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CSS GENERAL SUMTER (1861)

Built: New Orleans, Louisiana

Commissioned: 1862

Service: River Defense Fleet, 1862

Home Port: Memphis, Tennessee

Dimensions: 182' Length, 28' 4" Beam, 10' 4" Draft

Armor: Cottonclad

Armament: 4x32lb Smoothebores, 1x12lb Smoothebore

Engines: Dual Paddlewheel

Speed: Uknown; estimated 9-10 Knots.

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Escaped Battle of Memphis, ran aground on Arkansas shore. Later salvaged and briefly served as USS General Sumter until running aground again in Louisiana, where the wreck was essentially abandoned.



Summary

Junius Beebe was a civilian steamer acquired by the River Defense Fleet in late 1861 for the purposes of conversion to a cottonclad ram. This was accomplished and she had entered the service by April, 1861, as General Sumter, named for a hero of the American Revolution, in time to see action at the Battle of Plum Point. She is occasionally referred to in both contemporary and modern sources as "General Sumpter"; although there was also a General Sumpter in the Revolutionary War, the two are commonly confused. The ship was actually named for the former, and not the latter.

At Plum Point, General Sumter was one of the stand out ships with the River Defense Fleet, participating in a brilliantly coordinated ramming attack against the ironclad USS Cincinnati along with CSS General Sterling Price, that resulted in the withdrawal and sinking of the enemy vessel in shallow water. She then directed another punishing ram at the Ironclad USS Mound City, which eventually sunk late in the battle due to the damage inflicted. Although damaged herself, General Sumter withdrew in good order and was soon repaired and refit for the next phase of the campaign.

At the Battle of Memphis, General Sumter once again performed in an exemplary fashion. Here, she rammed and severely damaged the flagship of the United States Ram Fleet, USS Queen of the West, but was driven to retreat by heavy Union fire. She retreated down the river and escaped destruction, one of only two vessels in the River Defense Fleet to do so, but soon ran aground on the Arkansas shore of the Mississippi River, where she was eventually captured by Union Forces. She was refloated, refit, and recommissioned in the Western Gunboat Flotilla, and then with the US Navy. Her actual active service with the USN was relatively brief, as much of that time was spent repairing damage. In August 1863, she was patrolling in Louisiana near Bayou Sara and ran aground. Because of low tides, and uncertain allegiances in the area, the wreck was essentially abandoned, though she was occasionally raided for parts by USN boat parties. Later, in order to prevent Unionist elements of the Louisiana population from recapturing her and returning her to the Union, Confederate authorities succeeded in setting fire to and destroying her hulk.

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