Opening of the Mississippi

From Commodore Foote's Flotilla.

[Correspondence Missouri Democrat.]

Sunday Night, April 13.

This morning at 6 o'clock the fleet was an imposing sight. The gunboats in advance, transports, ordnance boats and mortar boats formed a line two miles in length along and in under the deep green forests bordering the Tennessee shore. The trees are in full bloom and alive with the warble of feathered songsters. A most delightful odor was borne across the decks of the boats by a balmy breeze such as is a stranger to northern climes till late in May. All these marks of Spring, so much more forward than at Cairo, lead us to consult James' river guide, to learn the distance we had penetrated the South, and we found ourselves far down between the States of Tennessee and Arkansas less than a hundred miles above Memphis, or with a day's run even with our gunboats.


At seven o'clock this morning ten or twelve transports, all crowded with troops from the boiler to the hurricane deck, rounded the bend above us, and gained the rear of the fleet. While our force was thus accumulating, by looking below, across a "neck of woods" which shot out into the river, contributing to its torturous course, long trains of smoke could be seen rising up betraying the approach of four or five rebel steamers. — Three of them proved to be gunboats. They formed in line of battle in the first bend of the river below, and quietly looking on at the extent of our squadron, seemed determined to arrest its further progress South.

The Flag Officer could not suffer this impudence. The Benton's lines were loosened, and she immediately headed down up the rebel gunboats, with a signal for the other gunboats to get under way flying from her mainmast. This was quickly obeyed, and as six of our ugly, horrid looking monsters, setting low down in the water, with dense volumes of black smoke pouring out of her chimnies and obscuring everything behind, bore down upon the front of the rebel boats, our interest and suspense were awakened to a degree which surpassed everything that transpired at Columbus or Island No. 10. — The sight bore the air of desperation. We thought a hand to hand conflict was about to ensue; that broadsides were to be taken and given in close quarters.

Recent accounts of a formidable fleet of gunboats lying in sailing order at New Orleans, we thought some of those were to be contended against; that the Ram. Mannassas, widely known by her prow and prowess, was about to make a few darts and thrusts into the mailed sides of our flag ship, or that an attempt would be made to board our boats, and the cutlasses and boarding pikes, which thus far have been idle, be brought into bloody use at the port holes.


The current of the river was with our boats, and the distance between them and the enemy rapidly diminished. They were signaled to close up. In a few minutes we were within range. Why don't the Benton open fire? was an anxious inquiry that passed around, but scarcely had it been made, when a cannon at her box answered it. The shot fell short. — The elevation was insufficient. Away went another gun. This was a shell. It burst too soon. Then another shot was sent howling at the rebel gunboats which, up to this time, had appeared as bold as lions. At this juncture the Carondelet, which had steadily preserved the left, seconded the efforts of the Benton. — The Cincinnati, steaming down on the right, was holding her guns for short range. The St. Louis Mound City and Pittsburg were close in the rear.

Captain Paulding of the St. Louis, could not brook any longer, his dispostion to fight, and accordingly paid his first compliment to the Confederate navy. The rebels threw two shell at us in return, and then, with an evident distast for the warmth into which the contest was waxing, headed down the river, and were soon out of reach, and a little later, out of sight. Both of their shell burst a little over and between the Benton and Carondelet, and were thrown with much greater accuracy than any of our own.


The rebel gunboats are side-wheel, have one chimney each, are either painted black or plated. Their guns are upon the upper deck, and seemed to be exposed. Each one carried two or three first class cannon on her bow. They were constructed with a view to great fleetness, and they seemed to rely with more confidence upon this than upon their armament for safety. Our gunboats followed them down the river this morning, until a point two miles above Ft. Pillow was reached, when all rounded to. The rebel boats could be discovered by their smoke, lying just below the batteries of the Fort.


In a little while the Mound City, Cincinnati, and Carondelet received orders to follow the Benton, which was then making over to the Tennessee shore. These four baots followed down this a mile where a heavily wooded and overflowed point, only, remained to obstruct a full view at Fort Pillow. The rapidity of the current had in a few moments carried us beyond this, and we now lay broadside, in full view, and easy range of the fort.

The rebels thought we were making an attack, and the greatest confusion attended their efforts to get their transports and gunboats out of the way. They were frightened, but no more so than we were surprised to find ourselves unexpectedly in the very face of their boasted strongholds.

It is needless to say that we made the greatest possible haste out of this unchosen and undesirable position, expecting a gallon of cannon balls every instant to visit us from the enemy's batteries; but these were strangly silent, and our impudent approach created no other hostile demonstration than that of one of the rebel gunboats, which fired nine times, when she discovered us going up the river. Her shooting was a little wild, but the fact of her throwing a shot a mile over us into the woods leaves no doubt of their having some long range and most effective cannon aboard.

The silence on the mainland is believed by some of our officers to have been from necessity instead of choice. Their cannon, it is thought, has been taken down to Randolph. It is certain that very few, if any, could be seen this morning, and their absence strongly contributes to the above belief. It may be, however, that quite enough will discover themselves before the place is taken.