River Monitors

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Map of Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Courtesy OhioRiverCorridor.com.

At the onset of the Civil War, General Winfield Scott noted that a Union victory could be achieved by controlling the Mississippi River. Scott believed the entire Mississippi Valley could be controlled using only 12 to 20 gunboats and 60,000 soldiers. More resources would eventually be needed; however, the Federals ultimately enabled, as President Abraham Lincoln said, the ‘Father of All Rivers to flow unvexed to the sea.’ 

Because the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was preoccupied with establishing a blockade of the Confederate coastline, he placed control of the Western Gunboat Flotilla to the War Department. This action would give a strong unity of command as the Union army and naval forces endeavored to wrestle the river from the Confederacy. Commander John Rodgers was initially placed in command of the flotilla; however, he was soon replaced by Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote.    Read more

Battle of Memphis

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Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans. Courtesy of J. V. Quarstein.

Complete control of the Mississippi River Valley was a key war aim for North and South alike. It was critical for the Confederacy to defend the Mississippi from Union attack to protect significant agricultural resources and manufacturing centers. Likewise, the Union needed to open the river to the sea to maintain the commerce of the Midwest. This contest along the ‘father of all rivers’ was a tremendous struggle. Victory would be achieved with new and improved ship designs and industrial superiority.

RIVER DEFENSE FLEET

The Confederates rushed to build fortifications to defend important river ports along the Mississippi; however, more was needed. This resulted in the creation of the River Defense Fleet and the construction of several ironclads. The quickest way for the Confederates to build a fleet was by acquiring various steamers in the vicinity of New Orleans. Many of these ships were constructed in Algiers, Louisiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.    Read more