Union Army gunboat

Silver Lake No.2

Her Men and History




  Silver Lake No.2 is listed as the second of four boats with the same name, all constructed between 1858 and 1863. It's physical description: a sternwheel packet* which was built at Wellsville, Columbiana county, Ohio in 1861. It had a wooden hull and weighed some 129 tons. It's power plant was two boilers; piston diameter was 13 inches; length of piston stroke was 3 feet, 6 inches. The boat was purchased by the U.S. Quartermaster Department in 1861 for $16,000. It was outfitted with 6 cannons capable of firing 24 pound shot.1 (Private Absalom Ross, my great grandfather, was assigned to the Silver Lake No.2 in September, 1862, by order of General Rosecrans. It is my belief that he manned one of the cannons aboard the boat.)

  The boat was commanded by Captain John S. Devenny with crewmembers James Shouse, James Harper, John Hanlon, Alexander Harlan, Benjamin Harlan, J. Huff Parrish, John Lopeman, James Morgan Jr., and Joseph Collins.2

Records indicate the boat docked at the following inland ports:

  • Cincinnati

  • Cumberland Station
  • Nashville

  Other references indicate the boat patrolled the Ohio River between Scuffletown Bar (Kentucky?) and Shawneetown Bar (Illinois?)3

  Patrolled the Cumberland River: "Several brisk skirmishes took place in this area because of the importance of Cumberland River navigation. October 17, 1864, General H. B. Lyon with a small CSA force attacked Union garrison, which surrendered and was taken from town (Eddyville, KY). Union gunboat "Silver Lake" (no number given) shelled town, took Lyon's wife hostage. Lyon then released Captain Hugh M. Hiett and eight U.S.A. officers."4 (Inscribed on roadside sign located Overlook Drive, Eddyville, KY, just off KY 730.)

  Dec 26-31 1863 U.S.S. Reindeer, Acting Lieutenant Henry A. Glassford, with Army steamer Silver Lake No. 2 in company, reconnoitered the Cumberland River at the request of General Grant. The force moved from Nashville to Carthage without incident but was taken under fire five times on the 29th. The Confederates' positions, Glassford reported, "availed them nothing, however, against the guns of this vessel and those of the Silver Lake No. 2; they were completely shelled out of them. The gunboats continued as far as Creelsboro, Kentucky, before "the river gave unmistakable signs of a fall." The ships subsequently returned to Nashville.5
  On October 7, 1865, the Silver Lake No.2 was sold to a private concern and the boat was re-fitted as a "side wheeler" (stern wheel removed and a paddle wheel mounted on either side of the boat). She was renamed the "Marion". About August of 1866, she sank on a sand bar at Pablo Rapids, about 70 miles below Fort Benton, Montana. Capt. William D. Shanks was master at the time. First news of this came to St. Louis via the GALLATIN in August 1866, the officers also reporting the loss of the POCAHONTAS, 60 miles below Fort Randall. The boilers, engines, furniture, etc., were all removed on shore. The National Geographic Magazine, July 1977 issue, included a supplement map "Wild and Scenic Rivers" marking location of the MARION wreck at Pablo Rapids.6

Naval Forces on the Western Waters

An Account of Action on the Silver Lake No.2

NASHVILLE, DECEMBER 22, 1863. (Forwarded from Clarksville.)

General Grant wants a gunboat to go up the Cumberland on a reconnaissance as far as Big South Fork. Can you spare one? J. L. DONALDSON, Chief-Quartermaster.

Lieutenant-Commander LE ROY FITCH. DOVER, December 22, 1863.

Your dispatch received. Will send a gunboat up tonight in compliance with General Grant's request.

LE ROY FITCH, Lieutenant-Commander, Comdg. 8th District Miss. Squadron.

Chief Quartermaster J. L. DONALDSON, Nashville, Tenn.

Report of Rear-Admiral Porter, IT.U.S. Navy, transmitting report of the commanding officer of the S. S. Reindeer.

MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON, Flagship Black Hawk, Cairo, January 27,1864.

SIR : I beg leave to enclose herewith copy of a communication received from Lieutenant-Commander Le Roy Fitch, regarding a reconnaissance up the Cumberland River. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Rear-Admiral.

DAVID D. PORTER, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C. [Enclosure.] U. S. S. REINDEER, 5TH DISTRICT Miss. SQUADRON, Off Nashville, Tenn., January 5, 1864-

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report: In obedience to your order of 22d ultimo, I at once proceeded to Nashville and on arrival called upon Major-General Grant to learn his wishes.

The objects of the expedition as stated by the general were-

1st. To convoy some steamers with army supplies to Carthage. The army gunboat Silver Lake No. 2 was put under my command and accompanied me.

2d. To ascertain if any coal was upon the river in condition for shipment, and the prospects for getting it to Nashville.

3d. To reconnoiter the river if possible as far up as Big South Fork, the head of steamboat navigation. On the 26th" ultimo at daylight, I got the convoy underway at Nashville, and on the 28th ultimo, at 12.45 p.m., reached Carthage safely and without interruption from the enemy.

On the 29th ultimo, at daylight, with Silver Lake No. 2 in company, I proceeded up the river, which during the night previous had shown indications of a considerable rise. Jackson County was represented to me as the seat of operations of several guerrilla bands, and it fully merits its reputation, for we had scarcely touched the county line before guerrillas were discovered on the lookout for us. From the windings of the river news of our departure and direction from Carthage could easily be sent in advance of us, and no doubt was so, for the whole region seemed roused.

During the day we were attacked at the following places: At Ray's Ferry by a party of 10 or 12 men. At Flynn's Lick by a party of 15 or 20 men. At Gainesboro by a party of 40 or 50 men.

At Celina (2 miles below) by a party of 80 or 100 men. (Bennett's Ferry.) At Ferris wood yard by a party of 15 or 20 men. In every instance positions were selected on the tops of precipitous bluffs or cliffs, inaccessible by attack in front, and requiring a long detour to reach them in the rear with a land force. Their positions availed them nothing, however, against the guns of this vessel and those of the Silver Lake No.2; they were completely shelled out of them whenever they let us see them after a few volleys. From the Obey's River to Creelsboro I saw no rebels in arms.

The citizens exhibited considerable gladness at the sight of the gunboats, cheering for the Union, etc. At the mouth of Obey's River I found a small quantity of coal, partly burned by the rebels. The Silver Lake No. 2 being out of fuel, I directed her to take it, and took a position to cover her. Soon after I observed some uneasiness among the people on shore and backed off and about half a mile downstream discovered the head of what I have since ascertained was a body of guerrillas, all mounted. These I dispersed with a few rounds of shrapnel and canister. Their intention was to surprise us, thinking both gunboats were in the Obey's River jammed among the branches of the trees which overhang the banks. I have reason to believe that several were killed by our fire

We reached Creelsboro at 12.30 p.m. on 30th ultimo, and there the river gave unmistakable signs or a fall. The weather set in cold immediately, and by morning a fall of 4 feet had taken place; under these circumstances I thought it unwise to proceed farther, though I would have liked to go as far as Big South Fork, so as fully to satisfy the desire of General Grant in regard to coal. I can not think, however, that anything was lost, as from all accounts I can gather there were no coal barges ready to come down if the stage of the river allowed, which it did not. There is no doubt whatever but that a large quantity can be brought out from this source by proper arrangements on the February rise, which was the one usually selected by coal men in peaceful times.

On my up trip I destroyed several flatboats (used for ferry purposes) in Jackson County, but have reason to think that many more are concealed in the numerous creeks tributary to the Cumberland. On the Obey's River, about 50 miles up, near Olympus, is a coal mine partly worked by the rebels in 1861, who mined about 500,000 bushels and left it on the bank. This could be got to Nashville on the same February rise if barges were built and the work protected by the troops.

In obedience to the orders of Rear-Admiral Porter I would have destroyed Gainesboro, which is a rendezvous of these roving bands of robbers, but Governor Johnson purposes to establish a military post there and will need the buildings.

On the 1st I left Creelsboro and on the 2d reached Carthage, meeting with no interruption whatever, the inhabitants seeming to have deserted the river banks altogether.

I have expended of ammunition on this expedition 57 rounds of shell, 62 rounds of shrapnel, 3 rounds of canister, and have in the magazine 81 rounds of shell, 75 rounds of shrapnel, 48 rounds of canister. The bulkheading on boiler deck was always weak and defective, and the firing on 25th has almost destroyed it. I fear it will require considerable repairs, if not complete renewal, to make officers' quarters fit for occupation. In the several skirmishes reported above, as well as in the other duties of the vessel, it gives me great pleasure to speak in high terms of the courage and efficiency of Mr. A. C. Sears, acting ensign, executive officer, and of the other officers of this vessel, all of whom performed their several duties zealously and well.

Acting Ensign William II. Hall, as soon as the rebels opened their fire, sent a request to be permitted to take charge of any division I might designate. I acceded to his desire and put him in charge of Acting Master's Mate (Thomas M.) Lewis's, absent on duty. I am glad to be able to report favorably of his conduct on this occasion, as he is now under arrest and this statement may benefit him. The army gunboat Silver Lake No. 2 was well handled, and the cooperation of her commanding officer, Lieutenant Roberts, U. S. Army, was hearty and complete.

On my arrival at Carthage from Creelsboro I found the steamers still loaded. Apprehending that the objects of the expedition had been accomplished as far as possible under the circumstances, and bearing in mind your order to rejoin you as soon as I could, I left all three there with the Silver Lake No. 2 to guard and convoy them back to Nashville when discharged.

I omitted to mention that 140 sharpshooters, under Lieutenant- Colonel Andrew J. Cropsey, were put on board the transports and the army gunboat.

I reached Nashville at 5 p.m. today. Colonel Cropsey will report to General Grant particulars of the information obtained on the reconnaissance in so far as they refer to the interior of the counties bordering on the river, their military wants, etc.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. A. GLASSFORD, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, Commanding.

(By United States War Dept, Robert Nicholson Scott
Compiled by Calvin Duvall Cowles
Published 1899 distributed by Broadfoot Pub. Co.)


*packet is defined as " a passenger boat usually carrying mail and cargo". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. "Sternwheel" refers to the propelling paddle wheel which was located on the rear of the boat.
1 20th Century History of Steubenville & Jefferson County, Ohio & Representative Citizens, Joseph Doyle. Data provided by Michael
  Palmer, Mark F. Jenkins, and Mary L. Lamp.
2 Data provided by Mary L. Lamp.
3 Gunboats at Buffington Island.htm
4 Kentucky Historical Highway Marker, Kentucky Historical Society.
5 (http://www.multied.com/Navy/cwnavalhistory/December1863.html)
6 Data provided by Michael Palmer and Mark F. Jenkins (Source: Way, Frederick Jr. Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1994. Revised Edition. Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 1994.)



Special Order No. 190 Department of the Cumberland

Gunboat Silver Lake No. 2

This organization was formed of men of various regiments detailed by S.O. No. 190, Hd. Qrs. Department of the Cumberland, of July 20, 1863 for duty on Gunboat Silver Lake, No. 2.

The men were relieved and returned to their respective regiments at different dates.--R. and P. 389, 287.

(Pvt. Absalom Ross was assigned to this gunboat after leaving the hospital in Nashville. He rejoined the 70th Indiana Regiment in North Carolina, on 23 April 1865, after being re-assigned to duty at Fort Negley, Nashville, Tennessee. Here he fought in the Battle of Nashville in 1864, one of the last major battles of the war.)

  “Too great a proportion of the interest and study of the Civil War has been lavished upon the slogging to and fro on the martial highway between Washington and Richmond. The little men-of-war on the bayous likewise served from start to finish, and they fought summer and winter too. For unique thrills their adventures cannot be approached in this struggle unless possibly by their sisters on the eastern sloughs. West and east, those on both sides behaved splendidly.” H. Allen Gosnell, author of "Guns on the Western Waters".

(This book is a very good read! Available at Amazon.com John H. Ross)



Gunboat Silver Lake

  In the picture the "Silver Lake" is lying off Vicksburg (Mississippi) after its fall. While Admiral Porter was busy attacking Vicksburg with the Mississippi squadron, Lieutenant-Commander Le Roy Fitch, with a few small gunboats, was actively patrolling the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. It was soon seen that the hold upon Tennessee and Kentucky gained by the Federals by the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson would be lost without adequate assistance from the navy, and Admiral Porter was authorized to purchase small light-draft river steamers and add them to Fitch's flotilla as rapidly as they could be converted into gunboats. One of the first to be completed was the "Silver Lake." The little stern-wheel steamer first distinguished herself on February 3, 1863, at Dover, Tennessee, where she (with Fitch's flotilla) assisted in routing 4,500 Confederates, who were attacking the Federals at that place. The little vessel continued to render yeoman's service with the other gunboats, ably assisted by General A. W. Ellet's marine brigade.

(From the Photographic History of the Civil War: the Navies by Francis Trevely Miller, 1911)



Gunboat U. S. S. Benton

This drawing of the Ironclad Benton depicts a typical layout of a Western Waters Gunboat. The water line shown here would actually be much higher. From: A. L. Holley's A Treatise on Ordnance and Armor, 1865. (Photo from: Guns on the Western Waters, H. A. Gosnell.)



Gunboat U. S. S. Conestoga

One of the first three Union Gunboats on the Western Rivers, the others being the Tyler and Lexington. From: H.W. Elson's The Civil War Through the Camera, 1912. (Photo from: Guns on the Western Waters, H. A. Gosnell.)




These excerpts have not been identified as to which of the four Silver Lake gunboats they should be applied. However, I wanted to include the information now, regardless. As data is verified as being related to the Silver Lake No.2, the page shall be updated. Jan 2004 JHR.

  • "Greenberry Kemp enlisted in the Naval Service at Alton, Indiana, aboard the USS Silver Lake, July 26, 1863. He was discharged August 2, 1864, Crawford County, Indiana. He is buried in the Bloom Riddle Cemetery, Deauchars, Crawford County, Indiana." (Source: www.kentuckianagenealogy.org/crawford/ military/cwar/kempg.html )

  • "From a microfilm of this newspaper: Cannelton Reporter (Perry County, Indiana?), January 1860-December 1865, Page 2, dated August 13, 1864. "Gunboat Silver Lake attacked at Owensboro (Kentucky?) a few days since, by a "gorilla" who opened on it with a "Derringer"...after a vigorous shelling...succeeded in driving the impertinent "cuss" to cover." (Source: Cannelton Reporter Newspaper Extracts.htm)(www.rootsquest.com/~jmurphy/perry/newscr01.htm)

  • "RS True, sailor, US Gunboat Silver Lake." (www.hollyhockfarms.com/coboulder/gar/longmont_i-z.htm)

  • "The Gunboat Silver Lake, which normally would have been on hand, had been dispatched to patrol the Cumberland River four or five days previously." (Source: www.readthisbuddy.com/sept2000/sept2000.html)

  • "In January 1863, St. Clair provided convoy protection on the Cumberland to Nashville to support General Rosecrans. In February, she participated in the relief of Ft. Donelson. On 3 February, while convoying Army troop transports with Fairplay, Lexington, Brilliant, Robb, and Silver Lake, St. Clair engaged in a three hour duel with rebels who were attacking Union troops under Col. Harding near Dover, Tenn. Driving the enemy from their positions, the gunboats followed their retreat up the river, shelling the woods. Though firing at supposed positions and blinded by the wooded river banks, it was later found that the rebels were never able to avoid the shelling and suffered several hundred casualties. Through March, she continued convoy operations." (Source: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. VI, p 236-237) (www.wideopenwest.com/~jenkins/ironclads/tinclads.htm)

  • "May 2nd, Co's D, E, G, and K started down the river aboard the Silver Lake, shoved out about 10 A.M.May 3rd, Arrived at Cairo about 3 P.M. left about dark.
    May 4th, Run all day down the river.
    May 5th, Arrive at Memphis, Tenn. about 3 P.M. went out to the old Fair Grounds
    and went into Camp. (Recollections of J.C. Leach, Private CO. D. Third Iowa
    Cavalry) (Source:http://www.rootsweb.com/~iadavis/Leachjournal.htm )

  • "Naval History of the U.S. Message 24 January 1863, Commander Pennock to General Rosecrans "The Silver Lake leaves for the Cumberland River. Has short crew." (Source: http://www.multied.com/Navy)


Link to Information About "Silver Lake"

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion