Chapter 20: a brave officer's mortification.--history set right.
says in a communication made in April, 1869: “historians are not always correct; for my own part, I maintain the conviction that whatever errors may be made by the hands of historians and others, posterity will always give justice to whom justice is due.”
this is true, and in no case has it been more clearly demonstrated than in that of Admiral Farragut
himself, who reaped the highest honors that could be won in the Navy, without a dissenting voice; and who, as time passes, will only gather more laurels to surround his monument and be handed down to posterity as the most famous Admiral
of the American Navy
received so many honors himself that he could well afford to spare to those who served under him, any that may have been withheld from them by accidental omission or otherwise.
He leaves it to posterity to do justice where justice has not been awarded, and therefore we give a piece of history not generally known, and which should be published in authentic form.
there was no braver officer in Farragut
's fleet than Captain Theodorus Bailey
, who led the first division at the passage of forts Jackson
and St. Philip. Bailey
had that dashing courage which ought to delight the eye of any commander-in-chief, and no man was ever more pleased with the conduct of a subordinate than was Farragut
all through the several battles, even up to the levee of New Orleans.
There, again, Bailey
showed the great courage he possessed by volunteering to face a howling mob, and carry Farragut
's demands to the mayor of the City
for its unconditional surrender.
This was more than brave conduct, it was sublime, for he and his companion, Lieutenant Perkins
, had to force their way, unarmed and unguarded, through a fierce crowd that might at any moment tear them to pieces.
had been so much pleased with Bailey
's coolness and daring during the rapid and successful events that had taken place within a few days, that he determined to make him the bearer of dispatches to the seat of government, and when the reports were all ready Bailey
embarked in the Cayuga
, (the vessel he had so gallantly led through heavy fire and smoke), and started on his way down the Mississippi
bound for Washington City
Stopping to communicate with the fleet at forts Jackson
and St. Philip
, he received the rebel flags that had flown over those works and took them on with him as trophies.
had written his report of the affairs at the forts in full at New Orleans, and this Bailey
aimed to deliver as soon as possible.
he went on his way home perfectly posted, as he supposed, in all that had occurred, and ready to give the Department a clear outline of the battles before the Secretary
could have time to wade through the mass of reports that were sent on together.
's arrival at the Navy Department he was received with great enthusiasm by the Secretary of the Navy
and every officer and man connected with the service, all of whom listened with bated breath to his vivid recital of scenes fraught with danger and romance, until nothing more was left to tell.
while he was stating the history of events, Senator James W. Grimes
(the eminent statesman, and friend of the Navy), entered the Secretary
's room, and listened with the others.
had finished, the Senator
said “come with me, and some one bring the trophies,” pointing to the Confederate
“the account of this great battle must be told on the floor of the Senate,”
and they started for the Senate Chamber
, the Secretary of the Navy
being left to overhaul the despatches.
on the arrival of Senator Grimes
with Captain Bailey
, on the floor of the Senate, the latter was received by Senators
with the wildest enthusiasm.
Members of the House
rushed into the Senate Chamber
as soon as they heard the news, and the floor was packed.
was the hero of the hour, and was congratulated by all who could get near him. He told the story of the capture of the forts and City in his own simple way, and it carried conviction to every listener.
Congress is an impulsive body, and some of the members of the House of Representatives went back to the House
to prepare a resolution giving Farragut
a vote of thanks on the spot, while the Senate, in the enthusiasm of the moment, was about to do the same thing.
An hour or more had passed away while the Senators
were listening to Bailey
's account, during which time Secretary Welles
was employed in reading Farragut
It was not a long one, but did not clearly mention the fact that Bailey
had led the fleet, or at least show it on the plan.
Why the omission occurred it is impossible to conceive, and it can only be surmised that Farragut
, in the excitement and hurry of the moment, sent the first order of battle to the Secretary of the Navy
, instead of the one which was last issued to the fleet.
and those about him at once detected the difference between Farragut
's report and Bailey
's recital of the passage of the fleet, and the impression was left on the minds of all, that Bailey
was disposed to obtain more credit than was due him. They could not have known him well, for he was truthful as he was brave, and although naturally somewhat exalted at the important position he filled at the passage of the forts, nevertheless he related it all in the simplest and most unpretending language.
, on reading Farragut
's report, lost no time in writing a note to Senator Grimes
, and sending it off with all dispatch.
It read, “Don't take any steps resulting from Captain Bailey
's account of the passage of the fleet by the forts.
There is a discrepancy between his report of the affair and that of Flag-officer Farragut
, which must be inquired into.”
had just taken the floor, and was eulogizing the brilliant victory that had been reported, when Secretary Welles
' note was put into his hand.
He was taken all aback on reading it, and after finishing its perusal, he held up his hand.
“Stop,” he said, “we are going too fast,” and he handed the note around the Senate.
, after reading it, returned to their seats and took up some matter quite foreign to the one before them, and the proposed resolutions were so completely killed that nothing on earth could have resurrected them; no one in that Senate seemed to take the least interest in the New Orleans matter, and Bailey
sat on a reserved seat in the rear of the Chamber
, wondering what it all meant.
In ten minutes more he would have been the recipient of a vote of thanks in connection with the flag-officer
--the highest honor he could have hoped for — and he likely would have been made the next Rear-Admiral
on the list.
, in the kindness of his heart, went to him and showed him Mr. Welles
' letter, and told him that he had better go to the Department at once and set the matter right, that it was useless to remain in the Senate, that nothing more would be done, and Bailey
went out crushed to the earth with mortification.
How he ever got to his lodgings he never knew; he was a proud man, and his heart almost broke at the idea that he was suspected of making a false report.
The truth came to the Department a month or two afterwards, but Bailey
only benefitted by it so far that his story was believed.
received a vote of thanks, but Bailey
was left out except on the general vote which included all the officers and men.
This event was not generally known in the service; or, if known, not fully understood, and it was not until 1869, seven years after the action, that the whole matter was rectified.
Then the correspondence which took place between Farragut
became part of the records of the Navy Department, and as it is due to both those officers that this correspondence should be fully known, and as it is a part of the history of the war, it should appear in this narrative.
The reader will see at a glance that Captain Bailey
was a clear-headed writer as he was a clearheaded fighter, and places himself clear on the record.
Why he should have remained silent so many years under an injustice he should have corrected at once, no one can tell, but likely it arose from a disappointment which led him to believe there was no disposition on the part of the Secretary
to do him justice.
It was not until he was importuned by his friends to have the matter set right, that he consented to draw Admiral Farragut
's attention to the subject.
himself had most likely forgotten all about his report, and as Bailey
had failed to notice the discrepancy therein just after the affair occurred, he regarded it as out of place to open up a discussion at so late a date, and when his first report had become a matter of history.
As soon, however, as convinced by Bailey
of his mistake, Farragut
rectified it, and placed the (then) Rear-Admiral
's request on the records of the Navy.
This every officer is justified in claiming when he has performed a gallant act without recognition.
It is not only due to history that this should be done, but also to the family and friends of those who served so faithfully through the war of the rebellion.
's misfortune in this mistake was that the error stood recorded so long without correction.
He should have had it rectified at once, for his position in the Navy was materially affected by it.
History set right.
The following correspondence is reproduced from the files of the Navy Department.
We publish it in justice both to the truth of history and to the reputation of those gallant officers whom it most concerns.
Letters to the Secretary of the Navy.