Prelude to Jackson

28 05 2012

On May 1st, Grant’s army had pressed its way into Mississippi and defeated Bowen’s Brigade at Port Gibson.  Now, with the East Bank of the Mississippi abandoned by the Confederacy, Grant was free to do what he pleased without confederate supervision  and it pleased him very much to march on Jackson.  Jackson was the point that connected Vicksburg to the Confederacy.  It has rail connections to the South, North, and (as Grant rightly feared) the East.  If he were to ignore Jackson it would be the point were a great Confederate host would emerge in 3 or 4 weeks to crush him against the anvil of the Vicksburg defenses.  It would be the point at which food and supplies needed for a proper counter attack would (and had already begun to) be collected everyday until the counter attack was ready.  It needed to go.

With the destruction of Jackson on his mind Grant, began snaking his army east through Mississippi toward Jackson with McPherson’s XVII Corp in the lead.  Their march was deliberate but their decision to invade without supply would have consequences.  Grant’s army could not just march, they had to forage as well.  They spread into the rich countryside and gathered what they needed.  In fact, the land (and by land I mean the occupants of central Mississippi) provided amply.  No army ever marched better fed but it would take well over a week before Union Forces appeared at the outer defensive perimeter of Jackson near Raymond.

The Battle of Raymond

General John Gregg arrived at Raymond on May 11th with 3000 men and some really bad intelligence.  Pemberton was convinced the Grant would turn north towards Vicksburg at the the Big Black River Railroad crossing near Edward’s Station.  He wanted Gregg in place to attack Grant’s rear once the Union army turned north and began their march towards Vicksburg.  From this position Gregg’s force would destroy Grant’s ability to move food and supply to the front and would disrupt his communications.

Leaving aside for a moment that Grant’s decision to ignore conventional military thinking and spurn supply for forage meant that cutting his supply line was not that useful, Pemberton’s plan had one other MAGNIFICENT short coming; Grant was ignoring Vicksburg in favor of Jackson.  Raymond is on a direct path from Port Gibson to Jackson.  His entire army was moving towards Gregg and his men.  The displacement of Confederate Calvary in Mississippi by Grierson’s raid and Nathan Bedford Forests defense of Alabama meant Grants army had effectively disappeared.

250px-John_GreggOn arriving at Raymond, Gregg began to hear tales of the industrial foraging that was going on to the west.  He also heard that troops where coming his way and would likely be there the next day.  Not doubting Grant’s intention to wheel towards Vicksburg, Gregg assumed that he would be running into a foraging brigade that was flanking the main advance.  Confident he could lick such a force, he spread his men out across the 3 roads that entered Raymond from the west.  The land here was very hilly and forested; well suited for defense.  He would have the element of surprise and would have no difficulty licking a marching brigade burdened with gathering and carrying forage.

On the Morning of May 12 McPherson’s lead division, lead by General John A. Logan, marched directly into a fight.  Picket’s began to fire from well obscured lines on wooded hilltops and the three guns that the confederates brought to the battle began to rain down shells from a commanding position to the confederate rear.  Logan deployed his lead brigade and the ample artillery he had at hand.  In short order he was able to set up 10 guns and soon began to give better than he got.

raymond-ms-battle-map-8-22-2007

Gregg found himself in a peculiar situation.  It appeared to him that the blue clad scavengers had brought more guns than soldiers.  This was clearly a weird way to forage but “oh well”.  The confederates could not skirmish with big guns and had to either retreat from their hill top position or advance on the union troops now lined near the creek bed below.  The decided on the latter.  Greggs Brigade rose up and went on the attack.  This was, as you can imagine, the last thing that Logan expected.  Out of their original positions the union guns lost their targets to the topology of the battlefield and soldiers that were that morning intent of scourging local farms for bacon and beets found themselves the target a determined Confederate assault.

Gregg’s initial position astride three separate roads converging on Raymond meant his troops were in a good position to flank his initial target.  It appeared that the main confederate spearhead was coming from the direct from and Union troops began to bend in order to apply the fire of a seemingly longer line to the smaller confederate from.  As more confederate regiments converged on the fight they began to find the union soldiers badly out of position to received them.  Had this been a brigade on brigade assault it would have been a short one.

Despite initial success, Gregg finally began to understand the full gravity of his situation.  The brigade he had attacked began to be reinforced by other brigades.  Soldiers began attacking his position from both the left and right of brigade directly to his front.  The large numbers of artillery that outnumbered his own three guns suddenly doubled.  Furthermore, Logan began to make strengthened counterattacks directly to the confederate front.  This was not a foraging party.  This was a Union army.

Gregg realized that, despite early success, the gig was up.  He now had to get out of his current position as intact as possible and return to his base of supply.  Gregg’s troops successfully withdrew, screened by the topography of the battlefield.  They were through and out of Raymond before the ladies of the city had finished preparing a meal for their gallant defenders.  Not to fear though, the Union troops would be along soon enough.

Jackson was clearly the target of this invasion and Gregg would be needed there.  A whole army would be needed there.  What’s more… an army commander would be needed.  The city would have to be prepared for assault and the various disconnected commands of the west would need a respected  overall commander to coordinate them.  …And the south had such a man!  A man who’s audaciousness had saved the south from invasion time and again.  Robert E. Lee!  Sadly, Lee was busy in Virginia so they sent Joseph E. Johnston instead.

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Toys for Boys; Artillery

26 02 2012

Artillery has a magical way of irritating the average Civil War infantryman.  Because of its tremendous range compared to the rifled musket, it punished the soldier that had found good position and was not eager to move.  Many battles hinged on where guns were or could be placed.  Little Round Top, probably the most famous brigade (smallish) action of the war, was fought over a hill that would have utterly exposed the entire union position had just a single confederate cannon made it up to its summit.

Artillery organization varied wildly depending on the wants or needs of the greater mass of infantry that it supported.  In my Champion hill order of battle you can see this. Pemberton’s Confederate artillery was organized such that each brigade(~1800 men) had one battery (4-6 guns).  On the table this will mean that for every four or five regiments, there will be a stand of cannons.  Grant’s Union artillery is organized such that each division (~5000 men) has three batteries (12 – 18 guns).

The ratio was mostly the same for both my armies but the Union army is organized in a way such that guns could be more concentrated.  This is a good way to organize your army if your infantry commanders trust your artillery commanders as it allowed larger collections of artillery to be where they needed to be.  Imagine, you are a lightly engaged confederate brigade in Pemberton’s army.  You get one artillery battery!  Your lightly engaged Union opponent gets no Artillery!  Huzzah!  Keep imagining!  You press your advantage and advance.  The fighting gets hot!  Across the way you can see 15 cannons being set up because an alert Union artillery officer knows where he needs to be.  You still have one battery.  Boo!

A single piece of artillery would have been serviced by about a dozen soldiers. Each gun would have been attached to a horse lead caisson or limber that carried its crew, equipment and some of its ammunition into battle. Usually 6 horses would be attached to the limber.  A lieutenant would have commanded a “section“ consisting of two guns, their combined crew and limbers.

can22

Guns would be delivered into battle and quickly “unlimbered” from the caisson and the caisson moved to a safe but convenient distance.  This is about 20 – 50 yards; close enough that you can quickly grab ammo and get back to your gun, but far enough that a direct hit on the caisson wouldn’t kill everyone.  Remember… the caisson has the ammo in it! 

can11

Civil war artillery came in two flavors; smoothbore and rifled. This is a fun fact.  No one sat around and said that the right mix of big guns was two major types of artillery.  This just happened.  Like most wars of the industrial era, the civil war was filled with innovative technology that was just this “far away” away from being perfected but not quite done yet.  Badass tech o’ the future had a tendency to do its job better but frequently had tremendous drawbacks.  For instance,  blowing up and killing it’s operator, being devilishly hard to make, or not being available at the scale needed to equip an army.

Smoothbore artillery

Smoothbore cannons were made of brass and were drop dead simple weapons.  They were just a long smooth tube with a small hole at the back on top that could be fitted with a fuse.  Quite annoyingly for the soldier firing the gun, they were loaded at the “wrong end” (known as the muzzle).  This makes them simple to operate but shockingly dangerous.  Let’s walk through the process shall we?

  1. Load the gun.  A 2 pound packet of gunpowder about the size of a bag of rice or beans is pushed into the gun along with a big ol’ cannon ball.
  2. Aim the gun.  Sadly this involves tools and math.  But, unlike regular math, if you get the problem right, you blow stuff up.  Fun math!  Rock on.
  3. Fire the gun.
  4. Watch stuff blow up.  This step is optional and would be highly dependent on whether or not you are being shot at.
  5. Fish out the burning burlap baggie that held the gunpowder.  Not optional.
  6. Swab the gun.  This is a feeble attempt to remove cinders or debris from the barrel.
  7. If the cannon is really hot, water can be poured on it from a bucket in a feeble attempt to cool it down.
  8. Repeat.

Does anything stand out about this process as being overly dangerous?  Imagine you are the guy pushing the gunpowder into the barrel of the cannon after its been constantly fired for an hour or so and is hot enough to burn flesh.  The signature wound of a nineteenth century artillery man is the loss of one or both arms to the powder igniting as it is being pushed in.  Proper drill here involves pushing the powder in using only the non dominant hand.  This must have been very comforting to practice.

Below is a lovely video of a smoothbore being fired.  Notice the guy pushing the powder in using both hands.  Yikes!

6 pounder smoothbore

Note: This video is of a “6 pound” smoothbore.   That makes this a very “small” cannon. 

The smoothbore of choice for both armies was the 12 pound “Napoleon’.  Interestingly enough the cannon is not named for the famous diminutive emperor but his grandson who was the current monarch of France and whose army developed the weapon design.  Napoleons where plentiful at the time of the war and both sides knew how to make them. This gun was the staple of all armies in this period.

Polished Napoleon

Smoothbore cannons had a theoretical range of 1600 yards (almost a mile!).  At this range cannonballs could kill and maim but this was usually the result of an accident as there was no way to aim a smoothbore cannon at something bigger than a barn from this far.  Smoothbore cannons fired ordinance in much the same way that knuckle ball pitchers through base balls; wildly.  The effective range of a smoothbore was 800 yards.  At this range that barn is in deep trouble.  This range compares vary favorably with the ranges on the infantry rifles of the period which typically got effective at 200 yards.

Depending on the distance to target,smoothbores had three different types of ammo; solid shot, grape shot and exploding shell.  Solid shot would be used at long range and grapeshot (think a coffee can filed with gumball sides ball bearings) would be used up close.  In addition, both sides used shells with fuses that were designed to create a secondary explosion (with shrapnel) at a particular range.  These were crap and typically killed the wrong people though they were as common as dirt..

Grapeshot rocked up close but infantry typically didn’t hang out at the appropriate range.  Solid shot was the secret weapon of the smoothbore cannon.  What it lacked in accuracy, it more more than made up for in deadliness.  Cannonballs would bounce for hundreds of yards and would remain lethal for most of that time.  They could pass through several waves of soldiers, killing one or two each time, and continue till finally rolling to a stop near the rear.  So long as the target of the cannon was spread out such that it was larger than a barn,it didn’t really matter where the cannon ball went.  Smoothbore cannons were extremely effective against infantry.

Rifled Artillery

Because rifles were bleeding edge technology there where a huge variety of them available.  No matter how many cannon designs were out there, none were globally adapted and all had issues.  One thing that is true of all rifled cannons is that the barrels of the cannon had spiraling that made the fired shells go very straight.  Their accuracy was quite good.  They could hit the proverbial barn door and given that cannons are themselves about that size, that made rifles ideal for counter battery fire.

Rifles of this period were made of iron, not brass.  This is due to the fact that the shell fired from the cannon caught the spiraling of the gun and would take on a spin.  Brass would be blown smooth very quickly by this pressure.  So instead of using church bell to make a cannon, designers used grandma’s iron skillet. Iron was more rigid than brass, preferring to break instead of bend… which is good until its not good.   BTW… if you were to mount grandma’s iron skillet on a gun carriage and leave it outdoors for a few weeks it would not turn that groovy blue green that brass does.  It rusts.  Badly.  To stop this they were constantly painted and repainted black.

CW_Arty_10lb_Parrott_rear

Iron is MUCH heavier than brass so you couldn’t make rifles as big  as smoothbores. This really limited how big these guns could be.  To save on material, they would reinforce back of the rifle (the “breach”) with an iron band giving them a really distinctive looks.  This improved things but they still were considered dangerous weapons.  To make matters worse (and aren’t we always making things worse), Iron smelting is a really uneven, inconsistent process.  Many guns would be built flawed and there was no way to work out which ones where lemons.  Steel would make better, lighter cannons but steel is in the future.

MORE FUN RIFLE TRIVIA!  Shells needed to be snugly fit in the irregular shape of the barrel so they would grab the rifling on the way out of the gun.  This mean that the shell (weighing about 10 or so pounds) would need to be SCREWED into the gun.  Really.  While being shot at!  OH… and that “powder could blow up at any second problem”… you still have that!

MORE FUN!!!  Rifled shells don’t bounce.  You had better hit what you are shooting at because you are NOT going to get lucking on the hop.  Rifled shells hit the ground and burrow.

THE FUN CONTINUES!!!!!!!  Grapeshot in a rifle… not so much.  You could do it but it was a smoothbore afterwards.

KEEP THE FUN GOING!!!!!!!!!! Many different makes of rifle were produced during the war.  The two most common where the 3” ordinance rifle and the 10 lb. Parrott which had a muzzle width of <wait for it> 2.9”.  Really.  Remember that “snug” thing.  Their bullets where not interchangeable but not really different in size.  Much hilarity ensued.  Usually mistakes could be avoided so long as you were not in a hurry or badly needed ammunition… otherwise you would send both types and just asked if the wrong type be returned.  The Union army was so nonplused by this problem that it reworked it’s Parrotts to have a ordinance rifle compatible 3” muzzle.

Now for the good news…  Rifles had a theoretical range of 1800 yards. This is slightly longer than their smoothbore neighbors.  They also had an effective range of 1800 yards meaning that the gun was accurate… always.  It was as capable as the crew firing it and could be aimed at actual targets. 

At the battle of Pine Mountain Georgia in 1864, General Sherman ordered that a cluster of confederate officers be fired on at extreme range with a battery of 3” ordinance rifles. Three shells were fired, the third of which killed (nay, messed up badly) General Leonidas Polk. This episode led Sherman to write Halleck his famous line “We killed Bishop Polk yesterday and have made good progress today…”

Rifles where extremely useful at suppressing enemy artillery and would provide literally dozen’s of insanely accurate shots before exploding and killing their crews. 





The Invasion of Mississippi

23 10 2011

General Grant began landing his army at Bruinsburg Mississippi on April 29th.  His original plan had been to land at Grand Gulf a few miles upstream but with the timely advice of a local slave decided instead on Bruinsburg.  At Grand Gulf roads both north and south were impassible due to seasonal flooding and the one road that lead eastward was impaired.  This would have made it challenging to move his entire army on.  Furthermore, the bulk of Bowen’s division was based there which would have meant a real fight before the chance to land enough troops to gain a bridgehead.

Note:  Having a sizable slave population is an EXCELLENT way to ensure that an invading army has timely and accurate information about the disposition of your forces and up to date information of road and river conditions.  This is an amazing disadvantage made worse by the fact that slave owners typically fled in the face union armies.  I’m certain there must be a really good book out there on the gathering of intelligence from friendly slaves during the American Civil War.

To really isolate Vicksburg from the rest of the Confederacy, Grant needed to strike inland towards Jackson Mississippi.  Jackson was not only the local thriving metropolis, and therefore a supply of both men and material, but it was the intersection of both an east-west and north-south rail line.  The more Grant’s forces proved a threat to Vicksburg, the more troops would flow into Jackson from all quarters of the confederacy where, in time they would become a well supplied and numerically significant threat.

Port Gibson

Once Mclernand’s XVII corps had crossed the Mississippi it started inland on the long march to Jackson.  It had only to go a few miles before it reached Port Gibson where Brigadier’s Martin Green and Edward Tracy and and over 2400 men waited.

Port Gibson Detail

This part of the world is a defenders dream.  It is a series of undulating ridges interspersed with creeks.  Ideally the confederates would like to have occupied a position astride the road from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson, dig in and wait for the confederacy to reinforce them. Unfortunately the road connecting these to Mississippi towns inexplicably forks requiring the already intensely outnumber confederated to defend two approaches to Port Gibson.

On May 1st, General Tracy and his Alabamians assumed a position across the northern approach to Port Gibson and General Green placed his Missouri troops across the southern approach.  Each were attacked multiple times throughout the day by soldiers of both Mclernand’s and McPherson’s corps .  Each assault would result in either a bloody repulse or these two independent forces being pushed back and further apart.

portgibson_btl

Eventually Grant’s numbers came to dominate the battle despite the presence of some confederate reinforcements.  Not only could assaults be performed in large enough numbers to succeed but virtually every position assumed by Confederates could be outflanked by Union forces.  At 9:00 PM that evening confederates slipped out of their position and crossed Bayou Pierre to the north, burning bridges as the went.

The number of participants of the battle for the south can be described succinctly as “4 brigades”.  This would have been around 3000 to 4000 men.  Conversely Union forces would have been described as “2 corps” and would be as many men could be wedged into position in front of the Confederates.  Around 40,000 to 50,000 would have been available for this task.

This battle resulted in around 800 casualties for each side.  Union casualties where primarily dead and wounded while confederates suffered a large number of captured soldiers.

Aftermath

Abandoning Port Gibson had at least one major impact on the confederate defense of Vicksburg.  The fort at Grand Gulf (a few miles north on the Mississippi) could no longer be defended and its near 5000 men (Bowen’s entire division) could no longer stay where it was.  Grant would be astride their supply line (and Bowen’s line of retreat) once he rebuilt the bridges across Bayou Pierre and the fort would be quickly starved.  Two options were available:

  • Join the defeated troops from Port Gibson and form a new defensive line to interpose between Grant and his goal.
  • Join the defenders of Vicksburg.

Ultimately the decision was taken to move the Grand Gulf defenders back to Vicksburg.  While it was obvious to Grant he needed to go to Jackson, it was far less so the General Bowen and the Vicksburg Garrison.  Vicksburg was the ultimate target so rushing to defend it was an easy choice. By one of those quirks of military command, the Vicksburg forces were not responsible for Jackson. Their responsibility was the banks of the Mississippi river and Vicksburg and this part of the Mississippi bank was already lost.  The threat to the Vicksburg supply line that passed through Jackson was not fully appreciated at the time.  Jackson nominally had its own Commander, General John Gregg, who would be on the hook to keep Jackson safe.  Good luck to him.

With Confederates fleeing north towards Vicksburg, Grant’s path East to Jackson was wide open.  Not only where there no troops on the roads to Jackson to slow the union advance, there was no one to warn the locals or organize the removal of supplies.  There would be no scorched earth in Mississippi.  Every farm and plantation held onto its equipment, animals and provisions in the vain belief that they would be spared.  Grant’s army would be abundantly supplied on its drive to Jackson.

With the Road clear to Jackson, Grant pulled General Sherman’s Corps out of its position opposite Vicksburg and it began its trek through Louisiana to the crossing at Hard Times. 

Campaign Maps

I know its confusing to drop city and river names at random on readers not steeped in obscure civil war history.  In addition to the maps that pop up in books I use, I am very fond of a pair of maps created by Hal Jasperon that are available on Wikipedia.

Mr. Jasperon is the dean of high quality freeware maps of the civil war and the internet, and in particular Wikipedia, is literally covered in his work.  His civil war maps page contains literally hundreds of strategic and battlefield maps (though sadly, not one for Champion hill).

Here is a map of Grant’s inland campaign (along with spoilers!)

VicksburgCampaignAprilJuly63

Here is a map of Grant’s operation against Vicksburg prior to the invasion.

VicksburgCampaignDecember62March63





Grant busts a move

7 08 2011

GrantIn the spring of 1863, General Grant was painfully aware of a simple fact; Vicksburg was vulnerable to attack… so long as the attack was not launched from the north, west or south… where he could feasibly place his army.  For months Grant struggled to open a path around the guns of Vicksburg so that he could transport his army to a point that they could attack into the heart of Mississippi without having to endure a ride past the guns of Vicksburg.  With the capture of the Trans-Mississippi Grant had an interesting opportunity.  He could use the river south of Vicksburg now if not the stretch of river directly in front of Vicksburg.

Grant could have always moved his army past Vicksburg.  This was easy.  All he had to do was either march south through Mississippi to the east of the Mississippi delta or march south west of the Mississippi river in Louisiana.  The later of these two paths, and Grant’s ultimate choice, offered the greater likelihood of surprise given the loss of connection between Trans-Mississippi Confederates with their eastern brethren.

Grant's Route

The shortcomings of this route are legion however:

  1. That cute red line on that map above doesn’t actually coincide with the existence of a road. It does coincide with existence of many unbridged rivers and bayous.
  2. Grant’ path lay on the wrong side of the river.  The Mississippi is a mile wide here.  An army the size of Grant’s would require a MAJOR fleet to cross the river fast enough not to be mauled by a confederate army that could be gathered by rail, horse or road from all parts of the confederacy.
  3. That is a LONG road.  Supply for an army would have to move along that huge distance and would be WAY vulnerable interception by armed guerillas.  You could move an army across it but you couldn’t feed an army at the end of it.

Roads and bridges take time an men to build.  Grant had both.  For months his engineers had by combing the bayous of the western bank of the Mississippi river looking for shortcuts to perhaps shift his navy and in the process all weather paths had been created.  Eventually, with a path clear in his mind, a road was built that would provide excellent transport extending from Milliken’s bend north of Vicksburg to the wonderfully named town ‘Hard times” opposite of Bruinsburg in Mississippi.

There would be no substitute for Porter’s fleet in crossing the Mississippi however.  Every ship that COULD pass the guns of Vicksburg would have to do so.  On April 16th, Admiral Porter and 11 of the best ships of this River Navy creeped past the guns of Vicksburg… and paid for it.  His entire fleet was badly damaged in the crossing and one ship had been lit on fire and sunk.  On the 21st another 6 ships, this time army transports, made the run and again all paid a price and one ship paid a whole lotta price.

The damage to the fleet had been anticipated and supplies for their repair had been moved to New Carthage.  By the 29th the fleet had been repaired.  The real cost of this maneuver had not been ships or sailor’s but rather the commitment of Porter’s fleet to operations south of Vicksburg.  While ships can run downstream of Vicksburg with relative ease they could NEVER go back.  Farragut had attempted an upstream passing of Port Hudson in March and only two of his seven boats made the trip.  AND Port Hudson was no Vicksburg.  From now on all of Grant and Porter’s options lay south of Vicksburg.

The third of the Grant’s long road problems was the most difficult to solve; Supply.  Not enough food could ever be moved along this long road and it could NEVER be supplemented by rail or boat given the regions topography.  Grant’s solution to this problem ranks amongst the great strategic accomplishments of warfare.  Right up there with moving elephant’s across the alps or pitching soldiers out of airplanes.  Grant would solve the problem of supply by… <wait for it> … ignoring it.  He would raid the confederates pantry for all the food he would need… hopefully.

Foraging is an act of desperation for an army and has a number of limitations:

  1. Only moving armies can successfully forage as once an area is cleaned out of food then… well… its cleaned out of food.
  2. Forage works best while food is growing in the field.  Once it’s harvested it’s mobile and can be hidden.
  3. Foraging works best in areas with a low density of population and a high density of agriculture.  More food to steal, less people to defend it.
  4. The area to be foraged should have as little warning as possible to prevent goods from being moved.

Mississippi was one of the breadbaskets of the confederacy.  This portion of Mississippi in particular, with its access to both rail and river transport and no history of Union operations, was flush with supplies and short on troops. May would find the fields filled with edible food with no means to remove it.  Furthermore, Grants decision to invade without a line of supply caught everyone utterly by surprise on both sides of the war.  Armies as a rule do not go on the offensive with securing a line of supply… and certainly not Union armies.  Both Grant’s superiors and subordinates took Grant at his word that food would not be a problem.

The potential of offensive forage was a lesson that had been learned by Grant the previous year when he was forced to retreat back to Memphis when Forest’s and Van Dorn’s cavalry had destroyed his supply line in Tennessee and at Holly Springs.  The order to retreat and to forage for supply had returned an impossibly large amount of material.  Far from starving, his retreating army had eaten rather well.  Grant put this trivia nugget away.

On the 29th and 30th of April, Grant moved much of his army into the deep rear of his confederated adversary just south of Bayou Pierre.  Grant had somehow moved an army of 50,000 men through 100 miles of confederate controlled territory without the confederates noticing.  Partially this can be attributed to the limitations of his opponent’s imagination but Grant had also gone to a lot of trouble to give the confederates something else to think about.

Something else to think about

In April of 1863 the North’s long standing aversion to modern cavalry tactics ended.  Grant had not one but two raids planned to give the confederates something to think about other than “hey… where DID those gunboats go”.

If you are ever asked to lead a cavalry raid deep into enemy territory using mules instead of horses, you should turn this offer down.  Colonel Abel D. Streight did not come to this sensible conclusion and led a force of 1700 mule mounted cavalry on attack from Tuscumbia (in northern Alabama near Mississippi) to Cedar Bluff (In northern Alabama near Georgia).  On May 3rd, near Cedar Bluff, Streight and his command were captured by one Darth Vader Nathan Bedford Forest.

This was more useful to the union army than it might sound.  Forest had magical dark powers and could screw up virtually anything.  He read minds, was invulnerable to bullets and was generally a very scary man.  With Forest in eastern Alabama he could neither muck with Grant nor could he interfere with the second, more successful, Union cavalry raid led by Colonel Grierson.

546px-Benjamin_H_GriersonColonel Grierson’s raid is worthy of study.  He was loose in Mississippi for 17 days and destroyed, deceived and confused confederates continually.  His orders had been to go from Memphis into Mississippi and come back.  As his troops engaged confederates he would split his forces sending some back north but continuing further south with his main unit further into Mississippi.  Once on the far side of Jackson, he took the fateful decision to continue south until he ran into a Union position along the Mississippi river.  After having occupied 20 times his own force in a fruitless effort to find him, he finally arrived in Baton Rouge and joined General Banks forces on May 2nd.  The following month Lincoln had him promoted to a Brigadier General and  he was celebrated as one of the great heroes of the war

In an interesting side note… Grierson hated horses.  He had been kicked in the face by a horse as a child and was desperately afraid of them.  His appointment to the Cavalry branch had been made over his objections.

Meanwhile, back at Vicksburg, Sherman had not made the trip to Mississippi in the last weeks of April along with the rest of Grant’s army.  His corps still sat right in front of Vicksburg where it did its best to look like an Army.  On the 29th, it retraced to steps to the Chickasaw bluffs where it had been bloodily repulsed the previous December.  There his troops disembarked, reembarked, made funny noises and, in general, looked menacingly at the confused confederates.  This move did much to distract confederates and convince them that they should stay put and protect Vicksburg from a more direct assault.

Grierson’s raid destroyed communications, distracted resources and generally confused the confederates utterly for a fortnight. Sherman’s demonstration froze the defenders of Vicksburg and convinced them to defend their old positions in the same old way.  While dealing with Grierson’s cavalry and Sherman’s corps, confederates utterly lost Grant who crossed the Mississippi by the 1st of May.  Grant was now in Mississippi and Sherman set out to catch up to the rest of the army.





The Closing of the Trans-Mississippi

5 06 2011

The confederacy badly needed at least a stretch of the Mississippi intact to remain a viable rebellion.  This can not be overstated.  While Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Western Louisiana (collectively the “Trans-Mississippi”) contributed a relatively small portion of the troop strength used by the confederacy the most reliable trade lines with the world lay overland through Texas to Mexico.  Cutting this would further impoverish the south and hasten the end of the war.

Grant and Porter had done their best to take away this patch of river but they were not the only Union force on the Mississippi.  South of Port Hudson, General Banks and Admiral Farragut had the same mission; Close the Mississippi to confederate commerce…today or sooner.  In fact, the “plan” at this point was for Grant’s and Banks’s armies to meet and combine under Bank’s command (Grant still being a relatively junior Major General)

Banks and Farragut had the same set of issues that Grant and Porter faced at Vicksburg… only worse.  Port Hudson was no Vicksburg to be sure but the Mississippi moved in the dead wrong direction.  Upstream travel would be done at a tiny fraction of the speeds that ships assaulting Vicksburg would enjoy.  Damaged ships would effectively be repelled as they floated downstream.  Landing troops and marching around Port Hudson would be perilous given how closely the river was watched and difficult given a shortage of vessels designed for use on the river.  The union fleet had to be transported to their present theatre by a roundabout path through the Gulf of Mexico and had a shocking shortage of river capable vessels.

Banks and Farragut had one more disadvantage that made their success less likely; Banks himself.  While Farragut was every bit Admiral Porters equal (next summer he would utter the immortal phrase “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead”  when told his ships were being sunk by mines) Banks was no Grant.  Banks was THE quintessential political general. 

General Banks

gen_banks2In 1856, Nathanial Banks’ election as Speaker of the House (while still a Democrat) would serve as a herald of the coming era of Republican domination.  In 1857 he would resign from congress (having successfully placed anti-slavery congressmen in positions of considerable power) and would become Governor of Massachusetts where he would tirelessly  work to create a militia system that would rival those of the south.  His preparations over the next few years would be credited with producing a sufficient number of troops to buy the North time to construct a proper army in the opening months of the war. 

In recognition of his visionary contributions to the war effort as Governor he was commissioned a Major General and given command of the upper Potomac (Essentially Maryland).  One of General Banks’ first campaigns was to lead an army into the Shenandoah valley to confront General Stonewall Jackson.  This is ended badly… repeatedly.  With the realization that Bank’s gifts might be limited to the purely administrative, Banks was given the task of raising troops and was eventually given command of the occupation of New Orleans.

Banks would go on to lead the Red River campaign in 1864, or, as its more commonly known, the Disastrous Red River campaign.  After this he was forced to stand in the corner and told not to touch anything.  After the War he resumed his role as a politician where he played an active role in the impeachment of president Johnson, received an astoundingly large bribe from the Russians for buying Alaska, an became one of the eras great bloody shirt wavers.

In the Spring of 1863 Banks owned the problem of opening the Mississippi up from the south along with his naval counterpart, Admiral Farragut.  Hopefully Farragut is the man.

Admiral Farragut

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was born in battle where, while just a few hours old, he lead several successful boarding parties therein successfully ending both the American Revolution and The War and 1812.  Ok… I made this up.  The truth is only slightly less cool though

Admiral_David_G_FarragutAdmiral Farragut was born “James” Farragut to a Revolutionary War Navy veteran George Farragut.  George had served with and befriended one David Porter Sr., another revolutionary war navy veteran.  In one of those WEIRD turn of events that makes one believe the nineteenth century must have sucked more than we’ve been lead to believe, David Sr. died of sunstroke in 1808 while visiting the Farragut’s in New Orleans… the same day that Mrs. Farragut died of Yellow fever.  Really. 

David Porter (Jr.), son of David Porter (Sr) was so moved by the plight of his father’s fiend and the plight of his newly motherless son James that he offered to foster young James while George Farragut continued his service.  On Farragut’s death in 1813 James Farragut was adopted by the Porters.

David Porter Jr had been in both the war of 1812 and the Quasi-war as naval officer and had risen to the rank of commodore.  His career was distinguished enough that a number of cities and ships bore his name in his lifetime.  He had 6 sons that survived to adulthood and all survived to serve the United States Navy during the Civil war including one David Dixon Porter… who now commanded the Union Fleet in front of Vicksburg.  Porter and Farragut where adopted brothers.  Really.  It is THAT small a world.

James, (who would later change his name to David to honor his adoptive father) began his service in the US navy at the age of 9 as a midshipman.  He was given command of his first prize ship at the age of 12 in war of 1812.  He rapidly moved up through the ranks and in 1853 was tasked with creating the first US Fort and shipyard on the West Coast.  David Farragut was the Man.

Running the guns

In March of 1863, Farragut had realized the same simple truth that his step brother Admiral Porter had the previous month; One great big boat on the stretch of Mississippi between Vicksburg and Port Hudson and this critical highway would be shut down forever.

Farragut had 7 boats ready for the task of BLAZING past the forts at Port Hudson at 4 or 5 miles per hour.  Three of his boats (USS Albatross, USS Genesee, and USS Kineo) were ocean going gun boats.  These boats where actually ocean going commerce vessels that had been lightly armored and given guns.  These ships were fast and intensely useful for patrolling against commerce raiders and blockade runners.  There usefulness against forts was more limited.

The balance of his ships ( USS Hartford, USS Richmond, USS Monongahela, and the USS Mississippi) where purpose built ocean going war ships and where mighty mighty.  These ships would be more capable of taking the punishment the fort guns could hand out.

USS Mississippi:
USS_Mississippi_1863

Incidentally Farragut had no ironclads.  Ships operating out of New Orleans had to navigate the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico so his fleet was mad up entirely of ocean going vessels.  This made his fleet somewhat less suitable for service on rivers.  They would not have had the thick thick armor of an ironclad nor its river friendly shallow draft.  This would come up later on a quiz.

To increase the likelihood the gunboats could make it pass the fort, Farragut had them lashed to the port sides of his larger warships for the purpose of shielding them from the fire of the Fort on the East bank of the river.  He also painted all of the interior surfaces of his ships white to make them easier to operate in the dead of night.  Between the painting and the lashing, confederates figured something was up.

PORT_H~1

Confederates knew they were vulnerable to upstream attack and had taken precautions.  The entire west bank of the Mississippi opposite the fort was covered in pitch covered piles of wood that would serve to illuminate the river.  Furthermore spotters were stationed at points on the river and given rockets to communicate with the forts guns.  Additionally, guns had access to “hot shot”.  Cannon balls, normally quite harmful to ships, were HORRIBLY destructive when white hot.

Cannons, steam engines, bonfires, rockets and ovens for heating shot have one thing in common;  Smoke.  As Farragut’s ships moved past Port Hudson both banks and the ships themselves erupted in a cacophony and fire.  Within a few minutes visibility was reduced to nil.   While this did much to protect the ships from fire, it did very little to help them navigate.  All seven ships quickly ran aground.

Sailing ahead of its own smoke, the Albatross and Hartford managed to pass all the guns of the fort before running aground.  With some effort she pulled free and left the battle.

The Richmond managed to make the turn past the guns to move directly away from the fort but a lucky shot passing through an open portal and managed to disable both its boilers.  It rolled right passed all the guns for a second time.

The Manongahela and Kineo ran aground right under the guns of the fort.  While pulling off the shoals, the ships separated.  The Manongahela’s  engines had been disabled during its struggle to dislodge, and the Kineo suffered a direct hit on its rudder.  They were out of the fight as well and drifted down stream.

The USS Mississippi grounded and caught fire.  As it burned, it got lighter.  Getting light it got ungrounded and began to float downstream… into the awaiting union fleet recovering from its perilous assault.  Then it blew up.  Hilarity ensued.

The battle would have been a catastrophic failure had it not been for one thing; Tow ships did get passed the fort.  The Albatross and Hartford pushed off the West bank and took up station on the Mississippi. 

The only warships capable of challenging either the Albatross or the Hartford, the Queen of the West and the Webb, had been too badly wounded in the fight with the Indianola to attack either of the Union ships.  They Fled up the Red river and into obscurity.  Two weeks later, the river flotilla pulled up to Fort Sherman and resupplied.   Admiral Porter sent south two of his own ships to reinforce and with that the Mississippi, while still not open to the North, became totally closed to the South… forever.

So out of touch became the Trans-Mississippi that its theatre commander, General Kirby Smith, was given total control of the region and told not expect either support or additional orders.  For the balance of the war, this region was euphemistically called “Kirby Smithdom” and fell out of consideration as a part of the southern war effort.





The Steele Bayou Expedition

1 05 2011

Despite the loss of two of his best ironclads, Admiral Porter was not giving up.  If there were no spare heavy ships for running the guns and Vicksburg then there was at least an abundance of shallow draft transports and cottonclads for turning the confederate position along the Yazoo.

Back in December, Grant had lost nearly 2000 men assaulting Haines Bluff.  This position was not only proofed against a frontal assault but its guns dominated the river itself and would have made the passing of a fleet carrying troops and supplies too expensive to be considered.  What was needed was way to go around the confederate defenses and with the Mississippi Delta flooded from the breaking of the dykes from the Yazoo Pass expedition in February many new “rivers” had bee created where only streams and swamps had been previously

Preliminary scouting revealed that Steele’s bayou, who’s mouth attached to the Yazoo just below the Haines Bluff fortification, was navigable for nearly 20 miles.  Navigable in fact until it connected to Black Bayou which jogged east and connected to Deer Creak.  Deer Creek was connected to the Rolling fork which attached to the Sunflower which in turn ran back to the Yazoo upstream of the confederate Fortifications.  It was 200 miles of meandering swamp but it appeared that Porter was in business.

Steele's Bayou

On March 16th 1863, on its assent up Steele’s bayou, Porter’s fleet picked up one of Sherman’s Divisions.  Up until very recently Sherman’s men had been trying to dig their way pass Vicksburg.  Flooding had ended this effort.  The very flooding that made this expedition possible made his men available for the work required to circumnavigate the confederates on the Yazoo.

All went well until the union fleet made its way to deer creek.  The assumption that flooding would make the waterways of the delta deep enough for navigate had proven true but the flooding had done little to move the trees lining the creek further apart.  Flooding had also moved the canopy of the forest that much closer to the surface of the water.  As with the Yazoo river expedition, navigation of the river had become perilous to man and ship alike.  River vessels had stacks and rigging destroyed by continual contact with the Delta’s flora and with each bump of a tree, the decks of the union fleet would be covered by all the bugs and critters of the swamp that had been forced to seek refuge.

In order to make Deer Creek passible to union navigation, Sherman’s men took to felling and moving trees.  A task that had them in the water and tugging on ropes for days.  In the mean time Porter’s gunboats continued ahead without infantry support.  What could possibly go wrong?

By this point Confederates had a pretty good idea of what the union fleet was up to.  At choke points in the creek cotton was stacked near the edge of the water and would be lit as the union ships approached.  This didn’t stop the fleet but it did manage to make life pretty miserable for union crews.

On the night of the 18th, when the ships stopped and made repairs the sound of axes could be heard as confederates had taken to blocking the waterway with trees.  After sending mortar rafts ahead to run off the gray woodsmen in the night, the fleet pressed ahead the next morning and nearly made the mouth of the Rolling Fork.  There they found a problem.

Near an Indian mound, the river turned on a ominous bright green.  For an extended stretch of deer creek, a pervasive patch of willow weed grew beneath the surface of the water.  Believing that steam powered river gunboats had what it took to make it through such a growth, Porter ordered his lead gunboats to go ahead at full speed.  Of course this did not work.  Porter’s fleet became completely stuck, and stuck in a really bad place.

High ground could be found in range of the river fleet and the ironclads would have difficulty shooting back given their inability to move and their relative elevation.  Porter was screwed and he knew it.  He put ashore some of his more mobile smoothbores which took up position on the nearby Indian mound.  His crew he put overboard with knives and hooks in an effort to free his ships.

No sooner had the union troops fortified the mound than confederate artillery had taken position both north and south of the fleet and opened fire.  Not just any confederate artillery either but rifles with much more accuracy and range.  Porter was desperate and had to send for Sherman.  Unable to send back some of his still mobile gunboats for help because of the guns in his rear and the felled trees they used to block the river, Porter was forced to rely on slaves to deliver messages to Sherman many miles away.

Three days later, on the 22nd, Sherman’s  men arrived, wet, muddy and disgruntled.  Forced to travel cross country due to the inability of the fleets transports to navigate Deer Creek, Sherman’s men took a full day to make it to the stranded fleet.  Once there however they had no difficulty pushing the confederates out of both of their positions and clearing the river of felled trees.  After a short discussion both Porter and Sherman agreed that they had been whooped and it was time they made their way home… in reverse.

The Seventh Failure

This phase of the Vicksburg campaign is known by historians as the “Seven Failures”. We have chronicled six failures so far including Grant’s advance through Holly springs, Sherman’s assault on the cliffs of Normandy Haynes Bluff, Grant’s canal, the Yazoo Pass expedition, the Lake Providence expedition and the Steele Bayou expedition.  For Grant’s final failure he chose another canal.

Grant’s canal across Desoto Point had been obliterated by spring floods but, with higher water, new routes for a canal were possible.  A mile or so above the original canal site, at a place improbably named Duckport, a new canal was begun.  This new canal would connect the Mississippi to the Walnut bayou, which connected to Roundaway Bayou and in turn into Bayou Vidal with reconnects to the Mississippi at New Carthage below Vicksburg.

This is not really a sexy story.  It was never thought a very good idea as only small boats could use the bayou on the far side of the canal.  This plan was only practical because of the flooding and when the flooding stopped in April the plan was abandoned.

Grant had failed to get around Vicksburg.  He had Failed seven times.  Fear not though.  Grant had one more plan… and it was a corker.





Deluded people, Cave In.

3 04 2011

It is my pleasure to relate to you the sad and glorious tale of the USS Queen of the West, the USS Indianola and the greatest military hoax since Odysseus said “Hey… why don’t we build a giant horse out of wood… No one will see it coming.”   Go ahead, get yourself a beer.  I’ll wait right here.

391px-David_Dixon_PorterIn February of 1863, Admiral David Porter had an idea; He could destroy the last vestiges of confederate trans-Mississippi commerce through violence and piracy.  The Mississippi and Red rivers were in Confederate hands by the grace of its enormous remaining forts on the Mississippi (Vicksburg to the north and Port Hudson to the south near Baton Rouge).  Nothing afloat on these rivers could more than just bother the mighty union ironclad fleet.  Only a handful of forts remained on the river and these could be easily passed without fear so long as ships did not dally beneath their guns.  Porter knew that to rob the south of this vital transportation highway, one need not destroy the forts guarding its entries; one need only pass them with serious warships… once. 

In addition to having piracy on his mind, Admiral Porter had two more things; A landing on the west bank of the Mississippi south of Vicksburg and a spare ironclad.

USS Queen of the West

Grant had spread his army around Mississippi and Arkansas in order to find some way to break into Vicksburg’s rear.  One of these efforts resulted in a the establishment of Fort Sherman on the west bank of the Mississippi in Arkansas.  This is a particularly useful place to have a fort if you intend to operate a ship on this part of the river.  From here ships could be resupplied and repaired.  Captured troops and equipment could be unloaded.

Admiral Porter ordered the Queen of the West, along with it’s 19 year old captain, Charles Ellet jr, to run the guns of Vicksburg and then to capture, burn, harass, inhibit and frustrate confederate commerce.  On February 2nd 1863 the Queen of the West ran past the guns of Vicksburg where it received an even dozen hits.  The Ironclad then pulled up to Fort Sherman where it’s damage was repaired and was resupplied.

h59106

On February 4th the Queen of the West began its career as river privateer. Admiral Porter, clearly excited by the prospect of taking the war to new battlegrounds in the south, wired the secretary of the navy that the Queen of the West was under way with supplies of coal and ammunition.  To the end of this communication he added “This gives the ram nearly coal enough to last month, in which time she can commit great havoc, if no accidents happens to her.”  Ok… that’s not ominous at all.

For days the Queen of the West was bad news for confederate shipping.  Several VERY valuable ships including the Desoto and the Era No.5 where captured laden with food and supplies.  What the Union ironclad did not care to steal, it destroyed.  A great many ships, including one medium sized confederate ironclad were forced up the Red River and the Queen of the West gave pursuit.  On February 14th, At Fort DeRussy in Louisiana, The CSS William H. Webb, along with a small flotilla of scratch made warships (Mostly steam launches with a single field gun), made a stand.

Within moments of discovering Fort DeRussy, the Queen of the West suffered a tremendous set back. In the 10 days prior to the 14th, several soldiers, including the ships pilot, had been wounded either by sniper fire on the ship itself or as a part of landing parties sent ashore to burn or capture valuables.  Neither the Webb (and its Lilliputian counter parts) nor the Guns of Fort DeRussy should have provided the Queen of the West a proper challenge but the two combined made Captain Ellet uncomfortable.  He ordered the replacement pilot to turn the ship about and head back towards the Mississippi.  In response, the pilot plowed the Queen of the West bow first into the river bank directly under the guns of the fort. 

This left the young Captain with a dilemma.  Escape OR destroy the Queen of the West…. not both.  Unable to bring himself to destroy his ship, and therefore his wounded, he gave the order to abandon ship.  Men pushed cotton bails (which apparently float) into the water and road them downstream to the captured DeSoto and Era No. 5 which would give them a ride back to the sanctuary of Fort Sherman.  Or so they thought.

A few hours later the Desoto plowed into a sand bar where it had both rudders torn off and its paddle wheels destroyed.  The ship was piloted by none other than the same replacement pilot that had beached the Queen of the West.  Needless to say, he was arrested for being either a confederate sympathizer or the worse riverboat pilot in the history of the world.  Either way, he was going to jail and rightfully so. 

After another brief ride on a cotton bail, Captain Ellet and his crew now began their long, upstream, journey back to the safety of union guns.  The Confederates, thrilled at the prospect of capturing a Union crew began to give chase with their much faster fleet.  Oh dear.

USS Indianola

Delighted by the early reports of the Queen of the West’s success on the Mississippi, Admiral Porter decided that he had one more spare Ironclad.

On February 13th, the day before the Queen or the West changed teams, the USS Indianola ran the guns of Vicksburg and, having received no meaningful damage set out to join her sister ship with a great of coal lashed to her sides on barges.  Apparently running out of coal was Admiral Porter’s greatest concern and to this end he had begun moving large barges of coal past the fort of Vicksburg to resupply his pirate fleet.  Two of the barges were lashed to the sides of the USS Indianola providing it not only quite enough fuel but also a good bit of protection from Confederate rams.

USS_Indianola

Ramming is an old school attack method that briefly regained popularity during the Civil war.  Virtually all warships of the Civil War era had giant iron rams attached to their bows below the waterline.  With the armoring of ships and the shortage of the really big guns needed to punch through such armor (particularly in the south), it was felt that this weapon system provided an excellent secondary attack method.  Everyone was wrong of course.  Ramming sucked but rams were cheap so all the ships got one anyway.  Captains weren’t told how dumb ramming was but most of them had figured it out by the end of the war.

On February 16th the Indianola ran into the Era No. 5 running for its life with the Webb hot on its heals.  The Webb, again no match for a fully armed Union Ironclad, realized that it had no business fighting the Indianola and retired.  Captain Ellet and Captain Brown (the Indianola’s skipper) met and decided that it was unlikely that he Queen of the West could possibly be put back on the river soon and that the Indianola should patrol the mouth of the Red River while Era No. 5 return to Fort Sherman and ask, pretty please, for one more Ironclad to help with the recapture or destruction of the Queen of the West.

The Queen of the West was not NEARLY as damaged as Captain Ellet supposed.  Within 2 days she had been pulled from the bank and her damage repaired.  Within another 2 days she would be crewed and ready for action.  The newly rechristened CSS Queen of the West, along with the CSS Webb and two steam boats armed with field cannons and armored with cotton set out to sink or capture the Indianola commanded by Major Joseph L. Brent.

By a stroke of luck the Indianola had landed at a plantation where they had hoped to secure cotton bails for armoring the ships deck (and for future use as floatation devices presumably) when they were informed by slaves of the Queen of the West’s resurrection.  It was now the Indianola’s turn to run for its life.

When running for one’s life, it is essential that one does so quickly.  If something should slow you down, say, hypothetically, a pair of giant coal laden barges lashed to the sides of your boat, you should cut them loose.  You should forget about them.  They are not your problem.  Also, despite the regulation manual’s insistence that recoaling should be done in daylight, you should do this at a night when you are not moving, OR, better yet, not at all, because, as we have already established, keeping several months of coal on hand is not your problem when you are running for you life.

With the Indianola essentially walking fast, albeit for its life, the Confederate fleet had no difficulty running it down.  It could have overtaken it virtually point in its pursuit but it really wanted the Indianola to receive as much harm as possible from forts along the Mississippi.  In particular, their was a really nice fort at Port Hudson just south of Vicksburg that had a fighting chance to wound the Indianola.

On the 24th of February, the Indianola passed Fort Hudson in the late afternoon where it received a smattering of direct hits but no real harm.  That evening Major Brent and his Fleet attacked the Indianola under cover of night a scant 13 miles south of Fort Sherman.  The battle that resulted could be clearly heard by both the city of Vicksburg and its Union blockaders.

Unable to accurately fire its massive guns in the darkness, the Indianola only managed to score a single hit.  The Webb made several ramming attacks on the Indianola including a highly inadvisable head on ram that very nearly disabled the Webb and only managed to bring the Indianola to a halt.  (When ramming, mass counts.)  Slowed by this collision, the Indianola made an easy target for the ram on the of the Queen of the West and a battle ending blow was delivered.  Both ships were badly damaged by the collision but the Indianola had sprung a leak.  When your ship is made of solid iron, leaks are bad.  With the Indianola taking on gobs of water it was now time to end the battle on the best possible terms. 

Captain Brown steered his ship towards the Arkansas bank of the Mississippi where he would be able to send his crew ashore on the less hostile side for the river.  Once the crew had disembarked, the ship was set afire in the hopes that it would not fall into Confederate hands.  Remarkably, not only did boarding confederates put out the fires but they succeeded in moving the smoldering ship to the Mississippi bank of the river where it sank in shallow water.  By moving the ship the Confederates would have better access to tools and supplies they would need and would be able to work on the ship unharassed by union snipers on the Arkansas bank.

Admiral Porter’s big black lie

Just prior to the battle and beaching of the Indianola, Admiral Porter had a a very disturbing debriefing with young Captain Ellet.  (How awesome was that conversation!)The sounds of the battle just down river and the subsequent lack of returning Indianola led the Admiral to a very bleak place.  The next day it was confirmed that even though the confederate fleet was really beaten up, the confederates had captured the Indianola and were busy repairing her.

Only three week earlier he was conquering the Trans-Mississippi with spare boats.  Now, not only was completely out of ironclads, an attack downriver by anything less than a large fleet would be easily repelled, and subsequently disabled ships would be easily captured by a rapidly growing confederate fleet.  (Remember, when ships are disabled, they float downriver.)  Things were bad.

If only the north had one more Ironclad.  If available right now, a single undamaged ironclad could go down river, engage the wounded confederates and force them to either destroy the Indianola and run for their lives OR stay and fight which, of course, they couldn’t do because they weren’t dumb.  Hey… wait a second.

Within 24 hours Admiral port had constructed an ironclad, or at least what appeared to be an ironclad if you didn’t get within 3 or 4 hundred yards.  The faux warship was constructed on an old flat bottom barge along with several rafts to give it the proper length and girth.  It had a forward facing casemate and armored wheelhouse made of wood framing and canvas covered in pitch.  Several large caliber logs protruded though its various gun ports.  It’s smoke stack was made of stacked barrels which even had fires for producing real smoke.

Admiral_Porter's_Second_Dummy_Frightening_the_Rebels

Early in the morning the day after the Indianola’s capture, the fake ironclad “ran” the guns of Vicksburg.  Early the next morning, with the Queen of the West stationed up river to watch for the union ironclad that had run the guns in the night, a column of smoke appeared on the horizon.  The Queen of the West waited just long enough to confirm a third union ironclad was on its way in the distance. With this, the Confederate fleet withdrew and the desperate confederate salvage team had no choice but to destroy the Indianola.  With the guns spiked and the fire raging and on the verge of reaching the magazine, the Trojan warship floated into view.  Painted on its wheelhouse in giant letters were the words “Deluded People, Cave In”.