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Chapter 18

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A Short History of the United States Navy

George R. Clark et al.

published by
J. B. Lippincott Company,
Philadelphia & London 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 20
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p310  XIX
Operations on the Lower Mississippi

Passing the Forts Below New Orleans

Scarcely had the Department received news of the success of the expedition against Port Royal, when Assistant Secretary Fox was planning another expedition for the capture of New Orleans.

New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy; its population in 1860 was 168,675, more than twice that of Richmond and Charleston combined. It was also the richest city, and, being the natural commercial centre for Louisiana and Texas, was forwarding great quantities of food supplies to the Confederate armies.

The general opinion of the North, as well as of the South, was that any attack on New Orleans would be by a slow advance down the Mississippi. But Mr. Fox, who knew the lower Mississippi from having taken an ocean steamer under his command up to New Orleans, believed that it was within the power of the navy, operating from the Gulf, to capture the city.

Strongly impressed with his project, Mr. Fox arranged for a conference at which, besides the Cabinet officers, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan and Commander David D. Porter were present. Porter unhesitatingly expressed his confidence in the plan; the others showed some doubt, yet gave their assent.

To command the expedition, the Department, after some hesitation, agreed on a captain comparatively unknown — David Glasgow Farragut, the choice of Mr. Fox. This officer, born near Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1801,  p311 was but nine years and five months old when he was appointed midshipman in the navy. As has been narrated in previous chapters, he had seen active service in the War of 1812, had taken part in suppressing the West Indian pirates, and had engaged in the Mexican War. But none of these operations had given him a chance to show his extraordinary abilities, and at the age of nearly sixty‑one he was unrecognized.

(facing p310) 
[image ALT: A formal photograph of a man of late middle age in dress naval uniform, with a stern and resolute air, standing rather fiercely with his right arm on his hip: we can count eight stripes on his lower sleeve.He is the 19c American naval commander David G. Farragut.]

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farragut was awaiting orders in Norfolk, Virginia, which for forty years had been his home. There was no wavering in his allegiance. On the secession of Virginia he immediately left for the North and applied for a command. The Government kept him waiting for several months, for after several unhappy experiences it had grown suspicious of Southerners. However, the sacrifice made by Farragut did not altogether escape notice: it was the spirit that he had shown in so promptly leaving his State and in volunteering for service that caught the attention of Mr. Fox. This argued, in the latter's opinion, "great superiority of character, clear perception of duty, and firm resolution in the performing of it."

When Farragut was called to Washington in December, 1861, and was informed of the expedition planned, he said without hesitation that it would succeed, and he manifested almost a boyish enthusiasm on learning that he was to command it.​1 He was to have even more ships than he said were required. The expedition was to be purely naval, and the responsibility for success or failure would rest on the naval commander. Nevertheless, the co‑operation of the army to hold whatever the navy  p312 captured was guaranteed, and accordingly 18,000 troops under Major-General Butler were sent later.

In the latter part of February, 1862, Farragut arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi. He had come in the Hartford, which he continued to make his flagship. She was a sloop of war with auxiliary steam power capable of propelling her to eight knots. She was a new ship, having sailed on her first cruise to China in 1859. Although rated a sloop of war, she had a greater tonnage, and was more formidable, than the ordinary ship-of‑the‑line of the War of 1812. Farragut believed in introducing a gun wherever there was a place, and the Hartford, with twenty‑two 9‑inch Dahlgren guns, had twice as heavy an armament as many a cruiser of her size.

After the Hartford had joined the blockading squadron in the Gulf, two months of preparation followed. To get the large ships over the bars before the Passes at the mouth of the Mississippi was an undertaking that required resourcefulness and patience; thus it was two weeks' work to drag the Pensacola through the mud and into the deep water inside. Finally, on April 7, Farragut had his fleet in the river and ready for active operations. It included, not counting the boats in the mortar flotilla under Commander Porter, seven steam sloops of war, one large side-wheel ship-of‑war, and nine gunboats. These seventeen vessels were armed with 154 cannon.

To oppose the progress of this force, the Confederates had two power­ful forts, eighty miles below New Orleans and twenty miles above the head of the Passes. Fort St. Philip, mounting forty‑two guns, was on the left bank (as one goes down the river), and being at a bend in the river it could not only command the river front but rake approaching ships; Fort Jackson, mounting fifty-eight guns, was lower down on the right bank, and was the stronger of the two. But, according to Mahan, about  p313 half of the guns of the forts were obsolete 24‑pounders, for the Confederates were so imbued with the idea that any attempt to seize the Mississippi must be made from the north, that they had given no heed to the warnings of army and navy officers at New Orleans. Besides the forts the Confederates had a flotilla of fifteen gunboats, two of them ironclad rams, and had stretched across the river under the guns of Fort Jackson two heavy chains supported by a series of hulks.

On April 18 Porter's mortar boats took a position about 3000 yards below Fort Jackson, and began to bombard the forts. If Farragut had been consulted by the Department, he would have declined the assistance of the mortar boats, for he had little confidence in their power to reduce a strong fortification. However, he gave them opportunity to do their utmost. For six days and nights the mortars poured forth an unremitting fire mainly on Fort Jackson, throwing nearly 6000 shells. The aim seems to have been good, yet the damage done to the forts was but trifling.

When the mortars had kept up their fire for three days without appreciable effect, Farragut felt that it was time to bring the ships into action. Accordingly, on the night of the 20th he sent his fleet-captain, Henry H. Bell, with two gunboats, to destroy the barrier of logs and schooners joined by chains stretched across the river. The men worked under the fire of the forts, and were greatly embarrassed when one of the gunboats ran aground. Still they succeeded in making an aperture sufficiently wide for the largest ship to pass through.

Then followed two days spent in preparing the ships to run the forts. Each vessel was trimmed a few inches by the head, so that if she touched bottom she would not swing down river. Sheet cables were stopped up and down on the sides in line with the engines; and hammocks,  p314 coal, and bags of sand were piled up to protect the boilers from shot coming from forward or aft. Some of the commanders had the hulls of their ships rubbed with mud to make them less visible at night, and one had his decks whitewashed to make guns and ammunition more easily seen and handled. In the afternoon previous to the attack, Farragut visited each ship to make sure that the commanding officer had all in readiness and understood the orders. Though Farragut is popularly known for his quickness and power in action, he was no less remarkable for the wisdom and thoroughness of his preparation.

Two o'clock in the morning, April 24, 1862, was the time set for the attacking ships to get under way. They were to advance in two columns; one was to take a course well to the right and attack Fort St. Philip, the other, to the left, and attack Fort Jackson. The original plan of having the two columns advance side by side was later changed; and the column on the right, which consisted of the First Division, three ships of war, one side-wheeler, and four gunboats, led by Captain Bailey in the Cayuga, was to precede the column on the left, which consisted of the Second Division, three sloops of war under Flag-Officer Farragut, and the Third Division, one sloop and five gunboats under Captain Bell. This change made the fleet weaker by being less compact, but more than compensated for the disadvantage by reducing the danger of collision when the ships were passing the narrow opening in the chain-barrier.

At the appointed hour, two red lights displayed from the flagship gave the signal to the commanders to get under way. In a few minutes the clink-clank of the anchor chains was heard throughout the fleet, but because of various little delays, it was not until 3.30 that the First Division reached the barrier. The Cayuga was nearly  p315 abreast the forts before the Confederates opened fire. Not strong enough to deal with her power­ful foes, she sped along; but the sloop Pensacola, which followed, carried twenty-three heavy guns, and as she passed Fort St. Philip steamed slowly, frequently stopping to return the fire. Meanwhile the mortar flotilla had moved forward so as to shell both forts.

Twenty-five minutes after the Cayuga had begun the attack, the Hartford, leading the Second Division, had passed the barrier and was opening with her bow guns on Fort Jackson. The darkness and smoke, together with the terrific fire from the forts, made it difficult for the Union ships to keep their course or to distinguish friend from foe. Suddenly, out of the gloom and confusion, Farragut saw a fire-raft coming directly for his ship. The helm of the Hartford was put over in order to avoid the raft, whereupon the ship grounded on a shoal near Fort St. Philip. Under the heavy fire of the forts she was in a trying position; and what was far worse, a Confederate tugboat, till then unnoticed, was pushing the fire-raft down upon her. In an instant the port quarter of the Hartford was a mass of flames, which were licking the paint and rising half way to the tops. It was one of those moments that are full of destiny, but Farragut was equal to the crisis. His quiet self-possession reassured his men, and each with alacrity did his part in carrying out the orders. The ship's guns drove off the tug, and kept playing on the forts; the well-organized fire company, by great exertion, put out the flames; the engines backed the ship off the shoal, and again she headed up the river.2

The Brooklyn, Captain Craven, which followed the Hartford, also had some grim experiences. In the darkness  p316 and blinding smoke, Craven lost sight of the Hartford, and suddenly found his vessel running over one of the hulks that carried the chain-barrier.

"For a few moments," writes Captain Craven, "I was entangled and fell athwart the stream, our bow grazing the shore on the left bank of the river. While in this situation I received a pretty severe fire from Fort St. Philip. Immediately after the ship had been extricated from the rafts, her head was turned up stream, and a few minutes thereafter she was feebly butted by the celebrated ram Manassas. The latter came butting into our starboard gangway, first firing from her trap-door, when within about ten feet of the ship, directly towards our smokestack, her shot entering about five feet above the water line and lodging in the sand-bags which protected our steam drum. I had discovered this queer-looking gentleman, while forcing my way obverse the barricade, lying close to the bank, and when he made his appearance the second time, I was so close to him that he had not an opportunity to get up his full speed, and his efforts to damage me were completely frustrated, our chain armor proving a perfect protection to our sides. He soon slid off and disappeared in the darkness. A few moments thereafter, being all the time under a raking fire from Fort Jackson, I was attacked by a large rebel steamer. Our port broadside, at the short distance of only fifty or sixty yards, completely finished him, setting him on fire almost instantaneously.

"Still groping my way in the dark, or under the black cloud of smoke from the fire-raft, I suddenly found myself abreast of St. Philip, and so close that the leadsman in the starboard chains gave the soundings 'Thirteen feet, sir.' As we could bring all our guns to bear, for a few brief moments we poured in grape and canister, and I had the satisfaction of completely silencing that work  p317 before I left it — my men in the tops witnessing, in the flashes of their bursting shrapnel, the enemy running like sheep for more comfortable quarters.

"After passing the forts, we engaged several of the enemy's gunboats. . . . This ship was under fire about one hour and a half."​3

The fight was by no means ended for the ships of the First Division when they had passed the forts, for, awaiting them, the Confederates had a flotilla of thirteen gunboats, besides two ironclad rams. The Cayuga, as has been told, had made it her chief business to get safely by the batteries of St. Philip, while the Pensacola had slowed down to engage them. As the Mississippi and the Oneida, which came next, had kept their positions in the column, the Cayuga emerged from the smoke to find herself unsupported.

"After passing the last battery and thinking we were clear," writes Lieutenant George H. Perkins, of the Cayuga, who was acting as pilot, "I looked back for some of our vessels, and my heart jumped into my mouth, when I found I could not see a single one. I thought they all must have been sunk by the forts. Then looking ahead I saw eleven of the enemy's gunboats coming down upon us, and it seemed as if we were 'gone' sure. Three of these made a dash to board us, but a heavy charge from our 11‑inch gun settled the Governor Moore, which was one of them. A ram, the Manassas, in attempting to butt us, just missed our stern, and we soon settled the third fellow's 'hash.' Just then some of our gunboats which had passed the forts came up, and then all sorts of things happened. There was the wildest excitement all around. The Varuna fired a broadside into us, instead of the enemy. Another of our gunboats attacked one of the  p318 Cayuga's prizes — I shouted out, 'Don't fire into that ship, she has surrendered!' Three of the enemy's ships had surrendered to us before any other of our vessels appeared; but when they did come up we all pitched in, and settled the eleven rebel vessels in about twenty minutes."​4

The Varuna, the fifth vessel of the First Division, was the only Union vessel to be lost. She had passed through the Confederate flotilla, firing right and left. Then, seeing ahead a small steamer that was fleeing, she started in pursuit. She had, however, been observed by Beverly Kennon, formerly of the United States Navy, now in command of the Governor Moore. Convinced that he could do nothing against the larger ships, he left the mêlée and went in pursuit. Displaying signal lanterns such as he had noticed the Union ships were showing, he was almost upon the Varuna before he was recognized. He then fired two destructive shells from his bow gun, and when the Varuna's helm was put hard-a‑port so as to bring her guns to bear, he rammed. The Varuna was a few minutes later struck also by the Confederate gunboat Stonewall Jackson, and in a sinking condition she was headed for the shore. But her guns, with those of the Cayuga, had in the meantime disabled the Moore, causing the latter to drop out of the action; and as the Varuna, which had settled on the bank, continued to pour shot into her, setting her afire, the Confederate gunboat surrendered to the Oneida, which had just come up.

The Itasca, the Winona, and the Kennebec, of the Third Division, following at the end of the procession, had not the support of the heavy ships, and did not succeed in passing the forts. The Confederates, though  p319 driven from many of their guns by the fire of the fleet, had quickly returned, and just as day was breaking, gave all of their attention to these small vessels. The Itasca received a shot through her boiler, disabling her so that she was compelled to drift back. The Winona and the Kennebec became entangled in the chain-barrier, and when they freed themselves and attempted to proceed, they found the concentrated fire of the forts too much for them.

The Capture of New Orleans

When Farragut collected his forces at Quarantine, five miles above the forts, he had thirteen vessels. Believing the time had come when he could co‑operate with the army, he sent a messenger to General Butler and also to Commander Porter. The Wissahickon and the Kineo were left behind to guard the landing of the troops, should they come by way of the Quarantine Bayou, as now they could with safety. With the rest of the fleet Farragut then slowly steamed towards New Orleans.

About 10.30 the following morning the ships reached the English Turn, five miles below New Orleans, the spot where the British attack had been repulsed in 1815. Here the fleet was fired upon from some new earthworks erected on the lines of the old, but the ships as they drew abreast quickly silenced the shore batteries.

"All the morning," writes Farragut, "I had seen abundant evidence of the panic which had seized the people of New Orleans. Cotton-loaded ships on fire came floating down, and working implements of every kind, such as are used in shipyards; the destruction of property was awful. . . . The levee of New Orleans was one scene of desolation; ships, steamers, cotton, coal, etc., were all in one common blaze, and our ingenuity was much taxed to avoid the floating conflagration. . . .

 p320  "We now passed up to the city and anchored immediately in front of it, and I sent Captain Bailey on shore to demand the surrender of it from the authorities, to which the mayor replied that the city was under martial law, and he had no authority. General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lovell, who was present, stated that he should deliver up nothing but, in order to free the city from embarrassment, he would restore the city authorities and retire with his troops, which he did."​5

The mayor, in the further correspondence, continued to make evasive replies, which soon became a heavy tax on Farragut's patience. The State flag of Louisiana was still flying from the city hall. It might be some time before troops could be brought up to occupy the city. Farragut had the city helpless under his guns, but since he did not wish to destroy property or take the lives of women and children, he was in an awkward position. However, the Union commander, simple and direct, as he ever was, proved himself a statesman as well as a warrior; he gained his point by insistence. The United States flag was raised from the city hall and the government buildings, and the municipal officers acknowledged the authority of the National forces.​a

On the evening of the 29th Captain Bailey brought the welcome news that Forts Jackson and St. Philip had surrendered. There had not been the necessity of immediate capitulation; yet, as New Orleans was the source of supplies, the capture of the city made that of the forts, sooner or later, inevitable. The end was hastened by a mutiny which broke out in the forts, where a considerable proportion of the defenders are said to have been foreigners.

Running past the forts below New Orleans was an  p321 exploit of surprising boldness. Previous to its accomplishment several officers had disapproved of Farragut's plan. They thought it bad policy to cut loose from the base of supplies, and doubted whether it were possible for wooden ships to pass two such power­ful forts. The Confederates also had the utmost confidence in their forts, and, believing that they could annihilate any fleet coming within reach of their guns, had been slow in preparing other defenses.

Two other modes of operation had been suggested by Commander Porter: an attack by the fleet, with reduction of the forts before the fleet went farther; and a combined attack by the fleet and the troops. Farragut favored neither plan, because of the delay it was sure to involve. To postpone decisive action was to give the Confederates opportunity for strengthening their defenses; besides, ammunition for his mortars was running low. He was not averse to profiting by the assistance of the army, but he believed a joint movement could be made from above the forts much better than from below.

Previous to the engagement, large stories had been circulating concerning the Confederate ironclads Manassas, Louisiana, and Mississippi; and if Farragut had been most leisurely in his attack, he might have found that the tales were not so greatly exaggerated. The Mississippi, being unfinished, was burned at New Orleans on his approach; and the Louisiana, which had been brought down to assist the forts, proved ineffective because her engines had not yet been put into working condition. The gunboats above the forts, commanded with two exceptions by captains of Mississippi steamboats, belonged to the River Defense Fleet, another part of which Foote and Davis were engaging at Fort Pillow and Memphis. They made but a weak, ill‑organized fight, although they would undoubtedly have caused greater destruction had their  p322 foes acted with more deliberation. Farragut plainly had a strong grasp of the situation, and recognized the principle that to increase the vigor of the attack is to lessen the risk involved.

From New Orleans to Vicksburg

The Department, impressed by Farragut's exploits at New Orleans, believed there was nothing to prevent the navy from quickly gaining entire control of the Mississippi. Flag-Officer Davis, who with his fleet was above Memphis, was ordered to move down the river; and Flag-Officer Farragut was similarly ordered to move up the river. The two forces, having cleared the river of all obstructions, were to combine.

It was a simple matter for Farragut to send forward one of his smaller vessels and secure the submission of Baton Rouge and Natchez. Vicksburg, however, defiantly refused to surrender. Consequently, as soon as he was able, Farragut came up with his fleet, and was joined by 1500 troops under Colonel Williams. A combined attack was considered, but the strong position of the batteries, some of them near the level of the river and others on a cliff 200 feet above, as well as Vicksburg's excellent railroad connections, by which the Confederates could secure an over­powering force of troops almost at an hour's notice, made it evident that the Union forces could do little. Williams' troops had come with only a few days' rations, supplies were short also on the ships, and the river was beginning to fall. These reasons seemed to Farragut sufficient for taking his fleet without delay down the river to New Orleans.

The Department, however, was still determined to clear the Mississippi, and ordered the ships back to Vicksburg. Farragut obeyed as soon as he was able to secure coal and  p323 supplies, but with none of the confidence and enthusiasm with which he had entered upon the operations against New Orleans. It was now June, and he was apprehensive lest in navigating the Mississippi 500 miles from its mouth with sea‑going ships, such as the Hartford, some of his fleet might be caught in the mud, when their capture by the enemy would be easy. The ships were constantly running into snags, which, as Farragut wrote Secretary Welles, were "more destructive to our vessels than the enemy's shot." Also, their engines were showing signs of wear under the hard service, in which opportunities for rest and overhauling were lacking. And not the least of the difficulty was that of bringing coal and provisions up the river to the fleet. Confederate sharpshooters on the banks were constantly picking off the crews; masked batteries sprang up like mushrooms and made it impossible for the supply ships to move with safety except when attended by gunboats, which could not be sent without weakening the force at Vicksburg.

When all was ready, Porter opened with his mortars and bombarded the forts of Vicksburg for two days. Then Farragut decided to run past the batteries, and, as the Department had requested, join Davis' fleet above. Forming his fleet in two columns, the gunboats and lighter vessels to the left, away from the shore batteries, he weighed anchor at two o'clock on the morning of June 28, and at four was engaging the works.

"The Hartford," writes Farragut, "fired slowly and deliberately and with fine effect — far surpassing my expectations in reaching the summit batteries. The rebels were soon silenced by the combined efforts of the fleet and of the flotilla [the mortar boats], and at times did not reply at all for several minutes, and then again at times replied with but a single gun. . . .

"The Department will perceive, from this report, that  p324 the forts can be passed, and we have done it, and can do it again as often as may be required of us. It will not, however, be an easy matter for us to do more than silence the batteries for a time, as long as the enemy has a large force behind the hills to prevent our landing and holding the place."​6

As six o'clock Farragut met Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet with a division of Davis' fleet, and anchored. Seven of his ships had succeeded in passing Vicksburg; but the Brooklyn, the Katahdin, and the Kennebec, which brought up the rear of the two columns, became separated from the rest of the fleet, and after enduring a heavy fire, retired below the town.

Farragut had now carried out his order to the letter; he had cleared the river, at least temporarily, and had joined the upper fleet. In reality he had achieved little, as he was well aware. Williams, who had accompanied him with 3000 troops in transports, was unable to attack the heights of Vicksburg. The Confederates, having lost Island No. 10 and Memphis, were massing to defend the position they had still in their possession. The troops which the Government had intended that General Halleck should send to co‑operate with the ships, he was unable to furnish. The Department, at length recognizing the true state of affairs, ordered Farragut to return to New Orleans. As he was about to obey, there occurred an incident which occasioned him much chagrin.

Upon the capture of Memphis the Confederates had saved the ironclad Arkansas, then under construction, by hurrying her up the Yazoo River. The Yazoo flows into the Mississippi near Vicksburg, and only four miles below its mouth the combined fleets of Farragut and Davis had been at anchor since July 1.

 p325  On July 15 Davis, at Farragut's suggestion, sent Colonel Ellet with three vessels to learn what he might of the Arkansas. When Ellet had gone six miles up the Yazoo, he met the Arkansas coming down. A running battle ensued in which the light Union ironclad Carondelet doggedly clung to her enemy, but got rather the worst of it. The unarmored Tyler, after firing a few shots, sped down the river to give warning to the fleet.

The ships were all at anchor with fires banked, and it was impossible for them to get steam up before the Arkansas appeared and was running the gauntlet for Vicksburg. The Carondelet's fire had already riddled the smokestack of the Arkansas and reduced her speed to one knot. But, aided by the current, the Confederate ram passed down the line, and, though receiving a terrific pounding, she suffered no vital injury, and reached Vicksburg.

At once Farragut resolved to follow her up and destroy her under the guns of the town. Early that evening he took his ships down the river and past the forts. But as the Arkansas, when hidden by darkness, had been moved by the Confederates to a protected position, she escaped.

The last of July, Farragut got his ships back to New Orleans, and none too soon, for a large number of the officers and men were sick with malaria. He was, however, still troubled that the Arkansas remained uncaptured. His anxiety was relieved on August 6, when, in an attack which the Confederates made on Baton Rouge, the Arkansas dropped down the river to lend her assistance. Her engines as usual were working badly, and when the Essex, Commander W. D. Porter, dashed forward to engage her, the Confederates set fire to the ram and withdrew.

Nothing further of importance was done by the ships on the Mississippi during the remainder of 1862. Meanwhile,  p326 the Confederates were preparing to make a desperate resistance at Vicksburg, and had begun to fortify another strong position, at Port Hudson, twelve miles north of Baton Rouge.

In October, 1862, David D. Porter was chosen to command the Mississippi squadron, still operating above Vicksburg. He succeeded to the post which, with its onerous duties, had worn out Foote and Davis. Previous to this time his dash and brilliant strategy had never had opportunity for full exercise, because of his subordinate rank. But Lincoln divined his latent power, and, passing over eighty officers higher in rank, made him acting rear-admiral, and gave him the squadron.

Early in January, 1863, Porter co‑operated with McClernand in an expedition directed against Arkansas Post, a stronghold on the left bank of the Arkansas River, fifty miles from its mouth. Here in a two days' battle most of the fighting was done by the gunboats, which succeeded in silencing the batteries. And it was Admiral Porter who, just as McClernand's army had finally secured a favorable position for assault, received the surrender of the fort with its garrison of 6000 men. As a result of this victory the fleet and transports above Vicksburg were secure from all molestation from the Arkansas and White Rivers.

When, in January, 1863, Grant took command in person of the operations against Vicksburg he promptly sought out Porter. In the long and arduous campaign that followed, the co‑operation between the forces ashore and those afloat was remarkable for its heartiness and for the absence of friction. Of this General Grant says, "The navy under Porter was all it could be during the entire campaign. Without its assistance the campaign could not have been successfully made with twice the number of men engaged. It could not have been made at  p327 all in the way it was, with any number of men, without such assistance. The most perfect harmony reigned between the two arms of the service. There never was a request made, that I am aware of, either of the flag-officer or any of his subordinates, that was not promptly complied with."​7 While the details of Porter's service are too complex even for a general account, it should be noted that it was by the passing of Vicksburg by a large part of Porter's squadron that the Union army was enabled to cross the river below in safety, and suddenly to attack the Confederate fortifications from the south and east. Grant conducted in person the brilliant campaign that followed, and captured Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.

A half year previous to the surrender of Vicksburg, while Grant and Porter were still above the city, Farragut had proposed to Banks, who had relieved Butler in command of troops at New Orleans, that the army and the navy should make a joint attack on Port Hudson. Because of the lack of preparation on the part of the army, the attack did not take place until March 14, 1863. Even then it was almost entirely the work of the navy, and was chiefly an attempt to get seven ships above Port Hudson, where they were very much needed. The fortifications at this point were now so formidable, as Farragut was well aware, that this was an extremely hazardous undertaking. Only the two ships leading the column, the Hartford and the Albatross, succeeded in passing the batteries. The Mississippi, running aground under the works, had to be fired to prevent her falling into the possession of the enemy. The other four ships suffered so severely from the enemy's guns that they were obliged to retire.

Small though his force was above Port Hudson, Farragut  p328 was able in large part to accomplish his purpose. He intermittently patrolled the Mississippi from Port Hudson to Vicksburg — as yet Porter had been able to send only two of his squadron below Vicksburg, the Queen of the West and the Indianola, and these had been captured. Farragut also blockaded the Red River, and by cutting off supplies to Vicksburg and Port Hudson very materially assisted in their downfall.


The importance of the naval operations on the Mississippi in 1862 and 1863 is not likely to be over­estimated. At their termination, with the river in Union control, the Confederacy was split in two. The rich and fertile States of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas could no longer forward supplies across the Mississippi to the armies fighting in Virginia and elsewhere. The Confederate States that were more particularly the seat of war could furnish little, and armies without food and clothing are doomed.

The capture of New Orleans had still another very important result. It deterred France from action hostile to the United States. Louis Napoleon had already suggested to England the advisability of recognizing the Confederate States; and just as Farragut was about to open fire on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Napoleon was conferring with Mr. Lindsay, a member of the British Parliament and a Southern sympathizer. "Mr. Lindsay spoke of the Federal blockade as being ineffectual, and not in accordance with the fourth article of the Congress of Paris, and mentioned facts in support of his opinion." The Emperor fully concurred in Mr. Lindsay's opinion, and said that "he had from the first considered the restoration of the Union impossible, and for that reason had  p329 deprecated the continuance of a contest which could not lead to any other result than separation." Moreover, he assured Mr. Lindsay that "he would at once dispatch a formidable fleet to the mouth of the Mississippi, if England would send an equal force, and that they would demand free egress and ingress for their merchantmen with their cargoes of goods, and supplies of cotton which were essential to the world."​8 When the Northern troops were in possession of New Orleans, the Government was very willing that the city's commerce would again be renewed, but to have abandoned the blockade of the Confederate ports would have been fatal to a success­ful termination of the war.

The Authors' Notes:

1 Montgomery Blair, Postmaster-General in Lincoln's Cabinet, was present at the first interview between Farragut and Fox, and gives a highly interesting report, to be found in The United Service, 1881, p39.

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2 Farragut's report will be found in the Naval War Records, XVIII, 155.

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3 Naval War Records, XVIII, 182.

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4 Alden, George Hamilton Perkins, pp118, 119.

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5 Naval War Records, XVIII, 158.

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6 Naval War Records, XVIII, 609, 610.

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7 Memoirs, I, 574.

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8 North American Review, CXXIX, 346.

Thayer's Note:

a Contrast the more circumstantial account, by Louisianian author Grace King, in New Orleans, The Place and the People, pp298‑303.

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