Admiral Farragut Part 4
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FIRST DIVISION--_Leading under command of Captain Theodorus Bailey_.
1. Cayuga, Flag-Gunboat. Lieut.-Com. Harrison.
2. Pensacola, Captain H. W. Morris.
3. Mississippi, Captain M. Smith.
4. Oneida, Commander S. P. Lee.
5. Varuna, Commander C. S. Boggs.
6. Katahdin, Lieut.-Com. G. H. Preble.
7. Kineo, Lieut.-Com. Ransom.
8. Wissahickon, Lieut.-Com. A. N. Smith.
CENTER DIVISION--_Admiral Farragut_.
9. Hartford, Commander Wainwright.
10. Brooklyn, Captain T. T. Craven.
11. Richmond, Commander J. Alden.
THIRD DIVISION--_Captain H. H. Bell_.
12. Sciota, Lieut.-Com. Edward Donaldson.
13. Iroquois, Com. John De Camp.
14. Kennebec, Lieut.-Com. John H. Russell.
15. Pinola, Lieut.-Com. P. Crosby.
16. Itasca, Lieut.-Com. C. H. B. Caldwell.
17. Winona, Lieut.-Com. E. T. Nichols.
18. COMMANDER PORTER'S GUNBOATS.
19. Sloop Portsmouth, Commander S. Swartwout.]
On the 2d of February, 1862, the Hartford sailed from Hampton Roads, and on the 20th reached s.h.i.+p Island. The following day Farragut took over the command of his district and squadron from Flag Officer McKean, who up to that time had had charge of both the East and West Gulf. None of the other vessels of the expedition were yet there; but they came in one by one and were rapidly a.s.sembled at the Southwest Pa.s.s, then the princ.i.p.al entrance to the river. Much difficulty was encountered in getting the heavier s.h.i.+ps over the bar, two weeks' work being needed to drag the Pensacola inside; but on the 7th of April she floated in the river, and Farragut found his force complete. It then consisted, independently of the steamers attached to the mortar flotilla, of four steam sloops-of-war of about two thousand tons each, three of half that size, one large side-wheel s.h.i.+p-of-war, the Mississippi, of seventeen hundred tons, and nine gun-boats of five hundred. The latter had been hurriedly built to meet the special exigencies of this war, and were then commonly known as the "ninety-day" gunboats. Each carried one eleven-inch sh.e.l.l-gun and one thirty-pounder rifle. The aggregate batteries of the seventeen vessels composing the squadron, excluding some light bra.s.s pieces, amounted to one hundred and fifty-four cannon, of which one hundred and thirty-five were thirty-two pounders or above.
The two forts which const.i.tuted the princ.i.p.al defenses of New Orleans against a naval attack from the sea were at Plaquemine Bend, about twenty miles above the Head of the Pa.s.ses; by which name is known the point where the main stream of the Mississippi divides into several channels, called pa.s.ses, through which its waters find their way to the Gulf. The river, whose general course below New Orleans is southeast, turns at Plaquemine Bend northeast for a mile and three-quarters, and then resumes its previous direction. The heavier of the two works, Fort Jackson, is on the right bank, at the lower angle of the Bend. It was a casemated brick structure, pentagonal in form, carrying in barbette over the casemates twenty-seven cannon of and above the size of thirty-two pounders, besides eleven twenty-four pounders. In the casemates were fourteen of the latter caliber. Attached to this fort, but below it, was a water battery carrying half a dozen heavy cannon. Fort St. Philip was nearly opposite Fort Jackson, but somewhat below it, so as to command not only the stream in its front, but also the stretch down the river, being thus enabled to rake vessels approaching from below before they came abreast. It comprised the fort proper and two water batteries, which together mounted forty-two guns. The sites of these fortifications had been skillfully chosen; but their armaments, though formidable and greatly superior to those of the fleet--regard being had to the commonly accepted maxim that a gun ash.o.r.e is equivalent to four afloat--were not equal to the demands of the situation or to the importance of New Orleans. Out of a total of one hundred and nine pieces,[G] of which probably over ninety could be used against a pa.s.sing fleet, fifty-six, or more than half, were of the very old and obsolete caliber of twenty-four pounders.
[Footnote G: There were some guns bearing inland and some flanking howitzers, besides those already enumerated.]
This inadequate preparation, a year after the attack upon Fort Sumter and the outbreak of hostilities, is doubtless to be attributed to surprise. The Southern authorities, like those of the National Government, were firmly possessed with the idea that the Mississippi, if subdued at all, must be so by an attack from the north. Despite the frequency of spies and treason along the border line of the two sections, the steps of the Navy Department were taken so quietly, and followed so closely upon the resolve to act, that the alarm was not quickly taken; and when intimations of attack from the sea did filter through, they had to encounter and dislodge strong contrary preoccupations in the minds of the Southern leaders. Only the Confederate general commanding the military division and his princ.i.p.al subordinates seem to have been alive to the danger of New Orleans, and their remonstrances had no effect. Not only were additional guns denied them and sent North, but drafts were made on their narrow resources to supply points considered to be in greater danger. A striking indication of the prepossessions which controlled the authorities at Richmond was elicited by Commodore Hollins, of the Confederate Navy. That gallant veteran was ordered to take to Memphis several of the rams extemporized at New Orleans. He entreated the Navy Department to allow him to remain, but the reply was that the main attack upon New Orleans would be from above, not from below. After the fleet entered the river he telegraphed from Memphis for permission to return, but received the answer that the proposition was wholly inadmissible. Before the Court of Inquiry upon the loss of New Orleans, he testified that the withdrawal of his s.h.i.+ps was the chief cause of the disaster.[H]
[Footnote H: _Official Records of the War of the Rebellion_, Series I, vol. vi, p. 610.]
While the heavy s.h.i.+ps were being dragged over the bar at the Southwest Pa.s.s, the mortar flotilla had entered the river under the command of Commander Porter. No time was avoidably lost, though there were inevitable delays due to the magnitude of the preparations that in every quarter taxed the energies of the Government. On the 16th of April, less than ten days after the Pensacola got safely inside, the fleet was anch.o.r.ed just out of range of the forts. On the 18th the mortar vessels were in position, and at 10 A. M. the bombardment by them began, continuing throughout the succeeding days till the pa.s.sage of the fleet, and being chiefly directed upon Fort Jackson. From daylight to dark a sh.e.l.l a minute was fired, and as the practice was remarkably good a great proportion of these fell within the fort. As Farragut had predicted, they did not in the course of six days' bombardment do harm enough to compel a surrender or disable the work; but they undoubtedly hara.s.sed the garrison to an extent that exercised an appreciable effect upon the fire of Jackson during the pa.s.sage.
While the bombardment was progressing, the lighter vessels of the squadron were continuously engaged by detachments in protecting the mortar flotilla, steaming up above it and drawing upon themselves the fire of the forts. A more important duty was the removal of the obstructions that the enemy had thrown across the river, below the works, but under their fire. Opinions differed, both in the United States squadron and in the counsels of the enemy, as to the power of the s.h.i.+ps to pa.s.s the forts; but it was realized on both sides that any barrier to their pa.s.sage which should force them to stop under fire, or should throw confusion into their order, would materially increase the chances against them. Whatever the blindness or neglect of the Confederate Government, the Confederate officers of the department had not been remiss in this matter. The construction of a floating barrier had early engaged their attention, and, despite the difficulties presented by so rapid a current, a formidable raft had been placed early in the winter. It consisted of cypress logs forty feet long and four or five feet in diameter, lying lengthwise in the river, with an interval of three feet between them to allow drift to pa.s.s. The logs were connected by two and a half inch iron cables, stretching underneath from one side of the stream to the other; and the whole fabric was held up against the current by some thirty heavy anchors and cables. So long as it stood, this const.i.tuted a very grave difficulty for an attacking fleet; but the water was deep and the holding ground poor, so that even under average conditions there was reason to fear its giving way. The fleet arrived in the early spring, the season when the current, swollen by the melting snows about the head waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries, is at its strongest; and in 1862 the spring rise was greater than for many years. In February the raft began to show signs of yielding under the pressure of the drift wood acc.u.mulating on it from above, and on the 10th of March the cables had parted, the sections on either side being swept against the banks and leaving about a third of the river open. The gap was filled by anchoring in it eight heavy schooners of about two hundred tons burden. They were joined together as the cypress logs had been, but with lighter chains, probably because no heavy ones were at hand; and, as a further embarra.s.sment to the a.s.sailants, their masts were unstepped and allowed to drag astern with the rigging attached, in the hopes that by fouling the screws the ascending vessels might be crippled.
This central barrier of schooners was not intrinsically strong, but it was not to be despised, considering the very moderate speed possessed by the s.h.i.+ps and the strength of the current which they had to stem. It was doubtful whether they could break through with so little loss of way as to produce no detention; and the mere presence of so many hulls on a dark night and under the added gloom of the battle's smoke was liable to increase a confusion which could redound only to the advantage of the defense. It became necessary, therefore, to remove the schooners in whole or in part. This was effected in a very daring manner by two gunboats, the Itasca and Pinola, Captains Caldwell and Crosby; the fleet captain, Henry H. Bell, an officer in whom Farragut had the most unbounded confidence, being placed in command of both. The work had to be done, of course, within range of the hostile batteries, which, through some culpable negligence, failed to molest it. The Pinola carried an electrician with a petard, by which it was hoped to shatter the chains. This attempt, however, failed, owing to the wires of the electrical battery parting before the charge could be exploded. The Itasca, on the other hand, ran alongside one of the schooners and slipped the chains; but, unfortunately, as the hulk was set adrift without Captain Caldwell being notified, and the engines of the gunboat were going ahead with the helm a-port, the two vessels turned insh.o.r.e and ran aground under fire of the forts. In this critical position the Itasca remained for some time, until the Pinola could be recalled to her a.s.sistance; and then several attempts had to be made before she finally floated. Caldwell then did an exceedingly gallant thing, the importance of which alone justified, but amply justified, its temerity. Instead of returning at once to the squadron, satisfied with the measure of success already attained, he deliberately headed up the river; and then, having gained sufficient ground in that direction to insure a full development of his vessel's speed, he turned and charged full upon the line of hulks. As she met the chains, the little vessel rose bodily three or four feet from the water, sliding up on them and dragging the hulks down with her. The chains stood the strain for an instant, then snapped, and the Itasca, having wrought a practicable breach, sped down to the fleet.
While these various accessory operations were going on, Admiral Farragut's mind was occupied with the important question of carrying out the object of his mission. The expedient of reducing or silencing the fire of the enemy's forts, in which he himself had never felt confidence, was in process of being tried; and the time thus employed was being utilized by clearing the river highway and preparing the s.h.i.+ps to cut their way through without delay, in case that course should be adopted. Much had been done while at the Head of the Pa.s.ses, waiting for the Pensacola to cross the bar; but the work was carried on unremittingly to the last moment. The loftier and lighter spars of all the vessels had already been sent ash.o.r.e, together with all unnecessary enc.u.mbrances, several of the gunboats having even unstepped their lower masts; and the various ordinary precautions, known to seamen under the name of "clearing s.h.i.+p for action," had been taken with reference to fighting on anchoring ground. These were particularized in a general order issued by the admiral, and to them he added special instructions, rendered necessary by the force of the current and its constancy in the same direction. "Mount one or two guns on the p.o.o.p and top-gallant forecastle," he said; "in other words, be prepared to use as many guns as possible ahead and astern to protect yourself against the enemy's gunboats and batteries, bearing in mind that you will always have to ride head to the current, and can only avail yourself of the sheer of the helm to point a broadside gun more than three points (thirty-four degrees) forward of the beam.... Trim your vessel also a few inches by the head, so that if she touches the bottom she will not swing head down the river," which, if the stern caught the bottom, would infallibly happen, entailing the difficult manoeuvre and the perilous delay of turning round under the enemy's fire in a narrow river and in the dark.
The vessels generally had secured their spare iron cables up and down their sides in the line of the boilers and engines; and these vital parts were further protected by piling around them hammocks, bags of sand or ashes, and other obstructions to shot. The outsides of the hulls were daubed over with Mississippi mud, to be less easily discerned in the dark; while the decks were whitewashed, so as to throw in stronger relief articles lying upon them which needed to be quickly seen.
Having given his general instructions, the flag officer could intrust the details of preparation to his subordinates; but no one could relieve him of the momentous decision upon which the issues of the campaign must turn. The responsibility of rejecting one course of action and adopting another was his alone; and as has already been remarked, the wording of the department's order, literally understood, imposed upon him the task of reducing the forts before approaching the city. The questions involved were essentially the same as those presented to every general officer when the course of a campaign has brought him face to face with a strong position of the enemy. Shall it be carried by direct attack, and, until so subdued, arrest the progress of the army? or can it be rendered impotent or untenable by severing its communications and by operations directed against the district in its rear, which it protects, and upon which it also depends? The direct attack may be by a.s.sault, by investment, or by regular siege approaches; but whatever the method, the result is the same--the a.s.sailant is detained for a longer or shorter time before the position. During such detention the post fulfills its mission of securing the region it covers, and permits there the uninterrupted prosecution of the military efforts of every character which are designed to impede the progress of the invader.
To such cases no general rule applies; each turns upon particular conditions, and, although close similarities may exist between various instances, probably no two are entirely identical. It is evident, however, that very much will depend upon the offensive power shut up in the position under consideration. If it be great walled town, such as are found on the Continent of Europe, behind whose defenses are sheltered numerous troops, the a.s.sailant who advances beyond it thereby exposes his communications to attack; and, to guard against this danger, must protect them by a force adequate to hold the garrison in check. If, again, there be but a single line by which the communications can be maintained, by which supplies and re-enforcements can go forward, and that line pa.s.ses close under the work and is commanded by it, the garrison may be small, incapable of external action, and yet may vitally affect the future operations of the venturesome enemy who dares to leave it unsubdued behind him. Such, to some extent, was the Fort of Bard, in the narrow pa.s.s of the Dora Baltea, to Napoleon's crossing of the St.
Bernard in 1800; and such, to some extent, would be Forts Jackson and St. Philip to Farragut's fleet after it had fought its way above. The Mississippi was the great line of communication for the fleet; no other was comparable to it--except as a by-path in a mountain is comparable to a royal highway--and the forts commanded the Mississippi. Their own offensive power was limited to the range of their guns; their garrisons were not fitted, either by their number or their apt.i.tudes, for offensive action upon the water; but so long as their food and ammunition lasted, though an occasional vessel might run by them, no steady stream of supplies, such as every armed organization needs, could pa.s.s up the Mississippi. Finally, though the garrison could not move, there lay behind or under the forts a number of armed vessels, whose precise powers were unknown, but concerning which most exaggerated rumors were current.
The question, therefore, looming before Farragut was precisely that which had been debated before the President in Was.h.i.+ngton; precisely that on which Fox had differed from Porter and Barnard. It was, again, closely a.n.a.logous to that which divided Sherman and Grant when the latter, a year after Farragut ran by the forts, made his famous decision to cut adrift from his communications by the upper Mississippi, to march past Vicksburg by the west bank of the river, to cross below the works, and so cut off the great stronghold of the Mississippi from the country upon which it depended for food and re-enforcements.[I] But as Grant's decision rested upon a balance of arguments applicable to the problem before him, so did Farragut's upon a calculation of the risks and advantages attendant, respectively, upon the policy of waiting for the forts to fall, or of speeding by them to destroy the resources upon which they depended.
[Footnote I: The following is Grant's account of a matter which, but for Sherman's own zeal in proclaiming the merits of his commander-in-chief, would probably have always remained unknown.
It would be difficult to find a closer parallel to the difference of judgment existing between Farragut and Porter at New Orleans: "When General Sherman first learned of the move I proposed to make, he called to see me about it. I was seated on the piazza, engaged in conversation with my staff, when he came up. After a few moments' conversation, he said he would like to see me alone.
We pa.s.sed into the house together and shut the door after us.
Sherman then expressed his alarm at the move I had ordered, saying that I was putting myself voluntarily in a position which an enemy would be glad to manoeuvre a year--or a long time--to get me in. I was going into the enemy's country, with a large river behind me, and the enemy holding points strongly fortified above and below.
He said that it was an axiom in war that when any great body of troops moved against an enemy they should do so from a base of supplies which they would guard as the apple of the eye, etc. He pointed out all the difficulties that might be encountered in the campaign proposed, and stated in turn what would be the true campaign to make. This was, in substance, to go back until high ground could be reached on the east bank of the river, fortify there and establish a depot of supplies, and move from there, being always prepared to fall back upon it in case of disaster. I said this would take us back to Memphis. Sherman then said that was the very place he should go to, and would move by railroad from Memphis to Granada. To this I replied, the country is already disheartened over the lack of success on the part of our armies,... and if we went back so far as Memphis, it would discourage the people so much that bases of supplies would be of no use; neither men to hold them nor supplies to put in them would be furnished. The problem was to move forward to a decisive victory, or our cause was lost.... Sherman wrote to my adjutant-general embodying his views of the campaign that should be made, and asking him to advise me at least to get the views of my generals upon the subject. Rawlins showed me the letter, but I did not see any reasons for changing my plans."--_Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant_, vol. i, p. 542 (note).]
The reasons in favor of waiting for the fall of the works were ably presented by Commander Porter in a paper which he asked to have read in a council of commanding officers of the fleet, a.s.sembled on board the flag-s.h.i.+p on the third day of the bombardment, April 20. Farragut was already familiar with the arguments on both sides, and Porter's paper can be regarded only as an expression of views already uttered, but now invested with a formality becoming the seriousness of the occasion. In its finality it has somewhat the character of a protest, though indirect and couched in perfectly becoming language, against a decision which Farragut had now reached and which Porter had always combated. The latter does not appear to have doubted the ability of the fleet to pa.s.s the works, but he questioned the utility and expediency of so doing. His words were as follows:[J]
"The objections to running by the forts are these: It is not likely that any intelligent enemy would fail to place chains across above the forts, and raise such batteries as would protect them against our s.h.i.+ps. Did we run the forts we should leave an enemy in our rear, and the mortar vessels would have to be left behind. We could not return to bring them up without going through a heavy and destructive fire. If the forts are run, part of the mortars should be towed along, which would render the progress of the vessels slow against the strong current at that point. If the forts are first captured, the moral effect would be to close the batteries on the river and open the way to New Orleans; whereas, if we don't succeed in taking them, we shall have to fight our way up the river. Once having possession of the forts, New Orleans would be hermetically sealed, and we could repair damages and go up on our own terms and in our own time....
Nothing has been said about a combined attack of army and navy.
Such a thing is not only practicable, but, if time permitted, should be adopted. Fort St. Philip can be taken with two thousand men covered by the s.h.i.+ps, the ditch can be filled with fascines, and the wall is easily to be scaled with ladders. It can be attacked in front and rear."
[Footnote J: The paper being long, only those parts are quoted which convey the objections to running by.]
In summoning his captains to meet him on this occasion, Farragut had no idea of calling a council-of-war in the sense which has brought that name into disrepute. He sent for them, not because he wanted to make up his mind, but because it was made up, and he wished at once to impart to them his purposes and receive the benefit of any suggestion they might make. Bell, the chief-of-staff, who was present, has left a memorandum of what pa.s.sed, which is interesting as showing that the members were not called to express an opinion as to the propriety of the attack, but to receive instructions as to the method, on which they could suggest improvements.
"April 20, 10 A. M. Signal was made for all captains commanding to repair on board the flag-s.h.i.+p. All being present except the three on guard to-day, viz., Commander De Camp and Lieutenants-Commanding Nichols and Russell, the flag-officer unfolded his plan of operations, a.s.signing the places for every vessel in the fleet in the attack, and exhibited his charts of the river and of the forts. Some discussion was had thereupon, and Commander Alden read a written communication to the flag-officer from Commander Porter at his request, expressing his views as to the operation against the forts. Having read them, Commander Alden folded up the paper and returned it to his pocket, whereupon I suggested the propriety of the doc.u.ment being left with the flag-officer, and the paper was accordingly left in his hands. It was therein stated that the boom being a protection to the mortars against attacks of all kinds from above, the boom should not be destroyed until the forts were reduced.
Upon this the flag-officer remarked that the commander had this morning a.s.sented to the propriety of the boom being broken to-night--which I heard--and, again, that the fleet should not go above the forts, as the mortar fleet would be left unprotected. The flag-officer thought the mortars would be as well protected above as below the forts, and that co-operation with the army, which entered into the plans of both parties, could not be effectual unless some of the troops were introduced above the forts at the same time that they are below. Once above, he intended to cover their landing at Quarantine, five miles above, they coming to the river through the bayou there. Once above, the forts were cut off and his propellers intact for ascending the river to the city. And in pa.s.sing the forts, if he found his s.h.i.+ps able to cope with them, he should fight it out. Some of the captains and commanders considered it a hazardous thing to go above, as being out of the reach of supplies. To this it may be said that the steamers can pa.s.s down at the rate of twelve miles an hour. The flag-officer remarked that our ammunition is being rapidly consumed without a supply at hand, and that something must be done immediately. He believed in celerity. It was proposed by myself and a.s.sented to by the flag-officer, that three steamers should go up the river shortly after dark, under my own guidance, to break the boom."
It appears from this account, supported by the general order issued immediately after it and given a few pages further on, that Farragut had definitely determined not to await the reduction of the forts, because the bombardment so far did not indicate any probability of effectual results. It was his deliberate opinion that the loss of time and the waste of effort were entailing greater risks than would be caused by cutting adrift from his base and severing his own communications in order to strike at those of the enemy. It is commonly true that in the effort to cut the communications of an opponent one runs the risk of exposing his own; but in this case the attacking force was one pre-eminently qualified to control the one great medium of communication throughout that region--that is, the water. Also, although in surrendering the river Farragut gave up the great line of travel, he kept in view that the bayou system offered an alternative, doubtless greatly inferior, but which, nevertheless, would serve to plant above the forts, under the protection of the navy, such troops as should be deemed necessary; and that the combined efforts of army and navy could then maintain a sufficient flow of supplies until the forts fell from isolation. Finally, a fleet is not so much an army as a collection of floating fortresses, garrisoned, provisioned, and mobile. It carries its communications in its hulls, and is not in such daily dependence upon external sources as is the sister service.
In deciding, therefore, against awaiting the reduction of the forts by direct attack, and in favor of attempting the same result by striking at the interests they defended and the base on which they rested, Farragut was guided by a calculation of the comparative _material_ risks and advantages of the two courses, and not mainly by consideration of the moral effect produced upon the defenders by a successful stroke, as has been surmised by Lord Wolseley. This eminent English authority attributes the success of the expedition against New Orleans to three causes. "First, the inadequate previous preparation of the naval part of the New Orleans defenses; second, the want of harmonious working between the Confederate naval and military forces; and, lastly, Farragut's clear appreciation of the moral effect he would produce by forcing his way past the defenses of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, and by his appearance before New Orleans. For, after all, the forts were never captured by actual attack.... This brilliant result is a striking instance of the due appreciation by a commander of the effect which daring achievements exert on men's minds, although, _as in this case_, those daring acts _do not actually, directly, or materially_ make certain the end or surrender they may have secured." And, again, in another place: "Admiral Farragut's success was mainly due to the moral effect produced by his gallant pa.s.sage of the forts.... He never reduced the forts, and seems to have done them but little harm."[K]
[Footnote K: Lord Wolseley in _North American Review_, vol. cxlix, pp. 32-34, 597. The italics are the author's.]
The moral effect produced in war upon men's minds, and through the mind upon their actions, is undeniable, and may rightly count for much in the calculations of a commander; but when it becomes the sole, or even the chief reliance, as in Bonaparte's advance into Carinthia in 1797, the spirit displayed approaches closely to that of the gambler who counts upon a successful bluff to disconcert his opponent. The serious objection to relying upon moral effect alone to overcome resistance is that moral forces do not admit of as close knowledge and measurement as do material conditions. The insight and moral strength of the enemy may be greater than you have means of knowing, and to a.s.sume that they are less is to fall into the dangerous error of despising your enemy. To attribute to so dubious a hope, alone, the daring act of Admiral Farragut in pa.s.sing the forts and encountering the imperfectly known dangers above, is really to detract from his fame as a capable as well as gallant leader. That there were risks and accidents to be met he knew full well; that he might incur disaster he realized; that the dangers above and the power of the enemy's vessels might exceed his expectations was possible; war can not be stripped of hazard, and the anxiety of the doubtful issue is the penalty the chieftain pays for his position. But Farragut was convinced by experience and reflection that his fleet could force its pa.s.sage; and he saw that once above the material probabilities were that army and navy could be combined in such a position of vantage as would isolate the forts from all relief, and so "actually, directly, and materially make certain their surrender," and secure his end of controlling the lower Mississippi. There was only one road practicable to s.h.i.+ps to pa.s.s above, and that led openly and directly under the fire of the forts; but having pa.s.sed this, they were planted across the communications as squarely as if they had made a circuit of hundreds of miles, with all the secrecy of Bonaparte in 1800 and in 1805. Are strongholds never "captured" unless by "actual attack"? Did Ulm and Mantua yield to blows or to isolation?
Such, certainly, was the opinion of the able officers who conducted the Confederate defense, and whose conduct, except in matters of detail, was approved by the searching court of inquiry that pa.s.sed upon it. "In my judgment," testified General M. L. Smith, who commanded the interior line of works and was in no way responsible for the fall of Forts St.
Philip and Jackson, "the forts were impregnable _so long as they were in free and open communication with the city_. This communication was not endangered while the obstruction existed. The conclusion, then, is briefly this: While the obstruction existed the city was safe; when it was swept away, as the defenses then existed, it was in the enemy's power."[L] General Lovell, the commander-in-chief of the military department, stated that he had made preparations to evacuate New Orleans in case the fleet pa.s.sed the fort by sending out of the city several hundred thousand rations and securing transport steamers. He continued: "In determining upon the evacuation of the city I necessarily, as soon as the enemy's fleet had pa.s.sed the forts, regarded the position _the same as if both their army and navy were present before the city_, making due allowance simply for the time it would take them to transport their army up. Inasmuch as their s.h.i.+ps had pa.s.sed Forts Jackson and St.
Philip, _they could at once place themselves in open and uninterrupted communication with their army at points from six to twenty miles above the forts through various small water communications from the Gulf_, made more available by the extraordinary height of the river, and which, while they (we?) were in possession of the latter, I had easily and without risk defended with launches and part of the river-defense fleet.
I had also stationed Szymanski's regiment at the Quarantine for the same object. These were, however, all destroyed or captured by the enemy's fleet after they got possession of the river between the forts and the city."[M] Colonel Szymanski testified: "After the forts had been pa.s.sed, it was practicable for the enemy to transport his army through the bayous and ca.n.a.ls to New Orleans, without encountering the forts. A portion of the enemy did come that way. I have for many years owned a plantation fifteen miles below the city, and am very familiar with the whole country. I have never known the river as high as it was in 1862.
Also, above English Turn (five miles below the city) there is water communication through Lake Borgne with the Gulf of Mexico by other bayous and ca.n.a.ls of the same character."[N]
[Footnote L: _Official Records of the War of the Rebellion._ Series I, vol. vi, p. 583.]
[Footnote M: _Official Records of the War of the Rebellion._ Series I, vol. vi, p. 566.]
[Footnote N: Ibid., p. 578.]
It is evident, therefore, that competent military men on the spot, and in full possession of all the facts, considered, as did Farragut, that with the pa.s.sage of the forts by the fleet the material probabilities of success became in favor of the United States forces. The only moral effect produced was the mutiny of the half-disciplined alien troops that garrisoned the forts; and surely it will not be contended that any such wild antic.i.p.ation as of that prompted Farragut's movement. The officers of the forts were trained and educated soldiers, who knew their duty and would not be crushed into submission by adverse circ.u.mstances. They would doubtless have replied, as did the commander of Fort Morgan two years later, that they looked upon the United States fleet above them as their prisoners, and they would have held out to the bitter end; but the end was certain as soon as the fleet pa.s.sed above them. They had provisions for two months; then, if not reduced by blows, they must yield to hunger.
Immediately after the conference with his captains, Farragut issued the following general order, from which it appears that, while his opinion remained unchanged as to the expediency of running by the forts, he contemplated the possibility, though not the probability, of their being subdued by the fire of the fleet, and reserved to himself freedom to act accordingly by prescribing a simple signal, which would be readily understood, and would convert the attempt to pa.s.s into a sustained and deadly effort to conquer:
"UNITED STATES FLAG-s.h.i.+P HARTFORD, MISSISSIPPI RIVER, _April 20, 1862_.
Admiral Farragut Part 4
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Admiral Farragut Part 4 summary
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