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Civil War White River Expedition: June-July 1862
Lowell L. Getz
The Union expedition up the White River in Arkansas to resupply and
reinforce the Army of the Southwest, June and July 1862, did not succeed. Although
combat during the failed expedition was limited in scope, it involved the most
deadly single shot fired during the American Civil War. Eighty Union sailors were
killed directly, another 23 indirectly by a Reid projectile fired from a 32 pounder
rifled cannon. In addition to the loss of life, exceptional tenacity was exercised in
the attempted resupply undertaking up the White River. Although there are cryptic
published accounts of the expedition, I felt the sacrifices and resolute actions
displayed by the sailors who took part in the expedition deserved greater
recognition. To accomplish this, I have documented details of the expedition, based
on messages between the various participants, now on file in the U.S. National
Archives (available on-line at
Reason For The Expedition
Almost all engagements of the American Civil War took place east of the
Mississippi River. The spring of 1862 was no exception. Confederate General
Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson was running amuck over Union forces up and down the
Shenandoah Valley. Union General George McClelland was trying to move on
Richmond through a series of failed engagements in the “Peninsula Campaign.”
Farther west there were the Battles of Pittsburg Landing (“Shiloh”) in Southwestern
Tennessee and Corinth in Northeastern Mississippi.
In the spring of 1862, there also were number of battles between Union and
Confederate navies in the east, the most noteworthy that between the Union USS
Monitor and Confederate CSS Merrimack ironclads off Hampton Roads, Virginia. In
the west, Union and Confederate navies clashed in the battle for and capture of New
Orleans by Union forces, April 25-May 1. Farther north on the Mississippi River,
Union gunboats captured or destroyed all but one of the Confederate gunboats in
the middle Mississippi River in the naval battles at Fort Pillow (May 10) and
Memphis (June 6). Only the Confederate gunboat, CSS General Van Doren, escaped
from these latter two battles.
The major land confrontation west of the Mississippi occurred March 6-8,
when Confederate Forces under overall Command of Major General Thomas
Hindman were defeated by the Union Army of the Southwest (a part of the
Department of Missouri), commanded by Brigadier General Samuel Curtis, near
Leetown, Arkansas, in the Battle of Pea Ridge. Following the Battle of Pea Ridge,
General Curtis moved back to central Missouri, establishing his base of supply at
Rolla. On April 29, he began moving back into Arkansas in an attempt to capture
Little Rock, Headquarters of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District. His army
soon became bogged down in a series of small engagements that exhausted its
supplies. Hard pressed by the Confederate forces, General Curtis fell back behind
the White River. In the meantime General Hindman mounted a disinformation
program to convince General Curtis the Confederate army was being reinforced by
new units arriving from Texas.
General Curtis fell for the ruse and on June 2, pulled his forces back to the
foothills of the Ozarks, abandoning the Little Rock campaign. He then requested of
Major General Henry Halleck, Commander of the Department of Missouri, that he be
reinforced by two Regiments, along with critical supplies, so as to counter the
presumed increase in the Confederate forces opposing him. Because of poor road
conditions throughout Missouri, overland resupply was not feasible. General Curtis
proposed that he be reinforced and resupplied by riverboats moving up the White
River to Jacksonport, Arkansas.
The Expedition
General Halleck did not have boats available to accommodate the request of
General Curtis. All were in use elsewhere. On June 8, he telegraphed Commodore
Charles H. Davis, Flag Officer of the Union Mississippi River fleet, requesting
transports and gunboats be sent up the White River to Jacksonport to communicate
with General Curtis and to capture or destroy any enemy gunboats on the river.
General Halleck also sent the message to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, who
forwarded it to Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, telling him to provide the aid
requested by General Halleck. On June 10, Secretary Welles telegrammed
Commodore Davis to “Use every exertion in conveying supplies up the White River
to the army of General Curtis.” Commodore Davis replied to Secretary Welles on the
same day, saying that he would mount an expedition up the White River in hopes of
capturing the Confederate gunboat, General Van Dorn, whose whereabouts were
unknown (she had gone directly to Yazoo City, Mississippi after the naval
engagement at Memphis and was still there). He said he would also would resupply
and reinforce General Curtis.
To accomplish this mission, Commodore Davis put together a detachment of
gunboats located at Memphis, under the command of Captain Augustus H. Kilty,
consisting of the ironclads USS Mound City (Captain Kilty) and USS St. Louis
(Lieutenant Wilson McGunnegle), as well as the woodclad, USS Lexington
(Lieutenant James W. Shirk), along with the armed (with a 25 pounder howitzer)
tug, Spitfire, to clear the White River of Confederate gunboats and provide safe
passage for the convoy of supplies and reinforcements for General Curtis. The
convoy consisted of the transports White Cloud and Jacob Musselman, with
provisions for General Curtis and, New National, carrying the 46th Indiana Regiment
(the only regiment available at that time), commanded by Colonel Graham N. Fitch.
The Army woodclad gunboat, Conestoga (Lieutenant G. M. Blodgett), accompanied
the transports. The entire flotilla was to progress up-river to Jacksonport where it
would meet up with General Curtis.
Colonel Charles Ellet, commander of the Union Ram fleet on the Mississippi
River, proposed to Commodore Davis that his fleet, under command of Lieutenant
George Currie, join the expedition up the White River, but asked that the rams
operate independently of the gunboats. Commodore Davis rejected his offer, on the
basis that two independent commands would be counter productive to
accomplishing the mission.
On June 3, General Hindman, anticipating the Union would attempt to
resupply General Curtis via the White River, sent the cottonclad gunboats CSS
Pontchartrain (Captain John W. Dunnington) and CSS Maurepas (Captain Joseph Fry,
a former U. S. Navy Captain) up the White River to St. Charles, site of the first bluff
on the White River, 110 miles from the mouth of the river. The two gunboats
arrived at St. Charles on June 4. Two rifled 32-pounder cannon that had been
moved from Fort Randolph, on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River, by the
Pontchartrain were placed high up on the bluff. Captain Dunnington then moved
Pontchartrain back down the White River and up the Arkansas River to Little Rock
for repairs. Two 3-inch rifled guns were moved to St. Charles from the Little Rock
arsenal and added to the battery, along with two 3-inch rifled guns taken from
General Hindman had planned to send an infantry regiment to St. Charles,
but could arm only 50 men. These he sent on under command of Captain A. M.
Williams of his staff, holding the rest at DeVall’s Bluff while he begged, bought and
impressed additional powder and cartridges. Unfortunately, these had to be sent by
rail from 40 miles away. The train arrived too late for the munitions to be of use at
St. Charles. When Captain Williams and his troops arrived at St. Charles, he placed
35 of his men, as sharpshooters, on the lower reaches of the bluff. Captain Fry was
designated by General Hindman as commander of the entire force at St. Charles.
Captain Fry went to work immediately and began driving pilings in the river below
the bluff to bock the channel.
Mound City, Lexington and St. Louis left for the White River the morning of
the 13 . As the gunboats moved downstream, the Confederate steamer, Clara
Dolsen, was discovered at anchor at Helena, Arkansas by the gunboat, Lexington.
Lieutenant Shirk was ordered to capture the vessel. Upon sighting the approaching
Lexington, the men of the Clara Dolsen quickly raised a head of steam and made a
run down river, so fast so that Lexington was unable to catch her. Both Mound City
and Spitfire fired upon her, but Clara Dolsen eluded them, also. She continued on
down river and up the White River. When within 15 miles of the mouth of the White
River, because of falling darkness, the chase was abandoned and the convoy
dropped anchor for the night.
The following morning the gunboats moved on and entered the White River.
Spitfire was in the lead, reconnoitering the lower White River, where she
encountered Clara Dolsen hiding in a narrow slough. Spitfire came upon Clara
Dolsen so rapidly, she had no chance to escape. Spitfire took possession of the
steamer. The gunboats progressed up river as far as the Arkansas Cut-off. There the
boats dropped anchor, awaiting arrival of the boats bringing reinforcements and
supplies for General Curtis.
The rest of the Union flotilla was delayed leaving Memphis while Colonel
Fitch prepared the commissary transports and their barges (most transports
employed during the White River expedition towed barges) needed by the 46th
Regiment. White Cloud, Jacob Musselman and New National, under convoy of
Conestoga finally lifted anchor and steamed toward the White River on the morning
of the 15th.
Conestoga and transports caught up with the gunboats morning of the 16th.
The entire flotilla left the Arkansas Cut-off that morning, progressing up-stream to
within five miles of St. Charles, where the boats paused for the night. As per usual,
Spitfire was sent on to reconnoiter the river ahead. At 6:00 the next morning the
fleet raised anchor and proceeded up river, in order—Mound City, St. Louis,
Lexington, Conestoga, and the transports.
When the Union fleet was observed approaching St. Charles, the river
obstructions were not yet complete. Captain Fry ordered Maurepas and the
steamboats, Eliza G. and Mary Patterson, sunk in line across the channel. There was
not time to load the boats with ballast, but at least they would impede movement
past the bluff.
Captain Dunnington and men from the Pontchartrain arrived
overland from Little Rock at 6:00 AM the 16th to man the battery on the bluff.
Captain Dunnington ordered one of the 32 pounders and a crew, under command of
Midshipman F. M. Roby, to move 400 yards below the upper battery. Two of the 3inch guns, manned by crewmen from the Maurepas, also were moved down to the
lower battery.
When within two miles of the Confederate fortifications on the hill at St.
Charles, the Union boats began taking fire from Confederate pickets on the shore. In
response, Mound City and the other gunboats began firing grape shot onto the shore.
Colonel Fitch stopped New National long enough to land his 46th Indiana regiment
on the south side of the river and put out skirmishers. The skirmishers quickly
drove away the Confederate pickets. The 46th moved on up to the base of the bluff
upon which the village of St. Charles was located, where they had to stop. Colonel
Fitch could not progress farther without being exposed to the bombardment of the
Union gunboats. The fleet continued up river, the gunboats firing onto both sides of
the river as they went. The gunboats soon came to a mile long bend in the river,
discovering the three sunken boats at the upper end of the bend, with the bluff on
the port side. It was assumed the Confederates had a battery somewhere on the
bluff adjacent to the sunken vessels.
Captain Kilty kept moving Mound City on up river, closely followed by the
other gunboats, all firing in the vicinity of where they presumed the battery to be
positioned. As the Union fleet approached the sunken boats, at 9:14 AM, the lower
Confederate battery began firing upon the gunboats. Unfortunately, location of the
battery was hidden from the gunboats by the dense woods. Position of the lower
battery finally was determined when it began firing on the 46th Regiment as it was
forming up to advance upon the hill. Colonel Fitch informed Captain Kilty location
of the battery and asked if he wanted the 46th to take the battery, or did he want to
silence it with his gunboats. Captain Kilty replied that the gunboats would take out
the battery and that the 46th should remain in place. The gunboats moved up closer
to the bluff, directing a terrific cannonade upon the lower battery. The gunboats
continued on. At 10:03, when within 600 yards of the Confederate battery, with
Captain Kilty pacing the deck as Confederate shells whizzed all around him, Mound
City took a direct hit from the 32 pounder rifled cannon, loaded with a Reid
projectile, in the battery higher up the bluff.
The shell penetrated her port casemate slightly above the forward gun port,
killing three men as it went though, and exploded in the steam drum located inside
the enclosed casemate. At least 80 crewmen were scalded to death immediately by
boiling water and high pressure steam. Others, including Commander Kilty, were
severely injured by the steam. Many jumped overboard into the river to escape the
deadly steam. All boats in the fleet rushed forward to assist the men in the water.
St. Louis arrived first, followed by Lexington and Conestoga, who were now sailing
abreast. With Commander Kilty out of action, Lieutenant McGunnegle took
command of the gunboats. He immediately ordered First Master Duble, of the
Conestoga, to board and take command of Mound City.
Mound City was drifting down stream. Conestoga tied on to her and began
towing her back down river and out of range of the Confederate battery. As the
Conestoga was trying to move Mound City out of range of the Confederate batteries,
New National kept getting in the way, first immediately under her stern, then on the
starboard side, slowing removal of Mound City from the range of the shore batteries.
First Master Duble repeatedly requested the commander of New National to get out
of the way, only to have her run up against the port side of Mound City.
St. Louis and Lexington continued on up closer to the upper battery, firing at
the lower battery as they went. The lower battery was soon silenced by cannon fire,
at which time the gunboats began firing shells at the upper battery and grape shot
into both banks of the river.
When First Master Duble arrived aboard Mound City, he found most of the
crew dead, overboard or wallowing in extreme pain from being scalded by the
steam. He observed that many of the uninjured men had broken open liquor casts
and consumed enough of the contents to become very drunk. Watered liquor and
ice had been put in flasks to give to the injured to ease their pain, but the able men
were drinking from buckets of pure liquor. They had been joined by sailors from St.
Louis and Conestoga, as well as some soldiers from New National, in imbibing
contents of the casts and who were similarly inebriated. More disgustingly, these
same men were seen robbing sailors, as they were rolling in their death throes, of
their monk bags and money purses. Rooms had been broken into, trunks and carpet
sacks pillaged, with the contents scattered around or destroyed. Watches of the
officers were also stolen. The drunken sailors were quarreling, cursing and rioting
among themselves. First Master Duble and officers from the other boats tried to stop
the drunken pillaging, to no avail. Eventually the drunken rabble had plundered
everything of worth and become too drunk and tired to continue. In contrast to the
deplorable action of the sailors and soldiers, was the skill and bravery of two
doctors (Dr. George W. Garver of the Lexington and Dr. William H. Wilson of the
Conestoga) in treating severely wounded sailors on Mound City.
As Mound City drifted down river, near the left bank, Captain Williams
directed the boat to strike its colors. When this was not done, he ordered the
sharpshooters to begin firing on the Union sailors in the water. Some reports
erroneously attributed the request for striking the flag and subsequent firing upon
the Union sailor to Captain Fry, an unwarranted accusation that hounded him to his
the end of his days. At the same time, another party of Confederates, concealed in
the woods on the opposite side of the river, began firing at the men in the water.
Observing what was taking place, men of the 46th Regiment not only were
enraged over the slaughter of Union sailors in the water, but also wanted to take out
the upper battery for fear it would disable the gunboats St. Louis, Lexington and
Conestoga. If that happened, the land forces would be deprived support of the
gunboats during the rest of the expedition. Ten minutes after Mound City exploded,
Colonel Fitch signaled the gunboats to cease firing so the land attack on the upper
battery could commence. Firing from the river ceased.
Colonel Fitch first sent out skirmishers to silence the sharpshooters firing on
the men in the water. The main body of the 46th followed in line, at 300 yards,
proceeding on to top of the hill. On reaching the top of the bluff, the line of attack
right-half wheeled and at double quick, fell upon the flank and rear of the battery.
The attackers found that the lower battery had placed one artillery piece to the right
of the battery facing the line of attack of the 46th. When the gunners observed the
advancing infantry men on their flank, they attempted to withdraw to cover the rear
of the upper battery. Before being able to do so, the gunners were captured, along
with the cannon. As men of the 46th charged on toward the upper battery, Captain
Williams saw that his forces were almost completely surrounded. When informed
of the situation, Captain Fry ordered Captain Williams to fall back to the battery.
Almost immediately thereafter, he ordered the guns spiked and the troops to
retreat. The men, with the officers in the rear, scattered and ran for about half a
mile. A few minutes later an officer in Colonel Fitch’s command signaled the
gunboats, “We have the battery.”
At least eight or nine Confederates were killed, an unknown number
wounded, and 29 captured, including the seriously wounded Captain Fry. Union
forces were now in control of St. Charles. The men of the 46th were too exhausted to
attempt to find all the wounded Confederates. They were left to the care of local
surgeons and citizens, who would be able to provide better and quicker attention
than could the 46th. The prisoners, including Colonel Fry, were moved down to the
base of the bluff to be sent to Memphis.
Lexington proceeded on up to the sunken Confederate boats. Lieutenant
Shirk boarded Maurepas and Eliza G., retrieving several official Confederate papers,
which he handed over to Lieutenant McGunnegle. Once it was obvious the action
was over, Lieutenant McGunnegle went aboard Mound City to make the best possible
provisions for care of the wounded. After consultations by the commanding officers
of the gunboats, it was decided that the wounded should be placed aboard
Conestoga and Jacob Musselman and sent back to Memphis.
As the wounded of Mound City were being removed, a mortally wounded
crewman was still holding the lock string of a loaded, cocked and primed bow gun.
As he fell dead, he pulled the lock string, setting off the gun, firing grape shot into a
steam pipe in the New National, still up against the port side of Mound City. No one
on the transport was wounded but a side wheel was disabled.
Colonel Fitch and Lieutenant McGunnegle discussed the advisability of
moving farther upstream to join up with General Curtis and deliver to him the
reinforcements and supplies aboard the transports, New National and White Cloud.
The river was dropping rapidly and it was feared by the river pilots aboard the
gunboats there soon would be insufficient water depth for the flotilla to return
downstream. If this happened, the boats would be trapped in the river for the
summer. Irrespective of the potential danger, Colonel Fitch and Lieutenant
McGunnegle decided to go on up stream as far as possible on the chance they might
meet up with General Curtis.
First Master Duble was ordered to remain with Mound City at St. Charles
while the rest of the flotilla moved up stream. There were only 26 uninjured
crewmen left on the Mound City, not enough to man the boat. Colonel Fitch detailed
58 men and a Lieutenant to assist in keeping her afloat while the St. Louis and
Lexington proceeded on upstream. One of the uninjured officers, Mr. McElroy, was
left aboard Mound City. The other, Mr. Dominy, who was showing signs of extreme
stress from all he had witnessed, was sent back to Memphis with the wounded. The
men aboard the Mound City set about cleaning up the boat. Conestoga and Jacob
Mussleman, with the wounded sailors, arrived back in Memphis early the 19th. The
Conestoga was resupplied and, along with a transport loaded with commissary
supplies, set out for St. Charles that same evening.
On the evening of June 18, the flotilla, consisting of the gunboats St. Louis and
Lexington, the tug, Spitfire, followed by the transports, New National and White
Cloud, moved up river from St. Charles. The boats passed the sunken obstacles in
the river channel and moved on about 10 miles, where they dropped anchor for the
night. Spitfire was sent back down to St. Charles to stand by Mound City during the
night. The next morning she returned and the flotilla proceeded on, passing
Aberdeen at 1:30 PM. All houses in the town were closed and no one was observed
on the streets. At 2:45 PM the boats reached Clarendon. There, Lieutenant
McGunnegle and Colonel Fitch went ashore for about an hour to warn the town’s
people not to fire upon the flotilla. If they did, the gunboats would fire back,
destroying their properties. No one fired on the Union boats. The flotilla continued
to the Crooked Point Cut-off, 63 miles above St. Charles, where the boats dropped
anchor for the night.
Lieutenant McGunnegle was told by the White River pilot and the pilots of
the Lexington and St. Louis the water was dropping so rapidly that within a very few
days, the boats would not have enough water beneath them to return safely down
river. The White River pilot of White Cloud also informed him that they could not
possibly get any farther up the river than Des Arc. Even then, it was not certain the
boats could make it back down river. Lieutenant McGunnegle met with Colonel
Fitch and acquainted him with the situation and the need to begin the return down
river at daylight. Otherwise, the flotilla faced the possibility of being stranded up
stream until water levels increased in the autumn. Colonel Fitch reluctantly agreed.
The flotilla began moving down at daybreak the 20th, reaching St. Charles at
4:00 PM. There the boats dropped anchor. On the way down, the gunboats and
transports were subjected to continuous small arms fire from the shore. The
gunboats returned the fire with grape shot. On the return, St. Louis grounded on a
shallow bar. Spitfire got her off quickly and back underway. Lexington dragged over
all the bars between the Crooked Point Cut-Off and St. Charles. Had the flotilla been
24 hours later in making the downriver run, it would have been impossible to get
the ironclad St. Louis, with its deep draft, out of the river.
At 7:00 PM, a mechanic from the Lexington and two from the St. Louis went
aboard Mound City and worked through the night. Conestoga arrived back at St.
Charles from Memphis at 3:30 AM the 21st, carrying reinforcements for Colonel
Fitch and accompanied by a transport laden with commissary stores. First Master
Dominy of Mound City returned to St. Charles on Conestoga. Mechanics from
Conestoga joined the others in repairing Mound City. At 6:00 AM boilermakers and
some Mound City officers who had been off the ship (on the Clara Dolsen) when she
was hit, came aboard. By 10:00 AM Mound City was self-sufficient. First Master
Duble was ordered to return to the Conestoga, leaving First Master Dominy in
command of Mound City. The flotilla departed St. Charles the morning of the 22nd,
with the Mound City being towed by the Spitfire. The river was too narrow for her to
be towed by one of the longer boats. On the way to the mouth of the White River,
guerrillas firing from the shore killed one seaman on the Lexington.
Anticipating withdrawal of the gunboats from St. Charles, the ironclad
gunboat, USS Cincinnati, with Commander John A. Winslow, was ordered to depart
Memphis the 21st to take up position at St. Charles. She arrived there the evening of
the 22nd. Colonel Fitch consulted with Commander Winslow on the 23rd, regarding
the importance of holding the position until further orders arrived. Commander
Winslow remained at St. Charles until the 24th, when his river pilots told him they
must leave the river immediately or run the risk of being trapped in the river
because of low water. He informed Colonel Fitch, who agreed the position must be
abandoned. Colonel Fitch destroyed all equipment that might be of use to the
Confederates and the flotilla moved down and out of the White River. Commander
Winslow and the Cincinnati remained on station at the mouth of the river to secure
access to the river. Lexington and Colonel Fitch’s transports had remained at the
mouth of the river, now under the protection of Cincinnati.
On 17 June, Major General Hindman had issued a proclamation to the citizens
of Monroe County, Arkansas (a county bordering the lower White River) authorizing
formation of companies of ten (comprising an elected captain, sergeant, corporal,
and seven troopers) to operate at will against Union forces.
On June 23, Colonel Fitch, upon learning of the proclamation, posted notices
for the citizens of Monroe County stating that he considered actions by these
companies constituted guerrilla warfare. Such companies soon would be little more
than highway banditti. He pointed out these bands already have fired upon Union
boats as they moved up river, including firing on injured men of the Mound City as
they struggled in the water. If such action were to continue, the offenders will be
held responsible in person and property. He said troops will be sent to capture the
offenders, whose homes and properties will be seized or destroyed.
General Hindman responded by informing Colonel Fitch that in his original
order authorizing formation of companies, in his role as commander of Confederate
forces in the Department, he had designated the men of such companies to be
Confederate soldiers. Captains were responsible for their men and would supply
reports of their actions to his command. He interpreted Colonel Fitch’s notice to
imply those captured may face execution. General Hindman stated that if any such
action should ensue, it would result in “man for man” retaliation of Union prisoners
under his jurisdiction.
On June 26, with the White River deemed secure, Commodore Davis
attempted once more to communicate with General Curtis. He ordered five
steamers and the gunboat Conestoga to proceed from Memphis to the mouth of the
White River and thence on up the river as far as they could go. The steamers, with
their barges, carried supplies for General Curtis and two additional infantry
regiments, the 24th and 34th Indiana, authorized by Generals Grant and Halleck, to
reinforce Colonel Fitch. Commander Winslow, stationed at the mouth of the White
River, was ordered to give them additional convoy as far as possible up the river.
Lexington, St. Louis and the tug, Spitfire, earlier had been dispatched to the mouth of
the White River and placed under the command of Commander Winslow.
The flotilla arrived at the mouth of the White River on the 27th. Because of
low water conditions in the White River, Commander Winslow could not send the
ironclad St. Louis to convoy the steamers up river. He, therefore, assigned the
timberclad gunboat, Lexington and the tug, Spitfire, to accompany Conestoga and the
Commander Winslow reported to Commodore Davis that he doubted the
transports could proceed far enough up river to communicate with General Curtis.
The water stage was too low to reach a point from which the small land force could
meet up with General Curtis. Also, it was reported that the Confederates had
installed batteries on DeVall’s Bluff with five guns taken from the gunboat
Pontchartrain. There were further reports that 3,000 troops were preparing to
attack St. Charles.
The supply convoy, with Lexington in the lead, followed by Conestoga, Spitfire
and eight transports, the five recently arrived from Memphis and three of Colonel
Fitch’s command, entered the White River at 2:00 AM June 28 and began moving up
river. Upon reaching St. Charles later the same day, the convoy dropped anchor,
remaining there until 2:00 PM the following afternoon. A Confederate force of 200
men had left St. Charles two hours prior to the arrival of the Union supply convoy.
No Confederate force appeared the rest of the day and night. On the 29th, the convoy
moved on up ahead, with the transport Catahoula acting as guide, stopping for the
night at 9:00 PM. The boats got underway again at daylight the 30th, continuing on
until they reached Clarendon at noon. The transports were fired upon by guerrilla
forces on the shore on the way from St. Charles to Clarendon, killing one soldier and
wounding six others on the transport, Ella.
A mile below Clarendon there was a bar in the river with only 6½ feet
clearance. The river was dropping at the rate of five inches every twenty-four
hours. Water depth over the bar at St. Charles would be sufficient for the boats to
clear it for only three more days, allowing the convoy to progress only a few miles
farther upstream. Taking this information and advice of the pilot of the Lexington
and the White River pilot aboard White Cloud into consideration, Lieutenant Shirk
reluctantly concluded the convoy could not proceed farther up stream with any
certainty of getting the boats back out of the river. Telling the other boats to stay
behind, Lieutenant Shirk moved Lexington on up stream to check water conditions.
About five miles on upstream he found the river to be impassible for the transports
beyond that point. The river was too narrow for the transports to maneuver their
barges in the confined restraints of the now narrow river channel. Lieutenant Shirk
then returned to the convoy.
While the Lieutenant Shirk was reconnoitering the river, Colonel Fitch put a
scouting party from the 46th Indiana Infantry ashore to reconnoiter towards
DeVall’s Bluff. The party reported hearing heavy firing at the Bluff between 5:00
and 11:30 AM. Colonel Fitch’s scouts estimated there to be two 68-pounders and
twelve smaller guns, along with 7,000-10,000 men fortifying DeVall’s Bluff. (Note.
General Hindmen had reported that there were only 1,000 infantry and 250
mounted troops at DeVall’s Bluff. He also said only two 8-inch guns from the
Pontchartrain had been moved from Little Rock to DeVall’s Bluff.) After Colonel
Fitch’s scouts were back aboard, Lieutenant Shirk moved the boats down to
Clarendon where they remained overnight. He held the flotilla there in case the
firing was from parties of General Curtis’ force that were moving down along the
When General Curtis’ forces did not arrive the next morning, Lieutenant
Shirk took on board Lexington a company of sharpshooters from Colonel Fitch’s
regiment and proceeded 15 miles up river to see if he could make contact with
General Curtis. No such contact was made. On the way back to Clarendon, Lexington
grounded once and barely made it over the stumps and logs in the riverbed, which
because of lack of telltale swirls in the slow current, could not easily be seen. The
morning of July 3, the entire convoy moved back down toward St. Charles. At
Crockett’s Bluff, they met two steamers with 600 troops (Perhaps the 43rd Indiana
Infantry? History of the 43rd Regiment indicates it took part in the White River
expedition, July 1862) as reinforcements for Colonel Fitch. After sending the
transports back to the mouth of the White River, Lieutenant Shirk remained at
Crockett’s Bluff to support Colonel Fitch’s forces. A steamer arrived with dispatches
from Commodore Davis ordering Lieutenant Shirk to continue providing support of
Colonel Fitch’s efforts to contact General Curtis. His only caveat was that Lieutenant
Shirk ensure the flotilla did not become trapped in the river because of low water
On July 4, Lexington began moving back up river, accompanying the troop
transports. As they passed Adam’s Bluff, Lexington was fired on from the east bank.
Lexington destroyed a ferry at this point and anchored for the night. The fleet lifted
anchor at daylight of the 5th, and proceeded on up river, reaching Aberdeen at 8:30
PM, where the convoy anchored for the night. At 6:30 PM the boats took fire from a
guerrilla band on shore, killing the chief engineer, Joseph Huber, and wounding
another sailor aboard Lexington.
Early the next morning, Colonel Fitch took 2,000 troops for a reconnaissance
in force toward DeVall’s Bluff. At 9:00 AM, 200 advance troops from the 24th
Indiana Regiment came upon 400 Confederate cavalry, routing them, causing 84
casualties. Following the skirmish, the Union troops moved on, but after a pursuit of
three miles, the troops returned to Aberdeen. Total Union losses were one killed
and twenty one wounded.
On the evening of the 7th, the troops again left to make a feint upon DeVall’s
Bluff. Lexington and the transports moved up to the bar just below Clarendon and
dropped anchor to await their return. The cane and underbrush at that point were
too dense to cut a road to the bank so the troops could come aboard their boat. The
convoy moved on up to Clarendon, even though the water over the bar was now
barely deep enough even for the shallow draft of the Lexington. There, the boats
dropped anchor to wait for return of Colonel Fitch’s patrol.
The troops came in at daylight, the 8th, after having routed a Confederate
cavalry camp. In the evening, Colonel Fitch prepared to send out another scouting
force. However, because neither of the gunboats nor the deep draft transports could
move beyond Clarendon and because the force under Colonel Fitch’s command was
too small to cope with the presumed enemy forces at DeVall’s Bluff, Colonel Fitch
decided to cancel the reconnaissance patrol and withdraw to St. Charles. On the
way down, the convoy anchored for the night at Roc Roe. The boats got underway
again at daylight, proceeding on to St. Charles, arriving at 4:00 PM. There, the flotilla
waited until the 10th to see if a messenger Colonel Fitch had dispatched to General
Curtis would return with information. Contact was not made and the flotilla was
withdrawn back to Memphis. General Curtis’ forces arrived at Clarendon, one day
after the flotilla had left. All the casualties and extended exemplary efforts, for
naught, by a single day.
Because of low water conditions in the White River, further attempt to
resupply and reinforce General Curtis by river was abandoned. Finding he was not
going to be resupplied and reinforced via the White River, General Curtis moved
eastward, occupying Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi, on July 12. Finally, he
was able to receive necessary supplies and reinforcements through the port there.
Although the attempt to communicate with General Curtis up the White River did
not succeed, the river was now in Union hands and clear of Confederate gunboats.
Of the 175 men on Mound City, 125 died from the scalding steam, were shot
in the water, or drowned; 25 sustained scald wounds. Only 26 were uninjured.
The Union gunboats involved in the White River expedition were moved back
north up the Mississippi. Mound City’s steam drum was repaired and the cannon
made functional. She was held at Memphis until a new crew [[ tha of the ??? ]]] was
placed aboard. She continued serving in most of naval actions of the Mississippi
fleet throughout the rest of the war. Mound City survived the war, after which she
was stripped of her armaments and sold to private parties in November 1865.
St. Louis continued to serve in the Mississippi fleet until sunk by a torpedo off
Yazoo City July 13, 1863.
Lexington was moved to Cairo for repairs, but the facility there was unable to
handle her, so she was sent on to St. Louis. Afterwards, she returned to the
Mississippi fleet, participating in a number of major engagements during the
remainder of the war. Following the end of hostilities Lexington was sent to Mound
City, Illinois, arriving there June 5, 1865. She was decommissioned on July2, 1865
and sold to Thomas Scott and Woodburn on August 17, 1865.
Conestoga was sent to Cairo, Illinois for repairs. She was formally
transferred to the US Navy in October 1862. The boat operated on the Mississippi
River near the mouths of the Arkansas and White Rivers until sunk on March 8,
1864, following a collision with USS General Price.
Cincinnati participated in the ensuing engagements of the Mississippi fleet.
On May 27, 1863 she joined the attack on the Vicksburg batteries. Cincinnati came
under heavy fire and was sunk for the second time (she had been sunk May 10
during the battle of Fort Pillow and raised), suffering 40 casualties. Raised again in
August 1863 Cincinnati returned to patrol duty on the Mississippi River and its
tributaries until February 1865 when she was transferred to the West Gulf
Blockading Squadron. She patrolled off Mobile Bay and in the Mississippi Sounds
until taken out of commission August 4, 1865 at Algiers, Louisiana. Cincinnati was
sold at New Orleans March 28, 1866.
Pontchartrain remained in Little Rock and was burned when the city fell to
Union forces in 1963.
General Van Doren was burned at Yazoo City, Mississippi on June 26, 1962 to
prevent her from falling into Union hands.
General Hindman, returned to his home in Helena, Arkansas following the
war. He was assassinated there by an unknown assailant on September 27, 1868.
General Curtis, returned to his home in Keokuk, Iowa, late 1865. He was
involved with the Union Pacific Railroad until his death December 26, 1866, while
inspecting tracks near Council Bluffs, Iowa.
General Halleck was given command of the Military Division of the James,
headquartered at Richmond, following Lee’s surrender. He remained in this post
until August 1865, when he was transferred to the Military Division of the Pacific.
The following year saw him return east to assume command of the Military Division
of the South, headquartered at Louisville, Kentucky. General Halleck died in this
post on January 9, 1872.
Commodore Davis was assigned Superintendent of the United States Naval
Observatory from 1865 to 1867. In 1867, he was given command of the South
Atlantic Squadron, with the USS Guerriere as his flagship. In 1869, he returned home
and served both on the Lighthouse Board and in the Naval Observatory.
Commodore Davis died in Washington, D.C. on February 18, 1877.
Captain Kilty recovered from his wounds, although he lost his left arm. He
was assigned to the ironclad frigate Roanoke in the North Atlantic Squadron from
1864–65, was promoted to Commodore on July 25, 1866, and posted Commandant
of the Norfolk Navy yard. Commodore Kilty was placed on the Retired List on
November 25, 1868, and received promotion to Rear Admiral on July 13, 1870. He
died November 10, 1879.
Lieutenant McGunnegle died of consumption April 2, 1863 while on
assignment to Annapolis, Maryland.
Lieutenant Shirk commanded the Seventh Division of the Mississippi
Squadron from 1863-1864. After the war, he cruised in the European Squadron and
performed special duty for the Navy Squadron from 1866 to 1872, eventually
promoted to Commander. Commander Shirk died in Washington D.C. on February
10, 1873.
Colonel Fitch resigned his commission in late 1862 because of injuries
received in subsequent action. Before the war, Colonel Fitch studied medicine,
completing his medical course at the College of Physicians and Surgeons,
commencing practice in Logansport, Indiana in 1834. Following the war, Colonel
Fitch returned home to Logansport and resumed the practice of medicine. He died
there on November 29, 1892.
Lieutenant Blodgett died of an illness on November 6, 1862.
Captain Fry found work after the war as Captain of a side-wheel steamer, the
former Confederate blockade runner, Virginius. He was contracted by Cuban
mercenaries to transport men and supplies to Cuba to fight the Spanish government
during the Ten Years War. Virginius and crew were captured by Spanish forces on
October 30, 1873. Captain Fry and his crew of American and British sailors were
convicted of piracy and sentenced to death. Captain Fry along with 53 of his crew
were executed by firing squads before British and American diplomats could
Captain Dunnington took up farming in Maury County, Tennessee, after the
war. He died on March 10, 1882, in Columbia, Tennessee.
Commander Winslow contracted malaria, became discontented and asked to
be reassigned to other duty. Detached from the Mississippi Squadron, he returned
to his home in Roxbury, Massachusetts early in November 1862 and was confined to
bed to regain his health. In early April 1863, he assumed command of the screw
sloop, USS Kearsarge in the Azores. With the Kearsarge, he cruised among the
Azores and later, European waters in search of the Confederate commerce raider
CSS Alabama. Commander Winslow encountered the Alabama on June 19, 1864
emerging from the French harbor at Cherbourg. After an hour and twenty-minute
battle, the Alabama was sunk. The victory earned him promotion to Commodore.
Advanced to Rear Admiral in 1870, he commanded the Pacific Squadron from that
year to when he retired in 1872. Admiral Winslow died in September 29, 1873 in
Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 61.
Mid White River. CL, Clarenden; DA, Des Arc; DB,
DeVall’s Bluff; RR, Roc Roe.
Lower White River. AR, Arkansas River; ACO, Arkansas Cut-Off; CB, Crockett’s Bluff;
MR, Mississippi River; SC, St. Charles (and bluff); RR, Roc Roe.
USS Mound City. An ironclad, with 2 ½ inch iron casemate enclosing the firing deck.
The steam drum was located within the casemate. Thus, when the shell exploded
within the drum, high pressure steam was released within the enclosed casemate,
killing or scalding the sailors. Those able to do so, jumped through the gun ports,
many of which were shot by Confederate troops on the shore, or drowned. (USN
History and Heritage Command)
USS St. Louis. An ironclad, similar to Mound City. (US National Archives)
USS Cincinnati. An ironclad gunboat. (USN History and Heritage Command)
USS Lexington. A timberclad gunboat. (USN History and Heritage Command)
USS Conestoga. A timberclad gunboat. (USN History and Heritage Command)
CSS Pontchartrain. A cottonclad gunboat. (Google, 290 Foundation)
Major General Henry Halleck. Union Commanding Officer of the Department of
Missouri. (US National Archives)
Brigadier General Samuel Curtis. Commander of the Union Army of the Southwest.
(Library of Congress)
Commodore Charles H. Davis. Flag Officer U. S. Naval Forces, Western Waters.
(Encyclopedia Britannica)
Captain August H. Kilty. Commander of the Union gunboat, Mound City. (Robert P.
Colonel Graham N. Fitch. Commanding Officer of the 46th Indiana Infantry Regiment.
Commander John A. Winslow. Commander of the USS Cincinnati. (USN History and
Heritage Command)
Major General Thomas Hindman. Commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi
District. (Ron Moody)
Captain Joseph Fry. Commander of the CSS Maurepas and of all Confederate ground
forces at St. Charles. (J. B. Burr Publishing Company/Library of Congress)
Captain John W. Dunnington. Commander of the CSS Pontchartrain. (Encyclopedia
Arkanas History & Culture)
Casualty List for Mound City
Note. Nine of the 175 crewmen are unaccounted for. An unknown number were
aboard the captured Clara Dolsen.
Browne, Harry R., Master's Mate
Cox, John, Chief Engineer
Gunn, John, M., Paymaster
Harte, William H., Second Master
Hollingsworth, George W., Third Assistant
Kinzie Jr., John H., Third Master
McAfee, John C., Second Assistant Engineer
Scoville, James A., Fourth Master
Abrams, George
Armstrong, Charles W.
Arnold, Allen
Ashcroft, Robert
Briggs, John W.
Brown, 2d, John
Brown, James
Bryant, S. J.
Burke, John
Byrnes, James
Camp, John
Carolan, James
Carrol, William
Castle, John
Chesterfield, Richard
Costley, Joseph
Crowly, Charles
Davis, D. H.
Dayton, John S.
Devine, John
Doughty, John
Dunham, James
Eliot, Frederick
Fowle, W. H.
Fox, William A.
Francis, Thomas
Freeland, Ebenezer
Galbraith, James
Gay, Nathaniel
Goerner, Philip
Greer, A. J.
Griffin, M. G.
Gross, Valentine
Hadley, Henry
Hamilton, Hiram
Hamilton, John
Handyside, Thomas
Harding, William
Harris, John
Hayward, Henry
Healey, Edward
Hendrie, Robert
Hines, Daniel, S.
Hodges, Thomas
Holcombe, L. D.
Howell, Daniel
Kelly, John
Kern, Lewis
Knight, John
Lee, James P.
Lupole, Jeremiah
Lusby, James
Massie, James
Maxwell, Charles
McAnany, James
McCanna, James
McClintock, Albert
McClintock, John, C.
McDonald, John
McKean, John
McLain, Walter
Menchink, Frederick
Merritt, G. H.
Moore, George W.
Morgan, G. W.
Needham, Samuel J.
Persons, W. H.
Peterson, Theodore
Philips, 1st, William
Reid, William, L
Robinson, Alexander
Ryan, Matthew
Seekins, Martin V.
Small, G. E.
Small, L. H.
Smith, Charles
Smith, John
Snyder, Gilbert
Stansbury, William
Stoeker, Emanuel
Summers, Porter
Taylor, Mathias
Tenis, John
Tome, Adam
Torrence, Elmer
Vaughn, Patrick P.
Walker, William
Wallace, James
Webbon, Fisher
Wood, Allen
Wood, Edward
Wyatt, Thomas
Wynkoop, Thomas
Young, John
Jones, George E, Surgeon.
Kilty, A. H., Commander
Manning, Thomas, Carpenter
Seegur, L. M., Hospital Steward
Young, Charles B., Pilot
Carpenter, Giles
Charles, D. F.
Conroy, John
Conroy, Martin J.
Consul, J. E.
Crane, Albert
Cromis, George W.
Dougherty, James
Eaton, Benjamin F.
Emory, William H.
Gilberson, George W.
Ginty, Henry B.
Hellingsen, H. P.
Hennick, Martin
Hoage, A. L.
Hoffman, Henry
Jones, Edwrard D.
Jones, James
Keron, Terrence
Kimball, George W.
Miller, Jacob
Nicholson, W. H.
O'Brien, John
O'Brien, R.
Pluff, Abraham
Scott, George W.
Steele, Henry J.
Stevens, Thomas
Talbot, Robert C.
Tompkins, John
Whitney, Elisha
Wilson, John