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The Western flotilla at Fort Donelson, Island number10, Fort Pillow and — Memphis.

Henry Walke, Rear-Admiral, U. S. N.

The “Carondelet” fighting Fort Donelson, February 13, 1862. from a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.

On the 7th of February, the day after the capture of Fort Henry, I received on board the Carondelet Colonels Webster, Rawlins, and McPherson, with a company of troops, and under instructions from General Grant proceeded up the Tennessee River, and completed the destruction of the bridge of the Memphis and Bowling Green Railroad.

On returning from that expedition General Grant requested me to hasten to Fort Donelson with the Carondelet, Tyler, and Lexington, and announce my arrival by firing signal guns. The object of this movement was to take possession of the river as soon as possible, to engage the enemy's attention by making formidable demonstrations before the fort, and to prevent it from being reinforced. On February 10th the Carondelet alone (towed by the transport Alps) proceeded up the Cumberland River, and on the 12th arrived a few miles below the fort.

Fort Donelson occupied one of the best defensive positions on the river. It was built on a bold bluff about 120 feet in height, on the west side of the river, where it makes a slight bend to the eastward. It had 3 batteries, mounting in all 15 guns: the lower, about twenty feet above the water; the second, about fifty feet above the water; the third, on the summit.1 [431]

When the Carondelet, her tow being cast off, came in sight of the fort and proceeded up to within long range of the batteries, not a living creature could be seen. The hills and woods on the west side of the river hid part of the enemy's formidable defenses, which were lightly covered with snow; but the black rows of heavy guns, pointing down on us, reminded me of the dismal-looking sepulchers cut in the rocky cliffs near Jerusalem, but far more repulsive. At 12:50 P. M., to unmask the silent enemy, and to announce my arrival to General Grant, I ordered the bow-guns to be fired at the fort. Only one shell fell short. There was no response except the echo from the hills. The fort appeared to have been evacuated. After firing ten shells into it, the Carondelet dropped down the river about three miles and anchored. But the sound of her guns aroused our soldiers on the southern side of the fort into action; one report says that when they heard the guns of the avant-courier of the fleet, they gave cheer upon cheer, and rather than permit the sailors to get ahead of them again, they engaged in skirmishes with the enemy, and began the battle of the three days following. On the Carondelet we, were isolated and beset with dangers from the enemy's lurking sharp-shooters.

On the 13th a dispatch was received from General Grant, informing me that he had arrived the day before, and had succeeded in getting his army in position, almost entirely investing the enemy's works. “Most of our batteries,” he said, “are established, and the remainder soon will be. If you will advance with your gun-boat at 10 o'clock in the morning, we will be ready to take advantage of any diversion in our favor.”

I immediately complied with these instructions, and at 9:05, with the Carondelet alone and under cover of a heavily wooded point, fired 139 70-pound and 64-pound shells at the fort. We received in return the fire of all the enemy's guns that could be brought to bear on the Carondelet, which sustained but little damage, except from two shots. One, a 128-pound solid, at 11:30 struck the corner of our port broadside casemate, passed through it, and in its progress toward the center of our boilers glanced over the temporary barricade in front of the boilers. It then passed over the steam-drum, struck the beams of the upper deck, carried away the railing around the engine-room and burst the steam-heater, and, glancing back into the engine-room, “seemed to bound after the men,” as one of the engineers said, “like a wild beast pursuing its prey.” I have preserved this ball as a souvenir of the fight at Fort Donelson. When it burst through the side of the Carondelet, it knocked down and wounded a dozen men, seven of them severely. An immense quantity of splinters was blown through the vessel. Some of them, as fine as needles, shot through the clothes of the men like arrows. Several of the wounded were so much excited by the suddenness of the event and the sufferings of their comrades, that they were not aware that they themselves had been struck until they felt the blood running into their shoes. Upon receiving this shot we ceased.firing for a while.

After dinner we sent the wounded on board the Alps, repaired damages, and, not expecting any assistance, at 12:15 we resumed, in accordance with General Grant's request, and bombarded the fort until dusk, when nearly all [432]

Explosion of a gun on board the “Carondelet” during the attack on Fort Donelson. After a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.

[433] our 10-inch and 15-inch shells were expended. The firing from the shore having ceased, we retired.

At 11:30 on the night of the 13th Flag-Officer Foote arrived below Fort Donelson with the iron-clads St. Louis, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, and the wooden gun-boats Tyler and Conestoga. On the 14th all the hard materials in the vessels, such as chains, lumber, and bags of coal, were laid on the upper decks to protect them from the plunging shots of the enemy. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon our fleet advanced to attack the fort, the Louisville being on the west side of the river, the St. Louis (flag-steamer) next, then the Pittsburgh and Carondelet on the east side of the river. The wooden gun-boats were about a thousand yards in the rear. When we started in line abreast at a moderate speed, the Louisville and Pittsburgh, not keeping up to their positions, were hailed from the flag-steamer to “steam up.” At 3:30, when about a mile and a half from the fort, two shots were fired at us, both falling short. When within a mile of the fort the St. Louis opened fire, and the other ironclads followed, slowly and deliberately at first, but more rapidly as the fleet advanced. The flag-officer hailed the Carondelet, and ordered us not to fire so fast. Some of our shells went over the fort, and almost into our camp beyond. As we drew nearer, the enemy's fire greatly increased in force and effect. But, the officers and crew of the Carondelet having recently been long under fire, and having become practiced in fighting, her gunners were as cool and composed as old veterans. We heard the deafening crack of the bursting shells, the crash of the solid shot, and the whizzing of fragments of shell and wood as they sped through the vessel. Soon a 128-pounder struck our anchor, smashed it into flying bolts, and bounded over the vessel, taking away a part of our smoke-stack; then another cut away the iron boat-davits as if they were pipe-stems, whereupon the boat dropped into the water. Another ripped tip the iron plating and glanced over; another went through the plating and lodged in the heavy casemate; another struck the pilot-house, knocked the plating to pieces, and sent fragments of iron and splinters into the pilots, one of whom fell mortally wounded, and was taken below; another shot took away the remaining boat-davits and the boat with them; and still they came, harder and faster, taking flag-staffs and smoke-stacks, and tearing off the side armor as lightning tears the bark from a tree. Our men fought desperately, but, under the excitement of the occasion, loaded too hastily, and the port rifled gun exploded. One of the crew, in his account of the explosion soon after it occurred, said: “I was serving the gun with shell. When it exploded it knocked us all down, killing none, but wounding over a dozen men and spreading dismay and confusion among us. For about two minutes I was stunned, and at least five minutes elapsed before I could tell what was the matter. When I found out that I was more scared than hurt, although suffering from the gunpowder which I had inhaled, I looked forward and saw our gun lying on the deck, split in three pieces. Then the cry ran through the boat that we were on fire, and my duty as pump-man called me to the pumps. While I was there, two shots entered our bow-ports and killed four men and wounded several others. They were borne past me, three with their heads [434] off. The sight almost sickened me, and I turned my head away. Our master's mate came soon after and ordered us to our quarters at the gun. I told him the gun had burst, and that we had caught fire on the upper deck from the enemy's shell. He then said: ‘Never mind the fire; go to your quarters.’ Then I took a station at the starboard tackle of another rifled bow-gun and remained there until the close of the fight.” The carpenter and his men extinguished the flames.

When within four hundred yards of the fort, and while the Confederates were running from their lower battery, our pilot-house was struck again and another pilot wounded, our wheel was broken, and shells from the rear boats were bursting over us. All four of our boats were shot away and dragging in the water. On looking out to bring our broadside guns to bear, we saw that the other gun-boats were rapidly falling back out of line. The Pittsburgh in her haste to turn struck the stern of the Carondelet, and broke our starboard rudder, so that we were obliged to go ahead to clear the Pittsburgh and the point of rocks below. The pilot of the St. Louis was killed, and the pilot of the Louisville was wounded. Both vessels had their wheel-ropes shot away, and the men were prevented from steering the Louisville with the tiller-ropes at the stern by the shells from the rear boats bursting over them. The St. Louis and Louisville, becoming unmanageable, were compelled to drop out of battle, and the Pittsburgh followed; all had suffered severely from the enemy's fire. Flag-Officer Foote was wounded while standing by the pilot of the St. Louis when he was killed. We were then about 350 yards from the fort.

There was no alternative for the Carondelet in that narrow stream but to keep her head to the enemy and fire into the fort with her two bow-guns, to prevent it, if possible, from returning her fire effectively. The enemy saw that she was in a manner left to his mercy, and concentrated the fire of all his batteries upon her. In return, the Carondelet's guns were well served to the last shot. Our new acting gunner, John Hall, was just the man for the occasion. He came forward, offered his services, and with my sanction took charge of the starboard-bow rifled gun. He instructed the men to obey his warnings and follow his motions, and he told them that when he saw a shot coming he would call out “Down” and stoop behind the breech of the gun as he did so; at the same instant the men were to stand away from the bowports. Nearly every shot from the fort struck the bows of the Carondelet. Most of them were fired on the ricochet level, and could be plainly seen skipping on the water before they struck. The enemy's object was to sink the gun-boat by striking her just below the water-line. They soon succeeded in planting two 32-pound shots in her bow, between wind and water, which made her leak badly, but her compartments kept her from sinking until we could plug up the shot-holes. Three shots struck the starboard casemating; four struck the port casemating forward of the rifle-gun; one struck on the starboard side, between the water-line and plank-sheer, cutting through the planking; six shots struck the pilot-house, shattering one section into pieces and cutting through the iron casing. The smoke-stacks were riddled. [435]

The gun-boats at Fort Donelson (February 14, 1862)the land attack in the distance. After a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.

Our gunners kept up a constant firing while we were falling back; and the warning words, “Look out!” “Down!” were often heard, and heeded by nearly all the gun-crews. On one occasion, while the men were at the muzzle of the middle bow-gun, loading it, the warning came just in time for them to jump aside as a 32-pounder struck the lower sill, and glancing up struck the upper sill, then, falling on the inner edge of the lower sill, bounded on deck and spun around like a top, but hurt no one. It was very evident that if the men who were loading had not obeyed the order to drop, several of them would have been killed. So I repeated the instructions and warned the men at the guns and the crew generally to bow or stand off from the ports when a shot was seen coming. But some of the young men, from a spirit of bravado or from a belief in the doctrine of fatalism, disregarded the instructions, saying it was useless to attempt to dodge a cannon-ball, and they would trust to luck. The warning words, “Look out!” “Down!” were again soon heard; down went the gunner and his men, as the whizzing shot glanced on the gun, taking off the gunner's cap and the heads of two of the young men who trusted to luck, and in defiance of the order were standing up or passing behind him. This shot killed another man also, who was at the last gun of the starboard side, and disabled the gun. It came in with a hissing sound; three sharp spats and a heavy bang told the sad fate of three brave comrades. Before the decks were well sanded, there was so much blood on them that our men could not work the guns without slipping.

We kept firing at the enemy so long as he was within range, to prevent him from seeing us through the smoke. [436]

The Carondelet was the first in and the last out of the fight, and was more damaged than any of the other gunboats, as the boat-carpenters who repaired them subsequently informed me. She was much longer under fire than any other vessel of the flotilla; and, according to the report of the Secretary of the Navy, her loss in killed and wounded was nearly twice as great as that of all the other gunboats together. She fired more shot and shell into Fort Donelson than any other gun-boat, and was struck fifty-four times. These facts are given because a disposition was shown by correspondents and naval historians to ignore the services of the Carondelet on this and other occasions.

In the action of the 14th all of the

Map of the region of the flotilla operations.

armored vessels were fought with the greatest energy, skill, and courage, until disabled by the enemy's heavy shot. In his official report of the battle the flag-officer said: “The officers and men in this hotly contested but unequal fight behaved with the greatest gallantry and determination.” [For losses, see p. 429.]2

Although the gun-boats were repulsed in this action, the demoralizing effect of their cannonade, and of the heavy and well-sustained fire of the Carondelet on the day before, must have been very great, and contributed in no small degree to the successful operations of the army on the following day.

After the battle I called upon the flag-officer, and found him suffering from his wounds. He asked me if I could have run past the fort, something I should not have ventured upon without permission.

The 15th was employed in the burial of our slain comrades. I read the Episcopal service on board the Carondelet, under our flag at half-mast; and the sailors bore their late companions to a lonely field within the shadows of [437] the hills. When they were about to lower the first coffin, a Roman Catholic priest appeared, and his services being accepted, he read the prayers for the dead. As the last service was ended, the sound of the battle being waged by General Grant, like the rumbling of distant thunder, was the only requiem for our departed shipmates.

On Sunday, the 16th, at dawn, Fort Donelson surrendered and the gunboats steamed up to Dover. After religious services the Carondelet proceeded back to Cairo, and arrived there on the morning of the 17th, in such a dense fog that she passed below the town unnoticed, and had great difficulty in finding the landing. There had been a report that the enemy was coming from Columbus to attack Cairo during the absence of its defenders; and while the Carondelet was cautiously feeling her way back and blowing her whistle, some people imagined she was a Confederate gun-boat about to land, and made hasty preparations to leave the place. Our announcement of the victory at Fort Donelson changed their dejection into joy and exultation. On the following morning an order congratulating the officers and men of the Carondelet was received from Flag-Officer Foote.

A few days later the Carondelet was taken up on the ways at Mound City, Illinois,--six or seven miles above Cairo on the Ohio River,---for repairs; and a crowd of carpenters worked on her night and day. After the repairs were completed, she was ordered to make the experiment of backing

Map of military and naval operations about Island number10. (based on the two maps by Captain A. B. Gray, C. S. A., made in March, 1862, and on official reports.) for correction of the line of the canal, see page 461.

[438] up-stream, which proved a laughable failure. She would sheer from one side of the river to the other, and with two anchors astern she could not be held steady enough to fight her bow-guns down-stream. She dragged both anchors alternately, until they came together, and the experiment failed completely.

On the morning of the 23d the flag-officer made a reconnoissance to Columbus, Kentucky, with four gun-boats and two mortar-boats, accompanied by the wooden gun-boat Conestoga, convoying five transports. The fortifications looked more formidable than ever. The enemy fired two guns, and sent up a transport with the pretext, it was said, of effecting an exchange of prisoners.3 But at that time, as we learned afterward from a credible source, the evacuation of the fort (which General Grant's successes at

The mortar-boats at Island number10.

Forts Henry and Donelson had made necessary) was going on, and the last raft and barge loads of all the movable munitions of war were descending the river, which, with a large quantity previously taken away, could and would have been captured by our fleet if we had received this information in time. On the 4th of March another reconnoissance in force was made with all the gun-boats and four mortar-boats, and the fortress had still a formidable, life-like appearance, though it had been evacuated two days before. 4 [439]

On the 5th of March, while we were descending the Mississippi in a dense fog, the flag-steamer leading, the Confederate gun-boat Grampus, or Dare-devil Jack, the sauciest little vessel on the river, suddenly appeared across our track and “close aboard.” She stopped her engines and struck her colors, and we all thought she was ours at last. But when the captain of the Grampus saw how slowly we moved, and as no gun was fired to bring him to, he started off with astonishing speed and was out of danger before the flag-steamer could fire a gun. She ran before us yawing and flirting about, and blowing her alarm-whistle so as to announce our approach to the enemy who had now retired to Island Number10, a strong position sixty miles below Columbus (and of the latitude of Forts Henry and Donelson), where General Beauregard, who was now in general command of our opponents, had determined to contest the possession of the river.

On March 15th the flotilla and transports continued on their way to Island Number10, arriving in its vicinity about nine in the morning. The strong and muddy current of the river had overflowed its banks and carried away every movable thing. Houses, trees, fences, and wrecks of all kinds were being swept rapidly down-stream.. The twists and turns of the river near Island Number10 are certainly remarkable. Within a radius of eight miles from the island it crosses the boundary line of Kentucky and Tennessee three times, running on almost every point of the compass. We were greatly surprised when we arrived above Island Number10 and saw on the bluffs a chain of forts extending for four miles along the crescent-formed shore, with the white tents of the enemy in the rear. And there lay the island in the lower corner of the crescent, with the side fronting the Missouri shore lined with heavy ordnance, so trained that with the artillery on the opposite shore almost every point on the river between the island and the Missouri bank could be reached at once by all the enemy's batteries.

On the 17th an attack was made on the upper battery by all the iron-clads and mortar-boats. The Benton (flag-steamer), lashed between the Cincinnati and St. Louis, was on the east side of the river; the Mound City, Carondelet, and Pittsburgh were on the west side; the last, however, changed her position to the east side of the river before the firing began. We opened fire on the upper fort at 1:20, and by order of the flag-officer fired one gun a minute. The enemy replied promptly, and some of his shot struck the Benton, but, owing to the distance from which they were fired, did but little damage. We silenced all the guns in the upper fort except one. During the action one of the rifled guns of the St. Louis exploded, killing and wounding several of the gunners,--another proof of the truth of the saying that the guns furnished the Western flotilla were less destructive to the enemy than to ourselves.

From March 17th to April 4th but little progress was made in the reduction of the Confederate works — the gun-boats firing a few shot now and then at long range, but doing little damage. The mortar-boats, however, were daily throwing 13-inch bombs, and so effectively at times that the Confederates were driven from their batteries and compelled to seek refuge in caves and other places of safety. But it was very evident that the [440]

The “Carondelet” running the confederate batteries at Island number10 (April 4, 1862). after a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.

great object of the expedition — the reduction of the works and the capture of the Confederate forces could not be effected by the gun-boats alone, owing to their mode of structure and to the disadvantage under which they were fought in the strong and rapid current of the Mississippi. This was the opinion not only of naval officers, but also of General Pope and other army officers.

On the 23d of March the monotony of the long and tedious investment was unfortunately varied in a very singular manner. The Carondelet being moored nearest the enemy's upper fort, under several large cottonwood trees, in order to protect the mortar-boats, suddenly, and without warning, two of the largest of the trees fell across her deck, mortally wounding one of the crew and severely wounding another, and doing great damage to the vessel. This was twelve days before I ran the gauntlet at Island Number10 with the Carondelet.

To understand fully the importance of that adventure, some explanation of the military situation at and below Island Number10 seems necessary. After the evacuation of New Madrid, which General Pope had forced by blockading the river twelve miles below, at Point Pleasant, the Confederate forces occupied their fortified positions on Island Number10 and the eastern shore of the Mississippi, where they were cut off by impassable swamps on the land side. They were in a cul-de-sac, and the only way open for them to obtain supplies or to effect a retreat was by the river south of Island Number10. General Pope, with an army of twenty thousand men, was on [441] the western side of the river below the island.--Perceiving the defect in the enemy's position, he proceeded with great promptness and ability to take advantage of it. It was his intention to cross the river and attack the enemy from below, but he could not do this without the aid of a gun-boat to silence the enemy's batteries opposite Point Pleasant and protect his army in crossing. He wrote repeatedly to Flag-Officer Foote, urging him to send down a gun-boat past the enemy's batteries on Island Number10, and in one of his letters expressed the belief that a boat could pass down at night under cover of the darkness. But the flag-officer invariably declined, saying in one of his letters to General Pope that the attempt “would result in the sacrifice of the boat, her officers and men, which sacrifice I would not be justified in making.”

During this correspondence the bombardment still went on, but was attended with such poor results that it became a subject of ridicule among the officers of Pope's army, one of whom (Colonel Gilmore, of Chillicothe, Ohio) is reported to have said that often when they met, and inquiry was made respecting the operations of the flotilla, the answer would generally be: “Oh! it is still bombarding the State of Tennessee at long range.” And a Confederate officer said that no casualties resulted and no damage was sustained at Island Number10 from the fire of the gun-boats.

On March 20th Flag-Officer Foote consulted his commanding officers, through Commander Stembel, as to the practicability of taking a gun-boat past the enemy's forts to New Madrid, and all except myself were opposed to the enterprise, believing with Foote that the attempt to pass the batteries would result in the almost certain destruction of the boat. I did not think so, but believed with General Pope that, under the cover of darkness and other favorable circumstances, a gun-boat might be run past the enemy's

The levee at New Madrid. From a sketch made soon after the capture of Island number10.

[442] batteries, formidable as they were with nearly fifty guns. And although fully aware of the hazardous nature of the enterprise, I knew that the aid of a gun-boat was absolutely necessary to enable General Pope to succeed in his operations against the enemy, and thought the importance of this success would justify the risk of running the gauntlet of the batteries on Island Number10 and on the left bank. The army officers were becoming impatient, and it was well known that the Confederates had a number of small gun-boats below, and were engaged in building several large and powerful vessels, of which the renowned Arkansas was one. And there was good reason to apprehend that these gun-boats would ascend the river and pass or silence Pope's batteries, and relieve the Confederate forces on Island Number10 and the eastern shore of the Mississippi. That Pope and Foote apprehended this, appears from the correspondence between them.5

The flag-officer now called a formal council of war of all his commanding officers. It was held on board the flag-steamer, on the 28th or 29th of March, and all except myself concurred in the opinion formerly expressed that the attempt to pass the batteries was too hazardous and ought not to be made. When I was asked to give my views, I favored the undertaking, and advised compliance with the requests of General Pope. When asked if I was willing to make the attempt with the Carondelet, I replied in the affirmative. Foote accepted my advice, and expressed himself as greatly relieved from a heavy responsibility, as he had determined to send none but volunteers on an expedition which he regarded as perilous and of very doubtful success.

Having received written orders from the flag-officer, under date of March 30th, I at once began to prepare the Carondelet for the ordeal. All the loose material at hand was collected, and on the 4th of April the decks were covered with it, to protect them against plunging shot. Hawsers and chain cables were placed around the pilot-house and other vulnerable parts of the vessel, and every precaution was adopted to prevent disaster. A coal-barge laden with hay and coal was lashed to the part of the port side on which there was no iron plating, to protect the magazine. It was truly said that the Carondelet at that time resembled a farmer's wagon prepared for market. The engineers led the escape-steam, through the pipes aft, into the wheel-house, to avoid the puffing sound it made when blown through the smoke-stacks.

All the necessary preparations having been made, I informed the flag-officer of my intention to run the gauntlet that night, and received his approval. Colonel N. B. Buford, who commanded the land forces temporarily with the flotilla, assisted me in preparing for the trip, and on the night of the 4th brought on board Captain Hottenstein, of the 42d Illinois, and twenty-three sharp-shooters of his command, who volunteered their services, which were gratefully accepted. Colonel Buford remained on board until the last moment, to encourage us. I informed the officers and crew of the character of the [443] undertaking, and all expressed a readiness to make the venture. In order to resist boarding parties, in case of being disabled, the sailors were well armed, and pistols, cutlasses, muskets, boarding-pikes, and hand-grenades were within reach. Hose was attached to the boilers for throwing scalding water over any who might attempt to board. If it should be found impossible to save the vessel, it was designed to sink rather than burn her. During the afternoon there was a promise of a clear, moonlight night,

Major-General John Pope. From a photograph taken early in the war.

and it was determined to wait until the moon was down, and then to make the attempt, whatever the chances. Having gone so far, we could not abandon the project without an effect on the men almost as bad as failure.

At 10 o'clock the moon had gone down, and the sky, the earth, and the river were alike hidden in the black shadow of a thunder-storm, which had now spread itself over all the heavens. As the time seemed favorable, I ordered the first master to cast off. Dark clouds now rose rapidly over us and enveloped us in almost total darkness, except when the sky was lighted up by the welcome flashes of vivid lightning, to show us the perilous way we were to take. Now and then the dim outline of the landscape could be seen, and the forest bending under the roaring storm that came rushing up the river.

With our bow pointing to the island, we passed the lowest point of land without being observed, it appears, by the enemy. All speed was given to the vessel to drive her through the tempest. The flashes of lightning continued with frightful brilliancy, and “almost every second,” wrote a correspondent, “every brace, post, and outline could be seen with startling [444] distinctness, enshrouded by a bluish white glare of light, and then her form for the next minute would become merged in the intense darkness.” When opposite Battery No. 2, on the mainland,6 the smoke-stacks blazed up, but the fire was soon subdued. It was caused by the soot becoming dry, as the escape-steam, which usually kept the stacks wet, had been sent into the wheel-house, as already mentioned, to prevent noise. With such vivid lightning as prevailed during the whole passage, there was no prospect of escaping the vigilance of the enemy, but there was good reason to hope that he would be unable to point his guns accurately. Again the smoke-stacks took fire, and were soon put out; and then the roar of the enemy's guns began, and from Batteries Nos. 2, 3, and 4 on the mainland came the continued crack and scream of their rifle-shells, which seemed to unite with the electric batteries of the clouds to annihilate us.

Brigadier-General W. W. MacKALLall, C. S. A., in command at Island number10, previously Assistant Adjutant-General to General Albert Sidney Johnston. From a photograph.

While nearing the island or some shoal point, during a few minutes of total darkness, we were startled by the order, “Hard a-port!” from our brave and skillful pilot, First Master William R. Hoel. We almost grazed the island, and it appears were not observed through the storm until we were close in, and the enemy, having no time to point his guns, fired at random. In fact, we ran so near that the enemy did not, probably could not, depress his guns sufficiently. While close under the lee of the island and during a lull in the storm and in the firing, one of our pilots heard a Confederate officer shout, “Elevate your guns!” It is probable that the muzzles of those guns had been depressed to keep the rain out, and that the officers ordered the guns elevated just in time to save us from the direct fire of the enemy's heaviest fort; and this, no doubt, was the cause of our remarkable escape. [445]

Having passed the principal batteries, we were greatly relieved from suspense, patiently endured, however, by the officers and crew. But there was another formidable obstacle in the way — a floating battery, which was the great “war elephant” of the Confederates, built to blockade the Mississippi permanently. As we passed her she fired six or eight shots at us, but without effect. One ball struck the coal-barge, and one was found in a bale of hay; we found also one or two musket-bullets. We arrived at New Madrid about midnight with no one hurt, and were most joyfully received by our army. At the suggestion of Paymaster Nixon, all hands “spliced the main brace.”

On Sunday, the 6th, after prayers and thanksgiving, the Carondelet, with General Gordon Granger, Colonel J. L. Kirby Smith of the 43d Ohio, and Captain Louis H. Marshall of General Pope's staff on board, made a reconnoissance twenty miles down, nearly to Tiptonville, the enemy's forts firing on her all the way down. We returned their fire, and dropped a few shells into their camps beyond. On the way back, we captured and spiked the guns of a battery of one 32-pounder and one 24-pounder, in about twenty-five minutes, opposite Point Pleasant. Before we landed to spike the guns, a tall Confederate soldier, with cool and deliberate courage, posted himself behind a large cottonwood tree, and repeatedly fired upon us, until our Illinois sharpshooters got to work on him from behind the hammock nettings. He had two rifles, which he soon dropped, fleeing into the woods with his head down. The next day he was captured and brought into camp at Tiptonville, with the tip of his nose shot off. After the capture of this battery, the enemy prepared to evacuate his positions on Island Number10 and the adjacent shores, and thus, as one of the historians of the civil war says, the Carondelet struck the blow that secured that victory.

Returning to New Madrid, we were instructed by General Pope to attack the enemy's batteries of six 64-pounders which protected his rear; and besides, another gun-boat was expected. The Pittsburgh (Lieutenant-Commander Thompson) ran the gauntlet without injury, during a thunder-storm, at 2 in the morning of April 7th, and arrived at 5 o'clock; but she was not ready for service, and the Carondelet attacked the principal batteries at Watson's Landing alone and had nearly silenced them when the Pittsburgh came up astern and fired nearly over the Carondelet's upper deck, after she and the Confederates had ceased firing. I reported to General Pope that we had cleared the opposite shores of the enemy, and were ready to cover the crossing of the river and the landing of the army. Seeing themselves cut off, the garrison at Island Number10 surrendered to Foote on the 7th of April, the day of the Confederate repulse at Shiloh. The other Confederates retreating before Pope's advance, were nearly all overtaken and captured at 4 o'clock on the morning of the 8th; and about the same time the cavalry under Colonel W. L. Elliott took possession of the enemy's deserted works on the Tennessee shore.

The result of General Pope's operations in connection with the services of the Carondelet below Island Number10 was the capture of three generals (including General W. W. Mackall, who ten days before the surrender had succeeded General John P. McCown in the command at Madrid Bend), over [446]

The “Carondelet” and “Pittsburgh” capturing the Confederate batteries below New Madrid. After a drawing by rear-admiral Walke.

5000 men, 20 pieces of heavy artillery, 7000 stand of arms, and a large quantity of ammunition and provisions, without the loss of a man on our side.

On the 12th the Benton (flag-steamer), with the Cincinnati, Mound City, Cairo, and St. Louis, passed Tiptonville and signaled the Carondelet and Pittsburgh to follow. Five Confederate gun-boats came up the next day and offered battle; but after the exchange of a few shots at long range they retired down the river. We followed them all the way to Craighead's Point, where they were under cover of their fortifications at Fort Pillow. I was not aware at the time that we were chasing the squadron of my esteemed shipmate of the U. S. Frigates Cumberland and Merrimac, Colonel John W. Dunnington, who afterward fought so bravely at Arkansas Post.

On the 14th General Pope's army landed about six miles above Craighead's Point, near Osceola, under the protection of the gun-boats. While he was preparing to attack Fort Pillow, Foote sent his executive officer twice to me on the Carondelet to inquire whether I would undertake, with my vessel and two or three other gun-boats, to pass below the fort to cooperate with General Pope, to which inquiries I replied that I was ready at any time to make the attempt. But Pope and his army (with the exception of 1,500 men) were ordered away, and the expedition against Fort Pillow was abandoned. Between the 14th of April and the 10th of May two or three of the mortar-boats were towed down the river and moored near Craighead's Point, with a gun-boat to protect them. They were employed in throwing 13-inch bombs across the point into Fort Pillow, two miles distant. The enemy returned our bombardment with vigor, but not with much accuracy or effect. Several of their bombs fell near the gun-boats when we were three miles from the fort. [447]

The Confederate fleet called the “River defense” having been reinforced, they determined upon capturing the mortar-boats or giving us battle. On the 8th three of their vessels came to the point from which the mortar-boats had thrown their bombs, but, finding none, returned. Foote had given special orders to keep up steam and be ready for battle any moment, day or night. There was so much illness at that time in the flotilla that about a third of the officers and men were under medical treatment, and a great many were unfit for duty. On the 9th of May, at his own request, our distinguished commander-in-chief, Foote, was relieved from his arduous duties. He had become very much enfeebled from the wounds received at Fort Donelson and from illness. He carried with him the sympathy and regrets of all his command. He was succeeded by Flag-Officer Charles Henry Davis, a most excellent officer.

This paper would not be complete without some account of the naval battles fought by the flotilla immediately after the retirement of Flag-Officer Foote, under whose supervision and amid the greatest embarrassments it had been built, organized, and equipped. On the morning of the 10th of May a mortar-boat was towed down the river, as usual, at 5 A. M., to bombard Fort Pillow. The Cincinnati soon followed to protect her. At 6:35 eight Confederate rams came up the river at full speed.7 The Carondelet at once prepared for action, and slipped her hawser to the “bare end,” ready for orders to “go ahead.” No officer was on the deck of the Benton (flag-steamer) except the pilot, Mr. Birch, who informed the flag-officer of the situation, and passed the order to the Carondelet and Pittsburgh to proceed without waiting for the flag-steamer. General signal was also made to the fleet to get under way, but it was not visible on account of the light fog.

The Carondelet started immediately after the first verbal order; the others, for want of steam or some other cause, were not ready, except the Mound City, which put off soon after we were fairly on our way to the rescue of the Cincinnati. We had proceeded about a mile before our other gun-boats left their moorings. The rams were advancing rapidly, and we steered for the leading vessel, General Bragg, a brig-rigged, side-wheel steam ram, far in advance of the others, and apparently intent on striking the Cincinnati. When about three-quarters of a mile from the General Bragg, the Carondelet and Mound City fired on her with their bow-guns, until she struck the Cincinnati on the starboard quarter, making a great hole in the shell-room, through which the water poured with resistless force. The Cincinnati then retreated up the river and the General Bragg drifted down, evidently disabled. The General Price, following the example of her consort, also rammed the Cincinnati. We fired our bow-guns into the General Price, and she backed off, disabled also. The Cincinnati was again struck by one of the enemy's rams, the General Sumter. Having pushed on with all speed to the rescue of the Cincinnati, the Carondelet passed her in a sinking condition, and, rounding to, we fired our bow and starboard broadside guns into the retreating General Bragg and the advancing rams, General Jeff. Thompson, General Beauregard, [448] and General Lovell. Heading up-stream, close to a shoal, the Carondelet brought her port broadside guns to bear on the Sumter and Price, which were dropping down-stream. At this crisis the Van Dorn and Little Rebel had run above the Carondelet; the Bragg, Jeff Thompson, Beauregard, and Lovell were below her. The last three, coming up, fired into the Carondelet; she returned their fire with her sternguns; and, while in this position, I ordered the port rifled 50-pounder Dahlgren gun to be leveled and fired at the center of the Sumter. The shot struck the vessel just forward of her wheel-house, and the steam instantly poured out from her ports and all parts of her casemates, and we saw her men running out of them and falling or lying down on her deck. None of our gun-boats had yet come to the assistance of the Carondelet. The Benton and Pittsburgh had probably gone to aid the Cincinnati, and the St. Louis to relieve the Mound City, which had been badly rammed by the Van Dorn. The smoke at this time was so

Flag-officer Charles Henry Davis (afterward rear-admiral and chief of the Bureau of navigation). from a photograph.

dense that we could hardly distinguish the gun-boats above us. The upper deck of the Carondelet was swept with grape-shot and fragments of broken shell; some of the latter were picked up by one of the sharp-shooters, who told me they were obliged to lie down under shelter to save themselves from the grape and other shot of the Pittsburgh above us, and from the shot and broken shell of the enemy below us. Why some of our gun-boats did not fire into the Van Dorn and Little Rebel while they were above the Carondelet, and prevent their escape, if possible, I never could make out.8

As the smoke rose we saw that the enemy was retreating rapidly and in great confusion. The Carondelet dropped down to within half a mile above Craighead's Point, and kept up a continual fire upon their vessels, which were very much huddled together. When they were nearly, if not quite, beyond gunshot, the Benton, having raised sufficient steam, came down and passed the Carondelet; but the Confederates were under the protection of Fort Pillow before the Benton could reach them. Our fleet returned to Plum Point, except the Carondelet, which dropped her anchor on the battle-field, two miles or more below the point, and remained there two days on voluntary [449] guard duty. This engagement was sharp, but not decisive. From the first to the last shot fired by the Carondelet, one hour and ten minutes elapsed. After the battle, long-range firing was kept up until the evacuation of Fort Pillow.

On the 25th seven of Colonel Ellet's rams arrived,--a useful acquisition to our fleet. During the afternoon of June 4th heavy clouds of smoke were observed rising from Fort Pillow, followed by explosions, which continued through the night; the last of which, much greater than the others, lit up the heavens and the Chickasaw bluffs with a brilliant light, and convinced us that this was the parting salute of the Confederates before leaving for the lower Mississippi. At dawn next morning the fleet was all astir to take possession of Fort Pillow, the flag-steamer leading. We found the casemates, magazines, and breastworks blown to atoms.

On our way to Memphis the enemy's steamer Sovereign was intercepted by one of our tugs. She was run ashore by her crew, who attempted to blow her up, but were foiled in their purpose by a boy of sixteen whom the enemy had pressed into service, who, after the abandonment of the vessel, took the extra weights from the safety-valves, opened the fire-doors and flue-caps, and put water on the fires, and, having procured a sheet, signaled the tug, which came up and took possession. It may be proper to say that on our way down the river we respected private property, and did not assail or molest any except those who were in arms against us.

The morning of the 6th of June we fought the battle of Memphis, which lasted one hour and ten minutes. It was begun by an attack upon our fleet by the enemy, whose vessels were in double line of battle opposite the city. We were then at a distance of a mile and a half or two miles above the city. Their fire continued for a quarter of an hour, when the attack was promptly met by

Fort Pillow and the water-battery. After a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.


Mound City. Carondelet. Cincinnati. Price. Bragg. Sumter. mortar no. 16. Van Dorn. little Rebel. the battle of Fort Pillow, May 10, 1862 (looking north). after a sketch by rear-admiral Walke.

two of our ram squadron, the Queen of the West (Colonel Charles Ellet) leading, and the Monarch (Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Ellet, younger brother of the leader). These vessels fearlessly dashed ahead of our gun-boats, ran for the enemy's fleet, and at the first plunge succeeded in sinking one vessel and disabling another. The astonished Confederates received them gallantly and effectively. The Queen of the West and Monarch were followed in line of battle by the gun-boats, under the lead of Flag-Officer Davis, and all of them opened fire, which was continued from the time we got within good range until the end of the battle-two or three tugs keeping all the while a safe distance astern. The Queen of the West was a quarter of a mile in advance of the Monarch, and after having rammed one of the enemy's fleet, she was badly rammed by the Beauregard, which then, in company with the General Price, made a dash at the Monarch as she approached them. The Beauregard, however, missed the Monarch and struck the General Price instead on her port side, cutting her down to the water-line, tearing off her wheel instantly, and placing her hors de combat. The Monarch then rammed the Beauregard, which had been several times raked fore and aft by the shot and shell of our iron-clads, and she quickly sank in the river opposite Memphis. The General Lovell, after having been badly rammed by the Queen of the West, was struck by our shot and shell, and, at about the same time and place as the Beauregard, sank to the bottom so suddenly as to take a considerable number of her officers and crew down with her, the others being saved by small boats and our tugs. The Price, Little Rebel (with a shot-hole [451] through her steam-chest), and our Queen of the West, all disabled, were run on the Arkansas shore opposite Memphis; and the Monarch afterward ran into the Little Rebel just as our fleet was passing her in pursuit of the remainder of the enemy's fleet, then retreating rapidly down the river. The Jeff. Thompson, below the point and opposite President's Island, was the next boat disabled by our shot. She was run ashore, burned, and blown up. The Confederate ram Sumter was also disabled by our shell and captured. The Bragg soon after shared the same fate and was run ashore, where her officers abandoned her and disappeared in the forests of Arkansas. All the Confederate rams which had been run on the Arkansas shore were captured. The Van Dorn, having a start, alone escaped down the river. The rams

The battle of Memphis (June 6, 1862), looking south. After a drawing by rear-admiral Walke.

Monarch and Switzerland were dispatched in pursuit of her and a few transports, but returned without overtaking them, although they captured another steamer.9

The scene at this battle was rendered most sublime by the desperate nature of the engagement and the momentous consequences that followed very speedily after the first attack. Thousands of people crowded the high bluffs overlooking the river. The roar of the cannon and shell shook the houses on shore on either side for many miles. First wild yells, shrieks, and clamors, then loud, despairing murmurs, filled the affrighted city. The screaming, plunging shell crashed into the boats, blowing some of them and their crews into fragments, and the rams rushed upon each other like wild beasts in [452] deadly conflict. Blinding smoke hovered about the scene of all this confusion and horror; and, as the battle progressed and the Confederate fleet was destroyed, all the cheering voices on shore were silenced. When the last hope of the Confederates gave way, the lamentations which went up from the spectators were like cries of anguish.

Boats were put off from our vessels to save as many lives as possible. No serious injury was received by any one on board the United States fleet. Colonel Ellet received a pistol-shot in the leg; a shot struck the Carondelet in the bow, broke up her anchor and anchor-stock, and fragments were scattered over her deck among her officers and crew, wounding slightly Acting-Master Gibson and two or three others who were standing at the time on the forward deck with me. The heavy timber which was suspended at the water-line, to protect the boats from

Brigadier-General M. Jeff. Thompson. From a photograph.

the Confederate rams, greatly impeded our progress, and it was therefore cut adrift from the Carondelet when that vessel was in chase of the Bragg and Sumter. The latter had just landed a number of her officers and crew, some of whom were emerging from the bushes along the bank of the river, unaware of the Carondelet's proximity, when I hailed them through a trumpet, and ordered them to stop or be shot. They obeyed immediately, and by my orders were taken on board a tug and delivered on the Benton.

General Jeff. Thompson, noted in partisan or border warfare, having signally failed with those rams at Fort Pillow, now resigned them to their fate. It was said that he stood by his horse watching the struggle, and seeing at last his rams all gone, captured, sunk, or burned, he exclaimed, philosophically, “They are gone, and I am going,” mounted his horse, and disappeared.

An enormous amount of property was captured by our squadron; and, in addition to the Confederate fleet, we captured at Memphis six large Mississippi steamers, each marked “C. S. A.” We also seized a large quantity of cotton in steamers and on shore, and the property at the Confederate Navy Yard, and caused the destruction of the Tennessee, a large steam-ram, on the stocks, which was to have been a sister ship to the renowned Arkansas. About one hundred Confederates were killed and wounded and one hundred and fifty captured. Chief of all results of the work of the flotilla was the opening of the Mississippi River once for all from Cairo to Memphis, and the complete possession of Western Tennessee by the Union forces.

1 The armament of the fort consisted of “ten 32-pounder guns (two of them ship carronades), one 8-inch howitzer, two nondescript 9-pounders, one 1 0-inch Columbiad, and one rifled gun throwing a conical shell of 128 pounds.” The garrison was commanded by Colonel J. E. Bailey, the artillery by Captain Joseph Dixon, and after his death by Captain Jacob Culbertson, with Captains Ross, Beaumont, and Bidwell in separate command of the guns of the lower batteries. Captain Dixon was killed in the action of the 13th with the Carondelet by a shot which dismounted one of his guns-“the only damage done to the batteries during the siege.” (Captain Culbertson's report.)--editors.

2 From the report of Captain B. G. Bidwell, “the only officer connected with the heavy batteries of Fort Donelson who was fortunate enough to escape,” we take this account of the engagement:

All was quiet until the evening of the 14th (Friday), when 4 boats came around the point, arranged themselves in line of battle, and advanced slowly, but steadily, up the river to within 200 yards of our battery, and halted, when a most incessant fire was kept up for some time. We were ordered to hold our fire until they got within range of our 32-pounders. We remained perfectly silent, while they came over about one and a half miles, pouring a heavy fire of shot and shell upon us all the time. Two more boats came around the point and threw shell at us. Our gunners were inexperienced and knew very little of the firing of heavy guns. They, however, did some excellent shooting. The rifled gun was disabled by the ramming of a cartridge while the wire was in the vent, it being left in there by a careless gunner,--being bent, it could not be got out,--but the two center boats were both disabled, the left-center (I think) by a ricochet shot entering one of the port-holes, which are tolerably large. The right-center boat was very soon injured by a ball striking her on top, and also a direct shot in the port hole, when she fell back, the two flank boats closing in behind them and protecting them from. our fire in retreat. I think these two were not seriously injured. They must have fired near two thousand shot and shell at us. Our Columbiad fired about 27 times, the rifled gun very few times, and the 32-pounders about 45 or 50 rounds each. A great many of our balls took effect, being well aimed. I am confident the efficiency of the gun-boat is in the gun it carries rather than in the boat itself. We can whip them always if our men will only stand to their guns. Not a man of all ours was hurt, notwithstanding they threw grape at us. Their fire was more destructive to our works at 2 miles than at 200 yards. They over-fired us from that distance.

3 The ostensible object was a request to permit the families of officers captured at Fort Donelson to pass through the Union lines. The request was granted on the following day, but General George W. Cullum (General Halleck's chief of staff) and Flag-Officer Foote remonstrated with General Polk for the use made of the flag of truce.-editors.

4 On the 3d of March the evacuated works had been occupied by a scouting party of the 2d Illinois Cavalry, sent from Paducah by Brigadier-General W. T. Sherman, who had succeeded Brigadier-General Grant in command of the District of Cairo (February 14, 1862) on the assignment of General Grant to the command of the District of West Tennessee. The fact of the occupation was not known at the time of the gun-boat reconnoissance, which included a land force accompanied by General Sherman and by Brigadier-General Cullum. This detachment landed and took formal possession. In his report of the occupation, General Cullum speaks of Columbus as “the Gibraltar of the West.” See also note, p. 367.-editors.

5 An interesting and important enterprise in this campaign was the sawing out, under great difficulties, of a channel, twelve miles in length, to complete a water-way for the Union transports across Madrid Bend. See paper by Colonel J. W. Bissell and corrected map, page 460.-editors.

6 The Confederate land batteries above New Madrid were ten in number--five on the eastern side of Island Number10; four (Batteries No. 5, 4, 3, and 2) opposite the island on the mainland, as shown on the map (p. 437), besides Battery No. 1, two miles above the island.-editors.

During the dark and stormy night of April 1st Colonel George W. Roberts, of the 42d Illinois Regiment, executed a brilliant exploit. Forty picked men, in five barges, with muffled oars, left for Battery No. 1. They proceeded in silence, and were unobserved until within a few rods of the fort, when a flash of lightning discovered them to the sentries, who fired. Our men, who did not reply, were soon climbing up the slippery bank, and in three minutes more the six guns were spiked, Colonel Roberts himself spiking a huge 80-pounder pivot-gun. Some of these guns had been previously dismounted by our fleet, and were now rendered doubly useless.-H. W.

7 The mortar-boat, No. 16, which was the first object of attack, was defended with great spirit by Acting-Master Gregory, who fired his mortar eleven times, reducing the charge and diminishing the elevation. (See cut, p. 450.)-editors.

8 Flag-Officer Davis says in his report: “All of these vessels might easily have been captured if we had possessed the means of towing them out of action; but the steam-power of our gun-boats is so disproportionate to the bulk of the vessels that they can accomplish but little beyond overcoming the strength of the current, even when unincumbered.”--editors.

9 See paper on Ellet and his steam-rams at Memphis, page 453.-editors.

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