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The Mill Boy

Jay Brent Tipton, Former Captain, Arkansas Army National Guard
Smithville, Arkansas (Began Sept 18 2001, updated November 29, 2002.)

The Mill Boy was a Civil War era steamship. Even though she was a merchant vessel, she saw military service and the ship sank during the Civil War.
Very few records are available in regards to the Mill Boy, and what few are available, are very scattered and often conflicting. Part of the problem were there were later ships built also called Mill Boy.

“Her” complete story has never been told, and I feel that this ship deserves to have her place recorded in history. To the Union, this ship could be considered heroic, and to the South, especially in Arkansas, the Mill Boy could be held in infamy.

This ship is unique for several reasons:


1.      This ship was never officially controlled by the U.S. Navy.

2.      This ship was basically being used by the Army , having been “pressed” under martial law.

3.      This ship was lost during military operations, but was not a victim of combat.

4.      Claims against the U.S. Government was made due to the loss of the Mill Boy.

5.      Ships of the era were usually named for females, famous Indians, or from mythology, historical figures or geographic locations. It is unusual for a ship to have a common male name. But it is a fitting name based on the original purpose of the ship.

6.      The loss of the Mill Boy created great hardship on a Federal Garrison. Its loss had an impact on Operations in North Central and North East Arkansas.

7.      This ship was originally horse powered when built.

8.      It was also used as a ‘Floating General Store, by its original owner, Captain Josiah Cornwall of Chambersburg, Ohio. The ship made regular runs between Crown City and Gallipolis.


According to James Cheevers, Assistant Director and Curator, U.S. Naval Academy Museum, the Mill Boy was an  86-ton sidewheeler, built in 1857, at Brownsville, Pennsylvania on the Monongahela River.

It was built to be a “floating gristmill.” The Mill Boy, even though she was a merchant ship, caught the attention of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, as it is mentioned in the Official Records (OR) when inquiries as to the status of the ship were made.

She was “chartered” 1/8/1863 through 1/31/1863 by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps to transport troops and supplies. She was later “pressed” into further service in 1864.(Jan 20th through Jan 31st 1864).

This term means that under Martial Law, the U.S. Army took possession of the Mill Boy, without contract or the express consent of the owners in order to meet the immediate transport needs of the Army.

According to the Research by John L. Ferguson, at the Arkansas History Commission and the State Librarian for the State of Arkansas, and the Navy Official Records, she was a civilian craft until December 1862, when she was ordered  into “government service” at Memphis, Tennessee.

Then according to the “OR” in February 1863, the Mill Boy sailed into her place in history.

At noon, on February 19, 1863, the Mill Boy, with the gun ship Cricket, as escort, steamed across the Mississippi River with two companies of U.S. soldiers who disembarked at the ferry landing next to the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad Depot at the small village of Hopefield, Arkansas. On February 21, 1863 the Mill Boy with the gunboat Cricket as escort by the order of  Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, transported four companies of the Sixty-Third Illinois Infantry, (Companies C, D, E, F) across the Mississippi River from Memphis to Hopefield, Arkansas.

The Sixty-Third Infantry was transported by the Mill Boy as ordered, and they gave the residents of Hopefield, Arkansas one hour to evacuate, and then they  put every building in town “to the torch”, and they burned it to the ground. Hopefield was targeted, because the town was being used as a base, by partisan rangers, primarily under the leadership of then Captain J.H. Mc Ghee, Arkansas Cavalry. These partisans were attacking union gunboats and ships on the Mississippi River, and Federal patrols out of Memphis, on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi. The ships traveling the Mississippi area began arming themselves with cannon, and traveling with U.S. Navy armed escorts. The Mill Boy was thus armed with a single cannon for protection.
The next record of the Mill Boy that was located, during this research, indicates the ship operated on the White River in Arkansas.

She was en route to the Union Garrison at Batesville, Arkansas, on the White River, in late January/early February 1864. According to the Official Records the Mill Boy sank nine miles above Jacksonport, Arkansas on the White River.

There are conflicting dates/information as to the exact date of the demise of the Mill Boy, but its demise was recorded eloquently in a report in the Official Records of the Armies of the Rebellion” (OR). It is generally thought, based on available records that the Mill Boy went down on January 31, 1864.

According to Colonel Robert R. Livingston, the Mill Boy met its demise when a “violent gale” struck, and the Mill Boy stopped and anchored against the storm. The anchor cable snapped, the ship did not have steam built up, she drifted and struck a snag, and sank in the White River with 35 tons of stores and forage on board. A caisson and ammunition box were lost.

The U.S. Army Garrison at Batesville, commanded by Colonel R. R. Livingston (1st Nebraska), at that time consisted of the 1st Nebraska Cavalry, The 11th Missouri Cavalry, And the 4th Arkansas Mounted Infantry, under the Command of Colonel Elisha Baxter (later, after the War, he became Governor of Arkansas). The 4th Arkansas had soldiers from the North Central and Northeast Arkansas region. This included men from Lawrence County, and now what is Sharp county, Jackson County, Independence County. This unit was never raised to full strength and was later disbanded.

The loss of the Mill Boy, and the supplies, placed great hardship on the Garrison, and Colonel Livingston urged the Commander of the depot at Devall’s Bluff, to “move heaven and earth” to get a boat with supplies to him.

The storm in which the Mill Boy sank, flooded all the rivers, creeks, and streams around Batesville, and rendered the roads into impassable, making it very difficult for the garrison to obtain needed supplies and food for the troops, and especially forage for the horses.

Apparently the ship was only partly submerged, because a party of the 1st Nebraska Cavalry, from Batesville, went on board, via a skiff, removed a cannon, and what supplies could be loaded on a small craft.  According to the “Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Union Army, 1861-1868", the U.S. Government compensated the Owners of the Mill Boy, $11,604.59 for the loss.

So far, records have not surfaced that would indicate that any further salvage operations were ever performed. The exact location and the fate of the Mill Boy, is still a mystery.
     It is the hope and purpose of this article to inform the reader about the Mill Boy, and  that it will inspire further research, and it is hoped that this mystery will be solved, and that the Mill Boy, will be provided its place in widely known, American Civil War history.

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