Admiral Farragut Part 5
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"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 sh.e.l.ls and fuses and material for making cartridges. He has always entertained the same opinions which are expressed by Commander Porter--that is, there are three modes of attack,[O] 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 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_.
"The programme of the order of sailing accompanies this general order, and the commanders will hold themselves in readiness for the service as indicated.
D. G. FARRAGUT, _Flag-officer Western Gulf Blockading Squadron_".
[Footnote O: Those three were: First, a direct naval attack upon the works; second, running by the works; third, a combined attack by army and navy.]
Nothing can be clearer than that the opinion expressed and maintained by the flag-officer from the beginning was the one carried out, resulting in a complete success.
The bombardment by the mortar flotilla was continued three days longer, at the end of which time the provision of bombs immediately obtainable was becoming exhausted. Enough, however, remained to sustain a very vigorous fire during the period of the pa.s.sage, and as the cover of darkness was desired the delay was not without its advantages, for the waning moon grew daily less and rose an hour later each succeeding night. On the 23d notice was given to the s.h.i.+ps that the attempt to pa.s.s would be made that night, and that, as half-past three was the hour of moon-rise, the signal, two red lights, would be hoisted at 2 A. M.
During that afternoon Farragut personally visited each s.h.i.+p, in order to know positively that each commander understood his orders for the attack, and to see that all was in readiness.
The original intention of the flag-officer was to attack in two parallel columns, a more compact formation than one long one, less liable to straggling, and in which the heavy batteries of the larger s.h.i.+ps would more effectually cover the lighter vessels by keeping down the fire of the enemy. In this arrangement, which remained unaltered until the 23d, the second in command, Captain Theodorus Bailey, whose divisional flag was flying in the gunboat Cayuga, would have had the right column, and the flag-officer himself the left in the Hartford. The latter was to be followed by the Brooklyn and Richmond, and upon these three heavy s.h.i.+ps would fall the brunt of the engagement with Fort Jackson, the more powerful of the enemy's works. The right column also had its heaviest s.h.i.+ps in the lead; the exceptional station of the Cayuga being due to some natural unwillingness on the part of other commanding officers to receive on board, as divisional commander and their own superior, an officer whose position in the fleet was simply that of captain of a single s.h.i.+p.[P] The Cayuga led, not in virtue of her armament, but because she bore on board the commander of one column.
[Footnote P: Captain Bailey commanded the Colorado frigate, which drew too much water to cross the bar. Anxious to share in the fight, he obtained from the flag-officer the divisional appointment.]
On the 23d Farragut, considering the narrowness of the opening in the obstructions through which the fleet must pa.s.s, decided that the risk of collision with the hulks on either side, or between the columns themselves, would be too great if he adhered to his written programme; and he accordingly gave a verbal order that the right column should weigh first, and be followed closely by the other under his own guidance. To facilitate the departure and avoid confusion, the s.h.i.+ps of the right s.h.i.+fted their berth after dark to the east side of the river, anchoring in the order prescribed to them.
As some doubts had been expressed as to the actual rupture of the chains between the hulks on either side the breach, although they had evidently been dragged from their position by the efforts made on the night of the 20th, Lieutenant Caldwell was again chosen, at his own request, to make an examination of the actual conditions. This he did in the early part of the night, before the s.h.i.+ps got under way; and it is a singular confirmation of the slackness and inefficiency that has been charged against the water service of the Confederates that he effected this duty thoroughly and without molestation. Twice he pulled above the hulks and thence allowed his boat to drift down between them, a heavy lead with sixty feet of line hanging from her bows. As this line caught on nothing it was clear that within the narrow limits of the breach no impediment to the pa.s.sage of a vessel existed. By 11 P. M. Caldwell was on his return with this decisive and encouraging report.
At 2 A. M. the appointed signal was made, and at once was heard in every direction the clank-clank of the chains as the seamen hove the anchors to the bows. The strength of the current and the tenacity of the bottom in some spots made this operation longer than had been expected, and not till half-past three did the leading vessel reach the line of hulks, followed closely by the rest of her division. There is something singularly impressive in the thought of these moments of silent tension, following the active efforts of getting under way and preceding the furious strife, for whose first outburst every heart on board was waiting; and the impression is increased by the petty size of the little vessel in the lead, which thus advanced with steady beating of the engines to bear the first blast of the storm. Favored partly by her size, and yet more by the negligence of those among the enemy whose duty it was to have kept the scene alight with the numerous fire-rafts provided for that very purpose, the Cayuga pa.s.sed the hulks and was well on her way up river before she was seen. "Although it was a starlight night," wrote Lieutenant Perkins, who by her commander's direction was piloting the s.h.i.+p, "we were not discovered until well under the forts; then they opened upon us a tremendous fire." It was the prelude to a drama of singular energy and grandeur, for the Confederates in the forts were fully on their guard, and had antic.i.p.ated with unshaken courage, but with gloomy forebodings, an attack during that very night. "There will be no to-morrow for New Orleans," had said the undaunted commander of Fort Jackson the day before, "if the navy does not at once move the Louisiana to the position a.s.signed to her," close to the obstructions.
The Louisiana was a powerful ironclad battery, not quite complete when Farragut entered the river. She had been hurried down to the forts four days before the pa.s.sage of the fleet, but her engines could not drive her, and the naval commander refused to take up the position, asked of him by the military authorities, below St. Philip, where he would have a cross fire with the forts, a close command of the line of obstructions, and would greatly prolong the gantlet of fire through which the fleet must run. To support the movement of the latter by drawing the fire and hara.s.sing the gunners of the enemy, Commander Porter moved up with the steamers of the mortar flotilla to easy range of the water battery under Fort Jackson, which he engaged; while the mortar schooners, as soon as the flash of the enemy's guns showed that the head of the column had been discovered, opened a furious bombardment, keeping two sh.e.l.ls constantly in the air. Except for the annoyance of the bombs, the gunners of the forts had it much their own way until the broadsides of the Pensacola, which showed eleven heavy guns on either side, drew up abreast of them. "The Cayuga received the first fire," writes Perkins, "and the air was filled with sh.e.l.ls and explosives which almost blinded me as I stood on the forecastle trying to see my way, for I had never been up the river before. I soon saw that the guns of the forts were all aimed for midstream, so I steered close under the walls of Fort St.
Philip; and although our masts and rigging got badly shot through our hull was but little damaged." Small as she was--five hundred tons--and with the scanty top hamper of a schooner, the Cayuga was struck forty-two times, below and aloft.
"After pa.s.sing the last battery," continues Perkins, "and thinking we were clear, I looked back for some of our vessels, and my heart jumped up into my mouth when I found I could not see a single one. I thought they all must have been sunk by the forts." This seeming desertion was due to the fact that the heavy s.h.i.+ps--the Pensacola, Mississippi, and Oneida--had been detained by the resolute manner in which the first stopped to engage Fort St. Philip. Stopping to fire, then moving slowly, then stopping again, the reiterated broadsides of this big s.h.i.+p, delivered at such close range that the combatants on either side exchanged oaths and jeers of defiance, beat down the fire of the exposed barbette batteries, and gave an admirable opportunity for slipping by to the light vessels, which brought up the rear of the column and were wholly unfit to contend with the forts. The Mississippi and Oneida keeping close behind the Pensacola and refusing to pa.s.s her, the Cayuga was thus separated from all her followers.
The isolation of the Cayuga was therefore caused by her anomalous position at the head of the column, a post proper only to a heavy s.h.i.+p.
It was impossible for her petty battery of two guns to pause before the numerous pieces of the enemy; it was equally impossible for the powerful vessels following her to hasten on, leaving to the mercy of the Confederates the gunboats of the same type that succeeded them in the order. That the Cayuga was thus exposed arose from the amiable desire of the admiral to gratify Bailey's laudable wish to share in the battle, without compelling an officer of the same grade, and junior only in number, to accept a superior on his own quarter-deck in the day of battle, when the harvest of distinction is expected to repay the patient sowing of preparation. The commander of the Cayuga, who was only a lieutenant, had reconciled these conflicting claims by volunteering to carry Bailey's divisional flag. As there is no reason to suppose that Farragut deliberately intended to offer the gunboat up as a forlorn hope by drawing the first fire of the enemy, always the most deadly, and thus saving the more important vessels, the disposition of her const.i.tutes the only serious fault in his tactical arrangements on this occasion--a fault attributable not to his judgment, but to one of those concessions to human feelings which circ.u.mstances at times extort from all men. His first intention, an advance in two columns, the heavy s.h.i.+ps leading and closely engaging the forts with grape and canister, while the two-gun vessels slipped through between the columns, met the tactical demands of the proposed operation. The decision to abandon this order in favor of one long, thin line, because of the narrowness of the opening, can not be challenged. This formation was distinctly weaker and more liable to straggling, but nothing could be so bad as backing, collision, or stoppage at the obstructions. In such an attack, however, as in all of Farragut's battles, it seems eminently fitting that the commander of the column should lead. The occasion is one for pilotage and example; and inasmuch as the divisional commander can not control, except by example, any s.h.i.+p besides the one on board which he himself is, that s.h.i.+p should be the most powerful in his command. These conclusions may hereafter be modified by conditions of submarine warfare, though even under them it seems likely that in forcing pa.s.sage into a harbor the van s.h.i.+p should carry the flag of the officer commanding the leading division; but under the circ.u.mstances of Farragut's day they may be accepted as representing his own convictions, first formed by the careful deliberation of a man with a genius for war, and afterward continually confirmed by his ever-ripening experience.
Left thus unsupported by the logical results of her false position, the Cayuga found herself exposed to an even greater danger than she had already run from the guns of the stationary works. "Looking ahead," says Perkins's letter, already quoted, "I saw eleven of the enemy's gunboats coming down upon us, and it seemed as if we were 'gone' sure." The vessels thus dimly seen in the darkness of the night were a heterogeneous, disorganized body, concerning which, however, very imperfect and very exaggerated particulars had reached the United States fleet. They were freely spoken of as ironclad gunboats and ironclad rams, and the Confederates had done all in their power to increase the moral effect which was attendant upon these names, then new to maritime warfare. None of them had been built with any view to war. Three only were sea-going, with the light scantling appropriate to their calling as vessels for freight and pa.s.senger traffic. Another had been a large twin-screw tugboat that began her career in Boston, and thence, shortly before the war, had been sent to the Mississippi. After the outbreak of hostilities she had been covered with an arched roof and three-quarter-inch iron; a nine-inch gun, capable only of firing directly ahead, had been mounted in her bows, and, thus equipped, she pa.s.sed into notoriety as the ram Mana.s.sas. With the miserable speed of six knots, to which, however, the current of the river gave a very important addition, and with a protection scarcely stronger than the buckram armor of the stage, the Mana.s.sas, by her uncanny appearance and by the persistent trumpeting of the enemy, had obtained a very formidable reputation with the United States officers, who could get no reliable information about her.
The remainder of the force were river steamboats, whose machinery was protected with cotton, and their stems shod with one-inch iron, clamped in place by straps of the same material extending a few feet aft. Thus strengthened, it was hoped that with the sharpness of their bows and the swiftness of the current they could, notwithstanding the exceeding lightness of their structure, penetrate the hulls of the United States s.h.i.+ps. Resolutely and vigorously handled, there can be little doubt that they might have sunk one or two of their a.s.sailants; but there is no probability that they could under all the circ.u.mstances have done more.
The obscurity of the night, the swiftness of the stream, and the number of actors in the confusing drama being played between the two banks of the Mississippi, would have introduced into the always delicate fencing of the ram extraordinary difficulties, with which the inexperience of their commanders was in no degree qualified to deal. The generally steady approach, bows on, of the United States s.h.i.+ps, presented the smallest target to their thrust and gave to the threatened vessel the utmost facilities for avoiding the collision or converting it into a glancing blow; while, as for rounding-to, to ram squarely on the beam of a s.h.i.+p stemming the current, the a.s.sailant, even if he displayed the remarkable nicety of judgment required, was not likely to find the necessary room.
These difficulties received ill.u.s.tration by the career of the Mana.s.sas that night. Her commander, Lieutenant Warley, was a former officer of the United States Navy, and he handled her with judgment and the utmost daring. Rus.h.i.+ng nearly bows on upon the Pensacola, the thrust was wholly avoided by the quick moving of the latter's helm, which Warley characterized as beautiful; while the attempt made immediately afterward upon the Mississippi resulted in a merely glancing blow, which took a deep and long shaving out of the enemy's quarter, but did no serious damage. Not till a much later period of the action did the Mana.s.sas find an opportunity to charge squarely upon the beam of the Brooklyn. She did so across the current, striking therefore only with her own speed of six knots. But little shock was felt on board the rammed s.h.i.+p, and no apprehension of damage was experienced; but it was afterward found that the enemy's stem had entered between two frames, and crushed both the outer and inner planking. A few moments earlier the Brooklyn had been thrown across the current by the chances of the night. Had the ram then struck her in the same place, carrying the four knots additional velocity of the current, it is entirely possible that the mortification of the Confederate defeat would have derived some consolation from the sinking of one of Farragut's best s.h.i.+ps. Such were the results obtained by a man of singular and resolute character, who drove his tiny vessel through the powerful broadsides of the hostile fleet, and dared afterward to follow its triumphant course up the river, in hopes of s.n.a.t.c.hing another chance from the jaws of defeat.
Another example, equally daring and more successful, of the power of the ram, was given that same night by Kennon, also an ex-officer of the United States Navy; but the other ram commanders did not draw from their antecedent training and habits of thought the constancy and pride, which could carry their frail vessels into the midst of s.h.i.+ps that had thus victoriously broken their way through the bulwarks of the Mississippi.
The River-Defense Fleet, as it was called, was a separate organization, which owned no allegiance and would receive no orders from the navy; and its absurd privileges were jealously guarded by a government whose essential principle was the independence of local rights from all central authority. Captains of Mississippi River steamboats, their commanders held to the full the common American opinion that the profession of arms differs from all others in the fact that it requires no previous training, involves no special habits of thought, is characterized by no moral tone which only early education or years of custom can impart. Rejecting all suggestion and neglecting all preparation, they cherished the most inordinate confidence in the raw native valor which they were persuaded would inspire them at the critical moment; and, incredible as it would seem, some of the men who in the battle could find no other use for their boats but to run them ash.o.r.e and burn them, ventured to tell Warley the night before that their mission was to show naval officers how to fight. They did not lack courage, but that military habit upon whose influence Farragut had so acutely remarked when a youth, returning in 1820 from the European station.[Q] "Had regular naval officers," said Kennon bitterly, "instead of being kept in the mud forts on the creeks in Virginia, and in the woods of Carolina cutting timbers to build ironclads, been sent to command these vessels, even at the eleventh hour, they would have proved very formidable."
[Footnote Q: See page 62.]
Steaming into the midst of such as these, the peril of the Cayuga, real enough, was less than it seemed; but she had to do at once with Warley's Mana.s.sas and with the Governor Moore, the vessel that Kennon commanded, and which afterward sunk the Varuna. "Three made a dash to board us,"
records Lieutenant Perkins, agreeing therein with the official reports of Captain Bailey and of his own commander, Lieutenant Harrison; "but a heavy charge from our eleven-inch gun settled the Governor Moore, which was one of them. A ram, the Mana.s.sas, in attempting to b.u.t.t us just missed our stern, and we soon settled the third fellow's 'hash.' Just then some of our gunboats which had pa.s.sed the forts came up, and then all sorts of things happened." This last expression is probably as terse and graphic a summary of a _melee_, which to so many is the ideal of a naval conflict, as ever was penned. "There was the wildest excitement all round. The Varuna fired a broadside into us instead of into the enemy. Another of our gunboats attacked one of the Cayuga's prizes; I shouted out, 'Don't fire into that s.h.i.+p, she has surrendered.' Three of the enemy's s.h.i.+ps had surrendered to us before any of our vessels appeared; but when they did come up we all pitched in, and settled the eleven rebel vessels in about twenty minutes." Besides the eleven armed boats known to have been above, there were several unarmed tugs and other steamers, some of which probably shared in this wild confusion.
One at least came into conflict with the Hartford.
The second column, led by the flag-s.h.i.+p, was promptly away and after the first; following, indeed, so closely that the head of the one lapped the rear of the other. The Brooklyn and Richmond, close behind the Hartford, formed with her a powerful "body of battle," to use the strong French expression for the center of a fleet. Though called sloops-of-war, the tonnage and batteries of these s.h.i.+ps were superior to those of the medium s.h.i.+ps-of-the-line of the beginning of this century, with which Nelson fought his celebrated battles. As the flag-s.h.i.+p reached the hulks the night, which, though very dark, was fairly clear, had become obscured by the dense clouds of smoke that an almost breathless atmosphere suffered to settle down upon the water. Only twenty minutes had elapsed since the forts opened upon the Cayuga, when Farragut's flag entered the battle. Soon after pa.s.sing the obstructions, and when about to sheer in toward Fort Jackson, upon which was to be concentrated her own battery and that of her two formidable followers, a fire-raft was observed coming down the river in such a way as to make contact probable if the course were not changed. Heading across the river, and edged gradually over by the raft continuing to work toward her, the s.h.i.+p took the ground a little above Fort St. Philip, but still under its batteries. While in this dangerous position, the raft, whose movements proved to be controlled not by the current but by a small tugboat, was pushed against her port quarter. The flames caught the side of the s.h.i.+p, spread swiftly along it, leaped into the rigging and blazed up toward the tops. The danger was imminent, and appeared even more so than it was; for the body of heat, though great, was scarcely sufficient to account for such a rapid spread of the flames, which was probably due mainly to the paint. The thoroughly organized fire department soon succeeded in quenching the conflagration, its source being removed by training some of the after-guns upon the daring pygmy, which with such reckless courage had well-nigh destroyed the commander-in-chief of her enemy's fleet. The tug received a shot in her boilers and sunk. The Hartford backed clear, but in so doing fell off broadside to the stream, thereby affording another chance to the hostile rams, had there been one prepared to dare the hazard. Watson, the flag-lieutenant, remarks that the flag-officer stood during this critical period giving his orders and watching the s.h.i.+p slowly turn, referring occasionally to a little compa.s.s which was attached to his watch-chain. During most of the engagement, however, he was forward observing the conflict.
The Brooklyn and Richmond, with the Sciota and the Iroquois, which followed immediately after them, fought their way through with more or less of adventure, but successfully reached the river above the forts.
It is to be observed, however, that these, as well as the Hartford, suffered from the embarra.s.sment of the smoke, which had inconvenienced the s.h.i.+ps of the first column to a much less degree. This was to be expected, and doubtless contributed to the greater loss which they suffered, by delaying their progress and giving uncertainty to their aim; the result of the latter being naturally to intensify the action of the hostile gunners. Four gunboats brought up the rear of the column, of which but one got through, and she with a loss greater than any vessel of her cla.s.s. The three last failed to pa.s.s. Blinded by smoke and further delayed by the tendency to open out, which is observable in all long columns, they came under the fire of the forts at a time when, the larger vessels having pa.s.sed, they were no longer covered or supported by their fire, and when day was about to break. The Itasca, commanded by the gallant Caldwell, who had so n.o.bly broken through the obstructions, opposing only her puny battery to the concentrated wrath of the forts, was knocked about by them at will, received a shot through her boiler and drifted down the river out of action. The Winona likewise encountered almost alone, or perhaps in company with the Itasca, the fire of the enemy. After nearly running ash.o.r.e in the smoke, daylight surprised her while still under fire below the works; and her commander very properly decided not to risk the total destruction and possible capture of his vessel for the sake of adding her insignificant force to that above. Admirably as the gunboats were officered, perhaps their most useful service on this night was to demonstrate again the advantage of big s.h.i.+ps, as of big battalions.
Thirteen out of his seventeen vessels having rallied around his flag above the forts, and the three below being of the least efficient type, the flag-officer could congratulate himself upon a complete victory, won with but little loss. One vessel only was sacrificed, and she to that inconsiderate ardor which in so many cases of pursuit leads men, without any necessity, out of reach of support. The Varuna, the fifth in the order, and the only merchant-built vessel in the fleet, after clearing the forts had steamed rapidly through the Confederate flotilla, firing right and left, but not stopping. She soon pa.s.sed above it, and getting sight of a small steamer heading for New Orleans, sped away after her. Kennon, in the Governor Moore, happened to have noticed this movement; and, finding by the rapid accessions to the number of his enemies that he was likely to be soon overwhelmed, he determined to follow this one which, whatever her strength, he might tackle alone.
Stealing out of the _melee_ he started up the river, hoisting lights similar to those he had observed the enemy's s.h.i.+ps to carry. Deceived by this ruse, the Varuna at the first paid no attention to her pursuer, some distance behind whom followed one of the River-Defense boats, the Stonewall Jackson. When Kennon at last opened fire, the Varuna, having by then run down her steam in her headlong speed, was being rapidly overtaken. The second shot from the Moore raked the Varuna's deck, killing and wounding twelve men. The Union vessel's helm was then put hard-a-port, swinging her broadside to bear upon her approaching foe, who was naturally expected to imitate the movement, opposing side to side to avoid being raked. Instead of so doing Kennon kept straight on, and, while receiving a deadly raking fire from his antagonist's battery, which struck down many of his men, he succeeded in driving the sharp stem of the Moore through the side of the Varuna. A few moments after the Stonewall Jackson coming up also rammed the disabled enemy, whose commander then drove her ash.o.r.e on the east side of the river, where she sank. By this time the corvette Oneida had made out the state of the case. Steaming rapidly ahead, she overhauled the Confederate vessels; which, finding they could not escape, ran ash.o.r.e, the Jackson on the west bank, the Moore on the east, and in those positions they were surrendered.
Farragut had undertaken this daring exploit with the expectation that, after pa.s.sing the forts, he could obtain the co-operation of the army, and that the action of the two services, combined in mutual support, would suffice to force the way to New Orleans. The occupation of the land by the army, and of the water by the navy, interposing by the nature of their operations between the city and the forts, would effectually isolate the latter. In accordance with this plan he at once sent Captain Boggs, of the Varuna, through the Quarantine Bayou with messages to Commander Porter and General Butler. The latter was notified that the way was now clear to land his troops through the bayou, in accordance with the previous arrangements, and that gunboats would be left there to protect them against those of the enemy, of which three or four were seen to be still at the forts. Boggs pa.s.sed successfully through the country and streams which a day before had been in quiet possession of the enemy, though it took him twenty-six hours to do so; but General Butler, who from a transport below had witnessed the success of the fleet, had waited for no further tidings. Hurrying back to his troops, he collected them at Sable Island, twelve miles in rear of Fort St. Philip, whence they were transported and landed at a point on the river five miles above the work, where the Kineo and Wissahickon awaited them.
During the remainder of the 24th the fleet stayed at anchor off the Quarantine station, to repose the crews after the excessive labor and excitement of the previous night. Early the next morning all got under way except the two gunboats left to support Butler's troops, and moved up stream; but slowly, owing to the indifferent speed of some and to want of knowledge of the river. At half-past ten they reached English Turn, five miles below the city; the point where the British forces had in 1815 been so disastrously repelled in their a.s.sault upon the earth-works held by Jackson's riflemen. The Confederates had fortified and armed the same lines on both sides of the Mississippi, as part of the interior system of defenses to New Orleans; the exterior line being const.i.tuted by Forts Jackson and St. Philip, together with several smaller works at different points, commanding the numerous subsidiary approaches through the Mississippi delta. The interior lines at English Turn, known as the Chalmette and McGehee batteries, were, however, intended only to check an approach of troops from down the river. Their general direction was perpendicular to the stream; and along its banks there ran only a short work on either side to protect the main entrenchments from an enfilading fire by light vessels, which might, in company with an invading army, have managed to turn the lower forts by pa.s.sing through the bayous. These river batteries, mounting respectively nine and five guns, were powerless to resist the s.h.i.+ps that had successfully pa.s.sed the main defenses of the city. After a few shots, fired rather for the honor of the flag than in any hope of successful result, the guns were forsaken; and both lines of entrenchments, being turned and taken in the rear, were abandoned.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans a scene of fearful confusion was growing hourly more frenzied. Whatever the fears of the military commanders as to the result of the attack upon the forts, they had very properly concealed them from the inhabitants; and these, swayed by the boastful temper common to mobs, had been readily led to despise the efforts of the enemy and to trust implicitly in the power of their defenses.
General Lovell, commanding the department, had gone down to the forts the evening before the attack, and was still there when the United States fleet was breaking its way through; he was, in fact, on board the little steamer, the pursuit of which lured the Varuna into the isolation where she met her fate. The news of the successful forcing of the exterior and princ.i.p.al defenses thus reached the city soon after it was effected; and at the same time Lovell, satisfied from the first that if the forts were pa.s.sed the town was lost, prepared at once to evacuate it, removing all the Government property. This in itself was a service of great difficulty. New Orleans is almost surrounded by water or marsh; the only exit was to the northward by a narrow strip of dry land, not over three quarters of a mile wide, along the river bank, by which pa.s.sed the railroad to Jackson, in the State of Mississippi. As has already been said, Lovell had by this road been quietly removing army rations for some time, but had abstained from trying to carry off any noticeable articles by which his apprehensions would be betrayed to the populace. The latter, roused from its slumber of security with such appalling suddenness, gave way to an outburst of panic and fury; which was the less controllable because so very large a proportion of the better and stronger element among the men had gone forth to swell the ranks of the Confederate army. As in a revolution in a South American city, the street doors were closed by the tradesmen upon the property in their stores; but without began a scene of mad destruction, which has since been forcibly portrayed by one, then but a lad of fourteen years, who witnessed the sight.
Far down the stream, and throughout their ascent, the s.h.i.+ps were pa.s.sing through the wreckage thus made. Cotton bales, cotton-laden s.h.i.+ps and steamers on fire, and working implements of every kind such as are used in s.h.i.+p-yards, were continually encountered. On the piers of the levees, where were huge piles of hogsheads of sugar and mola.s.ses, a mob, composed of the sc.u.m of the city, men and women, broke and smashed without restraint. Toward noon of the 25th, as the fleet drew round the bend where the Crescent City first appears in sight, the confusion and destruction were at their height. "The levee of New Orleans," says Farragut in his report, "was one scene of desolation. s.h.i.+ps, steamers, cotton, coal, etc., were all in one common blaze, and our ingenuity was much taxed to avoid the floating conflagration. The destruction of property was awful." Upon this pandemonium, in which the fierce glare of burning property lit up the wild pa.s.sions and gestures of an infuriated people, the windows of heaven were opened and a drenching rain poured down in torrents. The impression produced by the s.h.i.+ps as they came in sight around the bend has been graphically described by the boy before mentioned, who has since become so well-known as an author--Mr. George W. Cable. "I see the s.h.i.+ps now, as they come slowly round Slaughter House Point into full view, silent, grim, and terrible; black with men, heavy with deadly portent, the long-banished Stars and Stripes flying against the frowning sky. Oh! for the Mississippi! for the Mississippi!"
(an iron-clad vessel nearly completed, upon which great hopes had been based by the Confederates). "Just then she came down. But how? Drifting helplessly, a ma.s.s of flames.
"The crowds on the levee howled and screamed with rage. The swarming decks answered never a word; but one old tar on the Hartford, standing lanyard in hand beside a great pivot gun, so plain to view that you could see him smile, silently patted its big black breech and blandly grinned. And now the rain came down in torrents."
That same morning, as though with the purpose of embarra.s.sing the victor whom he could not oppose, the Mayor of New Orleans had ordered the State flag of Louisiana to be hoisted upon the City Hall. His secretary, who was charged with this office, waited to fulfill it until the cannonade at English Turn had ceased, and it was evident the fleet had pa.s.sed the last flimsy barrier and would within an hour appear before the city. The flag was then run up; and the Mayor had the satisfaction of creating a position of very unnecessary embarra.s.sment for all parties by his useless bravado.
To Captain Bailey, the second in command, who had so gallantly led both in the first a.s.sault and in the attack at Chalmette, was a.s.signed the honor of being the first to land in the conquered city and to demand its surrender. It was no barren honor, but a service of very sensible personal danger to which he was thus called. General Lovell having to devote his attention solely to his military duties, the city which had so long been under martial law was escaping out of the hands of the civil authorities and fast lapsing into anarchy. Between one and two in the afternoon Bailey landed, accompanied by Perkins, the first lieutenant of the Cayuga; who, having shared his former perils, was permitted to accompany him in this one also. "We took just a boat and a boat's crew," writes Perkins, "with a flag of truce, and started off.
When we reached the wharf there were no officials to be seen; no one received us, although the whole city was watching our movements, and the levee was crowded in spite of a heavy rainstorm. Among the crowd were many women and children, and the women were shaking rebel flags and being rude and noisy. They were all shouting and hooting as we stepped on sh.o.r.e.... As we advanced the mob followed us in a very excited state.
They gave three cheers for Jeff Davis and Beauregard and three groans for Lincoln. Then they began to throw things at us, and shout 'Hang them!' 'Hang them!' We both thought we were in a bad fix, but there was nothing for us to do but just to go on." Mr. Cable has given his description of the same scene: "About one or two in the afternoon, I being in the store with but one door ajar, came a roar of shoutings and imprecations and crowding feet down Common Street. 'Hurrah for Jeff Davis!' 'Shoot them!' 'Kill them!' 'Hang them!' I locked the door of the store on the outside and ran to the front of the mob, bawling with the rest, 'Hurrah for Jeff Davis!' About every third man had a weapon out. Two officers of the United States navy were walking abreast, unguarded and alone, not looking to the right or left, never frowning, never flinching, while the mob screamed in their ears, shook c.o.c.ked pistols in their faces, cursed, crowded, and gnashed upon them. So through those gates of death those two men walked to the City Hall to demand the town's surrender. It was one of the bravest deeds I ever saw done."
Farragut's demand, made through Bailey, was that the flag of Louisiana should be hauled down from the City Hall, and that of the United States hoisted over the buildings which were its property, namely, the Custom House, Post Office, and Mint. This the Mayor refused to do; and, as Farragut had no force with which to occupy the city, it became a somewhat difficult question to carry on an argument with the authorities of a town protected by the presence of so many women and children. The situation was for three days exceedingly critical, from the temper and character of the mob and from the obstinacy and powerlessness of the officials. It was doubtless as much as the life of any citizen of the place was worth to comply with the admiral's demands. On the other hand, while there could be no difficulty in hoisting the United States flag, there would be much in protecting it from insult with the means at the flag-officer's disposal; for to open fire upon a place where there were so many helpless creatures, innocent of any greater offense than behaving like a set of spoiled children, was a course that could not be contemplated unless in the last necessity, and it was undesirable to provoke acts which might lead to any such step. The United States officers who were necessarily sent to communicate with the authorities did so, in the opinion of the authorities themselves, at the peril of their lives from a mob which no one on sh.o.r.e could control. On the 28th of April, however, Forts Jackson and St. Philip surrendered to Commander Porter in consequence of a mutiny in their garrisons, which refused to fight any longer, saying further resistance was useless; and the following day Farragut sent ash.o.r.e a body of two hundred and fifty marines with two howitzers manned by seamen from the Hartford, the whole under the command of the fleet-captain, Captain Henry H. Bell. The force was formally drawn up before the City Hall, the howitzers pointing up and down the street, which was thronged with people. Fearing still that some rash person in the crowd might dare to fire upon the men who were hauling down the flag, the Mayor took his stand before one of the howitzers; a sufficient intimation to the mob that were murder done he would be the first victim to fall in expiation. The United States flag was then hoisted over the Custom House, and left flying under the protection of a guard of marines.
Thus was timely and satisfactorily completed an act, by which Farragut signalized and sealed the fact that the conquest of New Orleans and of its defenses, from the original conception of the enterprise to its complete fulfillment by the customary tokens of submission and taking possession, was wholly the work of the United States Navy; of which he, by his magnificent successes, became the representative figure. It was a triumph won over formidable difficulties by a mobile force, skillfully directed and gallantly fought. By superior prompt.i.tude and a correct appreciation of the true strategic objective had been reduced to powerlessness obstacles not to be overcome by direct a.s.sault, except by a loss of time which would have allowed the enemy to complete preparations possibly fatal to the whole undertaking. Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which the fleet could not have reduced by direct attack, fell by the severance of their communications.
It is not to be questioned that the moral effect of the pa.s.sage of the forts, succeeded, as it was, by the immediate fall of the great city of the Mississippi, was very great; but it was not upon the forts themselves, nor in the unexpected mutiny of the garrison, that that effect was chiefly manifested. Great as was the crime of the men, they showed by their act a correct appreciation of those results to the forts, from the pa.s.sage of the fleet, which some have sought to ignore--results physical, undeniable, fatal. It was not moral effect, but indisputable reasoning which sapped the further resistance of men--brave till then--to whom were wanting the habit of discipline and the appreciation of the far-reaching effects upon the fortunes of a campaign produced by a prolonged, though hopeless, resistance. They saw that the fate of the forts was sealed, and beyond that they recognized no duties and no advantages. On the scene of his exploit Farragut reaped the material fruits of the celerity in which he believed; and which he had reluctantly for a s.p.a.ce postponed, at the bidding of superior authority, in order to try the effect of slower methods. These being exhausted, he owed to the promptness of his decision and action that the Louisiana, on whose repairs men were working night and day, did not take the advantageous position indicated to her by the officers of the forts; and that the Mississippi, the ironclad upon which not only the designers, but naval officers, founded extravagant hopes, was neither completed nor towed away, but burned where she lay. The flaming ma.s.s, as it drifted hopelessly by the Hartford, was a striking symbol of resistance crushed--of ascendency established over the mighty river whose name it bore; but it was a symbol not of moral, but of physical victory.
It was elsewhere, far and wide, that were felt the moral effects which echoed the sudden, unexpected crash with which the lower Mississippi fell--through the length and breadth of the South and in the cabinets of foreign statesmen, who had believed too readily, as did their officers on the spot, that the barrier was not to be pa.s.sed--that the Queen City of the Confederacy was impregnable to attack from the sea. Whatever may have been the actual purposes of that mysterious and undecided personage, Napoleon III, the effect of military events, whether on sea or sh.o.r.e, upon the question of interference by foreign powers is sufficiently evident from the private correspondence which, a few months after New Orleans, pa.s.sed between Lords Palmerston and Russell, then the leading members of the British Cabinet.[R] Fortunately for the cause of the United States, France and Great Britain were not of a mind to combine their action at the propitious moment; and the moral effect of the victory at New Orleans was like a cold plunge bath to the French emperor, at the time when he was hesitating whether to act alone. It produced upon him even more impression than upon the British Government; because his ambitions for French control and for the extension of the Latin races on the American continent were especially directed toward Louisiana, the former colony of France, and toward its neighbors, Texas and Mexico.
[Footnote R: See Walpole's _Life of Lord John Russell_, vol. ii, pp. 349-351.]
The sympathies, however, of the cla.s.ses from whom were chiefly drawn the cabinets of the two great naval States were overwhelmingly with the South; and the expressions alike of the emperor and of his princ.i.p.al confidants at this time were designedly allowed to transpire, both to the Southern commissioners and to the British Government. On the very day that Porter's mortar schooners opened on Fort Jackson, Louis Napoleon unbosomed himself to a member of the British Parliament, who visited him as an avowed partisan of the Confederate cause. He said that while he desired to preserve a strict neutrality, he could not consent that his people should continue to suffer from the acts of the Federal Government. He thought the best course would be to make a friendly appeal to it, either alone or concurrently with England, to open the ports; but to accompany the appeal with a proper demonstration of force upon our coasts, and, should the appeal seem likely to be ineffectual, to back it by a declaration of his purpose not to respect the blockade.
The taking of New Orleans, which he did not then antic.i.p.ate, might render it inexpedient to act; that he would not decide at once, but would wait some days for further intelligence.[S] Similar semi-official a.s.surances came from different persons about the emperor; and the members of the Cabinet, with a single exception, showed little reserve in their favorable expressions toward the Confederacy.
[Footnote S: _North American Review_, vol. cxxix, p. 347.]
A few weeks later Mr. Slidell had a conversation with M. Billault, the minister _sans portefeuille_, one of the most conservative and cautious men in the Cabinet, who represented the Government in the Chambers upon all subjects connected with foreign affairs. Slidell read a note which he had received from Sir Charles Wood, a leading Southern sympathizer in England, denying that the British Government was unwilling to act in American affairs--a denial to which some color is given by the correspondence of Palmerston and Russell before mentioned. In answer, M.
Billault declared that the French Cabinet, with the possible exception of M. Thouvenel, had been unanimously in favor of the South, and added that if New Orleans had not fallen its recognition would not have been much longer delayed; but, even after that disaster, if decided successes were obtained in Virginia and Tennessee, or the enemy were held at bay for a month or two, the same result would follow. After an interview with M. Thouvenel, about the same time, Slidell reported that, though that minister did not directly say so, his manner gave fair reason to infer that if New Orleans had not been taken, and no very serious reverses were suffered in Virginia and Tennessee, recognition would very soon have been declared.[T]
[Footnote T: Ibid., vol. cxxix, p. 348.]
In its moral effect, therefore, the fall of the river forts and of New Orleans, though not absolutely and finally decisive of the question of foreign intervention, corresponded to one of those telling blows, by which a general threatened by two foes meets and strikes down one before the other comes up. Such a blow may be said to decide a campaign; not because no chance is left the enemy to redeem his misfortune, but because without the first success the weaker party would have been overwhelmed by the junction of his two opponents. The heart-rending disasters to our armies during the following summer does but emphasize the immense value to the Union cause of the moral effect produced by Farragut's victory. Those disasters, as it was, prompted the leaders of the British ministry to exchange confidences in which they agreed on the expediency of mediation. They did not carry all their colleagues with them; but who can estimate the effect, when the scales were thus balancing, if the navy had been driven out of the Mississippi as the army was from Virginia?
Admiral Farragut Part 5
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