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Doc. 125.-General Franklin's expedition.

Official naval reports.

United States sloop Pensacola, New-Orleans, September 4.
sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that Major-General Banks, having organized a force of four thousand men under Major-General Franklin, to effect a landing at Sabine Pass, for military occupation, and requested the cooperation of the navy, which I most gladly acceded to, I assigned the command of the naval force to acting volunteer Lieutenant Frederick Crocker, commanding United States steamer Clifton, accompanied by the steamer Sachem, acting volunteer Lieutenant Amos Johnson; United States steamer Arizona, Acting Master Howard Tibbetts, and United States steamer Granite City, Acting Master C. W. Lamson, those being the only available vessels of sufficiently light draught at my disposal for that service, and as they have good pilots, I have no doubt the force is quite sufficient for the object.

The defences ashore and afloat are believed to consist of two thirty-four pounders, en barbette, a battery of field-pieces, and two bay-boats, converted into rams. It was concerted with General Franklin that the squadron of four gunboats, under Lieutenant Crocker, should make the attack alone, assisted by about one hundred and eighty sharp-shooters from the army, divided among his vessels, and having driven the enemy from his defences, or having driven off the rams, the transports are then to advance and land their troops. I regret exceedingly that the officers and crews who have been on blockade there, cannot participate in the attack in consequence of the extensive draught of water drawn by their vessels. The New-London, drawing nine and a half feet, is the lightest draught of all the blockaders, and has made repeated attempts to go in alone without success.

I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,

H. H. Bell, Commanding W. G. Squadron, pro tem. To Hon. Gideon Welles.

steamer Pensacola, New-Orleans, September 13.
sir: My despatch number forty-one informed you of the repulse of the expedition to Sabine Pass, and the capture of the Clifton, acting volunteer Lieutenant Crocker, and the Sachem, by the rebels, and the safe return of the troops and transports to the river without loss. Lieutenants Crocker and Johnson are reported to have fought their vessels gallantly, and are unhurt. The rebel steamers took the Clifton and Sachem in tow within twenty minutes after their surrender. The extent of their damage is unknown. The arrival of the Owasco, this morning, has given me the only reports from the naval officers concerned that I have yet received. The attack, which was to have been a surprise, and made at early dawn on the seventh, was not made until three P. M., on the eighth, after the entire expedition had appeared off Sabine for twenty-eight. hours, and a reconnoissance had been made on the morning of the eighth by Generals Franklin and Weitzel, and Lieutenant Commanding Crocker, when they decided on a form of attack different from that recommended by myself.

I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,

H. H. Bell. To Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary Navy.

United States steamship Arizona, Sabine bar, September 10, 1863.
sir: At six A. M., on the eighth, the Clifton stood in the bay, and opened fire on the fort, to which no reply was made. At nine A. M., the Arizona, Sachem, and Granite City, followed by the transports, stood over the bay, and with much difficulty, owing to the shallowness of the water, reached anchorage, but miles from the fort, at eleven A. M., the gunboats covering the transports. At half-past 3 P. M., the Sachem, followed by the Arizona, advanced up the eastern channel to draw the fire of the forts, while the Clifton advanced up the western channel, followed by the Granite City, to cover the landing of a division of troops under General Weitzel. No reply to the fire of the gunboats was made until we were. abreast of the forts, when they opened with eight guns, three of which were rifled, almost at the same moment. The Clifton and Sachem were struck in their boilers, enveloping [426] them in steam. There not being room to pass the Sachem, this vessel was backed down the channel, and a boat sent to the Sachem, which returned with the engineer and fireman, badly scalded — since dead. The Arizona had now grounded by the stern, the ebb-tide caught her bow and swung her across the channel. She was with much difficulty extricated from this position, owing to her engine becoming disabled. The flags of the Clifton and Sachem were run down, and white flags were flying at the fore. As all the transports were now moving out of the bay, this vessel remained, covering their movements, until she grounded. She remained until midnight, when she was kedged off, as no assistance could be had from any of the tugs of the expedition.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

H. Tibbetts, Acting Master, Commanding the Arizona. To Commodore H. H. Bell, New-Orleans.

A National account.

headquarters General Weitzel's division, nineteenth army corps, steamer Belvidere, Mississippi River, September 11.
The expedition of the Nineteenth army corps, Major-General Franklin commanding, which left New-Orleans on the fourth inst., has returned without accomplishing the object for which it was despatched. All the preliminary arrangements were made in the most expeditious and secret manner, and the promise of success was most flattering up to the very last moment, when a combination of those unfortunate accidents which no human foresight or determination can prevent or overcome, turned victory into defeat, and rendered nugatory all the efforts of the gallant officers and men composing the expedition, compelling them to relinquish for the present the attempt, and return to the base of operations at this place.

The aim of the expedition was the occupation of Sabine City, situated on the right bank, at the mouth of the Sabine River, the dividing line of Louisiana and Texas, a point of great strategic importance as a base of operations against either Western Louisiana or Eastern and Central Texas. The city is only forty to forty-five miles from Galveston by land, and about sixty miles by sea; from Houston, the capital of Texas, it is distant about sixty miles, and is connected with a branch railroad from Beaumont. This railroad is not in operation at present, a portion of the track being torn up. The distance from the mouth of the Mississippi is two hundred and eighty miles. The strategic importance of the place can thus be comprehended at a glance, and its occupation was doubtless intended as the first step in a campaign the results of which promised to be of the most brilliant and lasting character.

Accompanying the land force was a naval force of four light draught gunboats, consisting of the Clifton, Arizona, Granite City, and Sachem, and the plan was for these to silence the batteries, drive back the enemy, and cover the landing of the troops. How gallantly and nobly they strove to carry out successfully their part of the programme, and how they failed, and how the many brave hearts within sight and hearing of the con flict witnessed that failure with bitter feelings of anger and regret that they could not be relieved, may never become portions of our history, but will remain indelibly recorded on the hearts of all who were present, and nerve them to still greater exertions in the glorious cause of redeeming their country.

At the last place of rendezvous, off Berwick Bay, it was determined that the entire fleet should endeavor to reach the point of destination by midnight of the seventh, and the attack was to take place at three or four o'clock on the morning of the ninth. With this understanding, the long line of vessels moved on their way, piloted by the gunboat Arizona, Captain Tibbetts, which was followed by the transport Belvidere, Captain Fletcher, having on board the veteran Brigadier-General Godfrey Weitzel, commanding the First division of the corps, and the gallant members of his staff, the General being assigned to that post of honor and of danger which he not only willingly accepts, but modestly requests the command of the advance. The blockading vessel stationed off Sabine Pass was now the object, and the fleet steamed swiftly on, while a bright look-out was constantly kept to discover the vessel. Hour after hour passed, and no vessel appearing up to three o'clock on the morning of the eighth, the fleet was hove to, and upon examination it became apparent that the fleet had run by the designated point quite a distance, in consequence of the absence of the blockader. It was, of course, too late in the day to carry out the original plan, and the consequence was a delay of an entire day was necessitated, thus giving the enemy, if advised of the expedition, an opportunity of receiving reenforcements and making all necessary preparations either for evacuation or a more vigorous defence. I would add in this connection that the blockader was absent on a cruise, from which she returned before the battle.

During Monday night, therefore, the entire fleet were collected in the neighborhood of Sabine. The gunboats and lightest draught vessels of the transport fleet crossed the bar, and immediate preparations were made for the attack, the unavoidable delay necessitating some changes in the mode. Captain Crocker, of the Clifton, as gallant a sailor as ever fought a ship, was to inaugurate the action by feeling and uncovering the enemy's batteries, ascertaining the number and disposition of the opposing force, and drawing their fire, while Generals Franklin and Weitzel personally examined the shore of the pass and ascertained the most eligible point for disembarking the land forces. Accordingly the Clifton steamed up the pass, throwing a shell now and then from her huge rifled guns at the only work visible, (an earthwork containing six heavy guns,) and making a careful reconnoissance of the surrounding locality. She received no response to her numerous shots, and with daring bravery steamed within easy range of the fort, turned about, and leisurely returned to her former position. [427] The face of the enemy's work was from one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards in length, and was supposed to be open at the rear.

On the return of the Clifton the order of battle was immediately arranged and rapidly perfected. The gunboats Clifton, Arizona, and Sachem were to engage the enemy's work, while the Granite City, which carried only a broadside of small brass guns, was to cover the landing of an advance force of five hundred men of General Weitzel's division, selected from the heroes of Port Hudson, and composed of two companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-sixty New-York, four companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-first New-York, and a detachment from the Seventy-fifth New-York regiments, under command of Captain Fitch, of the last-named regiment. The General himself came on board at the last moment to superintend personally the operation of disembarking his troops.

“All ready” was the signal, and about four o'clock P. M. the gunboats steamed slowly forward, the Clifton advancing directly toward the fort, followed by the Granite City, and she in turn by the transport General Banks, having on board the advance of the army. The Sachem and the Arizona steamed off to the right and ran up nearly opposite the battery. The Clifton opened the ball with a shell from one of her nine-inch pivot guns, which exploded inside the rebel works, throwing up a perfect shower of debris, and instantly followed it with a second shot of the same kind. Soon the little Sachem, commanded by Captain Johnson, opened her broadside thirty-two pounder guns on the work, and the next moment the Arizona also paid her compliments to the foe. The gunnery was magnificent, a few of the shells only exploding prematurely, and the pieces dropping in the water. Up to this time, and until from thirty to forty shell had exploded in the works, not a shot had been returned by the enemy. An ominous silence pervaded the fort, and many were of opinion that the works had been abandoned. Neither soldiers nor inhabitants made their appearance, and the only signs of life apparent were the movements of a small steamer in the river, which had run up above the city and down as far as the fort once or twice during the forenoon, and which was joined by a second steamer about the time the action commenced.

The action of the enemy, however, was the deceptive calm which often precedes the storm, and the sudden flash of flame which was plainly visible from the deck of the General Banks with the naked eye, and the cloud of white smoke which floated lazily up from the parapet of the enemy, were instantly followed by a heavy shot thrown at the Arizona, the largest boat of the fleet, and which passed directly over her, striking in the edge of the water beyond. This was followed in quick succession by a shot at the Sachem and another at the Clifton, neither of which, however, took effect. The engagement now became general and very warm, the Clifton and Arizona moving very slowly forward and back, while the brave little Sachem, under a heavy fire, kept pushing steadily forward, endeavoring to pass the battery and engage it in the rear, which was supposed to be unprotected. This movement the enemy divined, and redoubled their fire at her, answered shot for shot by the three boats, the huge shells every instant bursting in their midst, carrying destruction in their wake and knocking great holes in the parapet, which appeared of sufficient size the admit the passage of a carriage and horses. The enemy acted with great bravery, however, and, if their fire slackened an instant after one of those terrific explosions, which seemed to shake the very earth around them, it was instantly resumed with increased, rather than diminished determination. Steadily but surely the little Sachem was gaining her desired position. A moment more and she would pass out of range, and the day would be won. All eyes were bent upon the noble little craft, when suddenly a shot was seen to strike her amidships, crushing in her sides and tearing their iron plating for the protection of sharp-shooters as a piece of paper, causing her to careen and tremble from stern to stern. An instant more and she was enveloped in the scalding vapor of escaping steam, and lay a helpless wreck, at the mercy of the enemy. The flag was lowered, and the enemy, ceasing their fire on her, now turned their entire attention to the Clifton, probably aware of the fact that the draught of the Arizona would not permit her to advance near enough to become a very formidable antagonist. The disabling of the Sachem at the instant when victory was within her grasp was the second of those unfortunate accidents referred to, and was, of course, of so serious a character as to imperil the success of the entire affair. The Clifton was now the only effective boat engaged. She was called upon to do double duty, and not for one breath did her gallant commander and brave crew hesitate, but, with three rousing cheers, which were heard above the din of battle, they poured in their fire, running in closer and closer to the batteries, in the face of the concentrated fire of the entire rebel fortification.

Putting on a full head of steam, the Clifton ran swiftly down directly toward the battery, with the intention, doubtless, of delivering her broadside, giving her sharp-shooters an opportunity to pick off the enemy's gunners and thus silencing the works. At the same time the Granite City and the General Banks gradually followed in her wake for the purpose of reaching the point of debarkation as soon as the Clifton had effected her object, although the heavy solid shot and hissing shell which were intended for the Clifton, but which passed her, came ricochetting along on the water, almost reaching them. Just as the Clifton gained the point she aimed at reaching, and as her bow was thrown round slightly, in the act of turning, she struck, the velocity with which she was running driving her a long distance into the thin mud at the bottom of the pass. At the same time a hitherto undiscovered battery to the left of the main work, and in easy range, opened upon her as she lay, her broadside offering a [428] target of which the enemy took every advantage. The gallant Crocker still kept up a constant fire from both bow and broadside guns, the quick rifles, loaded with double charges of grape, being poured into the main work, sweeping the parapet clean at every discharge, and killing the enemy by scores, while with his broadside guns he administered dose after dose of shell and solid shot to the battery on the left. Lying as he did, he would probably have succeeded in silencing the main work, thus enabling the troops to land, had it not been for the broadside work; for it was from that his boat was disabled. Up to time she has sustained no material damage. The shots which had struck her had been harmless to the ship, and but very few of his crew were injured. But fate was against him, and he was obliged to succumb. A shot from the small battery struck his boat about the centre, passing through her side and entirely through the boiler, leaving her a stranded wreck at the enemy's mercy. The flag was instantly lowered; but the firing still continued, both from the boat and the batteries. It must have been lowered without the Captain's knowledge, or he may have been killed and the crew left without a leader. An instant more, and just after a shower of grape was poured into the noble little craft, the white flag was run up and the firing ceased. The engagement was concluded. Brave hearts and manly forms had been sacrificed upon the altar of their country, but without success. There was but one available gunboat left uninjured, the Arizona, and she was incapable of offensive operations against works of such strength. She was immediately withdrawn from the unequal contest, and the order reluctantly issued to the fleet to withdraw.

Considering the number of the forces engaged, it is doubtful if any affair of the whole war can compare with the battle of Sabine Pass in obstinacy of fighting, loss of life, and the amount of interest involved. To the enemy it was a matter of life and death, and to the Union forces it was the opening battle of a most brilliant campaign. The enemy retained their prize; but their loss has been undoubtedly without precedent in the annals of the war, and they will, in the midst of their rejoicing, tremble at the thought of a repetition of the attack. There were on board the Clifton, beside her crew, a party of seventy-five sharp-shooters and three of the signal corps, and on the Sachem a detachment of thirty sharp-shooters. Of the crew of the Clifton, five soldiers, one sailor, and one signal man escaped down the beach, and were taken off by a boat from the fleet. The number of killed and wounded must have been large, particularly on the Clifton, as she was not only exposed to a cross fire, but was raked from stern to stern by grape. As to the killed and wounded on the Sachem nothing is known; but the loss is supposed to be light, and mostly from the escaping steam, as but the one shot was known to have struck her. The loss of the enemy was undoubtedly enormous, as the huge nine-inch shell apparently searched every nook and corner of the earthwork; and when the Clifton was aground the same guns poured in a murderous fire of grape, sweeping the parapet from end to end. Their loss, however, will probably never be known.

Where the blame is to rest in this affair it is difficult to determine, as the arrangement appeared to be of the most perfect character throughout, and the action of all engaged unsurpassed in determination. There appeared to be a failure in some respects in the quartermaster's department; but the result of the entire affair will probably, and with justice, be ascribed to those accidents which so often determine the fate of armies as well as nations.

Another account.

New-Orleans, September 12, 1863.
On arriving at the spot on which our troops were destined to land, it was soon found to be impossible to attempt any thing of the kind, owing to the marshy nature of the ground and the excessively shallow water. It soon, therefore, became evident that upon our gunboats would devolve the whole task of attacking; and gallantly did some of them go into an engagement that is pronounced by all who saw it one of the most desperately contested of the whole war.

The attack was commenced about half-past 3 o'clock on the afternoon of the eighth, by the gunboat Clifton, Captain Crocker commanding, carrying nine heavy guns, two of which--one at the bow and the other at the stern — were nine-inch pivots.

Captain Crocker opened fire at a distance of about two miles from his bow pivot, and after an experimental shot or two, acquired the range, pouring in upon the enemy a continuous stream of fire.

The Sachem, Captain Johnson commanding, in the mean time took up a position where she could pour a raking cross-fire, and also opened with her broadside of rified pieces, which were served with equal precision and effect.

About the same time the powerful battery of the Arizona, Captain Tibbetts, from a position at the stern of the Sachem, also opened upon the enemy with screaming shell and hissing round shot — every one of which could be plainly seen plowing up the interior of the fort and crashing through the breastworks.

This continued for some time before the enemy replied, the ships gradually nearing the fort and increasing the rapidity of their fire until they were within point-blank range, and the Sachem had nearly passed by the works — on the right hand side of the oyster reefs fronting them — when the enemy suddenly opened a terrific fire from his entire battery.

The firing now continued hot and fierce, the enemy's shot being generally aimed too high, passing over the tops of the vessels, and striking in the water beyond them; while on the other hand nearly all the shots from the vessels were effective, searching every portion of the larger [429] work, and, at times, with such effect that every man was driven from the guns.

But just at this moment, when every thing appeared most favorable, and the fortunes of war seemed about to assign the meed of victory to the gallant little vessels, the Sachem unfortunately grounded, broadside on, exposing her most vulnerable part to the concentrated fire of the enemy's largest work, the steamers, and the sailing craft.

This was speedily taken advantage of by them, and a perfect storm of shot and shell fell upon, over, and around her, making the water hiss and foam like a boiling cauldron. Soon a heavy rifled shot struck her fair in the side, crushing in the iron plating and wood-work, and striking her machinery, exploded her steam-chest, filling the vessel with the scalding vapor, and leaving her a helpless wreck, with no hope of getting off the shore.

The enemy now ceased their fire on the Sachem and turned their attention to the remaining two boats; the crews of which, realizing the position of their brave comrades, redoubled their exertions.

The Arizona, unfortunately, drew too much water to get to close quarters, and it devolved upon the Clifton alone to undertake, the perilous task of silencing the works.

Putting on a full head of steam, the devoted little craft ran down directly toward the largest fort, keeping up a hot fire all the time from her pivot-guns, and as she neared the works loading with double charges of grape, sweeping the parapet at every discharge.

The Clifton had now approached to within about five hundred yards, and after giving the enemy a last discharge of grape from her pivot, attempted to throw her bow around, and take up a broadside position. But she had gone a few yards too near, and as she slightly swung around her bow struck — the velocity with which she was running driving her far upon the shore. She instantly commenced backing, keeping up a constant fire from her bow and port broadside guns, the former keeping the main parapet entirely clear of the enemy, while the latter played on the second battery.

This continued for some time, and faint hopes were entertained that the gallant captain would succeed in extricating the boat from her terrible position. But this was not to be; for, at last, a shot from the battery at the left penetrated her boiler, in an instant reducing her to the same condition as the Sachem.

The battle was now, to all intents and purposes, ended. Further resistance seemed utterly hopeless, but still the brave Crocker could not endure the idea of giving up his vessel, and ordered his men to fight on. Without his knowledge, however, some party struck the white flag, and the enemy instantly ceased firing.

When informed of this, the captain ordered the deck to be cleared, and loading the after pivotgun with a nine-inch solid shot, he fired it through the centre of the ship, from stem to stern, tearing the machinery to pieces, and rendering it utterly worthless to the enemy. After doing this, and spiking all the guns, the Clifton surrendered.

The remaining gunboat, the Arizona, quite unable to cope with the enemy single-handed, and drawing too much water to engage them in close quarters, reluctantly withdrew from the unequal contest, firing a farewell shot of defiance as she steamed slowly down the bay, the enemy not replying to her challenge.

The Clifton had on board, beside her regular crew of one hundred and ten men, seventy-five sharpshooters — all of whom were captured, with the exception of seven men, who swam ashore, ran down the beach, and were taken off by a small boat.

The loss of the armament of the Clifton is unquestionably a serious one; her powerful battery of rifled guns being one of the most powerful in the service. The boats, however, are so much damaged that the guns, to be of any service to the enemy, will have to be removed from them, and remounted, and consequently it will be a long time before they can be made available.

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