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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Franklin Buchanan

by
Charles Lee Lewis


published by
The Norman, Remington Company
Baltimore
1929

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 16
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p219 

Chapter XV

Through Fire in Mobile Bay​a

The city of Mobile is situated on the northern coast of Mobile Bay which extends about thirty miles to the south, varying in width from from six miles to fifteen miles. The principal outlet from this lower and wider end of the Bay into the Gulf of Mexico is a channel about three miles wide between Mobile Point to the east and Dauphin Island. On Mobile Point was located Fort Morgan, a pentagonal bastioned work constructed of brick, and batteries nearer the water, which mounted in all about forty-five guns,​1 from 8‑inch rifles down to 24‑pounders. Of these only about a dozen were heavy rifled cannon. The majority were old smooth-bores, 8 and 10‑inch Columbiads and 32‑pounders. The garrison numbered 640 officers and men, who were under the command of Brigadier General R. L. Page, formerly an officer in the United States Navy. On the eastern extremity of Dauphin Island was another brick fortress, named Fort Gaines, whose armament consisted of 27 guns; namely, three 10‑inch Columbiads, four rifled 32‑pounders, and twenty miscellaneous  p220 smooth-bore 32's, 24's, and 18's. Its garrison of officers and men was under the command of Colonel Charles D. Anderson.

Between the two forts, the channel was very shallow to the westward, leaving a passage for ships only about 2000 yards wide abreast of Fort Morgan. The shallow portion was further obstructed to ships of light draft by a row of piles whose heads were just visible at low tide; while in the remaining channel a triple line of torpedoes, or mines was planted, leaving free a passage of only about 500 yards under the guns of Fort Morgan. Possibly as many as 180 of these mines were placed in this main channel. They were rather crude affairs. Some were constructed of tin in the shape of cones, but the tin was not well lacquered and the mine was soon exposed to the corroding action of the sea water and rendered harmless. Others consisted of "merely a lager beer keg filled with powder and anchored by chains to a big flat piece of iron called a mushroom. Projecting from the swinging top, some four feet under water, were tubes of glass filled with sulfuric acid, and which, being broken, fell into sugar or starch, causing rapid chemical combustion, and finally a mass of fire, thus exploding the powder".​2 Brigadier General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.G. J. Rains, Superintendent of the Torpedo Bureau, declared he "had nine submarine mortar batteries under way, three completed, to close main channel, such as the enemy report kept them out of Charleston, they being unable to move them. But my instructions and wishes were frustrated after I left (Mobile), the place left open, and the enemy made use of it".​3 These appear to have been electric mines  p221  similar to those invented by Matthew Fontaine Maury and used so effectively in the James River to defend Richmond from attack by water. For some reason or other, however, they were not used in Mobile Bay and a portion of the channel was kept entirely free by orders of Lieutenant Colonel Sheliha, Chief of the Engineer Department.

Between Dauphin Island and the mainland to the westward was another channel, called Grant's Pass, through which vessels of light draft might pass. This was commanded by an earthwork, known as Fort Powell, mounting four heavy rifles and two Columbiads, which was erected on a sand hummock, called Tower Island, at the entrance to the Pass. There were also obstructions of piles in the shoal water on both sides of the channel. All of these forts, obstructions, and torpedoes were provided by the Confederate Army, and were under its control, though Buchanan was often in consultation with the Confederate generals and wrote in his reports in highest appreciation of their hearty cooperation with him in all respects.

Farragut had wished to make Mobile the next point of attack after his capture of New Orleans in April, 1862; but he failed to convince the Navy Department of the wisdom of this strategy, and it was not until nearly two years later that the attempt was to be made. Meanwhile the entire Mississippi river fell into the hands of the Federals, and the only important Confederate ports left on the Gulf and Atlantic were Wilmington, North Carolina, Charleston, and Mobile. The last had become, after the fall of New Orleans, the principal port for the shipment of cotton and it was extremely important to keep it open. On land, Tennessee had been completely  p222 overrun by Union armies, and Vicksburg had been captured on July 4, 1863; while almost at the same time Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee had been turned back at Gettysburg, and early the following year Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant had begun his bloody but stubborn advance toward Richmond. The tide had at last definitely turned against the Confederacy.

Although the blockading squadron in the Gulf received a great deal of information through spies and deserters as to Buchanan's preparations at Mobile, yet they were considerably mystified and in general were given a rather exaggerated opinion as to the strength of his ironclads and their preparedness for action. "I shall continue to blockade the port of Mobile", wrote​4 Farragut, "but as to Buchanan's preparations, I have not been able to fathom them".

Early in 1864 Buchanan became convinced that Farragut, who had returned to his station in the Gulf in January, would soon attack the defenses of Mobile, and wrote to that effect to Catesby Jones on April 14. At that time he was desperately engaged in getting the Tennessee over the bar into Mobile Bay; while Farragut was delaying until the arrival of monitors and of troops to reduce, if necessary, the Mobile forts. In February the Federals bombarded Fort Powell with some light draft steamers, but no appreciable damage was done.

This delay on the part of Farragut came very near to giving Buchanan an opportunity to carry out a daring plan which he had long cherished. This was nothing less than "taking the enemy by surprise, dispersing the blockading fleet, and capturing Fort Pickens, at the entrance of Pensacola Bay".​5 He finally succeeded on  p223 May 18 in getting the Tennessee into Mobile Bay; but on the passage down the Bay that night so much time was taken in transferring ammunition and coal to the ram and in removing the caissons, or "camels" from her that the tide fell and left her hard aground.​6 Her presence in the lower Bay was thus revealed next morning to the blockading fleet, then numbering nine vessels. The element of surprise was thus lost, and the plan had to be given up eventually. Buchanan seems to have been somewhat misinformed as to the Federal strength at Pensacola, or he might have successfully carried out the enterprise anyhow. Farragut, writing from that place on May 9, 1864, begged the Navy Department to send monitors and declared, "This place has not a gun that would hurt a 4‑inch plated vessel at the distance the forts will be compelled to fire at them. Ten‑inch shell guns are the heaviest they have and only four of them, all on different bastions. One ironclad in Pensacola would be worth all the forts under the present circumstances. . . . It appears that it takes us twice as long to build an ironclad as anyone else. It looks as if the contractors and the fates were against us. While the rebels are bending their whole energies to the war, our people appear to be expecting the war to close by default, and if they do not awake to a sense of their danger soon it will be so". Moreover Farragut was still at Pensacola when Buchanan succeeded in getting the Tennessee into the Bay, and did not leave that place  p224 until May 21. After that date, however, he remained off the entrance to the Bay with thirteen to eighteen vessels of war until the Battle of Mobile Bay.

On July 18, the monitor Manhattan arrived and joined Farragut's forces, and on August 3 the double-turreted monitors Winnebago and Chickasaw; while on August 4, just the day before the battle, another monitor, the Tecumseh, arrived on the scene. The two double-turreted monitors were each armed with four 11‑inch guns; while the other two carried two 15‑inch guns each. Other vessels in Farragut's fleet were the following screw sloops of war: Hartford, flagship, Brooklyn, Richmond, Lackawanna, Monongahela, Ossipee, Oneida, and Seminole. Besides these there were the screw steamer Galena, the double-enders Octorara, Metacomet, and Port Royal, and the gunboats Kennebec and Itasca. The Hartford was 225 feet long with a beam of 44 feet, and drew about sixteen feet of water. Her tonnage was 1900, and her speed under steam was eight knots. The Brooklyn and Richmond were sister ships to her; while the Lackawanna and Monongahela were about 500 tons smaller. The other ships decreased in size down to the Itasca, whose tonnage was 500. The single-turreted monitors were the same length as the Hartford and had a beam of 43 feet; their turrets were twenty‑one feet in diameter and their armor ten inches thick. The monitors' side armor was five inches thick and the deck armor two inches in thickness. The other monitors each had two smaller turrets. The seven larger wooden vessels were very heavily armed. For example, the Hartford carried two 100‑pounder Parrott rifles, one and 30‑pounder Parrott, eighteen 9‑inch guns, and three howitzers. The armament of the smaller vessels was in ratio to their  p225 tonnage. Altogether, Farragut's squadron carried 143 heavy guns and 33 howitzers on the wooden vessels and 12 of the most powerful cannon then known on the monitors, making a grand total of heavy guns amounting to 155. The Confederates, on the other hand, had in Forts Morgan and Gaines not more than 72 guns of heavier class, and in their squadron only 22, making in all only 94 guns. The number of guns, however, does not give the proper comparative ratio, as the Federals had a great advantage in that many of their guns were much heavier than any on the Confederate side. The Confederates had no guns heavier than 10‑inch​7 and 8‑inch, of which they had only fourteen; while the Federals had two 150‑pounders, four 15‑inch guns, eighteen 11‑inch guns, eleven 100‑pounders, one 10‑inch, and seventy-seven 9‑inch guns. In other words, for guns of 8‑inch calibre and above, the Confederates had fourteen as against 113 for the Federals. This will give one a more nearly correct idea of the odds with which Buchanan was forced to contend.

Farragut protected his wooden ships by ordering sand bags and chains to be placed on the deck over the machinery as well as over the sides. According to his plan, the ships were to enter the Bay lashed in pairs with the smaller vessel to port in order that she might pull her larger consort if her machinery were injured. These were to be preceded by the four monitors in a course somewhat to the starboard nearer Fort Morgan. The order of the wooden vessels was to be Brooklyn and Octorora, Hartford and Metacomet, Richmond and Port Royal, Lackawanna and Seminole, Monongahela and  p226 Kennebec, Ossipee and Itasca, and Oneida and Galena. The monitors were to proceed in this order: Tecumseh, Manhattan, Winnebago, and Chickasaw.

On August 3, fifteen hundred troops under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Gordon Granger landed on Dauphin Island and advanced toward Fort Gaines which they completely invested the following day. On August 5, about 5:40 A.M., Farragut's fleet got under way and steamed towards the main ship channel. At 6:47 the Tecumseh fired the first shot, and twenty minutes later Fort Morgan replied; and on this beautiful cloudless summer morning the long expected Battle of Mobile Bay had begun.

For many weeks the Confederate squadron, consisting of the ram Tennessee and the gunboats Morgan, Gaines, and Selma, had been resting at anchor to the north of Fort Morgan. "We had been very uncomfortable for many weeks in our berths on board the Tennessee", wrote Fleet Surgeon Daniel B. Conrad, "in consequence of the prevailing heavy rains wetting the decks, and the terrible moist, hot atmosphere, simulating that oppressiveness which precedes a tornado. It was, therefore, impossible to sleep inside; besides, from the want of properly-cooked food, and the continuous wetting of the decks at night, the officers and the men were rendered desperate. We knew that the impending action would soon be determined one way or the other, and every one looked forward to it with a positive feeling of relief. I had been sleeping on the deck of the Admiral's cabin for two or three nights, when at daybreak on the 5th of August, the old quartermaster came down the ladder, rousing us up with his gruff voice, saying: 'Admiral, the officer of the deck bids me report  p227 that the enemy's fleet is under way'. Jumping up, still half asleep, we came on deck, and sure enough, there was the enemy heading for the 'passage' past the fort. The grand old admiral, of sixty years, with his countenance rigid and stern, showing a determination for battle in every line, then gave his only order: 'Get under way, Captain Johnston; head for the leading vessel of the enemy, and fight with each one as they pass'."​8 This is in accord with Buchanan's official report, as follows: "When they were discovered standing into the Channel, signal was made to the Mobile squadron, under my command, consisting of the wooden gunboats Morgan and Gaines, each carrying six guns, and Selma, four, to 'follow my motions' in the ram Tennessee, of six guns, in all twenty‑two guns and 470 men.​9 All were soon under way and stood toward the enemy in line abreast".​10 When the Tennessee arrived at the middle of the channel just "outside"​11 the line of torpedoes, she immediately opened fire on the advancing fleet with great effectiveness as she was in a position to rake the Federal vessels fore and aft.

Just before going into action, Admiral Buchanan  p228 addressed his officers and crew on the gun deck. "Now, men", he declared, "the enemy is coming, and I want you to do your duty; and you shall not have it to say when you leave this vessel that you were not near enough to the enemy, for I will meet them, and then you can fight them alongside of their own ships; and if I fall, lay me on one side and go on with the fight, and never mind me — but whip and sink the Yankees or fight until you sink yourselves, but do not surrender".​12

There had been no lessening of Buchanan's indomitable spirit in spite of all the tedious delays and the unfair and unjustifiable criticism of his failure to rush out and destroy the Federal fleet with his one vessel. Even the Mobile Register and Advertiser of the 3d and 4th of August declared that the Confederate naval officers look upon the Federal Navy "as something altogether supernaturally irresistible and invincible. Our enemies are just as easily whipped on the water as on the land, and everybody has learned this fact from experience except these naval gentlemen". A few days after the battle, the Mobile Tribune, in answer, indignantly replied, "Let it be recorded that the above words were published while the gallant men who, in the lower bay, have so lately yielded up their lives to their country's cause, were actually girding on their armor to defend the fireside of the very scribbler who penned them. The lion-hearted old man who commanded our little squadron read these slanderous words the day before the fight, and with ill‑suppressed anguish, remarked to officers near him 'We shall soon show how we are going to fight!' "

It soon appeared that the first antagonist the Tennessee  p229  would have to come to close grips with was the Tecumseh, upon whom the guns of Fort Morgan were making no impression. Lieutenant Wharton, in command of the bow‑gun, was ordered by Buchanan, through Captain Johnston, "not to fire until the vessels are in actual contact". "Aye, aye, sir", responded Wharton, as the Tennessee moved slightly to the westward of the red buoy at the eastward end of the line of torpedoes. Soon afterwards the Tecumseh struck a torpedo and seemed to stop; she then reeled over to port, and plunged down head first to the bottom, carrying with her all but twenty‑one of her crew of one hundred fourteen officers and men. Among the lost was her gallant captain, Tunis A. M. Craven, who chivalrously said to the pilot at the foot of the ladder leading to the top of the turret, as the vessel was sinking, "After you, pilot". "There was nothing after me", related Pilot Collins afterwards; 'when I reached the upmost round of the ladder, the vessel seemed to drop from under me".​13 The sudden destruction of this vessel was caused by Craven's disregarding Farragut's orders and attempting to pass to the westward of the red buoy and through the torpedoes in order to get quickly at the Tennessee.

Shortly before the Tecumseh was sunk, which was at 7:40, the Brooklyn, which was leading the line of wooden vessels, slowed down because the monitors had gotten in her way, but after the Tecumseh went down, she came to a full stop when "a row of suspicious-looking buoys was discovered directly under her bows".​14 Disaster was then on the point of overtaking the Federal fleet as the other ships, thrown into confusion, became  p230 stationary targets for the gunners of Fort Morgan. Farragut, however, proved himself equal to the emergency for, seeing that his vessels must be extricated from their perilous position in which his men were being killed and wounded all too fast, he decided to take a chance and pass right over the line of torpedoes. He accordingly dashed ahead in the Hartford and took the lead, replying to the warning cry from the Brooklyn that torpedoes were ahead, "Damn the torpedoes! Jouett, full speed! Four bells, Captain Drayton!" The torpedoes, because of either deterioration​15 in the salt water or improper mooring failed to injure any more of the ships, and the long column followed Farragut's flagship safely into the Bay.

Buchanan's squadron, meantime, was by no means idle. The small gunboats, taking up a position ahead of the Hartford where her guns could not bear to advantage, retired as she advanced and at the same time poured into her a destructive raking fire which caused great loss of life aboard her. The Tennessee, being too slow to join the smaller vessels in this maneuver, made an effort to ram the Hartford, but the superior speed of that vessel made it possible for her to easily avoid her powerful but clumsy antagonist. The Tennessee also fired at the Hartford but did not succeed in giving her a mortal injury. Lieutenant Wharton, in command of the forward division of the Tennessee's guns, related that he was quite sure that his 7‑inch bow‑gun would sink Farragut's flagship. "I took the lock-string from  p231 the captain of the gun myself", he wrote, "took a long deliberate aim, and gave the commands: 'Raise', 'Steady', 'Raise a little more', 'Ready', 'Fire!" I was as confident that our shell would tear a hole in the Hartford's side big enough to sink her in a few minutes as I was that I had fired it. It did tear the hole expected, but it was above the water-line. "​16

After following the Hartford a considerable distance, the Tennessee then turned towards the other ships which were about a mile behind, owing to the confusion into which they had been thrown by the sinking of the Tecumseh. These were now advancing its column with the three monitors covering their right flank somewhat to the rear. The Brooklyn was leading, and Buchanan first attempted to ram her. He was almost successful in this attempt. "She missed us", reported Captain James Alden,​17 "and just passed clear of our stern, only a few yards distant". The ram, however, "inflicted considerable damage at and above the water-line forward",​18 as she poured in her broadsides when in a position to do so effectively. The Tennessee next made an attempt to ram the Richmond and then the Lackawanna. She missed each in turn because of her slow speed but fired her broadsides at them "which did great injury to the vessels and laid many a brave fellow low, while their fire, in reply, made not the slightest impression on her iron shield".​19

The Monongahela, which followed, taking advantage of a favorable position, sheered out of line and attempted to ram or over-ride the Tennessee. But the two vessels  p232 came together at an acute angle without doing serious damage to either, and the Confederate vessel then swung around alongside the Monongahela's consort, the Kennebec, and threw a shell into her that killed or wounded several and so filled the vessel with smoke that the alarm of fire was sounded.

As the Tennessee passed the Ossipee, next in column, there was time only for a couple of shots before she was directing her attention to the Oneida, last of the larger wooden ships. This vessel had already been seriously injured by shells from Fort Morgan, one of which had pierced her chain armor, exploded in one of her boilers, and either killed or severely scalded all her firemen and coal heavers, and others had injured her steering gear and set the vessel on fire. She had, however, been pulled on past the forts by the Galena, to which she was lashed. As the Tennessee passed alongside, the "primers failed to explode the charges in the guns three times",​20 and this probably saved the vessel from destruction. But the ram did succeed in delivering two raking broadsides from astern, which severely wounded Commander Mullany, and added to the wreckage on board the vessel. The monitors, which had been covering the advance of the wooden vessels, then came up and opened fire on the Tennessee, taking a position between her and the Oneida and thus preventing the latter from being rammed.

Meanwhile the small Confederate gunboats were being disposed of by Farragut. When he saw that his vessels had safely passed the forts, he made the signal, "Gunboats chase the enemy's gunboats"; and the small vessels, being loosed from their larger consorts, proceeded  p233 to execute this command. The Confederates were, of course, forced to retire, but they kept up a heavy fire as they fled. The Gaines was fought until she was found to be in a sinking condition, caused by the concentrated fire of several Federal vessels; then taking advantage of a rain squall, Lieutenant Bennett beached her about five hundred yards from Fort Morgan, landed her munitions, and during the night conveyed his crew of 129 officers and men in small boats safely to Mobile. The Selma and Morgan were closely engaged by the Metacomet, supported by the Port Royal. The Morgan succeeded in slipping across to the protection of the guns of Fort Morgan, whence she made her way during the next night to Mobile, though pursued and fired at by Federal vessels. The Selma, carrying only four guns to the Metacomet's ten, was forced to haul down her flag at half past nine, or else sacrifice more men in the unequal contest, her commander already having been wounded.

To turn again to the Tennessee, Surgeon Conrad thus graphically describes her condition after she had been engaged for an hour and a half with Farragut's fleet: "Their fire was so destructive, continuous, and severe that after we emerged from it there was nothing left standing as large as your little finger. Everything had been shot away, smokestacks, staunchions, boat davits, and in fact, fore and aft, our deck had been swept absolutely clean".​21

Still the Tennessee had received no vital injuries to her machinery or armor, and Buchanan was determined to renew the fight. Of the beginning of this second stage of the battle, Conrad interestingly writes: "Neither the  p234 officers or men of either fleet had as yet been to breakfast, and the order was given, 'Go to breakfast!' For us on the Tennessee to eat below was simply impossible, on account of the heat and humidity. The heat below was terrific; intense thirst universally prevailed. The men rushed to the scuttle-butts, or water-tanks, and drank greedily. Soon hard-tack and coffee were furnished, the men all eating standing, creeping out of the ports on the after deck to get a little fresh air, the officers going to the upper deck. Admiral Buchanan, grim, silent, and rigid with prospective fighting, was 'stumping' up and down the deck, lame from a wound received in his first engagement in the Merrimac, and in about fifteen minutes we observed that instead of heading for the safe lee of the fort, our iron prow was pointed for the enemy's fleet. Suppressed exclamations were beginning to be heard from the officers and crew: 'The old admiral has not had his fight out yet; he is heading for that big fleet; he will get his fill of it up there!' Slowly and gradually this fact became apparent to us, and I, being on his staff and in close association with him, ventured to ask him, 'Are you going into that fleet, Admiral?' 'I am, sir!' was his reply. Without intending to be heard by him, I said to an officer standing near me, 'Well, we'll never come out of there whole!' But Buchanan had heard my remark, and turning around said sharply, 'That's my lookout, sir!' "​22

Buchanan, having made up his mind to continue the battle, issued the simple command, "Follow them up, Johnston; we can't let them off that way",​23 and the Tennessee, instead of retiring to the protection of Fort  p235 Morgan, turned directly toward the numerous Federal ships, which after passing the forts had come to anchor about four miles up the Bay.

As the Tennessee approached, the Monongahela was the first to attack, endeavoring to sink her by ramming, or by overriding her partially submerged deck. She struck with tremendous force,º whirling the Tennessee around with tremendous force,º but she carried away her own iron prow and did no real damage to the ironclad. Then the Lackawanna rammed the Confederate vessel at full speed, and finally the Hartford struck her a glancing blow; but their efforts were all futile and in the confusion of the ramming, the Lackawanna collided with the Hartford and badly damaged the flagship. Just as ineffective were the broadsides which were "fast and furious, so that the noise was one continuous roar". "You could hear voices", according to Surgeon Conrad, "when spoken close to the ear, and the reverberation was so great the bleeding at the nose was not infrequent".​24

Meanwhile the monitors were firing slowly but with powerful effect. "The Monongahela was hardly clear of us", declared Lieutenant Wharton, "when a hideous-looking monster came creeping up on our port side, whose slowly revolving turret revealed the cavernous depths of a mammoth gun. 'Stand clear of the port side!' I shouted. A moment after, a thundering report shook us all, while a blast of dense, sulphureous smoke covered our port-holes, and 440 pounds of iron, impelled by 60 pounds of powder, admitted daylight through our side where, before it struck us, there had been over two feet of solid wood, covered with five inches of solid iron. This  p236 was the only 15‑inch shot that hit us fair. It did not come through; the inside netting caught the splinters, and there were no casualties from it. I was glad to find myself alive after that shot".​25 This shot was delivered by the Manhattan. The Winnebago was also firing as opportunity was afforded; but the Chickasaw probably contributed most to the defeat of the Tennessee. (It is a curious fact that all these ironclads bore Indian names.)​b Lieutenant Commander George H. Perkins secured a position close under the stern of the ram, and hung on these like a bulldog, firing his two 11‑inch guns in his forward turret again and again at the doomed vessel. "In the midst of this continuous pounding", in the words of Surgeon Conrad,​26 "the port-shutter of one of our guns was jammed by a shot so that it could neither open hor shut, making it impossible to work the piece. The admiral then sent for some of the firemen from below to drive the bolt outward. Four men came up, and two of them holding the bolt back, the others struck it with sledge-hammers. While they were thus standing there, suddenly there was a dull sounding impact, and at the same instant the men whose backs were against the shield were split in pieces."

Buchanan was severely wounded by the same shot. Concerning this pitiable episode of the battle, Surgeon Conrad wrote, "An aide came down the ladder in great haste and said, 'Doctor, the admiral is wounded!' 'Well, bring him below', I replied. 'I can't do it', he answered; 'I haven't time. I am carrying orders for Captain Johnston'. So up I went; asked some officer whom I saw, 'Where is the admiral?' 'Don't know', he replied. 'We  p237 are all at work loading and firing. Got too much to do to think of anything else'. Then I looked for the gallant commander myself, and, lying curled up under the sharp angle of the roof, I discovered the old white-haired man. He was grim, silent, and uttered no sound in his great pain. I went up to him and asked, 'Admiral, are you badly hurt?' 'Don't know', he replied; but I saw one of his legs crushed up under his body, and, as I could get no help, raised him up with great caution and, clasping his arms round my neck, carried him on my back down the ladder to the cock-pit, his broken leg slapping against me as I moved slowly along. After I had applied a temporary bandage he sat up on the deck and received reports from Captain Johnston regarding the progress of the fight. Captain Johnston soon came down in person, and the admiral greeted him with: 'Well, Johnston, they have got me again. You'll have to look out for her now; it is your fight'. 'All right', answered the captain; 'I'll do the best I know how' ".​27

Shortly before the wounding of Buchanan, the exposed wheel chains were disabled,​28 and it became necessary to steer the vessel with relieving tackle. Then this was shot away, and the enemy soon discovered that the ram was unmanageable, and took advantageous positions for attack, at will. Most of the gun‑port covers, by this time, had become jammed; and for thirty minutes  p238 the enemy poured in a continuous fire while the Tennessee could not bring a single gun to bear. Under these circumstances, Johnston reported to Admiral Buchanan again. "Well, Johnston", said the wounded Admiral, after hearing of the state of affairs, "fight to the last! Then to save these brave men, when there is no longer any hope, surrender".​29

"Upon my return to the gun deck", reported Johnston, "I observed one of the heaviest vessels of the enemy in the act of running into us on the port quarter, while the shot were fairly raining upon the after end of the shield, which was now so thoroughly shattered that in a few moments it would have fallen and exposed the gun deck to a raking fire of shell and grape. Realizing our helpless condition at a glance, and convinced that the ship was now nothing more than a target for the heavy guns of the enemy, I concluded that no good object could be accomplished by sacrificing the lives of the officers and men in such a one‑sided contest, and therefore proceeded to the top of the shield and took down the ensign, which had been seized (fastened) onto the handle of a gun scraper and stuck up through the grating. While in the act, several shots passed close to me, and when I went below to order the engines to be stopped the firing of the enemy was continued. I then decided, although with an almost bursting heart, to hoist the white flag, and returning again onto the shield, placed it in the same spot where but a few moments before had floated the proud flag for whose honor I would so cheerfully have sacrificed my own life if I could possibly have become the only victim".​30

 p239  The Battle of Mobile Bay thus came to an end at 10 o'clock approximately; and in the last stage of the engagement for more than an hour this one ironclad had fought three monitors and all of Farragut's wooden ships. As far as Buchanan was concerned, it was one of those glorious defeats of history, fought in the spirit of Richard Grenville, whose losing fight in his little Revenge against the Spanish Dons has been celebrated in song and story. When the victors came on board the Tennessee, Buchanan's sword​31 was surrendered to P. Giraud, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant on the Ossipee, to be carried to Farragut.

The losses were out of all proportion to the odds against the Confederates, whose four vessels had only twelve killed and twenty wounded, of whom two were killed and nine wounded on the Tennessee. In Fort Morgan only one man was killed and three wounded. Farragut's losses, however, were much heavier; in addition to the ninety-three who were drowned when the Tecumseh went down, there were fifty‑two killed and one hundred seventy wounded.​32

Furthermore in spite of the disparity in strength and number of ships, Buchanan's little squadron was able to cause very grave damages to many of Farragut's vessels. Of the twenty hits on the Hartford officially reported by her carpenter after the battle, five penetrated  p240 the vessel, smashing, wrecking, and doing great damage, while three others would have done even greater execution if it had not been for the chain armor, one such shot being right on the water line and quite sufficient to have sunk the vessel. The carpenter of the Brooklyn reported that his vessel had been struck thirty times; of these, thirteen had penetrated, some passing completely through the vessel. The Octorora was struck nineteen times, the Metacomet eleven times; and the Richmond "a number of times in the hull and rigging".​33 The Lackawanna had five shot holes through her hull, two of which were only eighteen inches above the water line, and also had eighteen feet of her stern badly smashed; the Monongahela lost her iron prow, and five shells penetrated and smashed things inside terribly; the Ossipee received five large holes in her hull; the Galena had several hits, of which the two most serious were from 10‑inch guns; and one shell from the Tennessee exploded inside the Kennebec with great damage. The serious injuries to the Oneida have already been detailed. The remaining vessels were not materially injured; for example, the three monitors, which survived the Tecumseh, though they were frequently struck, had practically no damages.

On the contrary, only one shot penetrated the Tennessee, though she received some fifty-three shot marks on her shield. Captain Jenkins, after examining her when the battle was over, reported:​34 "The Tennessee is in a state to do good service now. To restore her to the state of efficiency in which she was when she went into the action with this fleet on the 5th instant it will  p241 be necessary to overhaul much of the iron plating on the port and after sides of the casemate and replace some of it. The iron gun‑port shutters which were damaged must be either removed or repaired. A new smokestack is required, and additional ventilators should be fitted". It is evident, therefore, that the Tennessee was by no means a wreck when the battle was done. And the amount of damages which she with her little gunboats had been able to inflict on the large and powerful fleet is without parallel in the annals of naval warfare.

In general, Buchanan received praise even from his enemies for his heroism in this battle. For example, Major General Gordon Granger wrote,​35 "After the fleet got into the bay the Tennessee gallantly attacked it all and for more than an hour she withstood the combined pounding of two hundred guns before surrendering". After praising the heroism displayed by the personnel of the Union fleet, Foxhall A. Parker adds,​36 "We shall contemplate with hardly less pride, and with similar admiration, I am sure, the heroic daring of our brothers in arms on board the Tennessee, who, when the forts were passed and the Confederate gunboats dispersed, resolved unaided to attempt the forlorn hope of wresting victory from three ironclads and fourteen wooden vessels". In the same vein is the following from the "Photographic History of the Civil War":​37 "Among all the daring deeds of that day stands out superlatively the gallant manner in which Admiral Franklin Buchanan, C. S. N. fought his vessel, the Tennessee. . . . The Federal fleet carried more power for destruction than the combined English, French, and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar,  p242 and yet Buchanan made good his boast that he would fight alongside. . . . Such boldness was scarce believable, for Buchanan had now not alone wooden ships to contend with. . . . Three powerful monitors were to oppose him at point-blank range". Perhaps the highest praise for Buchanan came indirectly from Farragut, who declared that the Battle of Mobile Bay was "one of the hardest-earned victories of my life" and also that it was "the most desperate battle I ever fought since the days of the old Essex".​38

There are those, however, who have criticised Buchanan for making this final attempt, claiming that he could have made better use of the Tennessee by taking her under the protection of the guns of Fort Morgan and assisting in the defense of that place. They have summed up his gallant fight as a sort of desperate beau jest,º saying that "it was magnificent, but it was not war", and other things to that effect. But the effort was by no means foolhardy and ill‑advised. The preliminary fighting had shown the Tennessee to be invulnerable to the Federal wooden ships, and the chances for ramming one or more of these vessels were increased by the fact that they had now come to anchor in a group and might be taken somewhat by surprise by an immediate attack. Furthermore by dashing into the midst of them the Tennessee would be able to make use of all her guns, whereas Farragut's ships would be in danger of firing into or ramming one another. As to the monitors, Buchanan had not as yet come to grips with them and did not know whether their speed and maneuvering ability, and the penetrating power of their guns were greatly superior  p243 to those of his own vessel. If he had not made this attempt, he would have been criticised more severely, and perhaps with better reason, for not putting his ironclad to the utmost test of its fighting power. If he had remained in the shadow of the guns of Fort Morgan, he would have been attacked by Farragut, who is reported to have declared immediately after the first phase of the battle that he was determined to use his monitors in that way.

"I did not expect", explained Buchanan afterwards to Surgeon Conrad, "to do the passing vessels any serious injury; the guns of Fort Morgan were thought capable of doing that. I expected that the monitors would then and there surround me, and pound the shield in; but when all the Federal vessels had passed up and anchored four miles away, then I saw that long siege was intended by the army and navy, which with its numerous transports at anchor under Pelican Island, were debarking nearly 10,000 infantry. I determined then, having the example before me of the blowing up of the Merrimac in the James River by our own officers, without a fight, and by being caught in such a trap, I determined, by an unexpected dash into the fleet, to attack and do it all the damage in my power; to expend all my ammunition and what little coal I had on board, only six hours' steaming, and then, having done all I could with what resources I had, to retire under the guns of the fort, and being without motive power, thus to lay and assist in repulsing the attacks and assaults on the fort".​39

As to the defenses at the entrance to Mobile Bay, Fort Powell in Grant's Pass was evacuated by its defenders  p244 and blown up, the same day as the naval engagement; but the garrison reached Mobile intact the next day. Fort Gaines, invested by a large land force and bombarded by sea, surrendered on August 7, two days after the Union fleet had passed the forts. Fort Morgan, however, resisted a furious bombardment by land and sea until August 23 when it was given up. Thus the entrance to Mobile was effectually closed to blockade runners and the city was completely cut off by sea. Mobile itself was, however, well protected by torpedoes and other defenses, and was not captured until May 14, 1865, after both Lee and Johnston had laid down their arms.

When Captain Johnston of the Tennessee was made a prisoner and taken on board the Hartford, the flag-captain, Percival Drayton, declared, "You have one consolation, Johnston; no one can say you have not nobly defended the honor of the Confederate flag today". "I thanked him", wrote Johnston, "but gave all the honor due its defense to Admiral Buchanan, who was the true hero of the battle; and when the disparity between the forces engaged is duly considered, I am constrained to believe that history will give him his just meed of praise".​40 Years after the battle Johnston declared, "As those services were rendered under the immediate command of one whose previous achievements had inaugurated the greatest revolution of modern times in naval warfare, and whose lion-like daring, directed by the most accomplished skill, had already made the civilized world resound with his praises, it would be presumption in me to claim any credit beyond that which is due to a faithful obedience to the orders of my commanding officer.  p245 . . . Monuments and statues have been erected to commemorate this victory, while his (Farragut's) more daring antagonist sleeps quietly in a country churchyard 'unwept, unhonored, and unsung' save by the few personal friends and relatives who knew and honored his noble qualities, and will ever mourn his loss".​41

But who would now withhold from Buchanan the honor and praise due one, brave and gallant in spirit, who fought against tremendous odds, like Richard Grenville and Francis Drake in the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth!


The Author's Notes:

1 Reports of the number of guns in Fort Morgan are hopelessly contradictory. The estimate frequently given, however, is entirely too high. See Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, vol. 39, Part I, p419, and Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series I, Vol. 21, pp570, 539.

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2 Dr. Daniel B. Conrad, Surgeon on the Tennessee, in Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XIX, 81.

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3 To Secretary of War James A. Seddon, August 15, 1864.

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4 To Secretary Welles, June 25, 1863.

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5 "The Ram Tennessee at Mobile Bay" by Commander J. D. Johnston in Battles and Leaders, IV.402.

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6 This is a sufficient answer to General Page's criticism of June 24, 1864, to Catesby Jones, as follows: "Buchanan looks humbled and thoughtful. The movement of his ship and squadron were, in my judgment, delayed and made unnecessarily public after she came down. She should have been kept alone, and the moment she was released from the camels she should have gone out. This was my opinion at first. The Secretary let B. off easier than I expected."

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7 A 10‑inch gun threw a shell weighing about 100 pounds and a solid shot weighing about 125 pounds. The projectiles of 9‑inch and 11‑inch guns were about 30 pounds lighter and heavier, respectively.

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8 "Capture of the C. S. Ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay, August, 1864" by Dr. Daniel B. Conrad, Fleet Surgeon, in Southern Historical Society Papers, XIX.72, 73.

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9 The officers of the Tennessee in addition to Buchanan and Johnston were as follows: First Lieutenant and Executive Officer William L. Bradford; Lieutenants A. D. Wharton and E. J. McDermett; Masters H. W. Perrin and J. R. DeMahy; Fleet Surgeon D. B. Conrad and Assistant Surgeon R. C. Bowles; Lieutenant D. G. Raney, Marine Corps; 1st Assistant Engineer G. D. Lining; Pilot A. T. Post; 2nd Assistant Engineers J. C. O'Connell and John Hayes; 3d Assistant Engineers Oscar Benson, William M. Rogers, and W. B. Patterson; Boatswain John McCredle; Gunner H. S. Smith; Master's Mates M. J. Beebe, R. M. Carter, and W. S. Forrest; and Paymaster's Clerk J. H. Cohen. The crew numbered 110 men.

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10 Buchanan's Official Report of August 26, 1864.

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11 Ibid.

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12 Scharf, p560.

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13 The Battle of Mobile Bay by Foxhall A. Parker, p27.

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14 Captain Alden's Official Report of August 6, 1864.

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15 "They had been planted so long that many leaked, only one out of ten remaining intact, and this fact explains why so many were run over by the Federal fleet." (Dr. D. B. Conrad in Southern Historical Society Papers, XIX.81.) When Farragut had them cleared after the battle they were found to have deteriorated. (See Official Naval Records, series I, Vol. XXI.567‑570).

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16 Scharf, p562, footnote.

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17 To Farragut, August 6, 1864.

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18 Ibid.

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19 The Battle of Mobile Bay by Foxhall A. Parker, p32.

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20 Lieutenant David L. Huntington to Farragut, August 6, 1864.

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21 Op. cit., p74.

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22 Ibid., pp74, 75.

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23 Ibid., p76.

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24 Ibid., p76.

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25 The Battle of Mobile Bay by Foxhall A. Parker, p35.

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26 Op. cit., pp76, 77.

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27 Ibid., pp77, 78. Buchanan was wounded "by a fragment of iron, either a piece of solid shot, or part of the plating of the ram which fractured the large bone of the leg, comminuting it, and the splintered ends protruding through the muscles and the skin." (Ibid., p82.)

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28 "They ran in an uncovered groove upon her after deck. An effort was made to remedy the defect by covering the groove with one‑inch sheet iron. In the battle, an 11‑inch shot fell on this iron covering and jammed it down on the rudder chains so they could not be moved." (General Dabney H. Maury in Southern Historical Society Papers, VI.44.)

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29 Surgeon Conrad: Op. cit., p78.

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30 Johnston to Buchanan, August 13, 1864.

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31 Official Naval Records, Series I, Vol. XXI, p578.

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32 Summary of Forces and Losses. Farragut had 18 ships, 4 of which were ironclads, and his guns numbered 188; his crews amounted to 2966 men and the soldiers operating against the forts numbered 5,500 men; and his casualties were 52 killed, 93 drowned, and 170 wounded, a total of 315 men. Buchanan had 4 ships, one of which was an ironclad; his guns numbered 22 on his ships and 72 in the forts, a total of 94; his crews numbered 470 men and the garrisons of the forts amounted to 1504 men; while his losses were only 12 killed and 30 wounded, a total of 32.

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33 Captain Jenkins to Farragut, August 5, 1864.

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34 To Farragut, August 13, 1864.

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35 To General E. R. S. Canby, August 5, 1864.

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36 The Battle of Mobile Bay, p34.

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37 Vol. VI (written by James Barnes), p249.º

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38 Mahan's Life of Farragut, p288. Farragut was a midshipman on the Essex under Captain David Porter, when she was captured in the War of 1812 by two British frigates after a bloody engagement.

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39 Southern Historical Society Papers, XIX.80.

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40 Battles and Leaders, IV.405.

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41 Address to Georgia Historical Society, about 1889.


Thayer's Notes:

a A standard account from the Northern point of view is given in G. R. Clark et al., A Short History of the United States Navy, chapter XX, Battle of Mobile Bay.

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b When those vessels were built, ships were often given Indian names by way of invoking and emulating the valor and bravery of Native Americans, of which there was ample living experience — much as one names ships, planes, fighting units, and sports teams today after Native Americans, tigers, lions, sharks, and other forces admired for their daring and ferocity.


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