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The Magazine Explosion of March 16, 1864

The Newsome Account

Excerpted from Experience in the War of the Great Rebellion, by Edmund Newsome


March 15 – At 9 P. M., we moved down to the fort, stacked arms and broke ranks to see the fort and prisoners, then re-formed and marched into the space between the fort and the water battery, where we camped. The Sixteenth Army Corps went on boats and started up the river before night, but our brigade remained.


            March 16 – Large details of men went to work to destroy the fort, tearing out the wood-work and piling it up for burning, and digging down the earth-works until dark. The large guns of the water battery were removed and placed on the gun-boats, the carriages were broken up and burned. These were the same guns that were taken from the “Queen of the West,” Capt. Conners boat, when the Rebels captured her about a year before at this place, and the brave captain floated off on a bale of cotton.


            Just before dark, the gun-boat “Benton,” tried one of her guns on the iron case-mate; two shots entered the iron and sent pieces of rail-road iron, four or five feet in length, flying through the air, nearly to our camp. At 11 P. M., we were suddenly aroused by a tremendous explosion. I knew what it was in an instant, for I could see shells bursting high in the air, the whole heavens seemed to be on fire, pieces of timber and hard lumps of earth were falling in camp and even beyond. Men were running for life to the woods. I knew that a magazine had been blown up. There was scarcely time to think before another magazine blew up, followed by a shower of fragments. Some one said, “They are going to burst a cannon.” In a moment we heard a sharp explosion. I could hear one of the fragments coming towards us; it seemed to be a long time buzzing in the air – Some one said, “let’s run.” I said, “lie still.” (for we were in bed.) It struck ten feet from our “shebang.” I arose to see who was hurt, for I had heard a groan. I found two men down, side by side; several men were gathering around. We examined them by the light of the moon, and found that one was Lt. Jerome Bishop of Co. “D,” and the other belonged to the 95th Ill. The upper half of their heads were taken off. Sergeant King was wounded, and it was his groan that we had heard. I handled the piece of cannon soon afterwards with the brains still on it. Capt. Young was spattered with the brains, and in that condition went to Gen. A. J. Smith, to show that commander his work. Firing at the case-mate was dangerous, but these explosions were destructive. Two were killed and several wounded, just in wantonness of the commanding general. Such conduct can not be justified.