Civil War in New Madrid
Leading Up To Battle
With the surrender of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, and the evacuation of Columbus, Kentucky, General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, chose Island Number 10, which stood about 10 feet above the low water mark, had 30 guns and was about 60 river miles below Columbus, to be the strong point for defending the Mississippi River.
Nearby was New Madrid, Missouri, one of the weak points. Brigadier General John Pope, commander of the Union Army of the Mississippi, left from Commerce, Missouri, to attack New Madrid, on February 28, 1862. His force of men marched overland through swamps, lugging supplies and artillery, reaching the outskirts of New Madrid on March 3, and laid siege to the city. Brigadier General John P. McCown, the garrison commander, defended both New Madrid and Island Number 10 from the fortifications at Fort Thompson and Fort Bankhead, which housed a total of 21 heavy guns. He launched a sortie, under Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, Missouri State Guard, against the besiegers and brought up heavy artillery to bombard them.
On the 13th, four 128-pound siege guns arrived and the Union set about in earnest to bombard the forts and the fleet of gunboats. The Confederates bombarded the Yankees to no avail. Since it did not appear possible to defend New Madrid, the Confederate gunboats and troops evacuated to Island Number 10 and Tiptonville, Tennessee.
On the 14th, Pope's army discovered that New Madrid was deserted and moved in to occupy it. A Union Navy flotilla, under the command of Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, arrived March 15, upstream from Island Number 10.
Digging A Bypass Canal
During this time Foote thought it would be suicide to run ironclads past Island Number 10 so Pope ordered a shallow canal dug to bypass the hairpin curve of Island Number 10 and come out just east of New Madrid thus bypassing the batteries. The canal was 50 feet wide and 12 miles long with 6 miles cut through heavy timber where every tree had to be sawed off 4½ feet below water. This remarkable event was completed in 19 days while Island Number 10 Confederate soldiers endured day and night shelling. By April 4th, it was possible to ferry shallow-draft troop transports down to Pope at New Madrid.
Ironclads Sneak Past Island Number 10
On the night of April fourth, during a thunderstorm the Ironclad Carondelet with a coal barge lashed to the port side for protection ran the Island Number 10 batteries, receiving only two hits in the process, and anchored at New Madrid at dawn. The Ironclad Pittsburg followed on the night of April sixth.These ironclads helped to overthrow the Confederate batteries and guns, enabling Pope's men to cross the river and block the Confederate escape route.
Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who replaced Major General John P. McCown, surrendered Island Number 10 at 2 a.m. on the morning of April 8, 1862 to Foote.
Pope reported an incredible haul of prisoners and equipment that included the capture of three generals, 273 field and company officers, 6,700 privates, 123 pieces of heavy artillery and an immense supply of ammunition and small arms. All this had been accomplished with fewer than hundred causalities on the Union side.
The Mississippi River was now open about 50 miles downriver to Fort Pillow, Tennessee with the Union victory. New Madrid and Island Number 10 was the Confederate's last stronghold in the State. No rebel flag was now flying in Missouri.
Island Number 10 Today
Island Number 10 has since disappeared as a result from erosion from the Mississippi River and is now located on the Missouri side of the river near Donaldson Point.
Civil War Artifacts
Civil War enthusiasts will be particularly interested in the Civil War Room located in the New Madrid Historical Museum. Letters, clothing, equipment and weaponry of the period are all on display, much of it donated by local residents with family connections to the pieces.
The Battle of Island Number 10 is presented from the viewpoint of a local historian and the Gift Shop carries an excellent selection of books on the period.
Driving Tour of Civil War Sites of New Madrid Brochure (front) (PDF)
Driving Tour of Civil War Sites of New Madrid Brochure (back) (PDF)