The American Civil War At Sea Wiki


Built: Unknown

Commissioned: 1862

Service: River Defense Fleet, 1862

Home Port: Memphis, Tennessee

Dimensions: Unknown

Armor: Cottonclad

Armament: Unknown; probably 1xSmoothebore, likely 30, 32, or 42lb. See the notes below for further details.

Engines: Dual Paddlewheel

Speed: Unknownl; estimated 9-10 knots.

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Burned to prevent capture, June 26th 1862.


The General Earl Van Dorn, also known as "General Van Dorn" or simply "Earl Van Dorn," was a sidewheel cottonclad steamer acquired and converted for service with the River Defense Fleet in late 1861 or early 1862. She was named for the famous paramour, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn. Little to nothing is available regarding her career prior to this point, but it is highly likely that she was converted from a civilian steamer, like most of the rest of her compatriots in the fleet. Like most of the other rams in the River Defense Fleet, she was probably fitted with a crudely effective ram bow.

The General Earl Van Dorn's largest actions occurred at the Battle of Plum Point and the Battle of Memphis. During the Battle of Plum Point, she engaged Union mortar boats with gunfire before ramming the ironclad USS Mound City, helping inflict the damage that woud lead to the sinking of that vessel. At Memphis, she evaded destruction, and retreated down the river, toward Vicksburg. She was the only vessel of the fleet to evade capture or destruction by the Western Gunboat Flotilla.

After a brief time at Vicksburg, she operated near Yazoo, Mississippi, where she was burned to prevent capture on January 26th. There are some indications that the burning was unintentional and unnecessary, but no further information is available at the moment.

As of the time of this update, a source has come to light claiming that all ships of the River Defense Fleet present at the Battle of Plum Point were equipped with "at least four eight inch guns." If this is true, the guns would likely have been 8" Smoothebores, very common weapons in use on the Mississippi.