Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Details of the Bombardment and Capture of Fort Henry. Incidents, &c., February 10, 1862

The Cincinnati Gazette and Commercial’s Cairo correspondence give the following account of the bombardment and capture of Fort Henry:

Yesterday, (February 6,) at 12½ p. m. the gunboats Cincinnati, St. Louis, Carondelet, and Essex, the Tyler, Conestoga and Lexington bringing up the rear, advanced boldly against the rebel works, going to the right of Painter Creek Island, immediately above where, on the east shore of the river, stands the fortifications, and keeping out of range till at the head of the island, and within a mile of the enemy, passing the enemy in full view of the rebel guns.  We steadily advanced, every man at quarters, ever ear strained to catch the flag-officer’s signal-gun for the commencement of the action.

Our line of battle was on the left, the St. Louis next, the Carondelet next, the Cincinnati, (for the time being the flag ship, having on board Flag officer Foote,) and the next the Essex.  We advanced in line, the Cincinnati a boat’s length ahead, when at 11:30 the Cincinnati opened the ball, and immediately the three accompanying boats followed suit.  The enemy was not backward, and gave an admirable response, and the fight raged furiously for half an hour.  We steadily advanced, receiving and returning the storm of shot and shell, when getting within three hundred yards of the enemy’s works we came to a stand, and poured into him right and left.  In the meantime the Essex had been disabled, and drifted away from the scene of action, leaving the Cincinnati, Carondelet and St. Louis alone engaged.

As precisely forty minutes past one, the enemy struck his colors—and such cheering, such wild excitement, as seized the throats, arms, or caps, of the four or five hundred sailors of the gunboats can be imagined.  After the surrender, which was made to Flag-officer Foote by Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, who defended the fort in a most determined manner, we found that the rebel infantry encamped outside the fort, numbering four or five thousand, had cut and run, leaving the rebel artillery company in command of the fort.

The fort mounted seventeen guns, most of them 32-pounders, one being a magnificent 10-inch columbiad.  Our shots dismounted two of their guns, driving the enemy into the embrasures.  One of their rifled 32-pounders burst during the engagement, wounding some of their gunners.  The rebels claimed to have but eleven effective guns worked by fifty-four men—the numbers all told of our prisoners.  They lost five killed and ten badly wounded.  The infantry left everything in their flight.  A vast deal of plunder has fallen into our hands, including a large and valuable quantity of ordnance stores.

Gen. Tilghman is disheartened.  He thinks it one of the most damaging blows of the war.  In surrendering to Flag-officer Foote, the rebel General remarked, “I am glad to surrender to so gallant an officer.”  Flag-officer Foote replied, “You do perfectly right, sir, in surrendering; but you should have blown my boat out of the water before I would have surrendered to you.”

In the engagement the Cincinnati was in the lead, and flying the flag officer’s pennant, was the chief mark.  Flagg-officer Foote and Capt. Stembel crowded her defiantly into the teeth of the enemy’s guns.  She got thirty-one shots, some of them going completely through her.

The Essex was badly crippled when about half through the fight, and crowding steadily against the enemy.  A ball went into her side-forward port, through the heavy bulkhead, escaping steam scalding and killing several of the crew.  Captain Porter, his aid, L. P. Britton, Jr[.], and Paymaster Lewis, were standing in a direct line of the balls passing, Mr. Britton being in the centre of the group.  A shot struck Mr. Britton on the top of his head, scattering his brains in every direction.  The escaping steam went into the pilot-house, instantly killing Mr. Ford and Mr. Bride, pilots.  Many of the soldiers, at the rush of steam, jumped overboard and were drowned.

The Cincinnati had one killed and six wounded.  The Essex had six seamen and two officers killed, seventeen men wounded and five missing.  There were no casualties on the St. Louis or Carondelet, though the shot and shell fell upon them like rain.

The St. Louis was commanded by Leonard Paulding, who stood upon the gunboat and wrought the guns to the last.  Not a man flinched, and with cheer upon cheer sent the shot and shell among the enemy.

THE REBELS NOT TRUE.—It is reported, and believed at Paducah, that the rebel troops at Fort Henry were not true to the rebel cause and took advantage of the opportunity offered by an attack to run away from a fight that was distasteful to them.

IT WAS A NAVAL VICTORY.—It appears that this victory was entirely a navel one—the troops of the expedition not having come up to the scene of action until the rebels had surrendered.  The gunboats engaged are a part of those strong iron-clad river boats, or turtles, which were built within the last few months, at, St. Louis, Carondelet and other points and which were originally destined for Gen. Fremont’s expedition down the Mississippi.  Commodore Foote mentions nine of these vessels as having been in the engagement.

ARMAMENT OF THE GUNBOATS.—The Essex, 9 guns, Commander H. [sic] D. Porter, U. S. N.; Carondelet, 13 guns, Commander H. Walke, U. S. N.; Cincinnati, 13 Guns, Commander R. N. Stembel, U. S. N.; St. Louis, 13 guns, Lieutenant Commanding Leonard Paulding, U. S. N.; Conestoga, 9 guns, Lieutenant Commanding Phelps, U. S. N.; Taylor [sic], 9 guns, Lieutenant Commanding W. Gwin, U. S. N.; Lexington, 9 guns, Lieutenant Commanding J. W. Shirk, U. S. N.

The boats are built very wide, in proportion to their length, giving them almost the same steadiness in action that a stationary land battery would possess.  They are constructed upon the same principle as the famous iron battery at Charleston, the sides sloping both upward and downward from the water line, at an angle of 45 degrees.  The bow battery on each boat consists of solid oak timber 26 inches in thickness, plated on the exterior surface with iron 2½ inches thick.  The side and stern batteries are somewhat thinner, but have the same thickness of iron over that portion covering the machinery.  The boats are not plated on the roof which consists of a 2½ inch plank.

The most dreadfully savage contrivance upon these boats is that to prevent boarding.  Each boat is supplied with a number of large hose-pipes for throwing hot water from the boilers with a force of 200 pounds pressure to the square inch.  Any human being who shall encounter this terrible stream of hot water will be boiled in an instant.

The Conestoga, Taylor [sic] and Lexington are not of the same model or character as the others, being simply Mississippi River steamboats rebuilt with perpendicular bulwarks and pierced for guns.

VALUE OF THE VICTORY.—There is another and stronger rebel fort on the Cumberland, a few miles eastward of the scene of our present victory; but considering the fact that our troops are now in the rear of that fort, and learning, as we do, from the West, the movement that is on the lapis to bring it down as suddenly as Fort Henry has been brought down, we look upon the victory we have gained as being full and complete, as regards the object in view.  Look at the map at that part of Tennessee where Fort Henry is located, and at that point of the Memphis and Ohio railroad which our troops now hold, and see how far we have penetrated in the rear of Bowling Green—see how far in the rear of Columbus—how convenient we are for sweeping down on the railroad to Memphis—see how near we now are to Nashville—and how Nashville is located to the whole State of Tennessee, and that again to the whole of the rebel States of the Southwest, and some idea will be had of the value of the present advance and victory.

COMMODORE FOOTE has been in the naval service over forty years.  He is known in the navy as one of its most efficient officers, and distinguished himself greatly in China by the bombardment and breaching of a Chinese fort, the fort, in all respects, a superior work of masonry.  The feat called forth the praise of all foreign naval officers on that coast.  Commodore Foote is an affable gentleman, and as will be seen by his reply to the rebel Tilghman, never surrenders.

CAPT. PORTER.—Capt. Porter, of the gunboat Essex, who is reported as badly scalded by the bursting of his boat’s boiler, is a native of Louisiana, but entered the navy from Massachusetts in 1823.  He is a son of the renowned Commodore Porter, who figured so prominently in the war of 1812.  He has been thirty-eight years in the service, and has seen twelve years sea duty.  When the Mississippi flotilla was projected, he was detailed to the command of a gunboat.  The Captain christened his boat the Essex, after his father’s renowned vessel, and judging from precedent, Capt. Porter is the “bull-dog,” or fighting man of this expedition.  He has Dahlgren guns for his armament, and delights in “shelling.”  He worked prodigiously getting his boat ready, and since then he has been cruising around, stirring up the rebels wherever he could find them.

GEN. TILGHMAN, the traitor who commanded at Fort Henry, was graduated at West Point, and made brevet second Lieutenant in the First dragoons in 1836, but shortly after resigned, and became division engineer on the Baltimore and Susquehanna railroad, and afterward on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  In the Mexican war, he re-entered the service as volunteer aid-de-camp to Colonel Twiggs, and was present at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de Palma.  He commanded a volunteer regiment  till October, 1846, and in January, 1847, was made superintendent of the defences of Matamoras; finally he acted as captain of volunteer artillery in Hughes’ regiment from August, 1847, till July, 1848.  At the close of the war he again entered civil live, and was chosen principal assistant engineer in the Panama Isthmus railroad.  On the breaking out of the war, he was acting railroad engineer, but joined the rebels, and was appointed to command at Fort Henry, where he has been ingloriously captured.

SOURCE: The National Republican, Washington, D.C., Monday, February 10, 1862, p. 2

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