Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25, 1863: Porter's gunboat hoax begins

The news of the capture of the U.S.S. Indianola spread rapidly up river to Vicksburg. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton hurried to send word to the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia.
Report of Lieutenant General J. C. Pemberton, C. S. Army, commanding Department of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana. Vicksburg, February 25, 1863.

Expedition, fitted up in Red River and Port Hudson, captured ironclad gunboat Indianola at 11 o'clock last night; is now sunk in the Mississippi; shows bow and upper works out near Mr. Joe Davis' plantation; armament, two 11-inch forward, two 9-inch aft. Lieutenant Brown, U. S. Navy, commanding, with his officers and men, captured; will do everything possible to raise end get her afloat immediately. There will probably be an attempt by other iron-clads to run down past our batteries to-night. Major J. L. Brent, of General Taylor's forces, commanded the expedition.


Lieutenant-General, Commanding.


Adjutant and Inspector General.
From across the river came congratulations from Major General Richard Taylor, commander of the Confederate District of Western Louisiana.
Reports of Major General Richard Taylor, C. S. Army, commanding District of Western Louisiana, with congratulatory orders. Vicksburg, February 25, 1863.

I have the honor to report, after a severe and hot engagement, the capture of the Federal iron-clad steamer Indianola, Lieutenant-Commander Brown, U. S. Navy, together with all her officers and crew, by the Confederate States steamers Queen of the West and Webb, forming an expedition sent out by me for that purpose, under the command of Major [J. L.] Brent. The prize is a good deal damaged.


Major-General, Commanding.

General S. COOPER.
But even as the Confederates gloated over their prize, the wheel of fate was already turning against them. The night before there had been cannon fire in front of Vicksburg and reports of a strange vessel aground below the city on the Union-held western bank of the Mississippi River. A young federal lieutenant from the Thirty-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment was sent to investigate.
YOUNG'S POINT, La., February 25, 1863-6 a. m.


Lieutenant and Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, 3rd Brigadier, 2nd Div., 15th A. C.:

SIR: I have the honor to report that the firing from the rebel batteries near the city, at 12 p.m., was occasioned by a boat which is now lying below the mouth of canal, and proves to be a flat-boat rigged up to represent a gunboat. She has a square turret forward, with a mock cannon projecting toward the bow from within. Smoke-stacks made of flour barrels; wheel-house, &c., covered all over with a thick coat of tar. Has a hole just above the water-line at the bow, from a shot. Nothing else of interest.

Very respectfully, yours,


Second Lieutenant Thirty-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
The vessel that Second Lieutenant Hassler found was the Black Terror, a phony "mock-ironclad" cobbled together by David Dixon Porter's river squadron in about twelve hours for a cost of $8.63. She was a worn out flatboat fitted with a wooden framework covered in canvas and painted with a coat of tar and equipped with twin "smokestacks" fashioned from empty barrels with a pot of burning pitch at their base to provide convincing smoke. Porter's men even "armed" the phony ironclad with log "guns." The final touch was the phony ironclad's motto, painted on her paddleboxes: "Deluded People, Cave In."Shortly after Lieutenant Hassler reported on the Black Terror's presence, Union soldiers pushed her off the sand bar where she had run aground and the phony ironclad continued drifting downstream towards the Confederates working to salvage the wreck of the U.S.S. Indianola.

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