Book Review: Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley (Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock) : ACW

8/11/2001 • Mag: America's Civil War Reviews

Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley, by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, $24.95.

Because it was sandwiched between the major battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh, historians have relegated the action at Island No. 10 to footnote status. In Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley, Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock have addressed that oversight with the first book-length treatment of a fascinating part of the American Civil War.

Located on a fortuitous bend of the Mississippi River near New Madrid, Mo., Island No. 10 was one of the strongest natural positions available to stop the advance of Union forces in the Western theater. In August 1861, Confederate Brig. Gen. Gideon Pillow sent troops to the area to begin work on a series of redans, batteries and other fortifications. Ultimately, the island and the adjacent Tennessee shore would support more than 40 pieces of heavy artillery, including several 8-inch Columbiads and a massive 128-pounder rifle. The arrival of the floating battery New Orleans brought the total to 52 guns.

In late February 1862, Union Brig. Gen. John Pope began massing his troops at Commerce, Mo., for an overland strike at New Madrid. To counter the threat, Confederate Brig. Gen. A.P. Stewart relied on the forts at New Madrid. With supporting fire from Confederate gunboats, Stewart resisted Pope’s advance for a week and a half. The arrival of siege guns, however, gave Pope the upper hand. Stewart evacuated the town during the night of March 13, and Pope was rewarded with a swift promotion to major general.

Confederate shore batteries prevented Union forces from crossing the river to invest Island No. 10. The stage was now set for the first substantial siege of the war. While Confederate Brig. Gens. John P. McCown and William W. Mackall stubbornly held their ground, Union flag officer Andrew H. Foote used his ironclad gunboats and mortar boats to bombard the Confederate fortifications. Colonel J.W. Bissell’s engineers cut a canal across the flooded lowlands so that Union transports could bypass the island.

After three weeks of stalemate, Captain Henry Walke volunteered to take his ironclad, Carondelet, on a daring nighttime run past the formidable guns of the island. Walke was successful, and the gunboat soon knocked out the downstream Confederate batteries and allowed Pope’s troops to cross in transports. Surrounded, Mackall was forced to surrender on April 8. More than 4,400 prisoners were taken, but it was the large loss of heavy guns that would prove most damaging to the Confederacy.

Daniel and Bock provide a thoughtful analysis of the brilliant maneuvers and fatal mistakes of the campaign. The narrative is enhanced with maps, illustrations, notes and a comprehensive bibliography. Island No. 10 will become the standard reference for this forgotten facet of the war.

Mark Chance