Charleston defenses, Belmont battlefield.
On the evening of the 6th of November, 1861, I received instructions from General Grant to proceed down the Mississippi with the wooden gun-boats Taylor and Lexington on a reconnaissance, and as convoy to some half-dozen transport steamers; but I did not know the character of the service expected of me until I anchored for the night, seven or eight miles below Cairo. Early the next morning, while the troops were being landed near Belmont, Missouri, opposite Columbus, Kentucky, I attacked the Confederate batteries, at the request of General Grant, as a diversion, which was done with some effect. But the superiority of the enemy’s batteries on the bluffs at Columbus, both in the number and the quality of his guns, was so great that it would have been too hazardous to have remained long under his fire with such frail vessels as the Taylor and Lexington, which were only expected to protect the land forces in case of a repulse. Having accomplished the object of the attack, the gun-boats withdrew, but returned twice during the day and renewed the contest. During the last of these engagements a cannon-ball passed obliquely through the side, deck, and scantling of the Taylor, killing one man and wounding others. This convinced me of the necessity of withdrawing my vessels, which had been moving in a circle to confuse the enemy’s gunners. We fired a few more broadsides, therefore, and, perceiving that the firing had ceased at Belmont, an ominous circumstance, I returned to the landing, to protect the army and transports. In fact, the destruction of the gun-boats would have involved the loss of our army and our depot at Cairo, the most important one in the West. Soon after we returned to the landing place our troops began to appear, and the officers of the gun-boats were warned by General McClernand of the approach of the enemy. The Confederates came en masse through a corn-field, and opened with musketry and light artillery upon the transports, which were filled or being filled with our retreating soldiers. A well-directed fire from the gun-boats made the enemy fly in the greatest confusion.
Our men charged through, making the victory complete, giving us possession of their camp and garrison equipage, artillery, and everything else. We got a great many prisoners. The majority, however, succeeded in getting aboard their steamers and pushing across the river. We burned everything possible and started back, having accomplished all that we went for and even more. Belmont is entirely covered by the batteries from Columbus, and is worth nothing as a military position – cannot be held without Columbus. The object of the expedition was to prevent the enemy from sending a force into Missouri to cut off troops I had sent there for a special purpose, and to prevent reinforcing Price. Besides being well fortified at Columbus, their number far exceeded ours, and it would have been folly to have attacked them. We found the Confederates well-armed and brave. On our return, stragglers that had been left in our rear (now front) fired into us, and more re-crossed the river, and gave us battle for a full mile, and afterward at the boats when we were embarking. There was no hasty retreating or running away. Taking into account the object of the expedition, the victory was complete.
Admiral Foote was at St. Louis when the battle of Belmont was fought, and, it appears, made no report to the Secretary of the Navy of the part which the gun-boats took in the action. Neither did he send my official report to the Navy Department. The officers of the vessels were highly complimented by General Grant for the important aid they rendered in this battle; and in his second official report of the action he made references to my report. It was impossible for me to inform the flag-officer of the General’s intentions, which were kept perfectly secret.
During the winter of 1861-2 an expedition was planned by Flag-Officer Foote and Generals Grant and McClernand against Fort Henry, situated on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River, a short distance south of the line between Kentucky and Tennessee. In January the iron-clads were brought down to Cairo, and great efforts were made to prepare them for immediate service, but only four of the iron-clads could be made ready as soon as required. They were the Essex, Captain Wm. D. Porter, mounting four nine-inch guns; the Cincinatti; flag-steamer, Commander Stemble; the Carondelet, Commander Walke; and the St. Louis, Lieutenant-Commander Paulding. Each of the last three carried four seven-inch rifled, three eight-inch shell, and six thirty-two-pound guns.
On the morning of the 2d of February, the flag-officer left Cairo with the four armored vessels above named, and the wooden gun-boats Taylor, Lexington, and Conestoga, and in the evening reached the Tennessee River. On the 4th the fleet anchored six miles below Fort Henry. The next day, while reconnoitering, the Essex received a shot which passed through the pantry and the officers’ quarters and visited the steerage. On the 5th the flag-officer inspected the officers and crew at quarters, addressed them, and offered a prayer.
Heavy rains had been falling, and the river had risen rapidly to an unusual height; the swift current brought down an immense quantity of heavy drift-wood, lumber, fences, and large trees, and it required all the steam-power of the Carondelet, with both anchors down, and the most strenuous exertions of the officers and crew, working day and night, to prevent the boat from being dragged down-stream. This adversity appeared to dampen the ardor of our crew, but when the next morning they saw a large number of white objects, which through the fog looked like polar bears, coming down the stream, and ascertained that they were the enemy’s torpedoes forced from their moorings by the powerful current, they took heart, regarding the freshet as providential and as a presage of victory. The overflowing river, which opposed our progress, swept away in broad daylight this hidden peril; for if the torpedoes had not been disturbed, or had broken loose at night while we were shoving the drift-wood from our bows, some of them would surely have exploded near or under our vessels.
The 6th dawned mild and cheering, with a light breeze, sufficient to clear away the smoke. At 10:20 the flag-officer made the signal to prepare for battle, and at 10:50 came the order to get under way and steam up to Panther Island, about two miles below Fort Henry. At 11:35, having passed the foot of the island, we formed in line and approached the fort four abreast, — the Essex on the right, then the Cincinatti, Carondelet, and St. Louis. The last two, for want of room, were interlocked, and remained in that position during the fight.
As we slowly passed up this narrow stream, not a sound could be heard or a moving object seen in the dense woods which overhung the dark swollen river. The gun-crews of the Carondelet stood silent at their posts, impressed with the serious and important character of the service before them. About noon the fort and the Confederate flag came suddenly into view, the barracks, the new earthworks, and the great guns well manned. The captains of our guns were men-of-war’s men, good shots, and had their men well drilled.
The flag-steamer, the Cincinatti, fired the first shot as the signal for the others to begin. At once the fort responded from her eleven heavy guns, and was ablaze with the flame of cannon. The wild whistle of their rifle shells was heard on every side of us. On the Carondelet not a word was spoken more than at ordinary drill, except when Matthew Arthur, captain of the starboard bow-gun, asked permission to fire at one or two of the enemy’s retreating vessels, as he could not at that time bring his gun to bear on the fort. He fired one shot, which passed through the upper cabin of a hospital-boat, whose flag was not seen, but injured no one. The Carondelet was struck in about thirty places by the enemy’s heavy shot and shell. Eight struck within two feet of the bow-ports, leading to the boilers, around which barricades had been built — a precaution which I always took before going into action, and which on several occasions prevented an explosion. The Carondelet fired one hundred and seven shell and solid shot; none of her officers or crew was killed or wounded.
The firing from the armored vessels was rapid and well sustained from the beginning of the attack, and seemingly accurate, as we could occasionally see the earth thrown in great heaps over the enemy’s guns. Nor was the fire of the Confederates to be despised; their heavy shot broke and scattered our iron-plating as if it had been putty, and often passed completely through the case-mates. But our old men-of-war’s men, captains of the guns, proud to show their worth in battle, infused life and courage into their young comrades. And when these experienced gunners saw a shot coming toward a port, they had the coolness and discretion to order their men to bow down, to save their heads.
After nearly an hour’s hard fighting, the captain of the Essex, going below, addressed the officers and crew, complimented the first division for their splendid execution, and asked them if they did not want to rest and give three cheers, which were given with a will. But the feelings of joy and the bright anticipations of victory on board the Essex were suddenly changed by a terrible calamity, which I cannot better describe than by quoting from a letter to me from Jarnes Laning, second master of the Essex. He says:
“A shot from the enemy pierced the casemate just above the port-hole on the port side, then through the middle boiler, killing in its flight Acting Master’s Mate S. B. Brittan, Jr., and opening a chasm for the escape of the scalding steam and water. The scene which followed was almost indescribable. The writer, who had gone aft in obedience to orders only a few moments before (and was thus providentially saved), was met by Fourth Master Walker, followed by a crowd of men rushing aft. Walker called to me to go back; that a shot from the enemy had carried away the steam-pipe. I at once ran to the stern of the vessel, and looking out of the stern-port, saw a number of our brave fellows struggling in the water. The steam and hot water in the forward gun-deck had driven all who were able to get out of the ports overboard, except a few who were fortunate enough to cling to the casemate outside. When the explosion took place Captain Porter was standing directly in front of the boilers, with his aide, Mr. Brittan, at his side. He at once rushed for the port-hole on the starboard side, and threw himself out, expecting to go into the river. A seaman, John Walker, seeing his danger, caught him around the waist, and supporting him with one hand, clung to the vessel with the other, until, with the assistance of another seaman, who came to the rescue, they succeeded in getting the captain upon a narrow guard or projection, which ran around the vessel, and thus enabled him to make his way outside to the after-port, where I met him. Upon speaking to him, he told me he was badly hurt, and that I must hunt for Mr. Riley, the First Master, and if he was disabled I must take command of the vessel, and man the battery again. Mr. Riley was unharmed, and already in the discharge of his duties as Captain Porter’s successor. In a very few minutes after the explosion our gallant ship (which, in the language of Flag Officer Foote had fought most effectually through two thirds of the engagement) was drifting slowly away from the scene of action; her commander badly wounded, a number of her officers and crew dead at their post, while many others were writhing in their last agony. As soon as the scalding steam would admit, the forward gun-deck was explored. The pilots, who were both in the pilot-house, were scalded to death. Marshall Ford, who was steering when the explosion took place, was found at his post at the wheel, standing erect, his left hand holding the spoke and his right hand grasping the signal-bell rope. A seaman named James Coffey, who was shot-man to the No. 2 gun, was on his knees, in the act of taking a shell from the box to be passed to the loader. The escaping steam and hot water had struck him square in the face, and he met death in that position. When I told Captain Porter that we were victorious, he immediately rallied, and, raising himself on his elbow, called for three cheers, and gave two himself, falling exhausted on the mattress in his effort to give the third. A seaman named Jasper P. Breas, who was badly scalded, sprang to his feet, exclaiming: ‘Surrendered! I must see that with my own eyes before I die.’ Before anyone could interfere, he clambered up two short flights of stairs to the spar-deck. He shouted ‘Glory to God!’ and sank exhausted on the deck. Poor Jasper died that night.”
The Essex before the accident had fired seventy shots from her two nine-inch guns. A powder boy, Job Phillips, fourteen years of age, coolly marked down upon the casemate every shot his gun had fired, and his account was confirmed by the gunner in the magazine. Her loss in killed, wounded, and missing was thirty-two.
The St. Louis was struck seven times. She fired one hundred and seven shots during the action. No one on board the vessel was killed or wounded.
Flag-Officer Foote during the action was in the pilot-house of the Cincinatti, which received thirty-two shots. Her chimneys, after cabin, and boats were completely riddled. Two of her guns were disabled. The only fatal shot she received passed through the larboard front, killing one man and wounding several others. I happened to be looking at the flag-steamer when one of the enemy’s heavy shot struck her. It had the effect, apparently, of a thunder-bolt, ripping her side timbers and scattering the splinters over the vessel. She did not slacken her speed, but moved on as though nothing unexpected had happened.
From the number of times the gun-boats were struck, it would appear that the Confederate artillery practice, at first, at least, was as good, if not better, than ours. This, however, was what might have been expected, as the Confederate gunners had the advantage of practicing on the ranges the gun-boats would probably occupy as they approached the fort. The officers of the gunboats, on the contrary, with guns of different caliber and unknown range, and without practice, could not point their guns with as much accuracy. To counterbalance this advantage of the enemy, the gun-boats were much better protected by their casemates for distant firing than the fort by its fresh earthworks. The Confederate soldiers fought as valiantly and as skillfully as the Union sailors. Only after a most determined resistance, and after all his heavy guns had been silenced, did General Tilghman lower his flag. The Confederate loss, as reported, was six killed and nine or ten wounded. The prisoners, including the general and his staff, numbered about eighty, the remainder of the garrison, about 3100 men, having escaped to Fort Donelson.
Our gun-boats continued to approach the fort until General Tilghman, with two or three of his staff, came off in a small boat to the Cincinatti and surrendered the fort to Flag-Officer Foote, who sent for me, introduced me to General Tilghman, and gave me orders to take command of the fort and hold it until the arrival of General Grant.
General Tilghman was a soldierly-looking man, a little above medium height, with piercing black eyes and a resolute, intelligent expression of countenance. He was dignified and courteous, and won the respect and sympathy of all who became acquainted with him. In his official report of the battle he said that his officers and men fought with the greatest bravery until 1:50 P.M., when seven of his eleven guns were disabled; and, finding it impossible to defend the fort, and wishing to spare the lives of his gallant men, after consultation with his officers he surrendered the fort.
It was reported at the time that, in surrendering to Flag-Officer Foote, the Confederate general said, “I am glad to surrender to so gallant an officer,” and that Foote replied,” You do perfectly right, sir, in surrendering, but you should have blown my boat out of the water before I would have surrendered to you.” I was with Foote soon after the surrender, and I cannot believe that such a reply was made by him. He was too much of a gentleman to say anything calculated to wound the feelings of an officer who had defended his post with signal courage and fidelity, and whose spirits were clouded by the adverse fortunes of war.
When I took possession of the fort the Confederate surgeon was laboring with his coat off to relieve and save the wounded; and although the officers and crews of the gun-boat gave three hearty cheers when the Confederate flag was hauled down, the first inside view of the fort sufficed to suppress every feeling of exultation and to excite our deepest pity. On every side the blood of the dead and wounded was intermingled with the earth and their implements of war. Their largest gun, a 128-pounder, was dismounted and filled with earth by the bursting of one of our shells near its muzzle; the carriage of another was broken to pieces, and two dead men lay near it, almost covered with heaps of earth; a rifled gun had burst, throwing its mangled gunners into the water. But few of the garrison escaped unhurt.
General Grant, with his staff, rode into the fort about three o’clock on the same day, and relieved me of the command. The general and staff then accompanied me on board the Carondelet (anchored near the fort), where he complimented the officers of the flotilla in the highest terms for the gallant manner in which they had captured Fort Henry. He had expected his troops to take part in a land attack, but the heavy rains had made the direct roads to the fort almost impassable.
The wooden gun-boats Conestoga, Commander S. L. Phelps, Taylor, Lieutenant Commander William Gwin, and Lexington, Lieutenant J. W. Shirk, engaged the enemy at long range in the rear of the iron-clads, After the battle they pursued the enemy’s transports up the river, and the Conestoga captured the steamer Eastport. The news of the capture of Fort Henry was received with great rejoicing all over the North.
On the 7th I received on board the Carondelet Colonels Webster, Rawlins, and McPherson, with a company of troops, and under instructions from General Grant proceeded up the Tennessee River, and completed the destruction of the bridge of the Memphis and Bowling Green Railroad.
On returning from my expedition up the Tennessee River, General Grant requested me to hasten to Fort Donelson with the Carondelet, Taylor, and Lexington, and announce my arrival by firing signal guns. The object of this movement was to take possession of the river as soon as possible, and to engage the enemy’s attention by making formidable demonstrations before the fort, and prevent it from being reinforced. On February 10th the Carondelet alone (towed by the transport Alps) proceeded up the Cumberland River, and on the 12th arrived a few miles below the fort.
Fort Donelson occupied one of the best defensive positions on the river. It was built on a bold bluff about one hundred and twenty feet in height, on the west side of the river, where it makes a slight bend to the eastward. It had three batteries, mounting in all sixteen guns; the lower battery, about twenty feet above the water, had eight 32-pounders, and one 128- pounder; the second, about fifty feet above the water, was of about equal strength; the third, on the summit, had three or four heavy field-guns, or siege-guns, as they appeared to us from a distance.
When the Carondelet, her tow being cast off, came in sight of the fort and proceeded up to within long range of the batteries, not a living creature could be seen. The hills and woods on the west side of the river hid part of the enemy’s formidable defences, which were lightly covered with snow; but the black rows of heavy guns, pointing down on us, reminded me of the dismal-looking sepulchers cut in the rocky cliffs near Jerusalem, but far more repulsive. At 12:50 P. M., to unmask the silent enemy, and to announce my arrival to General Grant, I ordered the bow-guns to be fired at the fort. Only one shell fell short. There was no response except the echo from the hills. The fort appeared to have been evacuated. After firing ten shells into it the Carondelet dropped down the river about three miles and anchored. But the sound of her guns aroused our soldiers on the southern side of the fort into action; one report says that when they heard the guns of the avant courier of the fleet, they gave cheer upon cheer, and rather than permit the sailors to get ahead of them again, they engaged in skirmishes with the enemy, and began the terrible battle of the three days following. On the Carondelet we were isolated and beset with dangers from the enemy’s lurking sharp-shooters.
On the 13th a dispatch was received from General Grant, informing me that he had arrived the day before, and had succeeded in getting his army in position, almost entirely investing the enemy’s works. “Most of our batteries,” he said, “are established, and the remainder soon will be. If you will advance with your gun-boat at ten o’clock in the morning, we will be ready to take advantage of any diversion in our favor.”
I immediately complied with these instructions, and at 9:05, with the Carondelet alone and under cover of a heavily wooded point, fired one hundred and thirty-nine seventy-pound and sixty-four-pound shells at the fort. We received in return the fire of all the enemy’s guns that could be brought to bear on the Carondelet, which sustained but little damage, except from two shots. One, a 128-pound solid, at 11:30 struck the corner of our port broadside casemate, passed through it, and in its progress toward the center of our boilers glanced over the temporary barricade in front of the boilers. It then passed over the steam-drum, struck the beams of the upper deck, carried away the railing around the engine-room and burst the steam-heater, and, glancing back into the engine-room, “seemed to bound after the men,” as one of the engineers said, “like a wild beast pursuing its prey.” I have preserved this ball as a souvenir of the fight at Fort Donelson. When it burst through the side of the Carondelet, it knocked down and wounded a dozen men, seven of them severely. An immense quantity of splinters was blown through the vessel. Some of them, as fine as needles, shot through the clothes of the men like arrows. Several of the wounded were so much excited by the suddenness of the event and the sufferings of their comrades that they were not aware that they themselves had been struck until they felt the blood running into their shoes. Upon receiving this shot we ceased firing for a while.
After dinner we sent the wounded on board the Alps, repaired damage, and, not expecting any assistance, at 12:15 we resumed, in accordance with General Grant’s request, and bombarded the fort until dusk, when nearly all our ten-inch and fifteen-inch shells were expended. The firing from the shore having ceased, we retired. We could not ascertain the amount of damage inflicted on the fort, but were told by its officers, and by correspondents who visited it after the capture, that we disabled three guns and killed an engineer. The whole number of the killed and wounded could not be ascertained. The commander of the Confederate batteries acknowledged that the casualties were greater and the damage to the guns more serious on the day of the Carondelet’s attack than on the following day, when the whole fleet was engaged. The practice of the gunners of the Carondelet, being much more deliberate on the first day of the battle (owing to ample time and a partly sheltered position), must have been far superior to the practice of the gunners of the fleet on the second day, under the excitement and hurry of an attack at close quarters, with the enemy’s heavy shot constantly striking and crashing through the sides of their vessels.
At 11:30 on the night of the 13th Flag-Officer Foote arrived below Fort Donelson with the iron-clads St. Louis, Louisville, and, Pittsburgh and the wooden gun-boats Taylor and Conestoga. On the 14th all the hard materials in the vessels, such as chains, lumber, and bags of coal, were laid on the upper decks to protect them from the plunging shots of the enemy. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon our fleet advanced to attack the fort, the Louisville being on the west side of the river, the St. Louis (flag-steamer) next, then the Pittsburgh and Carondelet on the east side of the river. The wooden gun-boats were about a thousand yards in the rear. When we started in line abreast, at a moderate speed, the Louisville and Pittsburgh, not keeping up to their positions, were hailed from the flag-steamer to “steam up.” At 3:30, when about a mile and a half from the fort, two shots were fired at us, both falling short. When within a mile of the fort the St. Louis opened fire, and the other iron-clads followed, slowly and deliberately at first, but more rapidly as the fleet advanced. The flag officer hailed the Carondelet, and ordered us not to fire so fast. Some of our shells went over the fort, and almost into our camp beyond. As we drew nearer, the enemy’s fire greatly increased in force and effect. But, the officers and crew of the Carondelet having recently been long under fire, and having become practiced in fighting, her gunners were as cool and composed as old veterans. We heard the deafening crack of the bursting shells, the crash of the solid shot, and the whizzing of fragments of shell and wood as they sped through the vessel. Soon a 128-pounder struck our anchor, smashed it into flying bolts, and bounded over the vessel, taking away a part of our smokestack; then another cut away the iron boat davits as if they were pipe-stems, whereupon the boat dropped into the water. Another ripped up the iron plating and glanced over; another went through the plating and lodged in the heavy casemate; another struck the pilot-house, knocked the plating to pieces, and sent fragments of iron and splinters into the pilots, one of whom fell mortally wounded, and was taken below; another shot took away the remaining boat-davits and the boat with them; and still they came, harder and faster, taking flag-staffs and smoke-stacks, and tearing off the side armor as lightning tears the bark from a tree. Our men fought desperately, but, under the excitement of the occasion, loaded too hastily, and the port rifled gun exploded. One of the crew, in his account of the explosion soon after it occurred, said: “I was serving the gun with shell. When it exploded it knocked us all down, killing none, but wounding over a dozen men, and spreading dismay and confusion among us. For about two minutes I was stunned, and at least five minutes elapsed before I could tell what was the matter. When I found out that I was more scared than hurt, although suffering from the gunpowder which I had inhaled, I looked forward and saw our gun lying on the deck, split in three pieces. Then the cry ran through the boat that we were on fire, and my duty as pump-man called me to the pumps. While I was there, two shots entered our bow-ports and killed four men and wounded several others. They were borne past me, three with their heads off. The sight almost sickened me, and I turned my head away. Our master’s mate came soon after and ordered us to our quarters at the gun. I told him the gun had burst, and that we had caught fire on the upper deck from the enemy’s shell. He then said: ‘Never mind the fire; go to your quarters.’ There I took a station at the starboard tackle of another rifled bow-gun and remained there until the close of the fight.” The carpenter and his men extinguished the flames.
When within four hundred yards of the fort, and while the Confederates were running from their lower battery, our pilot-house was struck again and another pilot wounded, our wheel was broken, and shells from the rear boats were bursting over us. All four of our boats were shot away and dragging in the water. On looking out to bring our broadside guns to bear, we saw that the other gun-boats were rapidly falling back out of line. The Pittsburgh in her haste to turn struck the stern of the Carondelet, and broke our starboard rudder, so that we were obliged to go ahead to clear the Pittsburgh and the point of rocks below. The pilot of the St. Louis was killed and the pilot of the Louisville was wounded. Both vessels had their wheel-ropes shot away, and the men were prevented from steering the Louisville with the tiller-ropes at the stern by the shells from the rear boats bursting over them. The St. Louis and Louisville, becoming unmanageable, were compelled to drop out of battle, and the Pittsburgh followed; all had suffered severely from the enemy’s fire. Flag-Officer Foote was wounded while standing by the pilot of the St. Louis when he was killed. We were then about 350 yards from the fort.
There was no alternative for the Carondelet in that narrow stream but to keep her head to the enemy and fire into the fort with her two bow-guns, to prevent it, if possible, from returning her fire effectively. The enemy saw that she was in a manner left to his mercy, and concentrated the fire of all his batteries upon her. In return, the Carondelet guns were well served to the last shot. Our new acting gunner, John Hall, was just the man for the occasion. He came forward, offered his services, and with my sanction took charge of the starboard-bow rifled gun. He instructed the men to obey his warnings and follow his motions, and he told them that when he saw a shot coming he would call out “Down” and stoop behind the breech of the gun as he did so; at the same instant the men were to stand away from the bow-ports. Nearly every shot from the fort struck the bows of the Carondelet. Most of them were fired on the ricochet level, and could be plainly seen skipping on the water before they struck. The enemy’s object was to sink the gun-boat by striking her just below the water-line. They soon succeeded in planting two thirty-two pound shots in her bow, between wind and water, which made her leak badly, but her compartments kept her from sinking until we could plug up the shot-holes. Three shots struck the starboard casemating; four struck the port casemating forward of the rifle-gun; one struck on the starboard side, between the water-line and plank-sheer, cutting through the planking; six shots struck the pilot-house, shattering one section into pieces and cutting through the iron casing. The smoke-stacks were riddled.
Our gunners kept up a constant firing while we were falling back; and the warning words, “Look out!” “Down!” were often heard, and heeded by nearly all the gun-crews. On one occasion, while the men were at the muzzle of the middle bow-gun, loading it, the warning came just in time for them to jump aside as a thirty-two-pounder struck the lower sill, and glancing up struck the upper sill, then, falling on the inner edge of the lower sill, bounded on deck and spun around like a top, but hurt no one. It was very evident that if the men who were loading had not obeyed the order to drop, several of them would have been killed, so I repeated the instructions and warned the men at the guns and the crew generally to bow or stand off from the ports when a shot was seen coming. But some of the young men, from a spirit of bravado or from a belief in the doctrine of fatalism, disregarded the instructions, saying it was useless to attempt to dodge a cannonball, and then would trust to luck. The warning words, “Look out!” “Dow’n!” were again soon heard; down went the gunner and his men, as the whizzing shot glanced on the gun, taking off the gunner’s cap and the heads of two of the young men who trusted to luck, and in defiance of the order were standing up or passing behind him. This shot killed another man also, who was at the last gun of the starboard side, and disabled the gun. It came in with a hissing sound; three sharp spats and a heavy bang told the sad fate of three brave comrades. Before the decks were well sanded, there was so much blood on them that our men could not work the guns without slipping.
We kept firing at the enemy so long as he was within range, to prevent him, if possible, from seeing us through the smoke. The Carondelet was the first in and the last out of the fight at Fort Donelson, and was more damaged than any of the other gun-boats, as the boat carpenters who repaired them subsequently informed me. She was much longer under fire than any other vessel of the flotilla; and, according to the report of the Secretary of the Navy, her loss in killed and wounded was twice as great as that of all the other gunboats together. She fired more shot and shell into Fort Donelson than any other gun-boat, and was struck fifty-four times. These particulars are given because a disposition was shown by correspondents and naval historians to ignore the services of the Carondelet on this and other occasions.
In the action of the 14th all of the armored vessels were fought with the greatest energy, skill, and courage, until disabled by the enemy’s heavy shot. In his official report of the battle the flag-officer said:” The officers and men in this hotly contested but unequal fight behaved with the greatest gallantry and determination” The casualties on board the boats were ten killed and forty-four wounded.
Although the gun-boats were repulsed in this action, the demoralizing effect of their cannonade, and of the heavy and well-sustained fire of the Carondelet on the day before, must have been very great, and contributed in no small degree to the successful operations of the army under General Grant on the following day.
After the battle I called upon the flag officer, and found him suffering from his wounds. He asked me if I could have run past the fort, something I should not have ventured upon without permission.
The 15th was employed in the burial of our slain comrades. I read the Episcopal service on board the Carondelet, under our flag at half-mast; and the sailors bore their late companions to a lonely field within the shadows of the hills. When they were about to lower the first coffin, a Roman Catholic priest appeared, and his services being accepted, he read the prayers for the dead, and in the course of his remarks said: “although the deceased did not die like Christians, they died like heroes, in defense of their country and flag.” As the last service was ended, the sound of the battle being waged by General Grant, like the rumbling of distant thunder, was the only requiem for our departed shipmates.
On Sunday, the 16th, at dawn, Fort Donelson surrendered and the gun-boats steamed up to Dover. After religious services, the Carondelet proceeded to Cairo, and arrived there on the morning of the 17th, in such a dense fog that she passed below the town unnoticed, and had great difficulty in finding the landing. There had been a report that the enemy was coming from Columbus to attack Cairo during the absence of its defenders; and while the Carondelet was cautiously feeling her way back and blowing her whistle, some people imagined she was a Confederate gun-boat about to land, and made hasty preparations to leave the place. Our announcement of the victory at Fort Donelson changed their dejection into joy and exultation. On the following morning an order congratulating the officers and men of the Carondelet was received from Flag-Officer Foote.
A few days later the Carondelet was taken up on the ways at Cairo for repairs; and a crowd of carpenters worked on her night and day. After the repairs were completed, she was ordered to make the experiment of backing up stream, which proved a laughable failure. She would sheer from one side of the river to the other, and with two anchors astern she could not be held steady enough to fight her bow-guns downstream. She dragged both anchors alternately, until they came together, and the experiment failed completely.
On the morning of the 23rd the flag-officer made a reconnaissance to Columbus, Kentucky, with four gun-boats and two mortar boats, accompanied by the wooden gun-boat Conestoga, convoying five transports. The fortifications looked more formidable than ever. The enemy fired two guns, and sent up a transport with the pretext, it was said, of effecting an exchange of prisoners. But at that time, as we learned afterward from a credible source, the evacuation of the fort (which General Grant’s successes at Forts Henry and Donelson had made necessary) was going on, and the last raft and barge loads of all the movable munitions of war were descending the river, which, with a large quantity previously taken away, could and would have been captured by our fleet if we had received this information in time. On the 4th of March another reconnaissance in force was made with all the gun-boats and eight mortar-boats, and the fortress had still a formidable, life-like appearance, caused by Quaker guns, however, as it had been evacuated two days before.
On the 5th of March, while we were descending the Mississippi in a dense fog, the flag-steamer leading, the Confederate gunboat Grampus, or Dare-devil Jack, the sauciest little vessel on the river, suddenly appeared across our track and “close aboard.” She stopped her engines and struck her colors, and we all thought she was ours at last. But when the captain of the Grampus saw how slowly we moved, and as no gun was fired to bring him to, he started off with astonishing speed and was out of danger before the flag-steamer could fire a gun. She ran before us yawing and flirting about, and blowing her alarm-whistle so as to announce our approach to the enemy who had now retired to Island Number Ten, a strong position sixty miles below Columbus (and of the latitude of Forts Henry and Donelson), where General Beauregard, who was now in general command of our opponents, had determined to contest the possession of the river.
By Admiral Henry Walke