Chapter 16: operations on the Mississippi.
- Operations against Fort Columbus and Island no.10.
-- running of the batteries by the gun-boats Carondelet and Pittsburg.
-- evacuation of batteries along the Tennessee shore and surrender of Island no.10.
-- advance on Fort Pillow by the Army and Navy.
-- attack on Fort Pillow.
-- evacuation of Fort Pillow by the Confederates.
-- battle between the enemy's rams and the Union gun-boats, &C., &C.
When the gun-boats were obliged to drop down before the fire of the works at Fort Donelson
, Flag-officer Foote
proceeded to Cairo
to repair some of his vessels, leaving behind him the iron-clads Louisville
, Commander B. M. Dove
, Commander Henry Walke
, and the St. Louis
From all accounts the Carondelet
seems to have suffered more than any other vessel in the fleet, both in killed and wounded and damage to her hull.
, the senior officer present, reports on the 16th of February that the condition of the Carondelet
's wounded would not admit of their being moved, or the guns to be used, and it is difficult to understand why a vessel in such a condition should not have been sent to a dock-yard and her wounded placed in the hospital; but the Carondelet
was a sturdy craft and was always found in the front of battle.
, as senior officer, had the satisfaction of receiving the surrender of Fort Donelson
He says: “On approaching near enough two white flags were seen flying from the upper fort. * * * I proceeded in a tug, with a white flag flying, and landed at the foot of the hill below the fort.
I was met by a Major who handed me his sword, which I declined to receive, thinking it proper to consult with General Grant
I took the Major
on board the tug and proceeded up to General Buckner
's headquarters, where I found General Wallace
. General Grant
arrived about half an hour after the fort had surrendered.” * * * Commander Dove
seemed to have the proper idea on this occasion in declining to claim anything, as the fort properly fell to the Army.
As soon as Flag-officer Foote
was able he proceeded with the Conestoga
, Lieut.-Com. Phelps
, and the Cairo
, Lieut.-Com. Bryant
, on an armed reconnoissance up the river, taking with him Colonel Webster
of General Grant
's staff, who, with Lieut.-Com. Phelps
, took possession of the principal works and hoisted the Union flag.
had applied to General Halleck
for permission to advance up the Cumberland
, and just as he was about moving for that point Halleck
telegraphed to Grant
: “Don't let the gun-boats proceed higher than Clarksville
,” an order in keeping with the “conservative policy” that seemed to influence General Halleck
on all occasions.
The latter seemed to wish to direct all the battles himself by telegraph, and to give as little authority as possible to General Grant
who being on the ground knew the exact situation of affairs.
This was certainly not the way to conquer such an indomitable enemy as that with which the national government had to contend; but the gun-boats did finally move up to Nashville
, with an army force in company, and took peaceful possession of the capital of Tennessee
finding there was nothing further to be done on the Tennessee
and Cumberland Rivers
, turned his attention to Fort Columbus, which still held out, though by
all the rules of Jomini
it ought to have surrendered when Donelson
fell, the great strategic line of the enemy having been broken and most of Tennessee
lying at the mercy of the Federal Army
still declined to yield, Flag-officer Foote
, in company with General Cullom
's staff, started with four iron-clads, ten mortar-boats and three transports, containing a thousand soldiers, to make a reconnoissance in force.
As the expedition neared Fort Columbus it was met by a flag of truce, with a message from General Polk
to the effect that he hoped the courtesies he had extended to the captured Union officers would be reciprocated should an opportunity occur.
Having accomplished the object of the reconnoissance, Foote
returned to Cairo
, February 23, with a view to complete all the gun-boats and mortar-rafts and make the necessary preparations for the work required of him.
In the meantime the gun-boats.
in condition for service were busy assisting the Army to move where it desired, and patroling the river and clearing the flying artillery from the banks.
On the 1st of March Lieut.-Com. Gwin
learned that the enemy were fortifying Pittsburg Landing
, and proceeded up the river in the Taylor
, followed by the Lexington
, Lieut.-Com. James W. Shirk
When within 1,200 yards of the landing the gun-boats were fired on by the Confederate batteries, consisting of six or eight fieldpieces, some of them rifled.
but did not notice the attack till they were within a thousand yards, when they opened fire and soon silenced the enemy.
The gun-boats then continued on till abreast of where the enemy had posted his heaviest batteries, and under cover of a fire of grape and canister, a force was landed in two boats from each of the vessels, including a portion of Co. C, Capt. Phillips
, and Co. K, Lieut. Rider
, of the 3-d Illinois Volunteers (sharpshooters). The boats of the Taylor
were commanded by Master J. Goudy
, and those of the Lexington
by Master Martin Dunn
It was found on landing that besides the artillerists, the enemy had two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, and this little landing party held them in check until their object was accomplished, viz.: to ascertain the enemy's force and purpose, and to destroy a building in the vicinity of which the batteries had been placed.
This little affair was well conducted, and much information was gathered in regard to fortifications being erected by the enemy.
, the leader of the expedition, was one of the most gallant officers in the Western Flotilla
, and delighted in such service, where the usefulness of the gun-boats could be demonstrated.
On board the Taylor
there was one killed and six wounded, including Capt. Phillips
, of the Army; on board the Lexington
there were two killed and two missing, small casualties considering the heavy force opposed to the gun-boats.
The enemy's loss was said to be nine killed and upwards of one hundred wounded.
On the same day that the above affair took place, Flag-officer Foote
sent Lieut.-Com. Phelps
with a flag of truce.
As he drew near the fort he saw that the Confederates
were burning their winter quarters and removing their heavy guns from the bluff.
Of the latter two were cast in Richmond
, and named respectively, Lady Davis
and Lady Polk
In their hurry to get away the Confederates
had left the water batteries intact.
A large force of cavalry was drawn up ostentatiously on the bluff, but these were the only troops in sight; while the fires burning in the town of Columbus
and along the river showed that the enemy were determined to destroy everything they could not carry away.
The Confederates often made a Moscow of a town when forced to abandon it, which certainly did not convince the wretched inhabitants that the Confederates
were their best friends.
Indeed, there was often an inhumanity in their proceedings which added unnecessarily to the horrors of war. The writer knew General (formerly Bishop
before the war. He was a fine specimen of a man, a kind master to his numerous slaves, in short, a Christian gentleman.
His case shows how the influence of war will demoralize the best of men.
From March 4th to the 16th, the wooden gun-boats, Taylor
, were actively employed on the Tennessee
conveying troops — for without such assistance the Army could not have moved — and obtaining information of the enemy's movements.
This information was to the following effect: At Corinth, Mississippi
, eighteen miles from the Tennessee River
, the junction of the Mobile
, and Memphis
railroads, there were from fifteen to twenty thousand Confederate troops; at Henderson Station
, eighteen miles from the Tennessee River
and thirty-five miles by rail from Corinth
, there were some ten or twelve thousand more, with daily accessions from Columbus
and the South
; at Bear Creek Bridge, seven miles back of Eastport, Mississippi
, eight or ten thousand men were throwing up fortifications; and at Chickasaw, Alabama
, there were being erected heavy batteries, supplied, no doubt, with the guns taken from the Norfolk Navy Yard
It was learned from a reliable source that General Joseph E. Johnson
back from Murfreesboro
on Decatur, Alabama
, the point where the Memphis and Charleston Railroad crosses the Tennessee River
and joins the railroad leading to Nashville
; showing that the Confederates
were making every exertion to hold on to Tennessee
, which was to them the most important of all the States, except, perhaps, Virginia
; since it was wedged in between five secession States: and the Confederates
, while they held it, could keep the Federal
troops from advancing South.
Should the latter obtain possession they would control Northern Mississippi
, with parts of North Carolina
With the Cumberland
and the Tennessee Rivers
, and all the railroads in the Union
possession, the rebellion would have been
confined to the other States, and the resources of Tennessee
would have been lost to the Confederate
It would have been better to have thrown three hundred thousand men at once into Tennessee
and crushed the rebellion there, instead of losing a greater number in the end and prolonging the war for four years.
On the 4th of March Flag-officer Foote
got under way from Cairo
, and proceeded down the river towards Columbus
Besides the flag-ship Benton
, there were the Mound City
, Commander A. H. Kilty
, Commander B. M. Dove
, Commander H. Walke
, Commander R. N. Stembel
; St. Louis
-Commanding L. Paulding
-Commanding E. Thompson
-Commanding J. W. Shirk
, with four transports, each having five mortar-boats in tow; also a magazine boat and a provision boat.
The squadron was accompanied by troops under General Buford
, in four steamers, half a dozen tugs, and a large number of barges and lighters in tow.
As this expedition approached Columbus
the Union flag was seen floating from the ramparts.
It had been taken possession of two days before by a company of cavalry scouts from Paducah
, under Col. Haas
The enemy had already fortified certain positions further South on the Mississippi
, and had also re-inforced Island No.10
. Gen. Pope
, with an army of ten thousand men, hastened to occupy New Madrid, on the west bank of the Mississippi
, below Island No.10
, and he at once detected the weakness of the enemy's position.
established a line of batteries from New Madrid to a point fifteen miles below Island No.10
, thus shutting the enemy off from his only source of supply along the river; for everywhere, on both sides of the river for sixty miles. nothing but swamps existed, through which provisions could not be transported.
Having established his batteries, it was Gen. Pope
's intention to cross the river with his army and attack the enemy's position from below, and to do this the aid of gunboats was necessary.
In anticipation of this, the enemy had erected batteries at every point where they would be likely to do harm to the Federal squadron.
, seeing that a floating force was indispensable to the success of his operations, requested Flag-officer Foote
to send down a gun-boat past the enemy's batteries at night; but as the gun-boats were slow-moving machines and difficult to manage in the strong current of the Mississippi
, the Flag-officer
informed the General
that he would send him two tugs through a bayou, and would endeavor to get two gun-boats down to him in time.
On the 20th of March the squadron, with the mortar vessels, were lying above Island No.10
, throwing shells into the enemy's batteries, occasionally dismounting a gun, but doing no material damage; but so urgent was Gen. Pope
's appeal for a gun-boat that Flag-officer Foote
, for the first time, summoned a council of his commanding officers.
To use Foote
's own words, “The officers, with one exception, were decidedly opposed to running the blockade, believing it would be certain destruction to all the vessels that should attempt it.”
There were six forts, with over fifty guns bearing on the vessels.
does not mention who was the exception, and who in this instance was certainly a wiser man than his brother officers.
Running the enemy's batteries had not at that time been
much practiced, but as the war progressed it was found not to be a very dangerous thing by night, and often practicable even in the daytime.
Foote on this occasion remarked: “When the object of running the blockade is adequate to the risk, I shall not hesitate to do it.”
He had a difficult task before him in assisting Gen. Pope
to drive the enemy from Island No.10
and the adjacent heights along the Mississippi
, where they altogether are stated to have mounted seventy heavy guns, in addition to a floating battery of sixteen guns; but making every allowance for exaggeration, there certainly were mounted not less than seventy-five guns in the immediate vicinity.
If the Union gunboats could hold the river above, and New Madrid be occupied by a large force of troops, with batteries placed along the river below the enemy's works and to the edge of the great swamp surrounding them, the Confederate
garrison would be hemmed in, and must yield when its supplies gave out.
The Confederate fortifications were placed at such a height above the river that the fire of the gun-boats had little effect on them.
therefore determined to open on the enemy with his 13-inch mortars, from which he expected much better results.
There is, however, a great difference in using mortars against forts constructed of masonry, and earth-works on high hills.
Now and then a gun would be dismounted, but it was immediately replaced, and the garrison were well protected against bursting shells.
To attack the enemy from above was a matter of great difficulty and responsibility.
The current of the river was not less than four miles an hour, and the iron-clads were not able, under the most favorable circumstances, to do much more than stem it. In case of accident to machinery they would drift helplessly under the enemy's guns.
To fight bow on. and depend upon the stern wheel to back up stream while fighting would have been absurd, so that in this case the commander-in-chief
of the squadron was in a dilemma.
While much was expected of him he was obliged by circumstances to observe a caution which was not agreeable to his enterprising spirit.
On the morning of the 16th of March the mortar-boats were placed in the best possible position and opened fire on the enemy's batteries, driving several regiments out of the works.
The mortars were under charge of Capt. Maynardier
, U. S. Army, and Lieut. J. P. Sanford
, U. S. Navy.
On the morning of the 17th the gun-boats commenced an attack.
and St. Louis
were lashed together, on account of the deficient steam power of the Benton
, which was otherwise the most formidable vessel in the squadron.
The fire of the gun-boats was not very effective; they were at a distance of nearly two miles and the enemy's batteries, separated from each other.
presented but small targets to fire at. The fire was kept up from mid-day until night-fall.
was struck four times, but the most serious disaster was the bursting of a rifled gun on board the St. Louis
by which fifteen men were killed and wounded.
In the official records only three gunboats are mentioned as taking part in the engagement of March 17th.
whereas the Carondelet
and Mound City
were actively engaged on the west side of the river.
Until the 26th of March these attacks with gun-boats and mortars were maintained without important results, as the enemy kept but few men exposed to the fire.
At this time the squadron at Island No.10
comprised six iron-clads, one wooden gun-boat and sixteen mortar-rafts, while, according to Flag-officer Foote
, the Confederates
had thirteen gun-boats.
besides five below New Madrid.
soon saw that it was a positive necessity that Gen. Pope
should transport his troops to the opposite side of the river in order to turn the enemy's flank; and the idea of running the blockade having been abandoned, it was proposed to open a way through a bayou which traversed the swamp on the west side of the Mississippi
and came out to the river again at New Madrid.
In this labor the Army and Navy co-operated, and for nineteen days and nights the work of cutting a canal through the swamp was prosecuted, the men undergoing every hardship with the utmost cheerfulness.
Soldiers and sailors stood in mud and water up to their waists, cutting away trees.
and hauling along the tugs and transports on which Pope
depended to cross his troops over the Mississippi
When these vessels reached New Madrid, the soldiers there received them with great enthusiasm.
“Now,” they said, “we shall cross over and drive the Confederates
But the work was not vet finished These unarmed steamers could not be used for the purpose of transporting troops in the face of the enemy and the gun-boats he had improvised, and the question was again asked: “Is it possible for any of our iron clads to run the gauntlet of the batteries?”
But Flag-officer Foote
still hesitated for reasons already given, and. furthermore, General Halleck
had notified him that measures had already been taken which would compel the enemy to evacuate his works.
If the gunboats were to run the batteries, Foote
thought it advisable to diminish the risk as much as possible, and therefore an expedition was organized to seize upon the upper fort on Island No.10
, on which was mounted
one ten-inch Columbiad and other guns.
The boats from the Benton
, St. Louis
carried, beside their crews, fifty soldiers of Co. A., 42d Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, making in all one hundred men, exclusive of officers, all under command of Col. George W. Roberts
of the above named regiment.
The boats surprised the sentinels, who fired their muskets and fled.
The garrison and the crew of the Confederate
were at once aroused, but Col. Roberts
lost no time in landing his men and spiking the battery; after which the party re-embarked and returned to the squadron.
On this battery of eleven heavy guns the enemy had depended to sink any of our vessels that might attempt to run by their works.
There was also a floating battery moored
The gun-boat Carondelet running the batteries at island no.10.|
at the head of the island which it was important to remove; so on the following day the guns of the squadron were concentrated on this latter obstruction with such effect, that the crew of the battery cut the lashings and drifted from under fire of the gun-boats to take new position some distance below.
After these two impediments had been removed the passage of the enemy's batteries was considered practicable, and Com. Walke
, of the Carondelet
, volunteered to perform this perilous duty.
His ingenuity and that of his officers was taxed to the utmost to prepare the Carondelet
to resist the enemy's shot.
of the Cincinnati
, one of the best pilots on the Mississippi
, whose gallantry finally placed him in command of an iron-clad, volunteered to pilot the vessel.
On the night of the 4th of April, in storm and darkness, the Carondelet
She might have drifted down the river without a shot being fired at her, yet there was danger that she might run ashore and be found at daylight a fair mark for the enemy, or the pilot, in the intense darkness, might mistake the channel, or the plunging fire from the enemy's batteries might penetrate the boilers, in which case a horrible fate awaited many of her crew.
It was the first venture in running batteries, and therefore more creditable to all concerned, for even in after times, when such feats became more common, there was always an element of uncertainty in the enterprise.
passed the first battery unobserved.
but at the second a sheet of flame issued from the heavy guns, and the huge shot ricocheted along the water, but did no harm to the Union vessel.
steamed steadily on without noticing these attentions, while fort after fort took up the fire, until seventy powerful guns joined in the melee; doing no harm, but adding to the grandeur of the storm.
Now and then the Carondelet
became visible to the enemy through the vivid flashes of lightning.
In half an hour the vessel was below Island No.10
and soon passed beyond the reach of the Confederate batteries.
Then the sound of minute guns coming faintly from below assured those who were waiting anxiously in the squadron that the Carondelet
was safe, and that General Pope
could now bid defiance to the enemy's gun-boats and cross his troops to the other side of the Mississippi
Upon this, cheer after cheer went up from the gun-boats, and made the Confederates
aware that the time had arrived when their position was no longer tenable.
That night the Carondelet
lay unscathed just below New Madrid, and early next morning steamed up to the landing, where she was warmly welcomed by the soldiers who had so long looked for aid of this kind, without which they were hopeless of turning the enemy's position.
The enemy's gun-boats, armed with long-range rifles, had been harrassing Pope
's command from below, and from their position could do a great deal of havoc to the light transports on which Pope
depended to pass his troops over the river.
The enemy had thirteen gun-boats, improvised from river steamers, but as soon as the Carondelet
appeared they departed for Memphis
, finding that the risk of running the batteries was less than he had supposed, and urged by General Pope
to send him another iron-clad, dispatched the Pittsburg
, Lieut.-Com. Egbert Thompson
, which vessel ran the batteries on a stormy night under pretty much the same circumstances as the Carondelet
, and like her received no injury.
As soon as the Pittsburgh
arrived below Island No.10
she was sent with the Carondelet
to drive away some field batteries which the enemy had placed to prevent the Union
troops crossing the river.
This was accomplished, and the enemy seeing they could no longer hold their works began to evacuate them, leaving all their guns and munitions of war in the hands of the victors.
surrendered on the 7th of April to Flag-officer Foote
just as he was preparing to attack with the gun-boats above, in conjunction with the forces under General Buford
. Seventeen officers, three hundred and sixty-eight privates, one hundred sick, and one hundred men employed on the enemy's transports, surrendered to the Navy from steamers afloat.
Two wharf boats loaded with provisions were also captured.
The floating battery of sixteen guns and most of the gun-boats were sunk, but were easily raised again.
The Confederate works consisted of eleven forts mounting seventy guns, from 32 to 100-pounders.
The magazines were well supplied, and there were also large quantities of provisions.
The works were very strong, and built with great skill.
Six thousand prisoners fell into General Pope
in the Carondelet
, supported by the Pittsburgh
, silenced the heaviest battery below Island No.10
and spiked the guns, picking up a number of fine sixty-four pounders left behind by the Confederates
in their flight.
The precipitancy with which the enemy retreated when the gun-boats appeared below Island No.10
, was astonishing.
It was the turning point in the siege, and to this General Pope
had looked forward from the time he moved his army to New Madrid.
would no doubt have sent the ironclads down past the batteries sooner than he did, had not General Halleck
notified him of a plan which he had in view to capture Island No.10
and all the batteries on the Tennessee
The credit, however, fell where it was due, to Pope
, for their harmonious co-operation, and to Commander Walke
and Lieut.-Com. Thompson
, who so gallantly passed the enemy's batteries.
The victory at Island No.10
, although a bloodless one, was as important as the battle of Shiloh
It opened a long stretch of the Mississippi River
, down which our forces were continually working their way toward the sea. By this victory and the great battle at Shiloh
, was broken up the second line of defences which the Confederates
had established from the Mississippi
, and all their attempts to penetrate the Northern States
in this direction were foiled.
It does not in the least detract from the gallantry of our Army to say that neither of these victories would have been won without the aid of the Navy.
Though the latter was but an auxiliary to the Army yet it was a most valuable one, and should receive the credit to which it is entitled.
In concluding our account of the capture of Island No.10
, we avail ourselves of the opportunity to make a few remarks relative to those who worked so faithfully to bring about the result.
We have already stated that General Pope
considered it essential to the success of his plans that at least two of the gun-boats should run the blockade and join him below Island No.10
, and that Commander Walke
volunteered to perform what was considered a very hazardous duty, and performed it unflinchingly.
It occurs to the writer that such a service was worthy a much warmer eulogium than Commander Walke
received for his successful conduct of a perilous undertaking; for these “iron-clad” gun-boats were really a very vulnerable class of vessels, and utterly inadequate to resist the plunging shot from the enemy's elevated batteries.
A single shot going in above and coming out through the bottom would have completely crippled a vessel.
It could hardly be anticipated that any boat could pass so many heavy works, even at night with rain and storm to help her, and yet receive no damage, and it was the merest accident that the Carondelet
was not struck by the enemy's shot.
As to the passage of the Pittsburg
, she was sent down after it was ascertained that the Carondelet
had received no damage whatever, and hence her commanding officer was not entitled to the same amount of credit as Commander Walke
When the Carondelet
did arrive below the enemies batteries, her performances redounded greatly to the credit of her commander and his officers.
At the request of General Pope
attacked and silenced every battery below the point where the Federal
troops were to be landed, and spiked the guns so that the enemy could not return and use them.
It would seem in regard to these transactions that the accuracy of official reports may be called in question, and that we must rely on other sources than the published histories of the war. The intention of the writer is to make as few digressions in his account of affairs as possible, but justice demands that corrections shall be made, especially when due credit has been heretofore withheld.
Due credit in regard to services on the Western
rivers has often been withheld from both Army and Navy, and this injustice is nowhere more distinctly manifested than in the capture of Island No.10
and the heavy batteries which lined the Tennessee
The work of the Army was a master-piece of strategy, and the part played by the Navy was scarcely inferior.
The work performed was indeed creditable to all concerned.
maintained that whatever errors are made by contemporary historians, posterity will always give honor to whom honor is due; and sincerely hoping that such is the case, the writer will endeavor to do justice in these pages.
The surrender of Island No.10
and the adjacent works opened the Mississippi
all the way to Fort Pillow
, another stronghold which could only be conquered by a combined army and navy force.
, with twenty thousand men in transports protected by gun-boats, now moved towards Fort Pillow
, and prepared to attack the enemy's works.
Five Confederate gun-boats were descried down the river, but their size and strength could not be ascertained.
The Confederates had improvised a river flotilla.
but nothing could be learned concerning it.
's first idea was to reach the enemy's works by landing five miles above them, while the gun-boats and mortars attacked them from the river; but finding this plan impracticable, it was proposed to cut a canal, as was done at Island No.10
, through the Arkansas
shore to a point opposite Fort Pillow
, and thus pass some of the gun-boats below the fortifications.
At this time Flag-officer Foote
was suffering from the effects of his wound, so that it was impossible for him to attend to his manifold duties, and a few days after he relinquished active service, never again to resume it, and the command of the squadron devolved upon Capt. Charles H. Davis
, a gallant officer, well qualified for this important duty.
The sudden withdrawal of Gen. Pope
with nearly all his force from before Fort Pillow
, to proceed to Pittsburg Landing
by order of Gen. Halleck
, had quite disappointed Foote
He saw no immediate prospect of taking Fort Pillow
and did not care to remain, while suffering so much from his wound, merely to keep up a blockade.
Only two regiments of soldiers under Col. Fisk
remained of all Pope
mounted forty guns and there were nine gun-boats below the fort and at Memphis
In addition, at this time the enemy were building a number of heavy gun-boats along the Mississippi
; among them, at New Orleans, the iron-plated Louisiana
, of sixteen guns (which vessel figured so prominently in Farragut
's attack on Forts Jackson
and St. Philip
), and the ram, Arkansas
The following letter will throw some light on the siege of Island No.10
, and give credit where it is justly due:
The following is the general order
issued immediately after the receipt of the telegram from the Secretary of the Navy
, in answer to that of Flag-officer Foote
Engagement of the Carondelet and Pittsburg with the enemy in the vicinity of New Madrid, April 6th, 1862.
assumed command of the squadron on the 9th of May, 1862, and had little time for reflection before he became engaged in active operations.
The heights of Fort Pillow
had been repeatedly shelled by the gun-boats and bombarded by the mortars, with little perceptible effect on the works.
The Confederate gun-boats occasionally showed themselves around the bend in the river, but on the first movement of the squadron they would scud away.
Exaggerated reports were rife about the formidable rams that were at Memphis
ready to attack our fleet, among them the monster Louisiana
, which the Confederates
boasted could alone clear out all the Union vessels.
It was impossible to tell how much truth there was in these reports, but the gun-boats had orders to keep up steam and be prepared at all times for battle.
On the 10th of May, the Union
squadron lay in two divisions: the first division of these iron-clads, with the flag-ship Benton
, moored on the Tennessee
shore; the second, of four gun-boats, moored on the Arkansas
shore, with bows down stream.
At a little past seven o'clock A. M., eight Confederate gun-boats, four of them fitted as rams, came around the point above Fort Pillow
and steamed up the river, evidently prepared for battle.
The enemy's leading vessel made directly for mortar-boat No. 16, which for the moment was unprotected.
and his crew behaved with great spirit, and during the action fired the mortar eleven times nearly point blank at the enemy.
The morning being hazy signals could not be distinctly made out, nor could the enemy's vessels approaching be seen as well as was desired.
, the leading vessel in the line of iron-clads, hastened to the support of the mortar-boat, followed immediately by the Mound City
, Com. Kilty
; and both were repeatedly struck by the Confederate rams before the latter were disabled and driven away.
The boiler or steam-pipe of one of the leading vessels of the enemy was exploded by a shot from the flag-ship Benton
, Lieut.-Com. Phelps
, and three of the enemy's vessels, including the one encountered by the Cincinnati
, were disabled and drifted down the river.
A fifty-pound rifle shot from the Carondelet
passed through the boilers of another of the enemy's vessels, rendering her helpless
for the time being.
All these disabled vessels might have been captured had there been any means at hand of towing them up stream, but the motive power of the gunboats was so limited that they could scarcely make any headway against the current, and they had to be continually on the watch to avoid drifting under the enemy's batteries.
This was the first naval engagement of the war, pure and simple, where the squadrons of both sides were pitted against each other.
Our iron-clads showed themselves unsuited in respect to steam power, to cope with swift river vessels that could ram them and then escape.
Although the Confederate vessels made great holes in the Mound City
and the Cincinnati
, and were considerably damaged themselves, they all succeeded in escaping.
, after proceeding some distance up the river, sunk near the Tennessee
assisted the Mound City
to the first island above the scene of action, where she also sunk.
The incidents of this engagement are so lightly passed over by Flag-officer Davis
, that it is difficult to get much information from the official reports.
The enemy's side of the affair can best be learned by the following dispatch of the Confederate Commander-in-chief
On the Federal
side there were only four wounded. Commander Stembel
seriously, Fourth-Master Reynolds
and two seamen slightly.
This was a small list of casualties for such a desperate brush.
and would seem to indicate rather indifferent gunnery practice on the part of the Federals
, who, with their heavy ordnance, ought to have swept the enemy from the face of the water.
as his vessels were of wood and lightly built.
The attack on the Federal
vessels was, however, by a new method; for this was the first time ramming had been practiced on this river during the war, and the Cincinnati
and Mound City
had been put hors de combat
almost at the beginning of the action.
The Confederate Commander-in-chief
was not accustomed to command vessels en masse
and does not seem to have understood the necessity of concert of action.
Each Confederate vessel seems to have been fighting on her “own hook.”
There is no doubt they received more damage than they were willing to admit.
All their damages were, however, quickly repaired at Memphis
, where they had a good navy yard with all the necessary appliances.
It appears evident that our gun-boats did not altogether act in concert, probably owing to their want of speed, In the case of the flag-ship, her deficiency in speed kept her behind the rest, but when she did join the battle, her heavy guns told on the enemy and everything gave way before her.
It is exceedingly difficult to give a correct account of this engagement, owing to the many conflicting versions which were published in the West
at the time, but we know enough to be satisfied that victory remained with the Federal squadron.
The report of Flag-officer Davis
was of course intended to represent the true position of the vessels, but he was new to the command, and the iron-clads smaller than the Benton
were so much alike, that any one was liable to mistake one for the other at the distance of a mile, and give another vessel credit for work done by her consort.
On this occasion if reports were made to the Commander-in-chief
, they were not published in the annual report of the Secretary of the Navy
; but notwithstanding the conflicting statements, it appears certain that every officer and man on board the Union
gun-boats did their duty, and drove off a fearless and enterprising enemy, who had a flotilla well equipped for the purpose intended.
had the satisfaction of winning the first naval squadron fight, and certainly deserved the thanks of the Navy Department for himself, his gallant officers and crew: especially since all in the squadron had shown such courage and energy, ever since the day when Foote
first left Cairo
with the gun-boats and mortars.