The U.S.S. Hartford–Pride of the Union Navy
Background (cont'd from page 2)
She left for New York. When she entered New York harbor she was given a thirteen-gun salute from the ports and salutes from all of the foreign ships in port. Now the Hartford was dry-docked for repairs to her hull, spars and rigging. She got a new bowsprit and masts, and additional guns. And was painted gray to make her less visible at sea.
Under the command of Captain James Palmer, the Hartford sailed from New York on January 5, 1864 to take her place as flagship of the West Coast Blockading Squadron. Rear Admiral Farragut, rested after five months in the North, arrived at the naval base in Pensacola, FL on January 17.
The Army had decided they must capture Mobile. Farragut studied the defenses of Mobile Bay. At the entrance to the bay only a few hundred feet of deep channel remained open, directly under the guns of Fort Morgan on the east side. Fast little Confederate steamers were passing through this narrow channel with exports of cotton and imports of supplies. Farragut intended to control this passage, enter the broad waters of Mobile Bay, and destroy the Confederate squadron. Fort Gains, on the west side of the channel, would be attacked by the Union army. The Confederates had anchored rows of mines across the channel from the west side, in a minefield extending close to Fort Morgan. These so-called torpedoes, kegs filled with powder, were supposed to explode on contact.
By May, 1864, Farragut had assembled a Union fleet of 14 wooden ships. Two ironclads, the Manhattan and the Tecumseh, joined him from New York. Two monitors, ironclad warships with low, flat decks and gun turrets, came down the Mississippi. Then followed confederates with commanders of the troops that would support the fleet's entry into the bay, then reports, more reports, with estimates of Confederate strength.
A first lieutenant, John C. Kinney of the 19th Connecticut Infantry, was assigned to the Hartford
as signal officers, with other signal officers assigned to the other ships. Also on board the Hartford
was Acting Ensign Henry Howard Brownell of East Hartford, CT. Brownell has been called the Poet Laureate of the Battlefield. "Old John Brown lies a-mouldering in the grave; Glory, glory, hallelujah!" is one of his verse poems. The East Hartford public library, Raymond Library, owns a copy of one of the Brownell's works autographed by Admiral Farragut.
Mr. Brownell had written a verse transcription of one of Farragut's first general orders. Brownell began a correspondence with Farragut which resulted in his appointment as Acting Ensign and private secretary to Admiral Farragut on board the U.S.S. Hartford
. What he saw in the Battle of Mobile Bay he described with the words, "Dreadful gobbet and shred that a minute ago were men.
On July 12, 1864, Admiral Farragut distributed General Order No. 10 to his captains. It describes in detail the battle procedures of 19th century warships. There is a copy of General Order No. 10 in the University of Hartford Archives, along with official U.S. Navy photographs of the Hartford
and her crew.
At 6 a.m. on August 5 the fleet headed toward Fort Morgan, under cloudy skies with a westerly wind. Conditions were ideal.The breeze would blow the dense smoke of battle directly into the Confederate gunners' eyes. The ironclads led the way, followed by the ship Brooklyn
with her heavy guns and a torpedo ram on her bow to pick up any torpedoes in her path.
Fort Morgan fired its cannons at 7:06 a.m. The Brooklyn
and the Hartford
returned fire. Farragut climbed into the rigging to watch his fleet over the gunsmoke, and to better communicate with the pilot. Three seamen manned the wheel, protected by stacks of sandbags and hammocks. Cannonballs were crashing into sides and onto the decks of the Hartford
. She rolled side to side from the recoil of her big guns.
Just above the mine field the largest of all the Confederate ironclads, the formidable Tennessee
, steamed toward a the union ships. The leader of Farragut's ironclads, the Tecumseh
, suddenly veered left in front of the Brooklyn and headed straight for the Tennessee
. The Brooklyn's
captain signaled to the U.S.S. Hartford
that the ironclads were in his way. Now the Tecumseh
and the Brooklyn
were both turning into the Hartford's path.
Suddenly the Tecumseh
hit a mine. She sank immediately, bow first. The Brooklyn
began backing. Her lookouts had spotted the torpedoes ahead. Other ironclads blocked the course. The only way was through the mine field. Ships were piling up, in danger of being swept over to Fort Morgan by the incoming tide.
Already the Hartford
was being pounded by the guns of the fort. One seaman was decapitated. Another's legs were shot off. When he fell with his hands in the air, both arms were shot off. Admiral Farragut signaled to the Brooklyn
to go ahead. But she hesitated. Her captain answered, "Torpedoes ahead!" Farragut called to his engine room, "Damn the torpedoes! Four bells!"—the command for full speed ahead. Two heels struck the Hartford
, sweeping away most of two gun crews. Torpedoes were bumping and thudding against her hull. But they did not explode. They had leaked. Their powder as wet and useless.
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