USS Benton "Largest Of The Union River Fleet" January 15, 1862 - November 1865
The USS Benton began its life on the water as a snag boat pulling up trees and sunken ships that made navigable waters dangerous. Civilian contractor James B. Eads was contracted to convert the sturdily built catamaran into the the largest and most powerful ironclad of the Union's River Fleet. The craft originally had two hulls braced 20 feet apart, but Eads planked them to make one strong hull 72 feet wide and 202 feet long. Space was left in the stern of the hull to allow for a central wheel to be propelled by the two original powerful engines. The sides and how they were protected by a slanting casemate with an armor 3.5 inches thick. The wheelhouse and stern were built with casemates covered with 2.5 inch thick iron. The Benton carried 16 cannon and a crew of 176 men.
Adm. Andrew H. Foote received his powerful flagship on January 15, 1862, from Eads's shipyard in Carondelet, MO. On February 6, 1862, the Benton led the attack on Fort Henry, TN. Realizing defeat was imminent, the Rebels at that point had the fort manned only by a company of Tennessee artillerymen. The flagship opened fire on the fort from 1,700 yards away and closed to within 600 yards. As the seven ironclads and gunboats bombarded the fort, the nine Rebel gun crews returned fire, striking the Benton 32 times. The Rebel fire disabled two of the Benton's guns and riddled her after-cabin, stacks, and boats with shots. But the sturdy Benton moved in without hesitation until the fort commander struck the flag and surrendered.
The Benton aided the Union in its victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862, in the Battle of Island No. 10 in April of the same year, and in the final operations against Vicksburg and the Red River campaign. In December 1862, while securing a landing for General Sherman's troops on the Yazoo River, the Benton was severely damaged by Confederate fire. Her captain, Lt. William Gwin, was killed and nine others were wounded or killed. The ship was repaired and returned to service.
Fascinating Fact: In service to the Union until the end of the Civil War, the Benton was stripped of her plating and sold for scrap in November 1865.
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