our forces were hastily recalled from the Atchafalaya
and concentrated at Baton Rouge
; where they crossed and advanced,1
about 12,000 strong, driving in the Rebel
pickets, to the rear of the Port; Farragut
having intended, under cover of a land attack on that side, to run the batteries early next morning.
He judged best, however, to anticipate Gen. Banks
's attack, the night being intensely dark; so, in his stout flag-ship Hartford
, lashed side to side with the Albatross
, he led the perilous adventure; arriving abreast of the Rebel
batteries a little before midnight.
If he had counted on passing unobserved, or shrouded in darkness, he was much mistaken.
Hardly was he within range of the nearest Rebel guns, when signal-lights were seen flashing from every direction, including the opposite shore; and, directly, the flames of a vast bonfire in front of the heaviest batteries shot up into the sky, lighting the entire breadth of the river as though it were midday.
Rockets were soon streaming in the air; now a gun from the west bank saluted the Hartford
, which instantly returned the compliment; and the next moment the earth trembled to the roar of all the Rebel
batteries; whereupon our mortar-boats below began firing 13-inch shell at the enemy; and the frigates Hartford
, and Monongahela
, and gunboats Albatross
, and Sachem
, as they severally came within range, fired broadside after broadside; the brass howitzers in their tops and the heavy pivot guns at the bow and stern being industriously worked; while the atmosphere was soon so thick with sulphurous smoke that great care was needfully exercised by our commanders to avoid firing into each other; our aim being now directed by the flashes of the enemy's guns; which, changing from shell to grape as our vessels came within musket and pistol-shot, swept our decks by murderous discharges; some of their batteries being placed on bluffs so high that they could not be harmed by our shots; while the crescent shape of the defenses, following the curve of the channel, enabled them to rake each vessel as it approached, and again as it receded.
The greatest care was requisite to avoid grounding or colliding in the dense darkness which followed the burning out of the Rebel
bonfire; and there were several narrow escapes from these ever imminent disasters.
It was 11 1/2 P. M. when the first gun spoke: and by 1 the fight was virtually over — the Hartford
and the Albatross
having passed; while most of their consorts had failed, and dropped down to their anchorage below — when a fresh blaze told of a heavy loss.
The Mississippi had run aground directly abreast of the heaviest and most central battery; where she was soon discovered and became a target for them all. Here Capt. Melancthon Smith
fought her nearly half an hour, till she was completely riddled; when he ordered her set on fire and abandoned; and she was; burning aground till she was so lightened that she floated; when she drifted down the river a blazing ruin, exploding, several miles below, when the fire had reached her magazine.
Of her 233 officers and men, but 29 were missing at roll-call next day.