|Clearing the way — deck on one of Porter's mortar schooners Twenty of these vessels accompanied Farragut's expedition. They were convoyed by six gunboats. Their huge mortars were capable of dropping shells of large caliber within the forts at a distance of 3,680 yards. The mortar schooners were divided into three divisions. Two were stationed behind a natural rampart formed by the west bank of the river, where they were screened from view by a thick growth of wood above which their mastheads rose, affording excellent lookouts. These were further concealed by branches of trees cleverly fastened upon them. Another division was stationed near the east bank, nearer to the forts and in plain view. A terrific bombardment was begun on the morning of April 16th, each mortar schooner firing at intervals of ten minutes throughout the day. Toward five o'clock flames were seen curling up in Fort Jackson. Commander Porter, who pulled up the river in a rowboat, ascertained that the Fort itself was burning. It was indeed in a precarious position, as was learned afterward from Colonel Edward Higgins, the Confederate commander of the fort. Had the attempt to pass up the river been made next morning, it would probably have been much easier than on April 24th, when the fleet at last got under way. Throughout the succeeding days of waiting, the mortar flotilla kept up its vigorous bombardment, withdrawing, however, the division on the east bank, which had suffered in its exposed position during the first vigorous attack, and uniting it with the other vessels, which were protected by the screen on woods on the west bank.|
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