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The ship Tennessee. [from the Richmond, Va., times, October 5, 1893.]

A description of the conflict in Mobile Bay.

One of the men who was aboard the vessel tells of her surrender and the reason why.

As those who actively participated in the late war between the States of the American Union are rapidly passing away, it is the duty of the living eye-witnesses of the bloody drama to see to it that [291] the names of their comrades, who fell on the losing side, are not transmitted to history as rebels and traitors, but as patriots as true as the world ever saw, earnestly engaged in the defence of the right, ‘as God had given them to see the right.’

Great as was the disparity of numbers between the Federal and Confederate armies, between the navies it was far greater, if, indeed, we had anything worthy of the name; still a Confederate victory in Hampton Roads revolutionized the navies of the world, while in the fight on the Tennessee we suffered a defeat, Farragut might best describe in the language of Pyrrhus at his first encounter with the Romans: ‘another such victory would cost him his army.’

On the point of a narrow sand promontory of some little elevation, which juts far in between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, stands Fort Morgan, commanding the eastern or main channel of the entrance to the Bay, five miles to the southwest. Fort Gaines guards the western entrance, only navigable for small vessels. Outside the fort, Farragut, with a numerous fleet, menaced an attack. Torpedoes and other obstructions were placed in the channel, leaving a narrow entrance for blockade runners. Fort Morgan was garrisoned by about four hundred men, under the command of General Richard L. (‘Ramrod’) Page. The Confederate naval squadron, consisting of the ironclad Tennessee, with four small wooden vessels, under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, were anchored in the lower Bay.

At early dawn on the morning of the 5th of August, 1863, the officer on watch reported the Federal fleet with steam up, heading for the fort. All hands were called to quarters, and orders given to prepare the ship for action.

Now, sanding the decks to catch the blood yet unspilled was not a very assuring procedure, in view of the tremendous odds which confronted us. The Tennessee was a screw propeller, and went into commission with about one hundred men, a company of marines with the following officers: Franklin Buchanan, Admiral; James W. Johnston, Virginia, Captain; William L. Bradford, Alabama, Executive officer; Wharton and Benton, of Tennessee and Kentucky, First and Second Lieutenants; Perrin, of Louisiana, Master; Sinning, Chief Engineer; D. G. Raney, Marine Officer, of Florida; Conrad and Bowles, Surgeon and Assistant, of Virginia.

Her battery consisted of ten-inch rifle Brooke guns, two fore and aft, three broadside, eight in all; her armor was six inches of iron [292] over fourteen inches of solid timber, held together with two-inch iron bolts.

She was constructed something after the order of the old Merrimac, but much stronger; her sharp iron prow would have been formidable as a ram, but she lacked speed for this purpose. Her port-holes were protected by heavy iron shutters, which proved a disadvantage in the fight.

The Federal fleet moved up majestically in single file. It was a sublime spectacle, ‘but distance lends enchantment to the view.’ It was at once perceived that Farragut had received large accessions to his force during the night, among which were three double turreted ironclad monitors, one of which formed the van. Suddenly a white cloud of smoke enveloped the front, and roar of artillery begins, the fleet pouring broadside after broadside into the fort as they pass in. The iron monitor Tecumseh, just in advance of the flagship Hartford, as it is entering the channel, strikes a torpedo, and sinks in a few minutes. The whole crew, one hundred and thirty, except four, are drowned.

This caused the fleet to halt, and just here Farragut's biographer Mr. Lossing, says he prayed for divine guidance, whether he should proceed or not. Being answered in the affirmative, he gave the order to advance. I don't know about the prayer; it was short, but the poor fellows on the Tecumseh did not have time to say that much. As they came inside the Bay our guns opened on them, and our little wooden ships fought gallantly, but were soon disabled and captured. But one escaped ingloriously like the Spartan at Thermopylae, to tell the tale. We had now to fight the whole fleet single handed. They poured their shot thick and heavy upon us at short range, but with little effect, while our guns played havoc on their wooden ships. After a severe engagement of thirty minutes or more, a strange thing was seen; a whole Federal fleet, consisting of the strongest vessels in the navy, manned by the best men in the service, retreating before one single ship. They ran up the Bay beyond reach of our guns, and anchored. We held the field. The admiral ordered the men to have breakfast. As soon as this was over the crew was mustered on deck. He mounted a gun-carriage and addressed them in a stirring speech. As he closed in the language of Nelson at Trafalgar in ‘The country expects every man to do his duty,’ with a wild huzza the men rushed to their guns. As we bore down upon them under a [293] full head of steam they seemed to be greatly astonished. ‘There was rushing to and fro and signaling in hot haste.’ But there were brave men on those ships, and they were getting ready to receive us. Farragut, himself a Southerner, as were Jenkins and Jouett.

We dashed in among them, but they were too fleet for us. We could not use the ship as a ram, but a fight with heavy artillery was precipitated, which beggarded discription. ‘Then was the noise of conflict, arms upon armor, clashing, brayed horrible discord.’ Suddenly the firing ceases, we come in collision with something. The ship is gradually being upset, everything movable gravitates to one side. It seems as if we are about to suffer the fate of the Royal George, but after a few violent oscillations the ship comes to an equilibrium, and the fight goes on. This was occasioned by one of the enemy's ships, the Monongahela, trying to run over and sink us, which it very nearly succeeded in doing. Under the incessant storm of ponderous missiles hurled upon us at close range, every joint and rib in the ship seemed to quiver and shake. A messenger comes to inform us that the Admiral is wounded; he is brought on the berth deck and placed on a mattress. We find that he hassuffered a fracture of the leg. He had a similar wound in the Merrimac fight. In a short time a messenger comes from Captain Johnston, saying the ship is disabled, and he thinks we had better surrender. The old Admiral rouses up, sparks seem to flash from his eyes, he brings his clenched fist down on the deck: ‘Go back and tell Captain Johnston to fight the ship to the very last man.’ Soon the Captain came himself and told the Admiral the ship would be sunk in five minutes if we did not surrender. He replied, sadly: ‘I leave the whole matter to you, Captain Johnston.’ The Captain then tied his white handkerchief to the ramrod of a musket, and pushed it up through the hatchway. Unfortunately the noise was so great that the order to cease firing had not been understood, and one of our guns fired after the white flag had been raised.

The Federal officer who came aboard to receive the surrender of the ship demanded why this had been done, and talked of taking summary vengeance on us, but Captain Johnston's explanation seemed to satisfy him.

Mr. Forrest, of Virginia, master's mate, learning that the ship was about to surrender, ran down and begged the Admiral to give him his sword. He did not want Farragut to have it. He made no reply, [294] but Mr. Forrest unbuckled the sword and threw it out of the porthole. All that desperate valor could accomplish had been done, ‘we surrendered to overwhelming numbers and resources.’ The ship was a complete wreck. Our loss, however, was slight. The Federal loss was very heavy. As soon as Faragut heard that the Admiral was wounded he sent his fleet surgeon aboard, offering assistance. This was very kind of him. Indeed, they accorded us generous treatment as foemen worthy of their steel, and soon the Blue and the Gray were fraternizing in the most friendly manner.

The transition from hard-tack and Confederate coffee to three courses at a meal, supplemented with wine, on the elegant quarters of the Hartford and the Richmond, was something phenomenal. I had formed quite a favorable opinion of Federal hospitality until I had the misfortune to fall into the hands of Sheridan and his troopers, near the close of the war. These marched me and starved me until I became so thin and shadowy, I escaped at night unobserved through the guards.

Admiral Buchanan united with Farragut in a petition to General Page at Fort Morgan, to allow a ship to pass out with Federal and Confederate wounded to Pensacola, Florida, where they could be made more comfortable. To this he assented. All the wounded having been transferred to the United States steamer Metacomet, on the morning of the 6th of August, we sailed for Pensacola with a full cargo of mutilated and suffering humanity.

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