Estimating the situation west of the Mississippi on January 4, 1864, Confederate Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith wrote to Maj. Gen. Richard (“Dick”) Taylor, CSA: “I still think the Red and Washita [Ouachita] Rivers, especially the former, are the true lines of operation for an invading column, and that we may expect an attempt to be made by the enemy in force before the rivers fall.” Little did he know at that time that, within eight weeks, RAdm. David Dixon Porter would arrive with just such a joint expedition.
Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, CSA Commander of the Confederate District of Western Louisiana and son of the 12th U.S. president, Zachary Taylor, this Kentuckian was the Southern general most directly responsible for the spring 1864 defense of Red River from the combined Federal expedition. He would receive official thanks from the Confederate Congress for his actions (Library of Congress).
For some months now, Federal forces from Washington to the West had been involved in planning an incursion into the Trans-Mississippi theater. By the beginning of the new year, generals as diverse as Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Nathaniel Banks, the eventual leader, were on board with a plan to move up the Red River through Louisiana toward Texas.
The forthcoming operation would, in actuality, be a “rather grand undertaking,” in the words of historian William Riley Brookshire. Although championed by, among others, President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, the undertaking was initially opposed by Grant and Banks.
Although, in the end, it would really consist of a “loosely connected joint land and naval exercise,” it did have as its ultimate military objective “completion of the subjugation of Louisiana and Arkansas.” If this thrust was successful, it “would effectively remove the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from an active role in the conflict.”
In addition to the purely military benefits of such a gambit, a big Red River offensive could disrupt Confederate commerce and have some hope of dissuading a northward view by French forces then trying to subdue Mexico. Naturally, the Mississippi Squadron was invited along to provide support and guard the many necessary transports.
While the political, military, and logistical difficulties of a Red River campaign were reviewed and resolved (details far outside the scope of our story), the work of the USN gunboats on the Mississippi and her tributaries was unceasing. Army support, including logistical operations continued as did participation in sundry, mostly smaller, military missions. Acting Lt. Henry Glassford’s January–February mission on the Upper Cumberland was a shining example of a logistical mission. Guerrilla and irregular force suppression, along with convoy protection, remained a constant concern, as was the maintenance of an effective blockade against contraband goods and produce.1
At the end of January, Army of the Tennessee commander Maj. Gen. Sherman elected to further safeguard the hard-won citadel at Vicksburg by destroying the rail system that supported Confederate forces remaining in central Mississippi. The junction town of Meridian was the principal target and the venture was conducted by main units operating out of Vicksburg and south from Tennessee, with a combined arms diversion up the Yazoo River designed to further confuse the inland Rebels.
This Yazoo expedition, one in a series of Federal ascents of that stream, was tasked with the execution of miscellaneous amphibious landings and the liberation of cotton. Steamers transported a provisional brigade under Col. James H. Coates as part of a five-vessel tinclad task group led by the Mississippi Squadron’s Fifth District commander, Lt. Cmdr. Elias K. Owen, arrived off Yazoo City, which was occupied on February 9, and then moved further upstream, capturing anything of value. When Mississippi cavalry, sent to help repel Sherman, returned, they attacked the Union occupation force at Yazoo City on March 5. The participation of the gunboats in the defense was so steadfast that, of the sailors sent ashore to man wheeled naval howitzers, four were later recommended for Medals of Honor. Although not altogether successful, the large-scale Meridian raid, combining diversion with ability to live off the land, served as a model when Sherman moved east toward Atlanta.2
Meanwhile, another shining example of army support occurred further south, on February 13–15, when the light draught Forest Rose helped repulse a Confederate attack on the Federal garrison at Waterproof, Louisiana, 20 miles above Natchez, When the Southern assault was resumed a week later, it proved so strong that, at midnight, February 22/23, the gunboat evacuated the bluecoats and such of their supplies as could be transported.
Out on the Mississippi, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., captain of the Conestoga, reported to his superiors on February 19 that a large contraband trade was being maintained with the Confederate army through the agency of Federal cotton buyers. The perpetrators of this economic crime obtained their trade goods at Baton Rouge or New Orleans and then hauled them to Waterloo on civil steamers. There the items were unloaded and taken by wagon behind Rebel lines. The merchants then received cotton bales at 25 cents a pound, which they hauled back to the river and shipped back to New Orleans. During the preceding few weeks, the old timberclad had captured two men engaged in the trafficking and 55 bales of cotton. Selfridge estimated that he interrupted less than 20 percent of the traffic. Since the earliest days of the war, contraband trade had been a significant problem, one which would continue to manifest itself until the fighting stopped.
Gary D. Joiner reports that a crucial piece of evidence received by RAdm. Porter on February 14 was a chart of Shreveport, Louisiana, and vicinity drawn on the back of the death certificate of a Federal seaman, James O’Leary. The detail on this map was “perhaps the greatest influence of Admiral Porter’s decision of which vessels should be included in the expedition.”
A large group of warships, including ironclads, a ram, several support vessels, and tinclads, chosen on the basis of the O’Leary document, was ordered during the next two weeks to assemble for the upcoming Trans-Mississippi campaign. Porter, aboard the flagboat Black Hawk, arrived at their rendezvous point off the mouth of the Red River during the last week of February.
On February 21, Lt. Cmdr. Frank M. Ramsay, commander of the Third District, reported that the water level of the Red River was falling again. Three Confederate gunboats reportedly at Shreveport at the end of January could not get over the falls there due to the low river stage.3
While the USN made ready for the upcoming expedition, the squadron commander arranged for a naval reconnaissance, under Lt. Cmdr. Ramsay, to ascend Louisiana’s Black and Ouachita (pronounced “Washitaw”) Rivers. Consulting maps, the two officers noted that the Ouachita rose in Arkansas and emptied into the Red, about 45 miles from the mouth of the latter. The last 60 miles or so of the course of the Ouachita was sometimes called the Black River.
Porter wished to test Confederate defenses in this river system, geographically located next in line above the Red. Bridges were to be destroyed, along with Confederate posts being formed along those rivers and any provisions found in the process. Anything items of value were to be “liberated.”
USS Osage on the Red River. Built by contractor James B. Eads, this single-turreted and unique paddle-wheel river monitor was a major USN asset during the Red River expedition. In addition to service in the preliminary Ouachita River reconnaissance, she would figure prominently in the capture of Fort DeRussy and the action at Blair’s Landing. Transferred to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, she would be lost to a “torpedo” in March 1865. Note: the false gun ports painted on the side of her turret mask the actual straight ahead bearing of her two guns (Naval History and Heritage Command).
Ramsay led the Ouachita scout in the river monitor Osage. Together with the Neosho, she was one of two stern-wheel light draught river monitors completed by James B. Eads the year before. Also going along were three tinclads, the giant Ouachita, the Fort Hindman, and the Cricket, as well as the timberclads Lexington and Conestoga. Departing the mouth of the Red River on February 29, the task group was away for about a week. While battling both regular and irregular troops, it recovered several cannon and gained information of less than immediate value. When the warships returned on March 5, few were surprised to also see that their decks were loaded with captured cotton.4
Confederate Maj. Gen. Taylor knew by March 1 that a large Federal force would soon be headed his way and to meet it he had just 25,000 men. Maj. Gen. Banks and RAdm. Porter, co-equal commanders of the Union expedition, enjoyed a force superiority of 42,000 men, including 10,000 on loan from Maj. Gen. Sherman. Maj. Gen. A. J. “Whiskey” Smith and those men arrived at the mouth of the Red River on March 11 aboard 21 transports. VII Corps under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele in Arkansas was also supposed to assist Banks with 15,000 more, but in the end, they did not fully participate, their Camden expedition a failure, too.
In addition to the civil steamers chartered by the U.S. Quartermaster Department to transport Smith’s bluecoats, RAdm. Porter, over the previous few days, had completed gathering what Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge later called “the most formidable force that had ever been collected in the western waters.” This armada drew from every flotilla in the squadron; the admiral was “determined there should be no want of floating batteries for the troops to fall back on in case of disaster.”
The Red River campaign begins. A depiction of the entrance into Red River of units of the Mississippi Squadron under RAdm. David Dixon Porter. Thirteen ironclads were included in this huge campaign, the largest naval operation on the Western waters after the capture of Vicksburg (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, v. 4).
Included in the task force as it assembled at the mouth of the Red River were 13 ironclads (Lafayette, Essex, Benton, Choctaw, Chillicothe, Ozark, Louisville, Carondelet, Eastport, Pittsburg, Mound City, Osage, and Neosho), six tinclads (Ouachita, Black Hawk, Juliet, Fort Hindman, Cricket, and Gazelle), and a number of auxiliaries. Also included was one timberclad, Lexington, added for her heavy guns and her speed. The naval and quartermaster transport force assigned to the operation was thus 104 vessels, mounting 300 guns (210 naval).
Stripping so many gunboats away from their normal beats or anchorages to participate in the Red River expedition meant that numerous towns, crossings, and other points normally protected or regularly visited by one or more of the Mississippi Squadron units would be either defenseless or vulnerable. In the weeks ahead, there would be several effective Confederate attacks further north led by many Confederate partisans and cavalrymen, including the indomitable Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Years later in his naval history, Adm. Porter was frank that “all of these successes gained by the Confederates were owing to the unfortunate Red River expedition, which had withdrawn the gunboats from their posts.”
In reviewing the growing Federal naval strength on the Red, the embedded Philadelphia Inquirer reporter was moved to observe that “a more formidable fleet was never under single command than that now on the Western rivers under Admiral Porter.” On the other hand, he continued, “it might be said, also, never to less purpose. At the time of departure, the strength of the Rebellion in the inland waters had been crushed.”
Union success might yet be problematic as the river stage of the Red was not rising as anticipated. The gung-ho Porter knew from recent surveys, including that conducted of the nearby Ouachita and Black by Lt. Cmdr. Ramsay, that this was “the most treacherous of all rivers; there is no counting on it, according to the rules which govern other streams.”
Writing for Battles and Leaders after the war, Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge explained that the whole expedition hinged upon “the usual spring rise; but this year, the rise did not come.” Indeed in looking back, it was his opinion that “had the river been bank full, no force that the Confederates could have controlled could have stood for a moment against the fleet.”
Just before Smith’s arrival, Porter received the news that heavy rains were delaying Banks. He could not possibly reach Alexandria, one of the principal targets, before March 21. Additionally, the sailor found that work on the completion of the unfinished Fort De Russy, 30 miles south of Alexandria, was being pushed hard by the Rebels.
While the naval and military men bobbed on their vessels observing the overgrown marshlands ashore, the admiral and Maj. Gen. Smith held a meeting to decide what to do next in light of Banks’ delay. The two men decided to capture Alexandria, Louisiana, taking Fort De Russy while en route. Their invasion armada started up the Red River at 8:30 a.m. on March 12.
Right away, several of Porter’s larger ironclads had difficulty making it over the sandbars that guarded the entrance to the Red River. Elsewhere as the Federals advanced toward Fort DeRussy, efforts were made not only to provide this task force with nautical reinforcements, but to spread out the vessels remaining in the squadron’s districts in order to cover as much of the unprotected Mississippi and her tributaries as possible.5
Once the Union armada was fully into the Red, the Porter-Smith plan began to unfold. At the junction of the Old Red River and the Atchafalaya River, Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ledyard Phelps, captain of the giant ironclad Eastport, took a force up the former to remove a series of obstructions in the river eight miles below Fort De Russy. Porter took the remaining boats, including the transports, into the Atchafalaya.
On the morning of March 11, the U.S. Army soldiers disembarked at Simmesport, where, according to an embedded reporter from the Chicago Daily Tribune, they “gathered all the hogs, sheep, chickens, etc. they could find and then set fire to the houses.” The next morning, they pursued the Confederates falling back on Fort De Russy. Phelps’ gunboats, continuing up the Red River, reached the impediments that the Southerners spent five months building and removed them within hours. Fort De Russy was captured before sundown on March 14 and, taking possession, the Federals learned that most of the defenders withdrew early, leaving but a gallant 300 to offer what turned out to be token resistance.
On March 15, Lt. Cmdr. Phelps sent his two fastest vessels, which were joined en route by two tinclads, to secure Alexandria. Although all but one of a Confederate steamboat fleet eluded capture, the Union craft anchored off the town in early evening as Maj. Gen. Taylor’s troops withdrew to Natchitoches. Although Maj. Gen. Smith’s troops took over the occupation, RAdm. Porter was not at all pleased that Maj. Gen. Banks and his legions, plagued as they were by heavy rains, were absent.
Steamers at the Alexandria, Louisiana, levee. The transports of RAdm. Porter’s fleet were captured at Alexandria on March 16, 1864. Among those that have been identified are (left to right) the Southwestern, W. L. Ewing, Clara Belle, Emerald, Des Moines, Choutmars, Sioux City, Thomas E. Tutt, Starlight, Lioness, Red Chief, Belle Creole, Rob Roy, Belladonna, Diadem, Mattie Stephens, Arizona, Silver Wave, Adriatic, and Liberty. Also included, though difficult to make out, is the tinclad USS Grossbeak (Library of Congress).
The Red River campaign seemed to be at a standstill. Shreveport, the principal objective, was still 350 miles upstream. So far the soldiers who had arrived, many from places like Wisconsin, New York, and Rhode Island, were not impressed with the river. “It is a dirty, sluggish stream, about an eighth of a mile wide,” wrote Harris Beecher of the 114th New York, “flowing in an extremely crooked channel.” Continuing, he added, “Its ends and curves are so exaggerated that they seem almost unnatural.”
Until Banks arrived, Porter elected to use his men to make a little money. Because Federal prize law gave sailors a third of the value of captured items including cotton, Porter turned his men loose to “liberate” as much as they could. Even though, per policy, the Confederates attempted to burn the bailed produce to prevent its capture by the Northerners, there was just too much for all of it to be fired. For much of a week before the Union expedition’s military commander rode in, Federal sailors seized in excess of 3,000 bales (The New York Times reported 5,000).
When the last of Maj. Gen. Banks’ troops trekked into Alexandria on March 26, the Federals finally were able to assemble what Ludwell Johnson called “an impressive display of military might—the greatest in the history of the Southwest.” But could it be effectively employed? The same day, Lt. Gen. Grant issued a call for the return of Maj. Gen. Smith’s command.
By this time, the spring rise in water level that the Yankees were counting upon had simply failed to materialize—for the first time in nine years. Indeed, instead of rising, the Red was actually falling at the rate of an inch an hour. As the water stage dropped, channel bottom irregularities increased the number of dangerous rapids and exposed countless rocks, sandbars, snags, and other obstructions.
At this point, Smith’s corps undertook a march to Bayou Rapides, 21 miles above Alexandria. Despite the slow rise in the water, elements of the Mississippi Squadron were needed to provide support.6
Determined to continue in the face of falling water, RAdm. Porter was faced with the problem of getting his fleet over the double set of rapids just north of Alexandria. At the time of the Civil War, these obstructions caused the same difficulties for river traffic as the Harpeth Shoals on the Cumberland River or Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee. “The rapids of Alexandria,” wrote Steven D. Smith and George J. Castille, 3rd in 1986, “were composed of rocky outcroppings of sandstone and siltstone forming shoals along a mile stretch of the Red River, even at times of high water.” They continued: “At low water, the upper and lower ends of the rapids were exposed.”
The river stage looked passable for some of the lighter vessels, though questionable for others. Electing to keep a number of deep-draught vessels below, Porter sent others ahead into the danger zone. Almost as soon as this effort began, the giant Eastport grounded. It would take days to get her free.
On March 29, Porter sent a letter to Navy Secretary Welles announcing that he was about to depart for Shreveport “or as high up the river as I can get.” The low level of the Red River continued to hinder efforts to get his gunboats above the Alexandria rapids.
The admiral continued: “I shall only be able to take up part of the force I brought with me, and leave the river guarded all the way through.”
With the Eastport finally available, the Porter-Smith expedition resumed its voyage up the Red River on April 2. In addition to Lt. Cmdr. Phelps’ pride, a number of other ironclads, tinclads, and a timberclad ascended. A total of 26 chartered steamer transports with Maj. Gen. Smith’s men and supplies also ascended as Banks, meanwhile, marched the men with him overland. By noon the next day, the combined force arrived at Grand Ecore, a little west bank town four miles north of Natchitoches, “as old as Philadelphia.” There Whiskey Smith disembarked his men, save for the XVII Corps Provisional Division, under Brig. Gen. T. Kilby Smith, which remained on the transports.
Map of the Red River and Lower Mississippi region. This regional map depicts the Red River to the left of the Mississippi River, as well as many of its communities. It was this route which the Federal expedition expected to follow up to Shreveport, Louisiana (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, v. 3).
The Union generals at Grand Ecore now formulated a new plan for the rapid capture of Shreveport. The National expeditionary corps, comprising Banks’ corps and most of Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith’s, both of which thus far had moved mainly along the Red River, would strike inland away from water along the Shreveport road on April 6–7 headed toward Mansfield. Under escort of navy gunboats, Brig. Gen. Smith’s 2,000 Provisionals, aboard 20 transports also carrying “many hundred thousand rations,” would steam up to Springfield Landing, opposite Loggy Bayou, six miles northeast of Mansfield and about 30 miles south of Shreveport, but 110 miles from that town by water.
As the waterborne portion of the Shreveport expedition was governed largely by the depth of water in the Red, Porter ordered that the heavier gunboats still with him remain where they were. He personally led the advance up the Red River toward Shreveport in those of the lightest draft, flying his blue flag aboard the tinclad Cricket. In addition to the admiral’s boat, the monitors Osage and Neosho were along, together with the ironclad Chillicothe, and because of their 8-inch guns, the tinclad Fort Hindman and the Lexington. If the water level would only begin to rise, the remaining gunboats could be brought up, but these five were deemed sufficient, for the moment, to protect the U.S. Army convoy.
Led by the monitors and Lexington and guarded at the rear by the Chilicothe and Fort Hindman, the military’s steamers paddled for three days northwest through the so-called “Narrows” toward their goal. The Cricket acted as the admiral’s sheepdog in prodding the task group forward. Meanwhile, on April 7, the dispatch steamer New National arrived at Cairo, Illinois, towing a pair of barges loaded with the first 1,600 bales of cotton seized at Alexandria. Received by the U.S. Marshal, the lot was all considered a naval prize said to be valued at $400,000.
Even though the heavier ironclads were left behind, the Union warships, along with some of the larger transports, experienced very rough navigation. The muddy water often made it almost impossible to spot obstructions such as stumps or snags under the surface. Many bottoms scraped or struck hidden bars and rocks. Damage to paddle wheels and unshipped or broken rudders was common.
Steaming around the numerous sharp bends against the current was laborious, to put it gently, and the maximum speed of the entire fleet was just one or two miles per hour. This slow parade was visible for miles and all along the way Rebel riflemen kept pace with the boats “like a pack of wolves,” targeting them from the bluffs along the shore.
In addition to navigational problems and enemy harassment, Porter’s gunboats continued to suffer fuel shortages. The fleet supply of coal having long since been exhausted, the vessels depended upon wood for their motive power. There being few suitable trees, personnel from the boats spent their early evenings scouring the countryside for fence rails. Whole warship crews as well as soldiers from the transports hunted the convenient fuel. Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge later suggested that the Banks-Porter campaign might have been more easily defeated by the Southerners if their soldiers had just “destroyed the fences and not the cotton.”
Arriving at Springfield Landing on April 10, the Yankee force, 110 miles above Alexandria and just 40 miles from Shreveport, found the way blocked by a sunken steamer, the New Falls City, scuttled directly across the river a mile above Loggy Bayou. Before the wreck could be cleared, National horsemen arrived with news that Banks was defeated in battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill and was withdrawing to Grand Ecore.
Though not fully realized by all at that moment, the Union’s Red River campaign had reached its zenith. Porter later told Maj. Gen. Smith that his disappointment was great upon learning “that all our perseverance and energy had been thrown away.” The admiral and brigadier now informed their officers of Banks’ defeat and retreat. They also informed them that the boats would have to go back to Grand Ecore in order to avoid entrapment above. A plan was worked out to provide a maximum of defense against the Confederate troops, regular and irregular, that were anticipated along the way. Soldiers from the various regiments constructed rude breastworks of hay and cracker boxes for sharpshooters on the hurricane decks of their steamboats.
During the trip downstream, the gunboats were to be distributed among the transports, with the Osage at the rear. Because, however, there were only six gunboats to defend the long line of quartermaster steamers, three army transports were turned into ersatz gunboats by the addition of military cannon. A section of Battery M of the First Missouri Light Artillery was detailed aboard the Emerald and another went aboard the Thomas E. Tutt. The steamer Rob Roy, already loaded with cannon and ammunition, became the most formidable of these auxiliaries. Four 30-pounder Parrott guns from the First Indiana Heavy Artillery were placed in her bow. A number of other boats were protected by 12-pounder howitzers mounted atop their hurricane decks.
Riflemen attack units of the Federal Red River fleet. While steaming up the Red River from Alexandria toward Grand Ecore, Louisiana, elements of the Mississippi Squadron were attacked by numerous Confederate soldiers; the Yankees were even more ferociously assaulted on their way back down. Meanwhile below, supply and communication steamers, even under escort, were frequently targeted. Retreating back to the Mississippi after escaping the low water of the Alexandria rapids via the Bailey Dam, the entire fleet was assailed all the way downstream (Harper’s Weekly, May 14, 1864).
Guerrillas and others were not the only obstacles to cause concern. The river going back down would be just as hazardous or worse than it was coming up. There was great worry that the larger craft, particularly the monitors, would be almost unmanageable. Within a couple of hours of encountering the New Falls City, the Federal convoy began its return. Once started, the rearmost boat “took the lead downstream and, though it took the whole night, they rounded to or otherwise came about as the bayous and pockets of the stream afforded facility.” By noon the following day, the gunboats and the military transports commenced a desperate battle against falling water and Confederate riflemen. The huge billowing clouds of wood smoke puffed out by the fleeing Northern vessels would be visible for miles, making the boats’ progress easy to monitor.7
The watery retreat was every bit as difficult as anticipated, worsened by falling water and Confederate sharpshooters who fired on anyone exposed on any Federal deck. At dawn, Southern Brig. Gen. Arthur P. Bagby was dispatched with a brigade of cavalry and a battery to cut off the boats at the docks of Bayou Pierre. Luckily for them, the Union vessels passed Grand Bayou Landing several hours before the Rebel horsemen arrived. Advised of the movements of the Federal fleet a little later, Brig. Gen. Thomas Green, leading 1,200 cavalrymen with two artillery batteries, also galloped off determined to catch up the next day at Blair’s Landing, about 45 miles north of Grand Ecore and due west of his location at Pleasant Hill.
April 12 did not begin well for the men of the return convoy. Underway at 7 a.m., the vessels encountered what Brig Gen. Smith called “exceedingly difficult” navigation. In an effort to avoid collisions while turning the narrow bends, the fleet was ordered to separate as much as possible. The army transports at the rear were covered by the Lexington and the almost unsteerable Osage. For help in the current, the nearby XIX Corps flagboat Black Hawk, in a motive practice not uncommon on the Western rivers, was lashed to the monitor’s starboard quarter, greatly aiding her descent.
During the morning, the Lexington collided with the Rob Roy, in an accident severe enough to require she lay to for five hours making repairs. While the boats were engaged out on the river, Brig. Gen. Green’s cavalry struggled across Bayou Pierre, attempting to catch Porter’s fleet before it got away.
At about the same time the Lexington returned to duty, Green arrived in the crest of the promontories that followed the Red River. Moving down through woods and into the fields of Blair’s Plantation, his Rebels sought the cover of the brush and sycamores that lined the bluffs overlooking the banks of the considerably fallen stream. From here they noted that many of Porter’s various boats were bunched together and that the Osage and Black Hawk were just coming into view, bringing up the rear of the convoy. Suddenly, the monitor ran hard aground, bows downstream with her turret guns pointed toward the right bank.
About an hour later as she made the limited speed possible in the dangerous waters about three miles down from Blair’s Plantation, the Lexington was engaged by Rebel riflemen. At 3:15 p.m., whistles could be heard sounding from the boats further back upstream. Upstream several miles, the transport William H. Brown, the Fort Hindman, and the grounded monitor Neosho were also attacked by Green’s troopers. The warships responded, smashing the woods along the shore. Eventually, the Neosho freed herself and the three moved to safety.
Brig. Gen. Smith in his official report later laid out the situation now leading to the day’s climactic encounter. At approximately 4 p.m., his command steamer, the Hastings, went under the riverbank on the south side of the stream near Blair’s or Pleasant Hill Landing, in order to repair one of her unserviceable paddle wheels. This action was taken not far from the stranded Alice Vivian, which had gone hard aground in midstream earlier with 400 cavalry mounts on board and was not yet afloat, though she was receiving aid from two other steamers.
The Lexington, meanwhile, overhauled the transports tied up at the bank and moved to offer assistance toward the grounded Alice Vivian plus the Osage and Black Hawk lying below her on the opposite bank half a mile up. At the same time, the dismounted Rebel horsemen, unsuccessfully hoping not to be seen, moved forward “in columns of regiments” and assembled atop a high mud at the riverbank.
Spotted by an alert pilot aboard the Black Hawk, the deploying Confederate force was reported to the captain of the Osage, who signaled the Lexington to pour enfilading fire on the gathering threat. Brig. Gen. Smith also organized his defense, warning the cannoneers and sharpshooters of the Emerald and Rob Roy.
The Lexington consequently charged past the transports, firing her 8-inch bow guns. Coming within 600 yards of the Confederates, she was subjected to heavy musket fire and slowed, gliding by at a distance from shore of about 20 feet. “The enemy came boldly up to the edge of the bank,” the boat’s captain later testified, “yelling and waving their side arms, so close that as a portion of the bank caved in from our fire [a number] of the rebels tumbled down within a few feet of the vessel.” As historian Brooksher later opined, honors for the first round were won “by the … ambushee rather than the … ambusher.”
As the Lexington proceeded to rake her enemy, the Texas riders along the bank opened “a very heavy fire of musketry” on the Osage and the transports from a range of about 100 yards. This fusillade was supposed to cause damage and to pin down the sharpshooters on the decks of the Federal transports. Despite the ferocity of this shooting, it was not very effective. Indeed, Brig. Gen. Smith later dryly observed of Green’s marksmen that “their practice was defective.”
The Battle of Blair’s Landing. While retreating toward Alexandria on April 12, 1864, several U.S. military transports, plus the monitor Osage and timberclad Lexington, were attacked by Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. Tom Green. The assault was futile, with many Southerners killed, including Green. Still, the engagement was among the stiffest of the entire Red River campaign (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, v. 4).
Blair’s Landing was now the hottest place in Louisiana. The noise level was so high that it could be heard miles away at Pleasant Hill, where Confederate soldier H. C. Wetmore recorded in his diary: “Heavy cannonading in the direction of Red River, which is eighteen miles distant. All of our division of cavalry is there.”
While the Confederate troopers ashore blazed away at the boats afloat, Union gunners on the ersatz gunboats fired back as did soldiers aboard all the engaged transports. The latter lay behind makeshift emplacements; bulwarks of cotton and hay bales, plus cracker boxes and even sacks of oats, provided excellent protection for the shooters as they sent a cloud of mini balls ashore. Given their proximity to one another, the Black Hawk and Osage were especially hard hit. “The rebels fought with unusual pertinacity for over an hour,” the latter’s skipper later observed, “delivering the heaviest and most concentrated fire of musketry that I have ever witnessed.” On the other hand, Rear Adm. Porter, known for sweeping, sometimes embarrassing, statements, believed that Green and his men only fought so hard because they must have been drunk. Still, when the admiral met Brig. Gen. Smith aboard his command steamer several days later, the bearded seaman observed that “there was not a place six inches square not perforated by a bullet.”
As smoke, spray and dirt combined with flying wood chips and the sound of clanking and pinging as bullets hit iron, the Osage wiggled off her sandbar sometime around 6 p.m. After dropping the hawsers holding her to the Black Hawk, the monitor puffed over toward the western bank, her giant 11-inch cannon now firing virtually at point-blank range. It was during this engagement that a unique mirrored instrument, developed by the monitor’s chief engineer, Thomas Doughty, and mounted behind the turret, was employed in combat for the first time. In his Memoirs, Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge described it as “a method of sighting the turret from the outside, by means of what would now be called a periscope.”
Knowing that he was not going to sink any boats with rifle shot, Brig. Gen. Green now boldly—some would say impetuously—chose to attempt to capture one or more of the Yankee steamers. If captured, one could be sunk in the horse-shoulder-high river channel, thereby blocking the escape of the others. Atop his white horse rallying his men at the riverbank for a charge, the animation of the gallant horseman was seen aboard the Osage. Slowly the great turret was rotated until one of the huge cannon was pointed in his direction. Upon command, it belched out an 11-inch shell and, according to Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge, when the smoke cleared, he “saw him no more.”
It was getting dark when the monitor decapitated the Confederate leader. The confusion in Rebel ranks brought an end to the hard fighting, with the last shots fired about 7 p.m.
No one is certain exactly how many were killed in what the Federal admiral called a “curious affair of a fight between infantry and gunboats.” Porter estimated that, in addition to Green, 20 officers and 400–500 Confederate soldiers died. His figures were severely inflated; including the brigadier, seven Confederates died. Brig. Gen. Smith, in a list provided with but not printed as part of his OR report, indicates that two Northern soldiers were killed and 17 wounded aboard the quartermaster steamers.
Brig. Gen. Smith and RAdm. Porter were uncertain whether or not the Confederates would resume their attack that evening. Taking no chances, either with his crews or the supplies aboard his transports, the fleet was ordered to make the best speed away from Blair’s Landing as river conditions permitted. Actually, that was not very fast, considering the many sandbars encountered. About 1 a.m. on April 13 the fleet finally tied up for the night. Starting out again early the next morning, the army-navy boats reached Grand Ecore on April 15, as Porter continued to Alexandria to confer with Banks on the expedition’s next moves.
Although many of the vessels that escaped from Loggy Bayou bore the marks of Rebel sharpshooters, those reassembling at Grand Ecore were, in fact, little the worse for their ordeal. Still, the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat newsman embedded aboard one of the transports called the fleet’s escape to Grand Ecore “one of the most daring, as well as one of the most successful … feats of the whole war.”8
The reader will recall that while away, Porter left his largest vessels behind under Lt. Cmdr. Phelps, skipper of the Eastport. Determined that these units should now retire from the river regardless of whether or not the Army of the Gulf returned to the offensive, the squadron commander passed orders for him to take the heaviest units back to Alexandria.
Following the Ozark, the Eastport was about eight miles below Grand Ecore on April 15 when her bow struck one of six torpedoes prepositioned by the Confederates in mid-March. Trembling as if she had hit a sandbar, the seriously damaged giant steered toward the riverbank as damage-control parties manned her pumps. While her whistle sounded a prearranged distress whistle, a tug took word to Porter seeking the two pump boats anchored with the other fleet auxiliaries.
Even after the Lexington quickly arrived from Grand Ecore to help and the Carondelet moved down a bit later, the Eastport faltered. Before midnight, her bow struck bottom and the forward end of her gundeck was water covered. Working through the night, men from the ironclad and Porter’s newly arrived Cricket were unable to find and isolate the damage. The next morning, sailors from the gathered rescue group began removing ammunition to the Ozark, and Eastport’s battery was placed aboard a raft towed by the tinclad, which also acted as rear guard.
The tinclad Juliet arrived as the sun rose on April 16 and pumps from three vessels were hard at work. Her service over the next few days would be chronicled in June for his hometown newspaper by Cleveland, Ohio, lawyer Edwin P. Slade, then an enlisted sailor serving aboard.
The specialized steam pump boat Champion No. 5 arrived on April 17 and, once tied up alongside the sunken ironclad, quickly put her larger steam pumps into action, allowing the earlier responders to disengage. She would be joined by another civilian charter, the Champion No. 3 (also known as the New Champion), which, in addition to her crew, was packed with about 175 African American contraband refugees.
As the river level continued to fall, RAdm. Porter, who had no desire to continue the campaign, ordered his transports and the other gunboats to initiate their withdrawal from Grand Ecore two days later. All would successfully bounce and scrape their way back to Alexandria. Having thrown in the towel on any further Red River exploits, Banks would begin his own final overland withdrawal two days later.9
Late in the afternoon of April 25, the timberclad Lexington landed about a mile below Rocky Point, in the shadow of Deloach’s Bluff on the opposite shore, at the mouth of the Cane River. There her sailors sounded and buoyed the channel in anticipation of the arrival of the Eastport. None of them knew that the hill across the river was actually named for the Deloges family, whose cemetery lay just inland from the top of the hill. The family name for the spot would be recognized by geographers on maps in the next century and so we use it here.
Somewhat lightened, the Eastport, under tow of the Champion No. 5, had been able to resume her retreat, but after some miles, again ran aground. Freed after a day of hard labor, she went only two more miles before running fast upon a large underwater snare. Bluejackets from the tinclad Fort Hindman, summoned to assist, took up the task of hauling her off while the Cricket and Juliet kept guard.
During this time, the other retreating Union gunboats and transports, especially those working to save the Eastport, were about to be subjected to merciless Confederate attacks. To intercept the Federals as they worked their way downstream as well as to blockade the river against further Northern passage, Maj. Gen. Taylor, early that morning, deployed at least 200 additional soldiers and, as historian Chuck Viet suggests in his internet article, anywhere between four and 11 cannon.
When Capt. Thomas O. Benton arrived at Deloges Bluff with his Val Verde Battery, he could clearly see the Lexington lying in the Red River about 450 yards away. The Osage lay even closer to him, but was shielded by her position under the bank. After the butternut artillerymen struggled their six guns into a protected position by hand, the pieces opened fire. They would continue to engage the two Federal warships until early afternoon, scoring numerous hits, especially on the timberclad, but failing to put either out of action.
About 20 miles above Deloges Bluff, it was proving to be impossible to save the stricken Eastport, despite the best efforts of the Cricket, Juliet, Fort Hindman, and the two civilian pump boats. During the morning, after her remaining stores were removed, the decision was taken to destroy the giant. Remaining under intense enemy fire as they had for hours, Lt. Cmdr. Phelps and picked helpers packed the ironclad with 40 barrels of powder, her officers transferred to the Fort Hindman and her crew to the Juliet. In midafternoon, the Eastport was successfully—and very noisily—blown up as her captain escaped to the Cricket, already under fire from shore.
USS Eastport. An incomplete Confederate ironclad captured during a timberclad raid led by Lt. Cmdr. Seth Ledyard Phelps, the Eastport was completely rebuilt and available for service under Phelps in the Red River campaign. She advanced to Grand Ecore, Louisiana, with other Mississippi Squadron units which were all forced to retreat in April 1864. En route downstream, the ironclad became a “torpedo” victim and had to be destroyed to prevent her capture by the Confederates. This depiction is part of a group of squadron watercolors completed by Ensign D. M. N. Stouffer (Library of Congress).
With the Champion No. 3 just astern and the Champion No. 5 lashed to the Juliet, the Cricket started down the Red. The plan was to run past the bothersome Rebel batteries and reach the Lexington and Osage, known to be below. Phelps brought up the column rear with the Fort Hindman. Confederate scouts saw the little task group pull away from the wreck of the ironclad and rushed to inform their officers. Orders soon came down for a big gun ambush at the confluence of the Red and Cane Rivers at Deloges Bluff.
With lookouts posted everywhere, the five Union craft were able to make good speed down the river. Porter, so the story goes, found a comfortable chair on the Cricket’s upper deck and read a book, though probably with some interruptions.
Not far beyond the mouth of the Cane River sometime after 6 p.m., the admiral saw a number of men shadowing his command in the brush over on the right bank and ordered the gunners manning the upper deck boat howitzer to disperse them with a two-second shell. After firing, the gunboat drifted toward shore, coming within about 20 feet as she prepared to send away another round of shrapnel.
The men in the bushes ashore were actually part of a much larger group. Before the Cricket could get away another shot, a wall of flame burst out of the woods as massed cannon and musket fire was poured into her. Within seconds, the tinclad was hit 19 times by cannon fire and countless musket balls. The “pelting shower” went “through and through” the Cricket. Her decks were cleared “in a moment” and she was shattered “in all her parts.”
RAdm. Porter was stunned and slightly injured when an incoming shell hit just as he was opening the pilothouse door. Climbing inside, he found the pilot wounded, but able to perform his duty. Also hurt, Acting Master Henry H. Gorringe shouted that he was trying to bring Cricket around to starboard to engage, but there was no response as he rang the engine room bell. Ominously, neither officer could hear her exhaust or return gunfire.
Porter believed that most of the gun crews below had to have been killed by incoming shells and told the boat’s commander to belay his fighting instinct and instead to run by the batteries. While Gorringe and his pilot worked the boat downstream in a four-knot current, Porter started below to question the lull in firing and why her engines were stopped. He could not know that his flagboat was saved by panic and tragedy aboard the Champion No. 3.
The civilian captain was so unnerved by the heavy Rebel attack that he suddenly and without warning backed his boat as rapidly as possible to get out of range. In so doing, he ran her right into the bow of the oncoming Juliet, which because she was lashed to the Champion No. 5 could not get out of the way. Seeing the confusion in the river below, Confederate gunners opened on the big fat target of the two Champions and the gunboat. As the sailors aboard the Champion No. 3 and the Juliet rushed to separate themselves, shells smashed into them both.
A 12-pounder shell punctured the boiler of the Champion No. 3, which was enveloped in a cloud of steam. Over a hundred crew and contrabands were instantly scalded to death. Another 87 were so badly burned that they died within a short time. Survivors jumped into the Red and swam for shore or clung to the wreckage as it drifted away. Only three aboard were actually believed to have lived another day.
USS Cricket. Following the April 1864 loss of the Federal ironclad Eastport, this tinclad, Mississippi Squadron flagboat for much of the Red River campaign, was forced to run a gauntlet of Confederate artillery in order to reach safety. When her captain was wounded, RAdm. Porter himself assumed command. Under intense fire, she was hit 38 times, with nearly half of her crew—a third of whom were African Americans—incapacitated. Her repairs at Mound City, Illinois, would take three months to complete (Naval History and Heritage Command).
The cloud of escaping steam hid the stricken pump boat and badly damaged Cricket, which floated under the bluff and was momentarily safe from the Confederate gunners above. Musket fire was another matter and small arms bullets continuously plinked into her. As the tinclad rounded the point and reentered the artillery killing zone, she was immediately hit by another 19 rounds, most of these into her stern and into the boat’s interior.
Exhibiting considerable personal courage, Porter ran down the exposed starboard side of the Cricket toward the engine room spaces. En route, he passed through the gun deck and saw the carnage. Guns were overturned and at least 24 dead and wounded lay about with “everything torn to pieces.” Among the dead was Ann Stewart, a laundress and wife of the ship’s steward.
Only one gun remained and the admiral rallied sufficient able-bodied men—mostly contrabands-now-sailors—to service it. He told them to load their “bulldog” and fire it and not to worry about aiming. The fact that it fired at all would tell the Rebels the boat was still fighting and would also encourage those craft coming behind.
When the squadron commander reached the engine room, he found it devastated as well. All but one of the firemen was wounded and the engineer was killed. Collapsing while trying to answer Gorringe’s bell, he turned the steam off rather than on. Porter reversed the throttle, allowing the Cricket’s engines to sputter back to life.
The Cricket was under fire for a total of about 5 minutes. In that time, she was hit 38 times and lost nearly half her crew (12 men killed and 19 wounded, almost all of the latter badly). Coming under power, the stern-wheeler, shielded from Confederate view, limped ahead—and ran aground, where she would remain for another hour.
Although the Cricket was safe, the four vessels following were not. Across the way, the smoking wreck of the Champion No. 3 could be clearly seen lodged sideways into the right bank not far from the Rebel battery. Its shells now also slammed into the Juliet and Champion No. 5. The former’s tiller ropes were cut, the steam line that provided engine power was sliced, and the wheel was shot out of the pilot’s hands. Non-lethal vapors enveloped the ship, making vision difficult. The rudder of the second pump boat was destroyed and her civilian crew was completely unnerved. When her captain and panicked deckhands attempted to separate the only line still binding the two vessels, leaving the tinclad to float into enemy hands, they were only prevented by Juliet’s captain and pilot threatening to shoot them.
The Confederates also aimed their guns on the tail-end Fort Hindman. Shots holed her “between wind and water” and wounded several men and killed one sailor and the former executive officer of the Eastport. Since everyone could see the terrible toll taken on the boats ahead, panic began to spread among the big tinclad’s gun crew. Phelps was able to settle his petrified sailors, though not without reference to possibly shooting “the first man who should flinch from his gun.”
Further down, terrified civilian sailors and several others on board the Champion No. 5 attempted to desert. As the Fort Hindman drew closer, Phelps warned through his speaking trumpet that anyone moving to abandon the pump boat would be shot. His decisiveness was backed by warning shots from his U.S. Marine contingent, and allowed his pilot to jump aboard the civilian boat and take control.
The lashed-together pump boat and tinclad were able to turn about and make steam, with their withdrawal covered by the Fort Hindman. The three battered survivors proceeded about a mile above the Deloges Bluff battery and ran into the bank, tying up for the night to make repairs which would allow the Juliet and Champion No. 5 to separate.
Unable to offer help to Phelps’ isolated unit, Porter elected to steam the newly freed Cricket downstream toward the Lexington and Osage, making rendezvous well after dark. There he found the monitor lying opposite Benton’s battery and also observed that the Lexington, which “had been hard at work on them,” was badly splintered.
Early on April 27, the Lexington and Cricket steamed toward Alexandria, where their most serious damages could be repaired, while the Osage steamed back upstream. With the Champion No. 5 following behind, the Juliet and Fort Hindman, lashed together, proceeded downstream with great difficulty. They approached Deloges Bluff about 9:40 a.m. and, at a range of 500 yards, were greeted by Confederate cannon.
Despite shell splashes in the water, the boats moved slowly ahead.
Suddenly, Rebel rounds whirled into the trio, further hurting the tinclads and battering the pump boat so badly that she was forced to beach. The two survivors of the Eastport rescue group drifted out of range (“waltzing as I may say,” Phelps later wrote). They were pursued along the banks by Confederate riflemen who continued to annoy both boats with musket fire. Twelve miles below, the Juliet and Fort Hindman finally reached the safety of the anchored Osage shortly after 1 p.m.
In two days of heavy fighting, the Cricket, Juliet, and Fort Hindman lost 42 men dead and wounded, with all three boats physically shattered, though repairable. The two lost civilian pump boats suffered horribly with over 200 killed. Other survivors from them were all captured. RAdm. Porter survived “the heaviest fire I ever witnessed,” but had to admit that “the passage from Grand Ecore down could not be called a success.”
The Deloges Bluff encounter was one of the stiffest naval fights of the Civil War, with only one or two other engagements rivaling it in ferocity. Still, by 7:45 a.m. the next morning, the two heavily damaged late-arriving tinclads joined the Cricket anchored above Alexandria’s upper falls.
The river city, despite fortification efforts by Maj. Gen. Banks, was now surrounded by General Taylor’s forces. Hopefully, the Southerners reasoned, this encirclement would prevent the Federals from communicating with their fellows on the Mississippi River.
On April 28, RAdm. Porter, stranded above the Alexandria rapids, advised Navy Secretary Welles of his precarious position, due to the falling water level of the Red River as well as Banks’ withdrawal. “I find myself blockaded,” he wrote, “by a fall of 3 feet of water, 3 feet 4 inches being the amount now on the falls; 7 feet being required to get over.” Facing the distinct possibility that he would need to destroy his entire $3 million squadron to keep it out of Confederate hands, he lamented to his superior: “you may judge of my feelings at having to perform so painful a duty.”
Porter enjoyed some initial success in getting at least a portion of the transports and his flotilla through the available little 20-foot-wide channel. Led by the admiral’s Cricket, a number of quartermaster boats and tinclads, including the Juliet, thumped their bottoms along to safety in the deeper waters south of Alexandria caused by a growing back swell from the Mississippi. Still, the heaviest vessels, including the ironclads and the Fort Hindman, remained stranded above and behind the falls.
Working with Maj. Gen. Banks and his officers, the Mississippi Squadron chief fortunately came up with the correct solution and the right man to carry it out, XIX Corps staff engineer Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, whom Nicholas Smith years later called “the Moses of Porter’s fleet.” For years, the story of Bailey’s dam was the most celebrated single event of the entire Federal Red River fiasco.
The presence of the onetime 4th Wisconsin Cavalry officer with Banks’ expedition was, wrote Smith and Castille in 1986, “one of those coincidences of history that sometimes result in turning the course of events.” So it was that, on April 29, Bailey was tasked by Banks and Porter with constructing a dam that would raise the water sufficiently to allow the fleet to escape.
Straight away, Maj. Gen. Banks set over 3,000 men to work chopping down trees or dismantling whole buildings, finding stone and rock, and hauling the materials to the sites on either bank where the dam would be constructed. Interestingly, Black troops worked the Alexandria side, while soldiers from Wisconsin, Maine, and New York labored on the Pineville shore. Several tinclads, including the Forrest Rose, assisted as required.10
USS Forest Rose assisting at Bailey’s Dam. RAdm. Porter’s Red River fleet was trapped by extremely low water at the rapids above Alexandria, Louisiana, when engineer Lt Col. Joseph Bailey, in what became the most celebrated single event of the entire Federal Red River expedition, began construction of a river-level raising dam at the end of April 1864. With assistance from several tinclads, including the Forest Rose, 3,000 men undertook the construction that eventually allowing a fabled nautical escape (Naval History and Heritage Command).
Lt. Col. Bailey’s construction teams strained around the clock for eight days without cessation, beginning the initial Alexandria dam not far above the lower, downstream rapids where the river was about 758 feet wide. It was hoped that, when the project was finished, the water behind the structure would have risen enough to float the big gunboats over the upper rapids. Then when the time was just right, the dam could be broken and the gunboats could rush free over the lower rapids, carried by the force of the released water.
While the Union military effort strained to finish the dam, cotton shipments continued to pour out of the Red River headed north. On May 1, the steamer White Cloud arrived at Memphis with 600 bales of the first private shipment, which belonged to one William Butler, formerly State Treasurer of Illinois.
Despite a nine mph current, the water level of Bailey’s structure slowly began to rise. On May 8, the stage on the upper falls was up sufficiently to allow the Lexington and Fort Hindman and the light draught monitors Osage and Neosho to move down and make ready to pass the main dam. Early the next morning before they were ready, great crashing sounds were heard in the vicinity of the dam. The tremendous water pressure forced two of the barges employed in its construction to burst loose, swinging in below it on one side.
The admiral quickly saw the situation and, skilled equestrian that he was, jumped on a steed and galloped up to the upper falls where his craft were anchored. Screaming from horseback at 6 a.m., Porter ordered Lt. George Bache, the only one of the captains with steam up fully ready to go, to immediately pass the upper falls, run down over the rocky stretch before the level fell, and exit to safety through the dam.
It only took 20 minutes for the Lexington to speed from the upper falls through the dam to the safety of the waters below the town. There she anchored and observed the monitors and Fort Hindman come down a short time later. This emergency exodus proved Lt. Col. Bailey’s dam would work and he resumed its construction with spirit.
By May 13, all of the gunboats were safely below the Alexandria rapids and Union forces were now able to exit that town, which was partially left in flames. A large convoy, which interspersed transports and gunboats, reached the mouth of the river eight days later. The trip was perilous as Confederate sharpshooters fired upon the evacuating boats all of their way out. “And thus ended the 69-day Red River expedition,” Lt. Commander Selfridge wrote in his Battles and Leaders contribution, “one of the most humiliating and disastrous that had been recorded during the war.”
The Federal Red River expedition of 1864 has been the subject of debate from the day it first entered that stream. It is far outside the scope of this work to enter into such a detailed review. We can report that, during the adventure, the U.S. Navy lost about 320 men, two tinclads, one ironclad, two pump boats, and four transports. Others were damaged, though some were pleased that it prized many thousands of dollars’ worth of cotton.
USS Lexington tied to a Louisiana bank. When a portion of the Bailey Dam threatened failure on May 9, 1864, the old timberclad was the only vessel with steam up and so managed to make it through to safety below. Long simply labeled as a damaged timberclad tied to a Louisiana riverbank, the subject of this photograph, from a comparison with other vessel pictures, can be identified as Lexington, most likely after returning from her Red River sojourn (Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War, v. 6).
“After the Red River campaign,” wrote Lt. Col. Richard Irwin, “no important operation was undertaken by either side in Louisiana.” The scene of action for the Mississippi Squadron now reverted to the familiar territory along the banks of the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, White, and Arkansas Rivers. The interior lands up the Yazoo River were largely abandoned while the Red River itself was blockaded, with Porter’s gunboats seldom traveling above David’s Ferry.
We might note that the Lower Red River was also visited infrequently. For example, on June 8, the ironclad Chillicothe, the monitor Neosho, and the tinclad Fort Hindman from Lt. Cmdr. Frank Ramsay’s Third District, while patrolling up the Atchafalaya River, were fired upon by two Confederate 30-pounder Parrott rifles near Simmesport, Louisiana. After the ensuing engagement, Federal bluejackets went ashore and captured both guns (one burst) plus several muskets. The prized cannon had earlier been taken from Maj. Gen. Banks.
Late in June, information reached RAdm. Porter regarding submarine or torpedo boat construction at Shreveport, not far from the location of the ironclad CSS Missouri. The details were spotty, but the Mississippi Squadron commander elected not to take chances and ordered Lt. Cmdr. Ramsay to extend a chain on floats (fitted with openings and guarded by a manned launch) across the mouth of the Red. The officer was to make every effort to learn more about the threat, which remained murky. Later historians and journalists confirmed that Southern engineers constructed upwards of five submersibles, perhaps not unlike the Hunley, at the Louisiana town.11
1. U.S. Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (31 vols.; Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1894–1922), Series I, Vol. 25, 734–736, 770–773 (cited hereafter as ORN, followed by the series number, volume number, part number, if any, and page[s]); U.S., Congress, Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Report: Red River (38th Cong., 2nd sess.; Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1864; reprint, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971), 5 (cited hereafter as Joint Committee); Gary D. Joiner, Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 52; Thomas O. Selfridge, Memoirs of Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., Rear Admiral, U.S.N. (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1924; reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 87–88; William Riley Brooksher, War Along the Bayous: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1998), xi–xii, 1–24.
2. For further detail, see Margie Bearss, Sherman’s Forgotten Campaign: The Meridian Expedition (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1987), Buck Foster, Sherman’s Mississippi Campaign (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006), and Kevin Dougherty, “Sherman’s Meridian Campaign: A Practice run for the March to the Sea,” Mississippi History Now, http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/2/shermans-meridian-campaign-a-practice-run-for-the-march-to-the-sea (accessed January 1, 2020); Philip L. Bolte, “Up the Yazoo River: A Riverine Diversion,” Periodical: Journal of America’s Military Past, XXII (1995), 18, 20–28.
3. ORN, I, 25: 715, 722, 725–726, 734–736, 748–751, 755–756, 763–764, 770–773; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 vols.; Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880–1901), Series I, Vol. 26, Pt. 1, 384, 559, 653, 673 (cited hereafter as OR, followed by the series number, volume number, part number, if any, and page[s]); ORN, I, 26: 14–17; OR, I, 32, 1: 157–159, 320–330, 349, 387–389; OR, I, 32, 2: 583; Joint Committee, 5; North American and United States Gazette, February 12, 1864;.Chicago Daily Tribune, March 2, 1864; Memphis Daily Bulletin, March 12, 1864; The New York Times, March 17, 1864; Jim Huffstodt, Hard Dying Men (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1991), 196–202, 206–212; James Huffstandt, “River of Death,” Lincoln Herald, LXXXIV (1982), 70–78; Henry R. and Symmes E. Browne, From the Fresh Water Navy, 1861–1864: Letters of Acting Master’s Mate Henry R. Browne and Acting Ensign Symmes E. Browne, edited by John D. Milligan (Naval Letters Series, Vol. 3; Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1970), 244–248; Selfridge, Memoirs, 87–88.
4. ORN, I, 25: 787–788; ORN, I, 26: 783, 788; OR, I, 34, 1: 155–160; The New York Times, March 15, 1864; Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 1864; Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1864; Paul H. Silverstone, Warships of the Civil War Navies (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989), 149; “Surgeon Mixer’s Account, March 2, 1864,” in Frank Moore, ed. The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events (12 vols.; New York: G. Putnam, 1861–1863; D. Van Nostrand, 1864–1868; reprint, New York: Arno, 1977), VIII, 445–446; Hiram H. Martin, "Service Afield and Afloat: A Reminiscence of the Civil War, Edited by Guy R. Everson," Indiana Magazine of History, LXXXIX (March 1993), 52–53; Selfridge, Memoirs, 92; David Dixon Porter, Naval History of the Civil War (New York: Sherman Publishing Company, 1886; reprint, Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1984), 556. His having forgotten about leap year, Surgeon Mixer’s account is off by one day.
5. OR, I, 34, 1: 168, 304, 476; OR, I, 34, 2: 448–449, 494–496, 554, 616; ORN, I, 26: 23–26, 789; Chicago Daily Tribune, March 13, 19, 1864; New York Tribune, March 28, 1864; St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, March 28, 1864; Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 1864; Joint Committee 21; Alfred T. Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, Vol. 3 of The Navy in the Civil War (New York: Scribner's, 1883), 189–190; Porter, Naval History, 494–496, 559–560; Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1885; reprint, Harrisburg PA: The Archive Society, 1997), 213; Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879), 180–181; Richard B. Irwin, “The Red River Campaign,” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, edited by Robert V. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel (4 vols.; New York: The Century Company, 1884–1887; reprint, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956), IV, 349–351 (hereafter B & L); Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 362; David Dixon Porter, “The Mississippi Flotilla in the Red River Expedition,” B & L, IV, 367; Walter G. Smith, ed., Life and Letters of Thomas Kilby Smith (New York: G. Putnam, 1898), 356; Gary D. Joiner, Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 54–57; Joiner and Charles E. Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River, March 12-May 22, 1864,” Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, IV (1994), 26–41; Curtis Milbourn and Gary D. Joiner, “The Battle of Blair’s Landing,” North and South, IX (February 2007), 12; Chester G. Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter: The Civil War Years (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996), 245–246.
6. OR, 34, 1: 305, 313, 338–339, 500, 506, 561; OR, I, 34, 2: 494, 610–611; ORN, I, 26: 29–31, 35, 41, 50, 781, 784–785, 789; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 190–191, 193–194; Chicago Daily Tribune, March 29– April 1, 1864; New York Daily Tribune, April 4, 1864; St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, March 26, 1864; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Porter, Naval History, 499–500; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 156, 181–183; Joint Committee, 8–9, 18, 71, 74, 224–225; The New York Times, March 31, 1864; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 41–49; Selfridge, “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 362; Selfridge, Memoirs, 96–98; Harris H. Beecher, Record of the 114th Regiment, New York State Volunteer Infantry (Norwich, NY: J. F. Hubbard, Jr., 1866), 299–300; John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963), 330–331; Ludwell H. Johnson, Red River Campaign: Politics & Cotton in the Civil War (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1993), 99–105; Ivan Musicant, Divided Waters: The Naval History of the Civil War (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 295–296; Irwin, “The Red River Campaign,” B & L, IV, 349–350; Robert L. Kerby, Kirby Smith’s Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863–1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 297; Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter, 246–248.
7. OR, I, 34, 1: 179–180; 282, 308–309, 322, 324, 331, 341, 380–381, 384, 388–393, 407, 428, 445, 452, 468, 471–472, 633–634; OR, I, 34, 2: 610–611; OR, I, 34, 3: 98–99; Chicago Daily Tribune, April 8, 1864; New York World, April 16, 1864; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Joint Committee, 35, 210, 275–276, 282, 286–287, 323; ORN, I, 26: 38–39, 42–43, 46, 50–51, 54, 60–61, 777–778, 781, 785, 789; Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 363; Selfridge, Memoirs, 99–101; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 193–196; Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 69–78; Irwin, “The Red River Campaign,” B & L, IV, 351–356; Porter Naval History, 502, 511–512; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 49–51; Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter, 248–250; Steven D. Smith and George J. Castille, 3rd, “Bailey’s Dam,” Louisiana, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism Anthropological Study No. 8, March 1986, http://www.crt.state.la.us/archaeology/BAILEYS/baileys.htm (accessed August 7, 2006).
8. ORN, I, 26: 49–52, 55, 777–778, 781, 789; OR, I, 34, 1: 172–204, 381–383, 384–385, 388, 570–571, 633; OR, I, 34, 3: 174; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Kerby, Kirby Smith’s Confederacy, 309; Selfridge, “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 363–364; Selfridge, Memoirs, 102–106; Porter, Naval History, 512–513; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 177–178, 212; Curtis Milbourn and Gary D. Joiner, “The Battle of Blair’s Landing,” North and South, IX (February 2007), 12–21; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 55–59; Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 153–157; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 197–198; Irwin, “The Red River Campaign,” B & L, IV, 357–358; Bruce S. Allardice, “Curious Clash at Blair’s Landing,” America’s Civil War, IX (July 1997), 60–64; Alwyn Barr, “The Battle of Blair’s Landing.” Louisiana Studies, II (Winter 1963), 204–212; Anne J. Bailey, “Chasing Banks Out of Louisiana: Parsons’ Texas Cavalry in the Red River Campaign,” Civil War Regiments: A Journal of the American Civil War, II (1992), 219–221; Rebecca W. Smith and Marion Mullins, eds., "The Diary of H. C. Medford, Confederate Soldier, 1864," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXXIV, no. 2 (July 22, 2007), http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/publications/journals/shq/online/v034/n2/contrib_DIVL1540.html; H. Gallaway, Ragged Rebel: A Common Soldier in W. H. Parsons’ Texas Cavalry, 1861–1865 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988), 97–100; Odie Faulk, General Tom Green, Fightin’ Texan (Waco: Texian Press, 1963), 62; Carl L. Duaine, The Dead Men Wore Boots: An Account of the 32nd Texas Volunteer Cavalry, CSA, 1862–1865 (Austin, TX: San Felipe Press, 1966), 63. The gunfire contribution of the quartermaster transports, and Rob Roy in particular, was significantly downplayed in later years. In a letter written to Admiral Porter on June 2, 1880, and republished in his Memoirs, Lt. Cmdr. Selfridge testified regarding the siege guns on the exposed forecastle of the ordnance boat. “If fired,” he concluded, they were “at too long range to have been of any service.”
9. OR, I, 34, 1: 310, 382–383; ORN, I, 26: 66, 69, 72–78; 790; Philadelphia Press, April 29, 1864; St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat, May 10, 1864; Cleveland Daily Herald, June 8, 1864; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 198; Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 158–159; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 58–59; Selfridge, Jr., “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 364; Jay Slagle, Ironclad Captain: Seth Ledyard Phelps and the U.S. Navy (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996), 365–367; Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter, pp.253–254; Porter, Naval History, 515–519; Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes, 235–239; Elias Pellet, History of the 114th Regiment, New York State Volunteers (Norwich, NY: Telegraph & Chronicle Power Press Print., 1866), 222; Joint Committee, 247–248.
10. ORN, I, 26: 61, 68–87, 166–169, 176–177, 781–782 787–787, 790–791; OR, I, 34,1, 583–584, 632, 634. 782, 790–791; Chicago Daily Tribune, May 7, 8, 1864; Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, May 9, 1864; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Cleveland Daily Herald, June 8, 1864; Chuck Veit, ”Engagement at Deloges Bluff.” Navy and Marine homepage, http://www.navyandmarine.org/ondeck/1862delogesbluff.htm (accessed July 24, 2007); Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 183–185, 218; Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter, 255–257; Slagle, Ironclad Captain, 367–378; Joiner, Through the Howling Wilderness, 138–140; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 60–62; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 198–203; Selfridge, Jr., “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 364–365; Selfridge, Memoirs, 99–101; Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 190–193; Joint Committee, 245–248; Porter, Naval History, 520–524; Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes, 239–243; Frank L. Church, Civil War Marine: A Diary of the Red River Expedition, 1864, edited and annotated by James Jones and Edward F. Keuchel (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1975), 20, 53; Herbert Saunders, “The Civil War Letters of Herbert Saunders,” edited by Ronald K. Huch, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, LXIX (January 1971), 26. Confederate artillery units represented in the Deloges Bluff fray included Capt. Florian O. Cornay’s St. Mary’s Cannoneers (1st Louisiana Battery) with two 12-pounders and two 24-pounder howitzers, the 3rd Louisiana Light Artillery (“Bell’s Battery”), with two rifled cannon, and the Val Verde Battery under Capt. Thomas O. Benton, armed with three 6-pounder Napoleons and two recently prized 12-pound rifled cannon. Like Viet, Brooksher also disputes the number of cannon involved, suggesting the 18 Porter claimed was a stretch. Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 253n. Surprisingly, Osage captain Selfridge does not mention steaming to meet the Eastport rescue group in his Deloges Bluff report, his B & L article, or his Memoirs. The best and most accurate contemporary newspaper account of the escape of the Cricket, Juliet, and Fort Hindman appeared in the Philadelphia-based North American and United States Gazette of May 12, 1864.
11. ORN, I, 26: 92–95, 102,123, 130–132. 369–373, 438–439; OR, I, 34, 1: 209, 310, 402–406, 491, 585–586, 621; Chicago Daily Tribune, May 7, 24, 1864; The New York Times, May 13, 26, 29, 1864; New York Daily Tribune, May 27, 1864; New Orleans Era, May 17, 1864; New Orleans Times, May 18, 1864; Cleveland Daily Herald, June 8, 1864; Columbus (WI) Democrat, May 29, 1895; Ironton (OH) Register, January 19, 1888; Harper’s Weekly, June 18, 1864; Shreveport Times, January 23, 2015; Mahan, The Gulf and Inland Waters, 203–207; Steven D. Smith and George J. Castille, 3rd, “Bailey’s Dam,” Louisiana, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism Anthropological Study No. 8, March 1986, http://www.crt.state.la.us/archaeology/BAILEYS/baileys.htm (accessed August 7, 2006); Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes, 248–249; Porter, Naval History, 525–534; Kerby, Kirby Smith’s Confederacy. 318; Church, Civil War Marine. 54; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 186–189; Irwin, “The Red River Campaign,” B & L, IV, 358–362; Hearn, Admiral David Dixon Porter. pp.258–265; Slagle, Ironclad Captain, 378–381; Joiner, One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864 (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 161–162; Joiner and Vetter, “The Union Naval Expedition on the Red River,” 63–67; Selfridge, Jr., “The Navy in the Red River,” B & L, IV, 365–366; Selfridge, Memoirs, 109–111; Brooksher, War Along the Bayous, 209–215. Lt. Col. Bailey received the thanks of Congress for saving the fleet. OR, I, 34: 586.