USS Rattler

The USS Rattler was a Union side-wheel tinclad steamer that served along the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Ouachita rivers, among others. The ship is best known in Arkansas for its role in the battle to capture Fort Hindman.

The Rattler was constructed in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1862. Originally named the Florence Miller, the ship was purchased by the Federal government on November 11, 1862, and was renamed and commissioned in December. Acting Master Amos Longthorne served as the first commander of the ship. The ship was armed with two thirty-pound Parrott rifles and four twenty-four-pound guns.

Joining the Mississippi River Squadron, the Rattler participated in the action against Fort Hindman in January 1863. A Union army under the command of Major General John McClernand ascended the Arkansas River to attack the Confederate fort located near the site of Arkansas Post. The Rattler, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, led the flotilla of ships to check the depth of the stream. When the assault began on January 10, the Rattler moved within fifty yards of the enemy fortification in an effort to clear away obstacles that would impede the advance of Federal troops. Becoming caught in a number of piles driven into the riverbed by Confederate forces and struck by numerous shots from the fort, the Rattler withdrew under heavy fire. The following day, the Rattler, the USS Monarch, and the USS Glide moved past the fort and successfully pushed upriver for several miles. While the army took the fort, the three ships destroyed a ferry before withdrawing due to low water.

After the capture of Fort Hindman, the Rattler served in the Vicksburg Campaign. Carrying troops during the Yazoo Pass expedition in an effort to cut off Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Rattler moved through the bayous north of the city. In March 1863, the Rattler participated in an attack at Fort Pemberton, Mississippi, near present-day Greenwood. During this action, one man on the Rattler was killed.

After Vicksburg fell to Union forces, the Rattler served along a number of rivers in Louisiana, including the Red, Ouachita, and Tensas. Working with the USS Manitou, the Rattler captured the Confederate steamer Louisville on the Little Red River in Louisiana on July 13, 1863. This ship soon entered Federal service as the USS Ouachita. Continuing to patrol the area, the Rattler worked to prevent men and supplies from crossing the Mississippi River from the Trans-Mississippi to the eastern bank. While attending a church service at Rodney, Mississippi, on September 13, 1863, the commanding officer of the Rattler, another officer, and fifteen enlisted men were captured by Confederate forces.

The Rattler continued to operate in the area with a new commander. In September 1864, eighteen more members of the crew were captured while ashore searching for two Confederate officers. The service of the Rattler ended on December 30, 1864, when the ship was driven ashore during a gale near Grand Gulf, Mississippi. The men on the ship saved most of the public property but were soon fired upon by enemy forces. The crew and materials were saved by the supply steamer Magnet, with the exception of one man who deserted to the enemy during the evacuation. The Confederate forces burned the ship as other Federal vessels approached the wreck the next day.

For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. “The Battle of the Post of Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 18 (Autumn 1959): 237–279.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington DC: Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, 1959–1981.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Vols. 24–26, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1921.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 04/20/2017