Operations on the Western Rivers
The organization of combined naval and military operations for gaining control of the Mississippi and its tributaries was one of three cardinal recommendations of the Secretary of the Navy at the beginning of the war. This appealed with especial directness to the people of the North Central States, who realized that with the Union divided the vast system of waterways, the avenues of commerce, might become useless. They also perceived that the side which held the Mississippi could easily carry war into the territory of the other.
Cairo, Illinois, at the junction of three States as well as two great rivers, occupied a strategic position, and became the naval arsenal and depot of supplies for the Union flotilla. Nearly all the Mississippi south of Cairo, •1097 miles by stream, •480 by direct line, was in 1861 controlled by the Confederates. They had also a strong line of fortifications from Columbus, Kentucky •(twenty‑one miles down the river from Cairo), extending east to Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and to the Cumberland Mountains. Attacking this line of Confederate defenses, the Union forces early in 1862 gained several important victories; and the navy, though not always the chief factor, was undeniably essential.
Gunboats, well protected and adapted to service on shallow rivers, were at once demanded, and the Government contracted in August, 1861, with James B. Eads of St. Louis for seven ironclads. In size and form these were practically all the same, •175 feet long, •fifty‑one and p290 a half feet beam, and •six feet in draft; each carried thirteen heavy guns, and had a casemate, sloped at an angle of 35° and plated at the forward end and abreast the engines with •two and a half inches of iron. There was a single, large paddle wheel placed in an opening forward of the stern and thus protected from shot by the casemate and sides. The speed required by contract was •nine miles an hour. Thus were built and made ready for active service in January, 1862, the gunboats St. Louis, Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Cairo, and Pittsburg. This with the Benton, a government snagboat that had been made over into an ironclad larger and stronger than any of the rest, formed the backbone of the river fleet throughout the war.1
U. S. S. Louisville
The fleet was built under the general supervision of the War Department. However, the Navy Department co‑operated by detailing one of its officers to direct the work. Commander John Rodgers began the construction, and Captain Andrew H. Foote, relieving him on September 6, 1861, carried it on to its completion. Foote, a true sailor, would have much preferred a command on the sea; for the peculiar duty given him included operations on land and swamp as well as river, and he met problems utterly different from any encountered previously in his long service. The fact that he was under the direction of the War Department, receiving orders from generals who little comprehended what a gunboat could and could not do, was not the least of his difficulties. In fitting out the fleet he was frequently embarrassed by lack of materials, money, and credit, but he carried forward the work with magnificent patience and determination. He later gained high praise for the successes he won with this fleet, yet p292 he is said to have looked upon the fighting as secondary, and the creation of this fleet as being the great achievement of his life.
Andrew H. Foote
The first important service rendered by the river navy was on November 7, 1861, the day Port Royal was taken by DuPont. General Grant, with 3000 troops, surprised a Confederate force of 2500 at Belmont, Missouri, just across the Mississippi from Columbus. The Union Army had come down the river in transports, convoyed by the Tyler, Commander Walke, and the Lexington, Commander Stembel. These were river boats which, with the Conestoga, had been purchased and made into wooden gunboats the summer preceding by Commander Rodgers.
The Union army swept all before them, but when a decisive advantage had been gained, were slow in obeying orders to fall back. As a consequence they were in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the large Confederate reinforcements that had crossed over from Columbus. The gunboats, which had three times engaged the heavy Confederate batteries above Columbus commanding Belmont, now from an advantageous position opened on the Confederate troops advancing to attack the retreating army even at their transports; with grape, canister, and 5‑second shell they enfiladed the Confederate lines and drove them back with considerable loss. They had occasion to protect the transports even after they had got under way; moreover, when they had proceeded a few miles up the river, and General McClernand discovered that some of the troops had been left behind, the gunboats went back, picked up the troops with their wounded and forty prisoners, and then returned to Cairo. The incident may seem not very important in the history of the navy, and p293 yet without the Tyler and the Lexington the capture of a large part of the Union force could scarcely have been averted. Such a disaster would have caused distrust of Grant, and might have long prevented his being given an opportunity to show his great abilities.
In January, 1862, when Grant had his army fairly well disciplined, and Foote had the seven ironclads ready, they considered attacking the Confederate lines. Columbus, with its admirable situation and heavy batteries, gave promise of being able to withstand a direct attack for a long while. Forts Henry and Donelson were not so strong, and if they should fall the Union forces would have access to Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and could compel the evacuation of Columbus.
Having gained General Halleck's permission to attack Fort Henry, Foote left Cairo, on February 2, with four ironclads and three wooden gunboats. Progress up the Tennessee was slow because of torpedoes, eight of which the squadron fished out of the channel. At the same time Grant's army came up the river in transports, convoyed by gunboats, and landed within a few miles of the fort. For the plan was that the troops, making a detour, should attack the rear of the fort when the squadron attacked from the river. Fort Henry in the official report of J. F. Gilmer, Chief Engineer, Western Department, C. S. A., is described as "a strong field work of fine bastion front. . . . in good condition for defense," with "seventeen guns mounted on substantial platforms, twelve of which were so placed as to bear well on the river." The twelve guns were, one 10‑inch columbiad, one 60‑pounder rifle, two 42‑pounders, and eight 32‑pounders, p294 "all arranged to fire through embrasures formed by raising the parapet between the guns with sand bags carefully laid."2
On the morning of February 6, according to agreement, Foote steamed towards the batteries, and at half past twelve, when 1700 yards distant, opened fire. "The three old [wooden] gunboats," writes Foote, "took position astern and inshore of the [four] armored boats doing good execution there in the action, while the armored boats were placed in the first order of steaming, approaching the fort in a parallel line."3 Foote's plan was to present the bows, the least vulnerable part of his boats, to the enemy, and rely on his bow guns, of which in the armored vessels he had eleven; then, by advancing, to compel the Confederate gunners constantly to alter their aim and make it difficult for them to secure the right elevation for their pieces.
The fire of the gunboats called forth a spirited reply from the fort, and as the squadron slowly approached to within 600 yards, the shooting on both sides increased in rapidity and accuracy. About an hour after the battle had begun, the armored Essex had her casemate penetrated by a shot; this killed one man, then plowing its way back, exploded the boiler and wounded by scalding twenty-eight, among them Commander W. D. Porter. The Essex, rendered helpless, slowly drifted out of line astern, and was carried by the current from the fort down the river. The other gunboats also were struck several times. The flagship Cincinnati, particularly, was a target and had many plates of her casemate broken, while her smoke stacks, after-cabin, and boats were completely riddled. She received only one shot that caused loss of p295 life; this, penetrating the forward casemate on the port side, killed one man and wounded several.
Meanwhile the Confederates were finding it increasingly difficult to defend their works. Their gunners were "under a most terrific fire from the advancing foe, whose approach was steady and constant."4 Early in the action their rifled cannon burst, killing three of the men at the piece and disabling a number of others. Next, one of the 32‑pounders was struck by a heavy shell, which rendered the gun useless and wounded all its crew. Then the 10‑inch columbiad became silent; the priming wire had been jammed and broken in the vent, and efforts to remove it were unavailing. At 1.45 P.M., General Tilghman, commanding the fort, saw that further resistance was useless, for he had but two guns now in action. After an engagement that had lasted one hour and fifteen minutes, he lowered his flag and to Foote.
An hour later Foote turned over the fort with the prisoners to Grant. The army had been so impeded by well-nigh impassable roads and swollen streams (the result of heavy rains for two days previous to the battle), that it had been able to take no part in the attack. In recognition of the splendid service rendered by the gunboats and their commanding officer, the captured fort was at once renamed "Fort Foote."
On the surrender of Fort Henry, Lieutenant-Commander Phelps, with the three wooden gunboats, proceeded •twenty-five miles up the Tennessee, where he destroyed the bridge and rendered useless for through traffic the important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Having compelled the Confederates, whom he surprised near the bridge, to destroy three boats loaded with military stores to prevent their capture, he continued to Cerro p296 Gordo, Tennessee. There he seized a large steamer, the Eastport, which was being remade into a gunboat. She was such a valuable prize that the Tyler remained to guard her and to put on board the materials that had been gathered for her rebuilding. She was later taken into the navy, and served for two years in the river operations. The Conestoga and the Lexington, going farther up the river, had seized two more steamers, one freighted with iron to be sent to Richmond. At Florence, Alabama, they discovered three steamers, but these were fired on their approach. They could not go beyond Florence because of the Muscle Shoal. Destroying the military stores along the route which they could not carry back, the gunboats then returned to Cairo, just in time to join the expedition against Fort Donelson.5
Because the Union army had been delayed in reaching the position in the rear of Fort Henry, most of the Confederate army had escaped. While a hundred men under General Tilghman had been replying to the attack of the gunboats, the main force had slipped past the Federal army and gone to Fort Donelson, •twelve miles distant on the Cumberland River. Here the Confederates, drawing in their lines, concentrated about 18,000 men, the commands of Generals Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. The fort occupied a bluff on the west bank of the Cumberland, and commanded the navigation of the river. It was much stronger than Fort Henry, and the Confederates realized its great importance to them. It was defended on the water side by two batteries, each •about thirty feet above high water and well constructed; the lower, or downstream, battery was armed with nine guns, one 10‑inch p297 columbiad and eight 32‑pounders; the upper battery with three guns, a 6½‑inch rifled gun and two 32‑pounder carronades.
After the capture of Fort Henry, General Grant, knowing that the Confederates would make every effort to increase their force at Donelson, recommended that the Union forces move forward at once and make a combined attack. Foote protested that the flotilla needed time for preparation, but as Halleck and Grant both deemed immediate action to be a military necessity, he yielded to their judgment. Since he had a force insufficient for the two gunboats that had been most injured in the recent battle two others that had been left behind at Cairo, and on February 12 he advanced up the Cumberland.
At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 14th, Foote engaged the water batteries at Fort Donelson. His plan of attack was similar to that employed at Fort Henry. With the armored gunboats St. Louis, Carondelet, Louisville, and Pittsburg in line abreast, he slowly advanced upon the enemy's works, beginning the action at the distance of •a mile, and reaching a position less than 400 yards away. The wooden gunboats Tyler and Conestoga, forming a second division, were to shell the batteries from a position considerably astern. As a slight protection from the plunging shot of the fort, all the hard materials of the boats, such as chains, coals in bags, and lumber, had been placed along the upper decks.
The contest was sharply fought, and lasted for an hour and a half. The fire of the batteries was terribly accurate, and not only swept the tops of the ironclads, destroying everything that was exposed, but occasionally penetrated the casemates or ports. "The St. Louis alone," Foote writes of his flagship, "received fifty-nine shots, four between wind and water, and one in the pilot house, p298 mortally wounding the pilot and others."6 The shot that entered the pilot house of the St. Louis carried away the wheel. About the same time the Confederates' fire injured the tiller-ropes of the Louisville. The attempt made to steer by relieving tackles failed in the rapid current, and the two boats, becoming unmanageable, drifted down the river and out of action. On the Carondelet, two pilots had already been disabled, and now the third was wounded. The wheel had been injured, and finally her starboard rudder was broken by the Pittsburg's fouling her. There was no alternative — the gunboats were unequal to the task and had to withdraw.
Admiral Mahan remarks on the attack, "Notwithstanding its failure, the tenacity and fighting qualities of the fleet were more markedly proved in this action than in the victory at Henry. The vessels were struck more frequently (the flagship fifty-nine times, and none less than twenty), and though the power of the enemy's guns was about the same in each case, the height and character of the soil at Donelson placed the fleet at a great disadvantage. The fire from above, reaching their sloping armor nearly at right angles, searched every weak point. . . . Despite these injuries, and the loss of fifty-four killed and wounded, the fleet was only shaken from its hold by accidents to the steering apparatus, after which their batteries could not be brought to bear."7
In his report, Foote expressed confidence that the gunboats would have captured both batteries, had their steering apparatus not been disabled, and had the action continued fifteen minutes longer. But the statements made by the defenders of the fort scarcely support his belief. General A. S. Johnston reported at the close of the engagement, p299 "No damage done to our battery and not a man killed," and Chief Engineer Gilmer said the same. The gunboats when near were at a disadvantage because of the elevation of the batteries. Foote perhaps could have fought on more equal terms by bombarding the works from a distance, but later experience at Island No. 10 and at the forts below New Orleans showed that a bombardment from a safe distance might be kept up day after day and cause little damage. Foote was looking for immediate results, and his dashing style of attack would have secured them had not the fort been so ably defended.
A hard fought battle followed the next day between the Union and Confederate armies, in which the Confederates at first had the advantage, but later were driven back to their fortifications. Early on the morning after, February 16, Fort Donelson surrendered. Grant had shown wisdom in beginning operations immediately on the capture of Fort Henry. The gunboats had been necessary for bringing up the troops in safety, and although the river attack had been checked, the navy was essential to the ultimate success.
Less than a week after the capture of Fort Donelson, the Confederates had begun to transfer the military supplies at Columbus to a point farther south, but they contrived to make the evacuation so skilfully that Flag-Officer Foote, making a reconnoissance while it was in progress, suspected nothing. The next stand the Confederates made at Island No. 10, so called because of its numerical position in the series of islands south of Cairo. It was •fifty-five miles from that city, and lay near the shore opposite Missouri close to the boundary separating Kentucky from Tennessee. The island has since been p300 swept away, and the river has somewhat changed. Here, at that time, the river by an extraordinary twist, like an "S" reversed (), gained in its flow of •twelve miles just •three to the south. The island, •two miles long by two‑thirds of a mile wide, lay at the bottom of the loop to the right, occupying, with the batteries on the Tennessee shore, a position admirably adapted for defense. For the Confederates had the river before them, and behind them (to the east) a large, impassable swamp, which made attack by land forces impossible so long as the defenders could control the river. But their position was one of great isolation. Supplies could reach them only by the river from the south, and when their communications from that quarter were cut off, they were helpless, and retreat was practically impossible.
Island No. 10
On March 15, 1862, Flag-Officer Foote, with a squadron p301 consisting of six ironclads and ten mortar boats, supported by Colonel Buford with 1200 troops, moved down the river to attack the island. General Pope, who had begun operations previous to their arrival, had occupied New Madrid on the loop above and to the northwest of Island No. 10. Though he was unable to cross the river because of Confederate gunboats, he planted batteries on the west bank as far south as Tiptonville (on the opposite bank, •fifteen miles down the river from New Madrid), and by them prevented Confederate transports from taking up supplies. On the 16th Foote's mortar boats took position and, opening fire, compelled several regiments on the island to change the location of their camp. Next day, at noon, the gunboats joined in an attack on the uppermost fort on the Tennessee shore, but kept at a safe distance of 2000 yards or more. Throughout the siege Foote was cautious. He well knew that if his gunboats were disabled, they would not be carried out of action by the current as at Henry and Donelson, but would be swept immediately under the enemy's guns. Further, he had to take into consideration that there was a Confederate fleet stationed below the island near Fort Pillow, reported to be not less powerful than his own; for if several of his boats should be lost, the Confederate fleet might capture the rest, and, steaming up the river, strike a heavy blow at Cairo.
The bombardment of the 16th and 17th, as of the days following, annoyed the enemy, at times temporarily silencing certain of the batteries, but seems to have done little injury. A rifle gun on the St. Louis burst during the engagement of the 17th, killing two and wounding thirteen, probably a much greater loss than the Confederates suffered from the combined fire of gunboats and mortars. The mortars, as Foote later observed, lacked effectiveness because the forts were widely separated and p302 presented a small target. The Confederate position, indeed, was too strong to be captured by direct attack, even if the Union fleet had been increased to two or three times its size. On the island were four batteries mounting twenty-three guns, on the Tennessee shore six batteries with thirty‑two guns; and there was, besides, a floating battery moored near the middle of the island reported as carrying nine or ten 9‑inch guns.
While the flotilla continued to bombard the forts during the latter half of March, General Pope was digging a canal to cut off the loop on which were all the fortifications; by means of this on April 4 he was able to take his light transports from above the Confederate works to New Madrid without passing Island No. 10. The gunboats, however, drew too much water to pass through the canal, and until Pope had gunboats to protect his troops in crossing from Missouri to Tennessee, he could not attack from the rear the Confederate works just opposite Island No. 10.
On March 20 Foote held a council of war and considered running the batteries with part of his squadron. All of his officers with the exception of Commander Walke opposed the plan. The risk was undeniably great, yet so urgent was the need of a gunboat to co‑operate with the army below New Madrid, that on March 30 Foote ordered Commander Walke, who was eagerly waiting for permission, to prepare for the perilous enterprise.
Meanwhile, an expedition, consisting of fifty men from the squadron and the same number from the army under the command of Colonel Roberts, performed a hazardous service. Late in the evening of April 1, the party, in five boats, crept down the river, keeping close under the shadow of the Kentucky shore towards the nearest battery, known as "No. 1 Fort." Taking the greatest care to avoid discovery, the men had come within ten yards p303 before the sentinels at the guns saw them and gave the alarm. Landing with great quickness, the Union force met with no resistance, and having spiked every gun, returned without losing a man.
This exploit was especially timely for the Union forces, as they were about to send a gunboat down the river. They gained another advantage later, when the fleet, by their fire, managed to cut loose the floating battery, which had been an important defense of the island. As the current was strong, the Confederates were not able to secure the battery till it had drifted •three miles below.
On the 4th of April, Walke announced to Foote that his vessel, the Carondelet, was ready to run the blockade. He had made use of some clever expedients to protect her from the enemy's fire. Around the boilers and engine room he had placed a barricade of heavy timber and loose iron. The parts of the sides without iron plating he had strengthened with bales of hay, lumber, and chain-cables; and to her port quarter had lashed a coal barge as an added safeguard to the magazine and shell rooms. The upper deck he had covered with lumber, cord wood, coal bags, chain-cables, and hawsers. And around the pilot house he had coiled cables and ropes •from twelve to eighteen inches thick.8
The plan was to run the batteries that evening, though conditions were not altogether favorable, for the afternoon indicated that a clear night was to follow. However, at sunset the sky became hazy, and at ten o'clock, when the Carondelet got under way, a thunder storm was about to break — conditions decidedly more promising.
During the first •half mile everything went well, and p304 the Carondelet, with her lights covered, was running so silently that there was hope that she might pass the batteries unobserved. But just as she came abreast the first, her flues caught fire, and, blazing up, disclosed her position. The flames were quickly checked, but five rockets, followed by a cannon shot from Fort No. 2, showed that the alarm had been given. Since the only course of safety for the Union vessel then lay in quick action, Walke crowded on steam and made all haste to pass the batteries.
The thunder storm now burst with great violence, and vivid flashes of lightning showed the hurried movements of the Confederates as they were running to their guns and charging them. Soon, with the heavy crashes of thunder and the torrents of rain were mingled the roar of the cannon and the fall of shot and musket balls. In order to avoid needless exposure, the men of the Carondelet were for the most part under cover. But Commander Walke, First Master Hoel (the chief pilot), and Wilson and Gilmore (the two leadsmen at the bow) kept their stations on deck through this double storm, exhibiting splendid coolness and courage.
It was difficult to keep the Carondelet with the cumbersome coal barge on the course because of the rapid current. And once, after an unusually long pause between the flashes of lightning, a timely illumination showed the pilot that he was running on a bar right under the enemy's guns. His prompt command, "Hard-a‑port!" saved the boat. The Confederates fired at almost the same moment, but they either did not sufficiently depress their guns or were firing without taking aim, for their shot had no effect. The Carondelet was subjected for thirty minutes to an almost uninterrupted fire of the batteries on the Tennessee shore, besides one at the head of the island; and when she had passed these, there was still the floating battery •three miles below to reckon with. A light burning p305 on its deck showed that the Confederates were there awaiting the gunboat. The Carondelet was not prepared to engage it, for in running past the forts everything on her decks and in her hold had been arranged with the idea of protection. Therefore, bearing over to the Missouri shore, she slipped by, being fired on only six or eight times. About midnight she arrived at New Madrid, and was joyfully welcomed by the forces of General Pope.
It seems almost incredible that in passing the gantlet of six forts and more than fifty guns the Carondelet should have escaped all injury. Not only had most of the Union officers believed that the project was too hazardous to justify attempting it, but the Confederates manning the forts had been confident that it was impossible of execution. The risk was unquestionably somewhat over-estimated, for two days later the Pittsburg repeated the exploit. However, this does not detract from the courage of Walke and his men.
"The passage of the Carondelet," remarks Mahan, "was not only one of the most daring and dramatic events of the war; it was also the death-blow to the Confederate defense of this position." Events followed in rapid succession. On April 6 General Granger accompanied Commander Walke in the Carondelet in making a reconnoissance of the fortifications on the Tennessee shore down to Tiptonville. Before their return the Union force stopped to engage one of the works, and, having silenced it, landed and spiked the guns. On the 7th the Carondelet and the Pittsburg took in succession the Confederate batteries on the east bank of the river and enabled Pope's army to cross in safety. Already the Confederates had become convinced that it was impossible to hold Island No. 10 much longer, and most of their force had withdrawn, leaving but a hundred artillerymen, who surrendered the forts to Flag-Officer Foote late in the evening of p306 April 7. But the Confederates' retreat had begun too late. Because of the impassable swamp on the east, their only road to safety was by way of Tiptonville; and when Pope with great celerity threw his army across the river, he captured the entire force. In this move of the Union army the Carondelet and the Pittsburg had been absolutely essential, and Pope recognized them as having an important part in his success. The number of prisoners taken by Pope and Foote together was 7273. Pope writes in his report of April 9, "Three generals, seven colonels, seven regiments, several battalions of infantry, five companies of artillery, over 100 heavy siege guns, twenty-four pieces of field artillery, an immense quantity of ammunition and supplies, and several thousand stand of small arms, a great number of tents, horses, wagons, etc., have fallen into our hands. Before abandoning Island No. 10, the enemy sank the gunboat Grampus and six of his transports. These last I am raising and expect to have ready for service in a few days. The famous floating battery was scuttled and turned adrift, with all her guns aboard. She was captured and run aground in shoal water by our forces at New Madrid."9
While the gunboats on the Mississippi were co‑operating with Pope to such advantage, the Tyler and the Lexington on the Tennessee River were rendering service not less important to Grant at Pittsburg Landing. On April 6 General A. S. Johnston had unexpectedly fallen upon the Union army, and in a fiercely contested battle lasting all day had driven the Federal troops from their camp, half way to the river. In the afternoon the fighting was especially determined on the Union army's left wing, which Johnston attempted to turn so as to get possession of the landing and the transports. General Hurlbut, p307 commanding this wing, was so hard pressed that he felt that without reinforcements he could not hold out for more than an hour longer. Then it was that the Tyler, by a rapid and well-directed fire, not only silenced the hostile batteries, but checked the Confederate advance. Later in the afternoon the Tyler and the Lexington shelled the Confederate batteries •three-quarters of a mile above the landing, and silenced them in thirty minutes. At 5.30 the enemy, almost everywhere victorious, had succeeded in gaining a position on the Union left, but the gunboats, with the Federal field batteries, drove them back in confusion. Early that evening the advance of Buell's army, from Nashville, came to the support of the shattered left wing. A disastrous defeat had been averted, and the battle of Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh, renewed on the following day, ended in victory.
Four days after the surrender of Island No. 10, Flag-Officer Foote started down the river, and, aside from one slight skirmish, met with no opposition until he reached Fort Pillow, •eighty miles below New Madrid on the Tennessee side. Here General Pope joined him with 20,000 troops, and though Fort Pillow was a strong position, the combined force would have captured it at an early date, had not Pope almost immediately been withdrawn by Halleck with all but 1500 of his army.
Among the enemies the squadron had to meet was the so‑called River Defense Fleet. This was composed of river steamboats, which, strengthened by iron casings at their bows and by an improvised protection for their boilers and engines, were to serve as rams. The commanders were Mississippi River captains and pilots, supposed to be under the military chief of department, but not subject to p308 orders from any naval officers. Farragut was destined to meet some of this fleet below New Orleans; and eight vessels of this class were now lying under the guns of Fort Pillow.
On May 9, Captain C. H. Davis took temporary command of the squadron, relieving Flag-Officer Foote, who was in need of rest and was troubled by a wound received at Fort Donelson. The next morning the Confederate rams made a sudden attack upon the Cincinnati, which, with a mortar boat, had moved down to bombard the fort. There was a difficulty in signaling, and as a result only four of the seven Union gunboats took part in the fight. The Confederates succeeded in ramming two of the gunboats so that they had to be run ashore to avoid sinking; on the other hand, three of the Confederate rams were disabled.
The Confederates had shown considerable dash and spirit as they made the attack, and the injuries they received were of such a character as to admit of speedy repair. However, this was the only time the River Defense Fleet ever performed any service of special value. Their lack of organization rendered them incapable of vigorous and sustained action.
The bombardment of Fort Pillow continued until the night of June 4, when it was evacuated. Next morning the squadron steamed down to Memphis and engaged the Confederate rams before the city. These were eight in number, and to oppose them Davis had five gunboats and two rams. A one‑sided engagement followed, in which the Confederates lost four of their boats, in return disabling only slightly one of the Union rams. The other four Confederate vessels then fled down the river; however, they were pursued, and in a running battle one was destroyed and two were captured. On the same day the city of Memphis surrendered; so that when Farragut, p309 who had already captured New Orleans, brought his fleet up the river and passed the fortifications of Vicksburg, Davis was able to join forces with him.
During four months the army and navy, co‑operating on the western rivers, had broken the Confederate line of defense along the southern border of Kentucky, and had pierced the second line at Corinth, Mississippi (near Pittsburg Landing). They had also captured all of the fortifications on the Mississippi down to Vicksburg. Thus they had saved Kentucky for the Union, and had largely retaken Tennessee.
The battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh were the first great defeats that the Confederate land forces had received, and served to weaken the confidence in their armies, which the South had come to believe were invincible. The people of the North were in danger of entertaining the same view, especially as McClellan, with the superior Army of the Potomac, was meeting with reverse after reverse in the Peninsula Campaign. The successes won by Grant and Foote in the West, almost at the same time, afforded a striking contrast, and served to keep the North from discouragement.
1 Eads, Recollections of Foote and the Gunboats, in Battles and Leaders, I, 338 ff.
2 Army War Records, VII, 132.
3 Ibid., VII, 122.
4 Report of Chief Engineer Gilmer.
5 For Phelps's report see Army War Records, VII, 153.
6 Foote's report will be found in the Army War Records, VII, 166.
7 Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, p27.
8 Walke's own account of the preparations and the exploit is to be found in his Scenes and Reminiscences, p120 ff.; also in Battles and Leaders, I, 441 ff.
9 Army War Records, VIII, 78.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A Short History
of the U. S. Navy
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 18 Mar 13