Doc. 32.-expedition to Florence, Ala.
Com. Foote's special order.
Lieutenant Commanding Phelps will, as soon as the Fort shall have been surrendered, upon a signal from the flag-ship, proceed with the Conestoga, Tyler, and Lexington, up the river to where the railroad bridge crosses, and, if the army shall not have already got possession, he will destroy so much of the track as will entirely prevent its use by the rebels. He will then proceed as far up the river as the stage of water will admit, and capture the enemy's gunboats and other vessels which might prove available to the enemy.
A. H. Foote, Flag-Officer Commanding Naval Forces in Western Waters.
Lieut. Phelps's report.
United States gunboat Conestoga, Tennessee River, February 10, 1862.sir: Soon after the surrender of Fort Henry on the sixth instant, I proceeded, in obedience to your order, up the Tennessee River with the Tyler, Lieutenant Commanding Gwin; Lexington, Lieutenant Commanding Shirk, and this vessel, forming a division of the flotilla, and arrived after dark at the railroad-crossing, twenty-five miles above the Fort, having on the way destroyed a small amount of camp equipage abandoned by the flying rebels. The draw of the bridge was found closed, and the machinery for turning it disabled. About half a mile above were several rebel transport steamers escaping up stream. A party was landed, and in one hour I had the satisfaction to see the draw open. The Tyler being the slowest of the gunboats, Lieutenant Commanding Gwin landed a force to destroy a portion of the railroad-track and to secure such military stores as might be found, while I directed Lieutenant Commanding Shirk to follow me with all speed in chase of the fleeing boats. In five hours this boat succeeded in forcing the rebels to abandon and burn those of their boats loaded with military stores. The first one fired (Samuel Orr) had on board a quantity of submarine batteries, which very soon exploded. The second one was freighted with powder, cannon, shot, grape, balls, etc. Fearing an explosion from the fired boats — there were two together — I had stopped at a distance of one thousand yards; but even there our skylights were broken by the concussion, the light upper deck was raised bodily, doors were forced open, and locks and fastenings everywhere broken. The whole river, for half a mile round about, was completely “beaten up” by the falling fragments, and the shower of shot, grape, balls, etc. The house of a reported Union man was blown to pieces, and it is suspected there was design in landing the boats in front of the doomed house. The Lexington having fallen behind, and being without a pilot on board, I concluded to wait for both of the boats to come up. Joined by them, we proceeded up the river. Lieutenant Commanding Gwin had destroyed some of the trestle-work of the end of the bridge, burning with them lots of camp equipage. J. N. Brown, formerly a lieutenant in the navy, now signing himself C. S. N., had fled with such precipitation as to leave his papers behind. These Lieutenant Commanding Gwin brought away, and I send them to you, as they give an official history of the rebel floating preparations on the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee. Lieut. Brown had charge of the construction of gunboats. At night on the seventh we arrived at a landing in Hardin County, Tenn., known as Cerro Gordo, where we found the steamer Eastport being converted into a gunboat. Armed boat crews were immediately sent on board, and search made for means of destruction that might have been devised. She had been scuttled, and the suction-pipes broken. These leaks were soon stopped. A number of rifle-shots were fired at our vessels, but a couple of shells dispersed the rebels. On examination I found that there were large quantities of timber and lumber prepared for fitting up the Eastport; that the vessel itself — some two hundred and eighty feet long — was in excellent condition, and already half-finished; considerable of the plating designed for her was lying on the bank, and everything at hand to complete her. I therefore directed Lieutenant  Commanding Gwin to remain with the Tyler to guard the prize and to load the lumber, etc., while the Lexington and Conestoga should proceed still higher up. Soon after daylight on the eighth we passed Eastport, Miss., and at Chickasaw, further up near the State line, seized two steamers, the Sallie Wood and Muscle--the former laid up and the latter freighted with iron, destined for Richmond and for rebel use. We then proceeded on up the river, entering the State of Alabama, and ascending to Florence at the foot of the Muscle Shoals. On coming in sight of the town, three steamers were discovered, which were immediately set on fire by the rebels. Some shots were fired from the opposite side of the river below. A force was landed, and considerable quantities of supplies, marked “Fort Henry,” were secured from the burning wrecks. Some had been landed and stored. These I seized, putting such as we could bring away on our vessels, and destroying the remainder. No flats or other craft could be found. I found, also, more of the iron and plating intended for the Eastport. A deputation of citizens of Florence waited npon me, first desiring that they might be made able to quiet the fears of their wives and daughters, with assurances from me that they would not be molested; and secondly praying that I would not destroy their railroad bridge. As for the first, I told them we were neither ruffians nor savages, and that we were there to protect from violence and to enforce the law; and, with reference to the second, that if the bridge were away, we could ascend no higher, and that it could possess no military importance, so far as I saw, as it simply connected Florence itself with the railroad on the south bank of the river. We had seized three of their steamers, one the half-finished gunboat, and had forced the rebels to burn six others loaded with supplies, and their loss, with that of the freight, is a heavy blow to the enemy. Two boats are still known to be on the Tennessee, and are doubtless hidden in some of the creeks, where we shall be able to find them when there is time for the search. We returned on the night of the eighth to where the Eastport lay. The crew of the Tyler had already gotten on board of the prize an immense amount of lumber, etc. The crews of the three boats set to work to finish the undertaking, and we have brought away probably two hundred and fifty thousand feet of the best quality of ship and building lumber, all the iron, machinery, spikes, plating, nails, etc., belonging to the rebel gunboats, and I caused the mill to be destroyed where the lumber had been sawed. Lieutenant Commanding Gwin had in our absence enlisted some twenty-five Tennesseeans, who gave information of the encampment of Col. Drew's rebel regiment at Savannah, Tennessee. A portion of the six or seven hundred men were known to be “pressed” men, and all were badly armed. After consultation with Lieutenants Commanding Gwin and Shirk, I determined to make a land-attack upon the encampment. Lieutenant Commanding Shirk, with thirty riflemen, came on board the Conestoga, leaving his vessel to guard the Eastport, and, accompanied by the Tyler, we proceeded up to that place, prepared to land one hundred and thirty riflemen and a twelve-pounder rifled howitzer. Lieutenant Commanding Gwin took command of this force when landed, but had the mortification to find the camp deserted. The rebels had fled at one o'clock in the night, leaving considerable quantities of arms, clothing, shoes, camp utensils, provisions, implements, etc., all of which were secured or destroyed, and their winter-quarters of log-huts were burned. I seized also a large mail-bag, and send you the letters giving military information. The gunboats were then dropped down to a point where arms, gathered under the rebel “press-law” had been stored, and an armed party under Second Master Goudy, of the Tyler, succeeded in seizing about seventy rifles and fowling-pieces. Returning to Cerro Gordo, we took the Eastport, Sallie Wood, and Muscle in tow, and came down the river to the railroad crossing. The Muscle sprang a leak, and all efforts failing to prevent her sinking, we were forced to abandon her, and with her a considerable quantity of fine lumber. We are having trouble in getting through the draw of the bridge here. I now come to the, to me, most interesting portion of this report--one which has already become lengthy; but I must trust you will find some excuse for this in the fact that it embraces a history of labors and movements, day and night, from the sixth to the tenth of the month, all of which details I deem it proper to give you. We have met with the most gratifying proofs of loyalty everywhere across Tennessee and in the portions of Mississippi and Alabama we visited. Most affecting instances greeted us almost hourly. Men, women and children, several times gathered in crowds of hundreds, shouted their welcome, and hailed their national flag with an enthusiasm there was no mistaking; it was genuine and heartfelt. Those people braved everything to go to the river-bank, where a sight of their flag might once more be enjoyed, and they have experienced, as they related, every possible form of persecution. Tears flowed freely down the cheeks of men as well as of women, and there were those who had fought under the Stars and Stripes at Moultrie, who in this manner testified to their joy. This display of feeling and sense of gladness at our success, and the hopes it created in the breasts of so many people in the heart of the Confederacy, astonished us not a little, and I assure you, sir, I would not have failed to witness it for any consideration. I trust it has given us all a higher sense of the sacred character of our present duties. I was assured at Savannah that of the several hundred troops there, more than one half, had we gone to the attack in time, would have hailed us as deliverers, and gladly enlisted with the National force. In Tennessee, the people generally, in their enthusiasm,  braved secessionists and spoke their views freely, but in Mississippi and Alabama what was said was guarded. “If we dared express ourselves freely, you would hear such a shout greeting your coming as you never heard.” “We know there are many Unionists among us, but a reign of terror makes us afraid of our shadows.” We were told, too: “Pring us a small, organized force, with arms and ammunition for us, and we can maintain our position, and put down rebellion in our midst.” There were, it is true, whole communities, who, on our approach, fled to the woods, but these were where there was less of the loyal element, and where the fleeing steamers in advance had spread tales of our coming with fire-brands, burning, destroying, ravishing and plundering. The crews of these vessels have had a very laborious time, but have evinced a spirit in the work highly creditable to them. Lieuts. Commanding Gwin and Shirk have been untiring, and I owe to them and to their officers many obligations for our entire success. I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Flag-Officer A. H. Foote, United States Navy, Commanding Naval Forces Western Waters:
Flag-Officer A. H. Foote, United States Navy, Commanding Naval Forces Western Waters:
Cincinnati Gazette narrative.
on board the Flag-ship St. Louis, near Paducah, February 12.I have just learned the following interesting particulars of an expedition up the Tennessee River. The telegraph has, I believe, meagrely sketched some of the facts. What I give you is “ex cathedra.” On the sixth instant, soon after the surrender of Fort Henry, Commodore Foote gave orders to Capt. S. L. Phelps, of the Conestoga, to proceed up the Tennessee River, in command of a division consisting of the Tyler, under, the command of Lieut. Gwin; the Lexington, under command of Lieut. Shirk; and his own vessel. After dark of the same day, the flotilla arrived at the railroad-crossing twenty-five miles above Fort Henry, and destroyed a large amount of camp equipage abandoned by the fleeing rebels. The draw of the bridge was found closed, and the machinery for working it disabled. About a mile and a half above the bridge were several rebel transport steamers, making good headway up the stream. Capt. Phelps ordered a squad of men to open the draw. This was done in about an hour. The Tyler being the slowest of the gunboats, Lieut. Gwin landed a force to destroy a portion of the railroad track, and to secure such military stores as might be found, while Captain Phelps and Lieut. Shirk, with the Conestoga and Lexington, followed the fugitive rebels with great speed. In five hours the Conestoga succeeded in forcing the rebels to abandon and burn three of their boats, loaded with military stores. The first one fired by the rebels, the Samuel Orr, had on board a quantity of submarine batteries, which very soon exploded. The second one was freighted with powder, cannon, grape, balls, etc. Fearing an explosion from the fired boats, (there were two of them close together,) Capt. Phelps had stopped at a distance of one thousand yards, but even then the skylights of the Federal boats were broken by the concussion; the light upper deck was raised bodily, doors were forced open, and locks and fastenings everywhere broken. The whole river for a half a mile round, was completely beaten up by the falling fragments, and the showers of shot and balls. The house of a reputed Union man was blown to pieces. It is suspected there was some such design in landing the boats in front of the doomed house. The Lexington having fallen astern, and without a pilot on board, Capt. Phelps concluded to wait for both of the boats to come up. They all proceeded up the river. Lieut. Gwin had destroyed some of the trestle-work at the end of the bridge, burning also a lot of camp equipage. J. N. Brown, formerly a lieutenant in the Federal navy, now of the confederates, had fled with such precipitation as to leave his papers behind him. Lieut. Gwin got possession of these; they consisted of an official history of the rebel floating preparations on the Mississippi, Cumberland and Tennessee. Lieut. Brown, it appears, had charge of the construction of the rebel gunboats. At night, on the seventh, the flotilla arrived at a landing in Hardin County, Tennessee, known as Cerro Gordo, where they found the steamer Eastport being converted into a rebel gunboat. Armed boats' crews were immediately sent on board. On reaching her, it was found that sh had been scuttled and the section-pipes broken. These leaks were soon stopped. A number of rifle shots were fired at the Federal boats, but a couple of well-directed shells dispersed the rebels. On examination, Capt. Phelps found that there were large quantities of lumber prepared for filling up the Eastport; that the vessel itself, two hundred and eighty feet in length, was in excellent condition, and already half finished. A considerable quantity of the iron plating was lying on the bank, and everthing at hand to complete her. Lieut. Gwin remained with the Tyler to guard the prize, timber, etc., while the other boats proceeded up the river. Soon after daylight, on the eighth, they passed Eastport, Mississippi, and at Chickasaw, further up near the State line, seized the steamers Sallie Wood and Muscle, the former laid up, and the latter freighted with iron, destined for Richmond, for rebel use. The flotilla proceeded up the river, entering the State of Alabama, and ascending to Florence at the foot of the muscle shoals. On coming in sight of the town of Florence, three steamers were discovered by our men, but they were immediately set on fire by the rebels. Some shots were fired from the opposite side of the river below. A force was landed, and considerable quantities of supplies marked “Fort Henry,” were secured from the burning wrecks. Some had been loaded and stored. Our flotilla took possession of as much of these stores as they could bring away, and destroyed the remainder. A large quantity  of iron plating, evidently intended for the Eastport, was found here also. A deputation of the citizens of Florence waited upon Capt. Phelps, desiring that they might be made able to quiet the fears of their wives and daughters with assurance that they would not be molested; also, praying that the Captain would not destroy the railroad bridge. As for the first proposition, the anxious fathers and husbands were assured that the Federals were neither ruffians nor savages, and that they were on an errand of protection to loyalty and enforcement of law. As to the second proposition, Capt. Phelps said that if the bridge were away, he could ascend no higher, and that it could possess, so far as he saw, no military importance, as it simply connected Florence with the railroad on the south bank of the river. Our brave command had seized three rebel steamboats, one of them a half-finished gunboat, and had forced the rebels to burn six others loaded with supplies. This was a heavy blow to the enemy. Two rebel boats are still known to be in the Tennessee River, and are doubtless hidden in some of the creeks, where they will be found when there is time for the search. On the night of the eighth, the flotilla returned to where the Eastport lay. The crews of the different boats secured two hundred and fifty thousand feet of the best quality of ship and building lumber, all the iron, machinery, spikes, etc., intended to be used in the completion of the gunboat. The saw-mill used in preparing the lumber was destroyed. In the absence of the Conestoga and Lexington, Lieut. Gwin enlisted twenty-five Tennesseeans, who gave information of the encampment of Col. Drew's rebel regiment, near Savannah, Tenn. A portion of the six hundred or seven hundred men composing the regiment were known to have been “pressed” into the service, and all were badly armed. Captain Phelps determined to make a land attack on this encampment. Lieut Shirk, with thirty riflemen, went on board the Conestoga, leaving his vessel to guard the Eastport. The Conestoga and Tyler went up toward the encampment, but after landing one hundred and thirty riflemen, and a twelve-pound howitzer, it was discovered that the rebels had left. A large quantity of stores, shoes, etc., were found on the ground, the fugitives having been greatly alarmed when they departed. A mail-bag, containing letters full of military information, was found, and is now in possession of Commodore Foote. Proceeding a few miles down the river, to a point where the rebels had a small armory, our men captured seventy rifles and fowling-pieces. Returning to Cerro Gordo, our men took the Eastport, Sallie Wood and Muscle in tow, and came down the river to the railroad-crossing. The Muscle sprung a leak, and all efforts failed to prevent her from sinking. She was abandoned, and with her a quantity of fine lumber. In the official report of this important expedition, Capt. Phelps says that he met with the most gratifying proofs of loyalty everywhere across Tennessee and in the portions of Mississippi and Alabama visited by him. Most affecting instances greeted him hourly. Men, women, and children several times gathered in crowds of hundreds, shouted his welcome, and hailed the National flag with an enthusiasm not to be mistaken. It was genuine and heartfelt. The loyal people braved everything to get to the river bank to see the old flag once more. Their tales of persecution and suffering were heart-rending. Tears flowed freely down the cheeks of men as well as women, as they spoke of the fondly cherished hope of again living under the Stars and Stripes. At Savannah, Tenn., Capt. Phelps was assured that, of the several hundred troops of which I have already spoken, more than one half would have hailed their capture by our men as a deliverance from bondage. In Mississippi the people spoke with less freedom about the Union cause. They said they were actually afraid of their own shadows, so great was the reign of terror in their midst. The selection of Captain Phelps for this important expedition, has proven one of the best that could have been made. In a man who, like him, unites with the loyalty of a patriotic American citizen the coolness and intrepidity of an experienced commander, there can be little wanting to make him equal to any emergency that the service of our country, in her hour of peril, may present. He has done much, and will do more to establish the high character of the calling in which he is engaged. Commodore Foote has just cause for self-congratulation in devising the expedition, and placing at its head a man who has so nobly acquitted himself. Of this valiant officer, however, more anon.