Daniel's Steamboat - the War Years

Fort Sumter was attacked on April 12 1861, this is the event most historians accept as the first act of hostilities of what was to become an epic struggle. In Fact however, the first shots fired may have been in January 1861, when the Steamboat A. O. Taylor was stopped by the firing of a six pounder across her deck. The events leading up to this incident where both complex and political in nature. The South, knowing that the Mississippi Valley commerce was vital to their economy, declared that peaceful navigation would be available to all citizens of any of the states which bordered these water ways or for those bordering on any of it's navigable tributaries. The opening of hostilities had little effect on this policy. This was reaffirmed by one of the first acts of the Confederate Congress, in May of 1861 when a bill to that effect was passed containing only one exception to this otherwise Free Trade. It was contained in this bill a tariff to be placed on the manufactures of New England, should their goods enter the seceding states via the inland water ways. Enforcing this tariff was an entirely different matter, and did much to impede at least the feeling of free trade. Boats where boarded and searched in the New Orleans and Memphis areas. Rivermen from up-country where detained and asked to prove their loyalty to southern institutions, and some where forced to leave southern waters. Politics and minor interruptions aside, traffic moved in a more or less normal fashion along the nations, River highways. It was indeed in the best interest of all to allow this steady stream of commerce to flow uninterrupted, at least until alternatives could be found, and control of these water ways could be asserted. Kentucky had declared it self neutral, though southern attempts to raise troops there went unchallenged. The Governor of Illinois, quickly sent all the guns & troops he could muster to Cairo. Much to his credit even before the Generals had identified the location as critical. At the speed of the day the players in the battle for the control of the western waters made their way to the stage.

Mean wile it was now up to the field Generals to carry out the "Anaconda Plan ". Devised by General Winfield Scott, this plan called for the naval blockade of all southern seaports to prevent the importation of war supplies from Europe. Followed by an invasion of the Mississippi Valley to cut the Confederacy in half. Sounds simple doesn't it! Daniel's wife's obituary stated that Daniel would make trips as far south as New Orleans and that it was on one of his trips south that Daniel's and his boat the V. F. Wilson where detained and pressed into the service of the United States Quartermasters Department. The First mention I can find Of The Wilson in The Official Record of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion Series 1, is dated January 24, 1862, so perhaps he was able to elude the grip of War for at least a short time. The rest as they say is history, and that is the story I will attempt to unravel in this work.

The V. F. Wilson was built in the year 1860 at McKeesport Pennsylvania. She was one of two boats built exactly alike in every way with the purpose of towing a very large tow together. This, however did not prove to be very practical, or in plane language it did not work, so she and her sister boat the Ike Hammitt towed separately. The boats were built for what seemed to be a partnership of several likely interested gentlemen. These where Messieurs. Daniel Pollard, William Dunshee, Isaac Hammitt and I assume, Victor F. Wilson of Vicksburg Mississippi. The Boats Where built by a ship yard owned by Isaac Hammitt located between Elizabeth & McKeesport PA. Ike as we believe he was called was Daniel's brother in law.

Daniel as the master of a nearly new, if not state of the art Steamboat must have been very pleased and looking forward to a turn for the better in his life. As his beloved Wife Nancy Pangburn had died just a few short years before this, leaving him with two small children, Martha, Called Matilda and Norval the youngest, a son to carry on in his path. But now in later part of 1860 a new love, his 2nd Wife Kate Cox, and in 1861 a new Daughter Ella Moraldie Pollard. Things looked bright indeed. His business endeavors were doing well, beyond his dreams. Coal was in demand all over the nation and his chosen home McKeesport, Pennsylvania, sat literally on top of millions of tons of it, he had also just barely passed his forty first birthday.

As Daniel made his way along the Tennessee River to a landing near Aurora, on a cold day in January 1862, This good fortune must have, seemed a world away. He was now in the service of the U.S. Quartermaster. Home was just where he wished he was, and seeing his Wife and children again, was an uncertainty. What was cretin was the cold, the river and the ongoing hostilities. The Hostilities where by no means the exclusive domain of the Rebels. Daniel was after all a civilian in the service of the Armed forces and every one with a button on his uniform seemed to out rank him. But back to the job at hand, the delivery of Commissary stores to the landing at Aurora and then on to Crown Point With the Gunboat Lexington giving escort. Just after reaching Crown Point the first excitement of the trip was encountered. The Lexington was requested to head down river for the propose of ascertaining if there was any truth to the report that Fort Henry had been abandoned. Well less than three miles down, she runs across the Rebel Gunboat the Dunbar the Lexington began to make chase firing her six inch gun as she went. The excitement in camp raised by her canon fire was not entirely relieved until on the return of the Lexington it was learned the Dunbar had run away as fast as she could. Having the Enemy run from you at your first encounter is somewhat reassuring and did much to calm the troops encamped there, though no one was likely to admit it. But at this point it must be remembered that the southern states had ruled the day at almost every encounter. When word came back that the fort had not been abandoned, it barely served to dampen the destine for the enemy that had run from them just at the sight of a Union boat. In truth the Lexington out classed and out gunned the hastily converted Dunbar, though the Dunbar was faster, retreat was a most prudent action. The Next day General Smith ordered the Lexington to convey him close enough to Fort Henry to assess the situation for himself.

Due in part to General Grants failure to get his troop transports there at the appointed time, Fort Henry was indeed abandoned. The approximately 3000 Confederate troops stationed there, in light of the rapidly growing numbers of union troops being staged for the assault of fort Henry, withdrew to Fort Donelson some 12 miles distant on the Cumberland River. Leaving a small detachment of artillery there to disguise their withdraw. The Rebels successfully engaged the union gunboats for a time before being forced to surrender. Fort Henry Surrendered on Friday, Feb. 6, 1862 and within a few days General Grant was laying Siege to Fort Donelson but not before the Union gunboats had been given a bloody nose by the river batteries there. The 90 minute duel between shore batteries and gunboats left the Union gunboats with little choice but retreat. By Feb. 16 Grant's encirclement was complete, so facing the prospects of starvation the commander of Fort Donelson asked for terms of surrender. General Grant's Reply is said to have been " Immediate and unconditional surrender are the only terms I will consider", So given the situation Buckner surrendered the fort. The Union, from that day forth had a Hero in " Unconditional Surrender Grant " as the papers of the day where fond of calling him.

Aboard the Wilson the mood was one of relief to be heading up River, for another load of provisions. Though a few days had passed unloading the provisions, and readying barges for the return trip. Finally on our way, we rounded a bend in the river, and we could hear in the distance, gun fire and steam whistling. It was the ram, Dick Fulton under attack by guerillas. By the time we reached her, the attack was over though we made as much noise in approaching her as we could in the hopes the Rebels would think we were getting ready to join the fight. Just the same we where quite relived to see the U.S.S. Rattler headed toward us as we secured the barges and the Dick Fulton to the bank. The Rattler gave chase to the guerrillas, but being mounted they simply headed inland. The result was one killed, one wounded, and the Fulton disabled. {Head of Choctaw island [ island # 78 ] Feb. 10, 1862} As a result of this action we were turned from our destination, for the purpose of towing the Dick Fulton and her coal barges back down river to Greenville. This was not going well, home was in the other direction. But that fellow had more than one button on his uniform so we did what we where told. After that things sort of settled into a not all together uncomfortable routine. A few days later we were headed up river again. This time we made it all the way to Cairo Illinois.


Cairo sits at the junction of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers. With Fort Defiance at the point of the peninsula. Opposite on the Mississippi River side was Bird's Point, with artillery batteries set to command the river. On the Ohio River side of the town is Ohio St. where the Quartermasters office is, along with a few work barges and what passes for a naval base with Captain A.M. Pennock in Command. A levy surrounds the town, some say it is for holding the mud in not the rivers out. West of Ohio St. is Halliday St. with Dance halls, Saloons, and some other unsavory establishments, Mostly shut down now, or off limits to military personal. Courtesy of General John A. McLernand who shut them down in 61. West of Halliday St. is Commercial Ave. With the usual assortment of shopkeepers and a theater. But the crowning glory was back on Ohio St. the St Charles Hotel a five storied building, not the best anywhere but the best that Cairo has to offer. The climate here is humid and the surrounding farms grow a wide verity of fruits and vegetables, so at least we eat good here and so do the disease carrying mosquitoes and rats.

The Generals seemed to think this place is special, but the solders all say, they had plenty of mud where they came from, and that we should just give it to the Reb's and let them Wallow in it. But it was home, at least for the next few days. Cairo was a very strategic point in the river, and the staging area for the entire western waters. Besides we could always stay on board the Wilson. With Her boilers fired she was warm and dry if not altogether clean.

When the rivers begin to rise as they have this spring, March 1862, for the most part life onboard is cleaner than the mud streets of Cairo and banks of the rivers. March 25 now and we are assisting the army in loading of 8 inch gun and 13 inch mortar shells for the mortar barges down river. March 26 Cairo almost completely flooded, if the Rebels hit them now they couldn't even keep their powder dry. The River is no picnic at high water either, harder to read and lots of floating obstacles.

April 10 1862
The River has subsided some. Gone to Columbus KY. with mortar boats in tow, in the company of an entire Flotilla, what a sight. If we could just put half this much effort into resolving this dispute, not one more man would have to die for his country. came across the Ike Hammitt today, our sister boat, and some boys from back home. Had time to visit and talk of home after dark, good to see familiar faces.

As the mundane routine of logistics settled in, one bend of the rivers began to look like another. Although every now and then one could not help but be struck by the Beauty surrounding us. We kept a keen eye out for danger, guerrillas or just a new snag that could tear the hull open in an instant. Still this was a very beautiful country, thick layers of underbrush would give way to a thin ribbon of trees and beyond it open farmland. A little further down stream, in the distance another thicket of trees with smoke rising above them. Was it just a settlers cabin nestled amongst them or Rebels and the aftermath of yet another skirmish. Or in the early morning when a fog had settled on the river and even from the pilot house you could barely see fifty yards. So even when all was peaceful and we were bored half out of or wits, there was still that underlying tension ready to boil to the surface at the slightest provocation, and so the months rolled on, boredom and fear. We made several trips between Cairo and Columbus Kentucky moving men and artillery for the propose of placing batteries of artillery there, that could over see the river should the 13 gunboats now reported at New Orleans try to make it up river. Another trip on the 10th of June to retrieve the General Bragg witch had broken down 6 mile below Cairo. Accompanied by the Sallie Wood. The General Bragg was a boat recently captured from the Confederate Naive, with a little repair and refitting she would be a capable vessel put to good use, or that was the hope.

June 29,1862

Bound for Vicksburg with mortar boats in tow. The Flagship Benton and gunboats Louisville and Carondelet, ordnance boat Judge Torrence six mortar boats and assisting in the tow an old friend our sister boat the Ike Hammitt. Arrived at Vicksburg July 1, after running the gauntlet of artillery batteries deployed above that city, and began to deploy mortar boats as ordered. Shortly after the shelling of the fortifications and city began. The next day we where ordered to move the mortars closer to the city and more shelling ensued. Our Captain, Daniel remained solemnly quite and very much to himself during these and the following few days. Daniel's thoughts where no doubt of his dear friend and name sake of this boat Victor Wilson, who had at last report resided with his Wife and 4 children in this City of Vicksburg. These activities in the area around Vicksburg continued for several months, only to end in the defeat of the Union forces at Cichasaw Bluff. General Grant had attempted a bold plan, but the confederates where not as agreeable or caught unprepared as they where at New Orleans. From here attention must be paid to securing the upper reaches of the river before he dared attempt to take Vicksburg again.

Aug 5/ 1862

Dispatched to Cairo from Helena Arkansas for ice and vegetables, scurvy has set in on the crews of the fleet. Imperative we make all speed in our return, as only a few days ration of vegetables remain here which are necessary to stave off scurvy.

A speedy trip indeed by the 20th of Aug. we were returning from another supply trip and at the time about 22 miles below Memphis, when we came across a grim reminder of what could befall us if we were not vigilant. Or if even a mechanical brake down should catch us in the current. The Steamer Swallow, burned to a crisp, all hands captured or killed by guerrillas. Save one poor soul that had swam for his life. We plucked him off the bank, feed him and listened intently as he informed us of the events that had led to this misfortune. Seems the Swallow was taking on water and was in bad need of re-caulking. The situation became so bad that the Captain had put her on shore to keep her from sinking and to affect the badly needed repairs. She had been stuck there for 10 or 12 days and was in the process of trying to get her off when a band of guerrillas swooped in on them catching them by surprise, burning the Swallow and capturing the crew. An uneasy silence swept over the crew of the Wilson as we paused to contemplate the consequences of such a fate. The thought of spending the rest of the war in a prison camp, or worse. I had heard stories, though I never believed it was as bad as all that, until I heard more from survivors long after the war. Tales of Disease, Starvation, living conditions of unbelievable depravation. It was the lucky that died fast, the not so lucky lingered for months.

Dec. 2/ 1862

We where ordered to accompany the U.S.S. Tyler to Hickman Kentucky. Seems some one had fired on one of our boats with muskets from that place the previous day. Admiral Porter meant to deal swiftly and harshly with the perpetrators of this action. The orders where to ascertain if the locals where responsible and if so to shell them out. For good measure he also Dispatched the Steam Ram Lancaster. However Upon our arrival at Hickman, we learned the following particulars. The Captain in command of the post at Hickman, on the night of December 1st wished to send dispatches to Cairo, and signaled for a transport witch was passing up, to land. But as this boat passed on without stopping, he ordered his men to fire upon her with muskets. Thinking them to be the enemy. The Captain of the transport thinking that Hickman had been taken by the enemy proceeded to Columbus where he reported that to General Thomas A. Davies that Hickman had fallen, and he had been fired upon by the enemy there. After we all had a good laugh and the commander of Hickman had a good reaming out by Lieutenant J. M. Prichett and Lieutenant Bartlett, We were on our way back to Cairo, Much Relived that we where not required to be any party to the shelling of innocent civilians.

Rumors fed our already active minds with more apprehension and confusion than was necessary. We all tried hard to ignore the rumors, but I would be lying if I said I was unaffected by them. So it was at about this time and wile making some routine deliveries of stores that we caught the latest buzz [ rumor ]. Seems the U. S. S. Cairo had been lost. The loss of a steamer was always big news, but the loss of a gunboat. This news could only be taken with disbelief. The Cairo had upwards to 15 guns of various caliber's on her decks, and a small detachment of marines. What rebel gunboat could match her fire power. Or worse yet, the thought that if this could happen to the Cairo what chance did the Wilson have if caught by a Rebel gunboat ? No this could not be true, There were always rumors spread by rebel sympathizers, stories of how the next rebel offensive would remove all union minded solders and civilians from the lower rivers forever. At least for a wile we where able to leave that rumor right where we wanted it. But as they say all good things must end and so the rumors of the demise of the Cairo ended, with the confirmation that she was indeed struck by a torpedo, some 18 miles up the Yazoo River not far from a place known as Haynes Bluff. The story went that she had sunk within five minutes of being struck, this December 12, 1862.

Finally Dec. 23 1862 on our way to St. Louis to tow down provisions and ice, will get a few days rest and a small taste of civilization. As Christmas approaches our thoughts are of our families far to the east. Perhaps soon a leave can be arranged. Though the boat must stay on stay on station, Mr. Dunshee has been contacted to make arrangements for a relief crew so the now weary crew of the Wilson may take a short leave and attend to needs, domestic in nature.

January 2, 10 o'clock p.m.
The Wilson has just arrived from St. Louis with Beef, and will proceed down river with the Glide and other boats. The Master of the Wilson reports that he passed the Lafayette at anchor last night about 40 miles below St. Louis
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A.M. Pennock
Fleet Captain and Commandant of Station
Off Memphis Tenn. Jan. 6, 1863
U.S.S. General Bragg

Sir: In acquiescence with your order received per U.S.S. Rattler, I sent down to the fleet in tow of the Stephen Bayard four Mortar boats, leaving six at this point, two of which only are in condition to send. The Wilson, having five barges in tow, is unable to take them, and there being no towboat here, I regret being unable to send them.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant
Joshua Bishop
Lieutenant, Commanding

U.S.S. Carondelet
Helena, Ark., Jan. 8, 1863

Sir: I arrived at this place last night, having been overtaken by the Mormora Between here and White River and the Juliet a few miles below here, both of which gave me tow. I found the Steamers New Era, Glide, V. F. Wilson and Stephen Bayard, with a tow of four coal barges, four mortar boats, and a ice barge, with provisions, etc. As I am quite sure you do not wish to have the mortar boats just now, I have ordered them to be moored here in charge of Mr. Wheelock, the officer having charge of those at this place, until future orders from you. As I can not coal at Memphis, I shall be obliged to take the Wilson to tow me to No. 10 to get there within a reasonable time. General Gorman requested me to have some ammunition sent down to General Sherman, and I have ordered it on board the steamer Stephen Bayard, in charge of an army officer.

I am, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. Walke
Captain, U.S. Navy

U.S.S. Conestoga
off White River, Feb. 1, 1863

Sir: I regret to report the death by typhus fever of two of the Conestoga's crew, Felix Donis and J. D. Callahan, Firemen. The disease is prevailing. The Bragg has not yet made her appearance, I shall keep the signal on picket duty at the cut-off for the present. I send down by the Wilson the mortar boat that was anchored at the foot of island No. 68. There are two vacancies for ensigns on board and I cheerfully recommend Master's mate Divine for promotion. There is an extra engineer aboard, Second Assistant Michael Norton, ordered to report to me from Cairo. The steamer Evansville arrived yesterday from Helena for the propose of trade and to purchase cotton. I have ordered her back to Helena. I believe it is not your wish that trade should at present be permitted. All quite in this vicinity.
Very Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Thos. O. Selfridge

As the month wore on, and the tedium of trip after hurried trip took its toll, or thoughts were of the dispatch sent to Mr. Dunshee at McKeesport Penn. for a relief crew, but back to the task at hand. Admiral Porter and General Grant seemed to be intent on clearing any opposition in the vicinity of the White and Arkansas Rivers. To Be sure The Confederate Army had other ideas. Memphis was our next stop, Stores they called the cargo but when you are scared to light a smoke or a lantern, well I never seen no store back home that sold so many things that could kill a fellow in all my life. On the bright side they gave us an escort all the way to Helena, in the form of the U.S.S. Prairie Bird a light draft gunboat. She was not the most feared boat on the river but enough to make the guerrillas think twice about taking pot shots at us. Did some to calm the fears of most on board, even if we where more likely to be spotted by the Reb's with two columns of thick black smoke instead of one.

No one could ever say these navy fellows didn't have a sense of humor. The steamer Hercules beached herself yesterday [ Feb 17,1863] due to the heavy fog. She was set on by the rebels and burned to the waters edge, one hand killed and the rest taken prisoner, now of coarse that was not funny and the fear of every steamer on the rivers. It seems though that she had seven barges of coal in tow. Six where saved, one sunk. It belonged to the Army or so said G. B. Simonds, commandant of the navy yard at Memphis, Tenn. Good thing the army didn't loose any more, because the Navy steamers sure did need that coal.

The loss of the Hercules was indeed not funny she was built in the same yard as the Wilson in 1854 at McKeesport PA., She was owned in part by Captain William Dunshee as was the Wilson, though there where several other owners. Her crews where all local boys from back home some of which were known to the crew of the Wilson. This dammed war was just hitting way to close to home. We didn't have long to think about such things with the work of loading and off loading, Something to be said for keeping busy, it keeps your mind off the more unpleasant thoughts. So again we unload and make fast our tow of empty barges, off to Cairo to start all over again. I remember, before the war when it only took six or seven days from St. Louis to New Orleans, a lot fewer interruptions in those days. On with our work the sooner we get it done the sooner things will return too normal on the rivers.

March 30th now one last trip down with mail and replacements, pick up empty barges then off to Pittsburgh to bring down more coal. At last the trip we have long anticipated, and in light of our long service a well deserved rest at home. A relief crew has been arranged for and we will get near, a months leave. I can taste the home cooking already. not to mention having something better to look at then this scurvy looking crew. "They better not be fooling with us ", we've all had just about as much military bungling and incompetence as we can stand. It's just to frustrating to even try to explain, so I will just say if you have ever been in the military you almost have a clue what we have had to endure from those greenhorns they place in command of the quartermasters stores depots. So catch you next trip!