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Chapter 11: military operations.

  • What was ordered
  • -- Mobile of no consequence -- Baton Rouge seized -- Farragut and Williams advance upon Vicksburg -- Halleck asked for aid -- he refuses -- some strictures on his conduct -- digging the Canal at Vicksburg -- fall in the River -- French vessel before New Orleans -- an international episode: France to recognize the Confederacy, liberate New Orleans, be given Texas and capture Mexico -- Butler meets the emergency -- the forts strengthened -- justification found for firing on a French flat -- the loyal and disloyal citizens put on record -- all arms ordered given up -- Porter's bombardment of Vicksburg -- battle of Baton Rouge -- Admiral Porter's brother -- “lying is a family Vice ” -- General Phelps' resignation -- General strong at Pontchatoula -- Louis Napoleon again -- Admiral Reynaud at New Orleans -- negro regiments organized -- Weitzel's expedition -- his objection to negro soldiers answered -- Twelfth Maine at Manchac pass

The question must have arisen in the mind of the reader, in poring over the administration of these many civil affairs: Were military operations delayed while these things were being done?

By no means. Farragut and myself were ordered to do two things, if we could; first, to open the Mississippi River; second, to capture Mobile. Now, the capture of Mobile was of no earthly military consequence to anybody. It was like the attempted capture of Savannah, Port Royal, Fernandina, Brunswick, and Charleston, in which places the lives of so many good men were sacrificed. These places could all have been held by a few vessels under the command of vigilant, energetic, and ambitious young naval officers.

The absolute inability of the Confederacy to have a navy or any force on the sea, ought to have suggested to us a militia navy for coast protection and defence. Then there could have been an early concentration of our troops into large armies for the purpose of instruction and discipline; and as almost every part of the Confederacy was penetrable to a greater or less degree by means of rivers, our armies should have marched by water to a very much greater extent than they did. Now, the great water communication of the whole West, through the Mississippi, was to be opened to the sea at all hazards.

New Orleans was now invincible to any land force so long as our navy occupied the river and Lake Pontchartrain, and so long as the city was held by five thousand men who had nothing else to do. A single ten-gun sloop off Manchac Pass rendered it impossible for the city to [455] be taken by land so long as Lake Pontchartrain was held by our light-draught gunboats. Therefore, it was agreed between the admiral and myself that with his main fleet he should go up the river as far as he could, and that I should give him the troops needed to occupy the places that he could take with his fleet. Thereupon he left directly, and seized Baton Rouge. Here we left some two thousand men, more because it was a healthy location than for any particular military usefulness. We concluded to make no fortification there.

Farragut passed Port Hudson, where there were at that time no considerable defences. He had determined to look upon Vicksburg as the only place where a fortified stronghold was substantially possible for the protection of the surrounding country. The fleet accordingly went on.

We at once agreed — and General Williams acquiesced upon observation — that the easier way of passing Vicksburg was to make a short canal across the peninsula that faced the city and thus turn a current of water through this channel. It was believed that such a canal would soon shorten the river, leaving Vicksburg and its possible fortifications some three miles inland. The project was undertaken, and it might have been successfully carried out had not a sudden fall of several feet in the height of the river rendered it impossible to dig the canal deep enough.

To capture by assault with Williams' brigade was not practicable, and as Vicksburg was found to be within the territorial lines of the department of General Halleck, the admiral thought it was his duty and his right to at least ask Halleck to furnish men enough to cooperate with the navy, and, in conjunction with Williams, to make the attack.

Now, mark: Vicksburg was the most important point in the country to be captured. Farragut was above it with his fleet, having run by it. If Halleck, when he moved from Corinth, had sent any considerable force from Corinth to the rear of Vicksburg to cut off supplies,--as our fleets were both above and below the town — it might have been starved out in twenty days, as Grant a year afterwards captured it by starvation of its forces, after he had lost many men in assaults, and from the unhealthiness of the region. Ellet with his fleet had captured Fort Pillow; [456] and the river would have been opened from St. Louis down to the sea, if Halleck had complied with Farragut's request. This was Farragut's letter:--

aboard flag-boat, above Vicksburg, June 28, 1862.
Major-General Halleck:
Sir:--I have the honor to inform you that I have passed the batteries and am now above Vicksburg with the greatest part of my fleet. I drove the men from the batteries, but they remained quiet till we passed, and then they up again and raked us. They have some eight regiments, or ten thousand troops, to replenish the batteries and prevent us from landing. Brigadier-General Williams is acting in concert with me, but his force is too small to attempt to land on the Vicksburg side, but he is cutting a ditch across the peninsula to change the course of the river. My orders, General, are to clear the river. This I find impossible without your assistance. Can you aid me in this matter to carry out the peremptory order of the President? I am satisfied that you will act for the best advantage of the government in this matter, and shall therefore wait with great anxiety your reply. Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet, who has kindly offered to co-operate with me in any way in his power, has also offered to send this despatch to you.

I remain, with respect, your obedient servant,

D. G. Farragut, Flag-Officer Commanding.1

Stanton had already addressed Halleck on the same subject on the 23d of June, and this communication, here given, must have reached Halleck even before he received Farragut's letter:--


War Department, June 23, 1862.
Major-General Halleck, Corinth:
If you have not already given your attention to the practicability of making a cut-off in the rear of Vicksburg I beg to direct your attention to that point. It has been represented to the Department to be an undertaking of easy accomplishment, especially under the protection of gunboats. A despatch to-day received from General Butler speaks of it as a project contemplated by him, but he may not have a force to spare.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.2


Halleck answered Farragut's letter on the 3d of July as follows:--

Corinth, July 3, 1862.
flag-officer Farragut, Commanding U. S. Flotilla in the Mississippi:
The scattered and weakened condition of my forces renders it impossible for me at the present moment to detach any, to co-operate with you on

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