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Freedom, Pennsylvania was once a busy steamboat
building town famous for its small draft vessels that were especially
needed to navigate the shallow rivers and bayous of the American
southwest. One such steamboat was the Cornie, which was ideally
suited for moving goods and materials on the bayous of Louisiana
and eastern Texas. Once the Civil War erupted, vessels like the
Cornie became invaluable to both sides for their ability to move
supplies and troops where regular draft steamers could not go.
The Cornie was a sternwheel paddleboat built
in Freedom in 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the war. Originally
built as a packet or mail boat for Mississippi River trips to
the New Orleans area, she weighed only 69 tons and measured 100
feet long by 23 feet wide, with a depth of only three feet from
her deck to her bottom.
With the beginning of the Civil War, the
Cornie was confiscated from a Mr. Smith of Louisville and put
into Confederate service moving troops and supplies along the
bayous of Louisiana. Her first action came on Sunday morning,
April 12, 1863, when Union troops attacked Fort Bisland, located
on the banks of Bayou Teche (between Franklin and Brashear City,
Louisiana). Against overwhelming odds, the fort held for two days
until the Confederate forces abandoned their works and retreated.
Contrary to orders, commanding General H.H. Sibley, CSA, failed
to evacuate his casualties overland; instead electing to load
his sick and wounded on board the Cornie, which was shortly thereafter
captured by Federal troops.
Under Federal command, the little Freedom
built steamboat performed several different duties in addition
to ferrying supplies and troops. In April, 1863, the Cornie saw
her first action for her new masters when she was a part of a
force of gunboats and infantry during a successful attack on Butte-A-La-Rose.
A year later, she was in danger of being re-captured by the Confederates
during a raid on Lake Verret to destroy a group of small boats
used by enemy guerrillas. A letter dated November 26, 1864 from
Union Brigadier General Robert Cameron to Lieutenant Colonel G.
B. Drake described the action:
"The steamer Cornie was sent from Brashear a few days ago to destroy boats on Lake Verret intended to be used by guerrillas. They got aground on account of the north wind driving the water out of the lake. A gun-boat sent to her assistance also got aground. I then sent two companies of cavalry to protect them. The boats have returned to Brashear in safety after destroying twenty-seven small boats"
In addition to her military duties, she
also once served as a flag of truce boat to help carry relief
supplies and rescue some local civilians during a flood in May
Lieutenant W.H. Stillman, U.S.A., who commanded the rescue mission, stated in his report:
".I embarked with the above detail.and proceeded to the plantation of Mr. John Bertram Blanco, situated on Sand Bayou, about three miles from Brashear City, where we found the estate submerged, about four feet of water in the shallowest places. Being obliged to cut away the rafters of the cattle shed in order to place sufficient gang planks for the cattle to come on board the steamer, we were detained some time at this plantation, where we received on board about twenty-five head of cattle, twenty hogs and shoats; also the family of Mr. BlancoThen we received at Mr. Valgrand Verret's two beef-cattle, which we landed at Brashear Monday night, and crossed the river to Berwick, where we landed stock belonging to Blanco; thence took him and family to Felright's place"
Probably one of the saddest duties that
the Cornie performed was in July of 1863 when following a desperate
but successful Union defense of Donaldsonville (Near Baton Rouge,
Louisiana), the major commanding was murdered by one of his own
men. Following the murder, the Cornie was charged with transporting
the corpse of Major J. D. Bullen, the hero of the battle along
with his killer, Private Francis Scott of the First Louisiana
Volunteers to New Orleans. Scott was placed on board in double
irons and closely guarded to prevent any hope of escape. A month
later, he was found guilty of murder before a military courtmartial
and executed by a firing squad in New Orleans.
The little Cornie continued performing her duty through the war's end and was finally returned to private ownership on February 2, 1866. She was last owned by four local stockholders in New Orleans and disappeared from history in 1867.