Tag Archives: U.S.S. Richmond

Farragut Runs the Port Hudson Batteries

March 14, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David G. Farragut tried running his naval squadron past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson in an effort to move up the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

As Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued trying to get at Vicksburg, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf worked to capture Port Hudson, Louisiana. The effort against these two strongholds had initially been envisioned as a joint operation between Grant and Banks of the army, and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Farragut of the navy. But by this month, they had become two separate and distinct operations.

In early March, Banks assembled his army at New Orleans and advanced north to Baton Rouge. This would be the launching point for his drive on Port Hudson, a fort atop a bluff facing the Mississippi, with the land side shielded by woods, undergrowth, swamps, and ravines. The Confederates at Port Hudson protected the Red River, which flowed into the Mississippi and was used to transport Confederate supplies from the west.

Banks’s army consisted of 15,000 men in three divisions. The Port Hudson garrison contained four Confederate brigades. Banks did not have the strength to attack Port Hudson directly, so he agreed to stage a demonstration in front of the fort while Farragut’s warships steamed past on their way north to Vicksburg. Getting Federal naval vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg could at least prevent the Confederates from using the Red River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut arrived at Baton Rouge aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, on the 12th. There he finalized plans to run past Port Hudson and join forces with Porter at Vicksburg. The Hartford would lead the effort, followed by the U.S.S. Monongahela and Richmond, with a gunboat lashed to the port (Port Hudson) side of each ship. The U.S.S. Mississippi, flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry during his historic visit to Tokyo Bay, would follow along with two gunboats and six mortar schooners.

By the 14th, Farragut was ready to send his fleet past the batteries overlooking the river. Banks’s troops had advanced within six miles of Port Hudson, but Banks had agreed to be in position to create the diversion by dawn. When Farragut opted to advance that night, Banks informed him that he could expect no army support. Farragut, believing Banks should have been there already, fumed, “He had well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for the good he is doing us!” Consequently, nothing would divert the Confederates’ attention from the passing vessels.

At 9:30 p.m., the Hartford flashed two red lights below her stern, signaling the rest of the fleet to begin the run. The Federal gunboats and schooners opened fire, and the Confederates waited until they came within range to respond. Gun smoke made visibility impossible, and the Federals quickly found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided fight. The Richmond and the gunboat lashed to her, the U.S.S. Genesee, were both knocked out, with the Richmond taking a shot in her steam plant and requiring the Genesee to pull her downriver to safety.

The Monongahela took eight shots directly through her, destroying the bridge and wounding Captain James P. McKinstry. After taking direct fire for nearly half an hour, her partner, the U.S.S. Kineo, helped pull her downriver out of the fight.

The Mississippi ran aground in a sandbar under direct fire, forcing Captain Melancthon Smith to order the crew to set her on fire and abandon ship. She exploded at 3 a.m. Survivors included Lieutenant George Dewey, conqueror of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War 35 years later. Only the Hartford and her consort, the U.S.S. Albatross, made it past the guns. The Federals suffered 112 total casualties (35 killed and 77 wounded or missing), including 64 from the Mississippi alone.

The passage of two ships made the mission partially successful, but Farragut was now separated from the rest of his fleet, which remained below Port Hudson. Unaware that all the ships except the Mississippi could be repaired and returned to action, Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles the next day, “It becomes my duty again to report disaster to my fleet.”

However, Welles applauded Farragut’s effort to get vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox responded that “the President thinks the importance of keeping a force of strength in this part of the river is so great that he fully approves of your proceeding.”

The Hartford and Albatross continued upriver to Natchez, Mississippi, where Federals cut the telegraph lines to Port Hudson. The ships reached Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on the night of the 18th. By that time, Banks’s Federals had returned to Baton Rouge, 20 miles below Port Hudson, looting the countryside along the way. Banks dispatched expeditions to try finding Farragut, thinking he was waiting for the army just above Port Hudson. But Farragut was now 150 miles north.

Farragut ran the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, sustaining many hits and losing eight men (two killed and six wounded). This enabled his two vessels to advance to the mouth of the Red River. They reached Warrenton, Mississippi, by the morning of the 20th. From there, he contacted Grant and Porter offering to support their operations and requesting coal for refuel. They sent a coal barge downriver past the Vicksburg batteries.

The Federals now had warships between Port Hudson and Vicksburg to stop Confederate river traffic. However, the engagement at Port Hudson proved that capturing the stronghold would need a much stronger effort from both the army and navy.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 213-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326, 328, 330; 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. 160-61; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

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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

Federal Attack on Pensacola Bay

November 22, 1861 – Colonel Harvey Brown, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Pickens on Florida’s Gulf coast, directed a preëmptive attack on Confederates seeking to take back the fort.

Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Since their failed invasion of Santa Rosa Island in October, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates had surrounded Fort Pickens, according to Brown, “with batteries and daily arming them with the heaviest and most efficient guns known to our service–guns stolen from us–until they considered this fort as virtually their own, its occupancy being only a question of time.”

Brown worked with Flag Officer William McKean, commanding the Gulf Blockading Squadron, to drive the Confederates out of their nearby positions along Pensacola Bay at Forts McRee and Barrancas, and the Pensacola Navy Yard. At 9:55 a.m. on November 22, the steamers U.S.S. Niagara and Richmond, aided by artillery from Fort Pickens, opened a massive bombardment.

The Confederates quickly abandoned the navy yard, but the Federal vessels could not get any closer than 2,000 yards due to shallow waters. Meanwhile, Confederate artillery began responding with their four-mile line of batteries facing Fort Pickens.

The Confederates in Fort McRee sustained a tremendous shelling. A soldier in the 1st Alabama at Pensacola wrote:

“On one occasion, simultaneous volleys raked the outer walls and parapets of the fort (McRee), wrapped it with flames of bursting shells, sent huge timbers and massive pieces of concrete flying through the air, swept away the flagstaff and demolished a section of wall on the right. As dimly seen from our position the whole structure seemed to bulge and sink to the earth in one general conflagration and gigantic heap of ruins.”

By 3 p.m., the Federals had disabled all of Fort McRee’s batteries while keeping up their fire on Fort Barrancas and the navy yard as well. Confederate gunners at Barrancas hit the Richmond twice, killing one and wounding eight, before the ships withdrew for the night. Brown then ordered the firing from Pickens suspended, ending the action for the day.

Bragg reported that “the number and caliber of guns and weight of metal brought into action it will rank with the heaviest bombardment in the world,” making the fight “grand and sublime. The fire of the enemy, though terrific in sound and fury, proved to have been only slightly damaging, except to McRee.” Bragg noted that fire from the Niagara and Richmond had “much greater accuracy, the fort and garrison of McRee suffered more.” The Confederates sustained 21 casualties (one killed and 20 wounded).

The Federals resumed their bombardment the next day without the Richmond, which had been put out of action. The Niagara and the guns from Fort Pickens opened on the three main Confederate positions, shooting the flags away from Forts McRee and Barrancas by noon and pummeling both the shore batteries and the lighthouse. The Niagara tried getting closer but became a prime target herself, forcing her to withdraw under heavy fire.

That afternoon, Federal gunners began firing hotshot (i.e., heated cannonballs), burning most of the nearby town of Warrington to the ground. Firing ended at nightfall, with the Confederates still holding all their fortifications despite suffering heavy damage. Federals had fired about 5,000 rounds over 28 hours. Both sides combined sustained eight men killed.

Bragg congratulated his troops on what he called a victory over the enemy: “We have crippled his ships and driven them off, and forced the garrison of Fort Pickens, in its impotent rage, to slake its revenge by firing into our hospital, and burning the habitations of our innocent women and children, who had been driven there from by an unannounced storm of shot and shell.”

Brown acknowledged that the bombardment had failed to drive the Confederates out of their menacing positions near Fort Pickens. However, he announced that “the attack on ‘Billy Wilson’s’ camp (i.e., the Confederate invasion of Santa Rosa Island), the attempted attack on my batteries, and the insult to our glorious flag have been fully and fearfully avenged.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 142-43; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 276-77

C.S.S. Manassas: The First Ironclad

October 12, 1861 – The Confederacy unveiled a new metal-sheathed ram named the C.S.S. Manassas to try breaking the Federal blockade where the Mississippi River met the Gulf of Mexico.

C.S.S. Manassas | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

C.S.S. Manassas | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Manassas, along with the armed steamers Ivy and James L. Day, left New Orleans before dawn. They moved down the Mississippi and attacked the five Federal vessels (U.S.S. Nightingale, Preble, Richmond, Vincennes, and Water Witch) at the Head of Passes, where the river emptied into the Gulf.  A sharp battle ensued in which the Manassas ran the Richmond and the Vincennes aground before withdrawing back upstream.

U.S.S. Vincennes Acting Master Edward F. Devens reported:

“From the appearance of the Richmond’s side in the vicinity of the hole, I should say that the ram (Manassas) had claws or hooks attached to her… for the purpose of tearing out the plank from the ship’s side. It (Manassas) is a most destructive invention… resembles in shape a cigar cut lengthwise, and (is) very low in the water. She must be covered with railroad iron as all the shells which struck her glanced off, some directly at right angles… They did not appear to trouble her much as she ran up the river at a very fast rate.”

The Confederate steamers sent three fire rafts toward the Federal fleet, sending it fleeing downriver. Vincennes Commander Robert Handy misinterpreted the Richmond’s signal to “cross the bar” as “abandon ship,” and did so. Captain John Pope (no relation to Army General John Pope) of the Richmond called Handy “a laughingstock of all and everyone… (he) is not fit to command a ship.” Squadron commander William McKean relieved Handy and granted Pope’s request for leave due to “reason of health.”

No casualties were sustained on either side, and the Richmond and Vincennes were eventually returned to duty. David D. Porter, blockading around the Southwest Pass, called this surprise assault “the most ridiculous affair that ever took place in the American Navy.” However, it demonstrated the strength of Confederate naval forces, particularly their new ironclad, in defending New Orleans.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 87; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 355-56; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 126; 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. 55; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 274