Civil War: New Madrid Area

Leading up to Battle of Island #10

Early 1861 - Eleven states secede. Kentucky and Missouri, both with slaves, remain neutral.

Mid 1861 - Shots fired, naval blockade. Ulysses Grant, unsuccessful businessman and farmer with prior military experience, joins the popular war effort, moving rapidly, in Illinois and Missouri. He was commissioned in May, and took regional command at Cairo on September 4th.

Sept 5, 1861 - Grant gets word that 4,000 Confederate troops are moving from Columbus, Ky (on the river, south of Cairo, Il.), to control Paducah. He responds quickly and establishes control of the town and mouth of Tennessee River. The Confederate troops return to Columbus.

Late Sept - Confederates, construct earthworks and stretch a 4200' chain across the Mississippi River at Columbus, Ky.

By November, Grant had 20,000 men at Cairo, trained and growing impatient. He took 2,500 men to Columbus, captured and burned the camp across the river at Belmont, Mo., "every man feeling that Belmont was a great victory and that he had contributed his share to it."

Early 1862 - Grant moved beyond Paducah and opened the Tennessee River into Alabama with defeat of Fort Henry, then 12 miles away opened the Cumberland River, with defeat of Fort Donelson. Flag-officer Foote commanded several iron-sided gunboats which received heavy shelling. In a couple months the shelling would make Foote reluctant to try to "run" the 30 Confederate guns on island #10. Grant moved on in mid-February with some of his troops toward Shiloh, south of Jackson, Tn.

March, 1862 - South evacuates Columbus, tries to keep hold of the river, farther south at New Madrid.

March 3-13:
Heavy bombardment by South of North troops doesn't help. South decides New Madrid is indefensible, moves guns to Island #10.

March 15-April 8: North bombards Island 10 while digging bypass canal, then finally (remember Flag officer Foote?) sneaks gunboats past. South surrenders island, loses much manpower and ammo. Memphis would fall to North in June.

April 6-7: Battle of Shiloh SE of Jackson TN, won by the North, at same time as Battle of Island #10. Shiloh had 9th heaviest battle casualties of the war. Casualties at Island 10 unknown. Victories paved the way for North dominance of West Ky, Tenn, control of Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

island 10 se missouri ky illinois 1862 civil war

Good summary of Civil War New Madrid battle from

Overland through swamps, ironclads move by night: Island 10

With the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson, Tennessee, and the evacuation of Columbus, Kentucky, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, chose Island No. 10, about 60 river miles below Columbus, to be the strongpoint for defending the Mississippi River. Nearby was New Madrid, one of the weak points.

Brig. Gen. John Pope, commander of the Union Army of the Mississippi, set out from Commerce, Missouri, to attack New Madrid, on February 28. The force marched overland through swamps, lugging supplies and artillery, reached the New Madrid outskirts on March 3, and laid siege to the city. Brig. Gen. John P. McCown, the garrison commander, defended both New Madrid and Island No. 10 from the fortifications. He launched a sortie, under Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, Missouri State Guard, against the besiegers and brought up heavy artillery to bombard them.

On the 13th, 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 No. 10 and Tiptonville. On the 14th, Pope's army discovered that New Madrid was deserted and moved in to occupy it. A U.S. Navy flotilla, under the command of Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote, arrived March 15 upstream from Island No. 10.

The ironclad Carondelet on the night of April 4 passed the Island No. 10 batteries and anchored off New Madrid. Pittsburgh followed on the night of April 6. The ironclads helped to overawe the Confederate batteries and guns, enabling Pope's men to cross the river and block the Confederate escape route. Brig. Gen. William W. Mackall, who replaced McCown, surrendered Island No. 10 on April 8. The Mississippi was now open down to Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

(Island Number Ten has since disappeared as a result of erosion from the Mississippi River.)

Island #10
- ironclads arrive Mar 15
- three weeks of shelling
- 12-mile canal finished in 19 days April 4-7
- ironclads sneak past April 4 & 6
- island captured April 7

Google book excerpts on Battle of Island #10

Island #10 stood about 10 feet above low water. It had 30 ominous-seeming Confederate guns. Union Flag Officer Foote thought it suicide to run ironclads past them. Union General Pope ordered a shallow canal dug to bypass the hairpin curve of Island #10 and come out just east of New Madrid.

It took three weeks, while Island #10 soldiers endured shelling. It was completed April 7, allowing small supply boat passage. Foote then allowed an ironclad to pass Island 10 under cover of darkness April 4, and another April 6. Those on the island finally surrendered to Foote. more

Surrender of Island 10 (click)
Surrender of Island 10: Harper's Weekly. Click pic.

from Stars & Stripes Museum, Bloomfield MO

Waiting in frustration, digging a bypass canal

The frustrated Pope pleaded repeatedly for Foote to attempt to run the blockade, but Foote remained reluctant to do so. Pope's resourceful engineers proposed that they dig a canal above Island No. Ten that would connect with St. John's Bayou, which in turn emptied into the Mississippi at New Madrid, thus bypassing the batteries. Pope blessed this project and a regiment set to work constructing a canal 50 feet wide and 12 miles long, 6 of those miles were cut through heavy timber where every tree had to be sawed off 4 1/2 feet below water. This remarkable feat was accomplished in 19 days. By April 4, it was possible to ferry shallow-draft troop transports down to Pope at New Madrid. The deep-draft gunboats, however, could not be moved by this route.

The area is St. John's Bayou... flat and low. If you visit New Madrid, take time to drive out Route WW, just ENE of town. At first glance, it may look non-scenic. Notice the elaborate valves to control the drainage of the large St. John's Bayou into the Mississippi. There are court disputes over how much floodwater can be diverted here during high river levels, to save other property.

Visualize soldiers of 150 years ago cutting a 12-mile canal through this partially wooded lowland in 19 days to bypass the hairpin river bend. See the canal mapped on the top end of David Rumsey maps just below. Rt. WW fairly closely parallels the canal. Its entrance off the Mississippi was almost due east of New Madrid, between islands 8 and 9.
The Island No. Ten campaign had ended and Federal forces could claim a glorious victory. 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 quantity of ammunition, small arms, and supplies of every description. All of this had been accomplished with fewer than a hundred casualties on the Union side.

The Confederacy not only experienced these severe losses, but also faced the harsh reality that they had also lost the middle Mississippi River.

-- from Mo. DNR marker at New Madrid river overlook at Main St. New Madrid Levee.

   Historical marker about City of New Madrid

12-mile canal was completed about the same time that North's boats
were ready to "run" the blockade at Island #10 (bottom of loop).

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) remembers:

I found the river greatly changed at Island No. 10. The island which I remembered was some three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, heavily timbered, and lay near the Kentucky shore—within two hundred yards of it, I should say. Now, Mark Twainhowever, one had to hunt for it with a spy-glass. Nothing was left of it but an insignificant little tuft, and this was no longer near the Kentucky shore; it was clear over against the opposite shore, a mile away.

In war-times the island had been an important place, for it commanded the situation; and, being heavily fortified, there was no getting by it. It lay between the upper and lower divisions of the Union forces, and kept them separate, until a junction was finally effected across the Missouri neck of land; but the island being itself joined to that neck now, the wide river is without obstruction.

In this region the river passes from Kentucky into Tennessee, back into Missouri, then back into Kentucky, and thence into Tennessee again. So a mile or two of Missouri sticks over into Tennessee.

The town of New Madrid was looking very unwell; but otherwise unchanged from its former condition and aspect. Its blocks of frame houses were still grouped in the same old flat plain, and environed by the same old forests. It was as tranquil as formerly, and apparently had neither grown nor diminished in size. It was said that the recent high water had invaded it and damaged its looks.

-- from Life on the Mississippi, Volume 1917, Part 1 By Mark Twain p222 first printing 1874. He was a riverboat pilot 1857-1861, during his early to mid twenties. Complete text is on

New Madrid Bend, civil war
from David Rumsey collection. Island 10 Civil War.

Courtesy David Rumsey Collection


USS Carondelet passes Island 10, with coal barge lashed to port side for protection, night of Apr 4, 1862.
Harper's Weekly.  "The War on the Mississippi - The Steamer Carondelet, of Commodore Foote's Flotilla, Running the Rebels' batteries at island No. 10, During a Thunderstorm on the Night of April 4, To the aid of General Pope at New Madrid. - From a Sketch by Our Special Artist." It was published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on April 26, 1862. This is an original period item showing an authentic view of Union ironclads fighting Confederate forces entrenched on an island in the Mississippi River.

USS Carondelet, 512-ton, "Cairo" class vessel.

Bombardment and Capture of Island Number Ten on the Mississippi River, April 7, 1862. Colored lithograph published by Currier & Ives, New York, circa 1862. It depicts the bombardment of the Confederate fortifications on Island Number Ten by Federal gunboats and mortar boats. Ships seen include (from left to right): Mound City, Louisville, Pittsburg, Carondelet, Flagship Benton, Cincinnati, Saint Louis and Conestoga. Mortar boats are firing from along the river bank.

Battle of Island #10


Civil War Island #10 preparing for battle New Madrid

The Civil War Battle of Island #10 (bottom of river loop) was a major event.   pic   Read how the union ironclads (St. Louis, Benton, Carondelet) sneaked past rebel troops during the night, to help open the river. --THE NEW YORK HERALD, March 24, 1864

Island 10 battle newspaper clip

island 10

Island 10 is gone, NOT correctly identified here. It was likely just NE, at inside bottom of loop, with gunships
waiting and shelling for 2+ weeks likely from near the whitish reflections in river, lower right. The bypass canal was 12 miles long
across the swampy peninsula north of island 10, likely ending near New Madrid at top of loop.

The canal may have been near the top of this map. See the David Rumsey maps above, showing a bypass. Point Pleasant is to SW. This is a Google map. Area drainage was radically changed by excavation in early 20th century.

When the river ran backward for a few hours in 1812, the sudden dam was near the whitish reflections in lower right,
and waterfalls-rapids were near the bright white toward New Madrid. Several boats were anchored at island 9
(white spot in extreme right of map)

island 10 se missouri ky illinois 1862 civil war

Cairo would not have a rail bridge for another 30+ years. Rail cars were ferried across the river, as many as three at a time.

Point Pleasant, south of New Madrid, was washed down the river by one of the main 1811-12 quakes.
It was rebuilt nearby, and saw Civil War action.Illustration | map | aerial

Columbus Belmont park, ky

Pic is from picturesque Columbus Belmont park, near Columbus Ky. Battle of Belmont was in Missouri flatland in left of pic. The "rebs" thought they had great control of the river here. They put a gigantic chain across the river, that pulled apart from its own weight. Pieces are on display here. Gen. Grant came down from Cairo as one of his first activities, burned Belmont camp, Nov 1861, cut supplies to the guys up here on the hill, who had battle trenches dug, and control of the Mississippi River shifted to the next battle, Apr. 1862 at Island 10 near New Madrid.

The semi-official end of the New Madrid fault is 20 miles west of the pic, but some faulting continues NNE through the Paducah area, connecting with the Wabash Valley faulting near Evansville, IN.

Civil War dates - New Madrid area

Historic Names and Places, mile markers, on the Lower Mississippi River

Lower Mississippi River Mileages

Report to the president "New Madrid is Ours" - Civil War battle

Map and two articles below are from Phila Inquirer Mar 22, 1862

New Madrid Bend, Island 10, Civil

Battle of Island 10 New Madrid

Battle of Cape Girardeau Civil War

NY Tribune May 22, 1862
May 22, 1862 NY Tribune (above)ove)

mar 1862 new madrid civil war troops

Boston Evening Transcript Mar 8 1862 - Rebels at New Madrid - Gen. Pope's command - have between 5000 and 10,000 men and four gunboats anchored off the town. We are confident of an early and complete victory.

civil war battle Point Pleasant New Madrid Mo

Above - General Pope's batteries at Point Pleasant Mo, South of New Madrid, dislodged. Enemy evacuated, leaving all his artillery, field batteries, tents, wagons, mules and an immense quantity of military stores. Brig. Gen Hamilton has occupied the place. This was the last stronghold of the enemy in this state. No rebel flag is now flying in Missouri. Mar 15, 1862 Boston Evening Transcript.


Cape Girardeau Civil War

"Cape Girardeau, occupied by the Federal troops under General U.S. Grant, September 5th, 1861." Scene was published in "The Soldier in Our Civil War" 1885. Engraving appears to be a composite of scenes. River perspective could have been from Fort A, on a bluff just north of downtown. Two-story building with tower between center tents is likely Common Pleas Courthouse, which overlooks downtown. Multi-story building in top right may be St. Vincent's college, an academy to train Catholic priests for more than a century, now reworked, recently opened as part of the Southeast Mo. State University River Campus. Or it might supposedly represent the main Academic Hall of the then teacher's college.

Fort D, in the south part of town, would give a similar river perspective. Fort D's building still exists. Boat may be very realistic for the era. The boat is very similar to the "Red Rover" boat constructed in Cape Girardeau just before the Civil war, for the South, then captured near New Madrid by the North, which used it as a hospital ship, bringing wounded of both sides back to Mound City, IL (just north of Cairo, on the Ohio River) for care. Another fort in Cape was at the present University Academic Hall. The only local battle was in a field which now has the city's middle school and junior high.


THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, Pennsylvania, April 28, 1863.
Battle of Cape Girardeau - April 28, 1863 Wikipedia. Good bkg.

Above pic is the Cape Girardeau riverfront, pre-floodwall. Port Cape Girardeau restaurant is in the building with the 5c Coca Cola and furniture sign. General Grant's regional Civil War office was maybe upstairs for a few days, before he took command at Cairo. The Coke sign has been restored and remains. How in the world did the train engineer trust that the tracks had not been washed out?

We've borrowed some local newspaper text about that building:

Its most famous sign, the Coca-Cola advertisement on the north wall of the corner building, was restored through a joint effort by previous owner David Knight and the Coca-Cola Co. The original sign predates 1927. Knight's reason for that date is that before restoration, he said the phrase "fights fatigue" was still faintly visible on the ad. That phrase dates back to when the soft drink still contained cocaine, which was then legal.

Although much of the history of the Warehouse Row District can be traced through deeds and abstracts, the most famous and infamous parts of the popular history surrounding the buildings aren't documented at all.

The most popular legend regarding the buildings says that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant used them as his office and headquarters while stationed on the western front of the Civil War. However, Foley's recent discovery of the erection of the buildings being in the early 1860s doesn't give that tale much time for truth, since Grant was already head of the Union Army in the east by 1864.

The dating of the building also puts strain on another belief that the buildings were used as a stop for escaping slaves on the "underground railroad."

When Knight bought the building in 1974, it had been abandoned about 10 years. While cleaning and renovating the interior, he came upon a false wall in the rear of the corner building. The false wall led to an 8-by-8 enclosure, with no doors or windows. Knight said it is believed that due to the enclosure's proximity to a basement walkway that leads out to Main Street, it may have been a hiding spot for slaves seeking freedom. However, slavery was abolished in 1863, and by 1865, the underground railroad was seldom used.

Another of Knight's finds during renovation that probably holds a bit more historical truth is the discovery of about 40 cases of empty whiskey bottles hidden in the rafters on the third floor. It is thought that the district was home to a brothel or a speak-easy, where bootleg liquor was sold and served during Prohibition.

The Ghost of Port Cape

The legend that has recruited the most contemporary believers among employees of businesses within the district is that of a ghost.

Current owner Dean "Doc" Cain said he has had a number of bartenders, managers and waiters say they've heard strange noises in the still halls of Port Cape after hours. Cain himself said he's found lights on that he was sure had been turned off and light bulbs left unscrewed with no good explanation why.

Cape Girardeau riverfront
Cape Girardeau Riverfront - 1927 flood

New Madrid Fault Maps: Civil War Battles

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