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General Earl Van Dorn

 

(SwRam: a. 1 32-pdr.)

 

General Earl Van Dorn, Van Dorn, Earl Van Dorn or General Van Dorn, was fitted out at New Orleans in 1862 for Confederate service. She operated under the direction of the Confederate army and was attached to the Mississippi River Defense Fleet commanded by Capt. J. E. Montgomery, a former river steamboat captain [See Annex II].

 

General Earl Van Dorn left New Orleans on 25 March 1862 and was detained at Memphis, Tenn., until 10 April while her ironwork was completed. She then steamed north and operated off Fort Pillow, Tenn., in defense of the river approaches to Memphis. On 10 May 1862, General Earl Van Dorn under Capt. I. D. Fulkerson, with seven other vessels of Montgomery's fleet, attacked the ironclad gunboats of the Federal Mississippi Flotilla off Fort Pillow. In the action of Plum Point Bend, which followed, General Earl Van Dorn, with skillful fire from her 32-pounder, succeeded in silencing Federal Mortar Boat No. 16. She then rammed USS Mound City forcing her to run aground to keep from sinking. General Earl Van Dorn herself ran ashore and sustained a terrific carronade for a few minutes until she was able to back off.

 

On 1 June 1862 a large number of Federal rams and gunboats appeared at Fort Pillow. General Earl Van Dorn and the other ships of Montgomery's fleet held them off until Fort Pillow was successfully evacuated. The Confederate force then fell back on Memphis to take on coal.

 

Following the Federal capture of Fort Pillow, Flag Officer Charles H. Davis, CSN, commanding the Mississippi Flotilla appeared off Memphis on 6 June with a superior force. Montgomery, unable to retreat because of his fuel shortage and unwilling to destroy his boats, engaged the Federal force against heavy odds. All of the vessels of the Confederate River Defense Fleet at this engagement were either captured or destroyed except for General Earl Van Dorn which managed to escape because of her superior speed. She was chased down the Mississippi and up the Yazoo River by the rams Monarch and Lancaster under Col. C. Ellet, Jr., USA. They arrived below Yazoo City on 26 June 1862 in time to see General Earl Van Dorn being burned along with Polk and Livingston to prevent capture. According to Lancaster's log, they were "all oiled and tarred ready to be fired on our arrival," and, when first seen by the Federals rounding the bend, "all on fire and turned adrift * * * within a few hundred yards of the battery at Liverpool. * * * We backed down under the point, when the Van Dorn blew up, which shook the hills."