The USS Reindeer was a wooden, stern-wheel steamer gunboat. She was built at Cincinnati, Ohio, in the spring of 1863 as Rachel Miller and purchased by the US Navy there on June 13, 1863 and placed in service early in July 1863. USS Reindeer joined the US Navy's Mississippi Squadron just as US military efforts to open the entire Mississippi River system to Federal shipping became possible with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana.
After Confederate Brig. Gen. John H. Morgan crossed the Ohio River to the north with about 2,500 troops early in July 1863, USS Reindeer joined a group of US Navy gunboats which patrolled the river for 10 days to prevent his crossing back to the southern bank and escaping. Aided by US Army troops under Major General Ambrose Burnside, they chased Morgan for almost 500 miles before they caught up with him at Buffington Island on July 19, 1863 and captured about half of the invading force. For the rest of the summer and early fall of 1863, USS Reindeer patrolled along the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, to Madison, Indiana.
On November 15, 1863, the USS Reindeer was transferred to the Cumberland River for similar duty. On that date, two Williamson County men (see below) enlisted on the ship in Nashville. In the months that followed, she frequently engaged Confederate batteries which fired upon her from temporary positions along the riverbanks as she reconnoitered the upper Cumberland and supported Army operations in Tennessee. She also participated in the Battle of Nashville in December 1864.
On April 11, 1864, Reindeer became a dispatch vessel for the Navy base at Mound City, Illinois, and served in that capacity until she decommissioned on 7 August 1865.
Two local men are known to have served on the USS Reindeer:
Anthony Baugh was born around 1814 in Franklin, Tennessee where he was enslaved by Phillip Baugh. In November 1838 he married Jane Dotson, a woman enslaved by Presley Dodson's family near Franklin. The couple had a son William. In 1855, Presley Dodson's daughter Mary married Zack Drake and she inherited Anthony Baugh's wife Jane and their son William. They were moved about 8 miles away from Anthony, making it difficult to visit. Every other Saturday, Anthony Baugh would walk to see them and return the next morning. When the Civil War broke out, according to Jane Dodson Baugh, her husband Anthony Baugh "left her at the Drake place to save his own life and got into the Union line at Franklin, Tenn. The next I heard of him he had enlisted on the Reindeer." Anthony Baugh enlisted aboard the USS Reindeer on November 15, 1863, in Nashville, Tennessee. Anthony was about 49 years old and Jane was 40 and expecting their son Elihu. According to Jane, "As soon as his service was over he came right to me - to Nashville, Tenn - where I had taken my children and gone." The couple lived in Nashville for several years while Anthony worked as a shoemaker and their family grew. By 1880, the family moved to Gibson County, Tennessee and then by 1893 they had moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma. Anthony Baugh died there in 1897.
Joseph Dotson was born in Williamson County around 1832. He. enlisted on November 15, 1863, aboard the USS Reindeer in Nashville. Given that he enlisted the same day as Anthony Baugh on the same ship and shared a last name with Baugh's wife Jane Dotson, it is believed that they were connected in some way.
USS Reindeer at anchor off Maysville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River in 1863