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Captain Breaker was perplexed when his ship came alongside the enemy and was made fast to her, for things were not working according to the usual rules made and provided for such occasions, and Captain Rombold was evidently resorting to some unusual tactics. The two steamers were of about the same height above water, so their decks were very nearly on a level.
The men with muskets on both sides were reloading their weapons, and those with navy revolvers were discharging them at the enemy; but the officers of divisions concealed their men behind the bulwarks when the order to board did not come.
Christy saw the perplexity of the commander at his side, and it was evident to both of them that some unusual strategy was to be adopted, and Captain Breaker did not intend to fall into a trap if he could avoid it. They could see nothing that 181 looked suspicious except the position of the enemy's force on the starboard side of the ship.
Before the captain could stop him, the first lieutenant had leaped into the mizzen rigging, and ascended far enough to obtain a view of the quarter deck over the bulwarks, while the commander walked aft far enough to accomplish the same purpose by looking through the aperture made by the shot which had carried away the wheel of the enemy, without exposing himself to the fire of the seamen on board of her.
Christy's action occupied but the fraction of a minute; but several muskets and revolvers were discharged at him in this brief time. Letting go his hold of the rigging, he dropped to the deck before the captain could see what he was doing; and it was supposed that the daring officer had been brought down by the shots fired at him.
"Second division, follow me!" he cried, as he picked up the cutlass he had dropped.
About thirty men rushed to the quarter-deck, hurried on by Mr. Walbrook. Christy leaped upon the rail, with the cutlass in his right hand, and the revolver in his left, and dropped down upon the quarter deck of the Tallahatchie, upon a squad of 182 seamen who were lying low behind a thirty-pounder, whose carriage was close to the bulwark, the piece pointed forward.
The first lieutenant had seen from his position in the mizzen rigging the trap which had been set for the crew of the Bellevite. They were expected to leap to the rail, and cut away the boarding nettings—not always used, but were on this occasion—and then drop down to the deck. The first command would naturally have been to "Repel boarders;" but this was not given, and no fighting was to be done till the boarders reached the ship, when the thirty-pounder, doubtless loaded with grape or shrapnel, was to mow down the invaders of the deck.
Christy's men poured down after him, and before the crew of the gun, who had no doubt been ordered to conceal themselves, could get upon their feet they were cut down by the impetuous tars from the Bellevite. It was the work of but a moment. Christy had taken some pains to have the opinion of Captain Rombold that American seamen were inferior to British circulated, and the men evidently intended to prove that they were the equals of any sailors afloat.
183 "Swing the muzzle of the gun to starboard!" shouted Christy, as he took hold with his own hands to point the piece, which was in position in a moment.
Captain Rombold stood but a short distance from the stump of the mizzen mast with a cutlass in his hand. He rushed forward to rally his crew; and he seemed to be rendered desperate by the failure of the scheme to which he had resorted. At this moment Christy heard Captain Breaker shout the order to board, and the men were springing to the rail, and tearing away the boarding netting.
"Stand by the lanyard!" cried the first lieutenant on the quarter-deck of the enemy, and he had sighted the piece himself in the absence of any regular gun crew. "Fire!"
The cloud of smoke concealed all of the deck forward of the mizzen mast, and Christy could not see what effect had been produced by the charge of grape, or whatever it was. At any rate the men the commander had rallied for a charge did not appear.
The smoke was blown away in a minute or so, and the Bellevite's sailors had made a lodgment on the deck of the enemy. They were led by the 184 officers of the divisions, and were rushing over to the starboard, where the enemy's men had been concentrated. They were brave men, whether English or not, and the moment they could see the boarders, they rushed at them by command of their officers; but they pushed forward, as it were, out of a heap of killed and wounded, those who had fallen by the grape-shot intended to decimate the ranks of the loyal band.
Christy rallied his men as soon as they had done their work in the vicinity of the thirty-pounder, and ordered them to join their division under the command of the third lieutenant. But the seamen on the part of the Confederates seemed to be dispirited to some extent by the bad beginning they had made, and by the heap of slain near them. Captain Rombold lay upon the deck, propped up against the mizzen mast. He looked as pale as death itself; but he was still directing the action, giving orders to his first lieutenant. Two of his officers were near him, but both of them appeared to be severely wounded.
The battle was raging with fearful energy on the part of the loyal tars, and with hardly less vigor on the part of the enemy, though the latter 185 fought in a sort of desperate silence. The wounded commander was doing his best to reinspire them; but his speech was becoming feeble, and perhaps did more to discourage than to strengthen them.
At this stage of the action Graines, closely followed by his twenty men, sprang over the starboard bulwarks, and fell upon the enemy in the rear. Finding themselves between an enemy in front and rear, they could do no more; for it was sure death to remain where they were, and they fled precipitately to t............
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