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[224] Behind these were the wooden gunboat Lexington and three transports — the Illinois, the Aleck Scott, and the T. A. Magill, having on board the following troops: Six companies of the Fifty-fifth Illinois, four companies of the Seventy-first Ohio, and one company of the Fifty-fourth Ohio--all for Paducah, under command of Major Sanger of the Fifty-fifth Illinois, and accompanied by Gen. Sherman, now in command at Paducah; the Twenty-eighth Illinois, under command of Col. Beaufort; and the Forty-second Illinois, under command of Col. Roberts.

We came down the river at a good rate of speed, probably ten miles an hour. The gunboats did not preserve any regular position with respect to each other, but kept a safe distance apart, the only object being to have a sharp look out for signals from the flag-ship. After a little less than two hours sailing, we came in sight of Lucas Bend, three miles above Columbus. It was then nearly seven o'clock. The morning was clear, bright, and cold.

The bluffs of Columbus were visible from the bend, and former reconnoissances had made us familiar with the positions of the batteries, but we could see nothing from the decks of the gunboats to indicate whether the place had been evacuated or not. The flag-ship rounded to, and the other four iron-clad vessels followed her. We maintained our position in the river for a while, keeping the engines at work just enough to prevent our drifting further down the stream. The mortars and transports were now about two miles in our rear. The Commodore was evidently waiting on them.

About an hour after daybreak all hands on the gunboats were set to work in various ways to prepare the vessels for participation in the contest that most of us had by this time made up our minds was imminent. The guns were all manned and loaded. Magazine stewards, shell-passers, and powder-boys, were stationed at their different posts, ready to pass the ammunition from the ship's hold to the cannon's mouth. All fires and lights, except those connected with the engine-room, etc., were extinguished. The ward-room and cabin-furniture was removed to facilitate the working of the stern-guns. All hawsers and lines were coiled upon the deck to afford additional protection to the boilers and machinery. These many preparatory acts were the work of not more than half an hour.

Meantime the four mortar-boats, under command of Capt. George Johnson, of Cincinnati, had been towed to the right bank (the Missouri side) of the river, and made fast to some trees near the Belmont Point. The transports had come as near to the bluffs as was consistent with their safety, and were standing off in the centre of the stream, about a mile above us.

The fleet was now ready to make the attack. It was necessary first, to ascertain whether there was anything to attack. Spy-glasses were brought into requisition, but in our position, three miles distant, we could discover nothing very plainly. It was not a little amusing at this time to notice the varied results of observation made by different persons on board the gunboats. One man, after carefully scrutinizing everything he saw on the bluff through the ship's glass, said he had positive evidence that no evacuation of the town had taken place — that several regiments of troops were plainly visible on the hills, manoeuvring or drilling. Another, after an equally lengthy view, became convinced that the guns were all there — that the batteries were all manned, and that the rebels were fully prepared to meet the flotilla. A third beheld a chaos of fallen trees, a steep and rocky hill, and a couple of bare “table-bluffs,” the latter looking as if they might once have been in use for fortifications of some kind. A fourth saw in the dim distance large clouds of smoke, and felt quite sure that a great conflagration was in progress — that military stores and army quarters were in flames, and that the rumored evacuation had certainly taken place.

In the midst of this diversity of opinion, it is not to be wondered at that Commodore Foote felt a little dubious on the question at issue. He did not wish to get within range of the rebel guns until he had satisfied himself and seen that there was or was not somebody there to fire them.

On the right — hand side of the river, about three miles from Columbus, we saw a farmer running through a corn-field in the rear of his house. He had, I think, become frightened at the appearance of the gunboats, and was beating a hasty retreat from what he feared would be the scene of bloodshed, although, according to his own account, there were no troops in the fort to give us battle. The Commodore's tug was despatched to the river-bank, to hail him and get from him what information he had about the rebel stronghold. He appeared to be an honest, hard-working man, one of a class largely represented in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee--who love the Union and abhor secession, but cannot easily reconcile themselves to the horrors of war, and pray for peace and the Union, though they know the two cannot be maintained at the present time. He told us that the rebels had left Columbus, carrying their arms and munitions with them, and that they had burned the greater part of the town.

The testimony of the former, added to what was already known on the subject, led the flag-officer to believe that the evacuation had taken place. We had been drifting slowly down the stream for about half an hour, and were now within twelve miles of the Columbus batteries. By the aid of the spy-glass a large flag could be seen waving on the summit of a hill, a little to the south of the main fort. At first it was difficult to discern the nature of the flag. It was too large for a rebel flag, we thought, and had too many stripes on it. We therefore concluded that the rebels had all vacated the town, leaving behind them, as they generally do, a leaven of Unionism, which had already begun to work. We were mistaken in the latter part of our supposition, for we ascertained after landing that a


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