150 Years Ago: The Battle of Memphis

Yes, the anniversary of another naval battle that rarely receives passing mention.  The battle of Memphis, fought on June 6, 1862 was one of the few purely “naval” fleet actions of the war (that is not involving participants on firm ground).  I put naval in quotes because the odd collection of warship at Memphis included a flotilla of Army rams, commanded by Colonel Charles Ellet (only recently commissioned as such, by the way).

Army ships in action at Memphis!

I’d planned a “then and now” post for the Civil War Navy Blog, along the lines of that done for Plum Point Bend.  But I’m behind schedule due to demands cutting into my creative time.  Perhaps at later, non-sesquicentennial date. NUMA has a page discussing the wrecks left behind at Memphis (with a bit on the Sultana which sank in the same reach of the river in 1865).  The map indicating the changed river channel is reasonably accurate.  However I’d put a grain of salt with regard to the wrecks and locations.  Memphis, Mound City (Arkansas), and Hopefield were busy river ports before, during and after the Civil War.  The bends above and below Memphis were known for strong currents and bad snags.  More riverboats than we might count came to grief there.  Furthermore, the Arkansas side of the river in particular was the site of several repair and salvage activities.  So there are remains of many old steamboats, in addition to anything left from the war.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal has a good article (for a news venue) discussing the Battle of Memphis.  The wording of the headline is worth pondering – “…destroyed the Confederate river navy but spared the city.”  I guess one can say that.  Given the defenseless nature of Memphis itself.  But who am I to argue with a grabbing headline?

The article mentions a surrender re-creation held today, at none other than Confederate Park, on the bluffs overlooking the riverfront.   The park has an interesting history of its own, tied into reconstruction and reconciliation.


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