In the distance:
| Price, little Rebel, Queen of the West, and monarch. || ||Union gun-boats. |
| Van Dorn Jeff. Thompson. Bragg. Sumter. || Beauregard (sinking). || Lovell (sunk). |
the battle of Memphis, June 6, 1862 (looking north). retreat of the Confederate fleet.
After a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.
On the 8th of March, 1862, occurred the memorable catastrophe at Hampton Roads
The possibility of such a disaster had been repeatedly urged in warning terms by a gentleman who had vainly endeavored to avert it. I refer to the late eminent civil engineer, Charles Ellet, Jr.
, the inventor of the steam-ram.
as a vehicle of war destruction.
On the 6th of February, 1862, Mr. Ellet
wrote in a pamphlet as follows:
It is not generally known that the rebels now have five steam-rams nearly ready for use. Of these five, two are on the lower Mississippi, two are at Mobile, and one is at Norfolk.
The last of the five, the one at Norfolk, is doubtless the most formidable, being the United States steam-frigate Merrimac, which has been so strengthened that, in the opinion of the rebels, it may be used as a ram. But we have not yet a single vessel at sea, nor, so far as I know, in course of construction, able to cope at all with a well-built ram. If the Merrimac is permitted to escape from Elizabeth River, she will be almost certain to commit great depredations on our armed and unarmed vessels in Hampton Roads, and may even be expected to pass out under the guns of Fortress Monroe and prey upon our commerce in Chesapeake Bay.
Indeed, if the alterations have been skillfully made, and she succeeds in getting to sea, she will not only be a terrible scourge to our commerce, but may prove also to be a most dangerous visitor to our blockading squadrons off the harbors of the southern coasts.
I have attempted to call the attention of the Navy Department and the country so often to this subject during the last seven years, that I almost hesitate to allude to it again; and I would not do so here but that I think the danger from these tremendous engines is very imminent but not at all appreciated. Experience,
derived from accidental collisions, shows that a vessel struck in the waist by a steam-ram at sea will go down almost instantaneously, and involve, as has often happened, the loss of nearly all on board.
Upon the startling verification of his neglected admonitions afforded by the Merrimac
, Mr. Ellet
was called to the War Department, and, after a short conference with Secretary Stanton
, was given authority to purchase, refit, man, and command, with the rank of colonel, any number of vessels deemed, in his judgment, necessary to meet and defeat the fleet of iron-clad rams then known to be in process of construction on the lower Mississippi River
Never was work more promptly or more effectually performed.
purchased a number of steamboats at different points on the Ohio River
, the best he could find in the short time at his disposal.
He took some old and nearly worn-out boats, strengthened their hulls and bows with heavy timbers, raised bulkheads of timber around the boilers, and started them down the river to Cairo
as fast as they could be got off the ways.
They were the Dick Fulton
, Queen of the West
, and T. D. Horner
While the work was progressing, and before any one of the rams was nearly completed, information was received that the Confederate fleet had come out from under the batteries of Fort Pillow
, had attacked our fleet of gun-boats lying near Craighead's Point, and had disabled two of them.2 Colonel Ellet
received most urgent telegrams from the Secretary of War
to hurry the rams forward at the earliest possible moment.
In consequence of these demands, five of them were immediately dispatched down the river under my command, work upon them being continued as they proceeded and for several days after their arrival at Fort Pillow
The other rams followed, and about the 25th of May Colonel Ellet
joined the fleet on board the Switzerland
, and the ram-fleet was now ready for action.
at once conferred with Flag-Officer Charles H. Davis
on the propriety of passing Fort Pillow
, and engaging the enemy's fleet wherever found.
did not approve the plan suggested, but offered no objection to Colonel Ellet
's trying the experiment.
immediate preparations were begun for running the batteries with the entire ramfleet.
During this period of preparation, constant watch was kept upon the fort and the enemy's fleet.
On the night of the 4th of June I crossed the timber point in front of the fort, and reported to the colonel commanding my conviction that the fort was being evacuated.
About 2 o'clock in the morning I obtained permission, with many words of caution from Colonel Ellet
, to run down opposite the fort in a yawl and, after lying off in order to become assured that the place was abandoned, to land, with the assurance that the rams would follow in case my yawl did not return before daylight.
Close of the battle of Memphis, June 6, 1862 (looking North).
Sumter and Bragg (captured). Thompson (blowing up). Memphis.Benton. Cairo.
Burning of unfinished Confederate ram. Louisville. St. Louis. Carondelet.
After a drawing by Rear-Admiral Walke.|
I landed with my little band, only to find the fort entirely deserted; and after planting the National
colors upon the ruins of one of the magazines, we sat down to wait for the coming of daylight and the rams.
They came, followed by the entire fleet, and after a short stop all proceeded down the river, the rams taking the lead, to Fort Randolph
, where they delayed long enough to plant the National
flag and to examine the abandoned fortifications, the gunboats at this point taking the advance.3
After leaving Fort Randolph
the ram-fleet proceeded without incident to within about twenty-five miles of Memphis
, where they all rounded to and
tied up for the night, with orders of sailing issued to each commander; instructions to be ready to round out at the signal from the flag-ship, and that “each boat should go into the anticipated fight in the same order they maintained in sailing.”
At the first dawn of day (June 6th) the fleet moved down the river, and at sunrise the flag-ship rounded the bend at “Paddy's Hen and Chickens,” and immediately after came in sight of the Federal
gun-boats anchored in line across the river, about a mile above Memphis
promptly signaled his vessels to tie up on the Arkansas
shore, in the order of their sailing, as he desired to confer with Flag-Officer Davis
before passing further.
The Queen of the West
came to first, followed by the Monarch
and other rams in regular succession.
The Queen of the West
had made the land, and passed out line to make fast; the Monarch
was closing in just above, but had not yet touched the shore.
At this moment, and as the full orb of the sun rose above the horizon, the report of a gun was heard from around the point and down the river.
It was the first gun from the Confederate River Defense Fleet moving to attack us. Colonel Ellet
was standing on the hurricane-deck of the Queen of the West
He immediately sprang forward, and, waving his hat to attract my attention, called out: “It is a gun from the enemy!
Round out and follow me!
Now is our chance!”
Without a moment's delay, the Queen
moved out gracefully, and the Monarch
By this time our gun-boats had opened their batteries, and the reports of guns on both sides were heavy and rapid.
The morning was beautifully clear and perfectly still; a heavy wall of smoke was formed across the river, so that the position of our gun-boats could only be seen by the flashes of their guns.
plunged forward, under a full head of steam, right into this wall of smoke and was lost sight of, her position being known only by her tall pipes which reached above the smoke.
, following, was greeted, while passing the gun-boats, with wild huzzas from our gallant tars.
When freed from the smoke, those of us who were on the Monarch
could see Colonel Ellet
's tall and commanding form still standing on the hurricane-deck, waving his hat to show me which one of the enemy's vessels he desired the Monarch
to attack,--namely, the General Price
, which was on the right wing of their advancing line.
For himself he selected the General Lovell
and directed the Queen
straight for her, she being about the middle of the enemy's advancing line.
The two vessels came toward each other in most gallant style, head to head, prow to prow; and had they met in that way, it is most likely that both vessels would have gone down.
But at the critical moment the General Lovell
began to turn; and that moment sealed her fate.
came on and plunged straight into the Lovell's
exposed broadside; the vessel was cut almost in two and disappeared under the dark waters in less time than it takes to tell the story.
next struck the General Price
a glancing blow which cut her starboard wheel clean off, and completely disabled her from further participation in the fight.4
As soon as the Queen
was freed from the wreck of the sinking Lovell
, and before she could recover headway, she was attacked on both sides by the enemy's vessels, the Beauregard
on one side and the Sumter
on the other.
In the melee one of the wheels of the Queen
was disabled so that she could not use it, and Colonel Ellet
, while still standing on the hurricane-deck to view the effects of the encounter with the General Lovell
, received a pistol-ball in his knee, and, lying prone on the deck, gave orders for the Queen
to be run on her one remaining wheel to the Arkansas
shore, whither she was soon followed by the General Price
in a sinking condition.
sent an officer and squad of men to meet the General Price
upon her making the shore, and received her entire crew as prisoners of war. By this time consternation had seized upon the enemy's fleet, and all had turned to escape.
The fight had drifted down the river, below the city.5
, as soon as she could recover headway after her conflict with the General Price
, drove down upon the Beauregard
, which vessel, after her encounter with the Queen of the West
, was endeavoring to escape.
She was thwarted by the Monarch
coming down upon her with a well-directed blow which crushed in her side and completely disabled her from further hope of escape.
Men on the deck waved a white flag in token of surrender, and the Monarch
passed on down to intercept the Little Rebel
, the enemy's flag-ship.
She had received some injury from our gun-boats' fire, and was making for the Arkansas
shore, which she reached at the moment when the Monarch
, with very slight headway, pushed her hard and fast aground; her crew sprang upon shore and ran into the thick woods, making their escape.
Leaving the Little Rebel
fast aground, the Monarch
turned her attention to the sinking Beauregard
, taking the vessel in tow, and making prisoners of her crew.
was towed by the Monarch
to the bar, where she sank to her boiler-deck and finally became a total loss.
The others of the enemy's fleet were run ashore and fired by the crews before they escaped into the adjoining Arkansas swamps.
The Jeff. Thompson
burned and blew up with a tremendous report; the General Bragg
was secured by our gun-boats before the fire gained headway, and was saved.
The Van Dorn
alone made her escape, and was afterward burned by the enemy at Liverpool Landing, upon the approach of two of our rams in Yazoo River
, in order to prevent her from falling into our hands.
Two other rebel boats were burned at the same time,--the Polk
and the Livingston
After the Monarch
had towed the Beauregard
into shoal water, from which, it was hoped, she might be raised, I received the first intelligence, from a
dispatch-boat bearing orders, that Colonel Ellet
The orders I received from him were: “Continue the pursuit as long as there is any hope of overtaking the flying enemy.”
One other episode of this day should not be omitted.
Toward the close of the engagement, Colonel Ellet
was informed that a white flag had been raised in Memphis
, and he immediately sent his young son, Medical Cadet Charles Rivers Ellet
, ashore with a party of three men and a flag of truce, to demand the surrender of the city.
They landed in a row-boat and delivered Colonel Ellet
's dispatch to the mayor, and received his reply; then, surrounded by an excited and threatening crowd, they proceeded to the post-office, ascended to the top of the building, and, while stoned and fired upon by the mob below, young Ellet
lowered the Confederate
colors and raised the National
flag over the city of Memphis
This incident occurred a considerable length of time before the formal surrender of the city into the possession of the United States troops under command of Colonel G. N. Fitch
At first, Colonel Ellet
's wound was not considered necessarily dangerous, but a few days showed us all how futile was the hope that our brave commander would ever again tread the decks of his victorious fleet.
He continued to send dispatches and issue necessary orders from his bed as long as he could receive the reports of his subordinates.
Finally, his rapidly failing strength gave way; the Switzerland
, to which he had been removed, and on board which he had been joined by his heart-broken wife and his young daughter, left Memphis
on the night of the 18th of June, and as the vessel neared Cairo
on the 21st, his gallant spirit passed away.
He was accorded a state funeral in Independence Hall.6
The boats constituting the ram-fleet of the Mississippi River
were not built for the purpose they were to serve; they were simply such river steamers as could be purchased under the urgency then pressing.
Some were side-wheelers, others stern-wheel tugs, with strong machinery and great power, and were hurriedly strengthened and braced to sustain a severe headlong blow.
In a letter to the Secretary of War
respecting the rams, while they were being fitted out, Colonel Ellet
wrote: “The boats I have purchased are illy adapted for the work I shall require of them; it is not their strength upon which I rely, but upon the audacity of our attack, for success.”
His idea of an effective “steam-ram” was not a hermaphrodite thing, half ram, half gun-boat, nor did he favor those sharp knife-like prows which, if they cut a hole in an enemy, would plug it at the same time.
He wanted a vessel of medium size, easy to handle, and of great speed; she should be built very strongly, fitted with machinery of great power, and have weight sufficient when projected against an enemy to crush the side of any vessel that could float.
did not rely on heavy ordnance, and did not recommend arming his rams.
At the battle of Memphis
there were no firearms on board the ram-fleet except a few short carbines and some pocket
revolvers; his reliance was upon the prow of his vessel.7
He desired, as far as possible, to protect the vulnerable parts of his ship, the boilers and engines, and with simply enough men as crew to handle the boat with certainty and dispatch, to run the gauntlet of any fire that could be precipitated upon him, and drive his ram deep into his unwieldy adversary.
At the battle of Memphis
the enemy concentrated their fire upon the Queen of the West
and the Monarch
, but their missiles passed harmlessly by. Not a splinter was raised off either of the rams, and not a man sustained the slightest injury except Colonel Ellet
, whose fatal wound was received from a pistol-ball.
The battle of Memphis
was, in many respects, one of the most remarkable naval victories on record.
unarmed, frail, wooden river steamboats, with barely men enough on board to handle the machinery and keep the furnace-fires burning, to rush to the front, between two hostile fleets, and into
the enemy's advancing line of eight iron-clad, heavily armed, and fully manned steam-rams, sinking one, disabling and capturing three, and carrying consternation to the others, was a sight never before witnessed.
The River Defense Fleet was composed of strong, well-built ocean steamers, well strengthened and protected with railroad iron
so as to be almost invulnerable to shot when advancing.
The intention was apparent to repeat at Memphis
the tactics which had proved so successful at Fort Pillow
,--to ram the Union
gun-boats at anchor; and had the rams Queen of the West
not run through the line of gun-boats and attacked the Defense Fleet as it approached, sinking, disabling, and scattering its vessels, and thus removing the fight half a mile below, the result of the affair might have been very different.
The Defense Fleet was advancing up-stream, thus exposing the strongest and best-protected portions of each vessel; the gun-boats, relying upon their guns, were at anchor, with their sterns, their most vulnerable part, pointing down-steam and consequently exposed to the tremendous attack of the enemy.
Had the Confederate
commanders trusted only to the strength of their vessels, ceased firing, and with every pound of steam on plunged at full speed into our anchored gun-boat fleet, who could doubt what the result would have been?
Practicing on a River picket.|