“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.