Tuesday, November 5, 2013
USS General Price
Figure 1: "The Great Naval Battle before Memphis, June 6, 1862." Engraving after a sketch by Alexander Simplot, published in Harper's Weekly, depicting the action between the Confederate River Defense Fleet and Federal warships off Memphis, Tennessee. In the center foreground the CSS General Beauregard is being rammed by the Federal ram USS Monarch. At left are the disabled Federal ram USS Queen of the West and the Confederate ships CSS General Sterling Price and CSS Little Rebel. Other Federal ships are in the center and left distance, with other Confederate ships in the center and right middle distance. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS General Price off Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 18 January 1864, with USS Lexington in the left background. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS General Price off Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 18 January 1864. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Conestoga photographed on the Western Rivers during the Civil War. On 8 March 1864, USS Conestoga was accidently sunk in a collision with USS General Price. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS General Price photographed while tied up at a Western Rivers settlement, circa 1863-1865. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Pen and ink drawing of USS General Price by Samuel Ward Stanton. From the collections of the Navy Department, 1967. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Originally built in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1856 as the Laurent Millaudon, this 633-ton side-wheel river steamer was taken over by the Confederacy after the start of the Civil War and renamed General Sterling Price, after a famous Confederate general who also served in the US Army during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The ship was converted in early 1862 into a “cottonclad” ram at New Orleans, Louisiana, for use in the Confederate River Defense Fleet. Cottonclads were lightly armored gunboats that had a 4-inch oak sheath with a 1-inch iron covering on their bows. They also had double pine bulkheads filled with compressed cotton bales, giving them the nickname “cottonclads.” Many of these ships, like General Sterling Price, were used as rams to sink Union river gunboats.
In March 1862, General Sterling Price steamed up the Mississippi River to Memphis, Tennessee, for completion. From April to June, the ship was assigned to the defense of Memphis. On 10 May, General Sterling Price rammed and disabled the Union ironclad USS Cincinnati in a battle off Fort Pillow, Tennessee, and was itself seriously damaged during the confrontation. After being repaired, General Sterling Price participated in a battle off Memphis on 6 June, in which she was disabled and sunk by Union gunboats in shallow water.
The ship, though, was re-floated and repaired by Union forces and was commissioned into the US Navy on 11 March 1863. The ship was named USS General Price, though her old name also continued to be used. General Price was approximately 182 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a crew of 77 officers and men, and had a draft of only 9 feet for river operations. She was armed with four 9-inch guns and had a top speed of roughly 10 knots.
General Price was involved in the Vicksburg Campaign in March and April 1863, and took part in the Union’s Mississippi Squadron’s dash past the heavily armed Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 17 April. For the rest of the Civil War, General Price operated in the Red and Black Rivers and elsewhere in the lower Mississippi River area. The gunboat took part in the capture of Alexandria, Louisiana, and the partial destruction of Fort De Russy, Louisiana, from 3 to 17 May. On 10 May, General Price also went on a reconnaissance mission up the Black River, where she battled strong Confederate artillery batteries at Harrisonburg, Louisiana.
As the battle for Vicksburg continued, General Price played a major role in bombarding the city and providing gunfire support for Union troops. The Union’s siege of Vicksburg ended when the Confederate forces in the city surrendered on 4 July 1863. General Price then steamed to Cairo, Illinois, on 16 July for some badly needed repairs. Her overhaul was completed on 19 November.
General Price returned to Memphis on 2 December 1863 and soon was part of a Union offensive to close the Red River to the Confederacy. On 8 March 1864, due to some confusion over whistle signals, General Price accidently rammed and sank the Union gunboat USS Conestoga. After that unfortunate incident, General Price made it to the Red River with a flotilla of Union gunboats, eventually reaching Alexandria, Louisiana, once again. General Price then was assigned to regular patrols on the lower Mississippi River, protecting Union cargo ships, landing federal reconnaissance units, and keeping the river free from Confederate guerrillas. While steaming in this area, General Price attacked a southern artillery battery at Tunica Bend, Louisiana, on 19 May. The bombardment from General Price forced the southerners to withdraw, allowing a Union landing party from the ship to burn the rebel headquarters there. General Price continued her patrol duties between New Orleans and Donaldsonville, Louisiana, until the end of the Civil War. The ship was decommissioned at Mound City, Illinois, on 24 July 1865 and was sold on 3 October.