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The water-battery at Fort Jackson.

William B. Robertson, Captain, 1st Louisiana Artillery, C. S. A.
On the 15th of April, 1862, I was directed by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Higgins, commanding Forts Jackson and St. Philip, to take command of the water-battery. [See map, p. 34.] This was an outwork of Fort Jackson, separated from it by two moats. It was quadrilateral in shape, inclosed on three sides by a breastwork made of earth, the side next to the fort being open. The battery had no casemates or covered ways. It had been hastily prepared for use just previous to the appearance of the enemy's fleet in our front. During the siege it was directly in the line of fire from the mortar-boats, or very nearly so.

The battery was manned by a detachment of Company D, 1st Louisiana Artillery, under First Lieutenant R. J. Bruce, a detachment of the St. Mary's Cannoneers, under First Lieutenant George 0. Foot, and a detachment of my company, “B,” 1st Louisiana Artillery, under Sergeant Henry Herman, numbering, all told, about 100 men. There were mounted in the work 8 guns, viz., 2 rifled 32-pounders (old smooth-bores rifled), 1 10-inch Columbiad, 1 9-inch Columbiad, 3 smooth-bore 32-pounders, and C 10-inch sea-coast mortar.1 In the battery there were two magazines which had been hurriedly constructed. They were built of old flat-boat gunwales (pieces of timber about 12 X 24 inches square) placed close together, resting at one end on the edge of the parapet, and at the other on the terre-plein of the battery. These gunwales were laid on their flat sides and were covered with several courses of bags filled with sand to a depth of two or three feet. There were also two temporary hovels intended for shelter for the men while sleeping. They were so low that it was impossible to stand erect in them, and the men could not lie down at full length.

On the 18th of April the enemy commenced the bombardment of Fort Jackson and the water-battery with all his mortar-boats. The fort and the water-battery replied vigorously, but finding it impossible to reach them with any o:f my guns, owing chiefly to the inferiority of our powder, I was ordered to use my mortar only. This was the nearest piece in the fortifications to the enemy, and whenever it happened that the charge of powder was of good quality the shells from this mortar made it hot for the mortar-boats, though we could see that many of them fell short. During the first days of the bombardment the enemy's gun-boats appeared occasionally above the point of woods, but were soon driven to seek cover in every instance by the combined fire of Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the water-battery. On April 19th the bombardment was renewed with increased fury, and several of the enemy's gunboats endeavored to maintain positions above the point of woods, about three miles below Fort Jackson, and behind which the mortar-boats lay concealed from view and in comparative safety, owing to the inferiority of our ordnance and ammunition,--but they were unable to withstand the fire from the forts and the water-battery, and soon retired. In these engagements I used only the rifle guns and Columbiads. That day the enemy's mortar fire was very accurate, and disabled both of the 32-pounder rifle guns in the water-battery. We patched them up as well as we could afterward, and made them serviceable.

On the 20th the bombardment continued, having [100] been maintained uninterruptedly all the previous night. The Federal gun-boats several times poked their noses cautiously around the point, delivered shots, and dodged back quickly.

Some time during the first days of the bombardment, the Confederate States steamer McRae, lying about the fort and in its rear, commenced firing at the mortar-fleet, with the good intention of aiding us. The projectiles from her guns passed directly over the water-battery, and many sabots from them fell in and around it. Seeing that her shot were falling far short of the enemy, and that it would be but a waste of ammunition for her to continue firing, I notified Colonel Higgins of the facts, and he requested her commander to cease firing, which he promptly did. This was the only attempt, according to my recollection, on the part of the navy, after the first day of the bombardment, to render us any assistance, until they were forced into action by Farragut's advance.

After the 20th of April the enemy's mortar-boats continued to rain shell incessantly, night and day, upon Fort Jackson and the water-battery, until nearly sundown on the 24th. During all this trying period the officers and men who served under me in the water-battery never wavered, and not a single one was ever driven from his post.

On the afternoon of the 23d I received a communication from Colonel Higgins, notifying me that the enemy were planting signals along the river-bank, just above the position of the mortarfleet, and that this and other movements among them indicated that they would make an attempt that night to rush by our works, with their steamers, and ordering me to prepare to resist their passage. He also notified me that the river would be lit up by fire-rafts. I was very watchful all that night, hardly sleeping an instant. Every gun in the battery was loaded and pointed toward the river, and the men were kept at their posts.

At 3:30 the bombardment was redoubled, and soon afterward Sergeant Herman called my attention to several black, shapeless masses, barely distinguishable from the surrounding darkness, moving silently, but steadily, up the river. Not a light was visible anywhere; not a torch had been applied to a single fire-raft, and not one of them had been started from its moorings. As soon as I caught sight of the moving objects, I knew they were the enemy's vessels, and I ordered the guns to be trained upon the two which were in the lead, and to open a rapid fire upon them. Only a moment sufficed for the gunners to sight the guns, so thoroughly was everything prepared, and the water-battery thundered its greeting to the enemy. Fort Jackson followed instantly with a grand crash of artillery from the guns under Anderson and Ogden, Baylor and Agar along the lower and river fronts, and from those of Mumford in the mortar bastion and Kennedy in the flag-staff bastion. Fort St. Philip echoed with the boom of its guns. The Federal vessels replied with broadsides. The flashes of the guns, from both sides, lit up the river with a lurid light that revealed the outlines of the Federal steamers more distinctly.

I do not believe there ever was a grander spectacle witnessed before in the world than that displayed during the great artillery duel which then followed. The mortar-shells shot upward from the mortar-boats, rushed to the apexes of their flight, flashing the lights of their fuses as they revolved, paused an instant, and then descended upon our works like hundreds of meteors, or burst in midair, hurling their jagged fragments in every direction. The guns on both sides kept up a continual roar for nearly an hour, without a moment's intermission, and produced a shimmering illumination, which, though beautiful and grand, was illusive in its effect upon the eye, and made it impossible to judge accurately of the distance of the moving vessels from us; and this fact, taken in connection with their rapid and constant change of positions, as they speeded up the river, rendered it very difficult to hit them with our projectiles. On the other hand, our positions being stationary, they operated at no such disadvantage, though moving themselves. All the shore guns were served with great rapidity, until the vessels had passed beyond our range. As the vessels were masked by Fort Jackson from our view as they passed up the river, our attention was turned to those following, in succession; and no vessel stood in front of Fort Jackson and the water-battery many moments without receiving their compliments in the shape of iron missiles. No guns were silenced in either Fort Jackson or the water-battery at any time during this engagement. Not a man was driven from his post at the guns in the water-battery, much less from the battery itself, as is asserted by Admiral Porter. [See p. 43.]

After Farragut passed with most of his steamers there was a slackening of the fire in the forts and the water-battery, simply for the reason that it would have been madness to have wasted any more ammunition than was necessary to drive away Admiral Porter and all the vessels which had failed to pass the forts under cover of darkness. But as soon as it was light enough to see them plainly we silenced and drove rapidly down the river all the vessels, including Admiral Porter's, that remained below the forts. As soon as Farragut's vessels could, they pushed up the river out of our range.

The passage of the forts by Farragut and his fleet was an act of grand heroism that should forever shed luster on the American navy, and Porter and his mortar-fleet did splendid work, and contributed very materially to the success which the Federal navy achieved over us. I have no doubt he fought his flotilla in front of the water-battery with great courage. But some things he did not accomplish, and among them the silencing of Fort Jackson and the water-battery. I think it could be proven that it was a physical impossibility for him to have gotten as near the water-battery as he claims to have done, as I think the water-battery is farther from the river-bank itself. But to Farragut belongs the great glory of the capture.

In reference to the mutiny, I have only to say this, that there was no indication that any of the men in the water-battery were implicated in it. No officers and I believe no native Southerners were involved in this disgraceful affair.

1 Captain Robertson's enumeration of guns in the water-battery differs from that given on page 75. The latter, which was made up before the receipt of Captain Robertson's account, was based on the following facts: Admiral Porter, in his report of April 30th, 1862, written after a visit to the fort, states that the water-battery at Jackson contained 6 guns. The plan [see p. 34] made by Messrs. Harris and Gerdes of the coast survey gives 6 pieces, viz., 5 guns and 1 mortar. Lieutenant (now General) John C. Palfrey, being ordered by Lieutenant Weitzel to make a list of the ordnance in the fort, gives the armament of the outer battery as follows: “Two 32-pounders rifled, one 10-inch Columbiad, two 8-inch Columbiads, and one 10-inch sea-mortar,--total, 6.”--Editors.

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