"Gather up the fragments; let nothing be lost, to show the coming ages what liberty cost"  




(Operations on the Tennessee River)
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The  Ships, Men
and Organization

Thunder Along
The Mississippi

James B. Eads

=Confederate Official Report =Union Official Report
=Image   =Letter   =Newspaper Account
=Definition or Further Info

[1861] [1862] [1863] [1864] [1865]


[Editor's Note: The Tennessee is one of the few American rivers that flows in a south-to-north direction. Thus many readers are confused by statements such as; "The expedition steamed upriver from Paducah, KY, to Eastport, MS."]

October 5, 1861
On a reconnaisance patrol up the Tennessee River, CONESTOGA discovered that the Confederates were building a fort (Henry) just across the Kentucky border in Tennessee.

October 12, 1861
CONESTOGA ascended the Tennessee on a reconnaissance of Ft. Henry. After spending the night and the following morning examining the fort, she returned to her station off Paducah to report. Lieutenant Phelps also reported rumors that the Confederates were in the process of converting three steamers to ironclads on the river above Ft. Henry.

October 14, 1861
This date would again find CONESTOGA up the Tennessee. This time having aboard Brigadier-General C. F. Smith, U.S.A. (the Commanding Officer at Paducah), on a personal reconnaissance of the river below Ft. Henry.

October 17, 1861
General Smith sent Phelps and the CONESTOGA back up the Tennessee for the purpose of capturing the ferry boat Henry at Hopkinsville, KY, which was reported to have frequently been used by the Confederates.

November 6, 1861
Upon returning from a patrol of the Tennessee in the NEW ERA, Commander William D. Porter reported that Fort Henry could be taken by Naval attack.

January 17, 1862
CONESTOGA and LEXINGTON reconnoiter the Tennessee below Fort Henry.

January 22, 1862
Brigadier General Charles F. Smith, USA, accompanied LEXINGTON on a reconnaissance of the approaches to Fort Henry.

January 28, 1862
Telegrams from General Grant and Flag Officer Foote, together with an erroneous report that a large Confederate force was to be transferred to the district, finally convinced General Halleck to authorize the attack on Fort Henry.

January 30, 1862
CONESTOGA and LEXINGTON again reconnoitered the Tennessee below Fort Henry in final preparation for the attack. Lieutenant Phelps reported the sighting of "...numerous bouys, evidently marking the location of some kind of explosive machine or obstruction.."

February 2, 1862
Although all of Flag Officer Foote's iron-clads were ready for combat, there were only enough men to provide crews for CARONDELET, CINCINNATI, ST LOUIS and NEW ERA--which had been converted to an iron-clad and renamed ESSEX. The fleet that would attack Fort Henry, consisted of the four ironclads and the wood-armored gunboats TYLER, LEXINGTON and CONESTOGA left Cairo early in the morning. ST LOUIS and ESSEX preceeded the fleet to Pine Bluff, KY, to cover a division of Grant's troops aboard the steamer
Aleck Scott and several other transports which were to be landed on the east bank of the Tennessee to block the Confederate's escape.

February 4, 1862
Having fought against the flood current of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers for two days, the Union fleet anchored six miles below Fort Henry.

February 5, 1862
As the troops were debarking from the transports to occupy the high ground on the Kentucky side which would ensure the fort's fall, Flag Officer Foote in CINCINNATI, with General Grant aboard, took his ironclads upriver to reconnoiter the Confederate batteries. The Union fleet exchanged a few shots with the fort's guns during which ESSEX received one shot that penetrated her armor.

February 6, 1862
After an all-night struggle using steam power and heavy anchors to maintain position, the Union crewmen were rewarded with the sight of the bouys of the Confederate Torpedoes floating harmlessly past their ships. The heavy current of the still-rising river had swept them from their moorings, thus removing a potentially serious threat to the attackers.

Learning that he was about to be attacked, Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, CSA, commander of the fort's garrison, sent the steamers Dunbar and Lynn Boyd upriver to embark two Confederate regiments stationed at Paris Landing, TN.

As Grants forces struggled over muddy roads toward positions surrounding their objective, General Tilghman realized that it was only a matter of time before Fort Henry fell—either to the Union forces or the encroaching river. Leaving artillery crews in the fort to hold off the Union advance, he escorted the rest of his force out of the area and sent them safely off on the route to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, 10 miles away.

Shortly before noon, the Union fleet approached with the ironclads in a battle line with ESSEX on the right, CARONDELET in the center and the CINCINNATI and ST LOUIS lashed together on the left. . The three wooden gunboats were arrayed behind the ironclads. When the fleet had approached to within 2,000 yards, the flag-ship CINCINNATI opened fire on the Confederate emplacements which was promptly and vigorously returned. As the steadily-firing fleet closed to within 600 yards, a shot pierced the boilers of ESSEX. Twenty-eight men were scalded by the escaping steam—5 of whom died%#151;causing her to drift away out of action.

At this time the fort was already partially innundated by floodwaters and, after 13 of his 17 guns were dismounted by Union fire in less than two hours, General Tilghman deemed situation to be hopeless and ordered the white flag raised above the fort.

After the battle, Admiral Foote returned to Cairo, IL, with three of the ironclads which had suffered numerous though minor damages, leaving CARONDELET at Fort Henry to support General Grant.

February 7, 1862
While Grant's forces march overland to invest Fort Donelson, CARONDELET advanced up the Tennessee River to destroy a railroad bridge.
See Official Report]

Brigadier General John A. McClernand wrote to Flag Officer Foote: "As an acknowledgement of the consummate skill with which you brought your gunboats into action yesterday . . . I have taken the liberty of giving the late Fort Henry the new and more appropriate name of Fort Foote. Please pardon the liberty I have taken without first securing your concurrence, as I am hardly disposed to do, considering the liberty which you took in capturing the fort yesterday without my cooperation."

Learning of the Union advance, the Confederates burned Appleton Belle and two other steamers to prevent their falling into Union hands.

CONESTOGA, LEXINGTON and TYLER embark on an expedition up the Tennessee River.

Approximately 25 miles upriver, the flotilla's progress was temporarily halted by a railroad bridge. After an hour, the draw of the bridge was raised and the gunboats proceed upriver a few miles before their progress was again halted by the steamer Samuel Orr which had been lashed to another boat and was burning fiercely. Fearing an explosion, the lead gunboat CONESTOGA backed downriver some 1,000 yards. The burning vessel, which had apparently been loaded with munitions, blew up shortly thereafter, the concussion from which caused minor damage to the watching Union ships.

At this point TYLER, which had remained behind at the railroad bridge gathering up abandoned Confederate supplys (Note: Among the captured items were several papers of Lt Isaac N. Brown—late of the U.S. Navy—now signing himself as "Lieutenant, C.S.N", who was in charge of Confederate ship-building in the area.), caught up with her sister ships and the flotilla again progressed upriver.

That night, when the three Federals reached Cerro Gordo, TN, they discovered the steamer EASTPORT, which had been abandoned by the Confederates who were in the process of converting her to an ironclad. The crew of TYLER immediately set about collecting the large quantity of materials lying on the bank which had been intended for use on the new Confederate warship.

February 8, 1862
CONESTOGA and LEXINGTON proceeded upriver, passing Eastport, MS. As they neared the Alabama state line, they captured the loaded steamers Sallie Wood and Muscle. With their prizes in tow, the Union gunboats again headed upriver and crossed into Alabama. Near Florence, at the foot of the Mussel Shoals, they came in sight of the steamer Sam Kirkman and two others which the Confederates immediately set on fire. After driving off the defenders, landing parties from CONESTOGA and LEXINGTON captured as much as their boats could carry of stores from the still-burning steamers and the nearby banks. Having then reached the highest navigable point on the river, the prize-laden Union raiders returned downriver, reuniting with the TYLER at Cerro Gordo that evening.

That same day, having received orders to support General Grant's attack against Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, CARONDELET departed Fort Henry where she had been stationed to protect the Union garrison.

February 9, 1862
Having learned of a Confederate encampment just upriver at Savannah, TN, CONESTOGA and TYLER steamed to that place. However, the camp was found to be deserted and the boats' crews once again captured what they could carry and destroyed the rest. They then dropped back down river to Cerro Gordo and, taking the captured Confederate vessels in tow, departed for Fort Henry.

February 10, 1862
CONESTOGA, LEXINGTON and TYLER arrived at the aforementioned railroad bridge with two of the captured steamers—the Muscle having sprung an irreparable leak and sank.
See Official Report]

February 23, 1862
On a reconnaissance cruise to Eastport, MS, TYLER seized a Confederate cache of wheat and flour at Clifton, TN.

March 1, 1862
LEXINGTON and TYLER silenced Confederate batteries at Pittsburg Landing, TN, then landed a party of sailors and Army sharpshooters to destroy a nearby house and determine enemy strength in the area. In the ensuing land engagement, several of the shore party were killed or wounded. The loss of badly-needed experienced sailors prompted Flag Officer Foote to admonish his Commanders; "I must give a general order that no commander will land men to make an attack on shore. Our gunboats are to be used as forts, and as they have no more men than are necessary to man the guns, and as the Army must do the shore work, and as the enemy want nothing better than to entice our men on shore and overpower them with superior numbers, the commanders must not operate on shore, but confine themselves [and their crews] to their vessels."

March 4, 1862
TYLER returned to Cairo, IL, from her cruise to Pittsburg Landing with news of Confederate troop strengths in southern Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
[Official Report]

March 9, 1862
TYLER attended a "recruiting party" at Savannah, TN, during which several local citizens joined her crew. Meanwhile, LEXINGTON again shelled the area around Pittsburg Landing but her fire was not returned.

March 11, 1862
The steamer Golden Gate arrived at Savannah, TN, announcing that the main body of General Grant's army was just behind her. Shortly thereafter, the Federal fleet, accompanied by the TYLER, hove into view. A local citizen described the scene as follows; " The fleet included up to a hundred steamers, laden to the guards with soldiers, cattle, and munitions of war." The "..decks were dark with blue coated soldiers. Bright brass cannon glittered on the foredeck, where the batteries were loaded, and the band played their most soul-stirring airs. The transports sent forth vast volumes of smoke, which shadowed and sooted the atmosphere from hill to hill across the river valley. They docked at Savannah on both sides of the river for a mile, at places four or five deep." That evening, TYLER made a reconnaissance trip upriver to Ptttsburg Landing which the Confederates had not been able to re-occupy due to the constant presence of LEXINGTON.

March 15, 1862
Malaria, dysentery, and typhoid were soon ravaging the Union troops—especially those still aboard the transports. Several local buildings were occupied as temporary hospitals and the hospital boats City of Memphis took 410 men to St. Louis while Louisiana took some 300 to Mound City, IL.

March 16, 1862
General Grant arrived at Savannah and, at the suggestion of general Sherman, ordered all but one division of troops to re-embark the transports which took them upriver to Pittsburg Landing.

March 21, 1862
TYLER and LEXINGTON discovered two small Confederate batteries in the hills below Eastport, MS. After firing several shells (none of which exploded due to faulty fuses) at them without a reply, the two gunboats continued their patrol of the river. Of the Confederate emplacements, Lieutenant Gwin commanding TYLER reported; "I have made no regular attack on their lately constructed batteries, as they are of no importance to us, our base of operations being so much below them. I have deemed it my duty, however, to annoy them, where I could with little or no risk to our gunboats."

March 30, 1862
As the Union troops at Savannah and Pittsburg Landing settle in, TYLER and LEXINGTON continuously patrolled the river between Cerro Gordo, TN, and Eastport, MS.

April 6, 1862
During breakfast at Savannah, General Grant was informed of the outbreak of fighting upriver, whereupon he immediately boarded the steamer Tigress and departed for the scene of combat which would become known as the "Battle of Shiloh."

That afternoon, shelling from TYLER and LEXINGTON played a crucial role in helping to repel a Confederate flanking maneuver along the River. During the night, the two gunboats lobbed one shell into the Confederate camps approximately every 10 minutes, thus depriving the troops of badly needed rest. From their anchorage near Pittsburg Landing, the two gunboats poured nearly 400 shells into the Confederate lines between 6:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. the following morning. Though the actions of the gunboats in this momentous battle seem limited, the importance of their contribution was later described by Major General Leonidas Polk, CSA, whose troops were; ". . .within from 150 to 400 yards of the enemy's position, and nothing seemed wanting to complete the most brilliant victory of the war but to press forward and make a vigorous assault on the demoralized remnant of his forces. At this juncture his gunboats dropped down the river, near the landing where his troops were collected, and opened a tremendous cannonade of shot and shell over the bank, in the direction from where our forces were approaching." And by General P. G. T. Beauregard, CSA, who reported; "The enemy, moreover, had broken [the Confederate troops'] rest by a discharge at measured intervals of heavy shells thrown from the gunboats; therefore, on the following morning the troops under my command were not in condition to cope with an equal force of fresh troops, armed and equipped like our adversary, in the immediate possession of his depots and sheltered by such an auxiliary as the enemy's gunboats."
Official Report]

April 8, 1862
News of the battle had reached many of the northern cities and the Western and U.S. Sanitary Commissions dispatched the steamers Louisiana, D. A. January, Imperial, Empress, Tycoon, Monarch, Lancaster No. 4 and i>Superior to the area. These vessels had been converted to serve as hospital ships and were loaded with medical supplies, doctors, nurses and civilian volunteers to care for the casualties. Soon the Tennessee, Ohio and upper Mississippi Rivers were teeming with boats transporting the sick and wounded to northern hospitals.

Though there has been much debate over the importance of the gunboats in turning back the Confederate attack on April 6, at least one of President Lincoln's long-time friends and advisors seemed to have little doubt:

Washington, July 30, 1862

His Excellency President Lincoln

DEAR SIR: I went to Pittsburg Landing immediately after the battle there and spent three days riding over the field. From all I could learn I believe the gunboats Lexington and Tyler, commanded by Lieutenants Gwin and Shirk, saved our army from defeat. At least it is within bounds to say they rendered us invaluable services.
It seems to me very clear that these gentlemen ought to be promoted for their gallant bearing in this action.

Yours, truly,
Leonard Swett

April 12, 1862
Tyler and Lexington escorted an expedition led by General Sherman aboard the transports Tecumseh and White Cloud up the river to Chickasaw Landing where the troops were landed to destroy a railroad bridge near Iuka, MS.

April 19, 1862
TYLER captured the small steamer Alfred Robb at Florence, AL. There being, at that time, no "Prize Court" to which to send his prize and a great need for boats with which to patrol the Tennessee, Captain Gwin accepted the pilot's "Oath of Allegiance" and put twelve of his crew with two howitzers aboard to man her.

JUNE 1862
This month marked the beginning of a critical point in the war. The powerful concentration of Federal forces which had prevailed at Shiloh moved south and occupied Corinth, MS, which had been abandoned by the Confederates. The loss of Corinth also made the Confederate posts in western Tennessee untenable. Therefore, Forts Pillow and Randolph above Memphis were also abandoned. The Union forces at Corinth then split, with Grant pushing toward Vicksburg along a path roughly parallel to the Mississippi River while Buell's troops turned eastward in the general direction of Chattanooga. Meanwhile, on the Mississippi, the Western Flotilla was teaming up with Colonel Ellet's Ram Fleet to destroy the Confederate River Defense Fleet in a hard-fought engagement at Memphis, TN. Their victory gave the Union control of the river as far south as Vicksburg, MS.

To check the advance of these Union forces which were penetrating deep into the Confederate heartland defenders of the South struck back with guerrilla attacks, cavalry raids, and prolonged counter thrusts by whole armies. All these measures were designed to sever Northern lines of communication and supply. Union railroads, overland convoys of wagons, and supply ships quickly became favorite Confederate targets, and the importance of maintaining Union control of the rivers grew apace to assure Federal troops a steady flow of supplies and munitions. Responsibility for keeping the Ohio and its tributaries safe for waterborne Union logistical operations was now placed squarely on the gunboats of the Western Flotilla.

June 6, 1862
The newly-commissioned ALFRED ROBB reported for duty at Pittsburg Landing, TN, thus beginning a 3-year career of patrolling the tributary rivers.

August 20, 1862
Commodore Charles H. Davis (who had temporarily relieved the ailing Flag-Officer Foote)—recognizing that ". . . the gunboat service of the upper rivers had suddenly acquired a new importance" — charged Fleet Captain Pennock with taking these small warships under his "special care" with Lt. LeRoy Fitch in immediate command.

August 31, 1862
The transport W. B. Terry ran aground at Duck River Shoals, TN, and was captured by Confederate troops. The Terry was the first vessel captured by the Western Gunboat Flotilla.

September 1, 1862
Much to the chagrin of the Union sailors (and many officers, as well) Congress passed a law stating that "the spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease." The Navy was already operating under severe manpower shortages so, in order to mollify the disgruntled enlistees, the law also provided for a small monthly stipend to replace the "Grog Ration," as it had traditionally been called.

May 11, 1863
While CHAMPION and QUEEN CITY protected Cerro Gordo, TN, COVINGTON, SILVER CLOUD and ARGOSY continued upriver to Eastport, MS, to support Major General Rosecrans in preparation for an anticipated Confederate offensive.

June 19, 1863
In an operation intended to disperse troops under Colonel Biffle, CSA, which had been firing on Union shipping in the area, sixteen crewmen and several howitzers from the ALFRED ROBB were landed at Cerro Gordo, TN. Once the battery was in place, ALFRED ROBB and SILVER CLOUD dropped out of site downriver to await a hoped-for Confederate attack. Colonel Biffle obliged at 4:30 a.m. by charging the Union emplacement with some 400 troops. Furious close-range fire from the Federal guns soon broke up the attack with only minor losses to the gun crews.

October 26, 1863
HASTINGS assisted General Sherman's troops in crossing the river at Eastport, MS, during operations culminating in the Battle of Chattanooga.

November 8, 1863
HASTINGS helped fend off a Confederate cavalry attack on Paducah, KY.

November 10, 1863
PEOSTA, having been commissioned into the Navy, entered service on the Tennessee River. She would serve the Union throughout the war.

December 20, 1863
Cannon fire from PEOSTA dispersed a group of Confederate guerillas at Point Pleasant, TN.

January 1864
By this time, the war front—and public attention—had moved deep into southern territory, taking most of the Union troops with it. Thus, the Union positions along the major rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi were left thinly garrisoned. It was not long before bands of guerillas and small, isolated Confederate units began to harass Federal shipping in the region and the gunboats were kept busy steaming from place to place in pursuit of these elusive bands.

March 12, 1864
Cannon fire from PEOSTA disperses Confederate guerillas at Pittsburg Landing, TN.

March 19, 1864
Crewmen from PEOSTA and TAHWAH destroy a cache of Confederate supplies at Saltillo, TN.

March 25, 1864
PEOSTA and PAW PAW are actively involved in repelling General Nathan Bedford Forrest's attack on Paducah.

May 23, 1864
Sixteen armed sailors from PEOSTA capture several horses belonging to the "Hayes Guerrillas" at Hamburg Landing, TN.

June 19, 1864
Following the Federal victory at Chickamauga, it became important to control the upper Tennessee River. Since none of the Union gunboats could cross the rapids at Muscle Shoals near Florence, AL, General Sherman had four vessels built in eastern Tennessee at Bridgeport (ed. note: Above the Shoals, the Tennessee River runs easterly across the entire width of northern Alabama before turning northward into Tennessee again near Chattanooga and the northwest corner of Georgia). The GENERAL GRANT, GENERAL BURNSIDE, GENERAL THOMAS and GENERAL SHERMAN were manned by the Army but their officers were assigned by the Navy. Along with the re-fitted STONE RIVER the "Four Generals" began service in mid-summer and would spend their entire careers in the upper Tennessee.

October 10, 1864
As General Sherman advanced toward Atlanta, leaving Confederate General J. B. Hood's forces to his rear, the Union gunboats began a period of stepped-up patrols of the Tennessee River.

On this date, KEY WEST and UNDINE convoyed three transports carrying 1,200 troops to Eastport, MS. As the infantry were disembarking, a Confederate masked battery opened fire from a nearby hill. The two gunboats returned the accurate southern fire but were soon forced to retire with the transports and troops. This proved to be the first indication that General Hood was moving toward Nashville, TN.

October 28, 1864
An attempt by Confederate units under General Hood to cross the Tennessee river at Decatur, AL was thwarted when GENERAL GRANT and STONE RIVER dispersed an 8-gun battery in a heated exchange from a distance of 500 yards. Hood was then forced to march eastward to Tuscumbia before finding a safe crossing on his way to attack Nashville.

October 30 1864
In another effort to divert men and materiel from the Union Army's advance through Georgia, Major-General Forrest led a 23-day raid culminating in an attack on the Union supply base at Johnsonville, TN. Swinging north from Corinth, MS, toward the Kentucky border and temporarily blockading the Tennessee River at Fort Heiman, Forrest then moved southward along the Tennessee River's west bank, capturing the transports Cheeseman, Maizeppa and Venus and the gunboat, UNDINE. Two 20-pound Parrot guns were then mounted on the stern of the Venus.

November 4, 1864
Forrest began positioning his artillery just below a narrow slot across the river from the Federal supply base and landing at Johnsonville, TN. Union troops discovered the Confederates finishing their entrenchments and battery emplacements in the afternoon. The KEY WEST, TAHWAH and ELFIN arrived and forced Forrest to abandon his captured gunboats, following which, with the land batteries across the river, they engaged the Confederates in an artillery duel. The Confederate guns, however, were so well positioned that the the Federals were unable to hinder them. In fact, the Confederate artillery fire disabled the gunboats.

Commander Leroy Fitch had sent six gunboats up from Paducah, KY, which attemped to join the fight but were unable to pass through the slot and eventually retired.

Fearing that the Confederates might cross the river and capture the transports at the supply depot, the Federals set fire to them. At the time the boats were torched, the wind spread the fire to the piles of stores on the levee and to a warehouse loaded with supplies. Seeing the fire, the Confederates began firing on the steamboats, barges, and warehouses to prevent the Federals from putting it out. Although Forrest withdrew to Corinth, MS, that night, control of the lower Tennessee river was effectively returned to the Confederates.

December 12, 1864
GENERAL GRANT and GENERAL BURNSIDE engaged a Confederate shore battery above Decatur, AL.

December 22, 1864
Following the Union victory at Nashville, GENERAL THOMAS and the other gunboats on the upper Tennessee supported the Federal re-occupation of Decatur, AL, then steamed downriver to the upper Mussel Shoals while Admiral Lee in CINCINNATI rushed upriver to the lower shoals to cut off Hood's retreat. Most of the Confederate troops, however, were able to cross the river between the two rapids and the scattered remnants were later incorporated into other southern armies.

The defeat of General Hood's army would prove to be the last major action along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. The Union gunboats in this area would spend the remainder of the war transporting men and materiel for operations further south and occaisionally returning fire of small Confederate units and scattered bands of guerillas.

January 6, 1865
GENERAL GRANT silenced a Confederate shore battery at Beard's Bluff above Guntersville, AL.

January 9, 1865
GENERAL GRANT returned to destroy the town of Guntersville, AL, as punishment for hostile actions against the Union.

January 27, 1865
The transport Elipse exploded at Johnsonville, TN, killing 30 of the 70 Union soldiers aboard.