Farragut At Mobile Bay

Ha, old ship, do they thrill,

The brave two hundred scars

You got in the river wars?

That were leeched with clamorous skill

(Surgery savage and hard),

At the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

* * * *

How the guns, as with cheer and shout,

Our tackle-men hurled them out,

Brought up in the waterways...

As we fired, at the flash

'T was lightning and black eclipse

With a bellowing sound and crash.

* * * *

The Dahlgrens are dumb,

Dumb are the mortars;

Never more shall the drum

Beat to colors and quarters--

The great guns are silent.

--Henry Howard Brownell

During the Civil War our navy produced, as it has always produced

in every war, scores of capable officers, of brilliant single-ship

commanders, of men whose daring courage made them fit leaders in any

hazardous enterprise. In this respect the Union seamen in the Civil War

merely lived up to the traditions of their service. In a service with

such glorious memories it was a difficult thing to establish a new

record in feats of personal courage or warlike address. Biddle, in the

Revolutionary War, fighting his little frigate against a ship of the

line until she blew up with all on board, after inflicting severe loss

on her huge adversary; Decatur, heading the rush of the boarders in the

night attack when they swept the wild Moorish pirates from the decks of

their anchored prize; Lawrence, dying with the words on his lips,

"Don't give up the ship"; and Perry, triumphantly steering his bloody

sloop-of-war to victory with the same words blazoned on his banner--men

like these, and like their fellows, who won glory in desperate conflicts

with the regular warships and heavy privateers of England and France, or

with the corsairs of the Barbary States, left behind a reputation which

was hardly to be dimmed, though it might be emulated, by later feats of

mere daring.

But vital though daring is, indispensable though desperate personal

prowess and readiness to take chances are to the make-up of a fighting

navy, other qualities are needed in addition to fit a man for a place

among the great sea-captains of all time. It was the good fortune of the

navy in the Civil War to produce one admiral of renown, one peer of all

the mighty men who have ever waged war on the ocean. Farragut was not

only the greatest admiral since Nelson, but, with the sole exception

of Nelson, he was as great an admiral as ever sailed the broad or the

narrow seas.

David Glasgow Farragut was born in Tennessee. He was appointed to the

navy while living in Louisiana, but when the war came he remained

loyal to the Union flag. This puts him in the category of those men

who deserved best of their country in the Civil War; the men who were

Southern by birth, but who stood loyally by the Union; the men like

General Thomas of Virginia, and like Farragut's own flag-captain at the

battle of Mobile Bay, Drayton of South Carolina. It was an easy thing in

the North to support the Union, and it was a double disgrace to be, like

Vallandigham and the Copperheads, against it; and in the South there

were a great multitude of men, as honorable as they were brave, who,

from the best of motives, went with their States when they seceded, or

even advocated secession. But the highest and loftiest patriots, those

who deserved best of the whole country, we re the men from the South who

possessed such heroic courage, and such lofty fealty to the high ideal

of the Union, that they stood by the flag when their fellows deserted

it, and unswervingly followed a career devoted to the cause of the whole

nation and of the whole people. Among all those who fought in this, the

greatest struggle for righteousness which the present century has seen,

these men stand preeminent; and among them Farragut stands first. It

was his good fortune that by his life he offered an example, not only

of patriotism, but of supreme skill and daring in his profession. He

belongs to that class of commanders who possess in the highest

degree the qualities of courage and daring, of readiness to assume

responsibility, and of willingness to run great risks; the qualities

without which no commander, however cautious and able, can ever become

really great. He possessed also the unwearied capacity for taking

thought in advance, which enabled him to prepare for victory before the

day of battle came; and he added to this an inexhaustible fertility of

resource and presence of mind under no matter what strain.

His whole career should be taught every American schoolboy, for when

that schoolboy becomes a voter he should have learned the lesson that

the United States, while it ought not to become an overgrown military

power, should always have a first-class navy, formidable from the number

of its ships, and formidable still more from the excellence of the

individual ships and the high character of the officers and men.

Farragut saw the war of 1812, in which, though our few frigates and

sloops fought some glorious actions, our coasts were blockaded and

insulted, and the Capitol at Washington burned, because our statesmen

and our people had been too short-sighted to build a big fighting navy;

and Farragut was able to perform his great feats on the Gulf coast

because, when the Civil War broke out, we had a navy which, though too

small in point of numbers, was composed of ships as good as any afloat.

Another lesson to be learned by a study of his career is that no man

in a profession so highly technical as that of the navy can win a great

success unless he has been brought up in and specially trained for that

profession, and has devoted his life to the work. This fact was made

plainly evident in the desperate hurly-burly of the night battle with

the Confederate flotilla below New Orleans--the incidents of this

hurly-burly being, perhaps, best described by the officer who, in

his report of his own share in it, remarked that "all sorts of things

happened." Of the Confederate rams there were two, commanded by trained

officers formerly in the United States navy, Lieutenants Kennon and

Warley. Both of these men handled their little vessels with remarkable

courage, skill, and success, fighting them to the last, and inflicting

serious and heavy damage upon the Union fleet. The other vessels of the

flotilla were commanded by men who had not been in the regular navy, who

were merely Mississippi River captains, and the like. These men were,

doubtless, naturally as brave as any of the regular officers; but, with

one or two exceptions, they failed ignobly in the time of trial, and

showed a fairly startling contrast with the regular naval officers

beside or against whom they fought. This is a fact which may well be

pondered by the ignorant or unpatriotic people who believe that the

United States does not need a navy, or that it can improvise one, and

improvise officers to handle it, whenever the moment of need arises.

When a boy, Farragut had sailed as a midshipman on the Essex in her

famous cruise to the South Pacific, and lived through the murderous

fight in which, after losing three fifths of her crew, she was captured

by two British vessels. Step by step he rose in his profession, but

never had an opportunity of distinguishing himself until, when he was

sixty years old, the Civil War broke out. He was then made flag officer

of the Gulf squadron; and the first success which the Union forces met

with in the southwest was scored by him, when one night he burst the

iron chains which the Confederates had stretched across the

Mississippi, and, stemming the swollen flood with his splendidly-handled

steam-frigates, swept past the forts, sank the rams and gunboats that

sought to bar his path, and captured the city of New Orleans. After

further exciting service on the Mississippi, service in which he

turned a new chapter in the history of naval warfare by showing the

possibilities of heavy seagoing vessels when used on great rivers,

he again went back to the Gulf, and, in the last year of the war,

was allotted the task of attempting the capture of Mobile, the only

important port still left open to the Confederates.

In August, 1864, Farragut was lying with his fleet off Mobile Bay. For

months he had been eating out his heart while undergoing the wearing

strain of the blockade; sympathizing, too, with every detail of the

doubtful struggle on land. "I get right sick, every now and then, at

the bad news," he once wrote home; and then again, "The victory of the

Kearsarge over the Alabama raised me up; I would sooner have fought that

fight than any ever fought on the ocean." As for himself, all he wished

was a chance to fight, for he had the fighting temperament, and he knew

that, in the long run, an enemy can only be beaten by being out-fought,

as well as out-manoeuvered. He possessed a splendid self-confidence,

and scornfully threw aside any idea that he would be defeated, while he

utterly refused to be daunted by the rumors of the formidable nature of

the defenses against which he was to act. "I mean to be whipped or to

whip my enemy, and not to be scared to death," he remarked in speaking

of these rumors.

The Confederates who held Mobile used all their skill in preparing for

defense, and all their courage in making that defense good. The mouth

of the bay was protected by two fine forts, heavily armed, Morgan

and Gaines. The winding channels were filled with torpedoes, and, in

addition, there was a flotilla consisting of three gunboats, and, above

all, a big ironclad ram, the Tennessee, one of the most formidable

vessels then afloat. She was not fast, but she carried six high-power

rifled guns, and her armor was very powerful, while, being of light

draft, she could take a position where Farragut's deep-sea ships could

not get at her. Farragut made his attack with four monitors,--two of

them, the Tecumseh and Manhattan, of large size, carrying 15-inch guns,

and the other two, the Winnebago and Chickasaw, smaller and lighter,

with 11-inch guns,--and the wooden vessels, fourteen in number. Seven

of these were big sloops-of-war, of the general type of Farragut's own

flagship, the Hartford. She was a screw steamer, but was a full-rigged

ship likewise, with twenty-two 9-inch shell guns, arranged in broadside,

and carrying a crew of three hundred men. The other seven were light

gunboats. When Farragut prepared for the assault, he arranged to make

the attack with his wooden ships in double column. The seven most

powerful were formed on the right, in line ahead, to engage Fort Morgan,

the heaviest of the two forts, which had to be passed close inshore to

the right. The light vessels were lashed each to the left of one of the

heavier ones. By this arrangement each pair of ships was given a double

chance to escape, if rendered helpless by a shot in the boiler or other

vital part of the machinery. The heaviest ships led in the fighting

column, the first place being taken by the Brooklyn and her gunboat

consort, while the second position was held by Farragut himself in

the Hartford, with the little Metacomet lashed alongside. He waited to

deliver the attack until the tide and the wind should be favorable,

and made all his preparations with the utmost care and thoughtfulness.

Preeminently a man who could inspire affection in others, both the

officers and men of the fleet regarded him with fervent loyalty and

absolute trust.

The attack was made early on the morning of August 5. Soon after

midnight the weather became hot and calm, and at three the Admiral

learned that a light breeze had sprung up from the quarter he wished,

and he at once announced, "Then we will go in this morning." At daybreak

he was at breakfast when the word was brought that the ships were all

lashed in couples. Turning quietly to his captain, he said, "Well,

Drayton, we might as well get under way;" and at half-past six the

monitors stood down to their stations, while the column of wooden ships

was formed, all with the United States flag hoisted, not only at the

peak, but also at every masthead. The four monitors, trusting in their

iron sides, steamed in between the wooden ships and the fort. Every man

in every craft was thrilling with the fierce excitement of battle; but

in the minds of most there lurked a vague feeling of unrest over one

danger. For their foes who fought in sight, for the forts, the gunboats,

and, the great ironclad ram, they cared nothing; but all, save the very

boldest, were at times awed, and rendered uneasy by the fear of the

hidden and the unknown. Danger which is great and real, but which

is shrouded in mystery, is always very awful; and the ocean veterans

dreaded the torpedoes--the mines of death--which lay, they knew not

where, thickly scattered through the channels along which they were to

thread their way.

The tall ships were in fighting trim, with spars housed, and canvas

furled. The decks were strewn with sawdust; every man was in his place;

the guns were ready, and except for the song of the sounding-lead there

was silence in the ships as they moved forward through the glorious

morning. It was seven o'clock when the battle began, as the Tecumseh,

the leading monitor, fired two shots at the fort. In a few minutes Fort

Morgan was ablaze with the flash of her guns, and the leading wooden

vessels were sending back broadside after broadside. Farragut stood in

the port main-rigging, and as the smoke increased he gradually climbed

higher, until he was close by the maintop, where the pilot was stationed

for the sake of clearer vision. The captain, fearing lest by one of

the accidents of battle the great admiral should lose his footing, sent

aloft a man with a lasher, and had a turn or two taken around his body

in the shrouds, so that he might not fall if wounded; for the shots

were flying thick.

At first the ships used only their bow guns, and the Confederate ram,

with her great steel rifles, and her three consorts, taking station

where they could rake the advancing fleet, caused much loss. In twenty

minutes after the opening of the fight the ships of the van were fairly

abreast of the fort, their guns leaping and thundering; and under the

weight of their terrific fire that of the fort visibly slackened. All

was now uproar and slaughter, the smoke drifting off in clouds. The

decks were reddened and ghastly with blood, and the wreck of flying

splinters drove across them at each discharge. The monitor Tecumseh

alone was silent. After firing the first two shots, her commander,

Captain Craven, had loaded his two big guns with steel shot, and, thus

prepared, reserved himself for the Confederate ironclad, which he had

set his heart upon taking or destroying single-handed. The two columns

of monitors and the wooden ships lashed in pairs were now approaching

the narrowest part of the channel, where the torpedoes lay thickest; and

the guns of the vessels fairly overbore and quelled the fire from the

fort. All was well, provided only the two columns could push straight on

without hesitation; but just at this moment a terrible calamity befell

the leader of the monitors. The Tecumseh, standing straight for the

Tennessee, was within two hundred yards of her foe, when a torpedo

suddenly exploded beneath her. The monitor was about five hundred yards

from the Hartford, and from the maintop Farragut, looking at her, saw

her reel violently from side to side, lurch heavily over, and go down

headforemost, her screw revolving wildly in the air as she disappeared.

Captain Craven, one of the gentlest and bravest of men, was in the

pilot-house with the pilot at the time. As she sank, both rushed to

the narrow door, but there was time for only one to get out. Craven was

ahead, but drew to one side, saying, "After you, pilot." As the pilot

leaped through, the water rushed in, and Craven and all his crew, save

two men, settled to the bottom in their iron coffin.

None of the monitors were awed or daunted by the fate of their consort,

but drew steadily onward. In the bigger monitors the captains, like the

crews, had remained within the iron walls; but on the two light crafts

the commanders had found themselves so harassed by their cramped

quarters, that they both stayed outside on the deck. As these two

steamed steadily ahead, the men on the flagship saw Captain Stevens,

of the Winnebago, pacing calmly, from turret to turret, on his unwieldy

iron craft, under the full fire of the fort. The captain of the

Chickasaw, Perkins, was the youngest commander in the fleet, and as he

passed the Hartford, he stood on top of the turret, waving his hat and

dancing about in wildest excitement and delight.

But, for a moment, the nerve of the commander of the Brooklyn failed

him. The awful fate of the Tecumseh and the sight of a number of objects

in the channel ahead, which seemed to be torpedoes, caused him to

hesitate. He stopped his ship, and then backed water, making sternway to

the Hartford, so as to stop her also. It was the crisis of the fight

and the crisis of Farragut's career. The column was halted in a narrow

channel, right under the fire of the forts. A few moments' delay and

confusion, and the golden chance would have been past, and the only

question remaining would have been as to the magnitude of the disaster.

Ahead lay terrible danger, but ahead lay also triumph. It might be that

the first ship to go through would be sacrificed to the torpedoes; it

might be that others would be sacrificed; but go through the fleet must.

Farragut signaled to the Brooklyn to go ahead, but she still hesitated.

Immediately, the admiral himself resolved to take the lead. Backing hard

he got clear of the Brooklyn, twisted his ship's prow short round, and

then, going ahead fast, he dashed close under the Brooklyn's stern,

straight at the line of buoys in the channel. As he thus went by the

Brooklyn, a warning cry came from her that there were torpedoes ahead.

"Damn the torpedoes!" shouted the admiral; "go ahead, full speed;" and

the Hartford and her consort steamed forward. As they passed between the

buoys, the cases of the torpedoes were heard knocking against the

bottom of the ship; but for some reason they failed to explode, and the

Hartford went safely through the gates of Mobile Bay, passing the forts.

Farragut's last and hardest battle was virtually won. After a delay

which allowed the flagship to lead nearly a mile, the Brooklyn got her

head round, and came in, closely followed by all the other ships. The

Tennessee strove to interfere with the wooden craft as they went in, but

they passed, exchanging shots, and one of them striving to ram her, but

inflicting only a glancing blow. The ship on the fighting side of the

rear couple had been completely disabled by a shot through her boiler.

As Farragut got into the bay he gave orders to slip the gunboats, which

were lashed to each of the Union ships of war, against the Confederate

gunboats, one of which he had already disabled by his fire, so that she

was run ashore and burnt. Jouett, the captain of the Metacomet, had

been eagerly waiting this order, and had his men already standing at the

hawsers, hatchet in hand. When the signal for the gunboats to chase

was hoisted, the order to Jouett was given by word of mouth, and as his

hearty "Aye, aye, sir," came in answer, the hatchets fell, the hawsers

parted, and the Metacomet leaped forward in pursuit. A thick rainsquall

came up, and rendered it impossible for the rear gunboats to know

whither the Confederate flotilla had fled. When it cleared away, the

watchers on the fleet saw that one of the two which were uninjured had

slipped off to Fort Morgan, while the other, the Selma, was under the

guns of the Metacomet, and was promptly carried by the latter.

Meanwhile the ships anchored in the bay, about four miles from Fort

Morgan, and the crews were piped to breakfast; but almost as soon as it

was begun, the lookouts reported that the great Confederate ironclad was

steaming down, to do battle, single-handed, with the Union fleet. She

was commanded by Buchanan, a very gallant and able officer, who had been

on the Merrimac, and who trusted implicitly in his invulnerable sides,

his heavy rifle guns, and his formidable iron beak. As the ram came on,

with splendid courage, the ships got under way, while Farragut sent

word to the monitors to attack the Tennessee at once. The fleet surgeon,

Palmer, delivered these orders. In his diary he writes:

"I came to the Chickasaw; happy as my friend Perkins habitually is, I

thought he would turn a somerset with joy, when I told him, 'The admiral

wants you to go at once and fight the Tennessee.'"

At the same time, the admiral directed the wooden vessels to charge the

ram, bow on, at full speed, as well as to attack her with their guns.

The monitors were very slow, and the wooden vessels began the attack.

The first to reach the hostile ironclad was the Monongahela, which

struck her square amidships; and five minutes later the Lackawanna,

going at full speed, delivered another heavy blow. Both the Union

vessels fired such guns as would bear as they swung round, but the shots

glanced harmlessly from the armor, and the blows of the ship produced

no serious injury to the ram, although their own stems were crushed in

several feet above and below the water line. The Hartford then struck

the Tennessee, which met her bows on. The two antagonists scraped by,

their port sides touching. As they rasped past, the Hartford's guns were

discharged against the ram, their muzzles only half a dozen feet distant

from her iron-clad sides; but the shot made no impression. While the

three ships were circling to repeat the charge, the Lackawanna ran

square into the flagship, cutting the vessel down to within two feet of

the water. For a moment the ship's company thought the vessel sinking,

and almost as one man they cried: "Save the admiral! get the admiral on

board the Lackawanna." But Farragut, leaping actively into the chains,

saw that the ship was in no present danger, and ordered her again to be

headed for the Tennessee. Meanwhile, the monitors had come up, and the

battle raged between them and the great ram, Like the rest of the Union

fleet, they carried smooth-bores, and their shot could not break through

her iron plates; but by sustained and continuous hammering, her frame

could be jarred and her timbers displaced. Two of the monitors had been

more or less disabled already, but the third, the Chickasaw, was in

fine trim, and Perkins got her into position under the stern of the

Tennessee, just after the latter was struck by the Hartford; and there

he stuck to the end, never over fifty yards distant, and keeping up a

steady rapping of 11-inch shot upon the iron walls, which they could

not penetrate, but which they racked and shattered. The Chickasaw

fired fifty-two times at her antagonist, shooting away the exposed

rudder-chains and the smokestack, while the commander of the ram,

Buchanan, was wounded by an iron splinter which broke his leg. Under the

hammering, the Tennessee became helpless. She could not be steered, and

was unable to bring a gun to bear, while many of the shutters of the

ports were jammed. For twenty minutes she had not fired a shot. The

wooden vessels were again bearing down to ram her; and she hoisted the

white flag.

Thus ended the battle of Mobile Bay, Farragut's crowning victory. Less

than three hours elapsed from the time that Fort Morgan fired its first

gun to the moment when the Tennessee hauled down her flag. Three hundred

and thirty-five men had been killed or wounded in the fleet, and one

vessel, the Tecumseh, had gone down; but the Confederate flotilla

was destroyed, the bay had been entered, and the forts around it were

helpless to do anything further. One by one they surrendered, and the

port of Mobile was thus sealed against blockade runners, so that the

last source of communication between the Confederacy and the outside

world was destroyed. Farragut had added to the annals of the Union the

page which tells of the greatest sea-fight in our history.

Daniel Boone And The Founding Of Kentucky Francis Parkman facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail