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Chapter 16: operations on the Mississippi.

  • Operations against Fort Columbus and Island no.10.
  • -- running of the batteries by the gun-boats Carondelet and Pittsburg. -- evacuation of batteries along the Tennessee shore and surrender of Island no.10. -- advance on Fort Pillow by the Army and Navy. -- attack on Fort Pillow. -- evacuation of Fort Pillow by the Confederates. -- battle between the enemy's rams and the Union gun-boats, &C., &C.

When the gun-boats were obliged to drop down before the fire of the works at Fort Donelson, Flag-officer Foote proceeded to Cairo to repair some of his vessels, leaving behind him the iron-clads Louisville, Commander B. M. Dove, Carondelet, Commander Henry Walke, and the St. Louis.

From all accounts the Carondelet seems to have suffered more than any other vessel in the fleet, both in killed and wounded and damage to her hull. Commander Dove, the senior officer present, reports on the 16th of February that the condition of the Carondelet's wounded would not admit of their being moved, or the guns to be used, and it is difficult to understand why a vessel in such a condition should not have been sent to a dock-yard and her wounded placed in the hospital; but the Carondelet was a sturdy craft and was always found in the front of battle.

Commander Dove, as senior officer, had the satisfaction of receiving the surrender of Fort Donelson. He says: “On approaching near enough two white flags were seen flying from the upper fort. * * * I proceeded in a tug, with a white flag flying, and landed at the foot of the hill below the fort. I was met by a Major who handed me his sword, which I declined to receive, thinking it proper to consult with General Grant. I took the Major on board the tug and proceeded up to General Buckner's headquarters, where I found General Wallace. General Grant arrived about half an hour after the fort had surrendered.” * * * Commander Dove seemed to have the proper idea on this occasion in declining to claim anything, as the fort properly fell to the Army.

As soon as Flag-officer Foote was able he proceeded with the Conestoga, Lieut.-Com. Phelps, and the Cairo, Lieut.-Com. Bryant, on an armed reconnoissance up the river, taking with him Colonel Webster, Chief of General Grant's staff, who, with Lieut.-Com. Phelps, took possession of the principal works and hoisted the Union flag.

Foote had applied to General Halleck for permission to advance up the Cumberland on Nashville, and just as he was about moving for that point Halleck telegraphed to Grant: “Don't let the gun-boats proceed higher than Clarksville,” an order in keeping with the “conservative policy” that seemed to influence General Halleck on all occasions. The latter seemed to wish to direct all the battles himself by telegraph, and to give as little authority as possible to General Grant. who being on the ground knew the exact situation of affairs. This was certainly not the way to conquer such an indomitable enemy as that with which the national government had to contend; but the gun-boats did finally move up to Nashville, with an army force in company, and took peaceful possession of the capital of Tennessee.

Foote finding there was nothing further to be done on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, turned his attention to Fort Columbus, which still held out, though by [159] all the rules of Jomini it ought to have surrendered when Donelson fell, the great strategic line of the enemy having been broken and most of Tennessee lying at the mercy of the Federal Army. As Columbus still declined to yield, Flag-officer Foote, in company with General Cullom of Halleck's staff, started with four iron-clads, ten mortar-boats and three transports, containing a thousand soldiers, to make a reconnoissance in force. As the expedition neared Fort Columbus it was met by a flag of truce, with a message from General Polk to the effect that he hoped the courtesies he had extended to the captured Union officers would be reciprocated should an opportunity occur.

Having accomplished the object of the reconnoissance, Foote returned to Cairo, February 23, with a view to complete all the gun-boats and mortar-rafts and make the necessary preparations for the work required of him.

In the meantime the gun-boats. in condition for service were busy assisting the Army to move where it desired, and patroling the river and clearing the flying artillery from the banks.

On the 1st of March Lieut.-Com. Gwin learned that the enemy were fortifying Pittsburg Landing, and proceeded up the river in the Taylor, followed by the Lexington, Lieut.-Com. James W. Shirk. When within 1,200 yards of the landing the gun-boats were fired on by the Confederate batteries, consisting of six or eight fieldpieces, some of them rifled. but did not notice the attack till they were within a thousand yards, when they opened fire and soon silenced the enemy.

The gun-boats then continued on till abreast of where the enemy had posted his heaviest batteries, and under cover of a fire of grape and canister, a force was landed in two boats from each of the vessels, including a portion of Co. C, Capt. Phillips, and Co. K, Lieut. Rider, of the 3-d Illinois Volunteers (sharpshooters). The boats of the Taylor were commanded by Master J. Goudy, and those of the Lexington by Master Martin Dunn.

It was found on landing that besides the artillerists, the enemy had two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, and this little landing party held them in check until their object was accomplished, viz.: to ascertain the enemy's force and purpose, and to destroy a building in the vicinity of which the batteries had been placed.

This little affair was well conducted, and much information was gathered in regard to fortifications being erected by the enemy. Lieut.-Com. Gwin, the leader of the expedition, was one of the most gallant officers in the Western Flotilla, and delighted in such service, where the usefulness of the gun-boats could be demonstrated.

On board the Taylor there was one killed and six wounded, including Capt. Phillips, of the Army; on board the Lexington there were two killed and two missing, small casualties considering the heavy force opposed to the gun-boats. The enemy's loss was said to be nine killed and upwards of one hundred wounded.

On the same day that the above affair took place, Flag-officer Foote sent Lieut.-Com. Phelps to Columbus with a flag of truce. As he drew near the fort he saw that the Confederates were burning their winter quarters and removing their heavy guns from the bluff. Of the latter two were cast in Richmond, and named respectively, Lady Davis and Lady Polk.

In their hurry to get away the Confederates had left the water batteries intact. A large force of cavalry was drawn up ostentatiously on the bluff, but these were the only troops in sight; while the fires burning in the town of Columbus and along the river showed that the enemy were determined to destroy everything they could not carry away.

The Confederates often made a Moscow of a town when forced to abandon it, which certainly did not convince the wretched inhabitants that the Confederates were their best friends. Indeed, there was often an inhumanity in their proceedings which added unnecessarily to the horrors of war. The writer knew General (formerly Bishop) Polk before the war. He was a fine specimen of a man, a kind master to his numerous slaves, in short, a Christian gentleman. His case shows how the influence of war will demoralize the best of men.

From March 4th to the 16th, the wooden gun-boats, Taylor and Lexington, were actively employed on the Tennessee and Cumberland conveying troops — for without such assistance the Army could not have moved — and obtaining information of the enemy's movements.

This information was to the following effect: At Corinth, Mississippi, eighteen miles from the Tennessee River, the junction of the Mobile and Ohio, and Memphis and Charleston railroads, there were from fifteen to twenty thousand Confederate troops; at Henderson Station, eighteen miles from the Tennessee River and thirty-five miles by rail from Corinth, there were some ten or twelve thousand more, with daily accessions from Columbus and the South; at Bear Creek Bridge, seven miles back of Eastport, Mississippi, eight or ten thousand men were throwing up fortifications; and at Chickasaw, Alabama, there were being erected heavy batteries, supplied, no doubt, with the guns taken from the Norfolk Navy Yard.

It was learned from a reliable source that General Joseph E. Johnson was falling [160] back from Murfreesboro on Decatur, Alabama, the point where the Memphis and Charleston Railroad crosses the Tennessee River and joins the railroad leading to Nashville; showing that the Confederates were making every exertion to hold on to Tennessee, which was to them the most important of all the States, except, perhaps, Virginia; since it was wedged in between five secession States: and the Confederates, while they held it, could keep the Federal troops from advancing South. Should the latter obtain possession they would control Northern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, with parts of North Carolina and Virginia. With the Cumberland and the Tennessee Rivers, and all the railroads in the Union possession, the rebellion would have been

Commander James W. Shirk.

confined to the other States, and the resources of Tennessee would have been lost to the Confederate cause. It would have been better to have thrown three hundred thousand men at once into Tennessee and crushed the rebellion there, instead of losing a greater number in the end and prolonging the war for four years.

On the 4th of March Flag-officer Foote got under way from Cairo, and proceeded down the river towards Columbus. Besides the flag-ship Benton, there were the Mound City, Commander A. H. Kilty; Louisville, Commander B. M. Dove; Carondelet, Commander H. Walke; Cincinnati, Commander R. N. Stembel; St. Louis, Lieut.-Commanding L. Paulding; Pittsburgh, Lieut.-Commanding E. Thompson; Lexington, Lieut.-Commanding J. W. Shirk, with four transports, each having five mortar-boats in tow; also a magazine boat and a provision boat. The squadron was accompanied by troops under General Buford, in four steamers, half a dozen tugs, and a large number of barges and lighters in tow.

As this expedition approached Columbus the Union flag was seen floating from the ramparts. It had been taken possession of two days before by a company of cavalry scouts from Paducah, under Col. Haas.

The enemy had already fortified certain positions further South on the Mississippi, and had also re-inforced Island No.10. Gen. Pope, with an army of ten thousand men, hastened to occupy New Madrid, on the west bank of the Mississippi, below Island No.10, and he at once detected the weakness of the enemy's position. Pope established a line of batteries from New Madrid to a point fifteen miles below Island No.10, thus shutting the enemy off from his only source of supply along the river; for everywhere, on both sides of the river for sixty miles. nothing but swamps existed, through which provisions could not be transported.

Having established his batteries, it was Gen. Pope's intention to cross the river with his army and attack the enemy's position from below, and to do this the aid of gunboats was necessary. In anticipation of this, the enemy had erected batteries at every point where they would be likely to do harm to the Federal squadron.

Gen. Pope, seeing that a floating force was indispensable to the success of his operations, requested Flag-officer Foote to send down a gun-boat past the enemy's batteries at night; but as the gun-boats were slow-moving machines and difficult to manage in the strong current of the Mississippi, the Flag-officer informed the General that he would send him two tugs through a bayou, and would endeavor to get two gun-boats down to him in time.

On the 20th of March the squadron, with the mortar vessels, were lying above Island No.10, throwing shells into the enemy's batteries, occasionally dismounting a gun, but doing no material damage; but so urgent was Gen. Pope's appeal for a gun-boat that Flag-officer Foote, for the first time, summoned a council of his commanding officers. To use Foote's own words, “The officers, with one exception, were decidedly opposed to running the blockade, believing it would be certain destruction to all the vessels that should attempt it.” There were six forts, with over fifty guns bearing on the vessels. Foote does not mention who was the exception, and who in this instance was certainly a wiser man than his brother officers. Running the enemy's batteries had not at that time been [161] much practiced, but as the war progressed it was found not to be a very dangerous thing by night, and often practicable even in the daytime.

Foote on this occasion remarked: “When the object of running the blockade is adequate to the risk, I shall not hesitate to do it.” He had a difficult task before him in assisting Gen. Pope to drive the enemy from Island No.10 and the adjacent heights along the Mississippi, where they altogether are stated to have mounted seventy heavy guns, in addition to a floating battery of sixteen guns; but making every allowance for exaggeration, there certainly were mounted not less than seventy-five guns in the immediate vicinity. If the Union gunboats could hold the river above, and New Madrid be occupied by a large force of troops, with batteries placed along the river below the enemy's works and to the edge of the great swamp surrounding them, the Confederate garrison would be hemmed in, and must yield when its supplies gave out.

The Confederate fortifications were placed at such a height above the river that the fire of the gun-boats had little effect on them. Foote therefore determined to open on the enemy with his 13-inch mortars, from which he expected much better results. There is, however, a great difference in using mortars against forts constructed of masonry, and earth-works on high hills. Now and then a gun would be dismounted, but it was immediately replaced, and the garrison were well protected against bursting shells. To attack the enemy from above was a matter of great difficulty and responsibility. The current of the river was not less than four miles an hour, and the iron-clads were not able, under the most favorable circumstances, to do much more than stem it. In case of accident to machinery they would drift helplessly under the enemy's guns. To fight bow on. and depend upon the stern wheel to back up stream while fighting would have been absurd, so that in this case the commander-in-chief of the squadron was in a dilemma. While much was expected of him he was obliged by circumstances to observe a caution which was not agreeable to his enterprising spirit.

On the morning of the 16th of March the mortar-boats were placed in the best possible position and opened fire on the enemy's batteries, driving several regiments out of the works. The mortars were under charge of Capt. Maynardier, U. S. Army, and Lieut. J. P. Sanford, U. S. Navy.

On the morning of the 17th the gun-boats commenced an attack. The Benton, Cincinnati and St. Louis were lashed together, on account of the deficient steam power of the Benton, which was otherwise the most formidable vessel in the squadron. The fire of the gun-boats was not very effective; they were at a distance of nearly two miles and the enemy's batteries, separated from each other. presented but small targets to fire at. The fire was kept up from mid-day until night-fall. The Benton? was struck four times, but the most serious disaster was the bursting of a rifled gun on board the St. Louis. by which fifteen men were killed and wounded.

In the official records only three gunboats are mentioned as taking part in the engagement of March 17th. whereas the Carondelet and Mound City were actively engaged on the west side of the river.

Until the 26th of March these attacks with gun-boats and mortars were maintained without important results, as the enemy kept but few men exposed to the fire.

At this time the squadron at Island No.10 comprised six iron-clads, one wooden gun-boat and sixteen mortar-rafts, while, according to Flag-officer Foote, the Confederates had thirteen gun-boats. besides five below New Madrid.

Foote soon saw that it was a positive necessity that Gen. Pope should transport his troops to the opposite side of the river in order to turn the enemy's flank; and the idea of running the blockade having been abandoned, it was proposed to open a way through a bayou which traversed the swamp on the west side of the Mississippi. and came out to the river again at New Madrid.

In this labor the Army and Navy co-operated, and for nineteen days and nights the work of cutting a canal through the swamp was prosecuted, the men undergoing every hardship with the utmost cheerfulness. Soldiers and sailors stood in mud and water up to their waists, cutting away trees. and hauling along the tugs and transports on which Pope depended to cross his troops over the Mississippi.

When these vessels reached New Madrid, the soldiers there received them with great enthusiasm. “Now,” they said, “we shall cross over and drive the Confederates out.” But the work was not vet finished These unarmed steamers could not be used for the purpose of transporting troops in the face of the enemy and the gun-boats he had improvised, and the question was again asked: “Is it possible for any of our iron clads to run the gauntlet of the batteries?” But Flag-officer Foote still hesitated for reasons already given, and. furthermore, General Halleck had notified him that measures had already been taken which would compel the enemy to evacuate his works. If the gunboats were to run the batteries, Foote thought it advisable to diminish the risk as much as possible, and therefore an expedition was organized to seize upon the upper fort on Island No.10, on which was mounted [162] one ten-inch Columbiad and other guns. The boats from the Benton, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburg carried, beside their crews, fifty soldiers of Co. A., 42d Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, making in all one hundred men, exclusive of officers, all under command of Col. George W. Roberts of the above named regiment.

The boats surprised the sentinels, who fired their muskets and fled. The garrison and the crew of the Confederate gun-boat Grampus were at once aroused, but Col. Roberts lost no time in landing his men and spiking the battery; after which the party re-embarked and returned to the squadron. On this battery of eleven heavy guns the enemy had depended to sink any of our vessels that might attempt to run by their works.

There was also a floating battery moored

The gun-boat Carondelet running the batteries at island no.10.

at the head of the island which it was important to remove; so on the following day the guns of the squadron were concentrated on this latter obstruction with such effect, that the crew of the battery cut the lashings and drifted from under fire of the gun-boats to take new position some distance below.

After these two impediments had been removed the passage of the enemy's batteries was considered practicable, and Com. Walke, of the Carondelet, volunteered to perform this perilous duty. His ingenuity and that of his officers was taxed to the utmost to prepare the Carondelet to resist the enemy's shot. First-Master Hoel of the Cincinnati, one of the best pilots on the Mississippi, whose gallantry finally placed him in command of an iron-clad, volunteered to pilot the vessel.

On the night of the 4th of April, in storm and darkness, the Carondelet got underway. She might have drifted down the river without a shot being fired at her, yet there was danger that she might run ashore and be found at daylight a fair mark for the enemy, or the pilot, in the intense darkness, might mistake the channel, or the plunging fire from the enemy's batteries might penetrate the boilers, in which case a horrible fate awaited many of her crew. It was the first venture in running batteries, and therefore more creditable to all concerned, for even in after times, when such feats became more common, there was always an element of uncertainty in the enterprise.

The Carondelet passed the first battery unobserved. but at the second a sheet of flame issued from the heavy guns, and the huge shot ricocheted along the water, but did no harm to the Union vessel. The Carondelet steamed steadily on without noticing these attentions, while fort after fort took up the fire, until seventy powerful guns joined in the melee; doing no harm, but adding to the grandeur of the storm. Now and then the Carondelet became visible to the enemy through the vivid flashes of lightning. In half an hour the vessel was below Island No.10 and soon passed beyond the reach of the Confederate batteries.

Then the sound of minute guns coming faintly from below assured those who were waiting anxiously in the squadron that the Carondelet was safe, and that General Pope could now bid defiance to the enemy's gun-boats and cross his troops to the other side of the Mississippi. Upon this, cheer after cheer went up from the gun-boats, and made the Confederates aware that the time had arrived when their position was no longer tenable. [163]

That night the Carondelet lay unscathed just below New Madrid, and early next morning steamed up to the landing, where she was warmly welcomed by the soldiers who had so long looked for aid of this kind, without which they were hopeless of turning the enemy's position.

The enemy's gun-boats, armed with long-range rifles, had been harrassing Pope's command from below, and from their position could do a great deal of havoc to the light transports on which Pope depended to pass his troops over the river. The enemy had thirteen gun-boats, improvised from river steamers, but as soon as the Carondelet appeared they departed for Memphis.

Flag-officer Foote, finding that the risk of running the batteries was less than he had supposed, and urged by General Pope to send him another iron-clad, dispatched the Pittsburg, Lieut.-Com. Egbert Thompson, which vessel ran the batteries on a stormy night under pretty much the same circumstances as the Carondelet, and like her received no injury.

As soon as the Pittsburgh arrived below Island No.10 she was sent with the Carondelet to drive away some field batteries which the enemy had placed to prevent the Union troops crossing the river. This was accomplished, and the enemy seeing they could no longer hold their works began to evacuate them, leaving all their guns and munitions of war in the hands of the victors.

Island No.10 surrendered on the 7th of April to Flag-officer Foote just as he was preparing to attack with the gun-boats above, in conjunction with the forces under General Buford. Seventeen officers, three hundred and sixty-eight privates, one hundred sick, and one hundred men employed on the enemy's transports, surrendered to the Navy from steamers afloat. Two wharf boats loaded with provisions were also captured. The floating battery of sixteen guns and most of the gun-boats were sunk, but were easily raised again.

The Confederate works consisted of eleven forts mounting seventy guns, from 32 to 100-pounders. The magazines were well supplied, and there were also large quantities of provisions. The works were very strong, and built with great skill. Six thousand prisoners fell into General Pope's hands.

Commander Walke in the Carondelet, supported by the Pittsburgh, silenced the heaviest battery below Island No.10 and spiked the guns, picking up a number of fine sixty-four pounders left behind by the Confederates in their flight.

The precipitancy with which the enemy retreated when the gun-boats appeared below Island No.10, was astonishing. It was the turning point in the siege, and to this General Pope had looked forward from the time he moved his army to New Madrid.

Foote would no doubt have sent the ironclads down past the batteries sooner than he did, had not General Halleck notified him of a plan which he had in view to capture Island No.10 and all the batteries on the Tennessee shore. The credit, however, fell where it was due, to Pope and Foote, for their harmonious co-operation, and to Commander Walke and Lieut.-Com. Thompson, who so gallantly passed the enemy's batteries.

The victory at Island No.10, although a bloodless one, was as important as the battle of Shiloh. It opened a long stretch of the Mississippi River, down which our forces were continually working their way toward the sea. By this victory and the great battle at Shiloh, was broken up the second line of defences which the Confederates had established from the Mississippi to Chattanooga, and all their attempts to penetrate the Northern States in this direction were foiled. It does not in the least detract from the gallantry of our Army to say that neither of these victories would have been won without the aid of the Navy. Though the latter was but an auxiliary to the Army yet it was a most valuable one, and should receive the credit to which it is entitled.

In concluding our account of the capture of Island No.10, we avail ourselves of the opportunity to make a few remarks relative to those who worked so faithfully to bring about the result. We have already stated that General Pope considered it essential to the success of his plans that at least two of the gun-boats should run the blockade and join him below Island No.10, and that Commander Walke volunteered to perform what was considered a very hazardous duty, and performed it unflinchingly.

It occurs to the writer that such a service was worthy a much warmer eulogium than Commander Walke received for his successful conduct of a perilous undertaking; for these “iron-clad” gun-boats were really a very vulnerable class of vessels, and utterly inadequate to resist the plunging shot from the enemy's elevated batteries. A single shot going in above and coming out through the bottom would have completely crippled a vessel. It could hardly be anticipated that any boat could pass so many heavy works, even at night with rain and storm to help her, and yet receive no damage, and it was the merest accident that the Carondelet was not struck by the enemy's shot. As to the passage of the Pittsburg, she was sent down after it was ascertained that the Carondelet had received no damage whatever, and hence her commanding officer was not entitled to the same amount of credit as Commander Walke. [164]

When the Carondelet did arrive below the enemies batteries, her performances redounded greatly to the credit of her commander and his officers. At the request of General Pope, Walke attacked and silenced every battery below the point where the Federal troops were to be landed, and spiked the guns so that the enemy could not return and use them.

It would seem in regard to these transactions that the accuracy of official reports may be called in question, and that we must rely on other sources than the published histories of the war. The intention of the writer is to make as few digressions in his account of affairs as possible, but justice demands that corrections shall be made, especially when due credit has been heretofore withheld.

Due credit in regard to services on the Western rivers has often been withheld from both Army and Navy, and this injustice is nowhere more distinctly manifested than in the capture of Island No.10. and the heavy batteries which lined the Tennessee shore. The work of the Army was a master-piece of strategy, and the part played by the Navy was scarcely inferior. The work performed was indeed creditable to all concerned.

Farragut maintained that whatever errors are made by contemporary historians, posterity will always give honor to whom honor is due; and sincerely hoping that such is the case, the writer will endeavor to do justice in these pages.

The surrender of Island No.10 and the adjacent works opened the Mississippi all the way to Fort Pillow, another stronghold which could only be conquered by a combined army and navy force.

Gen. Pope, with twenty thousand men in transports protected by gun-boats, now moved towards Fort Pillow, and prepared to attack the enemy's works. Five Confederate gun-boats were descried down the river, but their size and strength could not be ascertained. The Confederates had improvised a river flotilla. but nothing could be learned concerning it.

Pope's first idea was to reach the enemy's works by landing five miles above them, while the gun-boats and mortars attacked them from the river; but finding this plan impracticable, it was proposed to cut a canal, as was done at Island No.10, through the Arkansas shore to a point opposite Fort Pillow, and thus pass some of the gun-boats below the fortifications.

At this time Flag-officer Foote was suffering from the effects of his wound, so that it was impossible for him to attend to his manifold duties, and a few days after he relinquished active service, never again to resume it, and the command of the squadron devolved upon Capt. Charles H. Davis, a gallant officer, well qualified for this important duty.

The sudden withdrawal of Gen. Pope with nearly all his force from before Fort Pillow, to proceed to Pittsburg Landing by order of Gen. Halleck, had quite disappointed Foote. He saw no immediate prospect of taking Fort Pillow and did not care to remain, while suffering so much from his wound, merely to keep up a blockade. Only two regiments of soldiers under Col. Fisk remained of all Pope's army.

Fort Pillow mounted forty guns and there were nine gun-boats below the fort and at Memphis. In addition, at this time the enemy were building a number of heavy gun-boats along the Mississippi; among them, at New Orleans, the iron-plated Louisiana, of sixteen guns (which vessel figured so prominently in Farragut's attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip), and the ram, Arkansas.

The following letter will throw some light on the siege of Island No.10, and give credit where it is justly due:

Secretary Welles to Flag-officer Foote.

By telegraph from Navy Yard, Washington, April 10, 1862.
To Flag-officer Foote, Commanding Gun-boat Flotilla:
A nation's thanks are due to you, and the brave officers and men of the flotilla on the Mississippi, whose labor and gallantry at Island 10, which surrendered to you yesterday, has been watched with intense interest. Your triumph is not the less appreciated because it was protracted and finally bloodless. To that Being who has protected you through so many perils, and carried you onward to successive victories, be praise, for His continued goodness to our country; and especially for this last great success of our arms. Let the congratulations of yourself and your command be also extended to the officers and soldiers who co-operated with you.


Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

The following is the general order issued immediately after the receipt of the telegram from the Secretary of the Navy, in answer to that of Flag-officer Foote:

General order, no. 7.

U. S. Flag-Steamer Benton, Island No.10. April 11, 1862.
It is with the highest gratification that the Commander-in-Chief promulgates to the officers and men under his command, comprising the gun and mortar-boats, ordnance-boats, tugs, transports, and others, as well as to General Buford, and officers and soldiers of the Army, who so effectually cooperated in the reduction of Island No.10, the following telegram received from the Secretary of the Navy; and he trusts that the future will be crowned with the same success to our arms as the past has been; and may we all, in letter and spirit, as suggested by the Honorable Secretary, render our hearty thanks to God for His goodness in giving us the victory.

A. H. Foote, Flag-officer.


Secretary Welles to Flag-officer Foote.

Navy Department, April 12, 1862.
Sir:--The Department desires you to convey to Commander Henry Walke, and the officers and men of the Carondelet, also to Acting First Master Hoel, of the Cincinnati, who volunteered for the occasion, its thanks for the gallant and successful services rendered in running the Carondelet past the rebel batteries on the night of the 4th inst. It was a daring and heroic act, well executed and deserving a special recognition. Commendation is also to be extended to the officers and crew of the Pittsburg, who in like manner on the night of the 7th inst. performed a similar service. These fearless acts dismayed the enemy, enabled the army under General Pope to cross the Mississippi, and eventuated in the surrender to yourself of Island 10, and finally, to the capture by General Pope, of the forts on the Tennessee shore, and the retreating rebels under General Mackall. I would also, in this connection, render the acknowledgements which are justly due the officers and crew of the several boats, who, in conjunction with a detachment of the Forty-second Illinois regiment, under Colonel Roberts, captured the first rebel battery and spiked the guns on Island No.10, on the night of the 1st inst.; such services are duly appreciated by the Department, which extends its thanks to all who participated in the achievement.

I am respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles. Flag-officer A. H. Foote, Commanding Gun-boat Flotilla.

Forwarded with the order that this paper, which the commander-in-chief is most happy in transmitting to the brave and gallant officers and men to whom it refers,shall be publicly read on board the Carondelet and Pittsburg, and afterwards retained by Commander Walke, who commanded with so much ability and gallantry (assisted by First-Master Hoel, of the gun-boat Cincinnati), below New Madrid, which enabled the Army to cross the Mississippi at that point, and to secure, with the aid of the flotilla above, the possession of Island No.10, and the adjacent batteries on the Tennessee shore.

A. H. Foote, Flag-officer. Commanding Naval Forces, Western Waters off Fort Pillow, April 22, 1862.

Engagement of the Carondelet and Pittsburg with the enemy in the vicinity of New Madrid, April 6th, 1862.

U. S. Flag Steamer Benton, Island No.10, April 11, 1862.
Sir:--I have the honor to enclose a report from Commander Walke, of the gun-boat Carondelet, detailing the services rendered by him, and the Pittsburg, Lieutenant-Commander Thompson, in the vicinity of New Madrid; from which it will be seen that the boats opened upon, and effectually silenced and captured several heavy batteries on the Tennessee side of the river, on the 6th and 7th instants, without which destruction it would have been impossible for General Pope to have crossed over the river, for the purpose of attacking the Confederates in the rear at No. 10, while the gun and mortar-boats would make the attack in front.

There has been an effective and harmonious co-operation between the land and naval forces, which has, under Providence, led to the glorious result of the fall of this stronghold, No. 10, with the garrison and munitions of war, and I regret to see in the dispatches of Major-General Halleck, from St. Louis, no reference is made to the capture of the forts, and the continuous shelling of the gun and mortar-boats, and the Navy's receiving the surrender of No. 10, when, in reality, it should be recorded as a historical fact that both services equally contributed to the victory — a bloodless victory — more creditable to humanity than if thousands had been slain.

I also enclose reports from Lieutenants-Commanding Gwin and Shirk, of the gun-boats Taylor and Lexington, on the Tennessee, giving a graphic account of that great battle, and the assistance rendered by these boats near Pittsburg; stating that “when the left wing of our Army was being driven into the river, at short range, they opened fire upon and silenced the enemy, and, as I hear from many army officers on the field, totally demoralizing his forces, and driving them from their position in a perfect rout, in the space of ten minutes.”

These officers and men, as well as those of Commander Walke, and the officers and men of the Carondelet and Pittsburg, behaved with a degree of gallantry highly creditable to themselves and the Navy.

I proceed to-day with the entire flotilla to New Madrid, and leave to-morrow for Fort Pillow, or the next point down the river which may attempt to resist the raising the blockade.

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


A. H. Foote, Flag-officer. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

Flag-officer Davis assumed command of the squadron on the 9th of May, 1862, and had little time for reflection before he became engaged in active operations. The heights of Fort Pillow had been repeatedly shelled by the gun-boats and bombarded by the mortars, with little perceptible effect on the works. The Confederate gun-boats occasionally showed themselves around the bend in the river, but on the first movement of the squadron they would scud away. Exaggerated reports were rife about the formidable rams that were at Memphis ready to attack our fleet, among them the monster Louisiana, which the Confederates boasted could alone clear out all the Union vessels. It was impossible to tell how much truth there was in these reports, but the gun-boats had orders to keep up steam and be prepared at all times for battle.

On the 10th of May, the Union squadron lay in two divisions: the first division of these iron-clads, with the flag-ship Benton, moored on the Tennessee shore; the second, of four gun-boats, moored on the Arkansas shore, with bows down stream. At a little past seven o'clock A. M., eight Confederate gun-boats, four of them fitted as rams, came around the point above Fort Pillow and steamed up the river, evidently prepared for battle. The enemy's leading vessel made directly for mortar-boat No. 16, which for the moment was unprotected. Acting-Master Gregory and his crew behaved with great spirit, and during the action fired the mortar eleven times nearly point blank at the enemy. The morning being hazy signals could not be distinctly made out, nor could the enemy's vessels approaching be seen as well as was desired. The Cincinnati, [166] Com. Stembel, the leading vessel in the line of iron-clads, hastened to the support of the mortar-boat, followed immediately by the Mound City, Com. Kilty; and both were repeatedly struck by the Confederate rams before the latter were disabled and driven away. The boiler or steam-pipe of one of the leading vessels of the enemy was exploded by a shot from the flag-ship Benton, Lieut.-Com. Phelps, and three of the enemy's vessels, including the one encountered by the Cincinnati, were disabled and drifted down the river. A fifty-pound rifle shot from the Carondelet passed through the boilers of another of the enemy's vessels, rendering her helpless

Battle of Fort Pillow. First position.

for the time being. All these disabled vessels might have been captured had there been any means at hand of towing them up stream, but the motive power of the gunboats was so limited that they could scarcely make any headway against the current, and they had to be continually on the watch to avoid drifting under the enemy's batteries.

This was the first naval engagement of the war, pure and simple, where the squadrons of both sides were pitted against each other. Our iron-clads showed themselves unsuited in respect to steam power, to cope with swift river vessels that could ram them and then escape. Although the Confederate vessels made great holes in the Mound City and the Cincinnati, and were considerably damaged themselves, they all succeeded in escaping. The Cincinnati, after proceeding some distance up the river, sunk near the Tennessee side. The Cairo assisted the Mound City to the first island above the scene of action, where she also sunk.

The incidents of this engagement are so lightly passed over by Flag-officer Davis, that it is difficult to get much information from the official reports. The enemy's side of the affair can best be learned by the following dispatch of the Confederate Commander-in-chief:

Flag-Boat Little Rebel, Fort Pillow, May 12, 1862.
Sir:--I have the honor to report an engagement with the Federal gun-boats at Plum Point Bend, four miles above this place. Having previously arranged with my officers the order of attack, our boats left their moorings at 6 A. M., and proceeding up the river passed around a sharp point, which soon brought us in full view of the enemy's fleet, numbering eight gun-boats and twelve mortars. The Federal gun-boat Carondelet [Cincinnati] was lying nearest us, guarding a mortar-boat that was shelling the fort. The General Bragg, Captain Leonard, dashed at her, she firing her heavy guns and retreating towards a bar where the depth of water would not be sufficient for our boats to follow. The Bragg continued boldly on under fire of nearly their whole fleet, and struck her a blow that stopped her further flight. The Bragg [167] rounded to down the river under a broadside fire, and drifted until her tiller rope, that had got out of order, could be re-adjusted.

A few moments after the Bragg struck her blow, the “General Sterling Price,” First-officer J. E. Harthorne, ran into the same boat aft, a little starboard of her amidships, carrying away her rudder, sternpost and a large piece of her stern. This threw the Cincinnatis' stern towards the Sumter, Captain M. W. Lamb, which struck her running at the utmost speed of his boat.

The General Earl Van Dorn, Capt. Folkerson, running according to orders in the rear of the Price and Sumter, directed his attention to the Mound City, at the time throwing broadsides into the Price and Sumter; and, as she proceeded, by skilful shots from her 32-pounder silenced a mortar-boat that was filling the air with its terrible missiles; the Van Dorn still holding on to the Mound City. In the act of striking, the Mound City sheered and the Van Dorn struck her a glancing blow, making a hole four feet deep in her starboard forward quarter, evidenced by the splinters left on the iron bow of the Van Dorn.

At this juncture, the Van Dorn was above four of the Federal boats, as the remaining boats, “General Jeff Thompson” and Colonel Lovell, Capt. Hart, were entering boldly into the contest in the prescribed order. I perceived from the flagboat that the Federal vessels were taking positions where the water was too shallow for our boats to get at them, and as our cannon were far inferior both in number and size, I signalled our boats to fall back, which was accomplished with a coolness which deserves the highest commendation.

I am happy to inform you that while exposed at close quarters to a most terrible fire for thirty minutes, our boats, though struck repeatedly, sustained no serious injuries.

General Jeff Thompson was on board the General Bragg, his officers and men were divided among the boats. They were all at their posts ready to do good service should the occasion offer.

To my officers and men I am highly indebted for their courage and promptness in executing all orders.

On the 11th instant, I went in the Little Rebel in full view of the enemy's fleet, and saw the Carondelet [Cincinnati] sunk near the shore, and the Mound City sunk on the bar.

The position occupied by the enemy's gunboats above Fort Pillow, offers more obstacles to our mode of attack than any between Cairo and New Orleans, but of this you may rest assured that they will never penetrate further down the Mississippi River.

Our casualties were two killed and one wounded.


J. E. Montgomery, Senior Captain Commanding, River Defence Fleet.

On the Federal side there were only four wounded. Commander Stembel seriously, Fourth-Master Reynolds and two seamen slightly. This was a small list of casualties for such a desperate brush. and would seem to indicate rather indifferent gunnery practice on the part of the Federals, who, with their heavy ordnance, ought to have swept the enemy from the face of the water. as his vessels were of wood and lightly built.

The attack on the Federal vessels was, however, by a new method; for this was the first time ramming had been practiced on this river during the war, and the Cincinnati and Mound City had been put hors de combat almost at the beginning of the action.

The Confederate Commander-in-chief was not accustomed to command vessels en masse and does not seem to have understood the necessity of concert of action. Each Confederate vessel seems to have been fighting on her “own hook.” There is no doubt they received more damage than they were willing to admit.

All their damages were, however, quickly repaired at Memphis, where they had a good navy yard with all the necessary appliances.

It appears evident that our gun-boats did not altogether act in concert, probably owing to their want of speed, In the case of the flag-ship, her deficiency in speed kept her behind the rest, but when she did join the battle, her heavy guns told on the enemy and everything gave way before her.

It is exceedingly difficult to give a correct account of this engagement, owing to the many conflicting versions which were published in the West at the time, but we know enough to be satisfied that victory remained with the Federal squadron.

The report of Flag-officer Davis was of course intended to represent the true position of the vessels, but he was new to the command, and the iron-clads smaller than the Benton were so much alike, that any one was liable to mistake one for the other at the distance of a mile, and give another vessel credit for work done by her consort. On this occasion if reports were made to the Commander-in-chief, they were not published in the annual report of the Secretary of the Navy; but notwithstanding the conflicting statements, it appears certain that every officer and man on board the Union gun-boats did their duty, and drove off a fearless and enterprising enemy, who had a flotilla well equipped for the purpose intended.

Flag-officer Davis had the satisfaction of winning the first naval squadron fight, and certainly deserved the thanks of the Navy Department for himself, his gallant officers and crew: especially since all in the squadron had shown such courage and energy, ever since the day when Foote first left Cairo with the gun-boats and mortars.

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