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The defense of Fort Morgan.

by R. L. Page, Brigadier-General, C. S. A., commander of the Fort.
Early on the morning of the 5th of August, 1864, I observed unusual activity in the Federal fleet off Mobile Bay, indicating, as I supposed, that they were about to attempt the passage of the fort. After an early breakfast the men were sent to the guns. Everybody was in high spirits. In a short time preparations were ended, and then followed perfect silence, before the noise of battle.

At 6 o'clock A. M. the enemy's ships began to move in with flags flying. They gradually fell into a line, consisting of twenty-three vessels, four of which were monitors. Each of the first four of the largest wooden ships had a smaller one lashed on the side opposite the fort, and was itself protected by a monitor between it and the fort. The smaller ships followed in line.

As they approached with a moderate wind and on the flood tide, I fired the first gun at long range, and soon the firing became general, our fire being briskly returned by the enemy. For a short time the smoke was so dense that the vessels could not be distinguished, but still the firing was incessant.

When abreast of the fort the leading monitor, the Tecumseh, suddenly sank. Four of the crew swam ashore and a few others were picked up by a boat from the enemy. Cheers from the garrison now rang out, which were checked at once, and the order was passed to sink the admiral's ship and then cheer.

Here I must note a little incident which challenged my admiration. As the Tecumseh was going down, a boat was observed to shoot out from under the bow of the leading ship, with oars up and boat-hook in hand. Seeing her, I gave directions, “Pass the order not to fire on that boat; she is saving drowning men.”

At this moment the Brooklyn, the leading ship, stopped her engine, apparently in doubt; whereupon the order was passed to concentrate on her, in the hope of sinking her, my belief being that it was the admiral's ship, the Hartford. As I learned afterward, he was on the second ship. Farragut's coolness and quick perception saved the fleet from great disaster and probably from destruction. While the Brooklyn hesitated, the admiral put his helm to starboard, sheered outside the Brooklyn, and took the lead, the rest following, thus saving the fouling and entanglement of the vessels and the danger of being sunk under my guns. When, after the fight, the Brooklyn was sent to Boston for repairs, she was found to have been struck over seventy times in her hull and [409] masts, as was shown by a drawing that was sent me while I was a prisoner of war at Fort Lafayette.

The ships continued passing rapidly by, no single vessel being under fire more than a few moments. Shot after shot was seen to strike, and shells to explode, on or about the vessels, but their sides being heavily protected by chain cables, faked along the sides and abreast the engines, no vital blow could be inflicted, particularly as the armament of the fort consisted of guns inadequate

Brigadier-General Richard L. Page, C. S. A. From a photograph.

in caliber and numbers for effective service against a powerful fleet in rapid motion. The torpedoes in the channel were also harmless; owing to the depth of the water, the strong tides, and the imperfect moorings none exploded. Four of the enemy's fleet turned from the fire they would have to encounter in passing, and joined the other vessels in the enfilading fire from the gulf side.1 One small gun-boat (the Philippi) attempting to run by alone, after the fleet passed in, was sunk at the second shot, in shoal water, the crew saving themselves in boats. She was burned by a boat sent from the Confederate States gun-boat Morgan. One man was found on board. He was severely wounded, and died while the officer was on board,

During the passage of the fleet 491 projectiles were fired from the fort, without derangement of any kind to guns or gun-carriages. But little damage was done to the fort, and but small loss of life, owing to the fact that the guns of the fleet were too much elevated; most of the projectiles passing over our heads. The spirit displayed by the garrison was fine; the guns were well served, and all did their duty nobly.

As the fleet passed the fort and out of range of my guns, they were immediately attacked by the Confederate vessels under Admiral Buchanan, who fought most gallantly until he was disabled and overpowered by the Federal fleet.

After the entrance of the Federal fleet into the bay and the evacuation of Fort Powell (a small battery which was untenable), and after the surrender of Fort Gaines, six miles distant on the opposite side of the bay, I felt confident that the whole naval and land forces of the enemy would be brought against Fort Morgan. I began at once to prepare the fort for as determined a defense as possible.

It had been demonstrated by the fire of the enemy that the enceinte or outer rampart of the fort (in which was its main strength) protected the scarp of the main wall of masonry only about one-half its height from curvated shot, and that it would be in the power of the enemy to open fire from any point of the compass, and consequently none of the casemates without heavy traverses in their front would be safe. It was manifest that by the concentration of fire my heavy guns could soon be dismounted, and the length of my resistance would depend upon my ability to protect my men from the heavy fire and to hold the fort from the flank casemates against assault. With these views, I employed my men day and night, most of the time under fire, in erecting traverses to protect my guns on the main wall, to render the casemates selected for the sick and wounded secure, and provide safe quarters for themselves in their rest from the constant and arduous duties they would have to endure. I found it necessary also to build a large traverse at the sally-port, which was entirely exposed. Thus absolutely to prevent the probability of Fort Morgan being reduced at the first severe test by the heavy guns of the enemy, it was necessary for my garrison of 400 men to labor hard night and day.

On the morning of the 9th the enemy proceeded with monitors and transports to land troops and guns at Navy Cove, commencing at once their first work of investment by land.

By my order the “redoubt” (2700 yards from the fort) called “Battery Bragg,” from which the guns had been removed, was destroyed by burning the wood-work. The buildings about the fort, hospitals, quarters, stables, etc., were fired and cleared away as far as possible.

During the day, two monitors, three sloops of war, and some gun-boats engaged the fort for several hours — the wooden vessels at long range — with but little damage on either side. Soon after, a flag of truce was reported from the fleet, bringing me a communication to this effect:

Sir: To prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of human life which must follow the opening of our battteries, we demand the unconditional surrender of Fort Morgan and its dependencies.

We are, respectfully, your obedient servants, D. G. Farragut, Rear-Admiral. Gordon Granger, Major-General.

To which I sent the following reply:

Sirs: I am prepared to sacrifice life, and will only surrender when I have no means of defense. I do not understand that while being communicated with under the flag of truce, the Tennessee should be towed within range of my guns.2

Respectfully, etc.,

R. L. Page, Brigadier-General.


After this time, day and night, we were engaged by the fleet, sometimes in a brisk fight of several hours' duration, at others in desultory firing without any material damage being done to the fort, save a demonstration of the fact that our brick walls were easily penetrable by the heavy missiles of the enemy, and that a systematic concentrated fire would soon breach them.

On the 15th three of the 15-inch shells, striking the right-flank face of bastion No. 4, breached the wall and disabled the howitzers therein. By this time the enemy had erected several batteries of heavy guns on the land approach and opened fire, which was kept up pretty continuously; and in the interval of serving the guns my men were engaged in the work, before mentioned, for their protection, in anticipation of a vigorous bombardment.

The sharp-shooters in our front had become very numerous and active, and with them encircling us on the land and the fire being delivered from the fleet on the flanks our guns had to be served with care and under great difficulty. The land forces of the enemy completed their first line of approach across the peninsula on the 10th, and the second and third on the 14th to within 700 yards of the fort. This work continued until the 21st, when they had approached to within 200 yards of our glacis. Such guns as could be used on this intrenching force were employed, especially at night, and as far as possible retarded their work, though nothing very effective could be accomplished by this firing, as their working parties were well concealed and protected behind the sand-banks; when our fire was concentrated on any particular point they would remove to some other.

Up to the morning of the 22d our efforts were with the heavy guns that could be used against the investing forces. The topography of the country afforded the enemy great advantages, and they made a steady advance, covering it with an irregular fire from the batteries already in position, and lining their works with sharp-shooters to pick off our gunners. At daylight of the 22d the fleet was reported moving up and encircling the fort, the iron-clads and the captured Tennessee included, and shortly its guns and all the batteries on land opened a furious fire, which came from almost every point of the compass, and continued unabated throughout the day, culminating in increased force at sundown; after which the heavy calibers and mortars kept it up during the night.

During this heavy bombardment I found it useless to attempt to fire my guns, as the sharp-shooters could pick off my men as fast as they would appear at the guns. This bombardment disabled all my guns, save two, partly breached the walls in several places, cutting up the fort to such an extent as to make the whole work a mere mass of debris. Their mortar-firing in the night from the land side was particularly accurate. Apprehensive now, from the decided effect already produced on the walls, that my magazines, containing eighty thousand pounds of powder, were in great danger by the continuation of the bombardment at night, with great care and under continuous fire I had the powder brought out and flooded. The guns of the water and lunette batteries, now unserviceable and in jeopardy from the enemy, I ordered to be spiked and otherwise effectually damaged, and all the guns dismounted by the enemy on the main rampart were destroyed as of no further avail in defense. Early in the night the wood-work of the citadel was fired by the mortar shells, and burned furiously for some hours; the enemy during the conflagration pouring in his missiles with increased vigor. With great efforts the fire was arrested and prevented from extending around near the magazines, which would have been in imminent danger of explosion. In the gallant endeavor to stay this disaster I must be allowed to record the names of privates Murphy, Bembough, and Stevens, 1st Tennessee regiment, distinguished for extraordinary courage and daring.

At daybreak on the 23d, accompanied by the engineer, I inspected the fort to determine its condition for further defense. The report was made by some of the company captains that of the case-mates, which had been made as safe for the men as my means allowed, some had been breached, others partly so, and that another shot on them would bring down the walls. A resumption of the fire would thus inflict heavy loss of life, as there was no bomb-proof in the fort. The enemy's approach was very near the glacis, my guns and powder were destroyed, the citadel had been set on fire the second time and entirely consumed; the commissariat and quartermaster's stores had been destroyed by the shells of the enemy. It was evident that “I had no means left of defense,” and that under a renewed bombardment unnecessary loss of life would result.

At 6 o'clock A. M. the white flag was displayed from the ramparts, and at 2 o'clock P. M. I capitulated. I am proud to say that throughout this severe test the garrison behaved like brave men.

1 The enfilading vessels were the Genesee, Tennessee, Bienville, Pembina, Sebago, and Pinola.--editors.

2 Acknowledged to have been done by mistake; the vessel was towed back immediately.--R. L. P.

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