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The lashing of Admiral Farragut in the rigging.1

I. By J. Crittenden Watson, Captain, U. S. N.

At the commencement of the action [in Mobile Bay] Admiral Farragut was standing in the port main-rigging, which position enabled him to overlook the other vessels of the fleet while at the same time it gave him perfect command of both his own flag-ship and the Metacomet, the latter vessel being lashed on that side of the Hartford for the purpose of carrying the flag-ship inside the bay in case of the disabling of her own machinery. A slight wind was blowing the smoke from our guns on to Fort Morgan. As the wind fell lighter (which it frequently does during heavy firing), the smoke gradually obscured the admiral's view, and he almost unconsciously climbed the rigging, ratline by ratline, in order to see over it, until finally he found himself in the futtock-shrouds, some little distance below the maintop. Here he could lean either backward or forward in a comfortable position, having the free use of both hands for his spy-glass, or any other purpose. Captain Drayton, commanding the Hartford, and also chief-of-staff to the admiral, becoming solicitous lest even a slight wound, a blow from a splinter, or the cutting away of a portion of the rigging, might throw the admiral to the deck, sent the signal-quartermaster aloft with a small rope, to secure him to the rigging. The admiral at first declined to allow the quartermaster to do this, but quickly admitted the wisdom of the precaution, and himself passed two or three turns of the rope around his body, and secured one end while the quartermaster (Knowles) fastened the other. The admiral remained aloft until after we had passed Fort Morgan. [407]

While leaning against the futtock-shrouds, he was near enough to the pilot — who was in the maintop, just over his head — to communicate with him. He was at all times visible to Captain Drayton and the flag-lieutenant (myself), who were standing on the poop-deck, and conversed with him several times during — the action. Lieutenant A. R. Yates, now Commander in the United States Navy, who was acting as a volunteer aide, was stationed underneath the admiral, and carried his orders to the other parts of the ship.

After the passage of the forts was accomplished, and the vessels were anchored and anchoring, the Confederate ram Tennessee was observed to be moving out from under the guns of Fort Morgan. Captain Drayton reported this fact to the admiral, who was then on the poop, stating that Buchanan, the Confederate admiral, was going outside to destroy the outer fleet. The admiral immediately said, “Then we must follow him out!” though he suspected that Buchanan, becoming desperate, had resolved to sink or destroy the flag-ship Hartford, and do us as much injury as possible before losing his own vessel. Immediately after the above remark, Farragut said, “No! Buck's coming here. Get under way at once; we must be ready for him!” Captain Drayton could not believe this, and we were a little slow about getting up our anchor, in spite of the admiral's impatience.

In Lieutenant Kinney's interesting account of the battle, the subsequent events are described. [See p. 379.] I have only to add that when the Hartford rammed the Tennessee the admiral was standing in the port mizzen-rigging, near the rail, where I secured him with a rope's-end, having first remonstrated with him, and begged him not to stand in so exposed a place,--as he was only a few feet from and above the deck of the ram, which scraped her whole length along that side of the Hartford.

There could never have been any dispute as to the admiral's having been lashed in the main-rigging, had the fact been generally known that the admiral himself told Captain Drayton and me, shortly after the battle, exactly what took place when the quartermaster came up to him with the rope and the message from the captain, just as I have related it. He was afterward amused and amazed at the notoriety of the incident. When a comic picture of the scene, in one of the illustrated weeklies, came to hand, a few days after the battle, he said to Captain Drayton and myself in conversation, “How curiously some trifling incident catches the popular fancy! My being in the main-rigging was a mere accident, owing to the fact that I was driven aloft by the smoke. The lashing was the result of your own fears [Captain Drayton's] for my safety.” At the close of the war he yielded to the solicitations of Mr. Page to stand for a historical portrait in the position in which he was first lashed.

New York, September 6th, 1880.

Ii. By Joseph Marthon, Lieutenant-commander, U. S. N.2

in regard to the truth of the statements made by various people at different times, whether Admiral Farragut was, or was not, lashed to the rigging of the United States flag-ship Hartford during the battle of the 5th of August, 1864, passing the forts at the entrance of Mobile Bay, my position placed me in a situation to be able to see and know as much in that respect as any one at that tim.e. I was in charge of the howitzer placed in the maintop of the Hartford, was at my station, and used the gun while in range of Fort Morgan in passing.

The admiral climbed into the port main-rigging, and stood on the upper sheer ratline (about five or six ratlines up). Captain Drayton sent a quarter-master with a piece of lead-line to lash him to the shroud to prevent him falling, in case of injury. After a short time the smoke grew more dense, when the admiral cast off the lashing, climbed up to the futtock-rigging, taking the lashing with him, where he lashed himself and remained during the action, and till we passed well up the bay, when he came into the top and I went up to the maintopsail-yard. Just then a heavy north-west squall of wind and rain struck us, making it very dark, and the order was given to anchor. As the squall slowly passed off I reported each ship as they came in sight coming up the bay, and catching sight of black-smoke, thought it must be the ram Tennessee heading up the bay. For a short time, owing to the darkness of the squall and rain, I was in doubt as to her movements, but soon noticed she was steaming against the wind by the way the smoke left the smoke-stack, as nothing of her was visible. I said to the admiral, “The ram is coming for us.” For a few moments he was in doubt, for he believed the ram would either go outside and attack the vessels on blockade, or else go under the guns of the fort, and compel the admiral to make another attack on him or stand a night attack from the ram. When I convinced the admiral the ram was coming he said, “I did not think old Buck was such a fool.” He then went on deck, and orders were given to up anchor, get under way, and ram the enemy at full speed. The ram, after a good fight, surrendered.

My station was in the maintop, right over the head of the admiral, only a few feet distant, for the admiral without any trouble reached his hand through the lubber's hole, and pressed the pilot's foot, to attract the pilot's attention on one or two occasions. My attention was called to the admiral's position by his hailing the top in a low tone of voice, just before the Tecumseh was sunk, asking, “where this water was coming from.” Upon looking about I found that the water-breaker, placed in the hole of a coil of rigging I was sitting on, had been capsized by a piece of shell knocking a hole in the top, and the water was running down on the admiral's head. I informed him of the fact. He replied, “I noticed it is not salt.”

After passing the forts the admiral came into [408] the top, and I went up to the maintopsail-yard and reported the vessels as they passed the forts, and the position and movements of the rebel ram Tennessee.

Doubt having been expressed as to the ability of the admiral to reach the pilot with his hand, in July, 1877, while the Hartford was at the Norfolk navy yard, I went on board and requested Lieutenant-Commander C. H. Black, who was the executive officer at that time, to send some one aloft to take the measure of the distance. He sent for the boatswain and explained what I wanted.

The boatswain and one man went aloft, taking a tape-line, and made the proper measure of the distance. Mr. Black and I stood on the quarter-deck and saw the measure taken. The distance from the crossing of the futtock-shrouds with the main-rigging is six feet to the platform of the maintop.

I made my last cruise in the old Hartford, and this question often came up. Many times, in going aloft, I have stood in the same place and reached my hand above the platform of the maintop.

New York, October 18th, 1888.

Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay. From a War-time sketch.

1 from “the century magazine” (old series), June, 1881.

2 a revision and extension of a letter of December 5th, 1877, to Mr. Loyall Farragut.

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