Page images

and that the ship was sinking. At the same time a. strange thing happened. An early shot from the Kearsarge had carried away the Alabama's colors; and now the Alabama's own last broadside actually announced her own defeat by “breaking out” the special Stars and Stripes that Winslow had run up his mizzenmast on purpose to break out in case of victory. A cannon ball had twitched the cord that held the flag rolled up “in stops.”

Semmes sent his one remaining boat to announce his surrender; threw his sword into the sea; and jumped in with the survivors. The Deerhound, on authority from Winslow, had already closed in to the rescue, followed by two French pilot boats and two from the Kearsarge; when suddenly the Alabama, rearing like a stricken horse, plunged to her doom.

Long before the Alabama's end the Navy had been preparing for the finishing blows against the Southern ports. Farragut had returned to New Orleans in January, '64, hoping for immediate action. But vexatious delays at Washington postponed his great attack till August, when he crowned his whole career by his master-stroke against Mobile. Grant was equally annoyed by this absurd delay, which was caused by the eccentric, and therefore entirely wasteful, Red River Expedition of '64, an expedition we shall ignore otherwise than by pointing out in this and the succeeding chapters, that it not only postponed the overdue attack on Mobile but spoilt Sherman's grand strategy as well as Farragut’s and Grant's. Banks commanded it. But by this time even he had learnt enough of war to know that it was a totally false move. So he boldly protested against it. But Halleck's orders, dictated by the Government, were positive. So there was nothing for it but to suffer a well-deserved defeat while trying to kill the dead and withering branches of Confederate power beyond the Mississippi, in order to “show the flag in Texas" and say “hands off!” to Mexico and France in the least effective way of all.

During this delay the Confederate ram Albemarle came down the Roanoke River, hoping to break through the local blockade in Albemarle Sound and so give North Carolina an outlet to the sea. Two attempts against Newbern, which closed the way out to Pamlico Sound, had failed; but now (the fifth of May) great hopes were set upon the Albemarle. At first she seemed impregnable; and the Federal shot and shell glanced harmlessly

off her iron sides. But presently Commander Roe of the Sassacus (a light-draft, pair-paddle, doubleender gunboat) getting at right angles to her, ordered his engineer to stuff the fires with oiled waste and keep the throttle open. All hands, lie down!shouted Roe, as the throbbing engines drove his vessel to the charge. Then came an earthquake shock: the Sassacus crashed her bronze beak into the Albemarle's side. Both vessels were disabled; a shell from the Albemarle burst the boilers of the Sassacus, scalding the engineers. But the rest fought off the attempt made by the Albemarles to board. Presently the furious opponents drifted apart; and the Albemarle, unable to face her other enemies, took refuge upstream. There, on the twenty-seventh of October, she was heroically attacked and sunk by Lieutenant W. B. Cushing, U. S. N., with a spar torpedo projecting from a little steam launch. Cushing himself swam off through a hail of bullets, worked his way through the woods, seized a skiff belonging to one of the enemy's outposts, and reached the flagship half dead but wholly triumphant.

Between the Albemarle's two fights Farragut took Mobile after a magnificent action on the fifth of August. There were batteries ashore, torpedoes across the channel, the Tennessee ram and other Confederate vessels waiting on the flank: three kinds of danger to the Union fleet if one false movement had been made. But Farragut's touch was sure. He sent his ironclads through next to the batteries, which were only really dangerous on one side. This protected the wooden ships against the batteries and the ironclads against the torpedoes; for the Confederates had to leave part of the fairway clear in order to use it themselves. Through this narrow channel the four strongly armored monitors led the desperate way, a little ahead and to starboard of the wooden vessels, which followed in pairs, each pair lashed together, with the stronger on the starboard side, next to Fort Morgan.

The Confederates in Fort Morgan, and in the small and distant Fort Powell on the other side, hardly reached a thousand men. Their force afloat was also comparatively small: the ironclad ram Tennessee and three side-wheeler gunboats. But the great strength of their position and the many dangers to a hostile fleet combined to make Farragut’s attack a very serious operation, even with his four monitors, eight screw sloops, and four smaller vessels. The Union army, which took no

part in this great attack, was over five thousand strong, and lost only seven men in the land bombardment later on.

Farragut crossed the bar in the Hartford at ten past six in the morning with the young flood tide and a westerly breeze to blow the smoke against Fort Morgan. All his ships ran up the Stars and Stripes not only at the peak, as usual, but at each mast-head as well. Farragut himself at first took post in the port main rigging. But as the smoke of battle rose around him he climbed higher and higher till he got close under the maintop, where a seaman, sent up by Captain Drayton, lashed him on securely.

All went well amid the furious cannonade till the monitor Tecumseh, taking the wrong side of the channel buoy in her anxiety to ram the Tennessee, ran over the torpedoes, was horribly holed by the explosion, and plunged head-foremost to the bottom, her screw madly whirling in the air. Nor was this the worst; for the Tecumseh's mistake had thrown the other monitors out of their proper line-ahead, athwart the wooden ships, which began to slow and swing about in some confusion. The Confederates redoubled their fire. Ahead lay the fatal torpedoes. For a moment Farragut

« PreviousContinue »