Published 1883, 1885







Upon the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson two objects in the Southwest were presented to the consideration of the Government at Washington-Mobile and Texas. General Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf, was anxious to proceed against the former; a desire fully shared by the navy, which knew that sooner or later it must be called upon to attack that seaport, and that each day of delay made its defenses stronger. Considerations of general policy, con­nected with the action of France in Mexico and the apparent unfriendly attitude of the Emperor Napoleon III. toward the United States, decided otherwise. On the 10th of June, 1863, just a month before the fall of the strongholds of the Mississippi, the French army entcred the city of Mexico. On the 24th of July General Banks was instructed to make immediate preparations for an expedition to Texas. This was speedily followed by other urgent orders to occupy some point or points of Texan territory, doubtless as an indication that the course of interference begun in the weaker republic would not be permitted to extend to lands over which the United States claimed authority, though actually in revolt. The expectation that France would thus attempt to interfere was far from lacking foundation, and was shared, with appre­hension, by the Confederate Government. A year before, M. Theron, a French consul in Texas, acting in his official capacity, had addressed a letter to the Governor of the State, suggesting that the re-establishment of the old republic of Texas, in other words, the secession of the State from the Con­federacy, might be well for his "beloved adopted country;" and ended by saying that the Governor's answer would be a guide to him in his political correspondence with the government he represented. In consequence of this letter, M. Theron and the French consul at Richmond, who had also been meddling with Texan affairs, were ordered to leave the Confederate States. The object evidently was to set up an independent republic between the new empire in Mexico and whichever power, Union or Confederacy, should triumph in the Civil War.

The Commander-in-Chief, General Halleck, expressed his own preference for a movement by the Red River to Shreve­port, in the northwest corner of Louisiana, and the military occupation from that point of northern Texas, but left the decision as to taking that line of operation, or some other, to General Banks. The latter, for various reasons, principally the great distance of Shreveport, seven hundred miles from New Orleans, and the low state of the Red River, which en­tirely precluded water transportation, chose to operate by the sea-coast, and took as the first point of attack Sabine Pass and city, three hundred miles from Southwest Pass, where the river Sabine, separating the States of Louisiana and Texas, enters the Gulf. If he could make good his foot­ing here at once,, he hoped to be able to advance on Beau­mont, the nearest point on the railroad, and thence on Houston, the capital and railway centre of the State, which is less than one hundred miles from Sabine City, before the enemy could be ready to repel him.

Owing to lack of transportation, all the troops for the des­tined operations could not go forward at once. The first division of 4,000, under Major-General Franklin, sailed from New Orleans on the 5th of September. Commodore Henry H. Bell, commanding the Western Gulf Squadron in the absence of Farragut, detailed the gunboats Clifton, Sachem, Arizona, and Granite City to accompany the expedition, Lieutenant Frederick Crocker of the Clifton being senior of­ficer. With the exception of the Clifton they were all of very light armament, but were the only available vessels of sufficiently small draught, the naval-built gunboats of the Cayuga class drawing too much water to cross the bar.

The transports arrived off the Pass on the morning of the 7th, the gunboats coming in the same evening. The next morning at eight the Clifton, followed soon after by the other gunboats and the transports, crossed the bar and anchored inside about two miles from the fort. At 3.30 A.M. the Clifton, Sachem, and Arizona advanced to attack the works. At four the Sachem received a shot in her boilers and was at once enveloped in steam. A few minutes later the Clifton grounded and also was struck in the boilers, but kept up her fire for twenty or thirty minutes longer; then both the dis­abled vessels hauled down their flags. The army now aban­doned the expedition, and the transports with the remaining gunboats withdrew during the night. In this unfortunate affair the Clifton lost 10 killed and 9 wounded, the Sachem 7 killed, the wounded not being given. There were 39 missing from the two vessels, many of whom were drowned.

The hopes of success being dependent upon a surprise, this route was now abandoned. Banks entertained for a little while the idea of advancing from Berwick Bay by land, crossing the Sabine at Niblett's Bluff; but the length of the communication and difficulty of the country deterred him. The Red River Route would not be available before the spring rise. To carry out the wish of the Government he next determined to land at the extreme end of the Texas coast line, near the Rio Grande, and work his way to the eastward. A force of 3,500 men, under General Dana, was or­ganized for this expedition, which sailed from New Orleans on the 26th of October, Banks himself going with it. The transports were convoyed by the ships-of-war Monongahela, Owasco, and Virginia, Captain James H. Strong of the Monongahela being senior officer. The fleet was somewhat scat­tered by a norther on the 30th, but on the 2d of November a landing was made on Brazos Island at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The next day another detachment was put on shore on the main-land, and Brownsville, thirty miles from the mouth of the river, was occupied on the 6th. Leaving a garrison here, the troops were again embarked on the 16th and carried one hundred and twenty miles up the coast to Corpus Christi, at the southern end of Mustang Island, where they landed and marched to the upper end of the island, a distance of twenty-two miles. Here was a small work, mounting three guns, which was shelled by the Mononga­hela and surrendered on the approach of the army. The troops now crossed the Aransas Pass and moved upon Pass Cavallo, the entrance to Matagorda Bay. There was here an extensive work called Fort Esperanza, which the army in­vested; but on the 30th the enemy withdrew by the penin­sula connecting with the main-land, thus leaving the control of the bay in the hands of the Union forces. The light gun­boats Granite City and Estrella were sent inside.

So far all had gone well and easily; the enemy had offered little resistance and the United States flag had been raised in Texas. Now, however, Banks found powerful works confronting him at the mouth of the Brazos River and at Galveston. To reduce these he felt it necessary to turn into the interior and come upon them in the rear, but the forces of the enemy were such as to deter him from the at­tempt unless he could receive reinforcements. Halleck had looked with evident distrust upon this whole movement, by which a small force had been separated from the main body by the width of Louisiana and Texas, with the enemy's army between the two, and the reinforcements were not forth­coming; but recurring to his favorite plan of operating by the Red River and Shreveport, without giving positive orders to adopt it, the inducement was held out that, if that line were taken up, Steele's army in Arkansas and such forces as Sherman could detach should be directed to the same object. The co-operation of the Mississippi squadron was also promised.

It was necessary, however, that this proposed expedition should be taken in hand and carried through promptly, be­cause both Banks's own troops and Sherman's would be needed in time to take part in the spring and summer cam­paigns east of the Mississippi; while at the same time the movement could not begin until the Red River should rise enough to permit the passage of the gunboats and heavy transports over the falls above Alexandria, which would not ordinarily be before the month of March.

The two months of January and February were spent in inactivity in the Department of the Gulf, but frequent com­munications were held between the three generals whose forces were to take part in the movement. On the 1st of March Sherman came to New Orleans to confer with Banks, and it was then arranged that he should send 10,000 men under a good commander, who should meet Porter at the mouth of the Red River, ascend the Black, and strike a hard blow at Harrisonburg, if possible, and at all events be at Alexandria on the 17th of March. Banks on his part was to reach there at the same date, marching his army from Franklin by way of Opelousas, and to conduct his movement on Shreveport with such celerity as to enable the detachment from Sherman's corps to get back to the Mississippi in thirty days from the time they entered the Red River. General Steele was directed by Grant to move toward Shreveport from Little Rock, a step to which he was averse, and his movements seem to have had little, if any, effect upon the fortunes of the expedition. Having finished his business, Sherman went back at once, resisting the ur­gent invitation of General Banks, whose military duties seem to have been somewhat hampered by civil calls, to remain over the 4th of March and participate in the inauguration of a civil government for Louisiana, in which the Anvil Chorus was to be played by all the bands in the Army of the Gulf, the church bells rung, and cannons fired by electricity.

General Franklin, who was to command the army advan­cing from Franklin by Opelousas, did not receive his orders to move till the 10th, which was too late to reach Alexandria, one hundred and seventy-five miles away, by the 17th. More­over, the troops which had been recalled from the Texas coast, leaving only garrisons at Brownsville and Matagorda, had just arrived at Berwick Bay and were without transpor­tation; while the cavalry had not come up from New Orleans. The force got away on the 13th and 14th and reached Alexandria on the 25th and 26th.

Meanwhile, Sherman, having none but military duties to embarrass him, was in Vicksburg on the 6th, and at once issued his orders to General A. J. Smith, who was to coin­wand the corps detached up the Red river. On the 11th Smith was at the mouth of the River, where he met Por­ter, who bad been there since the 2d, and had with him the following vessels: Essex, Commander Robert Townsend; Eastport, Lieutenant-Commander S. L. Phelps; Black Hawk, Lieutenant-Commander K. R. Breese; Lafayette, Lieutenant-Commander J. P. Foster; Benton, Lieutenant­Commander J. A. Greer; Louisville, Lieutenant-Com­mander E. K. Owen; Carondelet, Lieutenant-Commander J. G. Mitchell; Osage, Lieutenant-Commander T. O. Self­ridge; Ouachita, Lieutenant-Commander Byron Wilson; Lexington, Lieutenant G. M. Bache; Chillicothe, Lieu­tenant S. P. Couthouy; Pittsburg, Lieutenant W. R. Hoel; Mound City, Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne; Neosho, Lieu­tenant Samuel Howard; Ozark, Lieutenant G. W. Browne; Fort Hindman, Lieutenant John Pearce; Cricket, Master H. H. Gorringe; Gazelle, Master Charles Thatcher.

Most of these vessels will be recognized as old acquaint­ances. The last three were light-draughts, the Cricket and Gazelle being but little over 200 tons. The Ouachita was a paddle-wheel steamer, carrying in broadside, on two decks, a numerous battery of howitzers, eighteen 24-pounders and sixteen 12-pounders (one of the latter being rifled); and besides these, five 30-pounder rides as bow and stern guns. The Ozark, Osage, and Neosho, were ironclads of very light draught, having a single turret clad with 6-inch armor in which were mounted two XI-inch guns. They were moved by stern paddle-wheels covered with an iron house, of 4-inch plates, which was higher than the turret, and from a broad­side view looked like a gigantic beehive. The Essex did not go farther than the mouth of the river.

Early on the morning of March 12th the gunboats started up, the transports following. There was just enough water to allow the, larger boats to pass. The transports, with the Benton, Pittsburg, Louisville, Mound City, Carondelet, Chillicothe, Ouachita, Lexington, and Gazelle turned off into the Atchafalaya, the admiral accompanying this part of his squadron; while Lieutenant-Commander Phelps with the other vessels continued up the Red River to remove ob­structions, which the enemy had planted across the stream eight miles below Fort de Russy.

The army landed at Simmesport on the 13th, taking pos­session there of the camping-ground of the enemy, who re­treated on Fort do Russy. The next day at daylight they were pursued, and Smith's corps, after a march of twenty­eight miles, in which it was delayed two hours to build a bridge, reached the fort in time to assault and take it before sundown. The Confederate General Walker had withdrawn the main body of his troops, leaving only 300 men, who could offer but slight resistance. Eight heavy guns and two field-pieces were taken.

The detachment of vessels under Lieutenant-Commander Phelps were at first delayed by the difficulty of piloting the Lafayette and Choctaw, long vessels of heavy draft, through the narrow and crooked river. The 13th thus wore away slowly, and on the 14th they reached the obstructions. Two rows of piles had been driven across the channel, braced, and tied together; immediately below them was a raft well secured to either bank and made of logs which did not float. Finally a great many trees had been cut and floated down upon the piles from above. The Fort Hindman removed a portion of the raft, and then the Eastport got to work on the piles, dragging out some and starting others by ramming. By four o'clock in the afternoon a large enough gap had been made, and the Eastport, followed by the Hindman, Osage, and Cricket, hastened up the river. Rapid artillery firing was heard as they drew near the works, but being ig­norant of the position of the Union troops, few shots were fired for fear of injuring them. The slight engagement was ended by the surrender, a few moments after the boats came up. An order from the admiral to push on at once to Alex­andria was delayed five hours in transmission. When it was received, the fastest vessels, the Ouachita and Lexington, were sent on, followed by the Eastport, but got there just as the last of the Confederate transports passed over the Falls. One of them grounded and was burnt.

These advance vessels reached Alexandria on the evening of the 15th, the admiral with the rest on the 16th; at which time there had also come up from 7,000 to 8,000 of Smith's corps, the remainder being left at Fort do Russy.

Alexandria was the highest point reached by the fleet the May before. Shreveport, the object of the present expedi­tion, is three hundred and forty miles farther up the Red River. It was the principal depot of the Confederates west of the Mississippi, had some machine-shops and dockyards, and was fortified by a line of works of from two to three miles radius, commanding the opposite bank. Between the two places the river, which gets its name from the color of its water, flows through a fertile and populous country, the banks in many places being high, following in a very crooked channel a general southeasterly direction. In this portion of its course it has a width of seven hundred to eight hun­dred feet, and at low water a depth of four feet. The slope from Shreveport to Alexandria at high water is a little over a hundred feet, but immediately above the latter place there are two small rapids, called the Falls of Alexandria, which interrupt navigation when the water is low. The an­nual rise begins in the early winter, and from December to June the river is in fair boating condition for its usual traf­fic; but water enough for the gunboats and transports to pass the Falls could not be expected before the spring rise in March. The river, however, can never be confidently trusted. For twenty years before 1864 it had only once failed to rise, in 1855; but this year it was exceptionally backward, and so caused much embarrassment to the fleet.

General Banks came in on the 26th of March and the last of Franklin's corps on the 28th. Smith's command was then moved on to Bayou Rapides, twenty-one miles above Alexan­dria. The slow rise of the river was still detaining the ves­sels. There was water enough for the lighter draughts, but, as the enemy was reported to have some ironclad vessels not far above, the Admiral was unwilling to let them go up until one of the heavier gunboats had passed. The Eastport was, therefore sent up first, being delayed two or three days on the rocks of the rapids, and at last hauled over by main force. She at once passed ahead of Smith's corps. The Mound City, Carondelet, Pittsburg, Louisville, Chillicothe, Ozark, Osage, Neosho, Lexington, and Hindman also went above the Falls, as did some thirty transports. At this time the Marine Brigade, which was now under the army and formed part of Smith's command, was summoned back to Vicksburg, taking 3,000 men from the expedition. The river continuing to rise slowly, it was thought best to keep two lines of transports, one above and one below the Falls, and to transship stores around them. This made it necessary to establish a garrison at Alexandria, which further reduced the force for the field.

Banks's own army marched by land to Natchitoches, eighty miles distant, arriving there on the 2d and 3d of April; but Smith's command went forward on transports convoyed by the gunboats and reached Grand Ecore, four miles from Natchitoches, on the 3d. Here it landed, except one division of 2,000 men under General T. Kilby Smith, who took charge of the transports, now numbering twenty-six, many of them large boats. These Smith was directed to take to the mouth of Loggy Bayou, opposite Springfield, where it was expected he would again communicate with the army. So far the water had been good, the boats having a foot to spare; but as the river was rising very slowly, the admiral would not take his heavy boats any higher. Leaving Lieutenant­Commander Phelps in command at Grand Ecore, with in­structions to watch the water carefully and not be caught above a certain bar, a mile lower down, Porter went ahead with the Cricket, Hindman, Lexington, Osage, Neosho, Chillicothe, and the transports, on the 7th of April.

The army marched out on the 6th and 7th, directed upon Mansfield. The way led through a thickly wooded country by a single road, which was in many places too narrow to ad­mit of two wagons passing. On the night of the 7th Banks reached Pleasant Hill, where Franklin then was; the cavalry division, numbering 3,300 mounted infantry, being eight miles in advance, Smith's command fifteen miles in the rear. The next day the advance was resumed, and, at about fifteen miles from Pleasant Hill, the cavalry, which had been re­inforced by a brigade of infantry, became heavily engaged with a force largely outnumbering it. After being pushed back some little distance, this advanced corps finally gave way in confusion. Banks had now been some time on the field. At 4.15 P.m. Franklin came up, and, seeing how the affair was going, sent word back to General Emory of his corps, to form line of battle at a place he named, two miles in the rear. The enemy came on rapidly, and as the cavalry train of one hundred and fifty wagons and some eighteen or twenty pieces of artillery were close in rear of the discomfited troops, it was not possible, in the narrow road, to turn and save them. Emory, advancing rapidly in accordance with his orders, met flying down the road a crowd of disorgan­ized cavalry, wagons, ambulances, and loose animals, through which his division had to force its way, using violence to do so. As the enemy's bullets began to drop among them, the division reached a suitable position for deploying, called by Banks Pleasant Grove, three miles in rear of the first action. Here the line was formed, and the enemy, seemingly not expecting to meet any opposition, were received when within a hundred yards by a vigorous fire, before which they gave way in about fifteen minutes. By this time it was dark, and toward midnight the command fell back to Pleasant Hill, where it was joined by A. J. Smith's corps.

The following day, at 5 P.M., the enemy again attacked at Pleasant Hill, but were. repulsed so decidedly that the result was considered a victory by the Union forces, and by the Confederates themselves a serious check; but for various reasons Banks thought best to fall back again to Grand Ecore. The retreat was continued that night, and on the night of the 11th the army reached Grand Ecore, where it threw up intrenchments and remained ten days. As yet there was no intention of retreating farther.

Meanwhile the navy and transports had pressed hopefully up the river. The navigation was very bad, the river crooked and narrow, the water low and beginning to fall, the bottom full of snags and stumps, and the sides bristling with cypress logs and sharp, hard timbers. Still, the distance, one hundred and ten miles, was made in the time appointed, and Spring­field Landing reached on the afternoon of the 10th. Here the enemy had sunk a large steamer across the channel, her bow resting on one shore and her stern on the other, while the body amidships was broken down by a quantity of bricks and mud loaded upon her. Porter and Kilby Smith were consulting how to get rid of this obstacle, when they heard of the disaster and retreat of the army. Smith was ordered by Banks to return, and there was no reason for Porter to do otherwise. The following day they fell back to Coushattee Chute, and the enemy began the harassment which they kept up throughout the descent to, and even below, Alexan­dria. The first day, however, the admiral was able to keep them for the most part in check, though from the high banks they could fire down on the decks almost with impunity. The main body of the enemy was on the southern bank, but on the north there was also a force under a General Liddell, numbering, with Harrison's cavalry, perhaps 2,500 men.

On the 12th a severe and singular fight took place. At four in the afternoon the Hastings, transport, on which Kilby Smith was, having disabled her wheel, had run into the right bank for repairs. At the same moment the Alice Vivian, a heavy transport, with four hundred cavalry horses, was aground in the middle of the stream; as was the gunboat Osage, Lieutenant-Commander Selfridge. Two other trans­ports were alongside the Vivian, and a third alongside the Osage, trying to move them. Another transport, called the Bob Roy, having on her decks four siege guns, bad just come down and was near the Osage. The Lexington, gun­boat, Lieutenant Bache, was near the northern shore, but afloat. The vessels being thus situated, a sudden attack was made from the right bank by 2,000 of the enemy's infantry and four field pieces. The gunboats, the Rob Roy with her siege guns, and two field pieces on the other trans­ports all replied, the Hastings, of course, casting off from her dangerous neighborhood. This curious contest lasted for nearly two hours, the Confederate sharpshooters shelter­ing themselves behind the trees, the soldiers on board the transports behind bales of hay. There could be but one issue to so ill-considered an attack, and the enemy, after losing 700 men, were driven off; their commander, General Thomas Green, a Texan, being among the slain. The large loss is accounted for by the fact that besides the two thousand actually engaged there were five thousand more some distance back, who shared in the punishment.

The following day an attack was made from the north bank, but no more from the south before reaching Grand Ecore on the 14th and 15th. The admiral himself, being con­cerned for the safety of his heavy vessels in the falling river, hurried there on the 13th, and on his arrival reported the condition of things above to Banks, who sent out a force to clear the banks of guerillas as far as where the transports lay. Lieutenant-Commander Phelps had already moved all the vessels below the bar at Grand Ecore, but had recalled four to cover the army when it returned. The admiral now sent them all below to move slowly toward Alexandria. His position was one of great perplexity. The river ought to be rising, but was actually falling; there was danger if he delayed that he might lose some of the boats, but on the other hand he felt it would be a stain upon the navy to look too closely to its own safety, and it was still possible that the river might take a favorable turn. He had decided to keep four of the light-draughts above the bar till the very last moment, remaining with them himself, when he received news that the Eastport had been sunk by a torpedo eight miles below. The accident happened on the 15th, the vessel having been previously detained on the bar nearly twenty­four hours. The admiral left Lieutenant-Commander Self­ridge in charge at Grand Ecore and at once went to the scene, where he found the Eastport in shoal water but sunk to her gun-deck, the water on one side being over it. The Lexington and a towboat were alongside helping to pump her out. Giving orders that she should be lightened, he kept on down to Alexandria to start two pump-boats up to her and to look after the affairs of the squadron both along the Red River and in the Mississippi. On his return, two days later, he found her with her battery and ammunition out and the pump-boats alongside. By this time it was known that the army would not advance again, and that Banks was anxious to get back to Alexandria. The officers and crew of the Eastport worked night and day to relieve her, and on the 21st she was again afloat, with fires started, but as yet they had not been able to come at the leak. That day she made twenty miles, but at night grounded on a bar, to get over which took all the 22d. Four or five miles farther down she again grounded, and another day was spent in getting her off. Two or three times more she was gotten clear and made a few more miles down the river by dint of extreme effort; but at last, on the 26th, she grounded on some logs fifty miles below the scene of the accident, in a position evidently hopeless.

Selfridge's division of light ironclads had been compelled by the falling water to drop below the bar at Grand Ecore, and, as they were there of no further use to the army, had continued down to Alexandria, except the Hindman, which was kept by the Eastport. On the 22d the army evacuated Grand Ecore and marched for Alexandria. On this retreat the advance and rear-guard had constant skir­mishing with the enemy. At Cane River the Confederates had taken position to dispute the crossing, and the advance had a serious fight to drive them off. The rear-guard also had one or two quite sharp encounters, but the army reached Alexandria without serious loss on the 26th.

The Eastport and Fort Hindman were now in a very seri­ous position, aground in a hostile river, their own army sixty miles away, and between it and them the enemy lining the banks of the river. The admiral, having seen the rest of his fleet in safety, returned to the crippled boat, taking with him only two tinclads, the Cricket and Juliet; but the Osage and Neosho were ordered to move up forty miles, near the mouth of Cane River, so as to be in readiness to render as­sistance. On the 26th, the commander of the Eastport, whose calmness and hopefulness had won the admiral's ad­miration and led him to linger longer than was perhaps pru­dent, in the attempt to save the vessel, was obliged to admit that there was no hope. The river was falling steadily, the pilots said there was already too little water for her draught on the bars below, and the crew were worn out with six days of incessant labor. The attempt was made to remove her plat­ing, but it was not possible to do so soon enough. Orders were therefore given to transfer the ship's company to the Fort Hindman, whose captain, Lieutenant Pearce, had worked like her own to save her, and to blow the Eastport up. Eight barrels of powder were placed under her forward casemate, a like number in the stern, and others about the machinery, trains were laid fore and aft, and at 1.45 P.M. Phelps himself lit the match and left the vessel. He had barely time to reach the Hindman before the explosions took place in rapid succession; then the flames burst out and the vessel was soon consumed.

The three remaining gunboats and the two pump-boats now began a hazardous retreat down the river. Just as the preparations for blowing up the Eastport were completed, a rush was made by twelve hundred men from the right bank to board the Cricket, which was tied up. Her captain, Gor­ringe, backed clear, and opening upon them with grape and canister, supported by a cross fire from the other boats, the attack was quickly repelled. They were not again molested until they had gone twenty miles farther, to about five miles above the mouth of Cane River. Here they came in sight of a party of the enemy, with eighteen pieces of artillery, drawn up on the right bank. At this time the Cricket was leading with the admiral's flag; the Juliet following, lashed to one pump-boat; the Hindman in the rear. The Cricket opened at once, and the enemy replied. Gorringe stopped his ves­sel, meaning to fight and cover those astern, but the admiral directed him to move ahead. Before headway was gained the enemy was pouring in a pelting shower of shot and shell, the two broadside guns' crews were swept away, one gun disabled, and at the same instant the chief engineer was killed, and all but one of the men in the fire-room wounded. In these brief moments the Juliet was also disabled by a shot in her machinery, the rudder of the pump-boat lashed to her was struck, and the boiler of the other was exploded. The captain of the latter, with almost the entire ship's com­pany, numbering two hundred,[1] were scalded to death, while the boat, enveloped in steam, drifted down and lodged against the bank under the enemy's battery, remaining in their power. The pilot of the boat towing the Juliet abandoned the wheel­house-an act unparalleled among a class of men whose steadiness and devotion under the exposure of their calling elicited the highest praise from Porter and others; the crew also tried to cut the hawsers, but were stopped by Watson, the captain of the gunboat. A junior pilot named Maitland, with great bravery and presence of mind, jumped to the wheel and headed the two boats up river. This confusion in the centre of the line prevented the Hindman from covering the admiral as Phelps wished, but he now got below the Juliet and engaged the enemy till she was out of range. Meanwhile the admiral had found the pilot of the Cricket to be among the wounded, and taking charge of the vessel him­self, ran by the battery under the heaviest fire[2] he ever ex­perienced. When below he turned and engaged the bat­teries in the rear, but seeing that the Hindman and the others were not coming by he continued down to the point where he expected to meet the Osage and Neosho.

In this truly desperate fight the Cricket, a little boat of one hundred and fifty-six tons, was struck thirty-eight times in five minutes, and lost 25 killed and wounded, half her crew. Soon after passing below she ran aground and re­mained fast for three hours, so that it was dark when she reached the Osage, lying opposite another battery of the en­emy, which she, had been engaging during the day.

During that night the vessels still above were busy repair­ing damages and getting ready for the perils of the next day. Fearing the enemy might obstruct the channel by sinking the captured pump-boat across it, a shell was fired at her from time to time. The repairs were made before noon, but the Juliet being still crippled, the Hindman took her along­side, and so headed down for the batteries. Before going far the Juliet struck a. snag, which made it necessary to go back and stop the leak. Then they started again, the re­maining pump-boat following. When within five hundred yards the enemy opened a well-sustained fire, and a shot passed through the pilot-house of the Hindman, cutting the wheel-ropes. This made the vessel unmanageable, and the two falling off broadside to the stream drifted, down under fire, striking now one shore and now the other but happily going clear. The guns under these circumstances could not be used very effectively, and the pump-boat suffered the more from the enemy's fire. Maitland was still piloting her, and when nearly opposite the batteries he was wounded in both legs by a shell. He dropped on his knees, unable to handle the wheel, and the boat ran into the bank on the enemy's side. Another shell struck the pilot-house, wounding him again in several places, and a third cut away a bell-rope and the speaking-tube. Rallying a little, Maitland now got hold of and rang another bell and had the boat backed across the river. The crew attempted to escape, but were all taken prisoners, the captain and one other having been killed. In the two days encounters the Juliet was hit nearly as often as the Cricket and lost 15 killed and wounded; the Hindman, though repeatedly struck and much cut up, only 3 killed and 5 wounded. The fire of the enemy's sharpshooters was very annoying for some miles farther down, but twelve miles below the batteries they met the Neosho going up to their assistance.

The main interest of the retreat of the squadron centers in the Eastport and her plucky little consorts, but the other vessels had had their own troubles in getting down the river. The obstacles to be overcome are described as enough to appall the stoutest heart by the admiral, who certainly was not a man of faint heart. Guns had to be removed and the vessels jumped over sand-bars and logs, but the squadron arrived in time to prevent any attack on the reserve stores before the main body of the army came up.

At Alexandria the worst of their troubles awaited them, threatening to make all that had yet been done vain. The river, which ordinarily remains high till June, had not only failed to reach its usual height but had so fallen that they could not pass the rapids. General W. T. Sherman, who had lived at Alexandria before the war, thought twelve feet necessary before going up, a depth usually found from March to June. At the very least seven were needed by the gun­boats to go down, and on the 30th of April of this year there were actually only three feet four inches. The danger was the greatest that had yet befallen the fleet, and seemingly hopeless. A year before, in the Yazoo bayous, the position had been most critical, but there the peril came from the hand of man and was met and repelled by other men. Here Nature herself had turned against them, forsaking her usual course to do them harm. Ten gunboats and two tugs were thus imprisoned in a country soon to pass into the enemy's hands by the retreat of the army.

Desperate as the case seemed, relief came. Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, of the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteers, was at this time acting as Chief Engineer of the Nineteenth Army Corps, General Franklin's. He was a man who had had much experience on the watercourses of the Northwestern country, and had learned to use dams to overcome obsta­cles arising from shallow water in variable streams. The year before he had applied this knowledge to free two trans­port steamers, which had been taken when Port Hudson fell, from their confinement in Thompson's Creek, where the falling water had left them sunk in the sand. As the army fell back, and during its stay at Grand Ecore, he had heard rumors about the scant water at the Falls, and the thought had taken hold of his mind that he might now build a dam on a greater scale and to a more vital purpose than ever before.

His idea, first broached to General Franklin, was through him conveyed to Banks and Porter, and generally through the army. Franklin, himself an engineer, thought well of it, and so did some others; but most doubted, and many jeered. The enemy themselves, when they became aware of it, laughed, and their pickets and prisoners alike cried scoffingly, "How about that dam? " But Bailey had the faith that moves mountains, and he was moreover happy in find­ing at his hands the fittest tools for the work. Among the troops in the far Southwest were two or three regiments from Maine, the northeasternmost of all the States. These had been woodmen and lumbermen from their youth, among their native forests, and a regiment of them now turned trained and willing arms upon the great trees on the north shore of the Red River; and there were many others who, on a smaller scale and in different scenes, had experience in the kind of work now to be done. Time was pressing, and from two to three thousand men were at once set to work on the 1st of May. The Falls are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks which, at this low water, were bare or nearly so, the water rushing down around, or over, them with great swiftness. At the point below, where the dam was to be built, the river is 758 feet wide, and the current was then be­tween nine and ten miles an hour. From the north bank was built what was called the "tree dam," formed of large trees laid with the current, the branches interlocking, the trunks down stream and cross-tied with heavy timber; upon this was thrown brush, brick, and stone, and the weight of water as it rose bound the fabric more closely down upon the bottom of the river. From the other bank, where the bottom was more stony and trees less plenty, great cribs were pushed out, sunk and filled with stone and brick -the stone brought down the river in fiat-boats, the bricks obtained by pulling down deserted brick buildings. On this side, a mile away, was a large sugar-house; this was torn down and the whole building, machinery, and kettles went to ballast the dam. Between the cribs and the tree dam a length of 150 feet was filled by four large coal barges, loaded with brick and sunk. This great work was completed in eight working days, and even on the eighth, three of the lighter vessels, the Osage, Neosho, and Fort Hindman, were able to pass the upper falls and wait just above the dam for the chance to pass; but the heavier vessels had yet to delay for a further rise. In the meantime the vessels were being lightened by their crews. Nearly all the guns, ammunition, provisions, chain cables, anchors, and everything that could affect the draught, were taken out and hauled round in wagons below the falls. The iron plating was taken off the Ozark, and the sides of our old friends the Eads gunboats, the four survivors of which were here, as ever where danger was. This iron, for want of wagons, could not be hauled round, so the boats ran up the river and dumped it overboard in a five-fathom hole, where the shifting sand would soon swallow it up. Iron plating was then too scarce and valuable to the Confederates to let it fall into their hands. Eleven old 32-pounders were also burst and sunk.

The dam was finished, the water rising, and three boats below, when, between 7 and 10 A.M. Of the 9th, the pressure became so great as to sweep away two of the barges in mid­stream and the pent-up water poured through. Admiral Porter rode round to the upper falls and ordered the Lexington to pass them at once and try to go through the dam without a stop. Her steam was ready and she went ahead, passing scantly over the rapids, the water falling all the time; then she steered straight for the opening, where the furious rushing of the waters seemed to threaten her with destruction. She entered the gap, which was but 66 feet wide, with a full head of steam, pitched down the roaring torrent, made two, or three heavy rolls, hung for a moment on the rocks below, and then, sweeping into deep water with the current, rounded to at the bank, safe. One great cheer rose from the throats of the thousands looking on, who had before been hushed into painful silence, awaiting the issue with beating hearts. The Neosho followed, but stopping her engine as she drew near the opening, was carried helplessly through; for a. moment her low hull disappeared in the water, but she escaped with a hole in her bottom, which was soon repaired. The Hindman and Osage came through without touching.

The work on the dam had been done almost wholly by the soldiers, who had worked both day and night, often up to their waists and even to their necks in the water, showing throughout the utmost cheerfulness and good humor. The partial success, that followed the first disappointment of the break, was enough to make such men again go to work with good will. Bailey decided not to try again, with his limited time and materials, to sustain the whole weight of water with one dam; and so, leaving the gap untouched, went on to build two wing-dams on the upper falls. These, extend­ing from either shore toward the middle of the river and inclining slightly down stream, took part of the weight, causing a rise of 1 foot 2 inches, and shed the water from either side into the channel between them. Three days were needed to build these, one a crib- and the other a tree­dam, and a bracket-dam a little lower down to help guide the current. The rise due to the main dam when breached was 5 feet 41 inches, so that the entire gain in depth by this admirable engineering work was 6 feet 61 inches. On the 11th the Mound City, Carondelet, and Pittsburg came over the upper falls, but with trouble, the channel being very crooked and scarcely wide enough. The next day the re­maining boats, Ozark, Louisville, and Chillicothe, with the two tugs, also came down to the upper dam, and. during that and the following day they all passed through the gap, with hatches closely nailed down and every precaution taken against accident. No mishap befell them beyond the un­shipping of rudders, and the loss of one man swept from the deck of a tug. The two barges which had been carried out at the first break of the dam stuck just below and at right angles to it, and there staid throughout, affording an ex­cellent cushion on the left side of the shoot. What had been a calamity proved thus a benefit. The boats having taken on board their guns and stores as fast as they came .below, that work was completed, even by the last corners, on the 13th, and all then steamed down the river with the trans­ports in company. The water had become very low in the lower part, but providentially a rise of the Mississippi sent up so much back-water that no stoppage happened.

For the valuable services rendered to the fleet in this hour of great danger, Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and received the thanks of Congress. The stone cribs of the dam have long since been swept away, but the tree-dam has remained until this day, doubtless acquiring new strength from year to year by the washing of the river. Its position has forced the channel over to the south shore, encroaching seriously upon the solid land, especially when the water is high. A very large part of the front of Alexandria, at the upper suburb, has thus been washed away, and the caving still continues.

While the fleet and army were at Alexandria, the enemy had passed round the city and appeared on the banks below, where they made the passage of light steamers very danger­ous. Two light-draught gunboats, the Covington and Signal, were thus lost to the service. They had gone down convoy­ing a transport called the Warner. The Warner was put in advance, the gunboats following in line ahead. The enemy began with heavy musketry and two field pieces, by which the Warner's rudders were disabled; she continued on a short distance till a bend was reached, and here, being un­able to make the turn, she went ashore, blocking also the channel to the two armed vessels. A heavy force of infantry with artillery now opened on the three, the gunboats reply­ing for three hours, when the Warner hoisted a white flag. Lieutenant Lord of the Covington still kept up his fire and sent to burn the transport; but learning from the colonel in charge that there were nearly 125 killed and wounded on board he desisted. Soon after this the Signal was disabled. The Covington then rounded to and took the others in tow up stream, but her own rudders were disabled and the Signal went adrift. The latter then anchored, and the Covington running to the left bank tied up with her head up stream. In this position the action was continued with the enemy, reinforced now by the first battery which had been brought down, till the steam-drum was penetrated and a shot en­tering the boilers let out all the water; the ammunition gave out and several guns were disabled, one officer and sev­eral men being killed. Lord set the vessel on fire and es­caped with the crew to the banks. On mustering, 9 officers and 23 men were found out of a crew of 76. Most of those who reached the banks escaped through the woods to Alex­andria. The Covington was riddled, having received some fifty shots. The disabled Signal was fought with equal ob­stinacy by her commander, Lieutenant Morgan, but after the destruction of the Covington was surrendered, not burned; it being found impossible to remove the wounded under the fire of the enemy.

The army marched out of Alexandria on the 14th toward Simmesport, which they reached on the 16th. Having no regular pontoon train, the Atchafalaya, which is here about six hundred yards wide, was crossed by a bridge of transport steamers moored side by side; an idea of Colonel Bailey's. The crossing was made on the 20th, and on that same day General Banks was relieved by General Canby, who had been ordered to command the Department of the West Missis­sippi, with headquarters at New Orleans. A. J. Smith's corps embarked and went up the river, and the expedition was over. The disastrous ending and the lateness of the season made it impracticable to carry out Grant's previous plan of moving on Mobilea with force sufficient to insure its capture.

After the Red River expedition little is left to say, in a work of this scope, of the operations of the Mississippi Squadron during the rest of the war. Admiral Porter was relieved during the summer, leaving Captain Pennock in temporary charge. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee took the command on the 1st of November. The task and actions of the squadron were of the same general character as those described in Chapter VI. Guerillas and light detached bodies of the enemy continued to hover on the banks of the Mississippi, White, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers. The Red River was simply blockaded, not occu­pied, and much of the Yazoo Valley, having no present im­portance, had been abandoned to the enemy. The gunboats scattered throughout these waters were constantly patrolling and convoying, and often in action. The main operations of the army being now far east of the Mississippi, the work and exposure of the boats became greater. Masked batteries of field pieces were frequently sprung upon them, or upon unarmed steamers passing up and down; in either case the nearest gunboat must hasten and engage it. Weak isolated posts were suddenly attacked; a gunboat, usually not far off, must go to the rescue. Reconnoissances into the enemy's country, as the Yazoo Valley, were to be made, or troops carried in transports from point to point; gunboats went along with their heavy yet manageable artillery, feeling doubtful places with their shells and clearing out batteries or sharpshooters when found. The service was not as easy as it sounds. It would be wrong to infer that their power was always and at once recognized. Often they were outnum­bered in guns, and a chance shot in a boiler or awkward turn of a wheel, throwing the vessel aground, caused its loss. Even when victorious they were often hardly used. The limits of this book will permit the telling of but two or three stories.

In the latter part of June, 1864, General Steele, command­ing the Union troops in Arkansas, wished to move some round in transports from Duval's Bluff on the White River to the Arkansas, hoping to reach Little Rock in this way. One attempt was made, but, the enemy being met in force on the Arkansas, the transports were turned back. Lieuten­ant Bache assured him that the trip could not be made, but as the General thought otherwise, he consented to try again and left the Bluff with a large convoy on the 24th, having with hint of armed vessels the Tyler, his own, the Naumkeag and Fawn. The two latter were tinclads, the first an un­armored boat. When about twenty miles down, two men were picked up, part of the crew of the light-draught Queen City, which had been captured by the Confederates five hours before. It was then nine o'clock. Bache at once turned the transports back and went ahead fast himself to take or destroy the lost boat before her guns could be re­moved. Before reaching Clarendon two reports were heard, which came from the Queen City, blown up by the enemy when the others were known to be coming. The three boats formed line ahead, the Tyler leading, Naumkeag second, and Fawn third, their broadsides loaded with half­second shrapnel and canister. As they drew near, the enemy opened with seven field pieces and some two thousand in­fantry and put one of their first shots through the pilot­house of the Tyler, the vessels being then able to reply only with an occasional shell from their bow guns. As they came nearly abreast they slowed down and steamed by, firing their guns rapidly. When under the batteries the Fawn received a shot through her pilot-house, killing the pilot and carrying away the bell gear, at the same time ringing the engine-room bell, causing the engineers to stop the boat under fire. Some little delay ensued in fixing the bells, the paymaster took the wheel, and the Fawn, having another shot in the pilot-house, passed on. As soon as the Tyler and Naumkeag were below they turned and steamed up again, delivering a deliberate fire as they passed, in the midst of which the enemy ran off, leaving behind them most of their captures, including a light gun taken from the Queen City. The boats were struck twenty-five times, and lost 3 killed and 15 wounded. The Queen City had been taken by sur­prise, and her engines disabled at the first fire. She lost 2 killed and 8 wounded, including her commander; and, while many of her crew escaped to the opposite bank, many were taken prisoners.

The main course of the war in the West having now drifted away from the Mississippi Valley to, the region south and southeast of Nashville, embracing Southern and Eastern Ten­nessee and the northern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the convoy and gunboat service on the Tennes­see and Cumberland assumed new importance. An eleventh division was formed on the upper waters of the Tennessee, above Muscle Shoals, under the command of Lieutenant Moreau Forrest; Lieutenant-Commander Shirk had the lower river, and Fitch still controlled the Cumberland. When Hood, after the fall of Atlanta, began his movement toward Tennessee in the latter part of October, General Forrest, the active Confederate cavalry leader, who had been stationed at Corinth with his outposts at Eastport and on the Tennessee River, moved north along the west bank, and with seventeen regiments of cavalry and nine pieces of artillery appeared on the 28th before Fort Heiman, an earthwork about seventy-five miles from Paducah. Here he captured two transports and a light-draught called the Undine. On the 2d of November he had established batteries on the west bank both above and below Johnsonville, one of the Union army's bases of supplies and a railway terminus, thus blockading the water approach and isolating there eight trans­ports, with barges, and three light-draughts, the Key West, Elfin, and Tawah. Nevertheless, the three boats went down and engaged the lower battery, and though they found it too strong for them they retook one of the transports. Mean­time Shirk had telegraphed the Admiral and Fitch, and the latter came to his assistance with three of the Cumberland River light-draughts. Going on up the Tennessee Fitch picked up three other light-draughts, and on the morning of the 4th approached the lower battery from below, Lieutenant King, the senior officer above, coming down at the same time. The enemy then set fire to the Undine, but the channel was so narrow and intricate that Fitch did not feel justified in attempting to take his boats up, and King was not able to run by. Fitch, whose judgment and courage were well proved, said that the three blocked gunboats were fought desperately and well handled, but that they could not meet successfully the heavy rifled batteries then opposed to them in such a channel. All three were repeatedly struck and had several of their guns disabled. They then retired to the fort, where the enemy opened on them in the afternoon with a battery on the opposite shore. After firing away nearly all their ammunition, and being further dis­abled, Lieutenant King, fearing that they might fall into the enemy's hands, burnt them with the transports. The place was relieved by General Schofield twenty-four hours later, so that if King had patiently held on a little longer his pluck and skill would have been rewarded by saving his vessels. At about the same time, October 28th, General Granger being closely pressed in Decatur, Alabama, above the Muscle Shoals, the light-draught General Thomas, of the Eleventh Division, under the command of Acting-Master Gilbert Mor­ton, at great risk got up in time to render valuable service in repelling the attack.

The Union forces continued to fall back upon Nashville before the advance of Hood, who appeared before the city on the 2d of December, and by the 4th had established his lines round the south side. His left wing struck the river at a point four miles ' below by land, but eighteen by the stream, where they captured two steamers and established a battery. Fitch, receiving word of this at 9 P.M., at once went down with the Carondelet and four light-draughts to attack them. The boats moved quietly, showing no lights, the Carondelet and Fairplay being ordered to run below, giving the enemy grape and canister as they passed in front, and then to round to and continue the fight up stream, Fitch intending to remain above with the other boats. The Carondelet began firing when, midway between the upper and lower batteries, and the enemy replied at once with heavy musketry along the whole line and with his field pieces. The river at this place is but eighty yards wide, but the enemy, though keeping up a hot fire, fortunately aimed high, and the boats escaped without loss in an action lasting eighty minutes. The two steamers were retaken and the enemy removed their batteries; but they were shortly reestablished. On the 6th Fitch again engaged them with the Neosho and Carondelet, desiring to pass a convoy below, but the position was so well chosen, behind spurs of hills and at a good height above the river, that only one boat could engage them at one time and then could not elevate her guns to reach the top without throwing over the enemy. The Neosho remained under a heavy fire, at thirty yards dis­tance, for two and a half hours, being struck over a hundred times and having everything perishable on decks demol­ished; but the enemy could not be driven away. The river being thus blockaded the only open communication for the city was the Louisville Railroad, and during the rest of the time the gunboats, patrolling the Cumberland above and below, prevented the enemy's cavalry from crossing and cut­ting it.

When Thomas made his attack of the 15th, which resulted in the entire defeat and disorganization of Hood's army, Fitch, at his wish, went down and engaged the attention of the batteries below until a force of cavalry detached for that special purpose came down upon their rear. These guns were taken and the flotilla then dropped down to the scene of its previous fights and engaged till dark such batteries as it could see. The routed and disorganized army of the enemy were pressed as closely as the roads allowed down to the Tennessee, where Lieutenant Forrest of. the Eleventh District aided in cutting off stragglers. Admiral Lee, who was at once notified, pressed up the river with gunboats and supply steamers as far as the shoals; but the low state of the river prevented his crossing them. The destruction of boats and flats along the river, however, did much to prevent stragglers from crossing and rejoining their army.

This was the last of the very important services of the Mississippi Squadron. Five months later, in June, 1865, its officers received the surrender of a small naval force still held by the Confederates in the Red River. Our old friend, the ram Webb, which had heretofore escaped capture, ran out of the Red River in April with a load of cotton and made a bold dash for the sea. She succeeded in getting by several vessels before suspected, and even passed New Or­leans; but the telegraph was faster than she, and before reaching the forts she was headed off by the Richmond, run ashore, and burned. On the 14th of August, 1865, Admiral Lee was relieved and the Mississippi Squadron, as an organi­zation, ceased to be. The vessels whose careers we have followed, and whose names have become familiar, were gradually sold, and, like most of their officers, returned to peaceful life.

[1] These were mostly slaves who were running from their masters.

[2] Colonel Brent, Taylor's Chief of Artillery, reported that there were only four Confederate pieces, two 12-pounders and two howitzers, in this attack; instead of eighteen, as stated by Porter. Brent was not present, and Captain Cornay, commanding the battery, was killed. The pilot Maitland, who was captured the next day, states, in a separate repo t made two months later, that he heard among the enemy that the number was eighteen. Phelps, who, like the admiral, was hardened to fire, speaks of them as numerous, The reader must decide for himself the probability of four smooth-bore light pieces striking one small boat thirty eight times in five minutes, besides badly disabling three others

Return to the main USNLP page
Return to the "Our Navy" table of contents -or- to the next chapter
Return to the NMLHA web site
Return to "On Deck!" table of contents