7. Tricking the Confederates Into Blowing Up a Warship
During the US Civil War, the USS Indianola was a Union ironclad river gunboat that ran past Confederate batteries in Vicksburg in order to reach the Red River and help block Confederate supplies from sailing down its waters. However, once the gunboat got there it was set upon by Confederate rams on the night of February 24th, 1863, ran aground and was subsequently captured.
The Indianola in Confederate hands threatened Union operations in the region, so plans were made to recapture or destroy the gunboat. The result was one of the war’s most successful deception operations and hoaxes.
Union naval commander David Porter ordered the construction of a dummy ironclad out of an old coal barge, made to resemble a real warship. It had paddle boxes, fake gun emplacements with “cannons” that were actually wooden logs painted black, and barrels stacked to look like funnels, out of which poured smoke produced by smudge pots to mimic the smoke produced by a steam engine.
The dummy warship was then floated past Vicksburg, a city in western Mississippi. When word reached the Confederates that a powerful “ironclad” was headed their way, the salvage crews working to repair and refloat the recently captured Indianola panicked. To prevent the Indianola’s recapture, the Confederates fired the ship’s magazine and blew her up.