Ensg. William L. Heard
Died 1864 at age 30
Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”
William Heard was promoted to the rank of Navy ensign on January 31, 1863, while with the Mississippi River Squadron during the Civil War.
By the spring of 1864, he was serving aboard the USS Covington, a 126-foot long, 224-ton, side-wheeled gunboat. In reality, it was a converted passenger steamer fitted with metal siding and eight guns.
They called it a “tin clad” and the men aboard were said to be part of the “brown water navy.”
On April 27 of that year, the Covington was ordered to escort a troop transport down the Red River from Alexandria, Louisiana, along with another gunboat called the USS Signal.
But 25 miles out of Alexandria, near Dunn’s Bayou, they were ambushed by Confederate troops and artillery. The fighting lasted most of the day.
In the end, the Union transport and the crew of the Signal were captured. The Covington was set alight by its own crew. Many of them escaped back up the river to Alexandria.
But William L. Heard of Portland wasn’t among them.
Somehow, his body found its way home and was buried next to his younger brother, George, who’d already died in the war.
(I’ll tell you about George tomorrow.)
Today’s story is brought to you, in part, by the June 18, 1864 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, published in New York, and also the semi-abandoned, but detail-rich, website www.greaterportlandgraves.com.
Also, I’m not completely sure I made this video at the Heard brothers’ grave. The stone is too eroded to read. But it’s where old cemetery records indicate the family plot is located.
Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.