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General Sumter

 

(SwRam: t. 525; l. 182'; b. 28'4"; dph. 10'8"; a. 1 32-pdr.)

 

General Sumter—as often Sumter in common parlance—is known to have been the river towboat Junius Beebe, with low-pressure machinery—quite likely a vessel built at Algiers, La., in 1853. Acquired by the State of Louisiana from Charles H. Morgan's Southern Steamship Co. early in 1861, Junius Beebe was useful to the Confederate cause, in such details as diverting foreign shipping preparatory to closing Southwest Pass, operating under Stanton & Co., New Orleans, managing for the Governor, until selected by Capt. James E. Montgomery for his River Defense Fleet [see Annex II]. On 25 January 1862, in the James Martin yard at Algiers, across the Mississippi from New Orleans, Montgomery began her conversion to a cottonclad ram featuring 4-inch oak sheathing, an inch of iron over her bows and cotton bales between double pine bulkheads.

 

Alterations completed, General Sumter went up to Ft. Pillow, Tenn., 17 April, to be armed. On 10 May, defending the main avenue to Memphis, Montgomery's fleet of eight attacked the Federal ironclads. In this action at Plum Point Bend, 4 miles above Ft. Pillow, it was probably General Sumter under Capt. W. W. Lamb that bravely steamed up within 20 yards of Mortar Boat No. 16, whose projectiles were threatening the fort, and fired everything she had, including a rifle volley; two 32-pound shot actually pierced the iron blinds of the Union floating battery. Then General Sterling Price and General Sumter cooperated in a well executed coordinated attack, one after the other ramming USS Cincinnati at full speed so that she lost her rudder and much of her stern; Cincinnati (whom Montgomery reported as Carondelet)had to be run ashore to save her from sinking. Thus the Montgomery rams held off the Federal flotilla until the fort was successfully evacuated, 1 June, before falling back on Memphis to refuel.

 

Quickly following up capture of Ft. Pillow, Flag Officer Charles H. Davis, USN, appeared off Memphis in force on 6 June. Montgomery, cornered, without coal enough to retreat to Vicksburg yet unwilling to scuttle his fleet, fought it out desperately in the Battle of Memphis: General Sumter rammed and seriously damaged USS Queen of the West but eventually most of the Confederate vessels were destroyed or bowed to the inevitable. General Sumter did not sink; badly shot up, she ran up on the Arkansas shore, was captured and became, briefly, USS Sumter. in August she grounded again, downriver off Bayou Sara, La., and was abandoned except for spare-part raids on her machinery by the rest of the squadron at periods of low water; before the local populace completed stripping her, Confederate authorities succeeded in setting fire to the hulk.

 

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(SwStr)

 

The passenger steamer General Sumter, also commonly abbreviated to Sumter, is reputed to have been under more or less direct Confederate Army control as a transport in the upper Florida Lakes-Ocklawaha River area but specific details of her service are lacking today. To avoid confusion in the roster of Sumters, already too frequently misidentified over the past century, this Sumter cannot well be omitted here, especially since she became a notable ship from the time of her capture by USS Columbine in Big (Great) Lake George, Fla., 23 March 1864. Sumter's Capt. W. W. Tumblin, after his surrender, piloted Columbine and, together with the Sumter as a prize and armed with a howitzer, searched out and captured the Confederate steamer Hattie Brock in the difficult inland waters of Florida.