1862_header.gif (113114 bytes)


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)

(Return to table of contents of this book)





THE saying has almost passed into a proverb that great men seldom beget great sons. The renowned Commodore Porter of the War of 1812, however, is a notable exception, for he gave to his country two sons as famous as himself; David D. and William D., and distinguished too for the very traits of character that made him so remarkable. The former, in addition to the great qualities of his father, had the advantage also of being trained in his profession directly under his eye, where he could feel the force of his example.

He was born June 8th, 1813, in the town of Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He received the first rudiments of education at that place, and entered Columbia College in the city of Washington, at the early age of eleven years. His college course, however, was a short one, for, in 1824, he accompanied his father, Commodore Porter, to the West Indies, where the latter was sent by the Government to break up the gang of pirates that infested those seas, and there imbibed his first taste for sea life. In 1826, Commodore Porter, at the solicitation of the Mexican Government, took command of the Mexican Navy, and appointed his son David a midshipman in the service. The latter spent one year in the city of Mexico, learning the Spanish language, and at the end of that time reported himself for active service afloat. His father was about to sail with the Mexican fleet for the coast of Cuba, but it being unable to go to sea, for want of supplies, he fitted out several small prizes, in one of which, the Esmeralda, with his cousin, D. H. Porter, as captain, young Porter sailed to destroy the Spanish commerce around the island of Cuba. After a cruise of sixty days, in which he had many narrow escapes, the schooner, laden with a cargo of sugar and coffee taken from thirty captured vessels, sailed for Key West. But the crew, consisting of twenty-nine men, mutinied while the vessel was on her way, and attempted to take possession of her. The captain, however, D. H. Porter, a powerful and determined man, cut some of them down, and shot several others, and finally succeeded in getting the remainder in irons, and, with Midshipman Porter and a faithful Swede, brought the vessel into Key West.

In 1827, Commodore Porter returned with the Mexican fleet to Vera Cruz, and fitted out afresh for a new expedition, having in the first one almost destroyed the coast commerce of Cuba.

Midshipman David D. Porter was detailed to the brig Guerrero, with his former captain, D. H. Porter. The Guerrero, built in New York, by Henry Eckford, was a fine vessel and mounted twenty guns. She sailed in June, 18927, for the coast of Cuba, and on sighting the island, the fourteenth day out, discovered a large convoy in shore, in charge of two brigs-of-war. The Guerrero was immediately cleared for action, and chase given to the enemy. The Spaniards and their convoy ran into the port of "Little Mariel," fifteen miles west of Havana. This snug harbor was defended by shoals and a two-gun fort; but, although the two brigs ran in and got springs on their cables, the Guerrero boldly followed them, and, anchoring outside, opened with her guns, to which the brigs and the fort both replied.

The action lasted one hour and a half, in which the brigs were completely dismantled and cut to pieces by the Guerrero’s shot. The fort still kept up a galling fire, and the latter had to haul out of range—the captain intending to go in at night with boats, and finish the combat.

In the mean time, the heavy cannonading had been heard in Havana, and a large sixty-four-gun frigate, the Lealtad, slipped her cables and put to sea.

The Guerrero was standing in shore to take possession of her prizes, when the frigate hove in sight, coming on with a fresh breeze, while the former lay becalmed. The names of the two brigs were the Marte and the Amelia, and they were so knocked to pieces that they were never used again in the Spanish Navy. They mounted, together with the fort, six more guns than the Guerrero.

The frigate finally came up with the Guerrero, and one of the most desperate and unequal battles on record took place between the two vessels, which ended in the capture of the brig, but not till she had bravely held her own against her huge antagonist for two hours and a half. The brig did not surrender until all her masts were shot away, and she was in a sinking condition. Eighty-six men were killed and wounded, out of one hundred and eighty in this desperate conflict. The captain was killed, and all the officers wounded, and there was not a shot left in the locker to fire.

Young Porter was badly hurt in the first fight, but performed the duty of captain’s aid in the second battle, where he was also wounded. A mere lad, he had, like Farragut, under his father, received a bloody baptism into the naval service, and in his first combat learned how a ship should be fought.

The vessel, after her capture, was towed into Havana, where the officers and crew were imprisoned in a filthy hulk, at the base of the Moro Castle, and kept in close confinement many months, suffering a great deal both in mind and body. They had the consolation, however, of knowing that the Spanish frigate had lost more men than they, and was finally dismasted at sea, owing to the injuries to her spars, received during the fight.

Midshipman Porter, owing to his ill health, was finally allowed to go to Vera Cruz on parole, where, finding no chance of getting exchanged, he returned to the United States.

After going to school for a year, he obtained, in 1829, an appointment as Midshipman in the United States Navy, and sailed with Captain Alexander Wadsworth, in the Constellation, for the Mediterranean.

In 1832, he joined the frigate United States, flagship of Commodore Patterson, and spent three years in her, when he returned to the United States to stand his examination. From the time of passing his examination, until his promotion to lieutenant, he was employed on the Coast Survey. In 1840, he sailed in the frigate Congress to the Mediterranean and coast of Brazil. On his return from this cruise, he was employed at the Naval Observatory, under Lieutenant Maury. In 1846, he was sent by Mr. Buchanan, then Secretary of State, to the island of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, to ascertain the exact condition of affairs in that country. He was three months on the island, and during that time travelled nineteen hundred miles on horseback, taking the census of every town, and returning with much information useful to the Government.

While Lieutenant Porter was absent on this duty, the war between the United States and Mexico broke out, and he applied for immediate service afloat.

He was ordered to proceed to New Orleans and raise men for Commodore Conner’s fleet. This duty he performed, and carried the men to Vera Cruz, where he was made First Lieutenant of the steamer Spitfire, Captain Tatnall. Lieutenant Porter had great difficulty in getting Commodore Conner to order him into service, the latter not liking his full whiskers, which the lieutenant declined to part with, never having shaved more than once or twice in his life.

Lieutenant Porter was with Tatnall, as First Lieutenant of the Spitfire, when the latter attacked the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, and the town batteries.

A few days after, the Spitfire attacked the batteries again, and did material service to the army, by withdrawing the Mexican fire from our batteries on shore.

No vessel performed more active service than the Spitfire while Lieutenant Porter was in her. When Commodore Perry moved on Tobasco, the Mexicans barricaded the river, and so it was determined to land the troops, or sailors, eighteen hundred in all, and attack the city by land. But the Spitfire, disregarding the obstructions, made a dash through them, and pushed on up the river, in advance of the landing party, amid the hearty cheers of all.

Eight miles up, the vessel encountered a heavy fort, commanding the river. It mounted eight large guns, while the Spitfire had only one heavy gun (8-inch), and two thirty-two-pounders.

The first shot from the fort cut the Spitfire’s wheel in two, but the little steamer sped on, firing rapidly, and gained the rear of the battery, where, letting go her anchor, she soon cleared the works.

Lieutenant Porter, under the fire of the steamer’s guns, boarded the fort with sixty-five men, and carried it with a shout.

The landing party arrived four hours afterwards, and. found the town and batteries of Tobasco in possession of the Spitfire, and the Scorpion, a steamier commanded by Captain Bigelow, which vessel came up behind the former.

Lieutenant Sidney Smith Lee, who commanded the Spitfire, being ordered to the steamer Mississippi, Lieutenant Porter was given the command of her, which he retained while the American forces held Tobasco, and. until ill-health obliged him to go home after the fall of Vera Cruz.

He was engaged in every operation that took place during the Mexican war, and was first lieutenant of the steamer Spitfire, the leading vessel when our little fleet of steamers fought their way up Tuspan River and captured that place.

On his return to the United States, he was again ordered to the Coast Survey, but, having been offered the command of the Pacific Mail Company’s steamer Panama, he took charge of her and sailed for the Pacific, through the Straits of Magellan. He left the steamer at Panama, after a most successful voyage, and returned to the United States, when he was placed in command of George Law’s steamer, the Georgia, which vessel he successfully commanded for three years, without an accident of any kind. Having got into a difficulty with the Spanish authorities at Havana, in which he made them respect the American flag, he left the service of the company by which he was employed, and took command of the steamer Golden Age, belonging to the Australian Steamship Company.

Proceeding to England, he made a successful voyage thence to Australia in fifty-six days, thirty days quicker than it had ever been made before.

He ran the Golden Age six months on the Australian coast, and then crossed the Pacific with a load of English passengers, and arrived safely at Panama.

Having taken the Chagres fever, he was obliged to return home, and it was many months before he regained his health. The Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, then selected him to go abroad to import camels. He performed this duty successfully, bringing over two loads, eighty-four in all, and then (1859) was ordered to the Portsmouth (N. H.) Navy Yard.

Just before the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, Lieutenant Porter was directed to bring the old frigate Constitution to Annapolis. This being done, he was about to proceed to California, to take charge of the Coast Survey vessels there, when the Southern States seceded. Sumter was now threatened by the rebels, who had seized upon many of our best forts. Fort Pickens was also in great danger, although gallantly defended by Lieutenant Slemmer of the artillery.

And here occurs one of the most curious pieces of history that has ever seen the light. It really reflects on no department of the Government, but it illustrates the total confusion into which everything was thrown at the commencement of the rebellion:

It may be recollected that Mr. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, identified himself with an expedition that was fitted out by the Government and some merchants in New York, to throw supplies into Sumter. The expedition was badly planned and worse executed, and it was necessary to lay the blame on some one. Mr. Seward came in for the greatest share, when in fact he had nothing whatever to do with it.

While at dinner, on the very day Porter was to have started for California, he received a letter from Captain (now General) Meigs, asking him to call on Mr. Seward, who wished to see him. He did so without delay, and, after some preliminary conversation, Mr. Seward asked him if he thought it possible to get a ship into the harbor of Pensacola and reinforce Fort Pickens, and thus prevent the rebels from making use of the most important harbor on the Atlantic. He replied that there was no difficulty about the matter, provided he could have his own way. He then unfolded his plan, when Mr. Seward took him to see Mr. Lincoln, with whom he discussed the whole matter thoroughly. His plan was, for the President to give him authority to proceed to New York and take command of the Powhatan, then lying partly dismantled at the Navy Yard; also to invest him with power to give such orders in the Navy Yard as he deemed proper-in fact, placing for the time being the officer in command there under his directions. This was perhaps a high-handed measure—going over the head of the Secretary of the Navy, and fitting out a ship without his authority or cognizance. Still, it was the only way to accomplish the object. Secretary Welles was new in the office, and had no knowledge of the men about him. Half of them were traitors; and had a single individual in the Department known that such an expedition was fitting out, it would have been flashed along the wires in a very short time, and Bragg, the rebel commander at Pensacola, would at once have overpowered Lieutenant Slemmer with his handful of men, and taken possession of the fort.

The President, after carefully weighing all the circumstances of the case, and listening to all the arguments offered him, finally took the responsibility, and wrote an order directing him to proceed to New York without delay, and take command of the "Powhatan," or any other vessel that he deemed necessary for his purpose. The Commandant of the Navy Yard and the naval officers were directed to give him all the aid and facilities he desired, to enable him to get the vessel to sea with the least possible delay. In conclusion, the President said, "You will not show these orders to any naval commanding officer superior in rank to yourself unless there is danger of your being interfered with. When inside of the harbor, you will call upon the senior naval officer at Pensacola for such reinforcements as you may deem sufficient to hold the place."

Other orders were also issued, one to the commander of the Powhatan, Captain Mercer, ordering him to give up his vessel, and one to the commandant of the yard at New York, ordering him to give him secret dispatch, &c. &c. Armed with these extraordinary orders, he hastened at once to New York.

In the mean time, Captain Meigs, who was the originator of the scheme to relieve Fort Pickens, also proceeded to New York and chartered one of the Atlantic steamers, which he prepared for sea without delay, to carry two thousand regulars. Under the guns of the Powhatan these were to be thrown into Fort Pickens, to reinforce Lieutenant Slemmer.

When Porter reached New York, he found the Powhatan had just been put out of commission, her crew sent to the receiving-ship, and all her officers detached. Her sails were unbent, her machinery all apart, her powder and gun-gear on shore, and her coal-bunkers empty. A survey had been held on her, her boilers and hull had been condemned, and she was to go in dock for repairs, when Porter presented his orders to Commodore Foote, who then commanded the Yard. The latter was quite taken aback at the unusual, extraordinary proceeding, and Porter had very great difficulty in getting him to pay that attention to them which they demanded. Foote considered it impossible to send the vessel to sea, she was so unseaworthy, and her boilers were actually dangerous; while her rigging was all rotten, and her boats would not float. However, there was no other vessel, and Porter, with that determination which characterizes him, shoved the President’s orders at Foote so hard, and insisted so pertinaciously on a compliance with them, that the latter finally had to give in, and went to work with a will to get the ship ready for sea. She was, without question, in a horrible condition, but there was no remedy, and she had to go. For six days and nights, Porter sat in Commodore Foote’s office, directing the different operations, and urging on the work. Foote, in the mean time, telegraphed for the officers the former wanted to go with him. Captain Mercer, who was let into the secret, took charge of the vessel for the time being, and made it appear that he was going out in her, and it was rumored that she was getting ready to carry a Minister to Mexico. In fact, Porter’s boxes and trunks, labelled as the property of the Minister to Mexico, were sent on board in open day, no one suspecting even that he was going out in the ship, or had any connection with her.

On the sixth day after commencing to fit her out (working night and day, including Sunday,) the vessel was ready to sail. But just as Porter was about going on board, an order came from the Navy Department to "fit the Powhatan for sea with all dispatch, and report her when ready to proceed!" Here was a dilemma. The Secretary evidently knew nothing of what was going on, and to give up the ship would be to imperil the whole expedition, for Captain Meigs depended on the guns of the Powhatan to cover his landing. Besides, the vessel had a large part of the artillery and ammunition belonging to the troops, on board.

On receiving the Secretary’s order, Commodore Foote sent for Captain Mercer, and showed it to him, but he agreed with Porter that the order of the President was paramount to all others, and it was decided that the ship should proceed on her destined mission. Porter at the time supposed that the order of the Secretary was given as a matter of form, and that he had been made acquainted with the whole affair.

In half an hour after this, he stepped on board the ship, as if to bid the captain good-by, and in the confusion was unnoticed. He remained in the cabin until the Powhatan reached Staten Island, where the captain (Mercer) left her to go on shore. But just as they were hoisting the boat on board, and about to proceed, a swift steamer came puffing alongside with an officer on board, who delivered Porter the following dispatch:


"Give up the Powhatan to Captain Mercer. (Signed,) SEWARD.”


But Porter still held grimly to the President’s order; no other order, he said, could take precedence of that. It was no time to stand on trifles, the country was in danger, and, if he gave up the ship, the expedition would have to be abandoned, and Captain Meigs, who had sailed just ahead, would go on a bootless mission. It took but a moment for Porter to decide, and he telegraphed back: "My orders were from the President, and I must look to him to support me," explaining at the same time how matters stood.

It will be seen from Mr. Seward’s telegraphic dispatch, that he threw no obstacle in the way of the Powhatan’s going to the relief of Fort Sumter, which he at the time was accused of doing. The Powhatan could not have been got ready for the expedition to relieve Sumter, had she commenced preparations at the time Mr. Welles’ order came to fit her out. That order (as things were going on) would have found her all in pieces, and in dock. In five days after Porter sailed in her, Fort Sumter fell.

The Powhatan, under any circumstances, would have been of no use in such an expedition, for she could not cross the bar at Charleston, while her boats were worthless, as they would not float; and when Porter lowered them into the sea off Pensacola, the seams were so open that they all filled with water.

The ship could only have laid off the harbor, and her officers and men would have witnessed the bombardment as others did, without being able to do any good.

It will be seen, therefore, that it was a very unjust thing to lay the blame of the failure on Mr. Seward, who, in saving Fort Pickens, performed a more important service than the relieving of Sumter would have been.

Porter had heavy weather all the voyage out, and the ship was almost knocked to pieces, yet in eight days he appeared off the harbor of Pensacola, disguised as an English steamer, and so altered that, with English colors up, the officers of the fleet lying off the place did not know the vessel. The troops in the Atlantic Company’s steamer arrived just before him, and had got close to the beach, ready to be landed. Porter was standing in over the bar, with the batteries all manned, and would have been inside or sunk in twenty minutes more, when General Meigs intercepted him in a tug, and wished him to cover the landing. He still clung to the President’s order, to go inside and take the place, but Meigs showed him another order from the President, directing him to comply with any requisition made upon him by the army landing party, and he was reluctantly obliged to give up his plan of going inside. He proceeded at once to cover the landing, and in half an hour Fort Pickens was safe in our possession. With a strong force of regulars thrown in, there was no longer any chance of General Bragg’s attacking it. Thus the most important fort in the South was kept in our possession.

Had the rebels succeeded in getting into it, (which they would have done that night, but for this opportune arrival,) Pensacola would have proved a greater thorn in our side than either Charleston or Wilmington.

In justice to Mr. Seward, he deserves all the credit of the achievement, notwithstanding the abuse heaped upon him.

As soon as Porter got all the troops on shore, he urged the senior naval officer, Captain Adams, to blockade the port, and permit no vessels to go in with supplies. He would not do so himself, but told Porter that he might. The latter fitted out at once a small pilot boat, and, lying in close with the Powhatan, closed the port effectually.

He could have gone into Pensacola at any time, ten days after his arrival, and anxiously desired to do so, but the army officers in Fort Pickens protested against it, urging as a reason, that the fort was not in a condition to resist the fire of Bragg’s batteries, which Porter knew he could silence. He had made a reconnoissance inside the harbor, on a bright moonlight night, and with a night-glass saw that there were very few guns. It was a great disappointment to him not to be able to take the place, when he knew how easily it could have been done, but, he could not attempt it with the army and navy commanders (both his seniors) opposed to it. He has, no doubt, since regretted a hundred times that he paid any attention to such timid counsels, and did not take the responsibility.

On the arrival of Commodore McKean, the Powhatan was ordered to blockade the mouth of the Mississippi, at the Northwest Pass, which she did successfully for ten months, no vessel getting in or out. Finally, the Sumter ran by the United States steamer Brooklyn, at Pass a l’Outre, and escaped to sea. A short time afterwards, the Powhatan’s boats captured a prize to the Sumter, endeavoring to get into Barrataria Bay. From the prisoners, Lieutenant Porter learned that the Sumter was on the south side of Cuba, committing depredations on our commerce. By permission of Commodore McKean, he went in pursuit of her, and finally arrived at the mouth of the Surinam, the day after the Sumter sailed from there. He then concluded to steer for Maranham, but met with the same disappointment at the latter place. Thence he tracked the privateer all the way back to the West Indies, where she escaped among some of the French islands.

The Powhatan, having steamed over ten thousand miles with her condemned machinery, was now obliged to return to the United States where she was laid up at about the time of the Dupont expedition to Port Royal, and Lieutenant Porter was detached. He immediately sought other active service, and, the capture of New Orleans being proposed by him, he was put in communication with General McClellan and General Barnard of the engineers, to talk the matter over. They were unanimous in their opinion that the city could be taken, and preparations were accordingly made to attempt the capture of the forts at or near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Admiral Farragut was ordered to command the naval forces, and Lieutenant Porter, having recommended a large force of mortar vessels, was directed to equip them without delay. In thirty-six days thereafter, twenty-one mortar schooners and seven gunboat steamers sailed from New York for Key West, to join the New Orleans expedition.

Only the mortars were cast. The iron carriages had all to be made, twenty thousand shells to be cast, and the vessels to be fitted. The fleet arrived at Ship Island, and found the squadron still there, and not over the bar of the Mississippi, as Porter feared it would be, and so was in time.

After entering the river, the gunboats of Commander Porter’s flotilla were constantly employed in helping the large vessels over the bar. He devoted himself personally to the matter, and when the pilots failed, time after time, he succeeded in getting the Mississippi and Pensacola over, and up to Pilot Town. His fleet being all ready to move, he sailed up to within three miles of the forts, and tied up to the bank.

As stated in a previous chapter, under the order of Porter, Messrs. Harris and Oltmanns were detailed by Mr. Gerdes, assistant on the coast survey, to make a minute survey of the river, from "Wiley’s Gap," as it was called, up to the forts. Lieutenant-commanding Guest, in the Owasco, was detailed to protect them in their work. These brave engineers surveyed and triangulated over seven miles of the river, taking in both Forts Jackson and St. Philip. A part of the time they were under fire of shot and shell from the batteries as well as exposed to riflemen concealed in bushes on shore, yet they finished their work successfully, and established with great precision the positions which the mortar-boats were to occupy.

Before these took their assigned places, Porter directed the masts to be dressed off with branches, which would intermingle them so with the trees or vines, behind which they were to be placed, as to render them invisible to the enemy. This showed admirable foresight, and afterwards so distracted the fire of the enemy that it was far less destructive than any one expected it would be.

The wood behind which Porter concealed his mortar boats was three hundred yards across, and so dense that the rebel shot could with difficulty pierce it, while Porter’s shells rose over it to drop with mathematical accuracy into the hostile works. The fleet was divided into three divisions, under the command of Lieutenants Watson Smith, K. R. Breese, and W. W. Queen, and when the signal to "commence action" was made, they opened in order, each one firing every ten minutes. The forts immediately replied with all the guns they could bring to bear, and the rebel shot crashing through the forest, and the shells of the mortars rising in graceful curves above it, presented a magnificent spectacle.

About noon, Porter, seeing that the enemy was getting the range of Queen’s division, and the shot falling too near, went on board to move it, and found that a hundred-and-twenty-pound shot had passed through Queen’s vessel, damaging the magazine.

At five o’clock the fort was discovered to be in flames, and the fire of the enemy ceased. Night coming on and the wind rising, Porter ceased firing, having sent over fourteen hundred shells into and around the rebel works. On the south shore, the mortars could be pointed only by sights fixed to the mastheads, "and many curious experiments," remarks Porter, "were resorted to, to obtain correct firing."

The next morning, the 19th, he opened fire again and kept it up steadily all day. During the day the schooner Maria G. Carleton was sank by a rifle shell passing through her deck, magazine, and bottom, while Porter was alongside.

Each day now was a repetition of that which preceded it. Porter, seeing that the fuses of the shells were bad, ceased timing them, and ordered full-length fuses, so that they would burst after they had entered the ground. Although there were great disadvantages in this arrangement, it prevented shells from bursting in the air.

The ground being wet and soft, they descended eighteen and twenty feet into the soil, and, exploding some time after they were landed, lifted the earth up in huge masses. The effect was like that of an earthquake. For three days and nights the commanders and crews got but little rest, and few meals, and hence would often be found by Porter in his rounds fast asleep, even while a mortar beside them was thundering away, and shaking everything around like an earthquake. Seeing that this strain could not be borne long he ordered each division into three watches of four hours each. By this arrangement the firing was more accurate, and fifteen hundred shells were thrown every twenty-four hours. Under this tremendous explosion, windows were broken in Belize, thirty miles distant.

On the night of the 20th, Porter covered the expedition sent to break the chain across the channel, with a tremendous fire from his mortar fleet. On the 23d, he urged Farragut to commence the attack with his ship that night, as ammunition was getting low, and the crews were well nigh worn out, while the enemy was daily adding to his naval force and power of defence.

As the fleet of Farragut, towards morning, steamed past the batteries, Porter’s flotilla of steamers, the Westfield, Owasco, Clifton, and Merwin, moved up and maintained a galling fire with shrapnel on the forts, until the last vessel had got beyond range of the rebel guns.

Porter had hardly ordered the firing to cease, when it was reported to him that the celebrated ram Manassas was coming down to attack him. She was steaming slowly along shore, as if preparing for a dash, and fire was opened on her. But Porter soon saw that she was a dying monster, and ordered the commanders to spare their shot. The smoke now began to pour from her, showing that she was on fire, while her hull, badly cut up with shot, slowly settled in the water. Porter tried to save her as a curiosity, and. got a hawser around her, but just before she reached the bank she exploded, and, "like some huge animal, gave a plunge and disappeared under the water." Next came a steamer on fire, followed by two others, burning as they slowly drifted by, while "fires seemed to be raging all along up river," showing what wild work Farragut’s fleet was making with the rebel vessels. Porter now sent a flag of truce to the forts, demanding their surrender. The answer was, "the demand is inadmissible."

Giving the men a day to rest, and, having heard in the mean time from Farragut, Porter again opened on the forts. He then sent another demand for their surrender, with the terms he would grant. This time the answer indicated a great change in the temper of the commander, for he replied that, after receiving instructions from the authorities of New Orleans, he probably would comply with his summons. On the 28th, a flag of truce came on board, the bearer of which announced that the terms offered by Porter would be accepted.

While he was engaged in the capitulations, an officer approached him, and reported that the iron floating battery Louisiana, of four thousand tons burthen, and mounting sixteen heavy guns, had been set on fire. Porter turned to the rebel commander, and quietly remarked that the act was in no way creditable to him. The latter replied that. he was not "responsible for the acts of naval officers." Porter then went on with the negotiations, when an officer again approached him, saying that the ropes which fastened the vessel to the bank had been burned off, and that all in flames she was drifting slowly down on them. Porter turned to the commander and asked if the guns were loaded, and if there was much powder on board. The latter replied, "I presume so, but I know nothing about the naval matters here." At that moment the heated guns began to go off, throwing shot and shell, as though engaging a battery. The heavy thunder of the explosions, foretelling what would happen when the magazine was reached, aroused a little of the sleeping tiger in Porter, and, turning to the rebel military officers, he coolly said: "‘ If you don’t mind the explosion which is soon to come, we can stand it," and went on with the conference, amidst the stern music, as calmly as though nothing else was going on. In speaking of it afterwards, he said: "A good Providence, which directs the most unimportant events, sent the battery off towards Fort St. Philip, and, as it got abreast of that formidable fort, it blew up with a force which scattered the fragments in all directions, killing one of their own men in the fort, and when the smoke cleared off it was nowhere to be seen, having sunk immediately in the deep water of the Mississippi. The explosion was terrific, and was seen and heard for many miles up and down the river. Had it occurred near the vessels, it would have destroyed every one of them." Porter denounced this dastardly act in scathing language.

Like all brave, magnanimous men, willing to accord the high qualities they possess to others, even though fighting in a bad cause, he said, the "military commanders behaved honorably to the end. * * * The most scrupulous regard was paid to their promises. They defended their works like men. Had they been fighting for the flag under which they were born, instead of against it, it would have been honor enough for any man to have said, he had fought by their side."

After the capitulation of the forts, and the surrender of the few remaining steamers, Porter visited the former to see what had been the effect of his bombardment. He found that one thousand three hundred and thirteen bombs had struck in the centre and solid parts of the works, two thousand three hundred and thirty in the moat, near the foundations, shaking the whole structure to its base, nearly one thousand exploded in and over the works, and one thousand three hundred and fifty-seven struck about the levees, and in the marsh close around, and in the paths and near the water’s edge, where the steamers attempted to come. Porter says:


It was useless for them to hold out; a day’s bombardment would have finished them; they had no means of repairing damages; the levee had been cut by the thirteen-inch bombs, in over a hundred places; and the water had entered the casemates, making it very uncomfortable, if not impossible, to live there any longer. It was the only place the men had to fly to out of reach of the bombs. The drawbridge over the moat had been broken all to pieces, and all the causeways leading from the fort were cut and blown up with bomb-shells, so that it must have been impossible to walk there, or carry on any operations with any degree of safety. The magazine seems to have been much endangered, explosions having taken place at the door itself, all the cotton bags and protections having been blown away from before the magazine door. Eleven guns were dismounted during the bombardment, some of which were remounted again and used upon us. The walls were cracked and broken in many places, and we could scarcely step without treading into a hole made by a bomb-shell; the accuracy of the fire, is, perhaps, the best ever seen in mortar practice; it seems to have entirely demoralized the men, and astonished the officers. A water battery, containing six very heavy guns, and which annoyed us at times very much, was filled with the marks of the bombs, no less than one hundred and seventy having fallen into it, smashing in the magazine, and driving the people out of it. On the night of the passage of the ships, this battery was completely silenced, so many bombs fell into it, and burst over it.

Many remarkable escapes and incidents were related to us as having happened during the bombardment. Colonel Higgins stated an instance, where a man was buried deep in the earth, by a bomb striking him between the shoulders, and directly afterwards another bomb exploded in the same place, and threw the corpse high in the air. All the boats and scows around the ditches and near the landing, were sunk by bombs; and when we took possession the only way they had to get in and out of the fort to the landing, was by one small boat to ferry them across.


Porter did full justice in his report to his brave commanders Renshaw, Guest, Wainwright, Harrell, Baldwin, and Woodworth, of the steamers, and Smith, Breese, and Queen, of the flotilla.

Unstinted praise of others connected with him, whether military officers or subordinates, who perform their duty nobly, is a peculiarity of Porter. His impulses are so generous and noble that he always seems afraid that he shall take too much credit to himself and not do full justice to others.

The flotilla now took on board General Butler’s troops, and conveyed them to New Orleans, where the mortar vessels were also ordered to assemble.

Commander Porter was anxious to push on to Vicksburg with his force, which he thought would have resulted in the capture of that place, but he was sent to Ship Island, to await the attack on the Mobile forts. In the mean time, he sent the mortar schooners to cruise off the coast, and captured several prizes loaded with cotton.

As Admiral Farragut was detained in New Orleans, Commander Porter determined to attempt the capture of the forts at Mobile, alone, and for this purpose got under way from Ship Island, with the mortar vessels and gunboats, and steered for Mobile Bay. The wind however dying away, and the weather looking bad, the schooners put back into port, but the gunboats went in and tried their range on the works, hitting them almost every time, while only a few shots were fired in return.

Not designing to do anything more than exhibit a little practice, the gunboats retired at sunset. Some went back to Ship Island, and the Harriet Lane drifted along up to Pensacola.

Next day, two deserters came off in a boat, and informed the blockading officer that there was only a small fire-company in the fort, who had all intended to surrender. The day after, it was strongly reinforced.

In the mean time, the telegraph conveyed the news to Pensacola that a strong force of gunboats was coming to that place, upon which the rebels set fire to everything, and evacuated it. Commander Porter arrived off there while this was going on, and ran in and assisted to transport the troops across from Santa Rosa Island to the mainland.

The mortar fleet all rendezvoused at Pensacola, but their anchors were hardly down when Porter received orders from Admiral Farragut to join him at Vicksburg. He immediately proceeded thither and bombarded that place on the passage of the fleet, as he did at Forts Jackson and St. Philip. One of his steamers, the Jackson, being disabled by a rifle shell, the Clifton went to her assistance, when a shot pierced her boiler—the escaping steam scalding six men and wounding many others.

The mortar fleet laid two weeks before Vicksburg, at a distance of eighteen hundred or twenty-two hundred yards from the batteries, and always succeeded in silencing them when they opened fire.

Porter had three of his vessels disabled, and twenty-nine men killed and wounded on his steam flotilla, during the passage of the fleet, accompanying each vessel as far as the water batteries, where they were exposed to a heavy fire.

In July, 1862, Commander Porter was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy, to proceed with twelve mortar boats to Fortress Monroe, and there await orders. He arrived there in ten days, and there being nothing for the vessels to do, he obtained leave of absence, and was finally detached from the command of the mortar flotilla, a little fleet of which he was very proud, and which had rendered most excellent service. Wilkes took the command, and eventually broke it up, an act, in Porter’s judgment, very injurious to the navy.

In September, 1862, he was ordered to command the Mississippi squadron, as Acting Rear-Admiral, and entered upon his duties the next month.

Admiral Porter found the fleet quite inadequate for the defence of such long rivers. There were only thirteen good vessels in all, and these required heavy repairs. He immediately improvised a navy-yard at Mound City, and in a short time his fleet numbered one hundred vessels. These were common river boats, armed with heavy guns, and covered with light iron to resist field pieces and rifle balls.

Admiral Porter, immediately on his arrival in the west, notified General Grant that it was proposed at head-quarters to send General McClernand to attempt the capture of Vicksburg, which would have been an invasion of his (Grant’s) command. In consequence of this information, the General hastened to Cairo and arranged a plan of attack on Vicksburg, which was at once carried out. He marched from Holly Springs, while Sherman embarked thirty thousand men in transports, and, under cover of the gunboats, proceeded to surprise Vicksburg.

The gunboats under Admiral Porter joined Sherman at Memphis, from whence they proceeded together direct to Vicksburg, while General Grant was marching on with 50,000 men from Holly Springs.

The rebels had filled the Yazoo River with torpedoes, and the gunboats were sent in at once to clear them out, which they did, under a murderous fire of musketry from hidden sharpshooters.

On the 12th of December, 1862, while this work was going on, the Cairo, one of the finest vessels, was blown up by a torpedo, and sunk out of sight in three minutes.

The officers and men deserved great credit for their successful efforts in clearing out torpedoes, and, on the 18th of December, two landings had been secured for General Sherman’s troops, both well protected by the gunboats.

In the mean time, the rebels had burned the army stores at Holly Springs, so that General Grant was obliged to fall back again to protect his base and obtain further supplies.

The force that had left Vicksburg, under Joe Johnston, to meet him, now fell back again on Sherman, who, instead of finding about ten thousand men, found forty thousand in possession of the place.

The army, after landing and meeting with great success, had to retire with loss. The rains, setting in very heavily at the same time, obliged them either to reembark or swim for it.

Admiral Porter made an attack on the Yazoo batteries; but, owing to a heavy fog that set in, accompanied by heavy rains, it was not successful.

General Sherman now proposed to the Admiral to withdraw from before Vicksburg and attack Arkansas Posta strong work up the Arkansas River. In the mean time, General A McClernand came down and assumed command; but the army virtually remained under the control of Sherman, and Admiral Porter refused to cooperate unless it was so.

The fleet and transports arrived in the Arkansas River about the 2d of January, 1863, and, after the army had gained its desired position, the gunboats went in and attacked the fort at close quarters—seventy-five yards. After a sharp and sanguinary fight of three hours, all the enemy’s guns being dismounted, and our army surrounding it ready for an assault, the rebels surrendered. The fort surrendered to the navy, and the troops on the outside to the army. Porter had twenty-six killed and wounded in the engagement. He showed here, not the long practice of mortar vessels, but the close combat of vessels when lying broadside to broadside.

After the capture of the fort, destruction of all war material, and embarkation of the prisoners—seven thousand in all—the army and navy returned to Vicksburg.

Previous to this, Admiral Porter sent his vessels up White River and captured all the enemy’s remaining batteries, which left the Arkansas and White Rivers open to the gunboats whenever they chose to go there. For his success on this occasion, he received the thanks of Congress.

On the return of the fleet and army to Vicksburg, regular operations were commenced against it—the Yazoo being held by the navy. Fifteen heavy mortar floats were towed down from Cairo, gunboats were fitted out and added to the fleet as fast as possible, and, finally, the whole river was so well protected, from Cairo to Vicksburg, that transports came and went with perfect security.

General Grant now came in person to take command of the army, and there was from the first the most perfect accord between him and Admiral Porter, the latter being at all times ready to carry out his slightest wish. Never did. a military commander have the aid of a more persevering, energetic, unconquerable, tireless, and able naval commander than Grant, in the long and arduous work that followed.

Great patience and endurance were shown on both sides; but nowhere can history exhibit a more indomitable spirit than that manifested by our navy.

Admiral Porter led his fleet into almost inaccessible places. The heart of the Yazoo or Sunflower country was reached in a great overflow of the Mississippi, by pulling up and cutting down the forest trees, and the gunboats traversed a distance of one hundred miles over ground where the keel of a canoe even had never before been seen.

The Yazoo pass was opened by cutting the levee, and a fleet passed through in that direction, to meet the one working its way through Steele’s Bayou.

This last expedition was a most arduous one and full of peril. Leaving the Yazoo below Haines’ Bluff, it entered Steele’s Bayou, designing to keep north into the Rolling Fork, then eastward through it into the Sunflower River, and pass in a southerly direction into the Yazoo, again striking it above Haines’ Bluff instead of below, where it started from. Such inland navigation was never before attempted by war vessels. The expedition consisted of four gunboats, four mortars, and four tugs. For thirty miles the little fleet passed up Steele’s Bayou, then a mere ditch, to Black Bayou, in which, for four miles, the trees had to be torn out or pushed over by the iron-clads, or the branches cut away, when Porter at last reached Deer Creek. It took twenty-four hours to make these four miles. Some idea of the difficulties of the route may be obtained when it is remembered that, with the utmost exertion of the crews, the vessels for twenty-four consecutive hours averaged a speed of only about fifty rods an hour. Up this stream to Rolling Fork it was thirty-two miles. To the same point by land, was twelve miles, over which Sherman marched, in order to cooperate with him. The channel was narrow and filled with small willows, which, so retarded the progress of the boats that with his utmost exertions Porter could average only about a half a mile an hour. At length he got within seven miles of the Rolling Fork, from whence there would be water enough to the Yazoo.

The inhabitants were filled with amazement to see a war fleet sailing through the heart of a country where a vessel of any kind had never before been seen, while the Negroes flocked in crowds to the shore to gaze on the unwonted spectacle. But as soon as the Confederate official in that section was informed of the expedition, he gave the alarm and ordered the torch to be applied to all the cotton along the shore, and Porter was lighted on his strange course by a continuous conflagration.

Negroes were also set to work cutting down trees to arrest his progress, until troops and guns could be brought up. Porter, made aware of the movement, pushed on the tug Thistle, with a howitzer on board, which reached the first tree before it was cut down. The tug then kept on to keep the way open, but the enemy at length succeeded in getting one large tree across the creek, and thus for a time stopped all further progress. Being now safe from our guns, the negroes, under the orders of their masters, continued to chop down trees until it was thought that Porter could make no farther advance. He, however, by working night and day—chopping and sawing them in two, or hauling them one side—at length cleared the channel and pushed on until he got within three miles of the Rolling Fork. Here he saw smoke rising over the tree tops in the direction of the Yazoo, and learned that the enemy was landing troops to dispute his passage. He immediately sent Lieutenant Murphy, with two boat howitzers and three hundred men to hold Rolling Fork until he could reach it with his boats.


After working all night, (says Porter,) and clearing out the obstructions, which were terrible, we succeeded in getting within eight hundred yards of the end of this troublesome creek; had only two or three large trees to remove, and one apparently short and easy lane of willows to work through. The men being much worn out, we rested at sunset.

In the morning we commenced with renewed vigor to work ahead through the willows, but our progress was very slow; the lithe trees defied our utmost efforts to get by them, and we had to go to work and pull them up separately, or cut them off under water, which was a most tedious job. In the mean time, the enemy had collected and landed about eight hundred men, and seven pieces of artillery, (from 20- to 30-pounders,) which were firing on our field pieces, from time to time, the latter not having range enough to reach them.

I was also informed that the enemy were cutting down trees in our rear, to prevent communication by water, and also prevent our escape; this looked unpleasant. I knew that five thousand men had embarked at Haines’ Bluff for this place, immediately they heard that we were attempting to go through that way, and, as our troops had not come up, I considered it unwise to risk the least thing; at all events, never to let my communication be closed behind me. I was somewhat strengthened in my determination to advance no further, until reinforced by land forces, when the enemy, at sunset, opened on us a cross-fire with six or seven rifled guns, planted somewhere off in the woods, where we could see nothing but the smoke. It did not take us long to dislodge them, though a large part of the crew being on shore at the time, we could not fire over them, or until they got on board.

I saw at once the difficulties we had to encounter, with a constant fire on, our working parties, and no prospect at present of the troops getting along. I had received a letter from General Sherman, informing me of the difficulties in getting forward his men, he doing his utmost, I know, to expedite matters.

The news of the felling trees in our rear was brought in frequently by Negroes, who were pressed into the service for cutting them, and I hesitated no longer about what to do. We dropped down again, unshipped our rudders, and let the vessels rebound from tree to tree.

As we left, the enemy took possession of the Indian mound, and in the morning opened fire on the Carondelet, Lieutenant Murphy, and Cincinnati, Lieutenant Bache; these two ships soon silenced the batteries, and we were no longer annoyed.

The sharpshooters hung about us, firing from behind trees and rifle pits; but with due precaution we had very few hurt—only five wounded by rifle balls, and they were hurt by being imprudent.

On the 21st, we fell in with Colonel Smith, commanding Eighth Missouri, and otter parts of regiments; we were quite pleased to see him, as I never knew before how much the comfort and safety of iron-clads, situated as we were, depended on the soldiers. I had already sent out behind a force of three hundred men, to stop the felling of trees in our rear, which Colonel Smith now took charge of. The enemy had already felled over forty heavy trees, which Lieutenant-Commander Owen, in the Louisville, working night and day, cleared away almost fast enough to permit us to meet with no delay.

Colonel Smith’s force was not enough to justify my making another effort to get through; he had no artillery, and would frequently have to leave the vessels in following the roads.

On the 22d, we came to a bend in the river, where the enemy supposed they had blockaded us completely, having cut a number of trees altogether, and so intertwined, that it seemed impossible to move them. The Louisville was at work at them, pulling them up, when we discovered about three thousand rebels attempting to pass the edge of the woods to our rear, while the Negroes reported artillery coming up on our quarter.

We were all ready for them, and, when the artillery opened on us, we opened such a fire on them, that they scarcely waited to hitch up their horses. At the same time, the rebel soldiers fell in with Colonel Smith’s troops, and after a sharp skirmish fled before the fire of our soldiers. After this we were troubled no more.


Although he now met Sherman’s advancing forces, he saw it would be folly to attempt to retrace his steps, and the expedition, after having sailed for upwards of a hundred and forty miles, right through the plantations of rebels, at length found itself once more at the starting point; and the last attempt to get around Vicksburg from the north had been made and abandoned. Porter made several efforts to send vessels past the batteries at Vicksburg, to cut off the enemy’s supplies from Red River, but, owing to mismanagement, they fell into the hands of the enemy. The Queen of the West and the Indianola were both lost to the squadron, but this did not deter the Admiral from pursuing his intentions.

The orders issued on these occasions show how well he calculated, and what would have been the consequences had they been carried out. The particulars of the loss of the Queen of the West, under Ellet, are given in the sketch of him. The Indianola was sent down past the batteries at Vicksburg, to cooperate with Ellet, but met him returning in the Era, and the commander, Lieutenant Brown, thus learned, for the first time, that he had lost his vessel. The Indianola then proceeded down the Mississippi to the mouth of Red River, and blockaded it for several days, when Brown, having learned that the Queen of the West had been repaired, and was on her way, with several other rebel boats, to attack him, he started to join Porter’s fleet above Vicksburg. He was, however, overtaken on the night of the 28th February, and two vessels struck the Indianola at the same time, bows on. A fierce engagement followed, but crash succeeded crash as the rebel vessels kept driving on her, and in a short time Brown found that she was sinking, when he ran her ashore and surrendered her. The rebels immediately began to repair her, as they did the Queen of the West. The two boats would make a formidable addition to their navy, and interfere seriously with some of Porter’s plans. A ludicrous incident, however, broke up this part of their programme, and almost repaid Porter for the mortification he felt over the loss of the vessel. To break up the monotony of the siege, and furnish some amusement to the men, as well as play a good joke on the enemy, he rigged up a sort of scow as a monitor, and set her afloat down the river. The strange craft so alarmed the rebels that they blew up the Indianola, and fled. We will, however, let the Admiral tell his own story. He says—


Ericsson saved the country with an iron Monitor—why could I not save it with a wooden one? An old coal barge, picked up in the river, was the foundation to build on. It was built of old boards in twelve hours, with pork barrels on top of each other for smoke-stacks, and two old canoes for quarter-boats. The furnaces were built of mud, and only intended to make black smoke and not steam.

Without knowing that Brown was in peril, I let loose our Monitor. When it was descried by the dim light of the morn, never did the batteries of Vicksburg open with such a din. The earth fairly trembled, and the shot flew thick around the devoted Monitor. But she ran safely past all the batteries, though under fire for an hour, and drifted down to the lower mouth of the canal. She was a much better looking vessel than the Indianola.

When it was broad daylight they opened upon her again with all the guns they could bring to bear, without a shot hitting her to do any harm, because they did not make her settle in the water, though going in at one side and out at the other. She was already full of water. The soldiers of our army shouted and laughed like mad.


The news of the safe passage of the batteries by this "Turreted Monster," was sent down to Warrenton, under the batteries of which the Queen of the West and Indianola were lying, causing the greatest consternation. The Queen of the West instantly got up steam, and hurried off as fast as her wheels could carry her. The Indianola, left alone, was, by direction of the authorities, at once blown up, to prevent her falling a victim to the slowly and majestically approaching Monitor. When the rebels found out the hoax that had been played on them, their rage and mortification knew no bounds. The Richmond Examiner, after reporting the fact, said "Laugh and hold your sides, lest ye die of surfeit of derision, O Yankeedom! Blown up, because forsooth a flatboat or mud-scow with a small house taken from the back garden of a plantation put on top of it, is floated down the river." The Dispatch said, grimly," Truly, an excellent joke; so excellent that every one connected with the affair should be branded with a T.M. ”Turreted Monster." The whole affair reminds one of the famous "Battle of the Kegs" in our War of Independence, and should be immortalized in as stirring a ballad.

Everything had been tried that the ingenuity of man could suggest, and there seemed no prospect of the capture of Vicksburg, until General Grant, in opposition to the views of the most of his officers, determined to turn it by landing his troops below.

To Admiral Porter was entrusted the task of getting the gunboats and transports past the batteries, which he succeeded in accomplishing (only losing one transport) under a tremendous fire of an hour and a half’s duration. His escape seemed almost miraculous, for the enemy had collected a large pile of combustibles on the bank, which they set on fire, just as the vessels came to a point, on which the fire of the batteries was concentrated. The conflagration lit up the whole bosom of the stream, throwing into distinct outline every dark hull. The Forest Queen was riddled with shot, and had to be towed down stream. The Henry Clay was set on fire, and blazed like a beacon through the gloom, while the crew, leaping into the boats, made their escape on the western bank. Of the three transports, the Silver Wave, alone, escaped unhurt. Porter’, however, succeeded in getting others through, by lashing barges to their sides, and Grant, who had marched below inland, had now gunboats and transports to take him over the river. But, thirty miles below Vicksburg, he found another obstruction in his path, the batteries’ of Grand Gulf, of which it was necessary to get possession, before the army could proceed.

At General Grant’s request, Admiral Porter attacked these batteries with six heavy gunboats, and, after a fight of five hours and a half, completely silenced them, took all the transports by in safety, and next morning with his gunboats and transports, conveyed the army to Bayou Pierre, where commenced that march which, after a series of beautiful moves, ended in the destruction of the city of Jackson, the dispersion of Joe Johnston’s forces, and the investment of Vicksburg in the rear.

The fight at Grand Gulf was one of the hardest, if not the hardest stand-up fight during the war. The enemy’s guns were very heavy, and placed in most commanding positions for a mile along the river, and although some of the gunboats were literally cut to pieces, there was not one that did not get at close quarters. The current was very powerful, and would whirl them around like tops, distracting the aim, and exposing every side to the rebel batteries; but they maintained a distance of from forty to three hundred yards, and never retired until the enemy was silenced.

The severity of the battle is shown by the heavy loss sustained in three ships—seventy-nine killed and wounded. Twenty-six were killed and wounded on the flagship Benton, though iron-clad.

After the army was landed at Bayou Pierre, Admiral Porter got under way again with his fleet, to end the matter of the Grand Gulf, but the rebels decamped on seeing him coming, and their guns and munitions of war fell into the hands of the navy. Thirteen guns were the fruits of this victory.

The same day of the capture of Grand Gulf, the Admiral pushed on down the river, with six gunboats, to communicate with Admiral Farragut, at the mouth of Red River, where, learning that General Banks was marching on the town of Alexandria, he pushed up the river to await him.

Fort de Russey and Alexandria fell into the hands of the navy, and, General Banks arriving a day or two after, the city was delivered over to him.

After this successful raid, in which much valuable property belonging to the rebel government was destroyed, Admiral Porter returned to Vicksburg, to cooperate with General Grant.

He destroyed the works and town of Warrenton, a place that had given our vessels considerable trouble, and deserved no mercy.

While the Admiral was below at Grand Gulf, he had all the upper fleets to regulate, one on the Tennessee, one on the Cumberland, one on the Yazoo, cooperating with General Sherman, while one long line stretched from Vicksburg to Cairo, the various reports of which would of themselves make a lengthy article. All his plans were carried out, and there was not an instance of any mishap to any of his vessels, or to the transports. Guerilla warfare was kept down on all the rivers, and the gunboats were dreaded by the rebels far and near.

When General Grant put himself in the rear of Vicksburg on the 18th of May, 1863, Admiral Porter immediately placed himself in communication, and supplied him with all the necessary stores wanted in his army.

On the evening of the 21st of May, the Admiral received a communication from General Grant, informing him that he intended attacking the rebel works on the following morning, and asked his cooperation.

At seven o’clock next day, the gunboats moved against the batteries, Admiral Porter leading in a small tug. The firing was kept up until one o’clock, at which time all the batteries along the river were silenced; but General McArthur was not permitted to take advantage of the naval success, and, General Grant’s plans having been thwarted in other respects, the combined attack was a failure.

The naval operations in the siege that followed, were chiefly confined to occasional attacks on the batteries, which could be of little avail without a cooperating force from the army.

One of the noblest spectacles of the war was the attack of the Cincinnati on the rebel batteries, when there was scarcely a hope that she could stand for five minutes the fire of the hundred guns which were concentrated on her. This was done at the request of General Sherman, who wished to get possession of that flank of the rebel works. He thought the heavy guns had been moved into Vicksburg, but was mistaken. Porter feared that he was, but with that readiness to make any sacrifice for the army, especially for such leaders as Sherman and Grant, which characterized him, he packed the steamer with logs and hay, and sent her down. Bache, her commander, carried her gallantly into the terrible fire, but in a few minutes she was completely riddled with shot, and began to sink. The flagstaff being shot away, Bache had the colors nailed to a stump of the foremast, and himself steered his vessel up stream towards the right-hand shore, but before she could be made fast, she went down, carrying fifteen of the crew with her. These, with the killed and wounded, made his loss over forty men.

Sherman from a hill top saw the terrific engagement, and its sad termination, and, in a letter to Porter, said the conduct of the Cincinnati "elicited universal praise, and I deplored the sad result as much as any one could."

Porter, at the request of Grant, now landed twenty 9-inch, 8-inch, and hundred-pounder rifles, in an incredibly short space of time, and transported them to the rear of Vicksburg. Most of them were worked by sailors and their officers and did excellent service.

That was a glorious Fourth of July, 1863, when the rebel flag was at last hauled down at Vicksburg, at 10 A.M., and the stars and stripes floated in its place. Admiral Porter, in his flagship, and the fleet following, passed down until he came abreast of the town, the guns firing, and the flags waving from every masthead. As he rounded to at the levee, General Grant and all his general officers came on board, and the warmest felicitations took place. It was a beautiful sight to see so many gallant men of the army and navy assembled together.

The country was electrified, when the telegraphic dispatch of Admiral Porter announced that Vicksburg was in possession of the Union forces. Grant was rewarded, as he deserved to be, with a high position, and with votes of thanks, and Acting Rear-Admiral Porter again received the thanks of Congress, and was created a full Rear-Admiral, the commission dated July 4th, which intelligence was conveyed to him in an autograph letter from the President.

The Secretary of the Navy, in his public dispatch to him, complimented him highly, and in conclusion said: "To yourself, your officers, and the brave and gallant sailors who have been so fertile in resources, so persistent and enduring through many months of trial and hardship, and so daring, under all circumstances, I tender, in the name of the President, the thanks and congratulations of the whole country, on the fall of Vicksburg."

After this great event, there was much to do to keep the banks of the Mississippi River free from guerrillas. Fourteen different districts were constituted with a regular naval officer in command of each. The White, Arkansas, and Red Rivers, were traversed by the gunboats as far as water would permit them to go, and the most dogged perseverance was shown by them to kill all rebels, or make them quit the country.

In no part of the country did harder stand-up fighting take place than in the Mississippi fleet. The rebels would bring numerous batteries on the rivers to blockade them and stop commerce, but Admiral Porter always had gunboats ready to drive them off or capture them.

In but one instance did a "tin-clad" succumb to the rebels. On several occasions they went down fighting, with colors flying, but they kept the river clear.

When the rebels marched suddenly into Helena with eighteen thousand men, under Price, and surprised the weak garrison there, and were putting them to the sword, Admiral Porter, who had heard of the move, and prepared for it, sent his gunboats up at the right moment, and defeated the rebels with great slaughter. This occurred on the 4th of July, at the hour when our flag was just going up on the flagstaff at Vicksburg.

General Prentiss wrote Admiral Porter a strong letter commendatory of the officer, Lieutenant Prichett, who had carried out the Admiral’s orders. Porter also sent an expedition to Yazoo city, and, though the Baron De Kalb was sunk by a torpedo, the frightened enemy set fire to five of their largest boats and left one to be captured.

Active operations were carried on in the heart of the enemy’s country in the seizure of Confederate cotton and steamers, by which the sailors were stimulated to renewed zeal, and secured a snug little sum of prize money. it is impossible in a single article to go over the whole field occupied by the forces under Porter.

The fleets in the upper Ohio and Tennessee, were kept very actively employed, and, owing to the perseverance of Lieutenant-Commander Fitch and his attention to orders, the rebel guerrilla Morgan, and all his gang, were captured. Strange to relate, all the artillery and wagons fell into the hands of the navy, one of the gunboats surprising them and causing the men to stampede.

After the fall of Vicksburg, Admiral Porter went to work raising from the bottom of the river the different vessels that had been sunk, among them the "Cincinnati." He refitted her, and she subsequently formed a part of Commodore Thatcher’s fleet in the attack on the enemy’s works at Mobile city.

The year 1864 opened with apparent quiet all along the Mississippi river, from Cairo to New Orleans. Occasionally there would be an attack of guerrillas or field pieces on a harmless merchant steamer, but the gunboats kept everything quiet. The rebels could not stand the shrapnel which was poured into them whenever they came in sight, for Porter’s fleet was ubiquitous and his blows fell on every side.

Sometime in the month of February, General Banks wrote to Admiral Porter and informed him that he was going up Red River as far as Shreveport, and asked the cooperation of the gunboats. This matter had been discussed by Porter and General W. T. Sherman, and it was proposed that, after the general made his first raid near Atlanta, he would suddenly return, and with the admiral make a dash up to Shreveport, destroy the rams and forts, bring off the cotton, and be back in Memphis on the 10th of April.

General Sherman, who was an old campaigner on Red River, and knew all about the rise and fall of water there, suggested that as the only feasible plan—consequently, the plans of the admiral were made to conform with this arrangement. General Sherman had agreed to meet the admiral at Vicksburg, on the 29th of February, and so confident was the latter of the general’s punctuality, although he had hundreds of miles to travel with his army, that he made his arrangements to meet him at that time.

Sherman arrived exactly on the day he said he would, and was quite surprised to learn that Banks was about to go to Shreveport. As McClernand was to be second in command, and he would not serve under him, he (Sherman) determined to go to New Orleans. On his return, General Sherman told Porter that he would have to give up the expedition, but that he would send General Andrew J. Smith, along with ten thousand men, to represent him, and that Gen. Banks had promised to be in Alexandria on the seventeenth day of May, and to push right on to Shreveport without delay. It was necessary to be governed by the height of water in Red River.

Porter landed General A. J. Smith, in the Atchafalaya, while gunboats pushed up Red River, to clear out the obstructions. The army and navy arrived about the same time, at Fort de Russey, which had been rebuilt since Porter’s destruction of it the preceding year, and heavily armed. The army assaulted and carried it as the shells of the leading gunboat drove the enemy from the water batteries which they had turned upon our troops. This was on the fifteenth of May. Porter then at once pushed on up to Alexandria, with the naval part of the expedition, and captured it on the 16th, one day before he promised to meet General Banks there. General A.. J. Smith came up shortly after, and held the town while Porter prepared to get the vessels over the "falls." The water was very low though rising slowly, but he saw that it was too late in the season for the gunboats to go any further. He supposed that Banks would give up the expedition when he got to Alexandria, and allow Sherman to have his troops again, with which to carry out General Grant’s plans. These plans were, for General Sherman to push on to Atlanta, while Banks made an attack on Mobile, open the Columbia railroad, and join the former in his march through the South. This plan was defeated by Banks pushing on to Shreveport, after cotton, and allowing the rebels to hold Mobile.

Had the latter place been captured, Sherman’s march—supplied, as he would have been, with provisions from Mobile—would have been an easy task. Banks, however, cared for no plans but his own. Instead of being, as he had promised, in Alexandria on the 17th of May, he did not leave New Orleans until the 22d. His army, under General Franklin, reached the place on the 20th; but. although well organized and ready to proceed, they could do nothing until the arrival of the general commanding. On the 20th the water was rapidly falling, and Porter told General Stone (Banks’ Chief-of-Staff) that it would be impossible to reach Shreveport, if he depended on the gunboats. Stone asserted (for Banks) that the gunboats were a necessity, and that without them the expedition could not succeed; and that all the failure to wipe out the rebel army in Louisiana would be due to the navy. Porter, who never allowed an army man to call on him in vain, determined at once to get the gunboats, over the falls," if he broke all their backs. So he went to work, trying to pull the Eastport, the largest boat, over, and after great labor succeeded. In -the mean time, on the 20th of May, General Banks arrived in a steamer loaded with champagne and ice, cotton speculators and brandy, and professing to be in a great hurry to get away on his march.

Porter had all his vessels over, ready for a start; but instead of moving right on, Banks started an election! He forced all the male inhabitants to go to the polls, threatening those who were supposed to be disloyal with his displeasure if they refused to vote, and promising the loyal to stay in the country and protect them, if they did vote. This affair occupied several days, and was the finishing blow to the expedition.

When at length the army started, Porter pushed the gunboats up to Grand Ecore, and captured that place before the arrival of the troops.

Five or six more days were wasted in electioneering at Grand Ecore, the water in the river still falling.

Porter now did all he could to persuade General Banks to give up the hope of getting the gunboats up, and to push on to Shreveport by himself; but the latter dared not move without them.

Selecting vessels of the lightest draft, and the proper kind of transports, drawing little water, Porter now pushed on to a point where Banks proposed to meet him with his army, having it perfectly understood that no other transports would follow. But he had not gone twenty miles, when six large transports joined the expedition, for the purpose of taking on board cotton. This delayed the vessels; but Porter could not get rid of them without sending a couple of gunboats back to protect them, and not a single gun could be spared, so he dragged them through.

No one can imagine the difficulties of that river for two hundred miles, as without pilots Porter had to thread his way through snags and shoals. It was a wonder he ever reached the appointed place, where he expected to find a victorious army.

He was much annoyed with rebel sharpshooters on his way up; but, by maintaining a fire of shells into the brush, he kept them at a respectful distance.

When he arrived at the landing where Banks expected to meet the fleet, he found a large steamer thrown across the river, from bank to bank, to stop his progress, while the silence of the grave reigned around.

Porter had with him, in command of the troops, General Smith, who landed with him and proposed landing his men. The former said, "No, General, there is something wrong; an army like that of Banks should have been here, and he has met with a check."

So they rode out to the front to reconnoiter, and at a short distance perceived a number of rebel horsemen watching their movements. Porter made up his mind that our army was nowhere near, and so they returned on board the vessels. He there met a messenger who had left General Banks the day before, and who informed him that the whole army was retreating. Here was an awkward dilemma for Porter—fifty vessels in a narrow river, and a victorious rebel army, with some fifty pieces of artillery, between him and safety. But there was no time to be lost, and, although the night was coming on, he ordered a return, issuing the most stringent instructions about the movements of the vessels. He also distributed the different gunboats among the transports, to protect the latter.

One has observed how a rain shower comes on—first a drop or two, then a slight pattering rain, then a heavy shower, and, finally, a torrent. So now commenced the bullets from the rebel sharpshooters—first a few, then in companies of twenty, then by hundreds, then by thousands.

The soldiers and sailors, screening themselves as best they could, drove off these fellows with their bullets, while the gunboats kept shelling them all day and night. It was a most tedious and harassing retreat.

Porter had succeeded in getting about half-way down the river, when a heavy fire of artillery and musketry was opened on the middle of the line by the rebels. Fortunately this happened to be where Porter had two good gunboats, the Lexington, under Lieut. George M. Bache; and a small iron-clad, under Lieut. Commander Thomas O. Selfridge. Some of the army boats had field-pieces on their upper decks, and all these vessels opened heavily on the rebels.

Porter was just getting his gunboats below in position to attack a battery that the enemy had thrown up to stop him, when he heard heavy firing behind him. He at once left his work to return and see what was going on, and arrived just in time to see the army retreating in all directions, and completely routed.

The rebels had made their attack at the most difficult part of the river, where four or five of our vessels were fast in the mud, and others alongside of them trying to pull them off. The advance consisted of three thousand men, with a reserve of seven thousand a mile back, ready to come to their assistance. They were commanded by General Green, their best general, and one who had given our people a great deal of trouble.

He soon found that his men could not stand our fire; but he determined not to retreat, and forced his troops up to the edge of the bank, where our gunboats fairly mowed them down. He finally got his head shot off, and, nearly all his officers having been killed around him, the rest retreated in disorder, cut up as they fled. Their artillery and all the killed and wounded were left on the field of battle. The seven thousand in reserve never advanced at all, and soon followed the retreating mob, losing a number of men by our far-reaching shells.

This was the victorious army that had defeated Banks the day before, and, flushed with victory, pounced on Porter. They calculated that the high banks and low water, and the grounding of his vessels, would give them an easy victory. They were then to fall on Banks’ army again, and capture the provisions and medical stores, and thus compel its surrender. The death of General Green defeated this plan.

The management of the rebel army now fell into the hands of drunken Dick Taylor, who was entirely incompetent to conduct it. He did really nothing, except hang on Banks’ rear and pick up a few barrels of whiskey, and a few stragglers.

When Porter arrived at Grand Ecore, three days after the above fight, he found the army perfectly demoralized and Banks ready to run any where. He advised him to hold on, and not retreat, and to occupy the country until the spring rains, when they could go up again. He told him that he could supply him with his light vessels; but Banks chose to retreat, and, finally, reached Alexandria in safety

Porter knew he could not get out of the river then without help. But, in a conversation with Colonel Bailey, a plain, common-sense man, the latter assured him he would have no difficulty about getting the vessels over the "falls."

The Admiral now had to fight his way back, overcoming difficulties that would have disheartened any other man. He finally reached Alexandria, with all his gunboats, except the Eastport, and his own "tin-clad" steamer, the Cricket, which was so cut up that there was scarcely any of her left. Half her crew were killed and wounded, and some of the other vessels had fared almost as badly.

Porter’s efforts to save the Eastport show, not only the indomitable character of the man, but that chivalric feeling which belongs to the whole race. After she had been lightened and got afloat she again grounded. Although she was taken several miles down the river, grounding in all eight times, he would not abandon her. Had he acted on his own judgment he doubtless would have blown her up before he did; but, seeing the determination of her commander, Lieutenant E. T. Phelps, and his crew to save her, and admiring the ceaseless Herculean efforts they put forth, he stuck to them like a brother. He said: "I determined that I would never leave this vessel to her fate, as long as her commander felt a hope of getting her down." The army was sixty miles ahead of him, and a snaggy, shallow river, with its banks filled with sharpshooters, lay between. The Eastport was finally brought down sixty miles from the place where she first sunk, and he had strong hopes of getting her through, when she ran fast aground, with a bed of logs under her, and had to be blown up. Phelps himself applied the match.

Porter now fought his way back to Alexandria, at one point under a heavy fire.


Finding (he says) the guns not firing rapidly, I stepped on the gundeck, to see what was the matter. As I stepped down, the after gun was struck with a shell and disabled, and every man killed or wounded. At the same moment, the crew from the forward gun were swept away by a shell exploding, and the men were wounded in the fire-room, leaving only one man to fire up.

I made up a gun’s crew from the contrabands, who fought the gun to the last moment. Finding that the engine did not move, I went into the engine-room and found the chief engineer killed, whose place was soon supplied by an assistant. I then went to the pilot-house, and found that a shot had gone through it, and wounded one of the pilots. I took charge of the vessel, and, as the battery was a very heavy one, I determined to pass it, which was done under the heaviest fire I ever witnessed.


The moment he arrived at Alexandria, and found that he could not get over the falls, he called to see what General Banks was going to do. He found him determined to leave as soon as he could gather all the cotton in and about Alexandria, and talked to Porter about blowing up his gunboats, which the latter laughed at.

Seeing how things were going, he sent a bearer of dispatches to Washington, which were telegraphed from Cairo. On Porter’s representations, General Canby was sent out to relieve Banks, and with orders to stay with the army in Alexandria, until the gunboats were relieved.

The same orders came to Banks, much to his surprise, as he knew nothing about Porter’s action. In the mean time, the latter called on Banks and laid Colonel Bailey’s’ proposition, for getting the boats over the falls, before him. He looked at it kindly enough, but took no steps towards doing anything, until General Franklin urged it. Then, after three days’ vacillation, he gave the proper orders, placing at Colonel Bailey’s disposal three thousand men, and two or three hundred wagons. All the neighboring steam-mills were torn down for material, two or three regiments of marine men were set to work felling trees, which soon were coming down with great rapidity, teams we’re moving in all directions bringing in brick and stone, quarries opened, flatboats built, and the forest became a human hive, while the shouts of men resounded on every side.

In the mean time, General Hunter came up to see how matters stood, and he and Banks called to see Porter. General Hunter said to Porter: "Admiral, which of your vessels above the falls can you best afford to blow up?" He answered, "Not one of them, sir; not even the smallest. If I can’t get over the falls, and the army leave me, I can take care of myself, and will get out at the first rise.”

Still, it would have subjected him to great inconvenience for a couple of months, but he knew that before that time had elapsed, General Sherman would come up there, if he was in danger.

We cannot do better than give the account of the building of the dams and passage of the falls, in Porter’s own graphic and eloquent language.


These falls are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks, over which, at the present stage of water, it seemed to be impossible to make a channel.

The work was commenced by running out from the left bank of the river, a tree-dam, made of the bodies of very large trees, brush, brick, and stone, cross-tied with other heavy timber, and strengthened in every way which ingenuity could devise. This was run out about three hundred feet into the river; four large coal barges were then filled with bri9k, and sunk at the end of it. From the right bank of the river, cribs filled with stone were built out to meet the barges. All of which was successfully accomplished, notwithstanding there was a current running of nine miles an hour which threatened to sweep everything before it.

It will take too much time to enter into the details of this truly wonderful work. Suffice it to say, that the dam had nearly reached completion in eight days’ working time, and the water had risen sufficiently on the upper falls to allow the Fort Hindman, Osage, and Neosho, to get down and be ready to pass the dam. In another day it would have been high enough to enable all the other vessels to pass the upper falls. Unfortunately, on the morning of the 9th instant, the pressure of water became so great, that it swept away two of the stone barges, which swung in below the dam on one side. Seeing this unfortunate accident, I jumped on a horse and rode up to where the upper vessels were anchored, and ordered the Lexington to pass the upper falls, if possible, and immediately attempt to. go through the dam. I thought I might be able to save the four vessels below, not knowing whether the persons employed on the work would ever have the heart to renew their enterprise.

The Lexington succeeded in getting over the upper falls just in time, the water rapidly falling as she was passing over. She then steered directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was rushing so furiously that it seemed as if nothing but destruction awaited her. Thousands of beating hearts looked on, anxious for the result. The silence was so great, as the Lexington approached the dam, that a pin might almost be heard to fall. She entered the gap with a full head of steam on, pitched down the roaring torrent, made two or three spasmodic rolls, hung for a moment on the rocks below, was then swept into deep water by the current, and rounded-to safely into the bank. Thirty thousand voices rose in one deafening cheer, and universal joy seemed to pervade the face of every man present.

The Neosho followed next; all her hatches battened down, and every precaution taken against accident. She did not fare as well as the Lexington, her pilot having become frightened as he approached the abyss, and stopped her engine, when I particularly ordered a full head of steam to be carried; the result was, that for a moment her hull disappeared from sight under the water. Every one thought she was lost. She rose, however, swept along over the rocks with the current, and fortunately escaped with only one hole in her bottom, which was stopped in the course of an hour.

The Hindman and Osage both came through beautifully without touching a thing, and I thought if I was only fortunate enough to get my large vessels as well over the falls, my fleet once more would do good service on the Mississippi.

The accident to the dam, instead of disheartening Colonel Bailey, only induced him to renew his exertions, after he had seen the success of getting four vessels through.

The noble-hearted soldiers, seeing the labor of the last eight days swept away in a moment, cheerfully went to work to repair damages, being confident now that all the gunboats would be finally brought over. These men had been working for eight days and nights, up to their necks in the water in the boiling sun, cutting trees and wheeling bricks, and nothing but good humor prevailed among them. On the whole, it was very fortunate the dam was carried away, as the two barges that were swept away from the centre swung around against some rocks on the left, and made a fine cushion for the vessels, and prevented them, as it afterwards appeared, from running on certain destruction.

The force of the water and the current being too great to construct a continuous dam of six hundred feet across the river in so short a time, Colonel Bailey determined to leave a gap of fifty-five feet in the dam, and build a series of wing-dams on the upper falls. This was accomplished in three days’ time, and on the 11th instant the Mound City, Carondelet, and Pittsburg, came over the upper falls, a good deal of labor having been expended in hauling them through, the channel being very crooked, scarcely wide enough for them. Next day, the Ozark, Louisville, Chillicothe, and two tugs, also succeeded in crossing the upper falls. Immediately afterwards, the Mound City, Carondelet, and Pittsburg, started in succession to pass the dam, all their hatches battened down, and every precaution taken to prevent accident. The passage of these vessels was a most beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen. They passed over without an accident, except the unshipping of one or two rudders. This was witnessed by all the troops, and the vessels were heartily cheered when they passed over. Next morning at 10 o’clock, the Louisville, Chillicothe, Ozark, and two tugs, passed over without any accident, except the loss of a man, who was swept off the decks of one of the tugs. By 3 o’clock that afternoon, the vessels were all coaled, ammunition replaced, and all steamed down the river, with the convoy of transports in company. A good deal of difficulty was anticipated in getting over the bars in lower Red River; depth of water reported only five feet; gunboats were drawing six. Providentially, we had a rise from the back-water of the Mississippi, that river being very high at that time; the back-water extending to Alexandria, one hundred and fifty miles distant, enabling us to pass all the bars and obstructions with safety.

Words are inadequate to express the admiration I feel for the abilities of Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey. This is, without doubt, the best engineering feat ever performed. Under the best circumstances, a private company would not have completed this work under one year, and to an ordinary mind the whole thing would have appeared an utter impossibility. Leaving out his abilities as an engineer, the credit he has conferred upon the country, he has saved to the Union a valuable fleet, worth nearly two million dollars. More, he has deprived the enemy of a triumph, which would have emboldened them to carry on this war a year or two longer; for the intended departure of the army was a fixed fact, and there was nothing left for me to do, in case that event occurred, but to destroy every part of the vessels, so that the rebels could make nothing of them. The highest honors the government can bestow on Colonel Bailey, can never repay him for the services he has rendered the country.


The Signal and Covington were unfortunately lost below Alexandria, although they were fought to the last. The commander of the latter was compelled to blow her up, but the former was surrendered, as her decks were so covered with the wounded, that Lieutenant Morgan refrained, from feelings of humanity, from blowing her up.

Porter not only complimented Bailey in his report, but got him promoted to Brigadier General. Not satisfied with this, he presented him with a splendid sword, costing seven hundred dollars. He also, with the officers of the fleet, presented him with a silver vase, emblematic of the event, that cost sixteen hundred dollars, and has never lost his interest in him from that time to this.

It was the opinion of the army and of the country, that the fleet would have been destroyed in case the army left; but this was a mistake. The fleet had nearly four months’ provisions, and could have maintained itself easily until the next rise of water, which took place two months afterwards. Porter did not attempt to discourage this belief; for he was determined not to stay there. His fleet was needed on the Mississippi—in fact, the Government could not do without it.

There was a stretch of river above the falls, of forty miles extent, where the vessels could have gone up and down} without hindrance. The guns of the fleet were too heavy and too numerous to permit the rebels to erect any batteries, and they had no heavy guns of any kind with which to do the fleet much harm. Some inconvenience might have been felt from sharpshooters, but the rebels had too wholesome a dread of gunboats and shrapnel, to venture within reach of the navy batteries, and Porter would have stood at bay there till the last ounce of provision was gone.

The friends of General Banks attempted to break his fall, by laying a part of the blame of the failure of the expedition on the navy; but it would not do, and praise instead of censure is meted out to Porter for the management of his part of the unfortunate undertaking.

The latter part of Admiral Porter’s command on the Mississippi, was spent in chasing the rebels from river to river, giving them no rest by night or day. He also opened communication with the army, and supplied it with provisions.

While General Grant was preparing to attack the rebels at Chattanooga, Admiral Porter accidentally heard that General Sherman had left Memphis with thirty thousand men, to join him by the Corinth road.

It was usual with General Sherman to keep the Admiral notified of his movements, in case he should want assistance; but the former supposed that he would have no difficulty in crossing the Tennessee, as it was the stage of low water, and he did not think, moreover, that the light-draught gunboats could get up to Florence, a place somewhat above where he intended to cross. But Admiral Porter thought otherwise. The moment he heard of Sherman’s move from Memphis, he selected the lightest-draught gunboats, and took off some of their guns, so that they would draw the least possible water. He then planked over some empty coal barges to serve as bridges, and sent along a light-draught ferryboat. Light-draught transports were also added with stores for the army, and the fleet was dispatched up the Tennessee, under the command of Captain Phelps, an able officer.

When the advance guard of General Sherman arrived at Corinth, he rode over to the Tennessee and found the river rising. A heavy rain-storm set in, and in a few hours it was booming. All efforts to construct a bridge failed, while the wagons that attempted to ford the stream were damaged and had to give it up. Finally, the current became so strong that Sherman felt that he would have to wait patiently for the waters to subside. He rode back to camp quite disheartened, and throwing him self on his camp bed, felt, he said, “as if he had a thirty-pound shot in his stomach." He was thinking of the mutability of human affairs, when an orderly rode up at full speed and informed him that the admiral was in sight, coming up with the gunboats. The orderly had mistaken the divisional flag of the district commander for that of the admiral. It was like an electric shock to Sherman, and jumping up he rode over immediately to the river, when Captain Phelps, in the name of the admiral, placed the vessels at his disposal.

With the flatboats, ferryboats, gunboats, and transports, only a few days were occupied in crossing the river, and, with a fresh supply of stores and forage, General Sherman marched with elated spirits forward. As it is well known he did not arrive at Chattanooga a moment too soon. But for Porter’s forecast and thoughtfulness, what a different result might have been reached.

After the great victory of Missionary Ridge, the state of Tennessee became comparatively quiet. Still the upper part of the Tennessee River was much infested with rebels, and Admiral Porter armed and equipped four steamers that had been built by the army above Muscle Shoals, and formed a little squadron there under a lieutenant of the regular navy, which did good service during the campaign, and rendered material aid to our forces. He also sent fifteen vessels of different kinds to Admiral Farragut, some of which performed an important part in the attack on Mobile.

Admiral Porter found it necessary to rule on the Mississippi with an iron hand. He constantly came in contact with dishonest speculators, cotton stealers, and swindlers of all kinds, to whom he showed no mercy. These persons hired hostile presses to abuse him, which had about as much effect on him as pouring oil on fire to put it out.

He performed his duty faithfully and fearlessly, to the satisfaction of the government.

After an active and harassing service of two years’ on the Mississippi, Admiral Porter was invited by the Secretary of the Navy to pay a visit to Washington, and see his family, with whom he had only been a few days during the war, and then under circumstances where he could not enjoy their society. He now spent three months at the North, quietly enjoying the rest he so much needed, and, when his health was somewhat improved, started, via Washington, to return to his duties in the West. But while at the capital, he was tendered the command of the North Atlantic squadron, which he disliked to accept, as it interfered with another officer, but the matter was not left to him.

The capture of Fort Fisher, long a cherished object with the Secretary of the Navy, was now taken up again, and Porter and Mr. Fox, assistant secretary, were sent to City Point in September, 1864, to confer with Grant about it. The latter agreed to furnish eight or nine thousand men to be placed under Weitzel.

A large fleet was at once ordered to assemble in Hampton Roads. A powerful force was soon gathered and organized into five divisions, under five commodores, each of whom had charge of the fitting out of his own squadron, and in a few days Porter was ready to move. But long delay followed, as General Grant just then could not spare the troops. This delay, however, did the navy no harm. It gave the commanders an opportunity to discipline and exercise their crews, and to become familiar with the plans of the Commander-in-chief, which were given in full to every officer in command.

The smaller vessels were in the mean time placed on blockade duty, off the Cape Fear inlets, and the system adopted by Porter almost broke up the blockade running.

The steamers were placed in three half-circles, one outside of the other. The first circle was near the bars, the second about twelve miles outside of that, and the third one hundred miles outside of all. All the vessels in the circles were within signal distance, so that a steamer could not pass between them without being seen.

If a blockade runner got out of Wilmington at or before daylight, she would be seen by the middle circle. If she left Wilmington after sunset, she would be picked up by the outer circle at daylight the next morning, &c. This plan succeeded admirably, and, in less than thirty-five days, over seven millions of the enemy’s property were either captured or destroyed.

Other portions of the squadron were actively engaged during the time the larger vessels were lying in Hampton Roads.

He sent Lieutenant Cushing to Plymouth, N. C., to attempt to blow up the rebel ram Albemarle, and, at the same time, gave instructions to Commander Macomb, the senior officer in the Sounds, to assist him with boats, and to take advantage of the opportunity if he succeeded. Cushing did succeed; and Macomb, like a brave officer, availing himself of the consequent confusion,’ attacked the forts at Plymouth with his small force, capturing them and everything in the town. The fruits of this victory were: twenty-two heavy cannon, thirty-seven prisoners, and over four hundred stand of arms. There were more guns in the forts than were carried by the fragile vessels that made the attack.

In the middle of December, the fleet, which had been lying all winter in Hampton Roads, sailed. No American commander, and scarcely any European one, ever led so imposing a fleet as Porter now had under him. Over seventy vessels of various kinds composed it; and, when it was all assembled near Fort Fisher, it presented a grand and imposing spectacle. And never did a fleet have a nobler captain at its head.

Before the attack commenced, a powder-boat, with sufficient powder aboard, it was thought, to blow up the magazine of the fort, was towed up to the neighborhood of the works by Commander A. C. Rhind and Lieutenant S. W. Preston, and fired. These gallant men never expected to return alive, yet they unflinchingly performed the perilous task assigned them, and received the warmest commendation of Porter.

No adequate description of the bombardment that followed can be given.

The attack was made with thirty-seven vessels, with nineteen more in reserve; and when they took up their respective positions, and opened fire, the spectacle was one of the grandest ever witnessed on earth. The shells, crossing and recrossing each other in every direction, made the heavens one great fretwork of fire, while the explosion of so m any cannon made land and sea tremble. The hostile batteries at first responded, but as soon as Porter got all his guns to bear, he poured such a horrible, ceaseless storm of shells into the works, that the gunners took refuge in their casements, and the fort stood and received the remorseless pounding in silence.

The bombardment was kept up for five hours, and during that time six one-hundred-pound Parrott guns burst on board the vessels, killing and wounding several men.

The troops not all having arrived, Porter, at night, withdrew his fleet. The next morning, Christmas, he again signalled to form line of battle, and the awful fire of the day before was repeated. Under cover of it, part of the troops were landed, and some daring soldiers actually walked inside the works. But Weitzel, after a reconnoissance, pronounced them too strong to be carried by assault, and Butler, who had taken command, resolved to abandon the attempt, and reembark the troops. When this decision was reported to the Admiral, he was at the table, after a hard day’s work, eating a Christmas turkey. "Well," said he, "that don’t spoil my appetite," and, turning to an officer near him, quietly asked, "What part of the turkey will you have?" and said no more about it. The fact was, he thought the sooner General Butler went back the better. He continued filling up with ammunition, confident that Grant would not let the affair end so in reporting it to the Department, he said that he did not wish to put his opinion against so able an engineer as Weitzel. "But," he dryly added, "I can’t help thinking it was worth while making the attempt after coming so far." In an after report he said, "there never was a fort that invited soldiers to walk in and take possession more plainly than Fort Fisher."

It is useless, in the light of subsequent events, to go over Butler’s report, and show how false Porter found his statements to be. A charlatan, and ignorant of military matters, the former never should have been allowed any command in the expedition. With such men as Grant and Sherman, Porter could always act with perfect accord, but, with military leaders like Banks and Butler, it was impossible-for gallantry and ability cannot harmonize with cowardice or imbecility.

Porter now went on to prepare for another attack, which the government determined should be made. In the mean time a succession of gales swept over him, which the enemy thought would drive him off; but they little knew the man. He held on, though at times it seemed impossible to do so.

On the 13th of January, another military force having arrived under General Terry, preparations were at once made to take the fort, and, under cover of the fire of the iron-clads, the troops were landed. The next day Porter again formed his line of battle, and, with all the ships carrying eleven-inch guns, opened on the fort. He rained a horrible tempest on it till sunset, when, as he said, "the fort was reduced to a pulp, and every gun silenced." That evening Terry came on board his ship, to arrange for the assault next day.

It was determined that Porter should furnish sixteen hundred seamen and four hundred marines, to constitute a storming party against the sea side, while Terry assaulted the land side.

The next day, at eleven o’clock, Porter was again in line of battle, and, with his anchors down, once more rained his shells into the fort. A fire that nothing human could stand was kept up till three o’clock, when the long-expected signal from shore came, that the troops were ready to assault.


The vessels then changed their fire to the upper batteries; all the steam whistles were blown, and the troops and sailors dashed ahead, nobly vying with each other to reach the top of the parapet; we had evidently (we thought) injured all the large guns, so that they could not be fired to annoy any one. The sailors took to the assault by the flank along the beach, while the troops rushed in at the left, through the palisades that had been knocked away by the fire of our guns.

All the arrangements on the part of the sailors had been well carried out; they had succeeded in getting up to within a short distance of the fort, and lay securely in their ditches. We had but very few killed and wounded to this point. The marines were to have held the rifle-pits and cover the boarding party, which they failed to do. On rushing through the palisades, which extended from the fort to the sea, the head of the column received a murderous fire of grape and canister, which did not, however, check the officers and sailors who were leading. The parapets now swarmed with rebels, who poured in a destructive fire of musketry. At this moment, had the marines performed their duty, every one of the rebels would have been killed.

I witnessed the whole affair, saw how recklessly the rebels exposed themselves, and what an advantage they gave our sharpshooters, whose guns were scarcely fired, or fired with no precision. Notwithstanding the hot fire, officers and sailors in the lead rushed on, and some even reached the parapet, a large number having reached the ditch.

The advance was swept from the parapet like chaff; and notwithstanding all the efforts made by commanders of companies to stop them, the men in the rear, seeing the slaughter in front, and that they were not covered by the marines, commenced to retreat, and as there is no stopping a sailor if he fails on such an occasion on the first rush, I saw the whole thing had to be given up.


The troops, however, kept on; and, fighting from traverse to traverse in the darkness, at length cleared the works. Terry’s signal torch blazed front the ramparts, announcing the victory, which Porter, with rockets in turn, announced to the fleet, when there arose such thundering cheers as never before shook the waters of that bay.

The fleet in this bombardment had thrown fifty thousand shells; its great loss was in this assault. Among the killed, were the gallant lieutenants, S. W. Preston and B. H. Porter.

General Butler was in Washington, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, giving the reasons why it was unwise and hopeless to attempt to carry Fort Fisher by assault, when the astounding news came that it had fallen. His able exposition was cut short and the country lost the benefit of the whole argument he had planned. The shout of victory that went up closed the controversy that had been carried on between him and Porter, and raised the latter still higher in the popular estimation. A greater triumph, after all his harassing difficulties, could not have been awarded him.

The navy captured in the various works here one hundred and sixty-eight cannon.

After the capture of Fort Fisher and the adjacent works, Admiral Porter, by direction of the Navy Department, sent off all the vessels he could spare to points where they were most wanted, and, leaving proper officers in command, proceeded with an increased force to join General Grant, at City Point. There was little that the navy could do there, except to keep the rebel rams in check, for a heavy barricade in the river barred all progress toward Richmond.

Porter remained at City Point until Lee surrendered and Richmond fell, giving what aid he could. When the war was ended, he applied to be detached from the North Atlantic Squadron, having seen the first and last gun of the war fired. During the whole war he was constantly in service; and, although at times his mind and body required rest, he never applied for leave of absence. He received the thanks of Congress for the Fort Fisher affair, and those of many of the State legislatures; this being the fourth vote of thanks received from Congress during the war, including the general one for the capture of New Orleans.

Admiral Porter possesses in an eminent degree all those distinguished qualities found in a great and successful commander. Of consummate nautical skill, he adds to it an originality of conception and a boldness of execution that always ensure success. Joined to all these is an inflexibility of purpose that nothing can move. Having once made up his mind to a course, he will admit of no impossibilities, but drives toward his object with a fierceness and power that bear down all opposition. Bonaparte said that moral force is half, even when every thing seems to depend on hard blows. All this is true; yet it is a force which few can calculate. The power to do this, Porter possesses in an eminent degree. A bold and confident bearing, where others would fail-the assurance of victory which he exhibits to his own men, and at the same time to the enemy, impart courage and strength to the former, and corresponding doubt and vacillation to the latter. He is aware of this, and acts on the knowledge. Hence, his plans and attempts sometimes seem rash to those who do not comprehend this quality, and they attribute to luck what is due to genius. He is the beau ideal of a commander to sailors, who never seem to doubt that he will accomplish every thing which he undertakes

He takes care of his subordinates, and delights in their promotion as much as in his own. Just and generous to the brave, he is severe and unsparing to the timid and reluctant. Frank and outspoken, one always knows where to find him. A strong writer, his reports and journal would make an interesting book by themselves. The government appreciated his great services and abilities by making him Vice-Admiral, so that he now stands next to Farragut in rank, and in time will, doubtless, occupy his place.

At present, he is President of the Naval School at Annapolis.

Chapter XVI

Return to table of contents