May 16th.—The reveille of the Zouaves, note for note the same as that which, in the Crimea, so often woke up poor fellows who slept the long sleep ere nightfall, roused us this morning early, and then the clang of trumpets and the roll of drums beating French calls summoned the volunteers to early parade. As there was a heavy dew, and many winged things about last night, I turned in to my berth below, where four human beings were supposed to lie in layers, like mummies beneath a pyramid, and there, after contention with cockroaches, sank to rest. No wonder I was rather puzzled to know where I was now; for in addition to the music and the familiar sounds outside, I was somewhat perturbed in my mental calculations by bringing my head sharply in contact with a beam of the deck which had the best of it; but, at last, facts accomplished themselves and got into place, much aided by the appearance of the negro cook with a cup of coffee in his hand, who asked, “Mosieu! Capitaine vant to ax vedder you take some bitter, sar! Lisbon bitter, sar.” I saw the captain on deck busily engaged in the manufacture of a liquid which I was adjured by all the party on deck to take, if I wished to make a Redan or a Malakhoff of my stomach, and accordingly I swallowed a petit verre of a very strong, intensely bitter preparation of brandy and tonic roots, sweetened with sugar, for which Mobile is famous.
The noise of our arrival had gone abroad; haply the report of the good things with which the men of Mobile had laden the craft, for a few officers came aboard even at that early hour, and we asked two who were known to our friends to stay for breakfast. That meal, to which the negro cook applied his whole mind and all the galley, consisted of an ugly-looking but well-flavored fish from the waters outside us, fried ham and onions, biscuit, coffee, iced water and Bordeaux, served with charming simplicity, and no way calculated to move the ire of Horace by a display of Persic apparatus.
A more greasy, oniony meal was never better enjoyed. One of our guests was a jolly Yorkshire farmer-looking man, up to about 16 stone weight, with any hounds, dressed in a tunic of green baize or frieze, with scarlet worsted braid down the front, gold lace on the cuffs and collar, and a felt wide-awake, with a bunch of feathers in it. He wiped the sweat off his brow, and swore that he would never give in, and that the whole of the company of riflemen whom he commanded, if not as heavy, were quite as patriotic. He was evidently a kindly affectionate man, without a trace of malice in his composition, but his sentiments were quite ferocious when he came to speak of the Yankees. He was a large slave-owner, and therefore a man of fortune, and he spoke with all the fervor of a capitalist menaced by a set of Red Republicans.
His companion, who wore a plain blue uniform, spoke sensibly about a matter with which sense has rarely anything to do—namely uniform. Many of the United States volunteers adopt the same grey colors so much in vogue among the Confederates. The officers of both armies wear similar distinguishing marks of rank, and he was quite right in supposing that in night marches, or in serious actions on a large scale, much confusion and loss would be caused by men of the same army firing on each other, or mistaking enemies for friends.
Whilst we were talking, large shoals of mullet and other fish were flying before the porpoises, red fish, and other enemies, in the tide-way astern of the schooner. Once, as a large white fish came leaping up to the surface, a gleam of something still whiter shot through the waves, and a boiling whirl, tinged with crimson, which gradually melted off in the tide, marked where the fish had been.
“There’s a ground sheark as has got his breakfast,” quoth the Skipper. “There’s quite a many of them about here.” Now and then a turtle showed his head, exciting desiderium tarn cari capitis, above the envied flood which he honored with his presence.
Far away, towards Pensacola, floated three British ensigns, from as many merchantmen, which as yet had fifteen days to clear out from the blockaded port. Fort Pickens had hoisted the stars and stripes to the wind, and Fort M’Rae, as if to irritate its neighbour, displayed a flag almost identical, but for the “lone star,” which the glass detected instead of the ordinary galaxy—the star of Florida.
Lieutenant Ellis, General Bragg’s aide-de-camp, came on board at an early hour, in order to take me round the works, and I was soon on the back of the General’s charger, safely ensconced between the raised pummel and cantle of a great brass-bound saddle, with emblazoned saddle-cloth and mighty stirrups of brass, fit for the fattest marshal that ever led an army of France to victory; but General Bragg is longer in the leg than the Duke of Malakoff or Marshal Canrobert, and all my efforts to touch with my toe the wonderful supports which, in consonance with the American idea, dangled far beneath, were ineffectual.
As our road lay by head-quarters, the aide-de-camp took me into the court and called out “Orderly;” and at the summons a smart soldier-like young fellow came to the front, took me three holes up, and as I was riding away touched his cap and said, “I beg your pardon, sir, but I often saw you in the Crimea.” He had been in the 11th Hussars, and on the day of Balaklava he was following close to Lord Cardigan and Captain Nolan, when his horse was killed by a round shot. As he was endeavoring to escape on foot the Cossacks took him prisoner, and he remained for eleven months in captivity in Russia, till he was exchanged at Odessa, towards the close of the war; then, being one of two sergeants who were permitted to get their discharge, he left the service. “But here you are again,” said I, “soldiering once more, and merely acting as an orderly!” “Well, that’s true enough, but I came over here, thinking to better myself as some of our fellows did, and then the war broke out, and I entered one of what they called their cavalry regiments—Lord bless you, sir, it would just break your heart to see them— and here I am now, and the general has made me an orderly. He is a kind man, sir, and the pay is good, but they are not like the old lot; I do not know what my lord would think of them.” The man’s name was Montague, and he told me his father lived “at a place called Windsor,” twenty-one miles from London. Lieutenant Ellis said he was a very clean, smart, well-conducted soldier.
From head-quarters we started on our little tour of inspection of the batteries. Certainly, anything more calculated to shake confidence in American journalism could not be seen; for I had been led to believe that the works were of the most formidable description, mounting hundreds of guns. Where hundreds was written, tens would have been nearer the truth.
I visited ten out of the thirteen batteries which General Bragg has erected against Fort Pickens. I saw but five heavy siege guns in the whole of the works among the fifty or fifty-five pieces with which they were armed. There may be about eighty altogether on the lines, which describe an arc of 135 degrees for about three miles round Pickens, at an average distance of a mile and one-third. I was rather interested with Fort Barrancas, built by the Spaniards long ago—an old work on the old plan, weakly armed, but possessing a tolerable command from the face of fire.
In all the batteries there were covered galleries in the rear, connected with the magazines, and called “ratholes,” intended by the constructors as a refuge for the men whenever a shell from Pickens dropped in. The rush to the rat-hole does not impress one as being very conducive to a sustained and heavy fire, or at all likely to improve the morale of the gunners. The working parties, as they were called—volunteers from Mississippi and Alabama, great long-bearded fellows in flannel shirts and slouched hats, uniformless in all save brightly burnished arms and resolute purpose—were lying about among the works, or contributing languidly to their completion.
Considerable improvements were in the course of execution; but the officers were not always agreed as to the work to be done. Captain A., at the wheelbarrows: “Now then, you men, wheel up these sandbags, and range them just at this corner.” Major B.: “My good Captain A., what do you want the bags there for? Did I not tell you, these merlons were not to be finished till we had completed the parapet on the front?” Captain A.: “Well, Major, so you did, and your order made me think you knew darned little about your business ; and so I am going to do a little engineering of my own.”
Altogether, I was quite satisfied General Bragg was perfectly correct in refusing to open his fire on Fort Pickens and on the fleet, which ought certainly to have knocked his works about his ears, in spite of his advantages of position, and of some well-placed mortar batteries among the brushwood, at distances from Pickens of 2500 and 2800 yards. The magazines of the batteries I visited did not contain ammunition for more than one day’s ordinary firing. The shot were badly cast, with projecting flanges from the mold, which would be very injurious to soft metal guns in firing. As to men, as in guns, the Southern papers had lied consumedly. I could not say how many were in Pensacola itself, for I did not visit the camp: at the outside guess of the numbers there was 2000. I saw, however, all the camps here, and I doubt exceedingly if General Bragg—who at this time is represented to have any number from 30,000 to 50,000 men under his command—has 8000 troops to support his batteries, or 10,000, including Pensacola, all told.
If hospitality consists in the most liberal participation of all the owner has with his visitors, here, indeed, Philemon has his type in every tent. As we rode along through every battery, by every officer’s quarters, some great Mississippian or Alabamian came forward with “Captain Ellis, I am glad to see you.” “Colonel,” to me, “won’t you get down and have a drink?” Mr. Ellis duly introduces me. The Colonel with effusion grasps my hand and says, as if he had just gained the particular object of his existence, “Sir, I am very glad indeed to know you. I hope you have been pretty well since you have been in our country, sir. Here, Pompey, take the colonel’s horse. Step in, sir, and have a drink.” Then comes out the great big whisky bottle, and an immense amount of adhesion to the first law of nature is required to get you off with less than half-a-pint of “Bourbon;” but the most trying thing to a stranger is the fact that when he is going away, the officer, who has been so delighted to see him, does not seem to care a farthing for his guest or his health.
The truth is, these introductions are ceremonial observances, and compliances with the universal curiosity of Americans to know people they meet. The Englishman bows frigidly to his acquaintance on the first introduction, and if he likes him shakes hands with him on leaving—a much more sensible and justifiable proceeding. The American’s warmth at the first interview must be artificial, and the indifference at parting is ill-bred and in bad taste. I had already observed this on many occasions, especially at Montgomery, where I noticed it to Colonel Wigfall, but the custom is not incompatible with the most profuse hospitality, nor with the desire to render service.
On my return to head-quarters I found General Bragg in his room, engaged writing an official letter in reply to my request to be permitted to visit Fort Pickens, in which he gave me full permission to do as I pleased. Not only this, but he had prepared a number of letters of introduction to the military authorities, and to his personal friends at New Orleans, requesting them to give me every facility and friendly assistance in their power. He asked me my opinion about the batteries and their armament, which I freely gave him quantum valeat. “Well,” he said, “I think your conclusions are pretty just; but, nevertheless, some fine day I shall be forced to try the mettle of our friends on the opposite side.” All I could say was, “May God defend the right.” “A good saying, to which I say, Amen. And drink with you to it.”
There was a room outside, full of generals and colonels, to whom I was duly introduced, but the time for departure had come, and I bade good-by to the general and rode down to the wharf. I had always heard, during my brief sojourn in the North, that the Southern people were exceedingly illiterate and ignorant. It may be so, but I am bound to say that I observed a large proportion of the soldiers, on their way to the navy yard, engaged in reading newspapers, though they did not neglect the various drinking bars and exchanges, which were only too numerous in the vicinity of the camps.
The schooner was all ready for sea, but the Mobile gentlemen had gone off to Pensacola, and as I did not desire to invite them to visit Fort Pickens— where, indeed, they would have most likely met with a refusal—I resolved to sail without them and to return to the navy yard in the evening, in order to take them back on our homeward voyage. “Now then, captain, cast loose; we are going to Port Pickens.” The worthy seaman had by this time become utterly at sea, and did not appear to know whether he belonged to the Confederate States, Abraham Lincoln, or the British navy. But this order roused him a little, and looking at me with all his eyes, he exclaimed, “Why, you don’t mean to say you are going to make me bring the Diana alongside that darned Yankee Fort!” Our tablecloth, somewhat maculated with gravy, was hoisted once more to the peak, and, after some formalities between the guardians of the jetty and ourselves, the schooner canted round in the tideway, and with a fine light breeze ran down towards the stars and stripes.
What magical power there is in the colors of a piece of bunting! My companions, I dare say, felt as proud of their flag as if their ancestors had fought under it at Acre or Jerusalem. And yet how fictitious its influence! Death, and dishonor worse than death, to desert it one day! Patriotism and glory to leave it in the dust, and fight under its rival, the next! How indignant would George Washington have been, if the Frenchman at Fort Du Quesne had asked him to abandon the old rag which Braddock held aloft in the wilderness, and to serve under the very fleur-de-lys which the same great George hailed with so much joy but a few years afterwards, when it was advanced to the front at York Town, to win one of its few victories over the Lions and the Harp. And in this Confederate flag there is a meaning which cannot die—it marks the birthplace of a new nationality, and its place must know it for ever. Even the flag of a rebellion leaves indelible colors in the political atmosphere. The hopes that sustained it may vanish in the gloom of night, but the national faith still believes that its sun will rise on some glorious morrow. Hard must it be for this race, so arrogant, so great, to see stripe and star torn from the fair standard with which they would fain have shadowed all the kingdoms of the world; but their great continent is large enough for many nations.
“And now,” said the skipper, “I think we’d best lie to —them cussed Yankees on the beach is shouting to us.” And so they were. A sentry on the end of a wooden jetty sung out, “Hallo you there! Stand off or I’ll fire,” and “drew a bead-line on us.”At the same time the skipper hailed, “Please to send a boat off to go ashore.” “No, sir! Come in your own boat!” cried the officer of the guard. Our own boat! A very skiff of Charon! Leaky, rotten, lop-sided. We were a hundred yards from the beach, and it was to be hoped that with all its burthen, it could not go down in such a short row. As I stepped in, however, followed by my two companions, the water flew in as if forced by a pump, and when the sailors came after us the skipper said, through a mouthful of juice, “Deevid! pull your hardest, for there an’t a more terrible place for shearks along the whole coast.” Deevid and his friend pulled like men, and our hopes rose with the water in the boat and the decreasing distance to shore. They worked like Doggett’s badgers, and in five minutes we were out of “sheark ” depth and alongside the jetty, where Major Vogdes, Mr. Brown, of the Oriental, and an officer, introduced as Captain Barry of the United States artillery, were waiting to receive us. Major Vogdes said that Colonel Brown would most gladly permit me to go over the fort, but that he could not receive any of the other gentlemen of the party; they were permitted to wander about at their discretion. Some friends whom they picked up amongst the officers took them on a ride along the island, which is merely a sand-bank covered with coarse vegetation, a few trees, and pools of brackish water.
If I were selecting a summer habitation I should certainly not choose Fort Pickens. It is, like all other American works I have seen, strong on the sea faces and weak towards the land. The outer gate was closed, but at a talismanic knock from Captain Barry, the wicket was thrown open by the guard and we passed through a vaulted gallery into the parade ground, which was full of men engaged in strengthening the place, and digging deep pits in the centre as shell traps. The men were United States regulars, not comparable in physique to the Southern volunteers, but infinitely superior in cleanliness and soldierly smartness. The officer on duty led me to one of the angles of the fort and turned in to a covered way, which had been ingeniously contrived by tilting up gun platforms and beams of wood at an angle against the wall, and piling earth and sand banks against them for several feet in thickness. The casemates, which otherwise would have been exposed to a plunging fire in the rear, were thus effectually protected.
Emerging from this dark passage I entered one of the bomb-proofs, fitted up as a bed-room, and thence proceeded to the casemate, in which Colonel Harvey Browne has his head-quarters. After some conversation, he took me out upon the parapet and went all over the defences.
Fort Pickens is an oblique, and somewhat narrow parallelogram, with one obtuse angle facing the sea and the other towards the land. The bastion at the acute angle towards Barrancas is the weakest part of the work, and men were engaged in throwing up an extempore glacis to cover the wall and the casemates from fire. The guns were of what is considered small calibre in these days, 32 and 42 pounders, with four or five heavy columbiads. An immense amount of work has been done within the last three weeks, but as yet the preparations are by no means complete. From the walls, which are made of a hard baked brick, nine feet in thickness, there is a good view of the enemy’s position. There is a broad ditch round the work, now dry, and probably not intended for water. The cuvette has lately been cleared out, and in proof of the agreeable nature of the locality, the officers told me that sixty very fine rattle-snakes were killed by the workmen during the operation.
As I was looking at the works from the wall, Captain Vogdes made a sly remark now and then, blinking his eyes and looking closely at my face to see if he could extract any information. “There are the quarters of your friend General Bragg; he pretends, we hear, that it is an hospital, but we will soon have him out when we open fire.” “Oh, indeed.” “That’s their best battery beside the lighthouse; we can’t well make out whether there are ten, eleven, or twelve guns in it.” Then Captain Vogdes became quite meditative, and thought aloud, “Well, I’m sure, Colonel, they’ve got a strong entrenched camp in that wood behind their mortar batteries. I’m quite sure of it—we must look to that with our long-range guns.” What the engineer saw, must have been certain absurd little furrows in the sand, which the Confederates have thrown up about three feet in front of their tents, but whether to carry off or to hold rain water, or as cover for rattle-snakes, the best judge cannot determine.
The Confederates have been greatly delighted with the idea that Pickens will be almost untenable during the summer for the United States troops, on account of the heat and mosquitoes, not to speak of yellow fever; but in fact they are far better off than the troops on shore—the casemates are exceedingly well ventilated, light and airy. Mosquitoes, yellow fever, and dysentery, will make no distinction between Trojan and Tyrian. On the whole, I should prefer being inside, to being outside Pickens, in case of a bombardment; and there can be no doubt the entire destruction of the navy yard and station by the Federals can be accomplished whenever they please. Colonel Browne pointed out the tall chimney at Warrington smoking away, and said, “There, sir, is the whole reason of Bragg’s forbearance, as it is called. Do you see ?—they are casting shot and shell there as fast as they can. They know well if they opened a gun on us I could lay that yard and all their works there in ruin;” and Colonel Harvey Browne seems quite the man for the work—a resolute, energetic veteran, animated by the utmost dislike to secession and its leaders, and full of what are called “Union Principles,” which are rapidly becoming the mere expression of a desire to destroy life, liberty, property, anything in fact which opposes itself to the consolidation of the Federal government.
Probably no person has ever been permitted to visit two hostile camps within sight of each other save myself. I was neither spy, herald, nor ambassador; and both sides trusted to me fully on the understanding that I would not make use of any information here, but that it might be communicated to the world at the other side of the Atlantic.
Apropos of this, Colonel Browne told me an amusing story, which shows that cuteness is not altogether confined to the Yankees. Some days ago a gentleman was found wandering about the island, who stated he was a correspondent of a New York paper. Colonel Browne was not satisfied with the account he gave of himself, and sent him on board one of the ships of the fleet, to be confined as a prisoner. Soon afterwards a flag of truce came over from the Confederates, carrying a letter from General Bragg, requesting Colonel Browne to give up the prisoner, as he had escaped to the island after committing a felony, and enclosing a warrant signed by a justice of the peace for his arrest. Colonel Browne laughed at the ruse, and keeps his prisoner.
As it was approaching evening and I had seen everything in the fort, the hospital, casemates, magazines, bake-houses, tasted the rations, and drank the whisky, I set out for the schooner, accompanied by Colonel Browne and Captain Barry and other officers, and picking up my friends at the bake-house outside.
Having bidden our acquaintances good-by, we get on board the Diana, which steered towards the Warrington navy yard, to take the rest of the party on board. The sentries along the beach and on the batteries grounded arms, and stared with surprise as the Diana, with her tablecloth flying, crossed over from Fort Pickens, and ran slowly along the Confederate works. Whilst we were spying for the Mobile gentlemen, the mate took it into his head to take up the Confederate bunting, and wave it over the quarter. “Hollo, what’s that you’re doing?” “It’s only a signal to the gentlemen on shore.” “Wave some other flag, if you please, when we are in these waters, with a flag of truce flying.”
After standing off and on for some time, the Mobilians at last boarded us in a boat. They were full of excitement, quite eager to stay and see the bombardment which must come off in twenty-four hours. Before we left Mobile harbor I had made a bet for a small sum that neither side would attack within the next few days; but now I could not even shake my head one way or the other, and it required the utmost self-possession and artifice of which I was master to evade the acute inquiries and suggestions of my good friends. I was determined to go—they were equally bent upon remaining; and so we parted after a short but very pleasant cruise together.
We had arranged with Mr. Brown that we would look out for him on leaving the harbor, and a bottle of wine was put in the remnants of our ice to drink farewell; but it was almost dark as the Diana shot out seawards between Pickens and M’Rae; and for some anxious minutes we were doubtful which would be the first to take a shot at us. Our tablecloth still fluttered; but the color might be invisible. A lantern was hoisted astern by my order as soon as the schooner was clear of the forts; and with a cool sea-breeze we glided out into the night, the black form of the Powhattan being just visible, the rest of the squadron lost in the darkness. We strained our eyes for the Oriental, but in vain; and it occurred to us that it would scarcely be a very safe proceeding to stand from the Confederate forts down towards the guard-ship, unless under the convoy of the Oriental. It seemed quite certain she must be cruising some way to the westward, waiting for us.
The wind was from the north, on the best point for our return; and the Diana, heeling over in the smooth water, proceeded on her way towards Mobile, running so close to the shore that I could shy a biscuit on the sand. She seemed to breathe the wind through her sails, and flew with a crest of flame at her bow, and a bubbling wake of meteor-like streams flowing astern, as though liquid metal were flowing from a furnace.
The night was exceedingly lovely, but after the heat of the day the horizon was somewhat hazy. “No sign of the Oriental on our lee-bow?” “Nothing at all in sight, sir, ahead or astern.” Sharks and large fish ran off from the shallows as we passed, and rushed out seawards in runs of brilliant light. The Perdida was left far astern.
On sped the Diana, but no Oriental came in view. I felt exceedingly tired, heated, and fagged; had been up early, ridden in a broiling sun, gone through batteries, examined forts, sailed backwards and forwards, so I was glad to turn in out of the night dew and, leaving injunctions to the captain to keep a bright look out for the Federal boarding schooner, I went to sleep without the smallest notion that I had seen my last of Mr. Brown.
I had been two or three hours asleep when I was awoke by the negro cook, who was leaning over the berth, and, with teeth chattering, said, “Monsieur! nous sommes perdus! un batiment de guerre nous poursuit—il va tirer bientot. Nous serons coule! Oh, Mon Dieu! Oh, Mon Dieu!” I started up and popped my head through the hatchway. The skipper himself was at the helm, glancing from the compass to the quivering reef points of the mainsail. “What’s the matter, captain.” “Waal, sir,” said the captain, speaking very slowly, “There has been a something a running after us for nigh the last two hours, but he ain’t a gaining on us. I don’t think he’ll kitch us up nohow this time; if the wind holds this pint a leetle, Diana will beat him.”
The confidence of coasting captains in their own craft is an hallucination which no risk or danger will ever prevent them from cherishing most tenderly. There’s not a skipper from Hartlepool to Whitstable who does not believe his Maryanne Smith or the Two Grandmothers is able, “on certain pints,” to bump her fat bows, and drag her coal-scuttle shaped stern faster through the sea than any clipper afloat. I was once told by the captain of a Margate Billy Boy he believed he could run to windward of any frigate in Her Majesty’s service.
“But, good heavens, man, it may be the Oriental— no doubt it is Mr. Brown who is looking after us.”
“All! Waal, may be. Whoever it is, he creeped quite close up on me in the dark. It give me quite a sterk when I seen him. ‘May be,’ says I, ‘he is a privateering—pirating—chap.’ So I runs in shore as close as I could; gets my centre board in, and, says I, ‘I’ll see what you’re made of, my boy.’ And so we goes on. He ain’t a-gaining on us, I can tell you.”
I looked through the glass, and could just make out, half or three-quarters of a mile astern, and to leeward, a vessel, looking quite black, which seemed to be standing on in pursuit of us. The shore was so close, we could almost have leaped into the surf, for when the centre board was up the Diana did not draw much more than four feet water. The skipper held grimly on. “You had better shake your wind, and see who it is; it may be Mr. Brown.” “No, sir, Mr Brown or no, I can’t help carrying on now; there’s a bank runs all along outside of us, and if I don’t hold my course I’ll be on it in one minute.” I confess I was rather annoyed, but the captain was master of the situation. He said, that if it had been the Oriental she would have fired a blank gun to bring us to as soon as she saw us. To my inquiries why he did not awaken me when she was first made out, he innocently replied, “You was in such a beautiful sleep, I thought it would be regular cruelty to disturb you.”
By creeping close in shore the Diana was enabled to keep to windward of the stranger, who was seen once or twice to bump or strike, for her sails shivered. “There, she’s struck again.” “She’s off once more,” and the chase is renewed. Every moment I expected to have my eyes blinded by the flash of her bow gun, but for some reason or another, possibly because she did not wish to check her way, the Oriental—privateer, or whatever it was—saved her powder.
A stern chase is a long chase. It is two o’clock in the morning—the skipper grinned with delight. “I’ll lead him into a pretty mess if he follows me through the ‘Swash,’ whoever he is.” We were but ten miles from Fort Morgan. Nearer and nearer to the shore creeps the Diana.
“Take a cast of the lead, John.” “Nine feet.” “Good. Again.” “Seven feet.” “Again.” “Five feet.” “Charlie, bring the lantern.” We were now in the “Swash,” with a boiling tideway.
Just at the moment that the negro uncovered the lantern out it went, a fact which elicited the most remarkable amount of imprecations ear ever heard. The captain went dancing mad in intervals of deadly calmness, and gave his commands to the crew, and strange oaths to the cook alternately, as the mate sung out, “Five feet and a-half.” “About she goes! Confound you, you black scoundrel, I’ll teach you,” &c., &c. “Six feet! Eight feet and a-half!” “About she comes again.” ” Five feet! Four feet and a-half.” (Oh, Lord! Six inches under our keel!) And so we went, with a measurement between us and death of inches, not by any means agreeable, in which the captain showed remarkable coolness and skill in the management of his craft, combined with a most unseemly animosity towards his unfortunate cook.
It was very little short of a miracle that we got past the “Elbow,” as the most narrow part of the channel is called, for it was just at the critical moment the binnacle light was extinguished, and went out with a splutter, and there we were left in darkness in a channel not one hundred yards wide and only six feet deep. The centre board also got jammed once or twice when it was most important to lie as close to the wind as possible; but at last the captain shouted out, “It’s all right, we’re in deep water,” and calling the mate to the helm proceeded to relieve his mind by chasing Charlie into a corner and belaboring him with a dead shark or dog fish about four feet long, which he picked up from the deck as the handiest weapon he could find. For the whole morning, henceforth, the captain found great comfort in making constant charges on the hapless cook, who at last slyly threw the shark overboard at a favorable opportunity, and forced his master to resort to other varieties of Rhadamantine implements. But where was the Oriental all this time? No one could say; but Charlie, who seemed an authority as to her movements, averred she put her helm round as soon as we entered the “Swash,” and disappeared in black night.
The Diana had thus distinguished herself by running the blockade of Pensacola, but a new triumph awaited her. As we approached Fort Morgan a grey streak in the East just offered light enough to distinguish the outlines of the fort and of the Confederate flag which waved above it. A fair breeze carried us abreast of the signal station, one solitary light gleamed from the walls, but neither guard boat put off to board us, nor did sentry hail, nor was gun fired—still we stood on. “Captain, had you not better lie to? They’ll be sending a round shot after us presently.” “No, sir. They are all asleep in that fort,” replied the indomitable skipper.
Down went his helm, and away ran the Diana into Mobile Bay, and was soon safe in the haze beyond shot or shell, running towards the opposite shore. This was glory enough, for the Diana of Mobile. The wind blew straight from the North into our teeth, and at bright sunrise she was only a few miles inside the bay.
All the livelong day was spent in tacking from one low shore to another low shore, through water which looked like pea soup. We had to be sure the pleasure of seeing Mobile from every point of view, east and west, with all the varieties between northing and southing, and numerous changes in the position of steeples, sand-hills, and villas, the sun roasting us all the time and boiling the pitch out of the seams.
The greatest excitement of the day was an encounter with a young alligator, making an involuntary voyage out to sea in the tide-way. The crew said he was drowning, having lost his way or being exhausted by struggling with the current. He was about ten feet long, and appeared to be so utterly done up that he would willingly have come aboard as he passed within two yards of us; but desponding as he was, it would have been positive cruelty to have added him to the number of our party.
The next event of the day was dinner, in which Charlie outrivaled himself by a tremendous fry of onions and sliced Bologna sausage, and a piece of pig, which had not decided whether it was to be pork or bacon.
Having been fourteen hours beating some twenty-seven miles, I was landed at last at a wharf in the suburbs of the town about five o’clock in the evening. On my way to the Battle House I met seven distinct companies marching through the streets to drill, and the air was filled with sounds of bugling and drumming. In the evening a number of gentlemen called upon me to inquire what I thought of Fort Pickens and Pensacola, and I had some difficulty in parrying their very home questions, but at last adopted a formula which appeared to please them — I assured my friends I thought it would be an exceedingly tough business whenever the bombardment took place. One of the most important steps which I have yet heard of has excited little attention, namely, the refusal of the officer commanding Fort MacHenry, at Baltimore, to obey the writ of habeas corpus issued by a judge of that city for the person of a soldier of his garrison. This military officer takes upon himself to aver there is a state of civil war in Baltimore, which he considers sufficient legal cause for the suspension of the writ.