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[554]

Chapter 43: operations of the Mississippi squadron, under Admiral Porter, after the Red River expedition.

  • Operations on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
  • -- suppressing guerillas. -- gun-boats co-operating with Sherman in expedition to Meridian. -- silencing batteries at Liverpool. -- gun-boats damaged. -- pushing up the Yazoo. -- the expedition falls back. -- dashing attack on Waterloo. -- the Forest Rose drives Confederates out of Waterproof. -- important services rendered by “tin-clads.” -- expedition up Black and Washita Rivers. -- gun-boats drive Confederates out of Trinity and Harrisonburg. -- heroic seamen. -- Plot to blow up fleet. -- Confederate secret service. -- letters of Confederate Secretary of the Navy and others. -- names of persons in Confederate secret service. -- report of commission on Singer's torpedoes. -- capture of Yazoo City. -- three sailors distinguish themselves. -- capture of Fort Pillow. -- horrible massacre. -- atrocities committed. -- Fort Pillow retaken by Lieutenant-Commander Fitch. -- Confederates capture the Petrel. -- the “Exchange” attacked by masked batteries. -- batteries near Simmsport open on gun-boats, but are silenced. -- Confederates make good use of cannon captured from banks. -- zeal and bravery of Louisiana and Texas troops. -- the General Bragg attacked at Tunica Bend. -- the Naiad silences battery. -- expedition up Arkansas River. -- the Queen City captured and blown up. -- destruction of batteries near Clarendon. -- expedition from Clifton to Eastport. -- hard fighting. -- transports disabled. -- “tin-clads” cut up. -- non-success of expedition.


After the conclusion of the Red River expedition the fleet returned up the Mississippi to their old stations. Fortunately the guerillas had not taken advantage of the absence of the gun-boats to attack unarmed vessels passing up or down. Only one attempt was made — by a Confederate field-battery — to interfere with river navigation, and that one was unsuccessful.

The different districts were soon under the supervision of their former commanders, and the people along the banks of the Mississippi were reassured with regard to the Navy giving its particular attention to the guerillas or any other species of soldiers that might attempt to show themselves in an offensive attitude.

While the squadron was employed up Red River, the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers became now and then the scene of active operations. Tennessee, lying adjacent to so many Southern States, was open to the raids of the Confederates, and they seemed loath to abandon it altogether, hoping still to obtain possession of it and carry the war into the more northern States of Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. It was a vain hope, however, and one not justified by the position or condition of the Federal armies.

In February, 1864, Lieutenant-Commander LeRoy Fitch still commanded a fleet of gun-boats on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The banks of these rivers were infested by bands of guerillas, who, posting themselves on prominent points, made it unpleasant for gun-boats, and all but impossible for transports, to pass up without a strong escort.

Lieutenant-Commander Fitch put an end to this state of affairs by sending up the [555] Cumberland River a reconnoitering force of gun-boats, which at the same time convoyed a number of transports to Carthage with supplies of provisions and munitions of war. This expedition was under the charge of Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant H. A. Glassford, and the Army co-operated by sending the steamer Silver Lake, No. 2, with a detachment of 150 sharp-shooters under a gallant officer, Lieutenant Roberts. The duty was severe, the danger considerable, and the fighting incessant; but the gun-boats were so well handled that their convoy reached its destination without accident, and the guerillas were taught a lesson they did not forget for some time.

When Sherman was marching on Meridian, a naval expedition was fitted out under the command of Lieutenant-Commander E. K. Owen to co-operate with him, and for the purpose of confusing the enemy with regard to the former's movements. The gunboats were attended by a co-operating force of troops under Colonel Coates. When they arrived near Yazoo City, it was discovered that the enemy were in force at that place with batteries of field-pieces on the hills.

On the 2d of February the expedition reached Sartalia, and next day attacked the enemy at Liverpool, where there were 2,700 men with artillery, under General Ross. The gun-boats silenced the batteries, and the Federal troops landed and took possession of the enemy's position, which they occupied until night-fall and then re-embarked, and the vessels dropped down the river. The Petrel, Marmora, Exchange and Romeo were the gun-boats engaged. They were somewhat cut up, but drove the enemy away. The army lost eight killed and twenty-two wounded in this attack. This expedition had the effect which Sherman desired, viz., to draw the enemy toward Yazoo River.

The gun-boats and army transports pushed on up the Yazoo as far as Greenwood, losing a few men by the way. At this place they fell in with General Forrest's command, when the army contingent landed and brought on a battle, or rather a skirmish, in which the Confederates were defeated. The result of this expedition was, as Sherman had anticipated, the falling back of all the enemy's troops which had been scattered along the Yazoo, Sunflower and Tallahatchie rivers, upon Grenada, to defend it from attack; and he was thus enabled to proceed on his raid to Meridian without molestation in his rear.

On the 15th of February the Confederates made a dashing attack on Waterloo, in the district commanded by Lieutenant-Commander James A. Greer--an excellent and brave officer, who was always on the alert for such contingencies. This raid was conducted by Colonel Harrison, an indefatigable Confederate ranger, who had given a great deal of trouble with his command. On this occasion he entered the town of Waterproof with 800 mounted men, drove in the pickets, and pressed the Union troops very hard. Fortunately, the little tin-clad Forest Rose was at hand to assist the shore party, and, opening a hot fire of shell and shrapnel, soon compelled the enemy to retire. Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant J. V. Johnston, her commander, then got underway, and took positions where he could constantly harass the Confederates.

This was one of the places selected to be held by negro troops; and, as these men were always offensive to the Southerners, and they never lost an opportunity of attacking them, it was necessary to keep gun-boats always at hand to defend them. The unwise measure of employing colored troops, who were inefficient and without discipline, always aroused the indignation of the guerilla element, who would run great risks to slaughter them

The officer commanding the troops asked Lieutenant Johnston to put him across the river, but that gallant officer refused to do so, telling him to stand fast and fight it out, which he was obliged to do, and the Forest Rose, using her rifled guns with great effect, finally succeeded in dispersing the Confederate forces. This fight lasted a whole day, and most of the work was done by the Navy. The Confederates left seven killed on the field, and took away a number of wounded. The place was soon after reinforced from Natchez, and the enemy departed.

Captain Anderson, the commander of the negro troops at Waterproof, was so grateful for the service rendered by the Forest Rose that he wrote Lieutenant Johnston the following letter, which we give, with pleasure, as a memento of the gallant officer who fought his ship so well. It will be noticed that the name of the Forest Rose frequently appears in this recital of events. She was a small vessel, but one that did good service under the gallant officers who commanded her.

The following is Captain Anderson's letter:

Headquarters' Post, Waterproof, La., February 19, 1864.
Sir — Permit me to return you many thanks for the gallant manner in which you defended my little force against the rebel force of Colonel Mores, Colonel McNeal, and Major Johnson, in their several attacks of Saturday, February 14th, Sunday, the 15th, and Monday, the 16th of February, 1864.

I hope you will not consider it flattering when I say I never before saw more accurate artillery firing than you did in these engagements, in variably putting your shells in the right place ordered. My officers and men now feel perfectly secure [556] against a large force, so long as we have the assistance of Captain Johnston and his most excellent drilled crew on board the No. 9.

I am, Captain, your humble servant,

J. M. Anderson, Captain Commanding Post. H. C. Lunt, Lieutenant and Adjutant. Captain Johnston, Commanding Gun-boat No. 9.

In the latter part of February, Admiral Porter fitted out an expedition to go, via the Red River, up the Black and Washita Rivers, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander F. M. Ramsey, for the purpose of breaking up the Confederate posts that were being formed along these rivers and destroying their provisions. The expedition consisted of the following vessels: Fort Hindman, Acting-Volunteer Lieutenant John Pearce; Osage, Acting-Master Thomas Wright; Lexington, Lieutenant George M Bache; Conestoga, Lieutenant-Commander T. O. Selfridge; Cricket, Acting-Master H. H. Gorringe, and Ouichita, Lieutenant-Commander Byron Wilson.

The Ouichita was a converted river steamer and carried 39 guns in three tiers. They were mostly 24 and 12 pound howitzers, but she had a battery of 8-inch smoothbores and some rifle-guns on the lower deck. Two 12-pounders were mounted on wooden turrets above all. She was a very formidable vessel for such operations.

On the 29th of February the expedition proceeded up the Red River into the Black. as far as the town of Trinity, where they were attacked by a battery of field-pieces, under the Confederate General, Polignac, the town at the same time hanging out white flags. The gun-boats returned the enemy's fire and soon drove them away.

The fire of the Ouichita is said to have been withering, and the astonishment of the Confederate commander may be well imagined when a vessel, which he supposed to be a transport, opened on him with forty guns, firing two shells from each gun a minute, the shells and shrapnel bursting in all directions and tearing the village almost to pieces.

On the following day the expedition proceeded up the river to within two miles of Harrisonburg, where it was again attacked by General Polignac, with a large number of sharp-shooters and some 12-pound rifleguns, from behind the levee. The fire of the guns was directed chiefly upon the Hindman, the flag-ship, and she was struck twenty-seven times by shot and shell, one shot disabling the starboard engine. But when the Ouichita got into position and opened her broadside, the enemy fled in all directions, leaving their guns on the field, after dragging them some 500 yards from the water. The Confederates lost a great many men in killed and wounded.

Ramsey then proceeded a long distance up the river through narrow bayous and shoal cut-offs, destroying grain and provisions of all kinds, nearly reaching Monroe, but was obliged to return owing to the rapidly falling water — not, however, until the object of the expedition had been accomplished.

Harrisonburg had always been a troublesome place, from which constant expeditions were fitted out to raid along the Mississippi. The approaches to it had been strongly fortified, four forts on high hills commanding the river for two miles below the town and one mile above. Lieutenant-Commander Ramsey landed a force at this place and burned several of the largest houses, as a warning to the inhabitants not to assist in attacking river-boats, which often had women and children on board.

Two excellent earth-works were found at Trinity, in which were mounted three 32-pounders. These were hoisted on board the vessels and carried away.

This expedition was well planned and executed, and put a stop to the practice of firing upon unarmed vessels along the Mississippi River. It offers the opportunity of mentioning the gallantry of three seamen of the Fort Hindman, James K. L. Duncan, Hugh Melloy, and William P. Johnson. A shell burst at the muzzle of one of the guns, setting fire to the tie of the cartridge which had just been put in the gun. Duncan immediately seized the burning cartridge, took it out of the gun, and threw it overboard. A shell pierced the bow casemate on the right of No. 1 gun, mortally wounding the first sponger, who dropped his sponge out of the port on the forecastle. Melloy immediately jumped out, picked it up, and sponged and loaded the gun under a heavy fire from sharp-shooters. Johnson, though very severely wounded himself in the hand, took the sponge from a wounded comrade and continued to use it throughout the action. The casualties in the flotilla were only two killed and eleven wounded.

On March 30th, a plan was discovered to blow up by torpedoes all the vessels of the fleet. A Confederate mail carrier was captured, crossing the Mississippi with a mailbag full of official correspondence, in which an atrocious scheme was exposed. It was nothing more nor less than to introduce torpedoes in the shape of lumps of coal into the coal piles or bunkers of the naval and merchant vessels, in hopes that they would be shovelled into the furnaces by the firemen, and there explode. Acts of this kind were attempted on several occasions by the Confederates, and one would suppose that only the lowest grade of humanity — men [557] of the basest minds-would embark in such infernal enterprises. But it can be shown that some of the highest personages in the Confederacy were engaged in this business, or, at least, gave their assent to it. not in open, manly fashion, but with the apparent idea that they had no authority to stop it. See the following letters:

Confederate States of America, Navy Department, Richmond, September 10, 1863.
Sir — Your letter of the 13th July, from Jacksonport, Arkansas, reached me a few days ago.

You inform me that a certain part desires to obtain proper authority from the Confederate government to undertake the destruction of gun-boats, transports, etc., for such per centum of the value of the boats destroyed as may be offered, etc.

There is no legislation of which I am aware that satisfies precisely the conditions required. The Act of May 6, 1861, recognizing the existence of war with the United States, and providing for privateering, is not construed to permit privateering on inland waters. A reference to the law for the establishment of a Volunteer Navy, a copy of which I enclose herewith, will show you that it cannot be made to embrace the parties to which you refer.

To facilitate organizations of parties to operate as you propose, in boats or otherwise, against the enemy on our Western rivers, they could be received into the Navy if they shipped regularly in accordance with existing laws, and then assigned to duty under an acting-master upon those rivers. In this case, however, they would form a part of the regular Navy establishment, drawing its pay and subsistence. I infer from your letter that such is not the object of the parties in question, but that they desire to organize in small parties, to operate as independent river guerilla parties, under their own leaders, and to look to prize-money or reward from the country for destroying enemy's property, to defray expenses, etc., using an appointment from the Government to secure to them the rights of prisoners of war, if captured.

Judging from what you say, that you have not the Acts of Congress at hand, I inclose copies of two Acts, one of which possibly serves the desired purpose. The President has authority to make such an arrangement as you refer to, and I would suggest that parties wishing to engage in the enterprise present to him their names, purposes and terms, either directly or through your obedient servant,

S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy. Colonel E. C. Cabell, C. S. A., Headquarters Price's Army, Jacksonport, Arkansas.

[no. 229.]
an Act to provide for local defence and special service.

Section 1. The Congress of the Confederate States do enact: That the President be and he is hereby authorized to accept the services of volunteers of such kind and in such proportion as he may deem expedient, to serve for such time as he may prescribe, for the defence of exposed places and localities, or such special service as he may deem expedient.

Section 2. And such forces shall be mustered into the service of the Confederate States, for the local defence or special service aforesaid, the mus ter-roll setting forth distinctly the services to be performed; and the said volunteers shall not be considered in actual service until thereunto ordered by the President, and they shall be entitled to pay or subsistence only for such time as they may be on duty, under the orders of the President, or by his direction.

Section 3. Such volunteer forces, when so accepted or ordered into service shall be organized in accordance and subject to all the provisions of the Act entitled “An Act to provide for the public defence,” approved March 6th, 1861, and may be attached to such divisions, brigades, regiments or battalions as the President may direct; and, when not organized into battalions and regiments before being mustered into service, the President shall appoint the field-officers of the battalions and regiments when organized as such by him.

An Act to authorize the formation of Volunteer companies for local defence.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact:

That for the purpose of local defence in any portion of the Contederate States, any number of persons, not less than twenty, who are over the age of forty-five years, or otherwise not liable to military duty, may associate themselves as a military company, elect their own officers, and establish rules and regulations for their own government, and shall be considered as belonging to the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, serving without pay or allowances, and entitled, when captured by the enemy, to all the privileges of prisoners of war.

Provided, That such company shall, as soon as practicable, transmit their muster-roll or list of the names of the officers and privates thereof to the Governor of the State, the commanding general of the department, or any brigadier-general in the State or Confederate service, to be forwarded to the Secretary of War; but the President or commander of the district may, at any time, disband such companies.

Provided, That in the States and districts in which the Act entitled “An Act to further provide for the public defence,” approved April 16th, 1862, and the Acts amendatory thereof, have been suspended, persons of any age, resident within such States or districts, may volunteer and form part of such companies, so long as such suspension may continue.

Provided, That no person shall become a member of said company until he shall have first taken the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America, in writing, a copy of which shall be filed with the muster-roll of said company, as above prescribed. Approved October 13th, 1862.


[Extract.]

Special orders no. 135.

Headquarters District of Arkansas, Little Rock, August 18, 1863.
* * * * * * *

VI.--Thomas E. Courtenay, Esq., is, by direction of the Lieutenant-General commanding the department of trans-Mississippi, authorized to enlist a secret service corps, not exceeding twenty (20) men, to be employed by him, subject to the orders of the district commander.

* * * * * * *

By command of Major-General Price,

Thomas L. Snead, Assistant-Adjutant General. Thomas E. Courtenay, Esq.

[form of Appointment.]

----, 1864.
In accordance with the above, I hereby appoint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a member of the secret service corps, to report to me at . . . . . . . . on or before the . . . . day of . . . . . . . . 1864.


[558]

Confederate States of America, War Department, Engineer Bureau, Richmond, Va., Sept. 15, 1863.
R. W. Dunn, having been selected for special service, is authorized by the Secretary of War to proceed to the headquarters of Lieutenant-General E. Kirby Smith, commanding trans-Mississippi department, to be attached to one of the companies of engineer troops now being organized in that department, under the Act of Congress “to provide and organize engineer troops to serve during the war.” Approved March 20, 1863.

A. L. Rives, Lieutenant-Colonel and Acting-Chief of Bureau. Approved — James A. Seddon, Secretary of War.

Confederate States of America, War Department, Engineer Bureau, September 15, 1863.
General — I have the honor to send, in addition to the names specified in my letter of the 20th ultimo, the following list of men, who, by wish of the Honorable Secretary of War, are to be employed in your department, on the special service of destroying the enemy's property by torpedoes and similar inventions, viz.: [Names.]

These men should each be enlisted in and form part of an engineer company, but will nevertheless be employed, so far as possible, on the service specified above. When the public interest, in your judgment, requires it, details of additional men may be made, either from the engineer troops or from the line, to aid them in their particular duties, and they may be furnished by the military authorities with the necessary ammunition. Their compensation to be fifty per cent. of the property destroyed by their new inventions, and all the arms and munitions captured by them, by the use of torpedoes or by similar devices. Beyond this, they will be entitled to such other rewards as Congress may hereafter provide.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

A. L. Rives, Lieutenant-Colonel and Acting-Chief of Bureau. Approved — James A. Seddon, Secretary of War.

Names of persons in secret service, to introduce R. W. Dunn, E. C. Singer and J. D. Braman to my friends:

B. C. Adams, Grenada; Captain Samuel Applegate, Winona; Colonel H. H. Miller, commanding regiment west of Grenada and Carrollton; W. P. Mellen, Natchez; Major John B. Peyton. Raymond; Judge D. H. Bosser, Woodville; F. A. Boyle, Woodville; Henry Skipwith, Clinton, La.; Conrad McRae, Fordocke, La.; W. Barton, Atchafalaya River, La.; J. J. Morgan, Atchafalaya River, La.; T. G. Calvit, Atchafalaya River, La.; James E. Lindsey, Atchafalaya River, La.; William N. Lindsey, Atchafalaya River, La.; William H. Neilson, Atchafalaya River, La.; Samuel Faulkner, Atchafalaya River, La.; Colonel James M. Porter, St. Landry, La.; Colonel Wm. B. Davis, St. Landry, La.; Colonel Wm. Offat, St. Landry, La.; Captain James Cappes, St. Landry, La.; S. A. Scribner, St. Landry, La.; Elbert Goull, St. Landry, La.; T. C. Anderson, St. Landry, La.; Simon Richard, St. Landry, La.; Henderson Taylor, Marksville, La.; S. L. Taylor, Marksville, La.; H. Robertson, Alexandria, La.; S. W. Henarie, Alexandria, La.; Governor T. O. Moore, Alexandria, La.; Colonel C. Manning, Alexandria, La.; General M. Wells, Rapides and Aveyellos Parish, La.; General P. F. Kearny, Rapides and Aveyellos Parish, La.; Hugh M. Kearny, Esq., Rapides and Aveyellos Parish, La.; B. F. Murdock, Rapides and Aveyellos Parish, La.; B. C. Crow, Esq., Lafayette Parish, La.; Hon. John Moore, St. Martin's Parish; William Robertson, St. Martin's Parish; Judge Baker, St. Mary's Parish; T. J. Foster, St. Mary's Parish; Judge Palfrey, St. Mary's Parish; Daniel Dennett, editor Planter's Banner, St. Mary's Parish; Mr. Sickles, editor Planter's Banner, Kindred Spirits, St. Mary's Parish; Phanor Prudhommer, Esq., St. Mary's Parish; John Blair Smith, Nachitoches Parish, La.; Colonel H. J. G. Battle, Caddo, La.; Reuben White, Caddo, La.

We must help one another, and those who can be efficient in our cause must receive all necessary hospitality, aid and information. I introduce none but the worthy.


Report of a commission on Singer's torpedo.

Engineer Headquarters, Depot Northern Virginia, July 14, 1863.
Colonel — In accordance with your order of the 13th, appointing the undersigned a commission to examine and report upon the merits of Mr. E. C. Singer's torpedo, we beg to state that we have carefully examined the same, and submit the following. report:

First. “As to the. Place for exploding the charge.” In this plan or lock, in our opinion, consists the great merit of the invention. The lock is simple, strong, and not liable at any time to be out of order; and as the caps which ignite the charge are placed within the powder magazine, they are not likely to be affected by moisture; while the percussion is upon the exterior of the magazine, actual contact with the rod, which acts as a trigger, is necessary; but by mechanical contrivances the contact may be obtained in various ways.

Second. “The certainty of action” depends, of course, upon contact; but by the peculiar and excellent arrangement of the lock and plan of percussion mentioned above, the certainty of explosion is almost absolute.

One great advantage this torpedo possesses over many others is that its explosion does not depend upon the action or judgment of an individual; that it is safe from premature ignition, and at the same time is cheap and portable, while its position in river or harbor cannot readily be ascertained by an enemy's vessels.

Third. “The efficiency of its explosion, if made in deep channels,” cannot well be ascertained without experiment, but would be the same as sub-marines fired by any other contrivance. We are of the opinion, however, from the best information accessible, that if the powder, say 100 pounds in quantity, is within the distance of fifteen feet from the keel of the vessel when exploded, its efficient action is not materially affected by the depth of channel.

Of course, the quantity of powder required would have to be determined by experiment. Rifle powder, from its more rapid combustion, would be preferable in deep water to cannon powder, while some of the detonating compounds would doubtless effect certain destruction to vessels passing over torpedoes at even much greater depth. The peculiar arrangements for firing the batteries would have to be determined by the circumstances of position and draft of vessels and motion of currents, depth and width of channels, and would require the exercise of great judgment on the part of those intrusted with the duty of placing them.

We are so well satisfied with the merits of Mr. Singer's torpedo that we recommend the engineer department to give it a thorough test, and, if practicable, to have some of them placed at an early day in some of the river approaches of Richmond.

General Remarks:--

The mode of loading this torpedo dispenses with [559] any connection through the case of the magazine, involving no packing of any kind.

The risk of the lock fouling by sand or mud, if on the bottom of a stream, we think can be prevented by enclosing it in a metal case, which would be nearly water-tight. In narrow streams these could be placed in quincunx, so that a vessel attempting to pass would be sure to come in contact with some one.

The inventor also claims to be able to go to a vessel with one or two and get them in contact so as to explode.

This can be done, but so much depends on the nerve and daring of individuals that there is no certainty of it. Judging from the success of blasting rocks by powder, superposed upon the rock with a deep column of water over it, we are of the opinion that the depth of water below a torpedo would not interfere with its success.

Lieutenant Bolton, who saw and blasted a great deal in East River, near New York, says: “One hundred pounds of powder, fifteen feet from the bottom of a vessel, would break her sides or bottom.”

We would add that a proposed adaptation of these locks to the explosion of shell or batteries under railroad tracks, for defences of approach to fortified works, and for blowing up bridges, seems to us very simple and effective; also an ingenious plan for affixing torpedoes to spar or bow of an iron-clad.

We consider the employment of submarines as a legitimate mode of defence, and, as officers connected with the defence of Richmond, feel it our duty to recommend torpedoes as a powerful accessory to our limited means. The moral effect of an explosion upon an enemy would be incalculable, and would doubtless deter them from attempting to bring troops, by transports, to points accessible to the city, as White House or Brandon.

Respectfully submitted,

W. H. Stevens, Colonel Engineers. John A. Williams, Major Engineers. W. G. Turpin, Capt. Engineers. Colonel J. T. Gilmer, Chief Engineer.
Official copy.

A. L. Rives, Lieutenant-Colonel and Acting-Chief of Bureau.

Letter of T. E. Courtenay to Col. H. E. Clark.

Richmond, Virginia, Jan. 19, 1864.
My Dear Colonel — I hope you have received all my letters. I wrote two to Mobile, one to Columbus, and two to Brandon. I now send this by a party who is going to Shreveport, and promised to learn your whereabouts so as to forward it to you.

I have met with much delay and annoyance since you left. The castings have all been completed some time, and the coal is so perfect that the most critical eye could not detect it. The President thinks them perfect, but Mr. Seddon will do nothing Without congressional action, so I have been engaged for the past two weeks in getting up a bill that will cover my case. At last it has met his approval, and will to-day go to the Senate, hence to the House in secret session. It provides that the Secretary of War shall have the power to organize a “secret service corps” commission, enlist and detail parties who shall retain former rank and pay, also give such compensation as he may deem fit, not exceeding 50 per cent. for property partially and totally de stroyed; also to advance, when necessary, out of the secret service fund, money to parties engaging to injure the enemy.

As soon as this bill becomes a law, I have no doubt but I shall get a suitable commission and means to progress with, and that all the appointments you or I have made will be confirmed. * * *

T. E. Courtenay. Colonel H. E. Clark, 7th Missouri Cavalry. Maj. Gen. Price's Headquarters, Arkansas.

The little “tin-clads” of the Mississippi squadron made a good deal of history for the Navy. They often performed duties that ought to have been assigned to ironclads; but these latter were few in number, and too large to penetrate the small and narrow streams where the Confederates had an idea they were secure, and from whence they would start expeditions towards the great river to prey upon peaceful commerce. The Petrel more than once distinguished herself in these river expeditions, and while in the Yazoo River performed service that should be remembered.

Colonel Coates, who had started out with Lieutenant-Commander Owen, as mentioned on a former occasion, to keep the Confederates from following in Sherman's rear, had, with the assistance of the Navy, occupied Yazoo City, which seemed to be an object of attack from both parties. First one side and then the other had thrown up earth-works until it had become a formidable place.

Colonel Coates was quietly resting here, keeping a good look-out on the enemy, who were in force a few miles back, when, on the 5th of March, at 9:30 A. M., the Confederates made a fierce attack on the redoubts at a point occupied by part of the 11th Illinois Volunteers, supported by a 12-pound howitzer belonging to the gun-boat Exchange. Acting-Master Thomas McElroy, of the Petrel, had been left in charge of the naval force in the Yazoo River by Lieutenant-Commander Owen.

After firing the howitzer several times, it had a shell jammed in the bore which could not be removed. Mr. McElroy then ordered Acting-Master Gibson. of the Marmora, to dismount one of his rifled howitzers, mount it on a field carriage, and send it on shore with a crew to work it; but before he could get the gun to the redoubt the enemy had completely surrounded the hill.

At this time the fighting in the city was hand to hand; the gun was placed in position and opened fire rapidly on the enemy. At one time the crew were driven from their piece by superior numbers; but the Union soldiers, seeing that the sailors needed support, went to their rescue, charged the enemy, and retook the gun.

The Petrel and Marmora kept up a rapid fire with shrapnel, until the battle was over, and McElroy was requested by Colonel Coates to cease firing, as the enemy were retreating. McElroy then went on [560] shore, took the howitzer, and pursued the retreating enemy, firing upon their rear until they escaped to the hills.

Three sailors highly distinguished themselves in this battle: Bartlett Laffey of the Petrel, and James Stoddard and Wm. J. Franks of the Marmora. These men, though surrounded at their gun, fought hand to hand with their cutlasses to the last, and when the enemy retreated, turned the gun upon them — this, too, after their officer (an acting ensign) had retreated, and behaved so badly that his resignation was afterwards demanded. Here was a great difference between the men and their officer, and it is to be hoped that the former will live to see their names honorably mentioned while that of their leader is withheld as unworthy of notice.

On the 13th of April, the Confederates, taking advantage of the absence of the gun-boats, marched on Columbus. Ky.; but when Colonel Lawrence, who commanded the post, refused to listen to a demand for its surrender, they turned upon Fort Pillow, and captured it after a desperate conflict.

Fort Pillow was retaken by Lieutenant-Commander Fitch, but the enemy carried off with them everything it had contained in the shape of guns or stores, and retreated to Ashport. The Union transports then landed troops at the foot of the hill, who reoccupied the fort, where traces of the massacre were still visible, and where ruin and desolation went hand-in-hand. Terrible scenes had been enacted when the place was taken by the Confederates, and they behaved as if they considered the brave defence of the Federal soldiers a grave offence, to be avenged by an indiscriminate slaughter. The atrocities which these men committed will always remain a stigma upon their character, for no possible excuses or explanations can ever justify them.

All of the successes gained by the Confederates were owing to the unfortunate Red River expedition, which had withdrawn the gun-boats from their posts.

In the meantime the small gun-boats, which were acting on the Yazoo River in connection with Colonel Coates, were making themselves felt in that region. An expedition under Colonel Schofield was about to start up the Yazoo River by order of General McArthur, when, by request of the former, on April 21st, the gun-boats Petrel and Prairie Bird preceded the army-transport up to Yazoo City. No enemy being in sight, the Petrel went on up, leaving the Prairie Bird and transport Freestone at the Navy Yard. When abreast of the city, the little gun-boat opened fire on some Confederate troops just then coming in sight on the hills, which was returned briskly by musketry and cannon. The river, being too narrow to turn in, Acting-Master McElroy determined to run the batteries, go up the river where there was more room, turn about, and then run down again. It was not found practicable to return immediately, however, so the Petrel remained where she was until the 22d. On this day she hauled into the bank and commenced wooding, when she was attacked by the enemy with a strong force of infantry and several pieces of cannon, the shot from their guns passing through the vessel. Not being able to bring his guns to bear, McElroy armed his men as sharp-shooters and returned the fire, at the same time getting underway. While starting off, two shots entered the ship, one striking the cylinder, the other cutting the steam-pipe and disabling the engines, when the Confederates closed in on her. The crew went to their quarters and commenced firing, but the sharp-shooters picked them off through the ports, and McElroy, finding it impossible to work his guns, gave the order to set fire to the ship and abandon her. At this moment a shot went through the boiler, enveloping the Petrel in steam. This was unfortunate, for the steam extinguished the fire, and in consequence the vessel fell into the hands of the enemy, with all her stores, guns and ammunition.

There were some unpleasant features connected with this affair, but McElroy redeemed his own mistakes by his gallantry after most of his officers and men had left the vessel. The pilot, Kimble Ware, and a quartermaster,J. H. Nibbie, stood by their commander when all the officers had deserted their flag.

As soon as the steam cleared away, McElroy, with the assistance of Quartermaster Nibbie, got the wounded off the guards on to the bank, and got ready to set fire to the vessel again (all this time under an incessant fire). He obtained some live coals from the furnace and spread them about the decks, but soon had to desist on account of the heat below. At this time, the enemy seeing the officers and men escaping across the fields. crossed the river above and below the Petrel, and, surrounding her on all sides, forced McElroy to surrender. The fires on board the steamer were at once extinguished, and the captain was taken away before he had time to find out how many of his men were killed and wounded.

As an excuse for the conduct of the crew, it must be remarked that there were only ten white men and boys on board the vessel; the rest were all “contrabands,” and some of these were sick. But it was one of the [561] few cases where officers behaved badly on board a vessel of the Mississippi squadron. If the Petrel had been properly seconded by the troops, the disaster would not have occurred.

This affair threw quite a gloom over the fleet, as the Petrel had always been one of the favorite “tin-clads,” and her name appears in many expeditions and forays.

This disaster was redeemed a short time afterwards by the gallant conduct and good management of Acting-Master James C. Gipson, in the gun-boat Exchange, who, while passing Columbia, Arkansas, was opened upon by a masked battery, consisting of four 12-pound shell guns, two 12-pound rifles, and one 10, one 18, and one 6 pounder rifles.

The battery was divided into two sections, planted about 200 yards apart, behind the levee. The Confederates waited until the Exchange had passed the lower battery, and then opened upon her a destructive fire. Acting-Master Gipson could not back down on account of having turned the point of a sand-bar, and he at once saw that his only alternative was to run the upper battery. This he attempted to do, opening fire at the same time with all the guns which he could bring to bear upon the enemy; but, unfortunately, the port engine was struck by a shot and disabled, reducing the speed of the vessel and keeping her under fire for forty-five minutes.

The Exchange had hardly got out of range of the enemy's guns when her engine stopped entirely, and it was found necessary to anchor while the engineers were making repairs. The work was quickly and energetically done, and the little vessel was enabled to move slowly up the river with one engine. It was expected that the Confederates would move the battery above the vessel while she was disabled, and open fire upon her again; but this was not done, and she finally escaped, though badly cut up.

The Exchange was pierced thirty-five times with shot and shell; eight times near the water line and five times in the casemate. Several shells exploded in the coal bunkers, near the boiler, and one entered the shell-locker, overturning shell-boxes, but, fortunately, not reaching some percussion shell that were stored there. One shot passed through the pilot-house, wounding Acting-Master Gipson and rendering him senseless for fifteen minutes; but the brave pilot steered his course as coolly as if it was an every-day affair. The gallant commander was wounded in three places, but in all this firing only one man was killed outright. That, however, does not detract from the credit of this fight, and it shows how a cool and brave commander can get out of a difficulty if he is determined to do so.

Though the volunteer officers in the Mississippi fleet almost always deported themselves with great gallantry, few affairs were better managed than the one we have just described. We cannot always give the names of all the officers engaged in these adventures, but they will generally be found in the lists.

There were a number of such affairs, and in many of them the brave character of the Western men was clearly exhibited.

On the 8th of June, 1864, Lieutenant-Commander F. M. Ramsey, while employed in the Atchafalaya River, started down with the Chillicothe, Neosho, and Fort Hindman. When about one and a half miles from Simmsport, they were fired upon by a battery of two 30-pounder Parrotts. When the vessels opened fire in return, the enemy did not wait to load, but scattered in all directions, leaving their guns and muskets behind them. A deserter stated that these guns had been taken from General Banks when he was on his Red River raid, and the naval officers were thus sometimes reminded that Banks had furnished the guns which so often attacked them along the river. This affair was well managed and with but little loss of life.

Five or six batteries, which had been captured from the Federals, were now raiding upon different parts of the river, and firing upon merchant steamers carrying passengers, frequently women and children. We regret that we are obliged to mention these acts of wanton vengeance on the part of the Confederates. It was not legitimate warfare, and it detracted very much from the credit which they had fairly earned by their undoubted bravery on other occasions.

It looked sometimes as if the “chivalry” of the South was dying out. The gunboats, with as much propriety, might have fired on the defenceless houses of people who were taking no part in the war. It is true that the Union men did sometimes disgrace themselves by burning houses, but it was always done in retaliation for some wanton act on the part of the Confederates, and the women and children were always given time to get out of the way. It was all wrong on either side, and shows how the most humane people will become demoralized when engaged in a civil war. May God save us from any such war in the future!

There was no doubt about the energy, zeal and bravery of these Louisiana and Texas troops; they never relaxed for a moment, and were encountered when least expected. As they attacked everything that came along, they would sometimes “catch a Tartar.” [562]

On the 26th of June, while the gun-boat General Bragg was at anchor in Tunica Bend, she was opened on by the enemy with four guns. Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant C. Dominey (commanding) slipped his cable and went to quarters, replying rapidly to the enemy's fire. After being engaged about five minutes, a shot struck the working-beam of the steamer, and disabled her engines completely. But Dominey did not mind that. He drifted along, silencing the enemy's guns, and they went away, apparently satisfied with having put 22 shot and shell into the General Bragg.

The little “tin-clad,” Naiad, hearing the firing, ran to the assistance of the Bragg, and when within half a mile of the latter another battery opened upon her, in a few moments completely disabling her steering gear and severely wounding the pilot, James M. Herrington. The Naiad's wheel being shot away, her commander, Acting-Master Henry T. Keene, rigged relieving tackles, steered for the battery and continued a close and brisk fire until it was completely silenced.

In this affair the little vessel was struck nine times; and, to show how these frail boats would hold on amidst a pitiless storm of shot and shell, we will enumerate the damages inflicted on the Naiad:

The first shot passed through the smoke-stack; the second and third shots passed through the pilothouse, the third striking the barrel of the wheel, cutting the tiller rope, and literally tearing the wheel to pieces; the fourth shot passed a few feet abaft the pilot-house, shattering the steerage and skylights, but doing no further damage; the fifth shot passed through the cabin. * * * * also * * four shots through the starboard casemates; one striking abreast of the boilers, one abaft of No. 2 gun, tearing up the decks and exploding within a few feet of the shell-room; one abaft of No. 3 gun, killing John J. Crennell, ordinary seaman, and wounding three others; another passed through the port of No. 4 gun, tearing away the shutter and exploding in the dispensary.

This was a gallant combat on the part of these light-armed gun-boats, and showed the persistency with which the Confederates kept up the war.

Now that the great strongholds of the enemy had all been abandoned, the guerilla warfare was carried on along the Mississippi as it had been on the upper rivers. The guerillas never accomplished anything of importance, and soon became a source of great annoyance to the wretched inhabitants, who were obliged to feed and clothe them in order to make it appear that they were loyal to the Confederate cause. No discipline existed among these wandering bands, and they preyed on friends and foes alike.

On the 29th of June, a fleet of nine transports, containing troops under the command of General Steele, started on an expedition up the Arkansas River, for the purpose of meeting a Confederate force under General Marmaduke, who had assembled quite an army on both sides of the river and was obstructing navigation. The transports were accompanied by the gunboats Taylor, Fawn, Naumkeag and Queen City, under the command of Lieutenant George M. Bache. The smaller vessels had gone on ahead, while the Taylor (Lieutenant Bache's vessel) kept with the convoy. When within ten miles of Clarendon, Lieutenant Bache picked up some sailors on the left bank of the river, belonging to the Queen City, who stated that that vessel had been captured by General Shelby at 4 o'clock that morning. Information was also obtained that the enemy were in much greater force than General Steele had anticipated, which caused a change in the programme.

It appears that while the Queen City was lying at anchor off Clarendon, she was suddenly attacked by General Shelby with two regiments of cavalry (dismounted) and four pieces of artillery. The officers of the vessel were taken by surprise, no intimation of the enemy's approach having been given until the attack was made. At the first or second round the starboard engine was disabled by a shell, and the effectiveness of the port engine was much injured by a piece of the same shell passing through the steam-pipe. After fighting twenty minutes, Acting-Master M. Hickey, who commanded the gun-boat, seeing that she was completely riddled with shot, shell and rifle-balls, decided to surrender, not having the bravery to fight it out, as many of his contemporaries would have done. He ordered his officers and men to abandon the vessel, and most of them escaped to the opposite shore. One man was killed, nine wounded and 25 taken prisoners.

Lieutenant Bache received intelligence of the capture of the Queen City about five hours after it occurred. He at once started up the river to prevent the enemy from using her against the Union forces or getting out her stores. When within a. few miles of Clarendon, however, two successive reports were heard up the river, which proved to be the explosion of the unfortunate gun-boat's magazine. General Shelby, hearing of the approach of the other vessels, had destroyed her.

The gun-boats approached the point where the enemy was stationed in the following order: Taylor, Naumkeag, Fawn; and when they were abreast of Cache River the enemy opened fire, putting one of his first shots through the pilot-house of the Taylor. This vessel could only reply with one gun until [563] abreast of the enemy's position, when she fired broadsides of shrapnel and canister. Having passed the batteries, the gun-boats rounded — to and steamed up at them again (at this time the Fawn's pilot had been mortally wounded and her signalbell arrangements carried away, which prevented her from participating in the second attack). The Confederates thought that Bache merely intended to run by their batteries, and they gave three cheers when they saw him steaming away as they supposed, but when he returned to the attack they exclaimed in despair: “Here comes that black devil again!” After getting abreast of them again, the Taylor and Naumkeag kept up such a terrible fire that in five minutes the enemy began escaping in all directions, throwing away everything they had captured.

The Confederates had six guns of their own, of different sizes, and a 12-pounder howitzer, which they had taken from the Queen City. These guns were placed in four different positions, making four batteries; but the fire of the gun-boats was so withering that the artillerymen were driven off after an action of 45 minutes. The Confederates must have been roughly handled, for they abandoned everything they had captured from the Queen City, as well as some of their wounded prisoners.

This was a very gallant and well-managed affair, and Lieutenant Bache gained great credit for the handsome manner in which he had handled his vessels and defeated so large a force of the enemy.

Acting-Master John Rogers of the Naumkeag was also mentioned handsomely for the cool and efficient manner in which he had fought his vessel. In fact, all behaved well and redeemed the unfortunate loss of the Queen City, which lay a shattered wreck at the bottom of the river. Her guns were finally raised and everything of value recovered.

Lieutenant Bache was now warned by the falling water that it was time to go below, if he did not wish to be caught in a trap. Having satisfied himself that he had completely driven Shelby and his force away from the river, he left the Naumkeag and Fawn at Clarendon, to protect that place and started down the river, in the Taylor, to communicate with General Steele.

A large force of troops was then sent up in a transport, convoyed by the Taylor, and landed at Clarendon without meeting any opposition. This force, under General Carr, immediately gave chase to the enemy, who numbered 2.500 men. and skirmished with them for twenty-five miles, capturing several pieces of artillery and 60 wounded men. Most of the crew of the unfortunate Queen City were picked up along the river and distributed among the other vessels. The enemy retired towards Little Rock and did not trouble the gun-boats again for some time. The flotilla had sixteen men wounded, two of whom died the next day.

We have nothing to say against this attack of the Confederates--it was all legitimate enough, and, no doubt, they suffered severely for their temerity. General Shelby showed no want of gallantry, his only fault being that he had not fairly considered the enemy he was about to attack. He had so easily overcome the Queen City that he thought he could do the same with the rest.

The result of the fight was that General Steele followed the enemy to Little Rock, Arkansas, on which place General Marmaduke had intended to make a raid; and the Confederates, finding that they could not assemble on the banks of the White River while the gun-boats were so active, transferred their operations to some other quarter.

With the exception of some trouble with the guerillas up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, the operations for the year 1864 ended favorably for the Union cause, as far as the Navy was concerned. The Confederates continued to show themselves in Kentucky and Tennessee, however, and sometimes took advantage of transports that were not convoyed by gun-boats. Even as late as December, 1864, there was no diminution of zeal and energy on the part of the enemy, though they must have seen by that time that the Confederacy was doomed. An artillery company would sometimes travel for miles just for the pleasure of firing a few shots into a gunboat or transport.

There was not cavalry enough on the Federal side to pursue these raiders; and, if an expedition was organized for that purpose, it generally consisted of an army contingent in transports convoyed by gunboats.

Sometimes the naval commander of a district, from a feeling of over-security, sent an insufficient force of gun-boats, when trouble would ensue and the undertaking be a failure. One of these cases was an expedition from Clifton to Eastport under command of Colonel Hoge, consisting of the 113th and 120th Illinois infantry, 660 strong; 61st U. S. colored infantry, 600 strong, and Battery G, 2d Missouri light artillery (four rifled 12-pounders). These troops embarked on the 9th of October, at Clifton, on the transports City of Pekin, Aurora and Kenton, and they set out for Eastport under convoy of the Key West, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant E. M. [564] King, and the Undine, Acting-Master John L. Bryant.

On the 10th the vessels arrived off Eastort. After passing Line Island, ten miles below, signal was made from the Key West to be cautious and proceed in close order. On approaching Eastport, everything seemed quiet; and as there were no signs of troops or batteries on the hill commanding the landing, Lieutenant King signalled to the transports to land their troops, and took a position with the gunboats in the middle of the river, so as to cover the movement with their guns.

The troops commenced disembarking immediately. Colonel Hoge then went on board the Key West, and informed Lieutenant King that he should move immediately for Iuka. As the Colonel was returning to the City of Pekin, a masked battery of six rifled guns from the hill at Eastport and three rifled guns from the Chickasaw opened on the boats. The transports were struck several times, and a caisson exploded on board both the Aurora and Kenton, setting them on fire. This caused great confusion among the troops, many of them jumping overboard from the burning steamers. A company that had been sent out as skirmishers immediately returned to the boats, while the troops that were forming in line on the bank broke and fled down the river, abandoning a battery of four guns. The transports cut their lines and drifted down stream, the Kenton and Aurora disabled, and the City of Pekin with several shot through her — it seemed to be “every man for himself.”

During this time the Key West and Undine were both hit twice with rifle projectiles. One shell passed down through the boiler-deck of the Key West, and exploded in the bag-rack, near the after-part of the boilers — another passed through the steerage and out on the port side. The Undine had her bell-wires cut by a shell, also her port wheel-rope.

The gun-boats for half an hour returned the fire of the enemy, whose shot fell thick and fast around them, when Lieutenant King, seeing that he could do nothing with his smooth-bores against the Confederate rifles, dropped down out of range to look after the convey. The troops had quenched the fires on the transports, but they were disabled; and this was the end of an expedition that might have produced better results if the troops had been landed out of sight of Eastport and marched up.

It seems reasonable to suppose that 1,320 soldiers could have captured these batteries if proper means had been taken to do so; but sometimes the soldiers seemed helpless, and inclined to wait for the Navy to capture a place before occupying it, forgetting, or not knowing, that a “tin-clad” was not an iron-clad, and that the former were not qualified to go under the fire of heavy batteries. But it was not often that Army men behaved as they did on this occasion, and it can be partly accounted for by the presence of the colored soldiers, who were raw and undisciplined. This expedition was certainly a complete failure, much to be regretted by all concerned.

On the whole, however, the Navy in the West had nothing to be ashamed of during the year 1864, and it will be observed that throughout the campaign it had fighting enough to satisfy the most ardent temperament.

This river-fighting may seem uninteresting to the reader, but it was a link in the great chain that helped to bind the Briarean arms of the demon of rebellion. The services of the Navy in the West had as much effect in reducing the South to submission as the greater battles fought in the East; and the brave Westerners who entered the Navy with no previous knowledge of the profession, having to learn everything from a handspike to a ten-inch gun, may well feel proud at the manner in which they conducted themselves, and glory in the results of their labors, which cost the lives of many of their comrades, but which were generally attended with success.

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