Page images

on Port Hudson on the 15th of March. We have seen how fatal, so far, had been the enemy's attempts to run our batteries and to get to the south of Vicksburg. His first attempt was with the Queen of the West, his second with the Indianola; but though successful in these two cases in running our batteries, the boats were soon captured by our men, and the enemy completely foiled in his design. It was now proposed that the enemy's fleet should attack Port Hudson and attempt to force a passage up the river.


Port Hudson is a strongly fortified position on the lower Mississippi-about sixteen miles above Baton Rouge and three hundred below Vicksburg. It is situated on a bend in the river, and its great strength as a place of defence against a fleet consists in the height of its cliffs and the peculiar formation of the river at that place. The cliffs are very high, and also very steep-in fact, almost perpendicular. The river, just at the bend opposite the town, suddenly narrows, so that the rapid current strikes against the west bank, and then sweeps through a narrow channel just at the base of the cliff. Our batteries were located on a bluff at the elbow of the river, and commanded a range of three miles above and below, compelling any vessel which might attempt the passage to run the gauntlet of a plunging fire.

Six vessels were to comprise the enemy's expedition, divided into two divisions. The vanguard was to consist of the flagship Hartford, a first-class steam sloop-of-war, carrying twentysix eight and nine inch Paixhan guns, leading, followed by the Monongahela, a second-class steam sloop, mounting sixteen heavy guns, and the Richmond, a first-class steam sloop of twenty-six guns, principally eight and nine inch columbiads. The rear-guard was composed of the first-class steam sloop Mississippi, twenty-two guns, eight and nine inch, and the gunboats Kinnes and Genesee, each carrying three columbiads and two rifled thirty-two pounders. The Mississippi was a side-wheel steamer. All the others were screw propellers. The vanguard was commanded by Admiral Farragut in person, on board the Hartford. The rear was under command of

Captain Melancthon Smith, flying his pennant from the Missis sippi. They were to proceed up the stream in a single tile, the stern of the one following close upon the stern of another, and keeping their fires and lights well concealed until they should be discovered by our batteries, when they were to get by the best they could, fighting their passage; and once above, they believed they would have the stronghold on both sides, their guns covering every part of the encampment.

Shortly before midnight, the boats having formed the line of battle as described, their decks cleared for action, and the men at their quarters, the Hartford led the way and the others promptly followed her direction. At the moment of their discovery, a rocket was to be sent up from the admiral's flag-ship, as the signal for the Essex and her accompanying mortar-boats to commence work.

Although there had been no indications of such a determined night attack by Farragut, the usual vigilant precautions were in force at our batteries. Every gun was ready for action, and around each piece slept a detachment of gunners. So dark was the night, however, and so slightly had the armed eraft nosed their way up, that the flag-ship had passed some of our guns, and all the fleet were within easy range before their approach was known. Almost at the same time a rocket from our signal corps, and the discharge of muskets by an infantry picket, aroused our line. Quick as a flash, while the falling fire of our alarm rocket was yet unextinguished, there shot up into the sky, from the Hartford's deck, another. Then came one grand, long, deafening roar, that rent the atmosphere with its mighty thunder, shaking both land and water, and causing the high battery-crowned cliffs to tremble, as if with fear and wonder.

The darkness of the night gave extraordinary sublimity to the scene of bombardment. The sheets of flame that poured from the sides of the sloops at each discharge lit up nearly the whole stretch of river, placing each craft in strong relief against the black sky. On the long line of bluff, the batteries, but a moment before silent as the church-yard, now resounded to the hurrying tread of men, while the quick, stern tones of command were heard above the awful din, and the furtively glancing rays of light from the battle-lanterns revealed the huge instru

ments of death and destruction, and showed the half-covered way to magazines.

Minute after minute passed away, and the fleet kept its unchecked course up the stream. The feeling of its officers was one of amazement at the silence of the batteries. The question was seriously propounded, had not the Confederates deserted them But only too soon did the enemy discover that we were but waiting to bring their whole fleet irretrievably under our guns before we went to work.

For fifteen minutes had they plied at their monster cannon, and now they were commencing to relax from sheer vexation, when a flash of light from the crest of a cliff lights the way for a shell to go plunging through the Hartford's deck. This was the monitor, and at once the enemy saw a cordon of vivid light as long as their own.

Now commenced the battle in all its terrible earuestness. Outnumbered in guns and outweighed in metal, our volleys were as quickly repeated, and the majority of them unerring in their aim. As soon as the enemy thus discovered our batteries, they opened on them with grape and canister, which was more accurately thrown than their shells, and threw clouds of dirt upon the guns and gunners; the shells went over them in every conceivable direction except the right one.

The Hartford, a very fast ship, now made straight up the river, making her best time, and trying to divert the aim of our gunners by her incessant and deafening broadsides. She soon outstripped the balance of the fleet. Shot after shot struck her, riddling her through and through, but still she kept on her way.

Every craft now looking out for itself and bound to make .ts very best time to get by, the fleet lost its orderly line of battle, and got so mixed up, it was difficult, and sometimes impossible to distinguish one from another. It was speedily apparent to the enemy that the fire was a great deal hotter and more destructive than had been expected, and the captains of the two gunboats and of the Monongahela, doubtless resolved quickly that it would be madness to attempt to run such a terrific gauntlet of iron hail. Whether the commanders of the Richmond and Mississippi had already arrived at the same determination, or came to it soon after, is not known; but they

all, except the Hartford, undertook to put about and return the way they came.

For this purpose the Richmond came close in to the left bank, under the batteries, and then circled round, her course reaching nearly up to the opposite point. In executing this manœuvre, she gave our batteries successively a raking position, and they took excellent advantage of it, seriously damaging her, as the crashing of her timbers plainly told.

The Mississippi undertook to execute the same manœuvre, of turning round and making her escape back to the point she started from. She had rounded and just turned down stream, when one of our shots tore off her rudder, and another went crushing through her machinery. Immediately after came the rushing sound of steam escaping from some broken pipe, and the now unmanageable vessel drifted aground directly opposite our crescent line of batteries. Her range was quickly gained, and she was being rapidly torn to pieces by our missiles, when her commander gave the order for all hands to save themselves the best way they could. At the same time fire broke out in two places. At this time her decks were strewn with dead and wounded. Some fifty-five or sixty persons saved them. selves by jumping overboard and swimming to the shore.

The dead and wounded were left upon the Mississippi, which soon floated off and started down with the current. All the other vessels were now out of range, and the spectacle of the burning ship was a grand and solemn one, yet mingled with painful thoughts of the horrible fate of those mangled unfortunates who were being burned to death upon this floating funeral pyre. As the flames would reach the shells lying among her guns, they exploded one by one, adding to the novel grandeur of the sight. The light of the burning wreck could be seen, steadily increasing its distance, for two hours and a half. At five minutes past five o'clock, when the Mississippi was probably within five miles of Baton Rouge, a sudden glare lit up the whole sky. The cause was well known to be the explosion of the magazine. After a considerable interval of time, a long rumbling sound brought final proof that the Mississippi, one of the finest vessels of the United States navy, which had earned an historical fame before the commencement of the present war, for her usefulness in the Gult

during the Mexican war, and as the flag-ship of the Japan expedition, was a thing of the past.

The victory of Port Hudson forms one of the most satisfac tory and brilliant pages in the history of the war. The fleet, with the exception of the Hartford, had been driven back by our batteries, and a grateful surprise had been given to many of our people, who had acquired the disheartening conviction that gunboats could treat shore batteries with contempt. So far our strongholds on the Mississippi had bid defiance to the foe, and months of costly preparation for their reduction had been spent in vain.

While these events were transpiring on the Mississippi, the long line of inland hostilities remained unvaried and almost silent. In Virginia and in Tennessee, the powerful armies of Lee and Hooker, Bragg and Rosecrans, had camped for months in close proximity, without a cannonade, and almost without a skirmish. To some extent the elements had proclaimed a truce, while the hesitating temper of the enemy betrayed a policy strangely at variance with the former vigorous campaign in the same season of the last year. Especially was the hesitation remarkable in Virginia, where the new commander-inchief of the enemy-Hooker-was a violent member of the Abolitionist party. He was the chief of that clique among the Yankee officers who made the war, not to realize the dream of a restored Union, but for the subjugation and destruction of the Southern social system, the massacre or exile of the inhabitants of the Southern country, and the, confiscation of their entire real and personal property.

Beyond the Mississippi there was scarcely any thing to remark but a new assignment of military commands. We had now west of the Mississippi Lieutenant-gen. Kirby Smith, Gen. Price, Gen. Magruder, and Gen. Sibley. Gen. Smith had been placed at the head of the department, and had already issued an order announcing that fact; Gen. Price was assigned to lead the field movements for the redemption of Arkansas and his own State, Missouri; Gen. Sibley was moving to other im portant points; and Gen. Magruder's field of operations was Texas.

We have to record but a single incident in the spring of 1863, to break the long silence of the lines of the Rappahan

« PreviousContinue »