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Report of commander J. D. Johnston.

United States hospital, navy yard Pensacola, August 13, 1864.
Admiral Franklin Buchanan, Late Commanding Naval Defences of Alabama:
I have the honor to submit the following report of the circumstances under which the Confederate States ram Tennessee, recently under my command as your flag-ship, was surrendered to the United States fleet commanded by Rear-Admiral Farragut, in Mobile bay. At 6 A. M., on the 5th instant, the enemy's fleet, consisting of four iron-clad monitors and fourteen wooden vessels, were discovered to be steaming up the channel into the bay — the former in a single line nearest to Fort Morgan, and the latter in a double line, each two vessels lashed together. When they approached sufficiently near to draw the fire from Fort Morgan, signal was made to the squadron to follow your motions, and the Tennessee was moved down to the middle of the channel, just outside the line of torpedoes stretching across it, from whence she immediately opened her battery upon the advancing fleet. Every effort was made at the same time to ram each of the leading vessels as they entered the bay, but their superior speed enabled them to avoid this mode of attack — the first, with the Admiral's flag, passing ahead and the remainder astern before the ship could be turned to encounter them. As she followed them into the bay, the leading monitor, the Tecumseh, was discovered to be sinking, and in a few minutes she disappeared, taking down nearly all on board, consisting, as since learned, of one hundred souls. The Tennessee's battery was used to the greatest advantage as long as the fleet were within range, and when they reached a point about four miles from Fort Morgan, and were in the act of anchoring, she steamed alone up towards them (the other vessels of your squadron having been dispersed) and attacked them as soon as she was near enough to render her fire effective. The whole fleet were again put in motion [225] to receive her, and she received four tremendous shocks by the heaviest vessels running into her at full speed; soon after which I received an order from you in person to stand for Fort Morgan, as it had been reported by the acting chief-engineer that the ship was leaking rapidly. At this time it was reported to me that the wheel-chain had been carried away, and, ordering the relieving tackles to be used, I made a personal examination of the broken chain to ascertain if it could be repaired. This was found to be impossible without sending men outside of the shield to expose themselves several minutes to the fire of the enemy's vessels, by which the after-deck over which the chains lead was closely watched and constantly swept until the close, of the action. Returning to the pilot-house for the purpose of observing more closely the movements of the enemy, I soon received a report that you had been wounded; when I went aft to see you, and while there, learned that the after-port cover had been struck by a shot, which instantly killed a man engaged in removing the pivot bolt upon which it revolved, and wounded yourself and one of the gun's crew, the latter mortally. I then learned that the two quarter-port covers had been so jammed by the fire of the enemy as to render it impracticable to remove them; and the relieving tackles had been shot away, and the tiller unshipped from the rudder-head. The smoke-pipe having been completely riddled by shot, was knocked down close to the top of the shield by the concussion of vessels running into the ship. At the same time the three monitors were using their eleven and fifteen-inch solid shot against the after end of the shield, while the largest of the wooden vessels were pouring in separate broadsides at the distance of only a few feet; and I regret to say that many favorable opportunities of sinking those vessels were unavoidably lost by failure of our gun-primers. The bow-port cover was struck by a heavy shot, as also the cover of the forward port on the port side; and two of the broadside-port covers were entirely unshipped by the enemy's shot. The enemy was not long in perceiving that our steering gear had been entirely disabled, and his monitors and heaviest vessels at once took position at each quarter and stern, from whence they poured in their fire without intermission for a period of nearly half an hour, while we were unable to bring a single gun to bear, as it was impossible to change the position of the vessel, and the steam was rapidly going down as a natural consequence of the loss of the smoke pipe. Feeling it my duty to inform [226] you of the condition of the vessel, I went to the berth deck for this purpose, and, after making my report, asked if you did not think we had better surrender, to which you replied, “Do the best you can, and when all is done, surrender,” or words to that effect. Upon my returning to the gun-deck, I observed one of the heaviest vessels of the enemy in the act of running into us on the port quarter, while the shot were fairly raining upon the after end of the shield, which was now so thoroughly shattered that in a few moments it would have fallen and exposed the gun deck to a raking fire of shell and grape. Realizing our helpless condition at a glance, and conceiving that the ship was now nothing more than a target for the heavy guns of the enemy, I concluded that no good object could be accomplished by sacrificing the lives of the officers and men in such a one-sided contest, and therefore proceeded to the top of the shield and took down the ensign, which had been lashed on to the handle of a gun-scraper and stuck up through the grating. While in the act several shots passed close to me, and when I went below to order the engines to be stopped, the fire of the enemy was continued. I then decided, though with an almost bursting heart, to hoist the white flag; and, returning again to the shield, I placed it in the spot where but a few moments before had floated the proud flag for whose honor I would so cheerfully have sacrificed my own life, if I could possibly have become the only victim; but at that time it would have been impossible to destroy the ship without the certain loss of many valuable lives, your own among the number.

It is with the most heartfelt satisfaction that I bear testimony to the undaunted gallantry and cheerful alacrity with which the officers and men under my immediate command discharged all their duties; and to the executive officer, Lieutenant Bradford, it is due that I should commend the regular and rapid manner in which the battery was served in every particular. While a prisoner on board the Ossipee, and since coming into this hospital, I have learned from personal observation and from other reliable sources of information, that the battery of the Tennessee inflicted more damage upon the enemy than that at Fort Morgan, although she was opposed by one hundred and eighty-seven guns of the heaviest calibre, in addition to the twelve eleven and fifteen-inch guns on board the monitors. The entire loss of the enemy, most of which is ascribed to the Tennessee, amounts to quite three hundred in killed and wounded, exclusive of the one hundred lost on the Tecumseh, making a number almost as large as the entire force under [227] your command in this unequal conflict. Fifty-three shot marks were found on the Tennessee, thirty-three of which had penetrated so far as to cause splinters to fly inboard, and the washers over the tends of the bolts wounded several men.

With the greatest respect and esteem, I am very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

J. D. Johnston, Commander P. N. C. S., late of the Tennessee.

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