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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
August 10 —We have been lying quietly all day within seventeen thousand yards of Fort Morgan. We have exchanged no shots, but have mutually kept a bright lookout. … The bombardment will probably commence again tomorrow.
I am very much disappointed at not receiving a word from Nellie. I will not believe that she has not written. I hope she is well. This silence is unaccountable. We have suffered excessively from the heat in the wardroom all day. Everything is closed up tight and as it is raining it is impossible to get fresh air without getting wet also.
August 21 —I have been suffering perfect torture since [August 12] with my right arm, having had a most painful swelling on the joint, caused by a contusion received on the 5th ult. I have resumed my duties today, and with them my journal. We have been paying our respects to the Rebels in Fort Morgan with great regularity.
Yesterday morning, as I felt a little better, I took charge of the battery. They had been firing on the lighthouse which the Rebels used as a kind of citadel. The Captain asked me if I could knock it down. I told him I would try. The first shot was a little to the right of it, making some ugly scars. The next struck it fair and square and one half of the whole building came tumbling down about their ears, raising a perfect cloud of brick dust. I felt proud but rubbed my arm all the time.
August 22 —A steady bombardment all day from our ironclads, all bearing on Fort Morgan. We have picked it pretty well to pieces. The shells strike beautifully. We have penetrated this citadel. The guns work beautifully and bright this morning, as we watch their flying course through the heavens in their huge arc and then mark the massive glare of their explosion. After a hard day’s fighting I don’t feel much like writing.
I received a very nice letter from Nellie. God bless her! I do believe she loves me.
August 25 —At 4 A.M. we got under weigh, cleared ship for action, and stood down toward Fort Morgan, to commence the bombardment for the day. At 6, just as we had arrived at the place “of fight,” some one “sang out” a flag of truce from the fortl Of course glasses and bare eyes were at once turned in that direction, and sure enough there we saw the white flag waved once more in Mobile Bay.
The fort had been set on fire the night before by one of our shells and had been burning furiously all night, the flames lighting up the whole southern part of the bay and making quite a pretty spectacle. We all remained on deck after we had ceased firing [illegible word follows] watching the conflagration and the higher streaks of flame flying through the air, which marked the tracks of the mortar shells (twelve inch) fired without ceasing by the Army during the whole night. At 4 A.M. the fort was set on fire in another place by those projectiles, the whole interior of the fort being in a blaze and making it so hot within the works (180°) that the Rebs had to “come down” and cry enough.
At 2 P.M. I went on shore with the Captain and watched the ceremony of the surrender to the combined naval and military forces of the United States. The greybacks marched out without music, formed a line on the beach and stacked arms, surrendering themselves unconditionally, as prisoners of war. Our boys then marched up to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner, with colors flying, formed a line in front of the Rebs and said “Where are your leaders?” This is truly the thrilling part of war. The Rebel flag was hauled down and the Stars and Stripes hoisted over Fort Morgan at 2:20, the fleet and the army both saluting the glorious old flag as it was run up.
We then went into the fort and found it well battered, but one gun was left uninjured in the whole fort. The citadel was completely destroyed. The Rebs said that one of our 12-inch shells penetrated the parapet, pierced the citadel through and through and buried itself fifteen feet in the sand, but did not explode. Had it done so, they said that it would have killed or wounded half the garrison, as they were all in the citadel at the time.
With the surrender of Fort Morgan, the 1864 operation against Mobile Bay came to an effective close; no attempt was made at that time to take the city of Mobile itself, twenty miles farther up the bay—with the destruction of the Confederate fleet and the capture of the forts the Union forces had effectively closed the port to blockade runners, and the city itself was not taken until the following spring, when the war was coming to an end.
On August 26, Lieutenant Ely became executive officer of the Manhattan, and a few weeks later he was promoted from acting lieutenant to lieutenant. Before the battle he had had an argument with his skipper, Commander Nicholson, but it seems to have left no soreness, and by October 6 Ely was writing: “I like him better than any commanding officer with whom I have sailed. I was not at all prepossessed with him at the time of my entry upon my present duties, but I have found him up to this time most reasonable.” Three weeks later the young lieutenant noted happily that he had been recommended for promotion Jo lieutenant commander .