John D. Perry

The side-wheel steamer John D. Perry joined the Union navy’s Mississippi River Squadron, serving under charter on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including expeditions on the White River during the ongoing battle for control of significant interior rivers in the Trans-Mississippi Department.

Built by the Howard Shipyard of Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1858 and initially home-ported at Louisville, Kentucky, the John D. Perry displaced 382 tons. Its exact date of transfer to Federal service is not known, but John S. Nanson owned and piloted it as a river transport in Missouri in the late 1850s. In the first month of the Civil War, Confederate sympathizers briefly used the Perry in an unsuccessful attempt to transport ammunition southward down the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, on the evening of April 24, 1861. After it was captured by the crew of the steamer Swallow about five miles north of Cairo, Illinois, authorities relieved the vessel of its contraband cargo and released the Perry and its crew.

By September 18, 1861, Captain John Reilly commanded the Perry as a civilian contractor for the Quartermaster Department as part of a Marine Corps river transport authorized by Major General John C. Fremont to ferry troops and commissary stores up the Missouri River to Jefferson City, Missouri. The Perry continued in this service until late October 1861. Reilly commanded the Perry as a transport on the Ohio River between Cairo and Paducah, Kentucky, from November 5 until December 31, 1861 (although Reilly’s account claims service until January 10, 1862).

On January 13, 1863, the John D. Perry transported the Thirty-third Iowa Infantry from Columbus, Kentucky, to Helena (Phillips County), and thereafter continued service as a chartered vessel. On February 14, 1863, Federal authorities at Cairo discovered and seized $2,041 in gold in the baggage of a civilian passenger, along with a small cache of arms, quinine, and miscellaneous contraband.

According to Brigadier General Christopher Columbus Andrews, commanding the Second Division of the Seventh Army Corps headquartered at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), approximately 100 unidentified Confederate partisans attacked the Perry on September 9, 1864, just below Clarendon (Monroe County) from the east side of the White River while the vessel transported a portion of Major General Joseph A. Mower’s command to DeValls Bluff.

Andrews did not report any Union casualties, and no Confederate reports or casualty figures are known to exist for this incident. Despite the Union capture of Little Rock (Pulaski County) in September 1863, small regular and irregular Confederate attacks on Union naval vessels continued to hamper operations along the state’s major rivers. A similar attack occurred against the steam tug Resolute near this same general portion of the White River on October 11, 1864.

The John D. Perry continued to serve under charter with the Union navy on the western rivers until at least July 11, 1865. After the war, it served as a packet transport on the White River until it burned and sank while tied up at the DeValls Bluff docks on the evening of May 6, 1869.

For additional information:
Gibson, Charles Dana, and E. Kay Gibson. Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels Steam and Sail Employed by the Union Army, 1861–1868. Camden, ME: Ensign Press, 1995.

Huddleston, Duane, et al. Steamboats and Ferries on the White River: A Heritage Revisited. Conway: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1998.

Hyde, William, and Howard L. Conard. Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis: A Compendium of History. Volume 3, Part 2. New York: Southern History Company, 1899.

Lytle, William M. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1807–1868. Mystic, CT: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1953.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Vol. 24. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911.

Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois. Vol. 1 (1861–1866). Springfield, IL: Phillips Brothers, State Printers, 1900.

Reports of Committees of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session of the Fifty-first Congress, 1890–1891. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Sperry, Andrew F. History of the 33d Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment, 1863-6. Edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin and Cathy Kunzinger Urwin. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41, Part 1. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell

Last Updated: 04/17/2017