Union Soldiers Recounts Conquest of Island No. 10
Click to enlarge:
Select an image:
A day after the Confederate surrender, Amos Downing gives his brother an exciting account of the Siege of Island No. 10 from the perspective of someone who may have served under Commodore Andrew Foote in the riverboat fleet that collaborated with General John Pope. Downing correctly identifies Fort Pillow, eighty miles to the south on the Mississippi, Memphis, and New Orleans as the next Union targets in the Mississippi Valley. His description of Confederate prisoners reveals a measure of discontent within Southern ranks. “The prisoners taken here are all Irish they say that they were force[d] in the service and are satisfied to be taken prisoner. They didnt know what to make of maters. They said first a big smoke and next a noise like thunder and next thing the devil himself would come among them and that was worst than fighting with sticks. They say the first shell killed fifteen men there lost is very heavy…” [ISLAND NO. 10].
Amos Downing, Autograph Letter Signed, to his brother (Philip Downing). Island No. 10. [New Madrid], Missouri, April 9, 1862. 4 pp. With autograph envelope.
No. 10 Island Miss[ouri] April 9th 1862
Dear Brother, yours dated 30th came came [sic] to hand Sunday 6th and the Transcript and Stamp I also receive the other letter and paper. I was going to answer your last letter Sunday but I thought I would wait and give you some news. Island No 10 is ours, they surrendered Monday evening. We took four hundred prisoners, three large transport and all their cannons one floating battery fourteen guns. I didnt count the guns but I would think that there is about sixty heavy pieces ranging from 128 to 32 pounder. They are all good with the exception of five that we spike when they had possession of the Island.  The main land batteries are all tore up by our shell. We would have the island long ago had it not been for the river riseing so high thats all kept us back. The rebels found out that they was cut of[f] by Gen. Pope and a great many made their escape. We heard that he had taken 6,000 prisoner with out firing a shot we have all there tents, wagons and a great amount of provision they have plenty to eat with the exception of coffee and tea that’s worth one dollar per pound there uniform is rather mean looking there equipment is very bad some with small rifts and others old musket with no bayonet on 
All the prisoners taken here are all Irish they say that they were force[d] in the service and are satisfied to be taken prisoner. They didnt know what to make of maters. They said first a big smoke and next a noise like thunder and next thing the devil himself would come among them and that was worst than fighting with sticks. They say the first shell killed fifteen men there lost is very heavy our lost is twenty killed and wounded that’s mostly all accident they left all there sick behind I stated 6000 that Gen Pope took 6000 prisoner he took 5,000 and all there transport [illegible] for us next come  Fort Pillow which commands Memphis that will be ours in a few days then N Orleans is ours this one of the greatest Victory won yet you see long range guns saves lives
This account is as nigh as I kin give at present. They sunk five transport at the Island. The weather is fine and warm and the river is falling part of it wouldn’t cost to much I would like to have some more of Brown Bronchel [?]lozenges if they will come with out paying freight I will pay it here I am trouble with Bronchitis yet but not very bad. No more at present I remain your affectionate brother
Direct to me
Care Com A H Foote / Cairo / Ill
Morter Boat / No, 11}
[envelope:] Mr Philip Downing / Portland / Maine
According to the American Civil War Research Database, there was a man named Amos Downing from Portland, Maine, who enlisted in the 6th Maine Infantry Regt. However, other accounts place the 6th Maine in the Eastern theater at this time. Downing’s language [“Gen Pope took 6000 prisoner,” instead of “we took…”] and his directions to his brother to send mail “Care Com A H Foote,” suggests that this Downing [possibly a relation of Amos, the soldier] served in the Navy.
The siege and conquest of Island No. 10 was a significant strategic victory for the Union cause in the Mississippi Valley, which tends to get overshadowed by Grant’s victory at Shiloh further south on April 6-7, 1862. After the surrender of Fort Donelson on February 16, Confederate General Albert S. Johnston had chosen to evacuate Columbus, Kentucky, and to make Island Number 10 the new unbreakable citadel in the Mississippi Valley. However, the island fortifications suffered from the vulnerability of New Madrid, on the Missouri shore. General John Pope put his Army of the Mississippi into position to attack New Madrid on March 3, and forced its evacuation ten days later. This gave Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote the ability to run past the Island No. 10 batteries on the night of April 4-5, and to enable Pope to cross the river into the rear of the Confederate garrison. The heavy, three-day Union bombardment, and its consequences, are described here by Downing. General William Mackall felt compelled to surrender Island No. 10, with its garrison of roughly 7,000 soldiers, on April 8. Pope, the new rising star of the Union Army, was brought east to command the Army of Virginia three months later.
Andrew Hull Foote (1806-1863) was a career naval officer from Connecticut. As temperance spokesman, Foote was instrumental in getting the U.S. Navy to abolish the policy of supplying naval personnel with liquor. In the 1840s, he commanded the U.S.S. Perry, aiding in the suppression of the slave trade off the coast of West Africa. He published an antislavery tract, Africa and the American Flag. Foote was promoted to Commander in 1856, served for a few years in China, and then commanded the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Promoted to Flag Officer at the beginning of the Civil War, Foote commanded the Mississippi River Squadron in support of Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Halleck, and John Pope in early 1862, and received the Thanks of Congress. He was promoted to rear admiral on July 16 with command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, but died in New York City before assuming his new responsibilities.