The Brooklyn at the passage of the forts.
Aspect of Fort Jackson in 1885.
from the summit of the levee looking South from the River.|
From February 2d to March 7th, 1862, the United States
, Captain Thomas T. Craven
, was engaged in blockading Pass a l'outre, one of the mouths of the Mississippi River
It is impossible to describe the monotony of the life on board ship during this period.
Most of the time there was a dense fog, so thick that we could not see the length of the ship.
The fog collected in the rigging, and there was a constant dripping from aloft like rain, which kept the decks wet and made things generally uncomfortable.
No news was received from the North
, and our waiting and watching seemed endless.
We had our routine of drill each day, but nothing to talk about.
Our only excitement was the lookout at the main-topgallant cross-tree, who was above the fog-bank, shouting “Smoke h-oo!”
It was a great relief to shout through the deck-trumpet, “Where away?”
but the answer was always the same,--“Up the river, sir!”
Days and weeks went by, and the smoke came no nearer.
Once only, on February 24th, it came out of the river, and we had an exciting chase of a blockade-runner, following her for miles, with an officer aloft conning the ship by the smoke seen above the fog; we captured the chase, which proved to be the steamer Magnolia
with 1200 bales of cotton.
At last the spell was broken, for on the 7th of March the Hartford
arrived with Captain D. G. Farragut
, then flag-officer commanding the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and we learned that we were going to open the Mississippi River
I had never met Farragut
, but had heard of him from officers who were with him in the Brooklyn
on her previous cruise.
He had been represented as a man of most determined will and character — a man who would assume any responsibility to accomplish necessary ends.
I saw a great deal of him at the Head
of the Passes and after we passed the forts.
Often, when I came on board the Hartford
with a message from the captain of the Brooklyn
sent me somewhere to carry an order or to do certain duty.
I was much impressed with his energy and activity and his promptness of decision and action.
He had a winning smile and a most charming manner and was jovial and talkative.
He prided himself on his agility, and I remember his telling
From A photograph.|
me once that he always turned a handspring on his birthday, and should not consider that he was getting old until he was unable to do it. The officers who had the good fortune to be immediately associated with him seemed to worship him. He had determination and dash in execution, but in planning and organizing he appeared to want method.
He showed me one day an old envelope containing memoranda, and said that that was all the record or books that he kept.
He had, however, the good fortune to have on his staff two of the best organizers and administrators of detail in the service,--Captains Henry H. Bell
at New Orleans and Percival Drayton
On the 15th of March we began to congregate at the Head
of the Passes, and at this time the energy and activity of the flag-officer made themselves felt.
We lay here several weeks preparing our ships for the coming action, drilling the crews, firing at targets, and getting in provisions and coal.
was about the fleet from early dawn until dark, and if any officers or men had not spontaneous enthusiasm he certainly infused it into them.
I have been on the morning watch, from 4 to 8, when he would row alongside the ship at 6 o'clock, either hailing to ask how we were getting along, or, perhaps, climbing over the side to see for himself.
One of the preparations that we made at the Head
of the Passes was to hang the chain-cables along each side, abreast of the engine and
A jack-stay, or iron rod, was fastened by means of eye-bolts to the ship's side about eight feet above the water, and one of the chain-cables in bights was suspended to it and fastened with spun yarn.
The links of the cable were of iron an inch and a half in diameter, and each strand, or bight, was lapped over the next, the links fitting between each other so that it made an almost continuous coat of mail.
It extended about two feet below the water-line.
Around the steam-drum, which rose five feet above the berth-deck, sand-bags were piled, and the sick-bay, in the bow, was filled solid with hawsers and rigging, taken from the hold, which had been cleared to form a hospital for the surgeon.
Everything was arranged for the convenience of the surgeon in attending the wounded.
At the main hatch a cot-frame was rigged and slung from two davits so that the wounded men could be lowered to the berth-deck and thence carried to the surgeon in the forehold.
A howitzer was placed in the foretop and one in the maintop.
A large kedge-anchor was hung to the main brace bumkin on each quarter, with a hawser attached, to be used whenever it became necessary to turn the ship suddenly.
There was considerable delay in getting the larger vessels over the bar and in filling up with ammunition and coal.
At last, on April 16th, Farragut
steamed up with the fleet and anchored just below the point where Porter
vessels, or, as the sailors used to call them, the “bummers,” had taken their position and had made ready to open fire upon the forts.
has described in this work the part taken by these vessels in the opening of the lower Mississippi
I can vouch for the accuracy of their aim, for I used to sit on the cross-trees all day, when not on duty, seeing the shells fall into the fort and witnessing the havoc they made in it.
We had plenty of occupation while anchored below the forts, and as an accompaniment one of the mortars was fired every half minute all day. It was trying work for the poor fellows on the mortar-schooners, for when their mortar was fired, all of them were obliged to go aft and stand on tiptoe with open mouths to receive the concussion.
The powder blackened everything,
and the men looked like negroes.
At intervals fire-rafts came down.
The first one caused much alarm, and we prepared to slip our cable and get out of the way. The rafts were immense flat-boats with wood piled loosely twenty feet high and saturated with tar and resin, and the flame from them would rise a hundred feet into the air. They certainly looked dangerous, but they were set adrift only one at a time and otherwise were so badly managed that in a little while they merely served to amuse us. The fleet lay under the point on the right bank, and the rafts would tend to the left bank with the strength of the current, and so pass harmlessly by or ground on the bank.
Others caught in the obstructions and failed to come down.
Sometimes boats from the ships were sent to help tow them away.
If there had been any one man to direct the enemy's operations, and so secure concert of action, we should have fared badly; for half a dozen rafts chained together and pushed into position by their gunboats would have made havoc with the fleet.
One night five rafts were sent down, one of which had been towed over to the right bank and came almost directly into the fleet; the Westfield
made for it and pushed it out into the stream; but it came so near that even with hose playing on the side and rigging the Brooklyn
's paint was badly blistered.
The forts kept up a continual fire from their rifle-guns, and now and then a shell would pass uncomfortably near the ship.
To keep down this fire as much as possible, and thus protect the mortar-vessels, one of the smaller sloops or two of the gun-boats were kept under way. They would steam up to the west bank under cover of the trees and suddenly shoot out into the stream and open fire with their 11-inch pivots, and then drift down-stream.
As they were always in rapid motion, it was difficult for the gunners in the forts to hit them; still, a number of men were wounded.1
On the 23d, after five days of continual firing, Commander Porter
informed the flag-officer
that his men were worn out from want of sleep and rest, and that his ammunition was nearly expended.
The obstructions, which had formed an apparently impassable barrier, had now been overcome.
The opening of a passage through the hulks [see p. 38] was one of the most daring feats of the war, and here again the want of concert among the independent floating commands of the enemy led him to neglect the protection of what was really his main reliance for defense.
The only cause for delay was now removed.
Councils of war were held on board the Hartford
every day during the bombardment, and the plan of running by the forts was fully discussed.
Some of the captains thought it suicidal and believed that the whole fleet would be annihilated; others, that perhaps one or two vessels might get by, but they would be sunk by the rams.
All this time Farragut
maintained that it must and should be done, even if half the ships were lost.
A final council was called on the afternoon of the 23d, and it was decided to attempt the passage that night.2
The present article is intended merely as a personal narrative of the passage of the forts as seen from the deck of the Brooklyn
This vessel was a flush-deck sloop-of-war, carrying 22 9-inch guns, 1 80-pounder Dahlgren rifle, and 1 30-pounder Parrott rifle.
A small poop-deck extended about fifteen feet from the taffrail, and under this were the steering-wheel and binnacles.
I was a midshipman on board doing lieutenant's duty, having charge of a regular watch and in command of a division of guns.
My division consisted of 4 guns (2 guns' crews) at the after end of the ship.
The guns were numbered in pairs 10 and 11. The No. 11
gun on the starboard side was shifted over to the port side under the poop-deck, and both the No. 11 guns were manned by the marines.
It was expected that our principal work would be with our port battery directed against Fort Jackson
on the right bank.
My two crews manned the No. 10 gun on each side, and also prepared to man the 30-pounder on the poop if occasion should require.
On each side of the poop there was a ladder to the main deck.
While steaming up to the hulks and until it was necessary for me to be at my guns, I stood on the port ladder with my head above
the rail, where I could watch our approach to the forts, and I mounted this ladder several times to see what was going on as we advanced.
On the poop were Captain Craven
, Midshipman John Anderson
, who had volunteered a few days before from the Montgomery,
which did not take part in the action, Captain
's Clerk J. G. Swift
, afterward a graduate of West Point
and a lieutenant in the army, and two quartermasters.
There was a small piece of ratline stuff carried around the poop, about waist-high.
stood at the forward edge of the poop with his hands on this line, and did not move during the whole passage.
I had the good fortune during the war to serve with many brave commanders, but I have never met in the service, or out of it, a man of such consummate coolness, such perfect apparent indifference to danger as Admiral Craven
As I write, I hear the sad news of his death.
At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 24th two red lights were hoisted at the peak of the flag-ship as a signal to get under way. All hands had been on deck since midnight to see that everything about the deck and guns was
The course of the “Brooklyn” in the passage of the forts.
From a drawing lent by Commander J. R. Bartlett.
B--Brooklyn, and course taken.
M--Manassas ramming the Brooklyn. |
ready for action, and when the decks were wet down and sanded, it really began to look as if we were going to have some pretty hot business on our hands.
The anchor was hove up with as little noise as possible, and at half-past 2 we steamed off, following the Hartford
toward the entrance to the opening which had been made in the obstructions.
The Confederates opened fire about 3 o'clock, when the advance division came in sight and range of the forts, and as we passed ahead of the mortar-vessels we also came in range; but the forts were so far ahead that we could not bring our broadside guns to bear.
For twenty minutes we stood silent beside the guns, with the shot and shell from Forts St. Philip
passing over us and bursting everywhere in the air. As we came to the obstruction the water-battery on the Fort Jackson
side opened a most destructive fire, and here the Brooklyn
received her first shot.
We gave the water-battery a broadside of grape.
With our own smoke and the smoke from the vessels immediately ahead, it was impossible to direct the ship, so that we missed the opening between the hulks and brought up on the chain.
We dropped back and tried again; this time the chain broke, but we swung alongside of one of the hulks, and the stream-anchor, hanging on the starboard quarter, caught, tore along the hulk, and then parted its lashings.
The cable secured us just where the Confederates
had the range of their guns, but somebody ran up with an axe and cut the hawser, and we began to steam up the river.3
A few moments later there was a sudden jar, and the engines stopped.
The propeller had no doubt struck some hard object, but no one knew t he cause of the stoppage; and as Craven
called out, “Stand by the starboard anchor,” and a fatal pause under
the enemy's fire seemed imminent, a thrill of alarm ran through the ship.
The alarm was groundless, however, as no injury was done, and presently the engines started again, and the ship moved on.
There were many fire-rafts, and these and the flashing of the guns and bursting shells made.it almost as light as day, but the smoke from the passing fleet was so thick that at times one could see nothing ten feet from the ship.
While entangled with the rafts, the Brooklyn
was hulled a number of times; one shot from Fort Jackson
struck the rail just at the break of the poop and went nearly across, plowing out the deck in its course.
Another struck Barney Sands
, the signal quartermaster, and cut his body almost in two.
The first lieutenant
, coming along at the time, inquired who it was, and understanding the response to be “Bartlett
,” instead of “Barney
,” he passed the word that he had sent down “all that was left of poor Bartlett
As he came on deck and was about in all parts of the ship during the fight, he gave the men news of the progress of the fight and of the casualties, and for once I was completely out of existence.
The ship was now clear of the hulks and steamed up the river, throwing shells and shrapnel into Fort Jackson
as fast as the guns could be loaded and fired.
When just abreast of the fort a shot struck the side of the port of No. 9 gun on the port side, and at the same time a shell burst directly over the gun. The first captain's head was cut off and nine of the gun's crew were wounded.
I was standing amidships between the two No. 10 guns, and was struck on the back by the splinters and thrown to the deck.
I was on my feet in a moment and turned to my port gun. There were only two men standing at it, the first loader and the first sponger, who were leaning against the side of the ship: the others were all flat on deck, one of them directly in the rear of the gun. The gun had just been loaded, and I pulled this man to one side, clear of the recoil, and fired the gun, It was a time when every
Stand to hold grape,--called “lamp-posts” by the Confederates.
(see P. 65.)|
one felt that he must do something.
After the discharge of the gun the men on the deck got up and came to their places.
None of them were seriously hurt.
The captain of the gun found a piece of shell inside his cap, which did not even scratch his head; another piece went through my coat-sleeve.
Just after passing Fort Jackson
we saw a bright glare on the starboard quarter, and a moment after Captain Craven
said, in his deep bass voice, u
9 (to slow down), and then , Two bells?
9 (to stop her). I went up the poop ladder, and there in plain sight on the left bank, just below Fort St. Philip
, was the Hartford
, with a fire-raft alongside and with flames running up the rigging on the tarred rope to the mast-head.
The tug Mosher
was near by, but I did not see the ram Manassas
It was evidently Craven
's intention when he saw Farragut
's trouble to go to his rescue.
As the engine stopped, the Brooklyn
dropped down, her head swinging to starboard, until she was on a line between Fort Jackson
and the Hartford
Flag-ship “Hartford” attacked by a fire-raft, pushed by the Confederate tug-boat “Mosher.”
fort immediately opened fire on the Brooklyn
with renewed energy, and she would have been blown out of the water had not the enemy aimed too high and sent the shot through the rigging, boats, and hammock-nettings, many of them just clearing the rail.
The port battery was manned, and shell and shrapnel were fired as fast as the guns could be loaded.
remained under the fire of Fort Jackson
free from the fire-raft, and then she steamed ahead.
This was one of the coolest and bravest acts that I saw during the war, but it was not mentioned in any official report or newspaper account at the time.
In fact, the Brooklyn
's passage of the forts was hardly noticed by the newspaper correspondents, as Craven
had old-fashioned ideas and would allow no reporters on board.
I am glad, even at this late date, that I can put on record this act of heroism.
As the Hartford
lay aground with the fire-raft alongside, her crew were at their work, and I saw the flag-officer distinctly on the port side of the poop looking toward us. From this point the Brooklyn
steamed ahead, toward Fort St.
Philip, and passed close to the fort, firing grape from the starboard battery.
When she first came abreast of the fort there was a long blaze of musketry from the parapet, but it soon stopped when she got to work.5
We were at this time less than one hundred feet from the bank, and the Hartford
had passed ahead.
The barbette guns of the fort not being depressed sufficiently, we received no damage while passing, but we were so close that the pow.--der scorched the faces and clothes of the men. A bullet entered the port of No. 1 gun and struck Lieutenant James O'Kane
, who had charge of the first division, in the leg. He fell to the deck, but would not allow himself to be carried below until he had himself fired two of the broadside guns into Fort St. Philip
But the most uncomfortable position on board the ship, during this part of the engagement, was that of the quartermaster, Thomas Hollins
, who stood in the starboard main chains, heaving the lead and calling out the soundings.
The outside of the ship near him was completely peppered with bullets, and the flames from the enemy's guns seemed almost to reach him; still he stood coolly at his post, and when abreast of the fort he was heard calling out, “Only thirteen feet, sir.”
As we passed clear of Fort St. Philip
, Captain Craven
gave orders to load
Section of Fort St. Philip during the engagement.
The details of the Fort drawn from a photograph.|
the starboard battery with solid shot.
He had seen the iron-clad Louisiana
, moored just above the fort.
She gave us one or two shots, but when we came directly abeam of her, she closed her port shutters and received our broadside.
We could hear our shot strike against her iron sides.
We gave but one broadside and then sheered out into the river.
A 9-inch shell, fired by the Louisiana
, struck the Brooklyn
about a foot above the water-line, on the starboard side of the cutwater, near the wood ends, forced its way for three feet through the dead-wood and timbers, and remained there.
At New Orleans this shot was cut out, and it was found that in their hurry the gunners had neglected to remove the lead patch from the fuse, so that the shell did not explode.
Had it done so it would have blown the whole bow off, and the Brooklyn
would have gone to the bottom.
As we swung out into the current and steamed up the river, we began to see the vessels ahead fighting with the Confederate
gun-boats, and a few moments later the cry came aft, “A steamer coming down on our port bow.”
We could see two smoke-stacks and the black smoke from them.
I took a look from the poop ladder, and saw a good-sized river steamer coming down on us, crowded with men on her forward deck, as if ready to board.
The order had
The “Brooklyn” attacked by the Confederate ram “Manassas.”
The Manassas was described by her commander, Lieutenant Warley, as “a tug-boat that had been converted into a ram, covered with half-inch iron, and had a 32-pounder carronade; her crew consisted of thirty-five persons, officers and men. She was perforated in the fight by shot and shell as if she had been made of paper.”
Admiral Melancton Smith thus describes his encounter with the ram: “Having discovered the Manassas stealing up along the St. Philip side of the river behind me, I signaled Farragut for permission to attack, which was given.
The Mississippi turned in mid-stream and tried to run down the ram, barely missing her, but driving her ashore, when her crew escaped, fired at by the Kineo, which had not yet anchored.
The ram's engines were found to be still in motion, but the approach of a burning wreck compelled me to abandon the idea of attaching a hawser.
Her machinery was destroyed by my boats, and after receiving a broadside or two from the Mississippi, she floated down the river in flames and blew up.” |
already been given, “Stand by to repel boarders,” and to load with shrapnel; the fuses were cut to burn one second.
As she approached, Craven
gave the vessel a sheer to starboard, and we began with No. 1 gun, the guns aft following in quick succession, the shells bursting almost immediately as they left the guns.
There was a rush of steam, shrieks from the people on board the steamer, and, when it came time for my No. 10 gun to fire, the steamer was lost in the smoke.
This was the only one of the river flotilla which we encountered or fired into.
Just after our engagement with this steamer, a column of black smoke, which came from the dreaded Manassas
, was seen on the starboard side, and the cry was passed along by men who were looking out of the ports, “The ram, the ram!”
called out, “Give her four
Put your helm hard-a-starboard!”
Then I saw the smoke-stacks of the Manassas
and the flash from her gun, and the next moment I was nearly thrown on the deck by the concussion, caused by her striking us just amidships.
The ram was going full speed but against the current, and, with our helm to starboard, the blow was not at right angles to our keel, though nearly so. I ran to the No. 10 port, the gun being in, and looked out, and saw her almost directly alongside.
A man came out of her little hatch aft, and ran forward along the port side of the deck, as far as the smoke-stacks, placed his hand against one, and looked to see what damage the ram had done.
I saw him turn, fall over, and tumble into the water, but did not know at the moment what caused his sudden disappearance, until I asked the quartermaster, who was leadsman in the chains, if he had seen him fall.
“ Why, yes, sir,” said he, “I saw him fall overboard,--in fact, I helped him; for I hit him alongside of the head with my hand-lead.”
No guns were fired at the ram from the starboard battery; all the crews a moment before had been at the port guns.
As the Manassas
drifted by I ran up on the poop, calling the gun's crew with me, to see if I could hit her with the 30-pounder Parrott
, but we were unable to depress it sufficiently, at its high elevation, to bring it to bear before she was lost to sight in the smoke.
The shot which she had fired came through the chain and planking, above the berth-deck, through a pile of rigging placed against the ship's side, and just entered the sand-bags placed to protect the steam-drum.
A few moments after this incident a vessel passed on our starboard side, not ten feet from us, and I could see through the port the men loading a pivot gun. She was directly abreast of No. 10 gun and I took the lock-string to fire, when a cry came from on board the vessel, “Don't fire, it is the Iroquois
At the same moment, Lieutenant Lowry
also shouted from near the mainmast, “Don't fire!”
Seeing the black smoke pouring from her stack, and noticing that it was abaft the mainmast, I called to Captain Craven
“It can't be the Iroquois
It is not one of our vessels, for her smoke-stack is abaft her mainmast!”
, however, repeated the order, “Don't fire!”
and I obeyed.
I was sure it was one of the Confederate
gun-boats, but it was my duty to obey orders, and thus the Confederate
escaped being sunk by the Brooklyn
; for the gun had been depressed, and a 9-inch shell would have gone through her deck and out below the water-line.
Just after leaving Fort St. Philip
a shot came in on the starboard quarter and went across the deck, taking off a marine's head and wounding three other men. Lieutenant Lowry
came along about this time, and I heard him report to Captain Craven
that Lieutenant O'Kane
had been wounded.
directed him to put me in charge of the First Division, to which Lowry
I sent poor Bartlett down below half an hour ago cut in two.
“Oh, no, you did not,” said Craven
; “he is on deck close to you.”
turned and was as much surprised as if he had seen a ghost, and told me to run forward and take charge of the First Division.
There had been terrible havoc here.
The powder-man of the pivot gun had been struck by a
shell, which exploded and blew him literally to atoms, and parts of his body were scattered all over the forecastle.
The gun was disabled, a primer having broken off in the vent; but there was nothing to fire at, as all the vessels that we passed had been run on the bank and either set on fire or deserted.
It was now almost day-light, and we could see the crews of the deserted boats running for cover to the woods a little way back.
Shortly after, the Brooklyn
came up with the other vessels and anchored near a point where there had been an encampment of troops.
They only remained long enough to land and bury the dead.
The commanding officers assembled on board the Hartford
to offer their congratulations to the flag-officer
About the time that the Brooklyn
arrived at quarantine the Manassas
was seen steaming up the river, and Farragut
made signal to the Mississippi
to attack her. [See note, p. 66.] She ran down toward her, but the Manassas
sheered toward the left bank and ran her nose ashore.
When the Mississippi
opened fire upon her, the crew poured out of the little hatch aft, ran along the deck, and jumped on shore and over the levee into the swamp beyond.
The fleet steamed up the river during the afternoon of the 24th until dark, and then came to anchor.
Nothing of importance occurred during the passage.
Soon after midnight a great blaze of light was seen up the river, and fearing fire-rafts, all the vessels got under way, and remained so until daylight, when they proceeded up the river toward New Orleans.
At 6 o'clock we passed a large vessel loaded with cotton on fire, and at 7:30 passed two more in the same condition.
Arrived at Chalmette
, four miles below the city, we found that batteries had been erected on both banks, armed with field-pieces.
A few broadsides made the troops leave their guns and disperse into the country.
fired 21 shells from the 80-pound Dahlgren
into the battery on the left bank and a couple of broadsides into that on the right.
The fleet steamed on to the city, passing close to the levees, which were swarming with people.
They were simply a howling mob. The Confederate flags were flying about the city, and we passed so close — not more than two hundred feet from the bank — that the people called out abusive names and shouted at us in derision.
In the French
quarter there was apparently some disturbance, and a body of troops was seen firing a volley into the crowd.
As the ship arrived abreast of the Custom-house
and anchored off Canal street, a pouring rain came down, but even this did not seem to reduce the crowd.
Soon after we had anchored, burning steamers, barges, and other vessels loaded with cotton came drifting down on fire.
Among the burning vessels was the Confederate iron-clad Mississippi
It seemed the purpose of the mob to destroy everything.
During the night the city was set on fire in a dozen different places, and there was a continual ringing of fire-alarm bells.
The next day we steamed up the river, as obstructions and batteries had been reported above the city.
All the fortifications were deserted, but an immense raft was found lying along the left bank.
This was made of four logs lashed together side by side, with a heavy chain extending their whole length.
It had been the intention of the Confederates
to stretch this boom across the river to prevent Foote
and his flotilla from reaching New Orleans.
The barrier looked formidable as it lay under the river-bank, but when the Confederates
had finished their work they could not get the raft across the river on account of the current.
They made the lower end fast to the bank, and with three steam-boats took the upper end and endeavored to reach the opposite bank, but the huge structure was more than they could manage, and the current swept it down the river with such force that it broke, drifted from the steamers, and swung around against the bank and so proved a failure.6
On the day after the passage of the forts, it was noticed that the Brooklyn
leaked more than usual, but not enough to give any alarm, as the steam-pumps were able to keep her free, and in the course of a few days the leak diminished.
It was not until the coal in the starboard bunker had been used up and the side of the ship was uncovered that we realized what a blow she had received from the Manassas
On the outside the chain had been driven its depth into the planking, and on the inside, for a length of five feet or more, the planking was splintered and crushed in. The only thing that prevented the prow of the Manassas
from sinking us was the fact that the bunker was full of coal.
The wound gave no trouble so long as we remained in the river, as the mud held in suspension in the river water filled up all the interstices between the fibers of the wood.
When we went out to sea and rolled about a little, and the ship began to work, it was found that she leaked very badly, and she was obliged to go to Pensacola
, heave down, and bolt on a large patch of plank to cover the spot where the ram had struck.