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Chapter 18: capture of forts Jackson and St. Philip, and the surrender of New Orleans.

  • Naval expedition fitted out.
  • -- Farragut commands expedition. -- Farragut's and Porter's fleets. -- their appearance in the Mississippi. -- forts Jackson and St. Philip. -- confidence of Confederates in the defense of New Orleans. -- obstructions. -- Confederate fleet. -- Porter's mortar fleet. -- bombardment of forts Jackson and St. Philip. -- terrible work of mortar fleet. -- the chains cut. -- passage of forts by war vessels. -- order of vessels in passing. -- desperate naval battle. -- the Varuna sunk after a gallant fight. -- the Hartford attacked by fire rafts. -- brave words of Farragut. -- the ram Manassas attacks the Hartford and Brooklyn. -- the little Itasca. -- graphic scenes. -- Farragut on his way to New Orleans. -- the ram Manassas destroyed. -- the Chalmette batteries. -- forts Jackson and St. Philip capitulate. -- Flag of truce violated. -- explosion of the Louisiana. -- Miscellaneous incidents. -- Farragut before New Orleans. -- congratulatory letters of Hon. Gideon Welles.

On the 12th of November. 1861, President Lincoln ordered that a naval expedition should be fitted out for the capture of New Orleans. Captain David G. Farragut was detailed for the command of this expedition, with the title of Flag-officer. and efficient mortar flotilla was fitted out under Com. David D. Porter, and attached to the force. Besides the mortar vessels, there were in the flotilla seven steamers to manage the former in the swift current of the Mississippi, and to aid them with their fire in case of necessity.

Farragut sailed on the 20th of January, 1862, with the following orders from the Secretary of the Navy:

There will be attached to your squadron a fleet of bomb-vessels, and armed steamers enough to manage them, all under command of Corn. 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 will be permitted to organize and practice with them at that point.

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 defences 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 therein, 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 defences in the rear.

Farragut, as soon as possible, proceeded to his station, and assumed command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron.

While the foregoing plans were developing at the North, the Confederates had not remained inactive. Acquainted, almost from its incipiency, with the object of the expedition, they had exerted themselves to the utmost in strengthening the river defenses at Forts Jackson and St. Philip; which included obstructions on the river itself, besides the preparation of what might well be considered a formidable naval force.

Of the latter, the ram Manassas, was improved and commissioned, while the Louisiana, iron-clad, of sixteen heavy guns, was rapidly nearing completion. Two other powerful iron-clads, intended to clear the southern coast of blockaders, were under [176] construction at New Orleans, while further inland, at Yazoo City, the iron-clad ram Arkansas was almost ready for service. Several other iron-clad vessels were, at the same time, building at various points on the tributaries.

Admiral David G. Farragut.

A comparison of the work done by the North and the South, up to the advance on New Orleans, is largely in favor of the latter; for not one among all the vessels sent to Farragut possessed any power of resistance, save what had been shown from the time of Nelson. Not only had the North failed to avail itself of its great resources for the construction of powerful armor-clad vessels in sufficient numbers to strike at once a heavy blow, but up to the departure of this expedition, a commencement only had been made, by the construction of the Monitor, one small iron-clad, and the new Ironsides. The subsequent encounter of the former vessel with the Merrimac seemed to show for the first time the great utility of such craft. The action [177] of the Federal Government in this matter seems inexcusable.

By the middle of March, the following ships, assigned to Farragut's command, had assembled at Key West, the rendezvous:

Hartford, 25 guns, Com. Richard Wainwright; Brooklyn, 24 guns, Capt. T. T. Craven; Richmond, 26 guns, Com. James Alden; Mississippi, 12 guns, Com. Melancton Smith; Pensacola, 24 guns. Capt. H. W. Morris; Cayuga, 6 guns, Lieut. Com. N. B. Harrison; Oneida, 9 guns, Com. S. P. Lee; Varuna, 10 guns, Corn. Charles S. Boggs; Katahdin, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. George H. Preble; Kineo, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. George M. Ransom; Wissahickon, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. A. N. Smith; Winona, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. E. T. Nichols; Itasca, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. C. H. B. Caldwell; Pinola, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. Pierce Crosby; Kennebec, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. John H. Russell; Iroquois, 9 guns, Com. John De Camp; Sciota, 4 guns, Lieut. Com. Edward Donaldson. Total guns, 177.

Also the following steamers belonging to the mortar flotilla: Harriet Lane, Owasco. Clifton, Westfield, Miami, Jackson; besides the mortar schooners, which will be named hereafter.

The frigate Colorado, of fifty guns, is not enumerated, for though present, both Flag-officer Farragut and Capt. Bailey, his second in command, concluded that it was impossible to lighten her sufficiently to cross the bar at Southwest Pass.

Towed by the Harriet Lane, Owasco, Westfield, and Clifton, all the mortar schooners crossed the bar at Pass à l'outre on March 18th, and were ordered by Farragut to proceed via the junction to the Southwest Pass.

At this time the only vessels that had crossed the bar at the Southwest Pass, after an unsuccessful attempt with the Brooklyn at Pass a l'outre, were the Hartford and the Brooklyn. The Navy Department had been mistaken in sending vessels of such draught as the Colorado, Pensacola, and Mississippi, for though the two latter ships were finally with great difficulty worked over, the time lost amounted to at least twelve days, with a corresponding delay of the fleet.

Farragut's first act upon reaching the Mississippi was to despatch his Chief of Staff, Capt. Henry H. Bell, with the gunboats Kennebec and Wissahickon up tile river on a reconnoissance. After returning from the neighborhood of the forts, Capt. Bell reported that “the obstructions seemed formidable. Eight hulks were moored in line across the river, with heavy chains extending from one to the other. Rafts of logs were also used, and the passage between the forts was thus entirely closed.”

Forts Jackson and St. Philip had been much strengthened since the expedition was started. Situated in a most commanding position, at a turn in the river, the former on the west bank and the latter on the east, they commanded the stream above and below; Fort St. Philip being particularly well placed to rake the lower approach.

The works themselves were of masonry. Fort Jackson was of pentagonal form, with bastions, its river front being about one hundred yards from the levee, above which its casemates just appeared. The armaments consisted of a total of seventy-five guns, distributed as follows: Two ten inch columbiads, one six-inch rifle, and thirty-three thirty-two pounders on the main parapet; two ten-inch columbiads and one nine-inch mortar in the second bastion; one columbiad and two eight-inch mortars in the third bastion; eight thirty-two pounders in the northwest casemate, six thirty-two pounders in the northeast casemate, and ten short guns and two brass field-pieces in the bastion casemates. The water battery of this fort, having the command of the lower approach, was a powerful work, mounting seven guns, as follows: One ten and one nine-inch columbiad, two heavy rifle guns and three thirty-two pounders.

Fort Jackson was altogether in a good condition; its citadel, in the centre of the works, contained large amounts of war stores and provisions, while the bombproofs had been made more secure by sand bags piled upon them to a depth of some six feet, and all vulnerable parts protected in like manner.

The guns of Fort St. Philip were all in barbette, and numbered a total of fifty-three pieces of ordnance, as follows: Forty-three guns, chiefly thirty-two pounders, one thirteen-inch mortar, one six-inch rifle, four ten-inch sea-coast mortars, one ten-inch siege mortar, one eight-inch siege mortar, and three pieces of light artillery.

Each of the forts was garrisoned by some seven hundred men, and both, with their adjuncts, were under command of Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, whose gallantry and ability were conspicuous.

Less current and fewer eddies existed close under the west bank, near Fort Jackson; consequently the best passage up river was in that channel. The Confederates had obstructed this way by means of a heavy raft of logs, which closed the only part of the river not blockaded by the hulks and their chain connections, anchored across, below the forts, almost from bank [178] to bank. The raft was fitted to act as a gate, opening or closing at the pleasure of the defenders.

Besides the land defenses, a fleet of war vessels, of more or less power, had been organized by the Confederates, from such material as they could procure; heavy tugs and merchant vessels were converted with some success, until a fleet of eighteen vessels, including the ram Manassas, and the iron-clad Louisiana, was gathered under the command of Com. John K. Mitchell, of the Confederate Navy.

This fleet was composed of two divisions, one belonging to the regularly organized Navy and the other forming what was called the River Defense, under the immediate command of a merchant captain named Stephenson.

Of the regular Navy were the following: The iron-clad Louisiana, sixteen heavy guns, crew two hundred men, a powerful vessel, with armor sufficient to turn the projectiles of any gun in the Union fleet. Upon the roof of the casemate was a gallery for sharp-shooters, running around the entire space. The machinery, consisting of twin screw engines and central paddles, was unfinished, and her inactivity at the time of the fight was due to that fact. The Louisiana was commanded by Com. Charles F. McIntosh, formerly of the U. S. Navy.

The McRae, commanded by Lieut. Thomas B. Huger, was a sea-going steamer, mounting six thirty-two pounders and one nine-inch shell gun.

The steamer Jackson, Lieut. F. B. Renshaw, commanding, mounted two thirty-two pounders.

The ram Manassas, Lieut. A. F. Warley commanding, mounted one thirty-two pounder in bow.

The foregoing, with two launches armed with one howitzer each, constituted the regular Navy command.

Included in this division there were also the following sea-steamers converted into State gun-boats belonging to Louisiana. These vessels were lightly protected with pine and cotton barricades over the machinery and boilers.

The General Quitman, commanded by Capt. Grant, mounting two thirty-two pounders; The Governor Moore, Commander Beverly Kennon, mounting two thirty-two pounder rifled guns. According to Commander Mitchell the above, “being converted vessels, were too slightly built for war purposes.”

Attached to his command were the following unarmed steamers: The Phoenix, W. Burton, and the Landes.

Subject to his orders, but chartered by the Army, were the small tugs Mosher, “Belle Algerine,” “Star,” and Music.

The second division, the River Defense, commanded as before stated, consisted of the following converted tow-boats: The Warrior, Stonewall Jackson, Resolute, General Lovell, Defiance, and the R. I. Breckenridge.

These vessels mounted from one to two thirty-two pounder pivots each, some of the guns being rifled. By means of iron casing their bows, they had been fitted for use as rams.

Little assistance to the fleet resulted from the employment of these boats, on account of the insubordination of their division commander.

As a whole, the Confederate fleet mounted thirty-nine guns, all, with the exception of two, being thirty-two pounders, some nine of which were rifled.

From the foregoing enumeration it will be seen that strongly-built works, mounting one hundred and twenty-eight guns, assisted by a partially armored fleet carrying thirty-nine guns, opposed the passage of Farragut's wooden vessels carrying one hundred and seventy-seven guns.

Much assistance was expected by the Confederates from numerous fire-rafts that were placed at Commander Mitchell's disposal for the purpose of lighting the passage, and confusing the order of the Union fleet.

Assuming, upon the general concession of military men, that one gun in a fort was equal to about three afloat, and considering the disadvantage of a contrary three-and-a-half knot current to the Federal vessels (with the additional channel obstructions of fire-rafts and chains), the odds were greatly in favor of the Confederate defenses. This was thoroughly realized by the Confederates, who were rather impatient than otherwise for Farragut's advance, believing him certain to meet with disaster. Like vigilant foes, however, they fully improved the time afforded by the delay of the fleet at the bar, and materially increased the strength of their position in the interim preceding the attack.

With this understanding of the defense, we will return to the attacking force.

The position selected for the first and third divisions of the mortar fleet, during the bombardment, was on the west bank of the river, at a point thoroughly screened from the forts by a thick growth of wood. The mast-heads of the schooners rose above the trees, and afforded a capital outlook from which to direct the fire, but being ingeniously covered with brush, they were rendered indistinguishable to the Confederate gunners.

The mortar vessels were organized as-follows:

First division, Lieut. Com. Watson Smith, [179] consisted of the following vessels: Norfolk Packet, Lieut. Smith; O. H. Lee, Act. Mast. Godfrey; Para, Act. Mast. Furber; C. P. Williams, Act. Mast. Lang-thorne; Arletta, Act. Mast. Smith; Bacon, Act. Mast. Rogers; Sophronia, Act. Mast. Bartholomew.

Second division, under Lieut. W. W. Queen: T. A. Ward, Lieut. Queen; M. J. Carlton, Act. Mast. Jack; Matthew Vassar, Act. Mast. Savage; “George Mang-ham,” Act. Mast. Collins; Orvetta, Act. Mast. Blanchard; Sidney C. Jones, Act. Mast. Graham; “Adolph Hugel,” Act. Mast. Van Buskirk.

Third division.--Lieut. K. R. Breese: John Griffiths, Act. Mast. Henry Brown; Sarah Bruen, Act. Mast. Christian; Racer, Act. Mast. Phinney; Sea Foam, Act. Mast. Williams; Henry James. Act. Mast. Pennington; “1Dan Smith,” Act. Mast. George W. Brown.

The leading vessels of the first division were moored at a distance of 2,850 yards from Fort Jackson, and 3,680 yards from Fort St. Philip, the others occupying positions close under the bank and below the first--this same order being preserved by the third division. The second division was placed at the opposite bank of the river, with its head 3,680 yards from Fort Jackson.

The bombardment commenced on the morning of April 16th, each vessel firing at the rate of one shell every ten minutes.

Forts Jackson and St. Philip returned the mortar fire immediately, though not at once effectually, owing to the secure position of the vessels behind the natural rampart afforded by the bank. The Confederate fire becoming better upon obtaining the range, Lieut. Com. Guest with the Octorara, was sent to the head of the line to open fire with his eleven-inch gun. This position was occupied for an hour and fifty minutes, and only abandoned for more ammunition.

The second division of mortar-boats, on the east bank, did excellent work during this day, but being exposed, suffered much from the fire of the forts. The position was retained until the cessation of the evening's fire at sunset, when the division was removed to the west bank with the others, under cover.

About 5 P. M. of the first day, fire was seen to break out in Fort Jackson, and the garrison soon left the guns to fight the fames. Some in the Federal fleet were inclined to believe the fire to be from a raft, but this was disproved by Con. Porter, who pulled up the river in a boat and ascertained that the fort itself was burning, a fact at once reported to the flag-officer,

The heavy work exhausted the men at the mortars by nightfall, but the evidences of accurate practice, as shown in the condition of the fort, increased their activity until shells were thrown at the rate of one in five minutes from each vessel, or, in all, two hundred and forty shells an hour. To admit of rest, the fire was limited to one shell each half hour during the night. In the light of subsequent events this first day's fire was shown to have been the most effective of any during the bombardment, and had the fleet been ready to move at once, the passage could have been effected without serious difficulty.

The bombardment was opened afresh on the following day, and continued without intermission until the final attack of the fleet on April 24th.

The effects of this fire are best described by Colonel Edward Higgins (the commander at Fort Jackson), dated April 4, 1872.

Your mortar-boats were placed in position on the afternoon of the 17th of April, 1862, and opened fire at once upon Fort Jackson, where my headquarters were established. The practice was excellent from the commencement of the fire to the end, and continued, without intermission, until the morning of the 24th of April, when the fleet passed at about four o'clock.

Nearly every shell of the many thousand fired at the fort lodged inside of the works.

On the first night of the attack, the citadel and all buildings in rear of the fort were fired by bursting shell, and also the sand-bag walls that had been thrown around the magazine doors.

The fire, as you are aware, raged with great fury, and no effort of ours could subdue it. At this time, and nearly all this night, Fort Jackson was helpless; its magazines were inaccessible, and we could have offered no resistance to a passing fleet.

The next morning a terrible scene of destruction presented itself. The wood-work of the citadel being all destroyed, and the crumbling walls being knocked about the fort by the bursting shells, made matters still worse for the garrison. The work of destruction from now until the morning of the 24th, when the fleet passed, was incessant.

I was obliged to confine the men most rigidly to the casemates, or we should have lost the best part of the garrison. A shell, striking the parapet over one of the magazines, the wall of which was seven feet thick, penetrated five feet and failed to burst. If that shell had exploded, your work would have ended.

Another burst near the magazine door, opening the earth and burying the sentinel and another man five feet in the same grave.

The parapet and interior of the fort were completely honey-combed, and the large number of sand bags with which we were supplied, alone saved us from being blown to pieces a hundred times, our magazine doors being much exposed.

On the morning of the 24th, when the fleet passed, the terrible precision with which your formidable vessels hailed down their tons of bursting shell upon the devoted fort made it impossible for us to obtain either rapidity or accuracy of fire, and thus rendered the passage comparatively easy.

There was not very considerable damage done to [180] our batteries, but few of the guns being dismounted by your fire; everything else in and around the fort was destroyed.

A deserter from the forts presented himself at the Union position on the third day, and excited much incredulity by the statements he made concerning the condition of affairs at Fort Jackson. He represented the garrison as in a desperate and demoralized condition from the effects of the bombs, hundreds of which had struck the works, crushing the bomb-proofs, cutting the levees by which the fort was flooded, and firing the citadel.

Farragut, to whom the deserter was taken to relate his story, was prevented from taking advantage of the state of affairs as represented, by the supposition that the obstructions in the channel were as yet insurmountable, and time was required for a further examination.

Lieut. Crosby with the Pinola, and Lieut. Caldwell with the Itasca, were detailed on April 20th for a night expedition to break the chain which was supposed to extend from shore to shore below the forts.

U. S. Flag-ship Hartford.

The charge of this expedition was given to Captain Bell, Chief of Staff. The Confederates, however, detected the manoeuvre, and the fire of Fort Jackson was concentrated upon the gun-boats, but with little or no effect, on account of the tremendous fire from the mortar flotilla. The cables were parted, and a passage-way on the left bank of the river opened.

For nearly six days and nights the mortars continued their fire-sending in about 2,800 shells every twenty-four hours, or a total of nearly 16,800. At the end of this time the men were giving out, ammunition was exhausted,one schooner — the Carlton--sunk, and the others severely racked by the repeated concussion upon their decks.

By the 23d instant, Farragut concluded that the condition of affairs warranted an attempt to pass the forts. A council of the commanding officers decided upon an advance to be made on the early morning of the 24th.

Meantime the iron-clad Louisiana had been brought to the forts, and an effort was made by the fort Commander, General Duncan, to have her take up a position below the works, from which her heavy guns would reach the fleet. The following communication from General Duncan to Commander Mitchell was written on April 22d:

It is of vital importance that the present fire of the enemy should be withdrawn from us, which you alone can do. This can be done in the manner suggested this morning, under the cover of our guns, while your work on the boat can be carried on in safety and security.

Our position is a critical one, dependent entirely on the powers of endurance of our casemates, many of which have been completely shattered, and are crumbling away by repeated shocks; and, therefore, I respectfully, but earnestly, again urge my suggestion of this morning on your notice. Our magazines are also in danger.

General Duncan's suggestion was unheeded, however, and the really formidable obstruction to the Union fleet remained inactive at the river's bank during the subsequent action.

Various other efforts were made to dislodge the mortar flotilla, and a body of riflemen were sent against them as sharp-shooters, but all without success.

Having previously issued detailed orders to the commanders of vessels, concerning their preparation for the approaching operations. such as slinging chains over vital part of the hulls, sending down light spars, painting hulls mud color, tricing up whiskers, etc., Farragut issued the following general order:

United States Flag-Ship, Hartford, Mississippi River, April 20, 1862.
The Flag-officer, having heard all the opinions expressed by the different commanders, is of the opinion that whatever is to be done will have to be done quickly, or we shall be again reduced to a blockading squadron, without the means of carrying on the bombardment, as we have nearly expended all the shells and fuses, and material for making cartridges. He has always entertained the same opinions which are expressed by Com. Porter; that is, there are three modes of attack, and the question is, which is the one to be adopted?

His own opinion is, that a combination of two should be made, viz.: the forts should be run, and, when a force is once above the forts, to protect the troops, they should be landed at quarantine from the gulf side by bringing them through the bayou, and then our forces should move up the river, mutually aiding each other as it can be done to advantage.

When, in the opinion of the Flag-officer, the propitious time has arrived, the signal will be made to weigh and advance to the conflict. If, in his opinion, at the time of arriving at the respective positions of the different divisions of the fleet, we have the advantage, he will make the signal for close action, No. 8, and abide the result, conquer or to be conquered, drop anchor or keep under way, as in his opinion is best.

Unless the signal above mentioned is made, it will be understood that the first order of sailing will be formed after leaving Fort St. Philip, and we will proceed up the river in accordance with the original opinion expressed. [181]

The programme of the order of sailing accompanies this general order, and the commanders will hold themselves in readiness for the service as indicated.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

D. G. Farragut, Flag-officer West Gulf Blockading Squadron.

The original and best plan of Farragut was that the heavier vessels of the squadron should lead the attack, as they would more easily overcome any obstruction to be met afloat. According to this plan he was to lead in the Hartford, being followed immediately by the Brooklyn, Richmond, Pensacola, and Mississippi. The senior commanders interposed the objection to this that wisdom would not permit the Commander-in-chief to receive the greatest shock of the battle; and he was finally induced, very reluctantly. to consent to an arrangement whereby the fleet would be separated into three divisions, with his immediate position in the centre of the line. Thus formed the vessels were in the following order:

0 Cayuga, First Division. Capt. Bailey.
0 Pensacola,
0 Mississippi,
0 Oneida,
0 Varuna,
0 Katahdin,
0 Kineo,
0 Wissahickon,
0 Hartford, Centre Division. Flag-Officer Farragut.
0 Brooklyn,
0 Richmond,
0 Sciota, Third Division. Capt. H. H. Bell.
0 Iroquois,
0 Kennebec,
0 Pinola,
0 Itasca,
0 Winona.

Besides this arrangement of the fleet, the mortar-steamers were directed to move forward and be ready to engage the water-battery of Fort Jackson, while the former were passing the forts. The Confederates placed much dependence upon this battery on account of its heavy armament and wide range down the river.

According to signal, on the morning of April 24th, at two o'clock, the Federal fleet commenced to get under way. The Confederates, ever alert, detected the movement, probably from the noise of capstans and cables.

Before following the fleet in its movements, a word in relation to the advantages and disadvantages of each side will not be amiss. One fact was strongly in favor of the fleet, the division of the Confederate defenses into three branches, viz.: the land forces, the regular naval forces, and the river defense — thus preventing concert of action. The odds were against Farragut in all other respects.

The impressions of the French Admiral, and Captain Preedy, of the British Navy,--obtained during a visit to the forts before capture — that it would be an impossibility for the fleet to pass the defenses, did not tend to augment hopes of capture; but the washing away of the obstructions and rafts by the strong current restored confidence, and the advance was made with ardor.

It was half-past 2 o'clock before the fleet was fully under way. The strong current impeded their progress to such an extent that it lacked but a quarter of three o'clock before the leading vessel, the Cayuga,

Commander (now Rear-Admiral) Charles F. Boggs, of the Varuna.

was under fire. This commenced from both forts simultaneously.

As the fleet advanced, the five mortar-steamers opened fire from their position, two hundred yards from the water-battery of Fort Jackson, quelling its fire by pouring in canister, shrapnel, and grape, while the mortars threw in their bombs with great fury.

Captain Bailey's division, led by the Cayuga, passed the line of obstructions in close order, but from this point the vessels were somewhat damaged by the heavy fire of St. Philip before it was possible for them to reply. Captain Bailey kept on steadily in the Cayuga and ran the [182]

Farragut's fleet proceeding up the Mississippi River past forts Jackson and St. Philip. Porter's mortar flotilla in the foreground (dressed with trees) bombarding Fort Jackson. (from a sketch by Rear-Admiral Walke, U. S. Navy.)

[183] gauntlet safely, pouring in a destructive fire of grape and canister as his guns could be brought to bear.

Above the forts the enemy's gun-boats were congregated, and several of them made a dash at the Cayuga at once. but were driven off, the Oneida and Varuna coming to her assistance, and, by their rapid and heavy fire, dispersing the opposing vessels. The coolness and discipline of the Union vessels here showed to great advantage, while this work was more congenial than that of battling with forts.

The leading division continued on up the river, engaging everything that was met, most of the enemy's vessels being disabled by the time the centre division had passed the forts, and the action decided in favor of the Federal fleet.

Colonel Higgins, of Fort Jackson. admitted this when he saw the large ships of the Flag-officer's division pass, exclaiming: “Better go to cover, boys; our cake is all dough! the old Navy has won!”

The Varuna, Com. Boggs, of the first division, being a fast vessel, had out-stripped all her consorts, and chased the enemy alone until she found herself surrounded by them. Supposing her to be one of their own vessels, in the darkness, the Confederates did not attack the Varuna until Com. Boggs apprised them of his identity by a rapid fire from both sides. Three of the enemy were driven ashore in flames, and one large steamer with troops on board drifted ashore with an exploded boiler from this encounter. At daylight the Varuna suffered a double attack from the Governor Moore and the Stonewall Jackson.

The former, a powerful vessel, fitted as a ram, was commanded by Lieut. Beverly Kennon, formerly of the U. S. Navy. This vessel ranged up on the quarter of the Varuna? and raked her along the port gangway with her bow-gun, killing some five or six men; also ramming her. Engaging this enemy, the Varuna was exposed to a blow from the ram Stonewall Jackson, which penetrated her starboard side below water. A second blow was planted in the same place, but the enemy was exposed to a destructive fire of grape and canister from the Varuna's eight-inch guns, and finally hauled off, disabled and on fire. But the Varuna had received her death wound, was filling rapidly, and to save life her gallant commander headed her for shoal water where she soon sank; the officers and crew being rescued by the Oneida and Pensacola.

Both the attacking vessels in this spirited engagement were fired by the crews, and abandoned.

The conflict of vessels above the forts was mainly between the small vessels of both sides, and great skill and gallantry were exhibited on either side.

Bailey's division may be said to have swept the way. The gunners of Fort St. Philip were driven to shelter by the heavy batteries of the Pensacola and Mississippi, and the difficulties of the rear ships diminished.

Most of the injuries inflicted upon the fleet were from St. Philip, which had not been exposed to the bombardment as had Fort Jackson.

The Flag-officer, in the centre division, came abreast the forts as Bailey's division reached the turn in the river above. The Hartford and Brooklyn kept the line, but the Richmond had fallen out, and passed up on the west or right bank. Before this time the Fort Jackson garrison had been nearly all driven from their guns by the fire of the mortar-steamers at the water-battery, and the bombs from the schooners, while the river had been illuminated by two fire-rafts, and the brightness as of day revealed everything distinctly.

The difficulty of keeping a line of seventeen vessels of various degrees of speed in close order, against a three-and-a-half knot current in an irregular channel, can be readily appreciated, and it is not singular that some of Farragut's fleet “broke line” under the trying circumstances of the hour. The Iroquois. under Com. De Camp, a very gallant officer. diverged from the line, and being very swift, passed ahead of the vessels of her division. Above Fort Jackson, from which she did not receive a single shot, though passing its levee within fifty yards, the Iroquois was attacked by a ram and the gun-boat McRea, both of which were driven off, and the commander of the latter (Lieut. Huger), mortally wounded.

The Iroquois suffered much loss and was considerably cut up in her actions with the gun-boats and Fort St. Philip.

As Farragut engaged Fort St. Philip at close quarters,the Confederate gunners were again driven to shelter by the fire of his heavy ships, but an attack of another kind was now made upon the Hartford, his flag-ship. The Confederate tug Mosher, commanded by a brave fellow named Sherman, pushed a burning raft alongside the Union vessel, which vainly tried to avoid the contact by porting her helm. This brought her upon a shoal, and to a standstill. The fire-raft was shoved against the port side, while the flames threatened the entire destruction of the ship. But there was no confusion, the starboard battery continued to engage Fort St. Philip, while the firemen fought the blaze that had caught upon the side and rigging. The [184] Hartford succeeded in backing off the shoal, the raft was turned adrift, the flames extinguished, and the advance taken up as before. The situation had been one of great peril, but Farragut was the great commander throughout. Walking the poop coolly, he allowed the fire to be fought by Commander Wainwright and his men. The fire was a sharp one; and, at times, rushing through the ports would drive the men back from the guns. Seeing this, Farragut called out, “Don't flinch from that fire, boys; there's a hotter fire than that for those who don't do their duty! Give that rascally little tug a shot. and don't let her get off with a whole coat!”

The tug did escape from the Hartford, though by Confederate accounts she was destroyed during the fight.

The loss to the Hartford in the passage

Captain Bailey's division meeting the enemy's flotilla above the forts.

of the forts was three killed and ten wounded, with thirty-two shot in hull and rigging.

The Hartford was followed as closely as possible by the Brooklyn, Captain Thomas T. Craven; the smoke from rafts and guns rendered this very difficult, but the sweeping fire of the Hartford was supplemented by hers, and she passed the forts in safety, to be attacked, however, immediately after, by the little ram, Manassas, the most troublesome vessel in the Confederate service, not excepting the Louisiana--as she behaved in the action.

Commanded by Lieutenant Warley, a gallant young officer, formerly of the U. S. Navy, this craft made directly for the Brooklyn's starboard-side, but inflicted only slight damage. A second attack gave the same result, for the chain protection to the machinery saved the Brooklyn, and the ram glanced off into the darkness.

Much of this engagement, it must be remembered, was fought in darkness, except for the light emitted by the flashes of the guns through the smoke-clouded air, and the ships groped their way by these uncertain guides.

Passing the forts the Brooklyn was attacked by a large steamer at a distance of not more than fifty or sixty yards. A single broadside from the sloop's heavy battery, drove her out of action in flames.

The Brooklyn received but seventeen hits in the hull, during the heavy fire to which she was subjected, but these did much execution, nine men being killed and twenty-six wounded.

The fleet's success was virtually decided when the large ships had passed the forts, and the head of the third division under Captain Bell found but comparatively slight resistance to the passage of his leading vessel. the Sciota.

Farragut's first intention, to place the heavy ships in the van, would probably have resulted in the immediate crushing of the enemy, and the rear of his line would have followed a beaten path.

With the exception of the Itasca, Lieutenant Caldwell; the Winona, Lieutenant Nichols; and the Kennebec, Lieutenant Russell, the fleet succeeded in passing the forts

The Itasca was much cut up, and having a shot through her boiler, was compelled to drop down the river, out of action, after which she was run ashore to prevent sinking. Fourteen shot and shell had passed through her hull, but the list of casualties was small.

The Kennebec and Winona, being at the end of the line, had been left below [185] the forts at daylight, and were there exposed to the fire of both works, with small ability to reply. Being slow vessels, with a rapid current against them, they were long exposed to the deliberate practice of the enemy and were obliged to haul out of action below. The demoralization of the enemy was evident, however, from their escape.

No grander or more beautiful sight could have been realized than the scenes of that night. From silence, disturbed now and then only by the slow fire of the mortars,--the phantom-like movements of the vessels giving no sound — an increased roar of heavy guns began, while the mortars burst forth into rapid bombardment, as the fleet drew near the enemy's works. Vessel after vessel added her guns to those already at work, until the very earth seemed to shake

Lieut. (now Commodore) W. W. Queen. (commanding a division of mortar flotilla.)

from their reverberations. A burning raft adding its lurid glare to the scene, and the fiery tracks of the mortar-shells as they passed through the darkness aloft, and sometimes burst in mid-air, gave the impression that heaven itself had joined in the general strife. The succeeding silence was almost as sudden. From the weighing of the anchors, one hour and ten minutes saw the vessels by the forts, and Farragut on his way to New Orleans, the prize staked upon the fierce game of war just ended.

As the fleet was approaching quarantine, some distance above the forts. the Manassas, the most active and troublesome of the Confederate fleet, was seen, in the early daylight, moving up river in chase. The Flag-officer directed Commander Smith to leave the line with the Mississippi, and run the ram down.

The Mississippi turned instantly and started for the enemy at full speed. The Manassas had evidently practiced her parts before, for, shifting her helm quickly when but a short distance from the big vessel's bow, she dodged the blow, but in so doing ran ashore, where she was deserted by her crew.

Commander Smith wished to preserve the Manassas, but was obliged to recall the boats sent to secure her, on account of a burning wreck approaching him. The ram was therefore set on fire, and riddled with shot, after which she drifted away from the bank, and finally blew up below the forts.

This ended the irregular fighting with the Confederate vessels; ten of them had been sunk or destroyed, while the Varuna, with her two adversaries, lay at the bottom of the river near the bank, evidence of the gallantry of Boggs.

After the fleet had passed the forts, there remained no necessity for the presence of the mortar-flotilla steamers off the water-battery. They accordingly dropped down the river to the position of the mortar-schooners, and the signal made the latter to cease firing.

The situation of the vessels left below the forts seemed far from secure. The ironclad, Louisiana, was still at her moorings, uninjured, and three other vessels of war could be seen moving from one side of the river to the other. Their character could not be ascertained, but presuming they were gun-boats, with the assistance of their huge consort they were more than a match for the Union vessels if properly handled.

Commander Porter took immediate steps to meet contingencies. The failure of the Itasca, Kennebec and Winona to pass the batteries had added the two latter to his force (the Itasca being disabled), which now amounted to seven effective gun-boats; these he at once prepared for emergencies. His plan, in case of attack, was to place as many as possible of the vessels alongside the Louisiana, have each one make fast to her, let go two anchors, and then “fight it out on that line.”

No attack was made, however, and the iron-clad lost an opportunity to strike a final blow, which she could have inflicted even with her machinery in a defective condition.

Meanwhile Farragut had passed on up the river, leaving one or two gun-boats to guard the lazaretto. The right-of-way was disputed at Jackson's old battle ground of January 8, 1815, by the Chalmette batteries.

These works — on both sides of the river — mounted twenty heavy guns, and were prepared to receive the approaching vessels, coming up in two columns at their best speed.

The vessels that had passed the forts [186] below, gave short account of these batteries, though the work was very sharp while it lasted, especially on account of the time during which the slow ships were held under a raking fire.

From this point resistance ceased, and about noon on the 25th of April, the fleet anchored off New Orleans. which the retreat of General Lovell left defenseless and in the hands of the civil authorities.

Lieut. Com. John Guest was sent at noon of the 25th to Fort Jackson under a flag of truce, to call upon the Confederate commander, in view of the uselessness of further bloodshed, to surrender the forts and the remnants of the Confederate Navy at the place, as Farragut had passed up the river with little loss, and was probably then in New Orleans.

General Duncan replied very civilly, but declined to surrender before hearing from the city. Immediately upon the receipt of this reply by Commander Porter. a very rapid mortar-fire was opened upon Fort Jackson.

The effect was such as to cause a mutiny among the garrison, who refused to longer undergo the probability of useless slaughter, and many deserted from the works and retreated up river out of range. The remainder refused to fight the guns, and reasoned that as they had unflinchingly borne the terrible six days bombardment, and had exposed themselves to the night ordeal of the fire of the passing fleet, it was time the fort should be surrendered without further loss of life.

The bombardment was continued during the afternoon until the shells were exhausted, and on the following day (the 26th) the schooners were got under way and sent to Pilotstown to replenish their ammunition. Six were ordered thereafter to cross the bar at Southwest Pass and proceed to the rear of Fort Jackson, holding themselves in readiness for any service.

At midnight of the 28th, General Duncan sent an officer on board the Harriet Lane to inform Commander Porter of his willingness to capitulate.

On the following day Commander Porter with nine gun-boats, proceeded up river to Fort Jackson, under a flag of truce, and upon his arrival a boat was sent for the commanding officer of the river defenses, and such other officers as he might desire to have accompany him. These officers were received on board with all the respect due to brave men, and they bore themselves accordingly, though there must have been a mortification in surrendering to what was, in many respects, an inferior force. At the time of the capitulation, however, the Federal officers knew nothing of the internal troubles which had immediately induced the surrender — the mutiny and desertion of the men, and the final strokes of the fleet above. In any case, whether Farragut had succeeded or failed in his operations above, it was important to obtain possession of the forts as early as possible, and to that end terms of capitulation had been already prepared, and these were accepted by General Duncan and Lieut. Col. Higgins.

As the terms were being signed, Porter found, to his surprise, that the capitulation of the defenses was not to include those afloat, General Duncan asserting that he had no authority whatever over the naval branch. The commander of the regular

Commander (now Admiral) David D. Porter.

naval forces (Commander Mitchell) had, in fact, set the military at defiance. Porter waived the point, however, being determined upon the course to pursue when possession of the forts was secured.

All connected with the capitulation were seated at the table on board the Harriet Lane, with the articles before them. Porter had signed them, as had Commander Renshaw, of the Westfield. Lieut. Com. Wainwright, of the Harriet Lane, was about to follow with his signature, when one of his officers requested him urgently to come on deck. He returned at once with the report that the Louisiana was drifting down river on fire, coming toward the Union [187] vessels which were anchored about thirty yards apart. Being broadside to the current the iron-clad would not have room to pass.

“This is sharp practice,” Porter remarked to the Confederate officers, “but if you can stand the explosion when it comes, we can. We will go on, and finish the capitulation.” He then gave Lieutenant Wainwright orders to pass the word to each of the other vessels to veer to the end of their chains, and to use steam in sheering clear of the burning wreck if necessary, but not to leave the anchorage. The pen was then handed to General Duncan and to Colonel Higgins, the boldness of whose signatures gave no evidence of the proximity of a possibly fatal explosion.

Commander John K. Mitchell. (Commander of the Confederate naval forces in the Mississippi.)

The signatures being duly attached, all awaited quietly the result, which was not long delayed, the explosion taking place with a shock that fairly unseated the expectant officers, and threw the Harriet Lane well over to port. The capitulation was regularly finished, despite the interruption.

The Louisiana had fortunately exploded before reaching the line of vessels, and injured nothing but Fort St. Philip, at which one man was killed.

The action of the Confederate naval officers in destroying the Louisiana was severely censured by those of the army. The latter assured the Federal officers that they felt in no way responsible, as the vessel was entirely under Commander Mitchell's control.

The Federal commander was much disappointed in the loss of the Louisiana, as he had calculated upon her usefulness against her former owners in operations further up the river.

Within ten minutes after the departure of the Confederate officers, the colors of the forts were hauled down, and both works delivered over to the officers appointed to receive them. The enemy's flag was still shown on the river, however, for Commander Mitchell, after setting fire to the Louisiana, transferred his crew to a river steamer, and made for the opposite bank, a mile or so above the forts.

As soon as General Duncan had left the Harriet Lane, Commander Porter, to whom Mitchell's movements had been reported. ordered Lieutenant Wainwright to get under way and beat to quarters Steering directly for the vessel carrying Mitchell's flag, the Harriet Lane sent a shot at the flag-pole, but the hint was taken and the colors hauled down at once. Lieutenant Wainwright was sent aboard the steamer to take possession. He was met by Commander Mitchell, and requested to extend the same terms as had been granted the officers and men of the forts. Mitchell was given to understand that no terms would be extended him or his officers, that they would be held close prisoners to answer for a violation of a flag of truce, and that all would be sent to the North.

In a communication made to Commander Porter, Mitchell at once removed the responsibility for the act from all but three or four officers. The prisoners were sent up river to Flag-officer Farragut for his disposition, but though afterward sent to the North, and held in confinement for some time, nothing was done to the guilty actors, and the matter finally dropped.

After all the defenses were in Union hands Commander Porter dispatched a steamer to the bar, and brought up a vessel of General Butler's expedition, having on board General Phelps with a number of infantry, to whom the forts were turned over.

The total loss in the fleet during these engagements was 35 killed, and 128 wounded. The chief sufferers were the Pensacola, 37; Brooklyn, 35; and the Iroquois, 28.

The rising sun, the morning after the fight, shone on smiling faces, even among the wounded. Farragut received the congratulations of his officers, as he had conducted the great fight, with imperturbility. He wasted no time in vain regrets over the saddening features of his victory, but making the signal “Push on to New Orleans,” seemed to forget the imperishable fame he had won, while in thought he was following up his great victory to the end.

The two following letters were issued by [188] the Hon. Gideon Welles on receiving the announcement of the important victory at New Orleans, and he expressed his feelings and those of the Union people in terms not only felicitous, but worthy to be engraved in letters of gold. This victory was the first great blow the enemy had received; it was the step towards dividing the slave territory and separating the two parts by a great river, on the bosom of which the Navy could advance with its gun-boats, and with their heavy guns bring the people along the banks of the Mississippi to a sense of their obligations to the Government. It was the wedge that had been driven into the vitals of the rebellion that would finally tear it asunder, and it was a blow that had been dealt by the Navy alone. It fact, it was a blow that shortened the war one-half, and which rung through Europe in unmistakable language, giving the world to understand that we were determined to hold the legitimate property of the Government in defiance of English threats or French intrigues, and that the Navy, even withits paucity of ships and guns, would again assert its power, energy and devotion to the flag which had always characterised it since we first became a nation.

The praise bestowed on the officers and sailors of the fleet by the Secretary of the Navy was nothing more than their due, and the votes of thanks which were sent from the halls of Congress would have been more acceptable if that body had not hesitated for so many years to do justice to the fleet by voting them the prize-money they were legally entitled to, and which they had won by a valor never surpassed — those to whom this would have been a boon died before the money was appropriated, and even Farragut did not live to receive all that was due him.

Navy Department, May 10, 1862.
Sir--Captain Bailey, your second in command, has brought to the department the official despatches from your squadron, with the trophies forwarded to the national capital.

Our Navy, fruitful with victories, presents no more signal achievements than this, nor is there an exploit surpassing it recorded in the annals of naval warfare. In passing, and eventually overcoming Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the batteries above and below New Orleans, destroying the barriers of chains, steam-rams, fire-rafts, iron-clad vessels, and other obstructions, capturing from the Confederate forces the great southern metropolis, and obtaining possession and control of the Lower Mississippi, yourself, your officers, and our brave sailors and marines, whose courage and daring bear historic renown, have won a nation's gratitude and applause. I congratulate you and your command on your great success in having contributed so largely towards destroying the unity of the rebellion, and in restoring again to the protection of the national government and the national flag the important city of the Mississippi valley, and so large a portion of its immediate dependencies.

Your example and its successful results, though attended with some sacrifice of life and loss of ships, inculcate the fact that the first duty of a commander in war is to take great risks for the accomplishment of great ends.

One and all, officers and men, composing your command, deserve well of their country.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,


Gideon Welles. Flag-officer D. G. Farragut, Commanding Western Gulf Blockading Squadron, New Orleans.

Navy Department. May 10, 1862.
Sir — Your dispatch of April 30, inclosing the articles of capitulation of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which surrendered on the 28th, after a bombardment of one hundred and forty-four consecutive hours by the mortar flotilla, has been received. I have also to acknowledge the receipt of the flags taken in the two forts on that occasion, including the original one hoisted on Fort St. Philip when the Confederate forces declared the State of Louisiana to have seceded from the Union, which have been sent forward to the Department.

The important part which you have borne in the organization of the mortar flotilla, and the movement on New Orleans, had identified your name with one of the most brilliant naval achievements on record; and to your able assistance with the flotilla is Flag-officer Farragut much indebted for the successful results he has accomplished. To yourself and the officers and seamen of the mortar flotilla the Department extends its congratulations.

I am, respectfully,

Gideon Welles. Commander David D. Porter, Commanding U. S. Mortar Flotilla, etc., etc.

1 The names of the vessels were those under which they were known in the merchant service, and were unchanged after purchase by the Government.

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