Category Archives: Louisiana

Butler’s Notorious Woman Order

May 15, 1862 – Commanding the Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, Major General Benjamin F. Butler issued an order that solidified his infamous reputation among southerners.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In the two weeks since Butler’s Federals had entered New Orleans, they faced intense scorn from the residents for their unwanted occupation. Much of this enmity came from women, who insulted the soldiers, sang Confederate songs such as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” in their presence, or avoided them altogether. One woman dumped a chamber pot on Admiral David G. Farragut’s head from an upstairs window. Some of the women hoped to provoke the Federals into attacking them, thus giving the men a cause to rise up against their oppressors.

In response to this behavior, Butler preemptively issued General Orders No. 28:

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This shocking order allowing Federal soldiers to treat the women of New Orleans like prostitutes was met by outrage throughout the South as an unforgivable insult to womanhood. Butler was nicknamed the “Beast,” a biblical reference. President Jefferson Davis later accused Butler of committing war crimes and authorized Confederates to execute him if captured. (Ironically, Butler had backed Davis for U.S. president at the first Democratic National Convention of 1860.)

When news of this order reached England, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston declared to Parliament, “It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet infamous! Any Englishman must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race.” British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell demanded that the Lincoln administration revoke the order. The administration would not.

Butler argued that the order was necessary because his men had been generally respectful toward the city residents and expected the same treatment in return. Butler also noted that the troops had shown remarkable restraint in not retaliating against the women’s repeated derision.

New Orleans newspapers initially refused to publish such an order, prompting the Federals to print it out on sheets of paper and post it on major street corners. Butler responded to the newspapers’ refusal by ordering the suspension of the New Orleans Bee and the occupation of the New Orleans True Delta offices.

The True Delta submitted to force and published the order, and other newspapers reluctantly followed suit. Several enraged ladies canceled their subscriptions, and Butler refused to explain his order to Mayor John T. Monroe. When Monroe objected to Butler’s actions, Butler ordered him, the police chief, and several others to be imprisoned at Fort Jackson.

The “Woman Order” was not regularly enforced, but after its publication, women generally stopped insulting the troops, so the order served its purpose anyway. Some who continued harassing soldiers were imprisoned at Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Women kept up a protest of sorts by painting the image of Butler at the bottom of their chamber pots.

Butler also earned the scorn of government officials by pitting laborers against planters. Butler initially offered to pay planters for their crops “for the benefit of the poor of this city.” He also helped alleviate some of the yellow fever that often struck New Orleans by reforming sanitation services. When the mayor objected to his efforts, Butler accused him of having no “regard to the starving poor, the working man, his wife and child.” Butler then appealed directly to the people, proclaiming, “how long will you uphold these flagrant wrongs and by inaction suffer yourselves to be made the serfs of these leaders?”

Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore issued a counter-proclamation, accusing Butler of trying to incite class warfare after coming “from a section of the country (New England) that has done more than any other to degrade and cheapen labor and reduce the laboring man to the condition of the slave.” Moore reminded Butler that “Southerners are a high-toned, chivalrous people.”

Moore’s message was printed in the New Orleans newspapers. This angered Butler so much that he ordered four of them closed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 171; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 152-53; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 55-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-12; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 369; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

Butler Arrives in New Orleans

May 1, 1862 – Major General Benjamin F. Butler arrived with his Federal troops to impose military rule over New Orleans.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler entered the demoralized and defenseless city with about 4,000 troops on the night of the 1st. Flag Officer David G. Farragut, whose naval forces had held the city at gunpoint since arriving on April 25, now set his sights on advancing further up the Mississippi to such strongholds as Baton Rouge and Vicksburg. The surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote in his diary: “General Butler arrived with three regiments… with colors flying and bands playing Yankee Doodle and The Star-Spangled Banner.”

City residents jeered and taunted the Federal troops as they marched from their river transports to take up living quarters in the Custom House. Butler made his headquarters at the St. Charles Hotel the next day and then met with Mayor John T. Monroe. However, the meeting was interrupted by protestors gathering outside and shouting curses at the Federals. Butler directed one of his regiments to keep the mob at bay. When an officer said that one regiment may not be enough, Butler angrily replied that if the mob could not be controlled, “open upon them with artillery.”

Monroe strongly objected to this and went outside to tell the crowd that Butler intended to fire on them with cannon. As the protestors backed off, Butler’s informants told him that one of the men in the crowd was William Mumford, the alleged ringleader of the group that had torn the U.S. flag down from the Mint and desecrated it. Butler planned to make an example of Mumford after firmly establishing Federal rule over the city.

When the meeting resumed, Monroe argued against Butler imposing martial law. Butler countered that martial law had already been declared by General Mansfield Lovell when his Confederates held the town, so Butler was just continuing with Lovell’s declaration. Monroe then requested the removal of all Federal troops from the city. Butler replied, “New Orleans has been conquered by the forces of the United States, and by the laws of all nations, lies subject to the will of the conquerors.”

The next day, Butler issued a proclamation to the people of New Orleans dated May 1 (the delay was caused by the refusal of the New Orleans True Delta to publish it). Butler declared that the city would remain under martial law, just as the Confederates had imposed it before retreating. Confederate flags were prohibited, with the U.S. flag “treated with the utmost deference and respect by all persons, under pain of severe punishment.”

Any secessionist who sought to repent would be considered a loyal citizen if he swore loyalty to the U.S. Unrepentant secessionists “still holding allegiance to the Confederate States will be deemed rebels against the Government of the United States, and regarded and treated as enemies thereof.” Refusing to recognize secessionists as enemy combatants under the Articles of War, Butler stated that the killing of Federal soldiers “by any disorderly person or mob is simply assassination and murder and not war, and will be so regarded and punished.”

Turning to press censorship, Butler declared:

“No publication, either by newspaper, pamphlet, or handbill, giving accounts of the movement of soldiers of the United States within this department, reflecting in any way upon the United States or its officers, or tending in any way to influence the public mind against the Government of the United States, will be permitted…”

Newspaper articles had to be “submitted to the examination of an officer who will be detailed for that purpose from these headquarters.”

Butler prohibited the right of peaceful assembly, explaining that “assemblages of persons in the street, either by day or night, tend to disorder.” The police department was disbanded, with the fire department reporting to the Federal provost marshal. The postal service would remain in operation without interference.

Urging the people to somehow return to normal life, Butler stated, “All inhabitants are enjoined to pursue their usual avocations, all shops and places of business are to be kept open in the accustomed manner, and services to be had in the churches and religious houses as in times of profound peace.” He assured residents that the Federals were there “not to destroy but to make good, to restore order out of chaos, and the government of laws in place of the passions of men.”

One of Butler’s first orders of business was to shut down the New Orleans True Delta for refusing to print this proclamation; the Federals used their printing presses to publish it themselves. The newspaper was reopened only after the owner apologized for his refusal. Butler also ordered the seizure of $800,000 in gold from The Netherlands consulate.

Butler quickly organized a system of military government while establishing defenses against a potential Confederate counterattack. His men used New Orleans as a base for servicing Federal naval vessels and gathering supplies needed for incursions into Louisiana, Texas, and the Deep South.

The occupation brought a certain efficiency to city problems such as sanitation, which helped alleviate the rampant yellow fever epidemics in the region. But it also brought much in the way of corruption, infringement of civil rights, pillage, and outright tyranny that made Butler hated throughout the Confederacy.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166, 168; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 145; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 206, 210; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 420; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 66; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 449-50; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

The New Orleans Occupation Begins

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.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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.”

Monroe continued:

“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.”

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15501-10, 15517-26, 15604, 15721-30, 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 144; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 204-05; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 420; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 64, 66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 323-27

The Fall of Forts Jackson and St. Philip

April 26, 1862 – Commander David D. Porter’s Federal mortar fleet continued bombarding the two forts below New Orleans, and a Confederate mutiny helped force their surrender.

Cmdr D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Cmdr D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The day after Flag Officer David G. Farragut arrived at New Orleans, Porter sent a boat under a flag of truce to Forts Jackson and St. Philip to notify the Confederates that the city had fallen (even though it officially had not yet). With the Confederates cut off, Porter asked them to give up the forts in a message that read in part:

“No man could consider it dishonorable to surrender under these circumstances, especially when no advantage can arise by longer holding out, and by yielding gracefully he can save the further effusion of blood. You have defended the forts gallantly, and no more can be asked of you.”

Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, commanding the Confederate coastal defenses, received Porter’s request the next day. Although the garrisons of four lesser forts had just surrendered, Duncan replied that he could not surrender Forts Jackson and St. Philip until he received official word from New Orleans (even though his communication to that city had been cut). Meanwhile, news of New Orleans’s apparent fall spread among Duncan’s man, and some threatened to munity. Duncan tried placating them with a proclamation:

“You have nobly, gallantly, and heroically sustained with courage and fortitude the terrible ordeals of fire, water, and a hail of shot and shell wholly unsurpassed during the present war. But more remains to be done… We are just as capable of repelling the enemy today as we were before the bombardment. Twice has the enemy demanded your surrender, and twice has been refused… Your officers have every confidence in your courage and patriotism, and feel every assurance that you will cheerfully and with alacrity obey all orders and do your whole duty as men and as becomes the well-tried garrisons of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip. Be vigilant, therefore, and stand by your guns, and all will yet be well.”

The men at Fort Jackson did not take heed and mutinied that night. Some turned the cannon on the fort, while about half the garrison simply walked out despite their officers’ orders and pleas. The mutineers took to the bayous on the boats needed to communicate with Fort St. Philip across the river, leaving that garrison isolated. Thinking the troops at Fort St. Philip were also revolting, Duncan began seriously considering surrender.

Duncan called his officers together on the morning of the 28th. Even though no mutiny had occurred at Fort St. Philip, half the troops at Fort Jackson had deserted, many of the guns had been spiked, most of the boats had been lost or destroyed, no more supplies or communication would be coming from New Orleans, and Federal troops were about to land and lay siege. Surrender seemed the only viable option.

Captain John K. Mitchell, commanding the Confederate naval fleet that now consisted only of the unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana, argued against surrendering the forts because it would leave his ship exposed to capture. But his was the minority opinion, as most officers agreed that it was best to surrender. Duncan sent a message to Porter:

“Upon mature deliberation it has been decided to accept the terms of surrender of these forts under the conditions offered by you in your letter of the 26th instant, viz, that the officers and men shall be paroled, officers retiring with their side-arms. We have no control over the vessels afloat.”

The vessels afloat were under Mitchell, who was furious over Duncan’s decision. Giving up the forts left the Louisiana, which had no power, an easy capture for the Federals. So he decided to destroy the vessel. As he set about doing so, Porter met with Duncan and his officers aboard Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Harriet Lane.

Duncan explained that the Confederate naval forces were not part of his surrender because they belonged to Mitchell. As they drew up and signed the articles of surrender, the burning Louisiana drifted downriver and exploded near Fort St. Philip; the explosion shook the men signing the surrender documents, and flying shrapnel killed a nearby Confederate.

After the documents were signed, the U.S. flag was raised over both forts, and the Confederate officers and men were taken to New Orleans late that afternoon. Federals apprehended Mitchell and some of his men and demanded their unconditional surrender for destroying the Louisiana.

Porter was enraged that Mitchell had set fire to the Louisiana while a truce was being negotiated. Duncan insisted that the navy had acted on its own responsibility. Porter declared that Mitchell and his men had “forfeited all claim to any consideration” for parole. They were confined and later sent north as prisoners of war.

During the week-long bombardment, the Confederates in Forts Jackson and St. Philip suffered 50 casualties (11 killed and 39 wounded). The forts sustained many direct hits but suffered no lasting damage. The capture of these forts opened the Mississippi River to Federal shipping from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15501-10, 15517-26, 15604, 15721-30, 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 144; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 204-05; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 420; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 64, 66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 323-27

The Fall of New Orleans

April 25, 1862 – Federal warships arrived at the harbor of the Confederacy’s largest and richest city, and despite wrangling over surrender terms, the city’s fall was virtually assured.

The Confederates at Forts Jackson and St. Philip sent off one message warning the people of New Orleans that the Federals were coming before the telegraph lines were cut. Resentful city residents crowded the streets to await the naval fleet’s arrival in the harbor. The city’s provisions and supplies were collected, and as the Federal ships came within sight, the destruction began.

Some 30,000 bales of cotton were set on fire and launched down the river. Mass amounts of tobacco, sugar, corn, and rice were dumped into the Mississippi, with the people taking what they could. The scene became “one general conflagration of everything that could be of use to the enemy.” A person noted, “Every grog shop has been emptied, and gutters and pavements flowing with liquors of all kinds, so that if the Yankees are fond of strong drink, I fear they will fare ill.”

The unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Mississippi was added to the ruin, as officials reluctantly burned her to prevent capture. The Confederates had been confident that the Mississippi, if completed, could have matched the entire wooden Federal naval fleet.

Word of the Federal advance reached the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge, 80 miles up the Mississippi, and similar destruction ensued. A resident of that town wrote:

“Wagons and drays, and everything that could be driven, or rolled along were to be seen in every direction loaded with the bales. Up and down the levee, as far as we could see, negroes were rolling it down to the brink of the river, where they would set the (bales) afire, and push them in, to float burning down the river.”

Below New Orleans, Flag Officer David G. Farragut assigned two of his warships to stay behind and led the remaining 11 up the Mississippi. The Federals came upon two batteries of 14 guns at English Turn on the Chalmette line (east bank) and the McGehee line (west bank). Located three miles downriver from New Orleans, this was where Andrew Jackson defeated the British in the War of 1812.

As the Confederate fired, Farragut’s vessels responded with their bow guns, then shifted left and right to fire broadsides. The high river enabled the Federal guns to elevate enough to hit the batteries. The enemy guns were silenced within 20 minutes and, as Farragut reported to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “those who could run were running in every direction.”

The captain of the U.S.S. Richmond observed that as the fleet approached the city, “over a thousand bales of (burning) cotton passed us floating down the river. We passed over 20 large ships on fire before we came in sight of New Orleans, and there a horrible sight met our eyes. They had set fire to all the ships and steamers for miles along the wharves.”

Federals arrive at New Orleans | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federals arrive at New Orleans | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Farragut’s fleet surgeon wrote that “the gunboats were busy all evening towing burning ships and fire-rafts and fire-ships free of the fleet.” Farragut described the waterfront fires in a letter to his wife and stated, “Such vandalism I have never witnessed.” The Federals dropped anchor in the New Orleans harbor around 1 p.m., and two officers went ashore to demand the city’s surrender from Mayor John T. Monroe.

An enraged mob gathered around the officers, screaming “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”, “Hang them!”, and various curses. The Federal gunboats trained their cannon on the city streets to ensure that the crowd did not attack the officers. Confederate soldier and novelist George Washington Cable later recalled that “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 with 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.”

The officers hurried to City Hall, where Mayor Monroe explained that General Mansfield Lovell, the Confederate commander of the district, had placed New Orleans under martial law before evacuating his militia. Therefore, Monroe had no authority to surrender the city.

Lovell arrived at City Hall soon after and offered to “return with my troops and not leave as long as one brick remained upon another” if the people were willing to suffer through a naval bombardment. The Federals instead demanded immediate and unconditional surrender. Lovell refused because his militia had already evacuated, making New Orleans an open city. He then deferred to the mayor and city council to negotiate whatever terms they pleased.

Monroe said that he would not resist Federal occupation of the city, but he would not disavow his loyalty to the Confederacy either. He told the officers, “This satisfaction you cannot obtain at our hands.” Monroe then said that he needed to meet with the city council before agreeing to anything.

By this time, the mob had gathered outside City Hall, with some trying to break down the front doors to seize the Federal officers. Lovell diverted their attention by coming out and announcing his refusal to surrender while the Federals slipped out the building’s back door.

Monroe met with the city council and discussed what they should do while the Federals remained on their ships in the harbor. Farragut opted not to press his demand for unconditional surrender too hard because Forts Jackson and St. Philip were still in Confederate hands downriver. Thus, a sort of stalemate ensued between Farragut and the mayor, who issued a proclamation:

“After an obstinate and heroic defence by our troops on the river, there appears to be imminent danger that the insolent enemy will succeed in capturing your city… I shall remain among you, to protect you and your property, so far as my power or authority as Chief Magistrate can avail.”

Regardless of whether the Federals would officially take over the city, their conquest of New Orleans was essentially complete. Even so, city residents would continue their resistance, as reflected in a passage of a teenage girl’s diary: “We are conquered but not subdued.”

The Federal capture of New Orleans deprived the Confederacy of its largest and richest port, where foodstuffs from the lower Mississippi River Valley were exported to Europe in exchange for war supplies by blockade-runners. Farragut became an instant hero in the northern states, and the Federals now had a vital base from which to invade the Deep South.

Confederate officials soon turned their attention to Vicksburg, Mississippi, a more formidable city higher up the river. Vicksburg residents began fleeing the city, fearful that they would be targeted next. They were soon replaced by an influx of New Orleans refugees.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68, 74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 Apr 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15501; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 370; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 143; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 203-04; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 420; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 65-66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 321-22

New Orleans: Bypassing Forts Jackson and St. Philip

April 24, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s Federal warships made their daring attempt to move up the Mississippi River, bypass Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and capture New Orleans.

Farragut had informed his officers that he would send his fleet through the narrow passage in the river, past the Confederate guns in the forts on either bank. Although most of his officers disagreed with his plan, Farragut was certain that land artillery could not destroy steam-powered watercraft, which moved much faster and would be much harder targets than sailing vessels.

In the darkness before dawn, Commander David D. Porter’s mortar schooners suddenly intensified their fire against the forts, indicating to Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, the Confederate commander, that Farragut’s advance was imminent.

Duncan was still trying to convince Captain John K. Mitchell, commanding the Confederate river fleet, to have his stationary ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana (which was moored to the bank because of her non-functioning engine) towed into a position to fire into the advancing Federals as a sort of floating battery. Duncan wrote him, “You are assuming a fearful responsibility if you do not come at once to our assistance with the Louisiana and the fleet.”

Despite pleas from both Duncan and Mitchell’s superior, Mitchell refused on the grounds that the Federals would destroy the Louisiana, thus depriving New Orleans of a prime defender. Mitchell also did not set fire to the hulks as ordered, which would have lit up the area so the Confederates could see the Federals coming.

Farragut readied 17 ships (split into divisions of eight, three, and six) bearing 154 total guns. At 2 a.m., he directed his men to place two red lanterns atop the mizzen of Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, as a signal to begin the advance, and the first division began moving forward in the cold, predawn darkness. The ships would have to bypass the forts single-file due to the narrow passage through the river obstructions. As the ships moved, Porter’s diversionary bombardment continued.

Action at Forts Jackson and St. Philip | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Action at Forts Jackson and St. Philip | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The rising moon enabled the Confederates to see the Federals trying to pass around 3:30, led by the U.S.S. Cayuga. Evading enemy fire, the Federals steamed through the narrow lane and came to a wider part of the river. There they moved closer to Fort St. Philip, firing broadsides into its works. The cannonade seemed like “all the earthquakes in the world, and all the thunder and lightnings… going off at once.”

Captain Theodorus Bailey, commanding the Federals’ first division from the Cayuga, reported, “we were struck from stem to stern. At length we were close up with St. Philip, when we opened with grape and canister. Scarcely were we above the line of fire when we found ourselves attacked by the rebel fleet of gunboats; this was hot, but more congenial work.”

As Farragut had guessed, the Confederate gunners in the forts had trouble hitting the moving ships, and the first division passed through without serious damage. Now the Federals had to face the Confederate River Defense Fleet coming down from New Orleans. The fleet consisted of the C.S.S. Warrior, Stonewall Jackson, Lovell, and Breckinridge, the steamers C.S.S. Star and Belle Algerine, and the gunboat C.S.S. General Quitman, along with the ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana.

The Cayuga flew the Confederate night signal to try confusing the gunboats, but three attacked her anyway and Confederate sailors tried boarding her. Bailey reported on his use of the 11-inch Dahlgren gun on the first attacking ship from 30 yards: “The effect was very destructive. He immediately sheered inshore, ran aground, and burned himself up.”

The U.S.S. Oneida and the 10-gun sloop U.S.S. Varuna came up to help the Cayuga as more Confederate gunboats approached. Bailey stated, “The enemy were so thick that it was like duck shooting; what missed one rebel hit another. With their aid we cleared the kitchen.” However, a Confederate vessel managed to ram and sink the Varuna.

The Louisiana, stationed nearby, sporadically fired but did no damage. The ship’s commander, Charles F. McIntosh, was mortally wounded early in the fighting. He was replaced by Mitchell, the overall fleet commander.

The second Federal division, consisting of three large ships including the U.S.S. Brooklyn and the U.S.S. Hartford, then moved into the passage. They moved toward Fort Jackson as they passed and fired into its works. As this second wave made it through, the Confederate ram C.S.S. Manassas appeared. She tried ramming the Brooklyn, but the Brooklyn’s sides were fortified and no damage was done.

The Manassas then tried attacking the large side-wheeler U.S.S. Mississippi, but the Federal ship evaded her. The Manassas turned to the Hartford, briefly running her aground and pushing a fire raft into her. A Federal dropped an artillery shell into the blaze, exploding and sinking the raft before it could ignite the Hartford. The crew then ungrounded the Hartford, and she continued her advance.

The Mississippi and Manassas went full steam at each other, intending to collide. According to Farragut:

“We all looked on with intense anxiety. When within 50 yards, the enemy’s heart failed him, and he turned to the right and ran on shore. (Melancton) Smith (commanding the Mississippi) poured in a broadside, which riddled her. She floated down stream, on fire from her own furnaces.”

The third division of six ships then passed through, also firing into Fort Jackson. Farragut’s fleet easily outmatched the Confederate gunboats, pushing most of them aside after minor skirmishes. The Confederate vessels, many of which were manned by civilian crews, fled to safety upriver.

Following the two-hour engagement, Farragut regrouped at Quarantine Station, seven miles above the forts. There he learned that the Varuna had been sunk. Also, three ships had been stalled by the obstructions, and the rising sun enabled the Confederates to see and pour fire into them until they finally fled back downriver.

With 13 of the 17 vessels bypassing the forts and Confederate gunboats, Farragut considered the operation a success. Captain Thomas Craven of the Brooklyn, who had opposed Farragut’s plan, called this “the most brilliant thing in the way of a naval fight ever performed… I had always looked upon it as a most desperate undertaking, and thought that but few of our number would be left to witness our most terrible disaster. But the Lord of Hosts was with us.”

But despite the success, every vessel sustained damage of some sort, and the captain’s clerk aboard the U.S.S. Iroquois issued a gruesome report: “My poor ship is knocked almost to pieces. Fore and aft our bulwarks are torn to kindling wood… All our men were killed in the same way, torn to pieces. The head of a powder boy was blown away and never found.”

The Federals sustained 184 casualties (37 killed and 147 wounded) with one ship sunk. The Confederates lost 106 men (61 killed, 43 wounded, and two escaping), along with eight ships. General Mansfield Lovell, the overall Confederate commander, condemned the civilian personnel handling the Confederate gunboats in a report to the War Department: “Unwilling to govern themselves, and unwilling to be governed by others, their total want of system, vigilance, and discipline rendered them useless and helpless when the enemy finally dashed upon them suddenly in a dark night.”

While Porter stayed behind with his mortars to continue bombarding Forts Jackson and St. Philip into submission, Farragut intended to continue upriver to New Orleans the next day. Alarm bells began ringing in that city around 9 a.m. as news arrived of the encounter. Lovell had just 2,800 militia to defend the city, and rioting broke out when he informed Mayor John T. Monroe that he would evacuate his force to avoid annihilation.

Lovell ordered a retreat to Camp Moore, on the Jackson Railroad about 70 miles north of New Orleans. The city’s fate was sealed.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 134; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 67-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (24 Apr 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 141-42; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450, 784; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 202-03; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 419-20; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 60-61, 63-65; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 317-20; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 229; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 125-27

New Orleans: Preparing the Advance

April 22, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut met with his fleet officers to lay out his plan for bypassing Forts Jackson and St. Philip and steaming up the Mississippi River in a daring attempt to capture New Orleans.

Map of area around Forts Jackson and St. Philip | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Map of area around Forts Jackson and St. Philip | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Farragut’s original plan had been to use a mortar attack to force the surrender of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and then work with Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s infantry to capture New Orleans with a joint army-navy attack. But by this time, Farragut had concluded that Commander David D. Porter’s mortar schooners were not neutralizing the forts as hoped.

Thus, Farragut would send his warships past the forts, through the narrow passage between the Confederate obstructions that had been opened by Federals on the night of April 20. Farragut’s officers did not share his confidence, with one saying that “there is but little or no sanguine feeling of success.” Another officer later wrote, “The prevailing opinion seemed to be adverse to making the attempt to pass the forts at that time,” citing the reasons “that it was premature; that the forts had not yet been sufficiently reduced by the fire of the mortar vessels, and that the risk of the loss of too many vessels was too great to be run.”

Others cited the swampy terrain in preventing troops from marching by land. Some feared that the wooden warships could not withstand the powerful Confederate artillery in the forts. Farragut reminded his men that the mortar schooners would eventually run out of ammunition, and, “I believe in celerity.” The officers, having been overruled, returned to their ships. Lieutenant Francis Roe, executive officer of the U.S.S. Pensacola, wrote:

“Our people view this conflict as most desperate. These may be the last lines I will ever write. But I have an unflinching trust in God that we shall plant the Union flag upon the enemy’s forts by noon tomorrow… If I fall, I leave my darlings to the care of my country.”

As Farragut planned his advance on the 23rd, Porter requested more time for his mortars to weaken the forts before Farragut’s ships made their move. The ships had fired 16,800 rounds by that time, but the Confederate defenders held firm. In fact, Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, the Confederate commander, reported that only three guns had been disabled, and he had lost just five killed and 10 wounded.

Farragut, who had always doubted the ability of the mortars to neutralize the forts, refused to wait. He wrote his wife, “I have now attained what I have been looking for all my life–a flag–and having attained it, all that is necessary to complete the scene is a victory. If I die in the attempt it will be only what every officer has to expect.”

Meanwhile, two tugboats pulled the unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana to Fort Jackson. The Louisiana’s engines and propellers did not function. Another ironclad under construction, the C.S.S. Mississippi, was slated to join the Louisiana, but she was not far enough along in her construction to participate.

After meeting with Captain John K. Mitchell of the Louisiana, Duncan reported, “As an iron-clad invulnerable floating battery, with sixteen guns of the heaviest caliber, she was then as complete as she would ever be.” Duncan wrote to Mitchell asking him to use the Louisiana’s guns to help draw fire from the Federal mortars: “It is of vital importance that the present fire of the enemy should be withdrawn from us, which you alone can do.”

Mitchell met with his naval officers and concluded that it was not worth the risk: “I feel, and I believe that I know,” Mitchell told Duncan, “the importance to the safety of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip and the City of New Orleans of having this vessel in proper condition before seeking an encounter with the enemy.” If Federal ships tried passing the forts, Mitchell said he would use the Louisiana’s guns to stop them, “however unprepared I may be.” But he would not use his vessel to draw fire from the mortars.

Duncan appealed to his superior in New Orleans, General Mansfield Lovell, who in turn appealed to Mitchell’s superior, Commander W.C. Whittle. Lovell explained that the Louisiana would not be sent to take on the Federal fleet, but rather her guns would just be used to help stop the mortar attack. Whittle sent a request to Mitchell: “Can you not occupy a position below Fort St. Philip so as to enfilade the mortar boats of the enemy and give time to the garrison to repair damages at Fort Jackson?”

That day, Federal sailors and crewmen prepared their warships to run the fort batteries. They covered vulnerable parts of their vessels to better withstand the shelling, and they whitewashed their decks to give them more nighttime visibility. The bypass effort was to begin at 2 a.m. on the 24th.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 365; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 141; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 202; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 60; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 317