Friday, June 17, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Monday, May 25, 1863

I was disappointed in the aspect of Mobile. It is a regular rectangular American city, built on a sandy flat, and covering a deal of ground for its population, which is about 25,000.

I called on General Maury, for whom I brought a letter of introduction from General Johnston. He is a very gentlemanlike and intelligent but diminutive Virginian, and had only just assumed the command at Mobile.

He was very civil, and took me in a steamer to see I the sea defences. We were accompanied by General Ledbetter the engineer, and we were six hours visiting the forts.

Mobile is situated at the head of a bay thirty miles long. The blockading squadron, eight to ten in number, is stationed outside the bay, the entrance to which is defended by forts Morgan and Gaines; but as the channel between these two forts is a mile wide, they might probably be passed.

Within two miles of the city, however, the bay becomes very shallow, and the ship channel is both dangerous and tortuous. It is, moreover, obstructed by double rows of pine piles, and all sorts of ingenious torpedos, besides being commanded by carefully constructed forts, armed with heavy guns, and built either on islands or on piles.

Their names are Fort Pinto, Fort Spanish River, Apalache, and Blakeley.1

The garrisons of these forts complained of their being unhealthy, and I did not doubt the assertion. Before landing, we boarded two iron-clad floatingbatteries. The Confederate fleet at Mobile is considerable, and reflects great credit upon the energy of the Mobilians, as it has been constructed since the commencement of the war. During the trip, I overheard General Maury soliloquising over a Yankee flag, and saying, “Well, I never should have believed that I could have lived to see the day in which I should detest that old flag.” He is cousin to Lieutenant Maury, who has distinguished himself so much by his writings, on physical geography especially. The family seems to be a very military one. His brother is captain of the Confederate steamer Georgia.

After landing, I partook of a hasty dinner with General Maury and Major Cummins. I was then mounted on the General's horse, and was sent to gallop round the land defences with Brigadier-General Slaughter and his Staff. By great good fortune this was the evening of General Slaughter's weekly inspection, and all the redoubts were manned by their respective garrisons, consisting half of soldiers and half of armed citizens who had been exempted from the conscription either by their age or nationality, or had purchased substitutes. One of the forts was defended by a burly British guard, commanded by a venerable Captain Wheeler.2

After visiting the fortifications, I had supper at General Slaughter’s house, and met some of the  refugees from New Orleans — these are now being huddled neck and crop out of that city for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. Great numbers of women and children are arriving at Mobile every day; they are in a destitute condition, and they add to the universal feeling of exasperation. The propriety of raising the black flag, and giving no quarter, was again freely discussed at General Slaughter's, and was evidently the popular idea. I heard many anecdotes of the late “Stonewall Jackson,” who was General Slaughter's comrade in the Artillery of the old army. It appears that previous to the war he was almost a monomaniac about his health. When he left the U. S. service he was under the impression that one of his legs was getting shorter than the other; and afterwards his idea was that he only perspired on one side, and that it was necessary to keep the arm and leg of the other side in constant motion in order to preserve the circulation; but it seems that immediately the war broke out he never made any further allusion to his health. General Slaughter declared that on the night after the terrific repulse of Burnside's army at Fredericksburg, Stonewall Jackson had made the following suggestion: — “I am of opinion that we ought to attack the enemy at once; and in order to avoid the confusion and mistakes so common in a night-attack, I recommend that we should all strip ourselves perfectly naked.”3 Blockade-running goes on very regularly at Mobile; the steamers nearly always succeed, but the schooners are generally captured. To-morrow I shall start for the Tennessean army, commanded by General Braxton Bragg.

1 A description of either its sea or land defences is necessarily omitted.

2 Its members were British subjects exempted from the conscription, but they had volunteered to fight in defence of the city.

3 I always forgot to ask General Lee whether this story was a true one.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 129-33

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