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Undine

 

A mythical female water nymph capable of acquiring a soul through marriage with a mortal.

 

I

 

(StwGbt: dp. 179)

 

The first Undine—a steamer built in 1863 at Cincinnati, Ohio, as Ben Gaylord—was purchased by Navy at Cincinnati on 7 March 1864 and commissioned there in April.

 

Undine joined the Mississippi Squadron and, in May 1864, was deployed in the Mississippi River between Fort Adams and Natchez, Miss. She soon left the Mississippi and operated during early July in the Tennessee River in support of Union forces ashore. While standing off Clifton, Tenn., Undine, Acting Master John L. Bryant in command, struck a snag and partially sank on 25 July. Her crew was able to transfer the ship's guns ashore to defend Clifton from Confederate attack before taking measures to raise the vessel. Undine was successfully refloated on 1 August after the arrival of the pump steamer Little Champion on 31 July.

 

Undine, Key West, and transports City of Pekin, Kenton, and Aurora left Clifton on 9 October on an expedition to capture Eastport, Miss. This operation was launched to prevent cavalry forces under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from crossing the Tennessee River at Eastport and to provide an outpost against an expected advance of General Hood. However, the Union force was ambushed by shore batteries on 10 October as it landed troops near Eastport. After a heated, 30-minute exchange with the batteries, Undine and Key West evacuated troops caught ashore in the withering crossfire and escorted the disabled transports back downstream. The battered expedition returned to Paducah, Ky., at sundown on 12 October.

 

After repairs were completed, Undine resumed patrol and reconnaissance duty along the Tennessee River. On 30 October, she convoyed the transport Anna from Johnsonville, Tenn., to Sandy Island. While returning to Johnsonville, Acting Master Bryant heard artillery reports coming from the river below Sandy Island and ordered Undine turned about to investigate. Near Paris Landing, Undine was again ambushed. Transports Venus and Cheeseman soon joined her and engaged the Confederates. Three hours later, both transports were disabled, and Undine was out of ammunition and crippled by a broken engine. Bryant hauled down his flag and surrendered Undine, Venus, and Cheeseman. He was later exonerated by a board of inquiry.

 

The Confederates wasted little time putting the captured Union vessels to use. While patrolling the Tennessee River on 2 November, Key West and Tarwah engaged Undine and Venus. Venus was retaken, but Undine escaped, badly damaged, to the protection of Confederate batteries at Reynoldsburg Island. There, she was burned by the Confederates on 4 November to prevent her recapture by Union gunboats attacking the island. Her destruction came in the wake of General Nathan Bedford Forrest's unsuccessful attempt to cross the Tennessee River at Johnsonville. If the Confederate plan had succeeded, General William Tecumseh Sherman's supply line would have been exposed, and the Union Army's march through Georgia and South Carolina would have been endangered.

 

After the Civil War, the hulk of Undine was one of several in the Tennessee River ordered raised or wrecked on 20 June 1865. Two 24-pounder howitzers were recovered from the vessel later that month.