On February 7, 1862, three Union gunboats—the Lexington, the Tyler, and the Conestoga—made a daring foray deep into Confederate territory, ascending the Tennessee River all the way to Muscle Shoals in Alabama. At Cerro Gordo, in Tennessee, the force seized three Confederate steamers without opposition. One of these was the partially completed Confederate gunboat Eastport, a splendid stern-wheel steamer 280 feet long. Not only was the gunboat captured, but the Union raiders also came away with a quantity of armor ready for installation, and some 250,000 feet of lumber. The amount of disorganization in the Confederate forces in this area in the spring of 1862 was incredible, and it is one of the greater tragedies of the war that the Union forces were not in a position to take fuller advantage of it.
The Eastport was taken to Cairo, Illinois, which had become a major Union navy yard, and during the summer of 1862 she was completed. Eventually she was equipped with two 100-pounder Parrott rifles, two 50-pounder Dahlgren rifles, and four 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbores.
In August, 1862, she was commissioned in the United States Navy and almost immediately became the flagship of Captain Charles H. Davis, at that time in command of Union Naval Forces in Western Waters. Her speed was somewhat greater than that of the usual ironclad gunboat.
The Eastport quickly became one of the "heavies" of the Union naval forces on the Mississippi, participating in most of the heavy fighting. In March, 1864, the Eastport ran aground in the Red River during the course of operations against the Confederate ground forces, and had to be blown up to prevent her from being captured.
A Typical "Tin Clad"
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