Category Archives: Navy

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

New Orleans: Bombarding Forts Jackson and St. Philip

April 18, 1862 – On Good Friday, Federals took the first step toward capturing New Orleans when Commander David D. Porter’s mortar boats began firing on Forts Jackson and St. Philip.

Confederates led by Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan defended the southern approach to New Orleans by manning the old Forts Jackson and St. Philip on either side of the Mississippi River below the city. They strung a large chain across the river to block Federal vessels from moving upriver; they also had fire rafts, sunken hulks, a “mosquito fleet” of small gunboats, and the unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana at the ready.

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

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

Porter was confident that the 200-pound shells from his mortar schooners would destroy the forts. Flag Officer David G. Farragut, overall commander of the Federal naval squadron, disagreed but allowed Porter to proceed anyway. All of Porter’s vessels were in their designated places by dawn of the 18th. Many were posted along the river’s west bank, concealed by trees while having a clear view of the forts about 3,000 to 3,500 yards away.

The lead mortar opened fire at 9 a.m., with the next 19 vessels opening in succession until they all kept up a steady fire. The gunners focused primarily on Fort Jackson, sending a round into those works every two minutes. The accurate fire blasted Jackson both outside and in, eventually setting the Confederate barracks and citadel on fire. Troops quickly extinguished the blaze.

The Confederate artillerists struggled at first to find their range, but when they did, they inflicted substantial damage on some of the mortars. Two took direct hits near the waterline and had to be pulled out of action. Farragut responded to Porter’s call for support by sending four gunboats to fire on the forts with their rifled artillery. But these vessels withdrew by noon, having expended all their ammunition.

As the mortars continued firing, they ignited another and much larger fire at Fort Jackson’s citadel. Duncan ordered his men to counter by sending fire rafts (i.e., rafts of burning oil atop piled wood) down the river. But these went aground along the riverbanks before reaching the enemy vessels.

Porter ordered a ceasefire at sundown, after the Federals had sent over 1,000 rounds into the forts. The fort walls sustained extensive damage, but the Confederate defenders held firm. Seeing the fire in Fort Jackson’s citadel, Porter thought it was just another stray fire raft. Had he known how much damage he inflicted, he might have continued firing through the night. Porter later said that this was the “only mistake that occurred during the bombardment.”

The mortars resumed their furious cannonade on the 19th and kept it up for the next five days and nights. A sailor on the U.S.S. Hartford recalled the scene: “As the shells left the gun the track of (their burning fuses) through the air was distinctly visible, and the shots were quite accurate.” The gunners fired “so fast that six to seven shells could be seen coursing through the air at once.”

Duncan reported that “the mortar fire was accurate and terrible, many of the shells falling everywhere within the fort.” The shells disabled several Confederate cannon, but those still functioning continued scoring some hits on the mortars, including sinking the U.S.S. Maria J. Carlton.

Farragut’s doubts about mortar fire’s effectiveness on the forts ultimately proved correct, as the bombardment had less effect than Porter hoped. Despite the heavy damage, the forts remained an impediment to any Federal advance up the Mississippi. A captured Confederate naval officer later told Captain Samuel P. Lee of the U.S.S. Oneida that the mortars “had not produced any military results (though so many shells had fallen in the forts) as the dismounted guns were immediately replaced…”

As the bombardment continued, a man claiming to be a Federal spy visited both Porter and Farragut on Easter Sunday and informed them that even though the Confederates were demoralized by the Federal mortars, they had plenty of ammunition, food, and supplies, and would not likely surrender soon. Based on this information, Farragut called a meeting of his officers at 10 a.m.

Farragut announced that while Porter continued his bombardment, the Federal warships would try bypassing the forts and river obstructions to get to New Orleans. Porter’s aide, speaking for him in his absence, opposed the move because it would open the river and enable Confederate vessels to come down and attack Porter’s fleet. The aide insisted that the forts must be captured before moving upriver. Farragut disagreed, and the clearing operation proceeded.

Two gunboats, the U.S.S. Itasca under Lieutenant Charles H.B. Caldwell and the U.S.S. Pinola under Commander Henry H. Bell, crept up to the two heavy chains stretched across the river on the “wild night” of the 20th. The evening was “dark, rainy, with half a gale of wind blowing down the river.” The crewmen’s mission was to break the chains and remove as many obstructions as possible to enable Farragut’s squadron to bypass the forts on their way upriver.

Accompanying the Federals was Julius Kroehl, an expert in underwater explosives, who brought five 180-pound barrels of powder. He placed these barrels on one of the sunken hulks, but the wires to the galvanic batteries used to detonate the charge came loose, and the powder failed to detonate.

The Confederates had discovered the Federals’ presence by this time and opened fire on them. Bell quickly climbed onto one of the hulks and unhooked one of the chains. He then took his gunboat through the narrow passage far enough to gather steam, and turned around and plowed through the other chain, creating a gap wide enough for Farragut’s ships to pass single-file.

As this took place, the Confederates sent more fire rafts down the river to threaten the mortars and warships. The fleet surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford reported that a Confederate vessel followed the rafts, ostensibly to negotiate a truce:

“A large rebel steamer is coming down with a white flag of truce. Orders are given for a steamer to go and meet her, but the traitor steamer set fire to three fire-rafts she had in tow, hoisted the enemy colors and ran up the river! Such is the use they make of flags of truce. As she turned back the forts opened all their guns upon our fleet. Their rifled cannon, fired with great precision, are troubling us much.”

One intensely blazing fire raft approached the Hartford and the Richmond. But the Federals deployed picket boats, on which Federals used grappling hooks to grab the burning rafts and ground them on the riverbanks before they could reach the fleet. Meanwhile, the C.S.S. Louisiana was sent upriver about a half-mile to serve as a floating battery since it could not function any other way. Laborers were still trying to complete her, but she had been poorly designed and was not effective.

For the Federals, Farragut reported the next day:

“We have been bombarding the forts for three or four days, but the current is running so strong that we cannot stem it sufficiently to do anything with our ships, so that I am now waiting a change of winds, which brings a slacker tide, and we shall be enabled to run up… Captain Bell went last night to cut the chain across the river. I never felt such anxiety in my life as I did until his return… They let the chain go, but the men sent to explode the petard did not succeed; his wires broke. Bell would have burned the hulks, but the illumination would have given the enemy a chance to destroy his gunboat, which got aground. However, the chain was divided, and it gives us space enough to go through.”

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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. 64-65; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 161, 163; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 140; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 201-02; 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; 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. 58

New Orleans: Targeting Forts Jackson and St. Philip

April 17, 1862 – Commodore David G. Farragut, flag officer of the Federal West Gulf Blockading Squadron, proceeded with his plan to capture New Orleans, the Confederacy’s largest and richest city.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut, stationed at Ship Island, Mississippi, in the Gulf of Mexico, had been planning to take New Orleans since February. He spent the past month waiting for the mortar fleet of his adopted brother, Commander David D. Porter, to arrive in support. Also on Ship Island was Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal troops, who would march in and take the city with the navy’s help.

The main obstacles in getting to New Orleans were Forts Jackson and St. Philip, two old works on either side of the Mississippi River. These forts, situated 12 miles above Head of Passes and 80 miles below New Orleans, covered any attempt to approach the city from the Gulf of Mexico. The Confederates in the forts, commanded by Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, worked endlessly to try keeping the high river from flooding them out.

General Mansfield Lovell led the defenses within New Orleans, but these had been severely depleted by the transfer of nearly 5,000 men first to Fort Donelson and then to Corinth. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory refused to allow the Confederate River Defense Fleet that had been transferred to Fort Pillow, Tennessee, to go back down the Mississippi and help defend New Orleans. Mallory contended that Commodore Andrew H. Foote’s Federal Western Flotilla posed a greater threat than Farragut.

Meanwhile, Porter’s mortar fleet arrived to give Farragut the largest naval armada in U.S. history. It included 24 wooden warships with a total of 200 large-caliber guns. Joining them were 20 mortar schooners, each with a 13-inch mortar gun. Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Harriet Lane, traded fire with the Confederates at Fort Jackson twice to get the precise ranges. Farragut also personally reconnoitered both Jackson and St. Philip, and he relied on a coastal survey led by Ferdinand H. Gerdes that mapped the river approaches to the forts.

The armada traversed the treacherous sandbar and entered the Mississippi River on April 8, prompting Farragut to remark, “Now we are all right.” Within a week, three of Porter’s vessels moved within range of the forts and exchanged fire. These Federals were able to gauge the distance better for the rest of the fleet. Farragut moved his vessels up the river to a point just below the forts on the 16th.

In addition to the forts, Confederates had extended a large chain across the Mississippi to block a Federal naval advance. They also had an unfinished ironclad, the C.S.S. Louisiana, and a “mosquito squadron” of small gunboats led by Captain George N. Hollins. Other obstacles were placed in the river, but the high water would help the Federal ships to bypass them.

The Confederate defenders in the forts watched the massive fleet of warships, mortars, and troop transports approaching on the 17th. Farragut had the mortars towed into positions near a line of trees on the west bank; a bend in the river hid these vessels from Confederate view and Porter camouflaged the masts with tree branches. The remaining ships were stationed at designated points on the Mississippi.

As the Federals took their positions, Louisiana Governor Thomas O. Moore protested the Confederate government’s order to move the C.S.S. Louisiana north of New Orleans and not south to support the forts. Moore explained to President Jefferson Davis that the fort’s guns could not reach the naval vessels bombarding them, and the Louisiana was “absolutely a necessity at the forts for the safety of New Orleans, and that it is suicidal to send her elsewhere.”

Davis wrote Moore back expressing less concern about this new Federal threat from below New Orleans than the threat of the Federal ironclad gunboats north of the city:

“The wooden vessels are below, the iron gun boats are above; the forts should destroy the former if they attempt to ascend. The Louisiana may be indispensable to check the descent of the iron boats. The purpose is to defend the city and valley; the only question is as to the best mode of effecting the object.”

Meanwhile, the Federal vessels continued establishing their positions for the bombardment scheduled to begin the next day.

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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. 64; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (17 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. 150, 157-58, 161; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 132, 135-36, 138-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 200-01

The Fall of Island No. 10

April 8, 1862 – Federal army and navy forces captured a key stronghold on the Mississippi River.

Major General John Pope, whose Army of the Mississippi surrounded the Confederates at Island No. 10 on three sides, wanted to cross the Mississippi River to the Tennessee shore and capture the island from the rear, or its fourth side. To do this, Pope needed support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet.

The ironclads U.S.S. Carondelet and Pittsburgh had already run past the island’s batteries to join the Federals at New Madrid, with the Pittsburgh bringing artillery and providing transportation for the Federal troops below the island. Pope was now ready to carry out his plan.

On the morning of April 7, both the Pittsburgh and the Carondelet exchanged fire with Confederate gunners at Watson’s Landing, below New Madrid, which protected the Confederates’ escape route from Island No. 10. This was where Pope wanted to land his army. After about an hour, the Confederates fled into the woods or fell back to Tiptonville on the Tennessee side of the river.

The Engagement at Island No. 10 | Image Credit: ThisGameOfGames.com

The Engagement at Island No. 10 | Image Credit: ThisGameOfGames.com

Pope loaded four steamers with about 3,000 troops, crossed the Mississippi, and landed on the island’s eastern shore around noon. Foote’s gunboats protected the landing, with the Federals cutting communications to the mainland and blocking the only escape route.

Brigadier General William W. Mackall, commanding Confederate forces in the area, was now surrounded on all sides. He surrendered to Foote that night. Many of the Confederates who escaped before the Federals landed tried fleeing to Tiptonville, which was already occupied by a Federal detachment. The Federals blocked the narrow path between the Mississippi and Reelfoot Lake, forcing these Confederates to surrender as well.

The Federal roundup continued into the 8th, as Federals seized stragglers around Tiptonville and secured the so-called impenetrable island. Nearly 6,000 Confederates, including three generals and seven colonels, were taken prisoner. About 7,000 small arms and huge amounts of ammunition and supplies were also seized.

The Federals lost 28 men (seven killed, 14 wounded, and seven missing), most of whom were naval personnel. Federal gunboat crews took 109 cannon abandoned on the Tennessee side of the river, as well as four steamers. One Confederate transport, the Red Rover, was taken to Cairo and converted into the navy’s first hospital ship.

Mackall surrendered Island No. 10 in a formal ceremony at Tiptonville on the 8th. Southerners were dismayed to learn that such a key position had been given up so easily. The loss of so many men and supplies demoralized the Confederacy, more so than any other battlefield loss up to that time.

The Federal capture of Island No. 10 was another in a series of Federal victories on the western rivers. In fact, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Department of the Mississippi, considered this victory more important than Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February. As such, Pope became a new northern hero.

Federal Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles declared that “the triumph was not the less appreciated, because it was protracted, and finally bloodless.” Foote later received a vote of thanks from Congress for his role in the operation, but he received no praise from Pope. In his official report, Pope lauded the “prompt, gallant, and cheerful” Commander Henry Walke of the U.S.S. Carondelet. Foote, who had resisted running his ships past the Confederate batteries, was not mentioned.

Nevertheless, Pope planned to continue his joint expedition with Foote to capture Memphis, a key city connected to the rest of the South by railroad. With Island No. 10 in Federal hands, the only obstacle in front of Memphis was Fort Pillow, 40 miles downriver. However, Pope’s month-long campaign on the Mississippi ended when Halleck summoned him and his army to join in the grand advance on Corinth.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 156, 158; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 134-35; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3252; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587-88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 195-96; 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. 415; 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. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155, 166-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 298, 300; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 124

Preparing to Attack Island No. 10

April 4, 1862 – Major General John Pope prepared his Federal Army of the Mississippi to capture strategic Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River with naval support.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Capturing Island No. 10 had been Pope’s prime objective when he formed his army the previous month, as Confederate defenders there blocked Federal shipping on the Mississippi. Pope had seized nearby New Madrid, Missouri, which positioned his Federals within striking distance of the island. He then surrounded the stronghold on three sides and opened an artillery bombardment.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard reported to the War Department that the Federals had fired 3,000 rounds over the past two weeks in the largest cannonade of the war thus far. Beauregard also noted that the Confederate batteries remained relatively undamaged. To capture the island, Pope needed the Federal navy.

Pope wanted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet to run past the Confederates and close the fourth side, which the Confederates used to get supplies from Tennessee. Federal troops and contrabands had struggled to dig a 12-mile canal for the fleet to use in bypassing the island. However, Foote resisted using the canal because he feared that the Confederate batteries would destroy his vessels.

To soften the batteries, Colonel George W. Roberts of the 42nd Indiana led a 50-man raiding party to neutralize as many guns as possible. The men used muffled oars to row barges to Battery No. 1, one of five Confederate outposts guarding Island No. 10 on the Tennessee shore. Battery No. 1 consisted of six cannon about two miles upriver from the island.

It was a stormy night, and lightning revealed the Federals’ presence. The Confederate pickets fired at them and then ran back into their fortifications. Before the rest of the Confederates could mobilize, the Federals landed, spiked the guns, and escaped without loss. The operation took less than 30 minutes. The storm later produced a tornado that swept through New Madrid and killed soldiers on both sides.

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Over the next few days, Federals prepared Commander Henry Walke’s ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet to run the remaining batteries. They fitted the ship with cordwood around the boilers and an anchor chain for armor. The Carondelet entered the canal at full steam around 10 p.m. on April 4, covered by darkness and a heavy thunderstorm.

The Confederates saw flames shooting from the Carondelet’s smokestacks, and lightning revealed her exact location. They opened fire and hit the ship once in the coal barge and once in a hay bale. Most shots missed because the guns could not be depressed low enough to fire down the steep banks.

The Carondelet successfully passed both Island No. 10 and a floating Confederate battery, arriving at New Madrid amid the cheers of Federal troops awaiting her arrival. The ship’s passage posed an immediate threat to the island’s defenders because she could transport troops to the Tennessee side of the river below them and attack the island from the rear.

Two days later, the Carondelet began clearing the Tennessee shore of Confederate batteries by destroying two cannon opposite Point Pleasant. She then moved further downriver to Tiptonville, Tennessee, where Federal troops landed and spiked a battery. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who had replaced Brigadier General John P. McCown as commander of Confederate forces in the area, transferred his infantry and one battery from Island No. 10 to the Tennessee shore to protect against a Federal landing.

Pope made plans to attack the Confederates at Tiptonville, but he needed more naval support. Foote initially refused Pope’s request to run another ironclad past Island No. 10. Foote wrote, “There is so much hazard in running the blockade, and the rebels being so much on the alert, I consider it injudicious to hazard another boat.”

But Foote finally relented, and late on April 6, during a heavy thunderstorm, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh successfully ran past the batteries without damage. Pope was now ready to carry out his grand strategy to capture Island No. 10 and its adjoining defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (1 Apr 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 796; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 147, 150, 154; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130-31, 134; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 193; 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. 415; 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. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 163-64, 166; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 299; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

Birth of the C.S.S. Florida

March 22, 1862 – The steamship Oreto left England, destined to become the menacing Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Florida.

The C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Oreto, a twin-bladed screw steamer, had been under construction at Liverpool. U.S. officials expressed suspicions that the ship was being built for the Confederate navy. Those suspicions were supplemented by the fact that Liverpool was largely a pro-Confederate city that a U.S. diplomat claimed had been “made by the slave trade, and the sons of those who acquired fortunes in the traffic, now instinctively side with the rebelling slave-drivers.”

Building or arming warships for belligerent powers such as the Confederacy violated Great Britain’s Foreign Enlistment Act. The U.S. consul at Liverpool, Thomas H. Dudley, had discovered the ship’s true purpose as a commerce raider before she left port, but Confederate naval agent James D. Bulloch produced forged papers claiming that a Palermo merchant, not the Confederate government, owned the Oreto. The U.S. minister to Britain, Charles Francis Adams, presented Dudley’s evidence that the ship violated British law to the Foreign Office, but it was not acted upon before the Oreto was taken out of port, ostensibly just for a trial run.

Bulloch hosted a group of guests aboard the steamer on March 22. The new ship was commanded by a British captain, bore the British flag, and carried no armaments. After a short cruise in the harbor, all the guests but one were removed to smaller boats and the vessel left Liverpool. The lone remaining guest was John Low of the Confederate navy, and the ship headed for Nassau in the Bahamas to be fitted with four seven-inch guns.

She was later rechristened the C.S.S. Florida, a powerful Confederate commerce raider under Commander John N. Maffitt.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 260; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 520-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 145; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 126; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 264; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 187; 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. 546; 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, 2012), p. 112; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 121

The Fall of New Bern

March 14, 1862 – Federals occupying points on the North Carolina coast advanced to the mainland in hopes of capturing one of the state’s largest cities.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Since the Federal capture of Roanoke Island the previous month, Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside and Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough had expanded their control of the North Carolina sounds and connecting waterways. They now set their sights on the state’s mainland, primarily New Bern, North Carolina’s colonial capital, on the Neuse River. New Bern was the state’s second largest city and an important railroad center.

About 11,000 Federal troops of Burnside’s Coastal Division boarded army transports at Roanoke Island to link with 13 gunboats near Hatteras Inlet. The gunboat fleet was led by Commander Stephen C. Rowan, who took over when Goldsborough was recalled to Hampton Roads after the attack by the C.S.S. Virginia. Burnside told his men that they would be part of a major offensive designed to support Major General George B. McClellan’s upcoming Peninsula campaign.

About 4,000 Confederates defended New Bern under Brigadier General Lawrence O. Branch, a lawyer and politician whose only military experience was in the Seminole Wars. Branch’s men were posted at the several earthworks below New Bern, including Fort Thompson, the strongest work, six miles south. A lack of slave labor in the area prevented Branch from bolstering the defenses.

On the 13th, the Federal gunboats covered Burnside’s three brigades as they debarked without resistance at Slocomb’s Creek, on the west bank of the Neuse, about 16 miles south of New Bern. As the troops advanced on land, the gunboats advanced on the river, shelling the five Confederate forts in the woods as they went. Rowan later reported:

“I commenced throwing 5, 10, 15 second shells inshore, and notwithstanding the risk, I determined to continue till the general sent me word. I know the persuasive power of a 9-inch (shell), and thought it better to kill a Union man or two than to lose the effect of my moral suasion.”

Learning of the Federal advance, Branch pulled his troops out of their first line of defenses and concentrated them in a front about six miles southeast of New Bern, near Fort Thompson. This inadequate force guarded the road that Branch suspected the Federals would take.

The Federal troops advanced to where it was believed Branch’s lines were, but the Confederates had already fallen back. The Federals continued advancing amid some skirmishing; driving rain and muddy roads not only made the march difficult, but they made it impossible for the Federals to bring up artillery. Nevertheless, Burnside planned to launch an assault the next day.

At dawn, Burnside ordered his brigades to advance up the muddy west bank of the Neuse with Brigadier Generals Jesse Reno, John G. Parke, and John G. Foster on the left, center, and right respectively. Branch’s defensive line extended from Fort Thompson on the Neuse to his left, a road leading west to his right, and the main road to New Bern in his center. Like at Roanoke Island, the Federals would have to cross a swamp to get to the Confederates.

As the Federals surged forward, the gunboats on the Neuse began bombarding Fort Thompson. The Confederates, outflanked and low on ammunition, held firm until a militia unit in the center of the line suddenly broke. The Federals exploited the gap and sent the enemy fleeing around 10:30 a.m.

Some Confederates on the right did not get the order to retreat and were captured. Those who got away crossed the Trent River into New Bern and burned the bridge behind them. But by this time, the Federal gunboats commanded the town. The Confederates set fire to New Bern without orders and continued fleeing. Branch arranged to withdraw his force by rail to Kinston, 35 miles west, but it took him nearly a week to reassemble all his remaining men.

Meanwhile, the Federals entered New Bern that afternoon and received a similar reception to the one at Winton: only blacks and poor whites celebrated their arrival. Panic spread among the other local residents, as people fled on trains to Goldsborough and other towns. Only 100 of the 1,200 New Bern residents remained when the Federals arrived.

The Federals sustained 471 casualties (90 killed and 381 wounded or missing). The Confederates lost 578 (64 killed, 101 wounded, and 413 captured or missing). In addition to capturing New Bern, the Federals also gained control of all the outlying forts along the river, including Fort Thompson. A landing party from Rowan’s fleet also seized two steamers, large quantities of cotton, and an artillery battery.

The fall of New Bern created another port and useful supply base for Federal inland expeditions. It also gave the Federals easy access to the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. The Confederate government, realizing the importance of North Carolina too late, sent reinforcements that should have been sent months earlier.

With a foothold on the mainland, Burnside soon looked back to points on the Atlantic, particularly Fort Macon near Cape Lookout.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (14 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 141; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 121-23; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 524; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 184-85; 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, 2012), p. 51-53; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 294-95