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The ram Manassas at the passage of the New Orleans forts.

A. F. Warley, Captain, C. S. N.

Entrance to Fort St. Philip. From a photograph taken in 1884.

Just after the war I thought “bygones” had better be “bygones” and the stirring up of bitter memories was a thing to be avoided; now that so many years have passed, it seems to me almost impossible for one who was observant, and had good opportunities to observe, to tell all he believed he witnessed without in some way reflecting upon one or another of those in position who have gone to their rest and are no longer able to meet criticism.

But from the day of the veracious historian Pollard to the present one of Captain Kennon, no mention has been made of the vessel under my command on the night Admiral Farragut passed “the Forts,” except in slighting, sneering, or untruthful statements.

There are only a few of those who were with me left, and I think it due to them and to the memory of those gone that I tell in as few words as I can what the Manassas did on the night in question.

The Manassas was made fast to the bank on the Fort St. Philip side above the forts, and had alongside of her a heavy steam-tug to enable her to be turned promptly down the river. On the evening before the attack I went on board of the Confederate steamer McRae, carrying some letters to put in the hands of my friend Captain Huger, and found him just starting to call on me, on the same errand. Both of us — judging from the character of the officers in the enemy's fleet, most of whom we knew — believed the attack was at hand, and neither of us expected support from the vessels that had been sent down to help oppose the fleet.

Before night all necessary orders had been given, and when at 3:30 A. M. the flash of the first gun was seen on the river below the forts, the Manassas was cut away from the bank, turned downstream, cast off from the tug, and was steaming down to the fleet in quicker time than I had believed to be possible. [90]

The first vessel seen was one of the armed Confederate steamers. She dashed up the river, passing only a few feet from me, and no notice was taken of my hail and request for her to join me. The next vessel that loomed up was the United States steamer Mississippi. She was slanting across the river when the Manassas was run into her starboard quarter, our little gun being fired at short range through her cabin or ward-room. What injury she received must be told by her people. She fired over the Manassas, tore away, and went into the dark. While this was going on other vessels no doubt passed up, but the first I saw was a large ship (since known to have been the Pensacola). As the Manassas dashed at her quarter, she shifted her helm, avoided the collision beautifully, and fired her stern pivot-gun close into our faces, cutting away the flag-staff.

By that time the Manassas was getting between the forts, and I told Captain Levin, the pilot, that we could do nothing with the vessels which had passed, but we could go down to the mortar-fleet; but no sooner had we got in seeing range than both forts opened on us, Fort Jackson striking the vessel several times on the bend with the lighter guns. I knew the vessel must be sunk if once under the 10-inch guns, so I turned up the river again, and very soon saw a large ship, the Hartford1 [Brooklyn], lying across-stream. As I was not fired upon by her I thought then that her crew were busy fending off what I think now to have been a burning pile-driver, and could not see the Manassas coming out of the dark. The Manassas was driven at her with everything open, resin being piled into the furnaces. The gun was discharged when close on board. We struck her fairly amidship; the gun recoiled and turned over and remained there, the boiler started, slightly jamming the Chief Engineer, Dearning, but settled back as the vessel backed off. For any damage done to the Hartford [Brooklyn] her records must be consulted. Just then another s teamer came up through the fire of the forts. I thought her the Iroquois, and tried to run into her, but she passed as if the Manassas had been at anchor.

Steaming slowly up the river,--very slow was our best,--we discovered the Confederate States steamer McRae, head up-stream, receiving the fire of three men-of-war. As the Manassas forged by, the three men-of-war steamed up the river, and were followed to allow the McRae to turn and get down to the forts, as she was very badly used up.

Day was getting broader, and with the first ray of the sun we saw the fleet above us; and a splendid sight it was, or rather would have been under other circumstances. Signals were being rapidly exchanged, and two men-of-war steamed down, one on either side of the river. The Manassas was helpless. She had nothing to fight with, and no speed to run with. I ordered her to be run into the [91] bank on the Fort St. Philip side, her delivery-pipes to be cut, and the crew to be sent into the swamp through the elongated port forward, through which the gun had been used. The first officer, gallant Frank Harris, reported all the men on shore. We examined the vessel, found all orders had been obeyed, and we also took to the swamp.

I think our two attendants ran into each other. Harris said such was the case. At any rate I soon heard heavy firing,--some for our benefit, but most, I think, for the abandoned Manassas. I heard afterward that she was boarded, but, filling astern, floated off, on fire, and blew up somewhere below in the neighborhood of the mortar-fleet.

I have confined my remarks to the Manassas, and it is just that I should tell what the Manassas was,--a tow-boat boarded over with five-inch timber and armored with one thickness of flat railroad iron, with a complement of thirty-four persons and an armament of one light carronade and four double-barreled guns. She was very slow. I do not think she made at any time that night more than five miles an hour.

If on that occasion she was made to do less than she should have done, if she omitted any possible chance of putting greater obstructions in the track of the fleet, the fault was mine,--for I was trammeled by no orders from superior authority; I labored under no difficulty of divided counsel; I had not to guard against possible disaffection or be jealous about obedience to my orders.

I have finished, having endeavored to avoid personality even to omitting much in praise I could say of brother officers in the same fight, but not in any way connected with the Manassas.

Captain Squires, who commanded Fort St. Philip, informed me that his fort had fired seventy-five times at the Manassas, mistaking her for a disabled vessel of the enemy's floating down-stream. The Manassas was not struck once by Fort St. Philip.

The following are the only officers living, as far as I know, who were with me on the night referred to: Engineers George W. Weaver and T. A. Menzies, and Pilots Robert Levin and. Robert Wilson.

New Orleans, July 30th, 1886.

1 Professor J. Russell Soley, U. S. N., in a communication to the Editors, gives the following discussion of the question, Did the Manassas ram the Hartford at the battle of New Orleans? “In the affirmative is the following testimony: (1) ‘Captain Kautz, a lieutenant on board the Hartford, says that immediately after the Hartford went ashore she was struck by the fire-raft which was pushed up by the tug Mosher, and immediately after that event the Manassas struck her and turned her round so that she slid off the shoal. (2) Lieutenant Warley, commanding the Manassas, states that she struck the Hartford. He does not state that she struck the Brooklyn.’ In the negative is the following testimony: (1) Admiral Farragut makes no mention of being struck by a ram. His report says: ‘ I discovered a fire-raft coming down upon us, and in attempting to avoid it ran the ship on shore, and the ram Manassas, which I had not seen, lay on the opposite side of it and pushed it down upon us.’ Farragut evidently mistook the Mosher for the Manassas, as it is a well-established fact that the Mosher shoved the raft against the Hartford. (2) Commander Richard Wainwright, commanding the Hartford, makes no mention in his detailed report of having been struck by any ram. He describes the incident of the fire-raft thus: ‘ At 4:15 grounded on shoal near Fort St. Philip, in the endeavor to clear a fire-raft which was propelled by a ram on our port quarter, setting fire to the ship.’ Wainwright also makes the mistake of calling the Mosher a ram, but this only bears out the general opinion among the Union officers as to the character of all the Confederate vessels. (3) The report of James H. Conley, carpenter of the Hartford, stating in detail the damages sustained by the ship in the action, makes no mention of any injury which could have been inflicted by a ram. (4) It seems impossible that the Manassas should have struck such a blow to the Hartford as Warley describes and have left no traceable injury. (5) It is exceedingly improbable that the Manassas would have struck the Hartford under such advantageous circumstances as Captain Kautz describes (when the Hartford was ashore) and have had no effect other than to turn the Hartford round so that she slid off the shoal. (6) Commander Watson informs me that he thinks it is a mistake to suppose that the Manassas touched the Hartford at any time. He goes on to say: ‘Farragut thought it was the Manassas which pushed the fire-raft against the Hartford's port side, while the Confederate reports state that this was done by a certain tug-boat. The admiral never, to my knowledge, entertained the idea that such a blow’ as the Manassas is supposed to have given ‘ would have released the Hartford's bow. I believe that he ascribed her release to the backing of the screw as I did; I always understood him that way.’ (7) Mr. Herbert B. Tyson says, in a recent letter (Mr. Tyson was a midshipman and the navigator of the Hartford at this time, but has since left the service): ‘I am satisfied the Hartford was never rammed at the battle of New Orleans. The nearest approach to her being rammed was when a Confederate craft pushed a fire-raft under her port quarter while she was aground under Fort St. Philip.’ (8 ) Lieutenant Warley mentions only one vessel rammed by him in this way, and his description certainly answers for what happened in the attack on the Brooklyn. (9) In reference to the Brooklyn there is no possible question. Captain Craven's and Commander Bartlett's testimony is absolutely conclusive. (10) Lieutenant Warley must be mistaken in stating that Captain Mahan informed him that his vessel struck the Hartford. Mahan in his book [pp. 76 and 77] does not mention any ramming of the Hartford by the Manassas. His statements are such that if he had supposed the Manassas rammed the Hartford he could not have omitted it. He says of the Hartford: ‘She took the ground close under St. Philip, the raft lying on her port quarter, against which it was pushed by the tug Mosher,’ adding in a foot-note, ‘ As this feat has been usually ascribed to the Manassas, it may be well to say that the statement in the text rests on the testimony of the commander of the ram, as well as other evidence.’ He closes his description of this episode by saying:. ‘Then working herself clear, the Hartford passed from under their fire.’ Finally he gives a minute description of the ramming of the Brooklyn by the Manassas.”

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