Sumter SwStr


(SwStr.: t. 525; 1. 182'; b. 28'4; dph. 10'8; a. 2

The first Sumter was a side wheel steamer built as Junius Beebe, in 1853 at Algiers, La. She operated on the Mississippi and its tributaries as a towboat until early 1861 when she was purchased by the State of Louisiana from Charles H. Morgan's Southern Steamship Company. In January 1862, she was acquired by Capt. James E. Montgomery, CSN, for the Confederate War Department's River Defense Fleet. The steamer was refitted at Algiers as a cottonclad ram by the James Martin yard. Her bow was strengthened by 4inch oak sheathing covered by 1-inch iron plates. Cotton bales were compressed between double pine bulkheads for added strength.

Renamed General Sumter, the ram proceeded to Ft. Pillow, Tenn., on 17 April to be armed. On 10 May defending the main avenue to Memphis, Montgomery's fleet of eight attacked the Federal ironclads. In this action at Plum Point Bend, 4 miles above Ft. Pillow General Sumter, Capt. W. W. Lamb in command steamed within 20 yards of Mortar Boat No. 16, whose projectiles were threatening the fort, and fired everything she had, including a rifle volley; two 32-pound shot pierced the iron blinds of the Union floating battery. Then General Sterling Price and General Sumter cooperated in a well executed coordinated attack, one after the other, ramming Cincinnati at full speed so that she lost her rudder and much of her stern; Cincinnati (whom Montgomery reported as Carondelet) had to be run ashore to avoid sinking. Thus, the Southern rams held off the Federal flotilla until the fort was successfully evacuated on 1 June. They then retired to Memphis to refuel.

Quickly following up the capture of Ft. Pillow, Union Flag Officer Charles H. Davis appeared off Memphis in force on 6 June. Montgomery, cornered without coal enough to retreat to Vicksburg, yet unwilling to scuttle his fleet, fought it out desperately in the Battle of Memphis. General Sumter rammed and seriously damaged Queen of the West, but eventually most of the Confederate vessels were destroyed or surrendered. General Sumter did not sink; badly shot up, she ran on the Arkansas shore, was captured, refloated, and renamed Sumter by the Union Navy. In August, she grounded again, downriver off Bayou Sara, La., and was abandoned except for spare-part raids on her machinery by the rest of the squadron at periods of low water. Before the local populace completed stripping her, Confederate authorities succeeded in setting fire to the hulk.