Iroquois Theater was the last of five experiences
Iroquois manager Will J. Davis had with serious
first was at the end of the American civil war.
At age twenty, as assistant payroll
master assigned to the USS
Blackhawk, he was on board when it caught fire and exploded. All but
four of the crew were saved.
In 1862 Davis had enlisted as a landsman in the
navy, under Captain Alvin Phinney on board the
mortar schooner, USS Racer. The Racer was originally
part of the North Atlantic squadron but in 1862 was
moved to the Mississippi.
Davis became clerk to Paymaster C. H. Kirkendall,
a fellow former Elkhart, Indiana resident, and when Kirkendall transferred
to the USS Blackhawk, Davis went with him.
The USS Blackhawk (sometimes spelled USS Black Hawk)
began service as the USS New Uncle Sam (sometimes
called USS Uncle Sam). It was a large and
luxurious double-side-wheel tinclad steamship, built at new Albany, IN in 1857.
It weighed 902 tons, was 260 ft long and had a 45.5 ft
beam and hold depth of 8 ft.
Prior to the Civil War,
the ship ran between New Orleans, Louisville and St.
Louis under the captainship of A. R. Irwin. During
the war it was sometimes referred to as a floating
palace. In 1862 it was General Grant’s headquarters.
General Grant’s only known war council took place on
the New Uncle Sam in Feb 11, 1862.
In Mar, 1862, the New Uncle Sam was part of a
flotilla of 95 steamboats with 27,000 men that
steamed south on the Tennessee River to Fort Henry
in St. Louis.
In Mar, 1862 the New Uncle Sam was on its way up the
Cumberland river when it ran into overhanging trees
at the side of the river, knocking down the
smokestacks. In Nov, 1862, after repairs, it was
purchased by the US Navy, converted to a gunship and
in Dec, 1862 renamed the USS Blackhawk. It was
then equipped with four 32-pounder smoothbores, two
30-pounder Parrott rifles, one or two 12-pounder
Parrot rifles, two Union repeating guns and one B&R
The dates just cited are consistently used in
discussions of the Blackhawk but a famous Union war
correspondent, Charles Carleton Coffin, who was on
board the Blackhawk at the time, reported that
Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner officially
surrendered Fort Donelson to Ulysses S. Grant aboard
the New Uncle Sam on Feb 17, 1862. Apparently the
ship was used by the Navy in Feb, before it was reconditioned and acquired by the Navy in Nov, 1962.
The ship’s first commander was K. R. Breese.
The ship served as 1st
Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s
and Acting Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee’s
flagship during the war.
This was when Will J.
Davis served aboard the ship. Porter and Lee insisted on strict
military decorum aboard ship, requiring dress
uniform at all times and constant drilling.
Reportedly Porter kept a horse aboard.
On Jun 16, 1862 the USS Blackhawk transported nearly
three hundred Confederate prisoners north from Pittsburg
Landing in Tennessee to the Union prison at Alton,
The ship participated in the Vicksburg battle of
Dec, 1862, the capture of Fort Hindman in Arkansas
Jan, 1863 (planned by General McClernand, general
Sherman and Porter, conducted by Porter while aboard
the Ivy), the attack on Haines Bluff, Mississippi
Apr, 1863, the siege of Vicksburg, May-Jul, 1863 and
the Red River Expedition Mar-May, 1864.
During combat, Davis' job was to pass ammunition
from the hold to the guns on the main deck.
USS Blackhawk burns
At the end of the war, on Apr 22, 1865 while docked
on the Ohio River, the magazine (or coal oil) caught
fire and the ship exploded, sinking near Mound City,
Illinois, just below the Navy Yard and three miles above
The Tempest, the new flagship, helped save all but
of the crew. Afterwards admiral Lee said that if the
explosion had happened at night, it was so sudden
that instead of four lost there would have been only
squadron records and payroll were lost. Davis was
brought to Washington to testify in the
investigation about the incident. He was honorably
discharged Oct, 1865.
After the Peerless and Huntsville ships hit the
wreck and sank, the USS Blackhawk was raised and
sold by Dalson Wrecking in St. Louis in 1867. In
1872 sixty seven torpedoes from the Albert were used to break
up a remaining hunk of the Blackhawk. They brought
up two gun carriage axels, a 1,275-lb anchor and
120’ of chain.
Soldiers believed to have served on the
Will J. Davis exchanged Christmas cards and
correspondence with several of these men for the
next fifty years:
Abraham B. Ackerman
C. B. Adams – Acting Second Assistant
A. H. Ahernes – Acting Master’s Mate
Edward Alford – Acting Master
Henry Baker – Acting Master
B. B. Baker – Acting Master’s Mate
D. A. Boies – Acting Master’s Mate
J. C. Barr – Acting Ensign
Michael Bradley – Passed Assistant Surgeon
William Burr – First Class Boy
C. A. Calvert – Acting Master
Jacob W. Cassell – Acting Third Assistant
Frank L. Church – Marines Lieutenant
Will J. Davis
Noah Dean – Acting Carpenter
Dr. Robert T. Edes – surgeon
James A. Greer – Lieutenant Commander
John R. Hall – Acting Gunner
B. T. Howell – Acting Ensign
Frederick S. Johnson - Captain
J. A. Jones – Acting Ensign
C. H. Kirkendall – Acting Assistant Paymaster (Will
J. Davis' boss and a fellow Elkhartan - who helped
Davis get a job with the IRS after the war)
A. S. Ludlow – Acting Master’s Mate (good friend of
Davis for many decades after the war)
Alexander Mosely Pennock
Jan Niemann – Acting Master’s Mate
J. B. Pratt – Acting Ensign
O.G. Richey – Acting First Assistant
W. B. Richey – Acting Third Assistant
Harriet Ruth – Nurse
William R. Sampson
George W. Walker – Acting Chief (good friend of
Davis for decades after the war)
"NAVY DEPARTMENT, December 5, 1862.
SIR: Your No. 139, reporting names of vessels
purchased, has been received.
The name of the Florence Miller may be changed to
Rattler, agreeably to your request. As there is
already a Red Rover and a Young Rover in the
service, you may call the II~. A. Ilealey the
Change the name of the New Uncle Sam to Black Hawk.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Acting Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER, Secretary of the
Commanding Mississippi Squadron, Cairo, Ill."