Commodore Farragut Wins Renown
THE HERO OF MOBILE BAY LASHES HIMSELF TO THE MAST
AN old friend of ours is David G. Farragut. We met him, you may
remember, years ago, on the old Essex, under Captain Porter, when he
was a boy of only about ten years of age. Young as he was, he did good
work on that fine ship during her cruise in the Pacific and her last
When the Civil War began Farragut had got to
be quite an old boy. He was
sixty years of age and a captain in the navy. He had been born in the
South and now lived in Virginia, and the Confederates very much wanted
him to fight on their side.
"Not after fighting fifty years for the old flag," he said. "And mind
what I tell you; you fellows will catch much more than you want before
you get through with this business."
And so Farragut reported for duty under the old flag.
Very soon the ships of the government were busy all along the coast,
blockading ports and chasing blockade runners, and fighting wherever
they saw a chance.
One such chance, a big one, came away down South. For there was the
large City of New Orleans, which the British had tried to take nearly
fifty years before; and there was the Mississippi River that led
straight to it. But strong forts had been built along that river and
armed boats were on its waters, and the Yankees of the North might find
it as hard to get there as the British did.
Now I have to speak of another brave man and good seaman, David D.
Porter. He was a son of the captain of the old Essex, and a life-long
friend of David G. Farragut.
Porter was sent down to help blockade the Mississippi in the summer of
1861, and while there he found out all about the forts and the ships on
the river. Then he went to Washington and told the Secretary of the Navy
all he had learned, and asked him to send down a fleet to try to
capture the city.
"Where can I find the right man for a big job like that?" asked the
"Captain Farragut is your man," said Porter. "You have him now on
committee work, where a man like him is just wasted, for you have not
half as good a seaman on any of your ships."
And in that way the gallant Farragut was chosen to command the fleet to
be sent to capture the great city of the South. Porter, you see, did not
ask for a command for himself, but for his friend.
When the fleet was got ready it numbered nearly twenty vessels, but most
of them were gunboats, and none of them were very large. The Mississippi
was not the place for very large ships. Farragut chose the sloop-of-war
Hartford for his flagship and sailed merrily away for the mighty
river. He did not forget his friend Porter. For twenty mortar boats were
added to the fleet, and Porter was given command of these.
A mortar, you should know, is a kind of a short cannon made to throw
large shells or balls. It is pointed upward so as to throw them high up
into the air and then let them fall straight down on a fort. Porter's
mortar boats were schooners that carried cannons of this kind.
When Farragut had sailed his fleet into the river, he made ready for the
great fight before him. Of course, he had no iron-clads, for the
Monitor had just fought its great battle and no other iron-clads had
been built. So he stretched iron chains up and down the sides of his
ships to stop cannon balls. Then bags of coal and sand were piled round
the boilers and engines to keep them safe, and nets were hung to catch
flying splinters, which, in a fight at sea, are often worse than
But the most interesting thing done was to the mortar boats. These were
to be anchored down the stream below the forts, and limbs of trees full
of green leaves were tied on their masts, so they could not be told from
the trees on the river-bank. As they went up the river they looked like
a green grove afloat.
Now let us take a look at what the Confederates were doing. They were
not asleep, you may be sure. They had built two strong forts, one on
each side of the river, just where it made a sharp bend. One of these
was named Fort Jackson and the other Fort St. Philip. There were more
than a hundred cannon in these forts, but most of them were small ones.
They had also stretched iron cables across the river, with rafts and
small vessels to hold them up. These were to stop the fleet from going
up the river, and to hold it fast while the forts could pour shot and
shell into it. They had also many steamboats with cannon on them. One of
these, the Louisiana, was covered with iron. Another was a ram, called
the Manassas. This had a sharp iron beak, to ram and sink other
vessels. And there were great coal barges, filled with fat pine knots.
These were meant for fire-ships. You will learn farther on how these
were to be used.
You may see from this that Farragut had some hard work before him. Even
if he got past the chains and the forts, all his ships might be set on
fire by the fire-ships. But the bold captain was not one of the kind
that mind things like that. Now let us go on to the story of the
terrible river fight, which has long been one of the most famous
battles of the war.
Porter's mortar boats were anchored under the trees on the river-bank,
two miles below the forts. With their green-clad masts they looked like
trees themselves. At ten o'clock in the morning of April 18, 1862, the
first mortar sent its big shell whizzing through the air. And for six
days this was kept up, each of the mortars booming out once every ten
minutes. That made one shot for every half-minute.
Two days after the mortars began, a bold thing was done. The gunboat
Itasca set out in the darkness of the night and managed to get between
the shore and the chain. Then it ran up stream above the chain till it
got a good headway. It now turned round and came down at full speed
before the strong current.
Fort Jackson was firing, and balls were rattling all about the bold
Itasca, but she rushed on through them all. Plump against the chain
she came, with a thud that lifted her three feet out of the water. Then
the chain snapped in two and away went the Itasca down stream. The
barrier was broken and the way to New Orleans lay open before the
On the 23d of April Farragut gave his orders to the captains of the
fleet. That night they were to try to pass the forts and fight their way
to New Orleans. At two o'clock in the morning came the welcome order,
"All hands up anchor!" and at three o'clock all was ready for the start.
The night was dark, but on the banks near Fort Jackson there was a
blazing wood fire, that threw its light across the stream. And Porter's
bombs were being fired as fast as the men could drop the balls into
them, so that there was a great arch of fiery shells between the mortar
boats and the forts.
The gunboat Cayuga led the way through the broken barrier. After her
came the Pensacola, one of the large vessels. All this time the forts
had kept still, but now they blazed out with all their guns, and the air
was full of the booming of cannon and the screeching of shells from
forts and ships.
Great piles of wood were kindled on the banks, and the fire-ships up
stream were sent blazing down the river as the steam vessels came
rushing up into the fire of the forts. Never had the Mississippi seen so
terrible a night. The blazing wood and flashing guns made it as light
as day, and the roar was like ten thunderstorms.
Soon the Hartford came on, with Farragut on her deck. So thick was the
smoke that she ran aground, and before she could get off a fire-ship
came blazing down against her side, pushed by a tug-boat straight on to
her. In a minute the paint on the ship's side was in a blaze and the
flames shot up half as high as the masts. The men at the guns drew back
from the scorching heat.
"Don't flinch from that blaze, boys," cried Farragut. "Those who don't
do their duty here will find a hotter fire than that."
For a brief time the good ship was in great danger. But a shower of
shells sent the daring tug-boat to the bottom, and the fire-ship floated
away. Then a hose-pipe spurted water on the flames. The fire was put out
and the Hartford was saved.
That was only the beginning of the great battle. From that time on, fire
and flame, boom and roar, death and destruction, were everywhere. The
great shells from the mortars dropped bursting into the forts. The huge
wood piles blazed high on the banks. Ships and forts hurled a frightful
shower of shells at each other. Blazing fire-ships came drifting down.
The foremost boats were fiercely fighting with the Confederate craft.
The hindmost boats were fighting with the forts. The uproar seemed
enough to drive the very moon from the sky.
But soon victory began to hold out her hand to the Union fleet. For all
the ships passed the forts, some of the Confederate vessels were driven
ashore and others fled up stream; and in a little while only three of
them were left, and these were kept safe under the guns of the fort. The
battle had been fought and won, and the triumphant fleet steamed up the
river to New Orleans. The forts were still there, but what could they
do, with Union forces above and below? Four days after the fight they
were surrendered to Porter and his mortar fleet.
There was one final act to the great Mississippi battle. For as
Commander Porter, in his flagship, lay near Fort Jackson, down on him
came the iron-clad Louisiana, all in a blaze. But just before she
reached his vessel she blew up; and that was the end of the Louisiana
and the fight. The river was open and New Orleans was captured. Thus
ended the greatest naval battle of the Civil War.
Two years and more afterward Farragut fought another great battle. This
was in the Bay of Mobile, then a great place for blockade-runners. These
were swift vessels that brought goods from Europe to the South. The
Union fleet did all it could to stop them, but they could not be stopped
at Mobile from outside, so Farragut was told to fight his way inside the
bay. And that is what he did.
Mobile Bay is like a great bell, thirty miles long and fifteen miles
wide. There are two islands at the mouth, so that the entrance is not
more than a mile wide. And on each of these islands was a strong fort,
which had been built by the government before the war. The Confederates
had taken possession of these forts and had big guns in them.
The first thing to do was to pass the forts. No chain could be put
across the channel here, but there was something worse, for nearly two
hundred torpedoes were planted in the water near the forts. Some of
these were made of beer-kegs and some of tin; and they were planted so
thickly that it was not easy to get in without setting them off. Then,
when the fort and the torpedoes were passed, there were the ships. Three
of these were small gunboats, of not much account. But there was a great
iron-clad ship, the Tennessee, which was twice as strong as the
Merrimac. It was covered with iron five or six inches thick, and
carried a half-dozen big guns.
Franklin Buchanan, who had been captain of the Merrimac, was admiral
of the Tennessee.
But Admiral Farragut--he was an admiral now--had his iron-clad vessels,
too. Four monitors like the old Monitor of Hampton Roads, had been
built and sent him, and these, with his wooden vessels, made nearly
Such was the fleet with which Farragut set out for his second great
victory, early in the morning of August 5, 1864. It was six o'clock when
the ships crossed the bar and headed in for Fort Morgan.
On they went, bravely, firing at the fort. But not a shot came back till
the leading ships were in front of its strong stone walls. Then there
began a terrible roar, and a storm of iron balls poured out at the
ships. If the guns had been well aimed, dreadful work might have been
done, but the balls went screaming through the air and hardly touched a
ship. And the fierce fire from the ships drove many of the men in the
fort from their guns.
But now there is a terrible tale to tell, a tale of death and
destruction, of the sinking of a ship with her captain and nearly all
her crew on board.
This was the monitor Tecumseh. It was steered straight out where the
torpedoes lay thick. Suddenly there came a dull roar. The bow of the
iron-clad was lifted like a feather out of the water. Then it sank till
it pointed downward like a boy diving, and the stern was lifted up into
the air. In a second more the good ship went down with a mighty plunge.
But with this there is also one fine story, the story of a gallant man.
This was Captain Craven, of the Tecumseh. He and the pilot were in the
pilot-house and both sprang for the opening. But there was room only for
one. The brave captain drew back.
"After you, pilot," he said.
The pilot escaped, but the noble captain, with ninety-two of his men,
sank to the depths.
A boat was sent to pick up the swimmers, with a gallant young ensign, H.
C. Neilds, in charge. Out they rowed where the waters were being torn
and threshed with shot and shell. The ensign was only a boy, but he had
the spirit of a Perry. He saw that his flag was not flying, and he
coolly raised it in the face of the foe, and then sat down to steer.
Brave men were there by the hundreds, but none were braver than their
admiral, their immortal Farragut. The smoke blinded his eyes on deck, so
he climbed to the top of the mainmast, and there, lashed to the rigging,
he went in through the thick of the fire. Shells screeched past him,
great iron balls hustled by his ears, but not a quiver came over his
noble face. He had to be where he could see, he said. Danger did not
count where duty called.
On past the forts went ships and monitors, heedless of torpedoes or of
the fate of the Tecumseh. Only one captain showed the white feather.
The Brooklyn held back.
"What is the matter?" screamed Farragut.
"Torpedoes," was the only word that reached his ears.
The gallant admiral then used a strong word. It was not a word to be
used in polite society. But we must remember that battle was raging
about him and he was in a fury.
"Damn the torpedoes!" he cried. "Follow me!"
Straight on the good ship sailed, right for the nest of torpedoes, with
the admiral in the shrouds.
In a minute more the Hartford was among them. They could be heard
striking against her bottom. Their percussion caps snapped, but not one
went off. Their tin cases had rusted and they were spoiled. Only one of
them all went off that dreadful day of battle. That saved many of the
The fort and the torpedoes were passed, but the Confederate ships
remained. It did not take long to settle for the gunboats, but the
iron-clad Tennessee remained. Putting on all steam, this great ship
ran down on the Union fleet. Through the whole line it went and on to
the fort. But it was as slow as a tub and the ships were easily kept out
of its way.
Then, when the men were at breakfast, back again came the Tennessee.
They left their coffee and ran to their guns. It was like the old story
of the Merrimac and the wooden ships in Hampton Roads.
But Farragut did not wait to be rammed by the Tennessee. If ramming
was to be done he wanted to do it himself. So all the large vessels
steamed head on for the iron-clad, butting her right and left. They hit
one another, too, and the Hartford came near being sunk. Then came the
monitors, as the first Monitor had come against the Merrimac. There
were three of these left, but one did the work, the Chickasaw. She
clung like a burr to the Tennessee, pouring in her great iron balls,
and doing so much damage that soon the great ship was like a floating
hulk. It could not be steered nor its guns fired.
For twenty minutes it stood this dreadful hammering, and then its flag
came down. The battle was won.
"It was the most desperate battle I ever fought since the days of the
old Essex," said Farragut.
The figure of the brave admiral in the rigging, fighting his ship amid
a cyclone of shot and shell, made him the hero of the American people.
It was like Dewey on the bridge in Manila Bay in a later war. There was
no rank high enough in the navy to fit the glory he had won, so one was
made for him, the rank of admiral. There was rear-admiral and
vice-admiral, but admiral was new and higher still. Only two men have
held this rank since his day, his good friend and comrade, David D.
Porter, and the brave George Dewey.