Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Schuylkill County Marine, Private Amous T. Biesel onboard the U.S.S. Benton During the Civil War.

Island No. 10

Schuylkill County Private Amous Biesel U.S. Marine Corps was a marine on board the U.S.S. Flagship Benton. He was on a 9 inch Dahlgren gun. Biesel fought at the famous 1862 battle of Island No. 10.

On March 15th , the U.S.S. Benton and other Federal naval units commenced daily bombardment of Island No. 10 and the Tennessee shore, but without too much effect. Attempts to pass westward through a chute to the north of the island were thwarted by the
sinking of the CSS Winchester there. The Confederate defenders suffered more from high water, particularly in the area around Battery No. 1. Magazine storage of ammunition was almost impossible, due to water. Some effective force came from Federal batteries along the west bank of the river south of New Madrid.

The Confederate defenses received heavy bombardment on March 18 and 19, but effective counter-battery fire caused a slackening of this fire by March 20. But, by Apr. 2, flood waters had forced the virtual abandonment of Battery No. 1. That night, a Federal landing party from USS Benton rushed the position and spiked the guns.

On Apr. 5, USS Benton, Cincinnati and Pittsburg each with a mortar boat in tow, shelled Confederate positions on both sides of the river, cutting adrift the floating battery.

On the night of Apr. 4-5, Commander Henry Walke took the Carondelet downstream past the island, anchoring at New Madrid at dawn. The Pittsburg duplicated the maneuver the following night.

On Apr. 7, these two vessels steamed downstream and attacked and silenced Confederate batteries along the river as far south as Tiptonville.

This is an excellent letter written by Biesel to his cousin Erasmus Seitzinger, from Fountain Springs.

U.S.S. Benton

It’s a Beautiful Thing To See the Shells Thrown At Night

U.S.S. Flagship Benton
Pvt. Amous Biesel U.S.Marine Corps
Off Island No. 10
Friday March 21, 1862

Dear Erasmus:
I suppose you have heard through he papers of our attack on the first battery of the enemy on the main land above Island No. 10. We commenced fire at one o’clock and continued till dark, when it was necessary for us to retire; which I believe they now boast of as driving the Yankee Gun Boats back. I was on a nine inch Dahlgren that throws an eighty-pound ball. You better think we were tired when night came, as we loaded and fired as fast as we could during the whole engagement. Their first shot all 64 and 125-pound balls fell short. Then they began to throw over us. Now I tell you when the big fellows came whizzing over our heads it was enough to make a fellow juke, which I did until I got used to them. We received three shots, which made things crack. The first a 66 pounder struck midway on the upper deck came through and struck on a heavy timber on the main deck glanced upward against one of the cross timbers falling down on a deck of the Commodore breaking through into the drawer were it still lies. The next one struck almost directly in front of my head aside of the porthole for our gun. It made a big hole in the 2 ½ in. iron. Had it been three inches more to the right it would have come through. We have kept up a continual fire on them every day since. They only return at intervals. We have sixteen mortar boats which thrown shells across the point at them. It is astonishing how things can throw so much iron. It is a beautiful thing to see the shells thrown at night and bursting over the rebels. We cannot make another attack until we get land forces. We could easily take their batteries, but have no troops to hold them. We are expecting forces every day and then we will give them fits with Yankee Gun boats. You may expect to hear a good account from us. I think we will bag their whole forces , as Polk has procession of the river below us. I have no doubt they would like to get out if they possibly could. They have a large encampment right in our sight. And a great many large steamboats which we consider as good as ours. It is rumored that Beauregard is there if its only true. We will settle wise bills for him and Polk.
I will give you a short description of our own and there positions. Their first battery, which mounted seven guns, we have dismounted all but two. I anticipate some hard fighting to conquer them at this point. Pope is a short distance below them but cannot assist us so he has no way to get his troops across the river. We tried to get a tug and some mortars down through the Bayou but could not do it. We can hear them at their gunboats almost every day. They are trying to open the way, I think, to get men out of this place.

Amous T. Biesel

Expecting Every Moment To Be Blown Out Of The Water

U.S.S. Flagship Benton
Marine Pvt. Amous Biesel
Above Fort Pillow,
Mississippi, Flotilla
April 27th, 1862

Cousin Erasmus:
Instead of being at Fort Wright as the Philadelphia papers have it, we are at Fort Pillow, which is eighty-five miles above Memphis, on the first line of Chickasaw Bluffs, which strikes the Mississippi River at the mouth of Hatchen River. Island No. 10 was surrounded on Wednesday night at twelve o’clock, the 7th of April, of which you have read the whole account of the surrender and fortifications.
Previous to giving you the particulars of our trip from Island No. 10 here. I wish to correct one of the most exaggerated engravings in Harpers Weekly, of the spiking of the guns of No. 1 battery. It represents a terrible storm raging, and many of our men on the ramparts firing at the fleeing rebels. All the firing that was done was by rebel sentries. One volley was fired so high it did no damage. After which they made tracks for parts unknown, leaving the fort entirely at the mercy of the Yankees to accomplish their object with the hammer and axe. As for the raging storm, all the boats had returned to the Benton, and reported their successful trip to the flag officer and it was not until after all the boats had returned to their respective gunboats that the storm commenced raging. I was on watch during the whole work, saw the fire of musketry and was just about turning in when the expedition returned. I must say for Col. Roberts a braver man the Western Army cannot produce. After the surrender we remained at anchorage until Friday afternoon at three o’clock when the word was given to up anchor. You can imagine how that order was received after staying in one position in the middle of the river for four weeks. We were all in hopes of getting on the island and main land to get trophies of some kind to send our friends. After many hard days of fighting and patience we were sadly disappointed. As we passed their fortifications, it appeared almost impossible that such formidable defenses were easily overcome, but the Yankee boys were too much for them. We arrived at General Pope’s headquarters about sundown, when once more we cast anchor, and awaited until the following day and twelve o’clock for Pope’s forces to be ready to follow on the transports.
We came down so far as the Obyne River, when the fleet moored for the night. About twelve o’clock one of the rebel gunboats rounded the point below us, but on the discovery of the black iron monsters, it came to a halt, and remained until morning. About eight o’clock four more made their appearance. As soon as the flag officer heard of the arrival of the distinguished Commodore Hollins he came upon the spar deck looked down and smiled at them showing their bravery, keeping a distance of seven miles. He then gave Captain Phelps orders to signal the fleet to get under headway, the Benton taking the advance. They kept their position until we got within two miles of them, when we opened on them with our rifled Dahlgren’s, which made them get up and dust. They fired quite a number of shot at us. One shrapnel shell bursted over the boat, the contents fell on the forecastle of the boat. The men gathered them up after the firing was over. Instead of being leaden bullets, they were filled with marbles. It was a grand chase as we passed by the plantations on the Tennessee shore. We were cheered on with the waving of many white handkerchiefs. About 10 o’clock all hands were ordered to muster on the spar deck, when we had a short sermon form the Commodore for the first Sunday in four weeks, without being disturbed from shots fired by the enemy. We proceeded on our way giving them chase until we run them under the guns of Fort Pillow above which place they have not shown themselves since. We ran under the guns before we were aware of being close to the fort. We were running very fast, anxiously watching what was to make its appearance around the next point which we were approaching when almost in an instant we passed the point, in full view of their works and escarpments on the heights of the bluff. Expecting every moment to be blown out of the water, but they never fired a shot. We took a good view of the place and saw that the whole side of the hill was thrown up into fortifications. We returned two miles up the river, moored the ship and still remain in the same position. On Monday the mortar boats were put into position. They have ever since put up continual fire both night and day. The bushwhackers call the mortar shells, flower barrels. I do not know the cause of our delay here, unless it is for the purpose of waiting to know how they are going to make at Corinth.. twenty five thousand of General Pope’s men have been taken from here to Pittsburgh Landing, which leaves us but five thousand troops, they are as much service to us as fifty thousand would be as we cannot effect a landing on this side of Pillow. Since we have been here there have been many deserters from them. They give a gloomy account of their army. They have become perfectly demoralized since they met with so many defeats. There was one deserter from the 21st Louisiana regiment, his name was George Hurter; he learned his trade in Pottsville, with Daniel Hill and was working there during Elias’ apprenticeship. He had a fifty-dollar bill on the Confederate States of America payable at Richmond six months after peace is declared with the United States. If ever there was a happy man he was when he got aboard of the much-dreaded Benton. They do not appear to fear any boat in the fleet, but this one. After the passage of the conscription law, there were six very intelligent young men left Memphis on last Sunday night, in a skiff with provisions, blankets and a change of clothing. They came up across the overflowed land, to escape being pressed into service. They say that when our men in Pittsburgh, passed through Memphis southward the ladies gave them more than they could store away. They would go into the confectioners; buy them all kinds of delicacies, and cigars and then get them to sing the Happy Land of Canaan, the Star Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia. During all of this General Prentis went out on the platform and told them to have a little patience; that it would not be long until they would be at liberty to sing those National Songs under the protection of the Stars and Stripes.
After General Prentis made that remark, one of the rankest secessionists in the city, went into a store, bought a box of the finest cigars, took them out and presented them to General Prentis. They also say that whenever they hear of a Union victory, you can see the majority of the people going around laughing in their sleeves. Every morning when they rise they stretch their eyes wide open to see if there are the Federal Gunboats in sight. after this place is taken there are no more fortifications this side of Baton Rouge. They say we cannot form how many loyal men there are in the rebel army. I am anxious that we can get down there to relive the poor fellows from tyranny.
There were three deserters came up this morning from Fort Pillow. Two of them are from Jersey Shore, Clinton County, Penna. They have been living here almost six years. They are brothers. Their names Brady first cousin to Samuel Brady. Hartman’s brother in law. They are very fine intelligent fine looking men. They have accumulated considerable property since they have been here. The Commodore is going to give them passes tomorrow to go north to visit their friends.
Well Erasmus, I could write a great deal more, had I the paper to write on. Much that would be of great interest to you, but owing to the scarcity of paper and the troublesome mosquitoes, I will have to close. I am what the sailors call a lazy Marine. When we are not in action we do nothing but stand guard. I will give you an account of a conversation between myself and a Mr. Secesh, previous to the water overflowing the bank at this point. The day after our arrival. I was standing out on the bank, when Mr. Secesh approached the subject on mosquitoes; I remarked, “How are you my friend?”
Secesh. “Well, I can’t complain.”
“You have plenty of mosquitoes here”
Secesh, “Well; no we have a krap of Buffalo nats just now, but after the water goes down, we will have a large krap of mosquitoes.”
Think I, can it be possible this is but a small Krap? I thought it was doing pretty well for a commencement. If such be the case, they are more plenty here, than they were on the lower Mississippi.

Amous Biesel

USS Benton "Largest Of The Union River Fleet" January 15, 1862 - November 1865
The USS Benton began its life on the water as a snag boat pulling up trees and sunken ships that made navigable waters dangerous. Civilian contractor James B. Eads was contracted to convert the sturdily built catamaran into the the largest and most powerful ironclad of the Union's River Fleet. The craft originally had two hulls braced 20 feet apart, but Eads planked them to make one strong hull 72 feet wide and 202 feet long. Space was left in the stern of the hull to allow for a central wheel to be propelled by the two original powerful engines. The sides and how they were protected by a slanting casemate with an armor 3.5 inches thick. The wheelhouse and stern were built with casemates covered with 2.5 inch thick iron. The Benton carried 16 cannon and a crew of 176 men.
Adm. Andrew H. Foote received his powerful flagship on January 15, 1862, from Eads's shipyard in Carondelet, MO. On February 6, 1862, the Benton led the attack on Fort Henry, TN. Realizing defeat was imminent, the Rebels at that point had the fort manned only by a company of Tennessee artillerymen. The flagship opened fire on the fort from 1,700 yards away and closed to within 600 yards. As the seven ironclads and gunboats bombarded the fort, the nine Rebel gun crews returned fire, striking the Benton 32 times. The Rebel fire disabled two of the Benton's guns and riddled her after-cabin, stacks, and boats with shots. But the sturdy Benton moved in without hesitation until the fort commander struck the flag and surrendered.
The Benton aided the Union in its victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862, in the Battle of Island No. 10 in April of the same year, and in the final operations against Vicksburg and the Red River campaign. In December 1862, while securing a landing for General Sherman's troops on the Yazoo River, the Benton was severely damaged by Confederate fire. Her captain, Lt. William Gwin, was killed and nine others were wounded or killed. The ship was repaired and returned to service.
Fascinating Fact: In service to the Union until the end of the Civil War, the Benton was stripped of her plating and sold for scrap in November 1865.
Displacement: 1033 tons
Length: 202 ft (62 m)
Beam: 72 ft (22 m)
Draught: 9 ft (2.7 m)
Propulsion: steam engine

Speed: 5.5 knots
Complement: 176 officers and enlisted
Armament: two 9” smoothbores
seven 32-pounder smoothbores
seven 42-pounder rifles
Armor: ironclad

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