Union ships passed Fort Morgan’s gun rapidly and were under fire no more than a few moments.  General Richard Page reported:

“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...against a powerful fleet in rapid motion….After the fight, the Brooklyn, was…found to have been struck over 70 times in her hull and masts.”

At 8 o’clock, the C. S. S. Tennessee, her crew composed of Tennesseans, moved to attack the Union fleet.  Tipton’s artillerymen at Morgan’s water battery were eyewitnesses to the naval battle.  At 9:25 a.m. and at five-minute intervals the first of three Federal ships rammed the Tennessee incurring little damage but by 9:40 p.m. she was unable to return cannon fire due to her defective shell fuses.  Union monitors became engaged and pounded the Rebel ironclad.  By 10 o’clock, Admiral Buchanan was wounded and the ship was out of control.   Captain James D. Johnston then surrendered the Tennessee. 

Of 3,000 Federals engaged, 145 were killed, 170 wounded and four captured; of the 470 Confederate naval personnel, 12 were killed, 20 wounded, and 270 captured. 

General Dabney Maury praised Buchanan:

“There is something sublime in the devoted courage of our Old Admiral Buchanan, who having gallantly opposed the entrance of the fleet until all his little gunboats were sunk or captured, dashed like a lion at bay from his vantage ground under the guns of Fort Morgan to encounter with the Tennesseealong the whole of Farragut’s formidable flotilla.  The odds were fearful, yet the skill and daring of Buchanan made the issue hang doubtful for more than an hour….Farragut himself, after all was over, confessed that he was fully conscious of the doubtful issue of the battle with Buchanan…Had that luckless rudder chain not have jammed, Buchanan, not Farragut, might have been the great naval hero of the war.” 

Maury also wrote about the difficulties in building the Tennessee:

“The engines were taken from a Mississippi steamer on the Yazoo river, and hauled several hundreds of miles...to the Tombigbee river, where the ship was being built of timbers fresh cut from the neighboring forests, to be covered at Mobile with iron drawn for the purpose out of the mines of Alabama. Every timber, every spike and rivet…every component part of the ship was made in the Confederacy, and her formidable battery of Brooke guns, with their fixed ammunition…were invented and manufactured by Confederates…She was then towed up the Mobile river and down the Spanish river, through the obstructions and down into the deep water in the lower bay—a distance of 30 miles…where her battery was put aboard, and she was turned loose in full view of Farragut’s fleet…offering battle to the enemy, her engines could drive her but little over five knots an hour!…Her steering gear was exposed, her rudder chains ran in an uncovered groove upon her after-deck…during the action, an 11-inch shot fell upon this thin iron covering and jammed it down upon the rudder chains, so that the ship lay like a hog.  She could not move at all.  Her guns could not be brought to bear, and the enemy’s ships took positions such that out of range themselves they could pound the Tennessee to pieces.  Her rudder chains jammed, three of her port shutters jammed, her smoke-stack shot away, and finally her brave old Admiral shot down, amidst more than 30? of his dead and wounded crew...”

To be continued. 

Lisa DeLancey is a staff writer for The Leader, focusing on education. She is a 2016 graduate of The University of Memphis. 

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