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General M. Jeff Thompson

General M. Jeff Thompson


General M. Jeff Thompson, often referred to as Jeff Thompson, was selected in January 1862 by Capt. J. E. Montgomery to be part of his River Defense Fleet [See Annex II]. At New Orleans, La., on 25 January, Captain Montgomery began to convert her into 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.

When General M. Jeff Thompson's conversion was completed on 11 April, she steamed to Fort Pillow, Tenn., where she operated in defense of the river approaches to Memphis, Tenn. On 10 May 1862, General M. Jeff Thompson, in company with seven other vessels of Montgomery's fleet, attacked the ironclad gunboats of the Federal Mississippi Flotilla. The action of Plum Point Bend which followed witnessed successful ramming tactics by the Confederates, but General M. Jeff Thompson, under Capt. J. H. Burke, was not able to get into the battle except with her guns. These she manned coolly and effectively despite the discouraging effect of heavy Union fire.

Later Montgomery's force held off the Federal rams and gunboats until Fort Pillow was successfully 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 Vicks-burg, Miss., because of his fuel shortage, and unwilling to destroy his boats, determined to fight against heavy odds. In the ensuing Battle of Memphis General M. Jeff Thompson was heavily hit and set on fire by Union shells. She ran aground and was abandoned by her crew. She burned to the water's edge and her magazine blew up violently, strewing the shore with iron braces and fastenings, with charred remains of broken timbers, and leaving her wrecked remains half buried and half sunk.