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MEMOIRS OF HENRY VILLARD




BOOK FIVE

IN CIVIL-WAR TIME: CHARLESTON



CHAPTER XXIV

At Hilton Head.—1863

FOR a few days I was quite a lion in Washington as the first arrival from the front. The Tribune office was crowded day and night with army officers, members of Congress and others who wished to talk with me about the battle. Wherever I went—in the departments, at the hotels, in private houses, and on the sidewalks—I was beset by eager inquirers. I did not mince words, and can flatter myself that my earnest denunciations had something to do with the early inquiry into the Fredericksburg campaign instituted by the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, which fully brought out the facts of the case. Owing to the contradictory evidence given by the commanders involved, the public mind, however, remained much befogged as to where the real responsibility for the disaster belonged.

It is a matter of record that Burnside, notwithstanding his thorough defeat, clung for some time to the plan of trying another offensive movement without delay, and that his obstinacy and illusions in this respect were brought to an end only by his famous so-called "mud march" on January 21. But I was convinced that the unfavorable season and the condition of the army rendered further collisions be tween the armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia before spring very improbable. I advised our managing editor that I thought it not worth while on that account to return to the front, and suggested that I be sent to the coast of South Carolina in order to witness the impending combined land and naval attack on Charleston. My recommendation was approved, and, accordingly, I left Washington in the first week of January, 1863, for New York, and sailed thence on the 14th on the steamship Arago for Port Royal harbor.

The Arago had been running regularly before the war as a passenger and freight steamer in the Havre trade, and was a large and commodious, but not very fast, ship. She had been chartered by the Government for some time, and was making three trips a month to the port mentioned, carrying Government supplies, but only such passengers as were in the public service or had permits from the War Department. Captain Gadsden was very obliging and jolly. There were only seven passengers in all in the first cabin, besides myself, including my old acquaintance, Major-General David B. Hunter, and his assistant ad jutant-general, Major Halpine, two other staff officers, and some very nice ladies from Pennsylvania, who, like so many other patriotic and self-sacrificing Northern women, had volunteered for educational work among the negroes of the Sea Islands. Major-General Hunter had been in command of the Department of the South since the preceding summer, but, having become involved in mis understandings with the Washington authorities, had asked and obtained leave in August to visit the capital for explanations. It was then decided to replace him by General O. M. Mitchel, who died late in October, 1862, after holding the command for a few weeks. Hunter was now return ing to resume his position. He was over severity years old, but tried to assume a younger appearance by wearing a full, dark-brown wig and giving his short moustache the same artificial color. He was a man of moderate ability, but an ardent patriot, a true gentleman, and very pleasing in his intercourse with others. I knew Major Halpine as an Irish poet and wit, under the sobriquet of "Miles O Reilly," and a writer for the New York Times before the war, and found him again a very entertaining and amusing companion.

With the luxurious comforts of the Arago, the voyage ought to have been a pleasure trip, but we had stormy weather from Sandy Hook to beyond Cape Hatteras; all the passengers except myself were very sick. We arrived on the afternoon of the 18th of January. As we entered the harbor, the forts taken from the rebels, on the right and left of its mouth, fired salutes in honor of the department commander. After we were made fast to the long dock, built out since the Federal occupation, from Hilton Head Island, which formed the south side of the harbor, many army and navy officers at once boarded the Arago, including Brigadier-General Ferry and Fleet-Captain Rodgers, to welcome General Hunter. Captain Gadsden kindly permitted me to remain on the Arago while she stayed in port, thus giving me several days in which to consider and decide upon my future course.

A brief review of the operations of the Union army and navy along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia be fore my arrival will be in place here. A direct and special punishment of the former State, as the hotbed of secession, had been insisted upon by public opinion in the loyal North ever since the first outbreak of the Rebellion. The Federal Government was quite disposed to yield to the popular demand. The occupation of the South Atlantic ports was the subject of special study by a board of officers which sat in Washington in June and July, 1861. In the first days of August, orders were issued to General Thomas W. Sherman to form an expeditionary corps of 12,000 men in the New England States, and to Captain Dupont of the navy to collect a fleet of vessels in Hampton Roads, for a combined aggressive movement down the coast. According to Nicolay and Hay, President Lincoln explained personally at a Cabinet meeting the purposes of the Government in this direction to General Sherman, and expressed to him the desire that the expedition should start early in September. The starting was, however, postponed till October, and did not actually take place before the end of that month. On October 29, between fifty and sixty steam-vessels, of which fourteen were men-of-war and the remainder loaded with troops and quartermasters' and commissary stores, stood out from the Roads. The fleet encountered a storm the very next day, which resulted in the loss and disabling of some of the transports. The remainder reached Port Royal harbor in safety. On November 7 the men-of-war attacked the two rebel forts on the north and south sides of the entrance, mounting, respectively, twenty and twenty-three heavy guns, while the Federal ships carried one hundred and thirty. Nine of the ships, led by the frigate Wabash, moved up the harbor, following each other in a single line at short intervals, and delivering their broadsides against the two forts as they passed them. When beyond the range of the rebel guns, the death-dealing procession steered around and steamed back to the entrance, again firing broadsides while passing the rebel works. This movement was repeated three times, when the rebels abandoned, first, the strongest fort on the south side, and, later, that on the north side. The fire of the vessels had been so sweeping and destructive that the enemy became panic-stricken and sought safety in precipitate flight. Our victory cost only eight killed and twenty-three wounded. The fugitives spread the panic from the forts to the whole coast, from North Edisto to Warsaw Sound, with the result that the Sea Islands and the harbors of Port Royal, St. Helena, North and South Edisto, Tybee Roads, Warsaw Sound, and Ossabaw Sound fell under Federal control without the shedding of another drop of blood.

The troops were landed on the south shore of Port Royal harbor and established themselves in regular camps. From this base of operations the land and naval forces, during 1862, gradually reëstablished the Federal authority, not only along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, but also at points on the Florida coast, including Fernandina, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine. The most noteworthy achievement was the reduction, in April, 1862, of Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Cockspur River, commanding the approach to the city of Savannah, under the direction of General Quincy A. Gillmore of the regular Corps of Engineers. He accomplished an extraordinary feat by planting, during many weeks of night labor, eleven batteries of thirty-six heavy guns, weighing from eight to eight and a half tons each, in a bottomless morass, without discovery and interference by the enemy. The siege was remarkable also as the first practical demonstration of the worthlessness of walls of masonry as a defence against modern rifled artillery. The fire of our guns, at ranges from 1650 to 3400 yards, made the fort untenable in thirty hours, and surrender unconditional.

In the early spring of 1862, Major-General Hunter was assigned to the chief command of the Department of the South, while General T. W. Sherman remained in charge of that of South Carolina. Hunter soon attracted general attention by the famous order he issued on May 9, 1862, announcing that "slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in the three States of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free." This act was nothing less than the abolition of slavery by military authority, five months in advance of the preliminary, and eight months before the definitive, Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. General Hunter had no special authority from the War Department to issue the order, but promulgated it by virtue of his absolute powers as military ruler over territory under martial law. As one of the truest loyalists in the regular and volunteer armies, he was also moved by his sense of duty to the Government, and was among the first to perceive that one of the most effective blows that could be struck at the Rebellion would be to deprive it of the benefit of unpaid slave labor in civil pursuits and for military purposes. His strong anti-slavery convictions doubtless likewise prompted him to adopt this radical measure. The order made quite a sensation in the North, and led to attacks upon its author and the Administration by the Conservatives and Anti-War-Democrats, which moved President Lincoln to issue his well-known proclamation of May 19, 1862, in which, after affirming that the Government had no knowledge of, or part in, Hunter's act, he declared it null and void, and asserted his exclusive right to determine whether it was competent for him as Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy to declare slaves in any State or States free, and whether, at any time and in any case, it had become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the Government to exercise such a supposed power.

General Hunter, though repudiated, remained in command, and soon found occasion to try another military method of dealing with the slavery problem, which, while not at once practically successful, was not disowned by the Government, and was even subsequently adopted by the War Department, and contributed much to the ultimate triumph of the North. In other words, he was the first to attempt to form military organizations out of fugitive and abandoned slaves. The desertion of their plantations on the Sea Islands by the great slave-owners had left thousands of their human chattels without control or restraint of any sort, and, as was natural, their sudden, absolute freedom exposed them to the dangers of idleness, vagabondism, and general lawlessness. Even before General Hunter's advent, efforts had been inaugurated, under the leadership of Northern philanthropists, to take the blacks of the islands in hand, to systematize their labor, and to teach them frugal and industrious ways. There were then some fifty devoted men and women from the North engaged as teachers and overseers in that benevolent calling. They had come South under the leadership of Edward L. Pierce of Massachusetts, who had been put in charge, first, of the organization of the colored refugees flocking to Fortress Monroe into working parties, and now of the same task in South Carolina, at the instance of Secretary Chase, whose friend and supporter he was. (Mr. Pierce subsequently became widely known as a politician of the better class, law writer, and biographer of Charles Sumner.) On a number of the larger plantations, the regular work was thus being carried on again.

The undertaking proved so great that the War Department lent a helping hand by detailing Brigadier-General Saxton to take supreme charge of the "Freedmen's Aid" movement in April, 1862. Still, the islands swarmed with great numbers of idlers that could not, or would not, be employed, and had to be fed and clothed at the expense of the Government. General Hunter, on seeing this state of things soon after his arrival, and upon the recommendation of General Saxton, made up his mind that the best solution would be to enroll as soldiers the negroes physically qualified, and use them for whatever military purposes they might be fit. He lost no time in applying to the Secretary of War for 50,000 muskets, and "authority to arm such loyal men as I can find in the country." He coupled his requisition for arms with another which caused much wonder and some merriment at the time, asking for 50,000 pairs of scarlet pantaloons. "This is all the clothing," he wrote, "I shall require for these people." The Major-General soon tried the effect of scarlet cloth on the blacks in an attempt to organize a black regiment. It was actually formed, but did not hold together more than a few weeks, mainly owing to the unwillingness of the blacks to serve. The attempt was renewed, in pursuance of an order of the Secretary of War, dated August 25, 1862, authorizing Brigadier-General Saxton to arm, uniform, equip, and drill not more than 5000 volunteers of African descent, to guard and protect the plantations and settlements of Port Royal and elsewhere. Only one regiment of a thousand men was, however, got together after three months, of which T. W. Higginson, the well-known Massachusetts liberal clergyman and littérateur, became the colonel. This regiment donned red trousers.

Such was the situation in South Carolina when I stepped for the first time upon the sacred soil of the Palmetto State on Hilton Head Island, bordering the harbor on the south side and washed by the ocean on the east, on which the Union troops had made their first landing, and on which the department headquarters were situated. "The Head," as the natives called it for short, presented a very uninviting, dreary aspect. It was, indeed, but a dead waste of deep sand, "as flat as a pancake," varied only by a line of low sand-hills or dunes. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a green plant of any kind, was in sight; the only green spots being a few small grassplots produced by irrigation. Before the landing of the Federal forces, no buildings existed, and but a few scattering ones had been erected since. The principal were two long one-story frame structures of the plainest outer and interior finish, erected as quickly and cheaply as possible for use as headquarters. They extended along the shore, with a fine beach between them and the water. A few hundred feet from their rear stood a small but more substantial-looking two-story building, in which the United States Custom-house was established. There was also a group of board shanties and wall-tents, some with and some without wooden floors, which served as mess-houses and sleeping quarters for the customs officials and the officers and employees of the quartermaster's and commissary department. The habitations stood directly on the virgin sand, without artificial walks or streets. The truth was, indeed, that I had dropped into a very desolate place, of which the only redeeming feature was the bay and the ocean. I was comforted by the expectation that my stay would be a short one—in which hope I was, however, to be greatly disappointed.

Major Halpine promptly redeemed his voluntary promise to provide me with quarters by assigning to me an empty front room in one of the headquarters buildings, to which I moved from the Arago. It was small, but with a good-sized window overlooking the beach and bay. It being entirely unfurnished, the Major showed me further favor by sending me a small table, roughly made on the spot, and a camp-stool. The next thing was to find something to sleep on (as I had brought with me only a small pillow and blankets) and washing utensils. As there was nothing of that kind to be got at "The Head" for love or money, I concluded to row back to the Arago and appeal to the generosity of Captain Gadsden. He at once authorized the steward to sell me a mattress, and advised me to apply to the quartermaster on shore for a tin basin and cup, in which quest I was successful. I slept on the mattress on the floor for several days, when I persuaded the post-carpenter to make me a bedstead and washstand out of unplaned lumber. With these appointments I managed to get along during my sojourn at "The Head."

I found board as easily as lodging. I had brought a letter of introduction from Secretary Chase to Mr. T. C. Severance, the Collector of the Port, who at once invited me to join his mess. We had an excellent table, indeed as good meals as at a first-class hotel in the North, and at a very reasonable price. The mess consisted of the Collector, two of his office assistants, a New England clergyman acting as Freedmen's agent, some commissary and quartermaster's clerks, Henry J. Winser, correspondent of the New York Times, and myself. Mr. Severance had been a banker at Cleveland, but had failed at the beginning of the Civil War. His good nature and willingness to oblige were without limit. His official responsibilities were not great, the arrivals of vessels subject to entry not averaging more than one a month, and what little work there was, his chief clerk did. Winser had a room next to mine and proved a very genial, gentlemanly companion, with whom I kept up close relations till his death in 1896. Mr. Howard, the Freedmen's agent, was a Harvard graduate and a well-informed, entertaining, liberal-minded man. The other members of the mess were like the good children who are seen but not heard.

I made it my first business to become acquainted with the officers of the fleet, not one of whom I knew. Assistant-Secretary Fox had kindly given me a letter to Rear-Admiral Dupont, in chief command of the South Atlantic blockading squadron, which I presented, two days after my landing, on board the flagship Wabash. The Admiral received me most courteously, and introduced me at once to Captain C. R. P. Rodgers, his chief of staff, and the other members of his official household, as well as the officers of the frigate. The Admiral was one of the stateliest, handsomest, and most polished gentlemen I ever met. He looked the ideal naval commander. Captain Rodgers also had a fine presence, and was most courteous and obliging. It will always be a source of pride to me that I won the lasting friendship of these two distinguished officers. Besides the flagship, there was, riding at anchor near it, the New Ironsides, an iron-plated frigate under command of Commodore Thomas Turner, with thirty-two Dahlgren guns in broadside. The very next morning we had a stirring surprise in the appearance of the Montauk, a reproduction of the original Ericsson monitor, in tow of the war-steamer Rhode Island, and commanded by John L. Worden, the hero of the ever-memorable fight between the Monitor and the rebel ram Merrimac. The Montauk was the forerunner of the fleet of eight ironclads of the monitor and other types that were expected from the North.

The presence of but one of these showed that I had left the North under a wrong impression in supposing that the preparations for the naval attack on Charleston were nearly completed and that it would certainly come off shortly after my arrival. This was confirmed by the Admiral himself. As I had been commended by Assistant-Secretary Fox to his confidence, I did not hesitate to ask him during my first visit whether he felt at liberty to say to me, under seal of secrecy, whether Charleston would be attacked soon or not. He replied that he had no objection to telling me that the fleet was not quite ready for it. I interpreted this to mean that there would be considerable delay yet, and my surmise proved correct. I learned by degrees that, from the chief commander down to the lieutenants, the officers of the fleet had not much faith in either the offensive capacity or the speed of the new forms of ironclads, which were to be the principal instruments of attack, and that they were to be given practical trials in both respects before being actually used in the proposed grand effort to subdue Charleston.

I readily perceived that the key to the confidence of the Admiral and his chief of staff was the strict observance of their injunction not to say anything regarding the condition and purposes of the fleet in my correspondence, except what they should authorize to be published. I advised the managing editor of my intention to submit to this restriction, and confined myself at first to gathering material for purely descriptive letters. The supply proved rather meagre. One letter exhausted all that could possibly be said about Hilton Head, the army headquarters, and the fleet. The only other available sources of useful matter were excursions on the ordinary steamboats that kept up communication between the headquarters and the different points of occupation on the Sea Islands, and some reconnoissances by armed boats in the direction of the mainland, and especially of the Savannah River, through the network of tide-water inlets connecting the islands with one another. The steamboats made regular runs, but the reconnoitring trips, of course, took place only at the will of those in command.

My first excursion was to the famous town of Beaufort on St. Helena, the principal one of the islands. Our boat was the small side-wheeler Planter, that had been run out of Charleston harbor with a load of heavy siege-guns and delivered to the blockading fleet by her colored pilot, Robert Small, who had been its captain since, and whom I found a good-looking, intelligent, and well-informed mulatto. Beaufort was not more than eighteen miles from "The Head"—four across the bay, and the rest of the distance through the inlets connecting Port Royal harbor with St. Helena Sound. Extensive plantations with large mansions and scattered live-oaks and palmetto trees were visible on both sides of our course. Beaufort did not belie its renown as the favorite pleasure-resort of the South Carolina slaveholding aristocracy. The town consisted of one grand, broad avenue, two hundred and fifty feet wide, lined with great evergreen oaks, behind which the stately homes of the cotton lords stood, separated from each other by gardens filled with a variety of brilliant flowers, indicative of the mildness of the winter climate. The houses, while built of wood in a plain style, were nearly all three stories high and of generous proportions, and impressed one as both spacious and comfortable. Their owners, almost without exception, had abandoned them to the care of their slave servants. Several were made use of for various purposes by the Northern invaders. One was occupied by General Rufus Saxton, the Military Governor of the islands; another by the General Agency of the Freedmen's Bureau. Some served as boarding- and lodging-houses for the volunteer teachers of the freedmen from the North, and some for the schools in which colored adults and children received free instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as in sewing, cutting, cooking, and other domestic arts.

I paid my respects to General Saxton, whose marked personality proved very true to the descriptions I had heard given of him. He was a regular artillery officer, and one of the few outright abolitionists in the army. He had a slender, wiry figure of middle height, a small head with fiery black eyes, short-cropped black hair, and full beard. His intense zeal in the Union cause and the sincerity of his deep hatred of the Rebellion and what he considered its main support—slavery—made him seem at first a glowing zealot, like the martyred preachers of the Faith. But, while ardent and unflinching in his duty, he was at heart as gentle as a lamb. He was certainly the man for the task intrusted to him of making soldiers out of the "contrabands" of South Carolina and Georgia. He expressed himself as very much pleased with his success so far in that direction, and spoke very highly of the aptitude of the negroes for military service. I also made the acquaintance of his assistant adjutant-general, Edward W. Hooper, son of the well-known Massachusetts Congressman, Samuel Hooper, and one of many Harvard graduates who, from the loftiest motives, had left college to enter the service. In the same spirit, this exemplary character devoted his life after the war to the public weal in various capacities, ending with the treasurership of Harvard College. I likewise met there, for the first time, Mrs. Frances D. Gage, a lovable woman of middle age, an able writer for the press (she wrote the best letters on the "contrabands" to the Tribune), and an enthusiastic anti-slavery advocate and champion of other reforms. She was one of the Freedmen's Bureau agents, and discharged her duties with untiring zeal, true benevolence and great ability.

Immediately after my Beaufort trip I had an opportunity to witness the novel and interesting spectacle described in the following reproduction of my letter to the Tribune on the subject:

Port Royal, January 22, 1863.  

{{fsx|85%|General Hunter and staff yesterday afternoon improved the return of clear weather to visit and review the 1st Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. I was glad of the early opportunity to see what appeared to me the most interesting feature of South Carolina, and satisfy myself, by personal observation, as to the relative success of the experiment of transforming the black freedmen into Union soldiers.

The party steamed up Beaufort River on the Beaufort packet Flora to Smith's plantation, some eight miles distant, where the black volunteers had their encampment. We were transferred from the steamer to the right bank in small boats, and, after passing through a magnificent grove of live-oak trees and a "street" of the regimental camp, reached an implanted cotton field, where a line of black faces, blue trousers, red trousers, and muskets told us that the object of our visit was before us.

The General and suite having taken position in front of the line, the regiment was first made to go through the manual of arms. It next marched past the General by companies both in ordinary and quick step, and then went through several battalion manœuvres.

Judged by the absolute standard of perfection in drill, the performances of the black soldiers appeared liable to criticism. But, taking into consideration all the facts bearing upon the case—the low intellectual status of the rank and file, the short training, the inexperience of most of the white officers themselves—no honest-minded, unprejudiced observer could come to any other conclusion than that the regiment had attained a remarkable relative proficiency. I have no hesitation, with my extensive observations of the capacities and acquirements of white volunteers in both the Western and Eastern armies, to say that no body of men in the service has done better in seven weeks, the period during which the dark-skinned South Carolinians have served upon the drilling-ground.

It is said by those unwilling to give the blacks credit for any human capabilities that, although they may master the mere mechanism of the service, through their great natural gift of imitation, they will yet never become efficient soldiers, owing to the want of "spirit"—of "heart" in the profession, and of proper appreciation of the cause for which they bear arms. In refutation, the fact that every one of the eight hundred and sixty men volunteered might be sufficient. But the best possible evidence to the contrary is furnished by what happened at the close of the review. Having formed the regiment in square, Colonel Higginson requested General Hunter to say a few words to the men.

The General stepped inside the square amid three spontaneous cheers from the ranks. He said in few but forcible and moving words that he rejoiced to find the native soldiers so proficient; that, judging from the progress they had already made, he could see no reason why they should not become as good soldiers as any in the world; that he expected them to fight as well as drill, as only men willing to fight for their liberty are worthy of it, and that he hoped before long to see fifty thousand of their friends striking for freedom from bondage.

There was unmistakable intelligence, true warmth of emotion and firmness of resolution speaking out of the enthusiastic response of the black audience to these remarks. The most venomous pro-slavery agitator in the North could not have denied that the General was fully understood. But the wildest shouts of joy broke out when General Saxton announced, after General Hunter had concluded, that fifty thousand muskets were arriving from the North to arm the freedmen of South Carolina. Cheers for liberty and the Union were never given more heartily by white volunteers than those elicited by the announcement.}}

The monitor Montauk departed a few days after my arrival for the Ogeechee River for a trial of her offensive and defensive strength against the rebel Fort McAllister, which protected the approaches to the city of Savannah. Colonel Burton, of the Forty-eighth Regiment of New York Volunteers, who was in command of the captured Fort Pulaski at the mouth of the Savannah, had come to Hilton Head on official business, and invited me to accompany him on his return trip in order to witness the exploits of the monitor. We left on January 28, reaching Pulaski in the evening. The fort had been entirely restored and made stronger than before. It mounted eighty guns and had a garrison of two regiments. The next morning we started early for the Ogeechee by the inland passage. We passed by the Tybee River and Warsaw Sound into the network of channels connecting the latter with Ossabaw Sound. Our pilot lost his way, and we found ourselves caught in the Romney Marsh in a passage so narrow and shallow that our boat grounded and touched the banks on both sides. It was extricated with great difficulty from its perilous position. As it was unarmed, we should have been an easy prey to the enemy, who happily did not discover our plight. It was a narrow escape for me from a taste of Southern prisons. We steamed back to Fort Pulaski, reaching there only late in the evening. Our mishap was the more provoking as we had been so near the scene of action that we not only heard the firing, but saw the puffs of powder-smoke ascend after each discharge. We learned the next morning from the attacking fleet that there had been a severe artillery fight, lasting nearly all day, between the Montauk, four gunboats, and a mortar-boat on our side, and the rebel fort, mounting thirteen heavy guns. The Montauk approached within a mile of the fort, when she was stopped by a row of close piles driven into the channel. She was struck thirteen times by heavy shot, but not injured beyond slight dents in her armor. The attack led to the discovery that the rebel cruiser Nashville was still in the Ogeechee, seven miles from Fort McAllister. She had run in some months before, and was prevented from getting to sea again by the vigilance of our cruisers and the obstructions placed by us in the outlets from the Ogeechee.

It was the purpose of Captain Worden, in command of our flotilla, to get by the fort with the Montauk and attack the rebel vessel. Our fire was supposed to have disabled most of the armament of Fort McAllister. Captain Worden was bent upon overcoming the obstructions in the river, but, as this would take time, I returned to Hilton Head. I found that the military and civilian community was much stirred up by very exciting news, just arrived, of a partially successful attack made by rebel rams from Charleston harbor upon our blockading fleet, preceded by the disablement and surrender of one of our gunboats in Stono River. The veteran braggart, Beauregard, was in command of Charleston at the time. On receiving the report of the rebel rams, he launched forthwith a proclamation to the civilized world announcing that the Federal blockading fleet, having been either destroyed or dispersed, had disappeared, and that the blockade was therefore raised. The proclamation was accompanied by an official statement of a British naval officer and the resident British consul that they had been out to sea on a tug, but had seen no sign of the blockading fleet. The rebel Secretary of State followed this up by a circular to the Confederate agents in Europe, announcing the reopening of Charleston harbor to the ships of seafaring nations. This performance of Beauregard and the British officials ranks high among the many extraordinary perversions of current events which occurred during the Rebellion. It was denounced as an absolute falsehood in a protest addressed to Admiral Dupont by all the commanders of the blockading men-of-war. At first the rebel story was believed even by the Washington Government, and credited by the Northern press, which indulged in severe criticism of the blockading fleet. The feelings of the Admiral and his subordinates on reading these rash effusions may be imagined. A partial compensation for the losses inflicted by the rebel rams was the capture at that time of several vessels with valuable cargoes trying to run the blockade. A great prize among them was the British steamer Princess Royal, which was brought to Port Royal harbor and which I visited. She carried machinery and guns for the rebel navy, besides a large miscellaneous cargo of merchandise.

Another noteworthy event was the return of the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment from an expedition to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, and up various rivers into the interior of those States. It was intended to produce a moral effect on the slave population by the sight of the colored troops, who were to circulate the President's Emancipation Proclamation. Another object was to secure brick, lumber, and other material needed for military purposes. The expedition was successful in every respect. The black soldiers received their baptism of fire, having had several victorious encounters with rebel infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Colonel Higginson was overflowing with praise of the gallant conduct of his command, which had inspired him with the conviction, loudly proclaimed, that nothing would end the war quicker than the employment of negro troops on the largest possible scale.

The long-announced reinforcements consisted of the entire Federal force that had operated under command of Major-General Foster on the North Carolina coast. It arrived successively in a great fleet of one hundred and twenty-five vessels. The transports had encountered severe gales, which had blown violently for a week along the South Carolina coast and made us very anxious for them. No disaster occurred, however, but the crowded troops suffered greatly from seasickness. Port Royal harbor was so much disturbed by the storm that the transports could not land the troops for several days; they were finally put ashore, mostly on St. Helena Island. Their advent was considered another sure indication that the opening of offensive operations by land and sea was not far off, but the general expectation in this regard was once more doomed to disappointment. Many weeks were yet to elapse before hope deferred became fulfilled. Moreover, the coming of General Foster led to lamentable dissensions between the commanders of the land forces, which threatened to have a paralyzing effect upon military operations. Although General Hunter was, by seniority, the ranking major-general, and, by general order of the War Department, the ranking general officer took command when troops passed from one military department into another, General Foster expected to remain in independent command of all the forces he brought to South Carolina, and was greatly taken aback when, during his temporary absence on a flying trip to North Carolina, General Hunter issued a general order assuming command over his troops. Foster would not accept the situation, but left for Washington on the first steamer to make a personal appeal to the Secretary of War and the President for the recognition of his claim. As he did not succeed in this, he asked to be and was relieved from duty in South Carolina. He left his staff behind, who had so little sense of propriety and subordination that they loudly boasted of the sure success of their chief's mission, which would, of course, have resulted in the retirement of General Hunter. Their indiscretion soon brought upon them an order of expulsion from the Department, when they followed their general to the North. Other subordinates of Foster were similarly infected. The chief quartermaster actually refused to turn the control of the steam transports over, as in duty bound, to the chief quartermaster of the Department, and had to be placed under arrest. One of the brigadiers, General Stevenson, openly proclaimed that he and his command would not fight beside "niggers," for which General Hunter had him arrested and confined. General Naglee, another brigadier, was also removed from command later on and sent North for manifesting a similar spirit of insubordination. Some of Foster's troops were guilty of perpetrating great outrages upon the colored people on some of the Sea Islands, and had to undergo rigorous disciplinary treatment. Altogether, the morale of the accessions from the North was unsatisfactory, and it was fortunate that offensive movements did not commence until the bad spirit had been in a measure suppressed.

I had announced in the Tribune, about the middle of February, that the intention was to send another expedition of colored troops from Hilton Head on a regular recruiting mission among the negro population of a certain Southern State, and that thousands of muskets would be taken along to arm male slaves. The publication caused a great sensation in the North, some of the conservative Republican papers pronouncing the news an outright malicious canard, while the "Copperhead" press denounced in the most violent language the attempt to excite "servile insurrection." I was even personally attacked as the author of the bogus intelligence. But, a week later, the correctness of theinformation was proved by the actual departure of over a thousand black troops, under Colonel Higginson, on the very errand I had foretold. Forays were made up a number of streams on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, but the expedition was far less successful than expected, as many slave-owners had run their human chattels off into the interior. It brought back, however, a few hundred black recruits, many of them with their families.

Excepting the incidents mentioned, the month of February passed away in rather monotonous quietude. The land forces were ready for active work, but the navy was not yet fully prepared for it. I clearly understood the true cause of the past delay and of that still before us, but for public reasons said nothing about it in my correspondence. It was the procrastination in the North in getting ready the monitors which were to play the leading part inAdmiral Dupont's offensive, to the number of seven. They all had been expected to be with the fleet by the end of February at the latest, but only the Montauk, the Patapsco, and the Nahant had then turned up, much to the disappointment of the Admiral and his officers and men.

I devoted part of my abundant leisure to a careful study of the condition of the slave population on the Sea Islands within our lines. It numbered a little over 9000, including 3617 children. General Saxton's department was divided into two divisions. That comprising the islands embraced no less than eighty-two plantations with 4015 adults and 2200 children, under the superintendence of Mr. Soule, a man especially well fitted for his task by his qualities of mind and heart. I visited the agencies in charge of subdivisions, either with him or with a Northern clergyman by the name of French, who acted as a sort of general Protestant missionary among the more than half-heathenish blacks. We could not understand the jargon spoken by them, and they did not comprehend our English, yet my clerical companion preached to them as though he were addressing a Northern congregation. His whole gospel work seemed, indeed, perfunctory and even farcical. The fact was, that savage superstitions still prevailed among the blacks, and that they practised fetish worship. On one occasion, my reverend companion, after he got through with his prayers and exhortation at a Sunday service in one of the rude structures used for places of worship for the slaves on the plantations, called on "Brother" Villard to address "our colored brethren." I did so, but let the gospel alone, and explained to my hearers as well as I could what rights and duties their liberation had vested them with. Although I used the simplest possible language, I felt sure that I was not understood. Such an audience I never looked upon before or since. Most of the jet-black faces, with their protruding, glaring eyes, thick noses, heavy outturned lips, glittering teeth, low receding foreheads, and coarse twisted, matted hair, spoke plainly of the Niger and the Congo. It seemed to me that the efforts of the volunteer male and female teachers from the North to instil even a little rudimentary knowledge into the skulls of the adults were bound to prove futile, and so they did. Nothing else could be expected, indeed, from creatures who had been purposely kept in the condition of brutes.

Upon the first appearance of the Northern liberators, either the terror-stricken masters had sought safety in flight and left their slaves to shift for themselves as best they could, or the latter had taken refuge with them in the Confederate lines. This inevitably produced a state of entire disorder on the plantations. Most of the blacks abandoned their customary work, and took advantage of the indiscriminate distribution of free rations that was at first practised by our commanders. But the demoralizing influence of this system was soon recognized, and it was abolished after our occupation had been extended over the larger islands and the plantations taken possession of by Government agents. The plan had been adopted, and generally carried out, of letting the freedmen (as they came to be called) become cultivators of the soil on the estates to which they belonged, either as employees of the Government or for their own account. In the former case they were required to perform regular daily tasks, and were allowed in payment regular rations and small wages. In the latter, they were allotted a certain acreage near their cabins on which they could grow such crops as they chose. The first-mentioned mode of employment, according to the testimony of the agents, promised better results than the latter, but the trial had not been going on long enough to justify definite conclusions. The agents expressed very favorable opinions of their people as regarded docility, willingness to work, and aptitude to learn, among both young and old. They could not speak so well of them in the matter of tidiness, truthfulness, and morality. I found them, as a rule, well behaved, well fed—plenty of cornmeal, bacon and molasses, a stock of pigs and chickens, made up the sum of earthly bliss for them, and all these blessings were now within their easy reach—and contented, yes, happy, in their inborn lightheartedness. Slavery had confined them to the simplest requirements in regard to habitation and personal wear, and they had not yet risen above their compulsory indifference to appearances beyond a fondness for loud colors, so that they presented a tattered, dirty appearance as a rule. A noteworthy characteristic was their proneness to express their moods of joy and sorrow in original songs, which indicated the natural musical gift of the race.

The last days of February brought great cheer to the navy, so eager for revenge for the attack of the rams on the blockaders. The joyful news reached Hilton Head by a despatch-boat that the Nashville had been utterly destroyed by the Montauk. The rebel craft had lain quiet for a long time under the protecting guns of Fort McAllister, watching for an opportunity to slip out to sea unobserved by our vessels, but her attempts to do so were repeatedly baffled by their vigilance. On February 27, she tried to run out under cover of a thick fog. She got aground, and was discovered in that predicament by the Montauk when the fog lifted. Captain Worden lost no time in going for his prey. He ran his monitor as close as possible to the obstructions in the river, getting within 1200 yards of the Nashville. Disregarding the furious fire of the fort upon his vessel, he devoted himself exclusively to his victim. His first experimental shots missed the mark, but, the proper range being obtained, thirteen- and fifteen-inch shells were sent one after another into the doomed vessel. The fourth fifteen-inch shell burst in her and set her on fire. The flames spread rapidly, and speedily heated her guns so as to explode their charges. Soon another shell went crashing through her side, penetrating her powder-magazine and causing a fearful explosion that finished the work of destruction. The officers of the Montauk described the burning and blowing up of the Nashville as a sight grand beyond description. No damage whatever to ship or crew was suffered by the Montauk.

The monitors Patapsco and Nahant had been ordered to Ossabaw Sound by the Admiral, but arrived too late to share in the glory of the Montauk. They were followed by the monitor Passaic, just arrived from the North, and by several mortar-boats. The Admiral ordered all the newcomers to try their guns against Fort McAllister. The Passaic, Patapsco, and Nahant accordingly moved towards the fort on the morning of March 3, and took up positions at distances of 1200, 1600, and 1800 yards, with the mortar-schooners behind them. The fort promptly answered the fire of the monitors from all its guns, and the exchange of shots continued all day. The fire of the fort was rapid and ill aimed, while that of our vessels was slow and deliberate, the main object being to make thorough tests of the range and accuracy of fire of their guns. It was indeed, on our part, a leisurely bombardment rather than a spirited offensive action. The monitors stopped their work at nightfall and fell down the river beyond the range of the fort. They returned to Hilton Head during the following days. The trial attack apparently demonstrated that the three monitors engaged were as invulnerable as the Montauk. The Passaic, being nearest to the fort and hence most exposed to its fire, was struck thirty-three times upon deck and turret by the heaviest shot and shell, which left, however, only slight indentations on her armor. Most of the rebel missiles were broken into fragments against it. One ten-inch shell fell unexploded upon the deck, after striking the pilot-house, and a thirteen-inch shell struck the deck directly without causing more than a crack. The Patapsco and Nahant were also hit but not injured. As was to be expected, all rebeldom burst out into a shout of triumph over the apparent repulse of our ironclads.


Memoirs of Henry Villard - Charleston and its Forts.jpg

JULIUS BIEN & CO. N.Y.



CHAPTER XXV


Naval Attack on Forts Sumter and Moultrie.—1863


ON March 5, General Hunter issued the following address to his command in the form of a general order (No. 16):

Soldiers of the Department of the South: After long and wearying delays, due to causes over which no one in this Department had control, we have at length the cheering prospect of active and very important service.

Soldiers of the 10th Army Corps, you are stimulated by every consideration of honor to vie with the gallant men from the Departmentof North Carolina who have been sent by the Government to take part with you in the dangers and the glory of operations now pending.

Officers and men of the command, you are adjured to the performance of every duty. All who earn distinction, no matter how humble their positions, have my pledge that their services shall be honorably acknowledged, and the acknowledgment pressed to their advantage.

Alas, the General's manifesto proved but another deception. One more entire month of weary waiting was to elapse before the "pending operations" were actually commenced. Again the delay in the arrival of the rest of the monitors from the North was the cause of the postponement. The Weehawken and the Nantucket appeared during March, but the last ironclad, the Keokuk, reported only at the very end of the month. She was a departure from the monitor model, and a new experiment, as she was turtle-shaped, with sloping sides and two stationary turrets.

On March 31, I wrote from Hilton Head: "But for a violent gale that arose suddenly last night, and has been blowing with unabated fury since, I should probably have been able to announce definitely the day on which the army and navy are to commence their long-delayed offensive operations. Still, I can assure your readers with the utmost positiveness, that the rough weather is now the only obstacle to the immediate consummation of the aggressive plans of General Hunter and Admiral Dupont." At last I was right in my predictions. As soon as the elements of high winds and heavy seas had quieted down, the combined campaign by land and water really opened. I was thoroughly tired of my long-enforced idleness, and heartily welcomed the prospect of active work. I naturally assumed that the extensive and protracted preparations for vigorous, telling strokes against the enemy would bring me steady and stirring occupation for some time to come. But the god of war ordained it otherwise. In little more than one week our offensive energy was to be exhausted, the carefully planned attack on arch-rebellious Charleston to prove an utter failure, even in the very first stage of its execution, and my task in South Carolina to be suddenly brought to an end. How all this came about is told in the following batch of reports to the Tribune, printed in its issue of April 14:

United States Surveying Steamer Bibb,

North Edisto Harbor, April 4, 1863.

Preliminary movements and reconnoissances, embarkations and landings, have been making for some time, both by the navy and army; but it was only on Wednesday last that there was a general readiness for the commencement of the main operations. High wind and heavy sea caused another delay of twenty-four hours, but on the day before yesterday morning the four ironclads still remaining in Port Royal Harbor started at last for this general rendezvous; the Admiral's blue flag was transferred from the Wabash to the James Adger, which left soon after the monitors; and a large number of the army transports also followed in their wake. I availed myself of a kind invitation of General Ferry, commanding one of the divisions of the expedition, and made my way across the bay to St. Helena landing and aboard his flagship, the steamer New England, as soon as I saw the wheels of the James Adger in motion. The New England formed the centre of a group of steamers and propellers, all heavily laden with human freight. The troops had been marched aboard the night before, in the expectation of an immediate departure; but the means of landing (scows and surf-boats) could not be secured until this morning, and the division got under way only a short time before sundown.

The destination of General Ferry's command was Stono Inlet. It was to make a landing on Cole's Island, already occupied for some days by a regiment. The fleet had hardly crossed the bar when a severe gale suddenly sprang up, and continued to blow all night. When the sun rose on Friday morning, the sorry discovery was made that the transports had been scattered, and lost in the storm most of the surf-boats they had been towing. In the course of the forenoon, however, the vessels all hove again in sight, but, low tide preventing their passage over the bar, they were ordered to lie off the entrance until high water. The New England having too deep a draught for a safe crossing, she proceeded to this port in order to transfer part of her load to another steamer.

North Edisto Harbor presented, when we entered it, an aspect at once pleasing and imposing. Its placid waters, with well-defined, graceful contours of shore lines, just contrasted and variegated enough to give tone to the picture, formed an idyllic ensemble strangely contrasting with the numerous novel and formidable engines of naval war riding at anchor within its sheltering limits. All the ironclads excepting the New-Ironsides, with the James Adger, Seneca, Sebago, and Bibb, had arrived. Around them floated a great flock of sailing craft—mortar, ordnance, buoy and supply schooners; the Adams Express steamer Mary Sanford, the Locust Point and other propellers, together with several ever-puffing, ever-rushing tugboats, imparting additional liveliness to the scene. Before leaving Port Royal, I had obtained Admiral Dupont's permission to witness the operations of the ironclads from the New-Ironsides. Soon after arriving, I boarded the James Adger in order to ascertain the best mode of reaching the former, and had a passage provided for off Charleston on the survey steamer Bibb, to which I transferred myself and baggage forthwith from the New England. My reception by Acting-Ensign Robert Platt, the commander of the Bibb in the absence of Captain C. O. Boutelle of the Coast Survey, was as courteous as I could possibly desire it to be.

Instead of dying out, as expected in the morning, the wind grew more violent in the afternoon, so that our anchorage became ruffled. As the swell increased in volume and the vessels rocked and rolled more and more, it became evident that the morrow was not likely to bring the sound and fury of action. Still, the final preparations for it were continued with unabated vigor on all the ironclads. Their decks were stripped of what little in the way of spars and rigging they had. The sides, turrets, pilot-houses, and decks of all were covered with a thick and anything but elegant coat of grease. Several were still receiving additional plating upon their most exposed portions. Various contrivances for exploding and taking up torpedoes and obstructions were tried. The click and clank of tools and the commands of officers and the shouts of working parties resounded until long after sundown. Towards evening, the steamship Ben Deford, carrying Major-General Hunter and staff, came in and anchored close to the Admiral's flagship. Several schooners and steamers also stood in, with a number of small boats lost by General Ferry's transports, so that no hindrance of the movements of the land forces need be apprehended from that mishap.

This morning it was manifest that we should experience rough weather for another day. High winds, veering in the course of the forenoon from N. E. to N. W., blew until towards evening. But, shortly before sunset, the sky became clear of clouds, the wind settled gradually into a calm, the surface of the water smoothened, and after dark there was every indication of a change for the better. At daylight, a strange accident had happened to the Whitney Battery Keokuk. The strong tide made one of the monitors drag anchor, brush past the former, carry off her anchor-chains, and set her adrift. Not having steam up, she floated helplessly down the bay towards the bar. Fortunately, before she reached the latter, her propellers had been got to work and she was safely brought back. About sunrise the naval squadron was joined by the gunboats Augusta, Memphis, and South Carolina, ordered here from off Charleston to take the monitors in tow. One of the two ironclad rafts with which the Ericsson anchored for several days outside, was brought in early this morning and attached to the bow of the Weehawken for experimental purposes. The officers and crews of the ironclads seemed to be even more busy than yesterday with hastening their preparations to completion. The greasing, the strengthening of the armor, the rigging up of means of rendering submarine engines of destruction harmless, continued all day. Experiments with throwing the grapnel from a coehorn were made on the Keokuk. One of the discharges unluckily resulted in slightly injuring Lieutenant Forrest.

In the evening several of the commanders of the ironclads came on the Bibb for consultation as to the hydrography of Charleston Harbor. Captain Charles O. Boutelle also arrived from the North. It became understood that, with anything like favorable weather, the Admiral would order the whole squadron to get under way at flood-tide in the morning.

April 5, 1863.

The presumptions of last evening were well founded. A clear sun, cloudless sky, and calm sea removed this morning the last impediment to the attack, and about 6 o'clock the general signal to get under way was made from the flagship.

The consummation of what has been preparing so long, so carefully, and on so extensive a scale, being now close at hand, certain statements, without which the character of the operations about to begin can not well be fully appreciated, may safely be made. An erroneous impression has undoubtedly prevailed all along in the North as to the offensive strength of the troops to be employed in the attack upon Charleston. I cannot, of course, at this moment state the real number of effectives at the disposal of General Hunter; but I can say, with a full knowledge of the actual figures, that it is far below the popular estimate. It is comparatively so small, indeed, that the land forces will be necessarily limited to a secondary part. They will have to act very much after the fashion of General Butler's command in the operations resulting in the capture of New Orleans. They will simply follow up the conquests of the navy; move in its wake and occupy the localities opened by it.

Of the navy, the armored vessels will do the main work. The facts ascertained in regard to the armament of the rebel defenses of Charleston Harbor would render the employment of the wooden ships under the command of Admiral Dupont (many of which are merchant vessels converted into men-of-war, and as weak as those that fell so easy a prey to the rebel ironclads in their late sortie) in any attempt at the reduction of the regular rebel forts exceedingly hazardous. The country may rest assured that all the pros and cons in connection with this question have been well weighed, and that wisdom required that the brunt of the contest should be borne by the ironclads. The aggressive qualities of these seem to be much misconceived by the general public. Popular fancy, nurtured by journalistic ignorance and exaggeration, has enveloped them with a nimbus of irresistibility not at all warranted by their real merits. Their fighting capacities should consist of running, offensive and defensive powers. Were the impending combat over, I could disclose facts proving that they are far from being the models of perfection in the light of which they appear to unprofessional minds. As it is, I can only say that, although they are beyond gainsay in certain respects more powerful than anything else afloat, they have marked deficiencies which render success not by any means absolutely certain.

Two months ago the plan of attack was to make a landing of troops under the guns of the navy on Morris Island, clear it gradually of the enemy, and, after Cumming's Point had been occupied, to support the attack of the forts by the ironclads with shore batteries. Since then the supposition that the defenses of the island had been so strengthened as to make this mode of operation impracticable, caused a modification of the original plan. It is now proposed to reduce the forts by the ironclads alone, and to bring and keep the land forces only as near as possible to the island, so as to secure its ready occupation after the fall of the forts shall have isolated it and necessitated the evacuation or surrender of its defenses. For this latter purpose the main body of the troops has now been landed on Cole's Island, occupied, as already stated, for some time by a regiment, with a view to working their way across it to Folly Island, as close to Morris Island as practicable. A safe anchorage for the navy nearer than Port Royal being desirable, Edisto Island was taken possession of last week by the brigade of General Stevenson, and the control of the harbor it commands secured.

It would not be difficult to demonstrate that this whole movement against Charleston cannot stand the test of sound strategy; that it is not likely to be successful without a much larger land force than that at the command of General Hunter. But as it is positively determined upon, and about being made in accordance with the wishes of the Government and the people rather than with the judgment of those entrusted with its execution, comments of this kind had better be deferred until its prudence can be measured by its results. One condition of success is certainly fulfilled: the heads of the two branches are resolved upon the utmost efforts to accomplish the desired end, and to make the best possible use of the ships, men, and material under their control. It is true, one of the old maxims of naval warfare is, that one gun on shore is equal to an entire ship's battery. Still, there is reason to suppose that the armament of the ironclads, although comparatively not very numerous, is so powerful in point of calibre as to be adequate to the task before it. The only fear of naval men is, that obstructions will prevent the vessels from reaching the proper position for an effective bombardment. If they can but bring the seven fifteen-inch and twenty-two eleven-inch guns and three rifled two-hundred-pounders, throwing combinedly nearly six tons of iron, to bear at close range, the result cannot be doubtful.

And now I will resume my narrative. At 7 o'clock the Bibb, which was to take the lead, was under way, and soon afterward the whole fleet was in motion. A magnificent spectacle spread out before us after we had crossed the bar and gained the open sea. The sun shone brightly, defining plainly every object upon the vast expanse of water. Slight undulations only disturbed the blue deep in its rest from the riot of yesterday. In our way rose the huge form of the Ericsson, and the horizon was lined with transports black with troops and headed in a northeasterly direction. The proud squadron steamed in grand and grim procession. What would old mariners from foreign waters think of the strange floating medley of swift, well-proportioned steamers and sails, and the slow, besmeared, ugly ironclad monsters? There came first the Bibb, next the Locust Point and Keokuk, then the Memphis and Nahant, the flagship and the Flambeau, the South Carolina and Patapsco, the tug Dandelion, and the Montauk, the August and Catskill and Passaic.

When about two miles out, the gunboats Locust Point and Dandelion stopped and took the ironclads in tow. The Weehawken dropped her raft, which was again taken up by the Ericsson. The Memphis, in standing to the southward to wait for its charge, ran foul of the bow of the Keokuk, and, although it seemed but just to touch the latter, was so seriously injured that she had at once to be sent to Port Royal for repairs. Excepting this mishap, we made our destination in safety. After two hours steaming, we came up with the blockaders and in full sight of Fort Sumter. The flagship had preceded us, and already assumed a station near the New-Ironsides, whose massive, graceless, barren hull, with its tier of huge guns, looked at a distance strikingly like a great swimming castle. As the different vessels approached, they took position in range with the flagship, and soon formed a line stretching far to the southward and northward about two miles from the bar. The last of the ironclads had just been brought up when rapidly succeeding reports of heavy guns from the harbor told us that the advent of the fleet had been noticed and the alarm sounded by the enemy.

The fleet being assembled, the next move was to buoy the channel to the bar. This duty was performed by the Bibb, the buoy schooner Admiral Dupont, and the Keokuk. The range to the bar was marked out by the former two by noon. Early in the afternoon Mr. Platt of the Bibb went on board the Keokuk, and under his guidance she gallantly steered for the bar. As she neared the shore the whole fleet watched eagerly her course. The battery supposed to cover Folly Inlet was every moment expected to open upon her. But the buoys were rolled off from the deck over her slanting sides at the proper points without molestation from the enemy. The buoys being placed, she steamed over to Swash Channel, after sounding which for several hours Captain Rhind brought her back to within a short distance from the Bibb.

The way over the bar was now opened, and the harbor accessible to all of the ironclads at the next flood tide. About 3 P.M. a stiff breeze rose suddenly, and speedily produced such a commotion of the sea as to drive the crews of the monitors from the decks, upon which they had been basking in the sun. The sky remained clear, but the wind gained in force. With the provoking, all but uninterrupted, unpropitiousness of the weather during the last two weeks, we are almost inclined to believe that Providence frowns upon our cause. At sunset the Patapsco got in motion, made directly for the bar and crossed it, and took a picket station, as it were, inside, from which to prevent the removal of the buoys by the rebels during the night. Her bold movement drew out no more of an opposing demonstration from the enemy than that of the Keokuk. As soon as the Patapsco commenced moving, the Catskill and Passaic also got under way, standing for the bar, close to which they remained during the night. We presume that they are intended as a support to the Patapsco in case her isolated position should tempt the rebel rams into an attack.

Late in the afternoon the Ericsson joined the fleet with her two rafts. At sunset the Ben Deford also appeared among it. About dark the Dandelion visited the several ironclads and delivered the final instructions of the Admiral for the movement of to-morrow. The whole ironclad squadron will enter the harbor at high tide in the morning, but whether the attack is to be commenced will depend upon wind and weather. There is a general weariness throughout the fleet of the delay of action, from day to day, by the freaks of the weather. The strain of nerves by the expected conflict itself can scarcely be more trying than the torture of suspense. May the next twenty-four hours bring us relief from the tantalization of expectation!

On Board U.S. Steam Frigate New-Ironsides

April 6, 9 A.M.

A quiet atmosphere and lulled sea greeted me at daybreak upon the quarter-deck of the Bibb. All signs augured for a commemoration of the anniversary of the battle of Shiloh by the opening of our guns upon Fort Sumter. About 7 A.M. I took leave of my kind hosts of the Bibb, and in a few minutes stood upon the spardeck of the New-Ironsides. Admiral Dupont with his staff, comprising Fleet Captain C. R. P. Rodgers; Lieutenant A. S. Mackenzie, Ordnance Officer; Flag-Lieutenant S. W. Preston; Ensign M. L. Johnson, Aide-de-camp and Signal Officer; and Mr. A. McKenly, Secretary, had boarded the ship from the James Adger early in the morning. Duty did not absolutely require the presence of the Admiral on one of the ironclads, but a chivalric sympathy with his subordinates appeared to impel him to share the dangers of the fearful ordeal through which they were about passing.

One could not help beholding the Ironsides with a sensation of awe rather than admiration. The sense of the beautiful was not touched either by symmetry or elegance of form or neatness of general appointment. But she looked the fighting craft — the machine of destruction — all over. Outwardly and inwardly, her every visible inch revealed her devotion to war and to war alone. With her body stripped of the last vestige of spars and rigging, her sides discolored with slush and yawning with monstrous guns, she impressed one like a fit head and leader of the turreted nondescripts around her. Her deck, in addition to its iron plating, was protected with untanned hides aft, and a layer of sand-bags forward. To provide against penetration by shot or shell of her unarmored bow and stern, barricades of sand-bags from three to four feet thick, and rising from deck to deck, had been piled up on the gun and powder-decks. They filled the cabins and deprived the officers of their use. The furniture was stowed away below. To increase the resistance of the sand by moisture, a steady stream of water that flooded the cabins was poured from hose upon the bags. Upon the gun-deck the 11-inch Dahlgrens and 200-pound Parrotts shone with a festive gloss. Muskets, cutlasses and pistols were stacked and heaped about. The powder-ways were open. The surgeons had their knives, pincers and saws displayed. Upon the whole, the flagship, though hardly replete with comfort, was attractive enough to one who could appreciate the stern pathos of preparation for battle.

I had been aboard about two hours when the signal to get under way was ordered to be made to all the ironclads outside of the bar. Simultaneously the drum and fife called all hands to quarters, and in a few minutes every man on board was at his post, and the ship ready to commence action at any moment. The general command of the ship was exercised by Commodore Thomas Turner and Lieutenant-Commander George E. Belknap. Lieutenant-Commander Barnes, commanding the gunboat Dawn, had also been detailed for special duty on this occasion. . . .

The crossing of the bar involved considerable risk from grounding, but all passed it safely, and were at anchor inside by ten o'clock. The Weehawken lagged somewhat behind, by having a raft from the Ericsson again fitted to her bow, but soon joined the rest. Charleston bar is a ridge-like elevation of the bottom of the sea, reaching from one end of the entrance of the harbor to the other. Large vessels can safely make the inside only through three openings in this, known as the Main Ship, Swash, and North Channels. The first runs to the south of the bar, almost parallel to Morris Island. The third to the north of the bar, along Sullivan's Island; and Swash Channel, between the two. The Main Ship Channel is commanded by the forts and batteries on Morris Island; the Swash and North Channels by those on Sullivan's. All three channels run into one directly in front of and at short range from Fort Sumter, whose guns, with those of the equidistant Fort Moultrie and Cumming's Point battery, thus defend the entrance to the harbor proper by a concentric fire. In addition to the mentioned works, there is said to be another heavy battery (Fort Bee) on Sullivan's Island, between the Moultrie House and the fort. It is presumed that the fire of nearly 150 guns converges at the described junction of the three channels.

The course of the ironclads was up the Main Ship Channel. It was expected that before coming under the fire of Sumter and Moultrie they would have to run, in a distance of three miles from the bar, the gauntlet of four works on the beach of Morris Island one at Lighthouse Inlet, another near Lawford Beacon, a third at Morris Lighthouse, and a fourth at Cumming's Point. The general belief was that the first-mentioned would interfere with the passage of the bar, and hence all hands were ordered below. But the eyes of the commanders and pilots were vainly strained in trying to discover its outlines, and the opinion became general that it had no existence. The walls and parapets of the forts further up, however, could be distinctly made out. . . .

The ironclads had come to anchor to get the benefit of the ebb tide, which it was deemed the part of prudence to await in order to discover more readily, and avoid, take up or destroy more easily, the various obstructions of the channels; but shortly after eleven a haze arose, and in the course of an hour rendered the shore lines indistinct. In the absence of any other means of guidance, Pilot Godfrey deemed these requisite for safe steering, and declared a postponement of the attack to the next day necessary. The Admiral assented to it, and hence, after standing some distance further in so as to bring us directly opposite Lighthouse Inlet, we again let go our anchor. Our turreted consorts likewise came to anchor to the southeastward and northwestward of us, in the line designated in the order of battle.

From the spar-deck of the Ironsides a unique panoramic scene was now in range of vision. The apprehensions of the closeness of rebel batteries having been allayed, the hatches of all the ironclads were opened, and their decks crowded with swarms of men from stern to bow, that made the quaint forms of the monitors and Whitney Battery appear like as many small islands with low mounds and teeming population. Through the mist the walls of Fort Sumter rose dimly to the northwest. Seaward the Powhatan, Canandaigua, Huron, Housatonic, Wissahickon, Unadilla, Flambeau, Ladona, Flag, Bibb, Ben Deford and others ranged in a long semi-circle around the horizon. Upon Morris Island beach, crowds of curious rebels watched the strange sights before them with evident amazement. At intervals guns from the forts and batteries spoke of the enemy's readiness for the combat to which we were challenging them. Those around me manifestly first fretted from disappointed expectation, but by degrees lost their ill humor and indulged in pastimes little in keeping with their earnest duties. The crew seemed unusually jolly, and amused themselves with such sports as only sailors know how to practise.

In the latter part of the afternoon General Seymour and Major Duane, Chief of Engineers, came aboard and had a brief consultation with the Admiral. A brigade of General Ferry's division, it is understood, is engaged in working its way up Folly Island, with some siege batteries. That the army will remain passive witnesses of the attack by the ironclads is now certain. A spirit of indifferent merriment continues to prevail among my shipmates. On the gundeck and in the wardrooms, jovial groups while away the time with songs and jokes, as though they were not on the eve of a struggle to the fierceness of which human records will probably have no counterpart, but about joyously returning home from a long cruise.

The Admiral and staff had occupied the cabins of Captain Turner and his officers at the stern of the ship; but, the cabins having been filled with sand-bags, we all slept on mattresses spread on the gundeck, where the hammocks of most of the crew were also swung. About four hundred officers and men occupied the common space, yet almost perfect stillness prevailed during most of the night.

Evening, April 7.

In a few brief hours this afternoon, history has been enlarged with volumes of memorable matter. The combat for which we have been so long accumulating strength, is over. It was short and decisive. We have experienced a bitter repulse. The ironclads have come short of the expectations even of the most diffident, and we are now mourning over the apparent certainty of an abandonment of the enterprise of which the country, with more faith than reason, hoped such great results.

At sunrise a veil of mist hung over the horizon, but toward the middle of the forenoon it cleared rapidly away, and at ten o'clock the pilot announced that, at last, our work would commence. Early in the morning, signals from the shore revealed to us the undisputed occupation of Folly Island by Colonel Howell's brigade. General Seymour is with it, and seems at a loss to know why we did not move to the attack with daybreak. The Admiral, Commodore Turner and all are anxious to get under way as soon as the mist has disappeared. But Pilot Godfrey again prevails with his argumentation in favor of going in upon low tide, and we must put up with continuing upon the rock of suspense until after noon. The opportune arrival of a mail on the supply-steamer Massachusetts assisted greatly in passing the dragging hours. Officers and men forgot for a while the approaching dangers in the eager perusal of letters from home.

As the morning hours advanced, the sphere of our operations became more and more defined. On the lower end of Morris Island, rebels could be seen dragging heavy guns to the beach. The men and guns on the walls of Forts Sumter and Moultrie could be readily counted. The spires and even the houses of Charleston seemed not more than a mile or two off. Our friends outside evidently know that we are about striking blows. The gunboats and transports are all standing closer to the bar. The Flambeau, Bibb, Ben Deford, and Nantucket are seeking the best points of observation from the North Channel, but a shell or two from Fort Beauregard, the outer work on Sullivan's Island, compelled the latter to make a hasty retreat to a safer position. At noon, there is a call for a general muster on the gun-deck. From the Admiral down to the powder-boys, all humbly kneel and listen to, and seek strength for the coming trial from, a short, touching prayer read by Commodore Turner. The recollection of the sight of those four hundred determined, battle-eager men, bowing in picturesque groups before their Maker, around the grimmest implements of war, will never be effaced from my memory.

At 12:10 faithful Captain Barrymore of the tender Dandelion took leave of us, and, with the parting of his tug, the last link connecting us with the outside world was severed. At the same time the order to weigh anchor was given. At 12:30 the signal to get under way was hoisted on the flagship. The question how the ironclads were to communicate with each other during action had often puzzled me, but an ingenious arrangement contrived by the officers of the Ironsides and the Admiral's staff, and consisting of a narrow opening in the plate over the aft masthole, through which a long pole with small flags was raised above the spar-deck, gave assurance of a ready communication and comprehension of orders. There was some delay with the monitors ahead of us, but at ten minutes of two o'clock the whole line was in motion. General Seymour telegraphed a “God bless you” when our screw made its first revolutions.

Now comes the stirring general call to quarters. There was a great bustle for a few seconds, but the apparent chaos on the gun and powder-decks quickly changed into the most perfect order and quietude, and, in a few minutes after the order was given, every breathing body, Lieutenant Town of the Army Signal Corps, his two assistants, and myself alone excepted, was ready to do his part in the action. There was not that boisterous, evanescent enthusiasm I have often seen rise in the army to a high pitch and then suddenly fall to the depth of craven-heartedness; but the calm resolution and prompt obedience of orders that are the vital condition of success in battle. There were four hundred men on the two decks, but a remarkable quietness was maintained.

The iron bulkheads fore and aft on the gun-deck, forming the casemates with the plated sides, were next closed. Streams of water were then again let upon the hides and sand-bags above and below. The pilot-house received another liberal dressing of slush. These last measures of protection being taken, Lieutenant-Commander Belknap's command, “Close port-holes!” rang through his trumpet over the gun-deck. In a second the ponderous shutters fell, and the hatchways were the only sources of daylight to those below. A “Look out for fore-and-aft shot!” from the trumpet next brought the gunners down behind their pieces. The grating over the hatchways was fastened by this time, with the exception of a small opening aft, through which the few permitted to remain upon the spar-deck were passing up and down. We were going at the rate of about four knots an hour. The little craft before and behind us were vigorously plowing the water with their blunt bows, keeping well in line. Nearer and nearer did we approach; clearer and clearer became the lines of the rebel defenses. Already we can count the guns on Fort Wagner (the work next to Morris Lighthouse) and Cumming's Point, and the windows of the houses of St. Vincent and Moultrieville. At 2:25 the first signs of the afterward fatal difficulty of steering the ship in a tideway became manifest The bow swung to the port side, and it was necessary to stop her engines to steady her course. In a few minutes we were again in motion.

The first four monitors had already passed Fort Wagner, and we were now abreast of it. We can look into the very mouths of the guns, but they remain silent. We know not what to make of it. Ahead we steam, anxiously awaiting the report of the first gun. At last, about 3 o'clock, two flashes of fire burst from Fort Moultrie, and two shots flew across the bow of the Weehawken, the foremost monitor, that seemed to have approached within less than half a mile. This fairly opened the action. Everybody was now ordered below from the spar-deck and the last hatch closed. Pilot Godfrey, the Admiral, Captain Rodgers and Commodore Turner took their station in the pilot-house. The order, “Fifteen pounds up!” sounded over the gun-deck, and directly the whole ship's battery was shotted. Then followed a few minutes of intense anxiety. For me and a few others, the pilot-house and the ports that were kept open to heave the lead, afforded means enough of observing what was passing outside. But the mass of those aboard must have felt, for moments at least, natural diffidence at the thought of groping in darkness, as it were, into the deadly strife with the enemy.

The suspense did not last long. Six bells had just struck when a dull sound, like that of a sledge-hammer upon an anvil, was heard on the bow port side. It was the hostile greeting of Fort Sumter, now within 1200 yards of us. A second and a third, more violently than the first, shook the sides of the ship. Soon came the humming and whizzing of rifled and round shot and shell overhead. Still the successive discharges could be distinguished. The several reports had not yet been drowned, so to speak, in a continuous roar. But, hark! There is a reverberation as though of numerous, simultaneous thunder-claps; now a fierce, unceasing roar vibrating the air with a violence that causes even the solid mass of our ship to tremble. A look through the open port on the port side discloses the cause of the furious outburst. The first four monitors had reached the converging point of the fire of Cumming's Point battery, Forts Sumter and Moultrie, and Battery Bee. One after the other had steadily steamed, without firing a shot, to the verge of the concentrating ranges. The enemy evidently reserved their main fire for work at close quarters; but when the Weehawken had reached within six hundred yards of Fort Sumter, a long, broad, brilliant flame suddenly leaped from its side, with all but simultaneous intense glares from Cumming's Point and Moultrie, followed instantaneously by immense volumes of smoke and a rain of projectiles that fairly hid the turrets of our craft with countless spouts of water thrown up by striking shot and shell. Again and again this appalling scene was enacted in all its dire sublimity. As the forts and batteries, like so many vomiting craters of volcanoes, sent forth one torrent of destruction after another, my heart failed and panged with the fear of seeing the little monitors shivered into atoms. But when, in response to a signal from the flagship, they commenced replying to the enemy with the thunder of their huge batteries, and the combat was no longer one-sided, my confidence revived.

Meantime the Ironsides had vainly tried to keep up with the monitors ahead. At 3:37 we were startled by the command, “Stand by the starboard anchor!” followed soon by “Let go the starboard anchor!” The ship had again been disobeying the rudder and threatening to swing on the shoals on our port side. The enemy at once noticed our embarrassed position, and, improving the fixed mark afforded by the stoppage, diverted their long-range guns for a while from the monitors upon us. Bang, bang, their shot went against the sides almost faster than we could count. Happily the anchor straightened the course of the ship, and in a few minutes we were again under way. We had hardly gained a hundred or so yards upon Fort Sumter when the ship became once more unmanageable, and the anchor was again let go. The Admiral now had the monitors in our wake signalled to disregard the movements of the flagship, and run past it toward the forts. The two nearest, the Catskill and Nantucket, however, from their own heavy, unsteady steering and our own swinging, got foul of us and brushed on the port and starboard side, but got again clear, and headed on in disordered line with the Nahant and Keokuk.

The Ironsides continued almost helpless at the mercy of the tide — now gaining a little, now backing, now striking bottom, now swinging to right and left. Officers and crew grew restive. The enemy's guns were continually playing upon us. We had not yet returned a single shot. There was, indeed, something grand in this scornful disdain of the rebel fire; but our gunners nevertheless chafed under it. At last, at 4:30, while swinging on the starboard side, our port broadside came to bear fully on Fort Moultrie, and Commodore Turner would not let this opportunity slip. “Open port-holes, aim, fire!” followed by a severe concussion of the air, and the first and only offensive effort of the Ironsides in the action was made. Shortly after, the strong ebb tide rendered it utterly impossible to make headway with the ship, and the order was given to drop back. Never was a command more reluctantly given or obeyed. Deep chagrin settled upon all. Still, no other course was left, and we slowly steamed back, after signalling to the monitors to withdraw from the action and follow the flagship, and anchored under the guns of Fort Wagner.

While the Ironsides struggled, a passive mark, with the tide, the other eight ironclads had one after another become engaged in what will live in history as the most desperate — despite its brief duration — naval action known to mankind. I have already made an attempt to describe the raking, roaring intensity of the concentric fire of the rebel works. I might fill page after page with descriptive phrases without reflecting anything like the reality of its fury. The facts and figures respecting its effect upon the monitors which I give below will convey a better idea of its character than vain word-painting.

Under it the captains of the Weehawken, Passaic, Montauk, and Patapsco were working with might and main to come abreast, with their badly steering vessels, of the northwest face of the fort, as directed in the order of battle, firing all the while their guns, now at Sumter, then at Moultrie. But they were still under the fire of the northeast face when they discovered three lines of floating obstructions, with another consisting of a row of piles across the whole harbor a short distance beyond. They endeavored to gain the narrow passage left open through the first, but found themselves unable to exercise sufficient control over their vessels to do so. While making this attempt, the turret of the Passaic was so bent in by a single shot as to make the working of the 11-inch gun impracticable. A short while after, the turret refused altogether to turn, depriving her of all offensive power. The 200-pounder Parrott of the Patapsco also became early disabled. But, aside from these damages to two, the fact that not one of the four could make head way past the batteries, rendered their stay under the heaviest fire useless, and hence they turned about and steered back, after having been in concentric range nearly an hour. The motion of the Weehawken was very much impeded by the Ericsson raft chained to her bow. A torpedo exploded close to her port side, but did not inflict any damage. On the way up, the Patapsco's screw caught in a kind of network of chains and cable, kept afloat by barrels and perpendicular by weights. For a while it seemed as though she could not be extricated from the mesh, but in the end she worked clear.

The Catskill, Nantucket, Nahant, and Keokuk had the same experience. When the Catskill and Nantucket got entangled with the Ironsides, the last-mentioned steamed ahead of the three others, but all four got into action shortly after each other, and about the time those that had preceded them were turning back. The enemy had by no means spent the force of their fire upon the first four. The increased number of assailants seemed to spur them, on the contrary, into doubling their energies. For nearly half an hour the scene was wrapped in intensified sheets of flame, clouds of smoke and sprays of water. Then the impassability of the obstructions compelled the last four to fall back with the others. The Catskill, Nantucket and Nahant had kept their course half-way between Forts Sumter and Moultrie, received and replied to the hottest fire of both. The Keokuk had stood more to the left, and come within 300 yards of Fort Sumter, the fire of the whole northeast face of which it seemed to sustain for some time alone, without being able to fire more than three shots in return — from what cause I will show below.

About fifteen minutes before 5 o'clock a signal was made from the flagship to cease firing and withdraw from the enemy's fire. Shortly after 5 o'clock the monitors, followed by the Keokuk, were within hail of the flagship, and the fire of the enemy stopped. In dropping down, the Nantucket aimed a few shots at Fort Wagner, which were the last fired on our side. When the vessels were nearest the obstructions, the pilots made out the ironclad rams Palmetto State and Chicora, with a wooden gunboat, standing toward them from the city. After approaching within a mile of the obstructions, they came, however, to a discreet halt, and did not venture to engage the monitors. Upon coming out of range, the hatchways of the Ironsides were opened, and we could once more have a full view of things around us. As I reached the spar-deck, the Keokuk was just passing our starboard side, with Captain Rhind limping about the forward turret. A sorry sight she presented. Her sides and turrets showed innumerable holes. She was evidently used up. The Nahant, Patapsco, and Nantucket also passed, and the commanders of each reported more or less damage. The pilot-house of the first was badly shattered. But the full extent of the injuries to the ironclads was not known until their commanders personally reported them to the Admiral in the course of the evening. The Keokuk had 90 shots in all 19 on the water line (12 starboard, 7 port); 15 in the after turret (5 of them through); 12 in the forward turret (3 of them through); 25 on the sloping sides (15 starboard, 10 port); 8 through sheeting on after turret; 10 through smoke-stack (7 through, 3 glanced); 4 through the boats, 2 glanced off the deck; 1 cut signal-staff; 3 or 4 went through the flag.

The New-Ironsides was hit between sixty and seventy times, but sustained no material damage. One of the shutters of port five, port side, was knocked off; an 11-inch shell lodged in the bow between the sides and the sand-bags. A shot passed through the smoke-stack, and her bulwarks were much shattered. The Weehawken was struck fifty-nine times. The turret was badly dented, and worked with difficulty. Many bolts in the pilot-house had been loosened and driven through. The Montauk was hit twenty times; the Passaic, fifty-eight times (in addition to the damage already stated, her pilot-house was much weakened by the loosening and driving through of the bolts). The Nantucket was struck fifty-one times, and had her turret stopped twice by shot. The Catskill received about the same number of shots. Both the latter had their decks almost torn open by rifled bolts. The Patapsco was hit between forty and fifty times, and, besides the disabling of her 200-pounder Parrott, had her turret much dented and pilot-house weak ened. The Nahant was struck eighty times, and had her pilot-house almost broken into pieces. Four men were wounded, one mortally, in it, from flying bolts.

Of ammunition, the different vessels fired: Ironsides 8 rounds, Catskill 25, Keokuk 3, Montauk 26, Nantucket 15, Passaic 9, Nahant 24, Weehawken 26, Patapsco 18, a total of 154. Assuming that one out of every ten rebel shots struck — a very liberal allowance — it would appear that the enemy fired over four thousand rounds. Three-fourths of these, at least, were discharged while the monitors and Keokuk were within the converging ranges — that is, in less than three-quarters of an hour; so that it appears the forts and batteries averaged almost two hundred discharges per minute. Their fire was excellently directed. Their guns were all of heavy, calibre, throwing 8, 9, 10, and 11-inch round shot and shell, and 5 and 6-inch rifled shot. The enemy had a few very effective Whitworth guns playing upon us. Several of the steel-pointed bolts thrown by them were found inside the Keokuk and upon the decks of several of the ironclads. The great force with which the rebel missiles struck and dented, bulged in and broke, the decks, sides, turrets, and pilot-houses, indicated high velocities from the heaviest practicable charges.

In spite of the comparative weakness of our fire, considerable damage was done to the forts. The northeast face of Fort Sumter was marked with eleven holes, plainly visible at our distance of three miles. Some gaps were three feet wide, and looked as though the shot had plowed right through the wall. Two embrasures seemed almost knocked into one. One of our first shots brought down the flag-staff of Fort Moultrie.

I conversed with all the captains of the ironclads during their meeting on board. Their opinions had but one drift: that it would be folly and sure destruction to renew the attack after to-day's experience, resulting in the total disabling of two (Keokuk and Passaic) and partial of three more (Nahant, Nantucket and Patapsco). The Admiral quietly received their reports, but did not ask for their opinions or make known his decision of the question of the renewal or abandonment of the attack.

April 8, 1863.

Late last evening the whole squadron dropped a mile further down the channel and anchored close to the bar. Almost my first look from the spar-deck this morning fell upon a sad sight. The Keokuk was sinking. She had anchored on the bar during the night. Her crew had been busy ever since last evening trying to keep her afloat by plugging the holes at her water line. But at daybreak a stiff breeze set the sea rolling, rendering their attempts futile. Captain Rhind hoisted a signal of distress at about 7, but it remained unnoticed until nearly 8, when the tug Dandelion came alongside the sinking craft. Through the strenuous efforts of her Captain, and Acting-Master Barrymore, every soul on board was saved, with a loss, however, of all they had. There was a mixture of the comic with the tragic in seeing officers and men lose their foothold in trying to get down the greasy slopes of the turtle-back deck and slide helter-skelter into the water, whence they were rescued by small boats. The crew were received with lusty cheers on board the Ironsides, and in the course of the morning sent to Port Royal on board the Wissahickon. The Keokuk went down precisely at 8:10, with her flag flying, in eighteen feet of water. In order to prevent the rebels from appropriating the machinery and guns, the wreck will be blown up.

The Weehawken lost her raft during the night. In the course of the morning it was washed ashore on Morris Island, and taken possession of by the enemy.

About noon the Admiral had the captains of the monitors called together, and declared his determination to them to withdraw their vessels from this harbor. As is the habit of his independent mind, he had arrived at this conclusion after cool reflection upon the facts officially reported to him, without consultation with any one else. But of course he was gratified with the coincidence of the opinion of his captains. To give the order to withdraw from the harbor was undoubtedly the most painful act of the Admiral's long and faithful career in the service of his country. He had to choose between the almost certain destruction of what was left fit for action of the ironclads, and the loss of personal prestige from accepting a repulse as the result of yesterday's attack. He chose the latter; and I say, with all the confidence personal observation can give, the country should thank him for it. When the fire of the rebel forts and batteries he was to attack and destroy, in the short time of three-quarters of an hour, disabled five and weakened all of the ironclads, how could he feel justified in continuing a work requiring in all probability a trial of days of the powers of offense and defense that had failed in less than an hour?

It is evidence of true courage of the highest order on his part to listen to the dictates of reason rather than follow the impulses of rash daring. The honor of the North was fully upheld in the action, and the loyal people can be justly proud of the devotion and gallantry of all engaged in it. . . .

When I left the flagship on Wednesday night, the Patapsco had already started for Port Royal, and the remainder of the monitors were expected to follow on the following day. The Ironsides was to return to her station among the blockaders. The Rear-Admiral and staff were to reëstablish themselves on the Wabash in Port Royal Harbor. The land forces, being numerically too small for independent aggressive conquests, will not be able to maintain themselves without the support of the ironclads on the islands between the Stono and Charleston, and probably will return, soon after the evacuation of the harbor, to their encampments at Hilton Head and St. Helena. Upon the whole, the loyal public had better accept the abandonment of all offensive demonstrations against Charleston as an accomplished fact.


The Admiral determined to send the Bibb at once to Washington with the reports of the action of himself and all the commanders under him. He promptly granted me permission to go North on her, which made me feel very jubilant, as it promised to enable me to outstrip by far all other press correspondents, not only as to knowledge of the details of the naval battle — of this I was sure anyway, as not one of my competitors had, like myself, shared its risks, but all of them had been far out of the range of fire on the transports — but also as to the time of publication. But this calculation came to naught. William Swinton, the very able correspondent of the New York Times, who, after the Rebellion, made quite a reputation as a historian of the war, managed to come aboard the Ironsides shortly after I had left her for the Bibb, to gather particulars of the fight from the officers and also to secure the privilege of going North on the despatch-vessel. My annoyance on seeing him come aboard may be imagined.

The voyage on the Bibb was eventless. It took us three days and a half to reach Washington, giving me ample time to leisurely work up my notes and enjoy a welcome, soothing rest, after the intense excitement and nervous strain of the preceding days. My rival left the Bibb at Fortress Monroe, in the expectation, as I guessed at once, of getting the start of me by going on the regular boat to Baltimore and thence by train to New York, but we reached our common destination at the same time — that is, on the morning of the 13th. My report was at once issued by the Tribune as an extra and reprinted in the paper of the following day. It was referred to on the editorial page as follows:

Our special correspondent's account of the great naval contest at Charleston, which we printed in an Extra early yesterday morning, will be found in full in other columns. It is a complete and admirable description, and is especially valuable because it is the account of an eye-witness. Its author shared the perils of the conflict which he describes, on board the New-Ironsides, the flagship of Admiral Dupont, and is the only correspondent who was with the fleet during the engagement. The assertion in a morning paper of yesterday, previous to the reception of any account except by telegraph, makes it proper for us to add that our correspondent with difficulty obtained permission from Admiral Dupont to assume his perilous station. When, however, it had been granted him, the Admiral with considerate courtesy extended the offer to the other representatives of the press, but they unanimously declined it, and no one of them witnessed the contest, except at a safe distance from the scene of danger.

The allusion to my sole presence on the Ironsides was occasioned by the impudent fraud which the correspondent of the Times attempted to perpetrate by dating his account from the Ironsides, and making it read so as to create the impression that the writer had been on board the ironclad during the action.

Mr. Greeley and the whole editorial staff of the Tribune complimented me highly upon my achievement, and I received also considerable praise from the press. A substantial recognition was also awarded to me in the form of an extra allowance of one hundred dollars and two weeks' leave of absence. I need not say that all this made me not a little proud.

The repulse in Charleston Harbor led to very savage attacks on Admiral Dupont in a number of Northern papers. George W. Smalley, who was then military and naval editor of the Tribune, defended him very vigorously in that paper. I wrote to Captain C. R. P. Rodgers with reference to this, and received in reply the following letter, which I have always prized very highly :

(Private.) U. S. S. Wabash,
Port Royal, 25 April, 1863.

My dear Mr. Villard:

I am very much obliged to you for your kindness in writing to me. Your letter was deeply interesting to the Admiral as well as to myself. Your graphic and powerful account of the attack upon Charleston has done much to form public opinion, and I feel under great obligations to my old friend, Mr. Smalley, for the vigor and skill with which he has espoused our cause. Your own personal gallantry and unhesitating devotion in the exercise of your professional duty won for you the respect and confidence of us all, and I hope that it may be my good fortune soon to meet you again, and to find in a fairer field that success which we failed to win on the 7th.

Your letter to me was full of valuable information, and I can not sufficiently thank you for it.

I write briefly now, for I am sorely pressed by many unanswered letters, but I beg you to believe in the warm regard with which I am

Faithfully yours,
C. R. P. Rodgers.

Henry Villard, Esq., New York.

On the same day Captain Rodgers thus wrote to Mr. Smalley:

(Confidential.) U. S. S. Wabash,
Port Royal, 25 April, 1863.

My dear Mr. Smalley:

I beg you to receive my very cordial thanks for your kind letter, which I received by the Arago. It is a great satisfaction to me to find that one whom I had learned to regard as a tried comrade, has so effectively sustained our brave Admiral, under his first reverse, when an interested and powerful clique was so earnestly endeavoring to destroy a reputation so dear to those who have served under his orders. Mr. Villard's excellent letter and your skilful editorials have done much to frustrate the interested malignity which sought to win new contracts and large disbursements at the expense of the honor of men who have, at least, during this war served bravely and faithfully. The commanding officers who fought at Charleston are, as one man, emphatic and unanimous in coinciding with the Admiral in his views and decision. We were charged with the difficult task of taking Charleston by machinery. Twelve hundred men in ingenious machines were to take a strongly fortified city upon which the resources of the Rebellion had been lavished for two years. When these machines came to us, they were wholly untried, and we were to experiment with them under such a fire as the world has never before witnessed. Our attack was gallantly delivered, but the machines were found not equal to the task assigned them. After forty minutes fighting, without endeavoring to force the obstructions, five out of the eight smaller vessels were found wholly, or one-half, disabled, and every commanding officer in the attacking force was convinced that a persistence in the attack would turn failure into utter disaster. We might have produced a more dramatic effect by lingering until a portion of the fleet had been sunk, and have thus gratified the sensationalists, but it was certain that the Admiral could not take Charleston with the naval force given him — could not even take Fort Sumter, which I had hoped we should destroy. The power of the new ordnance and the heavy projectiles was greater than the endurance of the monitors. The shattering process was rapidly going on, and another hour's engagement would have destroyed many of the vessels.

Our people are shocked that there was so little loss of life. They forget that, in these mailed vessels, when the loss of life begins, swift destruction follows. They are nearly safe until they are destroyed. Had Charleston been taken, scores of new monitors would have been built, and now disappointed constructors are ready for denunciation. It remains to be seen whether the country will be influenced by the opinion of carefully selected Naval Commanders or by disappointed inventors and their interested parti sans. If an issue is demanded, the Naval Commanders are ready for it — ready and defiant. I am deeply impressed by your kindness in this matter. I have shown your letter to the Admiral, and he fully shares this feeling. I thank you most warmly, and I beg you to believe me, with true regard and respect,

Ever faithfully yours,
C. R. P. Rodgers.

G. W. Smalley, Esq., New York.

P. S. I had occasion to observe and admire the nerve and courage of Mr. Villard, and to witness the untiring fidelity with which he sought to perform his duties as an observer and recorder of all

that was occurring.



CHAPTER XXVI


First Visit to Boston—1863


THE main consequence of the Charleston affair to me personally remains to be told. My vacation accidentally led to an episode destined to direct the course of my whole life. When Sydney Howard Gay, the managing editor of the Tribune, announced to me that I could have two weeks leave of absence, I remarked, “I am much obliged, but where shall I spend it?” “Have you ever been to Boston?” he asked; and when I answered, “No,” he said, “Go to the Hub by all means.” Accordingly, after having “taken it easy” for a few days in New York, I followed his advice. I reached Boston on Thursday, April 21st, and spent the next day in walking about the city. On the 23d I called on Mrs. Severance, presenting a letter of introduction to her from her husband, the Collector at Port Royal. As she was not at home, her daughter Julia received me, and invited me to accompany her to the gymnasium of Dr. Diocletian Lewis, to witness the exercises of a class of young men and women. I accepted, went with her, and stayed through the performance. I was introduced to Dr. Lewis and others, among them the son of William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist. From the latter I received an invitation to go with him to hear the Rev. Samuel Johnson of Salem, a well-known liberal-minded, free-religious preacher, speak the next (Sunday) morning, and afterwards to dine with his family, in order to make their acquaintance. I gladly accepted.

I mentioned, in speaking of my deep interest in the Frémont campaign of 1856, that, like most Europeans, I looked upon the existence of slavery as an outrageous shame and an abominable disgrace to the American Republic; that I was shocked and disgusted by the incomprehensible and most contemptible prejudice in the Northern States against the inspired patriots who demanded the abolition of the horrible institution, at the risk of constant, bitter persecution and personal danger. For them I had always felt the deepest sympathy and admiration; hence, I was delighted to receive from George W. Smalley a letter of introduction to Wendell Phillips, which I had not then delivered, and was, of course, rejoiced at the opportunity to become acquainted with his noble compeer.

Young William Lloyd and his younger brother Frank, a boy fifteen years of age, called for me, as agreed, and took me to hear Mr. Johnson, who preached in a public hall. Their sister was also present and joined us after the sermon, and we all walked together to their home. I was heartily welcomed by the parents, and at once felt entirely at home with them. Mrs. Garrison was a fine-looking woman, with a pleasant expression, but seemingly of a shy, retiring disposition. Mr. Garrison's exterior was a complete surprise to me. His public character as the most determined, fearless antislavery champion had so impressed me, as it did most people, that I had supposed his outward appearance must be in keeping with it. In other words, I had expected to see a fighting figure of powerful build, with thick hair, full beard, and fiery, defiant eyes. It seemed almost ludicrous to behold a man of middle size, completely bald and clean shaven, with kindly eyes behind spectacles, and, instead of a fierce, an entirely benignant expression. He appeared, indeed, more like the typical New England minister of the Gospel than the relentless agitator that he was. The inner man corresponded fully to the outer one. He was forbearing, and mildness itself, in manner and speech. Being a journalist himself, he took a special interest in my war experiences as a correspondent, which I was made to relate during and after the dinner, with the whole family as eager listeners.

The next morning Mr. Garrison's youngest son, Frank, called for me early, and acted as my guide in an exploration of the older part of Boston. We climbed to the cupola of the State House and ascended Bunker Hill Monument. If I remember rightly, he also took me to the residence of Wendell Phillips, to whom I presented Mr. Smalley's letter of introduction. The latter had had close personal relations with the great orator ever since he had protected him from the violence of a Boston mob, and subsequently married his adopted daughter. Mr. Phillips lived in a very small house with hardly space for the enjoyment of even ordinary comfort. He received me very cordially, and I conversed for an hour with this famous man, and became deeply impressed by his fascinating personality. Throughout the rest of my stay in Boston, I was much in company with the Garrisons, visiting with them (among others places) Readville, some fifteen miles south of Boston, where the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts colored regiments — the first ones organized in Massachusetts — were encamped. The oldest son of Mr. Garrison, George Thompson, had entered the army, much against the wishes of his father, who had always been an advocate of the doctrine of non-resistance. Mr. Garrison finally gave his sanction, however, and George ultimately became quartermaster in the Fifty-fifth Regiment. At Readville, Colonel Robert G. Shaw, of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, attracted especial attention, no one knowing how soon his fine young life was to be sacrificed in battle. He fell in the assault on Fort Wagner.

On reaching my hotel on my return from the camp, I found a letter from Mr. Gay, saying that he had received reliable information that Rosecrans's army was to enter upon aggressive movements, early in May, from Murfreesboro', and asking whether I was willing to shorten my leave of absence and start at once for Tennessee, to report the impending campaign. It was midnight when I reached a definite resolution, and, with deep regret that I should have to give up the rest of my vacation, wrote in answer to Mr. Gay that I would report for duty the day after the morrow. It was to this chance visit to Boston that I owe the greatest happiness of my life — my marriage to Miss Fanny Garrison, the only daughter of the great abolitionist, to whose charms of mind and person I surrendered on first acquaintance.

I returned to New York by the night train.