Category Archives: Navy

Confederates Confront the Indianola

February 15, 1863 – The steam ram C.S.S. William H. Webb hurried into action after Confederates learned of the Federal attack on Fort Taylor on the Red River, joining a fleet to confront the U.S.S. Indianola.

Lieutenant Colonel William S. Lovell, commanding the Webb, hurried his vessel into action from Alexandria to take on the enemy, even though his ship was not entirely ready for combat. Lovell learned of the Federal retreat and steamed down the Red River to the Mississippi, stopping there for the night.

Colonel Charles R. Ellet, whose steam ram U.S.S. Queen of the West had been captured by Confederates, struggled up the Mississippi aboard his damaged Confederate prize, the New Era No. 5. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Indianola under Lieutenant Commander George Brown moved downstream, and the two ships met near Natchez, Mississippi. As Ellet used the Indianola’s coal barges to refuel, the two commanders resolved to destroy the Webb and try taking Fort Taylor again.

The U.S.S. Indianola | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lovell learned from the prisoners taken from the Queen of the West that another Federal warship was coming downriver to support Ellet. Lovell hoped to destroy the New Era before this new ship arrived. However, he soon found both the New Era and the Indianola coming toward him and pulled back. The Federals pursued the Confederates to the mouth of the Red River, where the Indianola took up blockading duty between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Brown kept the Indianola anchored at the mouth of the Red from the 17th to the 21st. During that time, Ellet and the New Era returned to Vicksburg, and Brown learned the Webb was planning to return with support from the captured Queen of the West and two “cotton-clad” vessels.

On the morning of the 22nd, the Indianola continued up the Mississippi, slowed by two coal barges lashed to her sides. A Confederate flotilla led by Major Joseph L. Brent began its pursuit 90 miles from the plantation landing that the Indianola had left from. Brent’s fleet included the Webb, Grand Era, and newly repaired Queen. They picked up the Dr. Beatty on the way. The Grand Era and Beatty were loaded with Confederate infantry to board the enemy ships.

After receiving Ellet’s official report, Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that his plans had been “disarranged by the capture of the Queen of the West.” Porter blamed Ellet, who “foolishly engaged” the batteries at Fort Taylor. Porter complained that Ellet offered no explanation as to why he went up the Red River against orders, and, “Had the commander of the Queen of the West waited patiently, he would, in less than 24 hours, have been joined by the Indianola, which he knew.”

Porter called the Queen’s capture “a loss without any excuse, and if not destroyed by the Indianola she will fall into rebel hands.” He told Welles, “We are sadly in want of a good class of fast ironclad rams on this river,” as the vessels currently operating were “fit for nothing but tow boats.” Until he could get better ships, he would have to depend on the Indianola “alone for carrying out my cherished plan of cutting off supplies from Port Hudson and Vicksburg.”

Porter concluded, “My plans were well laid, only badly executed. I can give orders, but I can not give officers good judgment. Whether the commander (of the Indianola) will have the good sense not to be surprised, remains to be seen. He should return for the present.”

Brent’s Confederate fleet caught up to the Indianola just below Vicksburg on the 24th. Brent waited to attack at night to offset the Indianola’s superior firepower. The Queen tried ramming the Indianola but rammed one of her accompanying coal barges instead. The Queen and the Webb then rammed the Indianola, with the Queen flooding both the Indianola’s starboard engines and the Webb hitting the port wheelhouse. The Queen and the Webb sustained heavy damage, but the Indianola suffered worse.

As the other two Confederate ships neared, Brown ran the Indianola into the west bank and lowered his colors. The “partially sunken vessel” had sustained seven collisions. He allowed the ship to fill with water and directed his men to hurry ashore. Once there, Brown surrendered to Colonel Frederick B. Brand, commanding the Beatty. The Confederates eagerly prepared to raise the Indianola and attach her to their growing fleet.

The Indianola grounded | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

With the loss of his most valuable ship, Porter wrote Welles, “There is no use to conceal the fact, but this has… been the most humiliating affair that has occurred during this rebellion.” Porter decided not to try sending individual vessels past Vicksburg to intercept supplies headed for Port Hudson. Soon the Port Hudson campaign became separate from that of Vicksburg, handled by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks and Admiral David G. Farragut while Major General Ulysses S. Grant and Porter focused solely on Vicksburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15881-90; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 262-63; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 196-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 264-66; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321-23; 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), p. 159; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 572-73

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The Queen of the West on the Red

February 12, 1863 – The U.S.S. Queen of the West continued raiding Confederate shipping on the Red River before encountering a Confederate naval squadron.

Col C.R. Ellet | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Queen, Colonel Charles R. Ellet’s steam ram, moved up to the Atchafalaya River, a tributary of the Red, accompanied by the U.S.S. De Soto. Ellet spotted a 12-wagon supply train moving along a riverside road and forced it to surrender. The wagons held large quantities of grain and salt pork on their way to collection depots. The Federals burned the wagons, which they learned had come from Simmesport, Louisiana.

Ellet led the Queen and the De Soto to Simmesport, where the Federals found and destroyed 70 barrels of beef. They then pursued another supply train but captured just one of the wagons, filled with ammunition. They burned this wagon as well. The Federals also burned at least three plantations as Confederates fired at them from the riverbanks.

Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, dispatched the ironclad U.S.S. Indianola under Lieutenant Commander George Brown to join the Queen on her raid between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Porter wanted the Indianola to “make matters doubly sure” that the Confederate steam ram C.S.S. William H. Webb would not attack. Porter also ordered Brown to “go to Jeff Davis’s plantation (about 20 miles south of Vicksburg) and his brother Joe’s and load up said steamer with all the cotton you can find and the best single male negroes.”

On the 13th, Ellet took revenge on the Confederate riverbank snipers by burning three more plantation houses and their outbuildings. His Federals also destroyed all public and private property from Simmesport to the mouth of the Atchafalaya River.

Meanwhile, Confederates worked to prepare the C.S.S. William H. Webb and Grand Duke to take on the Queen and De Soto. However, the task proved hard, as Lieutenant Colonel William S. Lovell, commanding the Webb, reported:

“I had the greatest difficulty in getting carpenters to work on the vessels, although I offered them every inducement. I had the same difficulty with negroes. The committee who were building a raft in Red River furnished me with thirty; they lent twenty more, but would not allow them to go on board the Grand Duke, the other vessel being fitted out, she having had a case of smallpox on board some days previous.”

That night, the Indianola headed out with two coal barges to refuel the Federal vessels. The night was dark, and she passed the Vicksburg batteries without the Confederates scoring any hits. The Indianola and the barges anchored about four miles downriver until next morning.

Ellet exceeded orders on the 14th by passing Natchez and heading up the Red River; Porter had directed Ellet to only go to the Red’s mouth. Ellet planned to attack Fort Taylor, a small work about 40 miles upriver. En route, the Federals forced the Confederate ship New Era No. 5 to surrender. This was Ellet’s greatest prize to date, as the ship carried several soldiers and civilians, about 4,500 bushels of corn, and $35,000 in Confederate money.

Ellet sent the prisoners ashore and left the captured ship behind as he forced the Confederate pilot to take the Queen’s helm and navigate farther upriver. The Federals soon approached Fort Taylor’s shore batteries. Ellet ordered the pilot to back out of range, but he instead grounded the Queen on a sandbar near Gordon’s Landing, under direct enemy fire.

A correspondent aboard the Queen reported, “The pilots tried in vain to back her off, but she would not budge an inch. Shot were flying, shells were bursting, and, worse than all, we could not reply. The enemy had our exact range, and every explosion told worth fearful effect.” He continued:

“The air was filled with fragments and exploding shells, which flew before, behind, and all about us. Soon we heard a crash among the machinery below. Word was passed up that the lever which regulates the engines was shot away. Another crash, and we learned the escape-pipe was gone. Still another, and the steam-chest was fractured. The whole boat shook with the rush of the escaping steam which penetrated every nook and cranny. The engine-room was crowded with engineers, firemen, negroes, and prisoners, who had sought that place under the impression that it was the safest. All this time, while we supposed we were blown up, and looked every moment to be launched into eternity, the batteries played upon the unfortunate vessel, and pierced her through and through. Men crowded to the after-part of the vessel.”

The guns rendered the Queen inoperable. Ellet could not destroy the vessel because wounded men were aboard, so he abandoned her. The Federals pushed the cotton bales they had used for armor overboard and floated downriver on them to try getting to the De Soto, about a mile away. The Confederates seized the Queen.

Confederates capture the Queen of the West | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The De Soto then ran aground and broke her rudder. She floated along the current up to the abandoned New Era No. 5, which the Federals ultimately used to escape. This ended Ellet’s 12-day raid on Confederate shipping between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Ellet accused the captured Confederate pilot of deliberately sabotaging the Queen.

The Federals struggled to navigate back down the treacherous Red River on a stormy night. By next morning, they had reached the Mississippi, and the Confederates began converting the Queen of the West into a ram of their own.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 260-61; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 263-64; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 320; 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), p. 158-59; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 571-72

The Yazoo Pass Expedition

February 7, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition began in an effort to capture Vicksburg by entering Yazoo Pass and approaching the city by water from the north.

Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal Mississippi River Squadron, had lost all hope that Vicksburg could be taken by naval force alone. Confederates now had 50 guns overlooking the river, atop bluffs so steep that 10,000 troops could not climb up to them. Porter wrote, “We can, perhaps, destroy the city and public buildings, but that would bring us no nearer the desired point than we are now, and would likely put out the little spark of Union feeling still existing in Vicksburg.”

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

He then came upon the idea of destroying a Mississippi River levee to flood Yazoo Pass. This would allow his gunboats to move to the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie, and then on to the Yazoo River in Vicksburg’s rear. Grant could then “follow with his army and Vicksburg attacked in the rear in a manner not likely dreamed of.”

Major General Ulysses S. Grant was not confident that such an operation would work. But he would not be ready to launch an all-out offensive against Vicksburg until spring, and he could not afford to appear idle until then. He therefore approved this and other minor operations, standing ready to exploit them in the slim chance that they succeeded.

The expedition would include elements of the army headed by Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross of XIII Corps, and the navy led by Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith. Seven gunboats, led by the ironclads U.S.S. Baron de Kalb and Chillicothe, would escort 5,000 troops aboard army transports.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal topographical engineer, devised the plan to open the levee sealing Yazoo Pass. Federal soldiers and engineers mined and detonated explosives that blew a 75-foot-wide hole in the levee and flooded the pass. The water swept away everything in its path, running too fast to guarantee safe navigation. This delayed the start of the expedition for several days.

The flotilla finally moved out on the 7th, riding the fast current onto Moon Lake. Obstructions such as underwater tree stumps and low hanging tree branches damaged the tinclad U.S.S. Forest Rose and generally hindered the Federal advance.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, knew that Yazoo Pass could be a weak point and directed his troops to obstruct the area with felled trees even before the Federal expedition began. The natural impediments combined with the Confederate obstructions to slow the Federal advance to about 10 miles per day.

As the flotilla struggled ahead, the Confederates quickly installed a garrison at Fort Pemberton, also known as Fort Greenwood, near Greenwood, Mississippi. The small work stood on the neck of land between the Tallahatchie to the north and the Yazoo to the south, about 50 miles north of Yazoo City. The troops, led by Major General William W. Loring, built defenses out of cotton bales but had just 10 guns to defend against a Federal naval approach. Loring also scuttled the former Star of the West to obstruct the waterway.

Meanwhile, the Federals continued pushing through the obstructions using “picks, spades, and wheelbarrows.” Smith insisted that the entire flotilla move together, rejecting Ross’s pleas to allow the ironclads to go ahead. This delayed the advance and gave the Confederates more time to build their defenses.

Two weeks after the Federals blew up the levee, Pemberton received a report from a Confederate naval lieutenant:

“The enemy have driven us off from the works on the Pass, and are coming through. Hasty obstructions with fortifications may save Yazoo City. I have done my best; worked under their noses, till their pickets came in 100 yards of me.”

Captain Isaac Brown, commanding Confederate naval forces at Yazoo City, also wrote Pemberton:

“I regret that we have so little time to make preparations, so little, in fact, that I cannot be answerable for what may happen, in other words, I can give no assurance that we shall be able to stop the enemy, as we cannot tell with what amount or description of force he is coming through. We will do all we can.”

Pemberton in turn wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“Many believe that the enemy will get through the Yazoo Pass, and I am informed that, by the use of steam saw-mills, three quarters of a mile of solid obstructions were removed in two days. I do not apprehend anything serious from this demonstration, still, if it be the enemy’s purpose to lay siege to Vicksburg, this is doubtless part of his plan to cut off our supplies, and would materially assist the investment of the place.”

Pemberton requested a “full supply of ammunition to be furnished for the defense of Vicksburg.” On the 23rd, Pemberton received word that the Federal flotilla had reached the Coldwater, en route to the Tallahatchie. He sent more troops to bolster Loring at Fort Pemberton. However, the Federals turned back when Colonel Wilson advised them to clear more obstructions before continuing forward. By the end of February, the Federals had finally cleared Yazoo Pass and entered the Coldwater River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259, 264; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 202; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-62, 265-67; Grant, Ulysses S., Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839–1865 (New York: Library of America, 1990), p. 267; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

The Queen of the West on the Mississippi

February 3, 1863 – The U.S.S. Queen of the West continued down the Mississippi River on her mission to stop the flow of Confederate supplies from the Red River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

The Queen of the West | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The day after running the Vicksburg batteries and mortally damaging the C.S.S. City of Vicksburg, the U.S.S. Queen of the West, commanded by 19-year-old Colonel Charles R. Ellet, chugged down to below the mouth of the Red. There she seized the Confederate steamer A.W. Baker, which had just delivered supplies to the Port Hudson garrison about 30 miles south. The Federals captured several Confederate officers and their passengers, including the ladies.

The Queen next captured the steamer Moro, which carried over 100,000 pounds of pork, nearly 500 hogs, and a large quantity of salt. When the Queen turned away to get more coal, Ellet burned nearly 25,000 pounds of cornmeal at a nearby landing. He docked at a plantation and released the civilians from the A.W. Baker as another Confederate steamer approached.

The approaching steamer was the Berwick Bay, carrying about 30,000 pounds of flour, 40 bales of cotton, 10 hogsheads of sugar, and 200 barrels of molasses. After capturing this steamer, Ellet burned all the ships; the property destroyed had an estimated worth of $200,000. Ellet then ran out of coal and docked at Gordon’s Point, about 85 miles up the Red River.

During this time, Major General William T. Sherman visited Ellet and congratulated him on his successful mission. Ellet explained that he planned to have Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter send a coal barge downstream, past the Vicksburg batteries at night, to refuel the Queen. Ellet claimed the De Soto, captured at Fort Pillow and renamed the General Lyon, could tow the barge, since the De Soto was “very small, tolerably fast, and of little intrinsic value.” Ellet would then send part of his crew to attach the barge to the Queen. Ellet said, “I will only take eight or nine men, and if sunk, we can all escape in a boat.”

Sherman encouraged Ellet to share the plan with Porter. Ellet told Porter, “The De Soto is worth nothing anyhow, and the importance of getting coal at once to the Queen justifies, I think, the risk.” Porter replied, “You can do as you like about the De Soto, though I fear a failure.”

On the night of the 6th, Porter sent the De Soto and a barge filled with 20,000 bushels of coal down the Mississippi undetected by the Confederates manning the Vicksburg batteries. Porter notified Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “This gives the ram (Queen of the West) nearly coal enough to last a month, in which time she can commit great havoc, if no accident happens to her.”

The De Soto and the coal barge made it past the Vicksburg batteries and reached Ellet on the 7th. Porter directed Ellet to take the Queen and the De Soto to a point just north of the Red River’s mouth to “destroy all small boats… met with on the river; also wharf boats and barges.”

Porter wrote, “When you capture them, do not burn them until you have broken all the machinery, then let go the anchors and let them burn, under your own eye, at their anchors. There will be no danger then of any part of them floating down to the enemy.”

Porter also warned Ellet that a formidable Confederate steam ram named the C.S.S. William H. Webb may be nearby: “If you get the first crack at her, you will sink her, and if she gets the first crack at you she will sink you.” If boarded by Confederates, “do not open any doors or ports to board in return, but act on the defensive, giving the enemy steam and shell. Do not forget to wet your cotton before going into action.”

The De Soto, which Porter and Ellet considered expendable, was not to fall into enemy hands. If it appeared that she might, Ellet was to “destroy her at once.” But since she was a “government vessel,” Porter stated that she “should be brought back if possible.” Porter also directed Ellet to observe Port Hudson from a safe distance.

On the night of the 10th, the Queen and the De Soto steamed past the batteries at Warrenton, Mississippi, undetected and destroyed Confederate skiffs and flatboats on the banks of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers. Meanwhile, Porter worked to alleviate his chronic coal shortage by writing the Federal commander at Cairo, Illinois:

“As circumstances occur I have to change the quantity of coal required here… I want a stock of 160,000 bushels sent to the Yazoo River, besides the monthly allowance already required, viz, 70,000 bushels here, 40,000 at White River, and 20,000 at Memphis… You will also have the Abraham filled up with three months’ provisions and stores for the squadron, or as much as she can carry, and keep her ready at all times… to move at a moment’s notice to such point as I may designate.”

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, could not figure out the Queen’s intentions. He wrote, “Unless the enemy designs landing below Vicksburg and a protracted investment, I can see no purpose in his arrangements.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 263; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77-78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; 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), p. 158

Naval Operations Between Vicksburg and Port Hudson

February 2, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter directed Federal naval forces to stop the flow of supplies on the Red River in the continuing Federal effort to capture both Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, selected Colonel Charles R. Ellet to head this mission. Ellet was the 19-year-old son of Charles Ellet, who had created the fleet of Federal rams on the Mississippi. Porter explained to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles why he chose the young Ellet to lead:

“I can not speak too highly of this gallant and daring officer. The only trouble I have is to hold him in and keep him out of danger. He will undertake anything I wish him to without asking questions, and these are the kind of men I like to command.”

Col C.R. Ellet | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Ellet was to command the U.S.S. Queen of the West, a sidewheel ram once commanded by his father, who died in the attack on Memphis last June. The vessel had undergone extensive repairs after sustaining heavy damage from the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas. A New York Tribune correspondent reported that the Queen had a “most dismantled and forlorn appearance.”

Porter directed Ellet to take the Queen downriver and attack the C.S.S. City of Vicksburg. Hoping to avenge the Federal naval defeat at Galveston last month, Porter instructed:

“It will not be part of your duty to save the lives of those on board; they must look out for themselves, and may think themselves lucky if they do not meet the same fate meted out to the Harriet Lane. Then think of the fate of that vessel while performing your duty, and shout ‘Harriet Lane’ into the ears of the rebels. If you can fire turpentine balls from your bow field pieces into the light upper works, it will make a fine finish to the sinking part.”

Ellet was then to “proceed down as low as Red River to capture and destroy all the rebel property she may meet with.” Porter would reinforce Ellet in forcing the enemy “to evacuate its other points on the river for want of supplies and transportation.” The Queen was to serve as a sort of blockading vessel, disrupting the flow of supplies from the Red River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Early on the 2nd, Ellet loaded the Queen’s decks with cotton to absorb enemy fire and covered the paddle wheels with protective planks. Although the work took longer than expected and the Queen would be visible in the daylight, Ellet proceeded anyway. The vessel steamed into Confederate gun range and sustained three hits before reaching the City of Vicksburg. Ellet reported:

“Her position was such that if we had run obliquely into her as we came down, the bow of the Queen would inevitably have glanced. We were compelled to partially round to in order to strike. The consequence was that at the very moment of collision the current, very strong and rapid at this point, caught the stern of my boat, and, acting on her bow as a pivot, swung her around so rapidly that nearly all momentum was lost.”

The Federals set the City of Vicksburg on fire with the turpentine balls, but the Confederates quickly put out the flames. They responded by firing into the Queen and setting her cotton bales on fire, which forced Ellet to stop his ramming efforts and move downriver, out of enemy gun range, to push the bales overboard.

The Queen took 12 hits but did not sustain any substantial damage before continuing to the Red River. The City of Vicksburg suffered too much damage to be salvaged, and Confederates later sunk her.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-61; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318; 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), p. 158

Confederates Break the Charleston Blockade

January 31, 1863 – Two new Confederate ironclad rams attempted to break the Federal blockade of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, by attacking a portion of the blockading fleet.

Confederates had continuously sought ways to break the Charleston blockade as soon as it had begun. The Federals had captured several blockade runners, including the British merchant steamer Princess Royal on the 29th, which was run aground near Rattlesnake Channel by the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Unadilla. Federals confiscated six rifled cannons, 930 armor-piercing shells, 600 barrels of gunpowder, and two engines for ironclad vessels. The cargo totaled nearly $500,000 and was the blockading fleet’s largest capture of the war.

The next day, Confederate shore batteries opened a crossfire on the Federal gunboat U.S.S. Isaac Smith as she tried reconnoitering up the Stono River. The fire ran the ship aground, and the captain surrendered after losing 25 men (eight killed and 17 wounded). Confederates later renamed the Isaac Smith the Stono.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General P.G.T. Beauregard, now commanding the Confederate defenses in South Carolina after recovering from illness, directed Flag Officer Duncan N. Ingraham, the Confederate naval commander at Charleston, to confront the Federal blockading vessels with his two new rams, the C.S.S. Chicora under Commander John R. Tucker and Palmetto State under Lieutenant John Rutledge, along with three tenders.

In the predawn fog of the 31st, the Chicora fired on the U.S.S. Keystone State, hitting the ship’s boilers several times. Twenty-five Federals were killed; many were scalded to death. Meanwhile, the Palmetto State rammed the converted merchant ship U.S.S. Mercedita and left her when the Federals reported that she would soon sink. The rams returned to their base, where the Confederate crewmen reported destroying two Federal vessels and burning four others.

However, the Confederates had not destroyed any vessels; the U.S.S. Memphis rescued the Keystone State, and the Mercedita was not sinking as the Federals claimed. Both ships were towed to Port Royal for repairs and were soon back on active duty. All other Federal ships continued their blockade as normal, unharmed.

Even so, Beauregard interpreted the exaggerated news of the Isaac Smith’s capture and the destruction of blockaders to announce that the blockade of Charleston had been broken. Beauregard escorted the French and Spanish consuls to the waterfront to show them that “the outer harbor remained in the full possession of the two Confederate rams. Not a Federal sail was visible, even with spyglasses.”

Beauregard argued that since the blockade had been broken, the Federals could not reinstate it without first giving the Confederates a 60-day notice in accordance with international law. Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, ignored Beauregard’s claim and resumed the blockade immediately.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 113; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 139, 555-56; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 258; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 222-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 316-17; 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), p. 124-25; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 571

The Fall of Fort Hindman

January 11, 1863 – Major General John A. McClernand reorganized his Federal forces and acted upon Major General William T. Sherman’s recommendation to attack a Confederate fort on the Arkansas River.

As the new year began, Sherman’s 30,000-man XIII Corps remained at Chickasaw Bayou. He learned that the Confederates on the bluffs were being reinforced, and his men could hear trains continuously rolling in and out of Vicksburg, indicating that even more troops were on the way. He therefore abandoned his plan to take the bluffs, loaded his troops back onto their transports, and headed back down the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McClernand, who had arrived at Memphis too late to join the Chickasaw Bayou expedition, met up with the Federals at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, to take command of the corps. Apparently disregarding the War Department order placing him under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, McClernand split his four divisions into two corps and renamed XIII Corps the Army of the Mississippi.

When Sherman passed command to McClernand on the 4th, he shared an idea to avenge the Chickasaw Bayou defeat by capturing Fort Hindman, also known as Arkansas Post, about 120 miles northwest of Vicksburg on the Arkansas River. Some 5,000 Confederates garrisoned the fort, which threatened Federal communications on the Mississippi. McClernand was reluctant but finally agreed to conduct the expedition when Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter assured him that his Mississippi River Squadron would provide gunboat support.

However, McClernand never asked Grant for permission to proceed, and nobody in the Federal high command knew that such an action was even being considered. Moreover, Arkansas was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, outside the jurisdiction of McClernand or even Grant. However, McClernand had discussed the threat Fort Hindman posed with Curtis late last year, so Curtis at least had an idea that McClernand might attack the fort when he told Curtis that he was proceeding on the 5th.

McClernand’s force headed out by water on the 8th. The fleet consisted of three ironclads, 10 rams and gunboats, and 50 transports conveying 30,000 soldiers. McClernand finally informed Grant about the expedition, explaining that one of the objectives was “the counteraction of the moral effect of the failure of the attack near Vicksburg and the reinspiration of the forces repulsed by making them the champions of new, important, and successful enterprises.” Grant did not receive this message until the 11th, long after the Federals had gone up the Arkansas.

Fort Hindman sat atop a hill overlooking a bend in the Arkansas, about 120 miles below Little Rock. It was a strong but unfinished Confederate work used to disrupt Federal navigation on the nearby Mississippi. Three Confederate brigades of mostly Texans manned the garrison and its outlying area; the one brigade in the fort was led by Colonel John W. Dunnington, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded the other two outside the fort. They numbered about 3,300 effectives, or one-tenth of the enemy force heading their way.

The Federal fleet arrived within gun range of Fort Hindman on the afternoon of the 9th, and the troops began landing under cover of Porter’s warships. The next day, the Federals finished landing and McClernand deployed his artillery, which joined with Porter’s vessels to bombard the fort as the flotilla slowly made its way up the river.

The Federal troops blocked the road to Little Rock to prevent the garrison from escaping or reinforcements from arriving. Churchill’s Confederates returned fire from their entrenchments until about 4 p.m., when the Federal guns cleared them out. McClernand’s troops seized high ground north of the fort and began positioning guns to fire down into the work.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships continued pounding the enemy works, with the ironclads in the lead. A soldier on the U.S.S. Montauk described the bombardment:

“Such a terrific scene I have never witnessed. The fort was riddled and torn to pieces with the shells. The ironclads, which could venture up closer, shot into their portholes and into the mouths of their cannon, bursting their cannon and dismounting them. When most of their batteries were silenced, two of the light draft boats and our boat was ordered to run the blockade to cut off the retreat of the rebels above the F(or)t.”

The Confederates tried answering with their 11 cannon but were outgunned. Also, Porter had ordered his men to grease their ships with tallow so that enemy shots hitting them at an angle would slide off. This practice was soon adopted throughout the Federal navy.

McClernand planned a ground attack the next day. That night, Churchill received a message from General Theophilus Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock, directing him “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.”

Federal troops assumed their positions at noon on the 11th, and a ferocious artillery barrage began an hour later. It took the Federals three hours to silence all the Confederate guns except one. The Confederates continued firing from the trenches and rifle pits, but they were surrounded by infantry on three sides and the gunboats on the river. The white flag went up.

The Federals sustained 1,061 casualties (134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing), while the Confederates lost 4,900 (28 killed, 81 wounded and 4,791 mostly captured). The Federals captured the most men since taking New Madrid in the spring of last year. They also seized seven stands of colors, all the Confederate guns, and large amounts of commissary, ordinance, and other supplies. Porter later wrote:

“The fight at Ft. Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock, which could have caused the Federal Navy in the west a great deal of trouble…”

He added, “No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay to those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: ‘You can’t expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.’”

While this victory did little to affect any of the major campaigns at the time, northerners celebrated it as a rare success following a string of failures. It also stopped Confederate commerce between the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, it cleared the way for Federal ships to continue on to Little Rock, and it served as the preface to a new campaign against Vicksburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 252-53, 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 77-78, 133-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 250-51, 253; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 307-08, 310-11; 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), p. 156-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 569-70; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39