Tag Archives: Red River

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

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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