City-Class Gunboats: Mayhem on the Mississippi

The highly maneuverable, albeit sluggish, gunboat was a precursor to modern fast-attack craft. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)
The highly maneuverable, albeit sluggish, gunboat was a precursor to modern fast-attack craft. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

On Aug. 7, 1861, soon after the Union defeat at Manassas, Va., made it clear the Civil War would not end quickly, Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs awarded engineer James B. Eads a contract to build seven armored gunboats for the Army’s Western Gunboat Flotilla. The City-class gunboats—designed by Eads, Commander John Rodgers and naval constructor John Lenthall and modified by Eads and naval architect Samuel M. Pook—were all commissioned by February 1862. “Pook’s Turtles,” as they were known, soon established themselves as the most powerful warships in the Western theater of operations.

The City-class gunboats differed only in detail. Mound City, whose specifications are listed in the illustration here, saw action along the Mississippi at Island No. 10, Fort Pillow/Plum Point Bend, Steeles Bayou, Grand Gulf and Vicksburg, as well as on the White and Red River campaigns. On May 10, 1862, off Fort Pillow, Confederate rams twice struck the Union gunship, which withdrew to shallow water and sank; Union shipwrights quickly returned it to service. During the bombardment of St. Charles, Ark., on June 17, 1862, a Rebel shore battery penetrated Mound City’s armor and steam drum, killing 125 of its crew and scalding another 25. Repaired once again, the gunboat served through war’s end and was decommissioned within weeks of the surrender at Appomattox.

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