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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. -- criticisms. -- 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 [684] 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 as follows:

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.

Admiral Porter 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 best spare. Admiral Porter merely suggested one thing — namely, that General Butler should not go in command. North Carolina 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.

Admiral Porter 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, Lanman, Godon, Schenck and Radford. 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 [685] 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. Chase 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 or Bermuda 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. Admiral Lee'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 [686] 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 was surprising. 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:

Navy Department, May 25, 1864.
Sir — I have had great satisfaction in receiving and perusing your report, as the senior officer of the several vessels that were engaged with the rebel rain Albemarle and her tender on the 5th instant, in Albemarle Sound.

The Department congratulates all the officers and men of the United States Navy who participated in this remarkable contest between wooden gun-boats and a formidable armored vessel, in which the latter was forced to retreat to prevent [687] capture, and it particularly thanks you for the vigilant and gallant use made of the means placed at your command to thwart the designs of the rebels to regain control of the Sounds of North Carolina.

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. Captain Melancton Smith, U. S. N., Senior Officer commanding Sounds of North Carolina.

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.

Cushing 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.

Lieutenant Cushing'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. Admiral Porter 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. Cushing 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 against Cushing for violating certain neutral rights while in command of a vessel on the Southern coast.

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

Lieutenant (afterwards Commander) Wm. B. Cushing.

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 [688] 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. The Southfield 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. Cushing 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 bows on.

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.

The Albemarle, 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. But Cushing 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 was drowned. Cushing 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 [689] 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.

Cushing 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:

Navy Department, November 9, 1864.
Sir — Your report of October 30 has been received, announcing the destruction of the rebel iron-clad steamer Albemarle, on the night of the 27th ultimo, at Plymouth, North Carolina.

When, last Summer, the Department selected you for this important and perilous undertaking, and sent you to Rear-Admiral Gregory, at New York, to make the necessary preparations, it left the details to yourself to perfect. To you and your brave comrades, therefore, belong the exclusive credit which attaches to this daring achievement. The destruction of so formidable a vessel, which had resisted the combined attack of a number of our steamers, is an important event touching our future naval and military operations. The judgment as well as the daring courage displayed would do honor to any officer, and redounds to the credit of one of twenty-one years of age.

On four previous occasions the Department has had the gratification of expressing its approbation of your conduct in the face of the enemy, and in each instance there was manifested by you the same heroic daring and innate love of perilous adventure, a mind determined to succeed, and not to be deterred by any apprehensions of defeat.

The Department has presented your name to the President for a vote of thanks, that you may be promoted one grade, and your comrades also shall receive recognition.

It gives me pleasure to recall the assurance you gave me, at the commencement of your active professional career, that you would prove yourself worthy of the confidence reposed in you, and of the service to which you were appointed. I trust you may be preserved through further trials; and it is for yourself to determine whether, after entering upon so auspicious a career, you shall, by careful study and self-discipline, be prepared for a wider sphere of usefulness on the call of your country.

Very respectfully, etc.,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. Lieutenant W. B. Cushing, U. S. N., Washington.

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, Shamrock, Chicopee, Otsego, Wyalusing and Tacony. At the same time the Valley City went up the “Middle River,” which joined the Roanoke above Plymouth, 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. In the [690] 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

Lieutenant-Commander (now Commodore) William T. Truxtun, commanding the Tacony.

Macomb 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; Wyalusing, Lieutenant-Commander Earl English; Tacony, 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:

United States Flag-Ship Malvern, Hampton Roads November 11, 1864.
Sir — I have the honor to inclose you the report of Commander William H. Macomb, in relation to the capture of the batteries and the town of Plymouth, North Carolina, which place with all its defences was captured from our land forces some time last spring.

This was a very gallant affair, and reflects great credit on the commander of the expedition and all concerned. It is a handsome finishing stroke after the blowing up of the ram.

The fruits of this capture are twenty-two cannon, thirty-seven prisoners, two hundred stand of arms, and more being picked up daily.

The flags of the forts and of the Albemarle and a large amount of amunition were also taken.

I am sir, respectfully, etc.,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

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, [691] and the Confederates were enabled to reoccupy the works.

Plymouth 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.

Lieutenant-Commander English, 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.

The Shamrock, 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. Commander Macomb 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, that [692]

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. General Butler'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's proposition. 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. Commander Rhind 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 [693] 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. General Grant 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. General Grant 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. Butler's presence was always enough to make General Grant quiet and meditative, and he soon took his departure. General Weitzel 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. Butler 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. General Butler 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.

Neither Butler nor Weitzel were adapted to command the troops in such an expedition as that to Fort Fisher. Grant 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. the Admiral 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. General Butler and his transports were at anchor off Masonboroa Inlet, quite out of sight of the naval vessels. The Admiral 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 retired to [694] Beaufort, sixty miles from the scene of action, and there awaited the dreadful crash.

Fort Fisher 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.

Fort Fisher 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. H.

Lieutenant-Commander K. Randolph Breese. (fleet-captain.)

C. Whiting, 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 [695] 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. General Butler 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, Master's Mate Paul Boyden; Frank Lucas, Coxswain; William Gainn, Captain-of-the-Forecastle; Charles T. Bibber, Gunner's Mate; John Neil, Quarter-Gunner; Robert Montgomery, Captain-of-the-Afterguard; James Roberts and Dennis Conlan, Seamen; James Sullivan, Ordinary Seaman; William Horrigan, Second-class Fireman; Charles Rice, Coal-heaver. The men were all volunteers from Commander Rhind's vessel, the Agawam.

General Butler 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. Commander Rhind 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 [696] 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, Canonicus and Mahopac following. The Ironsides 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.

The Minnesota took her position in handsome style, and her guns, after getting the range, were fired with rapidity; while the Mohican, Colorado 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, Unadilla, Pequot, Seneca, Pontoosuc. Yantic and Huron took positions to the northward and eastward of the Monitors, enfilading the works. The Shenandoah, Ticonderoga, “Mackinaw, Tacony and Vanderbilt took effective positions, as marked on the chart, and added their fire to that already begun. The Santiago de Cuba, Fort Jackson.” Osceola, Chippewa, Sassacus, Rhode Island, Monticello, Quaker City and Iosco, 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 [697] of several 100-pounder Parrott cannon. 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. The Mackinaw had her boiler perforated with a shell, and

Lieutenant-Commander (now Rear-Admiral) John Lee Davis.

ten or twelve persons were badly scalded. The Osceola 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 co-operating effectively.

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 and Colorado was well done, and when they got into place both ships delivered a fire that nothing could withstand. The Brooklyn 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. The Susquehanna was most effective in her fire, though much hampered by a vessel near her that had not found her right place. The Mohican went into battle gallantly and fired rapidly and with effect; and when the Powhatan, Ticonderoga and Shenandoah got into their positions, they did good service. The Pawtucket 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. The Admiral 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's orders. 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 [698] 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. General Weitzel, 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, Colorado and Susquehanna 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. The Admiral, 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. The Wabashand the Powhatan, being within their range, the object seemed mainly to disable them, but a rapid fire soon silenced the Confederate guns. 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.

The Admiral 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. Lieutenant Cushing, 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. Allow me [699] 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.

Rear-Admiral Porter's General order no. 70.

[General orders no. 70.]

North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Malvern, Hampton Roads, December 10, 1864.
The chart plan of the proposed attack on the batteries of the enemy at New Inlet, mouth of Cape Fear River, will explain itself, but the order of taking position is as follows:

It is first proposed to endeavor to paralyze the garrison by an explosion, all the vessels remaining twelve miles out from the bar, and the troops in transports twelve miles down the coast, ready to steam up and be prepared to take the works by assault in case the latter are disabled.

At a given signal, all the bar vessels will run off shore twelve miles, when the vessel with powder will go in under the forts. When the explosion takes place, all the vessels will stand in shore in the order marked on the plan.

The New Ironsides will steam along shore, coining from eastward, until the flag-staff on Fort Fisher bears southwest by west-half-west, and anchor (chain ready to slip) with her broadside bearing on the largest of the enemy's works, and open fire without delay. The Monitors will come up astern, anchoring not more than one length apart, directly in line along the shore, leaving space only for a gun-boat to lie outside of them, and fire between them or over them. The New Ironsides and Monitors will lie in not less than three and a half fathoms water, which will place them about three-fourths of a mile from Fort Fisher, and a little over a quarter of a mile from the beach.

In the meantime, the large ships will lie formed in line of battle to the eastward of the iron-clads, and heading parallel with the land in a south-half-west course, in five fathoms water.

When the signal is made to “take position,” the Minnesota (the headmost vessel) will go ahead slowly and anchor about a mile from Fort Fisher, opening fire the moment she passes the New Ironsides, and anchoring so that her stern gun will fire just clear of that vessel. The Mohican will then anchor ahead of the Minnesota, Colorado ahead of Mohican, Tuscarora ahead of Colorado, Wabash ahead of Tuscarora, Susquehanna ahead of Wabash, Brooklyn ahead of Susquehanna, Powhatan ahead of Brooklyn, Juniata ahead of Powhatan, with their cables ready to slip, and with not more than fifteen fathoms of chain, the fifteen-fathom shackle inside the hawse-hole.

The Seneca, Shenandoah, Pawtucket, Ticonderoga, Mackinaw, Maumee, Yantic and Kansas will take their positions between and outside the different vessels, as marked on the plan, anchoring with their cables ready to slip.

When the large ships and intermediate ones get fairly into position, the Nyack, Unadilla, Huron and Pequot will take positions between and outside the Monitors, in the order marked on the plan, keeping up a rapid fire while the Monitors are loading.

The following vessels will next take their positions as marked on the plan.

Commencing with the Fort Jackson, which vessel will anchor ahead of the Juniata, leaving a space between of three lengths, “Santiago de Cuba,” Tacony, Osceola, Chippewa, Sassacus, Manatanza, Rhode Island, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Montgomery, R. R. Cuyler, “Quaker City” and Iosco will pass on slowly, commencing with the rear, until they form the line marked on the plan.

The reserves of each division will form a line, as per plan, out of gun-shot, ready to act as occasion may require.

This is the main plan of the battle. Circumstances may require some deviation from it, such as a partial attack (before going seriously to work) to feel the enemy's strength, all of which will be regulated by signal or by orders. Great care and coolness will be required to drop the vessels in their right places, and a too-early commencement of fire on the part of those going into position may create confusion.

As we know but little about the calibre and number of rebel guns, the vessels must concentrate their fire on the heaviest batteries; but get the range before firing rapidly. For instance, the large vessels and iron-clads concentrate on Fort Fisher, while the Vanderbilt. Fort Jackson, and the vessels in the line with Fort Jackson will open on the forts within their reach between Fort Fisher and the Mound. [700]

All the reserve vessels will prepare to attack Zeke's Island battery by taking a position where they can enfilade it, which is when the fort bears northwest. Vessels drawing fourteen feet can go within a mile and three-quarters with perfect safety, and use their rifle-guns with good effect. They can also reach the forts on Federal Point, and prevent their firing accurately on the other portions of the fleet in closer range.

All the movements of the different lines will be made by sending orders in a tug, as signals will not be seen in the smoke.

As it is desirable not to have superfluous directions, each commander will be furnished with a plan, and the matter fully discussed, and points explained at a general meeting of commanders.

Vessels in distress, and finding it necessary to retire from battle, will steer out southeast, excepting the headmost vessels, Iosco, Quaker City, R. R. Cuyler, etc., which had better keep on southwest half-south course, until they clear an eight-foot shoal (at low water) outside of them.

It is not desirable that the vessels of the squadron should show themselves to the enemy until the time comes for them to act, and they will keep off shore about twenty-five miles, or far enough not to be seen, with New Inlet bearing west, in about the latitude of 33 56, longitude 77 20; that will be the rendezvous. Commanders of divisions will assemble the vessels of their divisions, get them into line, and keep them so, each division being far enough from the other to allow them to manoeuvre without interfering. When the signal is made or given to fall in line of battle, every vessel will take her station in line according to the plan of the chart, the first division forming first, and the others dropping in, in order.

As only low steam will be required, those vessels that can move and work handily with half their boilers will only use those on one side, keeping the boilers (on the side near the enemy) full of water and without steam, with water warm only, and ready to make steam in case of necessity.

Slow, deliberate firing is desirable; there will be smoke enough anyhow. Rapid and indiscriminate firing will amount to little or nothing. I hope no shot may be thrown away.

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.

Letter of Major-General Butler to Rear-Admiral Porter.

Headquarters, Department Virginia and North Carolina, December 25, 1864.
Admiral — Upon landing the troops and making a thorough reconnoissance of Fort Fisher, 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 We found seventeen guns protected by traverses, two only of which were dismounted, bearing up the beach and covering a strip of land — the only practicable route — not more than wide enough for a thousand men in line of of battle.

Having captured Flag-Pond Hill battery, the garrison of which--sixty-five men and two commissioned officers — were taken off by the Navy, we also captured Half-Moon battery and seven officers and two hundred and eighteen men of the Third North Carolina Junior Reserves, including its commander, from whom I learned that a portion of Hoke's division, consisting of Kirkland's and Haygood's brigades, had been sent from the lines before Richmond on Tuesday last. arriving at Wilmington Friday night.

General 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 sally-port of the work, capturing a horse, which they brought off, killing the orderly, who was the bearer of a dispatch from the chief-of-artillery of General Whiting to bring a light battery within the fort, and also brought away from the parapet the flag of the fort.

This was done while the shells of the Navy were falling about the heads of the daring men who entered the work, and it was evident, as soon as the fire of the Navy ceased because of the darkness, that the fort was fully manned again, and opened with grape and canister upon our picket line.

Finding that nothing but the operations of a regular siege, which did not come within my instructions, would reduce the fort, and in view of the threatening aspect of the weather, wind rising from the southeast, rendering it impossible to make further landing through the surf, I caused the troops with their prisoners to re-embark, and see nothing further that can be done by the land-forces. I shall, therefore, sail for Hampton Roads as soon as the transport-fleet can be got in order.

My engineers and officers report Fort Fisher to me as substantially uninjured as a defensive work.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Benj. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding. Rear-Admiral Porter, Commanding North Atlantic Blockading Squadron

Reply of Rear-Admiral Porter to Major-General Butler.

North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Malvern.
General — I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of this date, the substance of which was communicated to me by General Weitzel last night.

I have ordered the largest vessels to proceed off Beaufort and fill up with ammunition, to be ready for another attack, in case it is decided to proceed with. this matter by making other arrangements.

We have not commenced firing rapidly yet, and could keep any rebels inside from showing their heads until an assaulting column was within twenty yards of the works.

I wish some more of your gallant fellows had followed the officer who took the flag from the parapet, and the brave fellow who brought the horse out from the fort. I think they would have found it an easier conquest than is supposed.

I do not, however, pretend to place my opinion in opposition to General Weitzel, whom I know to be an accomplished soldier and engineer, and whose opinion has great weight with me.

I will look out that the troops are all off in safety. We will have a west wind presently, and a smooth beach about three o'clock, when sufficient boats will be sent for them.

The prisoners now on board the Santiago de Cuba will be delivered to the Provost-Marshal at Fortress Monroe, unless you wish to take them on board one of the transports, which would be inconvenient just now.

I remain, General, respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear Admiral. Major-General B. F. Butler, Commanding, etc., etc., etc.

The abandonment of the expedition by General Butler, with his army, created the greatest indignation on the part of the [701] 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. The Admiral 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 expedition. 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.

General Weitzel'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 bombardment. 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. Commodore Thatcher, 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. [702] 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:

North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Malvern, Off New Inlet, December 27, 1864.
Sir-My dispatch of yesterday will give you an account of our operations, but will scarcely give you an idea of my disappointment at the conduct of the army authorities in not attempting to take possession of the forts which had been so completely silenced by our guns; they were so blown up, burst up, and torn up. that the people inside had no intention of fighting any longer. Had the army made a show of surrounding it, it would have been ours; but nothing of the kind was done.

The men landed, reconnoitred, and, hearing that the enemy were massing troops somewhere, the order was given to re-embark.

They went away as soon as the majority of the troops were on the transports, and it coming on to blow rather fresh, about 700 were left on shore. They have been there ever since, without food or water, having landed with only twenty-four hours rations. I opened communication with them this morning and supplied them with provisions.

To show that the rebels have no force here, these men have been on shore two days without being molested. I am now getting them off, and it has taken half the squadron (with the loss of many boats in the surf) to assist.

I can't conceive what the army expected when they came here; it certainly did not need seven thousand men to garrison Fort Fisher--it only requires one thousand to garrison all these forts, which are entirely under the guns of Fort Fisher: that taken, the river is open. Could I have found a channel to be relied on in time, I would have put the vessels in, even if I had got a dozen of them sunk; but the channel we did find was only wide enough for one vessel at right angles, and we were not certain of the soundings. There never was a fort that invited soldiers to walk in and take possession more plainly than Fort Fisher; and an officer got on the parapet even, saw no one inside, and brought away the flag we had cut down.

A soldier goes inside, through the sallyport, meets in the fort, coming out of a bomb-proof, an orderly on horseback, shoots the orderly, searches his body, and brings away with him the horse and communication the orderly was bearing to send up field-pieces.

Another soldier goes in the fort and brings out a mule that was stowed away; and another soldier, who went inside while our shells were falling, shot his musket into a bomb-proof, where he saw some rebels assembled together; he was not molested. Ten soldiers, who went around the fort, were wounded by our shells. All the men wanted was the order to go in; but because every gun was not dismounted by our fire, it was thought that the fort “was not injured as a defensive work,” and that it would be to lose men to attack it. It was considered rash to attack the works with wooden ships, and even the officers who have been on the bar a long time (and witnessed the building of the works) thought that half the ships would be destroyed; and it was said that the only hope we could have of silencing the batteries was in case the powder-vessel did the damage expected.

We silenced the guns in one hour's time and had not one man killed that I have heard of), except by the bursting of our own guns, in the entire fleet.

We have shown the weakness of this work. It can be taken at any moment, in one hour's time, if the right man is sent with the troops. They should be sent here to stay-to land with a month's provisions, intrenching tools, guns, and Cohorn mortars. Ten thousand men will hold the whole country. The rebels have been able to send here, all told. about 4,000 men; seventy-five of them that were sent here to observe us gave themselves up to the Navy. Two hundred and eighteen men sent on the same duty gave themselves up to our reconnoitering party, and this would have been the case all the way through.

If I can't do better, I will land the sailors, and try if we can't have full credit for what we do. I trust, sir, you will not think of stopping at this, nor of relaxing your endeavors to obtain the right kind of troops for the business, the right number, and the proper means of taking the place, even if we fail in an assault. Every attack we make we will improve in firing, and if the weather would permit, I could level the works in a week's firing,

Commander (now rear-admiral) John C. Howell.

strong as they are; but there is only one day in six that a vessel can anchor so close. We had a most beautiful time, and the weather for the attack was just what we wanted.

If General Hancock, with ten thousand men, was sent down here, we could walk into the fort.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Your. obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

Additional report of Commander J. C. Howell-capture of Flag-Pond battery.

U. S. Steamer Nereus, off Wilmington, December 27, 1864.
Admiral-At 12:40 P. M., in obedience to your verbal order, I anchored off Flag-Pond battery, mooring head and stern in four and a half fathoms of water. Immediately opened fire upon the battery. No response was made by those inside; and at 2:15 P. M. a white flag was waved and the soldiers inside the fort showed themselves. A boat was immediately sent from one of the small gun-boats, the American flag planted on the fort, and the surrender of the command received by a naval officer. Some [703] sixty-five or seventy men, a captain and lieutenant, were captured. The Santiago de Cuba and Nereus sent boats, and, by order of Captain Glisson, the prisoners were transferred to the Santiago de Cuba. Respectfully, Admiral,

Your obedient servant,

J. C. Howell, Commander. Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter, etc., etc., etc.,

List of vessels, etc., that participated in the attack upon Fort Fisher.

North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Malvern. Beaufort, N. C., December, 31, 1864.
Sir-In my accounts of the actions of the 24th and 25th instant, against Fort Fisher, I omitted mentioning the names of the commanders of the different vessels, with the exception of one or two; this might look like an invidious distinction, which was not intended by any means; and though the name of each commander is well-known to the public, I desire to correct the omission, that history may give credit to those engaged in these actions.

The following are the names of all the vessels engaged with the forts, and the names of their commanders. Having so well performed their part in reducing these formidable works to a condition where they could be easily taken possession of, they are entitled to all the credit they have so well earned:

Minnesota, Commodore Joseph Lauman; Mohican, Commander D. Ammen; Colorado, Commodore H. K. Thatcher; Tuscarora, Commander J. M. Frailey; Wabash, Captain M. Smith; Susquehanna, Commodore S. W. Godon; Brooklyn, Captain James Alden; Powhatan, Commodore J. F. Schenck; Juniata, Captain W. R. Taylor; Kansas, Lieutenant-Commander P. G. Watmough; Yantic, Lieutenant-Commander T. C. Harris; Maumee, Lieutenant-Commander R. Chandler; Mackinaw, Commander J. C. Beaumont; Ticonderoga, Captain C. Steedman; Pawtucket, Commander J. H. Spotts; Shenandoah, Captain D. B. Ridgely; Seneca, Lieutenant-Commander M. Sicard; New Ironsides, Commodore William Radford; Monadnock, Commander E. G. Parrott; Canonicus, Lieutenant-Commander George E. Belknap; Mahopac, Lieutenant-Commander E. E. Potter; Saugus, Commander E. R. Colhoun; Nyack, Lieutenant-Commander L. H. Newman; Unadilla, Lieutenant-Commander F. M. Ramsay; Huron, Lieutenant-Commander T. O. Selfridge; Pequot, Lieutenant-Commander D. L. Braine; Pontoosac, Lieutenant-Commander W. G. Temple; Nereus, Commander J. C. Howell: Vanderbilt, Captain C. W. Pickering; Fort Jackson, Captain B. F. Sands; Santiago de Cuba, Captain O. S. Glisson; Tacony, Lieutenant-Commander W. T. Truxtun; Osceola, Commander J. M. B. Clitz; Chippewa, Lieutenant-Commander A. W. Weaver; Sassacus, Lieutenant-Comlnander J. L. Davis; Maratanza, Lieutenant-Colmmander G. W. Young; Rhode Island, Commander S. D. Trenchard; Mount Vernon, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant James Trathen; Britannia, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant Samuel Huse; Quaker City, Commander W. F. Spicer; Iosco, Commander John Guest; Howquah, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant J. W. Balch; Wilderness, Acting-Master H. Arey; Cherokee, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant W. E. Dennison; A. D. Vance, Lieutenant-Commander J. Upshur; Moccasin, Acting-Ensign James Brown; Gettysburg, Lieutenant R. H. Lamson; Alabama, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant Frank Smith; Keystone State, Commander H. Rolando; Nansemond, Acting-Master J. H. Porter; Emma, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant T. C. Dunn; Tristram Shandy, Acting-Ensign Ben. Wood; Governor Buckingham, Acting-Volunteer-Lieutenant J. McDiarmid; Little Ada, Acting-Master S. P. Crafts.

I should have mentioned that the Saugus, Commander Colhoun, was not in the first day's fight; she arrived from Hampton Roads the morning of the 25th, just in time to take her place with the other Monitors, and anchored within eight hundred yards of Fort Fisher; though there was no response of any consequence from the fort, she did good service in knocking away traverses, etc., and only fired slowly until the army should come up. At no time during this day's work did any of the vessels open all their batteries; the order was to “fight only one division of guns from each vessel,” some vessels only fired one shot or shell per minute, holding on for the moment when it was expected the troops would approach and enter, for that would have been the result. I cannot conceal my dissatisfaction, nor can the officers under my command, at the turn things have taken. My first dispatch to the department will show you how sanguine I was that the works would be ours before sunset if the troops came up. I supposed that the assaulting was a matter of course, knowing that, as soon as the troops landed and surrounded the works in the rear, the white flag would be hung out; but reports of large armies coming up to the relief of the rebels changed all the General's plans, if he ever had any. To show how absurd such apprehensions were, every rebel soldier seen gave themselves up the moment our troops were ashore, when they had nothing to fear from their own people; this would have been the case all the way through had the troops all landed.

General Butler mentions in his letter to me that he had captured Flag-Pond battery with 65 men, and Half-Moon battery with 218 men and seven officers. This is making capital out of very small material. Flag-Pond battery was some loose sand thrown up, behind which the rebels used to lie with field-pieces and fire at our blockaders when they chased runners ashore. It doesn't deserve the name of a work. Sixty-five or seventy rebels in it came forward and delivered themselves up to the Navy and were taken on board the Santiago de Cuba. The men in Half-Moon battery (which is no work at all, and exactly like the other) came forward and delivered themselves up to the Army. They could easily have escaped had they desired to do so. There were no guns in these temporary works, and no protection in the rear. The country will scarcely be cajoled, as it has been a hundred times this war, by announcement of captures having no foundation whatever.

* * * * * * *

We all know very well that a fort on shore, unless attacked by troops at the same time ships are bombarding, will always hold out against the ships; that is, the enemy will leave the works (and let the ships fire away), and enter again when the ships have gone. We know, from the history of this war, that in no case have we failed to take a fortification where the troops did their share of the work; and this is what the troops under the command of General Butler failed to do.

The brave fellows who showed the way into the works brought off horses, mules, and flags, should have their names chronicled far and near. Had the same spirit been felt in other quarters, Christmas would have been a happier day than usual with the nation. There was evidently a misapprehension on the part of the military leader that we could not cover and protect troops on shore.

This fleet demonstrated its ability to hold on at anchor in deep water and twenty miles from shore, through a heavy gale from the southward — all gales from this direction, however, never blowing home [704] or blowing less as the shore is approached. The only gales to be dreaded here are the northeasters, and then the vessel would lie along the shore with their broadsides bearing on the beach.

This fleet would drive off an army of three hundred thousand men, intrenched or attacking, on such a level field as that where our troops landed.

Seven hundred men were left on the beach by General Butler when he departed for Fortress Monroe, and we had no difficulty in protecting them from the rebel army said to be in the background, which was a very small army, after all. General Bragg must have been very agreeably disappointed when he saw our troops going away without firing a shot, and to see an expedition costing millions of dollars given up when the hollowness of the rebel shell was about to be exposed.

All through this war we have lost chances never to be recovered, owing to the timidity of commanders, and their hesitating to attack what offers itself the most easy of conquest.

The report of an army coming up — which army never existed-changes the whole plan of a campaign, when in my opinion, it would be better to face the army of the enemy and see what stuff they are made of.

Here was our fleet of six hundred guns, commanding a peninsula two miles wide only, and able to cover for miles any number of troops we might land. I call this a dead failure. There is no use in mincing matters, for though the navy did all that was expected of it, or could do, we gained no results. We will only have the satisfaction of knowing that the naval part was well and handsomely done, and that we will do it again the first opportunity.

It is now blowing heavy from the southward eastward, and the larger vessels are riding it out nicely outside. This is the only wind we care for on this coast. In all the other gales we can find a lee or a partial protection.

If you, sir, have no intention of making any change in the number of vessels in this squadron, I would respectfully say, let us work this matter through; at least, defer any changes until I say that we have given up the idea of taking the forts.

The rebels will, no doubt, claim a victory. A failure is half a victory. They foreshadowed the failure in their papers, and stated what would be the cause, which came true.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. Washington, D. C.

Letter of Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter relative to the alleged unnecessary delay in the attack.

North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Malvern, Beaufort, N. C., January 9, 1865.
Sir — I understand that there is now an attempt being made to create an impression that I delayed much longer than necessary, and could have attacked on the 18th as well as the 24th. I don't see what that has to do with the question under discussion. We went down to silence the batteries, demoralize the men in the forts, so that the Army could easily assault the works. It would be a matter of no consequence whether this was done on the 18th or the 25th, as long as we did our share of the work effectively, which, I believe, no one denies. If the Army after landing on the 25th would not undertake the assault, they would not have done so on the 18th. The delay, if any, gave them 1,000 men more, a large steamer and another transport under General Ames having come in on that day.

When General Butler was about to start from Fortress Monroe (having embarked his men in a storm, when I told him he could not possibly leave for three days), I requested him to wait a day after I sailed, as my vessels were slow, and I would have to fill up the powder-vessel; but finding that the Monitors were going, he started off for the rendezvous he had established himself, showed himself and some of the transports to the enemy, was fired at by the forts, and revealed our whole design.

Now for the log-book. On the 16th December wind was south, with a swell rolling on the beach, so that no boat could land. One hour only during the day was there a northwest breeze; on the 17th wind southwest, a heavy sea rolling in on the beach; 18th, wind east and northeast, east-northeast, east by west, blowing right on the beach; no boat could land; 19th, wind fresh, east-southeast and southwest, with a swell setting on the beach; 20th, for a little while wind west-northwest, but shifted to east-northeast, blowing fresh, heavy breakers on the beach; 21st, a gale coining on from the south and east, which ended by blowing heavy from south and west, heavy breakers on beach; 22d, wind shifted to west, all the transports out of sight; gone to make a harbor at Beaufort; at midnight wind off the land, but heavy breakers on the beach and all over the bar, heavy swell from seaward; steamed in under the land; 23d, wind north-northwest and beach comparatively smooth; steamed in and reconnoitred; still too much sea for a boat to land without capsizing; met General Butler's dispatch-boat at 5:30 P. M.; sent word to General Butler that the time was so fair that I would blow up the boat at midnight and attack in the morning. We were sixty-nine miles from Beaufort; the captain said his boat could make fourteen miles per hour; this would give him five hours to go to Beaufort, which would put him there at 11 o'clock P. M. General Butler, leaving with the transports at 6 o'clock in the morning, could have reached the bar at 1 o'clock, allowing him to make nine miles an hour, which all his transports could do. We did not attack until 12, and General Butler only came in with his own vessel and two or three transports at sunset. He saw the fort silenced, defeated, as far as the Navy was concerned, and no doubt could be left on his mind about our ability to do the same the next day. It was the preliminary attack to test the strength of the works.

The programme was made, the troops landed, and without the faintest sign of an assault beyond what was done by one or two gallant soldiers. The Army Commanders concluded that the work was “substantially uninjured as a defensive work.” The letter of Lieutenant-Commander Temple, and the testimony of deserters, prove that the works would have been ours had the troops been allowed to assault, as they desired. What matters it, then, whether we attacked on the 18th or 24th? The result would have been the same. General Butler left Fortress Monroe with his troops in transports that could not lie at anchor in rough weather that was ridden out by our Monitors, tugs, and small-wheeled boats; the powder-boat Louisiana hanging to the stern of another vessel. General Butler, having left the ground with his vessels, where my lightest vessels held on, was not on the ground to take advantage of the first day's good weather, though that had nothing to do with the matter, as he did not do anything when the landing did take place; so what matters it when it was done?

General Butler, with all his soldier-like qualities, could scarcely be considered as good a judge of weather and the proper time of landing as myself; and, as a sensible person, would not venture to put his opinion in opposition to mine, even backed by some old sailor on his flagr-ship.

I do not ascribe to him, therefore, the excuse [705] made for not taking Fort Fisher, when we had opened its gate for him; I attribute the report “that we had wasted time” to some of the junior members of the staff, who are not as good seamen as the General. At all events, if we lost any time in the beginning, we made up for it when we went to work; but allowing that we lost time, that the beach was as smooth as paper, it doesn't account for not taking Fort Fisher when the works were battered and burnt to that degree that there appeared no life within the walls.

The military part of the expedition was got up in most unmilitary manner; the troops were placed in inferior transports that could not condense water, and had a short allowance only on hand; the troops had four days cooked rations (which were eaten up while lying in the storm at Hampton Roads, and ten days other rations; there were no intrenching tools of any kind, no siege guns; the whole proceeding indicated that the General depended on the Navy silencing the works, and he walking in and taking possession. No allowance was made for contingencies, for bad weather, or for delays after getting on shore; the powder-boat when it exploded was to have done the whole thing; the walls of a strong sand fort were to have been blown down, and the rebels all to be discomfited. I thought a good deal might be done by the explosion, but still I laid in a double allowance of shell and shot, and did not depend on a doubtful experiment. Starting as that expedition did was not the way to make war; and landing troops who were full of enthusiasm, and then embarking them again when they were eager to seize the trophy laid at their feet, was not the one to improve the morale of the Army.

No matter what might be the delay on my part (and there was none), the General failed to take advantage of the opportunity I gave him to take the fort, when a large portion of the troops were landed and stood within one hundred and fifty feet of the works, unmolested, some few of them going on the parapet. No musketry or grape-shot were fired at him during the day; a few muskets, “about twenty,” were fired after night-fall by the alarmed rebels, and one or two guns; but the Ironsides opened her broadside, and the firing ceased immediately. Ten of the pickets were left by forgetfulness near the forts after night-fall, and they saw quite a number of men leave the works and embark in boats, which was the garrison leaving to prevent capture. Until late in the day on the 26th the forts lay at our mercy, and if the men had not been brought off, the rebels would have surrendered when they marched up and the Navy opened fire. All the reasoning in the world will not make the affair appear in a better light. I have no doubt that had the Army been obliged to assault the works alone, without the fire of the Navy, they would have been well handled; but, as matters stood, we have every proof that the fort was ours.

It is useless, then, to excuse a military blunder by trying to make out that the Navy was behind time. The ships lay two months at Hampton Roads, waiting for the army to move, and we were satisfied with the reasons that General Grant gave for not sending troops. There was no necessity after all the delay for rushing into the matter unprepared, and when the weather was unfavorable; a more flimsy excuse could not be invented.

In making these statements, I do not do so for the purpose of making any excuse whatever for the naval part of the expedition; I consider that a settled thing in the estimation of the whole country; but I have so often during this war seen attempts made to cast odium on the Navy, and in self-defence I put myself on record, wishing this used only if found necessary to correct false statements.

I am quite sure the Lieutenant-General feels as I do; he says in a communication to me, “Dear Admiral, hold on where you are for a few days and I will endeavor to be back again with an increased force, and without the former commander.”

The remark is not very suggestive of confidence in the late management of affairs.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

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:

Navy Department, December 29, 1864.
Lieutenant-General Grant, City Point, Va.:
The substance of dispatches and reports from Rear-Admiral Porter off Wilmington is briefly this: The ships can approach nearer to the enelmy's works than was anticipated; their fire can keep the enemy away from their guns; a landing can easily be effected upon the beach north of Fort Fisher, not only of troops but of all their supplies and artillery; this force can have its flanks protected by gun-boats; the Navy can assist in a siege of Fort Fisher precisely as it covered the operations which resulted in the capture of Wagner. The winter also is the most favorable for operations against Fort Fisher. The largest naval force ever assembled is ready to lend its co-operation; Rear-Admiral Porter will remain off Fort Fisher, continuing a moderate fire to prevent new works from being erected, and the iron-clads have proved that they can maintain themselves in spite of bad weather. Under all these circumstances, I invite you to such a military co-operation as will insure the fall of Fort Fisher, the importance of which has already received your careful consideration.

This telegram is made at the suggestion of the President, and in hopes that you will be able at this time to give the troops, which heretofore were required elsewhere. If it cannot be done, the fleet will have to disperse, whence it cannot again be brought to this coast.

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.


Navy Department, Saturday, December 31, 1864.
Sir-Lieutenant-General Grant will send immediately a competent force, properly commanded, to co-operate in the capture of the defences on Federal Point. It is expected that the troops will leave Hampton Roads next Monday or Tuesday.

This is all the information the Department has to give you, but relies upon your skill and judgment to give full effect to any more that may be arranged.

The Department is perfectly satisfied with your efforts thus far, and you will convey to all hands the satisfaction the Department feels.

I am, sir, etc.,

Gideon Welles. Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter, Commanding North Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Wilmington.

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 [706] promised reinforcements. 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

Commodore (afterwards Rear-Admiral) Jas. F. Schenck.

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.

United States Steamer Powhatan, Off Beaufort, N. C., January 1, 1865.
Admiral-Your General Order No. 75 did not reach me until this morning, owing to its being sent on board the Colorado. In reply to that part of it requiring me to make a report of the part took in the actions of the 24th and 25th ultimo, I have to state that at 1:20 P. M., on the 24th, I took my position in the line, as directed by you, with a kedge upon my port quarter acting as a spring, letting go my port anchor with twenty-five (25) fathoms of chain, which brought my starboard broadside to bear upon the forts. I immediately opened a vigorous fire upon the batteries, paying especial attention to Fort Fisher with my 11-inch gun, and to the Mound with my two (2) 100-pounder Parrotts, and with my 9-inch guns to the batteries more immediately abreast of us. It is reported and believed on board this ship that one of the shells from our 11-inch, which exploded in Fort Fisher, set fire to it. At 2:45 P. M., finding that some of my 9-inch shell fell short, and that the Brooklyn, being underway, occasionally interfered with my line of sight, I got underway, continuing the action, and stood into four and a-half (4 1/2 ) fathoms water, from which position every shot told with great effect. From this time the action was continued underway. At 3:10 P. M. the end of our spanker gaff was shot away, and our flag came down with it; hoisted it immediately at the mizzen. About the same time, the rebel flag on Fort Fisher was shot away, and was not raised again during the action. At 3:45 P. M. the flag-staff on the Mound was shot away, which shot is claimed by our pivot rifle. At 5:20 P. M the signal was made to discontinue the action. Hauled off, having sustained no loss of life or injury to the ship.

During this day's action we fired two hundred and thirty-six (236) 9-inch shell, fifty-four (54) 11-inch shell, and eighty-two (82) 100-pounder rifle shell. Not a shell was wasted from the 11-inch and rifles, and only a few in the early part of the action from the 9-inch guns. The starboard battery only was used in action, viz: eight (8) 9-inch guns, two (2) 100-pounder Parrott rifles, and one (1) 11-inch pivot-gun.

On the 25th I took my position as before, although nearer the batteries, and further in. The batteries between Fort Fisher and the Mound being abreast of us, my position was an admirable one for engaging these batteries, and my 9-inch guns were principally employed in doing this, as it was only by these we were annoyed, with an occasional shot from the Mound. During this day not a shot fell short, which accounts for my increased expenditure of 9-inch shell. At 2:10 P. M. we opened fire, which was replied to by the batteries abreast of us more vigorously than the day before. I am not aware of having received a single shot from Fort Fisher this day.

At 3:30 P. M. a port main shroud was shot away; soon after we were struck three (3) times in pretty rapid succession. One (1) shot struck us under No. 3 port, three feet above the water line, passing through into a store-room and depositing itself in a mattress; it is a solid 8-inch shot. Two (2) shot struck under No. 2 port twenty inches below the water line, one remaining in the side and the other going through and lodging in a beam on the orlop deck, causing the ship to leak badly. A glancing shot struck the stern of the ship, but did no material injury, and some of our running rigging shot away. At 4:10 P. M., having expended all the ammunition for 11-inch and rifles, and nearly all for my 9-inch guns, made signal, “Ammunition I am short of,” which was replied to “Save some,” and immediately after, “Discontinue the action,” when I weighed my anchor, lifted my kedge, and hauled out of line.

During this day's action we fired four hundred and ninety-four (494) 9-inch shells, fifty-two (52) 11-inch shell, and seventy-two (72) rifle shell.

In conclusion, I beg leave to state that every officer and man on board this ship, under my command, did his duty nobly, and I have yet to hear of any complaint, either of officer or man, except as to the failure to take advantage of our two (2) days' work. With regard to the “damage apparently done to the works,” I must confess that I was paying [707] more attention to the proper management of my own battery than the generaleffect; but it appears to me utterly impossible that any works could withstand such a fire and not be terribly damaged; and I am also fully impressed with the belief that by a prompt and vigorous assault late in the afternoon of either day, Fort Fisher might have been taken by a comparatively small force, say one thousand (1,000) resolute men. Fort Fisher was silent, the Mound firing feebly; the only active firing from the enemy that I witnessed was from the two or three guns that annoyed me, and as long as my ammunition permitted me to fire rapidly I could keep them pretty quiet.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Jas. Findlay Schenck, Commodore Commanding U. S. Steamer Powhatan, 3d Division North Atlantic Squadron.

Report of Commodore William Radford, commanding U. S. S. New Ironsides.

United States Steamer New Ironsides, Anchored at sea, bearing N. N.W., Distant about five miles from Beaufort, December 31, 1864.
Sir — I have the honor to report that, in obedience to your orders, I took possession under the guns of Fort Fisher, from thirteen to fifteen hundred yards distant, or as near as the depth of water would permit, the Monitors Canonicus, Monadnock, and Mahopac following the New Ironsides in. As soon as I anchored, I opened my starboard battery, and continued a well-directed fire for some five (5) hours. Night coming on, I hauled off, in obedience to orders. On the morning of the 25th the iron-clad division again led in under the guns of Fort Fisher and took the position we occupied the day previous. The Saugus, having arrived the night previous, took her station, and this division, in connection with the others, drove the men from the guns in the fort, they only firing one or two guns, and those at long intervals. All the Monitors were handled and fought well. Lieutenant-Commander Belknap took the in-shore berth, and is reported to have dismounted one or more guns in the fort

Judging from the immense number of shells which struck the fort, it must have been considerably in jured. Several guns were reported to have been dismounted, two explosions took place, and three fires.

The face of the fort was very much plowed up by the shells from the fleet. If the fort was uninjured (as a defensive work, no artillery known to modern warfare can injure it. My impression is, that any considerable number of troops could have stormed and taken the fort, immediately after the second day's bombardment, with but little loss.

All the officers and men belonging to the New Ironsides served their guns and country well; and I am greatly indebted to Lieutenant-Commander Phythian, the executive officer, for his energy and ability in getting the crew and ship in such good fighting order.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Wm. Radford, Commodore Commanding Iron-clad Division. Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, Commanding N. A. Squadron.

Report of Captain James Alden, commanding United States steamer Brooklyn.

United States Steamer Brooklyn. Off Beaufort, N. C., December 30, 1864.
Sir — I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of General Order No. 75, which not only calls upon commanding officers to give you a report of the part they took in the action of the 24th and 25th instant, but also their impressions as to the damage done to the enemy's work, the effect of our firing, and the defensibility of the fort after we had finished the bombardment.

On the first day, the 24th, this ship was in line of attack and opened fire on Fort Fisher at 12:50 P. M., being then within good “10-second” range. The fire was kept up, with occasional intermissions for the men to rest, till 5:15 (more than four hours), when darkness intervened, and the signal was made to retire. The enemy's fire, during the whole of that time, was much less than that of one of our large ships; an occasional shot was fired from Fort Fisher; a very feeble and desultory reply to our fire was kept up by the forts between the main work and the Mound battery, which latter was heard from but five or six times during the whole afternoon.

In a word, I am satisfied from past experience, that if this ship, or any one of the larger ones, could have gotten near enough, say within two or three hundred yards, she would not only have silenced

Commodore (now Rear-Admiral) William Radford.

their batteries fully and entirely, but would have driven every rebel from the point.

On the second day, the 25th, this ship was sent to silence some of the enemy's earth-works, which were contiguous to the place fixed upon for the disembarking of the troops, to shell the woods, and to cover their landing. The first troops landed at about 2 P. M.; sent all our boats to assist. At 4 o'clock, just two hours after the landing commenced, the General commanding came alongside this ship and said, “It has become necessary to re-embark the troops; will you send your boats to assist?” You can judge of my surprise at the turn affairs had taken, for at that moment everything seemed propitious. The bombardment was at its height, little or no surf on the beach, and no serious indications of bad weather. Still, the order for retiring had gone forth, and our boats were employed till very late (the launch not returning till next morning) in reembarking the troops, the surf not interfering seriously with operations till near midnight, when it became impossible to land with any safety. Much [708] dissatisfaction, I am told, was shown by the soldiers and their officers when they were informed that they were to re-embark, and it was with some difficulty that they could be made to get into the boats. They were loud in their denunciation of the order turning them back, saying that they had gone there to take the fort, and they were going to do it before they left, etc., etc.

The next day, the 26th, the surf was too high for safe transit from the shore, and this vessel was employed in making a reconnoissance of the enemy's works. Nothing new, however, was discovered, and after exchanging a few shots with Fort Fisher we returned to the anchorage for the night. The following day all our boats were sent, and, after some difficulty, the remaining troops were safely embarked.

I have endeavored in the above to give you my ideas of the effect of our fire on the enemy's works, which was to almost silence them. In regard to the damage done, it is, under the circumstances, impossible for any one to tell without a closer inspection, for, as you remember at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, everything from the outside seemed in status quo, hardly any trace of injury was apparent; but on entering and looking around, the terrible effect of the bombardment was manifest at every turn. So, too, at Fort Morgan, little or no injury could be discovered from without, but upon close examination it was found that almost every gun on its carriage was seriously damaged, if not entirely destroyed.

Now, as to the “defensibility” of the fort. The rebels, I am satisfied, considered, from the moment that our troops obtained a footing on the shore, the work (battered as it was) was untenable, and were merely waiting for some one to come and take it.

The General commanding furnishes us with proof of that fact. I think. in his letter to you, informing you of his determination to withdraw, a copy of which you sent me, he says that “three or four men ventured upon the parapet and through the sallyport of the work, capturing a horse, which they brought off; * * * and also brought away from the parapet the flag of the fort.” This was all done in open day and without resistance — if, indeed, there was anybody there who was disposed to question their right to such trophies. From that and other current testimony, I am satisfied that, if our troops had not been stopped in their triumphant march towards Fort Fisher, they would have been in it before dark, in quiet possession without firing as hot.

With great respect, I am your obedient servant,

James Alden, Captain. Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.

Report of Commander Daniel Ammen, commanding U. S. S. Mohican.

United States Steamer Mohican, Off Beaufort, N. C., December 31, 1864.
Admiral — I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your General Order No. 75, directing commanding officers to make their report in relation to our attack on Fort Fisher and the adjacent earth-works, and also a copy of a communication to you from Major-General Benjamin F. Butler, and, in regard to some points touched upon, you request an opinion.

At about 11:30 A. M. of the 24th, the fleet got underway and stood in, in line of battle, towards Fort Fisher, bearing about west-southwest, and some six or seven miles distant. The Mohican was kept closely in position assigned, following the leading vessel, the frigate Minnesota, and followed by the frigate Colorado, and she successively by the other vessels forming the main line.

At about 1 P. M., the Minnesota sheered in out of line and took up her position at anchor, opening at once on Fort Fisher, some twenty-one hundred yards distant. As per plan of battle, the Mohican was sheered in ahead of her, fired slowly on the fort to get a range and anchored, then opened briskly with the whole battery. The fort had opened on the Minnesota and on the Mohican previous to our anchoring. The Colorado sheered in ahead of us, letting go kedge astern. and then anchored and opened fiercely on the fort. The vessels forming the line then successively, with more or less success, took up their positions and opened.

The iron-clads, led by the New Ironsides, had anchored a few minutes preceding the Minnesota some five or six hundred yards to the northward and westward, and were slowly getting their range when we anchored, and the outer line of vessels moved into position after the main line had anchored and opened on the Mound and several detached casemated guns.

The fire from the forts became weak as the vessels anchored and opened fire. It was soon apparent that they could not work their barbette guns without great loss of life, and the guns' crews, no doubt, retreated under shelter, with a few exceptions, where high traverses and favorable angles gave them great protection.

Different casemated guns, particularly those mounted in detached mounds and towards the Mound, continued to fire slowly, and evidently with not much effect, nor would the position of the guns served favor an effective fire. The whole body of Fort Fisher was filled with bursting shells, and only at long intervals, if at all, was a gun fired from the main work. In the meantime, owing to the wind and the set of the tide, I found that the use of the propeller and the helm would no longer enable me to bring the broadside to bear, and was obliged to weigh anchor and manoeuvre under steam, holding our position as nearly as possible, and avoiding interfering with the firing of the other vessels.

After exhausting all the filled 9-inch shells on board ready for use, the Mohican was withdrawn from the line at about 4:10 P. M., making signal to you of the cause, and we commenced filling shells without delay. After sunset the fleet withdrew, and the Mohican ran into line and anchored.

At about 9 A. M. of the 25th, signal was made to get underway and form line of battle. The Mohican took her position, and the fleet stood in to the attack. When nearly under fire, I was directed verbally from you “not to take position until further orders.” The Minnesota, the leading vessel of the main line, proceeded in and anchored, got underway, and, after various attempts, obtained a well-chosen position, the main line awaiting her movements. The iron-clads, having preceded during this time, were in position, firing slowly, and receiving a part of the fire of Fort Fisher. After the position of the Minnesota was satisfactory, I received orders from you about noon to take position close astern of the New Ironsides, which I did without delay, firing slowly until a good range was obtained, then opened briskly on the fort. I was enabled to see, through the absence of smoke, that our fire was very effective, delivered at a short ten second range. One of the rebel guns was seen to be dismounted by our fire. Half an hour after we had anchored, the Colorado passed ahead of the Minnesota and into position, anchoring and delivering a very effective fire. The whole line soon took position, and opened very heavily, and evidently with great effect, driving the rebels from their guns, with a few exceptions, as those in casemates and other places sheltered and distant. The position of the Mohican enabled me to see well, as I was first at anchor within half [709] a ship's length of the New Ironsides, and, finding that anchoring impeded an effective use of the battery, I weighed, and, in delivering fire, drifted one or two hundred yards nearer the fort.

At 2:05 P. M. the supply of ten-second fuses and the rifle ammunition was exhausted, and the Mohican was withdrawn from action for the purpose of obtaining more, speaking the Malvern for the purpose, and obtaining none. Not being directed to go under fire again, we remained spectators near the Minnesota until about 4 P. M., when I received orders to aid in debarking troops, and proceeded to execute; but, instead of debarking, aided in bringing off the soldiers that had already reached the shore.

It has not been my lot to witness any operations comparable in force or in effect to the bombardment of Fort Fisher by the fleet, and I feel satisfied that any attempt to keep out of their bomb-proofs or to work their guns would have been attended with great loss of life to the rebels, and would have proven a fruitless attempt.

On the first day we delivered two hundred and seventeen (217) 9-inch shells, fifty-nine 59) one hundred-pound rifles, and eighty-nine (89) thirty-pound rifle shells. On the second day we delivered one hundred and three (103) 9-inch shells, twenty (20) one hundred-pound rifles, and twenty-five (25) thirty-pound rifle shells, making a total of five hundred and thirteen.

Our firing was effective as well as rapid, and I have to express my high appreciation of the ability and zeal of Lieutenant J. D. Marvin, the executive officer of this vessel, and of Acting-Master William Burditt, whose long and varied professional experience proved useful; Acting-Boatswain Josiah B. Aiken, owing to a deficiency of officers, had charge of the one hundred-pounder rifle and served it admirably. I have to express my satisfaction at the excellent behavior of the officers and crew, and do not doubt that, when the occasion arrives when they should do so, they will stand to their guns as long as enough men remain to serve them.

In relation to the effect of the fire of the fleet on the fort, I beg leave to express my congratulations, as I did verbally on meeting you after the action. It did not require a visit to the fort to see that enormous traverses were nearly levelled, as at the southeast angle. The stockade or abatis must have been much shattered, and the debris from the parapets must have filled in the ditch greatly. I feel satisfied that everything was effected that can be by powerful batteries against a sand-work, and that we could and can keep the enemy in their bomb-proofs pending an advance of troops to the foot of the parapet.

The official letter of General Butler referred to, states that General 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, is, I think, entirely confirmatory as to the effectiveness of our fire. He adds: “This was done while the shells of the Navy were falling about the heads of the daring men who entered the work;” but he appears to forget that, at any given signal from an assaulting column, this fire would cease, and the enemy be found not defending the parapet, but safely stowed away in bomb-proofs.

I do not know what more could be asked of naval guns than to afford a safe approach to the foot of the parapet, with no lines of the enemy drawn up to receive our forces; beyond that, I suppose everything would depend upon the relative forces of the combatants and the vigor of the assault; and although the work might not, in a military sense, be much injured, I would think the likelihood of carrying the work would be greatly increased by such disposition, without loss of life to the assaulting forces.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

Daniel Ammen, Commander. Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter, Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.

Report of Lieutenant-Commander M. Sicard, commanding U. S. S. Seneca.

United States Steamer Seneca, December 31, 1864.
Admiral — I would respectfully report that, in the action of the 24th and 25th instant, this vessel was with the vessels on the extreme right that were operating with the iron-clads.

It was evident from the first half-hour of the engagement that the enemy did not intend seriously to reply to the fire of the fleet. This vessel fired one hundred and twelve 11-inch shells and one hundred and forty 20--pounder Parrott shells at the northeast face of Fort Fisher during the two days bombardment.

Our division fired quite slowly on the second day, and as I was quite close to the fort in the afternoon, and only fired at long intervals, the enemy fired at me several times with a heavy rifle, which, however, did no damage, being evidently hurriedly pointed. This gun could have been silenced in a few minutes if the vessels had chosen to throw away shot on it; and as it was, by an occasional shot from the divi ion, it soon ceased its fire. I refrained from firing much towards the close of the second day's work, because I expected an assault by the troops, and I wished to save my shrapnel for the purpose of covering their advance.

I was much disappointed that the Army did not make an attempt on the fort. I saw the advance of a skirmish line, and of a reserve (comprising in all about 80 men).

They advanced quite close to the works — within pistol-shot. After that I lost sight of them until I saw two returning along the beach with the flag of the fort, which had been shot away about an hour previously by a Monitor.

At dusk, and for a short time after, there was some musketry-firing between this skirmish line and the fort, but up to dark no attempt was made by any adequate body of the Army to assault the fort.

It is my opinion that the fire of the fort was completely under the control of the fleet, and that we could stop it whenever we chose, as the fire by the two frigates on the afternoon of December 25th abundantly showed. In fact, the fort was silent nine-tenths of the time that w,. were engaging it. I am furthermore of the opinion that the fort could not hold out against a combined attack of the Army and Navy.

I think it a good proof of the effectiveness of the fire of the fleet, that, though our skirmishers advanced so close to the fort, no serious fire was opened on them. Indeed, I do not know from my own observation (and I was in a good position to see, that they were fired on at all in this first advance; and I scarcely think that the enemy would have suffered his flag to be upon the ground so long after it was shot away, (though he must have known that we were landing troops, and that from the flag's position it was very liable to capture), unless he had been fearful to venture out and recover it under our fire.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Montgomery Sicard, Lieutenant Commander, Commanding U. S. S. Seneca. Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.

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