|SMN George Abrams|
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|USS Mound City was a City class ironclad gunboat built for service on the Mississippi River and its tributaries in the American Civil War. Originally commissioned as part of the Union Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla, she remained in that service until October 1862. Then the flotilla was transferred to the Navy and she became part of the Mississippi River Squadron, where she remained until the end of the war.|
While with the Western Gunboat Flotilla, Mound City took part in combat at Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, and in an expedition on the White River in Arkansas. At Fort Pillow, she was rammed by Confederate vessels of the River Defense Fleet and averted sinking only by retreating into shoals. On the White River, a chance Confederate shot penetrated the steam drum of her engines, resulting in the scalding of most of her crew, although the ship suffered only minor damage.
After being transferred to the Navy's Mississippi River Squadron, she served in the Vicksburg campaign. Among her activities there were participation in the Steele's Bayou Expedition and the later bombardment of the batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. Following the capture of Vicksburg and consequent opening of the Mississippi, she took part in the ill-fated Red River Expedition, from which she and the other ships were rescued only with difficulty.
With the end of hostilities, she was decommissioned and sold to private parties.
White River expedition
About this time, the (Federal) Army of the Southwest under Major General Samuel R. Curtis had been operating in the interior of Arkansas. Curtis believed that Confederate forces of the Trans-Mississippi Department were gathering to attack him. Fearing that he would be cut off, he requested that communications be established between his army and that on the Mississippi River. Either the Arkansas River or the White River would have served his purposes, but the Arkansas was too low for water transport, so an expedition was sent up the White River with intent to give Curtis the aid he had asked for. A single regiment, the 46th Indiana Volunteers, embarked in army transports; they were accompanied by two armored gunboats, Mound City and St. Louis, two unarmored gunboats, and an armed tug. On 13 June, the expedition entered the White River and proceeded uneventfully upstream for four more days.
With intent only to slow down the progress of the Union vessels and not to make a determined stand, the Confederates had set up a pair of batteries on the bluffs near St. Charles, Arkansas, some 80 miles (130 km) above the river mouth. The guns were taken from a gunboat which they had then scuttled in the middle of the stream as a further impediment. On 18 June, the Federal flotilla arrived at that point; the soldiers went ashore to attack the batteries from the land side, while the two armored gunboats came up the river, Mound City leading. Shots were exchanged between the gunboats and the shore batteries, with nothing exceptional until a chance shot from the upper battery happened to penetrate the casemate of the lead gunboat. The shot killed some men in its passage, but most of the damage it caused occurred when it hit the vessel's steam drum. Hot steam immediately filled the entire boat, killing and scalding most of the crew. Those who could do so jumped overboard into the river, where Rebel sharpshooters shot them as they tried to swim to safety. By the time the carnage was over, 125 men were dead by the first shot, scalding, drowning, or being shot in the water. An additional 25 were injured by the steam. Among the wounded was Commander Kilty, who survived and later returned to service in the Navy, although he lost his left arm. Only 25 men of the entire crew escaped without major injury. Meanwhile, the soldiers had moved into position to assault the batteries, so the Confederates fled, leaving their wounded and their guns behind.
Despite the almost complete loss of her crew, Mound City had suffered only inconsequential damage that could soon be repaired. First Master John A. Duble of the gunboat Conestoga took temporary command in place of Commander Kilty. Replacements for the crew were taken from other vessels in the expedition, and they went on for another 65 miles (105 km). They then turned back without meeting the Army of the Southwest. Soon enough Curtis was able to move his army to Helena, Arkansas, where he was able to reestablish his communications without the support of the Gunboat Flotilla
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