The American Civil War At Sea Wiki


Built: Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania

Commissioned: January, 1862

Service: River Defense Fleet, 1862. Guardship at Cairo, 1863. Red River, 1863. Mississippi River, 1863-1865.

Home Port: Memphis, Tennessee

Dimensions: Unclear; 12' Draft estimated.

Armor: Cottonclad

Armament: 3x12lb Rifles; see notes below for further details.

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 12 Knots

Crew: Unknown

Fate: Run aground and captured at the Battle of Memphis in June, 1862. Later entered US service as USS Little Rebel. Decomissioned 1865; civilian service until 1874, sold for scrap.


CSS Little Rebel was the fastest and most maneuverable of the ships in the River Defense Fleet, and was selected at conversion to serve as flagship for Captain J. E. Montgomery. She had formerly served as a Pennsylvania screw steamer, R&W Watson.

The Little Rebel was a handy vessel, much favored by Montgomery, and excellent for the purposes of scouting and reconaissance. She was also relatively heavily armed for a vessel of her size. She may not have been converted to serve as a ram, given her intended purpose as a flagship, but like all of the other vessels in the fleet, she was probably cottonclad. She was not a paddlewheel steamer, and was the only vessel in the River Defense Fleet to have this particular distinction.

Little Rebel was present with the River Defense Fleet during the Battle of Fort Pillow, and later, served in command postions at the Battles of Plum Point and Memphis. Her performance at Plum Point, where she provided heavy close range fire was glowingly described by General M. Jeff Thompson, namesake of one of the vessels in the fleet, who said that CSS Little Rebel, "ran amid the storm (of enemy fire) as heedlessly as if charmed." At Memphis, she focused her attention on the Ellet Ram USS Monarch. She was eventually driven off by gunfire from the ironclad USS Carandolet, whose shots punctured her boiler and forced her aground, where the ship was abandoned by its crew.

Little Rebel's abandoned hulk was captured by the Western Gunboat Flotilla and sent to Cairo, Illinois. After adjucation by a prize court, she was placed up for sale and immediately purchased by the US Navy. She was commissioned as USS Little Rebel in 1863, with the intention of being used in counter-guerilla activity on the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, but her draft was too deep to operate on most of the intended waterways for much of the year, and so she spent most of her time on guard duty near Cairo. In March, 1863, she served on the Red River, before returning to the Mississippi in April, where she spent the rest of her career. Her career highlight was a stint as a guard ship in May, 1865, when she helped to prevent the escape of fugitive Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

USS Little Rebel was decomissioned in July, 1865, and eventually sold into civilian service, where she served until being sold for scrap in 1874.

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.