Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Diary of Sergeant George G. Smith: Sunday, March 15, 1863

Terriffic cannonading begun at mid-night and continued until four o'clock in the morning, reveille was sounded at five o'clock, when all the troops fell into line and remained until daylight. A bright light was seen in the direction of Port Hudson. It seemed to be a terrific conflagration. But presently the scene changed, suddenly the light flashed up as bright as day. I could see to pick up a pin on the ground. I looked again toward Port Hudson. The heavens were in a light blaze and streams of fire could be seen leaping among the clouds. What seemed to be pieces of timber were flying through the air amid the flames. But this was only for a moment and all was dark. Then came a long deep heavy roar like the heaviest thunder, and the earth shook. I tried to look into the faces of my comrades but all was silence and darkness, no one moved or spoke. The scene had stupified them. They were smitten with awe. Soon after daylight pieces or fragments of a wreck came floating down the river, and the figure head of the sloop of war Mississippi appeared. At the same time a boat load of her crew came down and told the sad tale.

Story of The Boat's Crew.

At about midnight Admiral Farragut with the Hartford, Mississippi and two other gunboats had undertaken to run the batteries at Port Hudson. The Hartford and Albatross succeeded but the remainder were forced to retire. The Mississippi in endeavoring to haul around to bring her broadside to bear on the works ran aground directly under the batteries. For half an hour did that noble crew under one of the most terrific fires of shot and shell endeavor to haul her off, but seeing her in flames and her deck slippery with blood set a match to her magazine and removing the wounded abandoned her to her fate. A portion of her crew escaped in the boats. Many jumped overboard and were drowned and a few were taken prisoners, The vessel after burning away a portion of her upper works raised up from the sand and swung around into the stream: but in doing so her heated guns went off directly at the enemies batteries, as if this noble ship meant, like a brave warrior to die fighting. Seeing this and knowing the immense amount of amunition stored in her magazine, the mortar fleet below hoisted anchor and turned their prows down stream. Meanwhile the Mississippi floated seven or eight miles down the river, when the fire reached her magazine and with her flag flying very soon nothing remained of that noble ship save a few shriveled and blackened timbers floating on the water. Thus passed away one of the finest naval war vessel ever built in this or any other country. Her history was closely connected with that of the nation, and was at once our pride and glory. Her keel had ploughed every sea and ocean and was admired in every land. She perished in the defense of her country, and was buried in the noble river whose proud name she bore.

SOURCE: Abstracted from George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 40-3

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