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[256] ram, now gave way, as she forced herself ahead across our bow, crushing and bruising our more delicate craft in her progress, and this stem, thus wrenched off, allowed the two vessels to swing side by side.

Now came the fierce duel for life. Our gunners could only hope to injure our antagonist by firing with accuracy into her open ports, while every shot of the enemy would tell with fatal effect upon our wooden vessel. The guns were now served and fired muzzle to muzzle, the powder from those of the Albemarle blackening the bows and sides of the Sassacus, as they passed within ten feet. A solid shot from our one hundred pounder struck her port-sill, and crumbling into fragments, one piece rebounded on our own deck, but the rest flew into that threatening port-hole and silenced the enemy's gun. A nine-inch solid shot and a thirty-pounder shell followed through the same opening in rapid succession as the tough-sided monster drifted clear of us, while our starboard wheel crushed and wrenched its iron braces in grinding over her quarter, smashing the launches that she was towing into a shapeless mass of driftwood, and grating over the sharp iron plates with a most dismal sound. Now she passed our wheel, and the crews of the after-guns, watching the moment, drove their solid shot into her ports. The elevating screw of our Parrott rifle was broken, and the gun could not be depressed to bear on the enemy's port, but hurled her missile against her iron armor, leaving a rent to mark the point of its impact. A nine-inch solid shot, fired with an increased charge, struck her inclined roof and flew en ricochet, like a pebble bounding from a pavement into the air beyond, and this at a distance of not more than fifteen feet.

All this cool gunnery and precise artillery practice transpired while the ship, from fire-room to hurricane-deck, was shrouded in one dense cloud of fiery steam. The situation was appalling. The shrieks of the scalded and dying, as they frantically rushed up from below, with their shrivelled flesh hanging in shreds upon their tortured limbs; the engine, beyond control, surging and revolving, without guide or check, abandoned by all save one, who, scalded, blackened, sightless, still stood like a hero to his post. Alone, amidst that mass of unloosed steam and uncontrollable machinery, the chief-engineer of the Sassacus remained, calling to his men to return with him into the fire-room to drag the fires from beneath the uninjured boiler, which was now in imminent danger of explosion. Let his name be long remembered by the two hundred beings whose lives were saved in that fearful moment by his more than heroic fortitude and exertion. There were no means of instantly cutting off communication between the two boilers, and all the steam contained in both rushed out like a flash, exposing the ship to a more fearful catastrophe, should our brave engineers be too late in drawing the heavy fires which threatened our destruction. All this time, our consorts looking toward us, could see only a thick, white cloud, lighted up incessantly by the flashes of our rapidly served guns, as the gallant Sassacus rose gloriously above the storm of disaster that surrounded her, and challenged the admiration of her anxious comrades by the stubborn thundering of her battery. The ship still moved, working slowly ahead, on a vacuum alone. The cloud of steam at last lifted, and we could see the grim enemy of the Sassacus gladly escaping from that embrace of death in which we had held her for nearly a quarter of an hour, and retreated discomfited and demoralized toward the port from which she had sailed with so much bravado only a few hours before. The broad ensign which had waved so proudly over her casemate on our approach, now lay draggled and torn, with its shattered flag-staff, on her deck ; and turning our vessel around with hard-a-port helm, which she answered slowly but steadily, we again passed down by our enemy. Our divisions still stood at their guns, and our brave commander firmly enunciating his instructions and orders, and guiding every movement of his gallant ship with a coolness, precision, and relentless audacity that find no parallel since the days of Decatur and Bainbridge — those days of splendid gallantry and magnificent courage — calmly smoking his cigar through the whole eventful conflict, and displaying a perfect indifference to danger, worthy of one of Farragut's salamanders, kept his guns at work on our retiring foe, so long as they could be brought to bear, till the Sassacus was carried by her disabled engine slowly, gracefully, and defiantly out of range.

Thus ended the single-handed encounter between the Sassacus — a delicate river steamer — and one of the most formidable iron-clads that the enemy have as yet put afloat. The results of this novel and most unequal engagement are most gratifying. The gunboat Bombshell, with four rifled guns, and a large supply of ammunition, was captured, with all her officers and crew, and the Albemarle, which was on her way to New-Bern to form a junction with the rebel force, then moving upon that city, was beaten with her own weapons, and driven back with her guns disabled, her hull terribly shaken, and leaking so badly that she was with difficulty kept afloat. So confident were the rebels of the ability of this invulnerable iron-clad to reach her rendezvous, that General Palmer, commanding at New-Bern, was summoned to surrender, and informed that “the river and sound were blockaded below,” and his communications cut off. The Albemarle did not come to time; but, attacked in a most impetuous and unexpected manner, was forced by an inferior antagonist to beat a precipitate retreat, which he commenced the very moment that he escaped the grasp of the Sassacus. And, although she kept up a retreating fire, she hastened to regain the protecting harbor of Plymouth, leaving us the undisputed control of the sound, and by her defeat saving New-Bern, and doubtless the Department of South-Carolina, from being lost to our Government.


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