Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11, 1863: Federal gunboats repulsed by Fort Pemberton

The U.S.S. Chillicothe was hammered by Confederate guns at Fort Pemberton.

The March 11, 1863 of Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith, U.S. Navy.
U.S.S. RATTLER
Tallahatchie River, Evening March 11, [1863].

SIR: Stood on this morning to within a mile of the battery, and went ahead with General Ross in the Chillicothe to observe. A turn brought us within view of the enemy's works. Almost immediately they opened fire from five guns. One shell struck the Chillicothe on the starboard side of the starboard forward port, damaging the plate and breaking and starting several bolts. Another struck on the port side ahead, 6 inches above water; also a conical rifle shot,  making as great an indentation as possible without breaking through. Another glanced from the deck. Captain Foster, in reply, threw three shells from his 11-inch guns.

With this knowledge of their strength and position we then turned the point until concealed by the trees, and arranged to advance as soon as the army should report ready, which would not be until morning.

In the afternoon the rebels appeared to be shipping cattle and goods from the battery, which we believed to be indications that they were preparing to leave.

Advanced the Chillicothe, the De Kalb following, the Lioness in readiness, and was about to bring up the Rattler, but on going on board the Chillicothe found her already much injured by the shot of the enemy, one of which struck between the slide covers of the port forward port, which was at the time sufficiently ajar to allow the rammer handle to pass out. The men were in the act of sending the shell down, when this shell, striking the Chillicothe's shell, both exploded--fragments of each being found--killing 2 men and wounding 11 others, 3 of them perhaps mortally. The 11-inch was struck on the muzzle, damaging but not disabling it. The slide covers of this port were blown out, one going overboard. Other shot struck, killing 1 man. The Chillicothe and De Kalb were strengthening themselves with cotton when advanced, and I now withdrew them for the purpose of completing that defense. The short distance, and the stream being narrow, prevents the easy use of two vessels upon the fort. I have therefore landed the 30-pounder Parrott gun from the broadside of this vessel, and, with the assistance of the troops, expect to have it in position to annoy the rebels best gun at about 600 yards by morning, and well protected by cotton and earth. Of the seven shells fired by the Chillicothe, two appeared to burst well and two to strike a steamboat lying just beyond the fort below Greenwood. There is a steamer sunk there by the rebels, not quite in position desired by them. A rebel called over this afternoon that they had a vessel ready for the Chillicothe. She will be guarded, and if boarded, will, if possible, be swept by our own vessels, her crew going below. This is different from engaging with head upstream.

The Chillicothe works well, but the De Kalb and other stern wheels are very awkward. The base of a rifle shell measuring 6.5 inches shows the size of one of their guns. Another seems like a 68; another, a 4.5-inch rifle.

Mr. Morton, the pilot, was badly blown by the explosion of the shells on board the Chillicothe.  He is not seriously injured, and will soon be on duty. I shall use all the means we have of silencing this battery--the mortar, with the others, when it arrives.

The Chillicothe's turret is not well backed; neither she nor the De Kalb can stand the rifle shot.

I have not ascertained sufficient about the raft to speak of it with certainty.

My letter of yesterday acquaints you with our situation as regards provisions and fuel. Those of us that are but partly manned feel the want of men. The soldiers serve the guns well, but the others are needed. It is with difficulty that the small boats can be manned.

The small army steamer has arrived, not having been interfered with by guerrillas.

Midnight. The rebels are busy at something; do not think they are leaving. The Yalobusha is probably fortified at each bluff, as they feared for Grenada.

I am obliged to keep steam now at night, which is exhausting to the coal.

Respectfully, yours,

WATSON SMITH,
Lieutenant-Commander.

Acting Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.

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