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Chapter 23: destruction of the ram Arkansas.--capture of Galveston.--capture of the Harriet Lane.--sinking of the Hatteras.--attack on Baton Rouge.--Miscellaneous engagements of the gun-boats.

  • Remarks on letting the Mississippi River below Vicksburg fall into the hands of the Confederates again.
  • -- destruction of the ram Arkansas. -- capture of Galveston by a portion of Farragut's Squadron. -- recapture of Galveston by the Confederates. -- destruction of the Westfield. -- Commander Renshaw and a portion of his crew blown up. -- the steamer Harriet Lane captured by the Confederates. -- the blockade abandoned. -- appearance of the Alabama. -- sinking of the Hatteras by the Alabama. -- hardships endured by officers and crew of the Hatteras -- attempt to pass Port Hudson by Farragut's Squadron and loss of the frigate Mississippi. -- casualties. -- the effect of the return of Farragut's fleet before Vicksburg. -- capture of Baton Rouge, La. -- effect of the destruction of the ram Arkansas. -- Confederates attack Baton Rouge and are repulsed. -- honor to whom honor is due. -- attack on Donaldsonville. -- fight with the Confederate iron-clad cotton. -- capture of the A. B. Seger. -- ascending the Louisiana bayous. -- Miscellaneous engagements of the gun-boats. -- death of Commander Buchanan. -- vessels and officers of the West Gulf Squadron, January 1, 1863.

Up to the time of the escapade of the ram Arkansas, a general idea has been given of the performances of Farragut's fleet.

After leaving Rear-Admiral Davis and running the Vicksburg batteries, he proceeded down the river to New Orleans with the Hartford, Richmond, Brooklyn, Pinola and Kennebec. The old mortar fleet, which under Commander Porter had done such good service at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and at Vicksburg, had been divided up and withdrawn from the upper Mississippi, and the river from Baton Rouge to Vicksburg was now virtually left to the Confederates, who deliberately went to work and lined the banks with guns, making, besides Vicksburg, another Gibraltar at Port Hudson, which caused much trouble to the Union commanders before they were able to retake it.

The Mississippi had been so easily opened, all the way from New Orleans to Vicksburg, that it ought never to have been closed again, even if it required the whole power of the Federal government to keep it open. The importance of this river to the Confederates was too great for them not to strain every nerve to keep possession of its banks; but the reader will naturally wonder that the Federal government should have allowed such important positions to fall back into their hands.

It is certain that great ignorance or indifference was shown with regard to the importance of Vicksburg and the part it was to play in the war, and this ignorance or indifference, or whatever it may be called, cost the United States many millions of dollars to remedy.

The several historians of the war have managed to glide by this subject with only a passing notice, but it is worthy of careful investigation.

The great importance of the Mississippi to both parties had been manifest from the beginning, but its importance was much greater to the Confederates than to the Federals. It washed the shores of ten different states, northern and southern, and received the waters of fifty or sixty navigable rivers. It was the great connecting link between the two sections, and was in fact the backbone of the rebellion. We had provided the Confederates with guns enough at Norfolk to fortify it in all its length, and they had not failed to make the most of all their means of defence.

The possession of the great river was equally sought by both parties; for it was evident from the first that whichever side obtained control of it and its tributaries would possess an immense advantage.

If the Confederates lost it they would be cut off from their great source of supplies and be compelled to obtain everything from [269] Europe through blockade runners. This consideration alone would have been sufficient to account for all the blood and treasure which was expended in its defence, and the strength of the fortifications upon its banks show that the importance of the Mississippi had been well estimated by the Confederate generals at the very beginning of the war.

All of the strongholds to the north of Vicksburg had fallen into the hands of the Federals as early as the spring of 1862, and they were now brought face to face with the great Gibraltar of the West, which still barred the way down the river, although all that portion below it had been opened after the capture of New Orleans. But it now seems that we were about to give up all the advantages we had gained, and allow the Confederates to obtain fresh strength by again yielding to them the most important part of the river, after we had so firmly secured it.

Destruction of the ram Arkansas by the U. S. Gun-boat Essex, Commander Wm. D. Porter. (from a sketch by Rear-Admiral Walke.)

While the river was held by our gunboats, the Confederates were prevented from obtaining cattle and supplies from Texas. A report of Lieut.-Commanding Ransom, U. S.N., shows that at one blow he captured 1500 head of cattle which the Confederates were trying to pass across the river, and succeeded in getting them down to New Orleans, where they became the property of the Federal Army.

Had the original plan been carried out (to push on to Vicksburg after the fall of New Orleans, and hold it with ten thousand men) the Mississippi would never again have been closed against us. We sent a few soldiers up to Vicksburg, it is true, but scarcely enough to form a corporal's guard, and instead of landing at Vicksburg they took the opposite bank of the river and commenced digging a ditch, but soon they all became sick and returned to Baton Rouge.

The building of the forts at Port Hudson had so far emboldened the Confederates that they refitted the Arkansas and sent her down to Baton Rouge to co-operate with their Army against that port; but both the ram and the Army came to grief.

The fire of the Union gun-boats Keneo and Katahdin repulsed the Confederates when they attacked our Army with a superior force, and the ram Arkansas was engaged by the Essex, Captain W. D. Porter, accompanied by the Cayuga and Sumter. She was soon set on fire and totally destroyed — whether from the shells of the Essex or by the Confederates to escape capture is not known. The Confederates claim that one of her engines was disabled, and that she was destroyed by them; but, be that as it may, her destruction was due to the presence of the Essex and her two consorts.

It was a great relief to Farragut and his officers to get rid of the ram Arkansas, as she had been a regular bete noir to them, and no one could sleep comfortably while she was about. Farragut could now go to the Gulf and arrange for blockading the coast off Galveston.

The mortar flotilla steamers were, in October 1862, placed under the command of Commander W. B. Renshaw. These vessels were the Harriet Lane, Commander Wainwright, Owasco, Commander Guest, Clifton, Lieut.-Commander Richard L. Law and the schooner Henry Janes. The mortar vessels which had been left at New Orleans were afterwards employed at the siege of Port Hudson with good effect.

On October 6th, Commander Renshaw reported to Rear-Admiral Farragut that with the above named vessels he had captured the city of Galveston after a feeble resistance, and now held it ready for a garrison. This was an important capture as it closed up effectually one of the favorite resorts of blockade runners. It was at once garrisoned by the Army, and Renshaw's vessels took positions in the several entrances of the arbor to prevent the exit or entrance of the enemy.

We did not hold this place long. On January 1st, 1863, General Magruder attacked our vessels with three steamers, fitted with cotton-bale defences, and manned by sharpshooters. At 11.30 A. M., these steamers were discovered coming down the bay towards our fleet. The Harriet Lane was above the city and she was first attacked. At 4 A. M., two of the enemy's [270] steamers ran alongside of her and swept her decks with a fire from hundreds of rifles. Commander Wainwright was killed while gallantly leading his men; Lieutenant-Commander Lea, the Executive, fell mortally wounded, the next officer was severely wounded and half the people on deck shot down. It was a case of complete slaughter, and in ten minutes the Harriet Lane was in the enemy's possession. The other Union vessels opened their batteries but were not able to do much execution while the enemy's steamers were alongside the Harriet Lane.

At the same time that he attacked the

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