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American HerosThe Storming Of Stony Point
In their ragged regimentals Stood the old Contin...
Lieutenant Cushing And The Ram Albemarle
God give us peace! Not such as lulls to sleep, But...
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And such they are--and such they will be found: No...
The Battle Of New Orleans
The heavy fog of morning Still hid the plain from...
The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written...
Robert Gould Shaw
Brave, good, and true, I see him stand before me n...
Charles Russell Lowell
Wut's wurds to them whose faith an' truth On war'...
The General Armstrong Privateer
We have fought such a fight for a day and a night As m...
Remember The Alamo
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier'...
John Quincy Adams And The Right Of Petition
He rests with the immortals; his journey has been long: ...
The Burning Of The Philadelphia
And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a mali...
Then far away to the south uprose A little feathe...
Sheridan At Cedar Creek
Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught...
Farragut At Mobile Bay
Ha, old ship, do they thrill, The brave two hundre...
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. PARIS. AUGUST 10, 1792. Justum et ...
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;...
General Grant And The Vicksburg Campaign
What flag is this you carry Along the sea and sho...
The Cruise Of The Wasp
A crash as when some swollen cloud Cracks o'er th...
(1822-1893) He told the red man's story; far and wide...
George Rogers Clark And The Conquest Of The Northwest
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end the...
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
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
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
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
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.
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