Battle of the Rams Ward, A. R., Artist

he First Battle of Memphis was a naval battle fought on the Mississippi River immediately above the city of Memphis on June 6, 1862, during the American Civil War. The engagement was witnessed by many of the citizens of Memphis. It resulted in a crushing defeat for the Confederate forces, and marked the virtual eradication of a Confederate naval presence on the river.
Despite the lopsided outcome, the Union Army failed to grasp its strategic significance. Its primary historical importance is that it was the last time civilians with no prior military experience were permitted to command ships in combat. As such, it is a milestone in the development of professionalism in the United States Navy.

Rear Admiral Charles Davis-- A Biography

In the American Civil War, Davis was appointed to Blockade Strategy Board in June 1861. On 15 November 1861, he was promoted to captain. He was made acting flag officer, in command of the Western Gunboat Flotilla. A day after he took command, the flotilla fought a short battle with Confederate ships on the Mississippi River at Plum Point Bend on May 10, 1862. Caught unready for battle, two of the Union ships were badly damaged and had to be run into shoal water to keep from sinking. The Confederate vessels escaped with only minor damage.

       On June 6, his ships fought in the Battle of Memphis, which resulted in the sinking or capture of seven of the eight Confederate ships, compared with damage to only one of the Union vessels. In July, he cooperated with Flag Officer David G. Farragut in an attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi, but they were forced to withdraw. In August, he proceeded up the Yazoo River and successfully seized Confederate supplies and munitions there. After this excursion, he was made Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and returned to Washington, D.C.  On February 7, 1863, he was promoted to rear admiral.

About those Fearsome Ironclad Warships


The Ironclad Period of 19th Century Warships

The first battle between ironclads: CSS Virginia (left) vs. USS Monitor, in the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads


An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates used in the early part of the second half of the 19th century. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells.
The first ironclad battleship, Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859. The British Admiralty had been considering armored warships since 1856 and prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857; in early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had made the decision to move to an all-armored battle fleet.
After the first clashes of ironclads (both with wooden ships and with one another) took place in 1862 during the American Civil War, it became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship would come to be very successful in the American Civil War.
Ironclads were designed for several roles, including as high seas battleships, coastal defense ships, and long-range cruisers. The rapid development of warship design in the late 19th century transformed the ironclad from a wooden-hulled vessel that carried sails to supplement its steam engines into the steel-built, turreted battleships and cruisers familiar in the 20th century.
This change was pushed forward by the development of heavier naval guns (the ironclads of the 1880s carried some of the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea at the time), more sophisticated steam engines, and advances in metallurgy which made steel shipbuilding possible.
The quick pace of change meant that many ships were obsolete as soon as they were finished, and that naval tactics were in a state of flux. Many ironclads were built to make use of the ram or the torpedo, which a number of naval designers considered the important weapons of naval combat.
There is no clear end to the ironclad period, but towards the end of the 1890s the term ironclad dropped out of use. New ships were increasingly constructed to a standard pattern and designated battleships or armored cruisers.

Charles Ellet, Jr. and his River Ram Flotilla

In March 1862, the U.S. Army authorized the noted civil engineer Charles Ellet, Jr., to establish a flotilla of steam rams for employment on the Western Rivers. Ellet converted several powerful river towboats, heavily reinforcing their hulls for ramming.

These ships had light protection for their boilers, engines and upper works (upper works were protected with wood and cotton). They were originally given no artillery, later they were fitted with several guns. With the rank of colonel, Ellet led his force in action during the Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, where rams played an important role in the Union victory against the Confederate River Defense Fleet. However, Colonel Ellet died several days later of a wound received at that action.


U.S.S. Queen of the West Ellet Ram

THE RAMS A "Ram" is a ship whose principal weapon is its own bow, hardened and reinforced to penetrate the hull of an enemy ship, and usually strengthened internally to avoid or reduce self-inflicted damage from the collision. Rams had a long history of success during the age of oared fighting ships, which could maneuver at will, and were particularly suitable for combat in coastal and inland waters.


The ram was impractical on sailing ships, which were less maneuverable and encumbered by extensive masts and rigging, but steam propulsion brought it back into favor. During the American Civil War, the Confederacy made extensive use of the ram, both on specialist ships and on ironclads that also carried heavy gun armament.

Some conventional Union warships were modified for ramming and the North also employed a modest number of specialist rams in the Mississippi River area. These included the "Ellet Rams", which were Army ships that cooperated with the Navy, several rams captured from the Confederates, and two ships









Colonel Ellet's Ram, the City of Memphis

Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1862, illustrating members of the fleet. Ships in the foreground are: Monarch (letter "M" between stacks), Queen of the West (with letter "Q") and Lioness (letter "L"). In the left background are: Switzerland (with letter "S" on paddle box), Samson and Lancaster.

The Ram Fleet included the following ships:  Click to see each ship


A side-wheel ram


1862 - 1864


United States


United States Army


Notable Commanders

Col. Charles Ellet, Jr.
Col. Alfred W. Ellet
Col. Charles R. Ellet


  USS Monarch

 USS Queen of the West

 USS Lancaster

USS Switzerland

USS Samson

USS Mingo

USS T. D. Horner

 USS Lioness

USS Dick Fulton


 Though subsequent events showed the ram to be a difficult weapon to use effectively and all too likely to harm friends more than foes, the incidents of the Civil War and the 1866 war between Austria and Italy kept it in favor beyond the end of the 19th Century.
Though the ram was usually fitted as an auxiliary weapon on ships mainly armed with guns, the U.S. Navy did build one specialist ram ship in the 1890s, USS Katahdin . During the two World Wars, the ram enjoyed a brief revival when many destroyers and other smaller warships were given especially hardened bows to attack surfaced submarines.

Confederate Navy Ram

CSS Albemarle (1864-1864)

CSS Albemarle , a relatively small ironclad ram, was built at Edwards Ferry, North Carolina. Commissioned in April 1864 under the command of Commander J.W. Cooke , CSN, she almost immediately went into action. On 19 April 1864, Albemarle attacked U.S. ships off Plymouth, N.C., sinking USS Southfield and driving away USS Miami and two other gunboats. With their waterborne communications severed, the Union forces were forced to surrender Plymouth to the Confederates.  

Just over two weeks later, on 5 May, Albemarle , accompanied by the steamers Cotton Plant and Bombshell , steamed out into the North Carolina Sounds and attacked another U.S. Navy force, consisting of the "Double-ender" gunboats Sassacus , Wyalusing and Mattabesett , converted ferryboat Commodore Hull and small gunboat Ceres . Though Sassacus made a valiant attempt to sink the Albemarle by ramming, she was badly damaged in return. The Confederate ironclad was but lightly damaged in the engagement, which threatened the entire Union position on North Carolina's internal waters.



CSS Stonewall Ram


This pictures displays the ram device attached to the bow.


From Wikipedia at: First_Battle_of_Memphis


First Battle of Memphis Fact Box





June 6, 1862 (1862-06-06)


Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee


Union victory




United States (Union)

CSA (Confederacy)


Commanders and leaders


Charles Henry Davis
Charles Ellet Jr. 

James E. Montgomery
M. Jeff Thompson


Units involved


St. Louis
Queen of the West

CSS General Beauregard
CSS General Bragg
CSS General Sterling Price
CSS General Earl Van Dorn
CSS General M. Jeff Thompson
CSS Colonel Lovell
CSS General Sumter
CSS Little Rebel




5 ironclads
4 rams

8 rams


Casualties and losses


Union- 1

Confederate- 180

Joint Operations Against New Madrid, Island No. 10, and Memphis


Map of Memphis 1st Battle-Battlefield