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Doc. 124.-capture of the Indianola.


Lieutenant Commander Brown's report.

Washington, D. C., May 28, 1863.
sir: At this, my earliest opportunity, I respectfully submit to the department a report of the operations of the steamer Indianola, while below [424] Vicksburgh, Miss.; also the particulars of the engagement with the rebel armed rams Queen of the West and William H. Webb, and the armed cotton-clad steamers Dr. Batey and Grand Duke, in which the Indianola was sunk, and her officers and crew made prisoners.

In obedience to an order from Acting Rear-Admiral Porter, commanding the Mississippi squad. ron, I passed the batteries at Vicksburgh and Warrenton, on the night of the thirteenth of February last, having in tow two barges, containing about seven thousand bushels of coal each, without being once struck, although eighteen shots were fired, all of which passed over us.

I kept on down the river, but owing to dense fogs, made but slow progress until the morning of the fifteenth. When about ten miles below Natchez, I met the steamboat Era No. Five, having on board Colonel Ellet, of the ram fleet, and a portion of the officers and crew of the steamer Queen of the West. I then learned, for the first time, of the loss of that boat, and after consulting with Colonel Ellet, I concluded to continue on down as far as the mouth of Red River. On the afternoon of the same day, I got under way, the Era No. Five leading. On nearing Ellis's Cliffs, the Era made the prearranged signal of danger ahead; soon after which I made out the rebel steamer William H. Webb. Before I got within range of the Webb, she had turned, and was standing down-stream with great speed. I fired two shots from the eleven-inch guns, but both fell short of her. She soon ran out of sight, and in consequence of a thick fog setting in, I could not continue the chase, but was obliged to anchor.

I reached the mouth of the Red River, on the seventeeth of February, from which time, until the twenty-first of the same month, I maintained a strict blockade at that point.

I could procure no Red River pilots, and therefore did not enter that river. The Era No. Five being unarmed, and having several prisoners on board, Col. Ellet decided to go up the river, and communicate with the squadron, and sailed at noon, on the eighteenth of the same month, for that purpose.

On learning that the Queen of the West had been repaired by the rebels, and was nearly ready for service, also that the Wm. H. Webb, and four cotton-clad boats, with boarding parties on board, were fitting out to attack the Indianola, I left the Red River, for the purpose of getting cotton, to fill up the space between the casemate and wheel-houses, so as to be better able to repel the boarding parties.

By the afternoon of the twenty-second of the same month, I had procured as much cotton as I required, and concluded to keep up on the river, thinking that I would certainly meet another boat the morning following, but I was disappointed. I then concluded to communicate with the squadron as soon as possible, thinking that Col. Ellet had not reached the squadron, or that Admiral Porter would expect me to return when I found that no other boat was sent below.

I kept the bunkers of the Indianola filled with coal, and would have sunk what remained in the barges, but knowing that if another boat was sent below Vicksburgh, I would be expected to supply her with coal, I concluded to hold on to the barges as long as possible. In consequence of having the barges alongside, we could make but slow progress against the tide; the result of which was, I did not reach Grand Gulf until the morning of the twenty-fourth of the same month, at which point, and at others above, we were fired on by parties on shore. As I knew that it would be as much as I could do to get past the Warrenton batteries before daylight the next morning, I returned the fire of but one party.

About half-past 9 P. M., on the twenty-fourth of the same month, the night being very dark, four boats were discovered in chase of us. I immediately cleared for action, and as soon as all preparations were completed, I turned and stood down the river to meet them. At this time the leading vessel was about three miles below, the others following in close order. As we neared them, I made them out to be the rams Queen of the West and William H. Webb; and two other steamers, cotton-clad and filled with men.

The Queen of the West was the first to strike us, which she did, after passing through the coal-barge lashed to our port side, doing us no serious damage. Next came the Webb. I stood for her at full speed. Both vessels came together, bows on, with a tremendous crash, which knocked nearly every one down on board of both vessels, doing no damage to us, while the Webb's bow was cut in at least eight feet, extending from about two feet above the water-line to the kelson. At this time, the engagement became general, and at very close quarters. I devoted but little attention to the cotton-clad steamers, although they kept up a heavy fire with field-pieces and small-arms, as I knew that every thing depended on my disabling the rams. The third blow crushed the starboard barge, leaving parts hanging by the lashings, which were speedily cut. The crew of the Indianola not numbering enough men to man both batteries, I kept the forward guns manned all the time, and fired them whenever I could get a shot at the rains. The night being very dark, our aim was uncertain, and our fire proved less effective than I thought at the time. The peep-holes in the pilot-house were so small that it would have been a difficult matter to have worked the vessel from that place in daylight, so that during the whole engagement the pilots were unable to aid me by their knowledge of the river, as they were unable to see any thing-consequently they could do no more than obey such orders as they received from me in regard to working the engines and helm. No misunderstanding occurred in the performance of that duty, and I was enabled to receive the first five blows of the rams forward of the wheels, and at such angles that they did no more damage than to start the plating where they struck.

The sixth blow we received, was from the Webb, which crushed in the starboard wheel, disabled the starboard rudder and started a [425] number of leaks abaft the shaft. Being unable to work the starboard engine, placed us in an almost powerless condition, but I continued the fight until we received the seventh blow, which was given us by the Webb. She struck us fair in the stern, and started the timbers and starboard rudder-box, so that the water poured in in large volumes. At this time I knew that the Indianola could be of no more service to us, and my desire was to render her useless to the enemy, which I did by keeping her in deep water until there was two and a half feet of water over the floor, and the leaks were increasing rapidly as she settled, so as to bring the opening made by the Webb under water.

Knowing that if either of the rams struck us again in the stern, which they then had excellent opportunities of doing, on account of our disabled condition, we would sink so suddenly that few, if any, lives would be saved, I succeeded in running her bows on shore by starting the screw engines. As further resistance could only result in a great loss of life on our part, without a corresponding result on the part of the enemy, I surrendered the Indianola, a partially sunken vessel, fast filling with water, to a force of four vessels, mounting ten guns, and manned by over one thousand men.

The engagement lasted one hour and twenty-seven minutes. I lost but one killed, one wounded, and seven missing, while the enemy lost two officers and thirty-three men killed, and many wounded. Before the enemy could make any preparations for endeavoring to save the Indianola, her stern was under water. Both rams were so very much crippled, that I doubt whether they would have tried to ram again had not their last blow proved so fatal to us. Both signal-books were thrown in the river by me a few minutes before the surrender.

In conclusion, I would state that the nine-inch guns of the Indianola were thrown overboard, and the eleven-inch guns damaged by being loaded with heavy charges and solid shot, placed muzzle to muzzle, and fired by a slow match, so that they were rendered useless.

This was done in consequence of the sham Monitor sent from above, having grounded about two miles above the wreck of the Indianola.

I have the honor to remain,

Very respectfully, your obed't serv't,

Geo. Brown, Lieut. Commander U. S. Navy. To Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.


Memphis Argus account.

Memphis, March 5, 1863.
The Indianola met with no adventure worth recording, until reaching a point thirty-five miles below Vicksburgh. Here she put in for a short time, for what reason we have not been advised. This was on Tuesday afternoon, the twenty-fourth ult. She had not been there long before the outlines of two or three boats were discovered, as far as the eye could reach, below. It was evident that they had on a full head of steam, and Captain Brown at once divined their character and purpose. They were none other than the long-expected rams, and hard fighting was to be the order of the next few hours.

The Indianola at once put on steam, and was soon out in the channel. She started up-stream — leisurely, it may be said with truth, for at her highest rate of speed her movements were snail-like compared to theirs — but so well in hand as to be brought into action at a moment's warning. The rams advanced rapidly, the Queen of the West naturally in the lead, the Webb, Grand Duke, and another, whose name could not be obtained, following close in her wake.

The Webb was formerly a lower river tow-boat, and is noted for her speed and great powers of endurance. She carries a number of guns of heavy calibre, is of wooden material, but has her machinery and boilers guarded by heavy iron plates. We believe she can be used as a ram, having an iron prow, but in this instance depended upon her batteries, leaving the others to come to close quarters.

The Indianola's heaviest and best guns are on her bow. Of this fact the advancing rams were evidently aware, for they sheered off to right and left as often as she changed position to get them in range, and managed, by the greater ease with which they could be handled, to give her no opportunity to use them with effect.

Of course the Indianola was clumsy; iron cannot be as easily handled as wood, and one large man is seldom able to gain material advantage in a rough-and-tumble struggle, over three or four small ones who act in concert and determinedly.

The ball opened. A shot from the Webb came whistling in the air. It passed over the Indianola, and went down with a splash a few hundred feet behind. Another came, with similar effect. The rams darted here and there, advancing and retreating, endeavoring to get near enough to try their iron prows against the gunboat s sides, but by no means anxious to receive a shot from one of her heavy guns. Had she been able to get a fair range, she would doubtless have crippled either of her assailants by one well-directed shot, but this she obtained no opportunity of doing. The firing proceeded rapidly. The available guns on the Indianola were run out and fired as rapidly as circumstances would permit, while the Webb and Queen of the West kept up a lively cannonading from their bull-dogs.

Those who witnessed the gunboat and ram fight opposite Memphis have some idea of the manner in which the latter do their work. The Webb, although gradually advancing, kept at a respectful distance, but so engaged the Indianola's attention that the latter had little time to devote to the rams, which fairly danced in the waters on all sides, watching an opportunity to give her a poke with their iron noses. With nothing but the Webb before her, the Indianola would have had but little work on her hands. She would doubtless have made short work of her in little [426] time, and proceeded on her way comparatively unharmed.

The experience of this war on the Mississippi has shown that, notwithstanding the labor and treasure expended in bringing gunboats to that point known as invulnerability, common steamboats with iron prows, and vital portions well protected, have been able, in the hands of fearless commanders, to perform exploits which the iron-clads dare not attempt. The experience held good in this instance. While the Webb was pouring in the shots, the rams managed to nearly surround the gunboat, and one of them soon found an opportunity to use her prow with force on one of the Indianola's sides. Another closed with equal success. They ran back, then forward, meeting squarely and glancing off, sinking two coal-barges which the gunboat had in tow, and, incredible as it may appear, succeeded in eluding all of her shots.

Every engagement must have a termination, and this one was soon over. The Webb and Indianola briskly kept up their firing, the rams their butting, and presently the contestants were in close quarters. The Indianola had made a gallant fight, but was literally overpowered. She had sustained many hard blows from the rams, and her commander received information that the water was coming into her hold. He arrived at the conclusion that she was in a sinking condition, and that further resistance was useless.

He accordingly went on deck and waved a white handkerchief in token of surrender. This was evidently regarded at once in the light in which it was intended, and the firing ceased on the Webb. As soon as communication had been established, Captain Brown was ordered to run the boat to the Louisiana shore. He complied; the confederate fleet came over, and the boat's officers and crew, with the exception of one man, became prisoners of war.


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