Chapter 49: first attack on Fort Fisher.--destruction of the confederate ram Albemarle, etc.
- Defences at the mouth of Cape Fear River.
-- the Army to co-operate with the Navy.
-- Rear-Admiral Porter assumes command of the North Atlantic squadron.
-- preparations to attack Fort Fisher.
-- attempt to close the port of Wilmington, N. C.
-- methods resorted to by blockade-runners, and their profits.
-- value of the vessels destroyed.
-- destruction of the ram Albemarle by Lieutenant Cushing.
-- names of officers and men who risked their lives with Cushing.
-- bombardment of and capture of Plymouth, N. C.
-- losses and fruits of victory.
-- the famous powder-boat.
-- description of forts and batteries.
-- the fleet rides out a terrific gale.
-- General Butler's powder-boat exploded.
-- great loss of powder, but no damage done to Fort Fisher.
-- first attack on Fort Fisher by the fleet.
-- batteries silenced.
-- Landing of the Army.
-- General orders.
-- correspondence between Admiral Porter and General Butler.
-- General Butler abandons the attempt to capture Fort Fisher.
-- General Butler succeeded by General Terry.
-- capture of Flag-Pond battery.
-- list of vessels that participated in first attack on Fort Fisher.
-- letters in regard to the unnecessary delay of the expedition.
-- letters and telegrams from Secretary Welles.
-- reports of officers.
In a communication dated September 5, 1864, Mr. Secretary Welles
states that, since the Winter of 1862, he had tried to obtain the co-operation of the War Department in a joint Army and Navy attack on the defences at the entrance of Cape Fear River, N. C.
It seems the Secretary of War
had decided that no troops could be spared for this purpose, and, in consequence, from small and unimportant works the huge fortification known as Fort Fisher
had gradually arisen.
These works bade defiance to any ordinary naval force, unsupported by troops, so that what in the first instance might have been prevented by the persistent attacks of a dozen gun-boats, grew to a series of works so formidable that it was evidently a matter of difficulty to effect their reduction — that is, if the Confederates
should make a vigorous defence.
Early in the contest a squadron of light-draft gun-boats could have made their way past the small batteries and taken possession of Cape Fear River
, closing that channel of blockade-runners, and paving the way for the troops to hold the point on which Fort Fisher
was finally built.
But this was not attempted until the fortifications were so far advanced as to become the most formidable series of works in the Confederacy
At the entrance of Cape Fear River
, the principal operations of the blockade-runners were carried on, supplying the Confederate armies with clothing, arms and munitions of war to the amount of sixty or seventy millions of dollars.
The Federal Navy Department finally became aware that, unless these supplies were cut off from the Confederate armies, the war was likely to be greatly prolonged.
The blockade-runners were very fast steamers, well-manned, and with experienced pilots, and so regular were their trips to Wilmington
, that their arrival was counted on almost as confidently as if they had been mail-steamers.
Of course, many of them
fell into the hands of the blockaders, or were run upon the beach to escape capture.
In the latter case, if protected by artillery on shore, the blockade runners would land the most valuable portion of their cargoes and set fire to their vessels.
In September, 1864, Mr. Welles
made another application for troops to co-operate with the Navy in an attack on the defences of Cape Fear River
, and, being encouraged by General Grant
to expect assistance, the Navy Department began to assemble at Hampton Roads
a proper force of vessels for the occasion.
The command of the squadron was tendered to Rear-Admiral Farragut
, and on the 5th of September, 1864, Mr. Secretary Welles
, in a letter to that officer, says:
Lieutenant-General Grant has recently given the subject his attention, and thinks an army force can be spared and moved by the first day of October.
Upon consultation, he is of the opinion that the best results will follow the landing of a large force under the guns of the Navy on the open beach north of New Inlet, to take possession and intrench across to Cape Fear River, the Navy to open such fire as is possible on the works on Federal Point in conjunction with the army, and at the same time such force as can run the batteries to do so, and thus isolate the rebels.
You are selected to command the naval force, and you will endeavor to be at Port Royal by the latter part of September, where further orders will await you. Bring with you to the rendezvous at Port Royal all such vessels and officers as can be spared from the West Blockading Squadron without impeding its efficiency; and when you leave, turn over the command of the squadron to the officer next in rank to yourself until the pleasure of the Department is known.
Owing to failing health, Admiral Farragut
declined accepting this command, and on the 22d of September the Secretary of the Navy
wrote to Rear-Admiral Porter
Sir--Rear-Admiral D. G. Farragut was assigned to the command of the North Atlantic squadron on the 5th instant; but the necessity of rest on the part of that distinguished officer renders it necessary that he should come immediately North.
You will therefore, on the receipt of this order, consider yourself detached from the command of the Mississippi squadron, and you will turn over the command, temporarily, to Captain A. M. Pennock.
As soon as the transfer can be made, proceed to Beaufort, N. C., and relieve Acting-Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
Take with you your personal staff, and a number of officers, not exceeding five, may be transferred from the Mississippi to the North Atlantic squadron.
Under the above orders, Rear-Admiral Porter
assumed command of the North Atlantic squadron, and visited City Point, Va.
, in company with Mr. Fox
, Assistant-Secretary of the Navy
, to confer with General Grant
in regard to the necessary contingent of troops required to co-operate with the Navy in the reduction of Fort Fisher
had asked for but eight thousand troops, and a sufficient number of vessels to fire one hundred and fifty guns in broadside.
As Fort Fisher
had seventy-five heavy guns mounted, the above would only be two guns afloat to one on shore, a small proportion considering that most of the naval force would be wooden ships, against heavy earth-works, protected by solid traverses.
The wishes of the Secretary of the Navy
were made known to General Grant
, and he at once decided to send the requisite number of troops to co-operate with the Navy as soon as the ships could be prepared.
The next thing was to select a General to command, who would act in harmony with the Navy.
There were plenty of able commanders.
but the trouble was whom could General Grant
merely suggested one thing — namely, that General Butler
should not go in command.
was in the district over which Butler
held control, and the Admiral
did not know but that the General
would claim the right to go in command of troops operating in that district.
It was at length decided that General Weitzel
should have command of the military part of the expedition.
By the 15th of October, 1864, the ships-of-war of the fleet destined to attack Fort Fisher
were assembled at Hampton Roads
, to the number of about one hundred.
Many of them were from other squadrons which had been depleted for the occasion.
There was a great variety of vessels, as every class in the Navy was represented, from the lofty frigate down to the fragile steamer taken from the merchant service; but all mounted good guns.
had quite a task before him to organize this large force and make it fit for combined service, for it was not in good condition for battle such as the occasion demanded.
A regular system of drilling was at once commenced with sails, masts, yards and guns, particularly the latter, and a large portion of the time was spent in target practice.
Immense quantities of shells were fired away, for the commanding officers
of the ships were given carte blanche
in this respect, the Admiral
believing that it would be an ultimate saving in time of battle.
The fleet was now formed into three divisions.
There were five Commodores
in the fleet — Thatcher
The latter officer had immediate command of the iron-clads.
From all these officers Rear Admiral Porter
received hearty support, although, owing to the fortunes of war, he had been advanced over their heads, and naturally expected to find some little feeling in regard to it; but there was none whatever.
They met the Admiral
in the most cordial manner and
ever gave him their heartiest support.
This was, it is true, the proper course, for success has always in time of war been recognized in all services by promotion.
Several of these gentlemen were officers of great ability, and it may be wondered why they were not employed in command of independent squadrons.
The wonder will be less when we consider how little was known by the Navy Department of the character and qualifications of officers.
With the exception of Assistant-Secretary Fox
, there seemed to be nobody at headquarters who had much comprehension of the matter, and we had so few squadrons that it was difficult to find separate commands for all who deserved them.
The Navy Department, through Assistant-Secretary Fox
, showed great energy in assembling the vessels of the fleet at Hampton Roads
, and they never denied Admiral Porter
anything he asked for.
As soon as the fleet was fairly organized, Admiral Porter
made an effort to close up the port of Wilmington, N. C.
, so that supplies could not get in, or cotton get out. This was a most difficult thing to do, and his predecessor, Acting-Rear-Admiral Lee
, with one of the largest squadrons afloat, had never succeeded in the attempt.
His officers, it is true, captured a large number of vessels, but where one was captured or destroyed two new ones were built on an improved plan.
Towards the last the English
commenced building these vessels of steel — long, narrow and shallow — which were capable of great speed, and could cross the bar of Cape Fear River
at all times day or night, for at night range-lights were kept burning.
Once under the guns of Fort Fisher
they were safe.
The gun-boats generally drew too much water to follow the blockade-runners over the bar, where the depth never exceeded ten feet.
The conduct of the blockading officers was sometimes severely criticised by the Northern
newspapers, who, although they had positive evidence of their watchfulness in the shape of numerous fine prize steamers, loaded with cotton, coming into Northern ports, were not satisfied unless every bottle of brandy and bunch of cigars sent to the Confederates
were captured to fill the pockets of Northern prize-agents.
The people at home had little idea of the arduous service performed by the blockading vessels, whose officers and men had, at the peril of their lives, to hold on to Wilmington
bar at all seasons, in the endeavor to prevent the entrance and exit of blockade-runners.
The advantage was all on the side of the latter.
They could chose their own time.
Painted a light, neutral tint, they fearlessly approached the bar, the range-lights guiding them by night as well as if it were daylight, and a vessel within a short distance could only surmise their presence by a faint streak of light made by their wake.
If the gun-boats fired, they were liable to hit each other; if they made the flash-signal agreed upon between them, the blockade-runner would make a similar one, and in the confusion, the latter, going at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, would soon pass out of sight.
If the Federal
vessels laid close in to the bar, they ran a risk of being carried into the breakers by the current, in which case their destruction was certain.
The display of a twinkling light on board one of the gunboats, near the bar, was the signal for a general discharge from the guns of Fort Fisher
, and, although these shots were more noisy than damaging, yet a stray shell striking one of the Federal
boats would have knocked it to pieces.
Sometimes the Federal
vessels would discern “black smoke” in the distance; then all was bustle and excitement.
would be given, and a “long, low two-pipe” steamer would show herself standing in for the bar. With the slow vessels, there was often not much chance of catching one of these swift blockade-runners, but they were sometimes intercepted and driven back to Nassau
to make a fresh attempt.
Eight times in ten they succeeded in eluding the closest blockade of a coast ever maintained.
The profits of a successful voyage were so great, that the English
adventurers, provided with good pilots, readily took the risks, which were nothing compared with those run by the blockading vessels.
If one vessel in three succeeded in running into port, it remunerated the owners largely.
They were paid for their ventures in Confederate cotton at eight cents a pound, worth at that time eighty cents in England
and one dollar in the North
At first the blockade-runners were insured in England
against capture, so many successful voyages were made, but towards the last the insurers charged very high premiums.
's squadron captured or destroyed a large number of blockade-running steamers, perhaps to the value of ten millions of dollars.
The shores of North Carolina
were strewn with the wrecks of these vessels, which were generally run aground and set on fire to prevent the Federal Navy
from deriving any benefit from their capture.
We do not know what were Admiral Lee
's particular plans in regard to the blockade-runners, but it was determined, while the fleet was waiting for the Army to get ready, that a new system should be adopted to take the contraband traders by surprise.
A chart was furnished to every
vessel on the blockade of Cape Fear River
, upon which was described two half-circles close to the two bars at the entrance of that stream.
Here were stationed twenty vessels, ranged in a half-circle, ten off each bar. At the termination of Frying-Pan Shoals was described another half-circle of about twelve miles' radius.
On this circle was stationed, five miles apart, some twenty of the fastest vessels, which could communicate with each other by signal all the way round.
One hundred and thirty miles from land was the third line, on which the vessels were about eight miles apart, the half-circle ending at Beaufort, N. C.
, on one side, and closing in on the south entrance to Cape Fear River
If a blockade-runner came out of Wilmington
before daylight, she would be seen by vessels on the middle circle; and, if she escaped those, she would be chased by the vessels on the outer circle.
If she started at midnight, she would be seen at midday by the vessels of the outer circle.
Should a vessel approach the outer circle in order to run into Wilmington
just before daylight, the outer circle would chase her off; or, if she eluded the outer circle after dark, she would be picked up by the middle circle; and instances were rare of vessels attempting to run this stringent blockade that were not captured or driven off.
The number of English steamers sent into Hampton Roads
They came in on an average of nearly one each day, and the commodores commanding divisions — who shared in these prizes — were well pleased to see them coming into port.
The blockade-runners themselves were quite astonished and crowded into Nassau
to concoct new plans to circumvent the Federal
cruisers; but from that time the business grew more and more unprofitable, for in thirty-seven days some six million of dollars worth of property was captured or destroyed.
While General Sherman
was marching through the South
, he used up everything in the shape of provisions for the support of an army, and the enemy at Richmond
depended in a great measure on what supplies they could get from Nassau
for the maintenance of 300,000 men. By an order of the Confederate Government, one-third of the space in every vessel running the blockade was devoted to carrying provisions and stores for the Army.
Had this stringent blockade been kept up for three months, the port of Wilmington
would have been deserted; but this was hardly possible, for the United States Government would have been obliged soon to withdraw a large portion of the blockading vessels for service elsewhere, and the old system would likely have been resumed.
While these operations were in progress, Admiral Porter
was engaged in perfecting the organization of his fleet, and his only objection to the delay was the fact that the winter was rapidly approaching, the season when storms are very severe on the coast of North Carolina
However, the delay gave Admiral Porter
an opportunity to become acquainted with his officers, so that when the time came lie knew where to place them.
The plan of attack had been lithographed on a large scale, and each vessel assigned the position it would occupy in action.
Every commanding officer had a copy of this chart, and all that was wanting now were the troops to co-operate with the Navy.
In the meantime the naval forces were not idle.
One of the best executed feats of the war was the destruction of the Confederate ram Albemarle
, at Plymouth, N. C.
This was most important; for, as has been already related, when the ram sunk the Southfield
and drove off the Miami
, she attacked the flotilla under Captain Melancton Smith
, and after a hard fight slipped off in the darkness and returned to Plymouth
Here she was fastened to a wharf to undergo necessary repairs after the terrible hammering received from the flotilla, and it was evident that her commanding officer did not care to make another attack until his vessel was strengthened in those parts which had been shown to be the weakest.
The engagement was criticised somewhat at the time, but it must be remembered that the vessels of the flotilla were unarmored, and that they fought gallantly against a vessel completely encased in iron; that the misfortune which happened to the Sassacus
might have happened to one or two more, in which case not only the injured vessels, but all the others in the sounds of North Carolina
, would have been at the mercy of the enemy.
These considerations made it important for Captain Smith
to avoid risking a defeat, and that he was successful in getting rid of the ram, and depriving her for the time being of power to do further mischief, is proof that he was master of the situation.
This was the view taken of the affair by the Navy Department, as is shown by the following complimentary letter:
Notwithstanding the satisfaction expressed at the gallant conduct of Captain Smith
, the Department was greatly troubled over the fact that the Albemarle
still existed, and might sally out from Plymouth
as soon as the necessary repairs were made, and drive the Federal
gun-boats from the Sounds
The Department considered that they had no vessels at their disposal fit to cope with the ram; but the attack of the Sassacus
should have showed them that four or five double-enders, each fitted with a heavy iron shield to the stem, would have been all-sufficient to crush the ram by a simultaneous attack.
The experience of the Confederate
commander had assured him of this fact, which was probably the chief reason why he did not again venture out.
Under these circumstances, Lieutenant W. B. Cushing
was offered a further opportunity to distinguish himself — an offer he at once accepted.
He was sent to New York, to superintend the fitting out of three torpedo steam-launches, arranged according to the plans of Chief Engineer W. W. W. Wood
and Assistant-Engineer G. W. Lay
, which proved to be all that were claimed for them.
About the middle of October, 1864, the launches were ready, and Cushing
got away with them from the New York Navy Yard
was not so well adapted for the command of a flotilla, even of steam-launches, as he was of a single vessel.
One of his torpedo-launches sank soon after he started, and another was run ashore and surrendered to the Confederates
in Chesapeake Bay
, while Cushing
, steaming through a rough sea, safely reached Hampton Roads
, and reported to Rear-Admiral Porter
, then on board his flag-ship, the Malvern
's condition at this time was pitiable.
He had been subjected to terrible exposure for more than a week, had lost all his clothing except what he had on, and his attenuated face and sunken eves bore witness to the privations he had undergone.
Himself and crew had existed on spoiled ship's biscuits and water, with an occasional potato cooked before the boiler fire.
at once ordered Cushing
to get some necessary rest and not to come near him until sent for; and in the meantime his torpedo-launch, which had been somewhat shattered and disarranged, was put in perfect order.
was then instructed to proceed at once to blow up the Albemarle
. Commander W. H. Macomb
, commanding in the Sounds
of North Carolina
, was ordered to give him all the assistance in his power, and, in case Cushing
was successful, to attack and recover the town and defences of Plymouth
On the very morning appointed for Cushing
to set out, an order came from the Navy Department directing Admiral Porter
to investigate some charges preferred by Mr. Secretary Seward
for violating certain neutral rights while in command of a vessel on the Southern
Here was a dilemma; but the Admiral
, after a brief investigation, decided that Cushing
was free from blame, and the brave fellow, who dreaded a court-martial far more than he did the enemy, went
on his way rejoicing, passed through the Dismal Swamp Canal
, and on the 27th of October reported to Commander Macomb
That night Cushing
proceeded up the river in the steam torpedo-launch with thirteen officers and men, mostly those who had volunteered from Commander Macomb
's flotilla for the service.
The distance from the mouth of the river to where the ram lay was about eight miles, and the stream, of an average width of two hundred yards, was lined with the enemy's pickets.
The wreck of the U. S. S. Southfield
lay a mile below the town, surrounded by some schooners, and it was understood that a gun was mounted here to command the bend in the river.
In consequence of this report, an armed boat from the U. S. S. Shamrock
was taken in tow, with orders to cast off and board these schooners, in
case the expedition was hailed by the enemy.
When the steam launch and her tow neared the wreck of the Southfield
, there were anxious feelings on the part of the brave fellows whose lives it was thought by many would all be sacrificed on this hazardous expedition; but no one faltered, and Cushing
's keen eye looked into the darkness intent only on the Albemarle
was passed by the party unobserved by the enemy, and the pickets along the river banks, depending on those at the outpost to give the alarm, were not on the alert.
This was a fortunate circumstance for Cushing
and his comrades, for he was thus enabled to approach unmolested within a few yards of the Albemarle
The look-out on board the iron-clad finally hailed, when Cushing
, casting off the cutter, ordered her to proceed back to the wreck of the Southfield
and capture the picket guard.
then dashed ahead under full steam for the Albemarle
, which was secured to the wharf within a pen of logs extending about thirty feet from the vessel.
A fire on shore lighted up the surroundings and Cushing
's quick eye at once took in the situation.
He dashed at the logs, which the steam-launch shoved aside, and struck the Albemarle
In the meantime the enemy had become thoroughly aroused, and the men on board the ram rushed to their quarters and opened a severe fire on the assaulting party; but they were swept away by a discharge of canister from the 12-pound howitzer mounted in the torpedo-boat's bow. A gun loaded with grape was also fired at the launch, but the fire from the howitzer disconcerted the gunner's aim and the shots were harmless.
While all this firing was going on, the torpedo boom was deliberately lowered, and by a vigorous thrust Cushing
drove the torpedo under the ram's overhang and exploded it. There was a tremendous crash and a great upward rush of water which filled the steam-launch.
The pumps of the Albemarle
were manned, and her commanding officer, Lieutenant Warley
, encouraged his crew to try and keep the vessel free, but the water gained so rapidly through the great aperture made by the explosion that the Albemarle
soon went to the bottom, her smoke-stack only showing the place where she had last floated.
As the enemy had none of the necessary appliances at hand for raising the iron-clad, they made vigorous efforts to still further disable her, anticipating that the Federal
gun-boats would soon be on the spot to try and secure the sunken vessel.
, although apparently taken by surprise, had been quite prepared for the emergency.
There were two fieldpieces on her deck loaded with grape, and manned by a company of artillery ready to fire at a moment's notice.
That a good watch was kept on board is proven by the quickness with which the crew got to quarters, and opened fire on the torpedo-boat.
It was fortunate for Cushing
that he succeeded in passing the pickets along the river undisturbed, otherwise the sailors on board the Albemarle
and the troops on shore might have given him such a warm reception as would have prevented the carrying out of his design.
seemed ever to be the child of fortune and his good luck followed him to the close of the war.
But to return to the torpedo-boat: when the fire was opened on her by the enemy, Paymaster Swann
was wounded at Cushing
's side, and how many others had been injured he did not know.
It seemed as if a shower of grape-shot had struck the boat.
but in the confusion the aim was misdirected and the grape did little injury.
The torpedo, exploding directly afterwards, filled the launch with water, when, seeing that she would be captured, Gushing
and others jumped into the river and swam down stream under a shower of musketry, which, however, failed to do any harm.
As soon as the Confederates
saw the torpedo-launch filled with water and floating away, they sent boats to take possession of her, and captured most of her crew.
Some of the latter were drowned in their efforts to reach the opposite shore; and, so far as Cushing
knew at the time, only one escaped besides himself, and he in a different direction.
As he swam down the stream lie met Acting-Master
's Mate Woodman
struggling in the water, almost exhausted, and endeavored to assist him to the shore; but the attempt was a failure, and Mr. Woodman
himself could barely crawl out of the water when he succeeded in reaching the bank, half a mile below the town.
He dragged himself into a swamp, and, while lying concealed a few feet from the path along the river, two of the Albemarle
's officers passed, and from their conversation Cushing
learned for the first time that the iron-clad was at the bottom of the river.
As soon as his strength would allow, Gushing
plunged into the dense swamp, where he would not likely be followed, and after incredible difficulty in forcing his way through the mud and slime, he reached a point well below the town; and met a negro, whom he sent into Plymouth
to find out the particulars of the sinking of the ram. The negro soon re turned with assurances that the Albemarle
was actually sunk.
Thus cheered, Gushing
pursued his tedious journey through the swamps, till, coming suddenly
on a creek, he found one of the enemy's picket-boats, of which he took possession, and pulled away with all his remaining strength, not knowing at what moment he might get a bullet through his brain.
By 11 o'clock the following night he reached the gun-boat Valley City
, and was taken on board and cared for, after one of the most perilous adventures on record.
The blowing — up of the Albemarle
was a very gallant achievement.
It was done in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, for, as we have shown, the enemy had taken every precaution against just such an attempt as was made.
Here was a chance, and Cushing
seized it. He would undoubtedly have made the attempt if he had had to run the gauntlet of the picket-firing all the way to Plymouth
himself did not know when he arrived on board the Valley City
who had been captured and who had escaped; but the following list from a report he subsequently prepared gives tie names of the gallant fellows who risked their lives to dispose of an iron-clad that threatened the destruction of all the vessels in the Sounds
of North Carolina
William B. Cushing, Lieutenant, commanding expedition, escaped; William L. Howarth, Acting-Master's Mate, picket-boat, missing; William Stotesbury, Acting-Third-Assistant Engineer, picket-boat, missing; John Woodman, Acting-Master's Mate, U. S. S. Commodore Hull, drowned; Thomas S. Gay, Acting Master's Mate, U. S. S. Otsego, missing; Charles S. Heener, Acting-Third-Assistant Engineer, U. S. S. Otsego, missing; Francis H. Swan, Acting-Assistant Paymaster, U. S. S. Otsego, missing; Edward T. Horton, ordinary seaman, U. S. S. Chicopee, escaped; Bernard Harley, ordinary seaman, U. S. S. Chicopee, missing; William Smith, ordinary seaman, U. S. S. Chicopee, missing; Richard Hamilton, coalheaver, U. S. S. Shamrock, missing; R. H. King, landsman, picket boat, missing;----Wilkes, landsman, picket-boat, missing;----Demming, landsman.
picket-boat, missing; Samuel Higgins, first-class fireman, picket-boat, drowned.
The bodies of Acting-Master
's Mate Woodman
and Fireman Higgins
floated on shore near Plymouth
, and it was a great satisfaction to know that only two of Cushing
's comrades lost their lives in this desperate adventure.
We cannot hope to do justice to this remarkable episode in the naval history of the civil war. The narrative should be written in letters of gold on a tablet for the benefit of future ages; but we will here insert the official communication of the Secretary of the Navy
to Lieutenant Cushing
, after the latter's report had been forwarded by Admiral Porter
to the Department:
As soon as he heard of the sinking of the Albemarle
, Commander Macomb
promptly prepared to carry out the orders of Admiral Porter
, which directed that in case of the destruction of the ram he should proceed to recapture Plymouth
For their part, the Confederates
were not idle in preparing to resist the advance of the gunboats, although their main dependence was now taken from them.
They impeded the advance of the flotilla by sinking schooners in the channel under the guns of the fortifications.
On the 29th of October, 1864, the flotilla proceeded up the Roanoke River
in the following order: Commodore Hull
At the same time the Valley City
went up the “Middle River
,” which joined the Roanoke
, in order to cut off any vessels the enemy might send in that direction.
At about noon Commander Macomb
came within range and opened fire on the land batteries protecting Plymouth
The fire was promptly returned, but Macomb
continued to advance until he was checked by the sunken vessels and exposed to the fire of the enemy's heavy guns protected by earth-works.
Present advance was out of the question, and signal was made for the vessels to retire down the river.
meantime the commanding officer
of the Valley City
, hearing the firing cease, concluded that the Federal
vessels had won the day, and ran down towards Plymouth
, when, fire being opened on his vessel, he also returned to the Sound
Thus far the expedition was a failure.
Something must be done, and from the reports of the Valley City
, and a reconnoissance made by Lieutenant-Commander Earl English
in a boat, it was found that there was plenty of water in the channel of Middle River
, and that any of the vessels could turn the bends with the assistance of a tug. This would enable Macomb
to come out into the Roanoke River
, above Plymouth
, a contingency which the Confederates
had not provided against.
The flotilla accordingly again got underway to try the new channel, Commander
in the Shamrock
following the tug Bazley
, Acting-Ensign M. D. Ames
, having on board the pilot of the Wyalusing
; next came the Otsego
, Lieutenant-Commander H. N. T. Arnold
, Lieutenant-Commander Earl English
, Lieutenant-Commander Wm. T. Truxtun
; Commodore Hull
, Acting-Master Francis Josselyn
, in the order named.
Owing to the skill of the pilot, Acting-Master Alfred Everett
, the vessels.
with a great deal of hard work, succeeded in entering Roanoke River
at 4 P. M., with the exception of the Commodore Hull
, which remained in Middle River
to prevent the enemy from laying torpedoes there, in case the vessels should be obliged to return that way.
When the flotilla got near Plymouth
the vessels commenced shelling the enemy's works, which was the first intimation the Confederates
had of the approach of the Federal
forces from this unexpected direction.
As it was now late in the day, it was not deemed judicious to make a serious attack in the dark, but the vessels dropped close enough to the town to keep up a fire and command the channel, so that no torpedoes could be planted.
Next morning, the Commodore Hull
joined the flotilla, and at 9 A. M. the attack was made in close order.
The Confederates kept up a heavy fire, particularly on the Commodore Hull
and the Shamrock
; but as the vessels neared the batteries the order was given, “Go ahead at full speed!”
so that the flotilla was soon pouring in a shower of grape and canister, which drove the artillerists from their guns and cleared the rifle-pits of sharp-shooters.
In ten minutes time the victory was complete, and Plymouth
was once more in Union hands.
One battery still held out, but a shell from the Shamrock
exploding in the magazine, the fort blew up, some of the fragments falling on the decks of the steamers.
The explosion caused a panic among the Confederates
, who ceased firing and fled in all directions.
The Union forces were landed and took possession of the batteries without resistance.
Never was victory more complete, and the news was transmitted by Rear-Admiral Porter
to the Navy Department in the following dispatch:
This recapture of Plymouth
was an important event, as both sides had been contending for its possession ever since the Federal
forces gained a foothold in the Sounds
of North Carolina
The place had been strongly fortified and armed with 9-inch navy guns, with the expectation that the Federals
would hold it indefinitely; but the appearance of the Albemarle
and her subsequent successs demoralized the garrison,
and the Confederates
were enabled to reoccupy the works.
was not far distant from important lines of railway, and with an adequate force of Federal troops maintained at this point they would have been in constant danger.
It completely commanded in both directions the Roanoke River
, on which the Confederates
built several iron-clad floating batteries, including the Albemarle
Had the channel above the town been obstructed and planted with torpedoes, the Albemarle
would never have reached Plymouth
The troops, however, rested in fancied security, relying on the gun-boats to deal with the enemy's vessels, and those on board the flotilla felt willing and able to contend with any force the Confederates
might send against them.
Three heavy forts armed with twenty guns, besides the ram Albemarle
, which lay sunk at the wharf, were captured in less than an hour by a very inadequate force of vessels, and a large body of the enemy's troops were driven precipitately from the town.
This was an achievement of which every officer and man in the flotilla might well be proud, for the batteries of Plymouth
were manned by as good soldiers as could be found in the Confederacy
; but the sudden dash of the steamers disconcerted their aim, and the grape, canister, and shrapnel falling in their ranks from the distance of only a few yards were too much for human nature to resist.
The Commodore Hull
, Acting-Master Josselyn
, was very much cut up by the enemy's shot, and lost four men killed and three wounded. She was exposed to the fire of the enemy's heavy guns, and, as she neared the batteries, a heavy fire of musketry was poured in from the rifle-pits.
A shell from a 9-inch gun came in on the starboard bow, killing one man and mortally wounding another, and three others slightly at the forward gun, passed through the berth-deck and ward-room, cut away the railing around the after-hatch, struck the after-port gun-carriage, where it lodged, and disabled the gun. That was good work for a single shell which did not explode.
Another shell passed through the vessel from stem to stern, knocking the officers' quarters to pieces, but doing no further damage.
A third shell, in passing over the hurricane-deck, cut away part of the woodwork on the port side and knocked out the bows of the second cutter.
The upper works of the vessel were considerably shattered and the frame much racked by the firing and the explosion of a magazine on shore.
This vessel was one of those frail craft of which we have so often spoken, in which so much was dared and done.
, in the Wyalusing
, had the forethought, when the enemy began to retreat, to cover the road by which they were moving off with his guns and kept up a rapid fire with bursting shell, which caused the Confederates
to throw away their arms and accoutrements, many of which were picked up. Acting-Master Mr. R. Hathaway
and Acting-Ensign Foster
, of the Wyalusing
, were the first to enter Fort Williams, one of the strongest works, where they planted the Union
colors and captured three prisoners.
, Commander Macomb
's vessel, was struck six times by shot and shell, most of the enemy's projectiles passing over her. Two of her men were killed and seven wounded. These, with the killed and wounded on board the Commodore Hull
, were the only casualties on the flotilla, which was remarkable, considering the number of heavy guns the Confederates
had in position, and the large number of sharp-shooters in rifle-pits.
All the commanding officers
of vessels spoke in the highest terms of the conduct of those under their command.
did not neglect to bring to the notice of the Navy Department the commanding officers
who had so well sustained him on that day, 31st October, 1864.
He recommended them all for the promotion they so justly deserved for a victory gained over a superior force, with a dash that must always excite admiration; but the victory was not appreciated in Washington
, and the only official notice of it was a short letter from the Secretary of the Navy
, commending the officers and men, and informing Commander Macomb
that he would be recommended to the President
for advancement ten numbers in his grade.
The cases of the commanding officers
of the vessels were afterwards considered by a Board of Admirals
convened at Washington
to apportion the rewards to be given for those who had distinguished themselves in battle; but the Board was limited to the petty figure of thirty numbers as the maximum of advancement for the most gallant exploit.
The patience of the Navy Department and of the commander-in-chief
of the large fleet lying in Hampton Roads
began to be severely tried by the delay in the appearance of the troops for the combined attack on Fort Fisher
The Secretary of the Navy
was apprehensive that he would have to disperse the vessels to other points, whence they had been taken for this expedition, and where their absence had been greatly felt.
The delay and the great expense attending it annoyed Mr. Welles
so much that he appealed to the President
in the hope of accelerating the shipment of the troops, saying, in his letter to Mr. Lincoln
Every other squadron had been depleted and vessels detached from other duty to strengthen this expedition.
The vessels are concentrated at Hampton Roads and Beaufort, where they remain, an immense force, lying idle, awaiting the movements of the army.
The detention of so many vessels from blockade and cruising duty is a most serious injury to the public service, and, if the expedition cannot go forward for want of troops, I desire to be notified so that the ships may be relieved and dispersed for other service.
The importance of closing Wilmington is so well understood by you, that I refrain from presenting any new arguments.
I am aware of the anxiety of yourself and of the disposition of the War Department to render all the aid in its power.
The cause of the delay is not from the want of a proper conception of the importance of the subject, but the season for naval coast operations will soon be gone.
General Bragg has been sent from Richmond to Wilmington to prepare for the attack, and the autumn weather so favorable for such an expedition is passing away.
The public expect this attack, and the country will be distressed if it is not made.
To procrastinate much longer will be to peril its success.
Of the obstacles which delay, or prevent military operations at once, I cannot judge; but the delay is becoming exceedingly embarrassing to this department, and the importance of having the military authorities impressed with the necessity of speedy action has prompted this communication to you.
Nothwithstanding this urgent appeal from Mr. Welles
to the President
, a copy of which was sent to General Grant
, there was still delay in furnishing the military forces required.
It could not have been for want of troops in General Butler
's command, for he occupied a strong position, backed by a large force of gun-boats, with a bridge of boats across the James
, by which he could retreat, if he thought necessary, with entire safety under cover of the Navy guns.
We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that the only reason for the contingent of troops destined to co-operate in the attack on Fort Fisher
not appearing in Hampton Roads
, was that General Butler
had determined they should not move until it suited his convenience.
At that time the Confederates
were so closed up in Richmond
that they could make no important demonstration on the Federal
lines without getting severely handled, as the different divisions of the Union Army
were within supporting distance of each other.
There was, then, some motive in the delay of the expedition to Fort Fisher
which does not seem consistent with patriotism.
Mr. Secretary Welles
had shown the greatest patience and persistence all through this affair, and it was owing to the exercise of these qualities that the expedition was finally enabled to get off. General Butler
was at last forced to take some steps to show that he was not setting at defiance the orders received from General Grant
early in October.
Accordingly, accompanied by General Weitzel
and his personal staff, General Butler
went on board the flag-ship Malvern
at Hampton Roads
, and communicated to Rear-Admiral Porter
a plan for the destruction of Fort Fisher
, the idea having, it seems, been suggested by the explosion of a canal-boat loaded with powder at Eric
on the Thames
, by which a large amount of property had been destroyed.
's idea was that one hundred and fifty tons of. powder confined on board a vessel and exploded within a short distance of Fort Fisher
would inflict immense damage on the enemy, and he promised.
if the powder-boat was prepared, he would detail the necessary troops and have them embarked as soon as possible.
Any expedient that would get the expedition off was hailed with delight by the Rear-Admiral
commanding, who agreed to Butler
notwithstanding he had little faith in the project; though, strange to say, the General
had met with encouragement from scientific men to whom he had disclosed his scheme.
It was considered advisable to try almost any expedient, and the Navy Department did not, therefore, refuse to countenance General Butler
's plan; although, as the General
was then a power in the land, it would, perhaps, have favored ideas still more absurd emanating from that quarter.
An officer who could disobey the orders of his immediate commander-in-chief for months, delay a large fleet assembled at infinite cost and pains to deal a final blow to the Confederacy
, and finally assume command of an expedition assigned to another General, all without rebuke from headquarters, must have had immense influence.
All men seemed afraid of Butler
's political power: it was even potential with the President
and Secretary of War
, although, in justice to Mr. Secretary Welles
, we must say, it had much less weight with him.
It was towards the last of November when General Butler
unfolded his plan of a powder-boat, and it took some days to make all the necessary preparations to get the great torpedo ready.
The steamer Louisiana
, a vessel of little value, was selected for the service, and sent from Newbern
to Hampton Roads
, where the immense mass of powder required was collected from the Army and Navy magazines, and carefully stowed on board in bags.
To Commander A. C. Rhind
, a gallant officer, who had on more than one occasion shown the coolness in the face of danger so necessary for such a perilous duty, was assigned the charge of the powder-vessel.
did everything possible with the means at hand to render the explosion successful.
By the time the Louisiana
was prepared, General Butler
had so identified himself with the expedition that it was evident
to all who knew him that he proposed to command the troops in person, for he was not wont to take so much trouble for any one else.
probably did not know the extent of Butler
's interference with the expedition, or else attributed his action to zeal for its success.
It is not likely that he supposed that one of his generals would withhold orders that he had issued to a subordinate to command the troops, although it may be that even Grant
felt the weight of that political power which oppressed every one who came within its influence.
As soon as Butler
had succeeded in gaining a secure footing in the expedition, he was all anxiety to embark his soldiers, notwithstanding there was every appearance of a gale coming on and the powder-boat was not ready.
Without proper preparation, the troops were hurried into the transports, with but a few days' rations and a scant supply of water.
The gale came on and the poor soldiers, cooped up in their narrow, uncomfortable quarters, were quite worn out before the expedition sailed.
Fortunately, after a few days of wind and rain, the weather cleared up and the transports sailed from Hampton Roads
on the 16th of December, 1864.
Up to this time there had been no official
notice that General Butler
would go on the expedition.
several times went on board the Malvern
for the purpose, no doubt, of talking the matter over with Admiral Porter
, but he would scarcely put his foot on board ere General Butler
would make his appearance.
's presence was always enough to make General Grant
quiet and meditative, and he soon took his departure.
generally accompanied General Butler
on his visits to the flag-ship, but lie was as taciturn as Grant
, and apparently was uncertain whether he was to have command of the troops in the expedition or not. When asked one day by Lieutenant-Commander K. R. Breese
, the Fleet-Captain
, what were General Butler
's plans, Weitzel
replied that he didn't believe Butler
had any, which was the general impression.
Now, here was an expedition in which it was absolutely necessary that the utmost harmony and concert of action should exist between the commanding officers
; but, although Admiral Porter
did his best to obtain from General Butler
some statement of his intentions, he never succeeded in the attempt.
was furnished with copies of the Admiral
's written orders to his fleet, but he sent none in return, and merely notified the Admiral
that his transports would assemble off Masonboroa Inlet, thirty miles from Wilmington
, where, if one of his vessels showed herself, the destination of the expedition would be immediately known to the enemy.
There was never a more beautiful day for a fleet to sail than the one on which the expedition left Hampton Roads
The Monitors had to stop at Beaufort, N. C.
, to coal and receive their ammunition; for now that the expedition had waited two months there was no particular hurry, and the Confederates
had by this time learned the particulars of the expedition, and were prepared, as they thought, to defeat it.
Many combined operations in different parts of the world have failed from want of concert between the Army and the Navy, but none of Grant
's or Sherman
's operations were endangered by this cause, owing to the harmony with which the two branches of the service acted together; and both those distinguished officers were careful to express their wishes in such a way as to be agreeable to all concerned.
could never be made to understand what was due to an officer of another branch of the service, hence he was frequently involving himself in difficulties with navy, and indeed with army, officers.
were adapted to command the troops in such an expedition as that to Fort Fisher
discovered this fact later in the season; but it was known in the Navy from the beginning, and the Admiral
felt the need of all his good fortune to carry him safely through the ordeal.
The latter remained in Hampton Roads
until the last transport had started and got underway the same evening, General Butler
, in his “flag-ship,” remaining at the dock.
That night, the General
, in his fast steamer, got ahead of the fleet, and took his station, with his transports, off Masonboroa Inlet.
In the meantime, Admiral Porter
had put into Beaufort, N. C.
, to give another look at the fittings of the powder-boat, for he determined to do everything to make the latter experiment a success.
even although he knew it was all folly.
When all was ready.
proceeded to the rendezvous off the entrance to Cape Fear River
The fleet anchored off Fort Fisher
, twenty-miles from shore, in twenty-five fathoms water.
and his transports were at anchor off Masonboroa Inlet, quite out of sight of the naval vessels.
wrote to the General
that he should send the powder-boat in and explode her on the 18th of December, after which he should attack the enemy's works.
It was intimated to the General
that, as the explosion would be in the nature of an earthquake, it would be prudent for him to move at least twenty miles from the scene and let his vessel's steam run down!
In order to make assurance doubly sure, the General
, sixty miles from the scene of action, and there awaited the dreadful crash.
and dependencies were an immense series of works, more than a mile in length, constructed of bags filled with sand, the result of immense labor from the very beginning of the civil war, and the best engineering talent in the Confederate Army.
It was believed by the Confederates
that this work was sufficient to repel any force of ships that might be brought against it or might attempt to pass the batteries.
The latter operation was, in fact, impossible, as there was but nine feet of water on the bar of Cape Fear River
at ordinary tides.
The channel was tortuous, and the bar generally covered with heavy breakers, except when the wind blew from the northwest.
consisted of two lines of works at right angles with each other.
The land-front ran across the sandy peninsula, which was here about half a mile in width, and mounted seventeen heavy guns, bearing north, to prevent an attacking force from advancing in that direction.
These guns were practically protected from a seaward fire by heavy bomb-proof casemates, with capacity for sheltering four or five thousand men. The sea-front extended from the great battery at the angle of the two faces, along the beach to the southward, a distance of over three-quarters of a mile, and was terminated by a huge erection eighty feet in height, known as the Mound Battery.
This was probably intended to command the interior of Fort Fisher
, should the enemy gain a footing there; while the garrison taking shelter in the bomb-proofs could resist an enemy for a long time from those retreats.
On the seaface of the work were mounted fifty-four heavy guns protected by traverses against an enfilading fire, and some of these traverses were also bomb-proof.
In the Mound Battery were three or four 150-pounder Brooke rifles, making the total number of guns in this formidable work seventy-five.
The sea-front was intended to prevent the enemy's vessels from running through New Inlet
into Cape Fear River
, or landing troops on Federal Point
— an unnecessary precaution, since nature had placed greater obstacles to vessels of any size crossing the bar, in the shape of shoal water.
One mile westward of the Mound Battery, at the end of Federal Point
, was a heavy-armed earth-work mounting six or eight 11-inch Dahlgren
guns, fitted exactly as if on the deck of a ship.
This was Fort Buchanan
, and it was officered and manned from the Confederate Navy.
It commanded the channel and a shoal called the Rips
, over which no vessel drawing more than eleven feet could pass at high water.
This is a general sketch of Fort Fisher
The details were similar to those of other fortifications of this kind.
It was the evident intention of the Confederates
to prevent a landing of the Federal
troops or to dislodge them as soon as they reached the shore, which might have been done had not a large force of gunboats been sent to cover the landing, a force which no army could have with-stood.
At the time when the fleet arrived off Fort Fisher
, the Confederates
had about eighteen hundred men in the works, but they were by no means the best of troops.
The commanding officer
of the fort was Colonel William Lamb
, a gallant and capable soldier, while Major-General Wm
, formerly of the U. S. Engineers, commanded all the defences of the Cape Fear River
When the fleet was all ready to proceed to the attack, Commander Rhind
was ordered to take the powder-boat in and explode her. It had been calm all that day, December 18, with only a light swell on, which increased at night.
Fleet-Captain K. R. Breese
was sent on board General Butler
's vessel to inform the General
what was to be done, and that the troops might be landed in the morning for the attack.
The General sent word to the Admiral
that he thought the attempt premature, and requested that it be postponed until the sea went down.
To this Admiral Porter
at once agreed, yet General Butler
afterwards complained of the delay, grounding his failure on that circumstance.
It was just
as well that the attempt was not made on the day appointed, for, on the following morning, a heavy gale came on from the southeast with a tremendous swell setting towards the beach, so that it was thought at one time all the vessels would have to leave the coast to avoid being driven on shore.
and his transports had disappeared and sought refuge in the harbor of Beaufort
No occurrence during the war reflects more credit on the Navy than the way in which that large fleet rode out the gale, anchored in twenty fathoms water, with the whole Atlantic Ocean
rolling in upon them.
As far as the eye could reach, the line of vessels extended, each with two anchors ahead and one hundred and twenty fathoms of chain on each.
The wind blew directly on shore, the sea breaking heavily, and appearing as if it would sweep everything before it, yet only one vessel in all the line left her anchorage and stood out to sea as a place of safety.
It was, indeed, a grand sight to see these ships riding out such a gale on such a coast in midwinter.
The most experienced seaman will long remember the event as the only case on record where a large fleet rode out a gale at anchor on our coast.
It was one of the features of this memorable expedition in the highest degree creditable to the seamanship of the Federal Navy
After the gale abated, the Rear-Admiral
commanding the fleet looked around in the hope of seeing something of General Butler
's command, for, knowing that the wind would come out from the northwest, and blow the sea down, he wished to take advantage of the circumstance and commence the attack.
As nothing was heard of the General
, the Admiral
made arrangements, which will appear in the reports of operations annexed.
We have noticed that the explosion of the powder-boat was postponed at the request of General Butler
, after Commander Rhind
had started to carry out the order to blow the vessel up. The peril of this service was very great, for it was certain that the Confederates
had been fully apprised that a powder-vessel was being fitted to explode under the walls of Fort Fisher
It was therefore to be expected that the enemy would maintain a vigilant look-out, and when, through their night-glasses, an object was seen approaching the fort, they would open with shells and blow up the vessel and all on board if they could.
Or a mistake might occur in the timing of the Gomer fuse, or in the clock that was to ignite the powder at a given moment, so as to allow the adventurous party on board the Louisiana
time enough to get well clear of the vessel.
There was more than one chance of a premature explosion.
Besides these dangers, there was in the smoothest weather a heavy groundswell on the beach where the Louisiana
was to be anchored, and the rolling motion might easily disarrange the intricate machinery designed for the explosion of the powder.
To risk so many valuable lives of officers and men seemed almost a crime — the game was not worth the candle — and this useless powder-boat excited more anxiety in the fleet on account of those who had volunteered for so hazardous an expedition than for the expected attack on Fort Fisher
The officers and men who volunteered to go with Commander Rhind
--himself a volunteer — were Lieutenant Samuel W. Preston
of the Admiral
's staff, Second-Assistant Engineer A. T. E. Mullan
's Mate Paul Boyden
; Frank Lucas
, Coxswain; William Gainn
, Captain-of-the-Forecastle; Charles T. Bibber
's Mate; John Neil
; Robert Montgomery
, Captain-of-the-Afterguard; James Roberts
and Dennis Conlan
, Seamen; James Sullivan
, Ordinary Seaman; William Horrigan
, Second-class Fireman; Charles Rice
The men were all volunteers from Commander Rhind
's vessel, the Agawam
had been again notified that the powder-boat would be exploded on the night of the 23d December, as near the beach at Fort Fisher
as it was possible to get her, but the exact distance could not be estimated in the darkness.
Although the Louisiana
had low steam up, she was towed to within a short distance of her station by the steamer Wilderness
, which vessel then remained in the vicinity to take off the party from the powder-boat.
The arrangements of the Wilderness
were under the direction of Lieutenant R. H. Lamson
, assisted by Mr. J. O. Bradford
of the Coast Survey, and Acting-Master Geo. F. Bowen
(Pilot). The Wilderness
was under the command of Acting-Master Henry Arey
, and he and his officers and men shared with the others the danger attending the enterprise.
The powder-boat was finally anchored as near the beach as possible — a somewhat difficult task, as by approaching too near the breakers the vessel would be liable to drift on shore.
and Lieutenant Preston
then lighted the candles, while the fire of pine-knots in the Louisiana
's cabin was started by Engineer Mullan
. Commander Rhind
was then obliged to let go another anchor with a short scope of chain, as he saw that the vessel would not tail in shore.
This done, the party jumped into their boats, and pulled for the Wilderness
, which vessel had steamed off shore a considerable distance, and then let her steam
go down, as it was supposed that the concussion would seriously affect the boilers if a high pressure of steam was maintained.
The fuzes were set by the clocks to one hour and a half, but the explosion did not take place until twenty minutes after the expected time, when the after-part of the Louisiana
was in flames.
Exactly at 1:30 A. M. of the 24th, the powder-boat went up in the air, the shock being scarcely felt by the vessels of the fleet.
For a moment the scene was illuminated, then darkness settled down, and all was still as before — no sound or movement in the fort indicating that any damage had been done.
In fact, the Confederates
took the explosion for that of a blockade-runner with a quantity of ammunition on board, and were not at all troubled about the matter.
When, after the lapse of twenty years, we think of this futile attempt to destroy such a powerful work as Fort Fisher
at the risk of so many valuable lives, in order that the pet scheme of a Major-General
of Volunteers should be carried out, we may wonder that any one should countenance such an absurdity.
The only powder that was needed was that fired from the cannon of the ships, and what would have been fired from the muskets of the gallant soldiers had they been permitted by their commanding general to advance on the enemy.
But these experiences will teach the soldiers and sailors of the future; and if there is ever a scheme proposed for blowing up a huge earth-work with a powder-boat, the recollection of Fort Fisher
will deter people from attempting to carry it out.
It was supposed by Admiral Porter
that the explosion would be heard on board the transports and bring them all in by morning; but, although the water was quite smooth, the transports seemed to keep as far as possible from Fort Fisher
Agreeably to the orders issued the preceding evening, the fleet got underway at daylight on the 24th of December, 1864, and stood in, in line of battle.
At 11:30 A. M. the signal was made to engage the forts, the Ironsides
leading, and the Monadnock
took her position in the most beautiful and seamanlike manner, got her spring out, and opened deliberate fire on the fort, at that time opening on her with all its guns, which did not seem numerous in the northeast face, though what appeared to be seventeen guns were counted.
These were fired from that direction, but they were silenced almost as soon as the fleet opened all their batteries.
took her position in handsome style, and her guns, after getting the range, were fired with rapidity; while the Mohican
and the large vessels marked on the plan, got to their stations, all firing to cover themselves while anchoring.
By the time the last of the large vessels anchored and got their batteries into play, but a few guns of the enemy were fired, this feu d'enfer
driving them all to their bomb-proofs.
The small gun-boats Kansas
took positions to the northward and eastward of the Monitors
, enfilading the works.
took effective positions, as marked on the chart, and added their fire to that already begun.
The Santiago de Cuba
, Fort Jackson
, Rhode Island
, Quaker City
, dropped into position according to order, and the battle became general.
In an hour and a quarter after the first shot was fired, not a shot came from the fort.
Two of the magazines in the works had been blown up by shells, and the woodwork in the fort set on fire in several places; and such a torrent of missiles were falling into and bursting over the works, that it was impossible for anything human to withstand it. Finding that the batteries were completely silenced, the ships were directed to keep up a moderate fire, in hopes of attracting the attention of the transports and bringing them to the scene of action.
At sunset General Butler
cane in with a few transports, the rest not having arrived from Beaufort
As it was too late to do anything more, the fleet was signalled to retire for the night to a safe anchorage, which movement took place without molestation from the enemy.
Some mistakes were made this day when the vessels went in to take position, although, the plan of battle being based on accurate calculation and reliable information, it seemed almost impossible to go astray.
Those vessels that had not followed the plan of battle closely were required to get underway and assume their proper positions, which was done promptly and without confusion.
The vessels were placed somewhat nearer to the works, and were able to throw in their shells, which were before falling short.
One or two leading vessels having anchored too far off shore, caused those coming after them to make a like error; but when they all got into place and commenced work in earnest,the shower of shell--one hundred and fifteen per minute — was irresistible.
So quickly were the enemy's guns silenced that not an officer or man in the fleet was injured by them, but there were some severe casualties by the bursting
of several 100-pounder Parrott
One burst on board the Ticonderoga
, killing six of the crew and wounding seven others; another burst on board the Yantic
, killing one officer and two men; another on board the Juniata
, killing two officers, and killing and wounding ten other persons; another on board the Mackinaw
, killing one officer and wounding five men; another on board the Quaker City
, wounding two or three persons.
The bursting of these guns much disconcerted the crews of the vessels, and gave them great distrust of the Parrott 100-pounder.
Some of the vessels were struck once or twice from the fort.
had her boiler perforated with a shell, and
ten or twelve persons were badly scalded.
was struck with a shell near her magazine, and was at one time in a sinking condition, but her efficient commander stopped the leak, while the Mackinaw
fought out the battle, notwithstanding the damage she had received.
Only one vessel left the line to report damages.
Commander John Guest
, in the Iosco
, at the east end of the line, showed his usual intelligence in selecting his position and directing his fire.
Twice his shot cut away the flag-staff on the Mound Battery, and he silenced the guns there in a very short time, the Keystone State
and Quaker City
Lieutenant-Commander John L. Davis
in the Sassacus
, with both rudders of his vessel disabled, got her into close action and assisted materially in silencing the works, and the Santiago de Cuba
and Fort Jackson
took such positions as they could get, owing to other vessels not forming proper lines and throwing them out of place, and fought their guns well.
The taking of a new position while under fire by the Brooklyn
was well done, and when they got into place both ships delivered a fire that nothing could withstand.
well sustained her good name under her commanding officer, Captain James Alden
, and the Colorado
gave evidence that Commodore H. K. Thatcher
fully understood the duties of his position.
was most effective in her fire, though much hampered by a vessel near her that had not found her right place.
went into battle gallantly and fired rapidly and with effect; and when the Powhatan
got into their positions, they did good service.
fell handsomely into line.
and did good service with the rest, and the Vanderbilt
took her place near the Minnesota
and threw in a rapid fire.
The firing of the Monitors
was excellent, and when their shells struck great damage was done, and the little gun-boats that covered them kept up a fire sufficient to disconcert the enemy's aim.
The Confederates fired no more after the vessels all opened on them, except a few shots from the Mound
and upper batteries.
which the Iosco
and consorts soon silenced.
The men were at work at the guns five hours and were glad to get a little rest.
They came out of action with rather a contempt for the enemy's batteries, and anxious to renew the battle in the morning.
On Christmas Day all the transports had arrived, and General Butler
sent General Weitzel
to see Admiral Porter
, and arrange the programme for the day. It was decided that the Navy should again attack the works, while the Army should land and assault them, if possible, under the heavy fire of the ships.
dispatched seventeen gun-boats, under command of Captain O. S. Glisson
, to cover the troops and assist with their boats in landing the soldiers.
Finding the smaller vessels kept too far from the beach, which was quite bold, the Brooklyn
was sent in to carry out the Admiral
To the number before sent were added all the small vessels that were acting as reserves; and, finally, there were sent some eight or nine vessels that were acting under Commander Guest
in endeavoring to find a way across the bar. This gave a hundred boats with which
to land the troops, in addition to the twenty with which the army was already provided.
At 7 A. M., on the 25th, signal was made for the ships to get underway and form in line of battle, which was quickly done.
The order to attack was given, and the Ironsides
took the position in her usual handsome style, the Monitors
following close after her. All the vessels followed according to order, and took position without a shot being fired at them, excepting a few fired at the last four vessels that got into line.
The firing this day was slow, only sufficient to distract the enemy's attention while the army landed, which they were doing five miles northward of the fleet.
About three thousand men had landed, when the Admiral
was notified they were re-embarking.
He had seen the soldiers near the forts reconnoitering and sharp-shooting, and was in hopes an assault was deemed practicable.
, in person, was making observations about six hundred yards off, and the troops were in and around the works.
One gallant officer went on the parapet and brought away the Confederate
flag that had been shot down by the Navy fire; a soldier went into the works and led out a horse, killing the orderly mounted on the animal and capturing his dispatches.
Another soldier fired his musket into a bomb-proof among the Confederates
, and eight or ten others who had ventured near the forts were wounded by shells from the fleet.
As the ammunition gave out, the vessels retired from action, and the iron-clads Minnesota
were ordered to open rapidly, which they did with such effect that it seemed to tear the works to pieces.
The fleet drew off at sunset, leaving the iron-clads to fire through the night, expecting the troops would attack in the morning, when the ships would recommence the bombardment.
, however, received a message from General Weitzel
, informing him that it was impracticable to assault; and later a letter from General Butler
, assigning his reasons for withdrawing his troops; which letter, together with the Admiral
's answer to the same, we shall insert in full.
In the bombardment of the 25th, the fleet fired slowly for seven hours. The enemy kept a couple of guns on the upper batteries firing on the vessels, hitting some of them several times without doing them much damage.
and the Powhatan
, being within their range, the object seemed mainly to disable them, but a rapid fire soon silenced the Confederate
Everything was coolly and systematically done throughout the day, and there was some beautiful practice.
The army commenced landing about 2 o'clock. Captain Glisson
, in the Santiago de Cuba
, having shelled Flag-Pond battery to insure a safe landing, and they commenced to re-embark about 5 o'clock, the weather coming on thick and rainy.
About a brigade were left on the beach during the night, covered by the gun-boats.
As the troops landed, sixty-five Confederate soldiers hoisted the white flag, and delivered themselves up to the seamen landing the troops, and were conveyed to the Santiago de Cuba
. Two hundred and eighteen more gave themselves up to the reconnoitering party, all being tired of the war. We do not pretend to put our opinion in opposition to General Weitzel
, whose business it was to know more of assaulting forts than a sailor could know; but we cannot help thinking that it was worth while to make the attempt after coming so far.
About noon the Admiral
sent in a detachment of double-enders under Commander John Guest
, to see if an entrance through the channel could be effected.
The great number of wrecks in and about the bar had changed the whole formation, and where the original channel had been, Guest found a shallow bar.
then sent Lieutenant W. B. Cushing
in to sound and buoy out a channel, if he could find one, with orders for Commander Guest
to drag for torpedoes and be ready to run in by the buoys when directed.
A very narrow and crooked channel was partly made out and buoyed, but running so close to the upper forts that boats could not work there.
, in his boat, went in as far as Zeke's Island
, but his researches would not justify attempting the passage with six double-enders, some of which had burst their rifled Parrott guns and injured many of their men.
One boat belonging to the Tacony
was sunk by a shell, and a man had his leg cut off; still, they stuck to their work until ordered to withdraw for other duty.
At the conclusion of his report to the Secretary
of tile Navy, Rear-Admiral Porter
makes the following remarks:
Allow me to draw your attention to the conduct of Commander Rhind and Lieutenant Preston.
They engaged in the most perilous adventure that was, perhaps, ever undertaken; and, though no material results have taken place from the effects of the explosion that we know of, still it was not their fault.
As an incentive to others, I beg leave to recommend them for promotion; also that of Lieutenant R. H. Lamson, who piloted them in and brought them off. No one in the squadron considered that their lives would be saved, and Commander Rhind and Lieutenant Preston had made an arrangement to sacrifice themselves in case the vessel was boarded — a thing likely to happen.
I inclose herewith the report of Commander Rhind, with the names of the gallant fellows who volunteered for this desperate service.
also to mention the name of Mr. Bradford, of the Coast Survey, who went in and sounded out the place where the Louisiana was to go in, and has always patiently performed every duty that he has been called on to carry out.
My thanks are due to Lieutenant-Commander K. R. Breese, Fleet-Captain, for carrying about my orders to the fleet during the action, and for his general usefulness; to Lieutenant-Commander H. A. Adams, for his promptness in supplying the fleet with ammunition.
Lieutenant M. W. Sanders, Signal-Officer, whose whole time was occupied in making signals, performed his duty well, and my aides, Lieutenant S. W. Terry and Lieutenant S. W. Preston, afforded me valuable assistance.
I have not yet received a list of the casualties, but believe they are very few, from the enemy's guns.
We had killed, and wounded, about forty-five persons by the bursting of the Parrott guns.
I beg leave to suggest that no more of these guns be introduced into the service.
There is only one kind of firing that is effective at close quarters, that is, from 9, 10 and 11 inch guns, they cannot be equalled.
Until further orders, I shall go on and hammer away at the fort, hoping that in time the people in it will get tired, and hand it over to us. It is a one-sided business altogether, and in the course of time we must dismount their guns, if, as General Weitzel says, we cannot “injure it as a defensive work.”
The Government may also think it of sufficient importance to undertake more serious operations against these works.
An army of a few thousand men investing it would soon get into it, with the aid of the Navy.
When smooth water permits, I will go to work looking for a channel over the bar, which has not yet been found to my satisfaction.
I must not omit to pay a tribute to the officers and crews of the Monitors — riding out heavy gales on an open coast without murmuring or complaining of the want of comfort, which must have been very serious.
They have shown a degree of fortitude and perseverance seldom witnessed.
Equally brave in battle, they take the closest work with pleasure, and the effect of their shells is terrific.
The following are the names of the commanding officers, and I hope I shall keep them under my command: Commodore William Radford, commanding New Ironsides; Commander E. S. Parrott, commanding Monadnock; Commander E. R. Colhoun, commanding Saugus; Lieutenant George E. Belknap, commanding Canonicus; Lieutenant-Commander E. E. Potter, commanding Mahopac.
There are about one thousand men left on shore by the army who have not yet got off on account of the surf on the beach.
These will be taken off in the morning, and the soldiers will then be sent home.
I inclose general order for the attack.
The abandonment of the expedition by General Butler
, with his army, created the greatest indignation on the part of the
Navy, who had seen the prize so nearly within their reach.
It had been the hope of the Admiral
to hand over the fort to the Government
as a fitting Christmas present; but now all that could be done was for the Navy to hold on in the hope that General Grant
would send the troops back again, under another leader, and bring the matter to a conclusion.
sent a message as soon as possible to General Grant
, requesting that this might be done, and his request was complied with, the troops reembarked, and, under command of Brevet-Major-General Alfred H. Terry
, returned to the scene of action.
In consequence of the improper interference of General Butler
, in assuming command of an expedition for which General Weitzel
lad been designated, the former was directed to proceed to his home in Lowell, Mass.
, and report from that place, which virtually ended his career in the Army, while Weitzel
succeeded him in command of the Army of the James.
In one respect this was unfair to General Butler
It was not considered by the Army that Butler
had any military ability, either natural or acquired, but he had around him men of talents and reputation, who were supposed to be his advisers.
The chief of these was General Weitzel
, whose counsel seems to have had great influence with Butler
on all occasions, and, particularly, on the Fort Fisher
Instead of asserting his claim to command the military part of the expedition, Weitzel
simply figured as Butler
's chief-of-staff, and while all orders were signed by General Butler
, as “Major-General
commanding,” General Weitzel
seems to have really directed all the military operations.
It was a mixed — up affair, and it was evidently General Butler
's purpose to claim the credit if the fort was captured, and to let Weitzel
bear the odium in case of failure.
It is not at all certain that the result of the expedition would have been different had General Weitzel
had sole command of the troops, as he seems to have advised General Butler
in all his movements.
In a letter we have quoted, from General Butlerto Rear-Admiral Porter
, the former says:
Both General Weitzel and myself are fully of the opinion that the place could not be carried by assault, as it was left substantially uninjured as a defensive work by the Navy fire.
Notwithstanding which statement, he inconsistently relates in the same letter that
Gen. Weitzel advanced his skirmish line within fifty yards of the fort, while the garrison was kept in their bomb-proofs by the fire of the Navy, and so closely that three or four men of the picket line ventured upon the parapet and through the sallyport of the work, capturing a horse, which they brought off, etc.
Comment on the above is unnecessary; yet, in the face of this condition of affairs and with the certain victory that could have been gained, General Weitzel
recommended a retreat to Hampton Roads
Tile officer who was to have gone in command advised the one who had usurped it, that he had better abandon the field on the eve of victory and let the Navy manage the affair as best they could.
's course at Fort Fisher
was quite in keeping with his previous record at Sabine Pass
, where, with a force greatly outnumbering the enemy, he ignominiously retired, leaving two frail gunboats to attack the Confederate
works and be cut to pieces; at Baton Rouge
, where he was only saved from defeat and capture by a gun-boat; and at Forts Jackson
and St. Philip
, which works he also reported as “substantially uninjured” by the Federal
It is possible, if General Weitzel
had been in independent command with the entire responsibility resting on his shoulders, he might have viewed matters at Fort Fisher
in a different light, especially when seconded by so gallant a soldier as General Curtis
who volunteered to assault the works with the military forces that were landed on the beach.
The author regrets to be obliged to criticise the acts of any officer, but the facts must be related in order to account for the utter failure of the Army in the first attack on Fort Fisher
, and to show the world that the Navy was in nowise responsible for it. The official correspondence of the time contains a pretty full account of what occurred between the naval and military commanders, and a history of the Fort Fisher
affair would not be complete without it.
The plea of General Weitzel
, that Fort Fisher
was uninjured as a defensive work, is of no avail in the light of the facts ascertained by the commanding officers
of the ships.
, in his official report, says:
On the 24th instant, an explosion took place during a heavy fire from the fleet within the main fort of the rebels, immediately after which flames were observed streaming high above the walls, naturally leading to the conclusion that we had fired the barracks and other tenements connected with the fort.
During the continuance of this blaze, which continued for hours, not a gun was fired by the enemy except from the isolated work called the Mound Battery.
On the 25th instant, the range was shorter and the firing of the fleet more accurate than on the preceding day. It is my belief that not a shot or shell was fired by the advanced line of ships that did not either penetrate the earth-works of the enemy or explode within them.
On the first day, 1,569 projectiles were fired from the Colorado into the fort.
This ship (Colorado) planted 230 shot in the enemy's works on the 25th, and exploded 996 shells.
The above will give a general idea of the precision of the firing throughout the fleet.
How, under such circumstances, an engineer-officer could report the work “uninjured,” especially after the strong palisades were nearly all knocked away, is beyond ordinary comprehension.
The following letter from Rear-Admiral Porter
to the Secretary of the Navy
gives a more detailed account of the bombardment and expresses the disappointment felt at the withdrawal of the troops:
Additional report of Commander J. C. Howell-capture of Flag-Pond battery.
List of vessels, etc., that participated in the attack upon Fort Fisher.
Letter of Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter relative to the alleged unnecessary delay in the attack.
Mr. Secretary Welles
, after reading the above dispatches, sent the following telegram in cipher to General Grant
, for he was determined the Navy should succeed:
After the transports had departed there was nothing for the fleet to do but to proceed to Beaufort, N. C.
and fill up with coal and ammunition, while awaiting the
Besides, the weather was getting stormy, and it was advisable to get the smaller vessels into port.
It would not do to attempt an assault on the Confederate
works with sailors, for they had been heavily reinforced by General Hoke
, and, for the present, Fort Fisher
was secure against attack.
The troops that General Butler
, in his hurry to get away.
had left on the beach were embarked after the gale was over, and returned to Fortress Monroe
This ended the first attack on Fort Fisher
; which, although unsuccessful in reducing the enemy's works, was not without its valuable lessons, which contributed to cause in the second attack a final and gratifying success.
The reports of the commanding officers
of vessels in the North Atlantic squadron are too many and too voluminous to insert them all here, but we append some of the most graphic and interesting, which are animated with the zeal in the performance of duty which is characteristic of the naval profession:
Report of Commodore Schenck, commanding U. S. S. Powhatan and 3d division North Atlantic Squadron.