Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/81

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Capture of the C. S. Ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay. 75

in his first engagement in the Merrimac, and in about fifteen minutes we observed that instead of heading for the safe lee of the fort, our iron prow was pointed for the enemy's fleet. Suppressed excla- mations were beginning to be heard from the officers and crew :

  • ' The old admiral has not had his fight out yet; he is heading for

that big fleet ; he will get his fill of it up there ! ' '

Slowly and gradually this fact became apparent to us, and I, being on his staff and in close association with him, ventured to ask him : "Are you going into that fleet, admiral?" "I am, sir!" was his reply. Without intending to be heard by him I said to an officer standing near me : " Well, we'll never come out of there whole ! " But Buchanan had heard my remark, and turning around said sharply: "That's my lookout, sir !" And now began the second part of the fight.

I may as well explain here why he did this much-criticised and desperate deed of daring. He told me his reasons long afterwards as follows : He had only had six hours' coal on board, and he in- tended to expend that in fighting. He did not mean to be trapped like a rat in a hole, and made to surrender without a strug- gle ! Then he meant to go to the lee of the fort and assist General Payne in the defense of the place. This calculation was unluckily prevented by the shooting away of the rudder chains of the Tennes- see in this second engagement.

As we approached the enemy's fleet one after another of Farra- gut's ten wooden frigates swept out in a wide circle, and by the time we reached the point where the monitors were, a huge leading frigate was coming at the rate of ten miles an hour, a column of white foam formed of the dead water piled in front of its bows many feet high. Heavy cannonading from the monitors was going on at this time, when the leading wooden vessel came rapidly bearing down on us, bent on the destruction of the formidable ram, which we on board of the Tennessee fully realized as the supreme moment of the test of our strength. We had escaped from the torpedo bed safe and on top, and were now to take our chances of being run under by the heavy wooden frigates that were fast nearing us. Each vessel had her bows heavily ironed for the purpose of cutting down and sinking the Ten- nessee, as such were the orders of Admiral Farragut.

Captain Johnson, in the pilot-house, gave the word to officers and men : " Steady yourselves when she strikes. Stand by and be ready!" Not a word was heard on the deck, under its shelving roof, where the officers and men, standing by their guns, silent and