Friday, February 8, 2013

February 8, 1863: Porter's instructions to Ellet

David Dixon Porter

Six days earlier, the U.S. Ram Queen of the West had successfully run the batteries at Vicksburg and was in position to raid Confederate commerce on the stretch of the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. On this day, 150 years ago, David Dixon Porter, Acting Rear-Admiral, Commanding Mississippi Squadron, gave the commander of the Queen some final instructions and advice.
February 8, 1863.

Colonel CHARLES RIVERS ELLET,

Commanding Mississippi Ram Fleet:

COLONEL: When you have taken in your coal, you will proceed at night, after dark, with the De Soto and the coal barge, down the river, showing no lights. When you get near Red River, wait until daylight, above the mouth; from there you will be able to see the smoke of any steamer over the trees as she comes down Red River. When you capture them, do not burn them until you have broken all the machinery. Then let go the anchors, and let them burn under your own eyes at their anchors. There will be no danger, then, of any part of them floating down to the enemy.

There is one vessel (the Webb) that you must look out for. If you can get the first crack at her you will sink her, and if she gets the first crack at you she will sink you. My advice is to put a few cotton bales over your bow, about 15 feet abaft the stem, and if she strikes you then there will be no harm done. It is likely that an attempt will be made to board you. If there is, do not open any doors or ports to board in return, but act on the defensive, giving the enemy steam and shell.

Do not forget to wet your cotton before going into action. Do not lose sight of the De Soto, unless in chase, and under circumstances when it will be perfectly safe. When your coal is all out of the barge, you can take the De Soto alongside. You can help each other along. Destroy her at once when there is the least chance of her falling into the hands of the enemy. She is now, though, a Government vessel, and should be brought back if possible. Destroy all small boats you meet with on the river; also wharf-boats and barges. If you have a chance, and have plenty of coal, take a look at Port Hudson, and give them a few rifle-shots, but do not pass by. Communicate with the squadron below by signal, if possible. The great object is to destroy all you can of the enemy's stores and provisions, and get your vessel back safe. Pass all batteries at night. If the canal is opened, I will keep you supplied with coal.

Keep your pilot-house well supplied with hand-grenades, &c., in case the enemy should get on your upper decks. Do not show your colors along the river, unless necessary in action.

Very respectfully,

DAVID D. PORTER,

Acting Rear-Admiral, Commanding Mississippi Squadron

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