Capture of U.S.S. Morning Light off Sabine Pass, by Frank Schell


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georgew

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From the NYPL Digitial Collections. The NYPL caption refers to the Confederate steamer Uncle Ben (left) as "copper clad;" it should be "cotton-clad."

View attachment 88629
Hi Andy, belated query here. Were the Sabine River boats actually carrying that much cotton when they came out after the two Union sailing vessels? I keep wondering about reserve buoyancy off shore and c of g if they took a hit between wind and water. W.T. Block wrote an interesting article on this incident and suggests that the sniper rifles and Ellsworth rifled gun recovered from the Morning Light were highly regarded by the troops that captured them. When Morning Light was fired, the Texans not only lost her guns, but also a large quantity of pig iron being used as ballast. One disgusted noncom was convinced that she could have been dragged up river through the silt and salvaged. All of the Texas ports except Sabine had bars of hard sand. The Sabine had a heavy layer of silt and the noncom may have been right. He was also claiming that the man making the call was drunk.
 

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0de6bb77f7bb5e66395e6392ae8fc7c7.jpg


@georgew
, I don't know specifically how much cotton those steamers were carrying, but it's absolutely plausible. The two "cottonclads" at Galveston, Bayou City and Neptune No. 2, were similarly outfitted. Those old river packets routinely carried cargoes like that during the cotton shipping season (above). The cotton offered protection against small arms fire but not much else. Going offshore would be dicey, but presumably they picked their moment when the conditions would be acceptable. (Note that Frank Schell, the artist, depicted almost a dead calm.) If they took a hit between wind and water they'd go down regardless; the hulls were lightly built and not compartmentalized.

I don't know what Frank Schell's source for his illustration of those boats was, but in other works he's been more reliable than many of his contemporaries.

Block is a handy source to keep around, because he was indefatigable in tracking down old, long-lost sources.
 

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AndyHall

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I found a photo of a model of the Josiah H. Bell: https://cliftonsteamboatmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/cotton-bales-in-battle-2/
Looks a bit odd, but I have never researched this ship, so I might be wrong.
Sorry for taking so long to respond, but I only saw this today.

css-josiah-a-bell1.jpg


Yes, this is an odd model and, in my view, unlikely to be a good representation of J. H. Bell (or Josiah H. Bell) as a cottonclad. Bell was a sidewheeler built at Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1853. Everything I've seen suggests the boat was a typical sidewheel river packet, which would make the walking beam engine incorrect for the type -- that would require a very large, heavy cylinder and a deep hull, which is why they weren't used much on the Western Rivers. The model builder, Bob Haas, built many, many steamboat models in 1:48 scale that are in museums all over East Texas, but in this case I believe it's just not correct.
 
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Sorry for taking so long to respond, but I only saw this today.

css-josiah-a-bell1.jpg


Yes, this is an odd model and, in my view, unlikely to be a good representation of J. H. Bell (or Josiah H. Bell) as a cottonclad. Bell was a sidewheeler built at Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1853. Everything I've seen suggests the boat was a typical sidewheel river packet, which would make the walking beam engine incorrect for the type -- that would require a very large, heavy cylinder and a deep hull, which is why they weren't used much on the Western Rivers. The model builder, Bob Haas, built many, many steamboat models in 1:48 scale that are in museums all over East Texas, but in this case I believe it's just not correct.
I believe that the Bell had a V-hull, not a standard steamboat hull. This in some of W.T. Blocks write-ups.
 

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Her depth of hold was only 6.7 feet (Way's Directory), so I'm doubtful of Block on that point. Such a shallow hull with V shape would not have served very well as a river packet.
 
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According to the source below the CSS Josiah H Bell had a vee shaped hull and possibly a walking beam engine with a very wide beam to length ratio a bit like the model above . I don't think any of the converted vessels in the Sabine City area were flat bottomed boats like those at Galveston . All other pictures I have turned up relating to the Sabine are show small vessels with vee shape hulls. Josiah H Bell was also later used as a coastal blockade runner of sorts indicating a more seagoing like vessel rather than a flatbottomed river steamer . A picture of her consort CSS Uncle Ben is also shown (dropping Union prisoners off at fort Griffon after the battle) as a small vee hulled paddle steamer with a clipper bow and and cotton bale armour . The sketch showing two river steamers attacking the union ship Morning Light was probably fanciful and based on the Galveston pictures of river steamers which were correct for that battle .
The only thing that bothers me about the model is that it doesnt match any other vessel I know in style but as far as the description goes it seems to tick all the boxes. Broad beamed, Vee hulled, vertical engine and a wood burner with 1,800 cotton bale capacity . I see no reason why there would be not enough room for a vertical engine, her hold was 6.7 feet deep , the engine could have been almost have been mounted on her deck when you look at the short length of stroke required.

http://www.riverboatdaves.com/aboutboats/j_h_bell.html

"According to Texas steamboat inspection records, the Josiah Bell was built at Howard Shipyard in Jeffersonville, IN., in 1853, and it was a side-wheel steamer of 412 tons burden. The vessel was 171 feet long, 30 feet wide, with a 6.7 foot depth of hold. The steamer was outfitted with a 450 hp. upright marine steam engine, powered by three boilers. The Bell was built of white oak timbers, with a V-bottom, deep-sea hull, and its bow was especially reinforced, perhaps outfitted with an iron prow piece. The Bell had an 1,800 cotton bale capacity, the second largest in Texas"
 

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OK, I see the exact quote from Block, and that is clear enough. But it's still not a very deep hull, and couldn't have been for any vessel intended to operate on the rivers. I shoulda' given Bob Haas more credit on that one. This is roughly what the cross-section of the hull might look like, based on Block's description. I may also have the deadrise too steep here. It's a deeper-than-normal hull for a river steamer (which would have enabled her to carry more cotton that other boats), but it's definitely not a "deep sea" hull form:

J H Bell Hypothetical Cross Section.jpg


I made a couple of trips over to the Orange area a few years back where a local researcher thinks he located J. H. Bell, and there's certainly a vessel of some sort there, but not anything "diagnostic" that would identify either that vessel specifically, or the general type. Lots of abandoned craft in those bends and bayous. Lots of 'gators, too. Here I am up to my danm fool neck in it, groping around trying to figure out what he found:

DSC03135.JPG
 
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georgew

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Sorry for taking so long to respond, but I only saw this today.

View attachment 240682

Yes, this is an odd model and, in my view, unlikely to be a good representation of J. H. Bell (or Josiah H. Bell) as a cottonclad. Bell was a sidewheeler built at Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1853. Everything I've seen suggests the boat was a typical sidewheel river packet, which would make the walking beam engine incorrect for the type -- that would require a very large, heavy cylinder and a deep hull, which is why they weren't used much on the Western Rivers. The model builder, Bob Haas, built many, many steamboat models in 1:48 scale that are in museums all over East Texas, but in this case I believe it's just not correct.
Hi Andy. I just picked up on this. The model above appears to have a hardened (ironed?) deck above the boilers and engines. I'm assuming that it would be boiler iron if true, but there were stocks of T-rail around Sabine and Orange for an extension of the rail line E to Louisiana. Don't have my references with me right now, but part of the rocking beam from one of the Sabine boats was mounted in a park in E. Texas. I can't remember if it was off the Clifton or the Bell. One thing that sticks out on this model is the depiction of the smoke stacks aft of the wheels. You wonder if this implies that the boilers were also aft. This puzzles me as I'm under the impression that river steamer boilers were usually forward for better inflow of air into the fireboxes? I can't tell from the photo whether the model depicts bulk heading of the wheel houses (with pressed cotton?) for protection. I read somewhere that Sabine did not have a steam cotton press and it makes me realize that many of the cotton clads on the Sabine probably used bales of unpressed cotton which should have been larger but less dense than pressed bales. Western pressed bales tended to come in about 260 lbs each. Unpressed bales - half that figure? There is a sketch of the capture of the morning light on this board with the two Texas Marine steamers closing on her. The sketch artist was allegedly on site of the action. The cotton-cladding on both steamers is very different than the above. The model above depicts what appears to be a single line of stacked bales, but no provision to provide cover for infantry detachments aboard as snipers. I would expect something for them on the upper deck as their fire against the Morning Light's gun crews would be more effective.
 

georgew

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From the NYPL Digitial Collections. The NYPL caption refers to the Confederate steamer Uncle Ben (left) as "copper clad;" it should be "cotton-clad."

View attachment 88629
Andy, take a good look at the steamer on the left. It depicts external supports to hold stacked cotton bales in place and infantry behind the top line of bales. Both of the steamers are shown with their stacks forward as opposed of that model of the Bell with aft stacks. I think there is a good chance that these bales are not pressed, cutting down on the protection for the snipers. Morning Light had snipers in her tops using very accurate rifles with scopes. The Confederates were delighted to capture them along with a small rifled Ellsworth gun and Morning Lights regular battery of 32-pounders. I wonder if the safest approach on the Morning Light would have been in line with her stern as I've never read that she had one or more stern chasers.
 

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The model above appears to have a hardened (ironed?) deck above the boilers and engines. I'm assuming that it would be boiler iron if true, but there were stocks of T-rail around Sabine and Orange for an extension of the rail line E to Louisiana. Don't have my references with me right now, but part of the rocking beam from one of the Sabine boats was mounted in a park in E. Texas.
Ignore that model, please. When I wrote, "unlikely to be a good representation," I was being polite. Haas built a ton of models like these for local museums, and Lord only knows what he based them on.
 
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AndyHall

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It depicts external supports to hold stacked cotton bales in place and infantry behind the top line of bales. Both of the steamers are shown with their stacks forward as opposed of that model of the Bell with aft stacks. I think there is a good chance that these bales are not pressed, cutting down on the protection for the snipers.
Yes, this is some sort of system for holding the bales in place, which suggests a more long-term conversion to a "cottonclad" than Bayou City and Neptune No. 2 at Galveston in January 1863. Still, I believe the bales would have been pressed, at least at the point of ginning, before transportation to the coast. Under ordinary circumstances it would be common for them to be pressed again, for efficient use of space, before being loaded as cargo aboard a foreign-bound or coastwise vessel.
 

georgew

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Yes, this is some sort of system for holding the bales in place, which suggests a more long-term conversion to a "cottonclad" than Bayou City and Neptune No. 2 at Galveston in January 1863. Still, I believe the bales would have been pressed, at least at the point of ginning, before transportation to the coast. Under ordinary circumstances it would be common for them to be pressed again, for efficient use of space, before being loaded as cargo aboard a foreign-bound or coastwise vessel.
Does anyone know if any of the river ports on the Sabine upriver had a press? I believe that the Bell was modified at Levinsons Yard (Beaumont?). She was returned to the yard late in the war for modification as a runner and scuttled in the river at war's end. Her machinery had been pulled at the end and used for other purposes.
 

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Every ginning operation (including those on the large plantations) would have a press, at least an animal-powered one.

s-l1000.jpg
 

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