Blue Wing No. 2
Originally a commercial vessel, the Blue Wing No. 2—a sidewheel paddleboat—was first used by the Confederates, then seized and put into Union service, and then captured by Confederates with a load of mail and supplies in December 1862. This capture provided the incentive for Union forces to attack Fort Hindman and Arkansas Post in January 1863. The last report on the boat, still in Confederate hands, was in April 1863, and it was likely sunk or scuttled in the summer of 1863.
The Blue Wing No. 2 was a 170-ton steamboat built by the Howard company at Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1850. The vessel measured 150 feet long by thirty feet wide and was powered by three forty-two-inch-by-twenty-two-foot boilers. Commanded by Captain Samuel Sanders, the steamboat primarily worked the Ohio River.
By late 1862, the Blue Wing was employed by Confederates along the Mississippi River, and on November 15, 1862, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge reported seizing it “laden with a large amount of contraband goods for some fourteen different planters above and below Helena.” The vessel was soon released under orders from Major General William T. Sherman and continued to “pass the port of Helena with cargoes and parts of cargoes of goods, contraband of war, down into the rebel country.” On December 8, the Blue Wing was seized by the Memphis-based USS General Bragg for violating the blockade of the Mississippi and turned over to the U.S. Treasury Department two days later.
The vessel was apparently released and placed into Union service, and on December 28 Lieutenant Leroy M. Nutt’s Louisiana cavalry company from the Confederate garrison at Arkansas Post fired on it at Cypress Bend on the Mississippi River. The ship’s captain surrendered the Blue Wing, along with a load of mail, some artillery ammunition, and two barges of coal, as well as other supplies. Union officials suspected the steamboat’s captain of collusion in the incident, with Major General Stephen Hurlbut claiming “her captain has a bad reputation among loyal river men” and Admiral David Dixon Porter writing “the captain of the Blue Wing was a great rascal.…Have him arrested if possible. I can bring proof of his rascality.”
The vessel was taken to Arkansas Post, unloaded, and placed into Confederate service. This incident brought the Confederate base at Arkansas Post to the forefront of Union attention—Sherman wrote “Something should be done, as the Post of Arkansas is too near the mouth [of the Arkansas River] and can annoy our boats”—and an overwhelming Union force attacked and destroyed the base in the January 9–11, 1863, Battle of Arkansas Post. Many of the supplies seized from the Blue Wing were recovered.
A combined force of Union soldiers and sailors steamed up the White River in pursuit of the Blue Wing on January 13, missing it at St. Charles (Arkansas County) as the steamboat plied ahead bearing two eight-inch guns and a field battery toward DeValls Bluff (Prairie County). The Federal flotilla proceeded up the White River, capturing DeValls Bluff and Des Arc (Prairie County) before turning back on January 19, calling the expedition “as successful as could be desired, with the exception of the capture of the Blue Wing.”
The Blue Wing continued to operate along the White River for the Confederates, and veteran pilot George G. Lewis contacted the Arkansas Military Board on January 29 seeking command of the vessel, writing, “I should like the running of the Str Blue Wing. This I am competent I suppose almost every person knows me would not doubt.” Whether or not Lewis received command, the Blue Wing worked through the spring of 1863, and the last reference to the vessel in the Official Records is an April 10, 1863, report from a Union colonel in Missouri that Confederate troops in Batesville (Independence County) “received supplies from below by two steamboats, Blue Wing and Tom Suggs.” Since the vessel was not mentioned in reports when Union forces pursued the steamboats Tom Sugg and Kaskaskia in August 1863, it is likely that the Blue Wing had been lost prior to then. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maps show a “Blue Wing Shoals” on the upper White River near Oil Trough (Independence County), and it is likely the steamboat was sunk or scuttled there in the summer of 1863.
For additional information:
“Blue Wing.” Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. https://www.hazegray.org/danfs/csn/b.txt (accessed July 12, 2018).
Christ, Mark K. Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010.
Huddleston, Duane. “White River Steamboating during the Civil War January 1, 1862 to July 1, 1865.” The Stream of History 17 (January–April 1979).
Way, Frederick Jr., comp. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
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