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Farragut & Our Naval Commanders

By J. T. Headley
Comprising the early life and public services of the prominent naval commanders who, with Grant and Sherman and their generals, brought to a triumphant close the great rebellion of 1861-1865. (First edition 1867)

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Some men go through life without ever meeting the circumstances adapted to call forth their greatest powers, while others seem born for those into which they are thrown, and become great men or leaders in the nation. On the other hand, some, apparently, just enter on their true career in life as that life is drawing to a close. To the latter class Admiral Foote belonged, for his sun was just rising, when it set forever on the earth, and the waves of that mighty struggle, in which he seemed destined to bear so conspicuous a part, rolled over his grave.

Andrew Foote, like so many of our great men, did not spring from obscure parentage. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on the 12th of September, 1806, and was the second son of Samuel A. Foote, a graduate of Yale College, and a lawyer by profession; but who, at the time of the birth of this second son, was a merchant engaged in the West India trade. He was distinguished in the political world, having served several times as member of Congress from his district, and once as senator from the State. He was subsequently elected governor.

The grandfather of Andrew was for fifty years pastor of the church of Cheshire, a beautiful village about thirteen miles from New Haven. Here his father was born; and here, having acquired the means of a comfortable subsistence, he returned to live in the old homestead. Andrew was six years old when his father took up his home in this quiet village, and for three years afterwards attended the district school. He was then sent to the academy of the place, an institution of great reputation, and presided over by the learned Rev. Tillotson Bronson, D. D.

He remained in this school for six years, or until he was fifteen years of age. During all this period he was under the strict religious discipline characteristic at that time of Connecticut, and other portions of New England. The rod had not then been banished from the parental roof, and young Andrew often felt its weight, as wielded by his mother; she convinced, him by irrefragable proof, that "he that spareth the rod hateth his son." She was the daughter of General Andrew Hull, a militia general, and gave her father’s name to the boy. He was not allowed to play out evenings—forbidden to quarrel, or dicker, as it was called, and allowed very little spending money. Laziness was always punished with an extra amount of work. The Bible, the catechism, and the strict laws of Connecticut, were made equally binding on him when tempted to commit any of the grosser vices, such as violation of the Sabbath, attending the circus, &c. The old New England Sabbath began on Saturday evening at sunset, and ended at the same time on Sunday evening During these twenty-four hours the ancient Jews were not more strict than were the parents of Andrew. The close restraint was irksome to him, as it always must be to all boys, and an older brother says, "I doubt whether the Admiral ever watched for stars in a storm, or on a lee-shore, with more interest than he was wont, when a boy, to watch for them of a Sunday evening, as a signal that he might begin play."

In the rigid old puritanic way, which has produced so many valiant men, the future Admiral was brought up.

At this early age, he had determined to enter the Navy and pass his life on the sea. Perhaps his father’s accounts of his voyages to the West Indies may have had something to do with his desire to become a sailor; but more probably the astonishing victories of our young Navy, when he was fourteen or fifteen years old, were the principal cause. The names of Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Decatur, Perry, Macdonough, and others, made the land rock with loud huzzas, which were quite enough to set every ambitious youth crazy after a sea-faring life.

Be this as it may, Andrew was fixed in his desire to enter the Navy, and, though his parents, especially the mother, opposed it by every argument and inducement in their power, yet, seeing that he was inflexibly set that way, at last wisely yielded. His father, owing to his political influence, was able to procure for him a midshipman’s berth, and he was ordered to report on board the schooner Grampus, under the command of Lieutenant, late Admiral Gregory. He had now completed his sixteenth year-a time when life wears only a rose color to the imagination. His father accompanied him on board and presented him to his commander, with a formality common to that time. Said he to the lieutenant: "I have come to put my boy under your care, not only as a commander, but as a friend. He is capable, and I believe he is pure-minded. I hope you will watch over him as carefully and kindly as if he were your brother or son." His parting address to his boy was more lengthy. With true New England faithfulness, he charged him to remember the principles in which he had been brought up, and do nothing that should make his parents, who had watched over and prayed for him, blush; and with grand old puritanic solemnity bade "him remember his duty to his country and to his God." Grave and stern externally; his heart yet overflowed with parental tenderness, and the tears rolled down his cheeks as he bade his boy good-bye, and sent him away to the perils of the deep and into the temptations of a sailor’s life. Andrew soon shook off his grief at parting, and entered on his new life, not only with all the ardor of youth, but with visions of glory directly before him, for the Grampus was to sail for the West India station, in the limits of which—the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea—a piratical craft was then lurking. But the deadly grapple and glorious victory over these robbers of the sea, which excited his youthful imagination, never took place; and, after a year’s cruise, he returned home. He was now transferred to the sloop-of-war Peacock, of glorious memory, which was ordered to the Pacific Ocean. At Callao he was transferred to the frigate United States, the flagship of Commodore Isaac Hull. The education of the commanders who distinguished themselves during the recent war, under those who gave our navy its renown, doubtless had much to do in forming their characters. A son would as soon dishonor his father, as one of these officers the great commander under whom he had served.

He was absent over three years on this cruise, completing his naval education and enlarging his experience, and returned to New York in the spring of 1837. Receiving a short furlough, he now returned home, no longer a boy, but a full-grown, developed young man. For a time the haunts and scenes of his boyhood-the old home—the old schoolhouse, and the old church, and friends, made his time pass pleasantly. But years of active life soon rendered idleness irksome to him, and he was glad when the time came again for him to return to his ship.

He now applied to be attached to the Mediterranean squadron, for he longed to see the Old World. His request was, however, denied, and he was once more ordered to the West Indies. Repairing to Norfolk, he sailed in the latter part of summer, in the sloop-of-war Natchez, for his destination. This cruise was not a long one, and in December he returned in the sloop-of-war Hornet.

During this short interval, however, a great change had passed over him. One of the lieutenants was a religious man, and took occasion, before they sailed, to speak with him on the subject of personal Christianity. Young Foote, proud and averse to such conversation—enough of which he thought he had had in his boyhood—closed the interview abruptly by informing him that he intended to do what was right and honorable, and that was enough for him. Of a generous and manly nature, he afterwards felt that he had been uncivil in treating a kind and well-meant act with such coldness, not to say rudeness.

It so happened, that, after they had reached their station, he and this lieutenant were on duty on deck the same night. It was a beautiful evening—the full moon was tranquilly sailing through the cloudless heavens, shedding a flood of golden light on the gently-heaving sea, and revealing a scene of beauty never witnessed except in those tropical regions. It was a night and scene well calculated to hush all the angry feelings, and fill the heart with sad and gentle musings. After a while, he himself introduced the conversation he had so curtly closed before, when his friend talked long and earnestly on the subject so dear to his own heart. His words had a strange power amid the tranquil beauty of that night.

So deep was the impression made on young Foote, that, after the watch was over and he found himself alone, he fell on his knees in prayer, for the first time since he was a sailor. He took up his Bible, and for two weeks he continued to read this, now to him a new book. He had just entered on the great struggle of his life, and truths he had scarcely thought of before came back upon him with overwhelming power. He knew that prayers at home were ascending for him, and he added his own for light and guidance. The old church and the old pastor were far away, and he must fight this great moral battle alone with his God.

At length, one day, after an hour of solitary reading and thinking, he arose and went on deck. The clouds and darkness seemed to gather thicker and thicker around him, when suddenly there arose in his heart the resolution, "Henceforth, under all circumstances, I will act for God." The struggle was over; the victory won—the most important of his life—and light and peace beamed on his soul. The greatest battles are not fought on the deep, amid the thunder of cannon and the crashing of timbers, nor on the bloody plain, where armies reel and go down in the onset; but on the field of the human heart, unseen by mortal eye, and over which no paeans are sung, except the voiceless one: "To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life." There, too, are the greatest defeats encountered, from the disastrous effects of which there is no rallying and no recovery.

In this new state of mind his thoughts turned at once to that mother who had so often prayed with him, and wept over him, and he at once wrote to her, commencing his letter with: "Dear Mother,—You may discharge your mind from anxiety about your wayward son; he is safe for eternity as well as for time." The effect of that letter no one can describe—next to the joy that the angels felt, was the joy of that dear mother, and her mute song of praise had in it the harmony of the upper skies.

At the close of this voyage, Foote prepared himself for examination as passed midshipman, and was promoted. During this interval he was married to a young lady of Cheshire, named Caroline Flagg, daughter of Bethuel Flagg.

The next year, February 1829, he sailed in the sloop-of-war St. Louis, for another cruise in the Pacific. During his absence he was commissioned as lieutenant. He returned home in 1831.

Two years after, his desire to visit the Old World was gratified, and he sailed in the frigate Delaware for the Mediterranean, which, on her way out, carried Edward Livingston, the newly-appointed Minister to France.

During this cruise, which lasted between two and three years, he acted as flag-lieutenant.

He returned in 1836. In 1838, he was transferred to the frigate Columbia, Commodore Read, which, with the sloop-of-war John Adams, sailed on the 6th of May, for the island of Madeira. From this point the voyage was continued by way of Rio Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope to China, thence on to Valparaiso and around Cape Horn, and so home—making the circuit of the world.

He took great interest in the missionary stations at the Sandwich Islands and in the China Sea.

The vessels reached the Sandwich Islands in the heat of the conflict between the missionaries and Captain La Place, who had been sent out by the French Government to compel the Hawaiian Chief to sign a treaty, which permitted Romish priests, contrary to his express command, to reside on the island, and French brandy to be imported. Foote, after investigating the matter, warmly espoused the cause of the missionaries, whom the French commander had included with the chief in his persecutions. He advised them to appeal to Commodore Read, and ask for a court of inquiry to investigate their conduct, which had been grossly misrepresented. The commodore did not feel authorized to take such a step, and the request was denied.

Foote, though he must act alone and take all the responsibility of his conduct, nevertheless determined to make another effort in behalf of the missionaries, for he felt that he owed not only a duty to them as citizens, but as servants of his Master above; and he drew up a paper exonerating the missionaries and expressing the utmost confidence in the good influence of the mission. He also gave a clear and full account of the outrages of La Place, embracing his correspondence with the Hawaiian authorities. To this paper he obtained nearly all the signatures of the officers of both ships. This was published in pamphlet form, and freely circulated. Its clear and truthful narrative of facts helped to open the eyes of the foreign residents, and contributed not a little to the right understanding of the case. Not satisfied with what he had done here, Foote, when he arrived in the United States, gave a public statement of the case, and indirectly caused the Government to take a deeper interest in the welfare of our missionaries in foreign lands.

His arrival at home was marked with circumstances of peculiar sadness. During this long voyage his wife had died, and he found his little girl, whom he had left three years before an infant in her mother’s arms, now an orphan.

At the end of a year and a half he married again, his wife being the daughter of Augustus R. Street, of Mott Haven. He was at this time, and for a year afterwards, on duty at the Naval Asylum of Philadelphia, the inmates of which long had cause to remember his kindness and the interest he took both in their temporal and spiritual welfare. He persuaded them to give up their grog rations, and sign a pledge of total abstinence—and in every way contributed to elevate their moral condition.

From 1843 to 1845 he was attached to the Mediterranean squadron, being executive officer of the Cumberland, the crew of which he persuaded to give up their grog. Like Havelock among his soldiers, he became a voluntary chaplain to them—giving every Sunday a religious address, on the berth-deck, to as many as choose to hear him. Sometimes he would have on these occasions a congregation of two hundred, to whom the sight of a commander turned preacher was a novel one.

After his return from this voyage, he was laid up for awhile with a disease of the eyes, which rendered him unfit for duty.

Although but partially restored, he, at the end of six months, was ordered to the navy yard at Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he remained during the whole of the Mexican war, much to his disappointment. In 1849 he was sent to the West African station, in command of the Perry, to help suppress the slave-trade. His zeal as an officer to perform his duty, was intensified by his strong feelings of abhorrence at the infamous traffic; and his efforts were indefatigable in suppressing it.

He succeeded in banishing liquor from the Perry in this cruise; and, notwithstanding the unhealthiness of the coast, which was thought to require the use of ardent spirits to some extent, he never lost a man—thus showing their injurious tendency under all circumstances.

For some years after his return, he remained on shore, engaged in no active duty. But in 1856 he again went to sea, as commander of the sloop-of-war Portsmouth, which was ordered to the East India station. During this cruise, he, for the first time, had a taste of actual war, and showed what he was capable of doing by the daring and fierce manner in which he bombarded the barrier forts in the Canton River.

On his return to America, he was placed over the Brooklyn navy yard, where the breaking out of the rebellion found him. His labors were now Herculean. To protect it from attack at home and fill all the requisitions of Government, tasked him to the utmost; and it was with a feeling of relief he received orders, in September, 1861, to repair west, and superintend the creation of an inland navy on the Mississippi.

From such motley materials as could be gathered on these waters, he labored night and day to get a respectable force afloat. Having at length got together seven gunboats, four of them iron-clad, he left Cairo, on the 4th of February, 1862, and ascended the Tennessee, to attack Fort Henry, while the rebels thought Columbus, on the Mississippi, to be the point he was aiming at. This delusion had purposely been kept up; and Foote had several partial engagements with the gunboats that were under the protection of its guns. In January he had sent to the Department, saying that he needed a thousand men to man his fleet. They were not furnished, however, and on the 3d of February he forwarded another dispatch to the Government, announcing his departure for Fort Henry. In it he said: "It is peculiarly unfortunate that we have not been able to obtain men for the flotilla, as they only are wanting to enable me to have at this moment eleven full-manned instead of seven partially-manned gunboats, ready for efficient operations at any point." But delay was impossible under the circumstances; and with such force as he had he steamed up the river. The following special order shows how thoroughly he had studied and prepared the attack, which was to be really the first great blow struck at the rebellion:


The captains of the gunboats, before going into action, will always see that the hoods covering the gratings of the hatches at the bows, and sterns, and elsewhere, are taken off; otherwise great injury will result from the concussion of the guns in firing. The anchors, also, must be unstocked, if they interfere with the range of the bow guns.

In attacking the fort, the first order of steaming will be observed, as, by the vessels being parallel, they will be much less exposed to the enemy’s range than if not in a parallel line, and by moving ahead or astern, which all the vessels will do by following the motions of the flagship, it will be difficult for the enemy to get an accurate range of the gunboats.

Equal distances from one another must be observed by all the vessels in action. The flagship will, of course, open the fire first, and then others will follow when good sight of the enemy’s guns in the forts can be obtained. There must be no firing until correct sights can be obtained, as this would not only be throwing away ammunition, but it would encourage the enemy to see us firing wildly and harmlessly at the fort. The captains will enforce upon their men the absolute necessity of observing this order; and let it be also distinctly impressed on the mind of every man firing a gun, that, while the first shot may be either of too much elevation or too little, there is no excuse for a second wild fire, as the first will indicate the inaccuracy of the aim of the gun, which must be elevated, or depressed, or trained, as circumstances require. Let it be reiterated that random firing is not a mere waste of ammunition, but, what is far worse, it encourages the enemy when he sees shot and shell falling harmlessly about and beyond him.

The great object is to dismount the guns in the fort by the accuracy of our fire, although a shell in the mean time may occasionally be thrown in among a body of the enemy’s troops. Great caution will be observed lest our own troops be mistaken for the enemy.

When the flagship ceases firing, it will be a signal for the other vessels also to cease, as the ceasing of firing will indicate the surrender, or the readiness to surrender, the fort. As the vessels will all be so near one another, verbal communication will be held with the commander-in-chief when it is wanted. The commander-in-chief has every confidence in the spirit and valor of officers and men under his command, and his only solicitude arises lest the firing should be too rapid for precision, and that coolness and order, so essential to complete success, should not be observed; and hence he has, in this general order, expressed his views, which must be observed by all under his command.



That he had a premonition of victory is evident from the following Order, No. 3, to Lieutenant Phelps, who commanded the three gunboats not iron-plated, and which were directed during the action to throw shells from a comparatively safe distance in the rear, into the fort:


Lieutenant Phelps will, as soon as the fort shall have surrendered, and upon signal from the flagship, proceed with the Conestoga, Tyler, and Lexington up the river, to where the railroad bridge crosses, and if the army shall have not already got possession, he will destroy so much of the track as will entirely prevent its use by the rebels. He will then proceed as far up the river as the stage of water will admit, and capture the enemy’s gunboats and other vessels, which might prove available to the enemy.


The infantry was landed a few miles below the fort, when Foote made a reconnoissance to ascertain the position of the hostile batteries. He had been told that the bed of the stream, near the fort, was lined with torpedoes; and he ordered it to be thoroughly raked. The swift current at this season of the year had disarranged these engines of destruction—still several were removed, and the channel made clear.

The night before the attack, the fleet anchored abreast of the army under Grant, encamped on the bank. The camp-fires lighted up the gloomy shores, and were reflected on the smoothly-flowing stream-throwing into bolder relief the seven dark hulls, swinging lazily on the bosom of the Tennessee, combining to form a new and thrilling scene to the bold Western men, who, on both land and water, were about to enter on their first conflict. It was the more striking, as the night was dark—heavy, somber clouds wrapping the heavens—while the wintry wind surged by in fitful gusts, blending its roar with that of the waters that swept majestically through the gloom. Nature seemed to sympathize with coming events; and before morning a fierce storm burst along the banks of the river, and the rain came down in torrents.

But the tempestuous night at length passed, and the morning broke cold and clear. Foote at once ordered the vessels to be got ready for the attack. Admonishing Grant that he must hurry, or he would not be in time to do his part, which was to cut off the retreat of the enemy, he began about ten o’clock to stem the rapid current. Grant, on the other hand, assuring him that he need not trouble himself about the army being up in time, put his troops in motion. The fort stood on a bend of the river, and commanded it for a long way down. An island lay about a mile below it, behind which Foote kept his boats, so as to avoid the shots of the rifled guns of the fort, which, with their long range, might cripple him before he came to close action. The iron-clads abreast moved slowly up stream, until the fort opened to view directly ahead, when the wooden vessels halted. The commander of the fort, aware of Foote’s approach through the force on watch, the moment the latter’s appeared, opened on him with his batteries, and shot and shell came hurtling down the river. Foote answered with his heavy bow guns, and the conflict commenced. The rebel gunners, from long practice, had obtained the exact range of every point in view, and hence sent their shot with fearful accuracy against the advancing vessels. Those of the gunboats had to get theirs; but having received orders to fire slowly and deliberately, they were soon able to throw their shells with such precision that the rebel infantry outside of the works retired precipitately. The gunners, however, stood manfully to their work, though the fire to which they were exposed astonished them with its precision and effect.

Foote opened fire at the distance of seventeen hundred yards, using only his bow guns, as he steamed slowly toward the blazing batteries, increasing the rapidity of his fire as he advanced. Leading the way on the flagship Cincinnati, he was followed by the Essex, under Porter; the Carondelet, under Walke, and the St. Louis, Lieutenant Paulding commanding. The fire from the Cincinnati and Essex was most terrific; and to these the enemy gave their chief attention. Shot after shot bounded from their mailed sides, while others crashed amid the timbers; but the boats moved steadily forward, creeping up to the flaming batteries, relentless as fate. Foote saw, by the earth and sand-bags that flew around the hostile guns, and the sudden silence of some of them, that he was slowly grinding them to powder, and steamed still nearer. At length, an unlucky shot entered the porthole of the Essex, and, traversing the boat, carried death and devastation in its track, and plunged at last into the boiler, letting the steam out in a cloud upon the crew. As she drifted helplessly down the current, the rebels sent up a loud cheer, and opened fire with renewed courage. Foote saw that his right hand was gone; but, undismayed, pushed steadily forward, until he lay within six hundred yards of the fort. The firing was now fearful. You could hear the ponderous shot strike, and see the guns lift and tumble from their carriages as the shells exploded under them. Begrimed with powder and smoke, and their faces ablaze with excitement, the gunners worked their pieces with astonishing rapidity. The close proximity of the opposing cannon gave additional terror to the scene, and the heavy explosions, blending into one, made the shores tremble. Tilghman, the rebel commander, fought until nearly every one of his guns were dismounted, when, seeing that longer resistance was useless, he lowered his flag. A boat was sent ashore, and soon the stars and stripes were seen floating in the breeze from the rebel flagstaff, when a loud, long cheer arose from boat after boat, and was borne away toward the Ohio by the swiftly descending current.

The infantry had left some time before, Grant not having arrived in time to intercept their flight; so that only between sixty and seventy prisoners surrendered, with General Tilghman and his staff.

Foote reported forty-eight killed, wounded, and missing. His ship was struck thirty-one times, the Essex fifteen, the St. Louis seven, and the Carondelet six. The fort was mounted with twenty guns, and had tents and barracks capable of holding fifteen thousand men.

It was a great victory, and Foote’s name was repeated with acclamations from one end of the North to the other.

As soon as he had secured the prisoners, he sent off Phelps, as he had previously planned. This gallant officer, taking the Tyler, Lieutenant Gwin commanding, and the Lexington, Lieutenant Shirk, with his own boat, the Conestoga, immediately steamed up the river. But we will let him tell his own story of his expedition.


I arrived after dark at the railroad crossing, twenty-five miles above the fort, having on the way destroyed a small amount of camp equipage abandoned by the rebels. The draw of the bridge was found closed, and the machinery for turning it disabled. About a mile and half above were several rebel transport steamers escaping up stream.

A party was landed, and in one hour I had the satisfaction to see the draw open. The Tyler being the slowest of the gunboats, Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin landed a force to destroy a portion of the railroad track and to secure such military stores as might be found, while I directed Lieutenant-Commanding Shirk to follow me with all speed in chase of the fleeing boats. In five hours the boat succeeded in forcing the rebels to abandon and burn three of their boats loaded with military stores. The first one fired (Samuel Orr) had on board a quantity of submarine batteries, which very soon exploded. The second one was freighted with powder, cannon, shot, grape, balls, &c. Fearing an explosion from the fired boats—there were two together—I had stopped at a distance of one thousand yards; but even there our skylights were broken by the concussion, the light upper deck was raised bodily, doors were forced open, and locks and fastenings everywhere broken.

The whole river, for half a mile round about, was completely "beaten up" by the falling fragments and the shower of shot, grape, balls, &c. The house of a reported Union man was blown to pieces, and it is suspected there was design in landing the boats in front of the doomed home. The Lexington having fallen astern, and being without a pilot on board, I concluded to wait for both of the boats to come up. Joined by them, we proceeded up the river. Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin had destroyed some of the trestlework at the end of the bridge, burning with them a lot of camp equipage. I. N. Brown, formerly a lieutenant in the navy, now signing himself "Lieut. C. S. N.," had fled with such precipitation as to leave his papers behind. These Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin brought away, and I send them to you, as they give an official history of the rebel floating preparations on the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee. Lieutenant Brown had charge of the construction of gunboats.

At night, on the 7th, we arrived at a landing in Hardin County, Tennessee, known as Cerro Gordo, where we found the steamer Eastport being converted into a gunboat. Armed boat crews were immediately sent on board, and search made for means of destruction that might have been devised. She had been scuttled and the suction-pipes broken. These leaks were soon stopped. A number of rifle-shots were fired at our vessels, but a couple of shells dispersed the rebels. On examination I found that there were large quantities of timber and lumber prepared for fitting up the Eastport; that the vessel itself-some two hundred and eighty feet long-was in excellent condition, and already half finished; considerable of the plating designed for her was lying on the bank, and everything at hand to complete her. I therefore directed Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin to remain with the Tyler to guard the prize, and to load the lumber, &c., while the Lexington and Conestoga should proceed still higher up.

Soon after daylight, on the 8th, we passed Eastport, Mississippi; and at Chickasaw, further up, near the State line, seized two steamers, the Sallie Wood and Muscle—the former laid up, and the latter freighted with iron destined for Richmond and for rebel use. We then proceeded on up the river, entering the State of Alabama, and ascending to Florence at the foot of the Muscle Shoals. On coming in sight of the town, three steamers were discovered, which were immediately set on fire by the rebels. Some shots were fired from the opposite side of the river below. A force was landed, and considerable quantities of supplies, marked "Fort Henry," were secured from the burning wrecks. Some had been landed and stored. These I seized, putting such as we could bring away on our vessels, and destroying the remainder. No flats or other craft could be found. I found, also, more of the iron and plating intended for the Eastport.

A deputation of citizens of Florence waited upon me, first desiring that they might be able to quiet the fears of their wives and daughters with assurances from me that they would not be molested; and, secondly, praying that I would not destroy their railroad bridge. As for the first, I told them we were neither ruffians nor savages, and that we were there to protect from violence and to enforce the law; and, with reference to the second, that if the bridge were away we could ascend no higher, and that it could possess no military importance, so far as I saw, as it simply connected Florence itself with the railroad on the south bank of the river.

We had seized three of their steamers—one the half-finished gunboat—and had forced the rebels to burn six others loaded with supplies; and their loss, with that of the freight, is a heavy blow to the enemy. Two boats are still known to be on the Tennessee, and are doubtless hidden in some of the creeks, where we shall be able to find them when there is time for the search. We returned, on the night of the 8th, to where the Eastport lay. The crew of the Tyler had already gotten on board of the prize an immense amount of lumber, &c. The crews of the three boats set to work to finish the undertaking, and we have brought away probably two hundred and fifty thousand feet of the best quality of ship and building lumber, all the iron, machinery, spikes, plating, nails, &c., belonging to the rebel gunboats, and I caused the mill to be destroyed where the lumber had been sawed.

Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin had, in our absence, enlisted some twenty-five Tennesseans, who gave information of the encampment of Colonel Drew’s rebel regiment at Savannah, Tennessee. A portion of the six or seven hundred men were known to be "pressed" men, and all were badly armed. After consultation with Lieutenants-Commanding Gwin and Shirk, I determined to make a land attack upon the encampment. Lieutenant-Commanding Shirk, with thirty riflemen, came on board the Conestoga, leaving his vessel to guard the Eastport, and, accompanied by the Tyler, we proceeded up to that place, prepared to land one hundred and thirty riflemen and a twelve-pounder rifle howitzer. Lieutenant-Commanding Gwin took command of this force when landed, but had the mortification to find the camp deserted.

The rebels had fled at 1 o’clock, in the night, leaving considerable quantities of arms, clothing, shoes, camp utensils, provisions, implements, &c., all of which were secured or destroyed, and their winter-quarters of log-huts were burned. I seized, also, a large mail-bag, and send you the letters giving military information. The gunboats were then dropped down to a point where arms, gathered under the rebel "press-law," had been stored, and an armed party, under Second-Master Goudy, of the Tyler, succeeded in seizing about seventy rifles and fowling-pieces. Returning to Cerro Gordo, we took the Eastport, Sallie Wood, and Muscle in tow, and came down the river to the railroad crossing. The Muscle sprang a leak, and, all efforts failing to prevent her sinking, we were forced to abandon her, and with her a considerable quantity of fine lumber. We are having trouble in getting through the draw of the bridge here.

I now come to the, to me, most interesting portion of this report—one which has already become lengthy; but I must trust you will find some excuse for this in the fact that it embraces a history of labors and movements day and night, from the 6th to the 10th of the month, all of which details I deem it proper to give you. We have met with the most gratifying proofs of loyalty everywhere across Tennessee and in the portions of Mississippi and Alabama we visited. Most affecting instances greeted us almost hourly. Men, women, and children, several times gathered in crowds of hundreds, shouted their welcome, and hailed their national flag with an enthusiasm there was no mistaking; it was genuine and heartfelt. Those people braved everything to go to the river bank, where a sight of their flag might once more be enjoyed. Tears flowed freely down the cheeks of men as well as women, and there were those who had fought under the stars and stripes at Moultrie, who on this morning testified their joy.

This display of feeling and sense of gladness at our success, and the hopes it created in the hearts of so many people in the heart of the Southern Confederacy, astonished us not a little; and I assure you, sir, I would not have failed to witness it for any consideration. I trust it has given us all a higher sense of the sacred character of our present duties. I was assured, at Savannah, that of the several hundred troops there, more than one-half, had we gone to the attack in time, would have hailed us as deliverers, and gladly enlisted with the national forces.

In Tennessee the people generally braved the secessionists, and spoke their views freely, but in Mississippi and Alabama, what was said was guarded: "If we dared express ourselves freely, you would hear such a shout greeting your coming as you never heard." "We know there are many Unionists among us, but a reign of terror makes us all afraid of our shadows." We were told, too: "Bring us a small organized force, with arms and ammunition for us, and we can maintain our position, and put down rebellion in our midst." There were, it is true, whole communities, who, on our approach, fled to the woods; but these were where there was less of the loyal element, and when the fleeing steamers, in advance, had spread tales of our coming with firebrands, burning, destroying, ravishing, and plundering.


Foote was much encouraged at this report of the state of feeling. On the return of the expedition he steamed down the river to Cairo, and, eight days after the surrender of Fort Henry, was ascending the Cumberland to assist Grant, who was marching across the country to attack Fort Donelson. He was aware of the superior strength of this fort, and his force being now reduced by the loss of the iron-clad Essex, he feared that the attempt to reduce it from the river would prove fruitless. He, however, at the urgent request of Major-General Halleck and Gen. Grant, who regarded the movement as a "military necessity," consented to make it.

The works here were of the most formidable kind, and, it was thought, able to resist any attempt to ascend the river to Nashville. On the river side were two batteries: the lower one mounting eight 32-pounders and a 10-inch columbiad, and the upper, some ten yards above this, two 32-pound carronades and a 32-pound rifled gun. The range of these commanded every foot of the river in sight below the fort.

The day before the attack, Foote sent the Carondelet upon a reconnoissance, and the vessel being fired upon, returned the fire and maintained the unequal contest till she had discharged over a hundred shots, and did not retire until struck by a heavy shot which, entering one of her forward ports, wounded eight men.

Foote knew the desperate undertaking before him, but, on the 14th, moved resolutely up to the batteries with his four iron-clads and two wooden gunboats. He soon found that he was exposed to a different fire than the one he had encountered at Fort Henry. The heavy metal of the batteries fell rapid as hailstones on his vessel, and the water around the boats was beaten into foam by the falling shots and shell. The flagship, as usual, received the chief attention of the enemy. Yet Foote moved steadily forward into the volcano before him, nobly sustained by his other vessels. Noticing that the pilot, under the horrible fire that smote the vessel, was getting nervous, he walked up to him, placed his hand on his shoulder, and spoke some encouraging words, when a heavy shot struck the poor fellow, leaving him a mangled mass beside his broken wheel. Foote, though wounded himself in the foot by a splinter, still limped around, giving his orders with imperturbable coolness, and anxiously watching the effect of the shot on the rebel works. But this unlucky shot had carried away the wheel, with the pilot; and the boat—which had now got within four hundred yards of the fort—became unmanageable; and, swinging to the current, drifted slowly down stream. At the same time, the tiller-ropes of the Louisville were cut, and she, too, floated down stream. The enemy no sooner saw this than he redoubled his fire. Only two boats were now left to maintain the conflict; but they too, being damaged between wind and water, soon followed the flagship, and the fight, that had raged with such ferocity for an hour and a quarter, was over. Fifty-four had been killed or wounded, and the flagship been struck fifty-nine times. Although he could bring but twelve guns to bear on batteries that mounted twenty, Foote thought, but for the untoward accident that destroyed the steering apparatus of the two vessels, he would have succeeded in capturing the works, as the fire of the enemy had materially slackened. Some such accident, however, was to be expected in so unequal a fight.

Leaving two boats here to protect the transports, Foote returned with the ten disabled ones to Cairo, to repair damages and prepare for another attack.

Fort Donelson, however, surrendered a few days after to Grant, and he again advanced up the river to Clarkesville, farther on toward Nashville, which surrendered to him. He found much Union feeling among the inhabitants along the shore, and here issued a proclamation promising security to private property and citizens, and calling on the latter to resume their peaceful avocations. He now, in conjunction with Grant, resolved to move on Nashville; and the two were about starting, when Grant, "to his astonishment," he says, "received a telegram from General Halleck, not to let the gunboats go higher than Clarkesville." Having received no telegram himself, he could not understand it; and immediately sent a dispatch to Halleck’s Chief of Staff saying,’" The Cumberland is in a good stage of water, and General Grant and I believe that we can take Nashville. Please, ask General Halleck if we shall do it. We will talk per telegraph, Captain Phelps representing me in the office, as I am still on crutches." But permission was not given him, and he returned to Cairo, and once more turned his attention to Columbus. On the 23d, he made a reconnoissance of the works with four iron-clads, ten mortar-boats, and three transports, containing a thousand men. He found that nothing could be done without an additional force, and returned to Cairo, to wait the completion of other boats.

In the mean time, he had dispatched the gunboats Tyler and Lexington up the Tennessee, which attacked the enemy’s works at Pittsburg, and captured them with small loss, while there were a hundred and fifty of the enemy killed or wounded. On the 1st of March, Lieutenant Phelps, who had been sent with a flag of truce to Columbus, returned and reported it evacuated, the army having retired to Island No. 10. Foote now transferred his flag to the powerful iron-clad Benton, and advanced against the strong works which had been erected here. Attack after attack followed, and a ceaseless bombardment from the mortar-boats was kept up; but no serious impression could be made on them. General Pope at length arrived below with a large force; but he had no boats with which to transport his troops across to the other side and march against the enemy, and so lay idle on the banks.

For three weeks the fleet lay here, pounding away at the rebel fortifications, and the end seemed as far off as ever, while the public began to weary of hearing of Island No. 10.

The arrival of Pope below made it imperative that a gunboat should be got through to him; but whether one could run the formidable batteries that lined the shore was very problematical. It, however, must be tried, or Pope could never cross and move up to Island No. 10, and compel its evacuation. There was no prospect of capturing the works by our gunboats from above, and so Foote assigned the hazardous duty of running the batteries to the commander of the Carondelet, directing him to avail himself of the first foggy or rainy night to start. If he succeeded, he was to cooperate with Pope, and when the army moved, to attack the fortifications. In closing his directions he used the following solemn language:


On this delicate and somewhat hazardous service to which I assign you I must enjoin upon you the importance of keeping your lights secreted in the hold or put, out, keeping your officers and men from speaking at all, when passing the forts, above a whisper, and then only on duty, and of using every other precaution to prevent the rebels suspecting that you are dropping below their batteries.

If you successfully perform this duty assigned you, which you so willingly undertake, it will reflect the highest credit upon you and all belonging to your vessel, and I doubt not but that the Government will fully appreciate and reward you for a service which, I trust, will enable the army to cross the river and make a successful attack in the rear, while we storm the batteries in front of this stronghold of the rebels.

Commending you and all who compose your command to the care and protection of God, who rules the world and directs all things, I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,



To this was added the following postscript:


P. S. —Should you meet with disaster, you will, as a last resort, destroy the steam machinery, and, if possible to escape, set fire to your gunboat, or sink her, and prevent her from falling into the hands of the rebels.

A. H. F.


Everything that ingenuity could devise was done to insure success, for the boat was first to run, head on, to a powerful battery, then take the fire of forty-seven cannon in her daring passage. Chains were coiled around the pilot-house and other vulnerable parts—cord-wood piled against the boilers, and the hose connected with the latter to hurl jets of steam to repel boarders in case of an attack. A boat, loaded with pressed hay, was lashed to the side exposed to the batteries, while, to balance this, and, at the same time, to furnish the steamer with fuel, should she get through safely, a barge loaded with coal was lashed to the other side. Twenty sharpshooters were also added to the crew, who were all thoroughly armed for any emergency.

The night of the 4th of April was dark and tempestuous, and about ten o’clock the Carondelet cut loose from her anchorage, and, rounding slowly to on the stream, turned her head down the Mississippi. The fleet, aware of the expedition, was silent and anxious. Every officer felt the peril into which the intrepid Walke was moving. Darkness soon wrapped his boat from sight; but the blinding flashes of lightning would ever and anon reveal its black form moving forward through the gloom. It was an hour of painful suspense to Foote, for vast results hung on the welfare of that single vessel. As if to impart still greater grandeur to the scene, the thunder rolled heavily overhead, or broke in deafening claps along the shore.

Wrapping itself in the thunder storm, as in a mantle, the Carondelet swept forward into the volcano that awaited her approach. Everything passed quietly for awhile, but suddenly, as she approached the batteries, the soot in the chimneys caught fire, and a blaze, five feet high, leaped from their tops, shedding a broad glare on the surrounding water. "Open the flue caps," passed quietly and quickly to the engineer, and the flames subsided. So suddenly did this strange apparition appear and vanish, that it was either unseen, or, blending in as it did with the lightning, it deceived the guard.

Walke, from his silent deck, gazed intently towards the batteries, expecting every moment to hear the drum beat to quarters, and see the flash of the signal-gun light up the gloom. But, to his great relief, all passed off quietly, and the Carondelet kept on her perilous way. But just as she got abreast of the upper battery, the chimneys caught fire again and blazed like a torch on the breast of the stream. The next moment the report of a musket was heard. In an instant, rockets from island and mainland arose through the storm. The rapid roll of drums was heard in the intervals of the thunder, and then came a single report, followed by a deafening crash that drowned the artillery of heaven. Concealment was now over, and Walke, putting on a full head of steam and hugging the batteries close, to let the shot fly over him, pushed rapidly down the current. A man stood forward with lead and line, coolly calling out from time to time in a low voice the soundings, which a second man on deck repeated, sending the report aft to Walke, who stood beside the pilot, calm and collected, but with every nerve strung to its utmost tension and all his senses keenly alive to every movement and sound. The flashes of the enemy’s guns and of the lightning above them, revealed almost momentarily the shores, and thus showed the channel; yet the light coming and going so rapidly, and the utter darkness of the intervals, confused and blinded the pilot, and once the boat was heading straight for the shore. But just then a fierce flash of lightning lit up the scene, and "hard a-port!" fell from the Captain’s lips in calm accents, yet so sharp and stern that the pilot threw himself with all his might upon the wheel, and the Carondelet swung back into the channel.

A wilder, sublimer scene cannot be imagined than that boat presented, as, silent as death, she moved steadily on, —one moment painted red on the stream by the flashes of lightning or of artillery, and the next moment lost to sight as completely as though she had gone to the bottom. The rain came down in torrents, the wind swept by in fierce gusts, while the thunder breaking above, and the artillery exploding below, imparted an indescribable terror to this midnight hour.

But at length the last battery was passed, the echo of the last gun died sullenly away up the river, and a heavy load lifted from the heart of Walke. With a cheerful voice he ordered the ports to be thrown open and the guns run out to fire minute guns—the signal agreed on with Foote, should the Carondelet pass the batteries in safety. The latter stood on deck listening to the uproar below, telling him of the fiery ordeal his brave subordinate was enduring, and when it ceased he bent attentively to catch the report of the signal guns. Suddenly it came, but so blent in with the thunder, that he could not certainly tell whether it was not the boom of the latter; others, also, heard it, but the raging storm so drowned it that they too doubted.

At New Madrid, however, there was no doubt, no uncertainty. The soldiers and officers there had also heard the terrific cannonading up the Mississippi, and knew what it meant, and every eye was strained up stream to catch sight of the coming vessel, while lights danced along the shore to guide her course. As the Carondelet, untouched by a single shot, came proudly up to the wharf, the frenzied cheers that arose drowned the voice of the storm, and the soldiers, rushing down, seized the sailors and bore them in their arms up the banks to the nearest hotel, and unbounded joy reigned throughout the army.

Pope immediately dispatched a messenger announcing the safe arrival of the Carondelet, and urging Foote in the most earnest manner to send another boat the next night, as its presence was necessary to ensure success. In his ardor, he said, "I am thus urgent, sir, because the lives of thousands of men and the success of our operations, hang upon your decision." To this, Foote replied in full, stating that it was impossible to send a boat till there came a dark night. He did not like the tone of Pope’s letter, and said:


I am sorry to find the expression in your letter, "The success of our operations hangs upon your (my) decision," especially referring to my directing a gunboat to attempt running the blockade in this clear night; for, in my judgment, and that of all the other officers, the boat might as well expect to run it in the daytime. I cannot consider the running of your blockade, where the river is nearly a mile wide, and only exposed to a few light guns, at all comparable to running it here, where a boat has not only to pass seven batteries, but has to be kept "head on" to a battery of eleven heavy guns, at the head of Island No. 10, and to pass within three hundred yards of this strong battery. If it did not sink the gunboat, we would, in the navy, consider the gunners totally unfit for employment in the service; and, therefore, my responsibility for the lives of the officers and men under my charge, induces me to decline a request which would, especially without protection to the boat, were the rebels at all competent to perform their duty, result in the sacrifice of the boat, her officers, and men, which sacrifice I should not be justified in making—certainly not now, when, by your own admission, it will be easy for the new rebel steamers, reported to be on their way up the river, to pass your batteries in the night, and if they meet my squadron, reduced by loss, so as to be unable to cope with them, can continue up the Mississippi or Ohio to St. Louis or to Cincinnati.

In view, however, of rendering you all the aid you request, and no doubt require, while I regret that you had not earlier expressed the apprehension of the necessity of two gunboats, instead of the smaller gunboat, I will, to-morrow, endeavor to prepare another boat; and if the night is such as will render her running the blockade without serious disaster at all probable, I will make the attempt to send you the additional boat requested in your letter of this day’s date.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,


Flag-Officer Commanding Naval Forces, Western Waters.


Commanding Army at New Madrid.


A few days after the 8th, another heavy thunder storm occurring, the Pittsburg, Lieutenant Thompson commanding, started at two o’clock in the morning, and, though exposed to the fire of seventy-three guns, safely passed the batteries.

Previous to these movements, Colonel Bissell; an engineer, had, with incredible labor, cut a canal through sloughs and streams, by which transports were got through, so that now the fate of Island No. 10 was sealed. The gunboats silenced the batteries on the opposite shore, when the troops were carried over and began their march for the rebel works. The commander, Mackall, seeing that all was lost, evacuated the place, and it fell with all its stores and armament into our hands.

While these stirring events were passing on the Mississippi, the terrible battle of Pittsburg Landing was fought, in which two of Foote’s fleet did great service. The Tyler and Lexington, under the command of Gwin and Shirk, by the effective manner in which they shelled the rebel left, on the afternoon of the first day, did much towards preventing a total defeat of our arms.

Foote now moved down to Fort Pillow, and while operating here and making arrangements to drive out the enemy, he said, in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy: "The effects of my wound have quite a dispiriting effect upon me, from the increased inflammation, and swelling of my foot and leg, which have induced a febrile action, depriving me of a good deal of sleep and energy. I cannot give the wound that attention and rest it absolutely requires, until this place is captured."

Another event which soon after occurred, had a still more depressing effect upon him. He had made arrangements that, he thought, with the cooperation of Pope’s army, would give him Fort Pillow within six days, when that officer received a dispatch from Halleck, to join him at once, with his twenty thousand men, at Pittsburg. In a letter to the Department, the former said: "I am greatly exercised about our position here, on account of the withdrawal of the army of twenty thousand men, so important an element in the capture of the place."

He, however, continued to shell the place, and was busy in devising ways and means preparatory to a successful attack on the fort. But his health continued to grow worse, and, although he managed to limp around on his crutches, it was plain to all, and especially so to his surgeon, that he must be relieved from the cares that pressed upon him, and he finally asked leave of absence. C. H. Davis was placed in command of the fleet till he could recover.

Foote retired to Cleveland, where, with his brothers, he rested for awhile, the subject of anxious solicitude to his countrymen, who felt that he could not yet be spared from the field.

After awhile he proceeded to his home, now saddened by the loss of a bright boy, fourteen years of age, who had been carried to his grave while he was far away, perilling his life for his country. Afflictions rapidly accumulated upon him, seemingly greater than his weakened frame could bear. Before autumn had passed, two young daughters followed their brother to the grave, leaving him a desolate, stricken man. The land was resounding with his praises, yet he heard them not—his heart was in the grave with his children, and the laurels a grateful nation was weaving for him turned to ashes in his sight.

He had, in the mean time, been created a rear-admiral, on the active list, and, in a few weeks after the death of his two daughters, was called to Washington. Though broken in spirits and health, and wholly unfit for duty, he responded to the call, and became engaged in the new "Bureau of Equipment and Navigation." As soon as he saw that he could be spared here, he asked for more active and dangerous service, and was assigned to the command of the North Atlantic squadron. His friends tried to dissuade him from taking it, for they saw that his extreme debility and prostration demanded rest if he wished to save his life. To one and all he replied that his life was not his own, and he was ready to lay it down for his country. He repaired to New York, and made all his preparations to sail, when the disease, against which he had battled so long, overcame him, and he lay down to die. He lingered for ten days in great suffering, and at length expired at the Astor House, June 26, 1863.

Dahlgren, who had been appointed to command the iron-clads under him, and subsequently took his place, came on from Washington to see him just before his death. The following is his account of the last interview with him. He says: "Next morning after my arrival in New York, my first care was to visit my old and dearly beloved friend Foote. Alas! he was delirious—a few words recalled the fast-departing senses—the wandering eye rested on me for a brief moment, and he uttered my name distinctly—even remembered my boys—then he relapsed, and another day ended in this world the life of as brave and as good a man as ever served any country. No one better knew his virtues than I—no one prized them more dearly. We had been bosom friends for twenty years, and never a cloud between us. What a loss to the country! "A beautiful tribute from a brave and good man to a brave and good man. The news of his death was received with universal grief, for he had become a favorite with the people, and much was expected of him in the future towards crushing the rebellion, which had received such staggering blows at his hand. A brave man, an accomplished officer, a noble patriot, and a sincere Christian, he rested from his labors, and passed to that serene abode where the afflictions of this life become blessings to swell his joy and thanksgiving. His fame is secure, and his name will ever stand high in the list of our great naval commanders.

Chapter VIII

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