Februrary 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 2
Civil War ironclads were dirty, hot, cramped, and dangerously unseaworthy. An officer’s diary describes life aboard during the crucial Battle of Mobile Bay
In the spring of 1864, Robert B. Ely, a twenty-threeyear-old acting volunteer lieutenant in the United States Navy, was assigned to duty in the U.S.S. Manhattan , a single-turret, ironclad monitor fresh from the builder’s yard at Jersey City. After meeting the usual problems that go with fitting a new crew into an untried ship, the Manhattan sailed for the Gulf of Mexico, and on August 5 it was with Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s fleet in the momentous Battle of Mobile Bay.
Ely kept a private journal, and he found a good deal to write about. He distinguished himself in battle—apparently he was what would nowadays be called the gunnery officer—and he won promotion, along with assignment as his ship’s executive officer. What makes his journal readable today, however, is not so much his account of a famous sea fight as his unvarnished story of what life on a Civil War monitor was really like.
That life, as he quickly discovered, was about as uncomfortable as anything the Xavy has ever had Io offer. Those primitive ironclads were jusl barely seaworthy and almost completely uninhabitable. Simply living on a monitor was so trying that the. ordeal of battle struck all hands as a positive relief.
At sea, the monitors were utter slugs, needing to be towed if they were to make any headway—the Manhattan made the entire trip from New York to Mobile Bay at one end of a towrope, the other end being attached to the stern of a wooden gunboat, the U.S.S. Bienville —and in action, when the tows were cast ojj, they were slow and very hard to steer. They were shotproof, but when a solid shot hit their armor, boltheads would snap off and fly about the interior in a most lethal manner. They had so little reserve buoyancy that a leak could be fatal, as one of the Manhattan ’s sister monitors, the U.S.S. Tecumseh , found when she struck a mine going into Mobile Bay.
But it was the day-to-day discomfort of life aboard that was the real problem. In anything but a flat calm, a monitor’s deck was awash, so that the crew either had to stay below or go up on top of the turret, where most of the space was taken up by the conning tower. This meant that most of the men, whether on duty or off, had to stay below, and that was abominable because at sea the hatches were battened down and the ventilators were usually inoperative. The hot Gull const sun beat down on the iron deck, turning the interior into a veritable oven (Ely noted one time when the temperature in the engine room ran above 130 degrees), and the air in the living and working quarters was a thick fog that could hardly be breathed. Everything was wet, partly because of condensation from the humid air and partly because there was a constant seepage at the base of the turret; also, the wooden hull that carried the dead weight of armor plate “worked” hard and had a way of developing innumerable leaks.
Nevertheless, Farragut had to use monitors in order to win his battle. Mobile Bay was protected by three forts—the largest, Fort Morgan, on the east side of the entrance; Fort Gaines on the western side directly opposite; and Fort Powell covering a secondary entrance a few miles to llie northwest. In addition, the Confederates had the C.S.S. Tennessee , a recently finished ironclad ram that was more than a match for the best wooden warships Farragut had. To win, Farragnt had to pass the forts and silence the Tennessee and her consorts, three wooden gunboats. The gunboats lie could handle, and he could rush past the forts the way he had rushed past the forts at New Orleans two years earlier, but the Tennessee was likely to checkmate him unless he had monitors. So he used four of them—the Manhattan , the unlucky Tecumseh , and two double-turret affairs named the Winnebago and the Chickasaw .
Ely had gone to sea on a merchant ship before the war. He entered the Navy in i86r, serving at various times on the warships Dana , Yankee , and Mohican . He was married not long before he sailed on the Manhattan , and—like men in the armed sendees in all wars—his morale depended largely on the frequency with which he got letters from his wife, Nellie.
His private journal is owned now by his grandson, Robert B. Ely III of Philadelphia. With his permission, portions of it are published here for the first time. Our excerpt begins on June 30, 1864, when the Manhattan was nearing Key West.
The sea has been running quite high all day and … the ship presents a very strange appearance, almost ending submerged, the only dry spot being the turret about which the sea breaks and foams in impotent fury. Dr. Austin has been quite seasick all day. He wishes himself at home again and laments that he did not join the Army. It is generally understood on board today that we are bound to Pensacola, and from thence probably to Mobile. I hope we meet and annihilate the Tennssee .
One of our officers has been having a tent made, which he has pitched over his berth as a kind of roof to shed the water, lie not being sufficiently nautical in his tastes to admire the dripping of salt water on his person during his moments of repose. The wardroom is quite uncomfortable with streams of water trickling, down from the deck above in all directions. One eccentric little timber drops directly on my head while seated at the table, thereby counteracting the great heat which I would otherwise experience, the thermometer being 90° F ht . I think the government ought to furnish the officers of ironclads with a suit of storm clothes suitable to wear at “all times,” a water cooler, and the most amiable disposition imaginable.
All our officers seem to bear their discomforts most philosophically, taking them as a matter of course and making speculations as to what will be the surest way to save their best suits of clothes if we should sink. Every evening we all take oft every article of dress except our underclothing and abandon ourselves to a most luxurious “perspire.”
July 1 —The day has been so excessively hot that I am almost melted. The thermometer in the wardroom stands at 90°, while on deck the weather is very pleasant, a fair breeze blowing from the East. Everything is dirty, everything smells bad, everybody is demoralixed. How are you. Ironclad? A man who would stay in an ironclad from choice is a candidate for the insane asylum, and he who stays from compulsion is an object of pity. Fresh leaks are breaking out every day … it is the result of stopping up some of the old ones. The Doctor and Paymaster have been chasing one leak backward and forward from one of their rooms to the other for several days. At one time 1 hear the Doctor complaining of it, the carpenter is called, the leak is stopped, and in a few hours I hear the Paymaster growling at the Doctor for driving it into his room, and vice versa.
July 2 —This day has been worse than yesterday. It was absolutely insupportable and this evening we have shipped the ventilator in spite of the wind or sea. Tin’s makes it possible for us to “exist” below. I can’t imagine how the firemen and coalheavers stand it. The thermometer in the fheroom stands at 135° to 138°. The Chief Engineer goes in there semi-occasionally to superintend the work and comes out again wringing wet, [cursing] all the ironclad fleet.
We have been passing beacons and lighthouses all day and expect to put into Key West some time tomorrow morning. I suppose we will soon be at our journey’s end and then lor a try with the Tennessee . I understand that it is a powerful vessel and will probably stand a good deal of punishment.
I hope we will finish here in quick order and leave for some other port where we can make a better match of it. While we are obliged to lay out in the open roadstead, we will probably be obliged to keep our hatches battened down and be absolutely roasted alive. Three months’ service in an ironclad ought to insure a man’s promotion to a brigadier general.
July 3 —This morning at 6 o’clock we arrived at Key West, not a very promising looking place. The most remarkable feature from the sea view is Fort Taylor. … There is a Naval Club established here of which our first lieutenant is a member. Sonic of the other members have been on board today. They gave a very lively description of the state of society here. … Among the ladies, naval officers are in such high repute that whenever one dies in their station at least one lady on the island goes into mourning for him, asserting that she was his amanced bride, and that Death alone has separated them.
The yellow fever is raging here to a fearful extent. The Admiral of the Squadron is at present very low with this fearful disease. We will take in a little coal here and then leave for parts unknown. …
July 4 —This day I spent without much of the excitement attendant upon the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. I got up at 4 A.M. and prepared to take in coal and was hard at work until 8 A.M. , getting the ship ready for sea and putting the coal aboard. At 10 we got under weigh and bid Key West a fond adieu, bound for the Dry Tortugas, a distance of 60 miles. We expect to arrive there about 8 this evening, remain there a few hours, then oft for Pensacola. It is now a certain tiling that Mobile is our place of destination. …
The wardroom today is quite comfortable, the thermometer standing at 68°. I was foolish enough to put ou a pair of white pants this morning. Before the work had stopped they were all the colors of the rainbow, iionrust and green being predominant. … At 8 we made Tortugas Light.
July 5 —We have been favored with unusually fine weather since we joined this vessel, having had no heavy blows and not one rain storm. Anything but bad weather in an ironclad. We are obliged to live on deck at sea and if it rains it makes it very disagreeable. … I can’t help envying the officers of the Bienville . We can see her decks very plainly. Everything is neat and clean and the officers are nicely dressed, and look as comfortable as possible. I suppose they have their own fun at our expense, seeing us all crowded up on the turret, looking over the iron railing, with wistful glances at the deck, like a lot of old hens with broods of ducks who persist in going into the water.
July 6 —… Our men have never been drilled yet, and being the officer in command of the turret and guns I do not feel altogether satisfied about it but perhaps I shall do better than I anticipated when the time comes. The drill is very simple and in a fight I trust a great deal to the good sense of the gun’s crews. We broke out and whitewashed the hold under the wardroom this afternoon, and find that it makes the air much more pure. Too much care cannot be taken aboard an ironclad to keep her clean.
July 7 —This afternoon at 1:20 made Pensacola lighthouse and came to our anchor in the harbor of the Navy Yard We at once took oil our hutches and allowed fresh air to circulate fully through the ship. The wardroom is like a different place this evening. We have cleared our decks of all lumber and are now ready for action. The Admiral is at Mobile to which place we will proceed as soon as some few slight repairs to the engine arc completed. 1 suppose we will soon have our reckoning with the Tennessee . …
I wrote a letter to Nellie this evening but the mail left in such a short time after our arrival that I had only time enough to state our safe arrival and wish lier health and happiness. We have regular mail communication between the Gulf and New York twice a week and I promise myself the pleasure of hearing from my dear wife very often during the time I may be attached to this squadron. …
July 9 —We have been busy all day taking in coal, getting provisions aboard, etc. The weather lias been excessively warm and 1 have been very uncomfortable in consequence thereof. … We are very much in want of fresh provisions and vegetables. In consequence of an order issued by the Admiral forbidding all communications between the ship and the shore we are unable to do any marketing. …
July 10 —Excessively hot all day. At 10 inspected the crew at general quarters. Read them the Riot Act, etc. At 11 the Captain [Commander J. W. A. Nicholson] conducted divine services on the quarter deck. We have been visited by officers and men from several of ships lying in the harbor. All seem to think that a fight between this vessel and the Tennessee is a settled thing as soon as we arrive off Mobile. We have all been having a social chat on the quarter deck this evening with our shirt collars unbuttoned, chairs pitched back, feet on the life lines and pipes in a cheerful glow, to keep away the mosquitoes. … In the intervals of silence I thought of my dear little wife, far away, and wished I could be spending this Sabbath evening in her dear company. I suppose the single gentlemen are thinking of their sweethearts and visions of them and other dear ones are now floating in the clouds of smoke before the eyes of us all. …
July 12 —Fine weather all day. Have been visited by several parties of ladies and gentlemen. We had got the ship all nicely cleaned, coaled, and provisioned ready for sea, when just at luncheon the alarming cry of “The ship’s on fire!” was heard from the engine room. All hands were at once called to fire quarters, pumps were rigged and we had our fire buckets get to work. AVe closed all the air ports, hatches, smoke stacks and every opening by which any draught could get to the fire. All the officers and men worked with a will and at 11 o’clock we had the fire well under command. Several of the officers fainted from heat and exhaustion. I escaped with only a slight stifling and a bad headache. …
July 13 —Today all hands have been employed cleaning away the muck left by the fire. I was called into the cabin this ming by the Captain and told emphatically that he was very much dissatisfied with the manner in which the First Lieutenant carried on the duties of the ship, stating that he was dirty, disorganiz.ed, etc.; said he was fully satisfied that I was in every way qualified to carry out the executive duty of the ship to his satisfaction, and asked me if I was willing to undertake it. I told him that I was. He said that he was going on board the flagship and would at once make application for another ensign in place of our present 1st Lt., and ask that he might be detached.
I am sorry for some reasons, and of course I am glad for others that the case stands as it does. Whether I shall succeed remains to be seen alter I have made the attempt. There are a great many things aboard an ironclad to discourage a first lieutenant, but yet I think a strict attention to duty will carry him safely through. For the present, things remain in status quo.
Ely’s assignment as executive officer was finally made, but not until after the battle of Mobile Bay.
July 15 —… Carpenters and mechanics generally have been at work on board all day, repairing the damage done by the fire. I have been patiently waiting ever since I came aboard this vessel to see her cleaned and made at least respectable. This happy end has not yet been attained and she remains in the most filthy condition. There is no system, no order. All is confusion.
One of our ensigns went on a spree last night, got drunk and did not return to the ship until this morning. He came over the side at 10 A.M. with his head swelled up and face scratched, presenting the appearance of a man who had spent the night elsewhere than in his own bed. He was promptly put under arrest by the Captain as soon as he arrived and I have to stand his watch. I have often thought that it is rather hard that a worthless, good-for-nothing fellow can go on shore, get drunk, and raise the Old Boy generally, then come aboard, be put under arrest and have a good loaf in his comfortable quarters while some other officer who is foolish enough to be a gentleman has to bear the punishment of his misdeeds.
July 17 —… Divine services aboard, conducted by the Captain. He stated to the crew this morning that probably within ten days they would have an opportunity to test the relative strength of this vessel and a fort. Our day of sailing was postponed until tomorrow. We will probably leave in the morning for Mobile. Although I feel confident that all is for the best, yet I cannot but wish that we may go to work at once, finish up the fight and return home.
I find myself constantly wishing I was at home. Visions of my sweet wife and of the happy hours we have spent together constantly attend me. I wish to be with her, to be always near her. I begin to think that the whole course of my future life has probably been turned by that sweet girl. I cannot go to sea and leave her at home. She is necessary to my happiness. Be with her I must and will. I think it is unkind to her and unjust to myself to be thus separated. Together we would be happy; but separated we will always be dissatisfied. …
July 18 —This morning just as we were heaving up our anchor preparatory to starting for Mobile, the fire bell was rung most fiercely, the ship having been discovered to be again on fire. We proceeded as usual in such cases and succeeded in quenching the flames in a short time. The fire initiated in the galley and we were obliged to tear the whole apparatus to pieces, in consequence thereof we have been compelled to eat crackers and cheese all day, having no stove on which to cook any kind of a meal. By the time we have served in the Manhattan a few months more I think we will be respectable candidates for admission to the New York Fire Dept. …
July 19 —We finished coaling ship this afternoon for the second time, got under weigh and steamed up the river to a good anchorage, ready to start at daylight tomorrow morning, provided the ship does not burn up or sink before that time. This evening at 10:20 we were roused up by the old familiar sound of the beat to “General Quarters,” cast loose the battery, and got everything ready for action in ten minutes.…
July 20 —This morning we got under weigh from Pensacola and started for Mobile. The weather has been squally with heavy rain all day. After rather a boisterous passage of seven hours we came near the flagship of the Blockading Squadron off Mobile about five miles from the beach, in full view of the Rebel steamers plying between it and Mobile. The Tennessee ’s smokestack is visible over the point on which the fort is situated. She has steam and appears to be quite ready for us. I suppose we will have a nearer view of her.
Fort Morgan looks like a huge pile of sand. We can see the Rebels at work in it quite plainly. All the guns are mounted “en barbette,” the casemates being entirely closed by a wall of sand forty feet thick, which the Rebs have thrown up as an additional protection against our shot. It is said that three lines of torpedoes have been sunk across the Channel. If such is the case they are by far the most formidable enemy we will have to contend with and we will probably lose some of our vessels in passing them.
The word “torpedo” (see drawing opposite) then meant what the word “mine” means today. The Confederates had sown a large number of floating mines in the channel leading into Mobile Bay. Most of these were simply kegs of powder armed with firing pins, designed to explode on contact; unfortunately for the Confederate cause, the firing pins in many cases corroded and failed to function. After the action, a number of Union ship captains reported that their ships had struck mines that did not explode. One of the monitors, however, the U.S.S. Tecumseh, struck a mine whose firing apparatus was in good condition, and the Tecumseh was lost .
We are lying in the open sea and the waves are making a clean break on our decks. Everything is closed airtight. The wardroom is at almost boiling heat. The turret is the only inhabitable part of the ship and the open air is constantly so crowded with officers and men passing up and down that we can scarcely find standing room. …
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.
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.
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 .