Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/79

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

Capture of the 0. S. Ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay. 73

I had been sleeping on the deck of the admiral's cabin for two or three nights, when at daybreak, on the 5th of August, the old '* quar- termaster" came down the ladder, rousing us up with his gruff voice, saying : " Admiral, the officer of the deck bids me report that the enemy's fleet is under way." Jumping up, still half asleep, we came on deck, and sure enough, there was the enemy heading for the " passage " past the fort. The grand old admiral, of sixty years, with his countenance rigid and stern, showing a determination for battle in every line, then gave his only order : " Get under way, Captain Johnson ; head for the leading vessel of the enemy, and fight each one as they pass us."

The fort and fleet, by this time, had opened fire, and the Tennessee replied, standing close in, and meeting the foremost as they came up. We could see two long lines of men of- war; the innermost was composed of the four monitors, and the outer of the ten wooden frigates, all engaging the fort and fleet. Just at that moment we expected the monitors to open fire upon us, there was a halt in the progress of the enemy's fleet. We observed that one of the mon- itors was apparently at a standstill; she "laid to" for a moment, seemed to reel, then slowly disappear into the gulf. Immediately immense bubbles of steam, as large as cauldrons, rose to the surface of the water, and only eight human beings could be seen in the tur- moil. Boats were sent to their rescue, both from the fort and fleet, and they were saved. Thus the monitor Tecumseh, at the commence- ment of tho fight, struck by a torpedo, went to her fate at the bot- tom of the gulf, where she still lies. Sunk with her was her chivalric commander T. A. M. Craven ; the pilot, an engineer, and two sea- men were the only survivors picked up by the Federal boats, and they were on duty in the turret. The pilot, whom I sometime afterward conversed with at Pensacola, on the subject, told me that when the vessel careened, so that water began to run into the mouth of the turret, he and Captain Craven were on the ladder together, the captain on the top step, with the way open for his easy and honora- ble escape ; the pilot said : " Go ahead, captain ! " " No, sir," replied Craven ; " after you, pilot ! I leave my ship last! " Upon this the pilot sprung up, and the gallent Craven went down, sucked under in the vortex, thus sacrificing himself through a chivalric sense of duty.

There was a dead silence on board the Tennessee ; the men peered through the port holes at the awful catastrophe, and spoke to each other only in low whispers ; for they knew that the same fate was, probably, awaiting us, for we were then directly over the torpedo