not completed, having only breastworks for the two batteries, but no works of defence for the rear. The upper battery of two forty-two-pounders was on the point of the ridge where it puts in close to the river. These two guns had been the armament of the gunboat Ponchartrain which the rebels had sunk so as to obstruct the channel of the river immediately abreast of the battery. Two transports [226] had also been sunk close to her, one of which had on her pilot-house “Eliza G.” The battery on the point of the ridge was manned by the former crew of the Ponchartrain. The lower battery, composed of five twelve-pound field-pieces, was about three hundred yards further down-stream, where the ridge was further from the river; and the whole place was in command of Capt. Fry, the former captain of the Ponchartrain, and who was once a lieutenant in the U. S. navy. At about half-past 8, when the Mound City approached within less than a mile, the first or lower battery opened fire upon her; this was the first indication of the exact location of the batteries; as they had been concealed by the heavy timber in the intervening bottom land, which was only cleared along the river's edge, and at one or two other places, so as to give the guns of the batteries a clear range. The Mound City immediately moved up and delivered several broadsides, and leaving the St. Louis and Conestoga engaged, passed on up to engage the upper battery, which had now opened fire. The fight had lasted about thirty minutes after the firing had become general on both sides, and the lower battery of field-pieces was nearly silenced, when a forty-two-pound shot from the upper battery struck the Mound City on the port side, near the second gun from the bow, passing through the casemate, killing five or six men, and knocking a large hole in the steam-drum. Instantly the hot steam burst out in dense volumes, filling the engine — room, gun — room, and pilot — house, and scalding over one hundred and twenty-five persons. The shrieks of the poor fellows confined between decks in the scalding vapor were said to be heart-rending beyond description. Many were instantly suffocated, but all who were able groped their way to the ports and jumped into the river, and a minute after the explosion, fifty or sixty of them were struggling in the water. The Conestoga immediately came up and sent out two boats to pick them up. One of the Mound City's boats was also launched by Master's Mate Simmes Browne, one of the few officers who was not seriously hurt. During this time both gunboats and the small boats were drifting down the river. As the Mound City drifted near the shore, near the lower battery, a sortie was made from the battery, which some supposed to be an attempt on the part of the enemy to board the Mound City, but which afterward proved to be for the purpose of firing on the scalded men in the river, which the prisoners say they did at the command of Capt. Fry. The field-pieces of the lower battery were also turned upon the boats that were picking up the wounded, and a twelve-pound shot knocked away the bows of one of the Conestoga's boats. Many were hit by the firing, and sunk before the boats could reach them, and only twenty-seven out of the Mound City's crew of one hundred and eighty, answered to their names at the calling of the roll, and were all that escaped unhurt.

Another singular accident now occurred: The Mound City's starboard broadside-guns had been loaded just before the shot struck the steam-drum, and had not been fired since, but nearly half an hour afterwards one of the wounded gunners had become entangled in the lanyard which is attached to the lock of the gun, and in his writhing with the pain fired the gun. The ball took effect on the New National, which had landed her troops and come up to the rescue of the Mound City. The ball struck her behind the wheel, and, ranging forward, cut off the steam-pipe, immediately disabling her and slightly scalding the second engineer.

Col. Fitch, who had now gained the summit of the ridge a short distance below the lower battery, fearing that one of the other gunboats might meet with an accident similar to the Mound City's, signalled the gunboats to cease firing, and that he would storm the batteries. The gunboats accordingly ceased firing, and after making considerable of a detour, the Forty-sixth attacked the batteries in the rear, delivering their fire as they came up, charging over the guns and killing the gunners at their posts. The rebels fought stubbornly, asking no quarter, and receiving none from the men of the Forty-sixth, who were enraged at the dastardly firing upon the helpless men in the river; only two of those who were in the battery were taken prisoners, the rest were killed. The Indiana troops then came over the brow of the ridge and down into the wooded bottom-land next the river in pursuit of those who had been firing on the Mound City's crew, the rebels retreating rapidly up the bank of the river, the Forty-sixth firing on them as they fled, killing the greater portion of them. In the flight, Capt. Fry, their commander, was wounded by a ball in the back, was captured, and is now a prisoner on board the Conestoga. The rebel loss in killed is not known, but must have included the greater portion of their force, as we have only thirty prisoners, and only a few are known to have escaped. Opinions differ also as to the number of the rebels, some setting it as high as five hundred, and saying that Col. Fitch's estimate of one hundred and fifty referred only to the gunboat's crew, who manned the upper battery.

Col. Fitch, in his report, states that the casual ties in his regiment are unimportant, being only five or six slightly wounded. But for the one shot which burst the Mound City's steam-drum, there would not have been a man hurt on the fleet, as not a single shot that struck the gunboats did any damage whatever except that. No one was hurt on either of the gunboats, and none of the transports were struck except the New National, by the accidental shot from the Mound City.

Col. Fitch was so exasperated at the murderous fire that had been poured upon the scalded men who were struggling in the water, that when he came on board the Conestoga, where Col. Fry was a prisoner, he reproached him bitterly for his inhuman conduct in giving the order, and asked him to compare his own conduct with our course towards them only ten days before, at Memphis, when all of the small boats belonging to the [227] nearest of our gunboats were sent out to help save the drowning crew of their gunboat General Lovell. He told him that being a prisoner was now his protection, but if justice were done him, he would be hanging to the nearest tree before night. Fry at first denied that he had given the order, but on being confronted with some of his men, who persisted in saying that he had given the order, he became silent.

I am indebted for many particulars of the battle to Simmes E. Browne, Master's Mate of the Mound City, who came up on the Conestoga with the body of his brother. Mr. Browne was one of the few who were not too badly scalded to launch one of the Mound City's boats, to save those who were drowning. He soon had the boat full of disabled men, who paddled and drifted her as well as they could towards the Conestoga, the balls pattering in the water all about them as they went, and occasionally striking some poor fellow, who would instantly sink to rise no more. A large shell burst within twenty feet of them, but fortunately did not hurt the boat nor any one in it. One of the sailors of the Mound City, whose name is Jones, is mentioned as having shown extraordinary endurance. He was partially scalded by the steam on the Mound City, and leaped out of one of the ports into the river. While he was swimming around, endeavoring to get to some one of the boats, he received three gunshot wounds--one in the leg, one in the shoulder, and one in the back; but he still kept afloat, and being unable to get near any of the small boats, and having drifted below the gunboats St. Louis and Conestoga, he swam to the Lexington, nearly half a mile, was taken on board, and is getting well.

Almost all who were badly scalded have since died. Thirty-five of them died on the way up on the Conestoga and the Musselman, and were buried near Island Sixty-seven. Eight men were dead when the boats arrived at Memphis, and the entire number of the Mound City's dead is not far from one hundred and twenty-five.

I give you below a list of the officers of the Mound City, and note against each name whether unhurt, wounded, or dead. I was unable to get a list of the crew:

Capt. A. H. Kilty, badly scalded, but will recover.

First Master, Cyrus Dominy, unhurt.

Second Master, William Hart, drowned.

Third Master, John Kinsey, scalded to death.

Fourth Master, James Scoville, scalded to death.

Master's Mate, Henry R. Browne, scalded to death.

Master's Mate, Simmes E. Browne, slightly scalded.

Paymaster, John M. Gunn, scalded to death.

Surgeon, George Jones, badly scalded, but will recover.

Chief Engineer, John Cox, scalded to death.

Second Engineer, (was not on board.)

Third Engineer,----McAffee, scalded to death.

Fourth Engineer, Geo. Hollingsworth, scalded to death.

Pilot, Charles Young, scalded to death.

Pilot, Joseph Nixon, of Memphis, scalded to death.

Carpenter,----Manning, slightly scalded.

Gunner, Thomas McElroy, slightly hurt.

Armorer, Lewis Stevenson, unhurt.

James Kennedy, one of the regular pilots of the Mound City, was not on board, having left to bring the captured steamer Clara Dolsen up to Memphis. The damage to the Mound City is but slight, and can be repaired in half a day. A new crew will be sent down immediately to man her, and she will continue with the expedition, which will proceed further up White River.

It was thought that the sunken boats could soon be sufficiently removed to admit the passage of the fleet, and it is not probable that they will meet with any further opposition, as it was conceded that there were no other works further up the stream, and that the river was virtually in our possession.

But before many days I hope to send you even more important news; rumors portentous of disaster to the rebels reach us from Vicksburgh; and perhaps even in my next letter I may be able to say that the flag hallowed by the blood of those who first raised it in the Revolution of ‘76, and of those who sustained it in ‘61-2, floats over the last rebel battery that frowned over the Mississippi yellow flood.

W. L. F.

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