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[427] The face of the enemy's work was from one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards in length, and was supposed to be open at the rear.

On the return of the Clifton the order of battle was immediately arranged and rapidly perfected. The gunboats Clifton, Arizona, and Sachem were to engage the enemy's work, while the Granite City, which carried only a broadside of small brass guns, was to cover the landing of an advance force of five hundred men of General Weitzel's division, selected from the heroes of Port Hudson, and composed of two companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-sixty New-York, four companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-first New-York, and a detachment from the Seventy-fifth New-York regiments, under command of Captain Fitch, of the last-named regiment. The General himself came on board at the last moment to superintend personally the operation of disembarking his troops.

“All ready” was the signal, and about four o'clock P. M. the gunboats steamed slowly forward, the Clifton advancing directly toward the fort, followed by the Granite City, and she in turn by the transport General Banks, having on board the advance of the army. The Sachem and the Arizona steamed off to the right and ran up nearly opposite the battery. The Clifton opened the ball with a shell from one of her nine-inch pivot guns, which exploded inside the rebel works, throwing up a perfect shower of debris, and instantly followed it with a second shot of the same kind. Soon the little Sachem, commanded by Captain Johnson, opened her broadside thirty-two pounder guns on the work, and the next moment the Arizona also paid her compliments to the foe. The gunnery was magnificent, a few of the shells only exploding prematurely, and the pieces dropping in the water. Up to this time, and until from thirty to forty shell had exploded in the works, not a shot had been returned by the enemy. An ominous silence pervaded the fort, and many were of opinion that the works had been abandoned. Neither soldiers nor inhabitants made their appearance, and the only signs of life apparent were the movements of a small steamer in the river, which had run up above the city and down as far as the fort once or twice during the forenoon, and which was joined by a second steamer about the time the action commenced.

The action of the enemy, however, was the deceptive calm which often precedes the storm, and the sudden flash of flame which was plainly visible from the deck of the General Banks with the naked eye, and the cloud of white smoke which floated lazily up from the parapet of the enemy, were instantly followed by a heavy shot thrown at the Arizona, the largest boat of the fleet, and which passed directly over her, striking in the edge of the water beyond. This was followed in quick succession by a shot at the Sachem and another at the Clifton, neither of which, however, took effect. The engagement now became general and very warm, the Clifton and Arizona moving very slowly forward and back, while the brave little Sachem, under a heavy fire, kept pushing steadily forward, endeavoring to pass the battery and engage it in the rear, which was supposed to be unprotected. This movement the enemy divined, and redoubled their fire at her, answered shot for shot by the three boats, the huge shells every instant bursting in their midst, carrying destruction in their wake and knocking great holes in the parapet, which appeared of sufficient size the admit the passage of a carriage and horses. The enemy acted with great bravery, however, and, if their fire slackened an instant after one of those terrific explosions, which seemed to shake the very earth around them, it was instantly resumed with increased, rather than diminished determination. Steadily but surely the little Sachem was gaining her desired position. A moment more and she would pass out of range, and the day would be won. All eyes were bent upon the noble little craft, when suddenly a shot was seen to strike her amidships, crushing in her sides and tearing their iron plating for the protection of sharp-shooters as a piece of paper, causing her to careen and tremble from stern to stern. An instant more and she was enveloped in the scalding vapor of escaping steam, and lay a helpless wreck, at the mercy of the enemy. The flag was lowered, and the enemy, ceasing their fire on her, now turned their entire attention to the Clifton, probably aware of the fact that the draught of the Arizona would not permit her to advance near enough to become a very formidable antagonist. The disabling of the Sachem at the instant when victory was within her grasp was the second of those unfortunate accidents referred to, and was, of course, of so serious a character as to imperil the success of the entire affair. The Clifton was now the only effective boat engaged. She was called upon to do double duty, and not for one breath did her gallant commander and brave crew hesitate, but, with three rousing cheers, which were heard above the din of battle, they poured in their fire, running in closer and closer to the batteries, in the face of the concentrated fire of the entire rebel fortification.

Putting on a full head of steam, the Clifton ran swiftly down directly toward the battery, with the intention, doubtless, of delivering her broadside, giving her sharp-shooters an opportunity to pick off the enemy's gunners and thus silencing the works. At the same time the Granite City and the General Banks gradually followed in her wake for the purpose of reaching the point of debarkation as soon as the Clifton had effected her object, although the heavy solid shot and hissing shell which were intended for the Clifton, but which passed her, came ricochetting along on the water, almost reaching them. Just as the Clifton gained the point she aimed at reaching, and as her bow was thrown round slightly, in the act of turning, she struck, the velocity with which she was running driving her a long distance into the thin mud at the bottom of the pass. At the same time a hitherto undiscovered battery to the left of the main work, and in easy range, opened upon her as she lay, her broadside offering a

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Godfrey Weitzel (1)
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