Union Sailor Lost His Right Arm and Won the Medal of Honor

Confederate artillerymen did more than disable the gunboat U.S.S Isaac
Smith. They shot off sailor Richard Stout’s right arm.

It looked like Stout would bleed to death. But he ignored an order to
seek medical aid.

“He managed with the assistance of a comrade to stop the rapid
discharge of blood from his wound, and with the crippled arm stayed at his post
and fought until the Smith surrendered,” according to Deeds of Valor: How
America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor, a book published in 1902.

Firsthand account

Landsman Stout lost his limb, but not his life, on Jan. 30, 1863, in an
artillery ambush on the Stono River near Charleston, S.C. The Smith had been
sent upriver to scout for the enemy.

The Smith was part of a Union fleet that was blockading the Carolina
coast around Charleston. She and another gunboat, the U.S.S. McDonough, were
based in Stono Inlet.

The Smith was a 450-ton, cannon- bristling, converted Hudson River
pleasure steamer. She was shot up and captured just upriver from the town of
Legareville, S.C., Deeds of Valor read.

“Arriving in this locality late in the afternoon, the vessel was
suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by several batteries of siege and field guns
hidden in the woods bordering the river banks,” the narrative explained.
“The Isaac Smith had just anchored opposite Grimball’s plantation,
when the rebels opened fire.”

The Smith had a lookout atop her mast but he failed to see the
camouflaged gun emplacements. The Smith’s captain, Acting Lieutenant F.S.
Conover, “…engaged the enemy at once,” the book read. “As
the Federal vessel’s battery was inadequate to silence the hostile
batteries, she tried to escape down the river, being exposed to the guns of two
batteries for the distance of a mile and a half.

Richard Stout lost his right arm after being wounded by enemy fire on Jan. 30, 1863.
Richard Stout lost his right arm
after being wounded by enemy fire on Jan. 30, 1863.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

“When abreast of one of the batteries, some 200 yards off, a shot
disabled her engine, and the vessel grounded. Eight men had been killed and 17
wounded, some of them mortally.”

Under fire

In an official report of the battle, Conover reported that he “saw
immediately that we were trapped, and that my only course was to get the
vessels below the batteries if possible, and fight them with a more even chance
of success. For upward of a mile, on account of a bend in the river, we were
obliged to receive the raking fire of between 20 and 30 guns without being able
to reply, except occasionally with our pivot.”

The “pivot” was a large rifled cannon mounted on a carriage
that swiveled. The vessel also carried eight smaller smoothbore guns.

“As soon as our broadside could be brought to bear, we opened upon
the enemy with shell and grape, from 200 to 400 yards distant,” Conover
added. “At one time I had hopes of getting by without any very serious
loss, but a shot in our steam chimney effectually stopped the engine, and with
no wind, little tide, and boats riddled with shot, we were left entirely at the
mercy of the enemy. Under these circumstances, with the fire of some 30 guns,
according to their own account … and a large body of riflemen concentrated
upon us, with the shot tearing through the vessel in every direction, and with
no hope of being able to silence such a fire, I deemed it my duty to surrender.
Had it not been for the wounded men, with whom the berth deck was covered, I
might have blown up or sunk the ship, letting the crew take their chance of
getting on shore by swimming, but under the circumstances I had no alternative
left me. I need hardly say … that the order to haul down the colors was the
most difficult and heartrending one I ever gave. We had 8 men killed and 17
wounded, one of whom…died soon after being removed from the vessel.”

Meanwhile, the McDonough rushed to the aid of her stricken sister. She
arrived too late; the Smith was surrendering.

“Three heavy field batteries were firing upon the McDonough, and
she had to retire,” Deeds of Valor read. “So the Isaac Smith fell
into the enemy’s hand, and all her survivors became prisoners of

Reward for service

Also in his report, Conover praised Stout as one his “men who
behaved particularly well” under fire. He noted that the sailor “lost
[his] right arm.”

The Navy awarded Stout the Medal of Honor on April 16, 1864. The
citation reads: “Serving on board the U.S.S. Isaac Smith, Stono River, 30
January 1863. While reconnoitering on the Stono River on this date the U.S.S.
Isaac Smith became trapped in a rebel ambush. Fired on from two sides, she
fought her guns until disabled. Suffering heavy casualties and at the mercy of
the enemy who was delivering a raking fire from every side, she struck her
colors out of regard for the wounded aboard, and all aboard were taken
prisoners. Carrying out his duties bravely through this action, Stout was
severely wounded and lost his right arm while returning the rebel fire.”

Long life

The Rebels repaired the Smith and renamed her, the Stono.

In June 1863, the steamer, loaded with cotton, crashed into a Charleston
harbor breakwater trying to run the Union blockade. Apparently, the
Confederates burned the ship when they abandoned Charleston shortly before the
war ended in 1865.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Smith returned to the water as a steamboat pilot
transporting tourists to and from Hiawatha Island in the Susquehanna River
between Owego and Apalachin, N.Y. The island was a popular holiday destination.

Stout steered the steamer Owego on its first trip to the island –
June 16, 1874, according to Karen Bernardo, an Owego librarian.

“The steamboat was extremely fancy, with chandeliers, marble
tables, and carpeting … Food was served on the island in
‘Hiawatha’s Wigwam’ and a dance band played tunes. Captain
Truman, one of the stockholders in the company [that operated the boat] was in
charge of the steamboat but Richard Stout manned the wheel,” Bernardo

She added that eventually a hotel called the Hiawatha House was built on
the island. In 1884, a new steamboat, the Marshland, was built to haul
passengers. To help provide more docking space for the new boat, Stout was
hired to build a wing dam in the river, according to Hiawatha Island: Jewel of
the Susquehanna, a book by Emma Sedore.

Stout died on Aug. 6, 1896, 33 years after losing his arm. He was 59 or
60 years old. Though was born in 1836, his birth day is apparently unknown. The
ex-sailor was buried in Owego’s Evergreen Cemetery, where a special Medal
of Honor footstone marks his grave.

“Obviously Richard Stout’s disability didn’t disable him
at all, and he lived a long and productive life on the river,” Bernardo

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