Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/January/Defence of Fort Morgan—Reports of General R. L. Page
for though in barbarous ages conquered peoples write no histories, yet, as the world grows older, history grows more and more a judge, less and less a witness and advocate; more and more to every cause that appeal lies open, which Francis Bacon, of Verulam, made "to future ages and other countries."
Fit is it that we trust to that great verdict, seeing that nothing less than the tribunal of mankind can judge this man, who was born not for a period, but for all time; not for a country, but for the world; not for a people, but for the human race.
Not for him shall the Arch of Triumph rise; not for him Columns of Victory, telling through monumental bronze the hideous tale of tears and blood that grins from the skull pyramids of Dahomey. Not to his honor shall extorted tributes carve the shaft or mould the statue; but this day a grateful people give of their poverty gladly, that in pure marble, or time-defying bronze, future generations may see the counterfeit presentment of this man—the ideal and bright consummate flower of our civilization; not an Alexander, it may be; nor Napoleon, nor Timour, nor Churchill—greater far than they, thank heaven—the brother and the equal of Sidney and of Falkland, of Hampden and of Washington.
Defence of Fort Morgan—Reports of General R. L. Page.
[We are glad to be able to present the following original MS. reports of General R. L. Page, which have never been in print, and which give a clear statement of the gallant defence of Fort Morgan. They would have appeared most appropriately in immediate connection with General Maury's report of the defence of Mobile, but as they were not received in time for that, they are given here.]
Headquarters Third Brigade, D. G. ,
Fort Morgan, August 6th, 1864.
General D. H. Maury, Commanding, &c., Mobile:
General—I have the honor to report that at 6 o'clock yesterday morning the enemy's fleet, consisting of twenty-three men-of-war, of which four were monitors, moved up in line to pass this fort—the monitors leading, the wooden vessels, lashed together in twos, following; the sloops of-war and larger craft on the inshore side protecting their consorts, which could convey them in should they be seriously damaged.
The first monitor, "Tecumseh," single turreted, was sunk under our guns, immediately abreast the fort. She went down rapidly; only a few, who were picked up by a boat from the enemy, and four who swam ashore and are now in our hands, were saved from her crew.
The wooden gunboat "Phillippi," attempting to pass the fort alone after the fleet, was sunk by the second shot, and being run ashore was deserted by her crew, and afterwards burnt by a boat from the Confederate States gunboat "Morgan." One man was found on her whose legs had been so shattered that he died while the officer was on board. He was thrown overboard.
The spirit displayed by this garrison was fine, the guns admirably served, and all did their duty nobly; and though subjected to a fire which for the time was probably as severe as any known in, the annals of this war, our casualties were slight. I enclose a list.
Four of the enemy's fleet turned from the fire they would have to encounter in passing, and assisted other vessels in an enfilading fire from the Gulf side during the action. As to the damage inflicted on those which succeeded in passing, I cannot speak definitely; shot after shot was distinctly seen to enter the wooden ships, but, as was evident, their machinery being protected by chains no vital blow could be given them there. Their loss in men, I am assured, was very great.
Four hundred and ninety-one projectiles were delivered from this fort during the passage of the fleet.
Our naval forces under Admiral Buchanan fought most gallantly, against odds before unknown to history.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
R. L. Page,
New Orleans, La., 30th August, 1864.
Major-General D. H. Maury, Commanding Mobile, Alabama:
General—The report of the evacuation of Fort Powell and the surrender of Fort Gaines I had the honor of addressing you from Fort Morgan, on the 8th instant. It embraced the military operations to that date.
After the reduction of Gaines, I felt confident that the whole naval and land force of the enemy would be brought against Morgan, and was assiduous in preparing my fort for as good a defence as possible. For the state of the work I beg leave to refer you to Chief Engineer Sheliha's letter to Headquarters' Department, of July 9th, from which time no material change or addition was made; and further to state, that it had been demonstrated by the fire from the enemy that the enceinte of the fort (in which was its main strength) protected the scarp of the main wall only about one-half its height from curbated shot; that it was now in the power of the enemy to open fire from every point of the compass, and consequently none of the casemates, without heavy traverses in their front, would be safe; that it was manifest, by this concentration of fire, my heavy guns could soon be dismounted; and my making a protracted resistance depended on my ability to protect my men from the heavy fire, and hold the fort from the flank casemates against an assault. With these views, I employed my men day and night, most of the time under fire, in erecting traverses to protect my guns on the main wall as long as possible, to render the casemate selected for the sick and wounded secure, and to provide safe quarters for themselves in their rest from the arduous duties they would have to endure. It was necessary also to put a large traverse at the Sally Port, which was entirely exposed.
Thus absolutely to prevent the probability of Fort Morgan's being reduced at the first test and onset by the heavy batteries of the enemy, it was necessary for my limited garrison (of some 400 effective) to labor to effect a work equal almost in extent to building a new fort.
On early morning of the 9th the enemy proceeded with monitors and transports, and disembarked troops at navy cove, commencing at once their first work of investment by land.
The "new redoubt" (2,700 yards from the fort) from which the guns had been withdrawn, and the work formerly known as "Battery Bragg," were destroyed as far as possible by burning the wood work. The buildings around the fort, hospitals, quarters, stables, &c., were also at the same time fired and cleared away as much as possible.
Two monitors, three sloops-of-war and several gunboats engaged the fort for two or three hours—the wooden vessels at rather long range—with no material damage apparent to either side. Soon thereafter a flag of truce was reported from the fleet, and communicated to this effect:
Brigadier-General R. L. Page, Commanding Fort Morgan:
Sir—To prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of human life which must follow the opening of our batteries, we demand the unconditional surrender of Fort Morgan and its dependencies.
We are very, your obedient servants,
D. G. Farragut, Rear Admiral
Gordon Granger, Major-General.
To which my reply said:
Rear Admiral D. G. Farragut,
Gordon Granger, Major-General:
Sirs—I am prepared to sacrifice life, and will only surrender when I have no means of defence. I do not understand that while being communicated with under flag of truce, the "Tennessee" should be towed within range of my guns.
R. L. Page,
Brigadier-General C. S. A.
From this time to the 15th, day and night, we were engaged by the fleet, sometimes in a brisk fight of several hours' duration, at other in a desultory firing—without any very effective damage being done to our fort, save a demonstration of the fact that our brick walls were easily penetrable to the heavy missiles of the enemy, and that a systematic, concentrated fire would soon breach them.
On the 15th, three of the 15-inch shells striking the right-flank face of Bastion No. 4 breached the wall, and disabled the howitzers therein.
During this time a pretty continuous fire was kept up on the fort from the Parrott guns in several batteries erected by the enemy; and in the intervals of serving the guns my men were engaged in the work before mentioned, for their protection, in the anticipation of a vigorous bombardment.
The sharpshooters in our front had become, very numerous and active, and with these encircling us on the land, and the fire delivered from the fleet on the flanks, our guns had to be served with much care and under great difficulty.
The land forces of the enemy completed their first approach (see accompanying sketch) on the 9th and 10th across the peninsula; the second through the 11th and 12th; the third, a bayou, near and parallel to Gulf shore, 13th and 14th; their first parallel 500 and 700 yards distant, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th; approaches on 20th and 21st to within 200 yards of our glacis.
Such guns as I could use on this force I annoyed them with, especially at night, and to the extent possible retarded their work; though nothing very effective could be accomplished in this way, as their working parties were well concealed in the sand hills, and when our fire was concentrated on any one point they would merely, unseen, remove to some other.
To the morning of the 22d, our efforts were with the heavy guns that bore on them to interfere with the investing approaches of the enemy. The topography of our front, however, was to their advantage, and they made a steady advance, covering it somewhat with an irregular fire from the batteries already in position, and lining their works already completed with sharpshooters to pick off our gunners.
At daylight the fleet was reported moving up to encircle us, and shortly its batteries (in conjunction with those on land, which numbered thirty-six (36) guns and mortars) opened a furious fire, which came from almost every point of the compass, and continued unabated throughout the day, culminating in increased force at sundown; after which the heavy calibres and mortars kept it up during the night.
This fire disabled all the heavy guns, save two, which did not bear on the land approach, partially breached the walls in several places, and cut up the fort to such extent as to make the whole work a mere mass of debris. Their mortar practice was accurate.
Apprehensive from the great effect already had on the walls, that my magazines, containing now 80,000 pounds, were in danger in continuation of the bombardment in the night, with great care and under continuous fire I had the powder brought out and flooded.
The guns in the "Water" and "Lunette" batteries, now unserviceable and in jeopardy from the enemy, I ordered spiked and otherwise effectually damaged; and all the guns on the main rampart dismounted by the fire from the enemy were likewise destroyed as of no further avail in defence. Early in the night the woodwork of the citadel was fired by the mortar shells, and burned furiously for some hours—the enemy during the conflagration pouring in his missiles with increased vigor. With great efforts the fire was arrested, and prevented extending around near the magazines, which would have been in imminent danger of explosion. In the gallant endeavor to prevent this disaster, I would especially mention Privates Murphy, Bembough and Stevens, First Tennessee regiment, for great courage and daring displayed.
At daylight on the 23d (all my powder had then been destroyed), the citadel was again set on fire in several places by shells, and burned until it was consumed.
The report made to me now was that the casemates which had been rendered as safe as possible for the men, some had been breached, others partially (Captains Johnston, Fisher and Hughes informed me that another shot on them would bring down the walls of their company quarters), so that a resumption of the severe fire from the enemy would in all likelihood inflict great loss of life, there being no bombproof in the fort. The enemy's approach was very near the glacis. My guns and powder had all been destroyed; my "means of defence gone"; the citadel, nearly the entire quartermaster store and a portion of the commissariat burnt by the enemy's shells. It was evident the fort could hold out but a few hours longer under a renewed bombardment. The only question was, hold it for this time, gain the eclat and sustain the loss of life from the falling of the walls, or save life and capitulate?
I capitulated to the enemy at 2 o'clock P. M., and though they refused to insert it in the terms there was a full understanding, and I was assured that my sick and wounded should be sent at once to Mobile by a flag of truce. This was not done. Considering the great exposure to which the men were subjected, and the fact that shells frequently burst among them when in the casemates, the casualties were unusually small. I enclose a list.
The garrison in this severe test behaved well, and I would make little distinction.
Captain J. Gallimard, engineer in charge, performed his duties to my satisfaction. To the officers of the First Alabama battalion artillery, Major J. T. Gee commanding, and of Captain Cothran's company, Twenty-first Alabama, I give my thanks for their promptness and alacrity in every duty; and to Colonel A. J. Jackson, commanding First Tennessee, and Captains Johnston and Fisher and their brave companies of that regiment, for very efficient service.
To Captain C. H. Smith, A. A. G., and Captain R. T. Thorn, A. I. G., for prompt performance of all their duties, I am under obligations; and to my aid-de-camp, Lieutenant J. C. Taylor, I owe much for his promptness and energy, and for his active and gallant assistance throughout the operations.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. L. Page, Brigadier-General.
Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, Twelfth Alabama Regiment.
[Continued from December No.]
February 5th, 1865 (Sunday)—My sleep was a very cold and uncomfortable one last night, and I rose early to warm myself by the single stove in the "division." The "pen," as our quarters are called, embraces an area of near two acres. The building, a mere shell, unceiled and unplastered, is on three sides, with a high, close plank fence on the fourth side, separating us from the privates' barracks. The long side of the building (barracks, as it is called), parallel with the fence, is about 300 feet in length, running east and west, and the other two sides or ends are each about 150 feet long. The campus or exercise ground is low and flat, wet and muddy. There are narrow plank walks, intersecting each other, and near the building, which are thronged with passing crowds this wet weather. The bunks or berths in each division are six feet long and about four feet apart, extending entirely across the room. Each division is heated by one large upright stove, which the prisoners keep very hot when sufficient coal can be obtained. The room is so open and cold, however, that a half-dozen or more stoves would be required to heat it. Several poor fellows, who have no bunk-mates and a scarcity of covering, sit up around the stoves and nod all night. The mess-room is next to "22" and near "the rear." It is a long, dark room, having a long pine table, on which the food is placed in separate piles, either on a tin plate or on the uncovered, greasy table, at meal hours, twice a day. No knives nor forks, nor spoons are furnished. Captain Browne kindly brought my meals to me. The fare consists of a slice of baker's bread, very often stale, with weak coffee, for breakfast, and a slice of bread and piece of salt pork or salt beef, sometimes alternating with boiled fresh beef and bean soup, for dinner. The beef is often tough and hard to masticate. It is said to be thrown, bloody and unwashed, in huge pots, filled with water of doubtful cleanliness, and boiled. Many prisoners club together and form messes, and with such money as they receive from Northern friends, or as they can make by their own ingenious work, buy such eatables as can be obtained from the sutler. The prison allowance is poor and scant indeed, and I eagerly consume all I receive. Being on crutches I am unable to run and scuffle for a place at the mess-room table, where all stand to eat, after pushing and crowding in.