Comprising the early life and public services of the prominent naval commanders who, with Grant and Sherman and their generals, brought to a triumphant close the great rebellion of 1861-1865. (First edition 1867)
(Return to table of contents of this book)
DAVID D. PORTER
BIRTH AND EARLY EDUCATION—ACCOMPANIES HIS FATHER TO THE WEST INDIES IN SEARCH
OF PIRATES—ENTERS THE MEXICAN NAVY AS MIDSHIPMAN—HIS FIRST FIGHT ON THE
CUBAN COAST—IS TAKEN PRISONER AND PLACED IN CONFINEMENT—PAROLED AND RETURNS
TO MEXICO— RETURNS HOME—ENTERS THE NAVAL SCHOOL—MIDSHIPMAN IN THE U. S.
NAVY—HIS SUBSEQUENT SERVICES AND CRUISES—SENT BY BUCHANAN TO HAYTI TO
INVESTIGATE THE CONDITION OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—MADE FIRST LIEUTENANT ON
THE SPITFIRE IN THE MEXICAN WAR—AT VERA CRUZ—HIS GALLANT ATTACK OF
TOBASCO—AT TUSPAN—COMMANDS THE PACIFIC MAIL STEAMSHIP PANAMA, AND SAILS
THROUGH THE STRAITS OF MAGELLAN—COMMANDS THE GEORGE LAW STEAMER GEORGIA, FOR
THREE YEARS—COMMANDS THE STEAMER GOLDEN AGE—REMARKABLE VOYAGE TO
AUSTRALIA—SENT BY THE SECRETARY OF WAR TO IMPORT CAMELS—BREAKING OUT OF THE
REBELLION—SENT TO RELIEVE FORT PICKENS—A CURIOUS PIECE OF
HISTORY—BLOCKADES THE MISSISSIPPI—LONG CHASE AFTER THE PRIVATEER
SUMTER—COMMANDS THE MORTAR FLEET UNDER FARRAGUT IN THE ATTACK ON NEW
ORLEANS—THE BOMBARDMENT—GOES TO PENSACOLA AND MOBILE—AIDS FARRAGUT IN
PASSING THE BATTERIES OF VICKSBURG AND PORT HUDSON—PUT IN COMMAND OF THE
MISSISSIPPI FLEET—CO-OPERATES WITH FARRAGUT, SHERMAN, AND GRANT—ARKANSAS
PORT—WHITE RIVER—BATTLE OF GRAND GULF—AIDS GRANT IN THE SIEGE OF
VICKSBURG—EXPEDITION TO THE SUNFLOWER COUNTRY—FALL OF VICKSBURG—RECEIVES
THE THANKS OF CONGRESS—MADE ADMIRAL—SUBSEQUENT OPERATIONS ON THE MISSISSIPPI
RIVER—THE RED RIVER EXPEDITION—A NEW CHAPTER IN ITS HISTORY—PASSAGE OF THE
FALLS NEAR ALEXANDRIA BY THE FLEET—BAILEY, ENGINEER OF THE DAMS, REWARDED BY
PORTER—RENDERS SHERMAN VALUABLE AID IN HIS MARCH TO CHATTANOOGA—VARIOUS
OPERATIONS IN HIS EXTENSIVE DISTRICT OF COMMAND—RETURNS NORTH TO VISIT HIS
FAMILY—PLACED OVER THE NORTH ATLANTIC BLOCKADING SQUADRON—THE FIRST
EXPEDITION AGAINST FORT FISHER—THE BOMBARDMENT—SECOND EXPEDITION—THE
ATTACK—THE VICTORY—AIDS GRANT IN HIS LAST MOVEMENT AGAINST LEE—HIS
THE saying has almost passed
into a proverb that great men seldom beget great sons. The renowned Commodore
Porter of the War of 1812, however, is a notable exception, for he gave to his
country two sons as famous as himself; David D. and William D., and
distinguished too for the very traits of character that made him so remarkable.
The former, in addition to the great qualities of his father, had the advantage
also of being trained in his profession directly under his eye, where he could
feel the force of his example.
He was born June 8th, 1813, in
the town of Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He received the first
rudiments of education at that place, and entered Columbia College in the city
of Washington, at the early age of eleven years. His college course, however,
was a short one, for, in 1824, he accompanied his father, Commodore Porter, to
the West Indies, where the latter was sent by the Government to break up the
gang of pirates that infested those seas, and there imbibed his first taste for
sea life. In 1826, Commodore Porter, at the solicitation of the Mexican
Government, took command of the Mexican Navy, and appointed his son David a
midshipman in the service. The latter spent one year in the city of Mexico,
learning the Spanish language, and at the end of that time reported himself for
active service afloat. His father was about to sail with the Mexican fleet for
the coast of Cuba, but it being unable to go to sea, for want of supplies, he
fitted out several small prizes, in one of which, the Esmeralda, with his cousin, D. H. Porter, as captain, young Porter
sailed to destroy the Spanish commerce around the island of Cuba. After a cruise
of sixty days, in which he had many narrow escapes, the schooner, laden with a
cargo of sugar and coffee taken from thirty captured vessels, sailed for Key
West. But the crew, consisting of twenty-nine men, mutinied while the vessel was
on her way, and attempted to take possession of her. The captain, however, D. H.
Porter, a powerful and determined man, cut some of them down, and shot several
others, and finally succeeded in getting the remainder in irons, and, with
Midshipman Porter and a faithful Swede, brought the vessel into Key West.
In 1827, Commodore Porter
returned with the Mexican fleet to Vera Cruz, and fitted out afresh for a new
expedition, having in the first one almost destroyed the coast commerce of Cuba.
Midshipman David D. Porter was
detailed to the brig Guerrero, with
his former captain, D. H. Porter. The Guerrero,
built in New York, by Henry Eckford, was a fine vessel and mounted twenty guns.
She sailed in June, 18927, for the coast of Cuba, and on sighting the island,
the fourteenth day out, discovered a large convoy in shore, in charge of two
brigs-of-war. The Guerrero was
immediately cleared for action, and chase given to the enemy. The Spaniards and
their convoy ran into the port of "Little
Mariel," fifteen miles west of Havana. This snug harbor was defended by
shoals and a two-gun fort; but, although the two brigs ran in and got springs on
their cables, the Guerrero boldly
followed them, and, anchoring outside, opened with her guns, to which the brigs
and the fort both replied.
The action lasted one hour and
a half, in which the brigs were completely dismantled and cut to pieces by the Guerrero’s
shot. The fort still kept up a galling fire, and the latter had to haul out of
range—the captain intending to go in at night with boats, and finish the
In the mean time, the heavy
cannonading had been heard in Havana, and a large sixty-four-gun frigate, the Lealtad,
slipped her cables and put to sea.
The Guerrero was standing in shore to take possession of her prizes,
when the frigate hove in sight, coming on with a fresh breeze, while the former
lay becalmed. The names of the two brigs were the Marte and the Amelia, and
they were so knocked to pieces that they were never used again in the Spanish
Navy. They mounted, together with the fort, six more guns than the Guerrero.
The frigate finally came up
with the Guerrero, and one of the most
desperate and unequal battles on record took place between the two vessels,
which ended in the capture of the brig, but not till she had bravely held her
own against her huge antagonist for two hours and a half. The brig did not
surrender until all her masts were shot away, and she was in a sinking
condition. Eighty-six men were killed and wounded, out of one hundred and eighty
in this desperate conflict. The captain was killed, and all the officers
wounded, and there was not a shot left in the locker to fire.
Young Porter was badly hurt in
the first fight, but performed the duty of captain’s aid in the second battle,
where he was also wounded. A mere lad, he had, like Farragut, under his father,
received a bloody baptism into the naval service, and in his first combat
learned how a ship should be fought.
The vessel, after her capture,
was towed into Havana, where the officers and crew were imprisoned in a filthy
hulk, at the base of the Moro Castle, and kept in close confinement many months,
suffering a great deal both in mind and body. They had the consolation, however,
of knowing that the Spanish frigate had lost more men than they, and was finally
dismasted at sea, owing to the injuries to her spars, received during the fight.
Midshipman Porter, owing to
his ill health, was finally allowed to go to Vera Cruz on parole, where, finding
no chance of getting exchanged, he returned to the United States.
After going to school for a
year, he obtained, in 1829, an appointment as Midshipman in the United States
Navy, and sailed with Captain Alexander Wadsworth, in the Constellation, for the Mediterranean.
In 1832, he joined the frigate
United States, flagship of Commodore
Patterson, and spent three years in her, when he returned to the United States
to stand his examination. From the time of passing his examination, until his
promotion to lieutenant, he was employed on the Coast Survey. In 1840, he sailed
in the frigate Congress to the
Mediterranean and coast of Brazil. On his return from this cruise, he was
employed at the Naval Observatory, under Lieutenant Maury. In 1846, he was sent
by Mr. Buchanan, then Secretary of State, to the island of Haiti, the Dominican
Republic, to ascertain the exact condition of affairs in that country. He was
three months on the island, and during that time travelled nineteen hundred
miles on horseback, taking the census of every town, and returning with much
information useful to the Government.
While Lieutenant Porter was
absent on this duty, the war between the United States and Mexico broke out, and
he applied for immediate service afloat.
He was ordered to proceed to
New Orleans and raise men for Commodore Conner’s fleet. This duty he
performed, and carried the men to Vera Cruz, where he was made First Lieutenant
of the steamer Spitfire, Captain
Tatnall. Lieutenant Porter had great difficulty in getting Commodore Conner to
order him into service, the latter not liking his full whiskers, which the
lieutenant declined to part with, never having shaved more than once or twice in
Lieutenant Porter was with
Tatnall, as First Lieutenant of the Spitfire,
when the latter attacked the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, and the town
A few days after, the Spitfire
attacked the batteries again, and did material service to the army, by
withdrawing the Mexican fire from our batteries on shore.
No vessel performed more
active service than the Spitfire while
Lieutenant Porter was in her. When Commodore Perry moved on Tobasco, the
Mexicans barricaded the river, and so it was determined to land the troops, or
sailors, eighteen hundred in all, and attack the city by land. But the Spitfire,
disregarding the obstructions, made a dash through them, and pushed on up the
river, in advance of the landing party, amid the hearty cheers of all.
Eight miles up, the vessel
encountered a heavy fort, commanding the river. It mounted eight large guns,
while the Spitfire had only one heavy
gun (8-inch), and two thirty-two-pounders.
The first shot from the fort
cut the Spitfire’s wheel in two, but
the little steamer sped on, firing rapidly, and gained the rear of the battery,
where, letting go her anchor, she soon cleared the works.
Lieutenant Porter, under the
fire of the steamer’s guns, boarded the fort with sixty-five men, and carried
it with a shout.
The landing party arrived four
hours afterwards, and. found the town and batteries of Tobasco in possession of
the Spitfire, and the Scorpion, a
steamier commanded by Captain Bigelow, which vessel came up behind the former.
Lieutenant Sidney Smith Lee,
who commanded the Spitfire, being
ordered to the steamer Mississippi,
Lieutenant Porter was given the command of her, which he retained while the
American forces held Tobasco, and. until ill-health obliged him to go home after
the fall of Vera Cruz.
He was engaged in every
operation that took place during the Mexican war, and was first lieutenant of
the steamer Spitfire, the leading
vessel when our little fleet of steamers fought their way up Tuspan River and
captured that place.
On his return to the United
States, he was again ordered to the Coast Survey, but, having been offered the
command of the Pacific Mail Company’s steamer Panama, he took charge of her and sailed for the Pacific, through
the Straits of Magellan. He left the steamer at Panama, after a most successful
voyage, and returned to the United States, when he was placed in command of
George Law’s steamer, the Georgia,
which vessel he successfully commanded for three years, without an accident of
any kind. Having got into a difficulty with the Spanish authorities at Havana,
in which he made them respect the American flag, he left the service of the
company by which he was employed, and took command of the steamer Golden
Age, belonging to the Australian Steamship Company.
Proceeding to England, he made
a successful voyage thence to Australia in fifty-six days, thirty days quicker
than it had ever been made before.
He ran the Golden
Age six months on the Australian coast, and then crossed the Pacific with a
load of English passengers, and arrived safely at Panama.
Having taken the Chagres
fever, he was obliged to return home, and it was many months before he regained
his health. The Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, then selected him to go
abroad to import camels. He performed this duty successfully, bringing over two
loads, eighty-four in all, and then (1859) was ordered to the Portsmouth (N. H.)
Just before the breaking out
of the war of the rebellion, Lieutenant Porter was directed to bring the old
frigate Constitution to Annapolis.
This being done, he was about to proceed to California, to take charge of the
Coast Survey vessels there, when the Southern States seceded. Sumter was now
threatened by the rebels, who had seized upon many of our best forts. Fort
Pickens was also in great danger, although gallantly defended by Lieutenant
Slemmer of the artillery.
And here occurs one of the
most curious pieces of history that has ever seen the light. It really reflects
on no department of the Government, but it illustrates the total confusion into
which everything was thrown at the commencement of the rebellion:
It may be recollected that Mr.
Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, identified himself with an expedition that
was fitted out by the Government and some merchants in New York, to throw
supplies into Sumter. The expedition was badly planned and worse executed, and
it was necessary to lay the blame on some one. Mr. Seward came in for the
greatest share, when in fact he had nothing whatever to do with it.
While at dinner, on the very
day Porter was to have started for California, he received a letter from Captain
(now General) Meigs, asking him to call on Mr. Seward, who wished to see him. He
did so without delay, and, after some preliminary conversation, Mr. Seward asked
him if he thought it possible to get a ship into the harbor of Pensacola and
reinforce Fort Pickens, and thus prevent the rebels from making use of the most
important harbor on the Atlantic. He replied that there was no difficulty about
the matter, provided he could have his own way. He then unfolded his plan, when
Mr. Seward took him to see Mr. Lincoln, with whom he discussed the whole matter
thoroughly. His plan was, for the President to give him authority to proceed to
New York and take command of the Powhatan,
then lying partly dismantled at the Navy Yard; also to invest him with power to
give such orders in the Navy Yard as he deemed proper-in fact, placing for the
time being the officer in command there under his directions. This was perhaps a
high-handed measure—going over the head of the Secretary of the Navy, and
fitting out a ship without his authority or cognizance. Still, it was the only
way to accomplish the object. Secretary Welles was new in the office, and had no
knowledge of the men about him. Half of them were traitors; and had a single
individual in the Department known that such an expedition was fitting out, it
would have been flashed along the wires in a very short time, and Bragg, the
rebel commander at Pensacola, would at once have overpowered Lieutenant Slemmer
with his handful of men, and taken possession of the fort.
The President, after carefully
weighing all the circumstances of the case, and listening to all the arguments
offered him, finally took the responsibility, and wrote an order directing him
to proceed to New York without delay, and take command of the "Powhatan,"
or any other vessel that he deemed necessary for his purpose. The Commandant of
the Navy Yard and the naval officers were directed to give him all the aid and
facilities he desired, to enable him to get the vessel to sea with the least
possible delay. In conclusion, the President said, "You will not show these
orders to any naval commanding officer superior in rank to yourself unless there
is danger of your being interfered with. When inside of the harbor, you will
call upon the senior naval officer at Pensacola for such reinforcements as you
may deem sufficient to hold the place."
Other orders were also issued,
one to the commander of the Powhatan,
Captain Mercer, ordering him to give up his vessel, and one to the commandant of
the yard at New York, ordering him to give him secret dispatch, &c. &c.
Armed with these extraordinary orders, he hastened at once to New York.
In the mean time, Captain
Meigs, who was the originator of the scheme to relieve Fort Pickens, also
proceeded to New York and chartered one of the Atlantic steamers, which he
prepared for sea without delay, to carry two thousand regulars. Under the guns
of the Powhatan these were to be
thrown into Fort Pickens, to reinforce Lieutenant Slemmer.
When Porter reached New York,
he found the Powhatan had just been
put out of commission, her crew sent to the receiving-ship, and all her officers
detached. Her sails were unbent, her machinery all apart, her powder and
gun-gear on shore, and her coal-bunkers empty. A survey had been held on her,
her boilers and hull had been condemned, and she was to go in dock for repairs,
when Porter presented his orders to Commodore Foote, who then commanded the
Yard. The latter was quite taken aback at the unusual, extraordinary proceeding,
and Porter had very great difficulty in getting him to pay that attention to
them which they demanded. Foote considered it impossible to send the vessel to
sea, she was so unseaworthy, and her boilers were actually dangerous; while her
rigging was all rotten, and her boats would not float. However, there was no
other vessel, and Porter, with that determination which characterizes him,
shoved the President’s orders at Foote so hard, and insisted so pertinaciously
on a compliance with them, that the latter finally had to give in, and went to
work with a will to get the ship ready for sea. She was, without question, in a
horrible condition, but there was no remedy, and she had to go. For six days and
nights, Porter sat in Commodore Foote’s office, directing the different
operations, and urging on the work. Foote, in the mean time, telegraphed for the
officers the former wanted to go with him. Captain Mercer, who was let into the
secret, took charge of the vessel for the time being, and made it appear that he
was going out in her, and it was rumored that she was getting ready to carry a
Minister to Mexico. In fact, Porter’s boxes and trunks, labelled as the
property of the Minister to Mexico, were sent on board in open day, no one
suspecting even that he was going out in the ship, or had any connection with
On the sixth day after
commencing to fit her out (working night and day, including Sunday,) the vessel
was ready to sail. But just as Porter was about going on board, an order came
from the Navy Department to "fit the
Powhatan for sea with all dispatch, and report her when ready to proceed!"
Here was a dilemma. The Secretary evidently knew nothing of what was going on,
and to give up the ship would be to imperil the whole expedition, for Captain
Meigs depended on the guns of the Powhatan
to cover his landing. Besides, the vessel had a large part of the artillery and
ammunition belonging to the troops, on board.
On receiving the Secretary’s
order, Commodore Foote sent for Captain Mercer, and showed it to him, but he
agreed with Porter that the order of the President was paramount to all others,
and it was decided that the ship should proceed on her destined mission. Porter
at the time supposed that the order of the Secretary was given as a matter of
form, and that he had been made acquainted with the whole affair.
In half an hour after this, he
stepped on board the ship, as if to bid the captain good-by, and in the
confusion was unnoticed. He remained in the cabin until the Powhatan
reached Staten Island, where the captain (Mercer) left her to go on shore. But
just as they were hoisting the boat on board, and about to proceed, a swift
steamer came puffing alongside with an officer on board, who delivered Porter
the following dispatch:
"Give up the Powhatan
to Captain Mercer. (Signed,) SEWARD.”
But Porter still held grimly
to the President’s order; no other order, he said, could take precedence of
that. It was no time to stand on trifles, the country was in danger, and, if he
gave up the ship, the expedition would have to be abandoned, and Captain Meigs,
who had sailed just ahead, would go on a bootless mission. It took but a moment
for Porter to decide, and he telegraphed back: "My orders were from the
President, and I must look to him to support me," explaining at the same
time how matters stood.
It will be seen from Mr.
Seward’s telegraphic dispatch, that he threw no obstacle in the way of the Powhatan’s
going to the relief of Fort Sumter, which he at the time was accused of doing.
The Powhatan could not have been got ready for the expedition to relieve
Sumter, had she commenced preparations at the time Mr. Welles’ order came to
fit her out. That order (as things were going on) would have found her all in
pieces, and in dock. In five days after Porter sailed in her, Fort Sumter fell.
The Powhatan, under any circumstances, would have been of no use in such
an expedition, for she could not cross the bar at Charleston, while her boats
were worthless, as they would not float; and when Porter lowered them into the
sea off Pensacola, the seams were so open that they all filled with water.
The ship could only have laid
off the harbor, and her officers and men would have witnessed the bombardment as
others did, without being able to do any good.
It will be seen, therefore,
that it was a very unjust thing to lay the blame of the failure on Mr. Seward,
who, in saving Fort Pickens, performed a more important service than the
relieving of Sumter would have been.
Porter had heavy weather all
the voyage out, and the ship was almost knocked to pieces, yet in eight days he
appeared off the harbor of Pensacola, disguised as an English steamer, and so
altered that, with English colors up, the officers of the fleet lying off the
place did not know the vessel. The troops in the Atlantic Company’s steamer
arrived just before him, and had got close to the beach, ready to be landed.
Porter was standing in over the bar,
with the batteries all manned, and would have been inside or sunk in twenty
minutes more, when General Meigs intercepted him in a tug, and wished him to
cover the landing. He still clung to the President’s order, to go inside and
take the place, but Meigs showed him another order from the President, directing
him to comply with any requisition made upon him by the army landing party, and
he was reluctantly obliged to give up his plan of going inside. He proceeded at
once to cover the landing, and in half an hour Fort Pickens was safe in our
possession. With a strong force of regulars thrown in, there was no longer any
chance of General Bragg’s attacking it. Thus the most important fort in the
South was kept in our possession.
Had the rebels succeeded in
getting into it, (which they would have done that night, but for this opportune
arrival,) Pensacola would have proved a greater thorn in our side than either
Charleston or Wilmington.
In justice to Mr. Seward, he
deserves all the credit of the achievement, notwithstanding the abuse heaped
As soon as Porter got all the
troops on shore, he urged the senior naval officer, Captain Adams, to blockade
the port, and permit no vessels to go in with supplies. He would not do so
himself, but told Porter that he might. The latter fitted out at once a small
pilot boat, and, lying in close with the Powhatan,
closed the port effectually.
He could have gone into
Pensacola at any time, ten days after his arrival, and anxiously desired to do
so, but the army officers in Fort Pickens protested against it, urging as a
reason, that the fort was not in a condition to resist the fire of Bragg’s
batteries, which Porter knew he could silence. He had made a reconnoissance
inside the harbor, on a bright moonlight night, and with a night-glass saw that
there were very few guns. It was a great disappointment to him not to be able to
take the place, when he knew how easily it could have been done, but, he could
not attempt it with the army and navy commanders (both his seniors) opposed to
it. He has, no doubt, since regretted a hundred times that he paid any attention
to such timid counsels, and did not take the responsibility.
On the arrival of Commodore
McKean, the Powhatan was ordered to
blockade the mouth of the Mississippi, at the Northwest Pass, which she did
successfully for ten months, no vessel getting in or out. Finally, the Sumter
ran by the United States steamer Brooklyn,
at Pass a l’Outre, and escaped to sea. A short time afterwards, the Powhatan’s
boats captured a prize to the Sumter, endeavoring to get into Barrataria Bay.
From the prisoners, Lieutenant Porter learned that the Sumter was on the south
side of Cuba, committing depredations on our commerce. By permission of
Commodore McKean, he went in pursuit of her, and finally arrived at the mouth of
the Surinam, the day after the Sumter
sailed from there. He then concluded to steer for Maranham, but met with the
same disappointment at the latter place. Thence he tracked the privateer all the
way back to the West Indies, where she escaped among some of the French islands.
The Powhatan, having steamed over ten thousand miles with her condemned
machinery, was now obliged to return to the United States where she was laid up
at about the time of the Dupont expedition to Port Royal, and Lieutenant Porter
was detached. He immediately sought other active service, and, the capture of
New Orleans being proposed by him, he was put in communication with General
McClellan and General Barnard of the engineers, to talk the matter over. They
were unanimous in their opinion that the city could be taken, and preparations
were accordingly made to attempt the capture of the forts at or near the mouth
of the Mississippi River. Admiral Farragut was ordered to command the naval
forces, and Lieutenant Porter, having recommended a large force of mortar
vessels, was directed to equip them without delay. In thirty-six days
thereafter, twenty-one mortar schooners and seven gunboat steamers sailed from
New York for Key West, to join the New Orleans expedition.
Only the mortars were cast.
The iron carriages had all to be made, twenty thousand shells to be cast, and
the vessels to be fitted. The fleet arrived at Ship Island, and found the
squadron still there, and not over the bar of the Mississippi, as Porter feared
it would be, and so was in time.
After entering the river, the
gunboats of Commander Porter’s flotilla were constantly employed in helping
the large vessels over the bar. He devoted himself personally to the matter, and
when the pilots failed, time after time, he succeeded in getting the Mississippi
and Pensacola over, and up to Pilot Town. His fleet being all ready to
move, he sailed up to within three miles of the forts, and tied up to the bank.
As stated in a previous
chapter, under the order of Porter, Messrs. Harris and Oltmanns were detailed by
Mr. Gerdes, assistant on the coast survey, to make a minute survey of the river,
from "Wiley’s Gap," as it was called, up to the forts.
Lieutenant-commanding Guest, in the Owasco,
was detailed to protect them in their work. These brave engineers surveyed and
triangulated over seven miles of the river, taking in both Forts Jackson and St.
Philip. A part of the time they were under fire of shot and shell from the
batteries as well as exposed to riflemen concealed in bushes on shore, yet they
finished their work successfully, and established with great precision the
positions which the mortar-boats were to occupy.
Before these took their
assigned places, Porter directed the masts to be dressed off with branches,
which would intermingle them so with the trees or vines, behind which they were
to be placed, as to render them invisible to the enemy. This showed admirable
foresight, and afterwards so distracted the fire of the enemy that it was far
less destructive than any one expected it would be.
The wood behind which Porter
concealed his mortar boats was three hundred yards across, and so dense that the
rebel shot could with difficulty pierce it, while Porter’s shells rose over it
to drop with mathematical accuracy into the hostile works. The fleet was divided
into three divisions, under the command of Lieutenants Watson Smith, K. R.
Breese, and W. W. Queen, and when the signal to "commence action" was
made, they opened in order, each one firing every ten minutes. The forts
immediately replied with all the guns they could bring to bear, and the rebel
shot crashing through the forest, and the shells of the mortars rising in
graceful curves above it, presented a magnificent spectacle.
About noon, Porter, seeing
that the enemy was getting the range of Queen’s division, and the shot falling
too near, went on board to move it, and found that a hundred-and-twenty-pound
shot had passed through Queen’s vessel, damaging the magazine.
At five o’clock the fort was
discovered to be in flames, and the fire of the enemy ceased. Night coming on
and the wind rising, Porter ceased firing, having sent over fourteen hundred
shells into and around the rebel works. On the south shore, the mortars could be
pointed only by sights fixed to the mastheads, "and many curious
experiments," remarks Porter, "were resorted to, to obtain correct
The next morning, the 19th, he
opened fire again and kept it up steadily all day. During the day the schooner Maria
G. Carleton was sank by a rifle shell passing through her deck, magazine,
and bottom, while Porter was alongside.
Each day now was a repetition
of that which preceded it. Porter, seeing that the fuses of the shells were bad,
ceased timing them, and ordered full-length fuses, so that they would burst
after they had entered the ground. Although there were great disadvantages in
this arrangement, it prevented shells from bursting in the air.
The ground being wet and soft,
they descended eighteen and twenty feet into the soil, and, exploding some time
after they were landed, lifted the earth up in huge masses. The effect was like
that of an earthquake. For three days and nights the commanders and crews got
but little rest, and few meals, and hence would often be found by Porter in his
rounds fast asleep, even while a mortar beside them was thundering away, and
shaking everything around like an earthquake. Seeing that this strain could not
be borne long he ordered each division into three watches of four hours each. By
this arrangement the firing was more accurate, and fifteen hundred shells were
thrown every twenty-four hours. Under this tremendous explosion, windows were
broken in Belize, thirty miles distant.
On the night of the 20th,
Porter covered the expedition sent to break the chain across the channel, with a
tremendous fire from his mortar fleet. On the 23d, he urged Farragut to commence
the attack with his ship that night, as ammunition was getting low, and the
crews were well nigh worn out, while the enemy was daily adding to his naval
force and power of defence.
As the fleet of Farragut,
towards morning, steamed past the batteries, Porter’s flotilla of steamers,
the Westfield, Owasco, Clifton, and Merwin,
moved up and maintained a galling fire with shrapnel on the forts, until the
last vessel had got beyond range of the rebel guns.
Porter had hardly ordered the
firing to cease, when it was reported to him that the celebrated ram Manassas
was coming down to attack him. She was steaming slowly along shore, as if
preparing for a dash, and fire was opened on her. But Porter soon saw that she
was a dying monster, and ordered the commanders to spare their shot. The smoke
now began to pour from her, showing that she was on fire, while her hull, badly
cut up with shot, slowly settled in the water. Porter tried to save her as a
curiosity, and. got a hawser around her, but just before she reached the bank
she exploded, and, "like some huge animal, gave a plunge and disappeared
under the water." Next came a steamer on fire, followed by two others,
burning as they slowly drifted by, while "fires seemed to be raging all
along up river," showing what wild work Farragut’s fleet was making with
the rebel vessels. Porter now sent a flag of truce to the forts, demanding their
surrender. The answer was, "the demand is inadmissible."
Giving the men a day to rest,
and, having heard in the mean time from Farragut, Porter again opened on the
forts. He then sent another demand for their surrender, with the terms he would
grant. This time the answer indicated a great change in the temper of the
commander, for he replied that, after receiving instructions from the
authorities of New Orleans, he probably would comply with his summons. On the
28th, a flag of truce came on board, the bearer of which announced that the
terms offered by Porter would be accepted.
While he was engaged in the
capitulations, an officer approached him, and reported that the iron floating
battery Louisiana, of four thousand
tons burthen, and mounting sixteen heavy guns, had been set on fire. Porter
turned to the rebel commander, and quietly remarked that the act was in no way
creditable to him. The latter replied that. he was not "responsible for the
acts of naval officers." Porter then went on with the negotiations, when an
officer again approached him, saying that the ropes which fastened the vessel to
the bank had been burned off, and that all in flames she was drifting slowly
down on them. Porter turned to the commander and asked if the guns were loaded,
and if there was much powder on board. The latter replied, "I presume so,
but I know nothing about the naval matters here." At that moment the heated
guns began to go off, throwing shot and shell, as though engaging a battery. The
heavy thunder of the explosions, foretelling what would happen when the magazine
was reached, aroused a little of the sleeping tiger in Porter, and, turning to
the rebel military officers, he coolly said: "‘ If you don’t mind the
explosion which is soon to come, we can stand it," and went on with the
conference, amidst the stern music, as calmly as though nothing else was going
on. In speaking of it afterwards, he said: "A good Providence, which
directs the most unimportant events, sent the battery off towards Fort St.
Philip, and, as it got abreast of that formidable fort, it blew up with a force
which scattered the fragments in all directions, killing one of their own men in
the fort, and when the smoke cleared off it was nowhere to be seen, having sunk
immediately in the deep water of the Mississippi. The explosion was terrific,
and was seen and heard for many miles up and down the river. Had it occurred
near the vessels, it would have destroyed every one of them." Porter
denounced this dastardly act in scathing language.
Like all brave, magnanimous
men, willing to accord the high qualities they possess to others, even though
fighting in a bad cause, he said, the "military
commanders behaved honorably to the end. * * * The most scrupulous regard was
paid to their promises. They defended their works like men. Had they been
fighting for the flag under which they were born, instead of against it, it
would have been honor enough for any man to have said, he had fought by their
After the capitulation of the
forts, and the surrender of the few remaining steamers, Porter visited the
former to see what had been the effect of his bombardment. He found that one
thousand three hundred and thirteen bombs had struck in the centre and solid
parts of the works, two thousand three hundred and thirty in the moat, near the
foundations, shaking the whole structure to its base, nearly one thousand
exploded in and over the works, and one thousand three hundred and fifty-seven
struck about the levees, and in the marsh close around, and in the paths and
near the water’s edge, where the steamers attempted to come. Porter says:
It was useless for them to
hold out; a day’s bombardment would have finished them; they had no means of
repairing damages; the levee had been cut by the thirteen-inch bombs, in over a
hundred places; and the water had entered the casemates, making it very
uncomfortable, if not impossible, to live there any longer. It was the only
place the men had to fly to out of reach of the bombs. The drawbridge over the
moat had been broken all to pieces, and all the causeways leading from the fort
were cut and blown up with bomb-shells, so that it must have been impossible to
walk there, or carry on any operations with any degree of safety. The magazine
seems to have been much endangered, explosions having taken place at the door
itself, all the cotton bags and protections having been blown away from before
the magazine door. Eleven guns were dismounted during the bombardment, some of
which were remounted again and used upon us. The walls were cracked and broken
in many places, and we could scarcely step without treading into a hole made by
a bomb-shell; the accuracy of the fire, is, perhaps, the best ever seen in
mortar practice; it seems to have entirely demoralized the men, and astonished
the officers. A water battery, containing six very heavy guns, and which annoyed
us at times very much, was filled with the marks of the bombs, no less than one
hundred and seventy having fallen into it, smashing in the magazine, and driving
the people out of it. On the night of the passage of the ships, this battery was
completely silenced, so many bombs fell into it, and burst over it.
Many remarkable escapes and
incidents were related to us as having happened during the bombardment. Colonel
Higgins stated an instance, where a man was buried deep in the earth, by a bomb
striking him between the shoulders, and directly afterwards another bomb
exploded in the same place, and threw the corpse high in the air. All the boats
and scows around the ditches and near the landing, were sunk by bombs; and when
we took possession the only way they had to get in and out of the fort to the
landing, was by one small boat to ferry them across.
Porter did full justice in his
report to his brave commanders Renshaw, Guest, Wainwright, Harrell, Baldwin, and
Woodworth, of the steamers, and Smith, Breese, and Queen, of the flotilla.
Unstinted praise of others
connected with him, whether military officers or subordinates, who perform their
duty nobly, is a peculiarity of Porter. His impulses are so generous and noble
that he always seems afraid that he shall take too much credit to himself and
not do full justice to others.
The flotilla now took on board
General Butler’s troops, and conveyed them to New Orleans, where the mortar
vessels were also ordered to assemble.
Commander Porter was anxious
to push on to Vicksburg with his force, which he thought would have resulted in
the capture of that place, but he was sent to Ship Island, to await the attack
on the Mobile forts. In the mean time, he sent the mortar schooners to cruise
off the coast, and captured several prizes loaded with cotton.
As Admiral Farragut was
detained in New Orleans, Commander Porter determined to attempt the capture of
the forts at Mobile, alone, and for this purpose got under way from Ship Island,
with the mortar vessels and gunboats, and steered for Mobile Bay. The wind
however dying away, and the weather looking bad, the schooners put back into
port, but the gunboats went in and tried their range on the works, hitting them
almost every time, while only a few shots were fired in return.
Not designing to do anything
more than exhibit a little practice, the gunboats retired at sunset. Some went
back to Ship Island, and the Harriet Lane
drifted along up to Pensacola.
Next day, two deserters came
off in a boat, and informed the blockading officer that there was only a small
fire-company in the fort, who had all intended to surrender. The day after, it
was strongly reinforced.
In the mean time, the
telegraph conveyed the news to Pensacola that a strong force of gunboats was
coming to that place, upon which the rebels set fire to everything, and
evacuated it. Commander Porter arrived off there while this was going on, and
ran in and assisted to transport the troops across from Santa Rosa Island to the
The mortar fleet all
rendezvoused at Pensacola, but their anchors were hardly down when Porter
received orders from Admiral Farragut to join him at Vicksburg. He immediately
proceeded thither and bombarded that place on the passage of the fleet, as he
did at Forts Jackson and St. Philip. One of his steamers, the Jackson,
being disabled by a rifle shell, the Clifton
went to her assistance, when a shot pierced her boiler—the escaping steam
scalding six men and wounding many others.
The mortar fleet laid two
weeks before Vicksburg, at a distance of eighteen hundred or twenty-two hundred
yards from the batteries, and always succeeded in silencing them when they
Porter had three of his
vessels disabled, and twenty-nine men killed and wounded on his steam flotilla,
during the passage of the fleet, accompanying each vessel as far as the water
batteries, where they were exposed to a heavy fire.
In July, 1862, Commander
Porter was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy, to proceed with twelve mortar
boats to Fortress Monroe, and there await orders. He arrived there in ten days,
and there being nothing for the vessels to do, he obtained leave of absence, and
was finally detached from the command of the mortar flotilla, a little fleet of
which he was very proud, and which had rendered most excellent service. Wilkes
took the command, and eventually broke it up, an act, in Porter’s judgment,
very injurious to the navy.
In September, 1862, he was
ordered to command the Mississippi squadron, as Acting Rear-Admiral, and entered
upon his duties the next month.
Admiral Porter found the fleet
quite inadequate for the defence of such long rivers. There were only thirteen
good vessels in all, and these required heavy repairs. He immediately improvised
a navy-yard at Mound City, and in a short time his fleet numbered one hundred
vessels. These were common river boats, armed with heavy guns, and covered with
light iron to resist field pieces and rifle balls.
Admiral Porter, immediately on
his arrival in the west, notified General Grant that it was proposed at
head-quarters to send General McClernand to attempt the capture of Vicksburg,
which would have been an invasion of his (Grant’s) command. In consequence of
this information, the General hastened to Cairo and arranged a plan of attack on
Vicksburg, which was at once carried out. He marched from Holly Springs, while
Sherman embarked thirty thousand men in transports, and, under cover of the
gunboats, proceeded to surprise Vicksburg.
The gunboats under Admiral
Porter joined Sherman at Memphis, from whence they proceeded together direct to
Vicksburg, while General Grant was marching on with 50,000 men from Holly
The rebels had filled the
Yazoo River with torpedoes, and the gunboats were sent in at once to clear them
out, which they did, under a murderous fire of musketry from hidden
On the 12th of December, 1862,
while this work was going on, the Cairo,
one of the finest vessels, was blown up by a torpedo, and sunk out of sight in
The officers and men deserved
great credit for their successful efforts in clearing out torpedoes, and, on the
18th of December, two landings had been secured for General Sherman’s troops,
both well protected by the gunboats.
In the mean time, the rebels
had burned the army stores at Holly Springs, so that General Grant was obliged
to fall back again to protect his base and obtain further supplies.
The force that had left
Vicksburg, under Joe Johnston, to meet him, now fell back again on Sherman, who,
instead of finding about ten thousand men, found forty thousand in possession of
The army, after landing and
meeting with great success, had to retire with loss. The rains, setting in very
heavily at the same time, obliged them either to reembark or swim for it.
Admiral Porter made an attack
on the Yazoo batteries; but, owing to a heavy fog that set in, accompanied by
heavy rains, it was not successful.
General Sherman now proposed
to the Admiral to withdraw from before Vicksburg and attack Arkansas Post—a
strong work up the Arkansas River. In the mean time, General A McClernand came
down and assumed command; but the army virtually remained under the control of
Sherman, and Admiral Porter refused to cooperate unless it was so.
The fleet and transports
arrived in the Arkansas River about the 2d of January, 1863, and, after the army
had gained its desired position, the gunboats went in and attacked the fort at
close quarters—seventy-five yards. After a sharp and sanguinary fight of three
hours, all the enemy’s guns being dismounted, and our army surrounding it
ready for an assault, the rebels surrendered. The fort surrendered to the navy,
and the troops on the outside to the army. Porter had twenty-six killed and
wounded in the engagement. He showed here, not the long practice of mortar
vessels, but the close combat of vessels when lying broadside to broadside.
After the capture of the fort,
destruction of all war material, and embarkation of the prisoners—seven
thousand in all—the army and navy returned to Vicksburg.
Previous to this, Admiral
Porter sent his vessels up White River and captured all the enemy’s remaining
batteries, which left the Arkansas and White Rivers open to the gunboats
whenever they chose to go there. For his success on this occasion, he received
the thanks of Congress.
On the return of the fleet and
army to Vicksburg, regular operations were commenced against it—the Yazoo
being held by the navy. Fifteen heavy mortar floats were towed down from Cairo,
gunboats were fitted out and added to the fleet as fast as possible, and,
finally, the whole river was so well protected, from Cairo to Vicksburg, that
transports came and went with perfect security.
General Grant now came in
person to take command of the army, and there was from the first the most
perfect accord between him and Admiral Porter, the latter being at all times
ready to carry out his slightest wish. Never did. a military commander have the
aid of a more persevering, energetic, unconquerable, tireless, and able naval
commander than Grant, in the long and arduous work that followed.
Great patience and endurance
were shown on both sides; but nowhere can history exhibit a more indomitable
spirit than that manifested by our navy.
Admiral Porter led his fleet
into almost inaccessible places. The heart of the Yazoo or Sunflower country was
reached in a great overflow of the Mississippi, by pulling up and cutting down
the forest trees, and the gunboats traversed a distance of one hundred miles
over ground where the keel of a canoe even had never before been seen.
The Yazoo pass was opened by
cutting the levee, and a fleet passed through in that direction, to meet the one
working its way through Steele’s Bayou.
This last expedition was a
most arduous one and full of peril. Leaving the Yazoo below Haines’ Bluff, it
entered Steele’s Bayou, designing to keep north into the Rolling Fork, then
eastward through it into the Sunflower River, and pass in a southerly direction
into the Yazoo, again striking it above Haines’ Bluff instead of below, where
it started from. Such inland navigation was never before attempted by war
vessels. The expedition consisted of four gunboats, four mortars, and four tugs.
For thirty miles the little fleet passed up Steele’s Bayou, then a mere ditch,
to Black Bayou, in which, for four miles, the trees had to be torn out or pushed
over by the iron-clads, or the branches cut away, when Porter at last reached
Deer Creek. It took twenty-four hours to make these four miles. Some idea of the
difficulties of the route may be obtained when it is remembered that, with the
utmost exertion of the crews, the vessels for twenty-four consecutive hours
averaged a speed of only about fifty rods an hour. Up this stream to Rolling Fork it was thirty-two
miles. To the same point by land, was twelve miles, over which Sherman marched,
in order to cooperate with him. The channel was narrow and filled with small
willows, which, so retarded the progress of the boats that with his utmost
exertions Porter could average only about a half a mile an hour. At length he
got within seven miles of the Rolling Fork, from whence there would be water
enough to the Yazoo.
The inhabitants were filled
with amazement to see a war fleet sailing through the heart of a country where a
vessel of any kind had never before been seen, while the Negroes flocked in
crowds to the shore to gaze on the unwonted spectacle. But as soon as the
Confederate official in that section was informed of the expedition, he gave the
alarm and ordered the torch to be applied to all the cotton along the shore, and
Porter was lighted on his strange course by a continuous conflagration.
Negroes were also set to work
cutting down trees to arrest his progress, until troops and guns could be
brought up. Porter, made aware of the movement, pushed on the tug Thistle,
with a howitzer on board, which reached the first tree before it was cut down.
The tug then kept on to keep the way open, but the enemy at length succeeded in
getting one large tree across the creek, and thus for a time stopped all further
progress. Being now safe from our guns, the negroes, under the orders of their
masters, continued to chop down trees until it was thought that Porter could
make no farther advance. He, however, by working night and day—chopping and
sawing them in two, or hauling them one side—at length cleared the channel and
pushed on until he got within three miles of the Rolling Fork. Here he saw smoke
rising over the tree tops in the direction of the Yazoo, and learned that the
enemy was landing troops to dispute his passage. He immediately sent Lieutenant
Murphy, with two boat howitzers and three hundred men to hold Rolling Fork until
he could reach it with his boats.
After working all night, (says
Porter,) and clearing out the obstructions, which were terrible, we succeeded in
getting within eight hundred yards of the end of this troublesome creek; had
only two or three large trees to remove, and one apparently short and easy lane
of willows to work through. The men being much worn out, we rested at sunset.
In the morning we commenced
with renewed vigor to work ahead through the willows, but our progress was very
slow; the lithe trees defied our utmost efforts to get by them, and we had to go
to work and pull them up separately, or cut them off under water, which was a
most tedious job. In the mean time, the enemy had collected and landed about
eight hundred men, and seven pieces of artillery, (from 20- to 30-pounders,)
which were firing on our field pieces, from time to time, the latter not having
range enough to reach them.
I was also informed that the
enemy were cutting down trees in our rear, to prevent communication by water,
and also prevent our escape; this looked unpleasant. I knew that five thousand
men had embarked at Haines’ Bluff for this place, immediately they heard that
we were attempting to go through that way, and, as our troops had not come up, I
considered it unwise to risk the least thing; at all events, never to let my
communication be closed behind me. I was somewhat strengthened in my
determination to advance no further, until reinforced by land forces, when the
enemy, at sunset, opened on us a cross-fire with six or seven rifled guns,
planted somewhere off in the woods, where we could see nothing but the smoke. It
did not take us long to dislodge them, though a large part of the crew being on
shore at the time, we could not fire over them, or until they got on board.
I saw at once the difficulties
we had to encounter, with a constant fire on, our working parties, and no
prospect at present of the troops getting along. I had received a letter from
General Sherman, informing me of the difficulties in getting forward his men, he
doing his utmost, I know, to expedite matters.
The news of the felling trees
in our rear was brought in frequently by Negroes, who were pressed into the
service for cutting them, and I hesitated no longer about what to do. We dropped
down again, unshipped our rudders, and let the vessels rebound from tree to
As we left, the enemy took
possession of the Indian mound, and in the morning opened fire on the Carondelet,
Lieutenant Murphy, and Cincinnati,
Lieutenant Bache; these two ships soon silenced the batteries, and we were no
The sharpshooters hung about
us, firing from behind trees and rifle pits; but with due precaution we had very
few hurt—only five wounded by rifle balls, and they were hurt by being
On the 21st, we fell in with
Colonel Smith, commanding Eighth Missouri, and otter parts of regiments; we were
quite pleased to see him, as I never knew before how much the comfort and safety
of iron-clads, situated as we were, depended on the soldiers. I had already sent
out behind a force of three hundred men, to stop the felling of trees in our
rear, which Colonel Smith now took charge of. The enemy had already felled over
forty heavy trees, which Lieutenant-Commander Owen, in the Louisville, working
night and day, cleared away almost fast enough to permit us to meet with no
Colonel Smith’s force was
not enough to justify my making another effort to get through; he had no
artillery, and would frequently have to leave the vessels in following the
On the 22d, we came to a bend
in the river, where the enemy supposed they had blockaded us completely, having
cut a number of trees altogether, and so intertwined, that it seemed impossible
to move them. The Louisville was at
work at them, pulling them up, when we discovered about three thousand rebels
attempting to pass the edge of the woods to our rear, while the Negroes reported
artillery coming up on our quarter.
We were all ready for them,
and, when the artillery opened on us, we opened such a fire on them, that they
scarcely waited to hitch up their horses. At the same time, the rebel soldiers
fell in with Colonel Smith’s troops, and after a sharp skirmish fled before
the fire of our soldiers. After this we were troubled no more.
Although he now met
Sherman’s advancing forces, he saw it would be folly to attempt to retrace his
steps, and the expedition, after having sailed for upwards of a hundred and
forty miles, right through the plantations of rebels, at length found itself
once more at the starting point; and the last attempt to get around Vicksburg
from the north had been made and abandoned. Porter made several efforts to send
vessels past the batteries at Vicksburg, to cut off the enemy’s supplies from
Red River, but, owing to mismanagement, they fell into the hands of the enemy.
The Queen of the West and the Indianola
were both lost to the squadron, but this did not deter the Admiral from pursuing
The orders issued on these
occasions show how well he calculated, and what would have been the consequences
had they been carried out. The particulars of the loss of the Queen
of the West, under Ellet, are given in the sketch of him. The Indianola
was sent down past the batteries at Vicksburg, to cooperate with Ellet, but met
him returning in the Era, and the
commander, Lieutenant Brown, thus learned, for the first time, that he had lost
his vessel. The Indianola then
proceeded down the Mississippi to the mouth of Red River, and blockaded it for
several days, when Brown, having learned that the Queen of the West had been repaired, and was on her way, with
several other rebel boats, to attack him, he started to join Porter’s fleet
above Vicksburg. He was, however, overtaken on the night of the 28th February,
and two vessels struck the Indianola
at the same time, bows on. A fierce engagement followed, but crash succeeded
crash as the rebel vessels kept driving on her, and in a short time Brown found
that she was sinking, when he ran her ashore and surrendered her. The rebels
immediately began to repair her, as they did the Queen of the West. The two boats would make a formidable addition to
their navy, and interfere seriously with some of Porter’s plans. A ludicrous
incident, however, broke up this part of their programme, and almost repaid
Porter for the mortification he felt over the loss of the vessel. To break up
the monotony of the siege, and furnish some amusement to the men, as well as
play a good joke on the enemy, he rigged up a sort of scow as a monitor, and set
her afloat down the river. The strange craft so alarmed the rebels that they
blew up the Indianola, and fled. We
will, however, let the Admiral tell his own story. He says—
Ericsson saved the country
with an iron Monitor—why could I not
save it with a wooden one? An old coal barge, picked up in the river, was the
foundation to build on. It was built of old boards in twelve hours, with pork
barrels on top of each other for smoke-stacks, and two old canoes for
quarter-boats. The furnaces were built of mud, and only intended to make black
smoke and not steam.
Without knowing that Brown was
in peril, I let loose our Monitor.
When it was descried by the dim light of the morn, never did the batteries of
Vicksburg open with such a din. The earth fairly trembled, and the shot flew
thick around the devoted Monitor. But
she ran safely past all the batteries, though under fire for an hour, and
drifted down to the lower mouth of the canal. She was a much better looking
vessel than the Indianola.
When it was broad daylight
they opened upon her again with all the guns they could bring to bear, without a
shot hitting her to do any harm, because they did not make her settle in the
water, though going in at one side and out at the other. She was already full of
water. The soldiers of our army shouted and laughed like mad.
The news of the safe passage
of the batteries by this "Turreted Monster," was sent down to
Warrenton, under the batteries of which the Queen
of the West and Indianola were
lying, causing the greatest consternation. The Queen of the West instantly got up steam, and hurried off as fast as
her wheels could carry her. The Indianola,
left alone, was, by direction of the authorities, at once blown up, to prevent
her falling a victim to the slowly and majestically approaching Monitor.
When the rebels found out the hoax that had been played on them, their rage and
mortification knew no bounds. The Richmond Examiner,
after reporting the fact, said "Laugh and hold your sides, lest ye die of
surfeit of derision, O Yankeedom! Blown up, because forsooth a flatboat or
mud-scow with a small house taken from the back garden of a plantation put on
top of it, is floated down the river." The Dispatch
said, grimly," Truly, an excellent joke; so excellent that every one
connected with the affair should be branded with a T.M. ”Turreted
Monster." The whole affair reminds one of the famous "Battle of the
Kegs" in our War of Independence, and should be immortalized in as stirring
Everything had been tried that
the ingenuity of man could suggest, and there seemed no prospect of the capture
of Vicksburg, until General Grant, in opposition to the views of the most of his
officers, determined to turn it by landing his troops below.
To Admiral Porter was
entrusted the task of getting the gunboats and transports past the batteries,
which he succeeded in accomplishing (only losing one transport) under a
tremendous fire of an hour and a half’s duration. His escape seemed almost
miraculous, for the enemy had collected a large pile of combustibles on the
bank, which they set on fire, just as the vessels came to a point, on which the
fire of the batteries was concentrated. The conflagration lit up the whole bosom
of the stream, throwing into distinct outline every dark hull. The Forest Queen was riddled with shot, and had to be towed down stream.
The Henry Clay was set on fire, and
blazed like a beacon through the gloom, while the crew, leaping into the boats,
made their escape on the western bank. Of the three transports, the Silver
Wave, alone, escaped unhurt. Porter’, however, succeeded in getting others
through, by lashing barges to their sides, and Grant, who had marched below
inland, had now gunboats and transports to take him over the river. But, thirty
miles below Vicksburg, he found another obstruction in his path, the
batteries’ of Grand Gulf, of which it was necessary to get possession, before
the army could proceed.
At General Grant’s request,
Admiral Porter attacked these batteries with six heavy gunboats, and, after a
fight of five hours and a half, completely silenced them, took all the
transports by in safety, and next morning with his gunboats and transports,
conveyed the army to Bayou Pierre, where commenced that march which, after a
series of beautiful moves, ended in the destruction of the city of Jackson, the
dispersion of Joe Johnston’s forces, and the investment of Vicksburg in the
The fight at Grand Gulf was
one of the hardest, if not the hardest stand-up fight during the war. The
enemy’s guns were very heavy, and placed in most commanding positions for a
mile along the river, and although some of the gunboats were literally cut to
pieces, there was not one that did not get at close quarters. The current was
very powerful, and would whirl them around like tops, distracting the aim, and
exposing every side to the rebel batteries; but they maintained a distance of
from forty to three hundred yards, and never retired until the enemy was
The severity of the battle is
shown by the heavy loss sustained in three ships—seventy-nine killed and
wounded. Twenty-six were killed and wounded on the flagship Benton,
After the army was landed at
Bayou Pierre, Admiral Porter got under way again with his fleet, to end the
matter of the Grand Gulf, but the rebels decamped on seeing him coming, and
their guns and munitions of war fell into the hands of the navy. Thirteen guns
were the fruits of this victory.
The same day of the capture of
Grand Gulf, the Admiral pushed on down the river, with six gunboats, to
communicate with Admiral Farragut, at the mouth of Red River, where, learning
that General Banks was marching on the town of Alexandria, he pushed up the
river to await him.
Fort de Russey and Alexandria
fell into the hands of the navy, and, General Banks arriving a day or two after,
the city was delivered over to him.
After this successful raid, in
which much valuable property belonging to the rebel government was destroyed,
Admiral Porter returned to Vicksburg, to cooperate with General Grant.
He destroyed the works and
town of Warrenton, a place that had given our vessels considerable trouble, and
deserved no mercy.
While the Admiral was below at
Grand Gulf, he had all the upper fleets to regulate, one on the Tennessee, one
on the Cumberland, one on the Yazoo, cooperating with General Sherman, while one
long line stretched from Vicksburg to Cairo, the various reports of which would
of themselves make a lengthy article. All his plans were carried out, and there
was not an instance of any mishap to any of his vessels, or to the transports.
Guerilla warfare was kept down on all the rivers, and the gunboats were dreaded
by the rebels far and near.
When General Grant put himself
in the rear of Vicksburg on the 18th of May, 1863, Admiral Porter immediately
placed himself in communication, and supplied him with all the necessary stores
wanted in his army.
On the evening of the 21st of
May, the Admiral received a communication from General Grant, informing him that
he intended attacking the rebel works on the following morning, and asked his
At seven o’clock next day,
the gunboats moved against the batteries, Admiral Porter leading in a small tug.
The firing was kept up until one o’clock, at which time all the batteries
along the river were silenced; but General McArthur was not permitted to take
advantage of the naval success, and, General Grant’s plans having been
thwarted in other respects, the combined attack was a failure.
The naval operations in the
siege that followed, were chiefly confined to occasional attacks on the
batteries, which could be of little avail without a cooperating force from the
One of the noblest spectacles
of the war was the attack of the Cincinnati
on the rebel batteries, when there was scarcely a hope that she could stand for
five minutes the fire of the hundred guns which were concentrated on her. This
was done at the request of General Sherman, who wished to get possession of that
flank of the rebel works. He thought the heavy guns had been moved into
Vicksburg, but was mistaken. Porter feared that he was, but with that readiness
to make any sacrifice for the army, especially for such leaders as Sherman and
Grant, which characterized him, he packed the steamer with logs and hay, and
sent her down. Bache, her commander, carried her gallantly into the terrible
fire, but in a few minutes she was completely riddled with shot, and began to
sink. The flagstaff being shot away, Bache had the colors nailed to a stump of
the foremast, and himself steered his vessel up stream towards the right-hand
shore, but before she could be made fast, she went down, carrying fifteen of the
crew with her. These, with the killed and wounded, made his loss over forty men.
Sherman from a hill top saw
the terrific engagement, and its sad termination, and, in a letter to Porter,
said the conduct of the Cincinnati
"elicited universal praise, and I deplored the sad result as much as any
Porter, at the request of
Grant, now landed twenty 9-inch, 8-inch, and hundred-pounder rifles, in an
incredibly short space of time, and transported them to the rear of Vicksburg.
Most of them were worked by sailors and their officers and did excellent
That was a glorious Fourth of
July, 1863, when the rebel flag was at last hauled down at Vicksburg, at 10
A.M., and the stars and stripes floated in its place. Admiral Porter, in his
flagship, and the fleet following, passed down until he came abreast of the
town, the guns firing, and the flags waving from every masthead. As he rounded
to at the levee, General Grant and all his general officers came on board, and
the warmest felicitations took place. It was a beautiful sight to see so many
gallant men of the army and navy assembled together.
The country was electrified,
when the telegraphic dispatch of Admiral Porter announced that Vicksburg was in
possession of the Union forces. Grant was rewarded, as he deserved to be, with a
high position, and with votes of thanks, and Acting Rear-Admiral Porter again
received the thanks of Congress, and was created a full Rear-Admiral, the
commission dated July 4th, which intelligence was conveyed to him in an
autograph letter from the President.
The Secretary of the Navy, in
his public dispatch to him, complimented him highly, and in conclusion said:
"To yourself, your officers, and the brave and gallant sailors who have
been so fertile in resources, so persistent and enduring through many months of
trial and hardship, and so daring, under all circumstances, I tender, in the
name of the President, the thanks and congratulations of the whole country, on
the fall of Vicksburg."
After this great event, there
was much to do to keep the banks of the Mississippi River free from guerrillas.
Fourteen different districts were constituted with a regular naval officer in
command of each. The White, Arkansas, and Red Rivers, were traversed by the
gunboats as far as water would permit them to go, and the most dogged
perseverance was shown by them to kill all rebels, or make them quit the
In no part of the country did
harder stand-up fighting take place than in the Mississippi fleet. The rebels
would bring numerous batteries on the rivers to blockade them and stop commerce,
but Admiral Porter always had gunboats ready to drive them off or capture them.
In but one instance did a
"tin-clad" succumb to the rebels. On several occasions they went down
fighting, with colors flying, but they kept the river clear.
When the rebels marched
suddenly into Helena with eighteen thousand men, under Price, and surprised the
weak garrison there, and were putting them to the sword, Admiral Porter, who had
heard of the move, and prepared for it, sent his gunboats up at the right
moment, and defeated the rebels with great slaughter. This occurred on the 4th
of July, at the hour when our flag was just going up on the flagstaff at
General Prentiss wrote Admiral
Porter a strong letter commendatory of the officer, Lieutenant Prichett, who had
carried out the Admiral’s orders. Porter also sent an expedition to Yazoo
city, and, though the Baron De Kalb
was sunk by a torpedo, the frightened enemy set fire to five of their largest
boats and left one to be captured.
Active operations were carried
on in the heart of the enemy’s country in the seizure of Confederate cotton
and steamers, by which the sailors were stimulated to renewed zeal, and secured
a snug little sum of prize money. it is impossible in a single article to go
over the whole field occupied by the forces under Porter.
The fleets in the upper Ohio
and Tennessee, were kept very actively employed, and, owing to the perseverance
of Lieutenant-Commander Fitch and his attention to orders, the rebel guerrilla
Morgan, and all his gang, were captured. Strange to relate, all the artillery
and wagons fell into the hands of the navy, one of the gunboats surprising them
and causing the men to stampede.
After the fall of Vicksburg,
Admiral Porter went to work raising from the bottom of the river the different
vessels that had been sunk, among them the "Cincinnati." He refitted her, and she subsequently formed a
part of Commodore Thatcher’s fleet in the attack on the enemy’s works at
The year 1864 opened with
apparent quiet all along the Mississippi river, from Cairo to New Orleans.
Occasionally there would be an attack of guerrillas or field pieces on a
harmless merchant steamer, but the gunboats kept everything quiet. The rebels
could not stand the shrapnel which was poured into them whenever they came in
sight, for Porter’s fleet was ubiquitous and his blows fell on every side.
Sometime in the month of
February, General Banks wrote to Admiral Porter and informed him that he was
going up Red River as far as Shreveport, and asked the cooperation of the
gunboats. This matter had been discussed by Porter and General W. T. Sherman,
and it was proposed that, after the general made his first raid near Atlanta, he
would suddenly return, and with the admiral make a dash up to Shreveport,
destroy the rams and forts, bring off the cotton, and be back in Memphis on the
10th of April.
General Sherman, who was an
old campaigner on Red River, and knew all about the rise and fall of water
there, suggested that as the only feasible plan—consequently, the plans of the
admiral were made to conform with this arrangement. General Sherman had agreed
to meet the admiral at Vicksburg, on the 29th of February, and so confident was
the latter of the general’s punctuality, although he had hundreds of miles to
travel with his army, that he made his arrangements to meet him at that time.
Sherman arrived exactly on the
day he said he would, and was quite surprised to learn that Banks was about to
go to Shreveport. As McClernand was to be second in command, and he would not
serve under him, he (Sherman) determined to go to New Orleans. On his return,
General Sherman told Porter that he would have to give up the expedition, but
that he would send General Andrew J. Smith, along with ten thousand men, to
represent him, and that Gen. Banks had promised to be in Alexandria on the
seventeenth day of May, and to push right on to Shreveport without delay. It was
necessary to be governed by the height of water in Red River.
Porter landed General A. J.
Smith, in the Atchafalaya, while gunboats pushed up Red River, to clear out the
obstructions. The army and navy arrived about the same time, at Fort de Russey,
which had been rebuilt since Porter’s destruction of it the preceding year,
and heavily armed. The army assaulted and carried it as the shells of the
leading gunboat drove the enemy from the water batteries which they had turned
upon our troops. This was on the fifteenth of May. Porter then at once pushed on
up to Alexandria, with the naval part of the expedition, and captured it on the
16th, one day before he promised to meet General Banks there. General A.. J.
Smith came up shortly after, and held the town while Porter prepared to get the
vessels over the "falls." The water was very low though rising slowly,
but he saw that it was too late in the season for the gunboats to go any
further. He supposed that Banks would give up the expedition when he got to
Alexandria, and allow Sherman to have his troops again, with which to carry out
General Grant’s plans. These plans were, for General Sherman to push on to
Atlanta, while Banks made an attack on Mobile, open the Columbia railroad, and
join the former in his march through the South. This plan was defeated by Banks
pushing on to Shreveport, after cotton, and allowing the rebels to hold Mobile.
Had the latter place been
captured, Sherman’s march—supplied, as he would have been, with provisions
from Mobile—would have been an easy task. Banks, however, cared for no plans
but his own. Instead of being, as he had promised, in Alexandria on the 17th of
May, he did not leave New Orleans until the 22d. His army, under General
Franklin, reached the place on the 20th; but. although well organized and ready
to proceed, they could do nothing until the arrival of the general commanding.
On the 20th the water was rapidly falling, and Porter told General Stone
(Banks’ Chief-of-Staff) that it would be impossible to reach Shreveport, if he
depended on the gunboats. Stone asserted (for Banks) that the gunboats were a
necessity, and that without them the expedition could not succeed; and that all
the failure to wipe out the rebel army in Louisiana would be due to the navy.
Porter, who never allowed an army man to call on him in vain, determined at once
to get the gunboats, over the falls," if he broke all their backs. So he
went to work, trying to pull the Eastport, the largest boat, over, and after
great labor succeeded. In -the mean time, on the 20th of May, General Banks
arrived in a steamer loaded with champagne and ice, cotton speculators and
brandy, and professing to be in a great hurry to get away on his march.
Porter had all his vessels
over, ready for a start; but instead of moving right on, Banks started an
election! He forced all the male inhabitants to go to the polls, threatening
those who were supposed to be disloyal with his displeasure if they refused to
vote, and promising the loyal to stay in the country and protect them, if they
did vote. This affair occupied several days, and was the finishing blow to the
When at length the army
started, Porter pushed the gunboats up to Grand Ecore, and captured that place
before the arrival of the troops.
Five or six more days were
wasted in electioneering at Grand Ecore, the water in the river still falling.
Porter now did all he could to
persuade General Banks to give up the hope of getting the gunboats up, and to
push on to Shreveport by himself; but the latter dared not move without them.
Selecting vessels of the
lightest draft, and the proper kind of transports, drawing little water, Porter
now pushed on to a point where Banks proposed to meet him with his army, having
it perfectly understood that no other transports would follow. But he had not
gone twenty miles, when six large transports joined the expedition, for the
purpose of taking on board cotton.
This delayed the vessels; but Porter could not get rid of them without sending a
couple of gunboats back to protect them, and not a single gun could be spared,
so he dragged them through.
No one can imagine the
difficulties of that river for two hundred miles, as without pilots Porter had
to thread his way through snags and shoals. It was a wonder he ever reached the
appointed place, where he expected to find a victorious army.
He was much annoyed with rebel
sharpshooters on his way up; but, by maintaining a fire of shells into the
brush, he kept them at a respectful distance.
When he arrived at the landing
where Banks expected to meet the fleet, he found a large steamer thrown across
the river, from bank to bank, to stop his progress, while the silence of the
grave reigned around.
Porter had with him, in
command of the troops, General Smith, who landed with him and proposed landing
his men. The former said, "No, General, there is something wrong; an army
like that of Banks should have been here, and he has met with a check."
So they rode out to the front
to reconnoiter, and at a short distance perceived a number of rebel horsemen
watching their movements. Porter made up his mind that our army was nowhere
near, and so they returned on board the vessels. He there met a messenger who
had left General Banks the day before, and who informed him that the whole army
was retreating. Here was an awkward dilemma for Porter—fifty vessels in a
narrow river, and a victorious rebel army, with some fifty pieces of artillery,
between him and safety. But there was no time to be lost, and, although the
night was coming on, he ordered a return, issuing the most stringent
instructions about the movements of the vessels. He also distributed the
different gunboats among the transports, to protect the latter.
One has observed how a rain
shower comes on—first a drop or two, then a slight pattering rain, then a
heavy shower, and, finally, a torrent. So now commenced the bullets from the
rebel sharpshooters—first a few, then in companies of twenty, then by
hundreds, then by thousands.
The soldiers and sailors,
screening themselves as best they could, drove off these fellows with their
bullets, while the gunboats kept shelling them all day and night. It was a most
tedious and harassing retreat.
Porter had succeeded in
getting about half-way down the river, when a heavy fire of artillery and
musketry was opened on the middle of the line by the rebels. Fortunately this
happened to be where Porter had two good gunboats, the Lexington, under Lieut. George M. Bache; and a small iron-clad,
under Lieut. Commander Thomas O. Selfridge. Some of the army boats had
field-pieces on their upper decks, and all these vessels opened heavily on the
Porter was just getting his
gunboats below in position to attack a battery that the enemy had thrown up to
stop him, when he heard heavy firing behind him. He at once left his work to
return and see what was going on, and arrived just in time to see the army
retreating in all directions, and completely routed.
The rebels had made their
attack at the most difficult part of the river, where four or five of our
vessels were fast in the mud, and others alongside of them trying to pull them
off. The advance consisted of three thousand men, with a reserve of seven
thousand a mile back, ready to come to their assistance. They were commanded by
General Green, their best general, and one who had given our people a great deal
He soon found that his men
could not stand our fire; but he determined not to retreat, and forced his
troops up to the edge of the bank, where our gunboats fairly mowed them down. He
finally got his head shot off, and, nearly all his officers having been killed
around him, the rest retreated in disorder, cut up as they fled. Their artillery
and all the killed and wounded were left on the field of battle. The seven
thousand in reserve never advanced at all, and soon followed the retreating mob,
losing a number of men by our far-reaching shells.
This was the victorious army
that had defeated Banks the day before, and, flushed with victory, pounced on
Porter. They calculated that the high banks and low water, and the grounding of
his vessels, would give them an easy victory. They were then to fall on Banks’
army again, and capture the provisions and medical stores, and thus compel its
surrender. The death of General Green defeated this plan.
The management of the rebel
army now fell into the hands of drunken Dick Taylor, who was entirely
incompetent to conduct it. He did really nothing, except hang on Banks’ rear
and pick up a few barrels of whiskey, and a few stragglers.
When Porter arrived at Grand
Ecore, three days after the above fight, he found the army perfectly demoralized
and Banks ready to run any where. He advised him to hold on, and not retreat,
and to occupy the country until the spring rains, when they could go up again.
He told him that he could supply him with his light vessels; but Banks chose to
retreat, and, finally, reached Alexandria in safety
Porter knew he could not get
out of the river then without help. But, in a conversation with Colonel Bailey,
a plain, common-sense man, the latter assured him he would have no difficulty
about getting the vessels over the "falls."
The Admiral now had to fight
his way back, overcoming difficulties that would have disheartened any other
man. He finally reached Alexandria, with all his gunboats, except the Eastport,
and his own "tin-clad" steamer, the Cricket,
which was so cut up that there was scarcely any of her left. Half her crew were
killed and wounded, and some of the other vessels had fared almost as badly.
Porter’s efforts to save the
Eastport show, not only the
indomitable character of the man, but that chivalric feeling which belongs to
the whole race. After she had been lightened and got afloat she again grounded.
Although she was taken several miles down the river, grounding in all eight
times, he would not abandon her. Had he acted on his own judgment he doubtless
would have blown her up before he did; but, seeing the determination of her
commander, Lieutenant E. T. Phelps, and his crew to save her, and admiring the
ceaseless Herculean efforts they put forth, he stuck to them like a brother. He
said: "I determined that I would never leave this vessel to her fate, as
long as her commander felt a hope of getting her down." The army was sixty
miles ahead of him, and a snaggy, shallow river, with its banks filled with
sharpshooters, lay between. The Eastport
was finally brought down sixty miles from the place where she first sunk, and he
had strong hopes of getting her through, when she ran fast aground, with a bed
of logs under her, and had to be blown up. Phelps himself applied the match.
Porter now fought his way back
to Alexandria, at one point under a heavy fire.
Finding (he says) the guns not
firing rapidly, I stepped on the gundeck, to see what was the matter. As I
stepped down, the after gun was struck with a shell and disabled, and every man
killed or wounded. At the same moment, the crew from the forward gun were swept
away by a shell exploding, and the men were wounded in the fire-room, leaving
only one man to fire up.
I made up a gun’s crew from
the contrabands, who fought the gun to the last moment. Finding that the engine
did not move, I went into the engine-room and found the chief engineer killed,
whose place was soon supplied by an assistant. I then went to the pilot-house,
and found that a shot had gone through it, and wounded one of the pilots. I took
charge of the vessel, and, as the battery was a very heavy one, I determined to
pass it, which was done under the heaviest fire I ever witnessed.
The moment he arrived at
Alexandria, and found that he could not get over the falls, he called to see
what General Banks was going to do. He found him determined to leave as soon as
he could gather all the cotton in and about Alexandria, and talked to Porter
about blowing up his gunboats, which the latter laughed at.
Seeing how things were going,
he sent a bearer of dispatches to Washington, which were telegraphed from Cairo.
On Porter’s representations, General Canby was sent out to relieve Banks, and
with orders to stay with the army in Alexandria, until the gunboats were
The same orders came to Banks,
much to his surprise, as he knew nothing about Porter’s action. In the mean
time, the latter called on Banks and laid Colonel Bailey’s’ proposition, for
getting the boats over the falls, before him. He looked at it kindly enough, but
took no steps towards doing anything, until General Franklin urged it. Then,
after three days’ vacillation, he gave the proper orders, placing at Colonel
Bailey’s disposal three thousand men, and two or three hundred wagons. All the
neighboring steam-mills were torn down for material, two or three regiments of
marine men were set to work felling trees, which soon were coming down with
great rapidity, teams we’re moving in all directions bringing in brick and
stone, quarries opened, flatboats built, and the forest became a human hive,
while the shouts of men resounded on every side.
In the mean time, General
Hunter came up to see how matters stood, and he and Banks called to see Porter.
General Hunter said to Porter: "Admiral, which of your vessels above the
falls can you best afford to blow up?" He answered, "Not one of them,
sir; not even the smallest. If I can’t get over the falls, and the army leave
me, I can take care of myself, and will get out at the first rise.”
Still, it would have subjected
him to great inconvenience for a couple of months, but he knew that before that
time had elapsed, General Sherman would come up there, if he was in danger.
We cannot do better than give
the account of the building of the dams and passage of the falls, in Porter’s
own graphic and eloquent language.
These falls are about a mile
in length, filled with rugged rocks, over which, at the present stage of water,
it seemed to be impossible to make a channel.
The work was commenced by
running out from the left bank of the river, a tree-dam, made of the bodies of
very large trees, brush, brick, and stone, cross-tied with other heavy timber,
and strengthened in every way which ingenuity could devise. This was run out
about three hundred feet into the river; four large coal barges were then filled
with bri9k, and sunk at the end of it. From the right bank of the river, cribs
filled with stone were built out to meet the barges. All of which was
successfully accomplished, notwithstanding there was a current running of nine
miles an hour which threatened to sweep everything before it.
It will take too much time to
enter into the details of this truly wonderful work. Suffice it to say, that the
dam had nearly reached completion in eight days’ working time, and the water
had risen sufficiently on the upper falls to allow the Fort Hindman, Osage, and Neosho,
to get down and be ready to pass the dam. In another day it would have been high
enough to enable all the other vessels to pass the upper falls. Unfortunately,
on the morning of the 9th instant, the pressure of water became so great, that
it swept away two of the stone barges, which swung in below the dam on one side.
Seeing this unfortunate accident, I jumped on a horse and rode up to where the
upper vessels were anchored, and ordered the Lexington
to pass the upper falls, if possible, and immediately attempt to. go through the
dam. I thought I might be able to save the four vessels below, not knowing
whether the persons employed on the work would ever have the heart to renew
The Lexington succeeded in getting over the upper falls just in time,
the water rapidly falling as she was passing over. She then steered directly for
the opening in the dam, through which the water was rushing so furiously that it
seemed as if nothing but destruction awaited her. Thousands of beating hearts
looked on, anxious for the result. The silence was so great, as the Lexington
approached the dam, that a pin might almost be heard to fall. She entered the
gap with a full head of steam on, pitched down the roaring torrent, made two or
three spasmodic rolls, hung for a moment on the rocks below, was then swept into
deep water by the current, and rounded-to safely into the bank. Thirty thousand
voices rose in one deafening cheer, and universal joy seemed to pervade the face
of every man present.
The Neosho followed next; all her hatches battened down, and every
precaution taken against accident. She did not fare as well as the Lexington,
her pilot having become frightened as he approached the abyss, and stopped her
engine, when I particularly ordered a full head of steam to be carried; the
result was, that for a moment her hull disappeared from sight under the water.
Every one thought she was lost. She rose, however, swept along over the rocks
with the current, and fortunately escaped with only one hole in her bottom,
which was stopped in the course of an hour.
The Hindman and Osage both
came through beautifully without touching a thing, and I thought if I was only
fortunate enough to get my large vessels as well over the falls, my fleet once
more would do good service on the Mississippi.
The accident to the dam,
instead of disheartening Colonel Bailey, only induced him to renew his
exertions, after he had seen the success of getting four vessels through.
The noble-hearted soldiers,
seeing the labor of the last eight days swept away in a moment, cheerfully went
to work to repair damages, being confident now that all the gunboats would be
finally brought over. These men had been working for eight days and nights, up
to their necks in the water in the boiling sun, cutting trees and wheeling
bricks, and nothing but good humor prevailed among them. On the whole, it was
very fortunate the dam was carried away, as the two barges that were swept away
from the centre swung around against some rocks on the left, and made a fine
cushion for the vessels, and prevented them, as it afterwards appeared, from
running on certain destruction.
The force of the water and the
current being too great to construct a continuous dam of six hundred feet across
the river in so short a time, Colonel Bailey determined to leave a gap of
fifty-five feet in the dam, and build a series of wing-dams on the upper falls.
This was accomplished in three days’ time, and on the 11th instant the Mound
City, Carondelet, and Pittsburg,
came over the upper falls, a good deal of labor having been expended in hauling
them through, the channel being very crooked, scarcely wide enough for them.
Next day, the Ozark, Louisville,
Chillicothe, and two tugs, also succeeded in crossing the upper
falls. Immediately afterwards, the Mound
City, Carondelet, and Pittsburg,
started in succession to pass the dam, all their hatches battened down, and
every precaution taken to prevent accident. The passage of these vessels was a
most beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen. They passed over without an
accident, except the unshipping of one or two rudders. This was witnessed by all
the troops, and the vessels were heartily cheered when they passed over. Next
morning at 10 o’clock, the Louisville,
Chillicothe, Ozark, and
two tugs, passed over without any accident, except the loss of a man, who was
swept off the decks of one of the tugs. By 3 o’clock that afternoon, the
vessels were all coaled, ammunition replaced, and all steamed down the river,
with the convoy of transports in company. A good deal of difficulty was
anticipated in getting over the bars in lower Red River; depth of water reported
only five feet; gunboats were drawing six. Providentially, we had a rise from
the back-water of the Mississippi, that river being very high at that time; the
back-water extending to Alexandria, one hundred and fifty miles distant,
enabling us to pass all the bars and obstructions with safety.
Words are inadequate to
express the admiration I feel for the abilities of Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey.
This is, without doubt, the best engineering feat ever performed. Under the best
circumstances, a private company would not have completed this work under one
year, and to an ordinary mind the whole thing would have appeared an utter
impossibility. Leaving out his abilities as an engineer, the credit he has
conferred upon the country, he has saved to the Union a valuable fleet, worth
nearly two million dollars. More, he has deprived the enemy of a triumph, which
would have emboldened them to carry on this war a year or two longer; for the
intended departure of the army was a fixed fact, and there was nothing left for
me to do, in case that event occurred, but to destroy every part of the vessels,
so that the rebels could make nothing of them. The highest honors the government
can bestow on Colonel Bailey, can never repay him for the services he has
rendered the country.
The Signal and Covington were
unfortunately lost below Alexandria, although they were fought to the last. The
commander of the latter was compelled to blow her up, but the former was
surrendered, as her decks were so covered with the wounded, that Lieutenant
Morgan refrained, from feelings of humanity, from blowing her up.
Porter not only complimented
Bailey in his report, but got him promoted to Brigadier General. Not satisfied
with this, he presented him with a splendid sword, costing seven hundred
dollars. He also, with the officers of the fleet, presented him with a silver
vase, emblematic of the event, that cost sixteen hundred dollars, and has never
lost his interest in him from that time to this.
It was the opinion of the army
and of the country, that the fleet would have been destroyed in case the army
left; but this was a mistake. The fleet had nearly four months’ provisions,
and could have maintained itself easily until the next rise of water, which took
place two months afterwards. Porter did not attempt to discourage this belief;
for he was determined not to stay there. His fleet was needed on the
Mississippi—in fact, the Government could not do without it.
There was a stretch of river
above the falls, of forty miles extent, where the vessels could have gone up and
down} without hindrance. The guns of the fleet were too heavy and too numerous
to permit the rebels to erect any batteries, and they had no heavy guns of any
kind with which to do the fleet much harm. Some inconvenience might have been
felt from sharpshooters, but the rebels had too wholesome a dread of gunboats
and shrapnel, to venture within reach of the navy batteries, and Porter would
have stood at bay there till the last ounce of provision was gone.
The friends of General Banks
attempted to break his fall, by laying a part of the blame of the failure of the
expedition on the navy; but it would not do, and praise instead of censure is
meted out to Porter for the management of his part of the unfortunate
The latter part of Admiral
Porter’s command on the Mississippi, was spent in chasing the rebels from
river to river, giving them no rest by night or day. He also opened
communication with the army, and supplied it with provisions.
While General Grant was
preparing to attack the rebels at Chattanooga, Admiral Porter accidentally heard
that General Sherman had left Memphis with thirty thousand men, to join him by
the Corinth road.
It was usual with General
Sherman to keep the Admiral notified of his movements, in case he should want
assistance; but the former supposed that he would have no difficulty in crossing
the Tennessee, as it was the stage of low water, and he did not think, moreover,
that the light-draught gunboats could get up to Florence, a place somewhat above
where he intended to cross. But Admiral Porter thought otherwise. The moment he
heard of Sherman’s move from Memphis, he selected the lightest-draught
gunboats, and took off some of their guns, so that they would draw the least
possible water. He then planked over some empty coal barges to serve as bridges,
and sent along a light-draught ferryboat. Light-draught transports were also
added with stores for the army, and the fleet was dispatched up the Tennessee,
under the command of Captain Phelps, an able officer.
When the advance guard of
General Sherman arrived at Corinth, he rode over to the Tennessee and found the
river rising. A heavy rain-storm set in, and in a few hours it was booming. All
efforts to construct a bridge failed, while the wagons that attempted to ford
the stream were damaged and had to give it up. Finally, the current became so
strong that Sherman felt that he would have to wait patiently for the waters to
subside. He rode back to camp quite disheartened, and throwing him self on his
camp bed, felt, he said, “as if he had a thirty-pound shot in his
stomach." He was thinking of the mutability of human affairs, when an
orderly rode up at full speed and informed him that the admiral was in sight,
coming up with the gunboats. The orderly had mistaken the divisional flag of the
district commander for that of the admiral. It was like an electric shock to
Sherman, and jumping up he rode over immediately to the river, when Captain
Phelps, in the name of the admiral, placed the vessels at his disposal.
With the flatboats,
ferryboats, gunboats, and transports, only a few days were occupied in crossing
the river, and, with a fresh supply of stores and forage, General Sherman
marched with elated spirits forward. As it is well known he did not arrive at
Chattanooga a moment too soon. But for Porter’s forecast and thoughtfulness,
what a different result might have been reached.
After the great victory of
Missionary Ridge, the state of Tennessee became comparatively quiet. Still the
upper part of the Tennessee River was much infested with rebels, and Admiral
Porter armed and equipped four steamers that had been built by the army above
Muscle Shoals, and formed a little squadron there under a lieutenant of the
regular navy, which did good service during the campaign, and rendered material
aid to our forces. He also sent fifteen vessels of different kinds to Admiral
Farragut, some of which performed an important part in the attack on Mobile.
Admiral Porter found it
necessary to rule on the Mississippi with an iron hand. He constantly came in
contact with dishonest speculators, cotton stealers, and swindlers of all kinds,
to whom he showed no mercy. These persons hired hostile presses to abuse him,
which had about as much effect on him as pouring oil on fire to put it out.
He performed his duty
faithfully and fearlessly, to the satisfaction of the government.
After an active and harassing
service of two years’ on the Mississippi, Admiral Porter was invited by the
Secretary of the Navy to pay a visit to Washington, and see his family, with
whom he had only been a few days during the war, and then under circumstances
where he could not enjoy their society. He now spent three months at the North,
quietly enjoying the rest he so much needed, and, when his health was somewhat
improved, started, via Washington, to return to his duties in the West. But
while at the capital, he was tendered the command of the North Atlantic
squadron, which he disliked to accept, as it interfered with another officer,
but the matter was not left to him.
The capture of Fort Fisher,
long a cherished object with the Secretary of the Navy, was now taken up again,
and Porter and Mr. Fox, assistant secretary, were sent to City Point in
September, 1864, to confer with Grant about it. The latter agreed to furnish
eight or nine thousand men to be placed under Weitzel.
A large fleet was at once
ordered to assemble in Hampton Roads. A powerful force was soon gathered and
organized into five divisions, under five commodores, each of whom had charge of
the fitting out of his own squadron, and in a few days Porter was ready to move.
But long delay followed, as General Grant just then could not spare the troops.
This delay, however, did the navy no harm. It gave the commanders an opportunity
to discipline and exercise their crews, and to become familiar with the plans of
the Commander-in-chief, which were given in full to every officer in command.
The smaller vessels were in
the mean time placed on blockade duty, off the Cape Fear inlets, and the system
adopted by Porter almost broke up the blockade running.
The steamers were placed in
three half-circles, one outside of the other. The first circle was near the
bars, the second about twelve miles outside of that, and the third one hundred
miles outside of all. All the vessels in the circles were within signal
distance, so that a steamer could not pass between them without being seen.
If a blockade runner got out
of Wilmington at or before daylight, she would be seen by the middle circle. If
she left Wilmington after sunset, she would be picked up by the outer circle at
daylight the next morning, &c. This plan succeeded admirably, and, in less
than thirty-five days, over seven millions of the enemy’s property were either
captured or destroyed.
Other portions of the squadron
were actively engaged during the time the larger vessels were lying in Hampton
He sent Lieutenant Cushing to
Plymouth, N. C., to attempt to blow up the rebel ram Albemarle, and, at the same time, gave instructions to Commander
Macomb, the senior officer in the Sounds, to assist him with boats, and to take
advantage of the opportunity if he succeeded. Cushing did succeed; and Macomb,
like a brave officer, availing himself of the consequent confusion,’ attacked
the forts at Plymouth with his small force, capturing them and everything in the
town. The fruits of this victory were: twenty-two heavy cannon, thirty-seven
prisoners, and over four hundred stand of arms. There were more guns in the
forts than were carried by the fragile vessels that made the attack.
In the middle of December, the
fleet, which had been lying all winter in Hampton Roads, sailed. No American
commander, and scarcely any European one, ever led so imposing a fleet as Porter
now had under him. Over seventy vessels of various kinds composed it; and, when
it was all assembled near Fort Fisher, it presented a grand and imposing
spectacle. And never did a fleet have a nobler captain at its head.
Before the attack commenced, a
powder-boat, with sufficient powder aboard, it was thought, to blow up the
magazine of the fort, was towed up to the neighborhood of the works by Commander
A. C. Rhind and Lieutenant S. W. Preston, and fired. These gallant men never
expected to return alive, yet they unflinchingly performed the perilous task
assigned them, and received the warmest commendation of Porter.
No adequate description of the
bombardment that followed can be given.
The attack was made with
thirty-seven vessels, with nineteen more in reserve; and when they took up their
respective positions, and opened fire, the spectacle was one of the grandest
ever witnessed on earth. The shells, crossing and recrossing each other in every
direction, made the heavens one great fretwork of fire, while the explosion of
so m any cannon made land and sea tremble. The hostile batteries at first
responded, but as soon as Porter got all his guns to bear, he poured such a
horrible, ceaseless storm of shells into the works, that the gunners took refuge
in their casements, and the fort stood and received the remorseless pounding in
The bombardment was kept up
for five hours, and during that time six one-hundred-pound Parrott guns burst on
board the vessels, killing and wounding several men.
The troops not all having
arrived, Porter, at night, withdrew his fleet. The next morning, Christmas, he
again signalled to form line of battle, and the awful fire of the day before was
repeated. Under cover of it, part of the troops were landed, and some daring
soldiers actually walked inside the works. But Weitzel, after a reconnoissance,
pronounced them too strong to be carried by assault, and Butler, who had taken
command, resolved to abandon the attempt, and reembark the troops. When this
decision was reported to the Admiral, he was at the table, after a hard day’s
work, eating a Christmas turkey. "Well," said he, "that don’t
spoil my appetite," and, turning to an officer near him, quietly asked,
"What part of the turkey will you have?" and said no more about it.
The fact was, he thought the sooner General Butler went back the better. He
continued filling up with ammunition, confident that Grant would not let the
affair end so in reporting it to the Department, he said that he did not wish to
put his opinion against so able an engineer as Weitzel. "But," he
dryly added, "I can’t help thinking
it was worth while making the attempt after coming so far." In an after
report he said, "there never was a fort that invited soldiers to walk in
and take possession more plainly than Fort Fisher."
It is useless, in the light of
subsequent events, to go over Butler’s report, and show how false Porter found
his statements to be. A charlatan, and ignorant of military matters, the former
never should have been allowed any command in the expedition. With such men as
Grant and Sherman, Porter could always act with perfect accord, but, with
military leaders like Banks and Butler, it was impossible-for gallantry and
ability cannot harmonize with cowardice or imbecility.
Porter now went on to prepare
for another attack, which the government determined should be made. In the mean
time a succession of gales swept over him, which the enemy thought would drive
him off; but they little knew the man. He held on, though at times it seemed
impossible to do so.
On the 13th of January,
another military force having arrived under General Terry, preparations were at
once made to take the fort, and, under cover of the fire of the iron-clads, the
troops were landed. The next day Porter again formed his line of battle, and,
with all the ships carrying eleven-inch guns, opened on the fort. He rained a
horrible tempest on it till sunset, when, as he said, "the fort was reduced
to a pulp, and every gun silenced." That evening Terry came on board his
ship, to arrange for the assault next day.
It was determined that Porter
should furnish sixteen hundred seamen and four hundred marines, to constitute a
storming party against the sea side, while Terry assaulted the land side.
The next day, at eleven
o’clock, Porter was again in line of battle, and, with his anchors down, once
more rained his shells into the fort. A fire that nothing human could stand was
kept up till three o’clock, when the long-expected signal from shore came,
that the troops were ready to assault.
The vessels then changed their
fire to the upper batteries; all the steam whistles were blown, and the troops
and sailors dashed ahead, nobly vying with each other to reach the top of the
parapet; we had evidently (we thought) injured all the large guns, so that they
could not be fired to annoy any one. The sailors took to the assault by the
flank along the beach, while the troops rushed in at the left, through the
palisades that had been knocked away by the fire of our guns.
All the arrangements on the
part of the sailors had been well carried out; they had succeeded in getting up
to within a short distance of the fort, and lay securely in their ditches. We
had but very few killed and wounded to this point. The marines were to have held
the rifle-pits and cover the boarding party, which they failed to do. On rushing
through the palisades, which extended from the fort to the sea, the head of the
column received a murderous fire of grape and canister, which did not, however,
check the officers and sailors who were leading. The parapets now swarmed with
rebels, who poured in a destructive fire of musketry. At this moment, had the
marines performed their duty, every one of the rebels would have been killed.
I witnessed the whole affair,
saw how recklessly the rebels exposed themselves, and what an advantage they
gave our sharpshooters, whose guns were scarcely fired, or fired with no
precision. Notwithstanding the hot fire, officers and sailors in the lead rushed
on, and some even reached the parapet, a large number having reached the ditch.
The advance was swept from the
parapet like chaff; and notwithstanding all the efforts made by commanders of
companies to stop them, the men in the rear, seeing the slaughter in front, and
that they were not covered by the marines, commenced to retreat, and as there is
no stopping a sailor if he fails on such an occasion on the first rush, I saw
the whole thing had to be given up.
The troops, however, kept on;
and, fighting from traverse to traverse in the darkness, at length cleared the
works. Terry’s signal torch blazed front the ramparts, announcing the victory,
which Porter, with rockets in turn, announced to the fleet, when there arose
such thundering cheers as never before shook the waters of that bay.
The fleet in this bombardment
had thrown fifty thousand shells; its great loss was in this assault. Among the
killed, were the gallant lieutenants, S. W. Preston and B. H. Porter.
General Butler was in
Washington, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, giving the reasons
why it was unwise and hopeless to attempt to carry Fort Fisher by assault, when
the astounding news came that it had fallen. His able exposition was cut short
and the country lost the benefit of the whole argument he had planned. The shout
of victory that went up closed the controversy that had been carried on between
him and Porter, and raised the latter still higher in the popular estimation. A
greater triumph, after all his harassing difficulties, could not have been
The navy captured in the
various works here one hundred and sixty-eight cannon.
After the capture of Fort
Fisher and the adjacent works, Admiral Porter, by direction of the Navy
Department, sent off all the vessels he could spare to points where they were
most wanted, and, leaving proper officers in command, proceeded with an
increased force to join General Grant, at City Point. There was little that the
navy could do there, except to keep the rebel rams in check, for a heavy
barricade in the river barred all progress toward Richmond.
Porter remained at City Point
until Lee surrendered and Richmond fell, giving what aid he could. When the war
was ended, he applied to be detached from the North Atlantic Squadron, having
seen the first and last gun of the war fired. During the whole war he was
constantly in service; and, although at times his mind and body required rest,
he never applied for leave of absence. He received the thanks of Congress for
the Fort Fisher affair, and those of many of the State legislatures; this being
the fourth vote of thanks received from Congress during the war, including the
general one for the capture of New Orleans.
Admiral Porter possesses in an
eminent degree all those distinguished qualities found in a great and successful
commander. Of consummate nautical skill, he adds to it an originality of
conception and a boldness of execution that always ensure success. Joined to all
these is an inflexibility of purpose that nothing can move. Having once made up
his mind to a course, he will admit of no impossibilities, but drives toward his
object with a fierceness and power that bear down all opposition. Bonaparte said
that moral force is half, even when every thing seems to depend on hard blows.
All this is true; yet it is a force which few can calculate. The power to do
this, Porter possesses in an eminent degree. A bold and confident bearing, where
others would fail-the assurance of victory which he exhibits to his own men, and
at the same time to the enemy, impart courage and strength to the former, and
corresponding doubt and vacillation to the latter. He is aware of this, and acts
on the knowledge. Hence, his plans and attempts sometimes seem rash to those who
do not comprehend this quality, and they attribute to luck what is due to
genius. He is the beau ideal of a
commander to sailors, who never seem to doubt that he will accomplish every
thing which he undertakes
He takes care of his
subordinates, and delights in their promotion as much as in his own. Just and
generous to the brave, he is severe and unsparing to the timid and reluctant.
Frank and outspoken, one always knows where to find him. A strong writer, his
reports and journal would make an interesting book by themselves. The government
appreciated his great services and abilities by making him Vice-Admiral, so that
he now stands next to Farragut in rank, and in time will, doubtless, occupy his
At present, he is President of
the Naval School at Annapolis.
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