The Mississippi in the Civil War Message Board

143rd annniversary of tinclad Petrel capture....

Hello -

was cruising the web and found an URL (see below)for a posting I made circa 2000. Since the 143rd anniversary of the Petrel's capture is coming up in a few weeks, thought I would repost it here.


Capture Of The Gun Boat Petrel in 1864
(As told by Maj. B.P. Jett.)

Pages 99-102 in Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas;
Gateway to Texas 1835, Confederate Capital 1863. "The Old Town Speaks"

by Charlean Moss Williams (1951)
The Anson Jones Press, Houston, Texas

There have been several accounts given of this action by different persons in different states. In some particulars they were correct; some, in error.

Some have stated that the Petrel had twelve guns, others say six, while, in fact she had but four. Another account said "every one about the boat was killed but the captain." This is an error as Major Jett, who was among the first to go aboard when she surrendered, saw but few dead.

The men from Hempstead County who took part in this engagement were: Capt. Ed Jett, Lieut. Wyley Stinson, J.J. Thomas, 3rd Lieut. T.C. Smith, A.D. Monroe, D.E. Alexander, B.P. Jett and F.B. Arnett, of Washington, Arkansas, D.M. Goodlett, J.P. City, Wilson Wallace, of Ozan, Arkansas; Ben Wheat of Lewisville, Arkansas; James Wilson of Columbus, Arkansas; James of Wallaceburg; and J.B. Simms, later of Lake Village, Arkansas.

Capt. Ed Jett who commanded this company was a prisoner at the time of the engagement, and his company was commanded by Lieut. Wyley Stinson. Maj. Pen Jett was one of the regiment, and his report of the capture of the Petrel continues:

In the Spring of 1864, Vicksburg and Port Hudson had fallen, and were garrisoned by Federal troops; Gen. Wirt Adams' Brigade of Cavalry was operating in the Big Black and Yazoo Country, and, at the time, was near Canton. On April 23rd, a scout came to General Adams and reported a fleet of five gunboats coming up the Yazoo River from Vicksburg. General Adams at once moved his Brigade to Yazoo City, but saw nothing of the gunboats. This was about 11 o'clock; about 2:00 p.m. they came in sight. Drew's battery of six guns was at once stationed on the hill overlooking the river, and gallantly opened on the fleet as it came up the river and tried to pass our guns. The boats replied, and the firing was lively for a time between the boats and our guns. The firing of Drew's guns was rapid and accurate, and he succeeded in driving four of the five boats back down the river, but the flag boat succeeded in passing and continued up the river some two miles and tied up on the opposite bank.

The next day, the boat was still there. Colonel Griffith sent B.B. Chism and Sim Morris, of his Regiment, on a scouting trip to locate the boat and report to him. They did so. As soon as Griffith received the report he sent word to General Adams, and proposed to him to take his Brigade and capture it - said it was feasible and practical. To this, General Adams would not consent. Griffith, worried and discouraged by the General's decision, finally asked the General to give him his (Griffith's) own Regiment and two pieces, and he would capture it; to this, General Adams agreed, saying, as the Colonel was joyously leaving: "Let me know, Colonel when you get it." Soon, Colonel Griffith had his regiment of about 130 men and two pieces of artillery, Drew's Battery, commanded by Lieut. Howel, mounted and moving.

Leading them through the valleys of the Petite Gulf hills out of sight of the spy glasses of the boats, still down the river, until he reached the Yazoo River bottom where the timber was very heavy and thick and some half miles from where the Petrel lay, he halted and put Major Jett in command of some 30 or 40 picked men, mostly from the Hempstead County company, with orders to dismount, leave their horses with the Regiment, and to advance silently and cautiously, and post them behind trees on the bank opposite the gunboat. Sim Morris guided Jett's detachment in, and B.B. Chism remained to guide Col. Griffith and the artillery.

Jett succeeded in getting stationed, un-noticed by the enemy, as directed. His orders were, as soon as he heard Col. Griffith, who was to advance mounted, give the command to halt, he was to open fire on the boat which was done. The boat replied gallantly with the two guns directed at us, but the shots went over the heads of the members of Jett's squad; however, some of Griffith's men who were coming up at "double quick" were killed or wounded. The artillery was pulled by hand from where the Regiment halted and dismounted, some two hundred yards away. As soon as she was fired on, the Petrel cut loose from the bank and started up the river, but our orders were to fire into the port holes so as to prevent reloading - no breach loaders in those days - and the cannon had to be swabbed after each shot. Our men followed her, firing as directed, and in the meantime, Lieutenant Howel, with his two guns, was pumping shells into her insides, and after a few shots a steam pipe was struck. She ran into the bank, her crew escaping to the opposite shore, but the Captain remained, standing in the water with his white flag.

Matt Sandels and Sim Morris stripped off, swam the river to the bow of the boat where Capt. McElroy was standing and demanded his surrender. He replied: "Take me to your commanding officer, and I will do so." They got one of the skiffs belonging to the boat and recrossed for Colonel Griffith and four men who came over with him. (The four men were D.M. Goodlett, B.B. Chism, Mat Sandels and Sim Morris.)

Major Jett and John Stuart found a skiff a short distance up the river, and swimming their horses by the side of the skiff, crossed also, reaching the boat about the same time that Col. Griffith and party did. Jett and Stuart went up by the gang-plank to the cabin above, and Griffith and party went below. When they boarded the boat, they went in the cabin and found dinner on the table, and such a dinner as they hadn't seen in three years. Their friends, the Yankees, hadn't had time to eat just then - they had other business. The flag of the Petrel was taken possession of by Capt. Bowie, of General Adams Staff, and in after years was presented by General Bowie to Capt. Freemont of the United States Frigate, or Man of War, at Natchez, Mississippi. His vessel was named "Mississippi." The guns of the Petrel were sent to Mobile and the boat was burned, by order of General Adams, by Chism, Morris, Sandel and Goodlett, of Major Griffith's 11th and 17th Consolidated Regiments.

COMMENTS: The above account by Major Benjamin Pendleton Jett, 11th & 17th Arkansas Infantry, is in overall agreement with other accounts as documented by Edwin C. Bearss and others. There are some obvious errors: "April 23" rather than the actual date of April 22, and "Major Griffith's" rather than Colonel Griffith's 11th and 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry. Whether these are due to errors in Major Jett's memory or transcription for the 1951 book is not known.

Most of the men described by Major Jett were indeed members of the 11th and 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry; "Lieut. Howel" described above was undoubtedly Sr. Lt. (later Captain) W.C. Howell who was indeed a member of Owen's Monticello (aka Drew's) Arkansas Battery.

The O.R. reports describing this action can be viewed at the following website:

-- Kenneth Byrd* Indianapolis, IN August 21, 2000

(*great-great-nephew of Col. John Griffith)