McFarland Book of the Week: Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianola, and Tuscumbia

Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads The USS Chillicothe, Indianola and TuscumbiaJoseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianola, and Tuscumbia

by Myron J. Smith, Jr.

TOCWOC’s Take: Author Myron J. Smith is no stranger to the naval war on the Western waters, as he has published multiple books on various ships which participated in these conflicts.  Here he covers the three ironclads built by Scottish immigrant Joseph Brown, the USS Chillicothe, USS Indianola, and USS Tuscumbia.

In this volume, Smith bookends chapters on each of the three ships’ careers with a biography of builder Joseph Brown both pre-war and post-war.  Scottish-born, Brown emigrated to the United States, specifically Alton, Illinois, just northeast of St. Louis, Missouri, and became mayor of that town in the late 1850s.  During the war, in addition to constructing his ironclads, Brown was involved in modifying numerous light draught gunboats for use on the western waters.  Post-war, as mayor of St. Louis, he was involved in the creation of several well-known landmarks of modern day St. Louis, Forest Park and Ead’s Bridge.

The USS Indianola is probably the most famous of these three ships.  The story of her capture by the Rebel boats Webb and Queen of the West on February 24, 1863, and then her destruction by a Confederate salvage crew after a fake ironclad was floated down the river by the Federals, is realtively well-known.

The Chillicothe and Tuscumbia had longer careers, though the “broad giant” Tuscumbia was quite often out of action due to repair work, and she was decommissioned prior to the end of the war. Both ships were part of the Yazoo Pass Expedition near Vicksburg, with the Chillicothe suffering damage and needing repairs.  The Tuscumbia ran the Vicksburg batteries in April 1863 and participated in the attack on Grand Gulf later that same month.  Her service after this mainly consisted of patrolling from Cairo, Illinois to the head of the Tennessee River.  Chillicothe took part in Banks’ Red River Campaign, barely escaping with the other ships involved. Chillicothe survived until the end of the war and was sold to a civilian.  She was destroyed by a fire in 1872.

Smith has produced yet another very good book on warships which participated in the Western Theater of operations.  This is without a doubt the most detailed work these three ships and their builder are likely to get.  Brown led a lively and interesting life, and I quite frankly hadn’t ever heard of him before reading this one.  Anyone interested in the naval portion of the Civil War will enjoy this book.


Publisher Info:

A Scottish immigrant to Illinois, Joseph Brown made his pre–Civil War fortune as a miller and steamboat captain who dabbled in riverboat design and the politics of small towns. When war erupted, he used his connections (including a friendship with Abraham Lincoln) to obtain contracts to build three ironclad gunboats for the U.S. War Department—the Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia. Often described as failures, these vessels were active in some of the most ferocious river fighting of the 1863 Vicksburg campaign. After the war, “Captain Joe” became a railroad executive and was elected mayor of St. Louis. This book covers his life and career, as well as the construction and operational histories of his controversial trio of warships.

Hardcover Edition

ISBN: 978-0-7864-9576-4

Publisher: McFarland (

Phone Number: 1-800-253-2187

Release Date: May 2017

Pages: 396


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *