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The US Navy at Fort DeRussy

Fort DeRussy was a Confederate fort, but it saw quite a bit of the US Navy present in Red River in front of the fort at various times. Here are some facts on some of the Yankee boats that were present at the fort during the War.

Transcripts of excerpts of some of the below listed gunboat’s logbooks may be viewed by clicking on the names of the boats. The original logbooks are in the National Archives. Copies of these logbooks were transcribed by inmates of the Avoyelles Correctional Center and are presented here. The transcripts have not yet been proofed, and readers should be aware that there are transcription errors present.


Mississippi Marine Brigade Ram Queen of the West

    The USS Queen of the West made the mistake of trying to capture Fort Taylor (soon to be Fort DeRussy) on February 14, 1863. The boat, armed with one 30-pounder and three 12-pounder howitzers, ran aground in front of the fort and was quickly captured. The Confederates repaired the boat and used it to assist in sinking the USS Indianola in the Mississippi River below Vicksburg on February 24.

     Her career as a Confederate gunboat was a short one. CSS Queen of the West was sunk by Union naval vessels in Grand Lake (a part of the lower Atchafalaya River) on April 14, 1863.

USS Albatross

The USS Albatross, a wood-hull screw steamer rigged as a three-masted schooner, along with consorts Arizona and Estrella, attacked the Confederate gunboats Grand Duke and Cotton II (formerly Mary T) at Fort DeRussy on May 4, 1863. In the ensuing battle, Albatross was badly shot up, but did serious damage to the two Confederate boats. Quartermaster James Brown received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. The battle ended in a Confederate victory, with Albatross leaving the river to the Southern boats - who could not leave because of the serious damage that had been inflicted upon them. Neither Arizona nor Estrella were actively involved in the fight.

Albatross was armed with a 30-pounder Parrott gun on the forecastle, six 32-pounders, and a rifled 12-pounder Dahlgren howitzer on the quarter.

USS Arizona

    USS Arizona, an iron-hulled sidewheel steamer, was at the gunboat fight at Fort DeRussy on May 4, 1863, but did not actively participate. She returned the next day with Porter's fleet, and went ahead of the fleet to capture the city of Alexandria, which had been abandoned by the Confederate Army. Arizona was armed with four 32-pounders, one 30-pounder Parrott rifle, and one 12-pounder rifle. Arizona burned and sank in the Mississippi River below New Orleans in 1865. The location of her wreckage may have been located in 2001.

USS Estrella

    USS Estrella, a sidewheel steamer, was also present at the May 4 gunboat fight, but also did not participate in the action. She also returned the next day with Porter's fleet. Estrella carried one 30-pounder rifle, two 32-pounders, and two 24-pounder howitzers. She survived the War, becoming a merchant vessel and was lost (cause unknown) in 1870.

Admiral Porter's Fleet

    When Albatross, Arizona and Estrella retreated downriver from Fort DeRussy on May 4, 1863, they soon came across Admiral Porter's fleet headed upriver. Porter's boats consisted of the ironclads Benton, Lafayette and Pittsburg; the timberclad General Price; the Mississippi Marine Brigade ram Switzerland; and the tug Ivy. Porter's fleet captured the abandoned Fort DeRussy on May 5 and then proceeded up the river to capture Alexandria. Benton returned to the fort on May 9 and stayed there two days, her crew doing as much destruction inside the works as possible.

Mississippi Marine Brigade Ram Switzerland 

    Switzerland was a 413-ton sidewheeler converted to a ram in 1862. While the other boats in Porter's fleet would be back in 1864, this was Switzerland's only visit to the fort. A few weeks earlier, she had successfully run the Vicksburg gauntlet at the same time that her sister ram Lancaster had been sunk. A month later, Switzerland was involved in the shelling of Simmesport in June of 1863. She survived the War and continued to operate as a civilian vessel until 1870.


    The capture of Fort DeRussy on March 14, 1864, led to the fort's use as a gunboat station. Numerous Union vessels were present at the fort as a result of this.

USS Eastport (ironclad)

Eastport was the only Naval vessel to fire on Fort DeRussy during the March 14, 1864 battle. She "fired a short-fuzed shell at an elevation as a signal gun, and then ventured one 100-pounder rifle shell at the water battery, which shell burst over it. . . "

Eastport continued upriver after the fort's capture, and was scuttled by the Union Navy near Montgomery after striking a Confederate mine. The Edward F. Dix snagged on her wreckage at the end of the War, and the remains of the two boats lie intertwined to this day.

     Eastport was 280 feet long, and drew a little over 6 feet of water. She was armed with four 9-inch smoothbores, two 100-pounder rifles, and two 50-pounder rifles.

USS Osage (monitor)

Osage, a sternwheel single-turret monitor, was also present at the capture of the fort - or at least very shortly after - but did not fire any of her guns at that time.

    Osage was 180 feet long by 45 feet wide, and drew 4.5  feet of water. She was armed with two 11-inch smoothbores and one 12-pounder rifle. She was sunk by a mine in Alabama late in 1865, but later raised and operated as a merchant vessel after the War.

       Of significant note is that the Osage was the first naval vessel ever to us a periscope to aim a weapon in time of war. This occurred up the Red River at Blair’s Landing in Red River Parish, and resulted in the death of Confederate General Tom Greene and a lot of his men.

USS Fort Hindman (tinclad #13)

Fort Hindman was one of the four naval vessels present at the capture of Fort DeRussy in 1864. She was the vessel that carried the captured Confederates from the fort to Baton Rouge. She was also one of the boats that made the first pass up Red River in 1865 when the War ended.

    Fort Hindman was a side-wheeler, 150 feet long by 37 feet wide, drawing 2.5 feet of water. She was armed with two 8-inch guns of 55 hundredweight (cwt), and four 8-inch guns of 63 cwt. during the Red River Campaign. When she came up river in 1865, she had an additional 100-pounder rifle and a 12-pounder rifle.

USS Cricket (tinclad #6)

    Cricket played a big role during the Red River Campaign, serving as Admiral Porter's flagship in the river above Alexandria (Black Hawk drew 6.5 feet of water, Cricket only 4, hence the change in flagships). She was sternwheeler, 154 feet long by 28 feet wide. According to Silverstone, she was armed with six 24-pounder howitzers - however, her deck log mentions a 100-pounder Parrott gun and a pivot gun. She used the 100-pounder to fire a shot at Lewis DeRussy's house at Grand Ecore on April 3, 1864.

USS Benton (ironclad)

USS Essex (ironclad)

USS Dahlia (tug)

USS Black Hawk (large tinclad)

USS Lexington (timberclad)

USS Ouachita (large tinclad)

USS General Price (timberclad)

USS Fern (tug)

USS Carondelet (City Class ironclad)

USS Chillicothe (ironclad)

USS Choctaw (ironclad)

USS Lafayette (ironclad)

USS Louisville (City Class ironclad)

USS Mound City (City Class ironclad)

USS Pittsburg (City Class ironclad)

USS Neosho (monitor)

USS Ozark (monitor)

USS Argosy (tinclad #27)

USS General Bragg (timberclad)

USS Judge Torrance (ordnance steamer)

         The ordnance steamer Judge Torrance (or Torrence?) was a sidewheeler, 180 feet long by 30 feet wide, drafting 7’ 6”. Her name was changed to Amazon after the War, and she snagged and sank in 1868. 

USS Samson (floating machine/blacksmith shop)

         Samson (or possibly Sampson) was originally a ram, but served as a floating blacksmith shop during her time on Red River. She also towed a carpenter shop, so she seems to have been the fleet’s multi-purpose repair shop.


USS Woodford (hospital boat)

         Woodford was a sidewheeler, 221 feet long by 34 feet wide, with a draft of just a hair over 6 feet. She was used as a hospital ship, and sank when she was caught on the rapids at Alexandria during the Red River Campaign.


USS Avenger (ram)

         The ram Avenger was engaged at Fort DeRussy in May, 1864, when she shelled Confederate troops near the fort on several occasions. The boat was 181 feet long and 41 feet wide, and drew 9’ 6”. She was armed with a 100-pounder rifle, four smoothbore 24-pounders, and one 12-pounder rifle. After the War she became the merchant steamer Balize, and was retired from the register in 1871.

USS Naiad (tinclad #53)

USS Nymph (tinclad #54)

USS Covington (tinclad #25)

         The sidewheel tinclad Covington was 126 feet long and 37 feet wide, with a hull depth of 6’ 6”. She was active around Fort DeRussy in the latter part of the Red River Campaign. She was attacked at Egg Bend on May 5, 1864, along with the tinclad Signal,  while escorting the steamer John Warner past the Confederate batteries there. After being run ashore on the north bank, her guns were spiked and she was burned to prevent capture.

USS Signal (tinclad #8)

USS St. Clair (tinclad #19)

USS Forest Rose (tinclad #9)

USS Meteor (tinclad #44)

         The tinclad Meteor – 156 feet by 34 feet, with a 4’3” draft, armed with two 32-pounders and four 24-pounders – was only at Fort DeRussy for a few days in early May, 1864, but did shell the woods around the fort to protect members of the 23 Iowa who had gone ashore on a cattle-stealing expedition and were nearly captured by Confederates. After the War she was sold and renamed De Soto. The only picture of Meteor to be found on the Internet is actually a picture of the tinclad Cricket.

USS Tallahatchie (tinclad #46)

         Sternwheel tinclad, armed with two 32-pounders and four 24-pounders. She operated in the river around Fort DeRussy in May of 1864. After the War, she had a colorful life as the steamer Coosa. In 1868 she towed a circus barge, and later on, in Cincinnati, she “won a debatable reputation for running disreputable moonlight excursions.” Yes, this noble war vessel had become a floating whorehouse! On another occasion, she was used to stage a prizefight. Her checkered career ended in September, 1869, when she was burned on Licking River, Kentucky, by an arsonist.

USS Thistle (tug)

         Thistle was another tugboat that supported the Naval forces during the Red River Expedition. She was known to have carried (and used) a 12-pounder howitzer on a previous expedition in Mississippi, so it is likely she had one on the Red, as well.

USS William H. Brown (dispatch vessel)

    USS Brown, as she was more commonly known, was a 230 feet long by 26 feet wide sternwheeler, and was armed with two 12-pounders. She served as a general purpose service vessel, dispatch vessel, tow boat and transport, as circumstances demanded.

    Benton was involved in the destruction of Fort DeRussy in May of 1863, and was at the fort again during the first two weeks of the Red River Campaign in March of 1864. She left the fort in response to the attack on Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The boat was 202 feet long and 72 feet wide, with a draft of 9 feet. She carried five casemated guns on each side, with a four-gun casemate forward and two guns aft. Benton was heavily involved in the removal of cotton from the lower Red River during the ‘64 campaign. Benton returned up the Red at the end of the war, and was decommissioned, sold and broken up shortly after that.

         Of all the Union gunboats, Essex spent the most time at Fort DeRussy. A converted river ferry, she was heavy and sluggish, but formidably armed and armored. Like Benton, she was heavily involved in the destruction of the fort and the removal of cotton from the area during the Red River Campaign. Different sources give her different dimensions, but according to Silverstone, she was 159 feet long by 47 wide, with a draft of 6 feet. She was notoriously slow – due in no small part to her 3”iron- armored casemates – and leaky, but her heavy firepower (two 100-pounder rifles, six 9-inch Dahlgrens, one 12-pounder rifle, and three 12-pounder smoothbores) made her worthy of respect.

         What can you say about a tugboat? She moved coal barges and such around, and helped the gunboats maneuver in tight spots. Dahlia and Fern were a couple of unsung workhorses in the Naval story of the Red River Campaign. And one entry in the USS Neosho logbook indicates that Dahlia probably had at least one 12-pounder howitzer on board. If the need arose, the tugs could fight!

         There were two Black Hawks in the Red River during the Red River Campaign. The steamer Black Hawk was General Banks’ flagship. The large tinclad Black Hawk was Admiral Porter’s flagship. As can be imagined, this leads to a lot of confusion.

           The large tin-clad Black Hawk, formerly the New Uncle Sam, was either 260 or 285 feet long, and drew between 6 and 6 and a half feet of water. Her large size caused Admiral Porter to transfer his flag to the tinclad Cricket when going above Alexandria during the Red River Campaign. Black Hawk was armed with two 30-pounder rifles, eight 24-pounder smoothbores, and three 12-pounder rifles.

         Lexington was a sidewheel timberclad gunboat, 178 feet long by 37 feet wide, drawing 6 feet. She carried two 8-inch smoothbores, one 32-pounder of 42 cwt, two 30-pounder rifles, and one 12-pounder howitzer. She participated in the expedition up the Black and Ouachita rivers in early March, 1864, and was one of the gunboats trapped above the Alexandria rapids. She was the last Union vessel to leave Fort DeRussy at the end of the Red River Campaign.

         Prior to her capture, the USS Ouachita was the Confederate steamer Louisville, and in that capacity she passed by Fort DeRussy at least once in 1863. She was back at the fort as a large US Navy sidewheel tinclad in 1864, and again in 1865 at the end of the War. The heavily armed boat carried five 30-pounder rifles, eighteen 24-pounders, and sixteen 12-pounders. She had gunports on both upper and lower decks, and gun turrets forward and aft. She was 227 feet long by 38 feet wide, drew 7 feet, and was capable of making 8 miles per hour going upstream. One of her officers, Cassilly Adams, would become a well-known artist later in the century for his painting of Custer’s Last Stand. After the War, the boat went into private hands as the steamer Vicksburg, and for a time was run by Captain J. M. White (captain of the Grand Duke during the gunboat fight of May 4, 1863). She burned at Cairo, Illinois, in 1869.

         The sidewheel ram General Price came up the Red River in both 1863 and 1864. Formerly a Confederate boat, she was sunk at the Battle of Memphis in 1862, after which she was raised and put into Union service. She was 180 feet long, 30 feet wide, and drew either 9 or 13 feet, depending on which source you reference. (She seems to have either had a deep draft, or a very deep draft.) In 1863, she carried four 9-inch smoothbores; in ’64, she carried two 9-inch smoothbores, along with a 12-pounder rifle and a 12-pounder smoothbore.  

         She was a tugboat. She moved coal barges and assisted the larger boats in maneuvering in tight areas and getting back afloat when they ran aground in the shallow river.

         USS Carondelet was one of the “City” class ironclads, a “Pook turtle.”  She passed in front of Fort DeRussy twice during the Red River Campaign, but spent no real time there. She was 176 feet long and 52 feet wide, and drew 6’ 6”. Her armament consisted of two 100-pounder rifles, one 50-pounder rifle, one 30-pounder rifle, three 9-inch smoothbores, and four 8-inch smoothbores of 63 cwt. She was sold for scrap after the War. Her hull became the wharfboat at Gallipolis, Ohio and her engines went to the towboat Quaker in 1867.

         Like the Carondelet, the only time Chillicothe was at Fort DeRussy was when she passed up Red River at the start of the Red River Campaign, and down at the end. She was a sidewheel propelled ironclad boat, 159’ by 46’, with nearly 7 feet of draft, carrying two 11-inch and one 12-pounder smoothbores. After the War she lay on the riverbank near Cairo, Illinois, until she was burned in 1872 to make way for a railroad track.

         The sidewheel ironclad Choctaw was a formidable looking vessel. It was one of the few big ironclads that spent any appreciable amount of time at the fort. Choctaw was at the fort for several days toward the end of the Red River Campaign. She was 260 feet long and 45 feet wide, and drew 8 feet of water. She was armed with one 100-pounder, two 30-pounder, and two 12-pounder rifles; and three 9-inch smoothbores. Her armor, in places, consisted of one inch of iron over one inch of India rubber. (The usefulness of the rubber has been debated.)

         Lafayette was very similar in appearance to Choctaw. She was 20 feet longer, though, and while she carried the same combination of rubber/iron armor, hers was twice as thick. Her firepower was also heavier – two 11-inch Dahlgrens, two 9-inch Dahlgrens, two 100-pounder rifles, two 24- and two 12-pounder howitzers. In addition to being up Red River in 1864, she also came up the river at the War’s end to take possession of the CSS Missouri.

         Louisville was one of the four City class gunboats that participated in the Red River Campaign. Like her sisters, she was 175 feet long by 51 feet wide, and drew 6 feet. In 1864, she carried one 100-pounder rifle, four 9-inch Dahlgrens, two 30-pounder rifles, and six 32-pounders of 42 cwt.

         Mound City was another of the City class gunboats in the Red River Campaign. She spent most of the Campaign above the falls. She was armed with one 100-pounder rifle, four 9-inch Dahlgrens, three 8-inch smoothbores, one 50-pounder rifle, three 32-pounders, and one 30-pounder rifle.

         Pittsburg was the last of the City class gunboats in the Red River Campaign. She also spent most of her time above the falls. She carried one 100-ounder rifle, four 9-inch Dahlgrens, two 8-inch smoothbores, four 32-pounder/42s, two 30-pounder rifles, and one 12-pounder smoothbore.

         Neosho was a stern-wheel propelled monitor, very similar in appearance to the Osage. She spent most of the Red River Campaign above Alexandria. On June 8, 1864, she attacked on Confederate forces at the town of Simmesport, killing Rene Mayeux, the last Avoyelles Parish native to die in the actual physical defense of his parish from a foreign military force.

 Neosho was armed with two 11-inch Dahlgrens in her turret, and a 12-pounder rifle on deck. She was 180’ long by 45’ wide, with a draft of only 4’ 6”.

         Ozark was a monitor, but of a unique and peculiar design. Some of her guns were in her forward turret, others in the aft casemate, and she was propelled by two screws, rather than the standard paddlewheel. She carried two 11-inch, one 10-inch, and three 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns.

         Argosy was a sternwheel tinclad, 156 feet long by 33 feet wide, with a draft of 4 and a half feet. She spent quite a bit of time at the fort, and shelled the place on a regular basis, during the latter part of the Red River Campaign. She was armed with two 32-pounders of 42 cwt and four 24-pounders.  She was sold into the private sector after the War, and burned at Cincinnati in 1872.

USS Gazelle (tinclad #50)

         Gazelle was a sidewheel tinclad. She passed Fort DeRussy going upriver and coming down at the end of the Red River Campaign, but spent very little time at the fort itself. She was 135 feet long by 23 feet wide, with a draft of 5 feet, and carried six 12-pounder rifles. After the War, she served as the merchant vessel Plain City, and was broke up in 1869.

USS Juliet (tinclad #4)

         The sternwheel tinclad Juliet passed by the fort going in and coming out of the Red River Campaign, but all of her active service was upriver. She was 155 feet long by 30 feet wide, with a draft of 5 feet, and armed with six 24-pounder howitzers. She became the merchant steamer Goldena after the War, for a few months, until she was wrecked in late 1865.

USS Little Rebel (tinclad #16)

         Little Rebel was a peculiar tinclad, in that she was not a paddle-wheeler. Her sole means of propulsion was with her propeller.  She was also much smaller than most of the other gunboats, being only 112 feet long by 22 feet wide, but with the very deep draft of 12 feet. She came up the Red at the end of the War. After the War, she went into private service as the steamer Spy until 1874.


         The sidewheeler General Bragg was unusual in appearance for a river gunboat, having an exposed walking beam. She was 208’ by 33’, with a 12’ draft, and armed with one 30-pounder rifle, one 32 pounder smoothbore of 42 cwt, and one 12-pounder rifle. When the Fort Hindman was carrying Fort DeRussy prisoners to New Orleans, it was the General Bragg that fired several rounds at her after she passed into the Mississippi River without giving the proper signals.  

         The sternwheel tinclad Naiad was also engaged for a short time in the actions against Confederate snipers at Fort DeRussy at the end of the Red River Campaign.  Naiad was 157 feet long, 30 feet wide, and drew 4’ 6”. She was armed with eight 24-pounders. After the War she became the merchant steamer Princess, and was snagged and lost on the Missouri River in 1868.

         Nymph was another sternwheeled tinclad, and she was also engaged at Fort DeRussy toward the end of the Red River Campaign. She was 161 feet long, 30 feet wide, and drew 5 feet. She was armed with twelve 24-pounders. After the War, she resumed service in the private sector as Cricket No. 3, the name she had gone by before the War.

         Signal was a sternwheel tinclad, 157 feet long, 29 feet wide, with a draft of a little over 5 feet. She was armed with two 32-pounder/42s, four 24-pounders, and two 12-pounder rifled howitzers. She was active around the fort in early May, 1864, and was captured by Confederates on May 5 while trying to escort the steamer John Warner past the Confederate batteries at Egg Bend. Her guns were removed and put into Confederate service. Eight men from Signal were awarded Medals of Honor for their actions that day. The list does NOT include George McClurg, a sailor whose particularly meritorious actions were mentioned in the official report of the boat’s loss, or five other men also cited by name in the report.

         St. Clair arrived in the Red River toward the end of the Red River Campaign. She was frequently fired into by southern snipers, and was never hesitant to return the compliment. The sternwheeler was 156 feet long by 32 feet wide, and only drew 2’4”. During her time on Red River, she carried two 24-pounder howitzers, one 12-pounder rifle, and two 12-pounder smoothbores. She served as a merchant vessel after the war, and was removed from the registers in 1869.

         There is a well-known picture of Forest Rose that is frequently misidentified as a picture of USS Signal working on Bailey’s Dam at Alexandria. Forest Rose was tinclad #9, Signal was #8. Forest Rose was a frequent visitor at Fort DeRussy during the Red River Campaign, and took a lot of sniper fire from the fort during the latter part of the campaign.

           Forest Rose was 155 feet long by 32 feet wide, with a five foot draft. She was armed with two 30-pounder rifles, two 32 pounders (42 cwt), and four 24-pounders. She was sold after the War and renamed Anna White, and was sunk by ice in St. Louis in 1868.