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with iron plates six inches in thickness, thoroughly riveted together, and having a formidable iron beak projecting under the water. Her armament consisted of six heavy guns of English make, sending a solid shot weighing one hundred and ten pounds a small affair compared with the heavy guns of the present time, but irresistible then against everything but the turrets of the monitors. In addition to these means of resistance, the narrow channel in front of the fort had been lined with torpedoes. These were under the water, anchored to the bottom, and were chiefly in the shape of beer-kegs filled with powder, from the sides of which projected numerous little tubes containing fulminate, which it was expected would be exploded by contact with the passing vessels.
Except for what Farragut had already accomplished on the Mississippi, it would have been considered a fool-hardy experiment for wooden vessels to attempt to pass so close to one of the strongest forts on the coast; but when to the forts were added the knowledge of the strength of the ram and the supposed deadly character of the torpedoes, it may be imagined that the coming event impressed the person taking his first glimpse of naval warfare as decidedly hazardous and unpleasant. So daring an attempt was never made in any country but this, and was never successfully made by any commander except Farragut, who, in this, as in his previous exploits in passing the forts of the Mississippi, proved himself the greatest naval commander the world has ever seen. It was the confidence reposed in him, the recollection that he had never failed in any of his attempts, and his manifest faith in the success of the projected movement, that inspired all around him.
The scene on the Cowslip that afternoon was a notable one, as she steamed along within range of the rebel forts. The central figure was the grand old Admiral, his plans all completed, affable and jolly with all, evidently not thinking of failure as among the possibilities of the morrow, and filling every one with his enthusiasm. He was sixty-three years old, of medium height, stoutly built, with a finely proportioned head and smoothly shaven face, with an expression combining overflowing kindliness with iron will and invincible determination, and with eyes that in repose were full of sweetness and light, but, on emergency, could flash fire and fury.
Next in prominence to the Admiral was
the tall, commanding form of Fleet-Captain Percival Drayton, the man of all men to be Farragut's chief-of-staff; gentlemanly and courteous to all, but thoughtful and reserved, a man of marked intellect and power, in whose death, a few years later, our navy lost one of its very brightest stars, and the cause of liberty and human rights a most devoted friend. When the State of South Carolina comes into full possession of its reason as a member of the Union, as it will some day, it will honor the memory of Percival Drayton as one of its most illustrious sons. While he was always proud of his distinguished ancestry, he was a true patriot, who, in his love for his country, recognized no State lines and was swerved by no ties of kinship.
There were also' the fire-proof Alden; Strong, whose name was an index of his character; Marchand, of excellent fighting memory; Stevens, fond of Shakspere and with a Shaksperian fondness for good things as well as for hard knocks; Mullany, soon to be robbed of an arm; Le Roy, Donaldson, Nicholson, Greene, and the younger but no less impetuous Jouett, Gherardi, McCann, Perkins and Watson.
As we steamed slowly along inside Sand Island, inspecting every hostile point, a rebel transport landed at Fort Gaines, and began discharging cargo. At a signal from the Admiral, one of the monitors, by way of practice, opened fire at long range, and, as the huge fifteen-inch shell dropped uncomfortably near, the work of unloading was stopped, and the transport suddenly leftthe last rebel transport that ever crossed the bay.
After completing the reconnaissance, and reviewing the monitors, the party retired to the flag-ship, where the final council of war was held. This was only noteworthy from the fact that it was here that Admiral Farragut was over-persuaded, by the unanimous solicitations of his captains, and gave up his original determination of taking the lead. This was very much against his own judgment, and the events of the next day proved that he was right. The Brooklyn, Captain Alden, was selected to lead, she being provided with an extemporized torpedo-catcher, projecting from her bow. The Admiral, in his official report, referred to the decision of the council, which was given because it was thought the flag-ship ought not to be too much exposed. He says:
"This I believe to be an error; for, apart from the fact that exposure is one of the penalties of rank
in the navy, it will always be the aim of the enemy to destroy the flag-ship, and such attempt was very persistently made, but Providence did not permit it to be successful."
After the council, and just before sunset, the Richmond, Captain Jenkins, arrived from Pensacola, escorting the ill-fated monitor Tecumseh, Captain Craven, arriving last at the field to be the first to die.
At sunset, the last order had been issued. Every commanding officer knew his duty, and unusual quiet prevailed in the fleet. The waters of the Gulf rested, for a time, from their customary tumult, a gentle breeze relieved the midsummer heat, and the evening closed upon us as peacefully as if we had been on board a yachting squadron at Newport. During the early part of the night, the stillness was almost oppressive. The officers of the Hartford gathered around the capacious ward-room table, writing what they knew might be their last letters to loved ones far away, or giving to friends messages and instructions in case of death. There were no signs of fear, but, like brave and intelligent men, they recognized the stern possibilities of the morrow and acted accordingly.
But this occupied but little time, and then, business over, there followed an hour of unrestrained jollity. Many an old story was retold and ancient conundrum repeated. Old officers forgot, for the moment, their customary dignity, and it was evident that all were exhilarated and stimulated by the knowledge of the coming struggle. Captain Heywood, of the marines, proposed a final "walk-around"; Tyson solemnly requested information as to "Which would you rather do or go by Fort Morgan?" and all agreed they would prefer to "do." LaRue Adams repeated the benediction with which the French instructor at the naval academy was wont to greet his boys, as they were going into examination: "Vell, fellows, I hope ve vill do as vell as I hope ve vill do." Finally Chief Engineer Williamson suggested an adjournment to the forecastle, for a last smoke, and the smoking club went forward; but, somehow, smoke had lost its customary flavor, and, after a few whiffs, all hands turned in, to enjoy what sleep would come.
The gray glimmer of dawn was just beginning to struggle through a dense fog when we were roused, at three o'clock next morning, and the work of forming line was begun. A hasty lunch of sandwiches and coffee was served, the Admiral proposing
to have breakfast inside the bay at the regular hour. The precautions necessary for maneuvering through the fog made an unavoidable delay, for it was the Admiral's intention to have the fleet close to the fort before sunrise. It was a weird sight as the big ships "balanced to partners," the dim outlines slowly emerging like phantoms in the fog. The vessels were lashed together in pairs, fastened side by side by huge cables; the Brooklyn and Octorora leading, the flag-ship Hartford and the Metacomet following. The remaining vessels were paired as follows, the one named first in each instance being on the starboard and most exposed side:-Richmond and Port Royal; Lackawanna and Seminole ; Monongahela and Kennebec; Ossipee and Itasca ; Oneida and Galena.
All the vessels had been stripped for the fight, the top-hamper being left at Pensacola, and the starboard boats being either left behind or towed on the port side. The Admiral's steam launch, the Loyal, named after his son, steamed alongside the flag-ship on the port side.
In addition to the seven pairs of wooden vessels, there were four monitors, the Tecumseh and Manhattan, single turreted, with two fifteen-inch guns each; the Winnebago and Chickasaw, of lighter draught, with double turrets, and with eleven-inch guns. The monitors, being very slow-gaited, were started in advance, the intention being to have them on the right flank of the line, in front, to partially shield the fleet from fort and ram.
It was fifteen minutes of six o'clock before the whole fleet got under way, and it was just one hour later when the first gun was fired. About sunrise, while the line was being formed, a light breeze sprang up and scattered the fog, leaving us a bright and beautiful day, which on land must have been extremely hot. Indeed, it was found uncomfortably warm at sea before breakfast was served. The fleet presented a magnificent sight as the stately ships moved on, each with the stars and stripes flying from every mast-head, and the men gathered at their guns ready for work.
As the writer only designs giving the story of the fight as witnessed by himself, he has to refer here to an interval of twenty minutes, just as the fight opened, during which he was absent from the deck. On the previous night the Admiral had issued orders that the army signal officers were not to be allowed on deck during the fight,
but were to go into the cock-pit on the lower deck and assist the surgeons. The reason assigned was that these officers would not be needed during the passage of the forts, but would be wanted afterward to open communication with the army, and that therefore it would be a misfortune to have any of them disabled. The two officers on the Hartford disrelished this order exceedingly, and, after consulting together, decided that in the confusion of the occasion their presence on deck would probably not be noticed, and that they would evade the command if possible. In this they were successful until shortly before passing Sand Island and coming within range of Fort Morgan. Then the lynx-eyed executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Kimberly, who, as they afterward discovered, never allowed anything to escape his attention, came to them very quietly and politely, and told them the Admiral's order must be obeyed. We were satisfied from his manner that the surgeons had need of us, and, without endeavoring to argue the matter, made our way to the stifling hold, where Surgeon Lansdale and Assistant-Surgeon Commons, with their helpers, were quietly sitting, with their implements, bandages, and other paraphernalia spread out ready for use.
Nearly every man had his watch in his hand and waited for the first shot. To us, ignorant of everything going on above, every minute seemed an hour, and there was a feeling of great relief when the boom of the first gun was heard. This was from the monitor Tecumseh, at forty-seven minutes past six o'clock. Presently one or two of our forward guns opened, and we could hear the distant sound of the guns of the fort in reply. Soon the cannon-balls began to crash through the deck above us, and then the thunder of our whole broadside of twelve Dahlgren guns kept the vessel in a quiver. But as yet no wounded were sent down, and we knew we were still at comparatively long range. In the intense excitement of the occasion it seemed that hours had passed, but it was just twenty minutes from the time we went below, when an officer shouted down the hatchway: "Send up an army signal officer immediately: the Brooklyn is signaling." In a moment the writer was on deck, where he found the situation as follows: The Brooklyn, directly in front of us, had stopped, and was backing and signaling; the tide was with us, setting strongly through the channel, and the stopping of the Brooklyn threatened to bring the whole fleet into collis
ion and confusion; the advance vessels of the line were trying to back to prevent a catastrophe, but were apparently not able to overcome the force of the current, and there was danger not only of collision, but of being drifted on shore.
Meanwhile, the almost stationary fleet made a splendid point-blank target for the fort and for the four rebel vessels, all of which were doing their utmost, giving us a terrible raking, making cruel havoc among the men, and ugly holes in the sides of the ships. Running to the forecastle, I took the message of Captain Alden of the Brooklyn, which was: "The monitors are right ahead; we cannot go on without passing them." Transmitting the message to the Admiral by an aid, he replied at once: "Order the monitors ahead, and go on." As the message, was sent, the starboard bow-gun of the Hartford-a one-hundred-pound Parrott rifle, in charge of Ensign Whiting-opened fire on the ram Tennessee, and the great volume of smoke following each discharge hid the Brooklyn from view, and made it impossible to receive or transmit messages from that part of the ship, while the smoke from the other guns made it equally difficult from any other part of the deck. What the writer ought to have done, probably, was to have requested that the forward bow-gun be silenced until the signaling was over, but this did not occur to him at the time. Instead, as the smoke hung low in the air, he thought it best to try and get above it, and accordingly ran up the rigging to the foretop. But the Hartford had a howitzer in her foretop, which was hard at work, under the management of half a dozen sailors, throwing grape and canister into the waterbattery in front of the fort, and making it as difficult to signal here as it was on deck. So, not knowing what else to do, the officer kept on up the rigging to the top-gallant cross-trees, where there was just room to sit, holding on with the left arm around the peak of the top-mast. From this point, above all smoke, the scene was indescribably grand and terrific.
The fight was at its hottest. The Union fleet had reached the line, the crossing of which meant victory, and the result depended on the next few minutes. Just at this moment, to the horror of all, the monitor Tecumseh, a few hundred yards in the advance, seemed to stagger for a moment, then suddenly careened, and almost instantly disappeared beneath the water, carrying with her her noble commander, Captain
Craven, and one hundred and twenty officers and men, hopelessly imprisoned in their iron coffin. It has always been believed that she was sunk by a torpedo, although the rebels claimed that a shot from one of their heavy guns penetrated her armor at the water's edge and caused the disaster; the suddenness of her disappearance, however, can hardly be accounted for, except as the result of a torpedo explosion. The pilot leaped from the pilothouse, and some half-dozen men in the turret managed to jump through the ports, and were drawn down into the whirlpool made by the sinking ship. They were rescued by a cutter from the Metacomet. This boat, flying the Union flag, put out in charge of a little ensign (now LieutenantCommander Nields), and, regardless of the missiles flying in deadly showers, rowed up under the guns of the fort, coolly picked up the drowning men, and rowed back to the lee of one of the following ships. It seems, perhaps, an incident of little moment now, but in that day of brave deeds it was not excelled as an act of conspicuous individual bravery in obedience to orders.
During all this time the Brooklyn had failed to move ahead, and now she delayed to signal back the fact already too well known: "Our best monitor is sunk." The message was sent to the admiral by an aid, Lieutenant Yates, and the brief answer was returned, "Go on!" But still, for some mysterious reason, perhaps fear of the torpedoes, perhaps misapprehension of orders, the Brooklyn halted, and the delay was every instant more threatening and dangerous. It was the decisive moment of the day. Owing to our position, only our few bowguns could be used, while a deadly rain of shot and shell was falling on us, and our men were being cut down by scores, unable to make reply. The sight on the deck of the Hartford was sickening beyond the power of words to portray. Shot after shot came through the side, mowing down the men, deluging the decks with blood, and scattering mangled fragments of humanity so thickly that it was difficult to stand on the deck, so slippery was it. The old expressions of the "scuppers running blood," "the slippery deck," etc., give but the faintest idea of the spectacle on the Hartford. The bodies of the dead were placed in a long row on the port side, while the wounded were sent below until the surgeons' quarters would hold no more. A solid shot coming through the bow struck a gunner
on the neck, completely severing head from body. One poor fellow (afterward an object of interest at the great Sanitary Commission fair in New York) lost both legs by a cannon ball; as he fell he threw up both arms, just in time to have them also carried away by another shot. At one gun, all the crew on one side were swept down by a shot which came crashing through the bulwarks. A shell burst between the two forward guns, in charge of Lieutenant Tyson, killing and wounding fifteen men. The mast upon which the writer was perched was twice struck, once slightly, and again just below the foretop by a 120-pound shell, from a Blakely rifle on the rebel gunboat Selma. Fortunately the shell, which was about two feet long by eight inches in diameter, came tumbling end over end, and buried itself in the mast butt-end first, leaving the percussion-cap protruding. Had it come point first, or had it struck at any other part of the mast than in the re-enforced portion where the heel of the top-mast laps the top of the lower mast, this contribution to the literature of the war would probably have been lost to the world, as the distance to the deck was some one hundred feet. As it was, the sudden jar would have dislodged any one from the cross-trees had not the shell been visible from the time it left the Selma, thus giving time to prepare for it by an extra grip around the top of the mast. Looking out over the water, it was easy to trace the course of every shot, both from the guns of the Hartford and from the rebel fleet.
Meanwhile, the men were working the guns that could be used, as though the sight and smell of blood had sharpened their appetites. There was no skulking; in fact, there was no chance to skulk, if there had been such a disposition. They stood to their work, white and black side by side. There was no thought of social differences then; and whenever a shot was believed to have been well placed, the cheers of the men rang out above the roar of the guns. As our poet laureate, the Admiral's secretary, Harry Howard Brownell, of Hartford, sang of the fight, in the most graphic and truthful description ever written of it:
"Never a nerve that failed,
"There were blue eyes from the turfy Shannon,
There were black orbs from the palmy Niger, But there, alongside the cannon, Each man fought like a tiger. One only doubt was ours, Only one fear we knew: Could the day that dawned so well Go down for the darker powers? Would the fleet get through? "And ever the shot and shell Came with the howl of hell; The splinter-clouds rose and fell, And the long line of corpses grew. Would the fleet go through?"
Happily for the fleet and for the country, there was a man in command that day equal to the emergency-a man whose eagle eye grasped every detail of the fight, while he possessed the skill to direct and the nerve and ability to execute. There was no time for doubt or delay. Had he hesitated, the fortune of the day must have been against us. The Admiral was standing in the futtock shrouds, under the main-top,-a position above the smoke, from which he could take in the whole situation, and could communicate with the pilot in the main-top, and with the fleet-captain and executive officer on the deck beneath. For several years, there has been a discussion in the papers and magazines of the country as to the Admiral's being "lashed to the rigging." The writer has no light to throw on the subject. Farragut was standing in the shrouds, as described, when the writer went on deck, and he remained there until the Hartford had passed beyond the range of the fort; but there were not more than two or three persons on board who knew anything about his being fastened in place. The first heard of it in the fleet was some three or four weeks after the fight, when the New York papers were received. Various rumors have been circulated as to the fact, one of which was that the Admiral took a rope's-end with him when he went aloft, and secured it so as to prevent his falling on deck in case of accident. This is the story which was current on shipboard at that time, and was generally believed. Since the incident has been under discussion in the papers the "real facts" in the case have been made known, and will stand in history on the unquestioned authority of Fleet-Captain Drayton and of Flag-Lieutenant J. Crittenden Watson, of the Admiral's staff. This is to the effect that Captain Drayton, seeing the Admiral in the rigging, and fearing he might be killed by a fall on deck in case he were wounded, ordered an old quartermaster to take a rope's-end and secure it around him, so that he would be prevented from falling. The writer is disposed
to believe that the Admiral was so absorbed in watching the fight that he did not know at the moment the precautions taken for his safety by his fleet-captain. But whatever doubt may attach to this particular incident, -of which so much has since been made, while so little was thought of it at the time, -there is no chance for doubt as to the Admiral's action. Finding that the Brooklyn did not start ahead, he hurriedly inquired of pilot Freeman, in the main-top, if there was depth enough for the Hartford to pass to the left of the vessels in front. Receiving an affirmative reply, he said, "I will take the lead," and immediately ordered the ship "ahead fast."
On board a war steamer the engines are directed by the tap of a bell, the wires connected with which lead to the quarter-deck. One stroke of the bell means go ahead"; two, "stop"; three, "back"; and four, "go ahead as fast as possible." Leaning down through the shrouds to the officer on deck at the bell-pull, the Admiral shouted, "Four bells, eight bells, SIXTEEN BELLS! Give her all the steam you've got." The order was instantly transmitted, and the old ship seemed imbued with the Admiral's spirit, and, running past the Brooklyn and the monitors, regardless of fort, ram, gunboats, and the unseen foe beneath, dashed ahead, all alone, save for her gallant consort, the Metacomet.
As we ran clear of the fleet, we became the target for the rebel vessels which were lying across the channel in front. We were moving over what is called the middle ground, with shallow water on each side, so that it was impossible to maneuver the ship from right to left, for fear of running aground. Taking advantage of the situation, the rebel gun-boat Selma kept directly in front of us, where, in consequence of our projecting bow and our inability to turn, it was impossible to bring a single gun to bear on her, while she raked us, fore and aft, with terrible effect, doing, in reality, more damage than the rest of the rebel fleet. The two other gun-boats, the Gaines and the Morgan, were on our starboard bow, fighting in rather a timid manner; while the ram Tennessee made for us as though intending to strike us amidships. At the same time, the water-battery and a portion of the guns of the fort had a fine chance at our side. To quote again from Brownell:
"Trust me, our berth was hot! Ah, wickedly well they shot!