April 28, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut tried to end the standoff between his Federals and New Orleans officials by threatening the bombard the city if they did not surrender. Meanwhile, Federal occupation troops were on the way.
The stalemate continued between Farragut, who wanted New Orleans to surrender unconditionally, and Mayor John T. Monroe, who consented to Federal occupation but would not disavow his Confederate allegiance. On the morning of the 26th, Farragut wrote Monroe again requesting that he surrender and assuring him, “It is not within the province of a naval officer to assume the duties of a military commandant. The rights of persons and property shall be secured.”
Farragut then demanded “that the emblem of sovereignty of the United States be hoisted over the City Hall, Mint, and Customhouse by meridian this day. All flags and other emblems of sovereignty other than those of the United States must be removed from all the public buildings by that hour.” He warned that if his men saw any other flag other than that of the U.S. waving in the city, it “may be the cause of bloodshed.”
Captain Albert Kautz delivered Farragut’s messages by passing through the crowd that was still enraged by the Federal presence. He was supported by 20 marines, city police, and the threat of naval bombardment. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Pensacola docked opposite Esplanade Street and a Federal detachment came ashore. They went to the nearby Mint undetected and raised the U.S. flag over it.
Meanwhile, Monroe met with Kautz at City Hall. Backed by the city council, Monroe maintained that he had no authority to surrender and declared:
“The city is yours by the power of brutal force and not by any choice or consent of its inhabitants. I beg you to understand that the people of New Orleans, while unable at this moment to prevent you from occupying this city, do not transfer their allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and that they yield simply that obedience which the conqueror is enabled to extort from the conquered.”
“The city is without the means of defense, and is utterly destitute of the force and material that might enable it to resist an overpowering armament displayed in sight of it… To surrender such a place were an idle and unmeaning ceremony… As to hoisting any flag other than the flag of our own adoption and allegiance, let me say to you that the man lives not in our midst whose hand and heart would not be paralyzed at the mere thought of such an act; nor could I find in my entire constituency so wretched and desperate a renegade as would dare to profane with his hand the sacred emblem of our aspirations… Peace and order may be preserved without resort to measures which I could not at this moment prevent. Your occupying the city does not transfer allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and they yield the obedience which the conqueror is entitled to extort from the conquered.”
As discussions continued, a shredded U.S. flag was tossed through a City Hall window, having been torn down from atop the Mint by protestors. Kautz was hurried back to his ship before the protestors turned their wrath on him. The city council approved a resolution stating that “no resistance would be made to the forces of the United States,” despite loud pleas to resist. That night, Monroe declared martial law and imposed a 9 p.m. curfew.
Meanwhile, more details about the virtual capture of New Orleans reached Vicksburg, another city on the Mississippi River. This prompted more residents there to hurry packing and leaving. Mahala Roach, a Vicksburg resident, wrote in her diary on the 27th, “This has been a singular Sunday, no Sabbath stillness has pervaded its air, but bustle and confusion have prevailed everywhere!”
On Monday the 28th, Farragut wrote Monroe threatening to fire on the levees, which would flood the city, if the U.S. flag was not raised over City Hall, the Mint, and the Custom House. Farragut gave Monroe 48 hours to either raise the flags or evacuate women and children. Monroe responded:
“If it is deemed necessary to remove the flag now floating from this building, or to raise United States flags on others, the power which threatens the destruction of our city is certainly capable of performing those acts.”
Monroe later sent a second message:
“Sir, you can not but know that there is no possible exit from this city for a population which still exceeds in number 140,000, and you must therefore be aware of the utter insanity of such a notification. Our women and children can not escape from your shells if it be your pleasure to murder them on a question of mere etiquette; but if they could, there are but few among them who would consent to desert their families and their homes and the graves of their relations in so awful a moment. They would bravely stand the sight of your shells rolling over the bones of those who were once dear to them, and would deem that they died not ingloriously by the side of the tombs erected by their piety to the memory of departed relatives.”
As the tense standoff continued, Farragut met with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, who arrived ahead of his Federal troops that would soon occupy New Orleans. Farragut told Butler about the protestors who tore the U.S. flag down from the Mint two days prior, and how yesterday’s city newspapers celebrated their action and cited a gambler named William Mumford as their ringleader.
Butler said, “I will make an example of that fellow by hanging him.” Farragut countered, “You know, General, you will have to catch him before you can hang him.” Butler replied, “I know that, but I will catch him, and then hang him.”
The next day, the foreign consuls of England, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Portugal, and Brazil, having learned of Farragut’s threat to shell New Orleans, wrote him requesting a meeting “before you proceed from the threat of a bombardment to the realization of such an unheard of act against a town of open commerce without military defenses of any kind and virtually surrendered by the municipal authorities.”
George-Charles Cloué, commanding the nearby French gunboat Milan, also wrote to Farragut:
“I venture to observe to you that this short delay is ridiculous, and, in the name of my Government, I oppose it. If it is your resolution to bombard the city, do it; but I wish to state that you will have to account for this barbarous act to the Power which I represent.”
Farragut opted not to bombard the city, but he did not want to appear weak by waiting for Butler’s troops to arrive to end the standoff. Therefore, he directed a detachment of sailors and marines, supported by artillery, to go ashore and haul down all state and Confederate flags and raise U.S. flags over the Federal buildings. Angry and frustrated residents looked on helplessly.
A surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote in his diary:
“Our ships were placed in position to bombard the city. At noon one hundred and twenty marines… and fifty sailors with two howitzers… landed and marched to City Hall and hauled down the flag of Louisiana… They hoisted the U.S. colors over the custom-house and mint… New Orleans silent and sullen, citizens insolent and abusive and our marines on shore guarding colors.”
At City Hall, the Federals offered Mayor Monroe the honor of lowering the Confederate flag in favor of the U.S. one, but he declined. The Federals opted not to place the U.S. flag over that building since it was not Federal property. Near the waterfront, a marine guard protected the flag over the Custom House.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan and his Confederate garrisons arrived at New Orleans after surrendering Forts Jackson and St. Philip. News of the surrender spread quickly and dealt the defiant city residents and officials a major blow. Many had hoped that the Confederates in those forts could save them from Federal occupation. The protests quieted significantly.
On the 30th, Farragut finally responded to Monroe’s message two days earlier about Farragut’s apparent willingness to murder women and children. Farragut wrote that Monroe’s language alleged that it was “proper to construe into a determination on my part to murder your women and children, and made your letter so offensive that it will terminate our intercourse.” When Butler’s occupation force arrived, Farragut would “turn over the charge of the city to him and assume my naval duties.”
Farragut also tried explaining to the foreign consuls of New Orleans that he was only trying to protect his men by threatening to bombard the city. Farragut “would not permit any flag opposed to my Government to fly in the city while I had the power to prevent it. It is with great pleasure that I anticipate no further difficulty or inconvenience to your families from my acts.” Regarding the hauling down of state and Confederate flags, “The authorities confessed their inability to do it, and I did it for them.”
By April’s end, New Orleans was, for all intents and purposes, a fallen city. Its defending forts had been captured, naval forces held the city under threat of bombardment, and Federal occupation troops were on the way. The Confederates’ loss of New Orleans virtually lost them all of Louisiana as well. It gave the Federals a vital base of operations and some measure of control over the important Mississippi River Valley.
Confederate officials began a long argument over why New Orleans fell. President Jefferson Davis cited two main reasons: the failure to light the channel when Farragut’s ships attempted to bypass Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and the failure of Confederates to obstruct the channel with hulks, chains, artillery, and/or gunboats to keep the Federals from passing. But few in the South disagreed that New Orleans was indeed gone.
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