Engagement at Deloges Bluff 
©2006 C. L. Veit
of the Red River Valley with inset of the battle area
|Sketch of the battle||D.D.
“Give those fellows in the bushes a two-second
shell!” The crew of the boat howitzer mounted on the upper deck fired the
round, which burst among the guerillas. “Give them another dose!” Before the
sailors could respond, a volley of nineteen shells ripped into their small ship,
causing it to stagger under the force of the explosions. Within four minutes,
half the crew was dead or wounded, their ship helpless and spinning in the
current. In their wake, the masked battery savaged the remainder of the convoy
as the flagship drifted away.
The promising March-May 1864 Red River Campaign turned
sour for the Union Army on 8 April at the Battle of Sabine Crossroads. The
Federal rout convinced General Nathaniel Banks that it was impossible for him to
capture Shreveport and that it would be best to beat a hasty retreat. His sudden
withdrawal left Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet isolated far behind enemy
lines. The squadron’s 200-mile descent to Alexandria—plagued by falling
water and punctuated by enemy attacks—is a unique page in naval history.
Sandwiched in between two well-known episodes in the journey—the loss of the Eastport
and the passage of the falls above Alexandria—is the lesser-known ambush at
Deloges Bluff. This brief but murderous engagement nearly cost Admiral Porter
his life—and did claim the lives of over 200 sailors and civilians aboard his
The powerful 20-ship squadron that had assembled at the
mouth of the Red River in March—“the most formidable force ever collected in
western waters"—had by the last week of April been winnowed down to two
ironclads and four lightly-armored gunboats.
This remnant lay some 30 miles below Grand Ecore, struggling to yet again free
the USS Eastport. The hole blown in
her bow by a torpedo on 15 April had proven impossible to repair, and only
constant pumping and towing (sometimes dragging) had allowed the Union sailors
to bring her the last twenty miles. The sole bright spot in the past ten days
was the relative absence of the Confederates, who were paying attention to
Banks’ army as it retreated to Alexandria. On 26th April the
“butternuts” returned, and “were after us like a pack of wolves.”
That morning, the captain of the Eastport, Seth Phelps, finally agreed to destroy his vessel. The
latest struggle resulted in getting the ironclad off one pile of submerged logs
only to jam her firmly atop another—with word that an impassible bed of trees
lay only 200 yards downstream. It was time to save at least the shallow-draft
gunboats; even this would be a challenge as the water level in the river
continued to fall. Already stripped of her guns and stores, the Eastport
was packed with forty barrels of powder and combustibles. At 10:30, as the last
of her officers boarded the Fort Hindman,
a force of 1200 Confederates opened fire on the ships and attempted to rush the Cricket,
which was tied up along the bank. Although over half her crew was ashore
gathering fence rails to feed the boiler fires, the watch on board was ready and
opened up with grape and shrapnel. One sailor braved the musket fire and ran on
deck with an axe to cut the hawser that tied the gunboat to the shore. Once
free, the Cricket drifted away from
bank. Together with the guns of the Juliet
and Fort Hindman,
she drove the rebels back after a one-hour fight.
After three attempts to detonate the Eastport with a galvanic battery, Phelps ordered cotton powder
trains laid. At 2:10p.m., he applied the match, dove into a waiting cutter, and
barely escaped the destruction of the ironclad. The succession of blasts bent
the trees along the banks and sent a clear signal to any Confederate forces in
the area. That the enemy was gathering to make further attacks on the warships
was verified by a rebel captured in the morning’s fight, who claimed that the
recent assault was made by only the vanguard of 6000 artillery and infantry that
would give the ships a “warm reception” further down. At 3:20, Admiral
Porter returned from discussion with Phelps aboard the Hindman, and ordered Cricket—his
flagship—to head downstream.
All three of the “warships” under Porter were, in
reality, civilian river steamers designed for hauling cargo—not combat.
Purchased by the Navy and thinly “armored” with 1/8 inch of iron plate over
their wooden sides, they were called “tinclads” by the sailors—an
indication of the value the crews assigned to the metal plating. Although
reasonably proof against musket fire, tinclads did not fare as well when faced
with cannon. They were, as Porter described them, “mere thread paper
vessels.” The Cricket and Juliet
each carried a battery of six 24-pound howitzers, while the Hindman
had six 8” smoothbores. All were around 150 feet long and varied in the beam
between 28 and 30 feet (Juliet and Cricket)
to 37 feet (Hindman). Crew strength of
the Cricket was 50 men; the similar
crew of the Juliet was augmented by
the men of the Eastport, and that of
the Hindman by her officers. The
27-man Marine unit under Lt Frank Church that accompanied Porter was also
detailed to the more spacious Hindman
for this leg of the journey.
In addition to the naval personnel, the fleet had with
them several hundred Negroes picked up at Grand Ecore, eager to take passage to
“the land of freedom.” Originally aboard the Eastport,
Porter had ordered them transferred to the two pump boats (New Champion and Champion No.
5) under the assumption that, in the event of an attack, enemy fire would be
concentrated on the gunboats. He placed the New Champion behind Cricket,
Champion No. 5 lashed alongside Juliet
next, and the Fort Hindman–with
Phelps in command–bringing up the rear. Confederate scouts saw the ships pull
away from the wreck of the Eastport,
and orders were passed to Colonel Caudle of Polignac's division to set up an ambush
near the confluence with the Cane River at Deloges Bluff.
The convoy steamed slowly down the Red River at six knots
for twenty miles, with Admiral Porter coolly perched in a chair on Cricket’s
upper deck reading a book—and keeping one eye on the shoreline. Just
after passing the mouth of the Cane River at 6:15p.m. he spotted figures moving
in the brush on the right bank, and ordered a round of shrapnel fired at them.
The shot flushed the group of men and alerted Porter to the presence of a large
force of Confederates. The Admiral ordered a second round as the gunboat drifted
to within twenty yards of the steep bank, but before the sailors on the foredeck
could respond, the woods erupted with cannon and musket fire. Nineteen shells
struck the ship within moments, “shattering the Cricket in all her parts.”
Porter dashed for the pilothouse and opened the door just
as a shell struck, stunning him and wounding Mr. Drening, the pilot, in the
head. As blood streamed down Drening’s cheeks, he told Porter, “I am all
right, sir, I won’t give up the wheel.” Another round exploded on the upper
deck, killing the gun crew and leaving their bodies piled together around the
howitzer. As Porter recovered from the blast, he realized that the ship’s
engines had stopped and her guns were silent. The captain, Acting Master Henry
H. Gorringe, rang the engine room bell to go ahead, telling Porter he wanted to
bring the Cricket around to bring her
broadside to bear. Porter belayed this order, telling Gorringe “I doubt if
there’s anybody left to fire a gun.” Instead he told Gorringe to run the
battery, allowing the ship to drift downstream in the four-knot current, while
he (Porter) made his way below to see what was wrong with their engine.
drifted under the bluff, she was, for a moment, safe from the artillery atop it;
the musket fire from the estimated 3,000 infantry, however, continued unabated.
When the gunboat rounded the point and came again into the field of artillery
fire, a second volley of nineteen shells struck her stern, raking through the
vessel. Porter ran for the engine room, running along the exposed starboard side
of the ship. As he made his way aft, a rebel on the bank fired at him. Porter
grabbed a musket from a nearby sailor and took aim at the Confederate. At the
last moment, he remembered that shooting people was not his job—ordering
others to shoot people was. He handed the rifle back to the sailor, told him to
shoot the rebel, and watched as the man on the bank fell—one of only two
documented Confederate casualties.
The fighting deck of the Cricket
presented Porter a shocking scene: the dead and wounded of the two broadside
guns lay strewn everywhere, the guns nearly all destroyed, and “everything
torn to pieces.” Porter
assembled the surviving crewmen—mostly “contrabands”—and ordered them to
fire the remaining gun. They were not to worry about aiming, but just load and
fire so the rebels would know they were still in the fight.
In the engine room, Porter found all but one fireman
wounded, and the engineer dead. Second Assistant Engineer Charles Parks had died
as he responded to orders from the bridge, his hand on the steam throttle. In
falling, he had turned the steam off. Porter turned it back on and the engines
sprang to life. It was barely 6:20p.m. In
the past five minutes, Cricket had
sustained twelve killed and nineteen wounded (most of these severely). A
relative of Porter’s who had come on the expedition “to see sheol,” told
him that what he’d seen was “certainly next door to it,” and his curiosity
Despite being under power again, the tinclad quickly ran aground—within range
of the enemy’s guns, but luckily out of sight behind the trees. She was hung
up for the next hour, but not out of the battle.
Seeing the Cricket
adrift, Phelps in the Fort Hindman
worried that Porter had been killed. The Confederates, however, were elated, and
gave three cheers. They turned their attention to the next ship, the New Champion, figuring the
disabled flagship could be located and destroyed later.
The rapid attack on Cricket
had unnerved the pilot of the New Champion,
who backed furiously away from the stricken gunboat and directly into the
oncoming Juliet, smashing her bow. The rebel gunners skewed their guns around
and found the range on the New Champion
with their first volley. Sadly, in addition to her crew, this ship carried about
150 of the fleeing contrabands picked up at Grand Ecore; many would never see
the “land of freedom” they sought in running to the “Lincoln gunboats.”
As the New Champion
and Juliet worked to untangle
themselves, a 12-pound shell pierced the boiler of the transport. A torrent of
live steam hissed through the ship, killing a hundred freemen and crew
instantly, and so scalding another 87 that they died soon thereafter.
Not every casualty was the result of the boiler explosion: the people clinging
to the wreck were easy targets for the Confederate infantry. Porter later wrote
that “some of them may have got ashore, but we never saw any of them again.”
Confederate reports said that only three people survived. This tragedy helped
the Cricket escape, as the cloud of
steam hid the stricken ship while she drifted away.
The barrage that doomed the New
Champion also struck the Juliet,
cutting her tiller ropes, blasting the wheel out of the pilot’s hands, and
slicing the steam line that provided power to her engines, as well as damaging
the head of the Champion No. 5’s
rudder. While the gunners aboard the warship returned fire, the civilian crew of
the transport tied to her side tried desperately to escape. While their captain
tried to turn about and flee upstream, they began cutting away the hawsers that
tied their ship to the Juliet. As the
steam cleared, Acting Master John S. Watson, captain of the Juliet,
was shocked to find his vessel turned sideways in the channel, under the full
force of the Confederate batteries. The lifeless New
Champion was also turned perpendicular to the bank, into which she drifted
and lodged. Aboard the Hindman, Phelps
cursed at the three ships before him as he tried desperately to get closer to
the enemy guns.
Watson saw the crew of the No. 5
hacking at the ropes between the ships. He realized that both the captain and
pilot of the transport had abandoned the wheelhouse, leaving both ships to drift
towards the rebel guns. Watson—followed by the Juliet’s
pilot, William Maitland—rushed down
to the deck in time to prevent the No.
5’s crew from severing the last line. He did this by leveling his pistol
at them and threatening to shoot any man who attempted to cut it. Some of the No.
5’s crew attempted to leap overboard, but were driven back by musket fire
from the Fort Hindman as Phelps—shouting through a speaking
trumpet—warned that “deserters would be shot.” Maitland, “with great
bravery and presence of mind,” leapt aboard the No.
5 and ran to her pilothouse and took control of the transport. The two ships
had by now drifted directly under the bluff—effectively out of range of the
Confederates—buying them a few precious moments. Maitland turned the Champion
around and slowly towed the Juliet
upstream and out of range.
Phelps had since the beginning been trying to get as
close as possible to the bluff, both to shield the transports and damage the
rebels as much as possible. Now, as Juliet
moved past him, he dropped below her to cover her withdrawal. The Hindman
had already taken fire, one shot blowing a hole in her hull at the waterline,
and now became the focus of the rebel artillerists. Lt Church, USMC, was knocked
to the deck by a shell fragment that struck his leg; this saved his life, for
the next blast killed Acting Ensign S. Pool of the Eastport,
who stood next to the marine; Ordinary Seaman Joseph Scott was also badly
wounded. Panic spread through the men on the gun deck—who, within but a few
minutes, had witnessed the almost-certain destruction of Cricket,
the hideous deaths of the crew and passengers of the New Champion,
fired upon the crew of the Champion
No. 5 as they sought to abandon the Juliet, and realized they themselves were now drawing closer to the
batteries—and Phelps ran below. “I found it necessary to lay my hand upon my
revolver and caution them that the first man who should flinch from his gun
would receive its contents.”
The Hindman received some small help from an
unexpected source—the Cricket’s single remaining “bulldog”
was barking—steadfastly pumping shells in the direction of the Confederate
battery. At least one shot from the two tinclads struck home, as Captain Florian
O. Cornay, commander of the St. Mary’s Cannoneers, was killed by a burst at
Seeing the disabled Juliet
and the transport pulling into the bank out of range upstream, Phelps brought
the Hindman around and withdrew to
cover the other ships. The trio of battered vessels tied up one mile above the
bluff. Phelps and his officers discussed what to do. It was decided to spend the
night repairing the ships and run the batteries on the morrow; this would at
least make navigation in the shallow river easier than it would be in the dark.
Shortly before sunset, at 6:15p.m., as the gunfire
ceased, powder on the Cricket’s gun
deck ignited and the ship took fire. The flames were quickly extinguished and at
6:30p.m. the small warship was able to free herself and proceeded down the
river. With but a single gun working and half her crew out of action, she could
not materially aid Phelps, and Porter decided to make for a prearranged
rendezvous downstream where he hoped to find other gunboats of the squadron.
Throughout the night, in sight of the enemy, the crews
above the battery worked to repair steam lines, rudders, wheel and tiller ropes,
plugged holes in their hulls, and buttressed the most vulnerable parts of the
three ships with bales of cotton transferred from Juliet.
Occasionally, the Fort Hindman fired
her stern guns towards the New Champion
in hopes of preventing the Confederates from moving to midstream and blocking
the channel. At 7:30p.m., Seaman Scott succumbed to his wounds.
Despite the periodic shelling by the Yankees, the
Confederates managed to board the New Champion and offload her stores.
They then headed the transport out to mid-channel in hopes of blocking the
Downstream, Porter found the gunboats Lexington and Osage at
9:30p.m. Although anxious to help Phelps, Porter realized that the gunfire
upstream had ceased. The same concerns about the intricacies of the channel that
prevented Phelps from running past Deloges Bluff in the dark convinced the
admiral to wait for daybreak to send support.
With the dawn on 27th April, Confederate
marksmen worked their way up the bank and began “annoying” the Yankee
sailors still hard at work aboard Phelps’ three ships. His men had been able
to only partially repair the Juliet—it
was estimated that her steam lines could be fixed by mid-morning, but the
vessel’s steering was too badly cut up to be made workable. She would have to
be towed alongside the Fort Hindman.
Phelps’ main concern was whether there would be room in the channel—which he
expected to find blocked by the New Champion—to
allow the two gunboats to pass. Captain Phelps had also to deal with the
mutinous officers and crew of the Champion
No. 5, who argued for leaving
the transport behind and running the battery aboard the Navy ships. Phelps
refused, pointing out that the cotton bales loaded on her decks made her easily
as well-protected as the gunboats; she was going through. He “therefore made
her people go on board”
and, to make certain of their compliance, relieved the captain and placed
William Maitland (who volunteered) in charge. As a show of faith, Phelps left
his personal belongings aboard the No. 5,
where they had been loaded for passage.
The Fort Hindman
began shelling the woods in the area of the battery at 5:30a.m., and kept this
up while work proceeded on the three vessels. A little past 9a.m., the ships
headed downstream, moving very slowly. At
9:20 the Juliet struck a snag that put
a hole in her port bow below the waterline. Watson gave orders to prepare to
abandon her, but Phelps, seeing the Juliet taking water, ordered a return upstream, where they quickly
brought the leak under control using mattresses and planks. At 9:30 the ships
again pointed their bows downstream and approached the rebel batteries. It was
Phelps’ plan to not only engage the batteries, but to destroy the New
Champion as they passed.
No sign of the Confederates could be seen. At 9:40 rebel
sharpshooters began peppering the ships with musket fire, and at 500 yards the
main batteries opened up. Phelps saw the New
Champion to port near the northern bank of the river, partially blocking the
channel, but believed he could get through. Suddenly two 24-pound shots went
through the Hindman’s pilot house,
cutting her tiller ropes, partly disabling her wheel, and leaving her
unmanageable (as well as wounding Lt. John Pearce, captain of the Hindman).
The two gunboats, lashed side by side, spun in the current, striking their bows
and then sterns on the banks. Unable to fire effectively (but firing nonetheless
at whatever came into view), the gunboats could do little to protect the
civilian ship, which consequently “suffered more severely than was
Aboard the Champion
No. 5, a shell wounded Maitland in both legs just as the ship pulled
opposite the battery. The pilot dropped to his knees, unable to manage the
wheel. The ship drifted into the Confederate bank, where another shell struck
the pilot house and wounded Maitland in several places; another cut away the
bell rope and speaking tube. The wounded pilot reached for another bell rope,
rang astern, and backed the ship across the river, towards the New Champion. Once alongside, the crew scrambled ashore and tried to
flee, but all were captured. Her captain was dead and she was afire in her hold.
Phelps was unable to destroy either of the civilian
ships, and was satisfied to simply be able to get past the New
Champion and escape “waltzing, as I may say” (a reference to the
side-to-side drift of the spinning vessels). Juliet was “much injured,” having her rudder shot off and a
shell strike her port crankshaft, which knocked out both cylinder heads on the
engines. Happily, the gunfire did not result in many casualties.
“It seemed as if Providence turned the shot through the crowds that it
should do no harm. I saw them traverse her crowded decks and cannot understand
how so little harm came of them.” A shot that passed through the magazine and
broke open several barrels of powder failed to ignite them. Riddled and with
several holes beneath the waterline of the Fort
Hindman, the two gunboats made it past the batteries by 10a.m. with
relatively few casualties, although Confederate sharpshooters continued to
plague the gunboats for another hour.
Twelve miles below the bluff, Phelps was much relieved to
encounter the Neosho at 1p.m., ordered
upstream by Porter to support him, but arriving too late to be of any help. In
her haste to reach Phelps, she had run aground. All of the sick and wounded were
transferred aboard the Neosho and all
three gunboats stood down river. Cricket
was hours ahead of them, steaming under escort to Alexandria to care for her
wounded and bury her dead. She was so cut up that Porter considered her all but
defenseless against the batteries he expected to find en route.
had lost 24 dead and wounded, Juliet
15, and the Fort Hindman eight.
Confederate losses, officially, were but one man killed and one wounded;
anecdotal evidence suggests there were “severe” losses among the infantry as
the result of the Navy gunfire, but this cannot be proven. The greatest loss of
life, of course, occurred aboard the pump boat New
Champion, where all 200 crew and passengers were killed by the hot steam,
artillery, and musket fire. Her sister ship, the Champion No. 5, lost two men killed, but the remainder of the crew
captured. Admiral Porter, who considered this “the heaviest fire I ever
witnessed,” admitted that “the passage from Grand Ecore down could not be
called a success.”
Official Records call the site “DeLoach’s Bluff” and it appears
elsewhere as “Delouch’s Bluff.” However, modern maps correctly name
the site after the local Deloges family, whose cemetery lies atop a rise
just inland from the bluff.
 Most of these vessels had been sent downstream as the water fell and the Army pulled back, not lost in combat.
 Letter to Major General Sherman from RAdm Porter, 16 April 1864 in Official Records of the navies, volume 26, p. 61.]
A very thin security paper invented in 1829 which had strands of thread
running through it.
was either an act of bravado or foolishness. On 3 April, Acting Volunteer
Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthouy had been picked off by a rebel guerilla while
directing fire on the deck of the USS Chillicothe—and Porter had
written the letter informing Gideon Welles of his death. Confederate Major
General Richard Taylor, in fact, described his plan on 26 April to “keep
up a constant fight with the gunboats, following them with sharpshooters and
killing every man who exposes himself."
 The actual size of the rebel force at Deloges Bluff has been questioned since the battle. Confederate General Taylor claimed—based on testimony of his Chief of Artillery, Colonel Brent—that there were but four guns and two hundred infantry. But Brent was not actually on the field, and histories from the individual batteries present indicate that the number of guns was greater. The Val Verde Battery fielded five guns (three 6-pounders and two recently-captured 12-pound rifled cannon); the 3rd Louisiana Light Artillery (Benton’s or Bell’s Battery) brought two rifled guns; St. Mary’s Cannoneers or Cornay’s Battery (later the 1st Field Battery) had two 12-pound and two 24-pound howizters. This adds up to eleven recorded guns, and there may have been more. A Union pilot captured on 27 April testified two months later that he overheard among the rebels that the number was eighteen. In a private conversation with Porter following the war, Taylor supposedly informed the Admiral that he had had “three batteries of artillery and three thousand infantry pouring fire into the vessels all the time.”
the dead was Ann Johnson, wife of the ship’s steward. Her name was listed
in the Daily National Intelligencer among the dead aboard Cricket for
26 April, and her “rank” that of laundress. This situation was not
common, but also not unknown aboard the ships of the Mississippi Squadron. A
laundress was mentioned aboard the Forest Rose in March 1864
and orders to pay “authorized female contrabands” $7 a month were issued
to the Mississippi Marine Brigade in January of the same year. Perry
Johnson, “Officer’s Steward,” is recorded on the 31 March 1864 muster
sheet for the Cricket, but is not shown on the subsequent 17 April
sheet. Had he been killed after enlisting on 8 February?
may also have been another “guest” aboard. Porter reports that upon
leaving the engine room, he came upon a contraband named Bob “holding on
to Mrs Holmes’s horse.” No officer or enlisted man named “Holmes”
appears in the muster sheets. Was Mrs Holmes a local Unionist fleeing aboard
 In the words of Colonel Brent, this “was probably the most fatal single shot fired during the war.”
nickname for the howitzers among the black crewmen.
 LtCmdr Phelps’ report of 28 April 1864 in Official Records of the Navies, volume 26, page 82.
Maitland, however, recovered from his eight wounds and was released by the
Confederates two months later. Admiral Porter’s comment of pilots in
general, “I never knew a braver set of men,” most surely applied to this
Naval History of the Civil War, p. 524.
Mary Cannoneers, 1st Field Battery, Cornay's, Gordy's) http://www.acadiansingray.com/1st%20Batt.htm
3rd La. Battery Light Arty http://www.lascv.com/1444.htm
18th Louisiana Infantry regiment http://members.tripod.com/j_richard/18th_history_the_regiment.html
The American Conflict: a History
of the Great Rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-64, Greeley,
Appletons' Cyclopædia of
American Biography, New
York, D. Appleton and company, 1887-89.
Civil War Marine: A Diary of the
Red River Expedition, 1864
Edited and Annotated by James P. Jones and Edward F. Keuchel, History & Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. 1975
Cricket Log Book for 24-28 April 1864
Cricket Muster Sheets for 31 March and 17
Log Book for 24-28 April 1864
From the Freshwater Navy, 1861-64: The
Letters of Master's Mate Henry R. Browne and Acting Ensign Symmes E. Browne,
Institute, Annapolis, 1971.
The Handbook of Texas Online
History of the Val Verde Battery
Incidents & Anecdotes of the
Civil War, David
Dixon Porter, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1885. pp239ff
Capt.: Seth Ledyard Phelps & the U.S. Navy, 1841-1864,
(Kent State University Press, Kent, 1996)
Naval History of the Civil War, David
D. Porter, Sherman Publishing Co., New York, 1885, p. 520-524
The Navy in the Civil War: The Gulf and Inland Waters, Alfred. T. Mahan, USN, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NYC, 1883, pp 196-203
Pictorial History of the Civil
War in the United States of America,
Lossing, Benson John, 1813-1891.
Report of the Joint committee on
the Conduct of the War at the Second Session Thirty-eighth Congress.
The Road to
Glorieta Readers Companion: The Valverde Battery at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~donh/page78.html
St. Mary’s Cannoneers
The United States Marine Corps
in the Civil War-The Third Year,
David M. Sullivan
(White Mane Publishing Company, Shippensburg, 1999) pp120-121
USS Cricket (1863-1865, "Tinclad" # 6) http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-c/Cricket.htm
What Finer Tradition: The
Memoirs of Thomas O. Selfridge, Rear Adm, USN
T. O. Selfridge (Wm Still, editor), (University of South Carolina, Columbia, 1987 [orig. 1924]) pp. 95-97
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