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Farragut at Mobile Bay.1

by John Coddington Kinney, first Lieutenant, 13TH Connecticut infantry, and Acting signal officer, U. S. A.
After the Mississippi was opened in July, 1863, by the capture of Vicksburg and the consequent surrender of Port Hudson, Admiral Farragut devoted a large share of his attention to the operations against Mobile Bay. He was aware that the Confederates were actively engaged in the construction of rains and iron-clads at Mobile and above, and it was his earnest desire to force the entrance into Mobile Bay and capture the forts that guarded it, before the more powerful of the new vessels could be finished and brought down to aid in the defense. In January, 1864, he made a reconnoissance of Forts Gaines and Morgan, at which time no Confederate vessels were in the lower bay, except one transport. In letters to the Navy Department he urged that at least one iron-clad be sent to help his wooden fleet, and asked for the cooperation of a brigade of five thousand soldiers to enable him, after running into the bay, to reduce the forts at his leisure. It is easy to see now the wisdom of his plan. Had the operations against Mobile been undertaken promptly, as he desired, the entrance into the bay would have been effected with much less cost of men and materials, Mobile would have been captured a year earlier than it was, and the Union cause would have been saved the disaster of the Red River campaign of 1864. At this late day it is but justice to Farragut to admit the truth.

His position at the time was one of great anxiety. He saw the ease with which the forts could be captured if a few thousand troops could be obtained [380] to cooperate with his fleet. He knew that the Confederates were bending all their energies to the construction of three or more powerful rams, to meet which he had until late in the summer nothing but wooden vessels. Every day was strengthening the Confederate situation and making his own position more perilous. With the necessary cooperation he would run inside the bay, prevent any iron-clads from crossing Dog River bar (over which they had to be floated with “camels” ), put a stop to the planting of torpedoes, effectually prevent blockade-running, and easily capture the garrisons of the forts.

But, much to his regret, the army under General Banks started up the Red River, and he was left alone with his little fleet to watch the operations he could not prevent. At last, about May 20th, the great ram Tennessee made her appearance in the lower bay. Just before she arrived, and when it was known that Admiral Buchanan was engaged in efforts to float the ram over the bar, eight miles up the bay, Farragut wrote to Secretary Welles:

I fully understand and appreciate my situation. The experience I had of the fight between the Arkansas and Admiral Davis's vessels on the Mississippi showed plainly how unequal the contest is between iron-clads and wooden vessels, in loss of life, unless you succeed in destroying the iron-clad. I therefore deeply regret that the department has not been able to give me one of the many iron-clads that are off Charleston and in the Mississippi. I have always looked for the latter, but it appears that it takes us twice as long to build an iron-clad as any one else. It looks as if the contractors and the fates were against us. While the rebels are bending their whole energies to the war our people are expecting the war to close by default; and if they do not awake to a sense of their danger soon it will be so. But be assured, sir, that the navy will do its duty, let the issue come when it may, or I am greatly deceived.

A few days later. the Tennessee came down and anchored near Fort Morgan. From that time until the battle was fought, Farragut never left the Hartford except when making inspections. It was expected that the rebel admiral would attack the blockading fleet before the iron-clads arrived, and Farragut made his preparations accordingly, even arranging extemporized torpedoes to place himself in this respect on a par with the enemy. This he did very reluctantly, writing on May 25th:

Torpedoes are not so agreeable when used on both sides; therefore, I have reluctantly brought myself to it. I have always deemed it unworthy a chivalrous nation, but it does not do to give your enemy such a decided superiority over you.

In the same letter he speaks of the discouraging news just received of Banks's defeat, and adds:

I see by the rebel papers Buchanan is advertised to raise the blockade as soon as he is ready. As I have before informed the department, if I had the military force . . . and one or two iron-clads, I would not hesitate to run in and attack him; but if I were to run in and in so doing get my vessels crippled, it would be in his power to retire to the shoal water with his iron-clads (in fact, all their vessels draw much less water than ours), and thus destroy us without our being able to get at him. But if he takes the offensive and comes out of port, I hope to be able to contend with him. The department has not yet responded to my call for the iron-clads in the Mississippi.

After the Red River disaster, General Grant decided that the majority of the fighting men of the army could be used to better advantage in Virginia, and the force in the Department of the Gulf was largely reduced. It was not [381]

The “Richmond” and the “Lackawanna” stripped for the fight. From a War-time sketch.

until the latter part of July, 1864, that General Canby could make his arrangements to cooperate with Farragut at Mobile Bay. On the 3d of August a division of troops, under General Gordon Granger, landed on the west end of Dauphine Island and began preparations for a siege of Fort Gaines. Meantime, also, three monitors had arrived and a fourth was daily expected, and at last the time, for which Admiral Farragut had so long been praying, arrived.

On the morning of August 4th a detachment of army signal officers, under command of the late Major Frank W. Marston, arrived by tug from New Orleans. They were distributed among the principal vessels of the fleet, for the purpose of communicating with General Granger's force after the entrance into the bay had been effected, and it was the good fortune of the writer to be assigned to duty on the Hartford. In the afternoon of the same day Admiral Farragut, with the commanding officers of the different vessels, made a reconnoissance on the steam-tender Cowslip, running inside of Sand Island, where the three monitors were anchored, and within easy range of both the forts. On the left, some three miles distant, was Fort Gaines, a small brick and earth work, mounting a few heavy guns, but too far away from the ship channel to cause much uneasiness to the fleet. Fort Morgan was on the right, one of the strongest of the old brick forts, and greatly strengthened by immense piles of sand-bags, covering every portion of the exposed front. The fort was well equipped with three tiers of heavy guns, one of the guns, at least, of the best English make, imported by the Confederates. In addition, there was in front a battery of seven powerful guns, at the water's edge on the beach. All the guns, of both fort and water-battery, were within point-blank range of the only channel through which the fleet could pass. The Confederates considered the works impregnable, but they did not depend solely upon them. Just around the point of land, behind Fort Morgan, we could see that afternoon three saucy-looking gun-boats and the famous ram Tennessee. The latter was then considered the strongest and most powerful iron-clad ever put afloat. She looked like a great turtle; her sloping sides were covered with iron plates [382] six inches in thickness, thoroughly riveted together, and she had a formidable iron beak projecting under the water. Her armament consisted of six heavy Brooke rifles, each sending a solid shot weighing from 95 to 110 pounds--a small affair compared with the heavy guns of the present time, but irresistible then against everything but the turrets of the monitors. In addition to these means of resistance, the narrow channel to within a few hundred yards of the shore had been lined with torpedoes.

Fort Morgan. From War-time Photographs.
1. light-house, Mobile Point. 2. the south-east bastion. 3. the citadel, from the north side.

does. These were under the water, anchored to the bottom. Some of them were beer-kegs filled with powder, from the sides of which projected numerous little tubes containing fulminate, which it was expected would be exploded by contact with the passing vessels, but the greater part were tin cones fitted with caps.

Except for what Farragut had already accomplished on the Mississippi, it would have been considered a foolhardy experiment for wooden vessels to attempt to pass so close to one of the strongest forts on the coast; but when to the forts were added the knowledge of the strength of the rain and the supposed deadly character of the torpedoes, it may be imagined that the [383] coming event impressed the person taking his first glimpse of naval warfare as decidedly hazardous and unpleasant. So daring an attempt was never made in any country but ours, and was never successfully made by any commander except Farragut, who, in this, as in his previous exploits in passing the forts of the Mississippi, proved himself one of the greatest naval commanders the world has ever seen. It was the confidence reposed in him, the recollection that he had not failed in his former attempts, and his manifest faith in the success of the projected movement, that inspired all around him.

The scene on the Cowslip that afternoon of the 4th of August was a notable one, as she steamed within range of the forts. The central figure was the grand old admiral, his plans all completed, affable with all, evidently not thinking of failure as among the possibilities of the morrow, and filling every one with his enthusiasm. He was sixty-three years old, of medium height, stoutly built, with a finely proportioned head and smoothly shaven face, with an expression combining overflowing kindliness with iron will and invincible determination, and with eyes that in repose were full of sweetness and light, but, in emergency, could flash fire and fury.

Next in prominence to the admiral was the tall, commanding form of Fleet-Captain Percival Drayton, the man of all men to be Farragut's chief-of-staff, gentlemanly and courteous to all, but thoughtful and reserved, a man of marked intellect and power, in whose death, a few years later, our navy lost one of its very brightest stars, and the cause of liberty and human rights a most devoted friend. I have digressed to this extent to pay my humble tribute to one of the bravest and most patriotic men I ever met, and to a native South Carolinian of bluest blood, and proud of his ancestry, who in his love of country had learned to look beyond State lines and to disregard the ties of kinship.

As we steamed slowly along inside Sand Island, inspecting every hostile point, a Confederate transport landed at Fort Gaines, and began discharging cargo. At a signal from the admiral, one of the monitors, by way of practice, opened fire at long range, and, as the huge fifteen-inch shell dropped uncomfortably near, the work of unloading was stopped, and the transport suddenly left — the last Confederate transport that ever crossed the bay.

After the reconnaissance the final council of war was held on board the Hartford, when the positions of the various vessels were assigned, and the order of the line was arranged. Unfortunately Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Thornton A. Jenkins was absent, his vessel, the Richmond, having been unavoidably delayed at Pensacola, whither she had gone for coal and to escort the monitor Tecumseh. Had he been present he certainly would have been selected to take the lead, in which event the perilous halt of the next day would not have occurred. Much against his own wish Admiral Farragut yielded to the unanimous advice of his captains and gave up his original determination of placing his flagship in the advance, and, in the uncertainty as to the arrival of the Richmond, assigned the Brooklyn, Captain Alden, to that position.2 [384]

Gulf of Mexico. note.--The Tecumseh, the leading monitor, moved from the position shown on the map under Fort Morgan, to the left toward the right of the line marked “Torpedoes,” where she was blown up. The distance traversed by the Metacomet, after casting off from the Hartford and until she came up with the Selma, is estimated by Admiral Jouett at nine miles. The time elapsed, as noted in the various reports, sustains this estimate. Owing to the limited size of the page, the map fails to show this distance, but it indicates the direction of the course of the gun-boats. The capture of the Selma, as well as the grounding of the Morgan, occurred some distance to the north-east of the edge of the map.--editors.


A few hours later, just before sunset, the Richmond arrived with the Tecumseh, and the cause of her delay was satisfactorily explained, but the admiral decided to make no change in the order of the line, which was settled upon as follows: Brooklyn and Octorara, Hartford and Metacomet, Richmond and Port Royal, Lackawanna and Seminole, Monongahela and Kennebec, Ossipee and Itasca, Oneida and Galena. The first-named of each pair was on the starboard or more exposed side.

The four monitors were to go a little in advance, and on the right flank of the wooden vessels. The Tecumseh and Manhattan were single-turreted, each with two 15-inch guns. The Winnebago and Chickasaw were of lighter draught, with two turrets each, and four 11-inch guns.

Before attempting to narrate the events of the next day, it may be well to give an idea of the situation. Mobile Bay gradually widens from the city to the gulf, a distance of thirty miles. The entrance is protected by a long, narrow arm of sand, with Fort Morgan on the extreme western point. Across the channel from Fort Morgan, and perhaps three miles distant, is Dauphine Island, a narrow strip of sand with Fort Gaines at its eastern end. Further to the west is little Fort Powell, commanding a narrow channel through which light-draught vessels could enter the bay. Between Dauphine Island and Fort Morgan, and in front of the main entrance to the bay, is Sand Island, a barren spot, under the lee of which three of our monitors were lying. The army signal officers were sent on board the fleet, not with any intention of having their services used in passing the forts, but in order to establish communication afterward between the fleet and the army, for the purpose of cooperating in the capture of the forts. The primary objects of Admiral Farragut in entering the bay were to close Mobile to the outside world, to capture or destroy the Tennessee, and to cut off all possible means of escape from the garrisons of the forts. Incidentally, also, he desired to secure the moral effect of a victory, and to give his fleet, which had been tossed on the uneasy waters of the Gulf for many months, a safe and quiet anchorage. There was no immediate expectation of capturing the city of Mobile, which was safe by reason of a solid row of piles and torpedoes across the river, three miles below the city. Moreover, the larger vessels of the fleet could not approach within a dozen miles of the city, on account of shallow water. But the lower bay offered a charming resting-place for the fleet, with the additional attraction of plenty of fish and oysters, and an occasional chance to forage on shore.

At sunset the last orders had been issued, every commander knew his duty, and unusual quiet prevailed in the fleet. The sea was smooth, a gentle breeze relieved the midsummer heat, and the night came on serenely and peacefully, and far more quietly than to a yachting fleet at Newport. For the first hour after the candles were lighted below the stillness was almost oppressive. The officers of the Hartford gathered around the ward-room table, writing letters to loved ones far away, or giving instructions in case of death. As brave and thoughtful men, they recognized the dangers that they did not fear, and made provision for the possibilities of the morrow. But this occupied little [386]

The battle of Mobile. From a War-time sketch.

time, and then. business over, there followed an hour of unrestrained jollity. Many an old story was retold and ancient conundrum repeated. Old officers forgot, for the moment, their customary dignity, and it was evident that all were exhilarated and stimulated by the knowledge of the coming struggle. There was no other “stimulation,” for the strict naval rules prevented. Finally, after a half-hour's smoke under the forecastle, all hands turned in. The scene on the flag-ship was representative of the night before the battle throughout the fleet.

It was the admiral's desire and intention to get under way by daylight, to take advantage of the inflowing tide; but a dense fog came on after midnight and delayed the work of forming line.

It was a weird sight as the big ships “balanced to partners,” the dim out-lines slowly emerging like phantoms in the fog. The vessels were lashed together in pairs, fastened side by side by huge cables. All the vessels had been stripped for the fight, the top-hamper being left at Pensacola, and the starboard boats being either left behind or towed on the port side. The admiral's steam-launch, the Loyall, named after his son,3 steamed alongside the flag-ship on the port side.

It was a quarter of six o'clock before the fleet was in motion. Meantime a light breeze had scattered the fog and left a clear, sunny August day. The line moved slowly, and it was an hour after starting before the opening gun was fired. This was a 15-inch shell from the Tecumseh, and it exploded over Fort M{organ. Half an hour afterward the fleet came within range and the firing from the starboard vessels became general, the fort and the Confederate [387] fleet replying. The fleet took position across the entrance to the bay and raked the advance vessels fore and aft, doing great damage, to which it was for a time impossible to make effective reply. Gradually the fleet came into close quarters with Fort Morgan, and the firing on both sides became terrific. The wooden vessels moved more rapidly than the monitors, and as the Brooklyn came opposite the fort, and approached the torpedo line, she came nearly alongside the rear monitor. To have kept on would have been to take the lead, with the ram Tennessee approaching and with the unknown danger of the torpedoes underneath. At this critical moment the Brooklyn halted and began backing and signaling with the army signals. The Hartford was immediately behind and the following vessels were in close proximity, and the sudden stopping of the Brooklyn threatened to bring the whole fleet into collision, while the strong inflowing tide was likely to carry some of the vessels to the shore under the guns of the fort.

On the previous night the admiral had issued orders that the army signal officers were not to be allowed on deck during the fight, but were to go into the cockpit, on the lower deck, and assist the surgeons. The reason assigned was that these officers would not be needed during the passage of the forts, but would be wanted afterward to open communication with the army, and that therefore it would be a misfortune to have any of them disabled. The two army signal officers on the Hartford disrelished this order exceedingly, and, after consulting together, decided that in the confusion of the occasion their presence on deck would probably not be noticed, and that they would evade the command if possible. In this they were successful until shortly before passing Sand Island and coming within range of Fort Morgan. Then the executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Lewis A. Kimberly, who never allowed anything to escape his attention, came to them very quietly and politely, and told them the admiral's order must be obeyed. We were satisfied from his manner that the surgeons had need of us, and, without endeavoring to argue the matter, made our way to the stifling hold, where Surgeon Lansdale and Assistant-Surgeon Commons, with their helpers, were sitting, with their paraphernalia spread out ready f:or use.

Nearly every man had his watch in his hand awaiting the first shot. To us, ignorant of everything going on above, every minute seemed an hour, and there was a feeling of great relief when the boom of the Tecumseh's first gun was heard. Presently one or two of our forward guns opened, and we could hear the distant sound of the guns of the fort in reply. Soon the cannon-balls began to crash through the deck above us, and then the thunder of our whole broadside of nine Dahlgren guns kept the vessel in. a quiver. But as yet no wounded were sent down, and we knew we were still at comparatively long range. In the intense excitement of the occasion it seemed that hours had passed, but it was just twenty minutes from the time we went below, when an officer shouted down the hatchway: “Send up an army signal officer immediately; the Brooklyn is signaling.” In a moment the writer was on deck, where he found the situation as already described. Running on to the forecastle, he hastily took the Brooklyn's message, which [388]

The battle of Mobile, looking South and eastward. From a War-time sketch.

imparted the unnecessary information, “The monitors are right ahead; we cannot go on without passing them.” The reply was sent at once from the admiral, “Order the monitors ahead and go on.” But still the Brooklyn halted, while, to add to the horror of the situation, the monitor Tecumseh, a few hundred yards in the advance, suddenly careened to one side and almost instantly sank to the bottom, carrying with her Captain Tunis A. M. Craven and the greater part of his crew, numbering in all 114 officers and men.4 The pilot, John Collins, and a few men who were in the turret jumped into [389] the water and were rescued by a boat from the Metacomet, which, under charge of Acting Ensign Henry C. Nields, rowed up under the guns of the fort and through a deadly storm of shot and shell and picked them up.5 Meantime the Brooklyn failed to go ahead, and the whole fleet became a stationary point-blank target for the guns of Fort Morgan and of the rebel vessels. It was during these few perilous moments that the most fatal work of the day was done to the fleet.

Owing to the Hartford's position, only her few bow guns could be used, while a deadly rain of shot and shell was falling on her, and her men were being cut down by scores, unable to make reply. The sight on deck was sickening beyond the power of words to portray. Shot after shot came through the side, mowing down the men, deluging the decks with blood, and scattering mangled fragments of humanity so thickly that it was difficult to stand on the deck, so slippery was it. The old expressions of the “scuppers running bloody,” “the slippery deck,” etc., give but the faintest idea of the spectacle on the Hartford. The bodies of the dead were placed in a long row on the port side, while the wounded were sent below until the surgeons' quarters would hold no more. A solid shot coming through the bow struck a gunner on the neck, completely severing head from body. One poor fellow (afterward an object of interest at the great Sanitary Commission Fair in New York) lost both legs by a cannon-ball; as he fell he threw up both arms, just in time to have them also carried away by another shot. At one gun, all the crew on one side were swept down by a shot which came crashing through

The “Galena” after the fight in Mobile Bay. From a War-time sketch.


Captain Tunis A. M. Craven. From a photograph.

the bulwarks. A shell burst between the two forward guns in charge of Lieutenant Tyson, killing and wounding fifteen men. The mast upon which the writer was perched was twice struck, once slightly, and again just below the foretop by a heavy shell, from a rifle on the Confederate gun-boat Selma. Fortunately the shell came tumbling end over end, and buried itself in the mast, butt-end first, leaving the percussion-cap protruding. Had it come point first, or had it struck at any other part of the mast than in the reenforced portion where the heel of the topmast laps the top of the lower mast, this contribution to the literature of the war would probably have been lost to the world, as the distance to the deck was about a hundred feet. As it was, the sudden jar would have dislodged any one from the crosstrees had not the shell been visible from the time it left the Selma, thus giving time to prepare for it by an extra grip around the top of the mast. Looking out over the water, it was easy to trace the course of every shot, both from the guns of the Hartford and from the Confederate fleet. Another signal message from the Brooklyn told of the sinking of the Tecumseh, a fact known already, and another order to “go on” was given and was not obeyed.

Soon after the fight began, Admiral Farragut, finding that the low-hanging smoke from the guns interfered with his view from the deck, went up the rigging of the mainmast as far as the futtock-shrouds, immediately below the maintop. The pilot, Martin Freeman, was in the top directly overhead, and the fleet-captain was on the deck below. Seeing the admiral in this exposed position, where, if wounded, he would be killed by falling to the deck, Fleet-Captain Drayton ordered Knowles, the signal-quartermaster, to fasten a rope around him so that he would be prevented from falling. [See p. 407.]

Finding that the Brooklyn failed to obey his orders, the admiral hurriedly inquired of the pilot if there was sufficient depth of water for the Hartford to [391] pass to the left of the Brooklyn. Receiving an affirmative reply, he said: “I will take the lead,” and immediately ordered the Hartford ahead at full speed.6 As he passed the Brooklyn a voice warned him of the torpedoes, to which he returned the contemptuous answer, “Damn the torpedoes.” This is the current story, and may have some basis of truth. But as a matter of fact, there was never a moment when the din of the battle would not have drowned any attempt at conversation between the two ships, and while it is quite probable that the admiral made the remark it is doubtful if he shouted it to the Brooklyn.7

Then was witnessed the remarkable sight of the Hartford and her consort, the Metacomet, passing over the dreaded torpedo ground and rushing ahead far in advance of the rest of the fleet, the extrication of which from the confusion caused by the Brooklyn's halt required many minutes of valuable time.8 The Hartford was now moving over what is called the “middle ground,” with shallow water on either side, so that it was impossible to move except as the channel permitted. Taking advantage of the situation, the Confederate gun-boat Selma kept directly in front of the flag-ship and raked her fore and aft, doing more damage in reality than all the rest of the enemy's fleet. The other gun-boats, the Gaines and the Morgan, were in shallow water on our starboard bow, but they received more damage from the Hartford's broadsides than they were able to inflict. Meanwhile the ram Tennessee, which up to this time had contented herself with simply firing at the approaching fleet, started for the Hartford, apparently with the intention of striking her amidships. She came on perhaps for half a mile, never approaching nearer than a hundred yards, and then suddenly turned and made for the fleet, which, still in front of the fort, was gradually getting straightened out and following the Hartford. This change of course on the part of the ram has always been a mystery. The captain of the ram, in papers published since the war, denies that any such move was made, but it was witnessed by the entire fleet, and is mentioned by both Admiral Farragut and Fleet-Captain Drayton in their official reports.9

The Hartford had now run a mile inside the bay, and was suffering chiefly from the raking fire of the Selma, which was unquestionably managed more skillfully than any other Confederate vessel. Captain (now Admiral) Jouett, commanding the Hartford's escort, the Metacomet, repeatedly asked permission [392]

United States Steamship “Monongahela,” showing injuries received in the fight. From a sketch made after the battle of Mobile.

of the admiral to cut loose and take care of the Selma, and finally, at five minutes past eight, consent was given. In an instant the cables binding the two vessels were cut, and the Metacomet, the fastest vessel in the fleet, bounded ahead. The Selma was no match for her, and, recognizing her danger, endeavored to retreat up the bay. But she was speedily overhauled, and when a shot had wounded her captain and killed her first lieutenant she surrendered. Before this the Gaines had been crippled by the splendid marksmanship of the Hartford's gunners, and had run aground under the guns of the fort, where she was shortly afterward set on fire, the crew escaping to the shore. The gun-boat Morgan, after grounding for a few moments on the shoals to the east of Navy Cove, retreated to the shallow water near the fort, whence she escaped the following night to Mobile. The Hartford, having reached the deep water of the bay, about three miles north of Dauphine Island, came to anchor.

Let us now return to the other vessels of the fleet, which we left massed in front of Fort Morgan by the remarkable action of the Brooklyn in stopping and refusing to move ahead. When the ram Tennessee turned away from the Hartford, as narrated, she made for the fleet, and in their crowded and confused condition it seemed to be a matter of no difficulty to pick out whatever victims the Confederate commander (Admiral Franklin Buchanan) might desire, as he had done in 1861 when commanding the Merrimac in Hampton Roads. Before he could reach them the line had become straightened, and the leading vessels had passed the fort. Admiral Jenkins, who commanded the Richmond during the fight, writing of this part of the fight, for the use of the present writer, says:

During the delay under the guns of Fort Morgan and the water-battery by the backing of the Brooklyn, the vessels astern had remained apparently stationary, so that the nearest one to the Richmond was about half a mile off, and some of them paid very dearly, for the men of the water-battery, who had been driven away from their guns and up the sand hills by the fire of the Richmond and Chickasaw, had time to return and attack them. When the Hartford “ cut adrift” from the Brooklyn and Richmond--the only safe thing possible to do — the [393] Tennessee and the three gun-boats pursued her. That is, the Tennessee, after getting above the lines of torpedoes, turned into the main ship-channel and followed the Hartford, while the gun-boats were in shallow water to the northward, where our heavy vessels could not go after them. When the Tennessee was within probably half a mile of the Hartford, she suddenly turned her head toward the Brooklyn and Richmond (both close together). As she approached, every one on board the Richmond supposed that she would rain the Brooklyn ; that, we thought, would be our opportunity, for if she struck the Brooklyn the concussion would throw her port side across our path, and being so near to us, she would not have time to “ straighten up,” and we would strike her fairly and squarely, and most likely sink her.

The guns were loaded with solid shot and heaviest powder charge; the forecastle gun's crew were ordered to get their small-arms and fire into her gun-ports; and as previously determined, if

Rear-Admiral Thornton A. Jenkins. From a photograph.

we came in collision at any time, the orders were to throw gun charges of powder in bags from the fore and main yard-arms down her smoke-stack (or at least try to do so). To our great surprise, she sheered off from the Brooklyn, and at about one hundred yards put two shot or shells through and through the Brooklyn's sides (as reported), doing much damage.

Approaching, passing, and getting away from the Richmond, the ram received from us three full broadsides of 9-inch solid shot, each broadside being eleven guns. They were well aimed and all struck, but when she was examined next day, no other indications were seen than scratches. The musketry fire into the two ports prevented the leveling of her guns, and therefore two of her shot or shell passed harmlessly over the Richmond, except the cutting of a ratline in the port main-shroud, just under the feet of the pilot, while the other whistled unpleasantly close to Lieutenant Terry's head. The Tennessee passed toward the Lackawanna, the next vessel astern, and avoided her — wishing either to ram Captain Strong's vessel (Monongahela), or cross his bow and attack McCann's vessel (the Kennebec, Strong's consort). Strong was ready for her, and, anticipating her object, made at her, but the blow (by the quick manoeuvring of the Tennessee) was a glancing one, doing very little damage to either Strong's or McCann's vessel. Thence the Tennessee, after firing two broadsides into the Oneida, proceeded toward the fort, and for a time entirely disappeared from our sight. During this time the three gun-boats were proceeding, apparently, up the bay, to escape. The Hartford was closely watched with our glasses, and soon after the Tennessee had left Strong the Metacomet (Jouett) was seen to cast off; and divining the purpose, the Port Royal (Gherardi) was ordered to cast off from the Richmond and go in chase of the enemy, pointing in the direction of the three gun-boats of the enemy. George Brown (in the Itasca) cast off from the Ossipee and (I believe) McCann did also, and steered for the enemy. By this time Jouett had come up with the Selma, and the fight commenced. A very few minutes after Gherardi had left the side of the Richmond, and the other small vessels had left their consorts, a thick mist, with light rain (just enough to wet the deck), passed over the Richmond, obscuring from sight every object outside the vessel; indeed, for a few minutes the bowsprit of the Richmond could not be seen from the poop-deck. This mist and rain, in a cloudless sunshiny day, were slowly wafted over the waters toward the fort and pilot town, enabling John W. Bennett, commanding one of the enemy's gun-boats, and George W. Harrison, commanding the other, to shape their courses for safety, in shoal water, and finally under Fort Morgan. Gherardi in the Port Royal (as soon as he could see) saw only the Selma and Metacomet, and continued his course for them.


Capture of the Confederate gun-boat “Selma” by the “Metacomet.” from a War-time sketch.

Whatever damage was done by the Tennessee to the fleet in passing the fort was by the occasional discharge of her guns. She failed to strike a single one of the Union vessels, but was herself run into by the Monongahela, Captain Strong, at full speed.10 The captain says in his report:

After passing the forts I saw the rebel ram Tennessee head on for our line. I then sheered out of the line to run into her, at the same time ordering full speed as fast as possible. I struck her fair, and swinging around poured in a broadside of solid 11-inch shot, which apparently had little if any effect upon her.

This modest statement is characteristic of the gallant writer, now dead, as are so many others of the conspicuous actors in that day's work. The Monongahela was no match for the Tennessee, but she had been strengthened by an artificial iron prow, and being one of the fastest — or rather, least slow--of the fleet, was expected to act as a ram if opportunity offered. Captain Strong waited for no orders, but seeing the huge ram coming for the fleet left his place in the line and attacked her, as narrated. It was at this time that the Monongahela's first lieutenant, Roderick Prentiss, a brave and gifted young officer, received his death wound, both legs being shattered.

At last all the fleet passed the fort, and while the ram ran under its guns the vessels made their way to the Hartford and dropped their anchors, except the Metacomet, Port Royal, Kennebec, and Itasca. After the forts were passed, the three last named had cut loose from their escorts and gone to aid the Metacomet in her struggle with the Selma and Morgan.11 [395]

The thunder of heavy artillery now ceased. The crews of the various vessels had begun to efface the marks of the terrible contest by washing the decks and clearing up the splinters. The cooks were preparing break-fast, the surgeons were busily engaged in making amputations and binding arteries, and under canvas, on the port side of each vessel, lay the ghastly line of dead waiting the sailor's burial. As if by mutual understanding, officers who were relieved from immediate duty gathered in the ward-rooms to ascertain who of their mates were missing, and the reaction from such a season of tense nerves and excitement was just setting in when the hurried call to quarters came and the word passed around, “The ram is coming.”

The Tennessee, after remaining near Fort Morgan while the fleet had made its way four miles above to its anchorage,--certainly as much as half an hour,--had suddenly decided to settle at once the question of the control of the bay. Single-handed she came on to meet the whole fleet, consisting now of ten wooden vessels and the three monitors. At that time the Tenessee was believed to be the strongest vessel afloat, and the safety with which she carried her crew during the battle proved that she was virtually invulnerable. Fortunately for the Union fleet she was weakly handled, and at the end fell a victim to a stupendous blunder in her construction — the failure to protect her rudder-chains. The spectacle afforded the Confederate soldiers, who crowded the ramparts of the two forts,--the fleet now being out of range,--was such as has very rarely been furnished in the history of the world. To the looker — on it seemed as if the fleet was at the mercy of the ram, for the monitors, which were expected to be the chief defense, were so destitute of speed and so difficult to manoeuvre that it seemed an easy task for the Tennessee to avoid them and sink the wooden vessels in detail. Because of the slowness of the monitors, Admiral Farragut selected the fastest of the wooden vessels to begin the attack. While the navy signals for a general attack of the enemy were being prepared, the Monongahela (Captain Strong) and the Lackawanna (Captain Marchand) were ordered by the more rapid signal system of the army to “run down the ram,” the order being immediately repeated to the monitors.

The Monongyahela, with her prow already somewhat weakened by the previous attempt to ram, at once took the lead, as she had not yet come to anchor. The ram from the first headed for the Hartford, and paid no attention to her assailants, except with her guns. The Monongahela, going at full speed, struck the Tennessee amidships — a blow that would have sunk almost any vessel of the Union navy, but which inflicted not the slightest damage on the solid iron hull of the ran. (After the surrender it was almost impossible to tell where the attacking vessel had struck.) Her own iron prow and cutwater were carried away, and she was otherwise badly damaged about the stern by the collision. The Lackawanna was close behind and delivered a similar blow with her wooden bow, simply causing the ram to lurch slightly to one side. As the vessels separated the Lackawanna swung alongside the ram, which sent two shots through her and kept on [396] her course for the Hartford, which was now the next vessel in the attack. The two flag-ships approached each other, bow to bow, iron against oak. It was impossible for the Hartford, with her lack of speed, to circle around and strike the ram on the side; her only safety was in keeping pointed directly for the bow of her assailant. The other vessels of the fleet were unable to do anything for the defense of the admiral except to train their guns on the ram, on which as yet they had not the slightest effect.

It was a thrilling moment for the fleet, for it was evident that if the ram could strike the Hartford the latter must sink. But for the two vessels to strike fairly, bows on, would probably have involved the destruction of both, for the ram must have penetrated so far into the wooden ship that as the Hartford filled and sank she would have carried the ram under water. Whether for this reason or for some other, as the two vessels came together the Tennessee slightly changed her course, the port bow of the Hartford met the port bow of the ram, and the ships grated against each other as they passed. The Hartford poured her whole port broadside against the ram, but the solid shot merely dented the side and bounded into the air. The ram tried to return the salute, but owing to defective primers only one gun was discharged. This sent a shell through the berth-deck, killing five men and wounding eight. The muzzle of the gun was so close to the Hartford that the powder blackened her side.

The admiral stood on the quarter-deck when the vessels came together, and as he saw the result he jumped on to the port-quarter rail, holding

Captain George H. Perkins. From a photograph.

to the mizzen-rigging, a position from which he might have jumped to the deck of the ram as she passed. Seeing him in this position, and fearing for his safety, Flag-Lieutenant Watson slipped a rope around him and secured it to the rigging, so that during the fight the admiral was twice “lashed to the rigging,” each time by devoted officers who knew better than to consult him before acting. Fleet-Captain Drayton had hurried to the bow of the Hartford as the collision was seen to be inevitable, and expressed keen satisfaction when the ram avoided a direct blow.

The Tennessee now became the target for the whole fleet, all the vessels of which were making toward her, pounding her with shot, and trying to run her down. As the Hartford turned to make for her again, we ran in front of the Lackawanna, which had already turned and was moving under full headway with the same object. She struck us on our starboard side, amidships, crushing half-way [397] through, knocking two port-holes into one, upsetting one of the Dahlgren guns, and creating general consternation. For a time it was thought that we must sink, and the cry rang out over the deck: “Save the admiral! Save the admiral!” The port boats were ordered lowered, and in their haste some of the sailors cut the “falls,” and two of the cutters dropped into the water wrong side up, and floated astern. But the admiral sprang into the starboard mizzen-rigging, looked over the side of the ship, and, finding there were still

Rear-Admiral James E. Jouett. From a photograph.

a few inches to spare above the water's edge, instantly ordered the ship ahead again at full speed, after the ram. The unfortunate Lackawanna, which had struck the ram. a second blow, was making for her once more, and, singularly enough, again came up on our starboard side, and another collision seemed imminent. And now the admiral became a trifle excited. He had no idea of whipping the rebels to be himself sunk by a friend, nor did he realize at the moment that the Hartford was as much to blame as the Lackawanna. Turning to the writer he inquired.; “Can you say ‘for God's sake’ by signal?” “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “Then say to the Lackawanna, ‘ For God's sake get out of our way and anchor! ’ ” In my haste to send the message, I brought the end of my signal flag-staff down with considerable violence upon the head of the admiral, who was standing nearer than I thought, causing him to wince perceptibly. It was a hasty message, for the fault was equally divided, each ship being too eager to reach the enemy, and it turned out all right, by a fortunate accident, that Captain Marchand never received it. The army signal officer on the Lackawanna, Lieutenant Myron Adams (now pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Rochester, N. Y.), had taken his station in the foretop, and just as he received the first five words, “For God's sake get out”----the wind flirted the large United States flag at the mast-head around him, so that he was unable to read the conclusion of the message.

The remainder of the story is soon told. As the Tennessee left the Hartford she became the target of the entire fleet, and at last the concentration of solid shot from so many guns began to tell. The flag-staff was shot away, the smoke-stack was riddled with holes, and finally disappeared. The monitor Chickasaw, Lieutenant-Commander Perkins, succeeded in coming up astern and began pounding away with 11-inch solid shot, and one shot from a 15-inch gun of the Manhattan crushed into the side sufficiently to prove that a few more such shots would have made the casemate untenable. Finally, one of the Chickasaw's shots cut the rudder-chain of the ram and she would no [398] longer mind her helm.12 At this time, as Admiral Farragut says in his report, “she was sore beset. The Chickasaw was pounding away at her stern, the Ossipee was approaching her at full speed, and the Monongahela, Lackawanna, and this ship were bearing down upon her, determined upon her destruction.” From the time the Hartford struck her she did not fire a gun. Finally the Confederate admiral, Buchanan, was severely wounded by an iron splinter or a piece of a shell, and just as the Ossipee was about to strike her the Tennessee displayed a white flag, hoisted on an improvised staff through the grating over her deck. The Ossipee (Captain Le Roy) reversed her engine, but was so near that a harmless collision was inevitable. Suddenly the terrific cannonading ceased, and from every ship rang out cheer after cheer, as the weary men realized that at last the ram was conquered and the day won.13 The Chickasaw took the Tennessee in tow and brought her to anchor near the Hartford. The impression prevailed at first that the Tennessee had been seriously injured by the ramming she had received and was sinking, and orders were signaled to send boats to assist her crew, but it was soon discovered that this was unnecessary. Admiral Buchanan surrendered his sword to Lieutenant Giraud, of the Ossipee, who was sent to take charge of the captured Tennessee. Captain Heywood, of the Marine Corps, was sent on board the ram with a guard of marines. On meeting Admiral Buchanan he could not

Fight between the “Chickasaw” and Fort Powell, August 5, 1864. from a War-time sketch: the picture appears to represent the blowing up of Fort Powell, which did not occur until after 10 o'clock that night, when the Fort was evacuated.--editors.

[399] resist the temptation to inform him that they had met before under different circumstances, the captain having been on the frigate Cumberland when she was sunk in Hampton Roads by Buchanan in the Merrimac.14

Late in the afternoon the Metacomet was sent to Pensacola with the wounded of both sides, including Admiral Buchanan. In his report he accuses Captain Harrison of the Morgan of deserting the Selma. Captain Harrison in his report, on the other hand, charges Captain Murphy of the Selma with running away and with bad seamanship. Those who witnessed the fight at close quarters will not accept Captain Harrison's view, and the record of killed and wounded tells the story. On the Morgan one man was slightly wounded, on the Selma eight were killed and seven wounded.; and there is no doubt that the Selma was better managed and did more harm to the Union fleet than the two other rebel gun-boats combined. Captain Murphy of the Selma, in his official report, written like those of Buchanan and Johnston from the Pensacola, hospital, tells very briefly the story of his part in the fight and makes no insinuations or complaints against brother officers. The total casualties in the rebel fleet were 12 killed and 20 wounded, as follows:

Ram Tennessee2 9
Gun-boat Selma8 7
Gun-boat Gaines2 3
Gun-boat Morgan 1
Total12 20

[To the above should be added those captured on board the surrendered vessels, including, according to Farragut's report, 190 in the Tennessee and 90 in the Selma.--editors.]

The Gaines, according to the official report of her captain, was disabled by a shot or shell from the Hartford, “which broke in the outer planking under the port quarter about the water-line, and which from the marks seemed to have glanced below in the direction of the stern-post.” This caused a leak in the after-magazine that could not be stopped, and made it necessary to beach the vessel as already described. The captain succeeded in removing the ammunition, supplies, and small-arms to the shore, for the use of Fort Morgan, and during the next night made his escape with his crew to Mobile, pulling up the bay in six cutters, which in the darkness easily evaded the Union gun-boats that were on guard. The Morgan also succeeded in making her way through without difficulty, covering all her lights and running very slowly until she had passed the Union vessels. The writer of this sketch has [400] never been able to understand why the Morgan and the boats belonging to the Gaines were not destroyed during the afternoon following the fight, as might have been done with ease and safety by any one of the monitors. This was supposed to have been the object of a little excursion of the Winnebago in the afternoon, which, however, aside from firing a few harmless and unnecessary shots at Fort Morgan, accomplished nothing. The Chickasaw (Lieutenant-Commander Perkins) at the same time shelled Fort Powell, which was evacuated about 10 P. M. that night, the officers and men escaping to the mainland. The Chickasaw also tackled Fort Gaines on the 6th, and speedily convinced the commanding officer that it would be folly to attempt to withstand a siege. The result was a surrender to the army and navy the next morning.

Fort Morgan was at once invested, and surrendered on the 23d of August.

1 based upon the author's paper in “the century” for May, 1881, entitled “an August morning with Farragut,” revised and extended for the present work.--editors.

2 According to Admiral Farragut's report the Brooklyn was appointed to lead, because she had four chase-guns and apparatus for picking up torpedoes.--editors.

3 Mrs. Farragut's maiden name was Loyall.--editors.

4 In Farragut's Supplementary General Order (No. 11) of July 29th, occurs the following:

There are certain black buoys placed by the enemy from the piles on the west side of the channel across it towards Fort Morgan. It being understood that there are torpedoes and other obstructions between the buoys, the vessels will take care to pass eastward of the easternmost buoy, which is clear of all obstructions.

The easternmost buoy was the famous red buoy which figures in all accounts of the battle. As the fleet approached, the Tennessee was lying in the rear of the torpedo obstructions, and therefore to the westward of the red buoy. When Craven, in the Tecumseh, drew near to the buoy, influenced by the narrowness of the channel to the eastward, as his remark to the pilot would indicate (Mahan, “Gulf and inland waters,” p. 231), or by a desire to get at the Tennessee more quickly, as Parker suggests ( “Battle of Mobile Bay,” p. 26), he disregarded the instructions, and, shaping his course to the westward of the buoy, struck the torpedoes. His course crowded the main column to the westward, and left no choice to Alden and the fleet following in his wake, but to pass over the obstructions also. Of 114 officers and men on board the Tecumseh, 21 were saved. Of these two officers and five men escaped in one of the Tecumseh's boats, four swam to Fort Morgan where they were made prisoners, and ten, including Ensign Zettick and John Collins, the pilot, were rescued by Acting-Ensign Nields. It is to the statement of Collins that the world is indebted for the account of that heroic act which will forever be associated with Craven's name. Commodore Parker thus tells the story:

Craven and Mr. John Collins, the pilot of the Tecumseh, met, as their vessel was sinking beneath them, at the foot of the ladder leading to the top of the turret. . . . It may be, then, that Craven, in the nobility of his soul,--for all know he was one of nature's noble men,--it may be, I say, that, in the nobility of his soul, the thought flashed across him that it was through no fault of his pilot that the Tecumseh was in this peril; he drew back. ‘After you, pilot,’ said he, grandly. ‘There was nothing after me,’ relates Mr. Collins; ‘when I reached the upmost round of the ladder, the vessel seemed to drop from under me.’ ” editors.

5 “The gallantry of Nields's conduct was all the more striking in view of the fact that in pulling to the Tecumseh's wreck it was necessary to pass around the stern and under the broadside of the Hartford and across the Brooklyn's bow, thus placing the boat directly in the line of fire of the fleet as well as of the fort. In fact, as the boat at first carried no flag, Acting Ensign Whiting, in charge of the forecastle guns on board the Hartford, was about to fire at her, when some one standing by informed him of her character and errand. A moment later, Nields himself observed the omission, and took the flag from its case and shipped it. The rescued men were placed on board the Winnebago, and Nields and his boat's crew, unable to regain their ship, joined the Oneida, where they served during the remainder of the battle.”--editors.

6 In turning to clear the Brooklyn's stern, the Hartford went ahead, while the Metacomet backed. Editors.

7 The period of delay between the halting of the Brooklyn and the decision of the admiral to take the lead could hardly have been less than ten minutes, and may have been longer. The first signal message from the Brooklyn was taken from the forecastle of the Hartford. Then the smoke from the Hartford's bow guns interfered, and I started up the foremast, intending to make a signal-station of the foretop. Finding a howitzer crew at work there I kept on to the foretop-gallant crosstrees, where I received and replied to two messages before the Hartford passed the Brooklyn. As I was not a sailor and had never before been so far up in the rigging of a ship, it could hardly have taken me less then five minutes to shift from the forecastle to the crosstrees. It was while going up the mast that I witnessed the sinking of the Tecumseh.--J. C. K.

8 Farragut, when he had altered his course, had every reason to suppose that there were torpedoes directly in his path. It was known that they had been placed west of the red buoy, the Brooklyn had seen them, and the fate of the Tecumseh was conclusive evidence. In fact the officers both of the Hartford and the Richmond heard the snapping of torpedo-primers under the bottom of the ships as they passed, but the torpedoes failed to explode, having probably been corroded by lying a long time in the water.--editors.

9 See Captain Johnston's account, p. 4:01. editors.

10 The Tennessee, after colliding with the Monongahela, grazed the bow of the Kennebec, injured slightly the latter's planking, and dropped one of her boats on the deck of the gun-boat.--editors.

11 The Oneida, the last ship in the line, suffered more severely than any other of the fleet in the passage. One shell exploded in the boiler, another cut the wheel-ropes, and a third disabled the forward pivot-gun. The list of casualties was very large, Commander Mullany being among the wounded. The crippled vessel was carried on by her consort, the Galena.--editors.

12 The admiral says in his report:

I cannot give too much praise to Lieutenant-Commander Perkins, who, though he had orders from the Department to return north, volunteered to take command of the Chickasaw, and did his duty nobly.

According to the pilot of the Tennessee, “the Chickasaw hung close under our stern. Move as we would, she was always there, firing the two 11-inch guns in her forward turret like pocket-pistols, so that she soon had the plates flying in the air.”--editors.

13 The first gun of the day was fired at 6:47 A. M. The surrender of the ram occurred at 10 o'clock.--editors.

14 The casualties of the Union fleet, as reported by Admiral Farragut, were 52 killed and 170 wounded, as follows:

Lackawanna4 35
Monongahela140 6

To the above should be added the casualties on board the Tecumseh, viz., 93 drowned and 4 captured, making the total losses 145 killed, 170 wounded and 4 captured.--editors.

15 First-Lieutenant Roderick Prentiss died a day later, as already mentioned.

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