Lewis Randolph Hamersly.

The records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles online

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Online LibraryLewis Randolph HamerslyThe records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles → online text (page 36 of 42)
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mahgnant hate, and seeing your once dismantled fleet again a unit, and, better
still, the chain that made an enclosed sea of a link in the great river broken
forever. In so magnificent a result, I stop not to count who did it. It is done,
and the day of our nation's birth is consecrated and baptised anew in a victory
won by the united navy and army of our country. God grant that the harmony
and mutual respect that exists between our respective commanders, and shared
by all the true men of the joint service may continue forever, and serve to
elevate our national character, threatened with shipwreck. Thus I muse as I
sit in my solitary camp out in the wood, far from the point for which we have
jointly striven so long and well, and though personal curiosity would tempt me
to go and see the frowning batteries and sunken pits that have defied us so long,'
and sent to their silent graves so many of our early comrades in the enterprise,
I feel that other tasks lie before me, and time must not be lost. Without cast-
ing anchor, and despite the heat and the dust, and the drought, I must again
into the bowels of the land to make the conquest of Vicksburg fulfill all the
conditions it should in the progress of this war.

Whether success attend my efforts or not, I know that Admiral Porter will
ever accord me the exhibition of a pure and unselfish zeal in the service of our

It does seem to me that Port Hudson, without facilities for supplies or interior
communication, must soon follow the fate of Vicksburg and leave the river free;
and to you remains the task of preventing any more Vicksburgs or Port Hudsons
on the bank of the great inland sea.


Though farther apart, the navy and army will still act in concert, and I
assure you I shall never reach the banks of the river or see a gunboat but I will
think of Admiral Porter, Captain Breeze, and the many elegant and accom-
plished gentlemen it has been my great fortune to meet on armed or unarmed
decks of the Mississippi Squadron. Congratulating' you and the officers
of your command at the great result in which you have borne so conspicuous a
part, I remain, as ever, your friend and servant,


Major- General.
Admiral D. D. Porter,

(Jommanding Fleet.

Navt Department, July IZth, 1863.

Sir : — Tour dispatch of the 4th instant, announcing the surrender of Vicks-
burg on the anniversary of the great historic day in our national annals, has
been received. The fall of that place insures a severance of the rebel territory,
and must give to the country the speedy uninterrupted navigation of the rivers
which water and furnish the ocean outlet to the great central valley of the
Union. For the past year the key to the Mississippi has been Vicksburg, and
so satisfied of this was the rebel chief who provisioned the rebellion and first
gave orders to open the fires of civil strife, that he staked his cause upon its
retention. By the herculean efibrts of the army under the admirable leadership
of General Grant, and the persistent and powerful co-operation of the navy
cominanded by yourself, this great result, under the providence of Almighty
God, has been achieved. A slave empire, divided by this river into equal
parts, with liberty in possession of its banks and freedom upon its waters, cannot
exist. The work of rescuing and setting free this noble artery, whose unre-
stricted vital current is essential to our nationality, commenced with such ability
by the veteran Farragut and the lamented Foote, and continued by Davis, is
near its consummation. You have only to proceed onward and meet that veteran
chief whose first act was to dash through the gates by which the rebels assumed
to bar the entrance to the Mississippi, whose free communication to and above
New Orleans he has ever since proudly maintained.

When the squadrons of the upper and lower Mississippi shall combine, and
the noble river be again free to a united people, the nation will feel its integrity
restored, and the names of the heroic champions who signalized themselves in
this invaluable service will be cherished and honored. Present and future mil-
lions on the shores of those magnificent rivers, which patriotism and valor shall
have emancipated, will remember with unceasing gratitude the naval heroes who
so well performed their part in these eventful times.

To yourself, your officers, and brave and gallant sailors, who have been so
fertile in resources, so persistent and enduring through many months of trial
and hardship, and so daring under all circumstances, I tender, in the name of
the President, the thanks and congratulations of the whole country on the fall
of Vicksburg.

Very respectfully, etc., GIDEON WELLES,

Secretary of the Navy.
Rear Admiral David D. Porter,

Commanding Mississippi Squadron, Vicksburg, Miss.
20 V


Acting Rear Admiral Porter was commissioned as Rear Admiral, to date
from July 4th, 1863; and General Grant at the same time commissioned as
Major-General of the United States Army. ,

On the 4th of July the port of Helena, Arkansas, was attacked by a force of
eighteen thousand rebels. General Prentice, the commander, defended the place
with a skill and daring not excelled in the war, but his little furce of thirty-
five hundred men were fast being overpowered by the enemy, vchen the gun-
boat Tyler, Lieutenant-Commander J. M. Pritchett, took position and opened
her batteries on the enemy and changed the fortunes of the day.

Within a few days after the fall of Vicksburg, Rear Admiral Porter de-
spatched the Baron de Kalb, New National, Kenwood and Signal, under com-
mand of Lieutenant-Commander John G. Walker, up the Yazoo river, for the
purpose of driving out from Yazoo city the command of rebel General Johnson,
who were fortifying that place with heavy guns, intending to make it a depot
of military supplies for the rebel army. The gunboats were accompanied by a
force of troops numbering five thousand, under Major-General Prank J. Herron.
Pushing up to the city, the Baron de Kalb engaged the batteries, which were
all prepared to receive her, and after ascertaining their strength dropped back
to notify General Herron, who immediately landed his men, and the army and
navy made a combined attack on the enemy's works. The rebels set fire to
four of their finest steamers and fled, leaving everything in possession of the
United States forces. The army pursued the enemy, captured a large number
of men, six heavy guns, and all their munitions of war; one vessel, formerly a
gunboat, fell into the hands of the navy. Unfortunately, while the Baron de Kalb
was moving along she ran foul of a torpedo, which exploded and sunk her. Many
of the crew were bruised by the concussion, which was severe, but no lives
were lost. The officers and men lost everything. About the middle of July,
Rear Admiral Porter dispatched a force of gunboats, under Lieutenant-Com-
mander Selfridge, into Red river. Many fine steamers that had been used in
transporting rebel troops and supplies were captured.

While the main portion of the squadron, under the personal supervision of
Acting Rear Admiral Porter, was operating against Vicksburg, the gunboats
stationed on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers had carried on the war most
actively. There had been incessant skirmishing between the guerrillas and
gunboats in which the enemy were defeated in every instance. Had it not
been for the activity and energy displayed by Captain Pennock, Fleet Cap-
tain and Commandant of the Naval Station at Cairo, and Lieutenant-Commanders
Phelps and Switch, the Division Commanders on the Cumberland and Tennessee
rivers, the army under General Rosecrans would have been left without pro-

In July, the rebel General John Morgan crossed from Kentucky into Ohio,
and finding himself hotly pursued by the United States troops under General
Judah, endeayored to recross the Ohio Mver. This, Lieutenant-Commander
Fitch determined, if possible, to prevent, and pursued him over a distance of
five hundred miles, finally intercepting him at Buflington Island, where he
attempted to cross. Morgan and nearly all his band were captured by the
combined forces under General Judah and Lieutenant-Commander Fitch.

In November, as soon as Rear Admiral Porter heard of General Sherman's
moye from Memphis for Corinth, he commenced assembling the most suitable
vessels at the mouth of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. The water was
very low in the Ohio,_and Lieutenant-Commander Le Roy Fitch was obliged to
force his vessels, drawing thirty inches, over bars where there were only twenty-
six inches of water. He succeeded in getting over in time to accompany any


transports that might be ready ; and, despite the guerillas on the hanks, he con-
voyed through safely all the steamers and stores so much needed by the army.
A fortunate rise of water enabled the gunboats under Lieutenant-Commander
Phelps to ascend the Tennessee river as far as Eastport, and a few hours after
their arrival General Sherman arrived at luka. With tbe help of the barges
the troops were all ferried over in an incredibly short time by the gunboats, and
General Sherman was thus enabled to bring his formidable corps into action in
the battles before Chatoanooga. Later, the transports were convoyed up with
provisions, and the gunboats held Eastport, threatening any party that might
attempt to cut the communication, until General Grant telegraphed that East-
port should be evacuated and the troops convoyed to Columbus, Kentucky. The
transports with the troops on board reached Columbus in safety, having been
convoyed to their destination by a force of gunboats.

In the early part of February, 1864, Lieutenant-Commander Owen was sent
to co-operate with General Sherman, who was marching on Meridian, and to
confuse the enemy with regard to movements on foot. The expedition accom-
plished all that was expected of it, and had the effect of driving the guerillas
from the Mississippi, as they were apprehensive of being cut off from the

On the 1st of March, Kear Admiral Porter sent a force of gunboats up the
Black and Washita rivers, under command of Lieutenant-Commander ¥. W.
Kamsay. The expedition was entirely successful. The rebels, about 2,000
strong, under General Polignac, were driven from point to point, some extensive
works captured and destroyed, and three heavy 32-puunders brought away.

On the 7th of March, Rear Admiral Porter had assembled at the mouth of
Red river a formidable fleet of iron-clads composed of the following vessels :
Essex, Commander Robert Townsend; Eastport, Commander S. L. Phelps;
Benton, Lieutenant-Commander James A. Gr^er ; Lafayette, Lieutenant-Com-
mander J. P. Foster; Choctaw, Lieutenant-Commander Ramsay; Louisville,
Lieutenant-Commander E. K. Owens; Carondelet, Lieutenant-Commander J. C.
Mitchell; Osage, Lieutenant-Commander T. 0. Selfridge; Oucbita, Lieutenant-
Commander Byron Wilson; Fort Hindman, A. V. Lieutenant John Pierce;
Pittsburg, A. V. Lieutenant W. R. Hoel ; Ozark, A. V. Lieutenant George W.
Browne ; Chilicothe, A. V. Lieutenant J. P. Couthouy ; Mound City, A. V.
Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne ; Neosho, A. V. Lieutenant Samuel H. Howard ;
and a force of light draught vessels consisting of Black Hawk, Lieutenant-
Commander K. R. Breeze ; Lexington, Lieutenant George M. Bache ; Cricket,
Acting Master H. H. Gorringe; Gazelle, Acting Master Charles Thatcher. The
fleet were joined at the mouth of Red river by a portion of General Sherman's
forces in transports, under the command of General A. J. Smith. The joint
forces moved up the river on the 10th of March to form a junction with Major-
General Banks at Alexandria. In their progress some of the vessels branched
off into the Atohafalaya, while the main portion continued up Red river. The
rebels were driven in turn from Simmsport and Fort De Rusy, the latter being
again captured with its guns and munitions of war and a few prisoners. Some
of the fleetest vessels were dispatched to Alexandria with the hope of cutting
off the rebels in their retreat, but without success. The place was occupied by
the combined forces, and about the 1st of April both army and navy commenced
to move up the river toward Shrevesport. A part only of the naval . force
could proceed further up the river than Alexandria, and it was with difficulty
that they reached that point. But the assistance of the gunboats was so essential
to success that some risks had to be taken, and extraordinary exertions were
made to pass the vessels over the falls, so as to secure the required co-opera»


tion. Main force had to be used to haul the gunboats. Grand Ecore was
reached without accident and occupied without opposition. There were at this
time indications of the flsual rise of the season in the river, and everything
promised success. Twenty-three heavy guns had been captured from the enemy
since their entrance into the river.

Springfield landing was designated as the point for the next juncture of the
co-operating forces, and it was reached at the appointed time, three days after
leaving Grand Ecore, by six gunboats and twenty heavy transports. Here they
learned that the-army under General Banks had met a reverse, and was falling
back to Pleasant Hill, some distance below. Rear Admiral Porter was therefore
compelled to turn back, with the full knowledge that in retracing his steps he
would be interrupted at every assailable point. The rebels, flushed with their
success against the army, availed themselves of every opportunity which offered
for harrassing the gunboats and transports. The cavalry and artillery taking
advantage of the winding stream, moved rapidly from point to point, attacking
on every available occasion. But the gunboats successfully fought their way,
and from time to time repelled their assailants with terrible slaughter.
! On the 14th of April, Rear Admiral Porter got back to Grand Ecore, where
°he found the vessels which he had left at that point, still detained above the
bar. The river, instead of rising as usual at this season, had fallen during his
absence. The army was preparing to move back upon Alexandria ; the water
having so receded, there was little hope of getting the vessels out, and destruc-
tion apparently awaited the best portion of the squadron. But, in the words of
the admiral, " Providence provided a man for the occasion." Lieutenant-Colonel
Joseph Bailey, acting engineer of the 19th army corps, an intelligent and
efficient officer, devised a plan for the construction of a series of dams across
the rooks at the falls ; thus, by artificial means, supplying that which nature
withheld — a sufficient depth of water for the passage of the vessels.

Extraordinary as was the project, and received with increduUty, the mind
that conceived it was enabled to carry it into successful operation. Men were
set to work ; wood-cutters collected ; quarries opened ; and after some weeks,
the undertaking was accomplished. The dams were built ; the vessels passed
safely over the falls, to the delight of the assembled army and navy, who had
mutually participated in this work, and on the 16th of May, Rear Admiral
Porter had the satisfaction of announcing that the fleet was relieved from

There is probably, in naval history, no other instance of such peril and diffi-
culty so successfully and skillfully surmounted. Congress appropriately acknow-
ledged the services of Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey, on this occasion, and they
were still further recognized by his promotion.

A division of the Red river expedition that was unable to get above the falls,
was sent, under command of Lieutenant-Commander James P. Foster, up the
Washita river as far as Monroe. This force captured 3,000 bales of confederate
cotton,^ brought out 800 negroes, and destroyed much rebel property.

While above the falls, Rear Admiral Porter received inteHigence of the
capture pf Port Pillow; he dispatched a force of iron-clads to that point to
prevent its permanent occupation by the rebels, and to keep the river open to
commerce. On the 25th of March, the rebels made an attack upon Paducah,
and demanded its immediate surrender, saying they would give no quarter, if
refused. The gunboats Peosta, Paw Paw and Fort Hindman, at once opened fire
upon the rebels, and with such effect as to drive them off with great loss.

Captain Pennock, Naval Commandant at Cairo, upon receiving intelligence of
the attack upon Paducah, at once sent up reinforcements of gunboats to the


assistance of those already there, and the same officer saved Columbus, Kentucky,
and recovered Fort Pillow, thus preventing a blockade of the river, by his zeal
and personal exertions in hastening reinforcements to those points.

The attacks upon Port Pillow, Columbus and Paducah, were made at the time
when the greater portion of the Mississippi Squadron was operating on the Eed
river and its tributaries. Anticipating that the enemy would avail themselves of
the absence of his more formidable vessels, to attack certain points within
the limits of the upper portion of the squadron, Rear Admiral Porter had
intrusted to Fleet Captain Pennock the entire control of the vessels stationed on
the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, anion the Mississippi as far down
as Memphis, thus enabling him to act promptly when the time arrived. In
his detailed report of the naval operations before Vicksburg, Rear Admiral
Porter acknowledged, in the handsomest terms, his indebtedness to Fleet Cap-
tain Pennock, who was also Commandant of the Naval Station at Cairo, for the
promptness with which he kept the squadron supplied with all that was required
or could be procured.

Rear Admiral Porter having been for nearly two years on arduous and
exhausting duty on the Mississippi, received leave to return Bast in the
summer, and was subsequently detached in order to take command of the North
Atlantic Squadron. Captain A. W. Pennock, senior officer on the station, was
left in charge. On the 1st of November Acting Rear Admiral S. P. Lee,
assumed command of the Mississippi Squadron, and entered on the discharge
of his duties.

In November, 1864, the light draught vessels, Tawah, Key West, and Elfin,
were burned in the Tennessee river near Johnsonville. After a severe engage-
ment with the rebel batteries, of several hours duration, A. V. Lieutenant E.
M. King, the senior officer present, finding it impossible to save the vessels,
ordered them to be fired. The officers and crew escaped. Lieutenant-Com-
mander Shirk, the Division Commander, took prompt measures to regain the
control of the Tennessee river, and in a few days was enabled to report the
capture of several transports, laden with rebel troops, by the vessels of his com-
mand ; but he found it impossible with the tin-clad gunboats under his con-
trol at that time to force them from their fortified position at Johnsonville.

On the 4th of November, the rebel General Hood was driven from Decatur,
Alabama, in which afi'air the gunboat General Thomas took a prominent part,
receiving the acknowledgments of Major-General Thomas for her efficient ser-
vices. On the 3d of December, Lieutenant-Commander Fitch, commanding the
10th district of the Mississippi Squadron, defeated and drove from the Tennessee
river the left wing of Hood's army under General Beauford, with heavy loss to
the rebels, including several prominent officers, and recaptured two transports
from the enemy.

In the early part of December an expedition was sent' from Vicksburg by
Major-General Davis, to destroy the enemy's railroad communications in Missis-
sippi. The gunboats Vindicator, A. V. Lieutenant Gorringe, and Prairie Bird,
Acting Master Burns, co-operated with the army. The expedition proved a
complete success. The combined forces destroyed the railroad bridge over the Big
Black river, tore up some thirty miles of the track, and captured a considerable
amount of the enemy's stores. Major-General Dana addressed very compli-
mentary letters to A. V. Gorringe and Acting Master Burns, thanking them
for their energetic and intelligent co-operation.

Under date of December 27th, 1864, Acting Rear Admiral Lee, writing from
Chickasaw, Alabama, reported to the Navy Department, that he had destroyed
a new fort at that point, and all the enemy's visible means of crossing the


Tennessee below Florence, and had that day blown up the caissons and destroyed
two field-pieces. He reported Hood's army broken up and crossing the river
above Little Muscle Shoals six miles above Florence. The river was then
falling rapidly, which made it impracticable to reach the crossing which the
enemy were then using. Finding it impossible to intercept the enemy at Little
Muscle Shoals, Acting Rear Admiral Lee returned down the river in time to
convoy General A. T. Smith's command of 12,000 men, with six batteries, to
Eastport, Mississippi. Army transportation being scarce, many of the troops
were taken to Eastport in the gunboats.

Early in January, 1865, Acting Rear Admiral Lee was enabled to report to
the Navy Department that Hood's army was completely demoralized, and were
retreating rapidly before the victorious force of General Thomas.

Under date of December 30th, Major-General Thomas addressed a compli-
mentary letter to Acting Rear Admiral Lee, in which h^ says :

* * * ii Your co-operation on the Tennessee river has contributed
largely to the demoralization of Hood's army. * * * it gives
me great pleasure to tender to you, your officers and men, my hearty thanks for
your cordial co-operation during ihe operations of the past thirty days."

Acting Rear Admiral Lee received the thanks of Congress for his services on
the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

After the engagement at Nashville, General Steedman, of General Thomas'
command was sent to retake Decatur. The gunboats under command of Lieu-
tenant Moreau Forrest co-operated, and the place, with the artillery there, was
captured. On the 23d of April, 1865, the rebel ram Webb, carrying two or
three guns, two hundred and seventeen bales of cotton and fifty barrels of rosin
or turpentine, ran out of Red river, and without doing any damage on the way,
other than cutting down telegraph wires, continued down the river until inter-
cepted by the sloop of war Richmond, the next afternoon, twenty-five miles
below New Orleans, where she was run ashore and destroyed by those on board.

In the month of June, 1865, the rebel naval forces in Red river surrendered
to Lieutenant-Commander Fitzhugh of the steamer Ouchita.

After the surrender of the rebel naval forces on Red river, the Mississippi
Squadron, comprising at one time over one hundred steamers, was gradually
reduced, and on the 14th of August wholly discontinued. Acting Rear Admi-
ral Lee was relieved, and Commodore Livingston, then Naval Commander at
Cairo, was intrusted with the duty of disposing of the vessels, and closing up
the affairs of the squadron.


In 1862, a forceof vessels, selected for their speed and general efficiency,
was fitted out, organized as a squadron, placed under the command of Acting Rear
Admiral Wilkes, and sent to the West Indies. The objects for which this squad-
ron was created, were to break up blockade running to and from the West India
Islands; if possible, to capture the piratical steamers there preying upon the
commerce of the United States, and to afford safe convoy to the California,
steamers over the most exposed portions of their route.


Acting Rear Admiral Wilkes retained command of this squadron until 1863,
when he was relieved by Acting Rear Admiral James L. Lardner, who con-
tinued in commaQd until the squadron, as an organization, was discontinued in
the latter part of 1803.

The West India Squadron fulfilled the objects for which it was organized,
capturing many valuable prizes, and affording safe convoy to steamers sailing
under the United States flag.


In the early part of 1861, it became necessary to place a flotilla on the lower
Potomac. A variety of circumstances combined to render this one of the most
arduous, duties on the whole insurgent frontier, and it was clearly foreseen that
without the active co-operation of the army, it would be impossible to prevent
the navigation of the river from being obstructed by the batteries on the Vir-
ginia side. For several months, however, the navy succeeded more effectually

Online LibraryLewis Randolph HamerslyThe records of living officers of the U. S. navy and Marine corps: with a history of naval operations during the rebellion of 1861-5, and a list of the ships and officers participating in the great battles → online text (page 36 of 42)