150 Years Ago: Army Parrotts or Navy Dahlgrens tearing open Fort Hindman?

(In series of posts, continuing here and over the next few days, I figure to examine selected details of the battle of Fort Hindman.  For a good overview of the battle, please see the The Battle of Arkansas Post on Civil War Trust’s website or the series of posts at Civil War Daily Gazette.)

With the countermarches of January 10, 1863 behind him, Major General John McClernand focused on bringing the weight of his two army corps to bear on Fort Hindman. The previous evening, troops from Brigadier General David Stuart’s division gained the road leading north out of Arkansas Post. Further isolating the fort, Colonel Daniel W. Lindsey’s brigade of Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’ division (Major General George Morgan’s Thirteenth Army Corps) deployed on the opposite bank upstream of the fort, along with a section of 20-pdr Parrotts of Captain Jacob Foster’s First Wisconsin Battery.


Now the swamps and bayous that prevented the Federals from successfully enveloping the fort also prevented the Confederate retreat. Still the confined space prevented the Federal numbers – two corps – from simply overwhelming the fort on the morning of January 11. McClernand spent most of the morning arranging the infantry and artillery for an attack coordinated with the navy. Positioned on the left of the line, and closet to both the river and the fort, Osterhaus’ two remaining brigades moved up:

My orders being to form the extreme left wing of the investing troops, leaning with my left on the river and with my right on the left of General Smith’s division, I improved the delay caused by the passage of the artillery through the swamps by making a thorough reconnaissance of the field to which my action would be limited.

After a good deal of labor my command were, at 10 o’clock, in the positions I assigned to them. One of the four bastions and the lower casemate were directly in my front ; the distance was about 800 yards, and I therefore concluded to place the 20-pounder Parrott guns in battery….

Osterhaus, a former Prussian army officer, was among the better foreign born field commanders of the war.

Earlier in the year, he’d demonstrated his skill placing artillery during the battle of Pea Ridge. Now again the Prussian placed the guns to good effect. This section of 20-pdr Parrotts were those of Lieutenant Daniel Webster, also from Captain Foster’s First Wisconsin Battery. At around noon, the ironclads moved up with a cannon shot signaling the commencement of a two hour bombardment. Of Webster’s guns, Foster wrote:

On the morning of the 11th the right section moved on to within 1,000 yards of the fort and opened fire about 12 m. upon the right casemated gun of the enemy. This gun after a short time ceased firing, which was evidence that it was silenced; whether done by the gunboats or us is but little matter; it was done. The attention of this section was then called to a heavy 8-inch gun, mounted en barbette, and after firing several times it was also disabled and rendered useless, the muzzle being shot off. This work we claim to have done: First, that no other guns were firing at this time upon it; second, that the indentation and breaking show plainly that the shot proceeded from the same caliber as our 20-pounder shell found in it. The unmistakable evidence of the holes through boards being found where the shell had gone through sidewise just fitting our sized shell, and the distance from whence they came, gave proof conclusive that our efforts to do our enemy great injury were not unavailing, and to us the satisfaction that the enemy to our beloved country bled in a cause as unjust and shameful as is ours right and glorious.


Osterhaus agreed the honor of destroying the right casemate belonged to Webster, adding:

… I consider it my duty to state that I never saw a better officer or better men serving artillery. Cool, deliberate, and intrepid, they sent their deadly shot against the enemy’s stronghold, their commander controlling every round and its effect, the men quietly obeying his orders without the very superflous huzzaing and yelling, which is incompatible with the dignity of the arm of artillery. I heartily congratulate Lieutenant Webster and his men on their great success. The reduction of the lower casemate and the silencing of three or four formidable guns are their exclusive merit.

In addition,Osterhaus credited the 20-pdrs with silencing the Confederate fire which was, in his view, damaging the Federal gunboats.


On the opposite bank, the other section of 20-pdr Parrotts, supported by two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles of the Chicago Mercantile Battery, under Lieutenant Frank Wilson, moved up to a position closer to the fort.

Detail of Map showing artillery and gunboat positions

From there, the gunners enfiladed the fort and other defensive works to good effect. Foster described the effects:

Every shell burst and just at the right point. As a proof more positive of the destruction we had caused, I immediately after the surrender hurried to the ground upon which we had been firing and found 10 mutilated bodies of men who had been killed by exploding shell, and numerous pieces of 20-pounder Parrott shell, some of which I now have in my possession.

I’m reminded here of Colonel E. Porter Alexander’s post-battle examination from Fredericksburg.

However, the Navy was attacking the same fortifications at the same time. Admiral David D. Porter had a slightly different take as to what silenced the Confederate guns:

I ordered up the ironclads, with directions for the Lexington to join in when the former became hotly engaged, and for the frailer vessels to haul up in the smoke and do the best they could. The Rattler, Lieutenant-Commander Smith, and the Glide, Lieutenant-Commander Woodworth, did good execution with their shrapnel, and, when an opportunity occurred, I made them push through by the fort again, also the ram Monarch, Colonel Charles Ellet, and they proceeded rapidly up the river to cut off the enemy’s retreat by the only way he had to get off. By this time all the guns in the fort were completely silenced by the Lousiville… Baron De Kalb … and Cincinnati ….

With that pressure, from the army’s artillery and the navy’s gunboats, along with the infantry which had surged into the works, the Confederates were forced to surrender. Porter noted that Colonel John W. Dunnington, commanding the fort, surrendered to him, while Brigadier General Thomas Churchill surrendered to the army. Discrepancies between the reports of Porter and McClernand caused no small bit of friction between the services.

And in a battle filled with many disputes over facts and contested points of honor, we have to wonder if it was the Army’s Parrotts or the Navy’s Dahlgrens that tore open the northeastern casemate.


Or perhaps a little of both? I think the infantryman and the sailor on the right are working that question out.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 17, Part I, Serial 24, pages 746-749. ORN, Series I, Volume 24, page 108.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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