Escape of Admiral Porter's fleet — his Official Narrative.
Miss, Squad., Flag Ship Black Hawe,
Mouth of Red River
, May 16, 1864.
I have the honor to inform you that the vessels lately caught by low water above the falls at Alexandria
have been released from their unpleasant positions.
The water had fall on so low that I had no hope or expectation of getting the vessels out this season, and as the army had made arrangements to evacuate the country, I saw nothing before me but the destruction of the best part of the Mississippi squadron.
There seems to have been an especial Providence
looking out for us in providing a man equal to the emergency, Lieut Col Balley
, acting engineer
of the 19th Army Corps, proposed a plan of building a series of dams across the rocks at the and raising the water high enough to feat the pass over,. This proposition looked like madness, and the best engineers ridiculed it; but Col Balley was so sanguine of success that requested Gen Banks
to have it done, and he entered heartily in the work.
Provisions were short, and forage was almost out, and the dam was promised to be finished in ten days or the army would have to leave us. I was doubtful about the time, but had no doubt about the ultimate success, if time would only permit.
placed at the disposal of Col Balley all the force he required, of some three thousand men and two or three dred wagons.
At the neighboring were down for material, tow of three regiments of Maine
men were set to work felling trees, and on the second day after my arrival in Alexandria
from Grand Ecore
, the work had fairly begun.
Trees were failing with great rapidity, teams were moving in all directions, bringing in brick and stone; quarries were opened; flat boats were built to bring stone down from above, and every man seemed to be working with a vigor I have seldom seen equalled, while perhaps not one in fifty believed in the success of the undertaking.
These falls are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks, over which at the present stage of water it seemed to be impossible to make a channel.
The work was commenced by running out from the left bank of the river a tree dam, made of the bodies of very large trees, brush, brick, and stone, cross tied with heavy timber, and strengthened in every way which ingenuity could devise.
This was run out about 300 feet into the river; four large coal-barges were then filled with brick and sunk at the end of it. From the right bank of the river cribs filled with stone were built out to meet the barges, all of which was successfully accomplished, notwithstanding there was a current running of nine miles an hour, which threatened to sweep everything before it. It will take too much time to enter into the details of this truly wonderful work.
Suffice it to say that the dam had nearly reached completion in eight days working time, and the water had risen sufficiently on the upper falls to allow the Fort Hindman
, and Neosho
to get down and be ready to pass the dam. In another day it would have been high enough to enable all the other vessels to pass the upper falls.--Unfortunately, on the morning of the 9th instant, the pressure of water became so great that it swept away two of the stone barges, which swung in below the dam on one side.
Seeing this unfortunate accident, I jumped on to a horse and rode up to where there the upper vessels were anchored, and ordered the Lexington
to pass the upper falls, if possible, and immediately attempt to go through the dam. I thought I might be able to save the four vessels below, not knowing whether the persons employed on the work would ever have the heart to renew the enterprise.
The Lexington succeeded in getting over the upper falls just in time, the water rapidly falling as she was passing over.
She then steered directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was rushing so furiously that it seemed as if nothing but destruction awaited her. Thousands of beating hearts looked on anxiously for the result.
The silence was so great as the Lexington
approached the dam that a pin might almost have been heard to fall.
She entered the gap with a full head of steam on, pitched down the roaring torrent, made two or three spasmodic rolls, hung for a moment on the rocks below, was then swept into deep water by the current, and rounded in safety into the banks.
Thirty thousand voices rose in one deafening cheer, and universal joy seemed to pervade the face of every man present.
followed next, all her batches tattered down, and every precaution taken against acccident. She did not fare so well as the Lexington
, her pilot having become frightened as he approached the abyes, and stopped her engine, when I particularly ordered a full head of steam to be carried.
The result was that for a moment her disappeared from sight under the water Every one thought she was lost.
She rose, however, swept along over the rocks with the current, and fortunately escaped with only one hole in her bottom, which was stopped in the course of an hour.
both came through beautifully, without touching a thing, and I thought if I was only fortunate enough to get my large vessels as well over the falls, my fleet once more would do good service on the Mississippi
The accident to the dam, instead of disheartening Col Balley, only induced him to renew his exertions after he had seen the success of getting four vessels through.
The noble hearted soldiers, seeing their labor of the last eight days swept away in a moment, cheerfully went to work to repair damages, being confident now that all the gunboats would be finally brought over.
The men had been working for eight days and nights, up to their necks in water, in the broiling sun, cutting trees, and wheeling bricks, and nothing but good humor prevailed among them.
On the whole, it was very fortunate the dam was carried away, as the two barges that were swept away from the centre swing around against some rocks on the left, and made a fine cushion for the vessels, and prevented them, as it afterwards appeared, from running on certain destruction.
The force of the water and the current being too great to construct a continuous dam of six hundred feet across the river in so short a time, Col Balley determined to leave a gap of fifty-five feet in the dam, and build a series of wing dams on the up per falls.
This was accomplished in three days time, and on the 11th instant the Mound City
, the Carondelet
and the Pittsburg
came over the upper fails, a good deal of labor having been expended in hauling them through, the channel being very crooked — scarcely wide enough for them.
Next day the Ozark
, and two huge also succeeded in crossing the upper fails.
Immediately afterwards, the Mound city
started in succession to pass the dam, all their hatches battened down, and every precaution taken to prevent accident.
The passage of these vessels was a most beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen.
They passed over without an accident, except the unshipping of one or two rudders, This was witnessed by all the troops, and the vessels were heartily cheered when they passed over.
Next morning, at ten o'clock, the Louisville
, and two tugs passed over without accident except the loss of a man, who was swept off the deck of one of the tugs.
By three o'clock that afternoon the vessels were all coaled, ammunition replaced, and all steamed down the river with the convoy of transports in company.
A good deal of difficulty was anticipated in getting over the bars in lower Red River
— depth of water reported only five feet, gunboats were drawing six Providentially, we had a rise from the back water of the Mississippi
— that river being very high at that time — the back-water extending to Alexandria
, one hundred and fifty miles distant, enabling us to pass all the bars and obstructions with safely.
Words are inadequate to express the admiration I feel for the ability of Lieut Col Battey
This is without doubt the best engineering feat ever performed.
Under the best circumstances, a private company would not have completed this work under one year, and to an ordinary mind the whole thing would have appeared an entire impossibility.
Leaving out his ability as an engineer — the credit he has conferred upon the country — he has saved the Union
a valuable fleet worth nearly two millions of dollars; more, he has deprived the enemy of a triumph which would have emboldened them to carry on this war a year or two longer, for the intended departure of the army was a fixed fact, and there was nothing left for me to do in case that event occurred but to destroy every part of the vessels, so that the rebels could make nothing of them.
The highest honors the Government
can bestow on Col Balley can never repay him for the services he has rendered the country.
To Gen Banks
, personally, I am much indebted for the happy manner in which he has forwarded this enterprise, giving it his whole attention night and day; scarcely sleeping while the work was going on; attending personally to see that all the requirements of Col Balley were complied with on the instant.
Previous to passing the vessels over the falls, I had nearly all the guns, ammunition, provisions, chain cables, anchors, and everything that could affect their draft, taken out of them.
I regret to inform you, amongst the misfortunes of this expedition, of the loss of two small light draft gunboats, the Signal
I sent them down frond Alexandria
to convey a quartermaster's boat — the Warner
— loaded with cotton, and some four hundred troops on board, not knowing that the enemy had any artillery on the river below us, or anything more than wandering gangs of guerillas, armed with muskets, which these vessels were competent to drive off.
It appears, however, that the rebels were enabled to pass our advance force at night, with 6,000 men and some twenty five pieces of artillery.
With these they established a series of batteries at a place called Bunn
's bayoun, thirty miles below Alexandria
, a very commanding position.
These batteries were so masked that they could not be seen, even by the closest observation.
The first notice the vessel received of the battery was a furious fire, which opened on the quartermaster's boat, the Watner, her botters, and completely disabling her; at the same time 6, 000 infantry opened with musketry, killing and wounding half the soldiers on the vessel.
She drifted into the opposite bank, where a number managed to make their escape in the busfies, though many were killed in attempting to do so.
The Signal and Covington
immediately rounded to and opened their guns on the batteries, and pushed up, endeavoring to secure the Warner
They had, however, as much as they could do to take care of themselves, the cross fire of the three batteries cutting them up in a terrible manner.
Their steam pipes were soon cut and their boilers perforated with shot, notwithstanding which they fought the batteries for five long hours, the vessels being out all to pieces and many killed and wounded on board.
Acting Volunteer Lieut Geo
, commanding the Covington
, having expended all his shot, spiked his guns, set fire to his vessel, and escaped with what was left of his crew to the shore, and his vessel blew up. The Signal, Acting Volunteer Lieut Edward Morgan
, still fought his guns for half an hour after the destruction of the Covington
He found it impossible to destroy his vessel by burning, her decks being covered with wounded, and humanity for bade him the lives of the noble fellows who had defended their vessel so gallantly.
He gave permission to all those who wished to escape to do so; some of them attempted to get off by climbing up the bank — many were killed while doing so by the murderous fire of musketry poured in from the opposite side.
remained by the vessel and was captured, if he remained alive; but I have no information regarding him. The rebels took the guns off of her, and placing her across the channel as an obstruction, sunk her.
on hearing the news, sent out cavalry to hunt for the unfortunate men, many of whom were picked up and brought into Alexandria
A number escaped down the river and went aboard some light draught gunboats that were coming up at the time to the scene of action, but were driven back by the superior artillery of the enemy.
I feel very much for the poor fellows who ran into the hands of the enemy, as the latter have been very merciless to some of the prisoners they have taken, and committed outrages at which humanity shudders.
The vessels will all return to their stations in a few days, as there is no prospect, under present circumstances, of renewing operations in this part of Louisiana
, the season having passed for operating with any chance of success.
I am sorry to see that the rebel guerillas have become quite troublesome on the Mississippi
since I left, all of which will be rectified within the coming week.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Operations on Jades river — the failure of our iron clad Navy.
The New York Herald
is greatly dissatisfied with the tardiness of Admiral Lee
, and pours into that Yankee officer the following proper broadside:
It is announced in the news from the James river
that Gens Grant
visited Admiral Lee
, on one of the gunboats, on Saturday last.
What took place at this interview between the Lieutenant General
and the commander of the James river
flotilla, we of course do not know; but we know very well what ought to have taken place; and we can only hope that the presence and the words of the victorious commander of our armies may have stirred up Admiral Lee
to a sense of his position, and inspired him to make some attempt, even though a lame one, to go on forward to the performance of his plain duty in opening the James river
, and taking his iron clads in the wharves of Richmond
There is no disguising the fact that, under their present commander, the James river
gunboats are having a shamefully easy time of it. They are ignominiously compelled to look on in idleness, while the army loses eight or ten thousand men in a glorious struggle that they should have rendered unnecessary.
It is reported that even Commodore Goldsburough
has growled at the inactivity of the gunboats on the James river
But, as if mere idleness were not enough, Admiral Lee
has just performed an act that, we doubt not, has called an honorable blush to the cheek of every officer in his fleet.
He has sunk boats in the river — obstructed the channel — to prevent the rebel tams from getting out at his ships.
He has iron clad vessels enough to blow every ram in the Confederacy
to atoms; but he is atraid of the trial.
It he fears to meet these vessels down the river where his own boats lie, when may we expect that he will go up the river and fight them where they are supported by batteries on shore?
If it be urged against his advance up the James
that the obstructions are dangerous, and that the fite of the forts is too severe, it must then be admitted that iron clad vessels are a failure, and that the immense sums spent in their construction have been thrown away.
Early in the war Admiral Dupont
silenced shore batteries under a terrible fire with only wooden ships.
went to New Orleans despite obstructions in the river, and perfectly constructed forts.
with wooden ships. --He ran the fire of the Port Hudson
batteries with wooden ships, and Perter ran past the formidable and well served Vicksburg batteries with even the army transports.
If so much more can be done by some commanders with wooden ships than, can be by others with iron ones, we ought either to waste no more money in the construction of iron ships
, or we ought to change commanders.
We do not object to Admiral Lee
because he is a relation of Mr Blair
nor yet because he is a Virginian; but we do object to him because he has no energy in the discharge of his most obvious duty, and because he is for that most simple reason palpably unfit for the important position which he now occupies.