USS Petrel capture, Mississippi
Battle reports concerning the capture of the Federal tinclad, USS Petrel, near Yazoo City, Mississippi, April 22, 1864:
From the O.R., Series I, Volume 44, Part 1, pages 675-676.
Brig. Gen. Wirt Adams, commanding cavalry on the Yazoo River, telegraphs me from Yazoo City on 22d instant to this effect:
I have the honor to report the capture of a gun-boat to-day near this city. While lying near the shore she was attacked by a section of artillery and a detachment of sharpshooters under Colonel Griffith, who drove the men from the guns, and finally the crew from the boat. I removed her fine armament of eight 24-pounder guns and the most valuable stores, and had her burned to the water’s edge. The captain and pilot are prisoners in my hands, and a number of the crew. My casualties are small.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond.
Brigadier-General ADAMS, Yazoo City, via Canton:
Your dispatch giving account of Colonel Griffith’s gallant achievement in the capture of gun-boat received. Will you be able to remove and secure the guns? Report the present situation of affairs. General Chalmers, with a brigade from Panola and one from Okolona, with a battery from Aberdeen, has been ordered to join you. Hope you will be enabled to cut off enemy’s retreat to Vicksburg. Keep in communication with Chalmers. Keep me advised every six hours.
From the O.R., , Series I, Volume 32, Part 3, pages 825-826.
GENERAL: You will have received before this reaches you the order of the War Department, “restoring you to the command of all the cavalry” of this department, from which it would appear that the wish you were understood by me to have expressed to be relieved of so much as was placed under command of General Forrest has not met with the approbation of the War Department.
I have ordered General Pillow to report to you for duty in the cavalry service. He has had assigned to him certain regiments, to constitute a brigade, and will report in a few days. I concur with you in thinking that he merits a division, and shall be pleased to see him placed in command of one. Should there not be troops enough in the brigade he is forming, Roddey, I hear, has four regiments and four battalions. I note what you say of sending Ferguson’s brigade in pursuit of stragglers and deserters. I have ordered Major-General French to send an infantry command through all the counties of North Alabama to co-operate with General Ferguson, and I now desire you to give orders to General Roddey to deploy enough of his command along the line of the Tennessee River, as near as he may think proper, to intercept such tories and deserters as may attempt to escape into the enemy’s lines that way. The movement of Ferguson and the infantry will drive much of them on to Roddey’s troops as are not caught. I desire these movements should be made with vigor, and that they should cover the infected districts thoroughly.
The best results are following upon like operations in the southern counties of Mississippi, and under other commands at work under Forrest, &c., in the north, west, and east of that State. Over 1,000 men have been moved out.
Since writing the above your dispatch, asked that dismounted men should be assigned to the infantry, has been received. You will receive orders to that effect. I hope this assignment will be temporary, and these men may be informed that they shall be remounted so soon as horses can be had for them -- that is, such as are good soldiers. I note, also, what is said in Jones’ report as to the movements of the enemy.
Respectfully, general, your obedient servant,
P.S. -- You have no doubt heard of the success of Colonel Griffith in the brilliant affair of the gun-boat on the Yazoo. He captured it with a fine armament of eight 24-pounders, dismantled it, saving the guns, then burnt it. The Yankee movement of about 3,000 men then retreated and returned to Vicksburg.
P.S. -- Your quartermaster, under the authority from Paxton, should act promptly in pressing horses for your artillery, as orders are out to make impressments for General Johnston’s army.
from the O.R.N., Series I, Volume 26, pages 252-255.
Rear-Admiral DAVID D. PORTER, U.S. Navy,
SIR: I have the honor to report the following facts in regard to the loss of the U.S.S. Petrel.
In obedience to orders from General McArthur we proceeded up Yazoo River, arriving at Liverpool Bluffs April 21, 1864. At 12:20 p.m. by request of Colonel Scofield, we proceeded on up the river in company with the U.S.S. Prairie Bird and transport Freestone. At 3 p.m. we arrived at the navy yard below Yazoo City. Seeing no enemy in sight, we proceeded on up, leaving the Prairie Bird and Freestone at the Navy yard. When abreast the city we fired several shots at the enemy, just then coming in sight on the hills. We steamed on up, and while rounding the point the enemy opened a brisk fire of cannon and musketry. The river being narrow, we could not round to. Moved on up out of range and came to. We immediately made preparations to run by the batteries. Captain McElroy afterwards countermanded the order, remarking that he would wait until the following night.
On the 22d, at 1:30 p.m., we changed our position, moving up the river about 1 1/2 miles, and commenced wooding. At 3, precisely, the enemy in ambush opened a heavy fire of cannon and musketry on our starboard quarter, the shot from their guns going clean through the vessel. Not being able to bring our guns to bear, armed the crew as sharpshooters and returned the fire, getting the vessel underway immediately. While shifting the engines two shots entered the vessel, one striking the cylinder, the other cutting the steam pipe, thereby disabling us; the rebels then moved up. We then opened our great guns on them. After firing a few rounds we were unable to work the guns, as the men were shot as soon as going near the ports. The vessels being disabled, and unable to work our guns, the captain gave the order to set the vessel on fire -- which was done in three places -- arm ourselves, and jump ashore. At this juncture a shot entered the boilers, the steam rushing over the decks. All who were able jumped ashore and made their escape to the Prairie Bird, pursued by the rebels, who had by this time crossed the river; nearly all, however, reached the boat in safety by taking to the swamps.
I would further state that during the engagement the officers and men acted most gallantly, with the exception of a few contrabands who were lately shipped.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral DAVID D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.
The Essex having arrived here last night at midnight, this report was handed to me for transmission. Mr. Flanigan’s report of the names and condition of the officers and crew of the Petrel accompanies this statement.
I understand that when taken the Petrel had on board an extraordinary quantity of ammunition; about 125 rounds to each of her eight 24-pounder howitzers.
The following are the names of those who made their escape to the Prairie Bird:
Officers. - Acting Assistant Paymaster Henry T. Skelding, Acting Ensign M.E. Flanigan, executive officer, slight wound in the head; Acting Ensign S. Ross Holmes, Acting Master’s Mate J.W. Foster, slight wound in hand; Acting Master’s Mate J. Gurley Abbott, Acting Master’s Mate L.C. Ball, Acting First Assistant Engineer A.M. Phillips, Acting First Assistant Engineer Edward Roberts, Acting Second Assistant Engineer John T. Stone, Acting Third Assistant Engineer William M. Mix, slight wound in leg; Surgeon’s Steward in Charge E.W. Davids, First-Class Pilot John L. Armstrong, Paymaster’s Steward S.S. Smith.
[44 names of petty officers and crew follow.]
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Missing. - Acting Master Commanding Thomas McElroy, First-Class Pilot K. Ware, supposed to have been taken prisoners; Charles Seitz, gunner’s mate, mortally wounded; Gustav A. Frey, quarter gunner, killed; John Nibbe, quartermaster, serious wound in hand.
[Names of 9 colored men follow.]
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral DAVID D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.
List of Petrel’s men on board Prairie Bird, May 1, 1864.
White men. - John Wilson, ship’s cook; John Kingdom, quartermaster; John Yorgan, carpenter’s mate; Peter Olsten, seaman.
Colored men. - W. Thomas Waites, fireman; Morgan Cooper, fireman; Ephraim Johnson, Harry West, Randall Morehead, Jerry Brown.
White men. - Bartlett Laffy, boatswain’s mate; John G. Rose, quartermaster; Albert Lilly, seaman.
Colored men. - Ben Blackford, Ludd Gibson, Nick Jones, firemen; George Holt, coal heaver; William Baker, Joseph Whitton, James Monroe, firemen.
White. - James M. Saxton, boy.
Colored men. - Jerry Carter, landsman; Samuel Preston, landsman; Adkin Whellis, coal heaver; August Williams, coal heaver.
White. - William Willson, quarter gunner.
Colored men. - Albert Ferguson, Robert Jackson, Columbus Richardson, Wesley West, George Kidlers, Milton Porter, William Melvine, Henderson Jenkins, Ephraim Colton, James Freely, Lew Jones, Jacob Campbell, Malachi Bowman, Henry Hunt, Buckman Watson.
Gone to hospital. - James Gilmore, Issac Wilson.
SIR: It becomes my unpleasant duty to report the loss of the gunboat Petrel, she being captured by the enemy on the 22d instant. On the 19th I landed at Snyder’s Bluff and there found a dispatch for the gunboat Petrel. She being up the Sunflower River, I proceeded up and delivered the said dispatch on the night of the 20th. The said dispatch was from General McArthur, commanding at Vicksburg. It was a request that Captain McElroy would take the two vessels up the Yazoo to cooperate with the land forces which General McArthur was sending to occupy Yazoo City. On the morning of the 21st, Captain McElroy got underway and proceeded down the Sunflower, we accompanying, and then up the Yazoo to Liverpool Bluffs. Came to and found troops occupying the bluffs under the command of Colonel [Hiram] Scofield. He reported that his cavalry had been skirmishing with the enemy that day. He requested Captain McElroy to take both boats and proceed to Yazoo City to reconnoiter, which Captain McElroy proceeded to do. On arriving at the navy yard below Yazoo City, both boats were landed there while he proceeded up to the city. As he got abreast of the city the enemy opened a battery on him which compelled him to run his vessel up the river out of range.
In the meantime the enemy had been firing upon this vessel with small arms, but as soon as the Petrel got out of range they opened on this vessel with two 10-pounder Parrott, striking us three times. Two shots struck the hurricane roof, passing out through the cabin, doing little damage. The other shot came through the casemate and struck the starboard cylinder, causing it to leak, also wounding second engineer and first fireman slightly. We then dropped down the river, waiting for communications from Captain McElroy, which communications I have the honor to enclose, bearing date of the 21st, also a copy of letter received the next day, and copy of letter received from Colonel Scofield to Captain McElroy, which I received via marine boat B.J. Adams. At this time firing was heard at a distance and shortly afterwards the crew of gunboat Petrel came running to my vessel, stating that the Petrel was captured by the enemy. The B.J. Adams remained there with me until dark. A scouting party was sent from the Adams, but found none of the crew. Thirteen officers and 40 of the crew reached this vessel, which leaves a balance of 2 officers and 11 of the men missing.
From information obtained from contrabands, I believe the Petrel’s armament was all captured by the enemy, the escaping steam from the boilers and steam pipes having put out the fire set to her by the crew.
We expended, while engaged with the enemy, 26 shell and 7 shrapnel.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral D.D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.
SIR: You will hold yourself and vessel in readiness to come to my assistance when you see me moving down the river by night or day. I have sent a dispatch to Colonel Scofield, which will reach him by 6 o’clock p.m. to-night.
I will have an answer by 9 o’clock, so look out for night signals from me.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Acting Ensign J.W. CHAMBERS,
Commanding Prairie Bird.
SIR: You will hold yourself and boat in readiness to come to my support to-night after dusk, before the moon rises. You will not come above the wreck of the Baron De Kalb. If I should not come before the moon sets in the morning you will still hold yourself in readiness to come to my support at a moment’s notice. I will not make any signals if I can help it, as that will give the rebels the opportunity to concentrate on me. Do all you can for me, as I see that the army has deserted us.
I am, very respectfully,
Acting Ensign JOHN W. CHAMBERS,
Commanding Prairie Bird.
From the O.R.N., Series I, Volume 26, pages 257-259:
Report of Lieutenant-Commander Greer, U.S. Navy, regarding the loss of the U.S.S. Petrel.
SIR: In accordance with your instructions, I have endeavored to ascertain the facts of the Petrel affair. It appears that Captain McElroy, of that vessel, had gone into the Yazoo with the intention of proceeding up the Sunflower to seize some cotton. Captain Chambers, of the Prairie Bird, states that Captain McElroy had received a dispatch from the admiral in regard to the cotton mentioned, but was cautioned to run no risks, and especially not to go into a shoal river. Captain Chambers, having finished some business which took him to Vicksburg, then went up to Snyder’s Bluff. At that point he found a communication from General McArthur to Captain McElroy, requesting him to take the Petrel and Prairie Bird up the Yazoo to cooperate with a land force he was sending to occupy Yazoo City.
He immediately went up the Sunflower, and after finding the Petrel, they both proceeded to Liverpool Bluffs [Heights], at which point they met Colonel Scofield with the troops. He had had some skirmishing, and asked Captain McElroy to go up to Yazoo City and reconnoiter. They took a steamboat, the Freestone, as a dispatch boat. On they went up and landed at the navy yard.
At 3 p.m. on the 21st April Captain McElroy ordered the Prairie Bird to remain where she was, and went on up with his vessels. As he passed the town the enemy opened fire upon him with two guns (supposed to be 10-pounder Parrotts). He then went up out of range. Shortly after this they fired upon the Prairie Bird, causing her to change her berth.
At 5:30 p.m. Captain Chambers received an order from Captain McElroy to be in readiness to assist him when he came down; also a dispatch to send by the Freestone to Colonel Scofield. That vessel started down with the dispatch, but did not return.
The next day (22d), about 1:30 p.m., Captain Chambers received a dispatch from Captain McElroy of the same nature as the one of the day before, and expressed an opinion that the army had deserted them. At 3:30 p.m. the Marine Brigade boat B.J. Adams arrived with a dispatch for Captain McElroy from Colonel Scofield. While getting a horse to send this dispatch over, the crew of the Petrel commenced coming in (they came across a point). All arrived excepting the captain, 1 pilot, and 11 men.
The officers of the Petrel report that at about 3 p.m. the rebels came in in heavy force abreast of them, with one piece of artillery. At the first or second shot the steam pipe was cut and the after end of the boiler. They were then ordered to arm themselves, set the vessel on fire, and get on shore. They say the vessel was fired; if so, it was so very poorly done that it did not burn. The captain of the Prairie Bird saw a large fire in her direction that night and thinks she was burned.
This agrees with information obtained by General McArthur, which was that after removing the guns and most of the provisions she was burned by the rebels. The guns (eight 24-pounder howitzers) are said to have been taken to Canton, Miss. Possibly they did it, thinking that we would immediately attempt to retake them; and again they may be going to fit them to field carriages.
On the 23d the Prairie Bird came down to Vicksburg for repairs, having had her cylinder cracked.
In looking at this matter with all the facts before me, I conclude that Captain McElroy was anxious to be of service, but was too easily moved by the requests of a general, and again I can see no object in his running past Yazoo City after he had found the enemy in force. A prime cause of the disaster was not having a proper person in command of the troops. Cooperation, when it exists, should be to the bitter end, but in this case, and also in some others, the affair is reduced to a sauve qui peut operation on the part of the Army, and the gunboats are left to their fate.
I can not ascertain that there was any cotton behind the scenes in this case, but in spite of it I can not help having suspicions. The movement was made, according to General McArthur’s statement, to occupy the rebel cavalry in this State and to keep them from joining Forrest in Tennessee, against whom an expedition is organizing at Memphis. General Slocum has arrived and taken command. He is going to send out a pretty large force under command of McArthur to carry out the intent of the former expedition and expressed a desire to me to have two boats go up to Yazoo City to protect two or three transports with troops as a feint, while the main force take them by land. I informed him that owing to the necessity of withdrawing so many of our light-drafts for service in Red River we had nothing to spare for this affair; also that you had assumed command of the fifth district.
As a large portion of the garrison here will be away, I purpose remaining here for a few days, unless I find my services required at some other point. General Slocum, I think, will do all he can to purge this place of villainy, but I am afraid will not succeed.
I heard to-day that the two officers captured on the Petrel had been sent to Richmond. I have ordered the captain of the Prairie Bird to remain at the mouth of the Yazoo and to allow no boats to go up unless engaged exclusively by the Army, and then they are only to land at military posts or under the protection of a gunboat.
I understand that we have abandoned the whole line of the Yazoo.
I have directed Captain Chambers to make all reports in future to you. He has one of the officers of the late Petrel (Acting Ensign Shepley R. Holmes) on board under arrest. I had charges made out against him to-day for drunkenness, disobedience of orders, and scandalous conduct and will forward them to the admiral. The wrecking party is still here. I suggested to them to write to you and also for one of the party to go down and see the admiral, which they say they will do.
The Prairie Bird is said to be badly in need of repairs.
With a hope, captain, that you will bear with this lengthy letter, I am,
CAIRO, May 6, 1864.
The Petrel was captured on the 22d ultimo above or near Yazoo City. One acting master, McElroy, and Pilot Kimble [Ware] were said to be prisoners in Yazoo City. All the other officers have returned here.
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
[Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.]
From the O.R.N., Series I, Volume 26, Part 1, pages 248-249:
WOODBRIDGE, N.J., October 24, 1864.
SIR: It is my painful duty to report to you the loss of the gunboat Petrel, under my command, at Yazoo City, April 22, 1864. The troops not coming up that morning, I began to feel anxious for my command. I kept up communication with the Prairie Bird by land all afternoon. At 11 a.m. made out the enemy falling back on the city and passing out of sight, and I could not tell where they had gone, not hearing or seeing anything of our land forces. I called most of the officers together to obtain their opinions in regard to the intentions of the enemy. I told them that we would keep moving up and down, so as to mislead the enemy. At 1 p.m. moved up 2 1/2 miles and sent one watch on shore to get rails to protect my boilers and run so as not to make any smoke, the other watch remaining at the guns. I ordered the executive officer, Acting Ensign M.E. Flanigan, to keep the pilot in the pilot house and engineers on duty at the engine; also that he was to attend to getting the rails on board, so that the officers of the deck could look out, with the quartermaster and the sentries, for the enemy on the opposite side of the river. At 2:20 p.m. left the deck and went to dinner, with orders to executive officer to get underway as soon as the rails were got on board. I had just got up from the table and went on deck when the enemy opened fire upon us with two rifle 12-pounders (Parrott) at 400 yards distance astern, and out of our sight for the undergrowth. I opened fire with my starboard battery, but they could not be trained far enough astern to reach their guns. At the same time I started the vessel ahead so as to get out of range and turn around, so that my guns would bear on the enemy’s guns, but the pilot did not get the wheel shifted soon enough, so that she made about 200 yards and stopped. While trying to back her off a shot passed through the stern, cutting off the steam pipe and disabling the engine. About this time a shot passed through the magazine, cutting off the legs of Charles Seitz, gunner’s mate. This silenced my guns for a few minutes, because I had nobody fit to take his place, as one of the quarter gunners was already dead. I ordered Acting Master’s Mate Lysander C. Ball (in charge of powder division) to take his place in the magazine, which he did. Our fire at this time was very slow, as the sharpshooters were firing at the loaders, the aftergun being dismounted, and none of them could be brought to bear on the enemy’s guns. The officers of divisions, Acting Ensign Shepley R. Holmes, in charge of the first division, failed to encourage his men; also Acting Master’s Mate Jesse W. Foster, in charge of second division, and the executive officer, Acting Ensign Michael E. Flanigan, behaved very badly, and the men began to fall back from the guns. I told the acting first assistant engineer, Arthur M. Phillips, to be ready with his division to fire the vessel when we could not fight her any longer. I ordered the most of the men to be armed with rifles. At this time a shot came through the stern, raking the gun deck and entering the boilers and exploding them. Then the officers jumped on the bank, followed by the crew, and made a disgraceful run for the Prairie Bird, leaving with me the pilot Kimble Ware, in the pilot house, and Quartermaster J.H. Nibbe, who stood his ground when all the other officers had deserted their flag. As soon as the steam began to cool a little, with the assistance of Quartermaster Nibbe, I got the wounded off the guard on the bank and got ready to fire the vessel, with the dead still on board. I placed some coals from the furnace among the rails, but could not [stand] it long for the heat of the steam.
At this time the enemy, seeing the officers and men running across the fields, began to cross the river above and below me. Surrounded on all sides, I was then forced to surrender, when they put out the burning rails and took me off at once before I could find out the number of killed and wounded, but I think that 10 would cover the number, but you received a true report from the officers, I hope, soon after the action. To the disgraceful action of some of my officers and Colonel Scofield not coming to my assistance, as he had promised, do I owe the loss of my vessel. The flag was flying when they boarded the vessel. I hope that you think I did the best I could under the circumstances.
I can not speak in too high terms of the conduct of Mr. Kimble Ware, Pilot, and John Nibbe, quartermaster. It will be remembered that I had but 10 white men and boys on board; the rest were contrabands, and part of those were sick.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Acting Rear-Admiral LEE,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron, Cairo, Ill.
Notes on the capture of the Federal tinclad, USS Petrel, near Yazoo City, Mississippi, April 22, 1864 taken from Edwin C. Bearss’ article “Wirt Adams Repels Yankee Task Force at Yazoo City” in Morningside Notes (1982); also at http://www.morningsidebooks.com/notes/yazoo.htm:
The capture of the Federal tinclad USS Petrel by members of the 11th and 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry commanded by Colonel John Griffith on April 22, 1864 may possibly have resulted from the greed of Yankee cotton speculators. Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut apparently suggested the Yazoo Expedition to Brigadier John McArthur, the commander of the Federal garrison at Vicksburg on April 13, 1864. General McArthur then placed Colonel Hiram Scofield in charge of the force, consisting of 3 infantry regiments, 1 cavalry regiment, and 1 section of artillery. General McArthur attempted to contact Acting Master Thomas McElroy, in charge of all naval forces operating on the Yazoo River and inquired re a cooperative effort between his land forces and naval support. He was only able to contact Acting Master John W. Chambers, commander of the USS Prairie Bird, before his column left Vicksburg under Colonel Scofield.
Confederate Brigadier General Wirt Adams had learned from his spies in Vicksburg that the Federals were planning an incursion into the Yazoo City area. In addition, he had knowledge that Federal authorities in Vicksburg apparently “winked at” the business of cotton speculators and were likely active participants in their activities. Accordingly, General Adams informed the contractors that if they were to “secure the prompt delivery and removal of their cotton” from Confederate territory, “there must be no expedition by gun-boats up the Yazoo and no raids against” the Mississippi Central Railroad. His proposition/tactic was ignored by General McArthur, however, and the Federal soldiers first clashed with Wirt Adams’ men near Mechanicsburg, between Yazoo City and Vicksburg. On the 20th, Wirt Adams’ brigade, including men of the 11th and 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry (Mounted) commanded by Colonel John Griffith, battled the Federals along Thompson’s Creek, near Liverpool Heights.
As documented above in the O.R. and O.R.N. reports, Colonel Hiram Scofield asked Captain McElroy, commanding the USS Petrel, to reconnoiter the defenses of Yazoo City during their meeting on April 21. The Petrel was joined by the Firestone and Prairie Bird this day. For some unknown reason, McElroy left the Firestone and Prairie Bird behind at the Yazoo City naval yard south of town and continued up stream alone in the Petrel. At about 4:00 p.m. the Petrel was fired upon by the four guns of Captain James Owens’ Arkansas Battery from bluffs overlooking Yazoo City; Petrel gunners returned the fire with their starboard guns. At this time, Captain McElroy was informed by his pilot that it would be impossible to safely back down the narrow channel of the Yazoo River while under enemy cannon fire; he then ordered the Petrel to churn forward at flank speed and shortly passed out of Rebel cannons. Amazingly, not a single shot from the Confederate gunners found its mark at this time.
The Arkansas gunners then concentrated on the Prairie Bird, still near the naval yard at Yazoo City; their 10-pounder Parrott guns made 3 hits on the tinclad at this time as documented in the reports above. The Prairie Bird then withdrew several miles below Yazoo City while the Petrel was above and isolated from any support from below; McElroy then urgently requested help from Colonel Scofield’s column now camped near Liverpool Heights during the night of April 21. Since Colonel Scofield feared attack from Wirt Adams’ main force, no support was forthcoming -- Captain McElroy and the USS Petrel were on their own.
At 1:00 p.m. the next day, Captain McElroy had moved the Petrel to the west bank of the Yazoo River, near where the mouth of Tokeba Bayou empties into it. Unbeknown to him, Colonel John Griffith of the 11th and 17th Arkansas Infantry had obtained permission from General Wirt Adams to attack and capture the Petrel approximately 1 hour earlier. Colonel Griffith accordingly organized a combat team which included 2 10-pounder, rifled Parrott guns manned by members of Captain Owens’ Arkansas Battery, and a number of sharpshooters from his own regiment, the 11th and 17th Arkansas Infantry. In addition, several men from Companies A and K of Wood’s Mississippi Regiment who had been raised in Yazoo County, also joined the raiding party. Colonel Griffith’s combat team approached the now moored Petrel via the Andrews’ Ferry road. In order to be undetected, the cannons of Owens’ Battery were unhitched from their teams and manhandled up to a point approximately 400 yards below the unsuspecting tinclad. Colonel Griffith, once satisfied things were in order, gave the signal and the gun captains pulled the lanyards of their 2 Parrott guns.
At this time, about 2:00 p.m., Acting Master McElroy had just finished his lunch and stepped out on deck as the first two projectiles screamed in on his motionless tinclad. Scrambling to their stations, the Federal sailors attempted to return fire with their starboard battery, but unfortunately could not bring their guns to bear upon the craftily placed Confederates. Captain McElroy rang for full-speed ahead, but the pilot was unable to steer free of the bank and the Petrel grounded after chugging about 200 yards. Colonel Griffith’s men kept up a continous barrage of both Parrott shells and small-arms fire throughout all of these evasive maneuvers and subsequent attempts to back off the muddy bank. At this time, one Rebel shell crashed through the stern and severed a steam pipe, disabling the engine. Immediately after this, another projectile ripped into the magazine of the Petrel and tore off the legs of Gunner’s Mate Charles Seitz; this event silenced the Petrel’s guns until McElroy found a replacement for the mortally wounded sailor.
The crippled Petrel was now being pelted nonstop by the increasingly bold Confederates; a hail of nonstop Parrott shells and bullets rained in on the hapless Yankee crewmen. Some of the stricken boat’s officers and crew jumped ship and fled for their lives as McElroy ordered small-arms be given to crewmembers still on board and had his men prepare to fire the ship when she could no longer fight. A Parrott shell now screamed towards the Petrel’s stern, across the gundeck, and exploded the boilers; the scalding steam now persuaded most of the crew and officers to abandon ship. At this point, only McElroy, the pilot, Kimble Ware, and Quartermaster John Nibbe remainded on board with the dead and wounded. Nibbe assisted in removing the wounded to shore and was helping McElroy prepare to fire the Petrel when members of Colonel Griffith’s combat team swam across the river and put out the fires.
After surveying the victory of his combat team, Colonel John Griffith contacted General Adams and in a short while, fatigue parties were quickly removing the Petrel’s 8 24-pounder howitzer cannons plus all the ammunition, food, and stores they could carry. That night, a large fire could be seen burning through the woods by sailors aboard the Prairie Bird -- the victorious Confederates had torched the Petrel after removing everything of value to them.
This particular action was probably the most famous of the combat actions involving Colonel John Griffith and the men of the 11th and 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry (Mounted); at the time, it was noticed by high-ranking military men and government officials on both sides. Accounts of it were also given by old Confederate soldiers in the Confederate Veteran periodical after the war. The 8 24-pounder howitzers captured and removed from the Federal tinclad USS Petrel by Colonel Griffith and his men went first to Canton, Mississippi and then to Mobile, Alabama for the defense of that city; the cannons may possibly be there today, in a museum somewhere. On the Federal side, Quartermaster John H. Nibbe of the USS Petrel, a native-born German, was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on that day, April 22, 1864.
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