It soon became apparent that the Union needed more than a few powerful ironclads and rams on the Mississippi. While the principal units of the River Flotilla were occupied in the seizure or bombardment of Confederate shore positions or the destruction of enemy warships, other river gunboats were heeded lo patrol the hundreds of miles of rivers which led through occupied territory. Their roles were to escort supply boats and troop transports, to patrol for signs of enemy activity, or to act as dispatch boats, linking the Union armies in the Western Theater with their depots and recruiting bases further north. For this purpose dozens of flat-bottomed river steamers were purchased and converted into warships. Although many were propelled by sidewbeel propulsion, the majority were stern wheelers, similar u> or smaller than the craft made famous as Mississippi "gambling" boats (more accurately they were passenger ferries). To protect them from enemy small arms fire from the shore, these vessels were lightly armored with thin metal sheeting. This

The Union timberclad gunboats USS Lexington and USS Tyler engaging Confederate shore batteries at Columbus, Kentucky, in January 1862. These small but powerful vessels probably saw more service than any other gunboats in the Western Theater.

The USS Ouachita was the largest and best-armed tinclad gunboat on the Mississippi, carrying almost 40 guns, including tiwe 30-pounder Parrott rifles. She participated in the capture of the Confederate ironclad CSS Missouri on the Red River in June 1865.

gave rise to the name "tinclad." From June 19, 1863 (jnsi before the fall of Vicksburg), apart from the two largest vessels, these tine lads were allocated identification numbers, which were painted on die sides of the vessels' pilot houses.

The largest of these linelads served as a Command Ship for acting Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, who had assumed command of Union river forces in September 1862. The Black Hawk was built in New Albany, Indiana, in 1848, and began life as a luxury paddle steamer called the New Uncle Sam. She was purchased by the Navy Department for $36,000 in November 1862, and although she was theoretically converted into a gunboat, she retained many of her luxurious internal fittings. She joined the fleet on December 6, 1862, above Vicksburg, and served as the Union command vessel on both the Mississippi and Red Rivers until she was destroyed by an accidental fire off Cairo, Illinois, in April 1865. She carried two 32-pounder smoothbores, two 30-pounder Parrott rifles, and two 12-pounder pieces, but she only fired her guns in anger once, during an attack on Haynes' Bluff, Mississippi, in late April 1863. The large stately flagship was too valuable a vessel to risk in action.

The second large un-numbered unclad was the Ouachita, a former Confederate steamer called the Ijniisville, which was captured on a tributary of the Red River in July 1863. She was duly converted into a gunboat, and entered service on January 18, 1864 in time to participate in the Red River Campaign. She Carried five 30-pounder Parrott rilles and eighteen 24-pounder and fifteen 12-pounder smoothbores, making her the most powerful gunboat in the Western Theater.

These two vessels were the exception. Most of the other 69 tinclads to enter service displaced less than 200 tons, and were armed with far less

Tinclad Images

The powerful tinclad USS Fort Hindman [No. 13( had her name changed several times, being commissioned as the USS James Thompson. Her name was altered to cetebrate the capture of the Confederate fort guarding the Arkansas River. (US Navy)

impressive suites of ordnance. Almost all carried between four and eight guns, a mixture of whatever was available, although rifled guns were introduced as they were produced. In all but one case, the largest guns carried were 30-pounder rifles or 32-po under smoothbores, although 20-pounder rifles, 2 4-pound er smoothbores and 12-pounders of both types were far more common,

I he exception was the USS Jamas Thompson (renamed Manitou, then Fori Hindman in late 1863) which was 150 feet long and displaced 2S0 tons. She was purchased by (lie Navy Department at Jefferson vi He, Indiana, in March 1863, and entered service just weeks later, after having strips of tin nailed around her superstructure and paddlewheel boxes. She carried an unusually heavy armament of two 8-inch smoothbores in her bow, with two more On each broadside.

The USS Marmora (No. 2.) was a more typical tinclad. She was built in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, then sold to the Navy Department in September 1802. She was 155 feet long and displaced 207 tons. Her twin engines and boilers powered a sternwheel that was capable of propelling the ship at just under 7 knots. She was armed with two 24-pounder and two 12-pounder rifles arranged in broadsides in her tinclad casemate, although four more 24-pounders were added in mid-1864. She entered service in October 1862, and participated in expeditions up the Yazoo and White Rivers during a distinguished wartime career, which also involved attacks on the defenses of Vicksburg and Fort Hindman.

All in all these tinclad river gunboats were ungainly, slow and unprepossessing, but without them the Union would never have managed to supply its field armies in the West, or keep them in communication with each other.

The powerful tinclad USS Fort Hindman [No. 13( had her name changed several times, being commissioned as the USS James Thompson. Her name was altered to cetebrate the capture of the Confederate fort guarding the Arkansas River. (US Navy)

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment