January 9, 1862 – U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles appointed David G. Farragut to be the flag officer of the new West Gulf Blockading Squadron.
The growing size of the naval force blockading the Gulf coast prompted Welles to divide it into two commands. Flag Officer William McKean, current squadron commander, was assigned to lead the new East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Farragut, 37th on the captain’s seniority list, was chosen to lead the West. Farragut’s peers respected him, but some suspected him of having Confederate sympathies. Welles recounted:
“Neither the President nor any member of the Cabinet knew him, or knew of him. Members of Congress inquired who he was, and some of them remonstrated, and questioned whether I was not making a mistake for he was a Southern man and had a Southern wife.”
Farragut’s fleet consisted of 17 steam warships and 19 mortar boats led by Commander David D. Porter, Farragut’s foster brother. The new commander’s flagship was the U.S.S. Hartford, a three-year-old, 24-gun, 2,900-ton vessel with a screw propeller and a draft of about 17 feet. His squadron’s jurisdiction was from western Florida to the Rio Grande.
When Farragut arrived to take command on January 20, he announced to his crews that their principal mission was to secure the mouth of the Mississippi River, capture New Orleans, and then move upriver to link with Federals moving southward. This mission was so secret that Farragut told his wife to burn every letter he sent to her. As the Western Squadron began preparations, an article regarding the Federal blockade appeared in the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin:
“The situation of this port makes it a matter of vast moment to the whole Confederate States that it should be opened to the commerce of the world within the least possible period… We believe the blockading vessels of the enemy might have been driven away and kept away months ago, if the requisite energy had been put forth… The blockade has remained and the great port of New Orleans has been hermetically sealed.”
Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 100-01, 110; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 97; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 36