In 1858, J. A. Cotton of New Orleans, Louisiana, contracted with the shipbuilding yards in New Albany, Indiana, for a wooden-hulled sidewheel steamer packet named the Grosse Tete. Upon completion, the vessel measured 180 feet with a thirty-four-foot beam. It weighed 399 tons, drafted seven feet, and carried a crew of seventy-nine. Between 1858 and 1860, the Grosse Tete worked the New Orleans–Bends commercial trade route, piloted by Captain Isaac Hopper. In 1860, the Bayou Sara Mail Company purchased the Grosse Tete and placed it under Captain J. McQuoid for use on the New Orleans–Coast mail route. The Grosse Tete worked this route until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Confederate authorities purchased the Grosse Tete in November 1861 for conversion as a river gunboat and commissioned it as the CSS Maurepas (named after one of Louisiana’s largest lakes, located next to Lake Pontchartrain, as well as a small community in southeastern Louisiana between Baton Rouge and New Orleans). On November 12, 1861, the CSS Maurepas reported a battery of six guns. Soon thereafter, the CSS Maurepas reported for duty with the fleet of Flag Officer George Nichols Hollins, then operating in defense of the lower Mississippi River and the coast of Louisiana. On February 27, 1862, the ship reported a battery of only five guns. It is not clear if this indicates a reduction in the ship’s arms or a correction in the record.
In the spring of 1862, the CSS Maurepas was transferred farther up the Mississippi River, where it served under Lieutenant Joseph Fry between March 12 and April 7 as part of the defensive operations under way at Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri. Soon thereafter, Confederate authorities ordered the CSS Maurepas to accompany its sister ship, the CSS Pontchartrain, into Arkansas in support of operations on the White River.
On June 2, 1862, the CSS Maurepas shelled the recently vacated camp of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry near the confluence of the Black and White rivers, allowing Colonel William Henry Parson’s Twelfth Texas Cavalry to occupy Jacksonport (Jackson County), where it captured supplies and destroyed several hundred bales of cotton. During the June 17, 1862, naval engagement at St. Charles (Arkansas County), the officers and crew of the CSS Maurepas scuttled their vessel alongside the Confederate steamers the Mary Patterson and the Eliza G to create an obstruction to the Federal navy’s navigation of the White River near St. Charles. Four guns from the ship’s battery, removed from the CSS Maurepas prior to it being scuttled, saw use as part of an improvised shore battery at St. Charles. During these operations, Lt. Fry sustained a wound and was captured by Federal forces. Despite Fry’s strategic sacrifice of the CSS Maurepas, Union naval forces gained control of the White River for the remainder of the war.
No photographs or illustrations of the CSS Maurepas are known to exist.
For additional information:
Davenport, Edward A. History of the Ninth Regiment Illinois Cavalry Volunteers. Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry, 1888.
Florida Department of Military Affairs. Special Archives Publication Number 5. Floridians Service Abstracts, Confederate States Navy and Florida Naval Militia, 1861–1865.
Gaines, W. Craig. Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.
Huddleston, Duane, et al. Steamboats and Ferries on the White River: A Heritage Revisited. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.
Konstam, Augus. Mississippi River Gunboats of the American Civil War, 1861–1865. New York: Osprey Publishing Company, 2002.
Luraghi, Raimondo. A History of the Confederate Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996.
McPherson, James M. War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861–1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
United States Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Volume 18. West Gulf Blockading Squadron from February 21, 1862–July 14, 1862. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904.
United States Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Volume 23. West Gulf Blockading Squadron from February 21, 1862–July 14, 1862. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904.
United States War Department. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 2, Volume 1, Part 1. Statistical Data of Union and Confederate Ships. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1921.
United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 13. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.
Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive!: A History of Jackson County, Arkansas, in the Civil War. Newport, AR: Jackson County Historical Society, 1996.
Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell
Last Updated: 10/14/2021