Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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(Side wheel Steamer: tonnage 217; complement 60; armament 2 32-pounders, 2 24-pounders howitzer)

Rodolph (Gunboat No. 48), a side-wheel steamer built in 1863 at Cincinnati, Ohio, was purchased by the Navy there on 31 December 1863 for service in the Mississippi Squadron. However, the installation of her "tinclad" armor and fitting out were slow. When she was finally ready for active service, she was transferred to Admiral Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron which was then preparing for the invasion of Mobile Bay.

Commissioned at New Orleans on 28 May 1864, the side-wheeler, commanded by Act. Vol. Lt. George D. Upham, operated on the lower Mississippi until after the historic Union naval victory in Mobile Bay on 5 August. She joined Farragut's invasion force there on the 14th and participated in operations which culminated in the surrender of Fort Morgan on the 23d. Acting Master's Mate Nathaniel B. Hinckley, serving on board the "tinclad," carried the Confederate flag from the fort.

Rodolph's shallow draft enabled her to be especially useful during "mop up" operations while Union seapower projected General Canby's army against the final defenses of the city of Mobile. The high point of her service came, perhaps, on 8 September, when she entered the Bon Secours River with the side-wheeler Stockdale and demolished extensive salt works which had been producing, daily, some 2,000 bushels of badly needed salt for the Confederacy. On the 11th, the two ships escorted an Army transport, Planter, up the Fish River to seize a sawmill engine and some 60,000 board feet of lumber. That night, as the Union ships retired down the river from the wrecked mill, southern riflemen fired upon them from the riverbanks and felled trees in their path. While the gunboats fired back rapidly, Rodolph battered her way through the obstructions, enabling the expedition to reach safety.

Diverse and dangerous duties in Mobile Bay and in nearby streams kept the "tinclad" busy until almost the end of the Civil War. The most difficult task facing her and her sister ships was clearing torpedoes (mines) from the captured Confederate waters. On 1 April 1865, as she towed a barge carrying salvage equipment for the torpedoed monitor, Milwaukee, Rodolph struck a torpedo and rapidly sank. The explosion killed four men and wounded 11 others.

20 October 2005