From Harper's Weekly, October 10, 1863
VOL. VII.No. 354.] NEW YORK, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1863.
[ SINGLE COPIES SIX CENTS. $3,00 PER YEAR IN ADVANCE.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1863, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.
THE DISASTER AT SABINE PASS.
We reproduce a drawing by Mr. James Ferguson, of Company A, First Indiana Artillery, representing the unsuccessful attack of a Union flotilla upon the rebel forts at Sabine Pass on 8th September.
......Rebel Battery....Clifton..Transport General Banks........Sachem.......Arizona.
THE ATTACK ON SABINE PASS, SEPTEMBER 8, 1863.SKETCHED BY AN EYE-WITNESS
The expedition, under command of General Franklin, was intended to occupy Sabine Pass as a base of future operations in Texas. Four light-draught gun-boats accompanied the troops, viz., the Clifton, Arizona, Sachem, and Granite City. After a preliminary reconnaissance the plan of battle was arranged. We quote the following account from the New York Herald correspondence:
The gun-boats Clifton, Arizona, and Sachem were to engage the enemy's work, while the Granite City, which carried only a broadside of small brass guns, was to cover the landing of an advance force of five hundred men, of General Weitzel's division, selected from the heroes of Port Hudson, and composed of two companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth New York, four companies of the One Hundred and Sixty-first New York, and a detachment from the Seventy-fifth New York regiments, under command of Captain Fitch, of the last-named regiment. The General himself came on board at the last moment to superintend personally the operation of disembarking his troops.
"All ready" was the signal, and about four o'clock P.M. the gun-boats steamed slowly forward, the Clifton advancing directly toward the fort, followed by the Granite City, and she in turn by the transport General Banks, having on board the advance of the army. The Sachem and the Arizona steamed off to the right, and ran up nearly opposite the battery. The Clifton opened the ball with a shell from one of her 9-inch pivot-guns, which exploded inside the rebel works, throwing up a perfect shower of debris, and instantly followed it with a second shot of the same kind. Soon the litle Sachem, commanded by Captain Johnson, opened her broadside 32-pounder guns on the work, and the next moment the Arizona also paid her compliments to the foe. The gunnery was magnificent, a few of the shells only exploding prematurely, and the pieces dropping in the water. Up to this time, and until from thirty to forty shells had exploded in the works, not a shot had been returned by the enemy. An ominous silence pervaded the fort, and many were of opinion that the works had been abandoned. Neither soldiers nor inhabitants made their appearance, and the only signs of life apparent were the movements of a small steamer in the river, which had run up above the city and down as far as the fort once or twice during the forenoon, and which was joined by a second steamer about the time the action commenced.
The action of the enemy, however, was the deceptive calm which often precedes the storm, and the sudden flash of flame which was plainly visible from the deck of the General Banks with the naked eye, and the cloud of white smoke which floated lazily up from the parapet of the enemy, were instantly followed by a heavy shot thrown at the Arizona, the largest boat of the fleet, and which passed directly over her, striking in the edge of the water beyond. This was followed in quick succession by a shot at the Sachem and another at the Clifton, neither of which, however, took effect. The engagement now became general and very warm, the Clifton and Arizona moving very slowly forward and back, while the brave little Sachem, under a heavy fire, kept pushing steadily forward, endeavoring to pass the battery and engage it in the rear, which was supposed to be unprotected. This movement the enemy divined, and redoubled their fire at her, answered shot for shot by the three boats, the huge shells every instant bursting in their midst, carrying destruction in their wake, and knocking great holes in the parapet, which appeared of sufficient size to admit the passage of a carriage and horses. The enemy acted with great bravery, however, and if their fire slackened an instant after one of those terrific explosions, which seemed to shake the very earth around them, it was instantly resumed with increased rather than diminished determination. Gradually but surely the little Sachem was gaining her desired position. A moment more, and she would pass out of range, and the day would be won. All eyes were bent upon the noble little craft, when suddenly a shot was seen to strike her amidships, crashing in her sides, and tearing their iron plating for the protection of sharp-shooters as a piece of paper, and causing her to careen and tremble from stern to stern. An instant more, and she was enveloped in the scalding vapor of escaping steam, and lay a helpless wreck at the mercy of the enemy. The flag was lowered, and the enemy, ceasing their fire on her, now turned their entire attention to the Clifton, probably aware of the fact that the draught of the Arizona would not permit her to advance near enough to become a very formidable antagonist. The disabling of the Sachem at the instant when victory was within her grasp was the second of those unfortunate accidents referred to, and was, of course, of so serious a character as to imperil the success of the entire affair. The Clifton was now the only effective boat engaged. She was called upon to do double duty, and not for one breath did her gallant commander and brave crew hesitate; but with three rousing cheers, which were heard above the din of battle, they poured in their fire, running in closer and closer to the batteries, in face of the concentrated fire of the entire rebel fortification.
Putting on a full head of steam the Clifton ran swiftly down directly toward the battery, with the intention, doubtless, of delivering her broadside, giving her sharp-shooters an opportunity of picking off the enemy's gunners and thus silencing the works. At the same time the Granite City and the General Banks gradually followed in her wake for the purpose of reaching the point of debarkation as soon as the Clifton had effected her object, although the heavy solid shot and hissing shell which were intended for the Clifton, but which passed her, came ricochetting along on the water, almost reaching them. Just as the Clifton gained the point she aimed at reaching, and as her bow was thrown round slightly, in the act of turning, she struck, the velocity with which she was running driving her a long distance into the thin mud at the bottom of the pass. At the same time a hitherto undiscovered battery to the left of the main work, and in easy range, opened upon her as she lay, her broadside offering a target of which the enemy took every advantage. The gallant Crocker still kept up a constant fire from both bow and broadside guns, the quick rifles, loaded with double charges of grape, being poured into the main work, sweeping the parapet clean at every discharge, and killing the enemy by scores, while with his broadside-guns he administered dose after dose of shell and solid shot to the battery on the left. Lying as he did, he would probably have succeeded in silencing the main work, thus enabling the troops to land, had it not been for the broadside work; for it was from that his boat was disabled. Up to this time she had sustained no material damage. The shots which had struck her had been harmless to the ship, and but very few of his crew were injured. But fate was against him, and he was obliged to succumb. A shot from the small battery struck his boat about the centre, passing through her side and entirely through the boiler, leaving her a stranded wreck at the enemy's mercy. The flag was instantly lowered; but the firing still continued, both from the boat and the batteries. It must have been lowered without the captain's knowledge, or he may have been killed and the crew left without a leader. An instant more, and just after a shower of grape from the enemy was poured into the noble little craft, the white flag was run up and the firing ceased. The engagement was concluded. Brave hearts and manly forms had been sacrificed upon the altar of their country, but without success. There was but one available gun-boat uninjured, the Arizona, and she was incapable of offensive operations against works of such strength. She was immediately withdrawn from the unequal contest, and the order reluctantly issued to the fleet to withdraw.
Algiers, Louisiana September 14, 1863
We left Baton Rouge on Sept. 3d, 1863 to make a landing at the mouth of the Sabine River. We arrived at New Orleans on the 4th and left at evening on the steamship "Continental." General Emory in command of our division. Our expedition to Sabine Pass on the mouth of the Sabine River was an ill-starred one, so there is nothing in the localpapers as a result. We had the ship "Graham Polly" in tow, and on the 6th, she parted both hawsers and ran into us amidships, letting the lightin upon us at the second deck. About noon on the 7th of Sept., we came to anchor off the bar. The next morning the gunboats shelled the small forts without eliciting any response, which gave the impression that they were deserted, but when the gunboats got opposite, in an attempt to run by, the enemy opened fire and soon had the "Clifton" and "Sachem" at their mercy and took 180 prisoners. Our fleet of transports started off in a hurry, in the panic the steamer "Suffolk" ran into us and was so damaged her crew left and boarded us -- the excitement was intense. Many jumped overboard thinking the ships were sinking and were drowned. I ate all my "Hoss and Hardtack" so as to save it and kept still knowing it would be no use to run around and yell. Somehow some of us poor fellows were saved but almighty scared.
The transport "Cresent" grounded, got off by sacrificing #1000 worth of commissary stores. Signal was made to leave for the Southwest Pass, but night and a gale came on and the river steamers were at a disadvantage. We were sixty hours getting back to the passes horses nearly ruined for want of water for four days. The "Suffolk" managed to get into New Orleans the same day that we did; that is, on the 12th. Camped at Algiers on the 12th.
Serg't Jacob F. Chandler
Co. D 8th New Hampshire Volunteers
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