The most daring feat — passing the forts at New Orleans
The “Portsmouth” : this gallant old sailing sloop played her part in Farragut S passage of the New Orleans forts by broadsides enfilading the Confederate water battery, protecting the approach of Porter's mortar schooners|
David Glasgow Farragut
made a sudden leap into fame.
Late in the year 1861, he was a member of a retiring-board created by the Navy Department under a new law in order to get rid of superannuated officers.
From this position he was suddenly promoted to the command of a fleet, and in a little over three months his name was echoing not only through the country but round the world.
It was Commander David D. Porter
, in charge of the steamer Powhatan
in the Gulf Blockading Squadron, who conceived the idea of running by the powerful forts at the mouth of the Mississippi
and capturing the city of New Orleans
His plan was approved by the Secretary of the Navy
and the President
, and strongly endorsed by Commodore
, afterward Rear-Admiral
, Joseph Smith
After a consultation in which Commander Porter
had a voice, Captain Farragut
was selected as the leader of the expedition, and it was Porter
who brought to him the first notice of his appointment.
This was before the official notification of the Navy Department, for in Farragut
's private papers was found an abrupt and mysterious note, dated December 21, 1861, which concludes thus: “I am to have a flag in the Gulf
, and the rest depends upon myself.
Keep calm and silent.
I shall sail in three weeks.”
The official notification, addressed to Farragut
, New York, where he was stopping with his family, informed him that he was appointed to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and that the Hartford
had been designated as his flagship.
Within a fortnight, he received from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles
the following official orders, dated
U. S. S. “Hartford” --Farragut's pet ship photographed in 1862, after her passage of the forts at New Orleans
The flagship “Hartford” lies on the placid bosom of the Mississippi, whose waters reflect her masts and spars as if in a polished mirror.
This photograph was taken in 1862 by the Confederate photographer Lytle, who, with his camera set up on the levee, took many of the ships that had survived the fiery ordeal of the forts below.
It is evidently but a short time since the “Hartford” had passed through that night of death and terror; her topgallant masts are housed and everything aloft sent down on deck except her fore, main, and mizzen topsail yards, on which the clewed — up sails are hanging to dry. Her spankers, half-trailed up, are drying out also, as is her flying-jib.
Her fore, main, and cross-jack yards are up in place; and not only are the awnings spread above the spar-deck, but the boat awnings are out also, showing that although it is early in the year it must have been a scorching day. Of this beautiful vessel Farragut has written that she “was all that the heart could desire.”
He trusted himself to her in another memorable engagement when, lashed to her shrouds, he steamed past the forts in Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, recking not of the Confederate torpedoes liberally planted in the harbor. |
January 20th, that must have rejoiced his heart.
It is very evident that the preliminary plan had been well thought out. The details were left to his discretion.
Sir: When the Hartford is in all respects ready for sea, you will proceed to the Gulf of Mexico with all possible despatch, and communicate with Flag-Officer W. W. McKean, who is directed by the inclosed despatch to transfer to you the command of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. . . . There will be attached to your squadron a fleet of bomb-vessels, and armed steamers enough to manage them, all under command of Commander D. D. Porter, who will be directed to report to you. As fast as these vessels are got ready, they will be sent to Key West to await the arrival of all, and the commanding officers, who will be permitted to organize and practise with them at that port.
When these formidable mortars arrive and you are completely ready, you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade and proceed up the Mississippi River and reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under the guns of your squadron, and hoist the American flag thereon, keeping possession until troops can be sent to you. If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo shall not have descended the river, you will take advantage of the panic to push a strong force up the river to take all their defenses in the rear. . . .
As you have expressed yourself satisfied with the force given to you, and as many more powerful vessels will be added before you can commence operations, the department and the country require of you success. . . . There are other operations of minor importance which will commend themselves to your judgment and skill, but which must not be allowed to interfere with the great object in view, the certain capture of the city of New Orleans. . . .
A month later, to a day, Farragut
, in the Hartford
, was at the appointed rendezvous, Ship Island
in the Gulf
, not far from the mouth of the Mississippi
, and his squadron began to gather around him. Preparations and plans had to be made, but under the competent direction and cooperation of his staff, affairs began to take proper shape.
On the 25th of March,
wrote home a letter in which are found the following simple words that express well his own mental attitude toward the task that lay before him, that was, all things considered, the most important and the most daring feat of all the war.
“I have now attained,” he writes, “what I have been looking for all my life — a flag — and, having attained it, all that is necessary to complete the scene is a victory.
If I die in the attempt it will only be what every officer has to expect.
He who dies in doing his duty to his country, and at peace with his God, has played out the drama of life to the best advantage.”
Eighteen thousand troops had been sent under the command of General Benjamin F. Butler
to the Gulf
to cooperate with the fleet, and they also rendezvoused at Ship Island
Preparations were soon almost completed for the entry into the delta of the Mississippi
“The great man in our country must not only plan but execute,” he wrote.
“Success is the only thing listened to in this war, and I know that I must sink or swim by that rule.”
A few days later he makes a comment that is replete with confidence: “Men are easily elated or depressed by victory, but as to being prepared for defeat I certainly am not. Any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he commenced.
I hope for success; shall do all in my power to secure it, and trust to God for the rest.”
The squadron under Farragut
's command, as finally arranged between himself and McKean
, consisted of:
Screw sloops: Hartford
, twenty-four guns,1 Flag-Officer David G. Farragut
, Fleet-Captain Henry H. Bell
, Commander Richard Wainwright
, twenty-three guns,
Captain Henry W. Morris
, twenty-four guns, Captain Thomas T. Craven
, twenty-two guns, Commander James Alden
Side-wheel steamer: Mississippi
, seven guns, Commander Melancton Smith
Screw corvettes: Oneida
, nine guns, Commander Samuel Phillips Lee
, ten guns, Commander Charles S. Boggs
, seven guns, Commander John De Camp
Screw gunboats: Cayuga
, two guns, Lieutenant Napoleon B. Harrison
, four guns, Lieutenant C. H. B. Caldwell
, two guns, Lieutenant George H. Preble
, two guns, Lieutenant John H. Russell
, two guns, Lieutenant George M. Ransom
, three guns, Lieutenant Pierce Crosby
, two guns, Lieutenant Edward Donaldson
, two guns, Lieutenant Edward T. Nichols
, two guns, Lieutenant Albert N. Smith
In the final plan of action the fleet was divided into three divisions.
The first was to be led by Captain Theodorus Bailey
, who had transferred his flag from the old Colorado
to the little gunboat Cayuga
, and was to be made up of the Pensacola, Mississippi, Oneida, Varuna, Katahdin, Kineo
, and Wissahickon; Farragut
led the second, or center, division, composed of the Hartford, Brooklyn
, and Richmond
, and Captain Bell
, in the Sciota
, headed the third, having under his command the Iroquois, Kennebec, Pinola, Itasca
, and Winona
. Commander Porter
, with his little squadron of six armed steamers, the Harriet Lane, Owasco, Clifton, John P. Jackson, Westfield, Miami
, and Portsmouth
, was to stay back with the nineteen mortar schooners that continued to pour their great shells into the forts during the passage of the fleet.
, in command of the defenses of New Orleans, did not depend entirely upon Colonel Higgins
' gunners in Forts St. Philip
to keep Farragut
away from the city.
A considerable fleet of war vessels, some belonging to the Government
and some to the State
, were in the river, and
Huger, Commander of the “McRea” in the fearless Confederate flotilla
Never were braver deeds done by men afloat in ships than were performed by the Southern officers and sailors of the little flotilla of gunboats and river craft that joined with the great forts ashore in disputing the passage of Farragut's fleet up the river.
The ram “Manassas,” whose thin plating was pierced through and through, charged again and again at the towering wooden walls of the oncoming ships.
She struck the “Mississippi,” wounding her badly, and all but sank the “Brooklyn.”
The men on the little tug “Mosher,” which pushed the fire-raft against the “Hartford,” sank with their vessel.
Desperate deeds of courage were performed by every Confederate gunboat engaged in the battle.
Commander Kennon, of the “Governor Moore,” in his duel with the “Varuna,” fired through the bows of his own ship.
On board the “McRea,” a little sea-going steam barkentine but lightly armed, Commander Thomas B. Huger was killed.
It was a remarkable coincidence that, only a few months before, this splendid and gallant officer had been first-lieutenant of the “Iroquois,” the very ship from which he received his death-wound.
There had been hardly a change in the personnel of the vessel.
All of the officers and men on board of her had once obeyed his orders.
Not all of the Confederate river-defense fleet took part in the action, but those that were under the command of ex-officers of the navy plunged in almost with mad recklessness, disdaining the odds arrayed against them.
Had the two powerful ironclads, the “Mississippi” and the “Louisiana,” been finished and in commission, declared the Confederates, Farragut's fleet would never have reached New Orleans |
such of them as did not belong to the army were under the orders of Commander John K. Mitchell
, C. S. N.
They were the Louisiana
, sixteen guns, Commander Charles F. McIntosh
, eight guns, Lieutenant Thomas B. Huger
, ten guns, Lieutenant F. B. Renshaw
, Lieutenant A. F. Warley
, and ten launches.
There were two State gunboats: Governor Moore
, two guns, Lieutenant Beverly Kennon
, and Governor Quitman
, two guns, Captain Alexander Grant
Besides these there were six of the so-called River Defense Fleet--the Warrior, Stonewall Jackson, Defence, Resolute, General Lovell
, and R. J. Breckinridge
--river steamers with bows strengthened for ramming purposes, all but one of which carried a single small smooth-bore gun. They really belonged to the army, and Captain John A. Stephenson
was in command.
A few unarmed tugs, belonging to the army and navy, were also on hand.
This force, if properly officered and manned, might have been quite formidable, but Commander Mitchell
, who took charge only a few days before the battle, had practically only four vessels and twelve guns at his disposal, for the Jackson
had gone up the river and the Louisiana
was scarcely able to move.
The River Defense Fleet proved a failure, for, as General Lovell
has said, “their total want of system, vigilance, and discipline rendered them useless and helpless.”
's instructions had been so minute that it seemed that he had overlooked no possibility in the way of accident.
That he expected the most desperate resistance and well understood what lay before him, is proved by the conclusion to his general orders for the preparation of the individual ships:
I wish you to understand that the day is at hand when you will be called upon to meet the enemy in the worst form for our profession.
You must be prepared to execute all those duties to which you have been so long trained in the navy, without having the opportunity of practising.
I expect every vessel's crew to be well exercised at their guns, because it is required by the regulations of the service, and it is usually
Saved from an untimely end — the “Sciota”
This scene on the vessel's deck was photographed shortly after she had been raised after being sunk by a torpedo in Mobile Bay. Two days after the Federal flag was raised over the courthouse in Mobile, the “Sciota,” while hurrying across the bay, ran into one of these hidden engines of destruction.
A terrific explosion followed and the “Sciota” sank immediately in twelve feet of water.
Four of her men were killed and six wounded and the vessel was badly damaged.
This was on April 14, 1865.
The navy never gives up one of its vessels as a total loss till everything has been done to prove that to be the case; by July 7th the “Sciota” had been raised, repaired, and sent around to Pensacola for her armament, with orders to proceed to New York and go into dry-dock.
In the picture the man leaning against the bulwark, with one hand on his coat and the other in his trousers' pocket, is John S. Pearce, one of the engineers of the famous “Kearsarge.”
In Farragut's squadron below New Orleans the “Sciota,” under Lieutenant Edward Donaldson, led the third division of vessels in charge of Commander Henry H. Bell.
The “Sciota” did not get under fire of the forts till about 4 A. M. and passed them without much damage.
Immediately behind her came the “Iroquois,” which was attacked by the “McRae” and another Confederate vessel.
The “McRae” was commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Huger, who had been serving on the “Iroquois” at the war's beginning.
An 11-inch shell and a stand of cannister aimed from his old ship killed Huger and disabled the “McRae.”
the first object of our attentions; but they must be equally well trained for stopping shot-holes and extinguishing fire.
Hot and cold shot will, no doubt, be freely dealt to us, and there must be stout hearts and quick hands to extinguish the one and stop the holes of the other.
I shall expect the most prompt attention to signals and verbal orders, either from myself or the captain of the fleet, who, it will be understood, in all cases acts by my authority.
On the 20th of April, Farragut
had held a council of his officers in which he expressed the opinion that whatever had to be done would have to be done quickly, as the mortar flotilla that was keeping up a constant bombardment of Fort Jackson
and Fort St. Philip
was expending shells and ammunitions at a terrific rate.
There had been no attempt made to sever the heavy chains that, supported by hulks, crossed almost from one shore to the other opposite Fort Jackson
had wisely concluded that it and the obstructions were best left alone until immediately before the attempt to run the forts should be made.
They really acted as a check on the Confederates
themselves, preventing them from making an offensive attack or sending down the numerous fire-rafts that Farragut
knew were kept in readiness.
There was one thing that bothered the officers of the fleet more than it did the man upon whose shoulders the whole responsibility rested, and this was the presence in the river of the two powerful iron-clad rams, the Mississippi
and the Louisiana
. Had it been known that the former was only about two-thirds completed, and that the Louisiana
, although her armament had been placed on board of her, was nothing more than a powerful floating battery with such insufficient motive-power that she was unable to leave her moorings, the fears of many would have been allayed.
The strength of these vessels, and also of the smaller ram, Manassas
, had been greatly exaggerated, but the moral effect of their presence had to be taken into account.
had made up his mind that if there was any ramming to be done he intended to do his share of it, even with his
Porter, whose bomb-vessels backed the fleet
Admiral David Dixon Porter was born in 1813 and died in 1891.
The red blood of the sea-fighter had come down to him unto the third generation.
He was the younger son of Commodore David Porter, who won fame in the “Constellation” and “Essex.”
His grandfather had served with distinction in the nondescript navy of the Colonies in the war for independence.
Yet with such a lineage of the free and open sea, Porter, like Farragut, proved that he could adapt himself to the cramped arenas of bay and river.
It was for his part in the fall of Vicksburg that he was made rear-admiral in 1863.
It was he, too, that was chosen to command the North Atlantic squadron in 1864, when a courageous and steady hand was needed to guide the most important naval operations to a successful outcome.
For his services at Fort Fisher he was made vice-admiral in 1866 and was retired with the rank of admiral in 1870. |
“These rams are formidable things,” he wrote reassuringly, “but when there is room to maneuver, the heavy ships will run over them
On the night of April 20th, Captain Bell
, on board the gunboat Pinola
, with the Itasca
, steamed up the river on the daring duty of cutting the chains and making a passageway for the waiting fleet.
After adventures and misadventures that included the grounding of the Itasca
, the chains were removed.
, in the Itasca
, dropped part of the chain obstruction to the bottom, and carried away more of it while going down the river.
Two of the hulks dragged their anchors and drifted down the stream, and the way was cleared.
General M. L. Smith
, who had been placed in command of the interior line of works around New Orleans, testified as follows before the board that inquired into the capture of New Orleans:
The forts, in my judgment, were impregnable so long as they were in free and open communication with the city.
This communication was not endangered while the obstruction existed.
The conclusion, then, is briefly this: While the obstruction existed the city was safe; when it was swept away, as the defenses then existed, it was in the enemy's power.
, writing home to his family on the 21st of April, refers to this daring performance in the following terms:
Captain Bell went last night to cut the chain across the river.
I never felt such anxiety in my life as I did until his return.
One of his vessels got on shore, and I was fearful she would be captured.
They kept up a tremendous fire on him; but Porter diverted their fire with a heavy cannonade.
They let the chain go, but the man sent to explode the petard did not succeed; his wires broke.
Bell would have burned the hulks, but the illumination would have given the enemy a chance to destroy his gunboat which got aground.
However, the chain was divided, and it gives us space enough to go through.
I was as glad to see Bell on his return as if he had been my boy. I was up all night, and could not sleep until he got back to the ship.
Clearing the way — deck on one of Porter's mortar schooners
Twenty of these vessels accompanied Farragut's expedition.
They were convoyed by six gunboats.
Their huge mortars were capable of dropping shells of large caliber within the forts at a distance of 3,680 yards. The mortar schooners were divided into three divisions.
Two were stationed behind a natural rampart formed by the west bank of the river, where they were screened from view by a thick growth of wood above which their mastheads rose, affording excellent lookouts.
These were further concealed by branches of trees cleverly fastened upon them.
Another division was stationed near the east bank, nearer to the forts and in plain view.
A terrific bombardment was begun on the morning of April 16th, each mortar schooner firing at intervals of ten minutes throughout the day. Toward five o'clock flames were seen curling up in Fort Jackson. Commander Porter, who pulled up the river in a rowboat, ascertained that the Fort itself was burning.
It was indeed in a precarious position, as was learned afterward from Colonel Edward Higgins, the Confederate commander of the fort.
Had the attempt to pass up the river been made next morning, it would probably have been much easier than on April 24th, when the fleet at last got under way. Throughout the succeeding days of waiting, the mortar flotilla kept up its vigorous bombardment, withdrawing, however, the division on the east bank, which had suffered in its exposed position during the first vigorous attack, and uniting it with the other vessels, which were protected by the screen on woods on the west bank. |
Twice had Farragut
been compelled to postpone the advance up the river, but on the night of the 23d everything was in readiness; Lieutenant Caldwell
, in a ten-oared boat, made another daring reconnaissance on the evening of the 23d, and reported that the way through the obstructions was clear.
Somehow, the Confederates
must have known that the time had come, for as early as eleven o'clock they had lighted immense piles of wood along the shores and turned loose their burning rafts.
It was five minutes to two on the morning of the 24th when two red lights appeared at the flagship's peak, the signal for getting under way. The first division of eight vessels under command of Captain Bailey
passed through the opening in the obstructions and headed for Fort St. Philip
In less than ten minutes Bailey
's vessels were replying to the concentrated fire that was poured in upon them.
, on the Varuna
, accompanied by the Oneida
, had kept in close to shore, and thus escaped a great deal of the fire of the heavy guns that had been elevated and pointed to cover the midchannel.
But now Bailey
's division found that there were more than land batteries to contend with — they had to meet the Confederate fleet.
, fired upon and rammed by the Louisiana State
gunboat Governor Moore
and River Defense ram Stonewall Jackson
, was forced to run into shoal water where she promptly sunk to her topgallant forecastle.
The Confederate vessels were so pierced by the Varuna's
fire that they, too, were run ashore in flames.
, which had already disabled one of the Confederate gunboats, came up and received the surrender of the Confederate Commander Kennon
and the crew of the burning Governor Moore
As the Brooklyn
came through the opening in the barrier, she ran afoul of the little Kineo
and almost sank her. A few minutes later the ugly shape of the turtle-back ram Manassas
appeared almost under the Brooklyn's
Had she not changed her course a little all would have been over, but the blow glanced from the chain armor slung along her sides.
eagerness to see what damage had been inflicted, a man crawled out of a hatch on the sloping topsides of the ram while she was so close that she was grating along beneath the Brooklyn's
A quartermaster, standing in the fore chains, hove the lead at him and knocked him overboard.
Undaunted, the ram turned upstream again, and the Mississippi
and the Kineo
, clearly outlined now in the glare of the burning fire-rafts, swung out into the channel and turned to meet her. If either had struck her fair they would have rolled her over like a log. Cleverly she eluded the onslaught and turned inshore; reaching the river bank, her crew swarmed out of her like ants.
Just then the Mississippi
gave her a broadside that knocked her into deeper water.
A few minutes later, all on fire, she passed Porter
's mortar vessels, and blew up with a faint explosion.
When the larger vessels came within the zone of fire and opened their broadsides, the cannonading was terrific.
Never before, in so few moments, had such a weight of metal been exchanged.
, in trying to avoid a fire-raft pushed by the Confederate tug Mosher
, had grounded; and the little steamer, which was under command of a river captain named Horace Sherman
, succeeded in lodging the huge torch along-side.
, from the quarter-deck, immediately took control of the situation.
Streams of water were turned on the flames that were leaping up the ship's sides and rigging; she appeared to be all ablaze, but at last Master
's Mate Allen
, who was in charge of the ship's fire brigade, succeeded in getting the flames under control, and by the time the flagship had worked off the bank and headed up the stream they were extinguished.
The dauntless little Mosher
received a broadside at close range and had sunk with all on board.
It was an awe-inspiring sight.
From the mortar batteries stationed down the stream the great shells rose in criss-cross fiery trails above the battle-smoke.
The continuous cannonading from the forts and vessels had resolved itself into a deep
The “Winona” --last in the line
This little vessel, mounting but two guns, brought up the rear of the third division in the passage of the New Orleans forts.
Following the red stern-light of the “Itasca,” she became entangled in the logs and driftwood of the Confederate obstructions on the smoke-clouded river.
In backing out she fouled the “Itasca” ; both vessels lost nearly half an hour in getting under way again.
By this time most of the squadron had passed the forts and daylight was coming fast.
Undaunted, Lieutenant Edward Tatnall Nichols of the “Winona” pressed on, a fair mark for the gunners of Fort Jackson.
The first shot from the Fort killed one man and wounded another; the third and fourth shots killed or wounded the entire gun-crew of her 30-pounder except one man. Still Lieutenant Nichols pressed on to Fort St. Philip.
There his vessel and the “Itasca” became the center of such a terrific storm of shot that Commander David D. Porter, of the mortar-boat flotilla, signalled the two little vessels to retire.
The “Itasca” had to be run ashore below the mortar-boats.
The “Winona” had been “hulled several times, and the decks were wet fore and aft from the spray of the falling shot.”
She survived to run the batteries at Vicksburg with Farragut.
She exchanged a few shells with Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay while on blockade duty there, August 30, 1862. |
The “Hartford” after “passing the forts” a second time: the altered appearance of the famous ship on her voyage of peace
The photographic chronicling of the “most daring deed” would remain incomplete without this presentment of the gallant “Hartford” as she paused at Baton Rouge on a second and peaceful visit in 1882.
The rule against the inclusion of any but war-time scenes in this photographic history has therefore been suspended in favor of this striking photograph — previously unpublished like the others.
The people of New Orleans who remembered the “Hartford” in 1862 would hardly have recognized her when, twenty years afterward, she once more steamed up the river and dropped her anchor off the levee.
Her appearance, it is seen, was greatly changed; her engines had been altered and she was a much faster vessel than before.
When she had passed through the iron hail from the forts, she was not so trim as she is in this picture.
Her top-gallant masts had been sent down and all but her lower yards were on deck; cables were slung along her sides and she was stripped for the fray.
Lytle, the Confederate photographer, who had photographed the grand old flagship and her consorts in war-time, also took this photograph of her when she came as a peaceful visitor.
The “Hartford” had been for a long time on the European station, and there was hardly a port at which she entered where her name and her fame had not preceded her. Her decks were constantly thronged with visitors, and among her crew were many of the men who had fought with Farragut.
These prideful veterans could still point out some of her honorable scars as they told their adventures. |
jarring note like the pedal-stop of some great organ; the air vibrated with the sound.
Under the dropping arches of the shells the vessels of the second division became intermingled.
The fire-rafts, pushed by the heroic little unarmored tugs, were among them.
When the flames leaped up the Hartford's
sides and some men of the broadside batteries drew back, Farragut
, from the quarter-deck, called out in ringing tones:
Don't flinch from that fire, boys!
There's a hotter fire than that for those who don't do their duty.
An instant later, as the main-shrouds ignited and the scorched paint from the bulwarks licked about the ports, he raised his hands above his head, exclaiming, “My God!
Is it to end this way?”
Among the other smaller vessels the battle became dispersed into single actions like that between the Varuna
and the Governor Moore
, the Iroquois
and the McRae
, when the latter was driven off and her commander killed, but before daylight every Federal ship but the Itasca, Kennebec
, and Winona
, which were forced to turn back, was above the forts, whose usefulness in protecting the city now was gone.
's fleet the casualties amounted to one hundred and eighty-four; the Confederate
losses were never ascertained.
There were only two batteries now between the Federals
and New Orleans.
On the 25th of April, at one o'clock in the afternoon, the inhabitants of that city saw the fleet drop anchor off the levee.
The two small batteries had only fired a shotted salute.
On the 1st of May, General Butler
arrived with transports, and the occupation was made complete.
The forts had surrendered to Porter
on the 28th of April.
were given up by the civil authorities within a week or so. The opening of the Mississippi
from the south had begun.