Admiral Farragut Part 3
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In July, 1858, Farragut returned to the East by the only route then available, the Isthmus of Panama. During his absence, on the 14th of September, 1855, he had been promoted to the rank of captain, which, prior to the Civil War, was the highest grade in the United States Navy; the t.i.tle commodore, then so frequently applied to the older officers of the service, being simply one of courtesy given to a captain who had commanded a squadron of several vessels, but who did not thereby cease to be borne as a captain upon the Navy Register. Soon after his arrival Farragut was ordered to command the Brooklyn, one of six steam sloops-of-war just being completed. She belonged to that new navy of thirty years ago which the United States Government, most luckily for itself, had determined to build, and which became fairly available just in time for the exigencies of the Civil War.
It has been said, and that on the floors of Congress by a politician conspicuous in his party, that past history teaches that preparation for war is unnecessary to the United States, and the conditions precedent to the wars of 1812 and 1861 have been cited in support of the a.s.sertion.
Certainly no one cognizant of the facts will deny that the United States was most miserably unprepared for either war as regards the size of her navy; but it so happened on both occasions, more by good luck than good management, that what navy it did have was of remarkably fine quality, and, to the extent to which its numbers permitted it to be employed, was generally perfectly adequate to the work it had to do. It could not, however, begin to touch the full amount of service it ought to have done. In 1812 it could not protect the Chesapeake nor the Mississippi; it was blockaded in its own ports, escaping only by evasion; it could not protect American commerce, which suffered more than did that of Great Britain. In 1861, had its numbers been at all adequate, it could by prompt action have forestalled the preparations of the enemy, and by prevention secured immediate advantages which were afterward achieved only by large expenditure of time and fighting. Such were the results of unpreparedness. It was to the preparation, scanty as it was--to the fine s.h.i.+ps and superior armaments, both too few--that the successes of either era were due. The frigates and sloops of 1812 were among the finest of their cla.s.s to be found anywhere, with powerful batteries and excellently officered; while in the decade before the Civil War began there had been built eighteen or twenty new steams.h.i.+ps, admirably efficient for their day, and with armaments of an advanced and powerful type. Upon these fell the princ.i.p.al brunt of the naval fighting that ensued. These s.h.i.+ps, and particularly those of the Brooklyn cla.s.s, were the backbone of Farragut's fleet throughout all his actions, even in the last at Mobile in 1864. Had there been thrice as many, the work would have been sooner and therefore more cheaply done; but had the lack of preparation in 1861 equaled that of 1851 or 1881, it may be questioned whether any of his successes could have been won.
When Farragut took command of the Brooklyn, ten years had elapsed since he was last afloat--years pregnant with naval change. He had never before served in a steamer, except for a very short time in a primitive one belonging to Porter's Mosquito fleet, in 1823. The changes in the disposition and handling of the guns had not been radical. They were still arranged "in broadside," along the two sides of the vessel; nor were the pivot guns--which, as their name implies, could be pivoted to one side or the other, according to the position of an enemy--a new idea. In these matters there had been improvement and development, but not revolution. But while the mode of placing and handling was essentially the same, the guns themselves had greatly increased in size and received important modifications in pattern. The system then in vogue was that a.s.sociated with the name of the late Admiral Dahlgren.
The shape of the gun had been made to conform to the strains brought by the discharge upon its various parts, as determined by careful experiment; and in place of the 32-pounder, or six-inch gun, which had been the princ.i.p.al weapon of the earlier s.h.i.+ps, the batteries of the new frigates and sloops were composed chiefly of nine-inch guns, with one or more pivots of ten- or eleven-inch bore. The sh.e.l.l-shot, whose destructive effects had excited Farragut's comments in 1838, were now the recognized type of projectile; and the new guns were spoken of distinctively as sh.e.l.l-guns, because not expected to use solid shot under ordinary circ.u.mstances. The Brooklyn and her fellows, among which was Farragut's future flag-s.h.i.+p, the Hartford, although screw steamers, had also the full sail power of the former sailing s.h.i.+p; and they were wooden, not iron vessels.
The service of the Brooklyn, while under Farragut's command, was chiefly confined to his old cruising ground in the West Indies and in Mexico.
In the latter country, since the termination of the war with the United States in 1848, there had been a constant succession of revolutions; and at the time of the Brooklyn's cruise there was established in Vera Cruz a const.i.tutional party, at whose head was Benito Juarez, the lawful claimant of the presidency. Opposed to this, in the city of Mexico, was the party headed by General Miramon, who had succeeded by force to the authority of Juarez's predecessor. The United States threw its influence on the side of Juarez; and its minister, Robert McLane, was permitted to use the Brooklyn to carry him from point to point of the coast. While no force was exerted, the support given to the minister's remonstrances by the constant presence of a powerful s.h.i.+p-of-war served to emphasize the policy of the Government, which had recognized Juarez. This recognition was followed some time later by a similar step on the part of the ministers of England, France, and Spain. Mr. McLane continued with the Brooklyn during great part of 1859, and in December of that year returned in her to the Mississippi, where he was landed at a plantation below New Orleans. This visit to his early home was marked by a sad coincidence to Farragut. His elder brother, William, a lieutenant in the navy, had long been retired from active service, for which he was unfitted by rheumatism. In consequence he had not received promotion, remaining at the head of the list of lieutenants, and being a.s.signed to duty at the naval rendezvous in New Orleans. When the Brooklyn entered the river he was lying at the point of death, but heard of his brother's approach, and expressed a hope that he might live long enough to see him again after so many years of separation. The wish was not to be fulfilled. Though ignorant of the danger, Captain Farragut hastened to the city, himself also looking forward with pleasure to the meeting; but he arrived only in time to see his brother dead, and to follow him to the grave.
Farragut remained attached to the Brooklyn for two years. In October, 1860, he was relieved by Captain W. S. Walker, and returned to his home in Norfolk. This ended his sea service prior to the Civil War, and as the captain of a single s.h.i.+p. Thenceforward, during the brief but important remnant of his active career, he was to command great fleets.
THE QUESTION OF ALLEGIANCE.
When Captain Farragut returned to Norfolk in October, 1860, he was, albeit unconsciously, rapidly approaching the turning point of his life, the tide in his affairs which taken at the flood should lead on to fortune. That he seized the opportunity was due to no dexterous weighing of the effects of either course upon his personal future, but to that preparedness of mind which has already been mentioned as one of his characteristic traits, and to the tenacity with which were held his convictions thus deliberately and maturely formed. For several years he had watched with unquiet mind the gathering clouds which preceded the approaching storm, and in common with others had felt the distress and perplexity which would attend the rupture of the Union. He did not, however, remain a merely pa.s.sive spectator, agitated as such by hopes and fears, but trusting withal to the chapter of accidents. He had considered the effect of the alternatives before the country, and what his own duty should be in any case. He could not, in his modest position, control the course of events; but, whatever befell, he would be ready to take his stand, strengthened in so doing by the settled principles to which his conscientious meditation had led him. Thus his fixed purpose, enlightened by reason, had in it nothing of obstinacy; yet resisted those appeals to affection, to interest, or to prejudice, under which so many succ.u.mbed.
Within a month after his leaving the Brooklyn, on the 6th of November, 1860, the presidential election was held, and resulted, as had been expected, in the choice of Mr. Lincoln. On the 20th of December South Carolina seceded, and her course was followed within the next six weeks by the other cotton States. In February, 1861, delegates from these States met in convention at Montgomery, Alabama, adopted a const.i.tution, and elected Jefferson Davis to be president of their confederation. On the 18th he was inaugurated, and the new government was thus formally const.i.tuted.
Here for a moment the secession movement paused, and Farragut earnestly trusted would stop. Born in a Southern State, and pa.s.sing his childhood in the extreme Southwest, his relations with both had been severed at too early an age to establish any lasting hold upon his affections; but, though he was to the end carried upon the Navy Register as a citizen of Tennessee, the tenderest and most enduring ties of his life had been formed in Virginia. Nowhere were local bonds stronger, nowhere State pride greater or more justified, than in the famous Commonwealth, which had stood in the center of the line in the struggle for independence, and had given to the nation so many ill.u.s.trious men from Was.h.i.+ngton downward. It was impossible that Farragut--who at so early an age, and when attached to no other spot, had married in Norfolk, and thenceforward gone in and out among its people--should be insensible to these influences, or look without grief to a contingency which should force him to sunder all these a.s.sociations and go forth, on the verge of old age, to seek elsewhere a new home. Nor is it possible to many, however conscious of right, to bear without suffering the alienation and the contempt visited upon those who, in times of keen political excitement, dare to differ from the general pa.s.sion which sways the ma.s.s around them.
Farragut therefore naturally hoped that this bitter trial might be spared him. The Virginian people had taken what seemed then to be a conservative att.i.tude; and, although he was determined to abide by the Union if it were severed by violent action, he was anxious to believe that his home might be saved to him. The Legislature of the State met early in January and recommended all the States to appoint deputies to a peace convention, which accordingly met on the 4th of February; but the propositions made by it were not such as the National Congress could accept. On the 13th of the same month there was a.s.sembled at Richmond a State convention, the majority of the delegates to which were Union men, in the then sense of the word in that State. This fact, and the character of some of the speeches made, tended to encourage the belief to which Farragut's wishes led him; but this hope was soon damped by the pa.s.sage of resolutions affirming the right of secession, and defining the grounds upon which Virginia would be justified in exercising the right. Among these grounds were the adoption of any warlike measures by the United States Government, the recapture of the forts which had been seized by the States already seceded, or any attempt to exact duties from them. True, this was followed during the first week in April by the rejection of a proposition to secede by a vote of eighty-nine to forty-five; but, as Farragut held that the President would be justified in calling out troops when the forts and property of the nation had been violently taken from it, the contrary avowal of the Legislature of his State showed that he might soon be forced to choose between it and the National Government. In that case his mind was fully made up; the choice was painful, but not doubtful. "G.o.d forbid," he said, "that I should have to raise my hand against the South!" but the words themselves showed that, however bitter the decision, he was ready to make it. If separation between the sections came peacefully, by mutual consent, he would abide in the only home his manhood had known, and cast his lot thenceforth with the people to whom he was allied and among whom his interests lay; but if the rupture took the form of violent rebellion against the Central Government, whose claims he admitted and to which he owned allegiance, he was prepared to turn his arms even against those who in the other alternative would have been his countrymen. The att.i.tude thus held during those long months of suspense and anxiety was honorable alike to his heart, which responded warmly to the calls of natural affection, and to his conscience, which subordinated the dictates of the heart to his convictions of right; while the unhesitating character of his resolution, amid the uncertainties that unsettled so many men, must be attributed to that habit of preparing for emergencies which characterized his career.
On the 12th of April, 1861, the long period of waiting and watching was brought to an end by the attack upon Fort Sumter. On the 15th President Lincoln issued his proclamation formally announcing the condition of affairs which existed in the seceded States, the defiance of the Central Government, and the seizure of its property. In consequence he called for seventy-five thousand men from the militia of the various States, and avowed clearly that "the first service a.s.signed to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union." This was clearly an appeal to arms, provoked finally by the a.s.sault upon Fort Sumter, but which the convention then sitting in Richmond had p.r.o.nounced to be a lawful cause for secession. In the excitement of the hour the Union men, whose att.i.tude toward the more violent party had been almost apologetic, were swept away by the current of feeling, and an ordinance of secession was pa.s.sed by the convention on the 17th of April, 1861.
During the previous winter Farragut had been residing in Norfolk, unemployed by the Government, but in daily a.s.sociation both with citizens and naval officers; many of whom, like himself, were married and settled there. He and his friends met daily at one of those common rendezvous which are to be found in every small town, and there discussed the news which each day brought of change and excitement. In this way Farragut became acquainted with the views of most of the resident officers, and realized, without being himself swayed by, the influences to which all of them, and especially those of Southern birth, were subjected. With the conservatism common in seamen who have been for long periods separated by their profession from their native places, the great majority of these officers, already men of middle age, could not but feel keen sorrow at the prospect of changes, which would remove them from the navy and separate them from the flag which had hitherto stood to them for country. But, moved by feeling and prejudice, wrought upon by the strong appeals of those they loved, and unfortified by the well-reasoned convictions which made the strength of Farragut, it was equally impossible for the greater part of them to imitate his example.
The sense of duty and official honor which they owed to their long training in a generous service stood by them, and few were the cases of men false to trusts actually in their charge; but theirs was not that sense of personal allegiance to the Government which gave the light of the single eye, and enabled Farragut's final decision to be as prompt as it was absolute.
On the 18th of April, the day after the ordinance of secession had been pa.s.sed, Farragut went as usual to the place of meeting, and saw, immediately upon entering, by the faces of those there, that a great change had pa.s.sed over the relations between them. He spoke with his usual openness, and expressed his deliberate convictions. He did not believe that the action of the convention represented the sober judgment of the people. The State had been, as he phrased it, "dragooned" out of the Union; and President Lincoln was perfectly justified in calling for troops after the seizure of the forts and a.r.s.enals. One of those present remarked impatiently that a person with such sentiments could not live in Norfolk, and this feeling was evidently shared by the bystanders; there was, indeed, some danger, in those excited moments, of personal violence to those who dared gainsay the popular pa.s.sion. "Very well,"
replied Farragut, "I can live somewhere else." No time was needed to take a decision already contingently formed, and for executing which he had, with his customary foresight, been acc.u.mulating the necessary funds. He at once went to his house and told his wife the time had come for her to decide whether she would remain with her own kinsfolk or follow him North. Her choice was as instant as his own, and that evening they, with their only son, left Norfolk, never to return to it as their home. Mrs. Farragut's sister and her young family accompanied them in the steamer to Baltimore. Upon reaching the latter city they found it also boiling over with excitement. The attack upon the Ma.s.sachusetts troops had just taken place, and the railroad bridges over the Susquehanna were then burning. The usual means of communication being thus broken off, Farragut and his party had to take pa.s.sage for Philadelphia in a ca.n.a.l boat, on which were crowded some three hundred pa.s.sengers, many of them refugees like themselves. It is a curious ill.u.s.tration of the hards.h.i.+ps attending a flight under such exigency, even in so rich a country as our own, that a baby in the company had to be fed on biscuit steeped in brandy for want of proper nourishment.
From Philadelphia the journey to New York was easy, and Farragut there settled his family in a small cottage in the village of Hastings, on the Hudson River. Here he awaited events, hoping for employment; but it is one of the cruel circ.u.mstances attending civil strife that confidence is shaken, and the suspicions that arise, however unjust, defy reason and constrain the Government to defer to them. No man could have given stronger proof than Farragut had of his perfect loyalty; but all shades of opinion were known to exist among officers of Southern origin, even when they remained in the service, and there were those who, though refusing to follow the South, would willingly have avoided striking a blow against the seceding States. Men were heard to say that they would not go with their State, but neither would they fight against her; or that they would remain in the navy, but seek employment that might spare them the pain of taking part in such a contest. These illogical positions were soon abandoned as the spirit of war gained more and more hold upon the feelings of men, but for Farragut they never existed after the first blow was struck. Through whatever struggles with himself he may have pa.s.sed in the earlier stages of the secession movement, his decision, when reached, admitted no half-measures, nor halted between two opinions. "He stood on no neutral ground, he longed to take an active part in the war." Nevertheless, the Government could not at once accept, as a t.i.tle to full and implicit confidence, even the sacrifice of home and life-long a.s.sociations which he had made to the cause of the Union. If given any duty, a man of Farragut's rank and attainments must needs have one involving much responsibility, failure in which would involve not only himself but those who had employed him. The cry of treachery was sure to follow, and prudent officers of Southern birth found it advisable to decline employments where they foresaw that delays were unavoidable, because they felt that what might be explained in the case of a Northern man would in them be stamped by public opinion as the result of disaffection. In Hastings and its neighborhood the most grotesque suspicions were spread concerning the Southern captain who had thus come to dwell among them, and who, for conscience and country, had given up more than had been demanded of those who thus distrusted him.
Time was needed to allow men's minds to reach a more reasonable frame, and for the Government itself to sift and test, not merely the fidelity, but the heartiness and the probable capacity of the officers at its command.
Farragut's first employment was as a member of a board to recommend officers for retirement from active service, under an act approved August 3, 1861. The object of this act was to a.s.sist the Department in the discrimination necessary to be made between the competent and those disabled by years or infirmity, for up to that time there had been no regular system of retirement, and men were retained on the active list past the period of efficiency, because no provision for removing them existed. The duty, though most important with war actually existing, was delicate and trying, and far from consonant to Farragut's active, enterprising character. More suitable employment was, however, fast approaching.
[Ill.u.s.tration: SCENE OF FARRAGUT'S OPERATIONS, 1862-1864.]
THE NEW ORLEANS EXPEDITION. 1862.
The necessity of controlling the Mississippi valley had been early realized by the United States Government. In its hands the great stream would become an impa.s.sable barrier between two large sections of the Southern Confederacy; whereas in the possession of the latter it remained a link binding together all the regions through which it flowed, or which were penetrated by any of its numerous tributaries. The extensive territory west of the river also produced a large part of the provisions upon which depended the Southern armies, whose main field of action was, nevertheless, on the eastern side. In a country habitually so unprepared for war as is the United States, and where, of course, such a contingency as an intestine struggle between the sections could not have been provided for, there seemed room to hope that the national forces might by rapid action seize the whole course of the river, before the seceding States were able to take adequate measures for its defense.
The Government had the support of that part of the country which had received the largest manufacturing development, and could, therefore, most quickly prepare the material for war, in which both sides were lamentably deficient; and, what was yet more important, it possessed in the new navy built since 1855 an efficient weapon to which the South had nothing to oppose. The hope was extravagant and doomed to disappointment; for to overrun and hold so extensive a territory as the immediate basin of the Mississippi required a development of force on the one side and a degree of exhaustion on the other which could not be reached so early in the war. The relative strengths, though unequal, were not yet sufficiently disproportioned to enable the gigantic work to be accomplished; and the princ.i.p.al result of an effort undertaken without due consideration was to paralyze a large fraction of a navy too small in numbers to afford the detachment which was paraded gallantly, but uselessly, above New Orleans. Nor was this the worst; the time thus consumed in marching up the hill in order at once to march down again threw away the opportunity for reducing Mobile before its defenses were strengthened. Had the navy been large enough, both tasks might have been attempted; but it will appear in the sequel that its scanty numbers were the reason which postponed the attack on Mobile from month to month, until it became the most formidable danger Farragut ever had to encounter.
Despite the extensive sea-coast of the United States and the large maritime commerce possessed by it at the opening of the war, the navy had never, except for short and pa.s.sing intervals, been regarded with the interest its importance deserved. To this had doubtless contributed the fixed policy of the Government to concentrate its attention upon the internal development of the country, and to concern itself little with external interests, except so far as they promoted the views of that section which desired to give extension to slaveholding territory.
The avoidance of entangling alliances had become perverted to indifference to the means by which alone, in the last resort, the nation can a.s.sert and secure control in regions outside its borders, but vitally affecting its prosperity and safety. The power of navies was therefore, then as now, but little understood. Consequently, when the importance of the Mississippi Valley was realized, as it immediately was, there was but one idea as to the means of controlling it, and that was by a land invasion from the great Western and Northwestern States.
To this a navy was indeed to be adjoined, but in a manner so distinctly subsidiary that it was, contrary to all custom, placed under the orders of the commander-in-chief of the Western army, and became simply a division of the land forces. From this subordinate position it was soon raised by its own intrinsic value and the logic of facts; but the transient experience is noteworthy, because ill.u.s.trating the general ignorance of the country as to the powers of the priceless weapon which lay ready, though unnoticed, to its hand.
Happily, in the Navy Department itself juster views prevailed; and the general indifference permitted it at least one compensation--to follow its own ways. The Secretary himself was not a professional man, though he had had official connection with the service in the past; but most fortunately there was called to his a.s.sistance one who had been for eighteen years in the navy, had pa.s.sed while in it to the command of mail steamers, and only five years before the war had resigned and entered civil life. This gentleman, Mr. Gustavus V. Fox, thus combined with business experience and an extensive acquaintance with naval officers the capacities of a seaman. He knew what s.h.i.+ps could do and what they could not; but to this common knowledge of sea officers, gained by the daily habit of sea life, he had added the results of study and reflection upon events pa.s.sing elsewhere than under his own observation. The experiences of the allied navies in the Crimean War had convinced him that, if the wooden sides of s.h.i.+ps could not be pitted in prolonged stand-up fight against the stone walls of fortresses, they were capable of enduring such battering as they might receive in running by them through an un.o.bstructed channel. This conviction received support by the results of the attacks upon Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal. He might, indeed, have gone much further back and confirmed his own judgment as a seaman by the express opinion of an eminent soldier.
Nearly a hundred years before, Was.h.i.+ngton, at the siege of Yorktown, had urged the French Admiral De Gra.s.se to send vessels past Cornwallis's works to control the upper York River, saying: "I am so well satisfied by experience of the little effect of land batteries on vessels pa.s.sing them with a leading breeze that, unless the two channels near Yorktown should be found impracticable by obstructions, I should have the greatest confidence in the success of this important service."[C]
[Footnote C: _Was.h.i.+ngton's Letters_, October 1, 1781.]
In this conviction of Mr. Fox's lay the inception of the expedition against New Orleans. It was, in his view, to be a purely naval attack.
Once over the bar at the mouth of the river, the channel as far as the city had no natural obstruction, was clearly defined, and easily followed, by day or night, without a pilot. The heavy current of the early spring months, while it would r.e.t.a.r.d the pa.s.sage of the s.h.i.+ps and so keep them longer under fire, would make it difficult for the enemy to maintain in position any artificial barrier placed by him. The works to be pa.s.sed--the seaward defenses of New Orleans, Forts Jackson and St.
Philip--were powerful fortifications; but they were ultimately dependent upon the city, ninety miles above them, for a support which could come only by the river. A fleet anch.o.r.ed above the forts lay across their only line of communication, and when thus isolated, their fall became only a question of time. The work proposed to the United States Navy was, therefore, to turn the forts by pa.s.sing their fire, seize their line of communications--the upper river--and their base, New Orleans, and then to give over the latter to the army, which engaged to furnish a force sufficient to hold the conquest.
Having first taken the necessary, but strictly preliminary, step of seizing as a depot s.h.i.+p Island, in Mississippi Sound, about a hundred miles from the mouth of the river, Mr. Fox's proposition, which had been adopted by the Secretary of the Navy, was submitted to the President.
Mr. Lincoln, himself a Western man, unfamiliar with maritime matters and engrossed with the idea of invasion from the north, was disposed to be incredulous of success; but with his usual open-mindedness consented to a full discussion before him by experts from both services. A meeting was therefore held with General McClellan at his headquarters. There were present, besides the President, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Fox, and Commander David D. Porter, who had recently returned from service off the mouth of the Mississippi. The antecedents of General McClellan were those of an officer of the engineers, who are generally disposed to exaggerate the powers of forts as compared with s.h.i.+ps, and to contemplate their reduction only by regular approaches; just as an officer of the line of the army, looking to the capture of a place like New Orleans, will usually and most properly seek first a base of operations, from which he will project a campaign whose issue shall be the fall of the city. To this cause was probably due the preference observed by the Navy Department to exist in army circles, for an attack upon Mobile first. Being close to the sea, which was completely under the control of the navy, the necessary land operations would begin under far more favorable conditions, and could be more easily maintained than in the alluvial soil of the Mississippi delta. McClellan, who was an accomplished master of his profession in all its branches, received at first the impression that regular military operations against New Orleans by way of the river were being proposed to him, and demurred; but, on learning that the only demand was for a force to hold the city and surroundings in case of success, he readily consented to detail ten or fifteen thousand troops for the purpose. Though more hazardous, the proposition of the Navy Department was in principle strategically sound.
The key of the position was to be struck for at once, and the outlying defenses were expected then to fall by the severance of their communications. The general might have his own opinion as to the power of the navy to carry out the proposed pa.s.sage of the forts, and as to whether its coal, when once above, would outlast the endurance of the hostile garrisons; but those were points upon which the Navy Department, which undertook the risk, might be presumed to have more accurate judgment than himself.
The conference, which was held about the middle of November, 1861, resulted in the adoption of Mr. Fox's plan in its main outlines; but with an important addition, which threatened at one time to become a very serious modification. Commander Porter suggested that the naval vessels should be accompanied by a mortar flotilla, to subdue the fire of the forts by bombardment, and so to allow the fleet to pa.s.s without risk, or with risk much diminished. This proposition approved itself to the engineer instincts of McClellan, and was adopted. The general then designated Major Barnard, of the Engineer Corps, to represent him in adjusting the details of the expedition. Barnard also took strong ground in favor of the mortars, and to this added the opinion--in which Porter concurred--that the forts should be not merely bombarded, but reduced before the pa.s.sage. He summed up his conclusions in the following perfectly clear words: "To pa.s.s those works (merely) with a fleet and appear before New Orleans is merely a raid--no capture. New Orleans and the river can not be held until communications are perfectly established." The a.s.sertion of the last sentence can not be denied; it admits of no difference of opinion. The point in dispute between the two arguments was not this, but whether the fall of the city, which had no local defenses, would entail that of the forts, and so open the communications. Mr. Fox strongly held that it would; but although he stuck to his opinion, he had a deservedly high estimate of Porter's professional ability--so much so that, had the latter's rank justified, he would have urged him for the command of the expedition. In this doubtful state of the argument, it will be seen of how great importance was the choice of the officer to be put in charge of the whole undertaking. Had he also taken the view of Barnard and Porter in favor of the more cautious, but--as it proved--more dangerous course, it could scarcely have failed that Fox would have been overruled.
The nomination of this officer could not be longer deferred. Secrecy and rapidity of action were large elements in the hoped-for achievement, and secrecy depends much upon the length of time the secret must be kept.
Among the officers whose length of service and professional reputation indicated them as suitable for the position, there was little to guide the department to the man who would on emergency show the audacity and self-reliance demanded by the intended operations. The action proposed, though it falls within the limits of the methods which history has justified, and has, therefore, a legitimate place in the so-called science of war, was, nevertheless, as the opinions of Barnard and Porter show, contrary to the more usual and accepted practice. It disregarded the safeguards commonly insisted upon, overleaped the successive steps by which military achievement ordinarily advances to its end, and, looking only to the exceptional conditions, resorted fearlessly to exceptional methods. For such a duty the department needed a man of more than average determination and vigor.
Farragut's name was necessarily among those considered; but the final choice appears to have been determined by the impression made upon Mr.
Fox, and through him upon the department, by his course in leaving Norfolk at the time and in the way he did. This, Fox argued, showed "great superiority of character, clear perception of duty, and firm resolution in the performance of it." His conspicuous ability was not then recognized, could not be until revealed by war; but it was evident that he stood well above the common run of simply accomplished officers.
Still, further tests were required; in a matter of so much importance the department had need to move warily. That Farragut was faithful could not be doubted; but was his heart so far in the contest that he could be depended upon to exert his abilities to the full? Commander Porter was ordered to go to New York on duty connected with the mortar flotilla, and while there to make an opportunity to visit Farragut. There had been, as is known, a close relation between the two families, and to him Farragut was likely to show how hearty he was in the cause. Porter's account was most favorable, and it then remained only to judge whether he was in sympathy with the military plan of the proposed expedition.
For this object Farragut was ordered to report at the department, and Fox undertook to meet him at the train and talk over the matter informally. He arrived in Was.h.i.+ngton on the 21st of December, was met as arranged, and taken to the house of the Postmaster-General, Montgomery Blair. The latter was brother-in-law to Fox, and the three breakfasted together. "After breakfast, Fox laid before Farragut the plan of attack, the force to be employed, and the object to be attained, and asked his opinion. Farragut answered unhesitatingly that it would succeed. Fox then handed him the list of vessels being fitted out, and asked if they were enough. Farragut replied he would engage to run by the forts and capture New Orleans with two thirds the number. Fox told him more vessels would be added, and that he would command the expedition.
Farragut's delight and enthusiasm were so great that when he left us Fox asked if I did not think he was too enthusiastic. I replied I was most favorably impressed with him, and sure he would succeed."[D] There could be no question, at any rate, that his whole heart was in the war and in the expedition; whether he would rise equal to his task still remained to be seen. He said, however, frankly, that had he been previously consulted, he would have advised against the employment of the mortar flotilla. He had no faith in the efficacy of that mode of attack since his observations of the results at San Juan de Ulloa, twenty-three years before. He was convinced that the fleet could run by the forts, and antic.i.p.ated nothing but delay from the bombardment. Nevertheless, since the arrangements had been made, he was willing to give the bombs a trial. "He was never profuse in promises," writes Mr. Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, "but he felt complimented that he was selected, and I saw that in modest self-reliance he considered himself equal to the emergency and to the expectation of the Government."[E] To his home he wrote: "Keep your lips closed and burn my letters, for perfect silence is to be observed--the first injunction of the Secretary. I am to have a flag in the Gulf, and the rest depends upon myself. Keep calm and silent. I shall sail in three weeks."
[Footnote D: Montgomery Blair, in _The United Service_, January, 1881.]
[Footnote E: Gideon Welles, in the _Galaxy_, November, 1871.]
On the 23d of December, 1861, Farragut received preparatory orders, and on the 9th of the following January was formally appointed to command the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron; the limits of which, on the coast of the Confederacy, were defined as from St. Andrew's Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The coasts of Mexico and Yucatan were also embraced in them. The steam sloop-of-war Hartford was selected for his flag-s.h.i.+p.
On the 20th of January final orders were issued to him. These were somewhat discreetly worded, and, literally understood, must be conceded to take from the department the credit of boldly adhering to, and a.s.suming the responsibility of, the original plan--a credit Mr. Welles seems desirous to claim. "When you are completely ready," they read, "you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade, and proceed up the Mississippi River _and reduce the defenses_ 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." Understood according to the plain meaning of the words, these orders prescribed the reduction of the works as a condition precedent to appearing off the city, and so recur to the fears expressed by both Barnard and Porter as to the consequences of leaving the forts unreduced. There is not in them even "the lat.i.tude and discretion in the employment of the means placed under his command" which Mr. Welles claimed.[F] Had Farragut, after leaving the forts unreduced, as he did, met with serious disaster, it can scarcely be doubted that the phrase quoted would have been used to acquit the Government.
[Footnote F: Gideon Welles, in the _Galaxy_, December, 1871.]
The steam-sloop Hartford, upon which Farragut now hoisted his flag, and in which he continued throughout the war, was a nearly new vessel, having sailed on her first cruise to China in the summer of 1859. She belonged to the early period of the transition from sails to steam for the motive power of vessels; the steam being regarded as auxiliary only, and giving her a speed of but eight knots per hour, while the spars and sail area were those of a full-rigged s.h.i.+p. The deficiency of horse-power was a serious drawback in such an operation as pa.s.sing forts, especially when, as in the Mississippi, the current was strong and always adverse to vessels ascending the river. The Hartford had, on the other hand, a powerful battery of the best existent type. She carried twenty-two Dahlgren nine-inch sh.e.l.l guns, eleven on each side; and, owing to the lowness of the river banks, these guns would be on a level with or even above those in the lower tier of the batteries opposed to her. The Pensacola, Brooklyn, and Richmond were vessels of the same type as the Hartford, and built at the same time.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Pa.s.sAGE OF FORTS JACKSON AND ST. PHILIP, APRIL 24, 1862.
ORDER OF ATTACK.
Admiral Farragut Part 3
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Admiral Farragut Part 3 summary
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