March 26, 1862: Siege of Island No. 10 gets old.

Commodore Andrew H. Foote
Commodore Foote

After the confederate forces withdrew from New Madrid to Island No. 10, just upstream in the Mississippi, the federal forces laid siege to that island. After a couple of weeks, the siege was having a bad effect on morale of the Union troops, who preferred action to the stalemate. The report below, from a Northern newspaper correspondent, was no doubt cheering to the South, and the Richmond Daily Dispatch reproduced it with some glee.

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch:


The fight at Island no.10.
a Federal account.
situation of the Opposing forces.
[from N. Y. World’s Special Correspondent.]
Gunboat Onestuga, Mississippi
Island No.10th, March 26, 1862

The bombardment drags. For some reason not easily explained or understood, we are now lying at anchor waiting for the consummation of other movements, without anything to hasten the results of the expedition further than to send an occasional shell over to the vicinity of the rebel earthworks, without to ascertain whether they accomplish much or little. For the past four days we have fired probably fifty mortar shells a day, receiving sometimes one, two, and on one day no return shot.

The known results of our fire thus far are simply to and destroy the upper battery on the Kentucky shore.

Not a response of any kind has been heard from that work for four days. All that can be scanned by the most powerful is the bare earthworks, with two black looking objects rising above them, which are discovered to be logs propped up in the semblance of guns.

Attempt to Mount a gun.

On Monday last the Mound City, which has been cross in shore on the point opposite the rebel batteries, commenced a heavy and sharp fire from three of her guns on a point of land above the first battery, and kept it up for probably 20 minutes, accompanied by two of the mortars. We watched the direction of the shots and marked the spot where they took effect with some interest. The balls threw up magnificent jets of water and clouds of dirt bank, keeping up a lively agitation in the water for some minute, when they were poured in creating the […] after the firing had ceased we learned that the rebels had been discovered mounting a large gun in the woods higher up, and commanding our mortar come and transports. The attempt failed, as the gun was overturned and the men dispersed in a few minutes. Since then there has been no hostile from that direction. It is supposed that we have now only the lower batteries at the extreme recess in the band of the river, and those on the Island, and against. These must have suffered also, as their fire as quite reserved, and hardly so good as during the first two days battle.

The Rebels moving further back.

As I write to day there is but little appearance of a hostile force in our front. But a few white tents are to be discovered at the head of the Island, and a few more on the shore, right across from it. Two steamers are to be seen with steam up, on the main shore, just out of the range of our guns, while others may be seen puffing up and down the further side of the Island, sometimes as if in great haste. The nondescript floating battery, gunboat, ram, or whatever it may be — for it is called by all sorts of names — is still moored in a bend in the north shore of the Island undisturbed. Behind the entrenchments, the glass discovers only a few isolated men, marching to and fro, apparently unconcerned at our presence. The general impression here is that the enemy is moving his encampment back from the river’s edge, out of the reach of our shells. This is confirmed by the constant visits of she transports, which seem to be unloading something like provisions, brought up from below. The question of commissariat must have become to them a very serious one, inasmuch as their retreating comrades from New Madrid could not bring away their stores, and can only in consuming those on hand at the island.

Will the Rebels evacuate?

The first and most natural inquiry for every one who reaches this point is to ask: Will the enemy evacuate, or make their final stand at this point? It is difficult for one who is supposed to be kept in ignorance of the place of the commanders to give an intelligent answer; but reasoning from the known facts of the siege, and the rules governing all military operations, we may say that every day tends to lessen the probability of their evacuation to that of a determined resistance. Our delay, coming as it does after the capture of New Madrid, is most unfortunate for our cause, because every day of resistance to an idle fleet gives increased assurance to the foe that we stand in some fear of their batteries, and all the ingenious excuses made to account for our delay but serve to strengthen this feeling. If we fear those at Island No.10, mere banks of earth as they are, hastily thrown up, and, we judge, entirely without casemates, be sufficient to hold us back for two weeks, how much more may they not expect of the more elaborate defences at Fort Pillow?

Had the former fallen even after a severe struggle and some loss to our side, the moral effect must have been disastrous to the rebels, who would no longer feel safe in their lower position.

Gunboats against earthworks.

Objection will, of course, be made to anything like the rashness of rushing upon such on array of batteries. “what if we had lost half our gunboats,” says one, “in the attempt?” It seems to me there is a plain answer to this question. If these gunboats are not intends to be matched against fortifications, why were they built? If not the old wooden gunboats were sufficient to repel similar craft of the rebels. If we are to confess, by our inaction, that these floating batteries of ours, which are to be laid under the rebel batteries, are what some have long suspected — not irresistible — it is time we and something less vulnerable, and ought to be built at once. The solid 8 inch shot which struck the forward casemates of the Benton, for instance, did not penetrate, as it could hardly be expected to do so at the distance of a mile and a half. At close range, and with heavier metal, we can well imagine how even the Benton must suffer from the hostile slot.

At any rate, our inaction is fatal to the esprit of our soldiers and sailors, who are quite as eager to fight as ever. If blood’s to be split it had letter be soon than late, if we are to gain immensely by the sacrifice — However, the matter is in good hands, and the next few days may afford us another glorious victory. In the meanwhile the telegraphic communication between the island and Memphis should be stopped at once, as it probably will.

As it is, every day of their stay at their present position strengthens their confidence in their ability to stop our gunboats. It is greatly to be wished that the great terror in which the gunboats are held by the masses of the rebel army should have been encouraged by a dashing capture of the rebel batteries, or a determined contest until they were silenced, and a passage forced through to the army of Gen Pope.

Gen. Bragg, who is in command, has great confidence in his engineering skill, and will, no doubt, do all that any of their Generals could do under the circumstances. The whole lower Mississippi is looking to him with hope that he will retrieve the misfortunes of Tilghman and Buckner.

A dead lock.

Things at the present moment seem to be in a sort of dead lock, neither party being able to make any very successful diversion or attack. Very singularly, both armies are out off from their supplies by river, but both have about equal facilities of communication by land. General Pope has no other method than to transport his stores, ammunition, and reinforcements from Bird’s Point or Commerce over wretched over flowed swamps.
General Bragg, similarly, has a hostile force intervening between his army and its reserve, and the transports and gunboats hemmed in by a blockade of which we can only pray that it may be equal to all that will be required of it. Bragg has, however, a way of escape left by marching his army over the neck of land to Meriwether’s Landing, where some of his gunboats and transports are awaiting. It will be impossible for Gen. Pope to push his light siege guns any farther down the west bank of the river than the Confederates can march on the eastern side. The rebel transports can therefore meet the retreating army, at any point below our batteries, especially as the work of mounting batteries in the face of gunboats, so far from the New Madrid fortifications without the aid of boats, must be exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible.

Firing at Point Pleasant.

The report of a brisk encounter was distinctly heard at about midnight, and terminating at about ten minutes past one this morning by a grand shock as of an explosion of a magazine or gunboat in the direction of Point Pleasant. Officers and men on the watch say they counted more than fifty shots, and some assert that the flash of the explosion could be seen clearly. After this the firing ceased. From this circumstance it is conjectured that the report proceeded from a gunboat which was blown up in attempting to run the blockade from below, as if the explosion had been from our magazine it would have been followed by shots from the boat–Commodore Foote has learned nothing of the result as yet, for, though we are only twelve miles apart, it seems to require twice that number of hours to get a communication through.

Capture of prisoners–Rebels being reinforced

The capture of prisoners a few miles below Hickman, by cavalry reconnoitering force sent out by Col. Buford, has resulted in the important intelligence that the enemy at Island No.10 is still keeping up a reinforcement by means of the line of railroad between Hickman and Humboldt. They appear to have a force still stationed at Humboldt, and are keeping open the road thereof.

The distance from Corinth to Columbus is 144 miles, and from Corinth to Humboldt to […] or Tennessee, they are within 25 miles of island No.10, and it is across this route that reinforcements have been sent to be prisoners report that 1,500 crossed from the railroad to the island on Wednesday, and that larger quantities were expected to follow. This would indeed seem as if, flush with their comparative success, they had determined upon crowding their available resources into this fortification. It will be noticed also that unless this route be stopped, it will also avail the enemy for a retreat.

What steps have been taken to cut off this line we are not aware. Our cavalry had penetrated to Paris, Tenn, some two weeks since. It is hoped that a force will be rent over from Fort Henry or Hickman to occupy and hold the junction at Union City. They reports the loss of the enemy thus far at sixty-five killed.

The canal through the woods.

It needed no newspaper account to inform the rebel commander that our forces are engaged in cutting a canal through the swamps and timber across the peninsula on the western side of the river, designed to rent river transportation to Gen. Pope. The truthful arises and scouts have long since done that.–Advantage has been taken of the high water and some extensive swamps that will be had New Madrid. About four miles of clearing has been effected by Bissell’s corps of engineers into a creek which runs into Madrid, which at this time is navigable for large steamers. A messenger through to-night announces that the steamer ferry will be pushed through within two days.

What is to be done when we shall have pushed through this little steamer and several barges is matter of conjecture. It is generally thought, of course, that General Pope will, with the help of barges, move his army across the river and thus cut to the rear of the enemy’s camps. Long before this will have been accomplished the enemy will be strong enough to resist the landing or will have evacuated the place. In the former case the insurgents may be expected to attack the batteries at Point Pleasant, with a view of breaking our blockade, which appears to be just strong enough to keep the enemy at bay. In the latter case they will be able to make their way down the Mississippi, leaving their guns and stores behind. Their gunboats and transports would probably be destroyed rather than they should fall into our hands.

The announcement comes at a late hour that our naval officers have learned of the preparation of the rebel gunboats, and are making preparations for a strenuous resistance. The gunboats now at the island are, with one exception, not iron clad. One of them the Grampus, so famous for her speed, is the property of a Northern man, which was ruthlessly seized from her owner, Capt. Chester, of Pittsburg, last may, and himself treated with indignity in Memphis last spring Captain Chester is now in command of a faster craft, and on by desires to have a fair chance at her, and he will run her down or recaptured this boat. The wickedness of that rebellion is seen more clearly by this wholesale of Northern weapons to be used against ourselves.

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