Yet, withal, the intervals between the visits of cultivated guests were long. Ohio was rapidly filling up with population, but culture was a rare exotic in that pioneer region, and the inmates of the Blennerhasset mansion must have greatly lacked visits from their own social equals.
One day in the spring of 1805 a traveller landed on the island, as if merely lured thither by the beauty of the grounds as seen from the river. Mr. Blennerhasset was in his study, whither a servant came to tell him that a gentlemanly stranger had landed, and was observing the lawn. The servant was at once bidden to invite the stranger, in his master's name, to enter the house. The traveller courteously declined. He could not think of intruding, begged to be excused for landing on the grounds, and sent in his card. Mr. Blennerhasset read the card, and his eyes lighted up with interest, for what he saw was the name of a former Vice-President of the United States. He at once hastened to the lawn, and with polite insistence declared that Mr. Burr must enter and partake of the hospitality of his house.
It was like inviting Satan into Eden. Aaron Burr, for it was he, readily complied. He had made the journey thither for that sole purpose. The story of Mr. Blennerhasset's wealth had reached the East, and the astute schemer hoped to enlist his aid in certain questionable projects he then entertained.
But no hint of an ulterior purpose was suffered to appear. Burr was noted for the fascination of his manners, and his host and hostess were charmed with him. He was unusually well informed, eloquent in speech, familiar with all social arts, and could mask the deepest designs with the most artless affectation of simplicity. All the secrets of American political movements were familiar to him, and he conversed fluently of the prospects of war with Spain, the ease with which the Mexicans might throw off their foreign yoke, and the possibilities of splendid pecuniary results from land speculations within the Spanish territory on the Red River.
This seed sown, the arch deceiver went his way. His first step had been taken. Blennerhasset was patriotically devoted to the United States, but the grand scheme which had been portrayed to him seemed to have nothing to do with questions of state. It was a land speculation open to private wealth.
Burr kept his interest alive by letters. The Blennerhassets spent the next winter in New York and Philadelphia, and there met Aaron Burr again. Not unlikely they came with that purpose, for the hopes of new wealth, easily to be made, were alluring and exciting. During that winter it is probable that a sort of land-speculation partnership was formed. Very rich lands lay on the Washita River, within Spanish territory, said Burr, which could be bought for a small sum. Then, by encouraging immigration thither, they might be sold at enormous profit.
This was the Burr scheme as Blennerhasset heard it. The dupe did not dream of the treasonable projects resting within the mind of his dangerous associate. These were, to provoke revolt of the people of Mexico and the northern Spanish provinces, annex the western United States region, and establish a great empire, in which Burr should be the leading potentate.
Mr. Blennerhasset, once enlisted in the land-speculation project, supplied the funds to buy the lands on the Washita, and engaged in operations on a large scale for sending settlers to the purchased domain. Colonel Burr came to Marietta and took an active part in these operations. Fifteen large flat-boats were built to convey the immigrants, their furniture, and such arms as they might need for repelling Indians. Five hundred men were fixed as the number for the first colony, and this number Burr succeeded in enlisting. Each was to have one hundred acres of land. This was not in itself any great inducement where land was so plentiful as in Ohio. But Burr did not hesitate to hint at future possibilities. The lands to be colonized had been peacefully purchased. But the Mexicans were eager to throw off the Spanish yoke; war between the United States and Spain might break out at any minute; Mexico would be invaded by an army, set free, and the new pioneers would have splendid opportunities in the formation of a new and great republic of the West and South. Burr went further than this. He had articles inserted in a Marietta newspaper, signed by an assumed name, in which was advocated the secession of the States west of the Alleghanies. These articles were strongly replied to by a writer who signed himself "Regulus," and with whose views the community at large sympathized. His articles were copied by Eastern papers. They spoke of the armed expedition which Colonel Burr was preparing, and declared that its purpose was the invasion of Mexico. Jefferson, then in the Presidential chair, knew Burr too well to ignore these warnings. He sent a secret agent to Marietta to discover what was going on, and at the same time asked the governor of Ohio to seize the boats and suppress the expedition.
Mr. Blennerhasset assured the secret agent, Mr. Graham, that no thought was entertained of invading Mexico. The project, he said, was an eminently peaceful one. But the public was of a different opinion. Rumor, once started, grew with its usual rapidity. Burr was organizing an army to seize New Orleans, rob the banks, capture the artillery, and set up an empire or republic of his own in the valley of the lower Mississippi. Blennerhasset was his accomplice, and as deep in the scheme as himself. The Ohio Legislature, roused to energetic action by the rumors which were everywhere afloat, passed an act that all armed expeditions should be suppressed, and empowered the governor to call out the militia, seize Burr's boats, and hold the crews for trial.
Public attention had been earnestly and hostilely directed to the questionable project, and Burr's hopes were at an end. The militia were mustered at Marietta, a six-pounder was planted on the river-bank, orders were given to stop and examine all descending boats, and sentries were placed to watch the stream by day and night.
While these events were proceeding, Mr. Blennerhasset had gone to the Muskingum, to superintend the departure of the boats that were to start from that stream. While there the boats were seized by order of the governor. The suspicions of the people and government were for the first time made clear to him. Greatly disturbed, and disposed to abandon the whole project, costly as it had been to him, he hastened back to his island home. There he found a flotilla of four boats, with a crew of about thirty men, which had passed Marietta before the mustering of the militia. They were commanded by a Mr. Tyler.
Mr. Blennerhasset's judgment was in favor of abandoning the scheme. Mrs. Blennerhasset, who was very ambitious, argued strongly on the other side. She was eager to see her husband assume a position fitting to his great talents. Mr. Tyler joined her in her arguments. Blennerhasset gave way. It was a fatal compliance, one destined to destroy his happiness and peace for the remainder of his life, and to expose his wife to the most frightful scenes of outrage and barbarity.
The frontier contained hosts of lawless men, men to whom loyalty meant license. Three days after the conversation described, word was brought to the island that a party of the Wood County militia, made up of the lowest and most brutal men in the community, would land on the island that very night, seize the boats, arrest all the men they found, and probably burn the house.
The danger was imminent. Blennerhasset and all the men with him took to the boats to escape arrest and possibly murder from these exasperated frontiersmen. Mrs. Blennerhasset and her children were left in the mansion, with the expectation that their presence would restrain the brutality of the militia, and preserve the house and its valuable contents from destruction. It proved a fallacious hope. Colonel Phelps, the commander of the militia, pursued Blennerhasset. In his absence his men behaved like savages. They took possession of the house, became brutally drunk from the liquors they found in the cellar, rioted through its elegantly furnished rooms, burned its fences for bonfires, and for seven days made life a pandemonium of horrors for the helpless woman and frightened children who had been left in their midst.
The experience of those seven days was frightful. There was no escape. Mrs. Blennerhasset was compelled to witness the ruthless destruction of all she held most dear, and to listen to the brutal ribaldry and insults of the rioting savages. Not until the end of the time named did relief come. Then Mr. Putnam, a friend from the neighboring town of Belpré, ventured on the island. He provided a boat in which the unhappy lady was enabled to save a few articles of furniture and some choice books. In this boat, with her two sons, six and eight years old, and with two young men from Belpré, she started down the river to join her husband. Two or three negro servants accompanied her.
It was a journey of great hardships. The weather was cold, the river filled with floating ice, the boat devoid of any comforts. A rude cabin, open in the front, afforded the only shelter from wind and rain. Half frozen in her flight, the poor woman made her way down the stream, and at length joined her husband at the mouth of the Cumberland River, which he had reached with his companions, having distanced pursuit. Their flight was continued down the Mississippi as far as Natchez.
No sooner had Mrs. Blennerhasset left the island than the slight restraint which her presence had exercised upon the militia disappeared. The mansion was ransacked. Whatever they did not care to carry away was destroyed. Books, pictures, rich furniture were used to feed bonfires. Doors were torn from their hinges, windows dashed in, costly mirrors broken with hammers. Destruction swept the island, all its improvements being ruthlessly destroyed. For months the mansion stood, an eyesore of desolation, until some hand, moved by the last impulse of savagery, set it on fire, and it was burned to the ground.
What followed may be briefly told. So great was the indignation against Burr that he was forced to abandon his project. His adherents were left in destitution. Some of them were a thousand miles and more from their homes, and were forced to make their way back as they best could. Burr and Blennerhasset were both arrested for treason. The latter escaped. There was no criminating evidence against him. As for Burr, he had been far too shrewd to leave himself open to the hand of the law. His trial resulted in an acquittal. Though no doubt was felt of his guilt, no evidence could be found to establish it. He was perforce set free.
If he had done nothing more, he had, by his detestable arts, broken up one of the happiest homes in America, and ruined his guileless victim.
Blennerhasset bought a cotton plantation at Natchez. His wife, who had the energy he lacked, managed it. They dwelt there for ten years, favorites with the neighboring planters. Then came war with England, and the plantation ceased to afford them a living. The ruined man returned to his native land, utterly worn out and discouraged, and died there in poverty in 1831.
Mrs. Blennerhasset became a charge on the charity of her friends. After several years she returned to the United States, where she sought to obtain remuneration from Congress for her destroyed property. She would probably have succeeded but for her sudden death. She was buried at the expense of a society of Irish ladies in the city of New York. And thus ended the career of two of the victims of Aaron Burr. They had listened to the siren voice of the tempter, and ruin and despair were their rewards.
HOW THE ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH WAS INVENTED.
The year 1832 is only sixty years ago in time, yet since then there has been a striking development of conveniences, rapidity of travel, and arrangements for the diffusion of intelligence. People then still travelled in great part by aid of horses, the railroad having just begun its marvellous career. News, which now fly over continents and under oceans at lightning speed, then jogged on at stage-coach rates of progress, creeping where they now fly. On the ocean, steam was beginning to battle with wind and wave, but the ocean racer was yet a far-off dream, and mariners still put their trust in sails much more than in the new-born contrivances which were preparing to revolutionize travel. But the wand of the enchanter had been waved; steam had come, and with it the new era of progress had dawned. And another great agent in the development of civilization was about to come. Electricity, which during all previous time had laughed at bonds, was soon to become man's slave, and to be made his purveyor of news. It is the story of this chaining of the lightning, and forcing it to become the swift conveyer of man's sayings and doings, that we have here to tell.
In the far remote period named—if we measure time by deeds, not by years—a packet-ship, the Sully, was making its deliberate way across the Atlantic from Havre to New York. Its passenger list was not large,—the ocean had not yet become a busy highway of the continents,—but among them were some persons in whom we are interested. One of these was a Boston doctor, Charles T. Jackson by name. A second was a New York artist, named Samuel F.B. Morse. The last-named gentleman had been a student at Yale, where he became greatly interested in chemistry and some other sciences. He had studied the art of painting under Benjamin West in London, had practised it in New York, had long been president of the National Academy of the Arts of Design; and was now on his way home after a second period of residence in Europe as a student of art.
An interesting conversation took place one day in the cabin of the Sully. Dr. Jackson spoke of Ampère's experiments with the electro-magnet; of how Franklin had sent electricity through several miles of wire, finding no loss of time between the touch at one end and the spark at the other; and how, in a recent experiment at Paris, a great length of wire had been carried in circles around the walls of a large apartment, an electro-magnet connected with one end, and an electric current manifested at the other, having passed through the wire so quickly as to seem instantaneous. Mr. Morse's taste for science had not died out during his years of devotion to art. He listened with the most earnest attention to the doctor's narrative, and while he did so a large and promising idea came into being in his brain.
"Why," he exclaimed, with much ardor of manner, "if that is so, and the presence of electricity can be made visible in any desired part of the circuit, I see no reason why intelligence should not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity."
"How convenient it would be if we could send news in that manner!" chimed in one of the passengers.
"Why can't we?" exclaimed Morse.
Why not, indeed? The idea probably died in the minds of most of the persons present within five minutes. But Samuel Morse was not one of the men who let ideas die. This one haunted him day and night. He thought of it and dreamed of it. In those days of deliberate travel time hung heavily on the hands of transatlantic passengers, despite the partial diversions of eating and sleeping. The ocean grew monotonous, the vessel monotonous, the passengers monotonous, everything monotonous except that idea, and that grew and spread till its fibres filled every nook and cranny of the inventive brain that had taken it in to bed and board.
Morse had abundance of the native Yankee faculty of invention. To do, had been plain enough from the start. How to do, was the question to be solved. But before the Sully steamed into New York harbor the solution had been reached. In the mind of the inventor, and in graphic words and drawings on paper, were laid down the leading features of that telegraphic method which is used to-day in the great majority of the telegraph lines of the world.
An alphabet of dots and marks, a revolving ribbon of paper to receive this alphabet, a method of enclosing the wires in tubes which were to be buried underground, were the leading features of the device as first thought of. The last conception was quickly followed by that of supporting the wires in the air, but Morse clung to his original fancy for burying them,—a fancy which, it may here be said, is coming again into vogue in these latter days, so far as cities are concerned.
It is not meant to be implied that the idea of sending news by electricity was original with Morse. Others had had it before him. More than half a century before, Dr. Franklin and some friends had stretched a wire across the Schuylkill River and killed a turkey on the other side by electricity. As they ate this turkey, it is quite possible that they imbibed with it the idea of making this marvellous agent do other work than killing fowl for dinner, and from that time on it is likely that many had speculated on the possibility of sending intelligence by wire. Some experiments had been made, and with a certain degree of success, but time still waited for the hour and the man, and the hour and the man met in that fertile October day in the cabin of the Sully.
"If it can go ten miles without stopping, I can make it go round the world," said Morse to his fellow-passengers, his imagination expanding in the ardor of his new idea.
"Well, captain," he said, with a laugh, on leaving the ship, "should you hear of the telegraph one of these days as the wonder of the world, remember that the discovery was made on board the good ship Sully."
The inventor, indeed, was possessed with his new conceptions, mad with an idea, as we may say, and glad to set foot once more on shore, that he might put his plans in practice.
This proved no easy task. He was none too well provided with funds, and the need of making a living was the first necessity that presented itself to him. He experimented as much as he was able, but three years passed before his efforts yielded a satisfactory result. Then, with a circuit of seventeen hundred feet of wire, and a wooden clock, adapted by himself to suit his purpose, he managed to send a message from end to end of this wire. It was not very legible. He could make some sense of it. His friends could not. But all were much interested in the experiment. Many persons witnessed these results, as shown in a large room of the New York University, in 1837. They seemed wonderful; much was said about them; but nobody seemed to believe that the apparatus was more than a curious and unprofitable toy, and capitalists buttoned their pockets when the question of backing up this wild inventor's fancy with money was broached.
But by this time Mr. Morse was a complete captive to his idea. Body and soul he was its slave. The question of daily fare became secondary; that of driving his idea over and through all obstacles became primary. His business as an artist was neglected. He fell into want, into almost abject poverty. For twenty-four hours he went without food. But not for a moment did he lose faith in his invention, or remit his efforts to find a capitalist with sufficient confidence in him to risk his money in it.
Failing with the private rich, he tried to obtain public support, went to Washington in 1838, exhibited his apparatus to interested congressmen, and petitioned for enough money from the public purse to build a line from Baltimore to Washington,—forty miles only. It is traditionally slow work in getting a bill through Congress. Weary with waiting, Morse went to Europe, to try his new seed in that old soil. It failed to germinate abroad as it had at home. Men with money acknowledged that the idea was a scientific success, but could not believe that it might be made a business success.
"What would people care for instantaneous news?" they said. "Some might, it is true, but the great mass would be content to wait for their news in the good old way. To lay miles of wire in the earth is to bury a large treasure in money. We cannot see our way clear to getting it back again out of the pockets of the public. Your wires work, Mr. Morse, but, from a business point of view, there's more cost than profit in the idea."
It may be that these exact words were not spoken, but the answer of Europe was near enough to this to send the inventor home disappointed. He began again his weary waiting on the slowly-revolving wheels of the congressional machinery.
March 3, 1843, came. It was the last day of the session. With the stroke of midnight on that day the existing Congress would die, and a new one be born, with which the weary work of the education of congressmen would have to be gone over again. The inventor had been given half a loaf. His bill had been passed, on February 23, in the House. All day of March 3 he hung about the Senate chamber petitioning, where possible, for the other half of his loaf, faintly hoping that in the last will and testament of the expiring Congress some small legacy might be left for him.
Evening came. The clock-hands circled rapidly round. Pressure of bills and confusion of legislation grew greater minute by minute. The floodgates of the deluge are lifted upon Congress in its last hours, and business pours onward in such an overwhelming fashion that small private petitioners can scarcely hope that the doors of the ark of safety will be opened to their petty claims. Morse hung about the chamber until the midnight hour was almost ready to strike. Every moment confusion seemed to grow "worse confounded." The work of a month of easy-going legislation was being compressed into an hour of haste and excitement. The inventor at last left the Capitol, a saddened and disappointed man, and made his way home, the last shreds of hope seeming to drop from him as he went. He was almost ready to give up the fight, and devote himself for the future solely to brush and pencil.
He slept but poorly that night, and rose the next morning still depressed and gloomy. He appeared at the breakfast-table with a face from which the very color of ambition seemed to have been washed out. As he entered the room he was met by a young lady, Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of the Commissioner of Patents. The smile on her beaming face was in striking contrast to the gloom on his downcast countenance.
"I have come to congratulate you, Mr. Morse," she said, cheerily.
"For what, my dear friend?"
"For the passage of your bill."
"What!" he gazed at her amazement. Could she be attempting a foolish and cruel jest? "The passage of my bill!" he faltered.
"Yes. Do you not know of it?"
"Then you came home too early last night. And I am happy in being the first to bring you the good news. Congress has granted your claim."
It was true: he had been remembered in the will of the expiring Congress. In the last hour of the Senate, amid the roar of the deluge of public business, his small demand had floated into sight, and thirty thousand dollars had been voted him for the construction of an experimental telegraph line.
"You have given me new life, Miss Ellsworth," he said. "As a reward for your good tidings I promise you that when my telegraph line is completed, you shall have the honor of choosing the first message to be sent over it."
The inventor was highly elated, and not without reason. Since the morning of the conversation on the ship Sully, eleven and a half years had passed. They had been years of such struggle against poverty and discouragement as only a man who is the slave of an idea has the hardihood to endure. The annals of invention contain many such instances; more, perhaps, than can be found in any other channel of human effort.
To complete our story we have to bring another inventor upon the stage. This was Ezra Cornell, memorable to-day as the founder of Cornell University, a man at that time unknown, but filled with inventive ideas, and ready to undertake any task that might offer itself, from digging a well to boring a mountain tunnel. One day Mr. Cornell, who was at that time occupying the humble position of traveling agent for a patent plough, called at the office of an agricultural newspaper in Portland, Maine. He found the editor on his knees, a piece of chalk in his hand, and parts of a plough by his side, making drawings on the floor, and trying to explain something to a plough-maker beside him. The editor looked up at his visitor, and an expression of relief replaced the perplexity on his face.
"Cornell," he cried, "you're the very man I want to see. I want a scraper made, and I can't make Robinson here see into my idea. You can understand it, and make it for me, too."
"What is your scraper to do?" asked Cornell.
Mr. Smith, the editor, rose from his knees and explained. A line of telegraph was to be built from Baltimore to Washington. Congress had granted the money. He had taken the contract from Professor Morse to lay the tube in which the wire was to be placed. He had made a bad bargain, he feared. The job was going to cost more than he had calculated, on. He was trying to invent something that would dig the ditch, and fill in the dirt again after the pipe was laid. Cornell listened to him, questioned him, found out the size of the pipe and the depth of the ditch, then sat down and passed some minutes in hard thinking. Finally he said,—
"You are on the wrong tack. You don't want either a ditch or a scraper."
He took a pencil and in a few minutes outlined a machine, which he said would cut a trench two feet deep, lay the pipe at its bottom, and cover the earth in behind it. The motive power need be only a team of oxen or mules. These creatures had but to trudge slowly onward. The machine would do its work faithfully behind them.
"Come, come, this is impossible!" cried editor Smith.
"I'll wager my head it can be done, and I can do it," replied inventor Cornell.
He laid a large premium on his confidence in his idea, promising that if his machine would not work he would ask no money for it. But if it succeeded, he was to be well paid. Smith agreed to these terms, and Cornell went to work.
In ten days the machine was built and ready for trial. A yoke of oxen was attached to it, three men managed it, and in the first five minutes it had laid one hundred feet of pipe and covered it with earth. It was a decided success. Mr. Smith had contracted to lay the pipe for one hundred dollars a mile. A short calculation proved to him that, with the aid of Ezra Cornell's machine, ninety dollars of this would be profit.
But the shrewd editor did not feel like risking Cornell's machine in any hands but those of the inventor. He made him a profitable offer if he would go to Baltimore and take charge of the job himself. It would pay better than selling patent ploughs. Cornell agreed to go.
Reaching Baltimore, he met Professor Morse. They had never met before. Their future lives were to be closely associated. In the conversation that ensued Morse explained what he proposed to do. An electric wire might either be laid underground or carried through the air. He had decided on the underground system, the wire being coated by an insulating compound and drawn through a pipe.
Cornell questioned him closely, got a clear idea of the scheme, saw the pipe that was to be used, and expressed doubts of its working.
"It will work, for it has worked," said Morse. "While I have been fighting Congress, inventors in Europe have been experimenting with the telegraphic idea. Short lines have been laid in England and elsewhere, in which the wire is carried in buried pipes. They had been successful. What can be done in Europe can be done in America."
What Morse said was a fact. While he had been pushing his telegraph conception in America it had been tried successfully in Europe. But the system adopted there, of vibrating needle signals, was so greatly inferior to the Morse system, that it was destined in the future to be almost or quite set aside by the latter. To-day the Morse system and alphabet are used in much the greater number of the telegraph offices of the world.
But to return to our story. Cornell went to work, and the pipe, with its interior wire, was laid with much rapidity. Not many days had elapsed before ten miles were underground, the pipe being neatly covered as laid. It reached from Baltimore nearly to the Relay House. Here it stopped, for something had gone wrong. Morse tested his wire. It would not work. No trace of an electric current could be got through it. The insulation was evidently imperfect. What was to be done? He would be charged with wasting the public money on an impracticable experiment. Yet if he stopped he might expect a roar of newspaper disapprobation of his whole scheme. He was in a serious dilemma. How should he escape?
He sought Cornell, and told him of the failure of his experiments. The work must be stopped. He must try other kinds of pipe and new methods of insulation. But if the public should suspect failure there would be vials of wrath poured on their devoted heads.
"The public shall not suspect failure. Leave it to me," said Cornell.
He turned to his men. The machine was slowly moving forward, drawn by a team of eight mules, depositing pipe as it went. A section had just been laid. Night was at hand.
"Hurry up, boys," cried Cornell, cheerily. "We must lay another length before we quit."
He grasped the handles of his plough-like machine; the drivers stirred up the mules to a lively pace; the contrivance went merrily forward. But the cunning pilot knew what he was about. He steered the buried point of the machine against a rock that just protruded from the earth. In an instant there was a shock, a sound of rending wood and iron, a noise of shouting and trampling; and then the line of mules came to a halt. But behind them were only the ruins of a machine. That moment's work had converted the pipe-laying contrivance into kindling-wood and scrap-iron.
The public condoled with the inventor. It was so unlucky that his promising progress should be stopped by such an accident! As for Morse and his cunning associate, they smiled quietly to themselves as they went on with their experiments. Another kind of pipe was tried. Still the current would not go through. A year passed by. Experiment after experiment had been made. All had proved failures. Twenty-three thousand dollars of the money had been spent. Only seven thousand remained. The inventor was on the verge of despair.
"I am afraid it will never work," said Cornell. "It looks bad for the pipe plan."
"Then let us try the other," said Morse. "If the current won't go underground, it may be coaxed to go above-ground."
The plan suggested was to string the wire upon poles, insulating it from the wood by some non-conductor. A suitable insulator was needed. Cornell devised one; another inventor produced another. Morse approved of the latter, started for New York with it to make arrangements for its manufacture, and on his way met Professor Henry, who knew more about electricity than any other man in the country. Morse showed him the models of the two insulators, and indicated the one he had chosen. Mr. Henry examined them closely.
"You are mistaken," he said. "That one won't work. This is the insulator you need." He pointed to Cornell's device.
In a few words he gave his reasons. Morse saw that he was right. The Cornell insulator was chosen And now the work went forward with great rapidity. The planting of poles, and stringing of wires over a glass insulator at their tops, was an easy and rapid process. And more encouraging still, the thing worked to a charm. There was no trouble now in obtaining signals from the wire.
The first public proof of the system was made on May 11, 1844. On that day the Whig National Convention, then in session at Baltimore, had nominated Henry Clay for the Presidency. The telegraph was being built from the Washington end, and was yet miles distant from Baltimore. The first railroad train from Baltimore carried passengers who were eager to tell the tidings to their Washington friends. But it carried also an agent of Professor Morse, who brought the news to the inventor at the unfinished end of the telegraph. From that point he sent it over the wire to Washington. It was successfully received at the Washington end, and never were human beings more surprised than were the train passengers on alighting at the capital city to find that they brought stale news, and that Clay's nomination was already known throughout Washington. It was the first public proof in America of the powers of the telegraph, and certainly a vital and convincing one.
Before the 24th of May the telegraph line to Baltimore was completed, the tests successfully made, and all was ready for the public exhibition of its marvellous powers, which had been fixed for that day. Miss Ellsworth, in compliance with the inventor's promise, made her more than a year before, was given the privilege of choosing the first message to go over the magic wires. She selected the appropriate message from Scriptures: "What hath God wrought?" With these significant words began the reign of that marvellous invention which has wrought so wonderfully in binding the ends of the earth together and making one family of mankind.
There were difficulties still in the way of the inventor, severe ones. His after-life lay in no bed of roses. His patents were violated, his honor was questioned, even his integrity was assailed; rival companies stole his business, and lawsuits made his life a burden. He won at last, but failed to have the success of his associate, Mr. Cornell, who grew in time very wealthy from his telegraphic enterprises.
As regards the Morse system of telegraphy, it may be said in conclusion that over one hundred devices have been invented to supersede it, but that it holds its own triumphant over them all. The inventor wrought with his brain to good purpose in those days and nights of mental discipline above the Atlantic waves and on board the good ship Sully.
THE MONITOR AND THE MERRIMAC.
On the 9th of March, 1862, for the first time in human history, two iron-clad ships met in battle. The occasion was a memorable one, and its story is well worthy of being retold in our cycle of historic events. For centuries, for thousands of years, in truth, wooden vessels had been struggling for the mastery of the seas. With the first shot fired from the turret of the Monitor at the roof-like sides of the Merrimac, in the early morning of the day named, the long reign of wooden war vessels ended; that of iron monarchs of the deep began. England could no more trust to her "wooden walls" for safety, and all the nations of Europe, when the echo of that shot reached their ears, felt that the ancient era of naval construction was at an end, and that the future navies of the world must ride the waves clad in massive armor of steel.
On the 8th of March, indeed, this had been shown. On that day the Merrimac steamed down from Norfolk harbor into Hampton Roads, where lay a fleet of wooden men-of-war, some of them the largest sailing frigates then in the American navy. On shore soldiers were encamped, here Union, there Confederate; and the inmates of the camps, the garrison of Fortress Monroe, the crews of the ships at anchor under its guns, all gazed with eager eyes over the open waters of the bay, their interest in the coming contest as intense as Roman audience ever displayed for the life and death struggle in the gladiatorial arena. Before them lay a mightier amphitheatre than that of the Coliseum, and before them was to be fought more notable struggle for life and death than ever took place within the walls of mighty Rome.
It was in the afternoon of the 8th, about one o'clock, that the long roll sounded in the camps on shore, and the cry resounded from camp to camp, "The Merrimac is coming!" For several weeks she had been looked for, and preparations made for her reception. The frigates bore a powerful armament of heavy guns, ready to batter her iron-clad sides, and strong hopes were entertained that this modern leviathan would soon cease to trouble the deep. The lesson fixed by fate for that day had not yet been learned.
Down the bay she came, looking at a distance like a flood-borne house, its sides drowned, only its sloping roof visible. The strange-appearing craft moved slowly, accompanied by two small gunboats as tenders. As she came near no signs of life were visible, while her iron sides displayed no evidence of guns. Yet within that threatening monster was a crew of three hundred men, and her armament embraced ten heavy cannon. Hinged lids closed the gun-ports; raised only when the guns were thrust forward for firing. As for the men, they were hidden somewhere under that iron roof; to be felt, but not seen.
What followed has been told in song and story; it need be repeated here but in epitome. The first assault of the Merrimac was upon the Cumberland, a thirty-gun frigate. Again and again the thirty heavy balls of the frigate rattled upon the impenetrable sides of the iron-clad monster, and bounded off uselessly into the deep. The Merrimac came on at full speed, as heedless of this fusillade as though she was being fired at with peas. As she approached, two heavy balls from her guns tore through the timbers of the Cumberland. They were followed by a stunning blow from her iron beak, that opened a gaping wound in the defenceless side of her victim. Then she drew off, leaving her broken beak sticking in the ship's side, and began firing broadsides into the helpless frigate; raking her fore and aft with shell and grape, despite the fact that she had already got her death-blow, and was rapidly filling with water.
Never ship was fought more nobly than the doomed Cumberland. With the decks sinking under their feet, the men fought with unflinching courage. When the bow guns were under water, the rear guns were made to do double duty. The captain was called on to surrender. He sternly refused. The last shot was fired from a gun on a level with the waves. Then, with sails spread and flags flying, the Cumberland went down, carrying with her nearly one hundred of her crew, the remainder swimming ashore. The water was deep, but the topmast of the doomed vessel still rose above the surface, with its pennant waving in the wind. For months afterwards that old flag continued to fly, as if to say, "The Cumberland sinks, but never surrenders."
The Congress, a fifty-gun frigate, was next attacked, and handled so severely that her commander ran her ashore, and soon after hoisted the white flag, destruction appearing inevitable. Boats were sent by the enemy to take possession, but a sharp fire from the shore drove them off.
"Is this in accordance with military law?" asked one of the officers in the camp. "Since the ship has surrendered, has not the enemy the right to take possession of her?"
This legal knot was quickly and decisively cut by General Mansfield, in an unanswerable decision.
"I know the d——d ship has surrendered," he said. "But we haven't." And the firing continued.
The Merrimac, not being able to seize her prize, opened fire with hot shot on the Congress, and quickly set her on fire. Night was now at hand, and the conquering iron-clad drew off. The Congress continued to burn, her loaded guns roaring her requiem one after another, as the fire spread along her decks. About one o'clock her magazine was reached, and she blew up with a tremendous explosion, the shock being so great as to prostrate many of those on the shore.
So ended that momentous day. It had shown one thing conclusively, that "wooden walls" could no longer "rule the wave." Iron had proved its superiority in naval construction. The next day was to behold another novel sight,—the struggle of iron with iron.
Morning came. The atmosphere was hazy. Only as the mist slowly lifted were the gladiators of that liquid arena successively made visible. Here, just above the water, defiantly floated the flag of the sunken Cumberland. There smoked the still-burning hull of the Congress. Here, up the bay, steamed the Merrimac, with two attendants, the Yorktown and the Patrick Henry. Yonder lay the great hull of the steam-frigate Minnesota, which had taken some part in the battle of the day before, but had unfortunately gone ashore on a mud-bank, from which the utmost efforts failed to force her off. Other Union naval vessels were visible in the distance.
The Merrimac made her way towards the Minnesota, as towards a certain prey. Her commander felt confident that an hour or two would enable him to reduce this great vessel to the condition of her recent companions.
Yet an odd sight met his vision. Alongside the Minnesota floated the strangest-looking craft that human eye had ever gazed upon. An insignificant affair it appeared; a "cheese-box on a raft" it was irreverently designated. The deck, a level expanse of iron, came scarcely above the surface. Above it rose a circular turret, capable of being revolved, and with port-holes for two great guns, among the largest up to that time used in naval warfare.
How this odd contrivance came there so opportunely may be briefly told. It was the conception of John Ericsson, the eminent Swedish engineer, and was being rapidly built in New York while the Merrimac was being plated with thick iron bars in Norfolk. A contest for time took place between these two unlike craft. Spies were in both places, to report progress. Fortunately, the Monitor was finished a day or two before her competitor. Immediately she steamed away for Hampton Roads. The passage was a severe one. Three days were consumed, during which the seas swept repeatedly over the low deck, the men being often half suffocated in their confined quarters, the turret alone standing above the water. As they approached Fortress Monroe the sound of cannonading was heard. Tarrying but a few minutes at the fort, the Monitor, as this odd vessel had been named, approached the Minnesota, and reached her side at a late hour of the night.
And now, with the new day, back to the fray came the Merrimac, looking like a giant in comparison with this dwarfish antagonist. As she approached, the little craft glided swiftly in front of her grounded consort, like a new David offering battle to a modern Goliath. As if in disdain of this puny antagonist, the Merrimac began an attack on the Minnesota. But when the two eleven-inch guns of the Monitor opened fire, hurling solid balls of one hundred and sixty-eight pounds' weight against the iron sides of her great opponent, it became at once evident that a new move had opened in the game, and that the Merrimac had no longer the best of the play.
The fight that followed was an extraordinary one, and was gazed on with intense interest by the throng of spectators who crowded the shores of the bay. The Merrimac had no solid shot, as she had expected only wooden antagonists. Her shells were hurled upon the Monitor, but most of them missed their mark, and those that struck failed to do any injury. So small was the object fired at that the great shells, as a rule, whirled uselessly by, and plunged hissing into the waves. The massive solid balls of the Monitor were far more effective. Nearly every one struck the broad sides of the Merrimac, breaking her armor in several places, and shattering the wood backing behind it. Many times the Merrimac tried to ram her small antagonist, and thus to rid herself of this teasing tormentor, but the active "cheese-box" slipped agilely out of her way. The Monitor in turn tried to disable the screw of her opponent, but without success.
Unable to do any harm to her dwarfish foe, the Merrimac now, as if in disdain, turned her attention to the Minnesota, hurling shells through her side. In return the frigate poured into her a whole broadside at close range.
"It was enough," said the captain of the frigate afterwards, "to have blown out of the water any wooden ship in the world." It was wasted on the iron-clad foe.
This change of action did not please the captain of the Monitor. He thrust his vessel quickly between the two combatants, and assailed so sharply that the Merrimac steamed away. The Monitor followed. Suddenly the fugitive vessel turned, and, like an animal moved by an impulse of fury, rushed head on upon her tormentor. Her beak struck the flat iron deck so sharply as to be wrenched by the blow. The great hull seemed for the moment as if it would crowd the low-lying vessel bodily beneath the waves. But no such result followed. The Monitor glided away unharmed. As she went she sent a ball against the Merrimac that seemed to crush in her armored sides.
At ten o'clock the Monitor steamed away, as if in flight. The Merrimac now prepared to pay attention again to the Minnesota, her captain deeming that he had silenced his tormenting foe. He was mistaken. In half an hour the Monitor, having hoisted a new supply of balls into her turret, was back again, and for two hours more the strange battle continued.
Then it came to an end. The Merrimac turned and ran away. She had need to,—those on shore saw that she was sagging down at the stern. The battle was over. The turreted iron-clad had driven her great antagonist from the field, and won the victory. And thus ended one of the strangest and most notable naval combats in history.
During the fight the Monitor had fired forty-one shots, and been struck twenty-two times. Her greatest injury was the shattering of her pilot-house. Her commander, Lieutenant Worden, was knocked senseless and temporarily blinded by the shock. On board the Merrimac two men were killed and nineteen wounded. Her iron prow was gone, her armor broken and damaged, her steam-pipe and smoke-stock riddled, the muzzles of two of her guns shot away, while water made its way into her through more than one crevice.
Back to Norfolk went the injured Merrimac. Here she was put into the dry-dock and hastily repaired. After that had been done, she steamed down to the old fighting-ground on two or three occasions, and challenged her small antagonist. The Monitor did not accept the challenge. If any accident had happened to her the rest of the fleet would have been lost, and it was deemed wisest to hold her back for emergencies.
On the 10th of May the Confederates marched out of Norfolk. On the 11th the Merrimac was blown up, and only her disabled hull remained as a trophy to the victors. As to her condition and fighting powers, one of the engineers who had charge of the repairs upon her said,—
"A shot from the Monitor entered one of her ports, lodged in the backing of the other side, and so shivered her timbers that she never afterwards could be made seaworthy. She could not have been kept afloat for twelve hours, and her officers knew it when they went out and dared the Monitor to fight her. It was a case of pure bluff; we didn't hold a single pair."
The combat we have recorded was perhaps the most important in the history of naval warfare. It marked a turning-point in the construction of the monarchs of the deep, by proving that the future battles of the sea must be fought behind iron walls.
STEALING A LOCOMOTIVE.
On a fine day in April, 1862, a passenger-train drew out from Marietta, Georgia, bound north. Those were not days of abundant passenger travel in the South, except for those who wore the butternut uniform and carried muskets, but this train was well filled, and at Marietta a score of men in civilian dress had boarded the cars. Soldierly-looking fellows these were too, not the kind that were likely to escape long the clutch of the Confederate conscription.
Eight miles north of Marietta the train stopped at the station of Big Shanty, with the welcome announcement of "Ten minutes for breakfast." Out from the train, like bees from the hive, swarmed the hungry passengers, and made their way with all speed to the lunch-counter, followed more deliberately by conductor, engineer, and brakesmen. The demands of the lunch-counter are of universal potency; few have the hardihood to resist them; that particular train was emptied in the first of its ten minutes of grace.
Yet breakfast did not seem to appeal to all upon the train. The Marietta group of civilians left the train with the others, but instead of seeking the refreshment-room, turned their steps towards the locomotive. No one noticed them, though there was a Confederate camp hard by the station, well filled with raw recruits, and hardly a dozen steps from the engine a sentinel steadily walked his beat, rifle on shoulder.
One of the men climbed into the engine. The sentinel paid no heed to him. Another slipped in between two cars, and pulled out a coupling-pin. The sentinel failed to observe him. A group of others climbed quickly into an open box-car. The sentinel looked at them, and walked serenely on. The last man of the party now strode rapidly up the platform, nodded to the one in the locomotive, and swung himself lightly into the cab. The sentinel turned at the end of his beat and walked back, just beginning to wonder what all this meant. Meanwhile famine was being rapidly appeased at the lunch-counter within, and the not very luxurious display of food was vanishing like a field of wheat before an army of locusts.
Suddenly the sharp report of a rifle rung with warning sound through the air. The drowsy tenants of the camp sprang to their feet. The conductor hurried, out to the platform. He had heard something besides the rifle-shot,—the grind of wheels on the track,—and his eyes opened widely in alarm and astonishment as he saw that the train was broken in two, and half of it running away. The passenger-cars stood where he had left them. The locomotive, with three box-cars, was flying rapidly up the track. The sentinel, roused to a sense of the situation only when he saw the train in actual flight, had somewhat late given the alarm.
The conductor's eyes opened very wide. The engine, under a full head of steam, was driving up the road. The locomotive had been stolen! Out from the refreshment-room poured passengers and trainmen, filled with surprise and chagrin. What did it mean? What was to be done? There was no other engine within miles. How should these daring thieves ever be overtaken? Their capture seemed a forlorn hope.
The conductor, wild with alarm and dreading reprimand, started up the track on foot, running as fast as his legs could carry him. A railroad mechanic named Murphy kept him company. To one with a love of humor it would have been an amusing sight to see two men on foot chasing a locomotive, but just then Conductor Fuller was not troubled about the opinion of men of humor; his one thought was to overtake his runaway locomotive, and he would have crawled after it if no better way appeared.
Fortune comes to him who pursues her, not to him who waits her coming. The brace of locomotive chasers had not run down their strength before they were lucky enough to spy a hand-car, standing beside the track. Here was a gleam of hope. In a minute or two they had lifted it upon the rails. Springing within it, they applied themselves to the levers, and away they went at a more promising rate of speed.
For a mile or two all went on swimmingly. Then sudden disaster came. The car struck a broken rail and was hurled headlong from the track, sending its occupants flying into the muddy roadside ditch. This was enough to discourage anybody with less go in him than Conductor Fuller. But in a moment he was on his feet, trying his limbs. No bones were broken. A mud-bath was the full measure of his misfortune. Murphy was equally sound. The car was none the worse. With scarce a minute's delay they sprang to it, righted it, and with some strong tugging lifted it upon the track. With very few minutes' delay they were away again, somewhat more cautiously than before, and sharply on the lookout for further gifts of broken rails from the runaways ahead.
Leaving the pair of pursuers to their seemingly hopeless task, we must return to the score of locomotive pirates. These men who had done such strange work at Big Shanty were by no means what they seemed. They were clad in the butternut gray and the slouch hats of the Confederacy, but their ordinary attire was the blue uniform of the Union army. They were, in truth, a party of daring scouts, who had stealthily made their way south in disguise, their purpose being to steal a train, burn the bridges behind them as they fled, and thus make useless for a time the only railroad by which the Confederate authorities could send troops to Chattanooga, then threatened by the Union forces under General Mitchel.
They had been remarkably successful, as we have seen, at the beginning of their enterprise. Making their way, by devious routes, to Marietta, they had gathered at that place, boarded a train, and started north. The rush of passengers and trainmen into the refreshment-room at Big Shanty had been calculated upon. The presence of a Confederate camp at that out-of-the-way station had not been. It might have proved fatal to their enterprise but for the stolid stupidity of the sentinel. But that peril had been met and passed. They were safely away. Exhilaration filled their souls. All was safe behind; all seemed safe ahead.
True, there was one peril close at hand. Beside the track ran that slender wire, a resting-place, it seemed, for passing birds. In that outstretching wire their most imminent danger lurked. Fast as they might go, it could flash the news of their exploit a thousand-fold faster. The flight of the lightning news-bearer must be stopped. The train was halted a mile or two from the town, the pole climbed, the wire cut. Danger from this source was at an end. Halting long enough to tear up the rail to whose absence Conductor Fuller owed his somersault, they sprang to their places again and the runaway train sped blithely on.
Several times they stopped for wood and water. When any questions were asked they were answered by the companion of the engineer, James J. Andrews by name, a Union spy by profession, the originator of and leader in this daring enterprise.
"I am taking a train-load of powder to General Beauregard," was his stereotyped answer, as he pointed to the closed box-cars behind him, within one of which lay concealed the bulk of his confederates.
For some time they went swimmingly on, without delay or difficulty. Yet trouble was in the air, ill-fortune awaiting them in front, pursuing them from behind. They had, by the fatality of unlucky chance, chosen the wrong day for their work. Yesterday they would have found a clear track; to-day the road ahead was blocked with trains, hurrying swiftly southward.
At Kingston, thirty miles from Big Shanty, this trouble came upon them in a rush. A local train was to pass at that point. Andrews was well aware of this, and drew his train upon the siding to let it pass, expecting when it had gone to find the road clear to Chattanooga. The train came in on time, halted, and on its last car was seen waving the red danger-flag, the railroad signal that another train was following close behind. Andrews looked at this with no friendly eyes.
"How comes it," he asked the conductor, somewhat sharply, "that the road is blocked in this manner, when I have orders to take this powder to Beauregard without delay?"
"Mitchel has taken Huntsville," answered the conductor. "They say he is coming to Chattanooga. We are getting everything out of there as quickly as we can."
This looked serious. How many trains might there be in the rear? A badly-blocked road meant ruin to their enterprise and possibly death to themselves. They waited with intense anxiety, each minute of delay seeming to stretch almost into an hour. The next train came. They watched it pass with hopeful eyes. Ah! upon its rear floated that fatal red flag, the crimson emblem of death, as it seemed to them.
The next train came. Still the red flag! Still hope deferred, danger coming near! An hour of frightful anxiety passed. It was torture to those upon the engine. It was agony to those in the box-car, who knew nothing of the cause of this frightful delay, and to whom life itself must have seemed to have stopped.
Andrews had to cast off every appearance of anxiety and to feign easy indifference, for the station people were showing somewhat too much curiosity about this train, whose crew were strangers, and concerning which the telegraph had sent them no advices. The practised spy was full of resources, but their searching questions taxed him for satisfying answers.
At length, after more than an hour's delay, the blockade was broken. A train passed destitute of the red flag. The relief was great. They had waited at that station like men with the hangman's rope upon their necks. Now the track to Chattanooga was clear and success seemed assured. The train began to move. It slowly gathered speed. Up went hope in the hearts of those upon the engine. New life flowed in the veins of those within the car as they heard the grinding sound on the rails beneath them, and felt the motion of their prison upon wheels.
Yet perilous possibilities were in their rear. Their delay at Kingston had been threateningly long. They must guard against pursuit. Stopping the train, and seizing their tools, they sprang out to tear up a rail. Suddenly, as they worked at this, a sound met their ears that almost caused them to drop their tools in dismay. It was the far-off bugle blast of a locomotive whistle sounding from the direction from which they had come.
The Confederates, then, were on their track! They had failed to distance pursuit! The delay at Kingston had given their enemies the needed time! Nervous with alarm, they worked like giants. The rail yielded slightly. It bent. A few minutes more and it would be torn from its fastenings. A few minutes! Not a minute could be spared for this vital work. For just then the whistle shrieked again, now close at hand, the rattle of wheels could be heard in the distance, and round a curve behind them came a locomotive speeding up the road with what seemed frantic haste, and filled with armed men, who shouted in triumph at sight of the dismayed fugitives. It was too late to finish their work. Nothing remained to the raiders but to spring to their engine and cars and fly for life.
We have seen the beginnings of this pursuit. We must now go back to trace the doings of the forlorn-hope of pursuers, Fuller and his companion. After their adventure with the broken rail, that brace of worthies pushed on in their hand-car till the station of Etowah was reached. Here, by good fortune for them, an engine stood with steam up, ready for the road. Fuller viewed it with eyes of hope. The game, he felt, was in his hands. For he knew, what the raiders had not known, that the road in advance would be blocked that day with special trains, and on a one-tracked road special trains are an impassable obstacle.
There were soldiers at Etowah. Fuller's story of the daring trick of the Yankees gave him plenty of volunteers. He filled the locomotive and its cab with eager allies, and drove on at the greatest speed of which his engine was capable, hoping to overtake the fugitives at Kingston. He reached that place; they were not there. Hurried questions taught him that they were barely gone, with very few minutes the start. Away he went again, sending his alarm whistle far down the road in his front.
The race was now one for life or death. Andrews and his men well knew what would be their fate if they were caught. They dared not stop and fight; their only arms were revolvers, and they were outnumbered by their armed foes. Their only hope lay in flight. Away they went; on came their shouting pursuers. Over the track thundered both locomotives at frightful speed. The partly-raised rail proved no obstacle to the pursuers. They were over it with a jolt and a jump, and away on the smooth track ahead.
If the fugitives could have halted long enough to tear up a rail or burn a bridge all might have been well; but that would take more minutes than they had to spare. A shrewd idea came into Andrews's fertile mind. The three box-cars behind him were a useless load. One of them might be usefully spared. The rear car of the train was uncoupled and left behind, with the hope that the pursuers might unwittingly dash into it and be wrecked. On they went, leaving a car standing on the track.
Fortunately for the Confederates, they saw the obstruction in time to prepare for it. Their engine was slowed up, and the car caught and pushed before it. Andrews tried the device a second time, another car being dropped. It was picked up by Fuller in the same manner as before. On reaching a siding at Resaca station, the Confederate engineer switched off these supernumerary cars, and pushed ahead again relieved of his load.
Not far beyond was a bridge which the raiders had intended to destroy. It could not be done. The pursuit was too sharp. They dashed on over its creaking planks, having time for nothing but headlong flight. The race was a remarkably even one, the engines proving to be closely matched in speed. Fuller, despite all his efforts, failed to overtake the fugitives, but he was resolved to push them so sharply that they would have no time to damage track or bridges, or take on wood or water. In the latter necessity Andrews got the better of him. His men knocked out the end of the one box-car they had left, and dropped the ties with which it was loaded one by one upon the track, delaying the pursuers sufficiently to enable them to take on some fresh fuel.
Onward again went the chase, mile after mile, over a rough track, at a frightful speed, the people along the route looking on with wondering eyes. It seemed marvellous that the engines could cling to those unevenly-laid rails. The escape of the pursuers, was, indeed, almost miraculous, for Andrews found time to stop just beyond a curve and lay a loose rail on the track, and Fuller's engine ran upon this at full speed. There came a terrific jolt; the engine seemed to leap into the air; but by a marvellous chance it lighted again on the rails and ran on unharmed. Had it missed the track not a man on it would have lived to tell the tale.
The position of the fugitives was now desperate. Some of them wished to leave the engine, reverse its valves, and send it back at full speed to meet the foe. Others suggested that they should face the enemy and fight for their lives. Andrews was not ready to accept either of these plans. He decided to go on and do the work for which they had set out, if possible. He knew the road. There was a covered bridge a few miles ahead. If they could burn this all would be well. He determined to try.
There was one box-car left. That might serve his purpose. He had his men pile wood on its floor, and light this with coals from the engine. In a minute it was burning. The draught made by the rushing train soon blew the fire into a roaring flame. By the time the bridge was reached the whole car was in a fierce blaze.
Andrews slowed up and uncoupled this blazing car on the bridge. He stopped the engine just beyond, and he and his companions watched it hopefully. The flames curled fiercely upward. Dense smoke poured out at each end of the covered bridge. Success seemed to be at length in their hands. But the flames failed to do their work. The roof of the bridge had been soaked by recent rains and resisted the blazing heat. The roaring flames were uselessly licking the wet timbers when the pursuing engine came dashing up. Fuller did not hesitate for a minute. He had the heart of a soldier in the frame of a conductor. Into the blinding smoke his engine was daringly driven, and in a minute it had caught the blazing car and was pushing it forward. A minute more and it rolled into the open air, and the bridge was saved. Its timbers had stubbornly refused to burn.
This ended the hopes of the fugitives. They had exhausted their means of checking pursuit. Their wood had been all consumed in this fruitless effort; their steam was rapidly going down; they had played their last card and lost the game. The men sprang from the slowed-up engine. The engineer reversed its valves and followed them. Into the fields they rushed and ran in all directions, their only hope being now in their own powers of flight. As they sped away the engines met, but without damage. The steam in the stolen engine had so fallen that it was incapable of doing harm. The other engine had been stopped, and the pursuers were springing agilely to the ground, and hurrying into the fields in hot chase.
Pursuit through field and forest was as keen and unrelenting as it had been over iron rails. The Union lines were not far distant, yet not a man of the fugitives succeeded in reaching them. The alarm spread with great rapidity; the whole surrounding country was up in pursuit; and before that day ended several of the daring raiders were prisoners in Confederate hands. The others buried themselves in woods and swamps, lived on roots and berries, and ventured from their hiding-places only at night. Yet they were hunted with unwearying persistence, and by the end of a week all but two had been captured. These two had so successfully eluded pursuit that they fancied themselves out of danger, and became somewhat careless in consequence. As a result, in a few days more they, too, fell into the hands of their foes.
A court-martial was convened. The attempt had been so daring, and so nearly successful, the injury intended so great, and the whole affair so threatening, that the Confederate military authorities could not think of leniency. Andrews and seven of his companions were condemned to death and hung. Their graves may be seen to-day in the Soldiers' Cemetery at Chattanooga, monuments to one of the most daring and reckless enterprises in the history of the Civil War. The others were imprisoned.
AN ESCAPE FROM LIBBY PRISON.
During the winter of 1864 certain highly interesting operations were going on in the underground region of the noted Libby Prison, at Richmond, Virginia, at that time the by no means luxurious or agreeable home of some eleven hundred officers of the United States army. These operations, by means of which numerous captives were to make their way to fresh air and freedom, are abundantly worthy of being told, as an evidence of the ingenuity of man and the amount of labor and hardship he is willing to give in exchange for liberty.
Libby Prison was certainly not of palatial dimensions or accommodations. Before the war it had been a tobacco warehouse, situated close by the Lynchburg Canal, and a short distance from James River, whose waters ran by in full view of the longing eyes which gazed upon them from the close-barred prison windows. For the story which we have to tell some description of the make-up of this place of detention is a necessary preliminary. The building was three stories high in front, and four in the rear, its dimensions being one hundred and sixty-five by one hundred and five feet. It was strongly built, of brick and stone, while very thick partition walls of brick divided it internally into three sections. Each section had its cellar, one of them, with which we are particularly concerned, being unoccupied. The others were occasionally used. The first floor had three apartments, one used by the prison authorities, one as a hospital, while the middle one served the prisoners as a cooking-and dining-room. The second and third stories were the quarters of the prisoners, where, in seven rooms, more than eleven hundred United States officers ate, slept, and did all the duties of life for many months. It may even be said that they enjoyed some of the pleasures of life, for though the discipline was harsh and the food scanty and poor, man's love of enjoyment is not easily to be repressed, and what with occasional minstrel and theatrical entertainments among themselves, fencing exercises with wooden swords, games of cards, checkers and chess, study of languages, military tactics, etc., and other entertainments and pastimes, they managed somewhat to overcome the monotony of prison life and the hardship of prison discipline.
As regards chances of escape, they were very poor. A strong guard constantly surrounded the prison, and such attempts at escape as were made were rarely successful. The only one that had measurable success is that which we have to describe, in which a body of prisoners played the rôle of rats or beavers, and got out of Libby by an underground route.
The tunnel enterprise was the project of a few choice spirits only. It was too perilous to confide to many. The disused cellar was chosen as the avenue of escape. It was never visited, and might be used with safety. But how to get there was a difficult question to solve. And how to hide the fact that men were absent from roll-call was another. The latter difficulty was got over by several expedients. If Lieutenant Jones, for instance, was at work in the tunnel, Captain Smith would answer for him; then, when Smith was pronounced absent, he would step forward and declare that he had answered to his own name. His presence served as sure proof that he had not been absent. Other and still more ingenious methods were at times adopted, and the authorities were completely hoodwinked in this particular.
And now as regards the difficulty of entering the cellar. The cooking-room on the first floor contained, in its thick brick and stone partition, a fireplace, in front of which, partly masking it, three stoves were placed for the cooking operations of the prisoners. The floor of this fireplace was chosen as the initial point of excavation, from which a sloping passage might be made, under the floor of the next room, into the disused cellar.
Captain Hamilton, a stonemason by trade, began the excavation, removing the first brick and stone from the fireplace. It need scarcely be said that this work was done only at night, and with as little noise as possible. By day the opening was carefully closed, the bricks and stones being so ingeniously replaced that no signs of disturbance appeared. Thick as the wall was, a passage was quickly made through it, presenting an easy route to the cellar below. As for this cellar, it was dark, rarely or never opened, and contained only some old boxes, boards, straw, and the like débris, and an abundance of rats.
The cellar reached, and the route to it carefully concealed by day alike from the prison authorities and the prisoners not in the secret, the question of the tunnel followed. There were two possible routes. One of these led southward, towards the canal; the other eastward, under a narrow street, on the opposite side of which was a yard and stable, with a high board fence on the street side. The opposite side of the yard faced a warehouse.
A tunnel was commenced towards the canal. But it quickly struck a sewer whose odor was more than the workers could endure. It was abandoned, and a tunnel begun eastward, the most difficult part of it being to make an opening in the thick foundation wall. The hope of liberty, however, will bear man up through the most exhausting labors, and this fatiguing task was at length successfully performed. The remainder of the excavation was through earth, and was easier, though much the reverse of easy.
A few words will tell what was to be done, and how it was accomplished. The tunnel began near the floor of the cellar, eight or nine feet underground. Its length would need to be seventy or eighty feet. Only one man could work in it at a time, and this he had to do while crawling forward with his face downward, and with such tools as pocket-knives, small hatchets, sharp pieces of wood, and a broken fire-shovel. After the opening had made some progress two men could work in it, one digging, the other carrying back the earth, for which work frying-pans were brought into use.
Another point of some little importance was the disposal of the dirt. This was carelessly scattered over the cellar floor, with straw thrown over it, and some of it placed in boxes and barrels. The whole amount was not great, and not likely to be noticed if the officials should happen to enter the cellar, which had not been cleaned for years.
The work here described was begun in the latter part of January, 1864. So diligently was it prosecuted that the tunnel was pronounced finished on the night of February 8. During this period only two or three men could work at once. It was, indeed, frightfully exhausting labor, the confinement of the narrow passage and the difficulty of breathing in its foul air being not the least of the hardships to be endured. Work was prosecuted during part of the period night and day, the absence of a man from roll-call being concealed in various ways, as already mentioned.
The secret had been kept well, but not too well. Some workers had divulged it to their friends. Others of the prisoners had discovered that something was going on, and had been let into the affair on a pledge of secrecy. By the time the tunnel was completed its existence was known to something more than one hundred out of the eleven hundred prisoners. These were all placed on their word of honor to give no hint of the enterprise.
The night of February 8 was signalized by the opening of the outward end of the tunnel. A passage was dug upwards, and an opening made sufficiently large to permit the worker to take a look outward into the midnight air. What he saw gave him a frightful shock. The distance had been miscalculated; the opening was on the wrong side of the fence; there in full sight was one of the sentinels, pacing his beat with loaded musket.
Here was a situation that needed nerve and alertness. The protruded head was quickly withdrawn, and the earth which had been removed rapidly replaced, it being packed as tightly as possible from below to prevent its falling in. Word of the perilous error was sent back, and as the whisper passed from ear to ear every heart throbbed with a nervous shock. They had barely escaped losing the benefit of their weeks of exhausting labor.
The opening had been at the outward edge of the fence. The tunnel was now run two feet farther, and an opening again made. It was now on the inside of the fence, and in a safe place, for the stable adjoining the yard was disused.
The evening of the 9th was that fixed upon for flight. At a little after nine o'clock the exodus began. Those in the secret made their way to the cooking-room. The fireplace passage was opened, and such was the haste to avail themselves of it that the men almost struggled for precedence. Rules had been made, but no order could be kept. Silence reigned, however. No voice was raised above a whisper; every footstep was made as light as possible. It had been decided that fifty men should leave that night, and fifty the next, the prison clerk being deceived at roll-call by an artifice which had been practised more than once before, that of men leaving one end of the line and regaining the other unseen, to answer to the names of others. But the risk of discovery was too great. Every man wanted to be among the first. It proved impossible to restrain the anxious prisoners.
Down into the cellar passed a long line of descending men, dropping to its floor in rapid succession. Around the mouth of the tunnel a dense crowd gathered. But here only one man was allowed to pass at a time, on account of the bad air. The noise made in passing through told those behind how long the tunnel was occupied. The instant the noise ceased another plunged in.
The passage was no easy one. The tunnel was little more than wide enough to contain a man's body, and progress had to be made by kicking and scrambling forward. Two or three minutes, however, sufficed for the journey, the one who had last emerged helping his companion to the upper air.
Here was a carriage-way fronting southward, and leading into Canal Street, which ran along the Lynchburg Canal. Four guards paced along the south side of the prison within plain view. The risk was great. On emerging from the carriage-way the fugitives would be in full sight of these guards. But the risk must be taken. Watching the street for a moment in which it was comparatively clear, one by one they passed out and walked deliberately along the canal, in the direction away from the prison, like ordinary passers. This dangerous space was crossed with remarkable good fortune. If the guards noticed them at all, they must have taken them for ordinary citizens. The unusual number of passers, on that retired street, nearly the whole night long, does not seem to have attracted the attention of any of the guards. One hundred and nine escaped in all, yet not a man of them was challenged.
Canal Street once left, the first breath of relief was drawn. Those who early escaped soon found themselves in well-lighted streets, many of the shops still open, and numerous citizens and soldiers promenading. No one took notice of the fugitives, who strolled along the streets in small groups, laughing and talking on indifferent subjects, and, with no sign of haste, directing their steps towards the outskirts of the city.
As to what followed, there are almost as many adventures to relate as there were persons escaped. We shall confine ourselves to the narrative of one of them, Captain Earle, from whose story the particulars above given have been condensed. With him was one companion, Captain Charles E. Rowan.
They had provided themselves with a small quantity of food, but had no definite plans. It quickly occurred to them, however, that they had better make their way down the peninsula, towards Fortress Monroe, as the nearest locality where Union troops could probably be found. With the polar star for guide they set out, having left the perilous precincts of the city in their rear.
To travel by night, to hide by day, was their chosen plan. The end of their first night's journey found them in the vicinity of a swamp, some five miles from Richmond. Here, hid behind a screen of brushwood and evergreen bushes, they spent the long and anxious day, within hearing of the noises of the camps around the city, but without discovery.
A day had made a gratifying change in their situation. The day before they had been prisoners, with no apparent prospect of freedom for months. This day they were free, even if in a far from agreeable situation. Liberty solaced them for the weariness of that day's anxious vigil. How long they would remain free was the burning question of the hour. They were surrounded with perils. Could they hope to pass through them in safety? This only the event could tell.
The wintry cold was one of their difficulties. Their meagre stock of food was another. They divided this up into very small rations, with the hope that they could make it last for six days. The second night they moved in an easterly direction, and near morning ventured to approach a small cabin, which proved to be, as they had hoped, occupied by a negro. He gave them directions as to their course, and all the food he had,—a small piece of pone bread.
That day they suffered much, in their hiding place, from the cold. That night, avoiding roads, they made their way through swamp and thicket, finding themselves in the morning chilled with wet clothing and torn by briers. Near morning of the third night they reached what seemed to be a swamp. They concluded to rest on its borders till dawn, and then pass through it. Sleep came to them here. When they wakened it was full day, and an agreeable surprise greeted their eyes. What they supposed to be a swamp proved to be the Chickahominy River. The prospect of meeting this stream had given them much mental anxiety. Captain Rowan could not swim. Captain Earle had no desire to do so, in February. How it was to be crossed had troubled them greatly. As they opened their eyes now, the problem was solved. There lay a fallen tree, neatly bridging the narrow stream! In less than five minutes they were safely on the other side of this dreaded obstacle, and with far better prospects than they had dreamed of a few hours before.
By the end of the fourth night they found that their six days' stock of food was exhausted, and their strength almost gone. Their only hope of food now lay in confiscating a chicken from the vicinity of some farm-house, and eating it raw. For this purpose they cautiously approached the out-buildings of a farm-house. Here, while secretly scouting for the desired chicken, they were discovered by a negro. They had no need to fear him. There is no case on record of a negro betraying an escaped prisoner into the hands of the enemy. The sympathy of these dusky captives to slavery could be safely counted upon, and many a fugitive owed to them his safety from recapture.
"Glad to see you, gemmen," he cried, courteously. "You's Yankee off'cers, 'scaped from prison. It's all right wid me, gemmen. Come dis way; you's got to be looked arter."
The kindly sympathy of this dusky friend was so evident that they followed him without a thought of treachery. He led them to his cabin, where a blazing fire in an old-fashioned fireplace quickly restored that sense of the comfort of warmth which they had for days lost.
Several colored people were present, who surrounded and questioned them with the warmest sympathy. A guard was posted to prevent surprise, and the old mammy of the family hastened to prepare what seemed to them the most delicious meal they had ever tasted. The corn-bread pones vanished down their throats as fast as she could take them from the hot ashes in which they were baked. The cabbage, fried in a skillet, tasted like ambrosia. The meat no game could surpass in flavor, and an additional zest was added to it by their fancy that it had been furnished by the slave-holder's pantry. They had partaken of many sumptuous meals, but nothing to equal that set before them on the hospitable table of their dusky hosts. They were new men, with new courage, when they at length set out again, fully informed as to their route.
On they went through the cold, following the difficult paths which they chose in preference to travelled roads, while the dogs,—for the peninsula seemed to them to be principally peopled by dogs,—by their unceasing chorus of barks, right, left, and in front, kept them in a state of nervous exasperation. Many times did they turn from their course through fear of detection from these vociferous guardians of the night.
On the fifth day they were visited, in their place of concealment, by a snow-storm. Their suffering from cold now became so intolerable that they could not remain at rest, and they resumed their route about four o'clock. Two hours they went, and then, to their complete discouragement, found themselves back again at their starting-point, and cold, wet, tired, and hungry into the bargain.
As they stood there, expressing in very plain language their opinion of Dame Fortune, a covered cart approached. Taking it for granted that the driver was a negro, they hailed him; but to their dismay found that they had halted a white man.
There was but one thing to do. They told him that they were Confederate scouts, and asked him for information about the Yankee outposts. A short conference ensued, which ended in their discovering that they were talking to a man of strong Union sympathies, and as likely to befriend them as the negroes. This was a hopeful discovery. They now freely told him who they really were, and in return received valuable information as to roads, being told in addition where they could find a negro family who would give them food.
"If you can keep out of the way of rebel scouts for twenty-four hours more," he continued, "you will very likely come across some of your own troops. But you are on very dangerous ground. Here is the scouting-place of both armies, and guerillas and bushwackers are everywhere."
Thanking him, and with hearts filled with new hope, the wanderers started forward. At midnight they reached the negro cabin to which they had been directed, where, to their great relief, they obtained a substantial meal of corn-bread, pork, and rye coffee, and, what was quite as acceptable, a warming from a bright fire. The friendly black warned them, as their late informant had done, of the danger of the ground they had yet to traverse.
These warnings caused them to proceed very cautiously, after leaving the hospitable cabin of their sable entertainer. But they had not gone far before they met an unexpected and vexatious obstacle, a river or creek, the Diascon, as the negroes named it. They crossed it at length, but not without great trouble and serious loss of time.
It was now the sixth night since their escape. Hitherto Captain Rowan had been a model of strength, perseverance, and judgment. Now these qualities seemed suddenly to leave him. The terrible strain, mental and physical, to which they had been exposed, and their sufferings from cold, fatigue, and hunger, produced their effect at last, and he became physically prostrate and mentally indifferent. Captain Earle, who retained his energies, had great difficulty in persuading him to proceed, and before daybreak was obliged to let him stop and rest.
When dawn appeared they found themselves in an open country, affording poor opportunities for concealment. They felt sure, however, that they must be near the Union outposts. With these considerations they concluded to make their journey now by day, and in a road. In truth, Rowan had lost all care as to how they went and what became of them, and his companion's energy and decision were on the decline.
Onward they trudged, mile by mile, with keen enjoyment of the highway after their bitter experience of by-ways, and somewhat heedless of consequences, though glad to perceive that no human form was in sight. Nine o'clock came. Before them the road curved sharply. They walked steadily onward. But as they neared the curve there came to their ears a most disquieting sound, the noise of hoofs on the hard road-bed, the rattle of cavalry equipments. A force of horsemen was evidently approaching. Were they Union or Confederate? Was freedom or renewed captivity before them? They looked quickly to right and left. No opportunity for concealment appeared. Nor was there a moment's time for flight, for the sound of hoof-beats was immediately followed by the appearance of mounted and uniformed men, a cavalry squad, still some hundreds of yards away, but riding towards them at full gallop.
The eyes of the fugitives looked wistfully and anxiously towards them. Thank Heaven! they wore the Union blue! Those guidons which rose high in the air bore the Union colors! They were United States cavalry! Safety was assured!
In a minute more the rattling hoofs were close at hand, the band of rescuers were around them; eager questions, glad answers, heartfelt congratulations filled the air. In a very few minutes the fugitives were mounted and riding gladly back in the midst of their new friends, to be banqueted, feasted, and fêted, until every vestige of their hardships had been worn away by human kindness.
As to their feelings at this happy termination of their heroic struggle for freedom, words cannot express them. The weary days, the bitter disappointments, the harsh treatment of prison life; the days and nights of cold, hunger, and peril, wanderings through swamps and thorny thickets, hopes and despairs of flight; all were at an end, and now only friends surrounded them, only congratulating and commiserating voices met their ears. It was a feast of joy never to be forgotten.
A few words will finish. One hundred and nine men had escaped. Of these, fifty-five reached the Union lines. Fifty-four were captured and taken back to prison. Some of the escaped officers, more swift in motion or fortunate in route than the others, reached the Union lines on their third day from Richmond. Their report that others were on the road bore good fruit. General Butler, then in command at Fortress Monroe, sent out, on alternate days, the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry and the First New York Rifles to patrol the country in search of the escaping prisoners, with tall guidons to attract their attention if they should be in concealment. Many of the fugitives were thus rescued. The adventures of two, as above given, must serve for example of them all.
THE SINKING OF THE ALBEMARLE.
Naval operations in the American Civil War were particularly distinguished by the active building of iron-clads. The North built and employed them with marked success; the South, with marked failure. With praiseworthy energy and at great cost the Confederates produced iron-clad vessels of war in Norfolk Harbor, on Roanoke River, in the Mississippi, and elsewhere, yet, with the exception of the one day's raid of ruin of the Merrimac in Hampton Roads, their labor was almost in vain, their expensive war-vessels went down in the engulfing waters or went up in flame and smoke. Their efforts in this direction were simply conspicuous examples of non-success. We propose here to tell the tale of disaster of the Albemarle, one of these iron-clads, and the great deed of heroism which brought her career to an untimely end.
The Albemarle was built on the Roanoke River in 1863. She was of light draught, but of considerable length and width, her hull above the water-line being covered with four inches of iron bars. Such an armor would be like paper against the great guns of to-day; then it served its purpose well. The competition for effectiveness between rifled cannon and armor plates had not yet begun.
April, 1864, had arrived before this formidable opponent of the Union blockading fleet was ready for service. Then, one misty morning, down the river she went, on her mission of death and destruction. The opening of her career was promising. She attacked the Union gunboats and fort at Plymouth, near the mouth of the river, captured one of the boats, sunk another, and aided in forcing the fort to surrender, its garrison being taken prisoners. It had been assailed at the same time by a strong land force, and the next day Plymouth itself was taken by the Confederate troops, with a heavy Union loss in men and material.
So far favoring fortune had attended the Albemarle. Enlivened with success, on a morning in May she steamed out into the deeper waters of Albemarle Bay, confident on playing the same rôle with the wooden vessels there that the Merrimac had played in Hampton Roads. She failed in this laudable enterprise. The Albemarle was not so formidable as the Merrimac. The steamers of war which she was to meet were more formidable than the Congress and the Cumberland. She first encountered the Sassacus, a vessel of powerful armament. More agile than the iron-clad, the Sassacus played round her, exchanging shots, and seeking a vulnerable point. At length, under a full head of steam, she dashed on the monster, striking a blow which drove it bodily half under the water. Recovering from the blow, the two vessels, almost side by side, hurled 100-pound balls upon each other. Most of those of the Sassacus bounded from the mailed sides of her antagonist, like hail from stone walls. But three of them entered a port, and did sad work within. In reply the Albemarle sent one of her great bolts through a boiler of the Sassacus, filling her with steam. So far the iron-clad had the best of the game; but others of the fleet were now near at hand; the balls which had entered her port had done serious injury; she was no longer in fighting trim; she turned and made the best of her way back to Plymouth, firing as she fled.
This ended her career for that summer. But repairs were made, and she was put in fighting trim again; another gunboat was building as a consort; unless something were quickly done she would soon be in Albemarle Sound again, with possibly a different tale to tell from that of her first assault.
At this critical juncture Lieutenant William B. Cushing, a very young but a very bold officer, proposed a daring plan; no less a one than to attack the Albemarle at her wharf, explode a torpedo under her hull, and send her, if possible, to the bottom of the Roanoke. He proposed to use a swift steam-launch, run up the stream at night, and assail the iron-clad where she lay in fancied security. From the bow of the launch protruded a long spar, loaded at its end with a 100-pound dynamite cartridge. The spar could be lowered by pulling one rope, the cartridge detached by pulling another, and the dynamite exploded by pulling a third.
The proposed exploit was a highly perilous one. The Albemarle lay eight miles up the river. Plymouth was garrisoned by several thousand soldiers, and the banks of the stream were patrolled by sentinels all the way down to the bay. It was more than likely that none of the adventurers would live to return. Yet Cushing and the crew of seven daring men whom he selected were willing to take the risk, and the naval commanders, to whom success in such an enterprise promised the most valuable results, agreed to let them go.
It was a dark night in which the expedition set out,—that of October 27, 1864. Up the stream headed the little launch, with her crew of seven, and towing two boats, each containing ten men, armed with cutlasses, grenades, and revolvers. Silently they proceeded, keeping to mid-stream, so as to avoid alarming the sentinels on the banks. In this success was attained; the eight miles were passed and the front of the town reached without the Confederates having an inkling of the disaster in store for them.
Reaching Plymouth, Lieutenant Cushing came to a quick decision as to what had best be done. He knew the town well. No alarm had been given. He might land a party and take the Albemarle by surprise. He could land his men on the lower wharf, lead them stealthily through the dark streets, leap with them upon the iron-clad, surprise the officers and crew, and capture the vessel at her moorings. It was an enterprise of frightful risk, yet Cushing was just the man for it, and his men would follow wherever he should lead. A low order was given. The launch turned and glided almost noiselessly towards the wharf. But she was now only a short distance from the Albemarle, on whose deck the lookout was wide-awake.
"What boat is that?" came a loud hail.
No reply. The launch glided on.
"What boat is that?" came the hail again, sharper than before.
"Cast off!" said Cushing, in a low tone. The two boats were loosened and drifted away. The plan of surprise was at an end. The vigilance of the lookout had made it impossible. That of destruction remained. The launch was turned again, and moved once more towards the Albemarle.
They were quickly so close that the hull of the iron-clad loomed darkly above them. Upon that vessel all was commotion. The unanswered hail was followed by the springing of rattles, ringing of bells, running of men, and shouting of orders. Muskets were fired at random at the dimly seen black object. Bullets whizzed past the devoted crew. Lights began to flash here and there. A minute before all had been rest and silence; now all was noise, alarm, and commotion.
All this did not disconcert the intrepid commander of the launch. His main concern at that moment was an unexpected obstacle he had discovered, and which threatened to defeat his enterprise. A raft of logs had been placed around the iron-clad to protect her from any such attack. There she lay, not fifty feet away; but this seemingly insuperable obstacle intervened.
What was to be done? In emergencies like that men think quickly and to the point. The raft must be passed, or all was at an end. The logs had been long in the water, and doubtless were slippery with river slime. The launch might be run upon and over them. Once inside the raft, it could never return. No matter for that. He was there to sink the Albemarle. The smaller contingency of losing his own life was a matter to be left for an after-thought.
This decision was reached in a moment's thought. The noise above them increased. Men were running and shouting, lights flashing, landsmen, startled by the noise, hurrying to the river-bank. Without an instant's delay the launch was wheeled round, steamed rapidly into the stream until a good offing was gained, turned again, and now drove straight forward for the Albemarle with all the power of her engines. As she came near bullets poured like hail across her decks. One tore off the sole of Cushing's shoe; another went through the back of his coat; it was perilously close and hot work. The hail came again:
"What boat is that?"
This time Lieutenant Cushing replied. His reply was not in words, however, but in a howitzer load of canister which drove across the Albemarle's deck. The next minute the bow of the launch struck the logs. As had been expected, the light craft slid up on their slippery surfaces, forcing them down into the water. The end of the spar almost touched the iron hull of the destined victim.
The first rope was loosened. The spar, with its load, dropped under water. The launch was still gliding onward, and carrying the spar forward. The second cord was pulled; the torpedo dropped from the spar. At this moment a bullet cut across the left palm of the gallant Cushing. As it did so he pulled the third cord. The next instant a surging column of water was raised, lifting the Albemarle as though the great iron-clad were of feather weight. At the same instant a cannon, its muzzle not fifteen feet away, sent its charge rending through the timbers of the launch.
The Albemarle, lifted for a moment on the boiling surge, settled down into the mud of her shallow anchorage, never more to swim, with a great hole torn in her bottom. The torpedo had done its work. Cushing had earned his fame.