Monday, February 18, 2013

February 16, 1863

February 16, 1863

---Red River, Louisiana:  In the on-going saga of the river operations of the U.S. Navy downstream from Vicksburg, the CSS Webb, the steam ram being prepared by the Rebels at Alexandria, heads downstream in pursuit of the Era No. 5, which now carries Col. Charles Ellet and his crew, having escaped from the Queen of the West (which is now captured and in the hands of the Rebels).  Ellet and his Union crew steams downriver to the junction of the Red with the Mississippi and turns north, upstream, with extreme difficulty: the Era is not a powerful vessel, and they are running out of coal.  Ellet burns a lot of the corn left in the cargo for fuel, and finally moors at riverside for the crew to cut down trees for fuel---although the rains had made the wood too wet to burn well.  The Era continues upstream at a crawling rate of 2 knots.  Ellet’s secessionist pilot, Garvey (the same pilot who ran the Queen of the West aground), runs the Era aground right under the eye of Confederate batteries on the opposite shore, and Ellet puts him under arrest.  The ship’s paddlewheels have been damaged, yet they crawl upriver under cover of the fog and, just a few miles below Natchez, they gratefully encounter the USS Indianola, the ironclad gunboat that had been sent by Admiral Porter to join Ellet’s now-defunct reign of destruction on river shipping.

Chasing down the Red and up the Mississippi

  The CSS Webb, under command of William S. Lovell, comes steaming up the Mississippi and spots the two Union vessels; not wanting to take on a Union ironclad with the Webb ’s unfinished condition, Lovell hesitates.  The Indianola fires a few shots at the Webb, and Lovell decides that discretion is the better part of valor, and turns downstream to escape. 

The Pursuit of the CSS Webb after the Yankee river pirates

The Era No. 5 and Indianola tie up for the night, with Ellet and Capt. Brown decide to go up the Red River again and try to take Fort Taylor and destroy the Webb, if possible.

USS Indianola

---U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, confers with Asst. Sec. Gustavus Fox and President Lincoln about a proposed Army-Navy assault upon Charleston, So. Carolina.  Welles is worried about his relationship with the prickly and proud Admiral Samuel Du Pont, who is reluctant to engage in such a risky campaign:

All is clear and well enough but Du Pont should have such a force as to inspire confidence in himself and men in order to insure a favorable result. Will and determination are necessary to success. While it is right that he should be circumspect and vigilant, I deplore the signs of misgiving and doubt which have recently come over him, — his shirking policy, getting in with the army, making approaches, etc. It is not what we have talked of, not what we expected of him; is not like the firm and impetuous but sagacious and resolute Farragut.

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