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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Defense of Fort Morgan:
The Report of Brig. Gen. Richard L. Page,
Commander of the Fort

Early on the morning of the 5th of August, 1864, I observed unusual activity in the Federal fleet off Mobile Bay, indicating, as I supposed, that they were about to attempt the passage of the fort. After an early breakfast the men were sent to the guns. Everybody was in high spirits. In a short time preparations were ended, and then followed perfect silence, before the noise of battle.

At 6 o'clock A.M. the enemy's ships began to move in with flags flying. They gradually fell into a line, consisting of twenty-three vessels, four of which were monitors. Each of the first four of the largest wooden ships had a smaller one lashed on the side opposite the fort, and was itself protected by a monitor between it and the fort. The smaller ships followed in line.

As they approached with a moderate wind and on the flood tide, I fired the first gun at long range, and soon the firing became general, our fire being briskly returned by the enemy. For a short time the smoke was so dense that the vessels could not be distinguished, but still the firing was incessant.

When abreast of the fort the leading monitor, the Tecumseh, suddenly sank. Four of the crew swam ashore and a few others were picked up by a boat from the enemy. Cheers from the garrison now rang out, which were checked at once, and the order was passed to sink the admiral's ship and then cheer.

At this moment the Brooklyn, the leading ship, stopped her engine, apparently in doubt; whereupon the order was passed to concentrate on her, in the hope of sinking her, my belief being that it was the admiral's ship, the Hartford. As I learned afterward, he was on the second ship. Farragut's coolness and quick perception saved the fleet from great disaster and probably from destruction. While the Brooklyn hesitated, the admiral put his helm to starboard, sheered outside the Brooklyn, and took the lead, the rest following, thus saving the fouling and entanglement of the vessels and the danger of being sunk under my guns. When, after the fight, the Brooklyn was sent to Boston for repairs, she was found to have been struck over seventy times in her hull and masts, as was shown by a drawing that was sent me while I was a prisoner of war at Fort Lafayette.

The ships continued passing rapidly by, no single vessel being under fire more than a few moments. Shot after shot was seen to strike, and shells to explode, on or about the vessels, but their sides being heavily protected by chain cables, hung along the sides and abreast the engines, no vital blow could be inflicted, particularly as the armament of the fort consisted of guns inadequate in caliber and numbers for effective service against a powerful fleet in rapid motion. The torpedoes in the channel were also harmless; owing to the depth of the water, the strong tides, and the imperfect moorings none exploded....

Questions for Reading 2

1. How did the Union Navy take advantage of the natural conditions in their attack?

2. How did Farragut's brave and clever action in passing the Brooklyn save the Union's fleet?

3. All the Federal accounts agree that the USS Tecumseh was sunk by a torpedo, yet Brigadier General Page stated that the torpedoes were harmless. He never gives an alternative explanation for its fate, however. From the rest of his account, how do you think he would have accounted for the sinking? Why do you think he was vague?

Reading 2 was excerpted from Brigadier-General R. L. Page, C.S.A., Commander of the Fort, "The Defense of Fort Morgan," in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Retreat with Honor, vol. IV (Castle Books, a division of Books Sales, Inc., 114 Northfield Ave., Edison, NJ 08837), 408-410. This account was not published until the 1880s, but it closely follows Page's original report written the day after the battle.

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