|At the beginning of the war, the army and navy were mostly employed in protecting the loyal people who resided on the borders of the disaffected states and in reconciling those whose sympathies were opposed. But the defeat at Manassas and other reverses convinced the Government of the serious nature of the contest, and of the necessity of more vigorous and extensive preparations for war. Our navy yards were soon filled with workmen; recruiting stations for unemployed seamen were established, and we soon had more sailors than were required for the ships that could be fitted for service. Artillerymen for the defences of Washington being scarce, five hundred of these sailors, with a battalion of marines (for guard duty), were sent to occupy the forts on Shuter's Hill, near Alexandria. The Pensacola and the Potomac flotilla and the seaboard navy yards required nearly all of the remaining unemployed seamen.|
While Foote was improvising a flotilla for the western rivers he was making urgent appeals to the government for seamen. Finally someone at the Navy Department thought of the five hundred tars stranded on Shuter's Hill. And obtained an order for their transfer to Cairo, where they were placed on the receiving ship Maria Denning. There they met fresh-water sailors from our great lakes, and steam-boat hands from the Western rivers. Of the seamen from the East, there were Maine lumbermen, New Bedford whalers, New York liners, and Philadelphia sea-lawyers. The foreigners enlisted were mostly Irish, with a few English and Scotch, French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes. The Northmen, considered the hardiest race in the world, melted away in the Southern sun with surprising rapidity.
(Died June 26, 1863 from wounds and illness)
|During the spring and summer of 1861, Commanders Rodgers, Stemble, Phelps, and Mr. James B. Eads had purchased, equipped, and manned, for immediate service on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, three wooden gunboats -- the Taylor, of six eight-inch shell guns and one thirty-two pounder; the Lexington, of four eight-inch shell-guns and one thirty-two pounder, and the Conestoga, of three thirty-two pounder guns. This nucleus of the Mississippi flotilla (like the fleets of Perry, Macdonough, and Chauncey in the war of 1812) was completed with great skill and dispatch; they soon had full possession of the Western rivers above Columbus, Kentucky, and rendered more important service than as many regiments could have done. On October 12, 1861, the first of the seven iron-clad gunboats ordered of Mr. Eads by the Government was launched at Carondelet, near St. Louis. She was named the St. Louis by Admiral Foote; but there being another vessel of that name in the navy, she was afterward called the De Kalb. The other ironclads, the Cincinnati, Carondelet, Louisville,|
During the cruise of 1827, while pacing the deck at night, on the lonely seas, and talking with a pious shipmate, Foote became convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, of which he was an earnest professor to the last. He rendered important service while in command of the brig Perry, on the coast of Africa, in 1849, in suppressing the slave trade, and he greatly distinguished himself by his skill and gallantry in the attack upon the Barrier Forts, near Canton (1856), which he breached and carried by assault, leading the assailing column in person. He was slow and cautious in arriving at conclusions, but firm and tenacious of purpose. He has been called "the Stonewall Jackson of the Navy." He often preached to his crew on Sundays, and was always desirous of doing good. He was not a man of striking personal appearance, but there was a sailor-like heartiness and frankness about him that made his company very desirable.
Flag-Officer Foote arrived at Cairo September 12th, and relieved Commander John Rodgers of the command of the station. The first operations of the Western flotilla consisted chiefly of reconnaissances on the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers. At this time it was under the control of the War Department, and acting in cooperation with the army under General Grant, whose headquarters were at Cairo.
|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|
. 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.
|[Ed. Note: The Federal forces at Belmont numbered between 3500 and 4000. During the first half of the battle the Confederate force was probably less. General Polk in his report says that after the Confederate camp had been captured he sent over from Columbus six regiments under Pillow and Cheatham, which were directly engaged in recovering the lost ground, and two regiments, which, under his own direction, supported the flank movement. The loss on each side in killed, wounded, and missing was between 500 and 600. General Grant directed the movements on the field, and both he and his chief lieutenant, General McClernand had horses shot under them. The following is part of a private letter from General Grant to his father, written on the night of the 8th: ". . . When all ready, we proceeded about one mile toward Belmont, opposite Columbus, when I formed the troops into line, and ordered two companies from each regiment to deploy as skirmishers and push on through the woods and discover the position of the enemy. They had gone but a little way when they were fired upon, and the ball may be said to have fairly opened. The whole command, with the exception of a small reserve, was then deployed in like manner and ordered forward. The order was obeyed with great alacrity, the men all showing great courage. . . . From here we fought our way from tree to tree through the woods to Belmont, about two and a half miles, the enemy contesting every foot of ground. Here the enemy had strengthened their position by felling the trees for two or three hundred yards, and sharpening their limbs, making a sort of abatis.|
Admiral Foote was at St. Louis when the battle of Belmont was fought, and, it appears, rnade 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.
Map of Fort Henry
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 overfowing 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.|
Cross-section of a Confederate torpedo found in the Tennessee River. A. Iron rod armed with prongs to fasten upon the bottom of boats going up-stream and act upon B, a lever connecting with trigger to explode a cap and ignite powder. C, canvas bag containing 70 lbs. powder. D, anchors to hold torpedo in place. This torpedo consisted of a stout sheet-iron cylinder, pointed at both ends, about 5 1/2 feet long and 1 foot in diameter. The iron lever was 3 1/2 feet long, and armed with prongs to catch in the bottom of a boat. This lever was constructed to move the iron rod on inside the cylinder, thus acting upon the trigger of the lock to explode the cap and fire the powder. The machine was anchored, presenting the prongs in such a way that boats going down-stream should slide over them, but those coming up should catch.
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 rnen, good shots, and had their men well drilled.
Battle of Fort Henry. Gun-boats St Louis, Carondelet, Essex and Cincinnatti, drawn by Admiral Walke.
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 rifleshells 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.|
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 any one could interfere, he clambored 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.
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.