20 - Running the Batteries
Running the BatteriesArtillery emplacements, in this case Southern light and heavy cannon, both mobile and fixed, placed on shore and facing the Mississippi to defend Vicksburg downstream against attack by river from the North.,
As observed from the Anchorage above Vicksburgh.
To prepare for the siege of Vicksburg, Union ships headed upstream to anchor north of Vicksburg, passing Southern gun placements on shore.
Usually spelled Vicksburg, this rivertown on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi was the last Southern stronghold against the Northern strategy of controlling the river in order to split the Confederacy. The siege of Vicksburg, beginning mid-May 1863 in the month after the poem's setting, lasted six weeks.
A moonless night—a friendly one;
A haze dimmed the shadowy shore
As the first lampless boat slid silent on;
Hist! and we spake no more;
We but pointed, and stilly, to what we saw.
We felt the dew, and seemed to feel
The secret like a burden laid.
The first boat melts; and a second keel
Is blent with the foliaged shade—
Their midnight rounds have the rebel officers made?
Unspied as yet. A third—a fourth—
Gun-boat and transport in Indian fileOne after another. For other Native American references in Battle-Pieces, see "Apathy and Enthusiasm," "Lyon," "Donelson," "The Armies of the Wilderness," "The College Colonel," and "The Scout Toward Aldie."
Upon the war-path, smooth from the North;
But the watch may they hope to beguile?
The manned river-batteries stretch for mile on mile.
A flame leaps out; they are seen;
Another and another gun roars;
We tell the course of the boats through the screen
By each further fort that pours,
And we guess how they jump from their beds on those
Converging fires. We speak, though low:
“That blastful furnace can they thread?”
“Why, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-negoDaniel 3.13-28. Nebuchadnezzar casts these three into a burning fiery furnace for failing to worship a golden image. They are saved from burning by an angel “like a son of the gods” and Nebuchadnezzar is converted.
Came out all right, we read;
The Lord, be sure, he helps his people, NedProbably Ned Curtis, Melville's cousin who served in the navy at the Battle of Vicksburg (Garner, p. 231)..”
How we strain our gaze. On bluffs they shun
A golden growing flame appears—
Confirms to a silvery steadfast one:
“The town is afire!” crows Hugh: “three cheers!”
Lot stops his mouth: “Nay, lad, better three tears.”
A purposed light; it shows our fleet;
Yet a little late in its searching ray,
So far and strong, that in phantom cheat
Lank on the deck our shadows lay;
The shining flag-ship stings their guns to furious play.
How dread to mark her near the glare
And glade of death the beacon throws
Athwart the racing waters there;
One by one each plainer grows,
Then speeds a blazoned target to our gladdened foes.
The impartial cressetTorch set up on shore. lights as well
The fixed forts to the boats that run;
And, plunged from the ports, their answers swell
Back to each fortress dunDull gray-brown color.:
Ponderous words speaks every monster gun.
Fearless they flash through gates of flame,
The salamanders hard to hit,
Though vivid shows each bulky frame;
And never the batteries intermit,
Nor the boats'MEL emends the original "boats" to its possessive. huge guns; they fire and flit.
Anon a lull. The beacon dies:
“Are they out of that strait accurst?”
But other flames now dawning rise,
Not mellowly brilliant like the first,
But rolled in smoke, whose whitish volumes burst.
A baleful brand, a hurrying torch
Whereby anew the boats are seen—
A burning transport all alurch!
Breathless we gaze; yet still we glean
Glimpses of beauty as we eager lean.
The effulgence takes an amber glow
Which bathes the hill-side villas far;
Affrighted ladies mark the show
Painting the pale magnolia—
The fair, false, CirceIn Homer’s Odyssey, a copy of which Melville owned and annotated (see Sealts #278 and [in part] #147), Circe turns mortals into beasts. light of cruel War.
The barge drifts doomed, a plague-struck one.
Shoreward in yawlsA ship's row-boats. the sailors fly.
But the gauntlet now is nearly run,
The spleenful forts by fits reply,
And the burning boat dies down in morning's sky.
All out of range. Adieu, Messieurs!
Jeers, as it speeds, our parting gun.
So burst we through their barriers
And menaces every one:
So Porter proves himself a brave man's sonAdmiral David Dixon Porter was the son of Commodore David Porter, whose 1815 Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean (see Bercaw #563) is a source for Typee and “The Encantadas.”. g
[Melville's] Note g, page 78.
Admiral Porter is a son of the late Commodore Porter, commander of the frigate Essex on that Pacific cruise which ended in the desperate fight off Valparaiso with the English frigates Cherub and Phoebe, in the year 1814.