Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: The sinking of the General M. Jeff Thompson

The Confederate navy was outnumbered and outgunned from the start of the Civil War. Despite this, they put up a spirited fight right until the end. One of the more interesting naval theaters of the war was on the Mississippi River, where North and South fought for control of this vital waterway.

The engraving above shows Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862. The rebels were soundly beaten, losing almost all the ships they then had on the river. One of them was the General M. Jeff Thompson, shown sinking on the left. Actually it ran aground under heavy enemy fire and a blaze on board set off the magazine, blowing the ship to pieces.

The General M. Jeff Thompson was a side-wheeled steamboat converted into military use by fortifying it with a double layer of pine beams. The space between this layer was stuffed with bales of cotton. "Cottonclads" were warships made cheap, but cotton bales could stop bullets and even cannonballs. Sometimes only bales of cotton were used in a pinch, especially on troop transports. There were also "tinclads" made with thin sheets of metal (not always tin) and of course the more fearsome "ironclads".

The General M. Jeff Thompson was commissioned in April 1862 and fought with distinction at the Battle of Plum Point Bend on May 10. The Battle of Memphis was its second and last engagement. Although like many ships it was fitted with a ram, it never got to use it.

The ship was named after the Confederate Brigadier General of the same name, who became famous as the "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy" for his hit-and-run actions in southeast Missouri. The region there was mostly swamp before being drained by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 20th century, and his little army hid in "Swampeast Missouri", popping out at unexpected times and places to hit the Union forces.

Thompson was no stranger to steamboats. He briefly commanded some Confederate rams in 1862 and like other commanders in the Trans-Mississippi theater, often targeted enemy shipping. On this day 150 years ago, he seized the steamer Platte Valley at Price's Landing, MO. 

Both photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Nope, it's all gone. After getting shelled, run around, burnt, and blown up, I don't think even the greatest archaeologist in the world could find any trace.


Got something to say? Feel free! No anonymous comments allowed, though. Too many spammers and haters on the Internet.