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Chapter 21: capture of New Orleans.--first attack on Vicksburg by Farragut's fleet and mortar flotilla.--junction of flag-officers Farragut and Davis above Vicksburg.--ram Arkansas.

When Farragut passed the Chalmette batteries, and the vessel approached New Orleans, the city levee presented a scene of desolation. Ships, cotton, steamers and coal, were in a blaze and it looked as if the whole city was on fire.

It required all the ingenuity of the commanding officers to avoid coming in contact with the floating conflagration, and when the ships dropped anchor before the conquered city, thousands of people crowded the shore, shouting and bidding defiance to the victorious invaders.

There was no insulting epithet these maniacs did not heap upon the heads of those on board the ships; it was as if bedlam had broken loose and all its inmates were assembled on the levee at New Orleans.

Farragut at once ordered the seizure of a large ram which was intended to be a very formidable vessel, but was still unfinished. Before the officer who had been sent to take possession could reach the ram she came floating down the river enveloped in flames. Another was sunk right opposite the Custom House. Others, which were just begun at Algiers, on the opposite side of the river from New Orleans, were burning.

Truly, the Queen city of the South was doing her share in building rams to annihilate our Navy and Commerce, but where were our rams that should have been built by the North which boasted of its great skill and resources? These should have been ready to sally out within three months after the war began, to drive the Louisiana, Manassas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Albemarle, and others, back to their holes or crush them like so many egg shells. Our formidable vessels were not even begun — the little Monitor even was due to the energy and public spirit of a private citizen, John Ericsson, who furnished his vessel just in time to save the honor of the nation.

The nondescript, wooden Navy, with scarcely a rifled gun, was called upon to attack these monster iron-clad rams sheltered by forts and floating obstructions and protected by torpedoes and fire-rafts; and was expected in all cases to win, notwithstanding the difficulties to be encountered.

The American people do not know, and [247] probably never will appreciate, the value of the capture of New Orleans. Had the city been left three months longer, to perfect its defences and finish its works of offence, our wooden fleet would have been driven North and the entire Southern coast would have been sealed against us. The blockade would have been raised, and the independence of the South recognized by the powers of Europe. All this was prevented by the Navy without the assistance of the Army — that same Navy which is to-day a mere shadow owing to the neglect of Congress to foster and uphold it.

What were the intentions of the Confederates at New Orleans can be easily understood by reading Flag-officer Farragut's report. When he went up the river to Baton Rouge, he found the banks bristling with cannon, including many of the guns the government had so ignominiously deserted at Norfolk. These were intended to bar the way against any invading squadron approaching New Orleans from the North; but the panic had spread even to that point, and all the guns were spiked and their carriages destroyed.

One work eight miles above New Orleans, reached from the Mississippi nearly across to Lake Ponchartrain, and was partly mounted with twenty-six heavy guns, intended to bid defiance to our Navy and Army. A mile above this were two other works waiting only for more of the Norfolk guns, or for some of the heavy Brooke rifles which the Tredegar works in Richmond were turning out by wholesale.

Still further up the river the Confederates had constructed one of the most herculean works of the kind ever beheld. It was an immense raft of logs bolted and chained together with much ingenuity; and was intended to be thrown across the Mississippi on the approach of the Federal ironclads should they descend the river so far.

Had New Orleans not been attacked from the sea at the time it was the Confederates would have laughed at our old “turtles,” and would have had rams and iron-clads enough to have easily crushed them. They would not have needed the great raft to keep out the Federal gun-boats. Nay, more, these great iron-clads would have made their way up the river and our towns on the Mississippi and its tributaries would have been at their mercy. All this disgrace and mortification was saved the country by the energy, zeal, and bravery of the Navy, in wooden ships armed with smooth-bore guns. St. Vincent, the Nile, Trafalgar, were all great victories, but they were no more important to England than was Farragut's achievement to the United States.

One of Farragut's first acts on reaching New Orleans was to send Captain Bailey on shore, accompanied by Lieutenant George H. Perkins, to demand from the mayor the surrender of the city. These two officers went on their perilous service without an escort and passed right through the crowd of maniacs who were making all sorts of threats from the levee at any one who should dare come on shore from the ships. At this time the whole city was in an uproar, such as was perhaps never before seen in this country. All the vagabonds of the town, thieves, ragpickers, abandoned women, the inhabitants of the slums, all were abroad. their faces distorted by passion, the riffraff, hobnobbing with the well-to-do, and all animated by a common hatred of the detested Yankees.

Lieutenant (now Captain) George H. Perkins. (from a portrait taken 1884.)

It looked as if law and order could never be re-established. The steamers that had been left unburned were lying at the levee, with crowds of maniacs rushing over their decks, the men smashing in the rice tierces, the women scraping up all that could be gathered. Such portions as could not be carried off were thrown into the river--“the damned Yankees shan't have it!” they cried. There was no way of testifying their rage to which the mob did not resort.

All at once a boat was seen pulling for the shore with two officers sitting in the sternsheets. These officers landed, faced the crowd, and walked as steadily as if they had a thousand men at their backs.

“I want to see the mayor,” said Captain Bailey, “show me where he lives” ; and now the crowd woke again from the brief silence that had fallen upon it. Again they [248] roared and shouted, “Down with the Yankees!” “shoot them!” “hang them to a lamp post!” and they crowded around the two officers who walked fearlessly on. In a few moments the officers were lost sight of in the crowd, and no one in the squadron knew what might be their fate, but Bailey and Perkins walked coolly on in defiance of the rabble until their determined courage won respect even from that howling mob.

The guns of the Hartford were loaded with grape and canister, and as Bailey and Perkins were shut in by the crowd, the men stood to their guns ready for the first sign from the tops, that harm had come to the officers, to open the battery on the mob.

However, no harm came to those two brave men. It would seem that, in an American mob, there is always some little spark of chivalry, especially where men show pluck. So it was in this case; the two officers reached the mayor's house, and were shown into the presence of the mayor, Mr. Monroe, a cool, brave gentleman, to be sure, but one ruled by the rabble, which has always had undue influence in New Orleans.

“We have come.” said Captain Bailey to the mayor, “to demand the surrender of New Orleans, and that the State flag be hauled down from the public buildings, and that only the United States flag be hoisted there.”

“You have the power in your own hands,” replied the mayor, “and can do as you please, but I doubt if there is a man in New Orleans who would haul down that flag without being assassinated on the spot.”

The officers having performed their mission, took their leave. The crowd had received some intimation of their demand, and on their appearance again howled, if possible, louder than before, but

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