Saturday, February 2, 2013

Queen of the West Runs Vicksburg

Queen of the West
One of the major strengths of the town of Vicksburg was the batteries, built on the high bluffs above the river. The Confederate guns placed there could bring a terrific fire on any ship that tried to pass the town. One Union ship tried to do just that 150 years ago today. The Queen of the West was a steamer converted into a ram for use by the Union military. She was ordered to run past the batteries at Vicksburg and sink a Confederate steamer, the CSS City of Vicksburg, anchored in front of the city.

As the Queen of the West rounded the bend which led up to Vicksburg, the Confederates sprang to their guns and opened a heavy fire upon the Yankee ship. This fire, although terrific, was inaccurate, and the ship was struck only three times. The City of Vicksburg had been positioned so that a ram would have to swing out into the current to have a chance at a firm blow. That is just what Colonel Charles Ellet, captain of the Queen of the West did. But as the ship swung around, the current caught her and she lost all her momentum, as the Confederates planned. But Captain Ellet was ready for this. He wrote in his report:
I had anticipated this result, and therefore caused the starboard bow gun to be shotted with three of the incendiary projectiles recommended in your orders. As we swung around, Sergt. J. H. Campbell, detailed for the purpose, fired this gun. A 64-pounder shell crashed through the barricade just before he reached the spot, but he didn't hesitate. The discharge took place at exactly the right moment, and set the rebel steamer in flames, which they subsequently succeeded in extinguishing. At this moment one of the enemy's shells set the cotton on fire near the starboard wheel, while the discharge of our own gun ignited that portion which was on the bow. "The flames spread rapidly, and the dense smoke, rolling into the engine room suffocated the engineers. I saw that if I attempted to run into the City of Vicksburg again, my boat would certainly be burned. I ordered her to be headed down stream, and turned every man to extinguishing the flames. After much exertion, we finally put out the fire by cutting the burning bales loose. The enemy, of course, were not idle. We were struck twelve times, but, though the cabin was knocked to pieces, no material injury to the boat or to any of those on her was inflicted. About two regiments of rebel sharpshooters in rifle-pits kept up a continuous fire, but did no damage. The Queen was struck twice in the hull, but above the water line. One of our guns dismounted and ruined.
I can only speak in the highest terms of the conduct of every man on board. All behaved with cool, determined courage.


Anonymous said...

the majority of those men on that ship were my relatives. You will notice that many of the men had the same last name - 5 were brothers. Some of the others with the surname Thomas were cousins of the Longs. There were some other surnames too that I cannot remember. Many of these men were related somehow. SOme of these very young men had enlisted only days before dying.

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