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Ozzy

Sherman's April 1st Raid

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Under strict instructions from Henry Halleck "not to bring on a general engagement," it seemed curious that General Sherman would be permitted to conduct his "armed reconnaissance" up the Tennessee River, in company with three Union Navy gunboats... to do what?

  • Cut the Memphis & Charleston R.R. (found to be too strongly defended for Sherman's force)
  • Check on the status of Confederate gun batteries at Chickasaw Bluff and Eastport. (But how was this important for US Grant's soon-to-be commenced operation against Corinth?)

What if... there was a rumour of a Confederate gunboat or two operating on the Tennessee River, lurking upstream from Pittsburg Landing, that somehow managed to escape capture during Phelp's Raid in February? One or two enemy gunboats with potential to disrupt Union supplies and reinforcements,  and wreak havoc at Pittsburg Landing Supply Base during the Federal operation against Corinth?

Turns out, there was a Confederate steamer operating upstream from Pittsburg Landing; and it was not captured until several weeks after the Battle of Shiloh. (And just like the CSS Eastport, it was pressed into Federal service as a gunboat.)

Name this Confederate steamer.

 

Ozzy

Bonus:  Name the other rumored steamer, a gunboat, found to have been scuttled by the Confederates during this U.S. Navy operation. 

 

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Just to expand on this discussion of Confederate gunboats... my interest was sparked in the topic after reviewing General Sherman's after-action report of April 2nd 1862, because something about that report did not ring true. Consider:

  • Why was Sherman's Expeditionary Force of April 1st smaller than his Expeditionary Force of March 14th?
  • Why include three U.S. Navy gunboats for an Army operation to be conducted well away from the river?
  • In Sherman's after-action report for the March attempt, he admits, "Attempts to cut the M&C RR will most likely bring on a general engagement." So why make an attempt to cut that railroad now (in April), and risk initiating the prohibited general engagement?

Additional research revealed that Yazoo City (near Vicksburg) was not unique among Rebel "isolated and unexpected locations" for the construction of gunboats: other sites include Montgomery, Alabama; Selma Alabama; Memphis Tennessee; Cerro Gordo Tennessee; Mobile Alabama (this last is where CSS Hunley was built.) So was it possible that the Rebels had built gunboats above Muscle Shoals, and somehow managed to get them over those shoals, down the Tennessee River to potentially threaten Federal forces at Pittsburg Landing? How about a rumour of activity of this nature: the mere threat of significant activity can be enough to trigger a Federal response [hence, Sherman's April 1st Expedition, involving overwhelming Naval force.] 

Then, it turned out that Southern newspapers were crowing about how two of their gunboats had escaped capture by Phelps in February 1862: they had been hidden up a deep creek near Florence, Alabama and successfully avoided detection... so getting gunboats over Muscle Shoals wasn't the issue; they were already lying in wait, just a few hours upriver from Pittsburg Landing. [And in Sherman's report of April 2nd, he admits to checking Indian Creek; and spending several hours at Chickasaw Bluff (overlooking Bear Creek), both potential hiding places for gunboats.]

Why weren't the two Confederate steamers discovered during this April 1st Expedition? There was a bar in the Tennessee River, just upstream from Chickasaw Bluff that USS Cairo could not cross; Chickasaw Bluff was the furthest upriver that Sherman's Expedition managed, so the Rebel steamers (and the threat they imposed) lived on for a few more weeks. And who knew how big, how well-armoured, how well armed these Rebel gunboats had become?

A few more facts to consider:

  • Monitor vs. Merrimac occurred March 8-9 of 1862 and sparked dread among Northern leaders;
  • Island No.10 was ongoing on April 1st, and everyone dreaded the Floating Battery New Orleans;
  • The Breakout of CSS Arkansas from Yazoo City, Mississippi was yet to happen (occurred July 15th 1862) but when it did occur, it sparked dread among the U.S. Naval leaders (including Farragut and Davis) in vicinity of Vicksburg: demonstrated what one Confederate ironclad could accomplish. And the Federal Expeditionary Force sent up the Yazoo River just prior to the breakout involved three vessels: one ironclad and two wooden gunboats.

 

Ozzy

References on request

 

 

 

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Transylvania

According to The WPA Guide to Alabama (published 1941) the first steamer to pass over the Muscle Shoals was a light draft vessel -- the Atlas -- in 1827; and the feat was accomplished during a period of extremely high water. Afterwards, steamers usually were "warped" across the shoals during periods of high water when it was found necessary to relocate them (and best avoid damage to the vessel's hull.) Warping involved the use of stout ropes connecting the vessel to both banks of the river, and manipulating those ropes to guide the vessel across Muscle Shoals.

General Sherman reported on April 2nd 1862 that the Tennessee River had dropped at least twelve feet in recent days; and Navy Lieutenant Gwin reported that the river had become too shallow for his force to cross the bar above Chickasaw Bluff. Therefore, it was intended to pass further upriver during Sherman's April 1st Expedition, but the state of the river prevented over ten miles of river (and adjoining deep creeks) from being surveyed.

Ozzy

References:  OR volume 10 page 83

OR (Navy) Volume 22 and 23

WPA Guide to Alabama

 

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The Threat of CSS Arkansas 

After Flag-Officer Farragut passed the lower Mississippi River forts (Jackson and St. Philip) and captured New Orleans end of April 1862, he began to hear rumours of "a powerful Confederate Manassas" being built upriver that would reduce his wooden fleet to splinters (much like CSS Virginia (also known as Merrimac) had done to U.S. Navy ships prior to her battle with USS Monitor.) This may have encouraged Farragut to exercise extreme caution as he proceeded up the Mississippi River to enact a rendezvous with Foote's Western Gunboat Fleet.

In the meantime, Foote was replaced by Commodore Charles H. Davis; and their rendezvous occurred after the 6 June 1862 Naval Battle resulting in capture of Memphis, (accomplished by Davis' gunboats and Ellet's Army Ram Fleet.) Ellet's Ram Fleet sped south and met Farragut steaming upriver on June 25th; Davis made contact with Farragut a few days later. But in the meantime, the rumour involving "that Confederate Manassas" persisted... and now included more detail: the powerful Rebel ironclad was under construction somewhere up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg.

At 9:30 on the morning of June 26th the steam ram Switzerland (Alfred Ellet) in company with rams Monarch and Lancaster No.3 commenced a passage sixty-five miles up the Yazoo... and encountered three blazing Rebel vessels in place before a "floating barrier" blocking further progress. The three Rebel vessels (Van Dorn, Livingston and Polk) were set adrift, their raging infernos threatened to engulf Ellet's vessels; Ellet and his Task Force sped out of the Yazoo River and abandoned the mission.

On July 12th the CSS Arkansas was deemed to be "ready for service" and got underway, under command of Isaac Newton Brown (the same officer responsible for getting torpedoes in place at Fort Columbus and Fort Henry.) Arkansas moved past the floating barrier and proceeded downstream at a leisurely pace, testing and correcting her equipment as she went.

On July 15th an Expedition under direction of Commander Walke (ironclad USS Carondelet) and including timberclad USS Tyler (Gwin) and steam ram Queen of the West (Ellet) got underway up the Yazoo River at sunrise. Ships in the Mississippi River heard heavy firing at 6am... and at 6:30am the Tyler and Queen of the West were observed fleeing out of the Yazoo River, followed closely by the badly damaged Carondelet, pursued by the CSS Arkansas. The ram Lancaster No.3 attempted to run down the Confederate ironclad, but was blasted by a number of large calibre shells and knocked out of action. The other ships of three Federal fleets mostly attempted to get out of the way as the Arkansas sped through their ranks and turned downriver, and took refuge under the protecting guns at Vicksburg. The headache (for the North) which became known as "the Vicksburg Campaign" had just begun.

Ozzy

References:  OR (Navy) volume 23 (pages 233, 267 and 241-244)

http://www.americancivilwar.com/tcwn/civil_war/Navy_Ships/CSS_Arkansas.html

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002073452741;view=1up;seq=370  Life of Andrew Foote, at hathitrust

 

N.B.  This story attached to illustrate a common thread: U.S. Navy ship-killing expeditions on Western waters tended to involve three vessels. Also, it illustrates the potential threat posed by one Rebel gunboat.

 

 

 

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Transylvania

Although there is more to the story of the "two Confederate steamers" yet to be revealed, perhaps now is the time to expose "the story behind the story." As we know, Sherman's Expedition up the Tennessee River was delayed at least one full day while waiting for the arrival of USS Cairo (which was experiencing engine problems, and had to be towed beyond Pittsburg Landing.) Imagine what might have occurred had Cairo arrived on schedule... three Federal steamers ascend the Tennessee River  past Florence and complete a thorough hunt for the Rebel steamers... maybe they find them; maybe they don't... and then attempt the return to Pittsburg Landing, only to discover they can't cross that bar at Chickasaw Bluff. Do Sherman's men join in the effort to get three Federal steamers across the bar? How long, and how much effort does it require? Is it possible that Sherman could have ended up away from the Battlefield during Shiloh?

For me, it just goes to illustrate: "Timing is everything."

Ozzy

 

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A hint or two IRT the identity of the captured Rebel steamer...

In June 1862 Flag-Officer Davis communicated to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles his desire to establish a new class of gunboat for use on the Western Waters, having discovered that the shallow tributaries below Memphis precluded effective use of ironclads... or even timberclads. Davis suggested this new class be known as "light-drafts" and be small, fast and nimble; armed with between two and eight howitzers or smoothbore cannon; and find employment as scout vessels, guard vessels, tow boats and dispatch boats. To be acquired from existing civilian steamer stock (and from captured prizes) their speed and agility would provide their most significant protection; however, reinforcement (in the form of thick wooden beams or plates of iron, enough to defend against rifled musket bullets) would be positioned around the Pilot House and crucial equipment.

Meanwhile, after the Battle of Shiloh and before the occupation of Corinth, our Confederate steamer was captured near Florence; and report of its capture found its way to Major General Henry Halleck, who suggested that the vessel "have its Pilot House armored against musket balls, and several howitzers or small-calibre artillery added to turn it into a proper gunboat; and then incorporate the vessel into the service of the United States Government." So even before Flag-Officer Davis received approval for his new "light-draft" class of gunboat, Henry Halleck had beaten the Navy to the punch. The captured steamer became the first of seventy-six shallow draft Federal gunboats to operate on the Western Rivers that became known as Tinclads.

Ozzy

 

N.B.  Most everyone has heard of the "Tinclad."  Now everyone knows what it was... and the role Shiloh played in its creation.

Image result for tinclad gunboat Tinclad No.17 USS Fairplay

[Image from wikipedia]

 

 

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Roger

Just one of the potpourri of vessels that made up the "light-draft" fleet, Fairplay was a Confederate steamer captured in Louisiana in August 1862 and pressed into Federal service. Photo of that Tinclad included with above post due to its suspected resemblance to the steamer captured at Florence (as a sideshow of the Campaign for Corinth.)

All the best

Ozzy

N.B.  Above information, along with the photograph, found on wikipedia (which I find to be a good "general information" reference, but always verify the claims found there via at least one other source.)

 

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So far, the "evidence" produced in support of Confederate gunboats operating on the Tennessee River following Phelp's Raid -- and awareness of the presence of those gunboats -- has been circumstantial; after all, anything can be reported by a newspaper as "the truth," so news stories alone prove nothing.

How about General U.S. Grant? What was his level of awareness? In the Papers of U.S. Grant volume 4 can be found a series of letters and telegrams sent by Grant to various individuals, which I believe prove that the General was not only aware...he was concerned:

  • March 11th 1862  communication from Grant to C.F. Smith,  Grant expresses his concern that "a Confederate gunboat may have escaped, and still be in operation on the Tennessee River."
  • March 11th   letter from US Grant to wife, Julia:  Grant reveals his concern that "the enemy may have preserved one gunboat hiding up river in a creek, during the present high water; to bring out [later] and destroy our transports. That would be my policy [if I were in their shoes.]"
  • March 14th  communication from Grant to Don Carlos Buell, requesting Buell part with the USS Carondelet ironclad [actually, the USS Cairo was then operating on the Cumberland River in support of Buell] saying, "Her services are much needed in the Tennessee River."
  • March 19th  telegram from Grant to Halleck, expressing belief that "one gunboat may be up Duck Creek; and another Rebel gunboat may be operating further up [the Tennessee River.]"
  • March 31st  telegram from Grant to Halleck reporting "the armored gunboat from Nashville [USS Cairo] has arrived."
  • March 31st  communication from W.T. Sherman to U.S. Grant acknowledging receipt of orders; and reporting that USS Cairo did not arrive at Pittsburg until after midnight, so the Expedition involving three gunboats will get underway at 6am on April 1st.

Ozzy

 

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Roger

I stumbled upon this topic as a fluke, merely because it appeared there was more to Sherman's April 1st raid than was admitted in the after-action report. It seemed as if "something else" was being attempted with the Task Force of three gunboats and two transports than simply verifying the evacuation of Rebel gun emplacements (especially after there was no serious attempt made to cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad.) To me, it appeared as if the mission of the Expedition was to neutralize a gunboat (with the soldiers and field artillery embarked to act against a vessel hidden up a creek too shallow for the Federal gunboats), but I had never heard that any Rebel steamers escaped capture or destruction during Phelp's Raid in February. Upon re-reading the messages in the Official Reports (the Navy version, too) it became obvious that there was concern about a gunboat (or two) that had slipped through the net. But I suppose that because "the Hunt for the Phantom Gunboat" did not tie in neatly with the Battle of Shiloh, or the Crawl to Corinth, historians deemed it best to ignore it... and in the process lost the opportunity to explain the establishment of the Tinclad fleet.

Ozzy

 

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The April 1st Raid and Sherman’s Acting-Commander

There is another aspect to the 1 April 1862 raid worth considering: Brigadier General Sherman’s absence from Pittsburg Landing. In accordance with Special Orders No.36 dated 26 March 1862 Major General C.F. Smith had been designated as Commander, Post of Pittsburg. But because General Smith had severely barked his shin, was no longer ambulatory, and was installed in a private Hospital upstairs in the Cherry Mansion, Smith was unable to perform his duties at Pittsburg Campground; so Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman was designated acting-Commander during Smith’s absence.

With General Smith upstairs in the Cherry Mansion, bedridden; and General Sherman away on another expedition to attempt to cut the M & C Railroad, who was acting-Commander of the Post of Pittsburg in Sherman’s absence? Was an acting-Commander designated?

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