Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
In an era when the only way to avoid falling victim to fertile pranksters off their leash on April Fool's Day was to huddle in your basement, David Dixon Porter could be forgiven for jumping the calendar a bit and indulging himself. We just, plain loved April Fool's Day. Porter's account may have added a ' Fool's Day ' touch, not being exactly devoted to plain, old fact.
There are previous threads on Porter's April ' prank '. Too early in 1863 to qualify for April Fool's Day it's still appropriate for April 1st, 2019. And please, it was 150 years ago, hopefully no one will become upset by 150 year old glee at tricking Confederate artillery into shooting at dummy ships. They'd captured two awesome ships so it was a little even.
Winter, 1863 the stretch of the Mississippi between Vicksburg and Port Hudson was still held by the Confederates. The Union needed that stretch. So- this IS Porter, go easy on credulity. Except for the ship- that was real.
Feb. 2, 1863 Porter sent Queen of the West to the fight. Long story short, it took a week or so but Queen of the West not only succeeded in running past Confederate batteries, she captured a few supply ships, toboot. Feb. 13th, Indianola- an ironclad gunboat was sent to help. Great idea if things had gone well- Queen of the West had been captured and now was CSS Queen of the West. Part of a group now patrolling the Mississippi, CSS Webb, CSS Grand Era and CSS Dr. Beatty engaged USS Indianola, Feb. 24th, 30 miles below Vicksburg. Captain Brown was forced to surrender a badly rammed USS Indianola.
Gideon Welles telegram to Porter “The disastrous loss of the Indianola may, if she has not been disabled, involve the most serious results to the fleet below… She is too formidable to be left at large, and must be destroyed unless the attempt, in your judgment involves still greater risks.” A Confederates repair of Indianola, joining the also-captured Queen of the West would be a serious threat.
An old coal barge makes more sense than beginning from scratch- ever built a boat?
It's doubtful if Porter's plan was as comprehensive as later claimed- in a day when tall tales proliferated he could hold his own. Whatever the case, the result was USS Dummy Ship- aka a few other names ( Black Death? ) albeit they seem to not have materialized until after the fact.
Era accounts state a coal barge was used and built on- read modern accounts where USS Dummy Ship was built from scratch. Anyway- if this story unfolds variously dependent on what was reported, don't shoot the messenger.
Looking at other accounts, it does seem Porter's original intent was to draw fire and encourage Confederate gunners to waste ammunition. But who can resist embellishing a great story? USS Dummy Boat had company, USS Lafayette's doppleganger is a whole, ' nother story someone can bring up April 1st, 2020.