The Metacomet Rescue

After the Tecumseh struck the fatal mine and went down, twelve of her crew ended up in the water, either refusing to swim for Fort Morgan like four of their shipmates or were unable to get into the monitor's cutter.

Farragut from his perch up in the Hartford's rigging saw the survivors struggling in the water and ordered Jouett to send a crew to rescue them. A young acting ensign, Henry C. Nields, took command of the cutter crewed by John Harris, Charles Baker, James Avery, John Donnelly, Daniel Noble and Henry Johnson. Owing to the fact the Metacomet was still lashed to the Hartford's port side, Nields was obliged to navigate his tiny cutter around the Hartford's stern to directly between the Hartford's and Fort Morgan's guns to reach where the Tecumseh survivors were (see rough sketch below based upon fleet location descriptions).

ENS Nields' almost joined the Tecumseh at the bottom of Mobile Bay. In his rush to get to the Tecumseh survivors, he had forgotten to raise the cutter's ensign, and ENS Whiting aboard the Hartford was about to fire upon them until Whiting was told who it was. Nields' a few minutes later realized his mistake and put the flag up.

When General Page, CSA, commanding Fort Morgan saw Nields' mission of mercy, he gave the order to his men: "Pass the order not to fire on that boat; she is saving drowning men." LT. Arthur D. Wharton, CSN, of the ram Tennessee also saw Nields mission. Wharton later wrote "I can scarcely describe how I felt at witnessing this most gallant act. The muzzle of our gun was slowly raised, and the bolt intended for the Tecumseh flew harmlessly over the heads of that glorious boat's crew and far down the line of our foes."

With hell raining down all around them from grapeshot, shells and other ordnance landing in the water from both sides despite not being a direct target, Nields's crew pulled from the water: pilot John Collins, ordinary seaman James Burns, signal quartermaster Chauncey P. Dean, Landsman Wilkins Tedder, ordinary seaman James Lands, seaman George Major, seaman James McDonald, ordinary seaman Charles Packard, Quartermaster William Roberts, seaman James Thorn, coal heaver William West and Acting Ensign John J. P. Zettick.

Unable to return to the Metacomet, they made for the monitor Winnebago, put the Tecumseh survivors aboard her and Nields headed for the Oneida where he and his crew served aboard until the battle was over.

In Farragut's offical report of the battle, he commended ENS Nields by name:

"...I must not omit to call the attention of the Department to the conduct of Acting Ensign Henry C. Nields, of the Metacomet, who had charge of the boat sent from that vessel when the Tecumseh sank. He took her in under one of the most galling fires I ever saw, and succeeded in rescuing from death ten of her crew, within six hundred yards of the fort. I would respectfully recommend his advancement..."

The six men who crewed the cutter were all later awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery. Nields was promoted to acting master (rank now LTJG) on 4 November 1864.