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1862 April 9: “The siege of Island No. 10 has become as tedious as a twice told tale”

April 9, 2012

Following are three articles on Island Number 10 from The Prescott Journal of April 9, 1862.  The Battle of Island No. 10 lasted from February 28 to April 8, 1862, so this news is from shortly before the end of the siege.

W A R   N E W S
From Island No. 10

St. Louis, April 5.

Operations Against Island No. 10, from “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” (see footnote 1)

The correspondent of the Republican writing from the flag ship Benton, on the evening of the 3d says:

Early this morning an attempt was made to tow the rebel floating battery to a point where it could command our mortars.  A brisk fire was opened by the mortars, and in the course of half an hour the battery was struck several times—splinters being thrown in all directions and several beams being displaced.  One shell exploded directly inside the battery, when it was immediately submerged to the water’s edge and towed out of range.

The rebel steamer Winchester, which was sunk some time ago, to obstruct the channel north of the Island, and used by the rebels as a point from which to watch our movements, was shelled to-day and burned to the water’s edge.

Skillful firing to-day made the rebels very cautious, and all their tents have been moved far out of range.

Advices from New Madrid confirm the previous reports of the erection of rebel batteries opposite that point.  All is quiet there.

The river is falling rapidly, and troops can be landed at any point along the banks here.

 FROM ISLAND NO. 10.

Correspondence of Chicago Tribune

ON BOARD STEAMER V. F. WILSON, OFF}
ISLAND NO. 10, MISS. RIVER,}
April 2, 1862}

 The siege of Island No. 10 has become as tedious as a twice told tale.—Each day drags on its heavy length more wearily than the one before.  The gunboats maintain the same position they did a week ago.  The mortars are moored to the same stumps, and through the day and night, every half hour, their booming explosions mark the loss of time, if not the loss of life, on those distant tented shores.

What is the actual result of the mortar practice, cannot be ascertained at present.  A deserter who has come in says they have reached the main shore behind the Island, a distance of three miles and a half.  He says, also, that sixty-nine men have been killed at the upper battery, twenty-five upon the Island, and fifty-seven upon the main shore.

Prof. Steiner2 made three balloon reconnoissances [sic] on Monday, but little information was the result, as the atmosphere was too hazy.  It was ascertained that the rebels were attempting to build a new battery in the centre of the Island.

The upper battery, it was thought, is completely silenced, at least it has not replied for four days.  No one can be seen about it.  The earthwork is ragged and rent, the trees split and shivered, and one solitory [sic] gun alone appears in position.  This is probably a near relation of the logs at Manassas.  Our boats have fired at it in vain, and have finally given up the job, convinced that there is no use in trying to shoot a Quaker.

I have information of importance which I cannot send you without coming under the contraband rule.  I may say, however, that Gen. Pope’s [John Pope] movements are successfully progressing, and that within a few days you will hear some glorious news from Island No. 10.

In the mean time [sic], we are lying tied to this miserable Mississippi shore, “water, water, everywhere;” not a square inch of dry land in sight; listening with careless ears to the boom of the mortars; wearied with ennui, “cribbed, cabined and confined.”3  But to make amends, the weather is gorgeous.  The trees are leaving out and the woods resonant with the music of blue birds, black birds, red birds and robins.  As I write, the sun is sinking like a great bloch  [sic] of shining blood upon the horizon, spattering the woods with red streams of light and bridging the water with a ruby track, ominous of the strife to come—let us hope to morrow  [sic].  The thickest shower of shot and shell would be preferable to this weary waiting.

 LIFE ON THE RIVER AT ISLAND NO. 10

A correspondent from the Union fleet at Island No. 10, writes on the 30th ult:

Yesterday the steamer Pike arrived with some long range guns, and a large quantity of hand grenades for the gunboats.  The guns were immediately discharged and placed in position.  Later, the Ike Hammitt arrived with the Assistant Secretary of War4 on board, who had come post haste from Washington.  A short interview was held with the Flag Officer,5 after which the Secretary returned to Cairo.  As it is only a few days since he went on to Washington, his sudden re-appearance would seem to indicate a movement of some description.

The firing for a day or two has continued much the same as during the week, in fact during the fortnight past.  The gunboats have remained idle, and but few of the mortars have been in practice.  The latter enter upon their daily duties as regularly as the mechanic goes to his shop or the factory girl to her loom.  At eight bells, the tugs take the mortar men from the ammunition boats to their respective rafts and a half past eight the first mortar  is fired.  Firing is continued once an hour until one o’clock, with the tugs bring down their dinner.  Meals are furnished as half past one, and firing is resumed and kept up at the same rate until four o’clock.

The tugs come down again and take mortar men back for the night, with the exception of the crew of one raft who remain and fire at intervals of two or three hours, until the next morning.—Thus the days go tediously along, the hours marked by mortar explosions; the gunboats lying lazily in the stream, puffing their whirls of smoke from their chimneys, the marines lounging listlessly about decks, writing epistles6 homewards, reading old papers and smoking old pipes.  The transports, tied to the banks, some times [sic] do not wet their wheels for days, and thus we lie through these delicious, balmy spring hours, watching the blossoming of the trees, listening to the carols of birds and the heavy reverberations of the occasional explosions, forgetting that we are in the midst of war, and that to-morrow may witness scenes of strife and carnage, sulphurous7 clouds veiling the woods, and the grim dogs of war devouring in their thunder all the gentler utterances of nature.

1.  Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, by Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry M. Alden, Chicago: McDonnell, 1866-68 (available in the UWRF Archives E 468.7 .G87 1866).
2.  Professor John H. Steiner emigrated from Germany in 1853. He quickly established himself as a daring aeronaut and invented a new kind of balloon suitable for military reconnaissance. During the Civil War, Steiner served as a balloonist for the Union forces with Thaddeus S.C. Lowe’s Union Army Balloon Corps.
3.  A mid-19th century saying meaning cramped, constrained, and utterly restrained. It is actually a misquotation from Macbeth, Act III, Scene 4: “But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confined.”
4.  The office of assistant secretary of war was created for the Civil War, on August 3, 1861. The duties of the assistant secretary of war were largely logistical in nature. The first man appointed was Thomas A. Scott. In January of 1862, Congress authorized the appointment of two additional assistant secretaries of war, and  Peter H. Watson and John Tucker were appointed in late January. In this case, this report is talking about Thomas A. Scott. In The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (available in the UWRF Archives E 464 .U6 W 45.5), series I, volume 8, page 649, we find this letter from Scott to Secretary of War Stanton:

                                                                                                                 CAIRO, ILL., March 30, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton,
                       Secretary of War:
I reached Island No. 10 last evening about 5 o’clock. Found matters very quiet. A plan was agreed on for active operations, which will go into effect about Thursday. I will write you fully in regard to it. Commodore Foote has asked the Navy Department for more guns, to replace those on his boats, which are nearly worn-out. It is very important to have these guns by the time No. 10 is taken, and the Navy and War Departments should by some means manage to forward the guns immediately. We have information here that the rebels are finishing some heavy gunboats to ascend the river. To provide for them and any mishap that may occur to our own fleet in contending with their combined land and water batteries, Columbus and Belmont should be strongly fortified. Halleck and Foot both anxious to have this done. I returned to Cairo this morning. Probably return to island to-night.
                                                                                                                 THOMAS A. SCOTT
                                                                                                                                   Assistant Secretary of War.

5.  Andrew Hull Foote was the Flag Officer of the Union gunboats.
6.  Writing letters home.
7.  Now usually spelled with an “f” instead of the “ph.”

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