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[163]

It having been ascertained by a reconnaissance that the passage between two of the connected hulks was still free, Farragut gave the signal for weighing anchor at two o'clock in the morning, April 24th. He had verbally given the minutest instructions to all his officers, while allowing them ample freedom of action in their preparations for battle. The inventive mind of the Americans had taken advantage of this privilege. Some of the commanders had painted their decks white, the better to recognize each other in the dark, and this seems to have succeeded remarkably well; others had plastered their hulls with clay; all had improvised shelters for the vital parts of their ships, some by hanging coils of rope on their sides, others by lining the interior with sacks of coal or hammocks.

At half-past 3 o'clock in the morning the fleet began to move in two columns. The right column was under the orders of Captain Bailey, second in command, whose flag was hoisted on the gun-boat Cayuga. He was followed by the two sloops-of-war Pensacola and Mississippi, and the five gun-boats Oneida, Varuna, Katahdin, Kineo and Wissahickon. The left column consisted of the three sloops-of-war Hartford, Brooklyn and Richmond, under the immediate command of Farragut, and the six gun-boats Scioto, Iroquois, Kennebeck, Pinola, Itasca and Winona, which he placed under the command of Captain Bell. The two columns were to proceed in such a manner as to afford each other mutual support; the vessels composing the right column had shifted all their heavy guns to starboard to fire upon Fort Philip; those of the left column to larboard to engage Fort Jackson. The sloops were to slacken their speed during this combat to draw the fire of the adversary, while the vessels of weaker model, proceeding more rapidly through the dangerous space, were to attack the enemy's flotilla.

It was a dark night; the Confederate ships, still careless in spite of Duncan's warnings, had neither boats posted to watch the river, nor fires upon the water to direct the aim of the land-batteries. The defenders of Fort Jackson, however, soon discovered the Federal vessels, which, owing to the difficulty they experienced in navigating a channel unknown to them, and against a violent current, advanced but slowly, making scarcely four knots an hour.

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