A Grand Army of Black Men
Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army 1861–1865
By Edwin S. Redkey
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1992
Online Publication Date:March 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511663574.011
Subjects: American literature
JOHN LAWS ON knew that August 5, 1864, would be a day of hard fighting, danger, and death. With the other sailors on board the U.S.S. Hartford, he awoke at two in the morning, drank a cup or two of hot coffee, and prepared to attack. Mobile Bay was the target, the last Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico, and a place where blockade runners took out cotton and brought in cannons, ammunition, medicine, and other supplies needed by the rebels. Lawson, an African American from Pennsylvania, had been through battle before; he had been wounded when the U.S.S. Cayuga had helped capture New Orleans in 1862. Now he prepared his heavy gun on the berth deck of the Hartford for one of the great naval battles of the Civil War.
At 5:30 A.M., Admiral David Farragut had himself tied to the upper mast of the Hartford and ordered the fleet to attack. There were four major obstacles: Fort Morgan, which guarded the entrance to the bay; some Confederate gunboats inside the bay; the monster ironclad Tennessee; and three lines of mines, or as they were called then, “torpedoes.” The Confederate ships and forts fired away at Farragut's eighteen-ship fleet. In the smoke and confusion of battle, the ship ahead of him stopped, so the admiral had to send the Hartford around it, straight into the minefield. When the crew pointed out that they were heading for the mines, Farragut shouted from his perch high above the deck, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Only one ship sank owing to the mines, and the rest of the fleet steamed on to fight the rebel gunners.