On the Mississippi and adjacent waters
Gunboat “number 53” --an officer spying the shore opposite Baton Rouge |
A powerful reenforcement to the river fleet: the monster ironclad “Choctaw”
This huge vessel was one of the first attempts to develop the Eads type of gunboat.
She, with the “Tuscumbia,” the “Indianola,” the “Lafayette,” and the “Chillicothe,” was added to the Mississippi squadron after Admiral Porter took command, and all received their baptism in the operations of the Vicksburg campaign, the “Indianola” being captured and destroyed by the Confederates.
They were flat-bottomed vessels with side-wheels three-quarters of the way aft, each wheel acting independently of the other so as to give facility in turning in narrow channels,which rendered the broadside guns more effective.
They were designed as light-drafts, requiring from five to seven feet of water.
The “Choctaw” and her sister-vessel, the “Lafayette,” required nine feet. The “Choctaw” mounted three 9-inch smooth-bores and a rifled 100-pounder in her forward casemate.
She had a second casemate forward of the wheel where she mounted two 24-pounder howitzers, and a third casemate abaft the wheel containing two 30-pounder Parrott rifled guns.
Under Lieutenant-Commander F. M. Ramsay, she was active in the flotilla cooperating with General W. T. Sherman against Haynes' Bluff and Drumgould's Bluff, Mississippi, to distract attention from Grant's famous movement to the south of Vicksburg.
She accompanied the expedition that captured Yazoo City on May 21, 1863, and destroyed $2,000,000 worth of Confederate vessels, yards, mills, and other property.
On June 7, 1863, she, with the little “Lexington,” drove off the Confederate attack on Milliken's Bend, Louisiana.
In 1864, she accompanied Admiral Porter on the Red River expedition. |
The “rattler” --leader of the “land cruise” in 1863
This little “tin-clad” Number 1, the “Rattler,” was the flagship of Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith. Admiral Porter sent him to enter the Yazoo River through Moon Lake, Cold Water, and the Tallahatchie River to attack Vicksburg from that side.
This was the most daring and hazardous undertaking attempted by the river navy.
The army engineers had cut the levee higher up the Mississippi, but after the water was let in it took some days for it to attain a sufficient level in the vast area flooded.
Late in February, Smith and his squadron started out with transports carrying 6,000 troops.
Struggling against overhanging trees and masses of driftwood, pausing to remove great trees which the Confederates had felled in their way, the gunboats managed to pick a channel, and approached Fort Pemberton on March 11, 1863.
Many of the gunboats had suffered severely from this amphibious warfare.
The “Romeo” had her stacks carried away, the “Petrel” had lost her wheel, and the “Chillicothe” had started a plank by running upon a submerged stump.
The soldiers were grumbling at the constant labor of “digging the gunboats out of the woods.”
The channel was so obstructed and narrow that only one gunboat at a time could effectually engage Fort Pemberton.
After a few days of ineffectual bombardment the expedition was abandoned and the gunboats returned to the Mississippi over the same long, difficult course. |
A vigilant patroller — the “Silver Lake”
In the picture the “Silver Lake” is lying off Vicksburg after its fall.
While Admiral Porter was busy attacking Vicksburg with the Mississippi squadron, Lieutenant-Commander Le Roy Fitch, with a few small gunboats, was actively patrolling the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
It was soon seen that the hold upon Tennessee and Kentucky gained by the Federals by the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson would be lost without adequate assistance from the navy, and Admiral Porter was authorized to purchase small light-draft river steamers and add them to Fitch's flotilla as rapidly as they could be converted into gunboats.
One of the first to be completed was the “Silver Lake.”
The little stern-wheel steamer first distinguished herself on February 3, 1863, at Dover, Tennessee, where she (with Fitch's flotilla) assisted in routing 4,500 Confederates, who were attacking the Federals at that place.
The little vessel continued to render yeoman's service with the other gunboats, ably assisted by General A. W. Ellet's marine brigade. |
The navy's fresh-water sailors
In this group the crew of the “Carondelet” is crowding to get within range of the camera.
One of the earliest of the river ironclads, the “Carondelet” was frequently the flagship of Admiral Porter; and her crew, at first recruited from among men who had had little experience afloat, soon learned the art of warfare on inland waters.
Great difficulty was experienced at first in manning the river gunboats.
Men of the old navy could not be spared, and a large proportion of landsmen had to be enlisted to make up the required complement.
Crude as the early crews appeared to the officers of the navy who commanded them, they soon proved their worth; having gotten their sea-legs and sailorlike spirit in the fighting along the rivers, many of them saw service afterward in the blockading squadrons along the coast. |
Veterans in the making — crew of the “Lafayette”
In this fine group on the Mississippi ironclad “Lafayette,” the photographer has arranged the crew so that a better idea of the faces of the men can be gathered.
Many of them are seen to be foreigners, while of the native Americans boys and youths as usual predominate.
There is none of the unmistakable look that characterized the crews of the gunboats and ships in Eastern waters.
In only a few instances is there any sign of that indescribable sea-faring appearance that marks the old salt.
Yet these men could fight as bravely and endure hardship as uncomplainingly as their salt-water comrades.
Most of them were recruited from the river towns and communities in the West. |
The importance of the operations of the Federal
navy on inland waters can hardly be exaggerated in reviewing the military as well as the naval history of the Civil War
. The absolute control of the great Mississippi
and its network of navigable tributaries was as necessary to the final outcome as the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia--in fact, more so. It was second only in importance to the successful maintenance of the coast blockade.
The necessity of supreme control of the Mississippi
and adjacent waters was early perceived by the military leaders of both North and South.
The latter, at the very outbreak of hostilities, had made strenuous efforts to control the highways by the erection of forts and batteries, and under the superintendence and advice of able engineers, had seized the most important points from which to dispute the passage of river craft in either direction.
The authorities at Washington
, on the other hand, immediately began the consideration of plans to close the great artery to the Confederacy
From Cairo, Illinois
, to the delta of the Mississippi
, following the winding course of the river, the distance is about eleven hundred miles, although on a straight line drawn north and south it is but four hundred and eighty.
The great valley was destined to be marked throughout its length by a continuous succession of military and naval actions, of protracted siege, heroic defenses ashore and daring ventures afloat.
The conflict was hardly a month old when the War Department, which, perforce, had to call upon the navy in such matters, borrowed the services of Commander John Rodgers
, who, proceeding to Cincinnati
, purchased for the Government
The western naval base of the Union--mound city in 1862
After Captain Andrew H. Foote took command of the Mississippi flotilla on September 6, 1861, one of his first acts was to establish a depot for the repair of his vessels at Cairo.
Since the Government owned no land at this point, the navy-yard was literally afloat in wharf-boats, old steamers, tugs, flat-boats, and rafts.
Later, this depot was removed to Mound City, just above Cairo, where ten acres of land were secured.
This was frequently under water from freshets, however, and the machine-shops, carpenter-shops, and the like were still maintained in steamers.
Captain A. M. Pennock was placed in charge of this depot, and continued to render efficient service in that capacity, looking after the gunboats till the close of the war. |
the nucleus of the subsequent river force in the three little wooden steamers, Conestoga
, and Tyler
About the time that these small craft had been converted into practicable gunboats, the department made a contract with James B. Eads
, of St. Louis
, for the construction of seven iron-clad steamers, and so, late in 1861 and early in 1862, there came into being the famous fighters, Cairo, Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburgh
, and St. Louis
. To these were simultaneously added the powerful, converted snag-boats, Benton
, almost twice the size of any of those built by Eads
proved, despite her slowness, to be the most formidable vessel on the river.
She was armored with 3-inch plating, was about one thousand tons burden, and carried two 9-inch guns, seven rifled 42-pounders, and seven 32-pounders, a total of sixteen guns.
Thirty-eight mortar-boats completed the Western Flotilla
, as first organized.
It was soon evident that friction was bound to exist as long as naval officers were subject to the orders of innumerable military officials who happened to rank them.
Nevertheless, it was not until October 1, 1862, that the Western Flotilla
was transferred to the control of the Navy Department, and henceforth was called the Mississippi Squadron.
During the year 1861 there had been little done by either the army or the navy along the Western
But the early months of 1862 saw both gunboats and troops in active employment, and so they continued until practically the close of hostilities.
The separate actions that took place have already been covered in detail in previous volumes of this history.
The first action of any moment was the capture of Fort Henry
, on February 6th, where Flag-Officer Foote
's flotilla consisted of the Cincinnati
(flagship), Carondelet, St. Louis
, and Essex
, to which formidable force were added the three small wooden gunboats, Lexington
, and Conestoga
This was a joint army and navy movement, a combination of the two able minds of Ulysses S. Grant
and Andrew H. Foote
. General Lloyd
Work afloat and ashore — the naval station at Cairo
Here the Federal gunboats put in for supplies and minor repairs.
The station at Cairo, first established by Captain Foote in September, 1861, soon proved inadequate for the needs of the river squadrons, since all repairs had to be made in the water.
The lower picture shows the naval station at Mound City.
Here were laid the keels of three of the series of the Eads ironclads, and here the unlucky “Carondelet” was repaired after her injuries at Fort Donelson.
The large force of shipwrights, carpenters, mechanics, and engineers was kept constantly at work, often night and day. This was the only naval depot of the river fleet in the West.
Said Admiral Porter in 1885: “Those who remember the navy-yard at Mound City, near Cairo, and the large fleet which grew from the small squadron first put afloat, will wonder why we should require so many navy-yards at the present time, when we hardly fit out a dozen vessels in a year.”
, the commander of Fort Henry
, tendered his surrender to Foote
before the land forces were able, on account of the bad roads, to put in an appearance.
On February 14th, Fort Donelson
, on the Cumberland River
, invested by Grant
's army, was vigorously attacked by the same flotilla, with the exception of the Lexington, Cincinnati
, and Essex
, the latter having been put out of action in the attack on Fort Henry
by a shot through her boilers.
The fleet, however, was increased by the Louisville
. Late in the afternoon of this day, the St
were badly disabled.
The casualties among Foote
's vessels amounted to fifty-four in killed and wounded; among them, unfortunately, was the flag-officer
himself, who was struck by splinters in the arm and ankle, wounds which, on account of his age, compelled him, three months later, to relinquish his command, and ultimately were instrumental in causing his death.
On April 6th and 7th took place the battle of Shiloh
, or Pittsburg Landing
, where the little gunboats Tyler
assisted in checking the advance of the Confederates
in their attempt to gain possession of the Landing
passed Forts St. Philip
, below New Orleans, on the 24th of this month, and the city surrendered to him the following day, being occupied by the troops under General Butler
on May 1st.
Previous to this, the Confederates
had strongly fortified an island in the Mississippi
opposite the dividing line between Tennessee
, holding the bank of the river below this point by many batteries.
Well placed, indeed, were these fortifications, at the angle of a sharp bend where the channel lay directly under the muzzles of the guns, and the current was strong and full of eddies.
It was necessary to get one of the gunboats past the forts in order to silence the lower batteries, so that General Pope
could ferry over his troops, that were to act in conjunction with the flotilla, and to cover their landing.
Commander Henry Walke
, of the gunboat Carondelet
, volunteered for the daring
The “Albatross” with the “Hartford,” the only ship that fought past Port Hudson
While Porter had been fighting on the upper Mississippi, Farragut had been busy attending to his large command in the Gulf, but on the 14th of March, 1863, he appeared below Port Hudson. General Banks was to make a simultaneous land-attack upon that post and Farragut was to run the river batteries and join his vessels to those of Porter in an effectual blockade of the Red River, from which the Confederacy drew its trans-Mississippi supplies.
The Federal vessels, lashed two and two together, started on their dangerous attempt at eleven o'clock at night, but the Port Hudson garrison discovered them.
Lighting bonfires, the Confederates opened with their heavy guns from the bluff a hundred feet above.
Lashed to the gallant old flagship “Hartford” was the “Albatross,” Lieutenant-Commander John E. Hart.
Both vessels in the dense smoke that settled on the river were nearly carried ashore by the five-mile current.
The “Hartford” actually did touch ground under the guns of one of the batteries, but with the assistance of the “Albatross” backed off and passed safely above the line of fire.
Not so fortunate was the “Genesee,” the fastest boat of the squadron.
She was lashed to the “Richmond,” the slowest boat, and just as they had reached the last battery a plunging shot penetrated to the engine-room of the “Richmond” and so damaged her safety-valves that her engines became useless.
Not even with the aid of the “Genesee” could the “Richmond” longer stem the current, and the two had to proceed downstream again past the gauntlet of the Confederate batteries for the second time.
Disaster overtook all the other vessels of the squadron, and the “Mississippi” grounded and blew up. |
venture, and having prepared his vessel with extra planking and chain cables, and taking alongside a barge loaded with baled hay, started on the night of April 4th to pass the batteries.
The feat was accomplished during a terrific rainstorm, and although it was repeated by Lieutenant Thompson
in the Pittsburgh
a night or two later, Walke
was the first to tempt what seemed in the minds of the other officers annihilation.
The passing of the batteries sealed the fate of Island No.10
, and it was surrendered on April 7, 1862, leaving the Federal fleet free to proceed toward the strongly built Fort Pillow
A word must be said of the efforts of the Confederate naval forces to resist the downward progress of the Western Flotilla
A number of wooden steamers had been purchased or seized at New Orleans, and six of these, their bows, and in some cases their engines, protected with iron plating and carrying six or seven guns apiece, ascended the river with Commander George N. Hollins
They were the McRae, Livingston, Maurepas, General Polk, Pontchartrain
, and Ivy
. The ram Manassas
was with them, but receiving an injury from a snag, she was sent back to New Orleans.
remained below New Madrid, in the vicinity of Tiptonville
, for some time, engaging the shore batteries now occupied by the troops of Generals Pope
He had resolved to stop the Federal
gunboats if they should pass Island No.10
, but he soon began to doubt his ability to do this, and, besides, his powder supply became almost exhausted.
So he went down the river in response to an urgent summons from Commander Whittle
at New Orleans, incurring thereby the displeasure of the Richmond Government
Most of the fleet was burned at the mouth of the Yazoo
, after its guns had been left behind at Fort Pillow
, to prevent its falling into the hands of the Federals
The scout-boat Grampus
and six transports were sunk at Island No.10
before the surrender.
The latter were raised, and one of them became famous as the hospital-ship Red Rover
' ships were now replaced by a somewhat strange
“My executive officer, Mr. Dewey” : the future Admiral as Civil war lieutenant
In the fight with the batteries at Port Hudson, March 14, 1863, Farragut, in the “Hartford” lashed to the “Albatross,” got by, but the fine old consort of the “Hartford,” the “Mississippi,” went down — her gunners fighting to the last.
Farragut, in anguish, could see her enveloped in flames lighting up the river.
She had grounded under the very guns of a battery, and not until actually driven off by the flames did her men leave her. When the “Mississippi” grounded, the shock threw her lieutenant-commander into the river, and in confusion he swam toward the shore; then, turning about, he swam back to his ship.
Captain Smith thus writes in his report: “I consider that I should be neglecting a most important duty should I omit to mention the coolness of my executive officer, Mr. Dewey, and the steady, fearless, and gallant manner in which the officers and men of the ‘Mississippi’ defended her, and the orderly and quiet manner in which she was abandoned after being thirty-five minutes aground under the fire of the enemy's batteries.
There was no confusion in embarking the crew, and the only noise was from the enemy's cannon.”
Lieutenant-Commander George Dewey, here mentioned at the age of 26, was to exemplify in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the lessons he was learning from Farragut. |
lot of craft, under the control of the army, and known as the River Defense Fleet.
They were river steamers, with bows enclosed in iron, and were designed for use as rams.
Fourteen vessels in all were thus prepared, and eight were sent up the river in charge of Captain James E. Montgomery
to try conclusions with Flag-Officer Foote
's powerful ironclads.
The opportunity was not long in coming.
, suffering from the wound received at Fort Donelson
, was relieved by Captain Charles H. Davis
on May 9th.
The new commander, who was soon to be promoted to flag-officer, selected the Benton
, commanded by Lieutenant S. L. Phelps
, as his flagship.
On May 10th, the bombardment of Fort Pillow
by the mortar-boats, which had been going on since the 14th of April, was unexpectedly interrupted by the advance of the River Defense Fleet, which came up bravely from its position under the guns of the Fort
and actually took the Federal
vessels by surprise, the Cincinnati
being called upon at first to bear the brunt of the onslaught alone.
Both she and the Mound City
had to be beached on account of the injuries they received.
There is no doubt that Captain Montgomery
, the Confederate
commander, showed great bravery in making the attack, but he also proved his discretion by withdrawing upon the advance of the belated Benton
and St. Louis
, for with but slight loss and damage he retreated down the river, and had his vessels in good shape four weeks later at Memphis
A new departure in river fighting began when Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr.
, came down with his nine rams, which consisted of old stern-wheelers and side-wheelers strengthened by bulkheads, their boilers protected by oak and iron and their bows reenforced with heavy metal sheathing.
, who had long advocated this style of offensive vessel, had been given independent charge, his orders being simply to cooperate with Flag-Officer Davis
and the flotilla.
In fact, throughout the whole war, the Ellet rams were under the direction of the War Department.
The vessels were unarmed until after the
battle of Memphis
On June 4th, Fort Pillow
was evacuated, and the Federal
gunboats and the Ellet rams steamed quietly down the river and anchored not far above the city of Memphis
, under whose bluffs now lay the River Defense Fleet.
Long before this, however, Farragut
had passed up the Mississippi
as far as Vicksburg
, the advance ships reaching that place on May 18th, but seeing that it was useless to attempt to reduce the batteries without the aid of troops, he steamed down again, and on May 29th was once more at New Orleans.
The 6th of June was memorable for the meeting at Memphis
, in which no land forces lent aid or were concerned; where the ramming tactics used by both sides completely proved that this harking-back to an ancient form of naval warfare in confined waters was more destructive than well-aimed guns or heavy broadsides.
Three ships were put out of action within fifteen minutes, the Federal Queen of the West
, under command of Colonel Ellet
, sinking the General Lovell
, and in turn being rammed by the General Beauregard
so hard that it was necessary to put her ashore.
An accidental collision by the General Beauregard
and the General Price
, two Confederate vessels, put the latter out of commission.
The Federal ram Monarch's
charge upon the Beauregard
took place just as the latter had received a deadly shot from the Benton
through her boiler.
Only one Confederate ram, the General Van Dorn
, escaped destruction.
was now at the mercy of the naval force, and the river was open to the south as far as Vicksburg
A terrible disaster happened on June 17th to the gunboat Mound City
, which, in company with the St. Louis, Lexington
, and Conestoga
, had been sent up the White River
to convoy troops and transports and to assist in an attack on the Confederate batteries at St. Charles, Arkansas
A shot from a masked gun on the bank penetrated the casemate of the Mound City
just above a gun-port, killed three men, and exploded the steam-drum.
Nearly eighty men were scalded to death immediately, and forty-three others were drowned or shot by
Confederate sharpshooters after leaping overboard.
Of the one hundred and seventy-five officers and men, only twenty-five escaped uninjured.
, as the result of his injuries, had to suffer the amputation of his left hand.
The 25th of June saw Farragut
's fleet below Vicksburg
again, and three days later he had demonstrated the fact that he could pass by the batteries.
On July 1st, Flag-Officer Davis
' forces had joined those from the mouth of the Mississippi
, above the city.
As the combined fleets lay anchored along the banks, three or four miles south of where the Yazoo River
debouches into the Mississippi
, news was brought of the completion of an iron-clad ram up the Yazoo
, of which the Confederates
A reconnoitering expedition was sent up to search for her on the 15th of July, composed of the Carondelet, Tyler
, and the ram Queen of the West
. The results, to put it briefly, were astonishing, because the Arkansas
, for this was the name of the giant ram, not only met them and drove the little squadron down the stream, but passed through the whole fleet lying in the Mississippi
, entirely unaware of her coming, every vessel being at anchor, and only one, the captured General Bragg
, having steam up. Having successfully run the gantlet, much to the mortification of both Farragut
, and to the great glory and honor of her commander, Isaac N. Brown
, formerly of the United States navy, the Arkansas
took refuge under the Vicksburg
In order to retrieve the error of having been caught napping, Farragut
determined to follow the Arkansas
and destroy her if possible.
Immediately all of his vessels were ordered to get up their anchors, and with the ram Sumter
in company, she having been detached by Flag-Officer Davis
, the fleet steamed down the river.
It was so dark when they passed the city that the Arkansas
could not be made out with any distinctness; but one shot struck her. In thus running the batteries for the fourth time, Farragut
lost five killed and sixteen wounded. Never again were any of his ships to appear above Vicksburg
The transport “black Hawk” after her fiery test--May, 1864
The vessel shows the treatment accorded the thirty army transports which, convoyed by Porter's gunboats, went up the Red River in the futile expedition, the object of which was to reach Shreveport.
The stacks and pilot-house of the “Black Hawk” have been riddled with Confederate bullets, and she shows the evidences of the continuous struggle through which the fleet passed in the retreat from Grand Ecore.
For nearly a month the Federal vessels worked their way slowly down the river.
The water was falling rapidly and the vessels, as they nosed their way through the shallow and unfamiliar channel, were constantly running aground.
As the military forces had withdrawn to Alexandria, the Confederates, who lined both banks of the river, seized every opportunity to attack the discomfited vessels, and almost daily attempts were made to damage or capture them.
The river was full of snags and the vessels had to be lightened; they were “jumped” over sand-bars and logs, fighting every inch of the difficult and laborious journey.
Even Admiral Porter himself described the obstacles to be overcome as enough to appall the stoutest heart. |
second attempt was made to destroy the Arkansas
by the Essex
and the Queen of the West
. It was unsuccessful.
The former went down stream to join Farragut
, and the latter returned to join Davis
It was fortunate that Farragut
had not lingered above Vicksburg
, for the river was falling and the chances were that with his deep-draft vessels he would have had to remain there.
withdrew his fleet to the mouth of the Yazoo
and afterward to Helena, Arkansas
. Forty per cent. of his men were on the sick-list.
The ram Arkansas
, whose hastily built machinery was totally inadequate to the handling of her mighty bulk, had been prepared as well as could be for making a combination with General John C. Breckinridge
in the attack upon Baton Rouge
But her engines continually breaking down, she arrived too late, and although Lieutenant Stevens
, her new commander, was eager to put his vessel into action, she ran aground, on the 6th of August, just as the Essex
hove in sight.
Commander William D. Porter
at once opened with his bow guns, and seeing that resistance was useless, Lieutenant Stevens
set the Arkansas
on fire, and with the crew escaped on shore.
Shortly afterward the great ram blew up.
had parted company, the waterway from Vicksburg
to Port Hudson
was practically handed over to the Confederates
, who employed their time in strengthening their old works along the river banks and building new batteries at Port Hudson
The light-draft gunboats, familiarly known as “tin-clads,” which had been equipped at the suggestion of Davis
, began to join the fleet in the early autumn.
employed his vessels on some minor expeditions up the Yazoo
and other rivers, but 1862 closed with a gloomy outlook for the Federals
along the Mississippi
From February 1st to April 5, 1863, gunboats were busy on what are known as the bayou expeditions.
Admiral David D. Porter
had succeeded to the command of the Mississippi
A critical moment in the red river expedition of April, 1864--Federal transports below the falls
On the second Red river expedition, in 1864, Alexandria was garrisoned and made the base for the army and navy operating both above and below that point, in the effort that had for its ultimate object the recovery of Texas to the Union.
The fleet under Admiral Porter started up the Red River from Vicksburg with the transports carrying A. J. Smith's column of 10,000 men. Fort De Russy was captured, and Alexandria and Natchitoches fell into Union hands as they advanced.
Banks with his army arrived a week later.
At Sabine Cross Roads the vanguard met the Confederates in force.
Sufficient care had not been taken to keep the several Union bodies together, and the Confederates under General Taylor defeated Franklin April 8th, and drove him back with a loss of 3,000 out of 11,000 engaged.
At Pleasant Hill, A. J. Smith made a stand on April 9th, but was unable to hold his own. An immediate retreat was made, without waiting to bury the dead, and the fleet came near being cut off by low water at Alexandria, but the ingenuity of Colonel Bailey in constructing a dam and water-way enabled it to escape.
In the picture the level in front of the hotel is piled with ammunition and supplies — elaborate preparations all wasted. |
Entrapped above the falls — gloomy days of waiting and narrow escapes: the Federal flotilla above Alexandria, held by the low water of May, 1864
Here lies a part of the unlucky fleet that Admiral Porter came near losing in the fruitless expedition up the Red River, which imperilled some of the most valuable gunboats possessed by the Federal navy.
First in line is the tow-boat “Brown” ; next the steamer “Benefit,” whose escape the month before was hair-breadth; then the tug “Dahlia,” the tender to Porter's flagship, while the ironclads “Neosho” and “Chillicothe” bring up the rear.
The expedition on the part of the navy was undertaken in the assurance that the Red River would, according to its custom, rise at this season of the year.
For twenty years it had never failed to rise, but now, in 1864, it did exactly the opposite.
Only the light-draft gunboats could be run above the falls by the end of March.
Since it was rumored that the Confederates had some formidable ironclads up the Red River, the gunboat “Eastport” was at last hauled over the rocks of the rapids by main strength to lead the expedition.
It proved to be her last; she grounded on the return from Grand Ecore, and after heroic efforts to get her off, during which the Confederates kept up constant fighting, she had to be destroyed and abandoned.
It looked for a time as if the other vessels of Porter's fleet were to meet the same fate.
General Banks had been ordered to give up the expedition and was chafing to get his troops in motion.
Meanwhile the officers and men of the navy were working with characteristic courage and determination to save their vessels, now exposed to constant attacks from the Confederates, who grew more and more threatening.
The little steamer “Benefit,” seen in the picture, had a narrow escape at Grappe's Bluff, where she was attacked on the evening of April 10th, and in less than twenty minutes lost forty-five of her eighty men. Gloomy indeed were the days of waiting above the falls, for both officers and men. One difficulty and disaster followed another.
It seemed almost certain that the fated expedition would cost the navy its heaviest and most humiliating loss during the war, but courage and determination won out |
Help at hand — the gunboat “signal” towing materials for the dam
On the 1st of May, 1864, thousands of men were set to work upon the famous dam by which Bailey raised the water sufficiently to enable the entrapped vessels to get below the falls.
The “Signal” is busily at work towing materials to fill the cribs.
Stones were gathered, deserted brick buildings were pulled down, and a large sugar-house a mile below the falls was wrecked and its woodwork, together with its machinery and kettles, were towed up to become a part of the dam. More dangerous work waited the “Signal,” however, for on May 4th she and the “Covington,” the best two gunboats below the falls, were despatched to convoy the transport “Warner,” on which was Lieutenant Simpson of Banks' staff, bearing despatches to Grant, Sherman, and Rosecrans.
Near David's Ferry the two gallant little gunboats fought for five hours, on May 5th, against tremendous odds.
The Confederates had posted twenty pieces of artillery on the river bank, and against their fire the gunboats stood up bravely.
The odds were too heavily against them, however, and the “Covington” was at last abandoned and destroyed, while the “Signal” fell a captive to the Confederates, who sunk her in the channel as an obstruction.
Admiral Porter said: “Many of the actions heralded to the world during the late war were much less worthy of notice than this contest between two little gunboats only musket-proof and twenty pieces of artillery.”
The “tin-clad” piloted by an Admiral: the “Cricket” --Porter's flagship on the return
After capturing single-handed two Confederate steamers on the White River, this little fourth-rate vessel took an active part in the bombardment of Vicksburg under command of Acting Master A. R. Langthorne.
On the Red River expedition came her great opportunity for distinction.
She was chosen by Admiral Porter as his flagship for the return, as the falling water made it necessary to send the heavier vessels ahead with all speed.
Porter with the “Cricket,” “Fort Hindman,” and “Juliet” remained behind to assist Lieutenant-Commander Phelps in his efforts to save the unlucky “Eastport.”
After getting the injured vessel about fifty miles down the river from Grand Ecore, the tin-clads were compelled to abandon her, since the river banks were now swarming with hostile forces bent on the capture of the entire squadron.
About twenty miles below the wreck of the “Eastport,” a Confederate battery had been planted and opened on the “tin-clads.”
The other vessels retreated up-stream, but Porter on the “Cricket” forced his way through.
It was all over in five minutes, but in that time the frail vessel was struck 38 times, and 19 shells pierced her. The pilot was wounded and Admiral Porter with great coolness and skill seized the wheel and saved the vessel.
So furious was the fight while it lasted that out of the “Cricket's” crew of 50, twelve were killed and nineteen wounded. |
Squadron, as the Western Flotilla
was now called, and had control of the river between Vicksburg
and Port Hudson
once more entered the river and ran two vessels of his squadron past the works at Port Hudson
on the 14th of March, 1863.
In doing so, however, the old side-wheeler Mississippi
grounded under the guns of the fort, where she was set on fire and abandoned.
For weeks now the fleet was employed in assisting Grant
's army that was slowly closing in upon Vicksburg
, which stronghold was to fall on the 4th of July.
The expedition to Shreveport
up the Red River
, where the fleet under Porter
cooperated with the troops under Banks
, was a dire failure and came near resulting in a great loss to the squadron.
The water in March, 1864, was exceedingly low, and many of the deep-draft vessels could not get above the rapids at Alexandria
However, with some thirty transports, fourteen of the gunboats were dragged up the stream, only to find themselves, when they wished to return at the end of April, helpless above the falls by the receding water.
Their rescue, through the aid of the genius, resource, and indefatigable efforts of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey
, of the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteers, makes a thrilling story.
He succeeded in damming the river, thus banking up the water, and by the 13th of May, amid the mighty cheers of the spectators and the lumbermen from Maine
who had built the helpful barrier, the twelve vessels which had been caught had passed down to safety.
After Port Hudson
fell, except for the Red River
expedition, minor skirmishers, and the shelling of guerillas and batteries along the wooded shores, the operations of the navy on the Mississippi
and its tributaries were practically over.
When the Federals
after the battle of Chickamauga
, late in 1863, they needed gunboats on the upper Tennessee
River, but none of Admiral Porter
's fleet could cross the Mussel Shoals
So several light-draft vessels were built near Bridgeport
They were useful to the army, but saw little active service.