Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14, 1863: The Queen of the West is captured!

The crew escaping from the crippled ram Queen of the West.

The U.S. Ram Queen of the West had already seen a lot of action. She had been flagship of the Union ram fleet at the Battle of Memphis, had participated in an attack of C.S.S. Arkansas, and had run the batteries at Vicksburg to carry out a commerce raiding and blockade mission below Vicksburg. On February 14, 1863, the Queen of the West was threading its way up a tributary to the Mississippi River in search of Confederate transport boats. From the report of Charles Rivers Ellet:
On the morning of the 14th instant, when about 15 miles above the mouth of Black River, a steamboat came suddenly around a sharp bend in the river, and was captured before she could escape. She proved to be the Era Numbers 5, laden with 4,500 bushels of corn. She had on board 2 rebel lieutenants and 14 privates. The latter I at once paroled and set ashore.

Hearing of three very large boats lying, with steam down, at Gordon's Landing, 30 miles above, I decided on making an effort to capture them, intending to return if I should find the battery at that point too strong, and ascend the Washita. I left the Era and coal barge in charge of a guard. We reached the bend us below Gordon's Landing before dusk. The dense smoke of several boats rapould be seen over the tops of the trees as we approached. I ordered the pilot to proceed very slowly, and merely show the bow of the Queen around the point. From the sharp bend which the river makes at this palace there was no apparent difficulty in withdrawing out of range of the enemy's guns whenever it might be desired. The rebels opened upon us with four 32-pounders the moment we came in sight. Their guns were in a fine position, and, at the THIRD shot, I ordered Mr. Garvey, the pilot, to back the Queen out. Instead of doing so, he ran her aground on the right-hand shore. The position at once became a very hot one. Sixty yards below we would have been in no danger; as it was, the enemy's shots struck us nearly every time. The chief engineer had hardly repeated to me that the escape-pipe had been shot away, when an explosion below and a rush of steam around the boat told me that the steam-pipe had been cut in two. Nothing further, of course, could be done. I gave orders to lower the yawl at the stern of the Queen, to carry off Captain Thompson, who lay wounded in my state-room. Some persons had already taken the yawl, however, and it was gone. The other yawl was on the De Soto, a short distance below. Fortunately,the cotton-bales with which the Queen was protected, afforded an avenue of escape, and the majority of the men and officers succeeded in reaching the De Soto. I ordered this boat to be brought up as far as it was practicable without being struck, and sent her yawl to the Queen. Lieutenant [John L.] Tuthill and THIRD Master Duncan bravely volunteered for this purpose.

I remained with the De Soto over an hour, picking up men cotton-bales. Lieutenant Tuthill barely succeeded in escaping from the Queen, the rebels boarding her in skiffs as he escaped. Me. Duncan staid too long and was captured. The Queen cloud easily have been burned, but this could not be done while Captain Thompson was on board, and it was impossible to remove him. All the passages had been blocked up with cotton. The interior of the boat was intensely dark, full of steam, and strewn with shattered furniture. The display of a light enabled the batteries to strike her with unerring certainty. To have brought the De Soto alongside would have insured her destruction, as the light from the latter's furnaces rendered her a conspicuous mark. A dense fog sprang up as we started down in the De Soto, and she lost her rudders by running into the bank. Drifting down 15 miles, I took possession of the Era, and scuttled and burned the De Soto and barge. Knowing that the rebels would lose no time in pursuing, I pushed on down through the fog, throwing off the corn to lighten her. We reached the Mississippi at dawn, opposite Ellis' Cliffs. Mr. Garvey ran the Era, a boat drawing less than 2 feet of water, "hard aground," actually permitting her wheels to make several revolutions after she had struck, and it was with the utmost difficulty she could be gotten off. The disloyal sentiments openly expressed by Mr. Garvey a few hours previous to this occurrence rendered it necessary for me to place him under arrest, and fixed upon me the unwilling conviction that the loss of the Queen was due to the deliberate treachery of her pilot. It is to be regretted that the unfortunate illness of Mr. Scott Long, who piloted the Queen past Vicksburg, rendered it necessary for me to intrust the Queen to the management of Mr. Garvey.
Though damaged, the Queen of the West was still a powerful ram, and the Confederates immediately set to work to put her back in working order. The Confederates had acquired a powerful weapon.

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