Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gunboat Cincinnati

Flipping through a book I had acquired a few months ago, I saw a page that seemed much more brownish than all the others. Looking to find it again, to see if it was what I suspected, I finally did come across it and discover that it was, indeed, an old newspaper clipping. Not having any idea what the clipping would be about, I picked it up, pleased to see it was in good shape, not brittle at all, and found that it actually had to do with not only the Civil War, but also a local aspect of it, at least in name.

Here is a link to a couple of photographs of this boat, at the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library. The notes for them are simply a brief recap of this article that I added to their page. 

This link gives a bit more information about this class of ships and does discuss this very ship as well.

The clipping is undated, but is apparently from sometime in 1957 or early 1958, and is from the Cincinnati Enquirer.  I transcribe it below.

'Gunboat Cincinnati'
One of Several Civil War Ironclads Named for River Towns, It Took Part in Many Deadly Skirmishes
By Jimmie Blount, Enquirer Writer

Probably no person, place or thing - Union or Confederate - absorbed as much punishment per square inch during the Civil War as the gawky gunboat bearing the name Cincinnati.

Part of the Western Flotilla which reopened the Mississippi River to military and civil traffic, the ironclad sank twice and survived at least two fires, numerous battles with bayou mud and foliage and hundreds of piercing "minnie balls" and sundry shot.

Approximately 40 crewmen died and 20 other suffered major wounds during its many engagements
One of the dead the Cincinnati's first commander who swallowed a confederate shot 

One of seven craft built by Capt. James E. Eads, some of her parts and equipment came from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as well as St. Louis where it was assembled.

Launched late in 1861, the 175 by 51 1/2-foot ironclad was one of the most formidable ships in the U.S. Navy with its three eight-inch guns, six 32-pounders, four 42-pound army rifles and one 12-pound howitzer.

Called "Pook Turtles," the Cincinnati-type boats were designed by Samuel M. Pook and had a definite resemblance to the slow-moving water creatures. 

Despite 2 1/2 inches of iron plating on her steep sides, the Cincinnati could manage nine males an hour and drew only six feet of water. 

The Eads ironclads began service with the capture of Fort Henry, a Confederate stronghold on the Tennessee River. It was the Cincinnati, leading the attack, which fired the first shot and received the rebel surrender in the February 6, 1862, triumph.

When the two-hour battle ended, the Cincinnati had absorbed 32 shots, mostly in the chimney and after-cabin. Two guns were disabled and a shell, bouncing around in the iron enclosure, claimed one life.

She retired for repairs until March 17 when the Cincinnati took part in the three-week siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi. 

The Cincinnati led that six-gunboat attack which netted 5000 prisoners and vast stores of supplies.

Fort Pillow was the next Mississippi obstacle. The Cincinnati began the May 10 morning attack by towing a mortarboat within two miles of Pillow. But before she could retire,smaller and faster Confederate vessels moved in for the kill.

Her crew threw oil into the boilers in an attempt to gain speed. Even the mortars failed to stop the rams. The nearest ironclad was eight miles up river. 

In succession the rebel rams General Bragg, General Price and General Butler cracked into the unprotected underwater sections.

Although Cincinnati guns raked the rams, they left a 12- foot hole in her hull, cracked the port beam and destroyed the steering gear. One of the rebel marines fired a shot into the pilothouse, striking Commander R. N. Stembel in the mouth. (blog note: see the link for more info on Commander Stembel. The following sentence in this article was incorrect.)

He died before the Cincinnati settled  to the shallow bottom.

After the surrender of Fort Pillow the Cincinnati was raised and repaired and dispatched to General Ulysses S. Grant who was battering the river fortress at Vicksburg. 

The Cincinnati began its "second life" January 8, 863, against Port of Arkansas (or Fort Hindman), a 500-0-man outpost 40 miles up the Arkansas River from the Mississippi. It had been harassing the Vicksburg operation.

Cincinnati led two other gunboats into the shallow water under the fort where they poured shells into the high citadel. The rebels' 13 heavy guns were useless; they were aimed at midstream.

With General William Tecumseh Sherman leading the land forces, the fortress surrendered after a brief siege.

But Vicksburg still was in Confederate hands in May. Its capture would mean cutting the Confederacy into two parts. 

May 27, 1863, Grant sent the Cincinnati down the river against the batteries of Fort Hill, appropriately termed "Fort Hell" by the troops opposing it. These guns had stymied Sherman's offensive. 

It was a fatal assignment. Colonel Andrew Jackson Jr., commanding the guns, concentrated on the boat's aft, the only part not protected by iron plating.

His guns streamed shells into the vessel, hitting the magazine, ripping through her bottom and killing the seaman at the wheel. 

A shot flattened the flag pole, but Commander George M. Bache exposed himself to fire and attached the banner to the stump before turning away from the batteries.

Credit for the eventual sinking went to an 18-pound rifle, "Whistling Dick" a product of Richmond's Tredgar (sic) Ironworks which got its name from the sound of its missiles. 

Cincinnati hit bottom only 25 yards from shore in three fathoms of water. Twenty crewmen died in the artillery exchange. Another 15 drowned when she went under.

The Confederates set fire to above-water sections, but not before Sherman's men striped(sic) her of her guns on a dark night during a "low" river. The Cincinnati's guns played a big part in the silencing of "Fort Hell." The second time they were manned by Sherman's artillerymen. 

With the fall of Vicksburg (July 4, 1863) Cincinnati was raised and sent to Algiers, La., for repair and rearmament. 

When the "third" Cincinnati, still commanded by Bache, a nephew of Western Flotilla Commander David Porter, returned in December, she was assigned patrol duty on the Mississippi, around Natchez.

The ghost of Fort Pillow and Vicksburg concluded combat service in the defeat of Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay, one of the final encounters of the war.

But the end didn't come until March 26, 1866, for one of the bloodies and most stubborn craft in U.S. naval history. This time it wasn't rebel artillery, but an auctioneer who sold her for private use.

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