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1862

Union claims Memphis in naval battle

On this day, the Union claims Memphis, Tennessee, the Confederacy’s fifth-largest city, a naval manufacturing yard, and a key Southern industrial center.

One of the top priorities for Union commanders at the start of the war was to sever the Confederacy along the Mississippi. In April 1862, the Union scored major victories toward this goal with the capture of New Orleans in the south and the fall of Island No. 10 in the north.

For seven weeks following the defeat of Island No. 10, Yankee ships pounded away at Fort Pillow, 40 miles north of Memphis. On June 4, a Rebel garrison abandoned the fort after Confederate troops withdrew from Corinth, Mississippi, leaving them dangerously isolated in Union-held territory. The next day, the Union flotilla steamed to Memphis unopposed. The city had no fortifications, because the Confederates had directed their resources toward strengthening the installation upriver. All that stood between the Yankees and Memphis was a Rebel fleet of eight ships.

On the morning of June 6, thousands of residents lined the shores to watch the action. Three Confederate ships were rammed and sunk, and one Union ship was struck and severely damaged. Union guns aboard the other ships began a devastating barrage that destroyed all but one of the Confederate vessels. The Rebel fleet was decimated, while the Union suffered only four casualties and one damaged ship.

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