lot of craft, under the control of the army, and known as the River Defense Fleet.
They were river steamers, with bows enclosed in iron, and were designed for use as rams.
Fourteen vessels in all were thus prepared, and eight were sent up the river in charge of Captain James E. Montgomery
to try conclusions with Flag-Officer Foote
's powerful ironclads.
The opportunity was not long in coming.
, suffering from the wound received at Fort Donelson
, was relieved by Captain Charles H. Davis
on May 9th.
The new commander, who was soon to be promoted to flag-officer, selected the Benton
, commanded by Lieutenant S. L. Phelps
, as his flagship.
On May 10th, the bombardment of Fort Pillow
by the mortar-boats, which had been going on since the 14th of April, was unexpectedly interrupted by the advance of the River Defense Fleet, which came up bravely from its position under the guns of the Fort
and actually took the Federal
vessels by surprise, the Cincinnati
being called upon at first to bear the brunt of the onslaught alone.
Both she and the Mound City
had to be beached on account of the injuries they received.
There is no doubt that Captain Montgomery
, the Confederate
commander, showed great bravery in making the attack, but he also proved his discretion by withdrawing upon the advance of the belated Benton
and St. Louis
, for with but slight loss and damage he retreated down the river, and had his vessels in good shape four weeks later at Memphis
A new departure in river fighting began when Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr.
, came down with his nine rams, which consisted of old stern-wheelers and side-wheelers strengthened by bulkheads, their boilers protected by oak and iron and their bows reenforced with heavy metal sheathing.
, who had long advocated this style of offensive vessel, had been given independent charge, his orders being simply to cooperate with Flag-Officer Davis
and the flotilla.
In fact, throughout the whole war, the Ellet rams were under the direction of the War Department.
The vessels were unarmed until after the