three calm days.
Delay caused the golden opportunity to be lost.
On Sunday afternoon, the 18th, a chilling breeze came from the southeast, bringing with it a slight mist, the harbinger of an approaching storm.
White-caps soon garnished the bosom of the ocean, and the wind constantly freshened.
Toward sunset, the shadowy forms of vessels appeared on the hazy northern horizon.
They were the heralds of Porter
's magnificent fleet of warriors-the most formidable naval armament ever put afloat on the sea. There were fifty-eight strongly-armed vessels, fully manned, and four of them were “monitors.”
They gathered around us at twilight; and when the night set in, dark and lowering, their numerous lights on deck, and in the rigging, some white, and some colored, gave the pleasing impression of a floating city on the bosom of the great deep; and so it was. Very soon there was brisk signaling, with blazing torches, between the Ben Deford
and the “Malvern
;” and, at eight o'clock, General Butler
departed for the latter in his gig to confer with Admiral Porter
On his return, he announced that it was intended to explode the floating mine, near Fort Fisher
, at one o'clock in the morning, and to land the troops for attack, if possible, soon after the dawn of day.
The floating mine, or powder-ship, was a propeller of two hundred and ninety-five tons burden, named “Louisiana
She was disguised as a blockade-runner, in form and color, with two raking smoke-stacks-one real, the other a sham.
A light deck above the water-line contained two hundred and fifteen tons (four hundred and thirty thousand pounds) of gunpowder, placed first in a row of barrels standing on their ends, the upper ones open, and the remainder in bags, each containing sixty pounds. The latter were stowed in tiers above the barrels.
To communicate fire to the whole mass simultaneously, four separate threads of the Gomez fuse were woven through it, passing through each separate barrel and bag. At the stern, and under the powder-charged deck, was placed a heap of pine wood and other combustible materials, which were to be fired by the crew, when they were to escape in a swift little steamer employed for the purpose.
Clock-work, by which a percussion-cap might be exploded, and ignite the fuse; short spermaceti candles, which would burn down, and fire the fuse, and a slow match, that would work in time with the candles, were all employed.
The plan was to choose a favorable state of the weather for landing troops in launches on the beach, explode the powder-ship after midnight, and debark the troops at dawn, to take advantage of the effects of the explosion on the fort and garrison.