Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/May/Captain Ritter's Account of the Death of Sergt. Langley

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Southern Historical Society Papers, May 1876

Letter from Captain William L. Ritter.

Rev. John William Jones,
Secretary Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.:

Dear Sir—The February number of the Southern Historical Society Papers contains an article from Major J. L. Brent in relation to the capture of the iron-clad "Indianola," in which mention is made of the name of Sergeant Edward H. Langley, of the Third Maryland Artillery, who had immediate charge of the two Parrot-guns aboard the "Queen of the West." As Sergeant Langley belonged to the battery of which I was a member, I desire to relate a few incidents connected with the closing scenes of his life, and to mention the fate of his successor, Lieutenant William Thompson Patten.

When the two gun detachments were put aboard the steamer "Archer," January 23d, 1863, and sent down the river in charge of Sergeant Langley, there was but one commissioned officer with the battery in Vicksburg, the others having not yet arrived from Tennessee.

On the 26th the steamer "De Soto," a ferry-boat, was captured by the enemy at Johnson's Landing, a few miles below Vicksburg, on the west side of the river, where the Captain had stopped the boat to take on some wood. February 2d the "Queen of the West" passed by the batteries at Vicksburg and steamed down the river. On the 4th she returned to Johnson's Landing, where she remained a few days; and then, in company with the "De Soto," proceeded down the Mississippi and up Red river to Fort De Russey, where she was captured by our forces. As soon as the "Queen" was repaired, Sergeant Langley's two gun detachments were transferred from the "Archer" to the "Queen."

A correspondent, in speaking of the fight with the "Indianola," says: "In closing this article, we cannot refrain mentioning specially the conduct of Sergeant E. H. Langley, one of the Third Maryland Artillery. He had on the 'Queen' two detachments of his artillery, and was placed in charge of the two Parrot guns. He himself took command of the 86-pounder gun on the bow of the 'Queen,' where he remained during the action, neither he or his gallant comrades ever leaving their posts for a moment. While the bow of the 'Queen' was still resting against the side of the 'Indianola' he still manned and fired his guns, though he and his men were without the least covering or protection. In addition to this courage, the skill and judgment he showed in manœuvering his piece mounted on wheels, within a most contracted space, is certainly deserving of the very highest commendation."

The 1st of March, 1863, Lieutenant Patten, of the Third Maryland Artillery, was ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, to take command of the section which up to this time had been so efficiently commanded by Sergeant Langley.

Early on the morning of the 14th of April, 1863, Captain A. E. Fuller, now in command of the Queen, with the Lizzie Simmons as a supply boat, attacked the enemy's fleet on Grand Lake, Louisiana, consisting of the Calhoun, Estrella and Arizona, but before the vessels came within short range, an incendiary percussion shell from the Calhoun penetrated the deck of the Queen, exploded and set the vessel on fire. About twenty minutes afterward the fire reached the magazine, and the career of this celebrated boat was closed. After discovering the boat to be on fire, Lieutenant Patten rolled a cotton bale off the side of the vessel and jumped upon it, but it turned with him and he sank, not being able to swim. Thus perished one of the noblest and bravest of the Marylanders who went South. He was a man of commanding physique, polished manners, and rare attainments, a soldier who reflected credit upon the cause he espoused; and in his death the battery sustained an irreparable loss, and the service a gallant, brave and faithful officer. Sergeant Langley and all but four of his men remained upon the Queen, and were lost in the general destruction of the vessel. Captain Fuller jumped off the Queen and was picked up by the men of one of the enemy's boats. The Lizzie Simmons escaped capture. Yours, very respectfully,

Wm. L. Ritter.

Baltimore, Maryland, April 24, 1876.