Island No. 10
Today marks the sesquicentennial of the Union capture of Island No 10. Located 60 miles south of Columbus at the Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi River (adjacent to New Madrid), Island No. 10 sits at the base of a tight double turn in the river. The island offered Confederates a key strategic position to protect the river from Union invasion but unfortunately it depended on a single road for reinforcements, communications, and supplies, making it easily isolated.
The engagement began on February 28th and lasted almost 40 days. After the Confederate surrendered of Forts Henry and Donelson, General P.G.T. Beauregard retreated with the Army of the Mississippi to Island No. 10, making the island their new strongpoint for Mississippi River defense. On February 28th, Brigadier General John Pope and the Union Army launched an attack on New Madrid from Commerce, Missouri. They marched through swamps, lugged supplies, and reached the outskirts of New Madrid on March 3rd when they began to siege the city. Confederate Brigadier General John P. McCrown defended both New Madrid and Island No. 10, ordering Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson and the Missouri State Guard to challenge the besiegers with heavy artillery. On March 13th, the Confederates bombarded the Union troops but the Yankees would not yield. With few capabilities to defend New Madrid, the Rebel soldiers and gunboats evacuated to Island No. 10 and Tiptonville. The next day, the Union army began occupying the now deserted garrison at New Madrid—gaining access to the heavy artillery left behind by the southerners.
On March 15th, Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote and a Union flotilla arrived upstream from Island No. 10. For the next three weeks, the flotilla bombarded the island. Meanwhile, the Union army at New Madrid dug a canal across the neck of the land to the east of the town, providing the Yankees with transports and an easy way to traverse the river in the event of an attack. On the night of April 4th, the ironclad Carondelet passed the Confederate batteries and anchored off New Madrid. Two nights later, the Pittsburgh followed suit. With the aid of these two ironclads, the joint army-navy force of the Union overpowered the Confederate batteries and allowed Pope’s troops to cross the Mississippi River and block the Confederate retreat. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who was then in charge of the Confederate troops, officially surrendered Island No. 10 on April 8.
After the surrender of Island No. 10, the Mississippi River was open down to Fort Pillow, Tennessee—a short distance from Memphis. More importantly, the victory at Island No. 10 paved the way for David Farragut’s attack on New Orleans. Because the fall of Island No. 10 happened immediately after the Battle of Shiloh—at that point, the bloodiest battle in the war—it received little notice from the public or media.
For more information on the battle at Island No. 10, please see our previous posts "I will not attempt to hamper you with any minute instructions" and Then and Now: Pope's Canal to New Madrid.