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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Michigan Sailors on the Tinclad U.S.S. Forest Rose

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

by Gordon Thorsby

Forest Rose at the construction of the Alexandia Dam 1864

Forest Rose was a sternwheeler tinclad #9, with a displacement of 260 tons, 155 ft. long and 32 feet in the beam. She had a draught of 5ft which offered the ability to cruise the Mississippi and and connecting rivers at shallow depths. Her 2 30lb. Parrott rifles, 4 24-pounder howitzers; and 2 32-pounders could shell lightly defended places into submission. Only Blackhawk was a larger Tinclad. All others were considerably smaller. She was effective and powerful against infantry and cavalry as her armor deflected bullets. Missions were raiding, escorting supply vessels and other similar duties. Against well directed enemy artillery fire from shore emplacements, she was a sitting duck especially if she was moving upstream with her maximum power at 6 knots. Against the current of the Mississippi, one could outpace her at a fast walk.

It was not the statistics above that made the Forest Rose sail. It was the men inside her. Her Captain was Master George W. Brown, A tinclad of her size had a crew of seventy and Brown drew only a Master’s rank. At least eight of the crew were from various parts of Michigan. Joseph Davis of Flushing was “Captain-of-the-Hold” (rank is actually similar to Chief Petty Officer) and 28. He entered the Navy prior to the war in 1859.

John Fitzpatrick was from Wayne County and one of the vessels ship’s carpenters and also entered the service prior to the war at 17.

William Thorn (also Thorne) was 22 and a recent English immigrant so he would have had an British accent in some form. He entered the Navy in 1859 and by 1863 was 22 years of age and was rated “seaman.” He would have had the confidence of the ship's officers because of his experience.

Forest Rose went into action immediately in the Fort Hindman action in January,1863 where the small fleet of gunboats shelled the fort prior to any infantry assault. Beyond January, Forest Rose got into a game of modern-day terminology “whack-a-mole “along the river byways. In May she sailed up the Yazoo Pass accompanying a number of ships including Cairo Class Ironclads, Baron De Kalb and Cincinnati, timberclads, tinclads and a small force of infantry. On May 18, the force blew up an ammunition yard and then farther upriver they destroyed seven small river steamers. During one of the actions, they found a site for an unnamed Confederate ironclad under construction. The yard was described by Admiral David Porter to Secretary Gideon Welles, “a vessel on the stocks (a monster), 310 ft long, 70 feet in the beam, covered with 4.5 inch plating, 6 engines, 4 side wheels, two propellers. The navy yard contained a sawmill planing shop, large machine shop and carpenter and blacksmith shop.” An ironclad of that size would have been formidable.

One Michigan man, joined on about this time, William Daley of Macomb County (aka, Joseph Attaway.) A navy man with a pseudonym was not unusual. He was previously a sailor on the converted revenue cutter Harriet Lane because records showed he was taken prisoner at Sabine Pass as a Landsman. In 1864, he was only 19. The 5’8” blue-eyed brown-haired fades from history after his service on the Forest Rose. After Vicksburg, her patrol work was Natchez to Vicksburg where enemy activity increased which would lead her to her next mission.

Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Rose signed up for service in early 1864 at under eighteen and was rated an Ordnance Seaman signing for the Red River Campaign. Born in Shelby County Ohio, he lived in Mason MI around the time of the war's commencement.

Forest Rose performed difficult work in the Red River Campaign. The fleet battled a

combination of harassing Confederate forces and Mother Nature with dropping river depths. Lowered levels endangering deeper draught vessels, so a solution came up to dam the river and raise the depth. The photo at the top is the Forest Rose taking barges for use in the damming operation at Alexandria (pictured right.)

James Willison, 18 was from a place called Hickory Corners and came on board prior to Red River because he was rated a Seaman. Records indicated he served on the Collier, Great Western (Mississippi Squadron), and he too may have served under a false name. He died from the effects of rheumatism in 1888 contracted while serving on the Forest Rose.

Alexander B. Smith, 30 of Milan signed up on the Timberclad USS Conestoga before moving to the Forest Rose.

George S Farrar of Port Austin was also an Englishman who was a sailor for much of his life some of it with the Forrest Rose. He served until at least 1877 in the Navy in various capacities and was wounded in the wrist at some point while on the Forest Rose.

Jackson Smith and Farrar took their Forest Rose service to the grave as they were buried with full military honors with rifle salutes. Farrar was buried with veterans of the Spanish American War and WWI of the local post along with two Civil War veterans now in their nineties in attendance. We do know the identities of the Civil War Veterans.

As with any officer, Davis wrote the note (right) to a group of Southern citizens of a town of

Tiptonville after buildings had been burned reportedly for hiding guerillas. Dating is possibly 1864.


Blue & Gray Navies, by Tucker, Spencer C. , Naval Institute Press, 2006. Ppg. 233-234

Mr. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy, by Joiner, Gary D., Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007, ppg164

Mississippi River Gunboats of the American Civil War, by Longstam, Angus, Osprey Publishing, 2002. Illustrated by Tony Bryan.

Top Photo, The Naval Institute.

Ancestry. com, Fold3.

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