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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Little Rebel

 

(ScRam: t. 159; dr. 12'; s. 10 k.; a. 3 12-pdr. r.)

 

Little Rebel was built as R. E. & A. N. Watson at Belle Vernon, Pa., in 1859. She was acquired at New Orleans, La., by the Confederate Army, and selected by Capt. J. E. Montgomery, CSN, to be part of his River Defense Fleet. On 25 January 1862 Montgomery began her conversion to a cottonclad ram by placing a 4-inch oak sheath with a 1-inch iron covering on her bow, and by installing double pine bulkheads filled with compressed cotton bales. [See Annex II.]

 

On 11 April Little Rebel's conversion was completed and she steamed from New Orleans to Fort Pillow, Tenn., where she operated in defense of the river approaches to Memphis, Tenn. On 10 May 1862, off Fort Pillow, Little Rebel, in company with seven other vessels under Captain Montgomery, attacked the ironclad gunboats of the Federal Mississippi Flotilla. The action of Plum Point Bend witnessed successful ramming tactics by the Confederates, but Little Rebel, under Capt. J. White Fowler, serving as Montgomery's flagship, was unable to get into the battle except with her guns. Brig. Gen. M. J. Thompson, CSA, who witnessed the battle said that Little Rebel, under a shower of enemy missiles, "ran amid the storm as heedlessly as if charmed." Meanwhile her guns supported Montgomery's other vessels which were ramming Union boats.

 

Later Montgomery's force held off the Federal rams and gunboats until Fort Pillow was evacuated on 1 June. Then the Confederate vessels fell back on Memphis to take on coal. Following the Federal capture of Fort Pillow, Flag Officer C. H. Davis, USN, commanding the Mississippi Flotilla pressed on without delay and appeared off Memphis with a superior force on 6 June 1862. Montgomery, unable to retreat to Vicksburg, Miss., because of his shortage of fuel, and unwilling to destroy his boats, determined to fight against heavy odds. In the ensuing Battle of Memphis, Little Rebel attacked the ram Monarch, one of two vessels in the Union force under Col. C. Ellet Jr., USA. Monarch met the attack and ran Little Rebel towards the Arkansas shore. The Confederate vessel was hit by fire from USS Carondelet and then was struck by Monarch and beached by the blow. Little Rebel was captured and taken into Federal service.