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Capture of Simmsport and Fort de Russy.1


Report of rear-admiral D. D. Porter.

Mississippi Squadron, flag-ship Black Hawk, Fort de Russy, Red River, March 15, 1864.
sir: I had the honor to report to you that I was about to ascend Red River with a fleet of gunboats, in company with a portion of General Sherman's command, or that of General Banks, whichever concluded to go.

On the seventh of March I had assembled at the mouth of Red River a large fleet of ironclads, composed of the following vessels: Essex, Commander Robert Townsend; Benton, Lieutenant Commander James A. Greer; La Fayette, Lieutenant Commander J. P. Foster; Choctaw, Lieutenant Commander F. M. Ramsey; Chillicothe, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant S. P. Couthouy; Ozark, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant George W. Browne; Louisville, Lieutenant Commander E. K. Owen; Carondelet, Lieutenant Commander J. G. Mitchell; Eastport, Lieutenant Commander S. L. Phelps; Pittsburgh, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant W. R. Hoel; Mound City, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne; Osage, Lieutenant Commander T. O. Selfridge; Neosho, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Samuel Howard; Ouachita, Lieutenant Commander Byron Wilson; Fort Hindman, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Pearce. And the lighter boats: Lexington, Lieutenant George M. Bache; Cricket, Acting Master H. H. Gorringe; Gazelle, Acting Master Charles Thatcher; Black Hawk, Lieutenant Commander K. R. Breese.

I received communications from General Banks, informing me that he would be in Alexandria on the seventeenth March, and I made my dispositions to meet him there. On the eleventh instant, part of General Sherman's command, ten thousand men, under the command of Brigadier-General A. J. Smith, joined me in transports at the mouth of Red River, and next morning early the gunboats started up the river, followed by the transports. There was just sufficient water to allow the larger boats to pass. By previous arrangement, Lieutenant Commander Phelps, in the Eastport, was ordered to push on up with his vessel and those that could keep with him, and clear away the heavy obstructions the rebels had placed in the river, and to amuse the Fort until the army could land at Simmsport and get into the rear of the enemy's works, which could be done by making a march of thirty miles.

The Benton, Pittsburgh, Chillicothe, Louisville, Mound City, Carondelet, Ouachita, Lexington, and Gazelle turned off to the left into the Atchafalaya, followed by the troops, while the others went on up the river. The gunboats arrived at Simmsport about twelve o'clock, and found the enemy posted in force about three miles back. The Benton landed her crew, and drove in the pickets. The army came along in about half an hour more, and landed the next morning, taking possession of the enemy's camping [518] ground, the latter retreating toward Fort De Russy. That night, General Smith concluded to follow them by land, while I proceeded up Red River with all the gunboats and transports. In the mean time the Eastport had reached the obstructions, and, with the vessels that kept pace with her, had commenced the work of demolition on the formidable barricade, on which the rebels had been employed five months. They supposed it impassable, but our energetic sailors, with hard work, opened a passage in a few hours. The obstructions consisted of heavy piles driven into the mud, and braced in every direction; they were also clamped together with heavy iron plates and chains.

The Eastport and Neosho got through about four o'clock in the afternoon, and proceeded up to the Fort, which at that moment was being surrounded by the troops under General Smith, who had marched from Simmsport since daylight. A brisk musketry-fire was going on between the rebels and our troops, and they were so close together it was difficult to distinguish the combatants. The Eastport opened her batteries, but, fearing to injure our own men, ceased firing, when our troops proceeded to the assault, and carried the place. In a few moments, and with small loss, two hundred and fifty prisoners, eight heavy guns, and two field-pieces fell into our hands, and all the munitions of war.

The main body of the enemy, five thousand strong, under the rebel General Walker, made their escape. They left the Fort, it was said, to give battle to our troops, and left a garrison of three hundred men to defend it. Our army came in by a different road from what they expected, and made short work of them. Among the guns captured was one of the Indianola's nine-inch, and one belonging to the Harriet Lane. The rest of the guns were twenty-four and thirty-two pounders, and one one hundred and sixty pounder rifle.

As soon as the Fort was in possession of the troops, I sent off up the river the fleetest gunboats I had, to cut the enemy off, if possible, or harass them until our troops could be placed on the transports. By sunset the transports will be in Alexandria and ahead of the rebels, and I hope the latter will be cut off.

These works have been made much more formidable than they were last year, and the loss of guns must be severely felt by the rebels, as they have only fifteen more heavy guns in this section of the country. The whole affair has been well managed; the troops made a splendid march and attack, and the officers in command of the gunboats and transports have shown great zeal and industry in getting up the river and through the obstructions which the rebels deemed impassable.

I forgot to mention in my last report that in the recent attack on Trinity by the gunboats, a number of negroes were recaptured, who were captured by the enemy in a recent attack upon Goodrich's Landing.

I inclose herewith a list of the guns captured at Fort De Russy, with their numbers, as some of them appear to be heavy guns. The Ordnance Bureau may be able to account for them.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

List of Guns captured at Fort De Russy water-battery.--One thirty-two pounder, thirty-three hundred weight, F. P. F., No. 227, navy, in barbette, J. S. C. Proven 1847.

One thirty-one pounder, thirty-three hundred weight, F. P. F., No. 226, navy, in barbette, J. S. C. Proven 1847.

Two nine-inch Dahlgren guns. No marks could be discovered on these guns, but they bore all the evidence of having been in service in the navy, the remains of gun-blacking being on them. Both lugs were cut for locks with the usual composition; piece fitted in to spare lug.

One thirty-two pounder, sixty hundred weight, 1827, navy gun.

One thirty-two pounder United States rifled, marked W. J. W., No. 289. This gun is an old army thirty-two pounder, rifled, with band shrunk on the breech.

Two twenty-four pounder siege-guns, two sixpounder field-pieces, in hill battery.

flag-ship Black Hawk, off Alexandria, La., March 16, 1864.
sir: I have the honor to inform you that I arrived at this place this afternoon. As soon as the Forts were surrendered, I pushed on the fastest vessels, Ouachita and Lexington, followed by the Eastport, to Alexandria. The Ouachita arrived here as the last of a fleet of transports passed over the falls. The rebels set fire to a large ferry-boat, and one of the boats grounding on the falls, was also burnt, to prevent her falling into our hands. As no reliable pilot could be procured to take our boats across the falls, the transports will have to escape for the present, but are sure to be captured or destroyed before the month is over. The surrender of the forts at Point De Russy is of much more importance than I at first supposed. The rebels had depended on that point to stop any advance of army or navy into this part of rebeldom. Large quantities of ammunition, best engineers, and best troops were sent there, and in two or three months more it would have been a most formidable place. As it was, it was not complete, (though the guns were in position,) and would have stood a very poor chance if attacked in force. The works have been laid out by a Colonel De Russy, and are of the most extensive and formidable kind. Colonel De Russy, from appearances, is a most excellent engineer to build forts, but don't seem to know what to do with them after they are constructed. The same remark may apply to his obstructions, which look well on paper, but don't stop our advance. The efforts of these people to keep up this war remind one very much of the antics of Chinamen, who build canvas forts, paint hideous dragons on [519] their shields, turn somersets, and yell in the face of their enemies, to frighten them, and then run away at the first sign of an engagement.

It puts the sailors and soldiers out of all patience with them, after the trouble they have had in getting here. Now and then the army have a little brush with their pickets; but that don't often happen. It is not the intention of these rebels to fight. The men are tired of the war, and many of their officers are anxious to go into cotton speculation. A large trade has been carried on between this and New-Orleans, the rebels receiving supplies for their cotton. There is a surprising abundance of every kind of food in this country, and no suffering among the people, except for luxuries. It would be folly to suppose they could all be starved out. The only way is to take possession of this rich region, hold it with a strong military and naval force, and enforce the laws.

There are some good Union men here, who have suffered much. I hope the day of their delivery has come.

General Smith has left a good force at the forts (and I left the Benton and Essex) to destroy them effectually, which will be some labor. We have seven or eight thousand troops in this city, and are expecting to hear soon of General Banks's arrival. He has been delayed by storms, which have made the roads heavy.

The force that left the forts with a party under General Polignac, from Harrisonburgh, have gone out to meet General Banks, who will soon dispose of them, and the chances are that, when all our cavalry now approaching with General Banks get after them, the rebels will be captured or scattered, not to unite again for some time.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.
P. S.--I beg leave to mention, as a proof of the rapidity with which this portion of General Sherman's command, under Brigadier-General A. J. Smith, did their work, they marched twenty-eight miles, starting at daylight; built a bridge which cost them over two hours hard work; had a sharp skirmishing and artillery attack of two hours, and had possession of the forts all intact before sunset.

It is one of the best military moves made this war.

I beg leave to inclose copy of Lieutenant Commanders S. L. Phelps's report.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral.


Instructions from Admiral Porter to Lieutenant Commander S. L. Phelps.

flag-ship Black Hawk, U. S. Mississippi Squadron, Red River, March 12, 1864.
sir: You will proceed at once up the Red River with the vessels I will detail to follow you, and commence removing the obstructions in the river, while, in the mean time, I will take a tour into the Atchafalaya, and land the troops at Simmsport, for the purpose of reconnoitring, etc. If you remove the obstructions, move up within a short distance of Fort De Russy, but make no attack until I get up with the main force, though, if there is any force at De Russy, you can amuse them by feints until, the army get into their rear. Take every precaution against torpedoes, and protect your men against sharp-shooters.

Very respectfully, your obedient. servant,



Report of Lieutenant Commander S. L. Phelps.

United States iron-clad ram Eastport, Alexandria, La., March 16, 1864.
sir: In obedience to your order of the twelfth instant, I proceeded up Red River; the La Fayette, Choctaw, Osage, Neosho, Ozark, Fort Hindman, and Cricket in company, meeting with no obstacle till we reached the obstructions eight miles below Fort De Russy, on the fourteenth instant. The great length and draught of the La Fayette and Choctaw rendered it difficult for them to navigate this narrow and crooked river, and our progress was slow. Near the head of the Rappions were works for light artillery, commanding a difficult turn in the river, which had been recently abandoned.

The obstructions consisted of piles driven across the river, supported by a second tier of shorter ones, on which rested braces and ties from the upper ones. Immediately below these is a raft of timber, well secured across the river, and made of logs which do not float. Finally, a forest of trees had been cut and floated down upon the piles from above. The river had broken through these obstructions, and had partially undermined the rifle-pits on the right bank. The Fort Hindman removed a portion of the raft, when I ran this vessel up, and, by both pulling and ramming, broke out the piles and framework still obstructing the passage of vessels. This work consumed nearly the entire day. The Osage, Fort Hindman, and Cricket followed me through, and we hastened up to the Fort.

For a short time there had been rapid artillery firing, which ceased as we came in sight of the works, then about sunset, except three shots fired by the rebels from a gun in an angle of the water-battery. We could see the enemy using musketry from the parapets of the rear works, but could see nothing of the attacking force. An officer from General Smith had reached the vessel, notifying me of the approach of his force, but with no advice as to time or plan of attack.

The line of fire of the gunboats would have passed directly to the rear of the works, injuring our own people more than the enemy in his works. I fired a short-fuzed shell at an elevation as a signal gun, and then ventured one onehundred pounder rifle-shell at the water-battery, which shell burst over it, and the enemy ran from it. A few moments after this, a white flag was displayed from the rear works, some six hundred [520] yards from the water-battery, and which alone had been attacked.

The guns and works were captured uninjured, and one hundred and eighty-five prisoners fell into General Smith's hands, those of the enemy occupying the water-battery making good their escape. General Walker, the rebel commander, had marched out with five thousand men ostensibly to attack our approaching land force, leaving a garrison of but three hundred men to defend works incomplete and of considerable extent, and which, if complete, had been of great strength.

Your order of the fourteenth instant was delayed some five hours beyond the time necessary in reaching me, and, in consequence, I did not reach this place till the evening of the fifteenth, a short time after the lighter vessels pushed on ahead, and which had arrived one half hour too late to capture six steamers which had succeeded in getting over the falls, and escaping with one exception, the steamer Countess, burned by the enemy after grounding on the falls. Had your order duly reached me, we no doubt would have captured the steamers. By morning, nine gunboats had arrived, and I landed a force of one hundred and eighty men to occupy the town, and to seize the rebel property. This force, under Lieutenant Commander Selfridge, was in occupation of the place when you arrived. Seven prisoners of war were captured by the pickets.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

S. L. Phelps, Lieutenant Commander. Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, U. S. N., Commanding Mississippi Squadron.

flag-ship Black Hawk, Mississippi Squadron, Alexandria, Louisiana, March 29, 1864.
sir: Being about to leave for Shreveport, or as high up the river as I can get, I have the honor to report progress.

After a great deal of labor, and two and a half days hard work, we succeeded in getting the Eastport over the rocks on the falls, hauling her over by main force; now and then a rise of an inch or so of water would help her along, and she finally was enabled to pass the advance of the army, encamped on the bank of the river twenty-five miles above Alexandria. Other vessels got through, and a few more remain to be got over, when we will push on to the end. It is very slow work getting over these rocks, but as yet we have met with no accidents. One hospital-ship, belonging to the marine brigade, sank on the falls by striking on the rocks, but all the rest of the transports went over safely. I shall only be able to take up a part of the force I brought with me, and leave the river guarded all the way through. The rebels are retreating before the army, and, as usual, are destroying every thing that can fall into our hands, treating public and private property alike. This is the last hold they will have in this country, and they seem determined to wreak their vengeance on the unoffending inhabitants who have some little cotton to dispose of. Their destructiveness has been a death-blow to the rebellion in this State, and General Dick Taylor has left a name behind him to be execrated when the rebellion is long past.

Confederate money is worth here one quarter of a cent on the dollar, or the most I have heard offered is three cents. The currency of a country is the best proof of its prosperity.

The health of the squadron, I am happy to say, continues good.

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

David D. Potter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

flag-ship Cricket, Mississippi Squadron, off Grand Ecore, Louisiana, April 14, 1864.
sir: I had the honor of reporting to you the movements of the squadron as far as Alexandria, and the intention of General Banks to move on at once to Shreveport. He deemed the cooperation of the gunboats so essential to success, that I had to run some risks and make unusual exertions to get them over the falls.

The army started on the appointed day, and I pushed up the gunboats to cover them, if they should be needed, as fast as they got over the falls. The vessels arrived at Grand Ecore without accident, and had good water, the river apparently about to reach its usual stage at this season. The Cricket, Eastport, Mound City, Chillicothe, Carondelet, Pittsburgh, Ozark, Neosho, Osage, Lexington, and Fort Hindman, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, were the vessels sent up, and a fleet of thirty transports followed them.

Grand Ecore was occupied by our forces without opposition. The works deserted. Lieutenant Commander Phelps captured one thirty-two pounder on the river, below Grand Ecore, which he destroyed, making twenty-two guns captured from the enemy since we entered the river.

The army had arrived at Natchitoches, near Grand Ecore, when I got up here, and was preparing for an immediate march. As the river was rising very slowly, I would not risk the larger vessels by taking them higher up, but started on the seventh of April for Shreveport, with the Cricket, Fort Hindman, Lexington, Osage, Neosho, and Chillicothe, with the hope of getting the rest of the vessels along when the usual rise came. Twenty transports were sent along, filled with army stores, and with a portion of General A. J. Smith's division on board. It was intended that the fleet should reach Springfield Landing on the third day, and then communicate with the army, a portion of which expected to be at Springfield at that time. I found the difficulties of navigation very great, but we reached the point specified within an hour of the time appointed. At this point we were brought to a stop; the enemy had sunk a very large steamer (the New Falls City) right across the river, her ends resting on each bank, and her hull, broken in the middle, resting on the bottom. This was a serious obstruction, but I went to work to remove it. Before I commenced operations, however, [521] a courier came in from General Banks, bringing the unpleasant and most unexpected news, “Our army has met with a reverse,” and was falling back to Pleasant Hill, some sixty miles in our rear. Orders also came to General A. J. Smith to return to Grand Ecore with the transports and the troops he had with him. Here was an end to our expedition for the present, and we reluctantly turned back, after having nearly reached the object we were aiming at. The information we received was of a very unsatisfactory kind, and we did not know really what was the exact state of affairs, no letters having been sent by post courier.

It would be very difficult to describe the return passage of the fleet through this narrow and snaggy river. As long as our army could advance triumphantly, it was not so bad; but we had every reason to suppose that our return would be interrupted in every way and at every point by the enemy's land forces, and we were not disappointed. They commenced on us from high banks, at a place called Coushatta, and kept up a fire of musketry whenever an opportunity was offered them. By a proper distribution of the gunboats I had no trouble in driving them away, though from the high banks they could fire on our decks almost with impunity. As we proceeded down the river they increased in numbers, and as we only made thirty miles a day, they could cross from point to point and be ready to meet us on our arrival below. On the left bank of the river a man by the name of Harrison, with one thousand nine hundred cavalry and four or five pieces of artillery, was appointed to follow us down and annoy us. It was very fortunate for us that this person and his command were lately severely handled by a gunboat, (a few weeks ago,) which made them careful about coming within range. On the evening of the twelfth instant we were attacked from the right bank of the river by a detachment of men of quite another character. They were a part of the army which two or three days previous had gained success over our army, and flushed with victory, or under the excitement of liquor, they appeared suddenly upon the right bank, and fearlessly opened fire on the Osage, Lieutenant Commander T. O. Selfridge, (iron-clad,) she being hard aground at the time with a transport (the Black Hawk) alongside of her, towing her off. The rebels opened with two thousand muskets, and soon drove every one out of the Black Hawk to the safe casemates of the monitor. Lieutenant Bache had just come from his vessel, (the Lexington,) and fortunately was enabled to pull up to her again, keeping close under the bank, while the Osage opened a destructive fire on these poor deluded wretches, who, maddened with liquor and led on by their officers, were vainly attempting to capture an iron vessel. I am told that their hootings and actions baffle description. Force after force seemed to be brought up to the edge of the bank, where they confronted the guns of the iron vessel, only to be cut down by grape-shot and canister. In the mean time Lieutenant Bache had reached his vessel, and widening the distance between him and the Osage, he opened a cross-fire on the infuriated rebels, who fought with such desperation and courage against certain destruction, that it could only be accounted for in one way. Our opinions were verified on inspection of some of the bodies of the slain — the men actually smelling of Louisiana rum! This affair lasted nearly two hours before the rebels fled. They brought up two pieces of artillery, one of which was quickly knocked over by the Lexington's guns, the other they managed to carry off. The cross-fire of the Lexington finally decided this curious affair of a fight between infantry and gunboats. The rebels were mowed down by her canister, and finally retreated in as quick haste as they had come to the attack, leaving the space of a mile covered with the dead and wounded, muskets and knapsacks. A dying rebel informed our men that General Greene had his head blown off, which I do not vouch for as true. If true, it is a serious loss to the rebels. Night coming on, we had no means of ascertaining the damage done to the rebels. We were troubled no more from the right bank of the river, and a party of five thousand men who were marching to cut us off were persuaded to change their mind after hearing of the unfortunate termination to the first expedition. That same night I ordered the transports to proceed on, having placed the gunboats at a point where the rebels had a battery. All the transports were passed safely, the rebels not firing a shot in return to the many that were bursting over the hills. The next morning, the thirteenth instant, I followed down myself, and finding at Compte, six miles from Grand Ecore by land, that they had got aground, and would be some time in getting through, I proceeded down in this vessel to Grand Ecore, and got General Banks to send up troops enough to keep the guerrillas away from the river. We were fired on as usual after we started down, but when I had the troops sent up, the transports came along without any rouble. This has been an expedition where a great deal of labor has been expended, a great deal of individual bravery shown, and on such occasions the commander-in-chief is apt to find out the metal of which his officers are made, and on future occasions it will enable him to select those who will not likely fail in the time of need. To Lieutenant Commander T. O. Selfridge, commanding the Osage, and Lieutenant George M. Bache, commanding the Lexington, I am particularly indebted for the gallant manner in which they defended their vessels, and for their management during the expedition, always anticipating and intelligently carrying out my wishes and orders.

I found the fleet at Grand Ecore somewhat in an unpleasant situation--two of them being above the bar, and not likely to get away again this season, unless there is a rise of a foot. I could not provide against this, when over a hundred [522] miles up the river. If nature does not change her laws, there will no doubt be a rise of water; but there was one year, 1846, when there was no rise in the Red River, and it may happen again. The rebels are cutting off the supply by diverting different sources of water into other channels; all of which would have been stopped, had our army arrived as far as Shreveport. I have done my best (and so have the officers and men under my command) to make this expedition a success throughout, and do not know that we have failed in any thing we have undertaken. Had we not heard of the retreat of the army, I should still have gone on to the end. A wise Providence, which rules and directs all things, has thought proper to stay our progress and throw impediments in the way, for some good reason.

We have nothing left but to try it again, and hold on to this country with all the force we can raise. It is just as valuable to us and important to the cause as any other portion of the Union. Those who have interests here, and are faithful to the Government, have a right to expect our protection, and when this part of Louisiana is conquered, we hold Arkansas and all the right bank of the Mississippi without firing another gun.

There is a class of men who have during this war shown a great deal of bravery and patriotism, and who have seldom met with any notice from those whose duty it is to report such matters. I speak of the pilots on the Western waters. Without any hope of future reward, through fame, or in a pecuniary way, they enter into the business of piloting the transports through dangers that would make a faint-hearted man quail. Occupying the most exposed position, a fair mark for a sharp-shooter, they are continually fired at, and often hit, without so much as a mention being made of their gallantry. On this expedition they have been much exposed, and have showed great gallantry in managing their vessels while under fire, in this, to them, unknown river. I beg leave to pay this small tribute to their bravery and zeal, and must say, as a class, I never knew a braver set of men. I also beg leave to mention favorably Acting Master H, H. Gorringe, commanding this vessel. He has shown great zeal, courage, and ability during this expedition, serving his guns rapidly and well, at his post night and day, ready for any thing, and assisting materially in getting the transports by dangerous points. Mounting one of his twenty-four pounder howitzers on his upper deck, he was enabled to sweep the bank in all directions, and one or two fires had the desired effect. He was of great service to me throughout the expedition; was slightly wounded, but nothing of consequence, (owing to his exposing himself so much.)

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

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

flag-ship Black Hawk, Mississippi Squadron, off Alexandria, La., April 17, 1864.
sir: I have the honor to report my arrival at this point for a few hours. I shall return to Grand Ecore in two hours. I had succeeded in getting all the large vessels over the bar at Grand Ecore, and in a fair way of getting down as far as Alexandria, when I heard the Eastport had sunk eight miles below. I sent down at once and found it to be so; she was five hours sinking, said to be done by a torpedo; she don't seem to be damaged much. I came down for my steam-pump boats; have one alongside the Eastport already, and take another up with me to-day. There will be trouble getting her up if the river ever rises again; the water comes as high as her gun-deck; her guns and heavy articles have been taken off. I came here and found trouble at Fort Pillow;. the policy pursued, in not defending the strong posts where so much blood and treasure have been expended, will always cause these difficulties. I had two boats up there, but the negro and invalid garrison were not strong enough to do their part. I have sent the Essex, Benton, Choctaw, La Fayette, Ouachita, and Avenger up to Fort Pillow to prevent any permanent landing there. I sent an expedition up the Washita as far as Munroe, which captured three thousand bales of confederate cotton, brought away eight hundred negroes, and destroyed much rebel property. The expedition was under Lieutenant Commander Foster, and was particularly successful. I am bringing up light-draught vessels to take the place of the heavy boats during the low water. We have only eight feet of water between this and Grand Ecore, and many lumps exist. This expedition, and the failure of the army to advance, have given me a great deal of trouble; but I don't despair of getting out of it. It is only a matter of want of water, and I cannot think that this river would fail to rise while all the others are booming. Being constantly engaged in providing for the many curious cases that are daily occurring, I hope you will excuse me for not making fuller reports.

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

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.


Additional report of rear-admiral D. D. Porter.

flag-ship Cricket, Mississippi Squadron, off Alexandria, La., April 28, 1864.
sir: I had the honor to inform you, in my communication No. 106, of the sinking of the Eastport while proceeding down to Alexandria, caused by the explosion of a torpedo under her bottom, and near her bow. On hearing this bad news, I proceeded at once to the vessel, and found her sunk to the gun-deck; the water over it on one side.

I saw that no time was to be lost, and went at once to Alexandria, in hopes of finding one of our steam pump-boats, then due. Lieutenant Commander Phelps had already sent a tug down [523] for the same purpose, and as I passed around the falls, the pump-boat hove in sight, and proceeded on up. An hour after, the other boat came up, and I sent her up also, being confident that the Eastport would now be raised.

I had ordered all her guns taken out and all her ammunition transferred to other vessels, which was done by the time I reached her again, forty-eight hours after the pump-boats went up.

I was detained a day in Alexandria, making a different disposition of the vessels in the Mississippi, owing to the report of the capture of Fort Pillow by the rebels. I sent some of the heavy iron-clads up there with orders to remain, and also changed the destination of various vessels in the different rivers.

When I returned to the Eastport, I found her in a fair way of being afloat, though all the heavy steam-pumps together did not do more than slightly decrease the water. The leak had to be stopped by bulkheading. Lieutenant Commander Phelps went to work vigorously to endeavor to save his vessel, and he was seconded by his officers and crew. I don't think I ever witnessed harder work than was performed by the officers and crew of the Eastport, and it seemed to be the determination of all on board that she should not fall into the hands of the enemy, if it could be helped.

I felt confident that the Eastport would be saved, if time permitted, but I had a faint idea that our army were about to fall back on Alexandria, when it would become necessary to destroy the Eastport, or perhaps some other vessels.

On my arrival at Grand Ecore, I found that preparations were making to move the army in the direction of Alexandria, and I ordered the large vessels at once below the bars with orders to proceed slowly to Alexandria, keeping with me six of the lighter-draught vessels to cover the land forces, and give protection to the transports.

The day after my return to Grand Ecore, orders were issued for the army to move to Alexandria. The Eastport was not yet afloat, and I thought our chance of saving her very small, unless we were certain of having no enemy to annoy us after the army left. On the twentieth of April I went down to the Eastport again, and after informing the commander how matters stood, we concluded that it was necessary to run some risks, if we wished to save the vessel. She was now slightly resting on the bottom on one side, and steam had been raised on her.

On the twenty-first she started in tow of the pump-boat, Champion Number Five, and with the pump of Champion Number Three transferred to the Eastport, and connected with her boilers. This arrangement, with the addition of one or two syphon-pumps, kept the water out of the fire-room, and confined it to the bow.

I waited at a point eight miles below Grand Ecore, and sent up a gunboat to convoy down all the transports that were left up, this vessel bringing up the rear, towing a flat on which were all the Eastport's guns.

On the first day the Eastport made twenty miles down the river, but at six o'clock in the evening she grounded, from not being in the channel, and the first of our difficulties commenced in getting her over the bars and other obstructions which abound in this river.

It would be impossible to give an adequate idea of the difficulties of the navigation, from the twenty-first of April up to the twenty-sixth, the time when it was no longer considered possible to get the Eastport over the sand-bars and logs, now increasing, unless time was allowed to remove them, and the enemy were kept from annoying us while we were at work.

The Lieutenant Commander commanding the Eastport, S. L. Phelps, had done all that man could do to save his vessel, and felt it to be a matter of pride to get her to Alexandria.

She had grounded eight times badly, and each time under circumstances where it was very doubtful if she would come off; but the Commander's confidence never deserted him, and I could not help but admire his coolness and faith in getting his vessel to Alexandria, when I knew there were places to pass below, with much less water on them.

I determined that I would never leave this vessel to her fate as long as the commander felt a hope of getting her down.

He worked with almost superhuman efforts to accomplish the object in view, sleeping apparently neither night nor day. Every body worked, and went through privations of all kinds, and I must say, that mentally I never went through so much anxiety in my life.

On the sixth day of this labor of hauling the Eastport over the bars, and after congratulating ourselves that we had passed every impediment, orders were given to fill up with fence-rails for fuel, and we started down-stream, with the expectation of making at least thirty miles that day. The vessel had already been brought sixty miles on her way, and sixty more would bring her within our lines.

The army, though, were sixty miles ahead of us, and the report was that the rebels were following in their rear, also opposing them in front, and we might naturally expect, when the army arrived safely in Alexandria, that the whole power of the enemy would be directed to cutting off my small force of three light-draughts, and the Eastport, without any guns; indeed, we had already received notice that such were their intentions.

On April twenty-fifth, I made signal to pass down-stream, and had scarcely started before the Eastport was hard aground, and this time in a position where even the commander's hopes of relieving her failed. The difficulty here was a want of water, and the bed of the river was filled with logs, over which it would be impossible to get the vessel, unless we had the time.

We tried to lighten her by removing her ironplating, but this we found to be labor beyond our power; the plates could not <*>e removed in a short time, and that plan was abandoned at once.

I had determined to remain by the Eastport until [524] she was safe within our lines, or blown up, to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy.

On two occasions I had given the Commander preparatory instructions relative to her destruction, thinking her time had come; but, still hopeful and persistent, he stuck to the work, and deserved to have met with greater success.

Every effort was made to get the Eastport off from what proved to be her final resting-place.

The gunboat Fort Hindman (whose commander has worked to save the Eastport with a zeal I never saw surpassed) succeeded, with her steam capstan, in moving her bow, but only enough to get into a worse position right across the channel, with a bed of logs under her, and from that place it seemed that no human power could move her. The Commander having admitted there seemed no hope of getting her off, unless we had time, and our rear protected, I gave the order to destroy her.

One ton of powder was placed in her in various positions, she was filled with such combustibles as we could procure, and at forty-five minutes past one P. M., April twenty-sixth, the Eastport was blown up, Lieutenant Commander Phelps applying the match, and being the last one to leave the vessel. He had barely time to reach the boat when the Eastport blew up, covering the boat with fragments of wood. Seven different explosions followed, and then the flames burst forth in every direction.

The vessel was completely destroyed — as perfect a wreck as ever was made by powder. She remains a troublesome obstruction, to block up the channel for some time to come. All stores, etc., were removed, and such parts of the machinery as could be made available by the rebels.

There was nothing but the iron plates left behind, which finally fell inside the hull. Some fell out-board, as the fire burnt away the wood to which they were attached, and will soon disappear under the sands.

I would have brought away every piece of iron, had I not been warned that I had over-staid my time.

Gangs of guerrillas began to hover on the left bank of the river, and just previous to blowing up the Eastport we were attacked by a heavy force on the right bank.

This vessel was lying tied to the bank, and I was backing out from the Eastport in the Hindman, to give the former a chance to blow up without injury to any one. The rebels selected this moment to make their attack, and rising suddenly from the bank opened on our little squadron with one thousand two hundred muskets, and then made a rush to board the Cricket.

The enemy, however, were properly met and repelled, and the Cricket, dropping out from the bank, opened on them with grape and canister; and with a heavy cross-fire from the two other vessels, the rebels were routed in five minutes. After this, we blew the Eastport up, and proceeded down the river.

We were not molested until we had gone about wenty miles, at a point above Cane River. When rounding the point, the vessels in close order, and ready for action, we descried a party of the enemy with artillery, on the right bank, and we immediately opened fire with our bow-guns. The enemy immediately returned it with a large number of cannon, eighteen in all, every shot of which struck this vessel.

The Captain (Acting Master H. H. Gorringe) gave orders to stop the engines, for the purpose of fighting the battery and covering the boats astern; I corrected this mistake, and got headway on the vessel again, but not soon enough to avoid the pelting shower of shot and shell which the enemy poured into us, every shot going through and through us, clearing all our decks in a moment.

Finding the guns not firing rapidly, I stepped on the gun-deck to see what was the matter. As I stepped down, the after-gun was struck with a shell and disabled, and every man at the gun killed and wounded. At the same moment the crew from the forward gun were swept away by a shell exploding, and the men were wounded in the fire-room, leaving only one man to fire up.

I made up a gun's crew from the contrabands, who fought the gun to the last moment. Finding that the engine did not move, I went into the engine-room and found the chief engineer killed, whose place was soon supplied by an assistant. I then went to the pilot-house, and found that a shot had gone through it and wounded one of the pilots. I took charge of the vessel, and as the battery was a very heavy one, I determined to pass it, which was done under the heaviest fire I ever witnessed.

I attempted to turn her head up-stream, to attack with our two bow-guns, the only guns left; but as this was impracticable, I let her drift down around the point, and shelled the enemy's batteries in the rear. This disturbed them for a moment, and enabled the light-draught Juliet and pump-boat Champion, lashed together, to escape from under the bank, where they had drifted.

The Juliet had her steam-pipe cut and became disabled, having drifted clear from under the guns of the enemy and close into the bank, where the guns could not be depressed to reach them, and from whence the Champion towed her in safety, when the Hindman opened her batteries, and this vessel was firing into the rear of the enemy's batteries.

Seeing that the Hindman did not pass the batteries, the Juliet disabled, and that one of the pump-boats had her boiler exploded by a shot, I ran down to a point three or four miles below, where I had ordered two irod-clads to be ready to meet me in case of emergency.

Unfortunately, I ran on shore a short time after passing the batteries, and remained there three hours, took fire in the mean time from the explosion of some cartridges, the box containing which had been struck by the enemy's shot. It was after dark when I reached the appointed place, where I found the Osage lying opposite a field-battery of the enemy, which they had been shelling throughout the day. [525]

The Lexington had been hard at work at them, and had been hulled fifteen times, with only one man killed. The firing above had ceased, and as the channel was very intricate, I could not send her up to the assistance of the vessels without danger of her getting aground. I knew that they were all above the batteries, and was in hopes that the Hindman had silenced them.

Lieutenant Commander Phelps had two vessels in charge, the Juliet and Champion, which he wished to get through safely. He kept them out of range until he could partially repair the Juliet, and then, starting under a heavy fire, he made a push by. Unfortunately the pump-boat was disabled and set fire to, and burnt up. The Hindman had her wheel-ropes cut away, and drifted past, turning round and round, and getting well cut up in going by.

The Juliet was cut to pieces in hull and machinery; had fifteen killed and wounded. Four miles below they met the Neosho going up, too late to cover them. Had she arrived in time, she could likely have cleaned out the batteries, at least diverted the fire of them until the passage of the boats.

I inclose the report of Lieutenant Commanding Phelps, from the time of his first misfortune until his arrival at this place, where I now am with all the fleet, having lost none of the gunboats, but very much surprised that I have any left, considering all the difficulties encountered. When the rebels had followed our army to the point where they could effect no more, all their attention was turned to the little squadron I had escorting the Eastport.

Every man and gun was brought to the river, and we had to contend against such odds that it seemed impossible to escape destruction or very severe handling. No vessels were ever better fought, and none of this class (mere thread-paper vessels) were ever under so hot a fire.

In five minutes the Cricket was struck thirty-eight times, with solid shot and shell, with a loss of twenty-five killed and wounded--half her crew; the Juliet about the same, with fifteen killed and wounded. The Hindman lost three killed and four or five wounded.

I may have lacked judgment in not blowing the Eastport up sooner, when I found that we were a secondary consideration to the army; but as I had staid behind myself to see the last transport through safely, I could not do less with one of my own vessels.

I was unable to keep up communication with the army; as the means of communication were with them, and as they marched along faster than I calculated, (forty miles in one day, when I supposed they would only go twenty,) I was more in their rear than I should have been. This arose from my desire to save the Eastport, and hoping that some signal success on the part of the army, (which I felt confident was able to whip all the rebels in that part of the country,) would dispose of the enemy altogether.

From the beginning of this expedition up to the present time, the officers and men of the squadron have worked with superhuman zeal, and overcome difficulties which seemed insurmountable. The success of the expedition depended entirely on the success of the navy in getting the transports safely to an appointed place — Springfield Landing — which would have put us in communication with the army, and then in possession of all their materials of war.

This we accomplished; and when the army returned, unexpectedly, we fought our way back again without the loss of any kind, excepting men, inflicting a loss of five hundred men on the enemy, killed their best General, Greene, and a number of his officers.

On our way down to Alexandria, obstacles were overcome, enough to appall the stoutest heart. Guns had to be taken out of vessels and then jumped over sand-bars and logs, and the squadron arrived here in time to prevent any attack on our reserve stores.

The difficulty about water is a most unusual one, and we must certainly have a rise of the few feet we want before the end of the season. All the rivers are booming at this time, and it should be so here. I am no more responsible for the failure of water here than I would be if the Mississippi went dry at this season — a thing that never happened yet.

I came up here with the river on the rise, and water enough for our largest vessels; and even on my way up to Shreveport from Grand Ecore the water rose, while it commenced falling where I left the largest gunboats. Falling or not, I could not go back while in charge of the transports and the material on which an army of thirty thousand men depended. Nothing would justify me in doing so.

I have still confidence in a good Providence, which I am sure will not desert us, and confidence that the nation will not permit this fleet to be sacrificed, when it has so well performed its part in what should have been a complete success.

In conclusion, I beg leave to mention the brave, cool, and zealous manner in which Lieutenant Commander Phelps worked to get his vessel out of her difficulties, never losing his faith for a single moment; also the handsome manner in which he brought the two fragile gunboats past those heavy batteries, cheating the enemy of the prize they had promised themselves.

To Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Pearce, commanding the Fort Hindman, great praise is due for the efforts he made, night and day, to get the Eastport off, working his officers and men until they could hardly stand.

Acting Master George W. Rogers, of the Pittsburgh, deserves great credit for the manner in which he worked at the bulkheads of the Eastport, up to his middle in water, for eight days; to him we intrusted the duty of stopping the leak, which he fairly accomplished under the most trying circumstances.

Acting Master J. S. Watson defended his vessel in the most gallant manner, and never was a vessel more cut up.

Where all do their duty it is hard to discriminate; [526] but when the record of this expedition is overhauled, the names of Commander R. Townsend, commanding Essex; Lieutenant Commander S. L. Phelps, Eastport; Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, Chillicothe, (temporarily;) Lieutenant Commander K. R. Breese, Black Hawk; Lieutenant Commander J. P. Foster, La Fayette; Lieutenant Commander J. A. Greer, Benton; Lieutenant Commander E. K. Owen, Louisville; Lieutenant Commander J. G. Mitchell, Carondelet; Lieutenant Commander F. M. Ramsay, Choctaw; Lieutenant Commander T. O. Selfridge, Osage; Lieutenant Commander Byron Wilson, Ouachita; Lieutenant Commander Geo. M. Bache, Lexington; Lieutenant Commander S. W. Terry, Benefit, (naval transport;) Acting Volunteer Lieutenant W. R. Hoel, Pittsburgh; Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Samuel Howard, Neosho; Acting Volunteer Lieutenant George W. Browne, Ozark; Acting Volunteer Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne, Mound City; Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Pearce, Fort Hindman; Acting Master H. H. Gorringe, Cricket; Acting Master J. S. Watson, Juliet; Acting Master Charles Thatcher, Gazelle — should stand prominent, having zealously performed every thing required of them, with an ability deserving of the highest praise.

I deem it necessary to send to you a bearer of despatches, who will explain to you fully the condition of the fleet.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.


Perilous situation of the fleet.

flag-ship Cricket, Mississippi Squadron, below Grand Ecore, La., April 28, 1864.
sir: In my last communication I informed you of the sinking of the Eastport by a torpedo about eight miles below Grand Ecore. The moment I heard of it, I went down to Alexandria, and sent a despatch-vessel for our two steam pump-boats; one was coming over the falls as I passed down, and the other fortunately came in sight an hour afterward. They were both sent up and set to work to raise the sunken vessel. She was so much shattered in the bottom that I almost despaired of effecting any thing. The same day that the boats arrived up, General Banks gave orders for the army to prepare to move on to Alexandria, and as Grand Ecore was only four miles from us by land, the chances were that the rebels would mount numerous artillery on the bluff close at hand, and prevent our working. Nevertheless we went to work, and proceeded until the vessel was raised, the pumps working all the time, and we unable to get at the leak. Lieutenant Commander Phelps worked with great perseverance, coolness, and patience under these unpleasant circumstances. The same day the army moved, we moved down with the Eastport with her own steam, and one steam-pump alongside of her, barely keeping her free, and the leak not discovered. We started very fair, and made in a few hours twenty miles down river, having sent convoy to bring down the transports, which were taken safely to Alexandria. But the Eastport got out of the channel, and it seems impossible to move her ahead. Every thing that man can do, has been done, and I shall persevere until attacked here, or until the falling water endangers the other vessels. There will be but one course for me to pursue, that is, to perform the painful duty of destroying the Eastport, to prevent her falling into the enemy's hands. I have no certainty of getting her down as far as Alexandria; the water has fallen too much to leave her here, with our army retreating to Alexandria, and with twenty-five thousand rebels (if victorious) assailing us at every point. We can fight them to the last. At this time, the rebels are following our army, and the artillery and musketry can be heard quite distinctly. We do not know the result. Had the army held Grand Ecore a fortnight, we would with certainty have saved the vessel, and will do so now, if we can find water to get her down. She has a great deal of water in her, which increases her draught and makes her very heavy; her pumps cannot get it all out, nor can we find the place where she is injured. The unfortunate issue of this expedition has thrown the gunboats into a bad predicament. When I came up here, the water was rising, and all our vessels navigated the river to Grand Ecore with ease, and with some of them I reached Springfield Landing, the place designated by General Banks for the gunboats to meet the army. My part was successfully accomplished; the failure of the army to proceed, and the retreat back to Grand Ecore, left me almost at the mercy of the enemy. Fortunately we got through without any accident or serious disaster from the enemy's fire. I soon saw that the army would go to Alexandria again, and we would be left above the bar in a helpless condition. I went to work immediately to get the heavy boats below, which I succeeded in doing by great exertions on the part of the commanders. I kept the lighter-draught vessels to cover the army if they should need it, and to take the transports down safely; all of which was done. The vessels are mostly at Alexandria, above the falls, excepting this one and two others I kept to protect the Eastport. When the rebels heard we had arrived at Grand Ecore, they commenced turning the source of water supply off into the lakes, which would have been remedied, had the army succeeded in getting to Shreveport. I cannot blame myself for coming up at the only season when the water rises. All the rivers are full and rising, but the Red River is falling at the rate of two inches a day — a most unusual occurrence — this river always being full until the middle of June. Whether we will yet have a rise, it would be impossible for any one to foresee. It seems like an impossibility that we could be caught in such a predicament in the time of rising water, but such may be the case. If General Banks should determine to evacuate this country, the gunboats will be cut off from all [527] communication with the Mississippi. It cannot be possible that the country would be willing have eight iron-clads, three or four other gunboats, and many transports sacrificed without an effort to save them. It would be the worst thing that has happened this war. I beg leave, most respectfully, to call your earnest attention to this matter. I shall remonstrate with all the energy I am capable of against being left here and having to destroy my vessels, and I hope, sir, that you will see, in the position wherein I am placed, strong reasons for holding this country, and reenforcing the army with troops, to do it with a certainty. Two months are left yet in which to expect a rise; but many say it will not come; the wish, perhaps, being father to the thought. It would be hard, indeed, after cooperating with the army, and the navy performing successfully all that was required of it, to be left in a position where we would have to surrender or blow up. I will promise you the latter. I have no hope of getting the Eastport down, though the commander is still very sanguine. If we could get her within forty miles of Alexandria, we could save her; or if it rises there will be no trouble at all. If the enemy bring on their heavy artillery, the people on the steam-pumps will not be able to work at all. With the gunboats alone and untrammelled, I should not be afraid of any force the rebels could bring to bear upon us, being confident that we could beat them off, if they came in strong force. Whatever may happen, I shall hope for the best, but consider it my duty to anticipate events, and run no risk of losing this squadron. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

1 see Doc. 96, ante.

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