Published 1883, 1885







On the 4th of July, the same day that Vicksburg surren­dered, an attack was made upon Helena, in Arkansas, by the Confederates in force. The garrison at the same time num­bered 4, 000 men, the enemy were variously estimated at from 9,000 to 15,000. Having attacked the centre of the position; the Confederates carried the rifle-pits and a battery upon the hills, in rear of the town, which commanded all the other defensive works as well as the town itself. They then be­gan pushing masses of troops down the hill, while their sharpshooters were picking off the artillerists in the main fort, called Fort Curtis. Guns had also been placed in com­manding positions near the river, both above and below the town, and opened fire upon the line of defensive works across the river bottom, there about a thousand yards in width. Lieutenant-Commander Pritchett, of the Tyler, seeing how the assault was about to be made, placed his vessel in front of the town, so that her broadside played upon the enemy descending the hills, while their artillery above and below were exposed to her bow and stern guns. From this advan­tageous position the Tyler opened fire, and to her powerful battery and the judgment with which it was used must be mainly attributed the success of the day; for though the garrison fought with great gallantry and tenacity, they were outnumbered two to one. The enemy were driven back with great slaughter. General Prentiss, commanding the post, took occasion to acknowledge, in the fullest and most generous manner, Pritchett's care in previously acquainting himself with the character of the ground, as well as the as­sistance afterward rendered by him in the fight. Four hun­dred of the enemy were buried on the field and 1,100 were made prisoners.

While Grant was occupied at Vicksburg and Banks at Port Hudson, General Taylor, commanding the Confederate forces in West Louisiana, had concentrated, on the morning of the 6th of June, a force of three brigades at Richmond, about ten miles from Milliken's Bend and twenty from Young's Point. At Milliken's there was a brigade of Negro troops, with a few companies of the Twenty-third Iowa white regiment, in all 1,100 men; and at Young's a few scattered detachments, numbering 500 or 600. Taylor determined to try a surprise of both points, having also a vague hope of communicating with Vicksburg, or causing some diversion in its favor. At sundown of the 6th one brigade was moved toward Milliken's Bend one toward Young's Point, the third taking a position in reserve six miles from Richmond. The force directed against Young's Point blundered on its way, got there in broad daylight, and, finding a gunboat present, retired without making any serious attempt. The other brigade, commanded by McCulloch, reached its destination about 3 A.M. Of the 7th, drove in the pickets and advanced with determination upon the Union lines. The latter were gradually forced back of the levee, the Iowa regiment fight­ing with great steadiness, and the Negroes behaving well individually; but they lacked organization and knowledge of their weapons. Accordingly when the enemy, who were much superior in numbers, charged the levee and came hand to hand, the colored troops, after a few moments of desperate struggle, broke and fled under the bank of the river. Nothing saved them from destruction but the presence of the Choctaw, which at 3.30 A.m. had opened her fire and was now able to maintain it without fear of injuring her friends. The Confederates could not, or would not face it, and withdrew at 8.30 A.M. What the fate of these black troops would have been had the Confederates come upon them in the flush of a successful charge seems somewhat doubtful, in view of Taylor's suggestive remark that "unfortunately some fifty of them had been taken prisoners."

Immediately after the surrender of Vicksburg, Porter fol­lowed up the discomfiture of the Confederates by a series of raids into the interior of the country through its natural water-ways. Lieutenant-Commander Walker was again sent up to Yazoo City, this time in company with a force of troops numbering 5,000, under Major-General Herron. During the month that had passed since Walker's last visit, the enemy had been fortifying the place, and the batteries were found ready to receive the vessels. General Herron was then notified, and when his men were landed, a combined attack was made by the army and navy. The Confederates made but slight resistance and soon fled, abandoning everything. Six heavy guns and one vessel fell into the Union hands, and four fine steamers were destroyed by the enemy. Un­fortunately, while the DeKalb was moving slowly along she struck a torpedo, which exploded under her bow and sunk her. As she went down another exploded under her stern, shattering it badly. This gunboat, which at first was called the St. Louis, was the third to be lost of the seven. The Cincinnati was afterward raised; but the DeKalb was so shattered as to make it useless to repair her.

At this same time Lieutenant-Commander Selfridge, with a force of light-draught gunboats, entered the Red River, turned out of it into the Black, and from the latter again into the Tensas; following one of the routes by which Grant had thought to move his army below Vicksburg. This water-line runs parallel with the Mississippi. Selfridge suc­ceeded in reaching the head of navigation, Tensas Lake and Bayou Macon, thirty miles above Vicksburg, and only five or six from the Mississippi. The expedition was divided at a tributary of the Black, called Little Red River; two going up it, while two. continued up the Tensas. After­ward it went up the Washita as far as Harrisonburg, where the batteries stopped them. Four steamers were destroyed, together with a quantity of ammunition and provisions.

A few weeks later, in August, Lieutenant Bache, late of the Cincinnati, went up the White River with three gun­boats, the Lexington, Cricket, and Marmora. At a second Little Red River, a narrow and crooked tributary of the White, the Cricket was sent off to look for two steamers said to be hidden there. Bache himself went on to Augusta, thirty miles further up the White, where he got certain news of the movements of the Confederate army in Arkansas; thus attaining one of his chief objects. He now returned to the mouth of the Little Red, and, leaving the Marmora there, went up himself to see how the Cricket had fared. The little vessel was met coming down; bringing with her the two steamers, but having lost one man killed and eight wounded in a brush with sharpshooters. On their return the three vessels were waylaid at every available point by musketry, but met with no loss. They had gone two hun­dred and fifty miles up the White, and forty up the Little Red River.

During a great part of 1863, Tennessee and Kentucky, be­yond the lines of the Union army, were a prey not only to raids by detached bodies of the enemy's army, but also to the operations of guerillas and light irregular forces. The ruling feeling of the country favored the Confederate. cause, so that every hamlet and farm-house gave a refuge to these marauders, while at the same time the known existence of some Union feeling made it hard for officers to judge, in all cases, whether punishment should fall on the places where the attacks were made. The country between the Cumber­land and Tennessee Rivers early in the year harbored many of these irregular bodies, having a certain loose organization and a number of field-pieces. The distance between the two streams in the lower part of their course being small, they were able to move from the banks of one to the other with ease. It was necessary, therefore, to keep these rivers patrolled by a force of gunboats; which, though forming part of Porter's fleet, were under the immediate orders of Captain Alexander M. Pennock, commanding the naval sta­tion at Cairo. West of the rivers, between them and the great river, the western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee and the northern part of Mississippi were under control of the Union troops, though inroads of guerillas were not un­known. Nashville was held by the Union forces; but the Confederates were not far away at Shelbyville and Tulla­homa. The fights between the gunboats and the hostile parties on these rivers do not individually possess much im­portance, but have an interest in showing the unending and essential work performed by the navy in keeping the com­munications open, aiding isolated garrisons, and checking the growth of the guerilla war.

On the 30th of January Lieutenant-Commander S. L. Phelps, having been sent by Captain Pennock in the Lexington to make a special examination of the condition of af­fairs on the Cumberland River, reported that, a transport having been fired upon twenty miles above Clarksville, he had landed and burned a storehouse used as a resort by the enemy. As he returned the vessel was attacked with some Parrott rifles and struck three times; but the heavy guns of the Lexington drove the enemy off. Going down to Clarks­ville he met there a fleet of thirty-one steamers, having many barges in tow, convoyed by three light-draught gun­boats. These he joined, and the enemy having tested the power of the Lexington, did not fire a shot between Clarks­ville and Nashville. As a result of his enquiries he thought that no transport should be allowed to go without convoy higher than Fort Henry or Donelson, situated on either river on the line separating Kentucky and Tennessee. The Lexington was therefore detained, and for a time added to the flotilla on those rivers.

Four days later, Lieutenant-Commander Le Roy Fitch, in active charge of the two rivers, was going up the Cumber­land with a fleet of transports, convoyed by the Lexington and five light-draughts. When twenty-four miles below Dover, the town on the west bank near which Fort Donelson was situated, he met a steamer bearing a message from Col­onel Harding, commanding the post, to the effect that his pickets had been driven in and that he was attacked in force. Fitch at once left the convoy and pushed ahead as fast as he could. A short distance below the town he met a second steamer with the news that Harding was surrounded. At 8 P.m. he arrived, and found the Union forces not only sur­rounded by overwhelming forces but out of ammunition.

The enemy, not thinking about gunboats, had posted the main body of his troops in a graveyard at the west end of the town, the left wing resting in a ravine that led down to the river, thus enabling the vessels to rake that portion of his line. The gunboats opened fire simultaneously up the ra­vine, into the graveyard and, upon the valley beyond. Taken wholly by surprise, the Confederates did not return a shot, but decamped in haste. Leaving two boats to maintain the fire through the ravine, Fitch hastened up with the other four to shell the main road, which, after leaving the upper end of the town, follows nearly the bank of the stream for some distance. The attacking force in this case was 4,500 strong, composed of regular Confederate troops under Gen­erals Wheeler, Forrest, and What-ton. By 11 P.m. they had disappeared, leaving 140 dead. The garrison, which num­bered only 800, had defended itself gallantly against this overwhelming force since noon, but was in extremis when the gunboats arrived.

On the 27th of March, Fitch was at Fort Hindman, on the Tennessee, where he took on board a force of 150 soldiers and went up the river. On reaching Savanna he heard of a cotton-mill four miles back being run for the Confeder­ate army. The troops and a force of sailors were landed and took the mill, although a regiment of the enemy's cav­alry was but two or three miles away. Finding no sure proof of its working for the army, they did not destroy the building, but removed some of the essential parts of the machinery. Going on to Chickasaw, south of the Tennessee line, as the water was too low for the Lexington, he sent on two light-draughts as far as Florence, where they shelled a camp of the enemy. The rapid falling of the river obliged them to return. On the way a quantity of food and live stock belonging to a noted abettor of guerilla warfare were seized.

Having returned to the mouth of the Cumberland to coal, Fitch received a telegram on the 3d of April that a convoy had been attacked at Palmyra, thirty miles above Dover, and the gunboat St. Clair disabled. He at once got under way, took five light-draughts besides his own vessel, the Lexington, and went up the river. When he reached Palmyra he burned every house in the town, as a punishment for the firing on unarmed vessels and harboring guerillas. A quick movement followed against a body of the enemy higher up the stream, but they had notice of his approach, and had disappeared.

On the 24th a steamer was fired upon in the Tennessee, and three men badly wounded. Fitch went at once to the scene, but the enemy were off. On the 26th, cruising up the river, he found the vessels of General Ellet, commanding what was now called the Marine Brigade, fighting a battery and body of infantry 700 strong. Fitch joined in, and the enemy were of course repulsed. The Marine Brigade landed and pursued the enemy some distance, finding their com­mander mortally wounded.

On the 26th of May Lieutenant-Commander Phelps, with the Covington and two other gunboats, was at Hamburg, on the Tennessee, a few miles from the Mississippi State line. Here he ferried across 1,500 cavalry and four light field­pieces from Corinth, in Mississippi, under Colonel Cornyn. This little body made a forced march upon Florence, forty miles distant, in rear of the left of the Confederate army at Columbia, captured the place and destroyed a large amount of property, including three cotton-mills. An attempt was made by the enemy to cut this force off on its return to the boats, but without success.

Early in July a very daring raid was made by General J. H. Morgan of the Confederate army into the States of Ken­tucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Crossing the Ohio River at Brandenburg, he moved in an easterly direction through the southern part of Indiana and Ohio, burning bridges, tearing up railroads, destroying public property, capturing small bodies of troops, and causing general consternation. Fitch heard of him, and at once started up the river with his lightest vessels to cut off the retreat of the raiders. Leaving some boats to patrol the river below, he himself, in the Moose, came up with them on the 19th, at a ford a mile and a half above Buffington Island, and two hundred and fifty miles east of Cincinnati. The retreating enemy had placed two field-pieces in position, but the Moose's battery of 24­pound howitzers drove them off with shell and shrapnel. The troops in pursuit had come up, so the Confederates, finding their retreat stopped, broke and ran up the stream in headlong flight, leaving their wounded and dismounted men behind. The Moose followed, keeping always on their right flank, and stopping two other efforts made to cross. Only when the water became too shoal for even his little paddle steamer of one hundred and sixty tons to go on, did Finch stop the chase, which had led him five hundred miles from his usual station. His efforts and their useful results were cordially acknowledged by Generals Burnside and Cox, at Cincinnati.

During the siege of Port Hudson the enemy on the west bank of the Mississippi made several demonstrations against Donaldsonville and Plaquemine, with a view to disturb­ing General Banks's communications; threatening also New Orleans, which was not well prepared for defence. Farragut stationed the Princess Royal, Commander Woolsey, at Don­aldsonville; the Winona, Lieutenant-Commander Weaver, above at Plaquemine, and the Kineo, Lieutenant-Commander Watters, some distance below. The Confederates attacked the fort at Donaldsonville in force at midnight of June 27th. The Princess Royal kept under way above the fort, engaging the assailants, the Winona arriving at 4 A.M. and joining with her. The Kineo also came up from below, but not in time to take part. The storming party of the enemy succeeded in getting into the fort, but the supports broke and fled under the fire of the gunboats, leaving the advance, numbering 120, prisoners in the hands of the garrison. On the 7th of July, as the Monongahela was coming up the river, some field batteries of the enemy attacked her, and her commander, Abner Read, an officer of distinguished activity and courage, was mortally wounded. Her other loss was 1 killed and 4 wounded; among the latter being Captain Thornton A. Jenkins, on his way to assume command of the Richmond and of the naval forces off Port Hudson.

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