Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan
|Dallas Bogan on 4 August 2004|
|original article by Dallas Bogan|
|Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan|
Captain Hoel was born in Sharon,
Butler Co., Ohio, March 7, 1824. He was the son of Edmond and
Elizabeth Hunt Hoel.
William's father, Edmond, was a well-known Ohio River pilot. Young William followed in his father's footsteps with ease. After a short term at Xavier University in Cincinnati, he, at a very young age, went on board the steamer Congress to learn the river.
Learning the profession and mastering the techniques of riverboat navigating allowed William to enter the war, in 1861, to serve as a pilot, at St. Louis. This position was soon resigned for that of First Master on the ironclad gunboat Cincinnati; then he became Executive Officer on the flagship Benton; then, when the Eastport was built, he became Executive Officer of that vessel; then took command of the Pittsburgh, and after this commanded the ram Vindicator, as A.V.L. Lieutenant Commander.
For gallantry at Island 10, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and after the fight at Grand Gulf, Lieutenant Hoel was made Lieutenant Commander, an honor never conferred upon a volunteer in the whole previous history of the U.S. Navy.
While in command of the Pittsburgh, he gallantly led the fight at Grand Gulf. He afterward was assigned to the Vindicator, of which he retained command until the close of the war.
It was at the famous running of the blockade, at Island No. 10, however, that Commander Hoel won his most conspicuous laurels for dauntless daring and executive ability. Those who were contemporaries with the occurrences of those days will readily recall the heroic action; but later generations may require a brief description:
On the morning of April 14, 1863, Commodore Foote began making preparations running the blockade, and Commander H. Walker's vessel, the Carondelet, was chosen for the important duty. At that time Captain Dick Wade was Executive Officer of the Carondelet, but Capt. Hoel volunteered to act in his stead on this occasion, saying to Capt. Wade, "You have a family, while I have none." This offer was accepted.
The vessel was at once defended as much as possible on its exposed side. A barge containing bales of hay was lashed to its side; coils of chain plank of a dismantled barge, cord wood, etc., were used for protection against the possible attacks of the enemy. An eleven-inch hawser was coiled around the pilot- house as high as the windows, and other precautions suggested by the circumstances were taken to guard the vessel during her perilous trip past the fortress.
Mr. C.B. Boynton, in his sketches of "Services to the Navy", speaks of this remarkable achievement, which he styles "a work which only bold and brave men could perform," as follows:
"At 10 o'clock the moon had gone down and the sky, the land and river were alike hidden in the black shadow of the thunder-cloud, which had spread itself over all the heavens. The time seemed opportune for starting: the order was given, the lines were cast off, and, with her barge of hay on one side and another with coal on the star-board side, the gunboat rounded out heavily and slowly laid her course down the river. In order to avoid the puffing sound of the high-pressure engine, the escape steam was conducted into the wheelhouse, where its harsh voice was muffled, a device which probably led to their discovery by the fire from the chimneys.
"For half a mile everything went smoothly and quietly, and all thought they might succeed in passing the batteries unobserved, when suddenly a bright steady flame several feet rose high from both chimneys, and for a moment the steamer appeared to be carrying aloft two immense torches to light her on her way. Her upper decks and all about her brightened for a moment in the red glare.
"Strange as it appears, what was deemed by all a very serious accident, which would bring upon them at once the enemy's fire, caused no movement in the hostile batteries. When nearly opposite the upper fort the chimneys again took fire, then at once the sentinels there gave the alarm to the fort below. Signal rockets were sent up both from the mainland and the island, and a cannon shot came from Fort No. 2. It was evident that the alarm was now general. Not a shot, however, came from the upper battery, and this showed how thoroughly its dangerous guns had been silenced by the bold men who had landed and spiked them. This and the drifting away of the floating battery had much to do with the safety of the Carondelet.
"But one course was now possible for the officers of the gunboat. The vessel was at once put under a full head of steam, and was urged on at her utmost speed, for the rebels were now making swift preparations at every gun which could be brought to bear. She was exposed to the fire of forty- seven guns. The storm was then at its height, and its fearful character, which would have been dangerous at any other time, was welcome as increasing the chances of escape. The darkness was so intense as to shut out earth and heaven alike, except as lighted for an instant by the lightning's glare, or the flame of the cannon. The gleam and roar of the guns of the batteries could scarcely be distinguished from the flash and the thunder of the cloud. The fires of heaven and earth were so mingled that none could tell whether the deck was shaken by the explosion above or the cannon below. The rain fell in the sweeping torrents of a summer shower. Shot and shell and rifle and musket balls sang, shrieked and roared around them, so as to be heard above the storm. Each flash of lightning revealed the rebels, loading, training and firing their guns as the boat came within range. The steamer could also be seen for a moment, but as she was moving swiftly with the current, it was nearly impossible to get her range, and it was evident that only a chance shot would strike her. Most of the shot and shell flew high above her, because the alterations of light and darkness were so rapid as to deceive the gunners in regard to the gunboat's position. She was much nearer to them than they thought, and they fired therefore, at a wrong elevation. The boat was kept as close to the shore as she could safely run, where, indeed, it would have been difficult to depress their guns so as to strike her, even had she been plainly seen.
"At this point their greatest danger was not from the batteries. The current was not only rapid, but it shifted from side to side with the sharp curves of the stream, and bars ran out from either shore. The intense darkness prevented the pilots from knowing the exact position of the boat, and they could learn it only as they caught glimpses of the shore by the flashes of lightning.
'On the forecastle the lead was kept going and the depth of the water was constantly reported. Yet, with every precaution, and in spite of watchfulness, the steamer was often in peril. It contributed largely to her safety that she had on board Capt. Hoel, First Master of the Cincinnati, who had been engaged in navigating the Mississippi for more than twenty years. This gentleman stood on the deck, exposed to the double shower of rain and bullets, and watching for each momentary revelation which the lighting made, gave directions for steering the boat. The gleam of the lightening, the frequent report of the soundings, and in his intimate knowledge of localities, enabled Capt Hoel to judge correctly, in the main, of the gunboat's position. Once, however, during the passage, she was in imminent danger of being lost. The steamboat and her barges presented, of course, a very large surface to the current, and this gave her occasionally a heavy sheer. In the darkness and the blinding rush of the storm, these could not always, on the instant, be noticed. Caught at one time by the swift stream she was drifting toward a dangerous bar, where she would have grounded under the guns of the batteries, when a broad flash lit up the river, and it had hardly faded before the sharp, twice repeated, "hard -a-port" rang through the goat. She obeyed her helm ands regained the current just in time to save her. Three miles below, the floating battery, which had grounded there, fired a few harmless shots, and then the peril was over, and exulting cheers burst from the crew and the soldiers, signal guns were fired announcing their safety to the fleet above, and soon the gunboat rounded to at New Madrid, and was welcomed by cheers and bonfires, and every possible demonstration of joy."
Capt. Hoel was first married to Miss Mary Riley, daughter of Daniel Riley, of Cincinnati.
In 1855, Capt Hoel made a balloon ascension with Mons. Goddard. The aerial excursion started from Cincinnati and terminated, at night, three miles south of Waynesville.
Captain Hoel, becoming infatuated with the beauty and fertility of the Little Miami Valley, bought a farm two miles east of Waynesville, which he christened "Kildere."
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This page created 4 August 2004 and last updated
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