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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
Her decks looked like a butcher shop. One man had been struck by the fragments of one of our 15inch shot, and was cut into pieces so small that the largest would not have weighed 2 lbs. The Rebel Admiral was wounded. None of us was hurt.
In the heat of the action, Lieutenant Ely seems to have gotten a feut of its details scrambled. Farragut actually steamed into battle with fourteen wooden ships; besides those Ely named, the Monongahela and the Kennebec were on hand. For a more accurate account of the Tecumseh’ s sinking and the fate of her crew, see page 51. Finally, Ely seems to have overestimated the damage done by Manhattan’ s 15-inch guns. Tennessee’ s armor was not penetrated. One of Manhattan’ s shot, however, did buckle the ram’s armor and splinter the wooden backing, so that another shot in the same place would probably have gone through. In addition, Tennessee’ s bow and stern guns were put out of action because the Federal pounding jammed the iron gun ports and made it impossible to open them. The dreadfully dismembered sailor mentioned by Ely came to his end when a solid shot arrived just as he was trying to repair one of those gun ports .
August 6 —We lay very comfortably all night, not having been bothered by the Rebel torpedoes. This morning the U.S.S. Metacomet went out with the wounded under a flag of truce, bound for Pensacola. The Rebel commander of Fort Morgan, Maj. Gen. Richard L. Page, gave the Admiral permission to send her, provided “she returned,” as he said “he had us now just where he wanted us.” I think he will want us away again before he gets through with us. A blockade runner managed to get past us in the night and arrived safely at Mobile.
This morning we found that Fort Powell had been evacuated and the magazine blown up in consequence of the fire from one of our monitors. The monitor Winnebago went in and engaged Fort Gaines this afternoon, making some splendid shots, and only receiving one in return. On Monday we are to join in with the other ironclads and see if we can drive the Rebels out of it.
August 7 —This morning a general order from the Admiral, expressing his thanks to the officers and men of the different vessels of the fleet which participated in the fight of the 5th, was read on the quarterdeck at general muster, also an order for the fleet to return thanks to Almighty God for the victory gained by us on that day. …
A Rebel flag of truce boat came down from Fort Gaines this morning with proposals of capitulation from the Rebel commanding officer there, stipulating for the surrender of the place, the Rebels marching out with the honors of war. They wish to surrender to the fleet, in preference to being stormed out and compelled to surrender to the Negro troops now investing the place. I understand that the Admiral demands unconditional surrender. I [also] understand that I have been recommended by the Captain for promotion in consideration of services rendered in the late engagement.
August 8 —This morning at 10 o’clock Fort Gaines surrendered unconditionally to the naval forces of the United States stationed in Mobile Bay. We captured 850 prisoners of war.
Fort Morgan still lurks in sullen silence. I imagine we will soon be sent in to wake them up and try once more what we can do with them. It is finally supposed that our work here is almost accomplished. When Morgan surrenders, four vessels can blockade the harbor of Mobile and the balance of the fleet can be removed to wherever it will be most needed. We are to go to Pensacola to refit. From thence we will proceed to New Orleans, lay back on our laurels and have a good time generally. I propose to apply for a leave of absence.
August 9 —This morning we got under weigh at 10 and steamed in to engage Fort Morgan. The action commenced at 11. We threw in 15 shells from this vessel, twelve of which burst directly in the fort, and three others on the parapet. The Captain said I made the best artillery practice he ever saw. We were struck several times, and one bolt head struck the Captain in the foot, not breaking the skin. At 1 we ceased firing and stood out toward the fleet. At 3 we stood in to renew the engagement but got aground, and through the stupidity of those who attempted to haul us off, we remained stuck until 10 at night, within close range of the fort; but we received no injury. We came to again at 10:30 a mile from the fort.
August 9 —We have never heretofore appreciated the risk we ran in our attack on Forts Morgan and Gaines. Rebel officers inform us that we passed over 300 torpedoes in our course. We knew that the channel was full of them, but the Admiral acted upon the belief that they had been submerged so long that a great part of them would not explode, and fortunately his surmise proved correct. The ships, in cruising in, heard the continued snapping and pinging of those infernal machines, but the powder proved to be inferior, and although the percussion exploded, the torpedoes remained harmless. The one which blew up the Tecumseh had been planted that very morning.