The U.S.S. Queen of the West, now in Confederate hands on the Mississippi River, went to Vicksburg to get pumps to drain the water from the recently captured U.S.S. Indianola. She quickly returned to the other three ships in the Confederate fleet to report that a Federal gunboat was approaching them.
The Federals had converted an old barge into something resembling a gunboat using canvas, tar, and scrap wood that cost a total of $8.63. They installed fake paddle-wheel boxes, as well as fake casemates and barrels to resemble smokestacks. The “smokestacks” contained burning tar, which simulated the smoke. The Federals coated the ship with tar, named her the Black Terror, and put a sign on her: “Deluded People, Cave In!”
Confederate batteries opened fire on the Black Terror as she drifted down the Mississippi that night. Federal Acting Rear-Admiral David D. Porter reported, “Never did the batteries of Vicksburg open with such a din.” The Queen, damaged from the fight with the Indianola, turned and fled downriver upon seeing the vessel, which was nearly twice as long as her. She was quickly followed by the other three Confederate ships. The unmanned fake warship grounded on a sandbar for the night.
The next day, Confederates feared that this huge new gunboat could come to save the Indianola, so they detonated explosives that destroyed the Indianola and hurried downstream. The Confederates reported, “With the exception of the wine and liquor stores of Indianola, nothing was saved. The valuable armament, the large supplies of powder, shot, and shell, are all lost.”
Braver Confederates eventually approached the Black Terror, where they discovered that it was just an empty coal barge sent down the river as a joke. An article in the Vicksburg Whig declared that raising the Indianola “would have been a small army to us. Who is to blame for this piece of folly?”
Although the Confederates missed an opportunity to add another ship to their naval fleet, by month’s end they still controlled the stretch of the Mississippi between Vicksburg and Port Hudson, which included the mouth of the Red River.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press (Kindle Edition), 2012.