April 8, 1862: Pope takes Island No. 10

General John Pope
General John Pope

After a long siege, and with the aid of a couple of gunboats run past the position by Commodore Foote, General Pope’s batteries destroyed the Confederate position on Island No. 10 and captured the majority of the troops. Coming just a day after the Union repulse of the Confederates at Shiloh, this victory pushed the rebel line substantially southward. Kentucky and Tennessee were firmly in Union hands, and Mississippi was threatened.

From the Official Record:


Camp five miles from Corinth, Miss., May 2, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations which resulted in the capture of Island Numbers 10 and the batteries on the main shore, together with the whole of the land fores of the enemy in that vicinity. A brief sketch of the topography of the immediate neighborhood seems essential to a full understanding of the operations of the army.

Island Numbers 10 lies at the bottom of a great bend of the Mississippi, immediately north of it being a long, narrow promontory on the Missouri shore. The river from Island Numbers 10 flows northwest to new Madrid, where it again makes a great bend to the south as far as Tiptonville, otherwise called Meriweather’s Landing, so that opposite New Madrid also is a long narrow promontory. From Island Numbers 8 across the land to New Madrid is 6 miles, while by river it is 15; so likewise the distance from Island Numbers 10 to Tiptonville as 5 miles, while by water it is 27.

Commencing at Hickman, a great swamp, which afterwards becomes Reelfoot Lake, extends along the left bank of the Mississippi and discharges its waters into the river 40 miles below Tiptonville, leaving the whole peninsula opposite New Madrid between it and the river. This peninsula, therefore, is itself an island, having the Mississippi River on three sides and Reelfoot Lake and the great swamps which border it on the other. A good road leads from Island Numbers 10 in this peninsula were by the river. When the river was blockaded at New Madrid supplies and re-enforcements were landed at Tiptonville and conveyed across the neck of the peninsula by land. There was no communication with the interior except by a small flat-boat, which plied across Reelfoot Lake, a distance of 2 miles, and that through an opening cut through cypress swamps for the purpose. Supplies and re-enforcements or escape to any considerable extent were therefore impracticable on the land side. One mile below Tiptonville begin the great swamps along the Mississippi on both sides, and no dry ground is to be found except in occasional spots for at least 60 miles below. By intercepting the navigation of the river below Tiptonville and commanding by heavy artillery the lowest point of dry ground near that place the enemy would be at once cut off from his resources and prevented from escaping.

Immediately after the reduction of New Madrid this subject engaged my attention. The roads along the river in the direction of Point Pleasant followed a narrow strip of dry land between the swamps and the river, and were very miry and difficult. With much labor the heavy guns captured from the enemy at New Madrid were dragged by hand and established in battery at several prominent points along the river, the lower battery being placed immediately opposite the lowest point of dry ground below Tiptonville. This extended my lines 17 miles along the river. A week was thus passed in severe labor. The enemy, perceiving the consequence of establishing these batteries, attempted in every way by his gunboats to prevent their construction. They were therefore in every case established in the night. As soon as daylight unmasked our lowest battery the enemy saw at once that we must either be dislodged or all reliable communication with his forces would be cut off. Five gunboats, therefore, at once advanced against the battery, which consisted of two 24-pounder siege guns and two 10-pounder Parrotts, manned by a detachment of the First United States Infantry, under Lieutenant Bates, and supported by General Palmer’s division, encamped 1 1/2 miles in rear. Rifle pits for 500 sharpshooters were dug on the flanks of the battery, close to the river bank, and were constantly occupied.

The gunboats ran up to within 300 yards, and a furious cannonade was kept up for an hour and a half, when they were repulsed with the loss of one gunboat sunk, several badly damaged, and many men shot down at their guns by our sharpshooters from the rifle pits. Our loss was 1 man killed. From that time no attempt was made against the battery, and all communication from below with the forces near Island Numbers 10 cut off. One of the gunboats would occasionally, during a dark night, steal up close along the opposite shore to Tiptonville, but always at such great risk that it was seldom undertaken. Neither supplies nor men could be taken up or carried off in this way.

Such was the condition of affairs on the 16th of March. The object for which the land forces had been moved upon New Madrid was accomplished in the capture of that place and the blockade of the river to any supplies and re-enforcements for the enemy at and around Island Numbers 10.

Meantime the flotilla had been firing at long range both from the gun and mortar boats at the batteries of the enemy on and opposite the island for seven consecutive days without any apparent effect and without any advance whatever toward their reduction. This result was doubtless due to defective construction of the boats.

On the 16th of March I received your dispatch, directing me if possible to construct a road through the swamps to a point on the Missouri shore opposite Island Numbers 10 and transfer a portion of my force sufficient to erect batteries at that point to assist in the artillery practice on the enemy’s batteries. I accordingly dispatched Colonel J. W. Bissell, Engineer Regiment, to examine the country with this view, directing him at the same time if he found it impracticable to build a road through the swamps and overflow of the river, to ascertain whether it were possible to dig a canal across the peninsula from some point above Island Numbers 10 to Neew Madrid, in order that steam transports might be brought to me, which would enable my command to cross the river. The idea of the canal was suggested to me by General Schuyler Hamilton in a conversation upon the necessity of crossing the river and assailing the enemy’s batteries near Island Numbers 10 in the rear.

On the 17th March I suggested to Commodore Foote by letter that he should run the enemy’s batteries with one of his gunboats, and thus enable me to cross the river with my command, assuring him that by this means I could thrown into the rear of the enemy men enough to deal with any force he might have. This request the commodore declined on the ground of impracticability. Colonel Bissell having reported a road impracticable, but that a route could be found for a channel sufficient for small steamers, I immediately directed him to commence the canal with his whole regiment, and to call on Colonel Buford, commanding the land forces temporarily with the flotilla, which had been placed under my command, for any assistance in men or material necessary for the work. Supplies of such articles as were needed and four steamers of light draught were sent for to Cairo, and the work begun. It was my purpose to make the canal deep enough for the gunboats, but it was not found practicable to do so within any reasonable period. The work performed by Colonel Bissell and his regiment of engineers was beyond measures difficult, and its completion was delayed much beyond my expectations. The canal is 12 miles long, 6 miles of which are through very heavy timber. An avenue 50 feet wide was made through it by sawing off trees of large size 4 1/2 feet under water. For nineteen days the work was prosecuted with untiring energy and determination, under exposures and privations very unusual even in the history of warfare. It was completed on the 4th of April, and will long remain a monument of enterprise and skill.

During the this period the flotilla had kept up its fire upon the batteries of the enemy, but without making any progress toward their reduction. It had by this time become very apparent that the capture of Island Numbers 10 could not be made unless the land forces could be thrown across the river and their works carried by the rear; but during this long delay, the enemy, anticipating such a movement, had erected batteries along the shore from Island Numbers 10 must have been abandoned and the land forces at least withdrawn. It is but bare justice to say that although the full peril of the movement was thoroughly understood by my whole command, there was not an officer or man who was not anxious to be placed in the advance.

There seemed little hope of any assistance from the gunboats. I therefore had several heavy coal-barges brought into the upper end of the canal, which during the progress of the work were made into floating batteries. Each battery consisted of three heavy barges, lashed together and bolted with iron. The middle barge was bulkheaded all around, so as to give 4 feet of thickness of solid timber both at the sides and on the ends. The heavy guns, three in number, were mounted on it, and protected by traverses of sand bags. It also carried 80 sharpshooters. The barges outside of it had a first layer in the bottom of empty water-tight barrels, securely lashed, then layers of dry cottonwood rails and cotton bales packed close. They were then floored over at top to keep everything in its place, so that a short penetrating the outer barges must pass through 20 feet of rails and cotton before reaching the middle one, which carried the men and guns. The arrangements of water barrels and cotton bales was made in order that, even if penetrated frequently by the enemy’s shot and filled with water, the outer barges could not sink. It was my purpose, when all was ready, to tow one or two of these batteries over the river to a point exactly opposite New Madrid, where swamps prevented any access to the river, and where the enemy, therefore, had been unable to establish his batteries. When near the shore the floating batteries, with their crews, were to be cut loose from the steamers and allowed to float down the river to the point selected for landing the troops. As
soon as they arrived within short range of it they were to cast out their anchors, so as to hold the barges firmly, and open fire upon the enemy’s batteries. I think that these batteries would have accomplished their purpose, and my whole force volunteered to man them. They were well provided with small boats, to be kept out of danger, and even if the worst happened, and the batteries were sunk by the enemy’s fire, the men would meet with no worse fate than capture.

On the 5th April the steamers and barges were brought near to the mouth of the bayou which discharges into the Mississippi at New Madrid, but were kept carefully out of sight of the river whilst our floating batteries were being completed. The enemy, as we afterwards learned, had received positive advices of the construction of the canal, but were unable to believe that such a work was practicable. The first assurance they had of its completion was the appearance of the four steamers loaded with troops on the morning of the 7th April.

On the 4th Commodore Foote allowed one of the gunboats to run the batteries at Island Numbers 10, and Captain Walke, U. S. Navy, who had volunteered (as appears from the commodore’s order to him), came through that night with the gunboat Carondelet. Although many shots were fired at him as he passed the batteries, his boat was not once struck. He informed me of his arrival early on the 5th.

On the morning of the 6th I sent General Granger, Colonel Smith, of the Forty-third Ohio, and Captain L. H. Marshall, of my staff, to make a reconnaissance of the river below, and requested Captain Walke to take them on board the Carondelet and run down the river, to ascertain precisely the character of the banks and the position and number of the enemy’s batteries. The whole day was spent in this reconnaissance, the Carondelet steaming down the river in the midst of a heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries along the shore. The whole day was spent in this reconnaissance, the Carondelet steaming down the river in the midst of a heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries along the shore. The whole bank for 15 miles was lined with heavy guns at intervals, in no case exceeding 1 mile. Intrenchments for infantry were also thrown up along the shore between the batteries. On his return up the river Captain Walke silenced the enemy’s batteries opposite Point Pleasant, and a small infantry force, under Captain L. H. Marshall, landed and spiked the guns.

On the night of the 6th, at my urgent request, Commodore Foote ordered the Pittsburgh also to run down to New Madrid. She arrived at daylight, having, like the Carondelet, come through untouched. I directed Captain Walke to proceed down the river at daylight on the 7th with two gunboats, and if possible silence the batteries near Watson’s Landing, the point which had been selected to land the troops, and at the same time I brought the four steamers into the river, and embarked Paine’s division, which consisted of the Tenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-second, and Fifty-first Illinois Regiments, with Houghtaling’s battery of artillery.
The land batteries of 32-pounders, under Captain Williams, First United States Infantry, which I had established some days before, opposite the point where the troops were to land, were ordered to open their fire upon the enemy’s batteries opposite as soon as it was possible to see them.

A heavy storm commenced on the night of the 6th, and continued with short intermission for several days. The morning of the 7th was very dark, and the rain fell heavily until midday. As soon as it was fairly light our heavy batteries on the land opened their fire vigorously upon the batteries of the enemy, and the two gunboats ran down the river and joined in the action.

I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of Captain Walke during the whole of these operations. Prompt, gallant, and cheerful, he performed the hazardous service assigned him with signal skill and success. About 12 o’clock m. he signaled me that the batteries near our place of landing were silenced, and the steamers containing Paine’s division moved out from the landing and began to cross the river, proceeded by the gunboats.

The whole force designated to cross had been drawn up along the river bank, and saluted the passing steamers with cheers of exultation. As soon as we began to cross the river the enemy commenced to evacuate his position along the bank and the batteries along the Tennessee shore opposite Island Numbers 10. His whole force was in motion towards Tiptonville, with the exception of the few artillerists on the island, who in the haste of retreat had been abandoned.

As Paine’s division was passing opposite the point I occupied on the shore one of my spies, who had crossed on the gunboats from the silenced battery, informed me of this hurried retreat of the enemy. I signaled General Paine to stop his boats, and sent him the information, with orders to land as rapidly as possible on the opposite shore and push forward to Tiptonville, to which point the enemy’s forces were tending from every direction. I sent no force to occupy the deserted batteries opposite Island Numbers 10, as it was my first purpose to capture the whole army of the enemy.

At 8 or 9 o’clock that night (the 7th) the small force abandoned on the island, finding themselves deserted, and fearing an attack in the rear from our land forces, which they knew had crossed the river in the morning, sent a message to Commodore Foote, surrendering to him. The divisions were pushed forward to Tiptonville as fast as they were landed, Paine leading. The enemy attempted to make a stand several times near that place, but Paine did not once deploy his columns. By midnight all our forces were across the river and punishing forward rapidly to Tiptonville.

The enemy, retreating before Paine and from Island Numbers 10, met at Tiptonville during the night in great confusion, and were driven back into the swamps by the advance of our forces, until, at 4 o’clock a. m. on the 8th, finding themselves completely cut off, and being apparently unable to resist, they laid down their arms and surrendered at discretion. They were so scattered and confused that it was several days before anything like an accurate account of their number could be made.

Meantime I had directed Colonel W. L. Elliott, of the Second Iowa Cavalry, who had crossed the river after dark, to proceed as soon as day dawned to take possession of the enemy’s abandoned works on the Tennessee shore opposite Island Numbers 10, and to save the steamers if he possibly could. He reached there before sunrise that morning, the 8th, and took possession of the encampments, the immense quantities of stores and supplies, and of all the enemy’s batteries on the main-land. He also brought in about 200 prisoners. After posting his guards and taking possession of the steamers not sunk or injured he remained until the forces from the flotilla landed. As Colonel Buford was in command of these forces, Colonel Elliott turned over to his infantry force his prisoners, batteries, and captured property for safe-keeping, and proceeded to scout the country in the direction of Tiptonville, along Reelfoot Lake, as directed.

It is almost impossible to give a correct account of the immense quantity of artillery, ammunition, and supplies of every description which fell into our hands. Three generals, 273 field and company
officers, 6,700 privates, 123 pieces of heavy artillery, 35 pieces of field artillery) all of the very best character and latest patterns), 7,000 stand of small-arms, tents for 12,000 men, several wharf-boat loads of provisions, an immense quantity of ammunition of all kinds, many hundred horses and mules, with wagons and harness, &c., are among the spoils. Very few, if any, of the enemy escaped, and only by wading and swimming through the swamps.

The conduct of the troops was splendid throughout, as the results of this operation and its whole progress very plainly indicate. We have crossed this great river, the banks of which were lined with batteries and defended by 7,000 men. We have pursued and captured the whole force of the enemy and all his supplies and material of war, and have again recrossed and reoccupied the camps at New Madrid, without losing a man or meeting with any accident. Such results bespeak efficiency, good conduct, high discipline, and soldierly deportment of the best character far more conclusively than they can be exhibited in pitched battle or the storming of fortified places. Patience, willing labor, endurance of hardship and privation for long periods, cheerful and prompt obedience, order and discipline, bravery and spirit, are the qualities which these operations have developed in the forces under my command, and which assure for them a brilliant and successful career in arms. It is difficult to express the feeling which such conduct has occasioned one fortunate enough to be the commander of such troops. There are few material obstacles within the range of warfare which a man of courage and spirit would hesitate to encounter with such a force.

To the division and brigade commanders, whose reports I transmit, I leave the grateful privilege of designating in detail the forces engaged in these operations. Generals Paine, Stanley, Hamilton, and Plummer crossed the river, together with a portion of General Granger’s cavalry division, under Colonel W. L. Elliott, Second Iowa Cavalry. To all these officers I am deeply indebted for their efficient and cordial aid in every portion of our operations. They conducted their divisions with eminent skill and vigor, and to them I am largely indebted for the discipline and efficiency of this command.

General Paine, fortunate in having the advance, exhibited conspicuous gallantry and vigor, and had the satisfaction to receive the surrender of the enemy. General Palmer was posted ten days before the final operations in support and in charge of the battery below Tiptonville. Throughout he was prompt and active in the discharge of his duties.

Of Colonel Bissell, Engineer Regiment, and his regiment I can hardly say too much. Untiring and determined, no difficulties discouraged them and no labor was too much for their energy. They have conducted and completed a work which will be memorable in the history of this war.

My own personal staff-Major Butler, assistant adjutant-general; Major Morgan and Captain Marshall, aides-de-camp; Major J. M. Corse, inspector-general, and Surg. O. W. Nixon, medical director-rendered me important service, and were in all respects zealous and efficient.

Our success was complete and overwhelming, and it gives me profound satisfaction to report that it was accomplished without loss of life.

I am, general, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Commanding Department of the Mississippi, Saint Louis, Mo.

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