by Brian Hogan, Conrad Bush and Mike Brown
Fox�s Regimental Losses notes that "The changes in the methods of naval warfare, first introduced in the American Civil War, brought a class of casualties hitherto unknown in naval combats. Our sailors fought in previous wars without the terrible danger from exploding boilers and escaping steam; and when their slowly-sinking wooden ships went down in action, there were opportunities for escape far different from any offered on an iron-clad sent rushing to the bottom by the explosion of a modern torpedo. In the action at St. Charles, the gunboat Mound City lost 150 men, killed or wounded, out of a crew of 175, but 3 officers and 22 men escaping uninjured; 82 were killed by gunshot wounds, or scalded to death, and 43 others were drowned, or shot while struggling in the water."
In the words of Col. Graham Fitch of the the 46th Indiana, which the Mound City was supporting,
"a 64-pounder rifled shot from one of the guns of their upper battery entered the larboard fore-quarter of the Mound City, killing a gunner and passing through the steam drum. The crew were seen from the shore to spring through the port-holes into the river. Scarcely had they done so before a party of the enemy's sharpshooters descended the bluff from the batteries, and under cover of fallen timber on the river bank commenced murdering those who were struggling in the water, and also firing upon those in our boats sent to pick them up. At the same time another party of the enemy concealed in the timber on the opposite side of the river pursued the same barbarous course.
"So strongly marked was the contrast between this conduct on their part and that of our sailors and soldiers at Memphis, who risked their lives to save those of the enemy who had been driven into the river by steam or flames, as to excite an intense desire upon the part of the land forces to end the scene and punish the barbarity ... The loss from steam on the Mound City is great, nearly all her crew of more than a hundred being disabled, among them Captain Kilty. Half or more of them are dead. The injury to the ship is slight. I placed on board of her a new crew of infantry and mortar-boat men, all of whom had been serving with my command as gunners. The ship is under charge of a master. One of the wounded of the enemy, since dead, stated that Colonel Fry ordered the firing upon the crew of the Mound City while in the water. It is but just to him, however, to say that he denies the charge. "
The Confederate report, by Lieutenant John W. Dunnington, CSN, Commanding the Confederate gunboat Pontchartrain is slightly different:
"The leading gunboat stopped to fight that gun; but, finding the gun still farther up was firing at her, she moved up the river to get its position, and, in doing so, placed herself between the two guns and in point-blank range. ... At 10.30, a shot from the rifled 32-pounder farthest up the river penetrated the leading gunboat, and either passed through the boilers, steam-chest, or pipe, filling the entire vessel with steam, and causing all that were not killed or scalded with steam to jump into the river. The vessel was completely deserted, and drifted across the stream into the bank, near Captain Fry's battery. He immediately hailed, and directed their flag hauled down. They failing to do so, although the order was given by some of their own officers in hearing of our own people, our own men were directed to shoot those in the water attempting to escape. The two rifled guns were immediately directed to fire upon the lower gunboat, which was still engaging us. She was struck several times, and soon ceased firing, slowly dropping down the river, I think materially damaged, as she made no effort to assist the boat we had blown up, or save their friends in the river. "
My interest in the Western Gunboat Fleet came about as an off-shoot of research I am doing to try to identify the burial locations of Iron Brigaders (2nd, 6th, 7th Wis, 19 Indiana, 24th Michigan). As I reviewed their Regimental Descriptive lists I kept coming up with the notation "transferred to the Western Gunboat fleet, 2/18/62, per S.O.No.64." There were no other muster reports after that date, except in a few cases it was reported that the man had died aboard the Mound City, with no date noted.
I came up with a total of 30 names like this, and ultimately found 12 of them Killed In Action or Mortally Wounded at an action at St. Charles, AR on June 17, 1862, when the Mound City was struck by a Confederate 32 pound shell which penetrated her casement and exploded the steam drum.
I had made a search of the 76th roster for those who were listed as being on naval detached duty at one time or another. There were six in all. I don't think that the detached duty on the Mississippi turned out too well for the boys of the 76th. The following lists six members of the 76th NY who were transferred to the Navy.
Allen Arnold, age 23, enlisted September 19, 1861, at Pitcher, NY to serve three years. He was mustered in as private, Co. B, on December 7, 1861, and transferred to gunboat service on February 17, 1862. The Adjutant General�s report lists him as "killed by explosion on the Queen of the West, sometime in 1862". In actuality, Allen Arnold was also KIA aboard the Mound City. His name also appears in the ORN and is on the monument. The Queen was a ram, not a gunboat, and I can't find anything that says she had an explosion aboard.
William H. Persons (also known as William Hix) enlisted at age 19 in Cortland, on September 24, 1861. He was mustered into Co. F, as a private, on October 11, 1861. He was killed aboard the Mound City on June 17,1862. His name appears in the list of casualties in the ORNs and his name is engraved on the Battle Monument at St. Charles, AR, where the action took place. A letter from E.W.Dunn, Navy Paymaster, in his mother�s pension file at the National Archives, confirms that he died on the Mound City.
Benjamin F. Merry was 20 when he enlisted at Scott to serve three years. He was mustered in as a corporal in Co. D, and was on detached duty, assigned to the Mississippi Squadron when he deserted on March 12, 1862.
Franklin F. Pratt enlisted at age 26 on October 1, 1861, to serve three years. He mustered in as a private in Co. A, and was promoted to Corporal on January 8, 1864. His enlistment up, he re-enlisted as a veteran and transferred to the US Marine Corps on July 31,1864.
George Brown and James O'Connell joined the 76th New York in 1863, and transferred to the Navy in 1864.
A letter from Private Charles Devoe, dated February 17, 1862, notes that volunteers were being sought to serve on a gun boat, and a "dutchman" from his company (K) was the "lucky one". None of the above was in company K, so either the "dutchman" wound up on another boat, or there were more men from the 76th than this who were transferred to the Navy.
- From the June, 1998, issue of the Guidon, newsletter of the Major Grover Civil War Roundtable, and updated later with more information. For more information about the roundtable, refer to the 76th NY homepage or e-mail Guidon editor Mike Brown.
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- Last Updated February 20, 2000