Sherman had Porter send a gunboat to take out a couple of guns that were giving him trouble in establishing his siege lines near the river. The Confederates concealed the guns, setting a trap for the Cincinnati. When the boat came within range, they raised the guns into position and poured fire into it. It sank with considerable loss of life.
Here are the reports of Admiral Porter and Lt. Bache, captain of the vessel.
Report of Acting Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy, regarding the loss of the U. S. S. Cincinnati, transmitting report of commanding officer and telegraphic messages. No. 37.]
U. S. Mississippi SQUADRON, Near Vicksburg, May 27, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that in accordance with Generals Grant’s and Sherman’s urgent request, and being led to believe that the enemy had moved his guns to the land side, I fitted the Cincinnati for the occasion by packing her with logs and hay, and sent her down to enfilade some rifle pits which barred the progress of our army. I had my doubts about the strength of the position, and took every precaution I could think of.
The Cincinnati started from the anchorage at 9 a. in., and thinking it was only an attack on rifle pits, I went down after her in a tug, to direct the operation if necessary. As I approached her, I saw that she was coming up stream at a great rate, under a heavy fire from all the enemy’s guns in that vicinity. They had moved none, and were pouring the shot and shell into her very rapidly. Still, I could see none strike her, and went across the river to direct the firing of the mortar boats.
She disappeared in a bayou, and I supposed she was taking a short cut through Old River to avoid the enemy’s fire. In an hour after, two of her seamen came to the bank, and I sent a boat for them. I was then informed that she had sunk.
I enclose the captains report and the telegraphic messages that passed between General Sherman and myself on the occasion. The general had good reasons for supposing the guns had been moved, as it had been done at most of the other hill batteries. The Cincinnati went down with her colors flying and kept them up after she was sunk, the rebels still firing on her. She can be raised when the water falls a little. Officers and men lost all their effects; only the public money was saved.
As near as we can learn, 25 were killed and wounded, and about 15 missing, supposed to be drowned. The pilot was killed as she rounded to abreast of the batteries. Lieutenant Commanding Bache steered her out of the action himself.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, DAVID D. PORTER, Acting Rear-Admiral, Commanding Mississippi Squadron.
Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, Wa8hington, D. C. [Enclosures.]
MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON, FLAGSHIP BLACKHAWK, Above Vicksburg, May 27, 1863.
SIR: In obedience to your order, the Cincinnati got underway this morning at 7 o’clock and steamed slowly down until a little abreast of where the mortars lay, when we rounded to. The enemy fired several shots from a gun called Whistling Dick, but soon gave it up. At half past 8, with a full head of steam, we stood for the position assigned us.
The enemy fired rapidly, and from all their batteries. When abreast of our position, and rounding to, a ball entered the magazine, and she commenced filling rapidly. Shortly after, the starboard tiller was carried away. Before and after this time the enemy fired with great accuracy, hitting us almost every time. We were especially annoyed by plunging shots from the hills, an 8-inch rifle and a 10-inch smoothbore doing us much damage. The shots went entirely through our protection hay, woods, and iron.
Finding that the vessel would sink, I ran her upstream and as near the right-hand shore as our damaged steering apparatus would permit. About ten minutes before she sunk, we ran close in, got out a plank, and put the wounded ashore. We also got a hawser out to make fast to a tree to hold her until she sunk. Unfortunately, the men ashore at the hawser left it without making fast, the enemy still firing. The boat commenced drifting out, and I sung out to the men to swim ashore, thinking we were in deeper water (as was reported) than we really were.
I suppose about 15 were drowned and about 25 killed and wounded, and 1 probably taken prisoner, will sum up our whole loss. The boat sank in about 3 fathoms of water, lies level, and can easily be raised. She lies within range of the enemy’s batteries. The vessel went down with her colors nailed to the mast, or rather the stump of one, all three having been shot away. Our fire until the magazine was drowned, was good, and I am satisfied did damage. We only fired at a two-gun water battery.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, GEO. M. BACHE, Lieutenant, Commanding.
Acting Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER, Commanding Mississippi Squadron.