The Fall of Island Number Ten

Major General John Pope, whose Army of the Mississippi surrounded the Confederates at Island Number 10 on three sides, wanted to cross the Mississippi River to the Tennessee shore and capture the island from the rear, or its fourth side. To do this, Pope needed support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet. The ironclads U.S.S. Carondelet and Pittsburgh had already run past the island’s batteries to join the Federals at New Madrid, with the Pittsburgh bringing artillery and providing transportation for the Federal troops below the island. Pope was now ready to carry out his plan.

On the morning of April 7, both the Pittsburgh and the Carondelet exchanged fire with Confederate gunners at Watson’s Landing, below New Madrid, which protected the Confederates’ escape route from Island Number 10. This was where Pope wanted to land his army. After about an hour, the Confederates fled into the woods or fell back to Tiptonville on the Tennessee side of the river.

The Engagement at Island No. 10 | Image Credit:

Pope loaded four steamers with about 3,000 troops, crossed the Mississippi, and landed on the island’s eastern shore around noon. Foote’s gunboats protected the landing, with the Federals cutting communications to the mainland and blocking the only escape route. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, commanding Confederate forces in the area, was now surrounded on all sides. He surrendered to Foote that night. Many of the Confederates who escaped before the Federals landed tried to flee to Tiptonville, which was already occupied by a Federal detachment. The Federals blocked the narrow path between the Mississippi and Reelfoot Lake, forcing these Confederates to surrender as well.

The Federal roundup continued into the 8th, as Federals seized stragglers around Tiptonville and secured the so-called impenetrable island. Nearly 6,000 Confederates, including three generals and seven colonels, were taken prisoner. About 7,000 small arms and huge amounts of ammunition and supplies were also seized. The Federals lost 28 men (seven killed, 14 wounded, and seven missing), most of whom were naval personnel. Federal gunboat crews took 109 cannon abandoned on the Tennessee side of the river, as well as four steamers. One Confederate transport, the Red Rover, was taken to Cairo and converted into the navy’s first hospital ship.

Mackall surrendered Island Number 10 in a formal ceremony at Tiptonville on the 8th. Southerners were dismayed to learn that such a key position had been given up so easily. The loss of so many men and supplies demoralized the Confederacy, more so than any other battlefield loss up to that time. But those familiar with the situation were not surprised. General P.G.T. Beauregard declared that this was “the poorest defense made of any fortified post during the whole course of the war.”

The Federal capture of Island Number 10 was another in a series of Federal victories on the western rivers. It went a long way in securing the Mississippi River Valley; for that reason, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Department of the Mississippi, considered this victory more important than Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February. As such, Pope became a new northern hero.

Federal Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles declared that “the triumph was not the less appreciated, because it was protracted, and finally bloodless.” Foote later received a vote of thanks from Congress for his role in the operation, but he received no praise from Pope. In his official report, Pope lauded the “prompt, gallant, and cheerful” Commander Henry Walke of the U.S.S. Carondelet. Foote, who had resisted running his ships past the Confederate batteries, was not mentioned.

Nevertheless, Pope planned to continue his joint expedition with Foote to capture Memphis, a key city connected to the rest of the South by railroad. With Island Number 10 in Federal hands, the only obstacle in front of Memphis was Fort Pillow, 40 miles downriver. However, Pope’s month-long campaign on the Mississippi ended when Halleck summoned him and his army to join in the grand advance on Corinth.


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