of sailors, soldiers, camp-followers, and citizens of Alexandria
, all eagerly watching our progress and discussing the chances of success.
At night the scene was even more striking and picturesque: The fires burning on both banks of the river and at different points on the dam; the thousand swarthy figures at work on land and water passing to and fro; the camp-fires of the army which surrounded us on every side; the loud commands of the officers super intending the work; the noisy shouts of the teamstears; the sound of the falling trees, and roaring of the rushing water, formed in its tout ensemble
one of the most impressive scenes we ever witnessed.
Mingled with these sounds we often heard as we passed on our rounds among the men, the sweet strains of “Annie Laurie
,” or the martial notes of the “Battle cry of freedom,” while at the other end of the dam, among the dusky members of the Corps d'afrique
, the popular refrain of “John Brown
's body lies a mouldering in the ground,” and some of those peculiar and plaintive plantation melodies of the South
, would greet us as we pursued our way. It was while on duty one night, when such a scene as we have attempted to describe presented itself to the looker-on, that a silvery-headed contraband, who had just come into our lines, approached us, and throwing up both his hands in perfect amazement, exclaimed: “Well, 'fore God, what won't de Yankees do next I”
Passing on our rounds one morning about three o'clock, a colored soldier caused considerable delay by carelessly allowing his wheelbarrow load of brick, which were being used in the cribs, to run off the long track or gangway, thereby detaining for a few moments a line of thirty or forty African
citizens, following behind.
“Hit dat fifty-dollar nigga in de head wid a brick!”
“Git dat wheelbarrer out ob de way!”
“What doina dar, nigga?”
“Kick dat blind child into de ribber!”
“Smath dat black man ober de shin!”
“Now den, you be quick dar, mighty quick!”
“What de debbel de matter wid dat nigga?”
“Mis'ble nigga, don't you knows you'se working for your sculp?
De rebels git you, you is done gone sure!”
Such were a few of the utterances of which his sable fellow-laborers delivered themselves, while the Captain
of the squad assailed the culprit with certain pithy expressions not proper to be recorded.
Feeling considerable sympathy for the subject of this deluge of abuse, we kindly inquired if he was tired.
, yass, massa Cunnel, I'se werry tired toten brick.
It's a heap harder dan picken cotton.”
During the construction of the dam, daily and almost constant skirmishing was carried on with the enemy, who were around us in strong force, and not only anticipated the capture of Admiral Porter
's entire fleet, but made it their boast that the army would be forced to surrender to General Kirby Smith
The dam they looked upon as a huge joke, and the salutation with which Union prisoners, whom the chances of war threw into their hands, were met, was: “Well, Yank
, how's the dam?”
Even the rebel prisoners whom we captured during its construction could not avoid chaffing their captors by the question: “How's your big dam progressing?”
The ridicule was not, however, confined to the camp of the enemy or to the rebel citizens of Alexandria
We think we can safely assert that, until the work progressed for a week, not ten per cent. of the officers and seamen of the navy had the slightest faith in our saving their fleet.
Indeed, we cannot now remember any officer, with the single exception of Volunteer Lieutenant Langthorne
, of the Mound City
, who, from the inauguration of the work, believed it would be the means of saving the squadron.
The percentage of unbelievers in the army was much less.
Perhaps one-half had faith in its ultimate success.
With many the building of the dam was an endless subject of mirth, and numberless were the witticisms to which it gave birth.
But the projector paid no attention to their jeers or jokes, nor did he ever for a moment lose heart or hope, but worked on manfully.
On the morning of the eighth of May the water had risen sufficiently on the upper falls to allow three of the iron-clads to cross and proceed down to within a short distance of the dam. In another day it would undoubtedly have been sufficiently high to enable all the other vessels of the fleet to pass the upper falls.
Unfortunately, at five o'clock on the morning of the ninth, the pressure of the water became so great that it swept away two of the large coal barges that were sunk at the end of the dam near the centre of the river.
When the accident was observed, the Admiral
rode to the point where the upper vessels were anchored and ordered the Lexington
to pass the upper falls, if possible, and immediately attempt to go through the opening in the dam, along which the water was rushing as fiercely as over the rapids at Niagara
The Lexington succeeded in getting over the falls and then steered directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was dashing so furiously that it seemed as if certain destruction would be her fate.
Ten thousand spectators breathlessly awaited the result.
She entered the gap with a full head of steam; passed down the roaring, rushing torrent; made several spasmodic rolls ; hung for a moment, with a harsh, grating sound, on the rocks below; was then swept into deep water, and rounded to by the bank of the river.
Such a cheer arose from that vast multitude of sailors and soldiers, when the noble vessel was seen in safety below the falls, as we had never heard before, and certainly have not heard since.
Then all eyes were turned above the darn again, when another iron-clad was to be seen approaching.
She did not fare as well as the Lexington
, being considerably injured in the passage; but the other two passed through without any accident.
It was perhaps a fortunate circumstance that a portion of the dam was carried away in the manner that it was, as