USS Red Rover

Red Rover was a side-wheel steamer built in 1859 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Confederates purchased her on November 7, 1861, and initially put her to use as a barracks ship at New Orleans, Louisiana. She was damaged by US fire during a bombardment and abandoned. The US forces captured her and the USS Red Rover was commissioned in December 1862. Her conversion to a hospital boat, begun at St. Louis, Missouri, and completed at Cairo, Illinois, was undertaken by the Western Sanitary Commission.

Her medical staff included nurses from the Catholic order Sisters of the Holy Cross, the first female nurses to serve onboard a US Navy ship. In addition to caring for and transporting sick and wounded men, she provided medical supplies to US Navy ships along the Western Rivers. A separate operating room was installed and equipped. A galley was put below, providing separate kitchen facilities for the patients. The cabin aft was opened for better air circulation. A steam boiler was added for laundry purposes. An elevator, numerous bathrooms, nine water closets, and gauze window blinds " ... to keep cinders and smoke from annoying the sick" were also included in the work.

On June 10, 1862, USS Red Rover was ready for service. The next day, USS Red Rover received her first patient, a US Navy sailor sick with cholera. By June 14th, she had 55 patients. On the 17th, USS Mound City exploded during an engagement with Confederate batteries at St. Charles, Arkansas. Casualties amounted to 135 out of a complement of 175. Red Rover, dispatched to assist in the emergency, took on board extreme burn and wound cases at Memphis, Tennessee, and transported them to less crowded hospitals in Illinois.

From Mound City, Illinois, USS Red Rover joined the Western Flotilla near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Through the summer of 1862, she treated the US Navy's sick and wounded while the Ram Fleet engaged at Vicksburg and along the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas.

On September 26, 1862, she was commissioned under the command of Acting Master William R. Wells, USN. Her staff was 47, while her medical department was initially about 30. Of that number, four were Sisters of the Order of the Holy Cross. The USS Red Rover also received five Black men, five white women, and five Black women who served as nurses, including Ann Bradford Stokes who had escaped from slavery in Rutherford County.

Two men from Williamson County are known to have served aboard the USS Red Rover, a floating hospital ship that served in the Mississippi Rive and other Western Theater rivers.

  • Peter Mason, aka Peter Overstreet, enlisted on December 12, 1862, in Cairo, Illinois. He served aboard the USS Red Rover (a floating hospital ship) and the USS Clara Dolsen. He was born in Williamson County around 1830. In a Navy pension application later in life, he described how: "I was a general plantation hand before I enlisted, such as raising and picking cotton and all kinds of plantation work. . . I heard my master [ Isaac H.Hilliard ] had died. .. " Isaac H. Hilliard was the son of Isaac Hilliard and Mary Murfree from Williamson County. Isaac Hilliard died in 1868 and owned one of the largest plantations in Chico County, Arkansas. Mason was enslaved at Grand Lake, Chicot County, Arkansas for five years before the Civil War. Then he made his way to Cairo, Illinois where he enlisted in the Navy. "When I left the plantation, I got on the gunboat Cincinnati and ran up to Cairo and enlisted on the Clara Dolson" Mason served on the Clara Dolson briefly in December 1862 and then transferred to the USS Red Rover on which he served until he was discharged on June 25, 1865. Following the War, Peter Mason settled in Mound City, Illinois where he worked building the levy on the Mississippi River, married and raised a family. He died there in 1903. His remains are buried in the Mound City National Cemetery.

  • Patrick Henry Southall From BOFT: Patrick Henry Southall was born to McGavock slaves, Joe and Clara, on November 22, 1822. In 1846, Sarah McGavock bequeathed him to her daughter, Mary Southall. Henry married a slave wife and had two daughters, Clara and Maria. But, shortly before the war, his wife and daughters were sold south to Memphis. Though he located his daughters after the war, he never saw his wife again. When the Civil War began, Henry accompanied Mary’s son, Randal McGavock Southall, into the war as a body servant. Henry was an accomplished cook and was mentioned in the journal of cousin Randal W. McGavock, “…we enjoyed a meal prepared by Henry Southall (col’d).” Randal M. Southall was captured in February of 1862. On April 22, 1863, Patrick Henry enlisted in the U.S. Navy in St. Louis, MO. He served on the first U.S. Navy hospital ship, the Red Rover. The Red Rover was staffed primarily by surgeons, nuns, and contrabands. After the war, he made his way north, settling in Wisconsin. There he worked as a cook in a hotel and on the railroad. He married Lizzie Partridge on May 15, 1874. They had four children together: George, Charley, Patrick Henry Jr., and Mabel. None of Henry and Lizzie’s children had surviving children of their own. On March 11, 1907, Henry applied for a pension for his service on the Red Rover. By the 1905 census, he and all his family had learned to read, and he owned his own home. Late in his life, he moved to Minneapolis, MN, and there he died on May 4, 1911.

[Union hospital ship U.S.S.Red Rover]

Library of Congress

USS Red Rover.

Line engraving after a drawing by Theodore R. Davis, published in Harper's Weekly, January-June 1863, page 300, depicting a scene in the ward. Red Rover served as the U.S. Navy's hospital ship on the Western Rivers during the Civil War. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Moored to a Western Rivers' shoreline, during the Civil War. Note awning spread over the ship's foredeck, and bell at the front of her superstructure. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.