(note: spelling has been transcribed as-is.)
April 30th, 1888.
MR EDITOR. - Personally you are a stranger to me, but I shall neverthless take the present opportunity to get acquainted, and perhaps I can amuse you for a short time, as well as pass away an hour or so of time, which might perhaps be less profitably spent. The waste basket is handy to your elbow. (Don't forget that.)
The scene before me is one to delight the eye of a Sailor. The North Atlantic Fleet consisting of five corvettes and one of the new steel crewsers (the Atlanta) is at present lying here, anchored in a line, and only a short distance apart, facing that massive piece of Military Engineering, Fort Morgan, which was so stubbornly defended by the Confederates in 1864 when "The Brave Old Salt," Admiral Faragut enjoyed it for four long hours, and were he joined undying fame, by going into action lashed to the rigging of the Hartford. History tells us of the battle, and I am next going to repeat the story. I will only take you (in imagination) with me on a visit to the famous fortess. The ringing notes of our ships bugler sound, the call to "clear away the 3d cutter," and a dozen of "bluejackets" go in her and pull her to the wharf. We are met upon the landing by the officers in charge. Ordinance Serg't Rogers, who carries the keys that serve to lock up the great iron studded gates of the Salley port. We enter a lay passage arched over, and having several abrupt turns, soon find ourselves in the interior of the citadel. The officers quarters were burned at the taking of the fort and only a few fragments of stone foundations show where they stood. The interior is lined with casements which are at present in a tumble down condition and we saw in them lots of old shot and shell that was stored there by the Confederates. In one room is a lot of 8 inch shells marked with the name of the Rebel Admiral who was in command of the C. S. N. forces, Buchanan the man who fought the "Merrimac." Many old cannons are lying as they were hurled by Farguts shell. Great scars and broken masonry give witness to the force of the iron shower that fell upon the fort. But the hand of Time is softening down the rugged marks, and our men picked several caps full of delicious blackberries upon the parapets that were swept by the 15 inch shell of the monitors. The view from the ramparts is fine. Away to the south rolls the blue waters of the gulf, opposite is Dauphin Id., with the ruines of Fort Gains. To the left is Grand Island, behind which the fleet of Faragut lay and from which they moved out that summer morning to the attack. The ironclads lead the wooden ships follow lashed together in couples. The monitor "Tecumpseh" leading commanded by Lt. Comd'r Craven, and as soon as her guns would reach the fort opened the battle. First guns on the Union side was fired by the "Tecumpseh" and it was followed by the rest as soon as they would bear. After the "Tecumpseh" had fired a few shots she loaded her guns with the heaviest charge of powder and a steel pointed shell and started towards the C.S.S. "Tennessee" an armor plated ram. She lay a trifle above the fort and broadside on. The "Tecumpseh" when opposite the fort and 100 yards from the water battery struck a torpedo and immediately sank, carrying down with her 116 of her crew and her brave commander. An eye witness describes it thus:
A moment we saw her turret,
A little heel she gave;
And a cloud of spray broke over her,
Like a crest of a breaking wave.
In that great iron coffin
In a Seamans honored grave -
Three fathoms deep, lies Craven
The bravest of the brave.
The pilot hourse of a monitor is entered only through a small opening heading up from the turret on the top of which it is placed. The pilot and Captain Craven were in it at the time she struck the torpedo both sprung for the opening but Craven stopped and said, "after you, Pilot," thus forgetting his chances for escape for the pilot was saved, while the galant commander was lost. A small buoy between us and the fort marks the spot whare the "Tecumpseh" lies and that is the only mark which shows were over 100 brave men lie awaiting the last great day, "when the sea shall give up its dead."
The Government has issued a perpetual injuction forbidding the vessel ever being raised or disturbed, though in a calm clear day her outlines can distincly be traces by the darker color of the bottom where she lies. A short distance below the fort the black ribs of a vessel show where the blockade runner met her fate at the hands of a Yankee shell. We return to the ship and set her trimmed up with bunting ready for a grand ball. Truly the changes of Time are great. Our ships decks, that 24 years ago echoed to the thunders of battle, now resound to the feet of the "fair ones" and the tread of the "light fantastic." Among the guests of the ship is a man who then was an artillery officer over in the fort trying his best to send the "Richmond" to the bottom. (I wander if he is now glad he didn't) Mess gear has been spread and I will delay my letter.
E. F. H.
Carpenters mate, U. S. Navy.