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“this Filthy Ironpot”
Civil War ironclads were dirty, hot, cramped, and dangerously unseaworthy. An officer’s diary describes life aboard during the crucial Battle of Mobile Bay
Februrary 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 2
Two other ironclads are expected from New Orleans in a day or two. I suppose the general attack will be postponed awhile after their arrival, and probably much longer, but I think we will try the range of our guns at Fort Morgan within a day or two. …
July 21 —… We got under weigh this morning and stood in shore to within easy range of Fort Morgan. We can see the Rebs at work quite plainly. The Tennessee is in full view, and a rather ugly brute she is. The Rebs have not fired at us at all, and we are quite peaceably disposed for the present. I asked Captain Gherardi [commander of the U.S.S. Port Royal and an officer under whom Ely had served previously] this evening to apply for me to come aboard his vessel, that I might get out of this filthy ironpot, as I am perfectly disgusted with her and willing to leave her at once; but he told me that the Admiral would not let him have me, and that I was to be executive of this vessel. I am not at all ambitious for the position. I do not think I would get along with Captain Nicholson, as his first lieutenant. He interferes entirely too much with the executive duty of the ship. I like to carry out orders in my own way, and not be continually plied by hints and suggestions from the Captain, and be obliged to follow out my own ideas in the end after a great deal of fuss about nothing. …
For nearly two weeks the Manhattan and the rest of the Union ships lay at anchor outside Mobile Bay while the remainder of Farragut’s assault force assembled. Not until August 4 did the last of his ironclads, the ill-fated Tecumseh, arrive on station .
August 4 —The ball was opened this morning by the monitor Winnebago . She stood in toward Fort Gaines and opened fire on some Rebel steamers discharging freight at the wharf. She made most miserable shots, and the steamboats did not cast off a line but continued to discharge until they had finished, and then quietly steamed away. Fort Gaines opened on the monitor, and after some rather wild shooting made more tolerable shots. None of them, however, struck the monitor. …
The Bienville arrived this evening with the Monitor Tecumseh in tow. She is a sister ship of this. Rations were cooked today for tomorrow. Signal men from the Army are aboard and we are ready to get under weigh at daylight. We have got our guns to work quite well, and I take the credit to myself—in my own diary—I hope we may be successful and that everything will work well.
August 5 —This morning the fleet got under weigh at 6. The Brooklyn and Octarara led the van, next Hartford and Metacomet lashed together, next Richmond and Port Royal , next Ossipee and Itasca , next Oneida and Galena , Lackawanna , and Seminole . The ironclads, four in number, this vessel, the Tecumseh , Winnebago , and Chickasaw , were on the right flank of the fleet attacking in columns and therefore between it and the Rebel Fort Morgan.
The engagement was commenced at 6:45 and lasted until eleven. The Tecumseh was blown up by a torpedo within a ship’s length of this vessel in the very commencement of the engagement. She sank in seven minutes, and only one ensign, the pilot, and four men were saved from her. The whole of the balance of the officers and men went down in her.
The battle was terrific, the most severe naval engagement of the war. We came within close pointblank range of the forts, and they threw a perfect storm of shot, shell, and grape. Our loss in killed and wounded was nearly 300, a very heavy proportion for the small number of persons exposed in the fighting decks to the enemies’ fire. After passing the forts we engaged the Rebel fleet of four vessels, capturing the Selma , sinking the Morgan , and capturing the Tennessee , who struck to the Manhattan .
I put two 15-inch solid shot through her and the Captain put one. We had the guns out and I had given the order “Ready!” Our vessel [was] within 50 yards of her and going at full speed. I was about to give the order “Fire!” which would have sent 870 pounds of cold iron fore and aft the whole length of her gun deck, when the Captain called out to me not to fire, that “she had surrendered.”
We all jumped out on deck, and sure enough the Rebel flag was down, much torn and the pale flag of truce in its place. We stopped the engines at once and just steamed clear of her, having been steaming after her at full speed with the intention of ramming her as we fired the last shot. The Captain ordered me to board her and take her colors, which I did.