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Alonzo Child

 

(SwStr: t. 493; 1. 222'; b. 36'; dph. 6')

 

Alonzo Child—also referred to in official documents as Alonzo

 

Childs, A. Child, A. Childs, Child, and Childs—was a large side-wheel "river boat" built in 1857 at Jeffersonville, Ind. During the next few years, she operated out of St. Louis, plying the waters of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Early in the Civil War, the ship found herself in waters controlled by Confederate forces and, by the end of 1861, was apparently serving the Confederate Government. In any case, on 18 December of that year, the South's Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory, authorized payment of $1,000.00 to her owners for the performance of some now unknown service.

 

It seems that at some time during the ensuing year and one-half, title to the steamer passed into the hands of the Confederate Government, but no details of the transaction have been discovered. In the spring of 1862, when Farragut wrested control of the lower Mississippi from the South, Alonzo Child found temporary safety in the Yazoo River. In December 1862, her engines were removed and taken to Alabama to provide power for one of the Confederate ironclads under construction in that state to assist in the defense of Mobile and ultimately to challenge the Union blockade of that port. The fact that these engines were installed in CSS Tennessee is supported by the Union Navy's inspection of that ironclad ram in August 1864 soon after she surrendered to Rear Admiral Farragut in the closing moments of the Battle of Mobile Bay. "These engines," the board of inspection reported on 13 August 1864, "were taken out of the river steamer called the Alonzo Child."

 

After losing her engines, the former steamer—now reduced to a barge—remained in the Yazoo River anchored at Yazoo City. As Major General Grant and Rear Admiral Porter increased the tempo of their operations against Vicksburg, the Southern defenders of that strategic Confederate cliffside fortress filled Alonzo Child with combustibles to ready her for possible use as a fireship and then moved her down stream so that, as an alternative, she might be employed to obstruct the channel of the Yazoo between Haynes and Snyders Bluffs. On 19 May 1863, Lt. Comdr. John G. Walker—commanding the ironclad gunboat Baron De Kalb—found her there, abandoned and ". . . much knocked to pieces." She had not been set ablaze and apparently had not been sunk. Walker also found ". . . guns, ammunition, tents, etc. ..." which had been left behind in nearby evacuated Confederate riverbank fortifications. His report of seizing the ". . . 8-inch, 10-inch, and 6-inch rifles ... in these works" has led some historians to conclude mistakenly that Alonzo Child carried these guns.

 

The damage to the former steamer was apparently only cosmetic for, on 25 July, Porter sent her to Cairo, III., with the recommendation that "she will make a good receiving ship or marine barracks."

 

En route north under tow by Union side-wheeler New National, she came across Sam Young hard aground above the mouth of the White River, "... nearly high and dry" with some 350 captured Confederate soldiers and an armed guard on board. Alonzo Child embarked the prisoners and their guards and carried them to Helena, Ark.

 

After reaching Cairo, III., early in August, the prize was fitted out by the navy yard at Mound City, III., for duty as a receiving ship, and she served there and at Cairo until close to the end of the Civil War. The Union Navy's de facto possession of the former steamer was ratified by the Federal court in Springfield, III., when it condemned Alonzo Child as a lawful prize on 29 March 1864.

 

As Confederate defenses were crumbling throughout the South and the Navy slowly began to demobilize its Mississippi Squadron, Alonzo Child was sold at Mound City on 29 March 1865.