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As we know, the Civil War antagonists made use of the same words and terms to describe events and locations at widely separated locations: “Gibraltar” was used to describe Fort Columbus, Fort Smith Arkansas, and Vicksburg; “Manassas” described the battlefield of First Manassas, Second Manassas, and at least one ironclad steamer on the western waters. Other terms recycled include Peach Orchard, sunken road and Pea Ridge... and Slaughter Pen. There was Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg; the Slaughter Pen at Round Top (Gettysburg) and the Slaughter Pen at Stone's River. At Shiloh, there was no Slaughter Pen identified on post-battle maps: “Hell's Hollow” (the site just north of the Sunken Road, encompassing the camp of the 3rd Iowa) had the greatest opportunity to become a slaughter pen, if Federal forces had prolonged the demand to surrender to the Rebels that surrounded them on the afternoon of April 6th.

Even still, the term “Slaughter Pen” was used at Forts Henry and Donelson. To what tactical situation did it refer?


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                At Fort Henry the gunboat Essex took a shell through their middle boiler. The scalding steam trapped the two civilian pilots in the pilot house and killed them instantly. One pilot was found with his hand still on the wheel. The names were Marshall Ford and James McBride.

                At Fort Donelson, Foote’s flagship was the St. Louis. A shell penetrated the 1.5 inches of iron plate and 15 inches of oak timber sending deadly splinters along with shell fragments ricocheting throughout the pilot house. F. A. Riley, the pilot, died at the wheel. Foote was injured in his foot but was able to pry Riley’s dead fingers from the wheel and took over steering the boat. Foote thought his wound was not serious and he would be over it in a week. But it never healed and three months later he had to relinquish command of the gunboat fleet on the Mississippi. He died about a year later.

                The Carondelet stayed in the fight the longest at Fort Donelson. A 128-pound shell smashed into the pilot house and sent iron splinters and wood splinters into the two civilian pilots, mortally wounding one. His name was William Hinton. Later another shell hit the pilot house wounding another pilot.

                On board the Louisville, a pilot was wounded.

                The pilot house on the boats was a prime target for the enemy’s cannon. At Forts Henry and Donelson four civilian pilots were killed and at least three others wounded. Pilots were usually well-known on the rivers and served under dangerous conditions.

                At Forts Henry and Donelson the pilot houses on the gunboats were, indeed, a slaughter pen.


                This was a great question as I had never heard the term slaughter pen applied at Forts Henry and Fort Donelson.


                I tried a simple google search with forts Henry and Donelson and slaughter pen and the following book appeared: A History of the United States Navy, from 1775 to 1893, Volume 2

By Edgar Stanton Maclay. Page 330.


Here is the link I found. It is long but when I tried to find a shorter one it was not the same book although it had the same title.




To verify what boat William Hinton was on I referred to Walke’s “The Western Flotilla at Fort Donelson, Island Number Ten, Fort Pillow and Memphis” in Battles and Leaders, Vol. 1



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Hank, Well Done!

The Civil War is responsible for a number of words and phrases that made their way into common usage: deadline, French leave, corn dodger, ironclad, shooting gallery, caisson, cartridge, greenback, graybacks, copperhead, true blue, green troops, veteran troops, goober pea, torpedo, mortar, hand-grenade, land mine, lever-action repeating rifle, magazine, rifle-musket, half-cocked, lock & load, parole, shoddy, pontoon bridge, “spike a gun,” bellyache, bummer, euchre, sortie, rocket, homestead, free soil, know-nothing, fire-eater, stereoscope, CDV, “Tennessee volunteer,” “Tennessee foxtrot,” Texas Ranger, guerrilla, partisan ranger, red-legs, jay-hawker, blockade runner, commerce raider, skedaddle, “open the ball,” forlorn hope, “the whole shebang” ...and slaughter pen.

Ran across “slaughter pen” as I was reading through Henry Walke's Naval Scenes and Reminiscences of the Civil War (1877). Commander Walke was in charge of wooden gunboat USS Tyler in the Western Theatre through Battle of Belmont; and when ironclad USS Carondelet was completed, Walke took command of her (prior to Fort Henry). He makes the comment on page 22, “the necessarily high point on the gunboat was the pilot-house, from which position the pilot could safely navigate the vessel. Unfortunately, the pilot-house became the target of enemy gunners, because by killing the pilot, the vessel was effectively put out of action. Therefore, the pilot-house (the most dangerous part of the vessel) became known as the slaughter pen.”

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433008496394&view=1up&seq=48  Henry Walke's Reminiscences (pages 22 and 30 - 55 most important).





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As Hank pointed out, the pilots who steered the gunboats safely and professionally from the elevated (and exposed) pilot house were civilians. At first blush, this seems incongruous, to have civilians “commanding” a Navy vessel... except the “expert knowledge” possessed by these men, acquired over many years, led to them having a corner on the market (and earning $400 per month was not uncommon, when making $400 per year in 1860 was seen as “good earnings,” and a Brigadier General made $315 per month.)

Balloon pilots were another “specialist profession” and so were telegraph operators: it cost $20000 per month to operate a balloon during the war; and a good telegraph operator earned $50 - $100 per month, with telegraph station supervisors paid $1500 per year.

Today, the “specialist knowledge” used by the Military resides with surgeons and doctors (how much experience and training is required to rebuild war-damaged bodies?) and computer/ IT specialists (most work done by civilian contractors.)

Just for perspective...


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