Friday, December 19, 2014

This Jolly Little Gunboat edited by Patrick E. Purcell

USS Winona at Baton Rouge
This Jolly Little Gunboat
is based on a journal written by a crewman on the USS Winona from December 1861 to August 1863.  Although the journal's author is unknown, the most likely candidate is Montgomery P. Griffis.  Patrick E. Purcell, who has edited the journal, reaches that conclusion because Griffis is the only crewman who was assigned to the engine room of both the Powhattan and the Winona

The Winona was built in late 1861 at a private shipyard on the Northeastern Coast at a cost of $101,000. She was one of the "Unadilla Class" gunships. She was 158 feet in length and manned by a crew of about ninety-five.  The Winona was originally armed with an eleven-inch Dahlgren, a 20-pounder Parrott rifle, and two 24-pounder howitzer. She received two 32-pounders in June 1863.

The first journal entry from December 11-19, 1861 describes Griffis' joining the crew and his delight in reuniting with some of his old shipmates from the Powhatan. The narrative continues with a detailed description of the life on board the ship as she made her way into service in the "channel between the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf."  Purcell's footnotes help us through the nautical jargon of the times.  He also ties the journal entries together through his commentary on the vessel's movements and its role in overall campaign strategy.

The Winona was part of Admiral David Farragut's fleet and participated in the capture of New Orleans.  In mid-January 1862, Farragut's West Gulf Blockading Squadron began preparations to secure the entrance to the Mississippi River at the Head of the Passes.  In order to capture New Orleans and seize control of the Mississippi River, Farragut's Squadron would have to capture or pass by Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip.  The first phase of the battle was a mortar bombardment that lasted from April 18-23. The next phase was passing the forts which took place on April 24.  The Winona was part of the six-ship third section designated to pass the forts.  Griffis described the situation:
The mortar shells were flitting like meteors in the gray twilight of early morning, the roar of the broadsides of the ships and the heavy guns of the forts, all sounded to me like the breaking up nature, for I could see nothing but mortar shell flying thick and fast as hailstones.
Unfortunately, she along with the Pinola was turned back because the dawn was breaking.

Griffis' journal is delightful to read with a mixture of battle narratives, accounts of mundane duties, and personality descriptions.
His successor, 2nd Asst. Engr. E. S. Boynton, who took charge on the same day, is a man who looks as if he was sent for and couldn't come.
Most of the Winona's time was spent patrolling the Mississippi River between Port Hudson and Donaldsonville. The gunship's tour on the river ended in August 1863 and on August 30 the ship arrived in Baltimore for repairs. Most of the crew, including Griffis, were discharged. The Winona spent the last year of the war on blockade duty off Charleston.  She was decommissioned and sold in November 1865.

Mr. Purcell includes a number of machine poems/songs that were part of the Winona's history.  He also includes an Appendix with a list of the various ships that the Winona fought with and against during her time on the Mississippi. Students of the brown water navy will certainly want to add this book to their library.
This jolly little gunboat Winona was her name. She was called after an Indian girl of sad romantic fame.
 Please see USS Winona (1861) for more information.

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