Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Battle of Memphis

Charles Ellet
 After their embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Plumb Run Bend, the Union fleet on the Mississippi River under Charles Davis moved out against the cottonclads of James Montgomery. Davis also had a new weapon, the rams of Charles Ellet. He was an engineer who had been approved by the War Department to build a fleet of nine rams. They carried no armor or guns, their only tactic was to strike the enemy ship hard and fast and send it to the bottom. They were commanded by Ellet, and he had appointed all the captains of the ships and they all happened to be his very close relatives. They had joined the ironclads just over a week before, and this battle would be the first test of the rams and their commanders.

The Federal fleet moved out to battle Montgomery on June 6th, 150 years ago today. They met just off of Memphis, Tennessee. In front was Davis's five ironclads and behind four of Ellet's rams. The other five rams misinterpreted their orders and never entered the battle. The battle began with the ironclads firing on the Confederates steamers at long range as they advanced towards each other. Then the rams ran past them at full speed, charging towards the cottonclads. Charles Ellet's flagship, the USS Queen of the West struck first, cutting the CSS Colonel Lovel in two. From that point on the battle became confused with smoke obscuring the vision of the observers. But everyone agreed that the Federals got the better of the engagement. A ram knocked the sidewheel off the CSS General Price, and then came around and rammed the CSS General Beauregard. The CSS Jeff Thompson was set on fire. And three others hit by shells from the ironclads. Only one Confederate gunboat, the CSS Van Dorn, was able to make its escape. The battle had been quick and bloodless for the Union fleet. In fact, the only suffered one casualty. That one was Charles Ellet himself. He was hit with a pistol ball while directing the attack, and died of infection a few days later. With the defeat of the small Confederate fleet, Memphis fell to the Union. The Federals had made one more small step toward victory in the west.


Post a Comment