The necessity of controlling the Mississippi valley had been early realized by the United States Government. In its hands the great stream would become an impassable barrier between two large sections of the Southern Confederacy; whereas in the possession of the latter it remained a link binding together all the regions through which it flowed, or which were penetrated by any of its numerous tributaries. The extensive territory west of the river also produced a large part of the provisions upon which depended the Southern armies, whose main field of action was, nevertheless, on the eastern side. In a country habitually so unprepared for war as is the United States, and where, of course, such a contingency as an intestine struggle between the sections could not have been provided for, there seemed room to hope that the national forces might by rapid action seize the whole course of the river, before the seceding States were able to take adequate measures for its defense. The Government had the support of that part of the country which had received the largest manufacturing development, and could, therefore, most quickly prepare the material [116] for war, in which both sides were lamentably deficient; and, what was yet more important, it possessed in the new navy built since 1855 an efficient weapon to which the South had nothing to oppose. The hope was extravagant and doomed to disappointment; for to overrun and hold so extensive a territory as the immediate basin of the Mississippi required a development of force on the one side and a degree of exhaustion on the other which could not be reached so early in the war. The relative strengths, though unequal, were not yet sufficiently disproportioned to enable the gigantic work to be accomplished; and the principal result of an effort undertaken without due consideration was to paralyze a large fraction of a navy too small in numbers to afford the detachment which was paraded gallantly, but uselessly, above New Orleans. Nor was this the worst; the time thus consumed in marching up the hill in order at once to march down again threw away the opportunity for reducing Mobile before its defenses were strengthened. Had the navy been large enough, both tasks might have been attempted; but it will appear in the sequel that its scanty numbers were the reason which postponed the attack on Mobile from month to month, until it became the most formidable danger Farragut ever had to encounter.

Despite the extensive sea-coast of the United States and the large maritime commerce possessed by it at the opening of the war, the navy had never, except for short and passing intervals, been regarded with the interest its importance deserved. To this had doubtless contributed the fixed policy of the Government to concentrate its attention upon the [117] internal development of the country, and to concern itself little with external interests, except so far as they promoted the views of that section which desired to give extension to slaveholding territory. The avoidance of entangling alliances had become perverted to indifference to the means by which alone, in the last resort, the nation can assert and secure control in regions outside its borders, but vitally affecting its prosperity and safety. The power of navies was therefore, then as now, but little understood. Consequently, when the importance of the Mississippi Valley was realized, as it immediately was, there was but one idea as to the means of controlling it, and that was by a land invasion from the great Western and Northwestern States. To this a navy was indeed to be adjoined, but in a manner so distinctly subsidiary that it was, contrary to all custom, placed under the orders of the commander-in-chief of the Western army, and became simply a division of the land forces. From this subordinate position it was soon raised by its own intrinsic value and the logic of facts; but the transient experience is noteworthy, because illustrating the general ignorance of the country as to the powers of the priceless weapon which lay ready, though unnoticed, to its hand.

Happily, in the Navy Department itself juster views prevailed; and the general indifference permitted it at least one compensation--to follow its own ways. The Secretary himself was not a professional man, though he had had official connection with the service in the past; but most fortunately there was called to his assistance one who had been for eighteen years in the navy, had passed while in [118] it to the command of mail steamers, and only five years before the war had resigned and entered civil life. This gentleman, Mr. Gustavus V. Fox, thus combined with business experience and an extensive acquaintance with naval officers the capacities of a seaman. He knew what ships could do and what they could not; but to this common knowledge of sea officers, gained by the daily habit of sea life, he had added the results of study and reflection upon events passing elsewhere than under his own observation. The experiences of the allied navies in the Crimean War had convinced him that, if the wooden sides of ships could not be pitted in prolonged stand-up fight against the stone walls of fortresses, they were capable of enduring such battering as they might receive in running by them through an unobstructed channel. This conviction received support by the results of the attacks upon Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal. He might, indeed, have gone much further back and confirmed his own judgment as a seaman by the express opinion of an eminent soldier. Nearly a hundred years before, Washington, at the siege of Yorktown, had urged the French Admiral De Grasse to send vessels past Cornwallis's works to control the upper York River, saying: "I am so well satisfied by experience of the little effect of land batteries on vessels passing them with a leading breeze that, unless the two channels near Yorktown should be found impracticable by obstructions, I should have the greatest confidence in the success of this important service."(3)

In this conviction of Mr. Fox's lay the inception [119] of the expedition against New Orleans. It was, in his view, to be a purely naval attack. Once over the bar at the mouth of the river, the channel as far as the city had no natural obstruction, was clearly defined, and easily followed, by day or night, without a pilot. The heavy current of the early spring months, while it would retard the passage of the ships and so keep them longer under fire, would make it difficult for the enemy to maintain in position any artificial barrier placed by him. The works to be passed--the seaward defenses of New Orleans, Forts Jackson and St. Philip--were powerful fortifications; but they were ultimately dependent upon the city, ninety miles above them, for a support which could come only by the river. A fleet anchored above the forts lay across their only line of communication, and when thus isolated, their fall became only a question of time. The work proposed to the United States Navy was, therefore, to turn the forts by passing their fire, seize their line of communications--the upper river--and their base, New Orleans, and then to give over the latter to the army, which engaged to furnish a force sufficient to hold the conquest.

Having first taken the necessary, but strictly preliminary, step of seizing as a depot Ship Island, in Mississippi Sound, about a hundred miles from the mouth of the river, Mr. Fox's proposition, which had been adopted by the Secretary of the Navy, was submitted to the President. Mr. Lincoln, himself a Western man, unfamiliar with maritime matters and engrossed with the idea of invasion from the north, was disposed to be incredulous of success; but with his usual open-mindedness consented to a full discussion [120] before him by experts from both services. A meeting was therefore held with General McClellan at his headquarters. There were present, besides the President, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Fox, and Commander David D. Porter, who had recently returned from service off the mouth of the Mississippi. The antecedents of General McClellan were those of an officer of the engineers, who are generally disposed to exaggerate the powers of forts as compared with ships, and to contemplate their reduction only by regular approaches; just as an officer of the line of the army, looking to the capture of a place like New Orleans, will usually and most properly seek first a base of operations, from which he will project a campaign whose issue shall be the fall of the city. To this cause was probably due the preference observed by the Navy Department to exist in army circles, for an attack upon Mobile first. Being close to the sea, which was completely under the control of the navy, the necessary land operations would begin under far more favorable conditions, and could be more easily maintained than in the alluvial soil of the Mississippi delta. McClellan, who was an accomplished master of his profession in all its branches, received at first the impression that regular military operations against New Orleans by way of the river were being proposed to him, and demurred; but, on learning that the only demand was for a force to hold the city and surroundings in case of success, he readily consented to detail ten or fifteen thousand troops for the purpose. Though more hazardous, the proposition of the Navy Department was in principle strategically sound. The key of the position was to be struck for at once, and the outlying [121] defenses were expected then to fall by the severance of their communications. The general might have his own opinion as to the power of the navy to carry out the proposed passage of the forts, and as to whether its coal, when once above, would outlast the endurance of the hostile garrisons; but those were points upon which the Navy Department, which undertook the risk, might be presumed to have more accurate judgment than himself.

The conference, which was held about the middle of November, 1861, resulted in the adoption of Mr. Fox's plan in its main outlines; but with an important addition, which threatened at one time to become a very serious modification. Commander Porter suggested that the naval vessels should be accompanied by a mortar flotilla, to subdue the fire of the forts by bombardment, and so to allow the fleet to pass without risk, or with risk much diminished. This proposition approved itself to the engineer instincts of McClellan, and was adopted. The general then designated Major Barnard, of the Engineer Corps, to represent him in adjusting the details of the expedition. Barnard also took strong ground in favor of the mortars, and to this added the opinion--in which Porter concurred--that the forts should be not merely bombarded, but reduced before the passage. He summed up his conclusions in the following perfectly clear words: "To pass those works (merely) with a fleet and appear before New Orleans is merely a raid--no capture. New Orleans and the river can not be held until communications are perfectly established." The assertion of the last sentence can not be denied; it admits of no difference of opinion. The point in dispute between the two arguments was [122] not this, but whether the fall of the city, which had no local defenses, would entail that of the forts, and so open the communications. Mr. Fox strongly held that it would; but although he stuck to his opinion, he had a deservedly high estimate of Porter's professional ability--so much so that, had the latter's rank justified, he would have urged him for the command of the expedition. In this doubtful state of the argument, it will be seen of how great importance was the choice of the officer to be put in charge of the whole undertaking. Had he also taken the view of Barnard and Porter in favor of the more cautious, but--as it proved--more dangerous course, it could scarcely have failed that Fox would have been overruled.

The nomination of this officer could not be longer deferred. Secrecy and rapidity of action were large elements in the hoped-for achievement, and secrecy depends much upon the length of time the secret must be kept. Among the officers whose length of service and professional reputation indicated them as suitable for the position, there was little to guide the department to the man who would on emergency show the audacity and self-reliance demanded by the intended operations. The action proposed, though it falls within the limits of the methods which history has justified, and has, therefore, a legitimate place in the so-called science of war, was, nevertheless, as the opinions of Barnard and Porter show, contrary to the more usual and accepted practice. It disregarded the safeguards commonly insisted upon, overleaped the successive steps by which military achievement ordinarily advances to its end, and, looking only to the exceptional conditions, resorted [123] fearlessly to exceptional methods. For such a duty the department needed a man of more than average determination and vigor.

Farragut's name was necessarily among those considered; but the final choice appears to have been determined by the impression made upon Mr. Fox, and through him upon the department, by his course in leaving Norfolk at the time and in the way he did. This, Fox argued, showed "great superiority of character, clear perception of duty, and firm resolution in the performance of it." His conspicuous ability was not then recognized, could not be until revealed by war; but it was evident that he stood well above the common run of simply accomplished officers. Still, further tests were required; in a matter of so much importance the department had need to move warily. That Farragut was faithful could not be doubted; but was his heart so far in the contest that he could be depended upon to exert his abilities to the full? Commander Porter was ordered to go to New York on duty connected with the mortar flotilla, and while there to make an opportunity to visit Farragut. There had been, as is known, a close relation between the two families, and to him Farragut was likely to show how hearty he was in the cause. Porter's account was most favorable, and it then remained only to judge whether he was in sympathy with the military plan of the proposed expedition.

For this object Farragut was ordered to report at the department, and Fox undertook to meet him at the train and talk over the matter informally. He arrived in Washington on the 21st of December, was met as arranged, and taken to the house [124] of the Postmaster-General, Montgomery Blair. The latter was brother-in-law to Fox, and the three breakfasted together. "After breakfast, Fox laid before Farragut the plan of attack, the force to be employed, and the object to be attained, and asked his opinion. Farragut answered unhesitatingly that it could succeed. Fox then handed him the list of vessels being fitted out, and asked if they were enough. Farragut replied he would engage to run by the forts and capture New Orleans with two thirds the number. Fox told him more vessels would be added, and that he would command the expedition. Farragut's delight and enthusiasm were so great that when he left us Fox asked if I did not think he was too enthusiastic. I replied I was most favorably impressed with him, and sure he would succeed."(4) There could be no question, at any rate, that his whole heart was in the war and in the expedition; whether he would rise equal to his task still remained to be seen. He said, however, frankly, that had he been previously consulted, he would have advised against the employment of the mortar flotilla. He had no faith in the efficacy of that mode of attack since his observations

of the results at San Juan de Ulloa, twenty-three years before. He was convinced that the fleet could run by the forts, and anticipated nothing but delay from the bombardment. Nevertheless, since the arrangements had been made, he was willing to give the bombs a trial. "He was never profuse in promises," writes Mr, Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, "but he felt complimented that he was selected, and I saw that in modest self-reliance he considered himself [125] equal to the emergency and to the expectation of the Government."(5) To his home he wrote: "Keep your lips closed and burn my letters, for perfect silence is to be observed--the first injunction of the Secretary. I am to have a flag in the Gulf, and the rest depends upon myself. Keep calm and silent. I shall sail in three weeks."

On the 23d of December, 1861, Farragut received preparatory orders, and on the 9th of the following January was formally appointed to command the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron; the limits of which, on the coast of the Confederacy, were defined as from St. Andrew's Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The coasts of Mexico and Yucatan were also embraced in them. The steam sloop-of-war Hartford was selected for his flag-ship. On the 20th of January final orders were issued to him. These were somewhat discreetly worded, and, literally understood, must be conceded to take from the department the credit of boldly adhering to, and assuming the responsibility of, the original plan--a credit Mr. Welles seems desirous to claim. "When you are completely ready," they read, "you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade, and proceed up the Mississippi River and reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under the guns of your squadron." Understood according to the plain meaning of the words, these orders prescribed the reduction of the works as a condition precedent to appearing off the city, and so recur to the fears expressed by both Barnard and Porter as to the consequences of [126] leaving the forts unreduced. There is not in them even "the latitude and discretion in the employment of the means placed under his command" which Mr. Welles claimed.(6) Had Farragut, after leaving the forts unreduced, as he did, met with serious disaster, it can scarcely be doubted that the phrase quoted would have been used to acquit the Government.

The steam-sloop Hartford, upon which Farragut now hoisted his flag, and in which he continued throughout the war, was a nearly new vessel, having sailed on her first cruise to China in the summer of 1859. She belonged to the early period of the transition from sails to steam for the motive power of vessels; the steam being regarded as auxiliary only, and giving her a speed of but eight knots per hour, while the spars and sail area were those of a full-rigged ship. The deficiency of horse-power was a serious drawback in such an operation as passing forts, especially when, as in the Mississippi, the current was strong and always adverse to vessels ascending the river. The Hartford had, on the other hand, a powerful battery of the best existent type. She carried twenty-two Dahlgren nine-inch shell guns, eleven on each side; and, owing to the lowness of the river banks, these guns would be on a level with or even above those in the lower tier of the batteries opposed to her. The Pensacola, Brooklyn, and Richmond were vessels of the same type as the Hartford, and built at the same time.


On the 2d of February, 1862, the Hartford sailed from Hampton Roads, and on the 20th reached Ship Island. The following day Farragut took over the [127] command of his district and squadron from Flag Officer McKean, who up to that time had had charge of both the East and West Gulf. None of the other vessels of the expedition were yet there; but they came in one by one and were rapidly assembled at the Southwest Pass, then the principal entrance to the river. Much difficulty was encountered in getting the heavier ships over the bar, two weeks' work being needed to drag the Pensacola inside; but on the 7th of April she floated in the river, and Farragut found his force complete. It then consisted, independently of the steamers attached to the mortar flotilla, of four steam sloops-of-war of about two thousand tons each, three of half that size, one large side-wheel ship-of-war, the Mississippi, of seventeen hundred tons, and nine gun-boats of five hundred. The latter had been hurriedly built to meet the special exigencies of this war, and were then commonly known as the "ninety-day" gunboats. Each carried one eleven-inch shell-gun and one thirty-pounder rifle. The aggregate batteries of the seventeen vessels composing the squadron, excluding some light brass pieces, amounted to one hundred and fifty-four cannon, of which one hundred and thirty-five were thirty-two pounders or above.

The two forts which constituted the principal defenses of New Orleans against a naval attack from the sea were at Plaquemine Bend, about twenty miles above the Head of the Passes; by which name is known the point where the main stream of the Mississippi divides into several channels, called passes, through which its waters find their way to the Gulf. The river, whose general course below New Orleans is southeast, turns at Plaquemine Bend northeast [128] for a mile and three-quarters, and then resumes its previous direction. The heavier of the two works, Fort Jackson, is on the right bank, at the lower angle of the Bend. It was a casemated brick structure, pentagonal in form, carrying in barbette over the casemates twenty-seven cannon of and above the size of thirty-two pounders, besides eleven twenty-four pounders. In the casemates were fourteen of the latter caliber. Attached to this fort, but below it was a water battery carrying half a dozen heavy cannon. Fort St. Philip was nearly opposite Fort Jackson, but somewhat below it, so as to command not only the stream in its front, but also the stretch down the river, being thus enabled to rake vessels approaching from below before they came abreast. It comprised the fort proper and two water batteries, which together mounted forty-two guns. The sites of these fortifications had been skillfully chosen; but their armaments, though formidable and greatly superior to those of the fleet--regard being had to the commonly accepted maxim that a gun ashore is equivalent to four afloat--were not equal to the demands of the situation or to the importance of New Orleans. Out of a total of one hundred and nine pieces,(7) of which probably over ninety could be used against a passing fleet, fifty-six, or more than half, were of the very old and obsolete caliber of twenty-four pounders.

This inadequate preparation, a year after the attack upon Fort Sumter and the outbreak of hostilities, is doubtless to be attributed to surprise. The Southern authorities, like those of the National [129] Government, were firmly possessed with the idea that the Mississippi, if subdued at all, must be so by an attack from the north. Despite the frequency of spies and treason along the border line of the two sections, the steps of the Navy Department were taken so quietly, and followed so closely upon the resolve to act, that the alarm was not quickly taken; and when intimations of attack from the sea did filter through, they had to encounter and dislodge strong contrary preoccupations in the minds of the Southern leaders. Only the Confederate general commanding the military division and his principal subordinates seem to have been alive to the danger of New Orleans, and their remonstrances had no effect. Not only were additional guns denied them and sent North, but drafts were made on their narrow resources to supply points considered to be in greater danger. A striking indication of the prepossessions which controlled the authorities at Richmond was elicited by Commodore Hollins, of the Confederate Navy. That gallant veteran was ordered to take to Memphis several of the rams extemporized at New Orleans. He entreated the Navy Department to allow him to remain, but the reply was that the main attack upon New Orleans would be from above, not from below. After the fleet entered the river he telegraphed from Memphis for permission to return, but received the answer that the proposition was wholly inadmissible. Before the Court of Inquiry upon the loss of New Orleans, he testified that the withdrawal of his ships was the chief cause of the disaster.(8)

[130] While the heavy ships were being dragged over the bar at the Southwest Pass, the mortar flotilla had entered the river under the command of Commander Porter. No time was avoidably lost, though there were inevitable delays due to the magnitude of the preparations that in every quarter taxed the energies of the Government. On the 16th of April, less than ten days after the Pensacola got safely inside, the fleet was anchored just out of range of the forts. On the 18th the mortar vessels were in position, and at 10 A. M. the bombardment by them began, continuing throughout the succeeding days till the passage of the fleet, and being chiefly directed upon Fort Jackson. From daylight to dark a shell a minute was fired, and as the practice was remarkably good a great proportion of these fell within the fort. As Farragut had predicted, they did not in the course of six days' bombardment do harm enough to compel a surrender or disable the work; but they undoubtedly harassed the garrison to an extent that exercised an appreciable effect upon the fire of Jackson during the passage.

While the bombardment was progressing, the lighter vessels of the squadron were continuously engaged by detachments in protecting the mortar flotilla, steaming up above it and drawing upon themselves the fire of the forts. A more important duty was the removal of the obstructions that the enemy had thrown across the river, below the works, but under their fire. Opinions differed, both in the United States squadron and in the counsels of the enemy, as to the power of the ships to pass the forts; but it was realized on both sides that any barrier to their passage which should force them to stop under [131] fire, or should throw confusion into their order, would materially increase the chances against them. Whatever the blindness or neglect of the Confederate Government, the Confederate officers of the department had not been remiss in this matter. The construction of a floating barrier had early engaged their attention, and, despite the difficulties presented by so rapid a current, a formidable raft had been placed early in the winter. It consisted of cypress logs forty feet long and four or five feet in diameter, lying lengthwise in the river, with an interval of three feet between them to allow drift to pass. The logs were connected by two and a half inch iron cables, stretching underneath from one side of the stream to the other; and the whole fabric was held up against the current by some thirty heavy anchors and cables. So long as it stood, this constituted a very grave difficulty for an attacking fleet; but the water was deep and the holding ground poor, so that even under average conditions there was reason to fear its giving way. The fleet arrived in the early spring, the season when the current, swollen by the melting snows about the head waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries, is at its strongest; and in 1862 the spring rise was greater than for many years. In February the raft began to show signs of yielding under the pressure of the drift wood accumulating on it from above, and on the 10th of March the cables had parted, the sections on either side being swept against the banks and leaving about a third of the river open. The gap was filled by anchoring in it eight heavy schooners of about two hundred tons burden. They were joined together as the cypress logs had been, but with lighter chains, probably because [132] no heavy ones were at hand; and, as a further embarrassment to the assailants, their masts were unstepped and allowed to drag astern with the rigging attached, in the hopes that by fouling the screws the ascending vessels might be crippled.

This central barrier of schooners was not intrinsically strong, but it was not to be despised, considering the very moderate speed possessed by the ships and the strength of the current which they had to stem. It was doubtful whether they could break through with so little loss of way as to produce no detention; and the mere presence of so many hulls on a dark night and under the added gloom of the battle's smoke was liable to increase a confusion which could redound only to the advantage of the defense. It became necessary, therefore, to remove the schooners in whole or in part. This was effected in a very daring manner by two gunboats, the Itasca and Pinola, Captains Caldwell and Crosby; the fleet captain, Henry H. Bell, an officer in whom Farragut had the most unbounded confidence, being placed in command of both. The work had to be done, of course, within range of the hostile batteries, which, through some culpable negligence, failed to molest it. The Pinola carried an electrician with a petard, by which it was hoped to shatter the chains. This attempt, however, failed, owing to the wires of the electrical battery parting before the charge could be exploded. The Itasca, on the other hand, ran alongside one of the schooners and slipped the chains; but, unfortunately, as the hulk was set adrift without Captain Caldwell being notified, and the engines of the gunboat were going ahead with the helm a-port, the two vessels turned [133] inshore and ran aground under fire of the forts. In this critical position the Itasca remained for some time, until the Pinola could be recalled to her assistance; and then several attempts had to be made before she finally floated. Caldwell then did an exceedingly gallant thing, the importance of which alone justified, but amply justified, its temerity. Instead of returning at once to the squadron, satisfied with the measure of success already attained, he deliberately headed up the river; and then, having gained sufficient ground in that direction to insure a full development of his vessel's speed, he turned and charged full upon the line of hulks. As she met the chains, the little vessel rose bodily three or four feet from the water, sliding up on them and dragging the hulks down with her. The chains stood the strain for an instant, then snapped, and the Itasca, having wrought a practicable breach, sped down to the fleet.

While these various accessory operations were going on, Admiral Farragut's mind was occupied with the important question of carrying out the object of his mission. The expedient of reducing or silencing the fire of the enemy's forts, in which he himself had never felt confidence, was in process of being tried; and the time thus employed was being utilized by clearing the river highway and preparing the ships to cut their way through without delay, in case that course should be adopted. Much had been done while at the Head of the Passes, waiting for the Pensacola to cross the bar; but the work was carried on unremittingly to the last moment. The loftier and lighter spars of all the vessels had already been sent ashore, together with all unnecessary [134] encumbrances, several of the gunboats having even unstepped their lower masts; and the various ordinary precautions, known to seamen under the name of "clearing ship for action," had been taken with reference to fighting on anchoring ground. These were particularized in a general order issued by the admiral, and to them he added special instructions, rendered necessary by the force of the current and its constancy in the same direction. "Mount one or two guns on the poop and top-gallant forecastle," he said; "in other words, be prepared to use as many guns as possible ahead and astern to protect yourself against the enemy's gunboats and batteries, bearing in mind that you will always have to ride head to the current, and can only avail yourself of the sheer of the helm to point a broadside gun more than three points (thirty-four degrees) forward of the beam.... Trim your vessel also a few inches by the head, so that if she touches the bottom she will not swing head down the river," which, if the stern caught the bottom, would infallibly happen, entailing the difficult manoeuvre and the perilous delay of turning round under the enemy's fire in a narrow river and in the dark. The vessels generally had secured their spare iron cables up and down their sides in the line of the boilers and engines; and these vital parts were further protected by piling around them hammocks, bags of sand or ashes, and other obstructions to shot. The outsides of the hulls were daubed over with Mississippi mud, to be less easily discerned in the dark; while the decks were whitewashed, so as to throw in stronger relief articles lying upon them which needed to be quickly seen.

[135] Having given his general instructions, the flag officer could intrust the details of preparation to his subordinates; but no one could relieve him of the momentous decision upon which the issues of the campaign must turn. The responsibility of rejecting one course of action and adopting another was his alone; and as has already been remarked, the wording of the department's order, literally understood, imposed upon him the task of reducing the forts before approaching the city. The questions involved were essentially the same as those presented to every general officer when the course of a campaign has brought him face to face with a strong position of the enemy. Shall it be carried by direct attack, and, until so subdued, arrest the progress of the army? or can it be rendered impotent or untenable by severing its communications and by operations directed against the district in its rear, which it protects, and upon which it also depends? The direct attack may be by assault, by investment, or by regular siege approaches; but whatever the method, the result is the same--the assailant is detained for a longer or shorter time before the position. During such detention the post fulfills its mission of securing the region it covers, and permits there the uninterrupted prosecution of the military efforts of every character which are designed to impede the progress of the invader.

To such cases no general rule applies; each turns upon particular conditions, and, although close similarities may exist between various instances, probably no two are entirely identical. It is evident, however, that very much will depend upon the offensive power shut up in the position under consideration. If it be [136] great walled town, such as are found on the Continent of Europe, behind whose defenses are sheltered numerous troops, the assailant who advances beyond it thereby exposes his communications to attack; and, to guard against this danger, must protect them by a force adequate to hold the garrison in check. If, again, there be but a single line by which the communications can be maintained, by which supplies and re-enforcements can go forward, and that line passes close under the work and is commanded by it, the garrison may be small, incapable of external action, and yet may vitally affect the future operations of the venturesome enemy who dares to leave it unsubdued behind him. Such, to some extent, was the Fort of Bard, in the narrow pass of the Dora Baltea, to Napoleon's crossing of the St. Bernard in 1800; and such, to some extent, would be Forts Jackson and St. Philip to Farragut's fleet after it had fought its way above. The Mississippi was the great line of communication for the fleet; no other was comparable to it--except as a by-path in a mountain is comparable to a royal highway--and the forts commanded the Mississippi. Their own offensive power was limited to the range of their guns; their garrisons were not fitted, either by their number or their aptitudes, for offensive action upon the water; but so long as their food and ammunition lasted, though an occasional vessel might run by them, no steady stream of supplies, such as every armed organization needs, could pass up the Mississippi. Finally, though the garrison could not move, there lay behind or under the forts a number of armed vessels, whose precise powers were unknown, but concerning which most exaggerated rumors were current.

[137] The question, therefore, looming before Farragut was precisely that which had been debated before the President in Washington; precisely that on which Fox had differed from Porter and Barnard. It was, again, closely analogous to that which divided Sherman and Grant when the latter, a year after Farragut ran by the forts, made his famous decision to cut adrift from his communications by the upper Mississippi, to march past Vicksburg by the west bank of the river, to cross below the works, and so cut off the great stronghold of the Mississippi from the country upon which it depended for food and re-enforcements.(9) But as Grant's decision rested upon [138] a balance of arguments applicable to the problem before him, so did Farragut's upon a calculation of the risks and advantages attendant, respectively, upon the policy of waiting for the forts to fall, or of speeding by them to destroy the resources upon which they depended.

The reasons in favor of waiting for the fall of the works were ably presented by Commander Porter in a paper which he asked to have read in a council of commanding officers of the fleet assembled on board the flag-ship on the third day of the bombardment, April 20. Farragut was already familiar with the arguments on both sides, and Porter's paper can be regarded only as an expression of views already uttered, but now invested with a formality becoming the seriousness of the occasion. In its finality it has somewhat the character of a protest, though indirect and couched in perfectly becoming language, against a decision which Farragut had now reached and which Porter had always combated. The latter [139] does not appear to have doubted the ability of the fleet to pass the works, but he questioned the utility and expediency of so doing. His words were as follows:(10)

"The objections to running by the forts are these: It is not likely that any intelligent enemy would fail to place chains across above the forts, and raise such batteries as would protect them against our ships. Did we run the forts we should leave an enemy in our rear, and the mortar vessels would have to be left behind. We could not return to bring them up without going through a heavy and destructive fire. If the forts are run, part of the mortars should be towed along, which would render the progress of the vessels slow against the strong current at that point. If the forts are first captured, the moral effect would be to close the batteries on the river and open the way to New Orleans; whereas, if we don't succeed in taking them, we shall have to fight our way up the river. Once having possession of the forts, New Orleans would be hermetically sealed, and we could repair damages and go up on our own terms and in our own time.... Nothing has been said about a combined attack of army and navy. Such a thing is not only practicable, but, if time permitted, should be adopted. Fort St. Philip can be taken with two thousand men covered by the ships, the ditch can be filled with fascines, and the wall is easily to be scaled with ladders. It can be attacked in front and rear."

In summoning his captains to meet him on this occasion, Farragut had no idea of calling a council-of-war [140] in the sense which has brought that name into disrepute. He sent for them, not because he wanted to make up his mind, but because it was made up, and he wished at once to impart to them his purposes and receive the benefit of any suggestion they might make. Bell, the chief-of-staff, who was present, has left a memorandum of what passed, which is interesting as showing that the members were not called to express an opinion as to the propriety of the attack, but to receive instructions as to the method, on which they could suggest improvements.

"April 20, 10 A. M. Signal was made for all captains commanding to repair on board the flag-ship. All being present except the three on guard to-day, viz., Commander De Camp and Lieutenants-Commanding Nichols and Russell, the flag-officer unfolded his plan of operations, assigning the places for every vessel in the fleet in the attack, and exhibited his charts of the river and of the forts. Some discussion was had thereupon, and Commander Alden read a written communication to the flag-officer from Commander Porter at his request, expressing his views as to the operation against the forts. Having read them, Commander Alden folded up the paper and returned it to his pocket, whereupon I suggested the propriety of the document being left with the flag-officer, and the paper was accordingly left in his hands. It was therein stated that the boom being a protection to the mortars against attacks of all kinds from above, the boom should not be destroyed until the forts were reduced. Upon this the flag-officer remarked that the commander had this morning assented to the propriety of the boom being broken tonight-- [141] which I heard--and, again, that the fleet should not go above the forts, as the mortar fleet would be left unprotected. The flag-officer thought the mortars would be as well protected above as below the forts, and that co-operation with the army, which entered into the plans of both parties, could not be effectual unless some of the troops were introduced above the forts at the same time that they are below. Once above, he intended to cover their landing at Quarantine, five miles above, they coming to the river through the bayou there. Once above, the forts were cut off and his propellers intact for ascending the river to the city. And in passing the forts, if he found his ships able to cope with them, he should fight it out. Some of the captains and commanders considered it a hazardous thing to go above, as being out of the reach of supplies. To this it may be said that the steamers can pass down at the rate of twelve miles an hour. The flag-officer remarked that our ammunition is being rapidly consumed without a supply at hand, and that something must be done immediately. He believed in celerity. It was proposed by myself and assented to by the flag-officer, that three steamers should go up the river shortly after dark, under my own guidance, to break the boom."

It appears from this account, supported by the general order issued immediately after it and given a few pages further on, that Farragut had definitely determined not to await the reduction of the forts, because the bombardment so far did not indicate any probability of effectual results. It was his deliberate opinion that the loss of time and the waste of effort were entailing greater risks than would be [142] caused by cutting adrift from his base and severing his own communications in order to strike at those of the enemy. It is commonly true that in the effort to cut the communications of an opponent one runs the risk of exposing his own; but in this case the attacking force was one pre-eminently qualified to control the one great medium of communication throughout that region--that is, the water. Also, although in surrendering the river Farragut gave up the great line of travel, he kept in view that the bayou system offered an alternative, doubtless greatly inferior, but which, nevertheless, would serve to plant above the forts, under the protection of the navy, such troops as should be deemed necessary; and that the combined efforts of army and navy could then maintain a sufficient flow of supplies until the forts fell from isolation. Finally, a fleet is not so much an army as a collection of floating fortresses, garrisoned, provisioned, and mobile. It carries its communications in its hulls, and is not in such daily dependence upon external sources as is the sister service.

In deciding, therefore, against awaiting the reduction of the forts by direct attack, and in favor of attempting the same result by striking at the interests they defended and the base on which they rested, Farragut was guided by a calculation of the comparative material risks and advantages of the two courses, and not mainly by consideration of the moral effect produced upon the defenders by a successful stroke, as has been surmised by Lord Wolseley. This eminent English authority attributes the success of the expedition against New Orleans to three causes. "First, the inadequate previous preparation [143] of the naval part of the New Orleans defenses; second, the want of harmonious working between the Confederate naval and military forces; and, lastly, Farragut's clear appreciation of the moral effect he would produce by forcing his way past the defenses of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, and by his appearance before New Orleans. For, after all, the forts were never captured by actual attack... This brilliant result is a striking instance of the due appreciation by a commander of the effect which daring achievements exert on men's minds, although, as in this case, those daring acts do not actually, directly, or materially make certain the end or surrender they may have secured." And, again, in another place: "Admiral Farragut's success was mainly due to the moral effect produced by his gallant passage of the forts.... He never reduced the forts, and seems to have done them but little harm."(11)

The moral effect produced in war upon men's minds, and through the mind upon their actions, is undeniable, and may rightly count for much in the calculations of a commander; but when it becomes the sole, or even the chief reliance, as in Bonaparte's advance into Carinthia in 1797, the spirit displayed approaches closely to that of the gambler who counts upon a successful bluff to disconcert his opponent. The serious objection to relying upon moral effect alone to overcome resistance is that moral forces do not admit of as close knowledge and measurement as do material conditions. The insight and moral strength of the enemy may be greater than you have means of knowing, and to [144] assume that they are less is to fall into the dangerous error of despising your enemy. To attribute to so dubious a hope, alone, the daring act of Admiral Farragut in passing the forts and encountering the imperfectly known dangers above, is really to detract from his fame as a capable as well as gallant leader. That there were risks and accidents to be met he knew full well; that he might incur disaster he realized; that the dangers above and the power of the enemy's vessels might exceed his expectations was possible; war can not be stripped of hazard, and the anxiety of the doubtful issue is the penalty the chieftain pays for his position. But Farragut was convinced by experience and reflection that his fleet could force its passage; and he saw that once above the material probabilities were that army and navy could be combined in such a position of vantage as would isolate the forts from all relief, and so "actually, directly, and materially make certain their surrender," and secure his end of controlling the lower Mississippi. There was only one road practicable to ships to pass above, and that led openly and directly under the fire of the forts; but having passed this, they were planted across the communications as squarely as if they had made a circuit of hundreds of miles, with all the secrecy of Bonaparte in 1800 and in 1805. Are strongholds never "captured" unless by "actual attack"? Did Ulm and Mantua yield to blows or to isolation?

Such, certainly, was the opinion of the able officers who conducted the Confederate defense, and whose conduct, except in matters of detail, was approved by the searching court of inquiry that passed upon it. "In my judgment," testified General [145] M. L. Smith, who commanded the interior line of works and was in no way responsible for the fall of Forts St. Philip and Jackson, "the forts were impregnable so long as they were in free and open communication with the city. This communication was not endangered while the obstruction existed. The conclusion, then, is briefly this: While the obstruction existed the city was safe; when it was swept away, as the defenses then existed, it was in the enemy's power."(12) General Lovell, the commander-in-chief of the military department, stated that he had made preparations to evacuate New Orleans in case the fleet passed the fort by sending out of the city several hundred thousand rations and securing transport steamers. He continued: "In determining upon the evacuation of the city I necessarily, as soon as the enemy's fleet had passed the forts, regarded the position the same as if both their army and navy were present before the city, making due allowance simply for the time it would take them to transport their army up. Inasmuch as their ships had passed Forts Jackson and St. Philip, they could at once place themselves in open and uninterrupted communication with their army at points from six to twenty miles above the forts through various small water communications from the Gulf, made more available by the extraordinary height of the river, and which, while they (we?) were in possession of the latter, I had easily and without risk defended with launches and part of the river-defense fleet. I had also stationed Szymanski's regiment at the Quarantine for the same object. These were, however, all destroyed or captured [146] by the enemy's fleet after they got possession of the river between the forts and the city."(13) Colonel Szymanski testified: "After the forts had been passed, it was practicable for the enemy to transport his army through the bayous and canals to New Orleans, without encountering the forts. A portion of the enemy did come that way. I have for many years owned a plantation fifteen miles below the city, and am very familiar with the whole country. I have never known the river as high as it was in 1862. Also, above English Turn (five miles below the city) there is water communication through Lake Borgne with the Gulf of Mexico by other bayous and canals of the same character."(14)

It is evident, therefore, that competent military men on the spot, and in full possession of all the facts, considered, as did Farragut, that with the passage of the forts by the fleet the material probabilities of success became in favor of the United States forces. The only moral effect produced was the mutiny of the half-disciplined alien troops that garrisoned the forts; and surely it will not be contended that any such wild anticipation as of that prompted Farragut's movement. The officers of the forts were trained and educated soldiers, who knew their duty and would not be crushed into submission by adverse circumstances. They would doubtless have replied, as did the commander of Fort Morgan two years later, that they looked upon the United States fleet above them as their prisoners, and they would have held out to the bitter end; but the end was certain as soon as the fleet passed above [147] them. They had provisions for two months; then, if not reduced by blows, they must yield to hunger.

Immediately after the conference with his captains, Farragut issued the following general order, from which it appears that, while his opinion remained unchanged as to the expediency of running by the forts, he contemplated the possibility, though not the probability, of their being subdued by the fire of the fleet, and reserved to himself freedom to act accordingly by prescribing a simple signal, which would be readily understood, and would convert the attempt to pass into a sustained and deadly effort to conquer:


MISSISSIPPI RIVER, April 20, 1862.

"The flag-officer, having heard all the opinions expressed by the different commanders, is of the opinion that whatever is to be done will have to be done quickly, or we shall be again reduced to a blockading squadron, without the means of carrying on the bombardment, as we have nearly expended all the shells and fuses and material for making cartridges. He has always entertained the same opinions which are expressed by Commander Porter--that is, there are three modes of attack,(15) and the question is, which is the one to be adopted? His own opinion is that a combination of two should be made, viz., the forts should be run, and when a force is once above the forts to protect the troops they should be landed at Quarantine from the Gulf side by bringing them through the bayou, and then our forces should move [148] up the river, mutually aiding each other as it can be done to advantage.

"When in the opinion of the flag-officer the propitious time has arrived, the signal will be made to weigh and advance to the conflict. If, in his opinion, at the time of arriving at the respective positions of the different divisions of the fleet we have the advantage, he will make the signal for close action, No. 8, and abide the result--conquer or be conquered--drop anchor or keep under way, as in his opinion is best.

"Unless the signal above mentioned is made, it will be understood that the first order of sailing will be formed after leaving Fort St. Philip, and we will proceed up the river in accordance with the original opinion expressed.

"The programme of the order of sailing accompanies this general order, and the commanders will hold themselves in readiness for the service as indicated.


Flag-officer Western Gulf Blockading Squadron."

Nothing can be clearer than that the opinion expressed and maintained by the flag-officer from the beginning was the one carried out, resulting in a complete success.

The bombardment by the mortar flotilla was continued three days longer, at the end of which time the provision of bombs immediately obtainable was becoming exhausted. Enough, however, remained to sustain a very vigorous fire during the period of the passage, and as the cover of darkness was desired the delay was not without its advantages, for the waning moon grew daily less and rose an hour later [149] each succeeding night. On the 23d notice was given to the ships that the attempt to pass would be made that night, and that, as half-past three was the hour of moon-rise, the signal, two red lights, would be hoisted at 2 A. M. During that afternoon Farragut personally visited each ship, in order to know positively that each commander understood his orders for the attack, and to see that all was in readiness.

The original intention of the flag-officer was to attack in two parallel columns, a more compact formation than one long one, less liable to straggling, and in which the heavy batteries of the larger ships would more effectually cover the lighter vessels by keeping down the fire of the enemy. In this arrangement, which remained unaltered until the 23d, the second in command, Captain Theodorus Bailey, whose divisional flag was flying in the gunboat Cayuga, would have had the right column, and the flag-officer himself the left in the Hartford. The latter was to be followed by the Brooklyn and Richmond, and upon these three heavy ships would fall the brunt of the engagement with Fort Jackson, the more powerful of the enemy's works. The right column also had its heaviest ships in the lead; the exceptional station of the Cayuga being due to some natural unwillingness on the part of other commanding officers to receive on board, as divisional commander and their own superior, an officer whose position in the fleet was simply that of captain of a single ship.(16) The Cayuga led, not in virtue of her [150] armament, but because she bore on board the commander of one column.

On the 23d Farragut, considering the narrowness of the opening in the obstructions through which the fleet must pass, decided that the risk of collision with the hulks on either side, or between the columns themselves, would be too great if he adhered to his written programme; and he accordingly gave a verbal order that the right column should weigh first, and be followed closely by the other under his own guidance. To facilitate the departure and avoid confusion, the ships of the right shifted their berth after dark to the east side of the river, anchoring in the order prescribed to them.

As some doubts had been expressed as to the actual rupture of the chains between the hulks on either side the breach, although they had evidently been dragged from their position by the efforts made on the night of the 20th, Lieutenant Caldwell was again chosen, at his own request, to make an examination of the actual conditions. This he did in the early part of the night, before the ships got under way; and it is a singular confirmation of the slackness and inefficiency that has been charged against the water service of the Confederates that he effected this duty thoroughly and without molestation. Twice he pulled above the hulks and thence allowed his boat to drift down between them, a heavy lead with sixty feet of line hanging from her bows. As this line caught on nothing it was clear that within the narrow limits of the breach no impediment to the passage of a vessel existed. By 11 P. M. Caldwell was on his return with this decisive and encouraging report.

[151] At 2 A. M. the appointed signal was made, and at once was heard in every direction the clank-clank of the chains as the seamen hove the anchors to the bows. The strength of the current and the tenacity of the bottom in some spots made this operation longer than had been expected, and not till half-past three did the leading vessel reach the line of bulks, followed closely by the rest of her division. There is something singularly impressive in the thought of these moments of silent tension, following the active efforts of getting under way and preceding the furious strife, for whose first outburst every heart on board was waiting; and the impression is increased by the petty size of the little vessel in the lead, which thus advanced with steady beating of the engines to bear the first blast of the storm. Favored partly by her size, and yet more by the negligence of those among the enemy whose duty it was to have kept the scene alight with the numerous fire-rafts provided for that very purpose, the Cayuga passed the hulks and was well on her way up river before she was seen. "Although it was a starlight night," wrote Lieutenant Perkins, who by her commander's direction was piloting the ship, "we were not discovered until well under the forts; then they opened upon us a tremendous fire." It was the prelude to a drama of singular energy and grandeur, for the Confederates in the forts were fully on their guard, and had anticipated with unshaken courage, but with gloomy forebodings, an attack during that very night. "There will be no to-morrow for New Orleans," had said the undaunted commander of Fort Jackson the day before, "if the navy does not at once move the Louisiana to the position assigned to [152] her," close to the obstructions. The Louisiana was a powerful ironclad battery, not quite complete when Farragut entered the river. She had been hurried down to the forts four days before the passage of the fleet, but her engines could not drive her, and the naval commander refused to take up the position, asked of him by the military authorities, below St. Philip, where he would have a cross fire with the forts, a close command of the line of obstructions, and would greatly prolong the gantlet of fire through which the fleet must run. To support the movement of the latter by drawing the fire and harassing the gunners of the enemy, Commander Porter moved up with the steamers of the mortar flotilla to easy range of the water battery under Fort Jackson, which he engaged; while the mortar schooners, as soon as the flash of the enemy's guns showed that the head of the column had been discovered, opened a furious bombardment, keeping two shells constantly in the air. Except for the annoyance of the bombs, the gunners of the forts had it much their own way until the broadsides of the Pensacola, which showed eleven heavy guns on either side, drew up abreast of them. "The Cayuga received the first fire," writes Perkins, "and the air was filled with shells and explosives which almost blinded me as I stood on the forecastle trying to see my way, for I had never been up the river before. I soon saw that the guns of the forts were all aimed for midstream, so I steered close under the walls of Fort St. Philip; and although our masts and rigging got badly shot through our hull was but little damaged." Small as she was--five hundred tons--and with the scanty top hamper of a schooner, the [153] Cayuga was struck forty-two times, below and aloft.

"After passing the last battery," continues Perkins, "and thinking we were clear, I looked back for some of our vessels, and my heart jumped up into my mouth when I found I could not see a single one. I thought they all must have been sunk by the forts." This seeming desertion was due to the fact that the heavy ships--the Pensacola, Mississippi, and Oneida--had been detained by the resolute manner in which the first stopped to engage Fort St. Philip. Stopping to fire, then moving slowly, then stopping again, the reiterated broadsides of this big ship, delivered at such close range that the combatants on either side exchanged oaths and jeers of defiance, beat down the fire of the exposed barbette batteries, and gave an admirable opportunity for slipping by to the light vessels, which brought up the rear of the column and were wholly unfit to contend with the forts. The Mississippi and Oneida keeping close behind the Pensacola and refusing to pass her, the Cayuga was thus separated from all her followers.

The isolation of the Cayuga was therefore caused by her anomalous position at the head of the column, a post proper only to a heavy ship. It was impossible for her petty battery of two guns to pause before the numerous pieces of the enemy; it was equally impossible for the powerful vessels following her to hasten on, leaving to the mercy of the Confederates the gunboats of the same type that succeeded them in the order. That the Cayuga was thus exposed arose from the amiable desire of the admiral to gratify Bailey's laudable wish to share in the battle, without compelling an officer of the same [154] grade, and junior only in number, to accept a superior on his own quarter-deck in the day of battle, when the harvest of distinction is expected to repay the patient sowing of preparation. The commander of the Cayuga, who was only a lieutenant, had reconciled these conflicting claims by volunteering to carry Bailey's divisional flag. As there is no reason to suppose that Farragut deliberately intended to offer the gunboat up as a forlorn hope by drawing the first fire of the enemy, always the most deadly, and thus saving the more important vessels, the disposition of her constitutes the only serious fault in his tactical arrangements on this occasion--a fault attributable not to his judgment, but to one of those concessions to human feelings which circumstances at times extort from all men. His first intention, an advance in two columns, the heavy ships leading and closely engaging the forts with grape and canister, while the two-gun vessels slipped through between the columns, met the tactical demands of the proposed operation. The decision to abandon this order in favor of one long, thin line, because of the narrowness of the opening, can not be challenged. This formation was distinctly weaker and more liable to straggling, but nothing could be so bad as backing, collision, or stoppage at the obstructions. In such an attack, however, as in all of Farragut's battles, it seems eminently fitting that the commander of the column should lead. The occasion is one for pilotage and example; and inasmuch as the divisional commander can not control, except by example, any ship besides the one on board which he himself is, that ship should be the most powerful in his command. These conclusions [155] may hereafter be modified by conditions of submarine warfare, though even under them it seems likely that in forcing passage into a harbor the van ship should carry the flag of the officer commanding the leading division; but under the circumstances of Farragut's day they may be accepted as representing his own convictions, first formed by the careful deliberation of a man with a genius for war, and afterward continually confirmed by his ever-ripening experience.

Left thus unsupported by the logical results of her false position, the Cayuga found herself exposed to an even greater danger than she had already run from the guns of the stationary works. "Looking ahead," says Perkins's letter, already quoted, "I saw eleven of the enemy's gunboats coming down upon us, and it seemed as if we were 'gone' sure." The vessels thus dimly seen in the darkness of the night were a heterogeneous, disorganized body, concerning which, however, very imperfect and very exaggerated particulars had reached the United States fleet. They were freely spoken of as ironclad gunboats and ironclad rams, and the Confederates had done all in their power to increase the moral effect which was attendant upon these names, then new to maritime warfare. None of them had been built with any view to war. Three only were sea-going, with the light scantling appropriate to their calling as vessels for freight and passenger traffic. Another had been a large twin-screw tugboat that began her career in Boston, and thence, shortly before the war, had been sent to the Mississippi. After the outbreak of hostilities she had been covered with an arched roof and three-quarter-inch iron; a nine-inch [156] gun, capable only of firing directly ahead, had been mounted in her bows, and, thus equipped, she passed into notoriety as the ram Manassas. With the miserable speed of six knots, to which, however, the current of the river gave a very important addition, and with a protection scarcely stronger than the buckram armor of the stage, the Manassas, by her uncanny appearance and by the persistent trumpeting of the enemy, had obtained a very formidable reputation with the United States officers, who could get no reliable information about her.

The remainder of the force were river steamboats, whose machinery was protected with cotton, and their stems shod with one-inch iron, clamped in place by straps of the same material extending a few feet aft. Thus strengthened, it was hoped that with the sharpness of their bows and the swiftness of the current they could, notwithstanding the exceeding lightness of their structure, penetrate the hulls of the United States ships. Resolutely and vigorously handled, there can be little doubt that they might have sunk one or two of their assailants; but there is no probability that they could under all the circumstances have done more. The obscurity of the night, the swiftness of the stream, and the number of actors in the confusing drama being played between the two banks of the Mississippi, would have introduced into the always delicate fencing of the ram extraordinary difficulties, with which the inexperience of their commanders was in no degree qualified to deal. The generally steady approach, bows on, of the United States ships, presented the smallest target to their thrust and gave to the threatened vessel the utmost facilities for avoiding the collision or converting [157] it into a glancing blow; while, as for rounding-to, to ram squarely on the beam of a ship stemming the current, the assailant, even if he displayed the remarkable nicety of judgment required, was not likely to find the necessary room.

These difficulties received illustration by the career of the Manassas that night. Her commander, Lieutenant Warley, was a former officer of the United States Navy, and he handled her with judgment and the utmost daring. Rushing nearly bows on upon the Pensacola, the thrust was wholly avoided by the quick moving of the latter's helm, which Warley characterized as beautiful; while the attempt made immediately afterward upon the Mississippi resulted in a merely glancing blow, which took a deep and long shaving out of the enemy's quarter, but did no serious damage. Not till a much later period of the action did the Manassas find an opportunity to charge squarely upon the beam of the Brooklyn. She did so across the current, striking therefore only with her own speed of six knots. But little shock was felt on board the rammed ship, and no apprehension of damage was experienced; but it was afterward found that the enemy's stem had entered between two frames, and crushed both the outer and inner planking. A few moments earlier the Brooklyn had been thrown across the current by the chances of the night. Had the ram then struck her in the same place, carrying the four knots additional velocity of the current, it is entirely possible that the mortification of the Confederate defeat would have derived some consolation from the sinking of one of Farragut's best ships. Such were the results obtained by a man of singular and resolute character, who drove his tiny vessel through the [158] powerful broadsides of the hostile fleet, and dared afterward to follow its triumphant course up the river, in hopes of snatching another chance from the jaws of defeat.

Another example, equally daring and more successful, of the power of the ram, was given that same night by Kennon, also an ex-officer of the United States Navy; but the other ram commanders did not draw from their antecedent training and habits of thought the constancy and pride, which could carry their frail vessels into the midst of ships that had thus victoriously broken their way through the bulwarks of the Mississippi. The River-Defense Fleet, as it was called, was a separate organization, which owned no allegiance and would receive no orders from the navy; and its absurd privileges were jealously guarded by a government whose essential principle was the independence of local rights from all central authority. Captains of Mississippi River steamboats, their commanders held to the full the common American opinion that the profession of arms differs from all others in the fact that it requires no previous training, involves no special habits of thought, is characterized by no moral tone which only early education or years of custom can impart. Rejecting all suggestion and neglecting all preparation, they cherished the most inordinate confidence in the raw native valor which they were persuaded would inspire them at the critical moment; and, incredible as it would seem, some of the men who in the battle could find no other use for their boats but to run them ashore and burn them, ventured to tell Warley the night before that their mission was to show naval officers how to fight. They did not lack [159] courage, but that military habit upon whose influence Farragut had so acutely remarked when a youth, returning in 1820 from the European station.(17) "Had regular naval officers," said Kennon bitterly, "instead of being kept in the mud forts on the creeks in Virginia, and in the woods of Carolina cutting timbers to build ironclads, been sent to command these vessels, even at the eleventh hour, they would have proved very formidable."

Steaming into the midst of such as these, the peril of the Cayuga, real enough, was less than it seemed; but she had to do at once with Warley's Manassas and with the Governor Moore, the vessel that Kennon commanded, and which afterward sunk the Varuna. "Three made a dash to board us," records Lieutenant Perkins, agreeing therein with the official reports of Captain Bailey and of his own commander, Lieutenant Harrison; "but a heavy charge from our eleven-inch gun settled the Governor Moore, which was one of them. A ram, the Manassas, in attempting to butt us just missed our stern, and we soon settled the third fellow's 'hash.' Just then some of our gunboats which had passed the forts came up, and then all sorts of things happened." This last expression is probably as terse and graphic a summary of a mêlée, which to so many is the ideal of a naval conflict, as ever was penned. "There was the wildest excitement all round. The Varuna fired a broadside into us instead of into the enemy. Another of our gunboats attacked one of the Cayuga's prizes; I shouted out, 'Don't fire into that ship, she has surrendered.' [160] Three of the enemy's ships had surrendered to us before any of our vessels appeared; but when they did come up we all pitched in, and settled the eleven rebel vessels in about twenty minutes." Besides the eleven armed boats known to have been above, there were several unarmed tugs and other steamers, some of which probably shared in this wild confusion. One at least came into conflict with the Hartford.

The second column, led by the flag-ship, was promptly away and after the first; following, indeed, so closely that the head of the one lapped the rear of the other. The Brooklyn and Richmond, close behind the Hartford, formed with her a powerful "body of battle," to use the strong French expression for the center of a fleet. Though called sloops-of-war, the tonnage and batteries of these ships were superior to those of the medium ships-of-the-line of the beginning of this century, with which Nelson fought his celebrated battles. As the flag-ship reached the hulks the night, which, though very dark, was fairly clear, had become obscured by the dense clouds of smoke that an almost breathless atmosphere suffered to settle down upon the water. Only twenty minutes had elapsed since the forts opened upon the Cayuga, when Farragut's flag entered the battle. Soon after passing the obstructions, and when about to sheer in toward Fort Jackson, upon which was to be concentrated her own battery and that of her two formidable followers, a fire-raft was observed coming down the river in such a way as to make contact probable if the course were not changed. Heading across the river, and edged gradually over by the raft continuing to work toward her, the ship took the ground a little above Fort [161] St. Philip, but still under its batteries. While in this dangerous position, the raft, whose movements proved to be controlled not by the current but by a small tugboat, was pushed against her port quarter. The flames caught the side of the ship, spread swiftly along it, leaped into the rigging and blazed up toward the tops. The danger was imminent, and appeared even more so than it was; for the body of heat, though great, was scarcely sufficient to account for such a rapid spread of the flames, which was probably due mainly to the paint. The thoroughly organized fire department soon succeeded in quenching the conflagration, its source being removed by training some of the after-guns upon the daring pygmy, which with such reckless courage had well-nigh destroyed the commander-in-chief of her enemy's fleet. The tug received a shot in her boilers and sunk. The Hartford backed clear, but in so doing fell off broadside to the stream, thereby affording another chance to the hostile rams, had there been one prepared to dare the hazard. Watson, the flag-lieutenant, remarks that the flag-officer stood during this critical period giving his orders and watching the ship slowly turn, referring occasionally to a little compass which was attached to his watch-chain. During most of the engagement, however, he was forward observing the conflict.

The Brooklyn and Richmond, with the Sciota and the Iroquois, which followed immediately after them, fought their way through with more or less of adventure, but successfully reached the river above the forts. It is to be observed, however, that these, as well as the Hartford, suffered from the embarrassment of the smoke, which had inconvenienced the [162] ships of the first column to a much less degree. This was to be expected, and doubtless contributed to the greater loss which they suffered, by delaying their progress and giving uncertainty to their aim; the result of the latter being naturally to intensify the action of the hostile gunners. Four gunboats brought up the rear of the column, of which but one got through, and she with a loss greater than any vessel of her class. The three last failed to pass. Blinded by smoke and further delayed by the tendency to open out, which is observable in all long columns, they came under the fire of the forts at a time when, the larger vessels having passed, they were no longer covered or supported by their fire, and when day was about to break. The Itasca, commanded by the gallant Caldwell, who had so nobly broken through the obstructions, opposing only her puny battery to the concentrated wrath of the forts, was knocked about by them at will, received a shot through her boiler and drifted down the river out of action. The Winona likewise encountered almost alone, or perhaps in company with the Itasca, the fire of the enemy. After nearly running ashore in the smoke, daylight surprised her while still under fire below the works; and her commander very properly decided not to risk the total destruction and possible capture of his vessel for the sake of adding her insignificant force to that above. Admirably as the gunboats were officered, perhaps their most useful service on this night was to demonstrate again the advantage of big ships, as of big battalions.

Thirteen out of his seventeen vessels having rallied around his flag above the forts, and the three below being of the least efficient type, the flag-officer [163] could congratulate himself upon a complete victory, won with but little loss. One vessel only was sacrificed, and she to that inconsiderate ardor which in so many cases of pursuit leads men, without any necessity, out of reach of support. The Varuna, the fifth in the order, and the only merchant-built vessel in the fleet, after clearing the forts had steamed rapidly through the Confederate flotilla, firing right and left, but not stopping. She soon passed above it, and getting sight of a small steamer heading for New Orleans, sped away after her. Kennon, in the Governor Moore, happened to have noticed this movement; and, finding by the rapid accessions to the number of his enemies that he was likely to be soon overwhelmed, he determined to follow this one which, whatever her strength, he might tackle alone. Stealing out of the mêlée he started up the river, hoisting lights similar to those he had observed the enemy's ships to carry. Deceived by this ruse, the Varuna at the first paid no attention to her pursuer, some distance behind whom followed one of the River-Defense boats, the Stonewall Jackson. When Kennon at last opened fire, the Varuna, having by then run down her steam in her headlong speed, was being rapidly overtaken. The second shot from the Moore raked the Varuna's deck, killing and wounding twelve men. The Union vessel's helm was then put hard-a-port, swinging her broadside to bear upon her approaching foe, who was naturally expected to imitate the movement, opposing side to side to avoid being raked. Instead of so doing Kennon kept straight on, and, while receiving a deadly raking fire from his antagonist's battery, which struck down many of his men, he succeeded in driving the sharp [164] stem of the Moore through the side of the Varuna. A few moments after the Stonewall Jackson coming up also rammed the disabled enemy, whose commander then drove her ashore on the east side of the river, where she sank. By this time the corvette Oneida had made out the state of the case. Steaming rapidly ahead, she overhauled the Confederate vessels; which, finding they could not escape, ran ashore, the Jackson on the west bank, the Moore on the east, and in those positions they were surrendered.

Farragut had undertaken this daring exploit with the expectation that, after passing the forts, he could obtain the co-operation of the army, and that the action of the two services, combined in mutual support, would suffice to force the way to New Orleans. The occupation of the land by the army, and of the water by the navy, interposing by the nature of their operations between the city and the forts, would effectually isolate the latter. In accordance with this plan he at once sent Captain Boggs, of the Varuna, through the Quarantine Bayou with messages to Commander Porter and General Butler. The latter was notified that the way was now clear to land his troops through the bayou, in accordance with the previous arrangements, and that gunboats would be left there to protect them against those of the enemy, of which three or four were seen to be still at the forts. Boggs passed successfully through the country and streams which a day before had been in quiet possession of the enemy, though it took him twenty-six hours to do so; but General Butler, who from a transport below had witnessed the success of the fleet, had waited for no further tidings. [165] Hurrying back to his troops, he collected them at Sable Island, twelve miles in rear of Fort St. Philip, whence they were transported and landed at a point on the river five miles above the work, where the Kineo and Wissahickon awaited them.

During the remainder of the 24th the fleet stayed at anchor off the Quarantine station, to repose the crews after the excessive labor and excitement of the previous night. Early the next morning all got under way except the two gunboats left to support Butler's troops, and moved up stream; but slowly, owing to the indifferent speed of some and to want of knowledge of the river. At half-past ten they reached English Turn, five miles below the city; the point where the British forces had in 1815 been so disastrously repelled in their assault upon the earthworks held by Jackson's riflemen. The Confederates had fortified and armed the same lines on both sides of the Mississippi, as part of the interior system of defenses to New Orleans; the exterior line being constituted by Forts Jackson and St. Philip, together with several smaller works at different points, commanding the numerous subsidiary approaches through the Mississippi delta. The interior lines at English Turn, known as the Chalmette and McGehee batteries, were, however, intended only to check an approach of troops from down the river. Their general direction was perpendicular to the stream; and along its banks there ran only a short work on either side to protect the main entrenchments from an enfilading fire by light vessels, which might, in company with an invading army, have managed to turn the lower forts by passing through the bayous. These river batteries, mounting respectively nine [166] and five guns, were powerless to resist the ships that had successfully passed the main defenses of the city. After a few shots, fired rather for the honor of the flag than in any hope of successful result, the guns were forsaken; and both lines of entrenchments, being turned and taken in the rear, were abandoned.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans a scene of fearful confusion was growing hourly more frenzied. Whatever the fears of the military commanders as to the result of the attack upon the forts, they had very properly concealed them from the inhabitants; and these, swayed by the boastful temper common to mobs, had been readily led to despise the efforts of the enemy and to trust implicitly in the power of their defenses. General Lovell, commanding the department, had gone down to the forts the evening before the attack, and was still there when the United States fleet was breaking its way through; he was, in fact, on board the little steamer, the pursuit of which lured the Varuna into the isolation where she met her fate. The news of the successful forcing of the exterior and principal defenses thus reached the city soon after it was effected; and at the same time Lovell, satisfied from the first that if the forts were passed the town was lost, prepared at once to evacuate it, removing all the Government property. This in itself was a service of great difficulty. New Orleans is almost surrounded by water or marsh; the only exit was to the northward by a narrow strip of dry land, not over three quarters of a mile wide, along the river bank, by which passed the railroad to Jackson, in the State of Mississippi. As has already been said, Lovell had by this road been quietly removing army rations for some time, but had abstained [167] from trying to carry off any noticeable articles by which his apprehensions would be betrayed to the populace. The latter, roused from its slumber of security with such appalling suddenness, gave way to an outburst of panic and fury; which was the less controllable because so very large a proportion of the better and stronger element among the men had gone forth to swell the ranks of the Confederate army. As in a revolution in a South American city, the street doors were closed by the tradesmen upon the property in their stores; but without began a scene of mad destruction, which has since been forcibly portrayed by one, then but a lad of fourteen years, who witnessed the sight.

Far down the stream, and throughout their ascent, the ships were passing through the wreckage thus made. Cotton bales, cotton-laden ships and steamers on fire, and working implements of every kind such as are used in ship-yards, were continually encountered. On the piers of the levees, where were huge piles of hogsheads of sugar and molasses, a mob, composed of the scum of the city, men and women, broke and smashed without restraint. Toward noon of the 25th, as the fleet drew round the bend where the Crescent City first appears in sight, the confusion and destruction were at their height. "The levee of New Orleans," says Farragut in his report, "was one scene of desolation. Ships, steamers, cotton, coal, etc., were all in one common blaze, and our ingenuity was much taxed to avoid the floating conflagration. The destruction of property was awful." Upon this pandemonium, in which the fierce glare of burning property lit up the wild passions and gestures of an infuriated people, the windows of heaven were opened [168] and a drenching rain poured down in torrents. The impression produced by the ships as they came in sight around the bend has been graphically described by the boy before mentioned. who has since become so well-known as an author--Mr. George W. Cable. "I see the ships now, as they come slowly round Slaughter House Point into full view, silent, grim, and terrible; black with men, heavy with deadly portent, the long-banished Stars and Stripes flying against the frowning sky. Oh! for the Mississippi! for the Mississippi!" (an iron-clad vessel nearly completed, upon which great hopes had been based by the Confederates). "Just then she came down. But how? Drifting helplessly, a mass of flames.

"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 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. And now the rain came down in torrents."

That same morning, as though with the purpose of embarrassing the victor whom he could not oppose, the Mayor of New Orleans had ordered the State flag of Louisiana to be hoisted upon the City Hall. His secretary, who was charged with this office, waited to fulfill it until the cannonade at English Turn had ceased, and it was evident the fleet had passed the last flimsy barrier and would within an hour appear before the city. The flag was then run up; and the Mayor had the satisfaction of creating a position of very unnecessary embarrassment for all parties by his useless bravado.

To Captain Bailey, the second in command, who [169] had so gallantly led both in the first assault and in the attack at Chalmette, was assigned the honor of being the first to land in the conquered city and to demand its surrender. It was no barren honor, but a service of very sensible personal danger to which he was thus called. General Lovell having to devote his attention solely to his military duties, the city which had so long been under martial law was escaping out of the hands of the civil authorities and fast lapsing into anarchy. Between one and two in the afternoon Bailey landed, accompanied by Perkins, the first lieutenant of the Cayuga; who, having shared his former perils, was permitted to accompany him in this one also. "We took just a boat and a boat's crew," writes Perkins, "with a flag of truce, and started off. When we reached the wharf there were no officials to be seen; no one received us, although the whole city was watching our movements, and the levee was crowded in spite of a heavy rainstorm. Among the crowd were many women and children, and the women were shaking rebel flags and being rude and noisy. They were all shouting and hooting as we stepped on shore.... As we advanced the mob followed us in a very excited state. They gave three cheers for Jeff Davis and Beauregard and three groans for Lincoln. Then they began to throw things at us, and shout 'Hang them' 'Hang them!' We both thought we were in a bad fix, but there was nothing for us to do but just to go on.' Mr. Cable has given his description of the same scene: "About one or two in the afternoon, I being in the store with but one door ajar, came a roar of shoutings and imprecations and crowding feet down Common Street. 'Hurrah for Jeff Davis!' [170] 'Shoot them!' 'Kill them!' 'Hang them!' I locked the door of the store on the outside and ran to the front of the mob, bawling with the rest, 'Hurrah for Jeff Davis!' About every third man had a weapon out. Two officers of the United States navy were walking abreast, unguarded and alone, not looking to the right or left, never frowning, never flinching, while the mob screamed in their ears, shook cocked pistols in their faces, cursed, crowded, and gnashed upon them. So through those gates of death those two men walked to the City Hall to demand the town's surrender. It was one of the bravest deeds I ever saw done."

Farragut's demand, made through Bailey, was that the flag of Louisiana should be hauled down from the City Hall, and that of the United States hoisted over the buildings which were its property, namely, the Custom House, Post Office, and Mint. This the Mayor refused to do; and, as Farragut had no force with which to occupy the city, it became a somewhat difficult question to carry on an argument with the authorities of a town protected by the presence of so many women and children. The situation was for three days exceedingly critical, from the temper and character of the mob and from the obstinacy and powerlessness of the officials. It was doubtless as much as the life of any citizen of the place was worth to comply with the admiral's demands. On the other hand, while there could be no difficulty in hoisting the United States flag, there would be much in protecting it from insult with the means at the flag-officer's disposal; for to open fire upon a place where there were so many helpless creatures, innocent of any greater offense than behaving [171] like a set of spoiled children, was a course that could not be contemplated unless in the last necessity, and it was undesirable to provoke acts which might lead to any such step. The United States officers who were necessarily sent to communicate with the authorities did so, in the opinion of the authorities themselves, at the peril of their lives from a mob which no one on shore could control. On the 28th of April, however, Forts Jackson and St. Philip surrendered to Commander Porter in consequence of a mutiny in their garrisons, which refused to fight any longer, saying further resistance was useless; and the following day Farragut sent ashore a body of two hundred and fifty marines with two howitzers manned by seamen from the Hartford, the whole under the command of the fleet-captain, Captain Henry H. Bell. The force was formally drawn up before the City Hall, the howitzers pointing up and down the street, which was thronged with people. Fearing still that some rash person in the crowd might dare to fire upon the men who were hauling down the flag, the Mayor took his stand before one of the howitzers; a sufficient intimation to the mob that were murder done he would be the first victim to fall in expiation. The United States flag was then hoisted over the Custom House, and left flying under the protection of a guard of marines.

Thus was timely and satisfactorily completed an act, by which Farragut signalized and sealed the fact that the conquest of New Orleans and of its defenses, from the original conception of the enterprise to its complete fulfillment by the customary tokens of submission and taking possession, was wholly the [172] work of the United States Navy; of which he, by his magnificent successes, became the representative figure. It was a triumph won over formidable difficulties by a mobile force, skillfully directed and gallantly fought. By superior promptitude and a correct appreciation of the true strategic objective had been reduced to powerlessness obstacles not to be overcome by direct assault, except by a loss of time which would have allowed the enemy to complete preparations possibly fatal to the whole undertaking. Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which the fleet could not have reduced by direct attack, fell by the severance of their communications.

It is not to be questioned that the moral effect of the passage of the forts, succeeded, as it was, by the immediate fall of the great city of the Mississippi, was very great; but it was not upon the forts themselves, nor in the unexpected mutiny of the garrison, that that effect was chiefly manifested. Great as was the crime of the men, they showed by their act a correct appreciation of those results to the forts, from the passage of the fleet, which some have sought to ignore--results physical, undeniable, fatal. It was not moral effect, but indisputable reasoning which sapped the further resistance of men--brave till then--to whom were wanting the habit of discipline and the appreciation of the far-reaching effects upon the fortunes of a campaign produced by a prolonged, though hopeless, resistance. They saw that the fate of the forts was sealed, and beyond that they recognized no duties and no advantages. On the scene of his exploit Farragut reaped the material fruits of the celerity in which he believed; and which he had reluctantly for a space [173] postponed, at the bidding of superior authority, in order to try the effect of slower methods. These being exhausted, he owed to the promptness of his decision and action that the Louisiana, on whose repairs men were working night and day, did not take the advantageous position indicated to her by the officers of the forts; and that the Mississippi, the ironclad upon which not only the designers, but naval officers, founded extravagant hopes, was neither completed nor towed away, but burned where she lay. The flaming mass, as it drifted hopelessly by the Hartford, was a striking symbol of resistance crushed--of ascendancy established over the mighty river whose name it bore; but it was a symbol not of moral, but of physical victory.

It was elsewhere, far and wide, that were felt the moral effects which echoed the sudden, unexpected crash with which the lower Mississippi fell--through the length and breadth of the South and in the cabinets of foreign statesmen, who had believed too readily, as did their officers on the spot, that the barrier was not to be passed--that the Queen City of the Confederacy was impregnable to attack from the sea. Whatever may have been the actual purposes of that mysterious and undecided personage, Napoleon III, the effect of military events, whether on sea or shore, upon the question of interference by foreign powers is sufficiently evident from the private correspondence which, a few months after New Orleans, passed between Lords Palmerston and Russell, then the leading members of the British Cabinet.(18) Fortunately for the cause of the United States, France [174] and Great Britain were not of a mind to combine their action at the propitious moment; and the moral effect of the victory at New Orleans was like a cold plunge bath to the French emperor, at the time when he was hesitating whether to act alone. It produced upon him even more impression than upon the British Government; because his ambitions for French control and for the extension of the Latin races on the American continent were especially directed toward Louisiana, the former colony of France, and toward its neighbors, Texas and Mexico.

The sympathies, however, of the classes from whom were chiefly drawn the cabinets of the two great naval States were overwhelmingly with the South; and the expressions alike of the emperor and of his principal confidants at this time were designedly allowed to transpire, both to the Southern commissioners and to the British Government. On the very day that Porter's mortar schooners opened on Fort Jackson, Louis Napoleon unbosomed himself to a member of the British Parliament, who visited him as an avowed partisan of the Confederate cause. He said that while he desired to preserve a strict neutrality, he could not consent that his people should continue to suffer from the acts of the Federal Government. He thought the best course would be to make a friendly appeal to it, either alone or concurrently with England, to open the ports; but to accompany the appeal with a proper demonstration of force upon our coasts, and, should the appeal seem likely to be ineffectual, to back it by a declaration of his purpose not to respect the blockade. The taking of New Orleans, which he did not then anticipate, might render it inexpedient to act; that he would [175] not decide at once, but would wait some days for further intelligence.(19) Similar semi-official assurances came from different persons about the emperor; and the members of the Cabinet, with a single exception, showed little reserve in their favorable expressions toward the Confederacy.

A few weeks later Mr. Slidell had a conversation with M. Billault, the minister sans portefeuille, one of the most conservative and cautious men in the Cabinet, who represented the Government in the Chambers upon all subjects connected with foreign affairs. Slidell read a note which he had received from Sir Charles Wood, a leading Southern sympathizer in England, denying that the British Government was unwilling to act in American affairs--a denial to which some color is given by the correspondence of Palmerston and Russell before mentioned. In answer, M. Billault declared that the French Cabinet, with the possible exception of M. Thouvénel, had been unanimously in favor of the South, and added that if New Orleans had not fallen its recognition would not have been much longer delayed; but, even after that disaster, if decided successes were obtained in Virginia and Tennessee, or the enemy were held at bay for a month or two, the same result would follow. After an interview with M. Thouvénel, about the same time, Slidell reported that, though that minister did not directly say so, his manner gave fair reason to infer that if New Orleans had not been taken, and no very serious reverses were suffered in Virginia and Tennessee, recognition would very soon have been declared.(20)

[176] In its moral effect, therefore, the fall of the river forts and of New Orleans, though not absolutely and finally decisive of the question of foreign intervention, corresponded to one of those telling blows, by which a general threatened by two foes meets and strikes down one before the other comes up. Such a blow may be said to decide a campaign; not because no chance is left the enemy to redeem his misfortune, but because without the first success the weaker party would have been overwhelmed by the junction of his two opponents. The heart-rending disasters to our armies during the following summer does but emphasize the immense value to the Union cause of the moral effect produced by Farragut's victory. Those disasters, as it was, prompted the leaders of the British ministry to exchange confidences in which they agreed on the expediency of mediation. They did not carry all their colleagues with them; but who can estimate the effect, when the scales were thus balancing, if the navy had been driven out of the Mississippi as the army was from Virginia?





The purpose of the Navy Department, as expressed in the original orders to Farragut, had been to send his squadron up the river immediately after the capture of New Orleans. The words were: "If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo shall not have descended the river, you will take advantage of the panic to push a strong force up the river to take all their defenses in the rear." When New Orleans fell, the Cairo expedition, more commonly known as the Mississippi flotilla, so far from having descended the river to the neighborhood of New Orleans, was still detained before Fort Pillow, one of the outlying defenses of Memphis, forty miles above the latter city and over eight hundred from New Orleans. It was not until the end of May that the evacuation of Corinth by the Confederates made Memphis untenable, leading to the abandonment of the forts on the 4th of June and the surrender of the city on the following day. It became therefore incumbent upon Farragut, after turning over the command of New Orleans to Butler on the 1st of May, to go up the river as soon as he possibly could.

Although the flag-officer seems to have acquiesced [178] in this programme in the beginning, it was probably with the expectation that the advance, up river and against the current, required of his heavy-draught and slow-moving ships would not be very far; that the Cairo expedition, which at the date of the orders quoted, January 20th, had not begun to move, would, from the character of the vessels composing it, many being ironclad, and from the advantage of the current, have progressed very far by the time he had taken New Orleans. Moreover, at that date the upper river flotilla was still a branch of the army, and its prospective movements were to be in combination with, and a part of, a great military enterprise, securing control both of the stream and of the land; whereas Farragut's was a purely naval operation, to which the army contributed only a force sufficient to hold the points which were first reduced by the fleet.

Under the actual conditions, the proposed ascent of the river bore a very different aspect to the commanding naval officer on the spot from that which presented itself to the fond imaginations of the officials in Washington. The question now was not one of fighting batteries, for there was no reason as yet to expect anything heavier than the fleet had already overcome with ease; it was the far more difficult matter of communications, in the broadest scope of the word, to be maintained over a long, narrow, tortuous, and very difficult road, passing in many places close under the guns of the enemy. "As I stated in my last dispatch," wrote Farragut to the department after his first visit to Vicksburg, "the dangers and difficulties of the river have proved to us, since we first entered it, much greater impediments [179] to our progress, and more destructive to our vessels, than the enemy's shot. Between getting aground, derangement of the machinery, and want of coal, the delays in getting up the river are great." To take the defenses in the rear, and in their then state to drive the enemy out of them, was one thing; but to hold the abandoned positions against the return of the defenders, after the fleet had passed on, required an adequate force which Butler's army, calculated by McClellan for a much narrower sphere, could not afford. Coal and supply ships, therefore, must either run the gantlet for the four hundred miles which separated Vicksburg from New Orleans, or be accompanied always by armed vessels. The former alternative was incompatible with the necessary security, and for the latter the numbers of the fleet were utterly inadequate. In fact, to maintain the proposed operations, there would be needed so many ships to guard the communications that there would be none left for the operations to which they led.

It must also be observed that not only was this line of communications four times as long as that which led from the sea to New Orleans, and of far more difficult pilotage, but that the natural character of the enemy's positions upon it was essentially different. They were as yet undeveloped by art; but by nature they were high and commanding bluffs, having secure land communications with an extensive enemy's country in their rear over which our troops exercised no control whatever--where they had not even been seen. To speak of "taking them in the rear" was to beg the question--to assume that their front was then, as in June, 1863, toward an enemy investing them on the land side. New [180] Orleans and the region below, including its defenses and the communications therewith, were low-lying and intersected with numerous water-courses; over such a navy naturally exercises a preponderating control. Above New Orleans the low delta of the Mississippi extends, indeed, on the west bank as far as the Red River, if it may not be said to reach to Vicksburg and beyond; but on the east bank it ceases one hundred and fifty miles from the city. From thence to Vicksburg, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles, the stream is bordered by a series of bluffs backing on a firm country of moderate elevation. Such positions are not to be reduced from the water alone. On the contrary, if the water be a narrow strip swept by their guns, they command it; while, from the extent of country in their rear, they are not susceptible of isolation by fleets above and below, as were Forts Jackson and St. Philip.

This series of bluffs became, therefore, the line upon which the Confederates based their control of the Mississippi and maintained their vital communications with Texas and the Red River region. It could be reduced only by a military force; and to think of subduing it by a fleet taking advantage of the panic following the fall of New Orleans, was truly to rely upon moral effect without adequate physical force to support it. It is due to the Navy Department to say that they expected the army from the North to advance more rapidly than it did; but, without seeking to assign the blame, the utterly useless penetration of the United States fleet four hundred miles into the heart of the enemy's country and its subsequent mortifying withdrawal, when contrasted with the brilliant success [181] resulting from Farragut's dash by the forts, afford a very useful lesson in the adaptation of means to ends and the selection of a definite objective, upon compassing which something happens. The object of the United States Government being to control the lower Mississippi, that was effected by means of isolating its defenses, which then fell. When the further object was sought of controlling the course of the stream above, the mere perambulation of a body of ships effected nothing, because it aimed at nothing in particular, and could have no effect upon the decisive points.

Of all these considerations Farragut was fully sensible; and, while he obeyed his orders, he showed in his dispatches to the Department, and in private letters of the same period, how much against his judgment were operations conceived on such erroneous military principles and undertaken with such inadequate force. The Department was forward to press him on, and as early as the 17th of May sent a dispatch intimating that he had forgotten his orders on the subject; and he was urged and required to open up the Mississippi to Flag-officer Davis's command (the Mississippi flotilla), then still above Memphis. This and other letters of the same date must have been peculiarly exasperating; for they were received early in June, when he had been up the river as far as Vicksburg and satisfied himself that without an adequate force of troops nothing could be accomplished. "The Department," he replies, "seems to have considered my fleet as having escaped all injury, and that when they arrived off New Orleans they were in condition to be pushed up the river. This was not the case; but, the moment the [182] vessels could be gotten ready, the gunboats were all sent up under the command of Commander S. P. Lee, with directions to proceed to Vicksburg take that place, and cut the railroad.... From all I could hear it was not considered proper, even with pilots, to risk the ships beyond Natchez.... By the time Commander Lee arrived at Vicksburg (May 18th) he was satisfied that the force of the enemy was too great for him to venture to take the town, or even to pass it. The land in the rear of Vicksburg is about two hundred feet high, on which are placed some eight and ten inch columbiads, which are perfectly secure from our fire.... I determined to get the heavy ships up there if possible, which I did a day or two after. General Williams arrived in the mean time with fifteen hundred men, when I proposed to him, if he could carry the battery on the hill, I would attack the town. He made a careful reconnaissance, and returned to me in the afternoon, when I had all the (naval) commanders assembled. He reported that it would be impossible for him to land, and that he saw no chance of doing anything with the place so long as the enemy were in such force, having at their command thirty thousand men within one hour by railroad. A large majority of the commanders concurred with him in the opinion."

Writing to his home about this council, in which, contrary to his independent decision when below Fort Jackson, he yielded to the advice of his captains, he said: "I did not pass Vicksburg; not because it was too strongly fortified; not because we could not have passed it easily enough, but we would have been cut off from our supplies of coal and [183] provisions. We would have been placed between two enemies (Vicksburg and Memphis), and so the captains advised me not to do it. I was very sick at the time, and yielded to their advice, which I think was good; but I doubt if I would have taken it had I been well." Here is seen, transpiring vividly enough, the uncertainty and indecision arising from the conflict between the orders of the Department and his own sounder judgment. He would fain obey; yet no orders could override, though they might cruelly embarrass, the responsibility of the officer in command on the spot. "Fighting is nothing," he adds, "to the evils of the river--getting on shore, running foul of one another, losing anchors, etc." "The army," he resumes in his dispatch to the Department, "had been sent up early with a few days' rations, and I was compelled to supply them from the squadron, thereby reducing our own supplies, which were barely sufficient to bring the ships back to New Orleans, making allowance for probable delays. The river was now beginning to fall, and I apprehended great difficulty in getting down should I delay much longer. In the mean time coal vessels had been towed up the river just above Natchez (a hundred miles below Vicksburg), which vessels I was obliged to bring down and keep in company with the vessels of war, for fear of their being captured by the guerrilla bands which appear to infest almost the entire banks of the river wherever there are rapids and bluffs."

Such were some of the difficulties being experienced when the Assistant-Secretary of the Navy was writing: "The only anxiety we feel is to know if you have followed up your instructions and [184] pushed a strong force up the river to meet the Western flotilla." "I had no conception," replied Farragut, "that the Department ever contemplated that the ships of this squadron were to attempt to go to Memphis, above which the Western flotilla then was; nor did I believe it was practicable for them to do so, unless under the most favorable circumstances, in time of peace, when their supplies could be obtained along the river. The gunboats are nearly all so damaged that they are certainly not in condition to contend with ironclad rams coming down upon them with the current.... We consider the advantage entirely in favor of the vessel that has the current added to her velocity." In conclusion he adds: "I arrived in New Orleans with five or six days' provisions and one anchor, and am now trying to procure others. As soon as provisions and anchors are obtained we will take our departure for up the river, and endeavor to carry out, as far as practicable, the orders conveyed in your different dispatches." Writing home, he expressed himself more freely and unmistakably: "They will keep us in this river until the vessels break down and all the little reputation we have made has evaporated. The Government appears to think that we can do anything. They expect me to navigate the Mississippi nine hundred miles in the face of batteries, ironclad rams, etc., and yet with all the ironclad vessels they have North they could not get to Norfolk or Richmond.... Well, I will do my duty to the best of my ability, and let the rest take care of itself.... They can not deprive me and my officers of the historical fact that we took New Orleans. Now they expect impossibilities."

[185] Enough has been quoted to show that Farragut was in no way responsible for, nor approved of, the ill-timed tenacity with which the Government held to its original plan, when the conditions had turned out entirely different from those at first expected. The Secretary of the Navy at a later date endeavored to throw the blame of failure entirely upon the War Department, which was either unwilling or unable to support the naval movement with adequate troops. It is not necessary, in a life of the admiral, to attempt to decide upon the degree of remissness, if any, shown by the military service, nor upon whose shoulders it falls. It is sufficient to point out that the Navy Department required of Farragut to go up to meet the Western flotilla when it was near nine hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, for no better reason, apparently, than that it had determined upon the junction at a time when it supposed it would be effected much lower down. In so doing it left nothing to the judgment of the officer commanding on the spot. "I think," said Farragut quietly, "that more should have been left to my discretion; but I hope for the best, and pray God to protect our poor sailors from harm." His own opinion was that Mobile should be the next point attacked. The difficulties there were not so great as those encountered at the Mississippi forts; and his success at the latter might not improbably have considerable moral effect upon the other works, whose position had some strong features of resemblance to those already subdued, and which were not yet in the strong state of defense which they afterward reached. The blockade of the coast was part of his charge; and in no way did he think it could be so thoroughly [186] maintained as by occupying the harbors themselves, or their entrances.

In obedience to his peremptory orders Farragut again started up the river, with the apprehension that if he once got above Vicksburg he would not be able to return before the next spring rise; for the season of lowest water in the Mississippi was now at hand. The Hartford did run ashore on the way up, and remained hard and fast for the better part of twenty-four hours. "It is a sad thing to think of having your ship on a mud bank, five hundred miles from the natural element of a sailor," wrote the flag-officer; "but I knew that I had done all I could to prevent her being up the river so high, and was commanded to go." She had to take out her coal and shot, and had even removed two guns before she floated.

On the 18th of June the squadron was assembled just below Vicksburg, having in company also seventeen schooners of the mortar flotilla, still under Porter's command. These were placed as rapidly as possible in suitable positions on the two sides of the river, opened fire on the 26th, and continued it through the 27th. Upon the evening of the latter day Porter notified the flag-officer that he was ready to cover, by a steady bombardment, the intended passage of the fleet before the batteries.


Vicksburg is situated on the first high land met on the east bank of the Mississippi after leaving Memphis, from which it is four hundred miles distant. The position was one of peculiar strength and importance for commanding the navigation of the river. Not only was it exceptionally lofty, and on one flank of that series of bluffs which has before [187] been mentioned as constituting the line upon which the Confederate grip of the stream was based, but the tortuous character of the channel gave particular facilities for an enfilading fire on vessels both before and after they came abreast the works. They were thus exposed to a longer and more dangerous cannonade than is the case where the stream flows straight past the front of a battery. The channel has now changed; but in 1862 the river, which from Memphis had pursued its winding course through an alluvial country, made when abreast of Vicksburg a sharp turn to the northeast, as though determined to reach the bluffs but four miles distant. As it neared them it swung round with a sharp turn to the southwest, parallel to its recent direction, flowing for the most part close to the foot of the hills. Between the two reaches, and formed by them, immediately opposite the town, there was a low tongue of land, or promontory, four miles long and less than one wide. The squadron, being below, had to steam up through the lower reach against the current, make the sharp turn at the bend, and then pass through the upper reach. In the bend it was followed by a fire from the highest part of the bluffs, to which it could make no reply.

At 2 A. M. of June 28th the signal was given, and at three the squadron was under way--eleven vessels, of which three were the heavy ships Hartford, Richmond, and Brooklyn; two, the corvettes Iroquois and Oneida; and six gunboats. At four, the ships in their slow progress, stemming the current, had passed the mortar schooners; and the latter then opened fire, as did the steamers connected with them, which were not to attempt the passage. Owing to a misunderstanding, [188] the three vessels which formed the rear of the column, the Brooklyn and two gunboats, did not get by. The others, at 6 A. M., anchored above Vicksburg. Though exposed much of the time to a raking fire, to which they were not able to reply, the vessels suffered less than would have been expected, owing to the enemy falling into the common mistake of giving too much elevation to his guns. Having thus accomplished his instructions, Farragut reported coldly to the Department that, in obedience to the orders "and the command of the President, I proceeded up to Vicksburg with the Brooklyn, Richmond, and Hartford, with the determination to carry out my instructions to the best of my ability.... The Department will perceive from this report that the forts can be passed, and we have done it, and can do it again as often as may be required of us. It will not, however, be an easy matter for us to do more than silence the batteries for a time, as long as the enemy has a large force behind the hills to prevent our landing and holding the place." "I am satisfied," he says again, "it is not possible to take Vicksburg without an army of twelve or fifteen thousand men. General Van Dorn's division (Confederate) is here, and lies safely behind the hills. The water is too low for me to go over twelve or fifteen miles above Vicksburg." The last sentence reveals clearly enough the madness of attempting to take three of the best ships of the navy to the upper river in falling water. Fortunately the insufficient depth now was above--not below--them, and they were not utterly cut off from the sea. Commander Porter, however, who started down river a week later, in compliance with orders summoning him to Washington, [189] and than whom the navy had no more active nor enterprising officer, wrote back to the flag-officer that if the big ships did not soon return he feared they would have to remain till next year.

Three days after Farragut passed the batteries of Vicksburg, on the 1st of July, the Mississippi flotilla, under the command of Flag-officer Charles H. Davis, joined him from above; having left Memphis only two days before, but favored in their voyage by the current, by competent pilots, and by a draught suited to the difficulties of river navigation. The united squadrons continued together until the i5th of July, lying at anchor near the neck of the promontory opposite Vicksburg; with the exception of the Brooklyn and the two gunboats which had not passed up on the 28th of June. These remained below the works, and on the opposite side of the promontory.

The position of the two flag-officers was about four miles below the mouth of the Yazoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, which enters the main stream on the east side not far above Vicksburg. It was known to them that there was somewhere in the Yazoo an ironclad ram called the Arkansas; which, more fortunate than the Mississippi at New Orleans, had been hurried away from Memphis just before that city fell into the hands of the United States forces. She was a vessel of between eight hundred and a thousand tons burden, carrying ten guns, which were protected by three inches of railroad iron, backed by bales of compressed cotton firmly braced. Her most dangerous weapon, however, was her ram; but, owing to the lightness and bad construction of the engines, this was not as formidable as it otherwise might have been to the enemy's ships.

[190] So little injury had thus far been done to the United States vessels by the rams of the Confederates that the two flag-officers were probably lulled into a state of over-security, and they allowed their squadrons to lie with too low fires. To this doubtless contributed the more powerful motive of the difficulty to the coal supply incurred by the excessively long line of exposed communications, imposed upon both squadrons by the stubborn persistence of the Navy Department in hurrying the fleets far in advance of any support by the army. Beyond the reach of their guns they could not control the river banks; and, unless they could be present everywhere along the eight hundred miles which separated Memphis from New Orleans, even the narrow strip on either side swept by their cannon was safe at any point only while they were abreast it. The moral effect of their promenade up and down and of their meeting at Vicksburg was accurately weighed by the enemy; and, however it may have imposed upon the Northern people, did nothing to insure the safety of the unarmed vessels upon which supplies depended. This essentially vicious military situation resulted necessarily in a degree of insecurity which could have but one issue--a retreat by both squadrons toward their respective bases, which soon after followed.

Convinced of the inutility of his own presence at Vicksburg and preoccupied with the risks threatening his squadron from the unguarded state of the river and its dangerous navigation, it is not wonderful that Farragut, who was the senior of the two flag-officers, thought little of the single ironclad vessel in his neighborhood. He was not prone to exaggerate [191] danger, and his experience had not led him to entertain any high opinion of the enemy's rams. To these circumstances he owed one of the most mortifying incidents of his career.

On the 15th of July a reconnoitering expedition was sent into the Yazoo, composed of two vessels of Davis's squadron, accompanied by one of the rams which at that time formed an independent organization upon the upper Mississippi under the command of Colonel Ellet. It was a fortunate move, for to this circumstance was due that the squadrons had any notice of the approach of the Arkansas. The detached vessels met her about six miles within the Yazoo, when a running fight ensued between her and the Carondelet, to the disadvantage of the United States vessel; but the sustained cannonade attracted betimes the attention of the fleet, and the Tyler, a small unarmored boat, after supporting the Carondelet to the best of her ability through the action, preceded the combatants down stream, bringing tidings of the ram's approach. There was not time to raise steam--only to cast loose the guns for action. When the Arkansas reached the fleet her smoke-stack had been so often perforated by the Carondelet's shot that her boilers could scarcely supply any steam. Her speed was thereby reduced to one knot, powerless to ram and scarcely sufficient to steer. At that rate, with the favor also of the current, she passed through the United States vessels, suffering from their successive fires much injury, though not of a vital kind, and took refuge under the guns of Vicksburg. It was a most gallant exploit, fairly comparable in daring to the passage of the Mississippi forts, but resulting [192] in no decisive effect upon the issues of the war.

It became immediately advisable for Farragut to rejoin the three ships which lay below the town, and were consequently in a condition favoring an attack by the ram, whose apparent immunity under the fire of the two squadrons showed her an enemy not to be despised. He determined to follow her down at once, again passing the batteries, and endeavoring to destroy her with the guns of his squadron as it went by. The execution of the plan was set for the late afternoon, and the Mississippi flotilla took up a position to support the movement by engaging the upper batteries. Unfortunately, time was lost in forming the order of battle, and the passage was effected in the dark. The uncertainty of aim thus caused was increased by the precaution of the enemy, who shifted his position after nightfall. Two shots only found her, injuring several of her people and setting fire to the cotton bulwarks. Beyond this she received no injury at this time, but she had been severely shaken by the hammering of the morning. A week later, on the 22d of July, Davis sent down the Essex, one of his heavy ironclads, accompanied by one of Ellet's rams, to attack the Arkansas at her moorings. The effort was unsuccessful, although the enemy's vessel received some further injury. The ram rejoined the upper squadron; but the Essex, from her indifferent speed, was unable to return against the current, exposed unsupported to the fire of all the batteries. She therefore became thenceforth a member of the lower squadron, together with a ram called the Sumter, which had run down with Farragut on the 15th.

[193] On the 20th of the month Farragut had received orders from the Navy Department, dated July 14th, directing him to get the part of his fleet above Vicksburg below that place with as little injury and loss of life as possible. The circumstances that have been narrated caused him to receive this dispatch below the town; and on the 24th, two days after the descent of the Essex, he departed for New Orleans. Davis assured him that the Essex and Sumter should look out for the river between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. To them were joined three of Farragut's gunboats; and the five vessels took an active part in supporting the garrison of Baton Rouge when an attack was made upon the place by the Confederates on the 5th of August. In this the Arkansas was to have co-operated with the enemy's troops, and she left Vicksburg on the 3d for that purpose; but her machinery broke down, and while lying helpless against the river bank the Essex came in sight. Resistance in her then plight was hopeless. She was set on fire by her commander, the crew escaping to the shore. Farragut himself reached Baton Rouge shortly after this happened. He had with much difficulty succeeded in getting the heavier ships to New Orleans on the 28th of July; and there he had lingered, unwilling to leave the river, though desirous of doing so, until affairs seemed on a reasonably secure basis. The chief element of anxiety was the Arkansas, concerning whose power to harm quite exaggerated notions prevailed. While thus lying before New Orleans word was brought him of the attack on Baton Rouge, and he at once retraced his steps with the Hartford, Brooklyn, and some smaller ships. On the 7th he reached the scene of action, [194] and learned the destruction of the Confederate vessel. The same day he wrote to the Department: "It is one of the happiest moments of my life that I am enabled to inform the Department of the destruction of the ram Arkansas; not because I held the ironclad in such terror, but because the community did." It must have been an additional element of satisfaction to him that the disappearance from the waters of the Mississippi of the last hostile vessel capable of offensive action released him from the necessity of remaining himself, or of keeping a large force there, during the unhealthy season.

Before leaving Vicksburg the crews of the fleet had suffered severely from the sickness common in that climate. The Brooklyn had sixty-eight sick out of a total of three hundred; and as this proportion was less than in the upper river flotilla, where the sick numbered forty per cent of the total force, it is probable that it fairly represents the general condition of Farragut's ships. Among the troops accompanying the expedition there were but eight hundred fit for duty out of over three thousand. It was not considered well to maintain for a longer time in Baton Rouge the small garrison hitherto stationed there. It had honorably repulsed the enemy's attack; but, in the general cessation of offensive movements by the United States army, the Confederates were continually strengthening their forces on the line of bluffs south of Vicksburg, to the importance of which their attention, never entirely diverted, had been forcibly drawn by the advance of the fleet in the previous months. Fruitless as that ill-judged advance had been, it reminded the enemy of the serious inconvenience they would suffer if the United [195] States ships could freely patrol that part of the Mississippi, and impressed upon them the necessity of securing a section of it, by which they could have undisturbed communication between the two shores. This could be done by fortifying two points in such strength that to pass them from either direction would involve a risk too great to be lightly undertaken. The points chosen were Vicksburg and Port Hudson, two hundred miles apart, and embracing between them the mouth of the Red River. The latter is the great artery of the region west of the Mississippi, and also, by means of the Atchafalaya Bayou, offers direct communication for light-draught vessels with the Gulf of Mexico. Port Hudson being less than twenty miles from Baton Rouge, the presence in the latter of a small garrison, which could undertake no offensive movement and which there were no troops to re-enforce, became purposeless. On the 16th of August, 1862, the post was abandoned, and the troops occupying it withdrew to New Orleans.





Operations in the Mississippi having now temporarily ceased, Farragut was at liberty to give his undivided attention for a time to the coast blockade. The important harbor of Pensacola had been evacuated by the Confederates in May, less than a month after the capture of New Orleans. Its abandonment was due to want of troops to garrison it properly; the pressure of the United States armies in Kentucky and Tennessee, after the fall of Fort Donelson in the previous February, having necessitated the withdrawal of all men that could be spared from other points. Before the war Pensacola had been the seat of a well-equipped navy yard with a good dry-dock, the only naval station of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the evacuation the buildings in the yard had been destroyed and the dry-dock injured; but the fine harbor, the depth of water--twenty-two feet--that could be carried over the bar, and the nearness of the port to Mobile, the most important center of blockade running, all combined to make it the headquarters of the fleet for repairs and supplies. Farragut arrived there on the 20th of August. Just before leaving [197] New Orleans he received his commission as rear admiral, dated July 16, 1862. Three other officers were promoted at the same time to the active list of this grade, which had never before existed in the United States; but as Farragut was the senior in rank of the four, he may be said to have been the first officer of the navy to hoist an admiral's flag.

The admiral remained in Pensacola for three months, superintending from there the affairs of his squadron. During this period the harbors of Galveston and of various other smaller ports on the coast of Texas and Louisiana were occupied by detachments of vessels, as the surest way of enforcing the blockade. The admiral had early announced that he should carry on the blockade as far as possible inside; and these successes enabled him to say in December, 1862, that he now held the whole coast except Mobile. During his stay in Pensacola he received a visit from his son, who found him in the best of spirits, all having gone well on the coast; the only mishap having been the success of a Confederate cruiser, the Oreto, in running into Mobile. She had availed herself of her close resemblance to some of the British cruisers in the Gulf to hoist the British flag; and as visits of these vessels to the blockaded ports were authorized and not infrequent, the ruse induced the United States ship that overhauled her to withhold its fire for a few critical moments. During these the Oreto gained so far on the other that, although struck three times by heavy projectiles, she received no vital injury and succeeded in gaining the shelter of the forts.

The period of the admiral's stay in Pensacola was one of the deepest depression to the Union cause, [198] and his letters bear evidence of the anxiety which he shared with all his fellow-countrymen in that time of distress. The reverses of McClellan in the peninsula, followed by the withdrawal of his army from thence and its transference to northern Virginia, the defeats suffered by Pope, and the first invasion of Maryland, occurred either immediately before or during the time that Farragut was in Pensacola. His own bootless expedition up the Mississippi and subsequent enforced retirement conspired also to swell the general gloom; for, although thinking military men could realize from the first that the position into which the fleet was forced was so essentially false that it could not be maintained, the unreflecting multitude saw only the conversion into repulse and disaster of a substantial success, of a conquest as apparently real as it was actually phantasmal. In the West, Grant was so stripped of troops that he feared the possibility of the Union forces being obliged to withdraw behind the Ohio, as they had in the East recrossed the Potomac. "The most anxious period of the war to me," he afterward wrote, "was during the time the army of the Tennessee was guarding the territory acquired by the fall of Corinth and Memphis, and before I was sufficiently re-enforced to take the offensive "--from July 15 to October 15, 1862.

The Confederate forces which confronted Grant in northern Mississippi during these anxious months interposed between him and Vicksburg, and belonged to the department charged with the defenses of the Mississippi river. As they touched Grant, therefore, on the one side, on the other they were in contact with Farragut's command. The summer passed in [199] various movements by them, threatening Grant's position at Corinth, which culminated on the 3d of October in an attack in force. This was repulsed after hard fighting, and re-enforcements to Grant beginning to come in, the Confederates themselves were thrown on the defensive. The approach of winter, bringing with it higher water and healthier weather on the line of the Mississippi, warned them also that the time was at hand when they might have to fight for the control of the water communications, upon which they no longer had, nor could hope to have, a naval force. Reports therefore began to reach the admiral in Pensacola, from the senior naval officer in the river, that the Confederates were with renewed energy building batteries above Baton Rouge and strongly fortifying Port Hudson.

As there seemed no speedy prospect of obtaining the land force, without whose co-operation an attack upon Mobile would be a fruitless enterprise, Farragut felt his proper position was now in the Mississippi itself. Important as was the blockade service, it was of a character safely to be trusted to a subordinate; whereas the strictly military operations of the approaching campaign, whatever shape they might finally take, would be for the control of the river. It therefore behooved the commander-in-chief of the naval forces to be at hand, ready to support in any way that might offer the effort to obtain control of a region of which the water communications were so characteristic a feature. To push far up a narrow and intricate river a force of ships, whose numbers are insufficient even to protect their own communications and insure their coal supplies, is one thing; it is quite another to repair to [200] the same scene of action prepared to support the army by controlling the water, and by establishing in combined action a secure secondary base of operations from which further advances can be made with reasonable certainty of holding the ground gained. There was no inconsistency between Farragut's reluctance of the spring and his forwardness in the autumn. The man who, to secure New Orleans and compass the fall of the forts, had dared to cut adrift from his base and throw his communications to the winds, because he had an object adequate to the risk, was the same who, six weeks later, had testified his anxiety about communications stretched too far and to no purpose; and now, half a year after that reluctant ascent of the river against his better judgment, we find him eagerly planning to go up again, establishing under the protection of the army an advanced base, from which, with the supplies accumulated at it, further movements may be contemplated with a good chance of final success.

On the 14th of November Farragut reported to the Navy Department his return to New Orleans. The Government, however, had taken warning by the fiasco of the previous season; and, far from urging the admiral on, now sought to impress him with the need for caution. As the great object of opening the Mississippi and obtaining control of it remained, and necessarily must remain, the first of the Government's aims in the Southwest, the result of these instructions was to give Farragut the discretion which had before been denied him. He retained fully his convictions of the summer. "I am ready for anything," he writes to the Department, "but desire troops to hold what we get. General Butler urges me to [201] attack Port Hudson first as he wishes to break up that rendezvous before we go outside. It will take at least five thousand men to take Port Hudson." In the same spirit he writes home, "I am still doing nothing but waiting for the tide of events, and doing all I can to hold what I have"; and again, a week later, "As Micawber says, I am waiting for something to turn up, and in the mean time having patience for the water to rise." Readiness to act, but no precipitation; waiting for circumstances, over which he had no control, to justify acting, may be described as his attitude at this moment.

On the 16th of December the arrival from the north of General Banks to relieve General Butler--an event which took Farragut much by surprise--gave him the opportunity to show at once his own ideas of the proper military steps to be taken. Banks had brought re-enforcements with him; and three days after his coming the admiral writes to the Department: "I have recommended to General Banks the occupation of Baton Rouge.... It is only twelve or fifteen miles from Port Hudson, and is therefore a fine base of operations. He has approved of the move, and ordered his transports to proceed directly to that point. I ordered Commander James Alden, in the Richmond, with two gunboats, to accompany them and cover the landing." Baton Rouge is on the southernmost of the bluffs which in rapid succession skirt the Mississippi below Vicksburg. With an adequate garrison it became a base of operations from which the army could move against Port Hudson when the time came; and under its protection the colliers and supplies necessary for [202] the naval vessels in the advance could safely remain.

While waiting for the new commander of the army to get fairly settled to work and ready for the combined movement which Farragut was eager to make, the latter was called upon to endure some sharp disappointments. On the 1st of January, 1863, the military forces in Galveston were attacked by Confederate troops, and the naval vessels by a number of river steamboats barricaded with cotton to resist shells fired against them, and loaded with riflemen. The garrison was captured, one of the gunboats blown up by her own officers, and another surrendered after her captain and first lieutenant had been killed on her decks. The other vessels abandoned the harbor. The affair was not only a disaster; it was attended with discreditable circumstances, which excited in the admiral indignation as well as regret. Shortly afterward, two sailing vessels of the squadron, charged with the blockade of Sabine Pass, were also taken by cotton-clad steamers; which to attack availed themselves of a calm day, when the ships were unable to manoeuvre. An unsuccessful attempt was made after this to take Sabine Pass; but both that place and Galveston remained in the power of the enemy, and were not regained until the final collapse of the Confederacy. Farragut dispatched one of his most trusted and capable officers, Commodore Henry H. Bell, formerly his chief-of-staff, to re-establish the blockade of Galveston. Arriving off the port toward night, Bell sent one of his detachment, the Hatteras, a light side-wheel iron steamer bought from the merchant service, to overhaul a sail in the offing. Unfortunately, the stranger [203] proved to be the Confederate steamer Alabama, far superior in force to the Hatteras, and after a short engagement the latter was sunk.

All this bad news came in rapid succession, and was closely followed by tidings of the escape from Mobile of the Oreto, which a few months before had eluded the blockading squadron through the daring ruse practiced by her commander. Known now as the Florida, and fitted as a Confederate cruiser, she ran out successfully during the night of January 15th. Here again, though the discredit was less than at Galveston, the annoyance of the admiral was increased by the knowledge that carelessness, or, at the best, bad judgment, had contributed to the enemy's success. From a letter written home at this time by his son, who had not yet returned from the visit begun at Pensacola, it appears that in the intimacy of family life he admitted, and showed by his manner, how keenly he felt the discredit to his command from these events. Though conscious that they were not due to failure on his part to do his utmost with the force given to him, and seeing in the escape of the Oreto a further justification of his own opinion that the lower harbor of Mobile should have been early seized, he nevertheless was "very much worried." This inside view of the effect, visible to those from whom he had no concealments, is supplemented by the description of the admiral's bearing under these reverses given by Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Jenkins, who at this time became his chief-of-staff. "These disasters," he writes, "were sore trials to the admiral, and a less well-poised man would have given way; but they seemed only to give him greater strength of will and purpose... I myself had the [204] misfortune, after months of watching, to see the Oreto run out the first night after I had been relieved of the command of the Oneida and ordered to report to the admiral as his fleet-captain. I had to bear him these bad tidings. Though no stoic, he bore the news as one accustomed to misfortune." It may seem, indeed, that these events, considered individually, were but instances of the hard knocks to be looked for in war, of which every general officer in every campaign must expect to have his share; and this view is undoubtedly true. Nevertheless, occurring in such rapid succession, and all in that part of his extensive command, the blockade, to which at that moment it seemed impossible to give his principal attention, the effect was naturally staggering. His first impulse was to leave the river and repair in person to the scene of disaster in Texas; but reflection soon convinced him that, however unfortunate the occurrences that had taken place there and elsewhere on the coast, they had not the same vital bearing on the issues of the war as the control of the Mississippi, and therefore not an equal claim upon the commander-in-chief.

At the same time, the effect was to intensify the desire to act--to redeem by success the blot which failures had brought upon his command; and the state of affairs elsewhere on the river was becoming such as to justify enterprise by the reasonable hope of substantial results. A series of circumstances which have been often narrated, and nowhere in a more interesting manner than by General Grant in his personal memoirs, had led to the abandonment of the movement by land upon Vicksburg by the Army of the Tennessee, following the Mississippi Central [205] Railroad. Instead of this original plan of campaign, the Mississippi River was now adopted as the line of advance and of communications. The first move along this new line had been made by General Sherman, who brought with him 32,000 troops, and on the 26th of December, 1862, had landed on the low ground between the mouth of the Yazoo and Vicksburg. On the 29th the army assaulted the works on the hills before them, but were repulsed. Sherman, satisfied that the position there was too strong to be carried, had determined to change his point of attack to the extreme right of the enemy's line, higher up the Yazoo; but the heavy rains which characterized the winter of 1862-'63 in the Mississippi Valley made untenable the ground on which the troops were, and it became necessary to re-embark them. The transports were then moved out into the Mississippi, where they were joined by General McClernand, the senior general officer in the department under Grant himself.

McClernand now decided to attack Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River, which enters the Mississippi from the west about two hundred miles above Vicksburg. The Post was primarily intended to close the Arkansas and the approach to the capital of the State of the same name; but although fifty miles from the mouth of the river, it was, by the course of the stream, but fifteen by land from the Mississippi. The garrison, being five thousand strong, was thus dangerously placed to threaten the communications by the latter river, upon which the army was to depend during the approaching campaign; and it had already given evidence of the fact by the capture of a valuable transport. This post [206] was reduced on the 11th of January, and McClernand next day started troops up the White River, a tributary of the Arkansas. From this ex-centric movement, which seemed wholly to ignore that Vicksburg and the Mississippi were the objective of the campaign, McClernand was speedily and peremptorily recalled by Grant. The latter, having absolutely no confidence in the capacity of his senior subordinate, could dispossess him of the chief command only by assuming it himself. This he accordingly did, and on the 30th of January joined the army, which was then encamped on the levees along the west bank of the river above Vicksburg.

Serious action on the part of the army, directed by a man of whose vigorous character there could be no doubt, though his conspicuous ability was not yet fully recognized, was evidently at hand; and this circumstance, by itself alone, imparted a very different aspect to any naval enterprises, giving them reasonable prospect of support and of conducing substantially to the great common end. Never in the history of combined movements has there been more hearty co-operation between the army and navy than in the Vicksburg campaign of 1863, under the leadership of Grant and Porter. From the nature of the enemy's positions their forcible reduction was necessarily in the main the task of the land forces; but that the latter were able to exert their full strength, unweakened, and without anxiety as to their long line of communications from Memphis to Vicksburg, was due to the incessant vigilance and activity of the Mississippi flotilla, which grudged neither pains nor hard knocks to support every movement. But, besides the care of our own communications, [207] there was the no less important service of harassing or breaking up those of the enemy. Of these, the most important was with the States west of the Mississippi. Not to speak of cereals and sugar, Texas alone, in the Southwest, produced an abundance of vigorous beef cattle fit for food; and from no other part of the seceded States could the armies on the east banks of the Mississippi be adequately supplied. Bordering, moreover, upon Mexico, and separated from it only by a shoal river into which the United States ships could not penetrate, there poured across that line quantities of munitions of war, which found through the Mexican port of Matamoras a safe entry, everywhere else closed to them by the sea-board blockade. For the transit of these the numerous streams west of the Mississippi, and especially the mighty Red River, offered peculiar facilities. The principal burden of breaking up these lines of supply was thrown upon the navy by the character of the scene of operations--by its numerous water-courses subsidiary to the great river itself, and by the overflow of the land, which, in its deluged condition during the winter, effectually prevented the movement of troops. Herein Farragut saw his opportunity, as well as that of the upper river flotilla. To wrest the control of the Mississippi out of the enemy's hands, by reducing his positions, was the great aim of the campaign; until that could be effected, the patrol of the section between Vicksburg and Port Hudson would materially conduce to the same end.

Over this Farragut pondered long and anxiously. He clearly recognized the advantage of this service, but he also knew the difficulties involved in maintaining [208] his necessary communications, and, above all, his coal. At no time did the enemy cease their annoyance from the river banks. Constant brushes took place between their flying batteries and the different gunboats on patrol duty; a kind of guerrilla warfare, which did not cease even with the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, but naturally attained its greatest animation during the months when their fate was hanging in the balance. The gunboats could repel such attacks, though they were often roughly handled, and several valuable officers lost their lives; but not being able to pursue, the mere frustration of a particular attack did not help to break up a system of very great annoyance. Only a force able to follow--in other words, troops--could suppress the evil. "You will no doubt hear more," the admiral writes on the 1st of February, 1863, "of 'Why don't Farragut's fleet move up the river?' Tell them, Because the army is not ready. Farragut waits upon Banks as to when or where he will go."

Still, even while thus dancing attendance upon a somewhat dilatory general, his plans were maturing; so that when occasion arose he was, as always, ready for immediate action--had no unforeseen decision to make. "The evening of the day (about January 20th) that I reported to him at New Orleans," writes Admiral Jenkins, "he sent everybody out of the cabin, and said: 'I wish to have some confidential talk with you upon a subject which I have had in mind for a long time.... I have never hinted it to any one, nor does the department know anything of my thoughts. The first object to be accomplished, which led me to think seriously about it, is to cripple the Southern armies by cutting off their supplies from [209] Texas. Texas at this time is, and must continue to the end of the war to be, their main dependence for beef cattle, sheep, and Indian corn. If we can get a few vessels above Port Hudson the thing will not be an entire failure, and I am pretty confident it can be done.'" Jenkins naturally suggested that the co-operation of the army by an active advance at the same time would materially assist the attempt. To this, of course, the admiral assented, it being in entire conformity with his own opinion; and several interviews were held, without, however, their leading to any definite promise on the part of General Banks.

Meantime Admiral Porter, who after leaving the mortar flotilla had been appointed to the command of the Mississippi squadron, with the rank of acting rear-admiral, realized as forcibly as Farragut the importance of placing vessels in the waters between Vicksburg and Port Hudson. In the middle of December he was before Vicksburg, and had since then been actively supporting the various undertakings of the land forces. Three days after Grant joined the army, on the 2d of February, the ram Queen of the West ran the Vicksburg batteries from above, and successfully reached the river below. Ten days later, Porter sent on one of his newest ironclads, the Indianola, which made the same passage under cover of night without being even hit, although twenty minutes under fire. The latter vessel took with her two coal barges; and as the experiment had already been successfully tried of casting coal barges loose above the batteries, and trusting to the current to carry them down to the Queen of the West, the question of supplies was looked upon as settled. [210] The Indianola was very heavily armed, and both the admiral and her commander thought her capable of meeting any force the enemy could send against her.

Unfortunately, on the 14th of February, two days only after the Indianola got down, the Queen of the West was run ashore under a battery and allowed to fall alive into the hands of the enemy. The latter at once repaired the prize, and, when ready, started in pursuit of the Indianola with it and two other steamers; one of which was a ram, the other a cotton-protected boat filled with riflemen. There was also with them a tender, which does not appear to have taken part in the fight. On the night of February 24th the pursuers overtook the Indianola, and a sharp action ensued; but the strength of the current and her own unwieldiness placed the United States vessel at a disadvantage, which her superior armament did not, in the dim light, counterbalance. She was rammed six or seven times, and, being then in a sinking condition, her commander ran her on the bank and surrendered. This put an end to Porter's attempts to secure that part of the river by a detachment. The prospect, that had been fair enough when the Queen of the West was sent down, was much marred by the loss of that vessel; and the subsequent capture of the Indianola transferred so much power into the hands of the Confederates, that control could only be contested by a force which he could not then afford to risk.

Farragut's Run Past the Port Hudson Batteries

The up-river squadron having failed to secure the coveted command of the river, and, besides, transferred to the enemy two vessels which might become very formidable, Farragut felt that the time had come when he not only might but ought to move. He [211] was growing more and more restless, more and more discontented with his own inactivity, when such an important work was waiting to be done. The news of the Queen of the West's capture made him still more uneasy; but when that was followed by the loss of the Indianola, his decision was taken at once. "The time has come," he said to Captain Jenkins; "there can be no more delay. I must go--army or no army." Another appeal, however, was made to Banks, representing the assistance which the squadron would derive in its attempt to pass the batteries from a demonstration made by the army. The permanent works at Port Hudson then mounted nineteen heavy cannon, many of them rifled; but there were reported to be in addition as many as thirty-five field-pieces, which, at the distance the fleet would have to pass, would be very effective. If the army made a serious diversion in the rear, many of these would be withdrawn, especially if Farragut's purpose to run by did not transpire. The advantage to be gained by this naval enterprise was so manifest that the general could scarcely refuse, and he promised to make the required demonstration with eight or ten thousand troops.

On the 12th of March, within a fortnight after hearing of the Indianola affair, Farragut was off Baton Rouge. On the 14th he anchored just above Profit's Island, seven miles below Port Hudson, where were already assembled a number of the mortar schooners, under the protection of the ironclad Essex, formerly of the upper squadron. The admiral brought with him seven vessels, for the most part essentially fighting ships, unfitted for blockade duty by their indifferent speed, but carrying heavy [212] batteries. If the greater part got by, they would present a force calculated to clear the river of every hostile steamer and absolutely prevent any considerable amount of supplies being transferred from one shore to the other.

For the purpose of this passage Farragut adopted a somewhat novel tactical arrangement, which he again used at Mobile, and which presents particular advantages when there are enemies only on one side to be engaged. Three of his vessels were screw steamers of heavy tonnage and battery; three others comparatively light. He directed, therefore, that each of the former should take one of the latter on the side opposite to the enemy, securing her well aft, in order to have as many guns as possible, on the unengaged side, free for use in case of necessity. In this way the smaller vessels were protected without sacrificing the offensive power of the larger. Not only so; in case of injury to the boilers or engines of one, it was hoped that those of her consort might pull her through. To equalize conditions, to the slowest of the big ships was given the most powerful of the smaller ones. A further advantage was obtained in this fight, as at Mobile, from this arrangement of the vessels in pairs, which will be mentioned at the time of its occurrence. The seventh ship at Port Hudson, the Mississippi, was a very large side-wheel steamer. On account of the inconvenience presented by the guards of her wheelhouses, she was chosen as the odd one to whom no consort was assigned.


Going up the river toward Port Hudson the course is nearly north; then a bend is reached of over ninety degrees, so that after making the turn the course [213] for some distance is west-southwest. The town is on the east side, just below the bend. From it the batteries extended a mile and a half down the river, upon bluffs from eighty to a hundred feet high. Between the two reaches, and opposite to the town, is a low, narrow point, from which a very dangerous shoal makes out. The channel runs close to the east bank.

The squadron remained at its anchorage above Profit's Island but a few hours, waiting for the cover of night. Shortly before 10 P. M. it got under way, ranged as follows: Hartford, Richmond, Monongahela, each with her consort lashed alongside, the Mississippi bringing up the rear. Just as they were fairly starting a steamer was seen approaching from down the river, flaring lights and making the loud puffing of the high-pressure engines. The flag-ship slowed down, and the new arrival came alongside with a message from the general that the army was then encamped about five miles in rear of the Port Hudson batteries. Irritated by a delay, which served only to attract the enemy's attention and to assure himself that no diversion was to be expected from the army, the admiral was heard to mutter: "He had as well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for all the good he is doing us." At the same moment the east bank of the river was lit up, and on the opposite point huge bonfires kindled to illumine the scene--a wise precaution, the neglect of which by the enemy had much favored the fleet in the passage of the lower forts.

The ships now moved on steadily, but very slowly, owing to the force of the current. At 11 P. M. the Hartford had already passed the lower [214] batteries, when the enemy threw up rockets and opened fire. This was returned not only by the advancing ships, but also by the ironclad Essex and the mortar schooners, which had been stationed to cover the passage. The night was calm and damp, and the cannonade soon raised a dense smoke which settled heavily upon the water, covering the ships from sight, but embarrassing their movements far more than it disconcerted the aim of their opponents. The flag-ship, being in the advance, drew somewhat ahead of the smoke, although even she had from time to time to stop firing to enable the pilot to see. Her movements were also facilitated by placing the pilot in the mizzen-top, with a speaking tube to communicate with the deck, a precaution to which the admiral largely attributed her safety; but the vessels in the rear found it impossible to see, and groped blindly, feeling their way after their leader. Had the course to be traversed been a straight line, the difficulty would have been much less; but to make so sharp a turn as awaited them at the bend was no easy feat under the prevailing obscurity. As the Hartford attempted it the downward current caught her on the port bow, swung her head round toward the batteries, and nearly threw her on shore, her stem touching for a moment. The combined powers of her own engine and that of the Albatross, her consort, were then brought into play as an oarsman uses the oars to turn his boat, pulling one and backing the other; that of the Albatross was backed, while that of the Hartford went ahead strong. In this way their heads were pointed up stream and they went through clear; but they were the only ones who effected the passage.

[215] The Richmond, which followed next, had reached the bend and was about to turn when a plunging shot upset both safety valves, allowing so much steam to escape that the engines could not be efficiently worked. Thinking that the Genesee, her companion, could not alone pull the two vessels by, the captain of the Richmond turned and carried them both down stream. The Monongahela, third in the line, ran on the shoal opposite to the town with so much violence that the gunboat Kineo, alongside of her, tore loose from the fastenings. The Monongahela remained aground for twenty-five minutes, when the Kineo succeeded in getting her off. She then attempted again to run the batteries, but when near the turn a crank-pin became heated and the engines stopped. Being now unmanageable, she drifted down stream and out of action, having lost six killed and twenty-one wounded. The Mississippi also struck on the shoal, close to the bend, when she was going very fast, and defied every effort to get her off. After working for thirty-five minutes, finding that the other ships had passed off the scene leaving her unsupported, while three batteries had her range and were hulling her constantly, the commanding officer ordered her to be set on fire. The three boats that alone were left capable of floating were used to land the crew on the west bank; the sick and wounded being first taken, the captain and first lieutenant leaving the ship last. She remained aground and in flames until three in the morning, when she floated and drifted down stream, fortunately going clear of the vessels below. At half-past five she blew up. Out of a ship's company of two hundred and ninety-seven, [216] sixty-four were found missing, of whom twenty-five were believed to be killed.

In his dispatch to the Navy Department, written the second day after this affair, the admiral lamented that he had again to report disaster to a part of his command. A disaster indeed it was, but not of the kind which he had lately had to communicate, and to which the word "again" seems to refer; for there was no discredit attending it. The stern resolution with which the Hartford herself was handled, and the steadiness with which she and her companion were wrenched out of the very jaws of destruction, offer a consummate example of professional conduct; while the fate of the Mississippi, deplorable as the loss of so fine a vessel was, gave rise to a display of that coolness and efficiency in the face of imminent danger which illustrate the annals of a navy as nobly as do the most successful deeds of heroism.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the failure to pass the batteries, by nearly three fourths of the force which the admiral had thought necessary to take with him, constituted a very serious check to the operations he had projected. From Port Hudson to Vicksburg is over two hundred miles; and while the two ships he still had were sufficient to blockade the mouth of the Red River--the chief line by which supplies reached the enemy--they could not maintain over the entire district the watchfulness necessary wholly to intercept communication between the two shores. Neither could they for the briefest period abandon their station at the river's mouth, without affording an opportunity to the enemy; who was rendered vigilant by urgent necessities which [217] forced him to seize every opening for the passage of stores. From the repulse of five out of the seven ships detailed for the control of the user, it resulted that the enemy's communications, on a line absolutely vital to him, and consequently of supreme strategic importance, were impeded only, not broken off. It becomes, therefore, of interest to inquire whether this failure can be attributed to any oversight or mistake in the arrangements made for forcing the passage--in the tactical dispositions, to use the technical phrase. In this, as in every case, those dispositions should be conformed to the object to be attained and to the obstacles which must be overcome.

The purpose which the admiral had in view was clearly stated in the general order issued to his captains: "The captains will bear in mind that the object is to run the batteries at the least possible damage to our ships, and thereby secure an efficient force above, for the purpose of rendering such assistance as may be required of us to the army at Vicksburg, or, if not required there, to our army at Baton Rouge." Such was the object, and the obstacles to its accomplishment were twofold, viz., those arising from the difficulties of the navigation, and those due to the preparations of the enemy. To overcome them, it was necessary to provide a sufficient force, and to dispose that force in the manner best calculated to insure the passage, as well as to entail the least exposure. Exposure is measured by three principal elements--the size and character of the target offered, the length of time under fire, and the power of the enemy's guns; and the last, again, depends not merely upon the number and size of the guns, but [218] also upon the fire with which they are met. In this same general order Farragut enunciated, in terse and vigorous terms, a leading principle in warfare, which there is now a tendency to undervalue, in the struggle to multiply gun-shields and other defensive contrivances. It is with no wish to disparage defensive preparations, nor to ignore that ships must be able to bear as well as to give hard knocks, that this phrase of Farragut's, embodying the experience of war in all ages and the practice of all great captains, is here recalled, "The best protection against the enemy's fire is a well-directed fire from our own guns."

The disposition adopted for the squadron was chiefly a development of this simple principle, combined with an attempt to form the ships in such an order as should offer the least favorable target to the enemy. A double column of ships, if it presents to the enemy a battery formidable enough to subdue his fire, in whole or in part, shows a smaller target than the same number disposed in a single column; because the latter order will be twice as long in passing, with no greater display of gun-power at a particular point. The closer the two columns are together, the less chance there is that a shot flying over the nearer ship will strike one abreast her; therefore, when the two are lashed side by side this risk is least, and at the same time the near ship protects the off one from the projectile that strikes herself. These remarks would apply, in degree, if all the ships of the squadron had had powerful batteries; the limitation being only that enough guns must be in the near or fighting column to support each other, and to prevent several of the enemy's batteries being [219] concentrated on a single ship--a contingency dependent upon the length of the line of hostile guns to be passed. But when, as at Port Hudson, several of the vessels are of feeble gun-power, so that their presence in the fighting column would not re-enforce its fire to an extent at all proportionate to the risk to themselves, the arrangement there adopted is doubly efficacious.

The dispositions to meet and overcome the difficulties imposed by the enemy's guns amounted, therefore, to concentrating upon them the batteries of the heavy ships, supporting each other, and at the same time covering the passage of a second column of gunboats, which was placed in the most favorable position for escaping injury. In principle the plan was the same as at New Orleans--the heavy ships fought while the light were to slip by; but in application, the circumstances at the lower forts would not allow one battery to be masked as at Port Hudson, because there were enemy's works on both sides. For meeting the difficulties of the navigation on this occasion, Farragut seems not to have been pleased with the arrangement adopted. "With the exception of the assistance they might have rendered the ships, if disabled, they were a great disadvantage," he wrote. The exception, however, is weighty; and, taken in connection with his subsequent use of the same order at Mobile, it may be presumed the sentence quoted was written under the momentary recollection of some inconvenience attending this passage. Certainly, with single-screw vessels, as were all his fleet, it was an inestimable advantage, in intricate navigation or in close quarters, to have the help of a second screw working in opposition to [220] the first, to throw the ship round at a critical instant. In the supreme moment of his military life, at Mobile, he had reason to appreciate this advantage, which he there, as here, most intelligently used.

Thus analyzed, there is found no ground for adverse criticism in the tactical dispositions made by Farragut on this memorable occasion. The strong points of his force were utilized and properly combined for mutual support, and for the covering of the weaker elements, which received all the protection possible to give them. Minor matters of detail were well thought out, such as the assignment to the more powerful ship of the weaker gunboat, and the position in which the small vessels were to be secured alongside. The motto that "the best protection against the enemy's fire is a well-directed fire by our own guns" was in itself an epitome of the art of war; and in pursuance of it the fires of the mortar schooners and of the Essex were carefully combined by the admiral with that of the squadron. Commander Caldwell, of the Essex, an exceedingly cool and intelligent officer, reported that "the effect of the mortar fire (two hundred bombs being thrown in one hundred and fifty minutes, from eleven to half-past one) seemed to be to paralyze the efforts of the enemy at the lower batteries; and we observed that their fire was quite feeble compared to that of the upper batteries." Nor had the admiral fallen into the mistake of many general officers, in trusting too lightly to the comprehension of his orders by his subordinates. Appreciating at once the high importance of the object he sought to compass, and the very serious difficulties arising from the enemy's position at Port Hudson and the character of the navigation, [221] he had personally inspected the ships of his command the day before the action, and satisfied himself that the proper arrangements had been made for battle. His general order had already been given to each commanding officer, and he adds: "We conversed freely as to the arrangements, and I found that all my instructions were well understood and, I believe, concurred in by all. After a free interchange of opinions on the subject, every commander arranged his ship in accordance with his own ideas."

In this point the admiral appears to have made a mistake, in not making obligatory one detail which he employed on board the flag-ship. "I had directed a trumpet fixed from the mizzen-top to the wheel on board this ship, as I intended the pilot to take his station in the top, so that he might see over the fog, or smoke, as the case might be. To this idea, and to the coolness and courage of my pilot, Mr. Carrell, I am indebted for the safe passage of this ship past the forts." It may be that the admiral counted upon the vessels being so closed up that the flag-ship would practically serve as the pilot for all. If so, he reckoned without his host, and in this small oversight or error in judgment is possibly to be found a weak point in his preparations; but it is the only one. The failure of the Richmond, his immediate follower, was not in any way due to pilotage, but to the loss of steam by an accidental shot; and it is still a matter of doubt whether the Genesee, her consort, might not have pulled her by. The third in the order, the Monongahela, also failed finally from the heating of a bearing; but as this occurred after being aground for half an hour, with the vigorous [222] working of the engines that naturally ensues under such circumstances, it seems as if her failure must ultimately be traced to the smoke. "The firing had so filled the atmosphere with smoke," wrote her captain, "as to prevent distinguishing objects near by." The loss of the Mississippi was due entirely to an error of the pilot, whatever may have been the cause.

The effect of the appearance above Port Hudson of the Hartford and Albatross is abundantly testified in the correspondence of the day, both Union and Confederate, and justifies beyond dispute this fine conception of Farragut's and the great risk which he took entirely upon his own responsibility. He found, indeed, a ground for his action in an order of the Department dated October 2, 1862,(21) directing him

"to guard the lower part of the Mississippi, especially where it is joined by the Red River," until [223] he heard from Admiral Porter that the latter, in conjunction with the army, had opened the river; but he distrusted the consent of the Secretary to his running the great risk involved in the passage of Port Hudson. As Grant was ordered to take Vicksburg, so was Farragut ordered to blockade the Red River; and as Grant did not notify the commander-in-chief of his final great resolve to cut loose from his base, until it was too late to stop him, so did Farragut keep within his own breast a resolve upon which he feared an interdict. For even after two years of war the department was embarrassed for ships, and the policy of economy, of avoiding risks, the ever fatal policy of a halting warfare, was forced upon it--an impressive illustration of the effect exerted by inadequate preparation upon the operations of war. For lack of ships, Mobile was in 1863 still in the hands of the enemy. "I would have had it long since or been thrashed out of it," wrote Farragut six weeks before Port Hudson. "I feel no fears on the subject; but they do not wish their ships risked, for fear we might not be able to hold the Mississippi." A similar reluctance might be anticipated to expose such valuable vessels as attacked Port Hudson, when their loss was so hard to repair; for only men of the temper of Farragut or Grant--men with a natural genius for war or enlightened by their knowledge of the past--can fully commit themselves to the hazard of a great adventure--can fully realize that a course of timid precaution may entail the greatest of risks.

"Your services at Red River," wrote Admiral Porter to Farragut upon hearing of his arrival above Port Hudson, "will be a godsend; it is worth to us the loss of the "Mississippi," and is at this moment [224] the severest blow that could be struck at the South. They obtain all their supplies and ammunition in that way.... The great object is to cut off supplies. For that reason I sent down the Queen of the West and the Indianola. I regret that the loss of the Indianola should have been the cause of your present position." These utterances, which bespeak the relief afforded him at the moment by Farragut's bold achievement, are confirmed by the words written many years later in his History of the Navy. "Farragut in the Hartford, with the Albatross, reached the mouth of the Red River, and Port Hudson was as completely cut off from supplies as if fifty gunboats were there.... It was soon seen that the object aimed at had been gained--the works at Port Hudson were cut off from supplies and the fate of the garrison sealed." "I look upon it as of vast importance," wrote General Grant, "that we should hold the river securely between Vicksburg and Port Hudson"; and he undertook to contribute anything that the army could furnish to enable vessels from above to run by Vicksburg, and so supply to Farragut the numbers he needed through the repulse of his own ships.

"The Mississippi is again cut off," wrote to Richmond the Confederate General Pemberton, who commanded the district in which are Vicksburg and Port Hudson, "neither subsistence nor ordnance can come or go"; and the following day, March 20th, the sixth after Farragut's passage, he sends word to General Richard Taylor, on the west shore, "Port Hudson depends almost entirely for supplies upon the other side of the river." "Great God! how unfortunate!" writes, on March [225] 17th, a Confederate commissary in Taylor's department. "Four steamers arrived to-day from Shreveport. One had 300,000 pounds of bacon; three others are reported coming down with loads. Five others are below with full cargoes designed for Port Hudson, but it is reported that the Federal gunboats are blockading the river." As to passing by other points, "it is doubtful whether many cattle ever get through the swamps and bayous through which they are required to pass on this side. As the water declines, I think likely cattle in large quantities can be crossed by swimming, but at present your prospect of getting supplies from this side is gloomy enough." "Early in February," writes Pemberton again, "the enemy succeeded in passing two of his gunboats by our batteries at Vicksburg" (the Indianola and Queen of the West). "This at once rendered the navigation of the Mississippi and Red River dangerous, and from that time it was only by watching opportunities, and at great risk of capture, that supplies could be thrown into Port Hudson and Vicksburg. Nevertheless, large amounts were successfully introduced into both places."

This success, partial as it was, was due, first, to the capture of Porter's detachment, which opened the river again until Farragut came; and, secondly, to the repulse of so large a portion of the latter's squadron. The Hartford and Albatross, though they could close the Red River, could not multiply themselves to cover the great stretch which the admiral had purposed to occupy with seven vessels. Neither was the Albatross of sufficient force to be left by herself at the mouth of the Red River. Farragut therefore moved slowly up the Mississippi, destroying a quantity of stores [226] accumulated upon the levees awaiting transportation, as well as a number of flat-boats; and on the afternoon of the 19th of March he anchored twelve miles below Vicksburg. The following day he moved further up and communicated with General Grant, informing him of the events that had just befallen him and offering any assistance in the power of the two ships. If not needed, he purposed returning to Red River, and asked for coal from either army or navy. Porter was then absent on the Deer Creek expedition, an attempt to get the Mississippi gunboats through the bayou of that name into the Yazoo; whereby, if successful, the Confederate position at Vicksburg would be turned. Grant accordingly undertook to send down coal, which was done by turning adrift in the current of the Mississippi a barge carrying some four hundred tons. This floated by night clear of the enemy's positions, and was picked up by boats from the Hartford.

Farragut had written to Porter of his wish to receive some vessels from above, specifying two rams and an ironclad, with which and his own two vessels be could better carry out his purpose of closing the whole stretch in which he was. He intimated this wish to Grant, who highly approved of it. "I see by Southern papers received yesterday," he wrote to Farragut, "that Vicksburg must depend upon Louisiana, or west of the Mississippi, for supplies. Holding Red River from them is a great step in the direction of preventing this, but it will not entirely accomplish the object. New Carthage (twenty miles below Vicksburg, on the west bank) should be held, and it seems to me that in addition we should have sufficient vessels below to patrol the whole river from Warrenton [227] (ten miles below Vicksburg) to the Red River. I will have a consultation with Admiral Porter on this subject. I am happy to say the admiral and myself have never yet disagreed upon any policy." In the absence of Porter, General Ellet determined to send down two of the Ellet rams, which made their dash on the morning of March 25, displaying all the daring, but unfortunately also much of the recklessness, which characterized that remarkable family. Starting near dawn, on a singularly clear night, they were surprised by daylight still under fire. One, being very rotten, was shattered to pieces by a shell exploding her boilers. The other was disabled, also by a shell in the boilers, but, being stronger, drifted down with the current and reached Farragut safely. She was soon repaired, and was an addition to his force.

While lying below Vicksburg the admiral transferred to Porter's care, for passage north by the Mississippi River, his son and only child, who had been with him since the summer stay in Pensacola. They had passed the batteries at Port Hudson together, the bearing of the boy in that hot contest approving itself to the father, who, despite his anxiety, could not bring himself to accept the surgeon's suggestion to send him below, out of harm's way. "I am trying to make up my mind to part with Loyall," he wrote to his wife, "and to let him go home by way of Cairo. I am too devoted a father to have my son with me in troubles of this kind. The anxieties of a father should not be added to those of the commander."

On the 27th of March the Hartford started again down river, accompanied by the Albatross and the [228] Ellet ram Switzerland. On the 2d of April the little squadron anchored off the mouth of the Red River, having on its passage down again destroyed a number of skiffs and flat-boats used for transporting stores. Warned by the fate of the Indianola, the admiral left nothing undone to ensure the absolute safety of the flag-ship; for, though her powerful armament and numerous crew gave her a great superiority over any number of river vessels, granting her room to manoeuvre, the difficulties of the river and the greatness of the stake to both parties made it imperative to take no needless risks. As a protection against rams, large cypress logs were hung around the ship about a foot above the water line, where they would both resist penetration and also give time for the elasticity of the frame of a wooden vessel to take up the blow. Against boarding, elaborate preparations were made, which would prevent a steamer attempting it from getting nearer than twenty feet to the side, where she would remain an easy victim to the shell and grape of the Hartford's guns.

From the 2d to the 30th of April Farragut remained in the neighborhood of the Red River, between its mouth and Port Hudson. Cut off by the batteries of the place, and by the prevalence of guerrillas on the west bank, from all usual means of communication with General Banks and his own squadron, he contrived to get a letter down by the daring of his secretary, Mr. Edward C. Gabaudan; who was set adrift one night in a skiff ingeniously covered with drift brush, and, thus concealed, floated undiscovered past the enemy's guards. The small number of his vessels prevented his extending his blockade as far as he wished; but in closing the Red River he [229] deprived the enemy of by far the best line they possessed, and he destroyed a quantity of stores and boats.

In the mean time diverse and important events were concurring to release him from his position of isolation. Toward the end of March General Grant, who had for some time abandoned all expectation of turning Vicksburg by its right flank, began the celebrated movement down the west side of the Mississippi; whence he crossed to the east bank at Bruinsburg, and fought the campaign which ended by shutting up Pemberton and his army within the lines of the place. In furtherance of this plan, Porter himself, with a large body of his ships, ran the batteries at Vicksburg on the night of April 16. The fleet then kept pace with the necessarily slow progress of the army, encumbered with trains, through the roads heavy with the mire of the recent overflow. On the 29th of April the Mississippi squadron fought a sharp engagement with the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, which they could not reduce; and the following day Grant's army crossed the river.

While these events were bringing the Mississippi squadron into that part of the river which Farragut had aimed to control, other movements were leading to his assistance some of the lighter vessels of his own command. After the naval action at Port Hudson, Banks had temporarily abandoned his designs upon that post in favor of operations west of the Mississippi by the Bayous Teche and Atchafalaya, the latter of which communicates with the Red River a few miles above its mouth. This movement was accompanied by a force of four gunboats, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander A. P. Cooke, of [230] the Estrella, which captured a post on the Atchafalaya called Butte à la Rose, on the 20th of April, the same day that Opelousas, sixty miles from Alexandria, was entered by the army. The latter pressed on toward Alexandria, while the gunboats pushed their way up the Atchafalaya. On the first of May two of them, the Estrella and Arizona, passed into the Red River, and soon afterward joined the Hartford.

Three days later Admiral Porter arrived with several of his fleet and communicated with Farragut. The next day, May 5th, Porter went up the Red River and pushed rapidly toward Alexandria, which was evacuated, its stores being removed to Shreveport, three hundred and fifty miles farther up.

Farragut now felt that his personal presence above Port Hudson was no longer necessary. The Mississippi was ultimately to become the command of Porter, whose vessels were especially fitted for its waters; and that admiral was now at liberty to give his full attention below Vicksburg. On the other hand, his own squadron in the lower river and on the blockade demanded a closer attention than he could give from his isolated station. Accordingly, on the 6th of May he transferred the command to Commodore Palmer, of the Hartford, with whom he left the Albatross, Estrella, and Arizona to intercept communications between the two banks of the Mississippi below Red River; while he himself returned by one of the bayous to New Orleans, reaching there on the 11th.

Thus ended Farragut's brilliant strategic movement against the communications of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and through them against the intercourse [231] of the Confederacy with its great Western storehouse, over which the two fortresses stood guard. It was a movement which, though crippled from the beginning by a serious disaster on the battle-field, was conceived in accordance with the soundest principles of the art of war. Its significance has been obscured and lost in the great enterprise initiated a month later by General Grant, and solidly supported by the navy under Porter; whose co-operation, Grant avows, was absolutely essential to the success--nay, even to the contemplation of such an undertaking.(22) In this combined movement, identical in principle with that of Farragut, Porter, in executing his part, had the current with instead of against him. Had circumstances delayed or prevented Grant's advance by the west bank of the Mississippi--had he, for instance, been enabled by one of the abortive bayou expeditions to penetrate north of Vicksburg--Farragut's action would have been no more sound nor bold, but its merits would have been far more perceptible to the common eye. Re-enforcements must have been sent him; and around his flagship would have centered a force that would have choked the life out of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Because rightly aimed, this daring campaign was not frustrated even by the disasters of the night action. It is distinguished from the unhappy fiasco of the year before by all the difference between a fitting and an unfitting time--by all that separates a clear appreciation of facts from a confused impression of possibilities. In 1862 Farragut was driven up the river against his own judgment, seeing no prospect [232] of tangible or permanent results. In 1863 he went on his own responsibility, because he saw that in the then condition of affairs, with the armies gathering at both ends of the line, the movement he made would not only be successful in itself, but would materially conduce to the attainment of the common end. It is significant of his true military insight that neither depreciation nor disaster shook his clear convictions of the importance of his work. "Whether my getting by Port Hudson was of consequence or not," he wrote chaffingly in reference to some slighting comments in a Southern newspaper, "if Pollard's stomach were as tightly pinched for food as theirs at Port Hudson and Vicksburg have been since I shut up Red River, he would know how to value a good dinner and a little peace." In soberer style he wrote to his home: "We have done our part of the work assigned to us, and all has worked well. My last dash past Port Hudson was the best thing I ever did, except taking New Orleans. It assisted materially in the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson."

Farragut remained but a short time in New Orleans, and was soon again at the front; joining the vessels of his squadron lying near, but below, Port Hudson. After entering Alexandria on the 7th of May, General Banks moved down with his army to the Mississippi, which he crossed five or six miles above Port Hudson. General Augur, of his command, at the same time moved up from Baton Rouge, the two divisions meeting on the 23d of May, and immediately investing Port Hudson. An assault was made on the 27th; but proving unsuccessful, regular siege operations were begun. The mortar schooners and the Essex supported them by constant bombardment, [233] and the navy furnished and manned a battery of four nine-inch Dahlgren guns.

While contributing thus conspicuously to the immediate furtherance of the siege, the most essential work of the navy, here as in the upper Mississippi, was in the maintenance of the communications, which were wholly by the river, as well as in assuring the safety of New Orleans, then stripped of all the troops that could be spared. The danger of two points like Vicksburg and Port Hudson, both of such vital importance, and both being besieged at the same time, aroused every latent energy of the Confederacy, and set in motion every armed man of whom it could dispose. To divert and distract the attention of the Union generals, to induce them to abandon their efforts or diminish the forces at the front, no means were so ready nor so sure as an attack upon their communications, or a threat directed against their base. To make these insecure, is like mining the foundations of a building. Here the navy removed every substantial cause of anxiety by its firm support, and by the rapidity with which its heavy guns were brought to sustain every point attacked. Under such diligent guardianship the barrier of the Mississippi remained impassable; and although a transport might now and again be arrested and forced to surrender, such an occasional annoyance could not by the most uneasy general be magnified into a serious menace to his communications. The active Confederate general, Richard Taylor, in command of the district west of the river, stripped all his posts to concentrate an effort along the right bank, which, by disturbing Banks, might make a favorable diversion for Port Hudson; and loud talk was made of an attack [234] upon New Orleans itself, favored by a rising among the citizens, still heartily attached to the Southern cause. The powerful vessels kept before the city by Farragut effectually disposed of any chance of such an attempt, although much anxiety was felt by General Emory, in command of the station, and confident expectation was plainly discernible on the faces of the towns-people. The Confederates, however, did for a season control the west side of the river, appearing before Donaldsonville and Plaquemine, where were posts of United States troops. These were saved by the prompt appearance of gunboats, which followed the movements of the enemy; but the report of them brought Farragut down in person, and elicited from him a remonstrance to Banks for leaving upon the west bank, inadequately sustained, heavy guns which, if they fell into the hands of the Confederates, might convert a menace into a serious embarrassment. A few days later, at midnight of June 27th, the enemy attacked Donaldsonville in force. The storming party succeeded in entering the works, but the three gunboats which Farragut had stationed there opened so heavy a fire upon the supports that these broke and fled; and those in advance, being unsustained, were made prisoners.

A few days later Farragut summoned his chief-of-staff, Captain Thornton A. Jenkins, to relieve him at Port Hudson, as he felt his own presence necessary at New Orleans. Jenkins started up in the Monongahela, a heavy corvette commanded by Captain Abner Read, having in company two small transports with needed supplies. The enemy, despite the repulse at Donaldsonville, remained in the neighborhood, [235] and had established a battery of field-guns a few miles below at a bend in the river. By these the Monongahela was attacked and pretty severely handled for a few moments. Her captain, an officer of distinguished courage and enterprise, was mortally wounded, and Captain Jenkins slightly so. These two affairs sufficiently indicate the character of the enemy's operations on the west bank of the Mississippi at this time. They did not in the least succeed in shaking the grip of the Union army before Port Hudson, nor did they entirely cease with the surrender of the place. That they did so little harm, with the enemy in nearly undisputed command in the regions west of the river, was due to the navy, whose mobility exceeded that of their troops.

Vicksburg surrendered on the 4th of July, 1863, and its fall was followed by that of Port Hudson on the 9th of the same month. Farragut then wrote to Porter, and turned over to him the command in all the Mississippi Valley above New Orleans. On the 1st of August Porter himself arrived off the city in his flag-ship, and the two admirals had an interview on the scene of their former exploits. The same afternoon Farragut sailed in the Hartford for the North, to enjoy a brief respite from his labors during the enervating autumn months of the Gulf climate. Though now sixty-two years old, he retained an extraordinary amount of vitality, and of energy both physical and moral; but nevertheless at his age the anxieties and exposure he had to undergo tell, and had drawn from him, soon after his return from above Port Hudson, the expressive words, "I am growing old fast, and need rest." On the 10th of August the flag-ship anchored in New York, after a passage of nine days.

The admiral remained in the North until the first of the following year. His own ship, and her powerful sisters, the Richmond and Brooklyn, were in need of extensive repairs before they could be considered again fit for winter service in the Gulf. The Hartford was in better condition than the other two, being uninjured below the water line, but the severe actions through which she had passed were proved by the scars, two hundred and forty in number, where she had been struck by shot or shell.





By the fall of the last and most powerful of the Confederate strongholds upon the Mississippi, and the consequent assertion of control by the United States Government over the whole of the great water course, was accomplished the first and chief of the two objects toward which Farragut was to co-operate. After manifold efforts and failures, the combined forces of the United States had at last sundered the Confederacy in twain along the principal one of those natural strategic lines which intersected it, and which make the strength or the weakness of States according as they are able or unable to hold them against an enemy. Of the two fragments, the smaller was militarily important only as a feeder to the other. Severed from the body to which they belonged, the seceded States west of the Mississippi sank into insignificance; the fire that had raged there would smoulder and die of itself, now that a broad belt which could not be passed interposed between it and the greater conflagration in the East.

It next became the task of the Union forces to hold firmly, by adequate defensive measures, the line they had gained; while the great mass of troops heretofore [238] employed along the Mississippi in offensive operations were transferred farther east, to drive yet another column through a second natural line of cleavage from Nashville, through Georgia, to the Gulf or to the Atlantic seaboard. How this new work was performed under the successive leadership of Rosecrans, Grant, and Sherman, does not fall within the scope of the present work. Although the light steamers of the Mississippi squadron did good and often important service in this distant inland region, the river work of Farragut's heavy sea-going ships was now over. In furtherance of the great object of opening the Mississippi, they had left their native element, and, braving alike a treacherous navigation and hostile batteries, had penetrated deep into the vitals of the Confederacy. This great achievement wrought, they turned their prows again seaward. The formal transfer to Admiral Porter of the command over the whole Mississippi and its tributaries, above New Orleans, signalized the fact that Farragut's sphere of action was to be thenceforth on the coast; for New Orleans, though over a hundred miles from the mouth of a tideless river, whose waters flow ever downward to the sea, was nevertheless substantially a sea-coast city.

As the opening of the Mississippi was the more important of the two objects embraced in Farragut's orders, so did it also offer him the ampler field for the display of those highest qualities of a general officer which he abundantly possessed. The faculty of seizing upon the really decisive points of a situation, of correctly appreciating the conditions of the problem before him, of discerning whether the proper moment for action was yet distant or had already [239] arrived, and of moving with celerity and adequate dispositions when the time did come--all these distinctive gifts of the natural commander-in-chief had been called into play, by the difficult questions arising in connection with the stupendous work of breaking the shackles by which the Confederates held the Mississippi chained. The task that still remained before him, the closing of the Confederate seaports within the limits of his command, though arduous and wearisome, did not make the same demand upon these more intellectual qualities. The sphere was more contracted, more isolated. It had fewer relations to the great military operations going on elsewhere, and, being in itself less complex, afforded less interest to the strategist. It involved, therefore, less of the work of the military leader which was so congenial to his aptitudes, and more of that of the administrator, to him naturally distasteful.

Nevertheless, as the complete fulfilment of his orders necessitated the reduction of a fortified seaport, he found in this undertaking the opportunity for showing a degree of resolution and presence of mind which was certainly not exceeded-perhaps not even equaled--in his previous career. At Mobile it was the tactician, the man of instant perception and ready action, rather than he of clear insight and careful planning, that is most conspicuous. On the same occasion, with actual disaster incurred and imminent confusion threatening his fleet, combined with a resistance sturdier than any he had yet encountered, the admiral's firmness and tenacity rose equal to the highest demand ever made upon them. In the lofty courage and stern determination which plucked victory out of the very jaws of defeat, the [240] battle of Mobile Bay was to the career of Farragut what the battle of Copenhagen was to that of Nelson. Perhaps we may even say, borrowing the words of an eloquent French writer upon the latter event, the battle of Mobile will always be in the eyes of seamen Farragut's surest claim to glory.(23)

Up to the time of Farragut's departure for the North, in August, 1863, the blockade of the Gulf sea-coast within the limits of his command, though technically effective, had for the most part only been enforced by the usual method of cruising or anchoring off the entrances of the ports. Such a watch, however, is a very imperfect substitute for the iron yoke that is imposed by holding all the principal harbors, the gateways for communication with the outer world. This was clearly enough realized; and the purpose of Farragut, as of his Government, had been so to occupy the ports within his district. At one time, in December, 1862, he was able to say exultingly that he did so hold the whole coast except Mobile; but the disasters at Galveston and Sabine Pass quickly intervened, and those ports remained thenceforth in the hands of the enemy. On the Texas coast, however, blockade-running properly so called--the entrance, that is, of blockaded Confederate harbors--was a small matter compared with the flourishing contraband trade carried on through the Mexican port Matamoras and across the Rio Grande. When Farragut's lieutenant, Commodore Henry H. [241] Bell, visited this remote and ordinarily deserted spot in May, 1863, he counted sixty-eight sails at anchor in the offing and a forest of smaller craft inside the river, some of which were occupied in loading and unloading the outside shipping; to such proportions had grown the trade of a town which neither possessed a harbor nor a back country capable of sustaining such a traffic. Under proper precautions by the parties engaged, this, though clearly hostile, was difficult to touch; but it also became of comparatively little importance when the Mississippi fell.

Not so with Mobile. As port after port was taken, as the lines of the general blockade drew closer and closer, the needs of the Confederacy for the approaching death-struggle grew more and more crying, and the practicable harbors still in their hands became proportionately valuable and the scenes of increasing activity. After the fall of New Orleans and the evacuation of Pensacola, in the spring of 1862, Mobile was by far the best port on the Gulf coast left to the Confederates. Though admitting a less draught of water than the neighboring harbor of Pensacola, it enjoyed the advantage over it of excellent water communications with the interior; two large rivers with extensive tributary systems emptying into its bay. Thanks to this circumstance, it had become a place of very considerable trade, ranking next to New Orleans in the Gulf; and its growing commerce, in turn, reacted upon the communications by promoting the development of its railroad system. The region of which Mobile was the natural port did not depend for its importance only upon agricultural products; under somewhat favorable conditions it had developed some manufacturing [242] interests in which the Southern States were generally very deficient, and which afterward found active employment in the construction of the Tennessee, the most formidable ironclad vessel built by the Confederates.

For all these reasons the tenure of Mobile became a matter of serious consequence to the enemy; and, as Farragut had from the first foreseen, they made active use of the respite afforded them by the unfortunate obstinacy of the Navy Department in refusing him permission to attack after New Orleans fell. The enterprise then was by no means as difficult as the passage of the Mississippi forts just effected; and once captured, the holding of the harbor would require only the small number of troops necessary to garrison the powerful masonry fort which commanded the main ship channel, supported by a naval force much less numerous than that required to blockade outside. The undertaking was therefore not open to the objection of unduly exposing the troops and ships placed in unfortified or poorly fortified harbors, which received such a sad illustration at Galveston; but it was dropped, owing, first, to the preoccupation of the Government with its expectations of immediately reducing the Mississippi, and afterward to the fear of losing ships which at that time could not be replaced. Hesitation to risk their ships and to take decisive action when seasonable opportunity offers, is the penalty paid by nations which practise undue economy in their preparations for war. When at last it became urgent to capture Mobile before the powerful ironclad then building was completed, the preparations of the defense were so far advanced that ironclad vessels were [243] needed for the attack; and before these could be, or at least before they were, supplied, the Tennessee, which by rapid action might have been forestalled like the similar vessel at New Orleans, was ready for battle. Had she been used with greater wisdom by those who directed her movements, she might have added very seriously to the embarrassment of the United States admiral.

When Farragut, after an absence of nearly six months, returned to his station in January, 1864, it was with the expectation of a speedy attack upon Mobile. On his way to New Orleans he stopped off the bar, and on the 20th of January made a reconnaissance with a couple of gunboats, approaching to a little more than three miles from the forts commanding the entrance. He then reported to the department that he was satisfied that, if he had one ironclad, he could destroy the whole of the enemy's force in the bay, and then reduce the forts at leisure with the co-operation of about five thousand troops. "But without ironclads," he added, "we should not be able to fight the enemy's vessels of that class with much prospect of success, as the latter would lie on the flats, where our ships could not get at them. By reference to the chart you will see how small a space there is for the ships to manoeuvre. Wooden vessels can do nothing with the ironclads, unless by getting within one or two hundred yards, so as to ram them or pour in a broadside." He repeats the information given by a refugee, that the ironclad Nashville would not be ready before March, and that the Confederate admiral announced that when she was he would raise the blockade. "It is depressing," he adds, "to see how easily false reports circulate, and [244] in what a state of alarm the community is kept by the most absurd rumors. If the Department could get one or two ironclads here, it would put an end to this state of things and restore confidence to the people of the ports now in our possession. I feel no apprehension about Buchanan's raising the blockade; but, with such a force as he has in the bay, it would be unwise to take in our wooden vessels without the means of fighting the enemy on an equal footing." Having made this reconnaissance, he went on to New Orleans, arriving there January 22d.

It appears, therefore, that, regarded as a naval question, Farragut considered the time had gone by for an attempt to run the forts of Mobile Bay, and that it would not return until some ironclads were furnished him by the Department. The capture of the forts he at no time expected, except by the same means as he had looked to for the reduction of those in the Mississippi--that is, by a combined military and naval operation. In both cases the navy was to plant itself across the enemy's communications, which it could do by running the gantlet of his guns. It then remained for the land forces either to complete the investment and await their fall by the slow process of famine, or to proceed with a regular siege covered by the fleet. Without the protection of the ships in the bay, the army would be continually harassed by the light gunboats of the enemy, and very possibly exposed to attack by superior force. Without the troops, the presence of the ships inside would be powerless to compel the surrender of the works, or to prevent their receiving some supplies. But in the two years that had very nearly elapsed since Farragut, if permitted his own wish, would [245] have attacked, the strengthening of the works and the introduction of the ironclads had materially altered the question. He was, it is true, misinformed as to the readiness of the latter. The vessels that were dignified by that name when he first returned to his station, took no part in the defense, either of the bay or, later, of the city. He was deceived, probably, from the fact that the Confederates themselves were deceived, with the exception of a few who had more intimate knowledge of their real value; and consequently the reports that were brought off agreed in giving them a character which they did not deserve.

An attack upon Mobile had been a cherished project with General Grant after the fall of Vicksburg. It was to that--and not to the unfortunate Red River expedition of 1864--that he would have devoted Banks's army in the Southwest; moving it, of course, in concert with, so as to support and be supported by, the other great operations which took place that year--Sherman's advance upon Atlanta and his own against Richmond. It was to Mobile, and not to Savannah, that he first looked as the point toward which Sherman would act after the capture of Atlanta; the line from Atlanta to Mobile would be that along which, by the control of the intervening railroad systems, the Confederacy would again be cleft in twain, as by the subjugation of the Mississippi. For this reason chiefly he had, while still only commander of the Army of the Tennessee, and before he succeeded to the lieutenant-generalship and the command of all the armies, strenuously opposed the Red River expedition; which he looked upon as an ex-centric movement, tending rather to [246] keep alive the war across the Mississippi, which would fade if left alone, and likely to result in the troops engaged not getting back in time or in condition to act against Mobile.

As Grant feared, so it happened. The expedition being already organized and on the point of starting when he became commander-in-chief, he allowed it to proceed; but it ended in disaster, and was the cause of forty thousand good troops being unavailable for the decisive operations which began two months later. Not until the end of July could a force be spared even for the minor task of reducing the Mobile forts; and until then Farragut had to wait in order to attack to any purpose. By the time the army in the Southwest, in the command of which General Canby relieved Banks on the 20th of May, was again ready to move, Sherman had taken Atlanta, Hood had fallen upon his communications with Chattanooga, and the famous march to the sea had been determined. Farragut's battle in Mobile Bay therefore did not prove to be, as Grant had hoped, and as his passage of the Mississippi forts had been, a step in a series of grand military operations, by which the United States forces should gain control of a line vital to the Confederacy, and again divide it into two fragments. It remained an isolated achievement, though one of great importance, converting Mobile from a maritime to an inland city, putting a stop to all serious blockade-running in the Gulf, and crushing finally the enemy's ill-founded hopes of an offensive movement by ironclads there equipped.


The city of Mobile is itself some thirty miles from the Gulf, near the head of a broad but generally [247] shallow bay which bears the same name. The principal entrance from the Gulf is between Mobile Point--a long, narrow, sandy beach which projects from the east side of the bay--and Dauphin Island, one of a chain which runs parallel to the coast of Mississippi and encloses Mississippi Sound. At the end of Mobile Point stands Fort Morgan, the principal defense of the bay, for the main ship channel passes close under its guns. At the eastern end of Dauphin Island stood a much smaller work, called Fort Gaines. Between this and Fort Morgan the distance is nearly three miles; but a bank of hard sand making out from the island prevents vessels of any considerable size approaching it nearer than two miles. Between Dauphin Island and the mainland there are some shoal channels, by which vessels of very light draft can pass from Mississippi Sound into the bay. These were not practicable for the fighting vessels of Farragut's fleet; but a small earthwork known as Fort Powell had been thrown up to command the deepest of them, called Grant's Pass.

The sand bank off Dauphin Island extends south as well as east, reaching between four and five miles from the entrance. A similar shoal stretches out to the southward from Mobile Point. Between the two lies the main ship channel, varying in width from seven hundred and fifty yards, three miles outside, to two thousand, or about a sea mile, abreast Fort Morgan. Nearly twenty-one feet can be carried over the bar; and after passing Fort Morgan the channel spreads, forming a hole or pocket of irregular contour, about four miles deep by two wide, in which the depth is from twenty to twenty-four feet. Beyond this hole, on either side [248] the bay and toward the city, the water shoals gradually but considerably, and the heavier of Farragut's ships could not act outside of its limits. The Confederate ironclad Tennessee, on the contrary, drawing but fourteen feet, had a more extensive field of operations open to her, and, from the gradual diminution of the soundings, was able to take her position at a distance where the most formidable of her opponents could neither follow her nor penetrate her sides with their shot.

Between the city and the lower bay there were extensive flats, over which not even the fourteen feet of the Tennessee could be taken; and these in one part, called Dog River Bar, shoaled to as little as nine feet. To bring the Tennessee into action for the defense of the entrance and of the lower bay, it was necessary to carry her across these flats--an undertaking requiring both time and mechanical appliances, neither of which would be available if an enemy were inside to molest the operations. As the Tennessee was distinctly the most formidable element in the dangers Farragut had to encounter, and as the character of the soundings gave her a field of action peculiarly suited to utilize her especial powers, which consisted in the strength of her sides and the long range of her heavy rifled guns, it was particularly desirable to anticipate her crossing the upper bar by the fleet itself crossing the lower. That done, the Tennessee was reduced to impotence. It was not done, for two reasons. First, the Navy Department did not send the ironclads which Farragut demanded; and second, the army in the Southwest, having wasted its strength in a divergent operation, was unable [249] to supply the force necessary to reduce Fort Morgan. That the delay was not productive of more serious consequences was due to the impatience or recklessness of the Confederate admiral, and to the energy with which Farragut seized the opportunity afforded by his mistake.

Six months passed before the moment for decisive action arrived. Though devoid of military interest, they were far from being months of idleness or enjoyment. The administrative duties of so large a command drew heavily upon the time and energies of the admiral, and, as has been said, they were not congenial to him. When the Tennessee crossed Dog River Bar, which she did on the 18th of May, Farragut felt that he must be on the spot, in case she attempted to execute her threat of coming out to break up the blockade; but up to that time he was moving actively from point to point of his command, between New Orleans on the one side, and Pensacola, now become his principal base, on the other. From time to time he was off Mobile, and for more than two months preceding the battle of the Bay he lay off the port in all the dreary monotony of blockade service. The clerical labor attaching to the large force and numerous interests entrusted to him was immense. Every mail brought him, of course, numerous communications from the Department. "I received your letter last evening," he writes to a member of his family, "but at the same time received so many from the Department that my eyes were used up before I came to yours, so that mine to you will be short and badly written." A very large part of this correspondence consisted of letters from United States consuls abroad, forwarded [250] through the State Department, giving particulars of vessels fitting or loading for the Confederacy or to break the blockade. "Nearly all my clerical force is broken down," he writes on another occasion. "The fact is, I never saw so much writing; and yet Drayton, who does as much as any of them, says it is all necessary. So I tell them to go on. I do not mind signing my name. Although I write all my own letters, some one has to copy them. My fleet is so large now that it keeps us all at work the whole time."

But while he spoke thus lightly of his own share in these labors, the confinement, the necessary attention to and study of larger details, even while he intrusted the minor to others, and the unavoidable anxieties of a man who had so many important irons in the fire, and at the same time was approaching his sixty-fourth year, told upon him. To this he bore witness when, after the capture of the Mobile forts, the Department desired him to take command of the North Atlantic fleet, with a view to the reduction of Wilmington, North Carolina. "They must think I am made of iron," he wrote home. "I wrote the Secretary a long letter, telling him that my health was not such as to justify my going to a new station to commence new organizations; that I must have rest for my mind and exercise for my body; that I had been down here within two months of five years, out of six, and recently six months on constant blockade off this port, and my mind on the stretch all the time; and now to commence a blockade again on the Atlantic coast! Why, even the routine of duty for a fleet of eighty sail of vessels works us all to death; and but that I have the most industrious fleet-captain [251] and secretary, it would never be half done. It is difficult to keep things straight." "I know," he writes on another occasion, "that few men could have gone through what I have in the last three years, and no one ever will know except yourself perhaps.... What the fight was to my poor brains, neither you nor any one else will ever be able to comprehend. Six months constantly watching day and night for an enemy; to know him to be as brave, as skilful, and as determined as myself; who was pledged to his Government and the South to drive me away and raise the blockade and free the Mississippi from our rule. While I was equally pledged to my Government that I would capture or destroy the rebel."

Besides his labors and the official anxieties due to his individual command, he again as in 1862, felt deeply the misfortunes with which the general campaign of 1864 opened, and especially in the Southwest. There was continually present to the minds of the leaders of the United States forces during the war the apprehension that the constancy of the people might fail; that doubtful issues might lead to a depression that would cause the abandonment of the contest, in which success was nevertheless assured to perseverance and vigor. Grant's memoirs bear continual testimony to the statesmanlike regard he had, in planning his greater military operations, to this important factor in the war, the vacillation under uncertainty of that popular support upon which success depended. The temperament of Farragut reflected readily the ups and downs of the struggle, and was saddened by the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his own side, which he keenly appreciated. "I am depressed," he writes, "by the bad [252] news from every direction. The enemy seem to be bending their whole soul and body to the war and whipping us in every direction. What a disgrace that, with their slender means, they should, after three years, contend with us from one end of the country to the other!... I get right sick, every now and then, at the bad news." "The victory of the Kearsarge over the Alabama," on a more auspicious occasion, "raised me up. [ would sooner have fought that fight than any ever fought on the ocean"; and his exultation was the greater that the first lieutenant of the Kearsarge had been with him in the same capacity when the Hartford passed the Mississippi forts.

But, while thus sensitive to the vicissitudes of his country's fortunes, he did not readily entertain the thought of being himself defeated. "As to being prepared for defeat," he wrote before New Orleans, I certainly am not. Any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he commenced. I hope for success; shall do all in my power to secure it, and trust to God for the rest." And again: "The officers say I don't believe anything. I certainly believe very little that comes in the shape of reports. They keep everybody stirred up. I mean to be whipped or to whip my enemy, and not to be scared to death." "I hope for the best results," he wrote a week before forcing the passage into Mobile Bay, "as I am always hopeful; put my shoulder to the wheel with my best judgment, and trust to God for the rest"; or, in more homely language: "Everything has a weak spot, and the first thing I try to do is to find out where it is, and pitch into it with the biggest shell or shot that I have, and repeat [253] the dose until it operates." "The Confederates at Fort Morgan are making great preparations to receive us. That concerns me but little"--words used not in a spirit of mere light-heartedness, but because it was a condition he had from the first accepted, and over which he hoped to triumph; for he continues, "I know they will do all in their power to destroy us, and we will reciprocate the compliment. I hope to give them a fair fight if once I get inside. I expect nothing from them but that they will try to blow me up if they can."

Amid such cares and in such a spirit were spent the six months of monotonous outside blockade preceding the great victory that crowned his active career. The only relief to its weariness was a bombardment of Fort Powell, undertaken by the light-draft steamers of the squadron from Mississippi Sound in February, to create a diversion in favor of Sherman's raid from Vicksburg upon Meridian, which was then in progress. The boats could not get nearer to the work than four thousand yards, and even then were aground; so that no very serious effect was produced. A greater and more painful excitement was aroused by the misfortunes of the Red River expedition in April and May. Begun on unsound military principles, but designed politically to assert against French intrigues the claim of the United States to Texas, that ill-omened enterprise culminated in a retreat which well-nigh involved the Mississippi squadron in an overwhelming disaster. The Red River was unusually low for the season, and falling instead of rising. There was not, when the army retired, water enough to enable the gunboats which had ascended the river to repass the [254] rapids at Alexandria. The army could delay but for a limited time, at the end of which, if the boats had not passed, they must be left to their fate. Farragut, who was in New Orleans when the news arrived, wrote bitterly about the blunders made, and was sorely distressed for the issue to the navy. "I have no spirit to write," he says. "I have had such long letters from Porter and Banks, and find things so bad with them that I don't know how to help them. I am afraid Porter, with all his energy, will lose some of his finest vessels. I have just sent him some boats to help him." The boats, however, were saved by the skill and energy of Colonel Joseph Bailey, the chief-of-engineers in Franklin's corps of Banks's army; by whom was thrown across the river a dam, which raised the water on the shoals sufficiently for the boats to cross.

A more pleasant incident occurred to vary the sameness of the blockade days, in the presentation to the admiral, by the Union League Club of New York, of a very handsome sword, with scabbard of massive gold and silver, the hilt set in brilliants. The gift was accompanied by a letter expressive of the givers' appreciation of the brilliant services rendered to the nation, and was a grateful reminder to Farragut, then watching before Mobile for his last grapple with the enemy in his front, that his fellow-countrymen in their homes were not wanting in recognition of the dangers he had incurred, nor of those he was still facing on their behalf.

The time was now close at hand when the weary and anxious waiting, which the admiral afterward so feelingly described, was to be exchanged for the more vigorous action he had so long desired. The [255] co-operation of a division from Canby's army was assured toward the end of July; and at the same time the long-promised, long-delayed monitor ironclads began to arrive. As the want of these and the presence of the enemy's ironclads had been the reasons which, in Farragut's opinion, had made necessary the postponement of the purely naval part of the combined operation, a short description of the vessels which formed so potent an element in his calculations will not be out of place.

The idea of the monitor type of ironclads, which was then the prevalent one in the United States Navy, was brought by John Ericsson from his home in Sweden, where it had been suggested to him by the sight of the rafts with a house upon them crossing the waters with which he was familiar. In its conception, the monitor was simply a round fort, heavily plated with iron, resting upon a raft nearly flush with the water, and provided with the motive power of steam. The forts, or turrets, as they are commonly called, might be one or more in number; and each carried usually two heavy guns, standing side by side and pointing in exactly the same direction, so that if discharged together the projectiles would follow parallel courses. Within the turret the guns could be turned neither to the right nor to the left; if such a change of aim were wished, the turret itself was revolved by steam machinery provided for the purpose. When loading, the port through which the gun was fired was turned away from the enemy; so that if a shot happened to strike at that time it fell on the solid armor. Above the gun-turret there was a second of much smaller diameter, which did not revolve. It was also heavily plated and designed [256] to shelter the commanding officer and those charged with the steering of the ship. So much inconvenience was, however, experienced from smoke and from concussion when these steering turrets were struck, and their dimensions were so contracted, that many captains preferred to remain outside, where they could see better, their orders being transmitted to the helmsmen through the sight-holes pierced in the armor. Of these ironclads, four accompanied Farragut in his attack upon Mobile Bay. Two, the Tecumseh and Manhattan, came from the Atlantic coast, and were sea-going monitors. They had each but one turret, in which they carried two fifteen-inch guns, the heaviest then in use afloat. The other two were river monitors, built at St. Louis for service in the Mississippi. They were consequently of light draught, so much so that to obtain the necessary motive power they each had four screw propellers of small diameter, and they carried four eleven-inch guns in two turrets. Their names were the Winnebago and the Chickasaw. The armor of the two single-turreted monitors was ten inches thick, and that of the river monitors eight and a half inches.

The Tennessee, to which these were to be opposed, was a vessel of different type, and one to which the few ironclads built by the Confederates for the most part conformed--called commonly the broadside ironclad, because the guns, like those of ships-of-war generally, were disposed chiefly along the sides. Her hull was built at Selma, on the Alabama River, and thence towed to Mobile to be plated; it being desirable to take her down the river while as light as possible. She was two hundred and nine feet long and forty-eight feet wide, drawing, as has [257] been said, fourteen feet when loaded. Upon her deck, midway between the bow and the stern, was a house seventy-nine feet long, whose sides and ends sloped at an angle of thirty-four degrees and were covered with iron plating, six inches thick on the forward end and five inches thick on the other end and the sides. With the inclination given, a cannon ball striking would be likely to be turned upward by the iron surface, instead of penetrating. The sloping sides of the house were carried down beyond the point where they met those of the vessel, until two feet below the water. There they turned and struck in at the same angle toward the hull, which they again met six or seven feet under water. Thus was formed all round the ship a knuckle, which, being filled in solid and covered with iron, was a very perfect protection against any but the most powerful ram. The Tennessee herself was fitted with a beak and intended to ram, but, owing to the slender resources of the Confederacy, her engines were too weak to be effective for that purpose. She could only steam six knots. Her battery, however, was well selected and powerful. She carried on each side two six-inch rifles, and at each end one seven-inch rifle--six guns in all. There were, besides the Tennessee, three wooden gunboats, and Farragut was informed that there were also four ironclads; but this, as regards the lower bay at least, was a mistake.

It will be seen from this account, and from the description before given of Mobile Bay, that the advantages of the Tennessee were her great protective strength, a draught which enabled her to choose her own position relatively to the heaviest of the enemy's [258] ships, and the superior range and penetrative power of her guns, being rifles; for while there were cannon of this type in the United States fleet, the great majority of them were smooth bores. The ironclads opposed to her had only smooth-bore guns, incapable of penetrating her side, and therefore only able to reduce her by a continued pounding, which might shake her frame to pieces. The chief defects of the Tennessee as a harbor defense ship, for which she was mainly intended, were her very inferior speed, and the fact that, by an oversight, her steering chains were left exposed to the enemy's shot. This combination of strong and weak points constituted her tactical qualities, which should have determined the use made of her in the impending battle.

Although the ironclads were, as Farragut esteemed them, the controlling factors in the defense and attack, the Tennessee was by no means the only very formidable obstacle in the way of his success. Except the ironclads, the fleet he carried into Mobile Bay was not substantially stronger than that with which he fought his way up the Mississippi; but since that time the enemy had done much to strengthen the works which he now had to encounter. The number of heavy guns in Fort Morgan bearing upon the channel was thirty-eight. In Fort Jackson, excluding the obsolete caliber of twenty-four pounders, there were twenty-seven, and in St Philip twenty-one--total, forty-eight; but in caliber and efficiency those of Morgan were distinctly superior to those of the river forts, and it may be considered an advantage that the power was here concentrated in a single work under a single hand. The gunners of Fort Morgan, moreover, had not been [259] exposed to the exhausting harassment of a most efficient bombardment, extending over the six days prior to the final demand upon their energies. They came fresh to their work, and suffered during its continuance from no distraction except that caused by the fire of the fleet itself. While, therefore, Fort Gaines could not be considered to support Morgan by any deterrent or injurious influence upon the United States fleet, the latter work was by itself superior in offensive power to the two Mississippi forts.

To the general defense the Confederates had here brought two other factors, one of a most important and as yet unknown power. As the sand bank extending eastward from Dauphin Island was to some extent passable by light gunboats, a line of piles was driven in the direction of Fort Morgan nearly to the edge of the channel. Where the piles stopped a triple line of torpedoes began, following the same general course, and ending only at a hundred yards from Fort Morgan, where a narrow opening was left for the passage of friendly vessels--blockade runners and others. Had the electrical appliances of the Confederacy been at that time more highly developed, this narrow gap would doubtless also have been filled with mines, whose explosion depended upon operators ashore. As it was, the torpedo system employed at Mobile, with some few possible exceptions, was solely mechanical; the explosion depended upon contact by the passing vessel with the mine. To insure this, the line was triple; those in the second and third rows not being in the alignment of the first, but so placed as to fill the interstices and make almost impracticable the avoidance [260] of all three torpedoes belonging to the same group.

These arrangements were sufficiently well known to Farragut through information brought by refugees or deserters. They--the power of the works, the disposition of the torpedoes, the Tennessee and her companions--constituted the elements of the problem which he had to solve to get his fleet safely past the obstacles into the bay. Although not disposed to lay as much stress as others upon the torpedoes, which were then but an imperfectly developed weapon, prudence dictated to him the necessity of passing between them and the fort; and this was fortunately in accordance with the sound policy which dictates that wooden vessels engaging permanent works, less liable than themselves to penetration, should get as close as possible to the enemy, whose fire they may then beat down by the rapidity of their own. There were certain black buoys floating across the channel, between the piles and Fort Morgan, and it was understood that these marked the position of the torpedoes. The admiral's flag-lieutenant, Lieutenant (now Captain) John C. Watson, had examined these buoys in several nightly reconnaissances; but, although he had not been able to discover any of the mines, the assurances of their existence could not be disregarded. His examination doubtless had some effect upon the admiral's instant determination, in the unforeseen emergency that arose during the action, to pass over the spot where the hidden dangers were said to lie; but in the dispositions for battle the order was given for the fleet to pass eastward of the easternmost buoy, where no torpedoes would be found.

[261] The closeness of this approach, however, and the fact that the line of the channel led in at right angles to the entrance, had the disadvantage of obstructing the fire of the broadside wooden vessels, in which the offensive strength of the fleet, outside the monitors, consisted. The guns of those ships, being disposed along the sides, were for the most part able to bear only upon an enemy abreast of them, with a small additional angle of train toward ahead or astern. It was not, therefore, until nearly up with the fort that these numerous cannon would come into play, and exercise that preponderating effect which had driven off the gunners at Forts St. Philip and Jackson. This inconvenience results from the construction of such ships, and can only be overcome by a movement of the helm causing the ship to diverge from her course; a resort which led a witty Frenchman to say that a ship-of-war so situated is like a shark, that can only bite by turning on its back. The remedy, however applicable under certain circumstances and in the case of a single ship, causes delay, and therefore is worse than the evil for a fleet advancing to the attack of forts, where the object must be to close as rapidly as possible. There are, however, on board such vessels a few guns, mounted forward and called chase guns, which, from the rounding of the bows, bear sooner than the others upon the enemy toward whom they are moving. To support these and concentrate from the earliest moment as effective a fire as possible upon the works, Farragut brought his ironclads inside of the wooden vessels, and abreast the four leaders of that column. The heavy guns of the monitors could fire all around the horizon, from right ahead to right astern; and [262] the disposition had the additional great advantage that, in the critical passage inside the torpedo buoys, these all-important vessels would be on the safer side, the wooden ships interposing between them and the sunken dangers, which threatened an injury far more instantaneous and vital than any to be feared from the enemy's shot and shell.

The position of the ironclads being determined by these considerations, the arrangement of the wooden ships for the attack conformed to the admiral's principle, that the greatest security was to be found in concentrating upon the enemy the heaviest fire attainable from his own guns. As at Port Hudson, a large proportion of the fourteen vessels he purposed to take in with him were of the gunboat class, or a little above it. Resort was accordingly again had to the double column adopted there; the seven ships that had the most powerful batteries forming the right column to engage Fort Morgan. The lighter ones were distributed in the other column, and lashed each to one of the heavier ships, in an order probably designed, though it is not expressly so stated, to make the combined steam power of the several pairs as nearly equal as possible. Among the gunboats there were three that had side-wheel engines, the machinery of which is necessarily more above water, and so more exposed than that of a screw--a condition which, although their batteries were powerful for their tonnage, emphasized the necessity of sheltering them behind other ships during the furious few minutes of passing under the guns of the fort.

The sum of these various considerations thus resulted in the fleet advancing into action in a [263] column of pairs, in which the heaviest ships led in the fighting column. To this the admiral was probably induced by the reflection that the first broadsides are half the battle, and the freshest attack of the enemy should be met by the most vigorous resistance on his own part; but it is open to doubt whether one of these powerful vessels would not have been better placed in the rear. Upon a resolute enemy, the effect of each ship is simply to drive him to cover while she passes, to resume his activity when relieved from the pressure of her fire. The case is not strictly similar to the advance of a column of troops upon a fortified position, where the head does the most of the fighting, and the rear mainly contributes inertia to the movement of the mass. It is at least open to argument that a fire progressively diminishing from van to rear is not, for the passage of permanent works, a disposition as good as a weight of battery somewhat more equally distributed, with, however, a decided preponderance in the van. The last of the ships in this column received a shot in the boiler, which entirely disabled her--an accident that may have been purely fortuitous, and to which any one of her predecessors was in a degree liable, but also possibly due to the greater activity of the enemy when no longer scourged by the more powerful batteries which preceded. She was saved from the more serious results of this disaster, and the squadron spared the necessity of rallying to her support, by the other admirable precautions dictated by Farragut's forethought.

Subjected thus to analysis, there seems much to praise and very little to criticise in the tactical dispositions made by the admiral on this momentous [264] occasion. But the tactical dispositions, though most important, are not the only considerations; it is the part of the commander-in-chief to take advantage of any other circumstances that may make in his favor. Until the forts were passed the character of the bottom left Farragut no choice as to the direction of his attack. There was but one road to take, and the only other question was the order in which to arrange his ships. But there were two conditions not entirely within his control, yet sure to occur in time, which he considered too advantageous to be overlooked. He wanted a flood tide, which would help a crippled vessel past the works; and also a west wind, which would blow the smoke from the scene of battle and upon Fort Morgan, thereby giving to the pilots, upon whom so much depended, and to the gunners of the ships, the advantage of clearer sight. The time of the tide, in most quarters a matter of simple calculation, is in the Gulf often affected by the wind. The wind, on the other hand, in the summer months, blows from the south during the early morning, and then works round to the westward; so that the chances were in favor of his obtaining his wishes.

The dispositions taken by the Confederates to meet the assault which they saw to be impending were more simple; they having but a small mobile force, and their fortifications being tied to their places. A seaport liable to attack is a battle-field, in utilizing whose natural features, so as to present the strongest tactical combination against entrance or subjection by an enemy, the skill of the engineer is shown; but, unlike battle-fields in general, much time and study is allowed to develop his plans. In the case [265] of Mobile Bay, the narrow and direct character of the approach by the main ship channel left little opportunity for skill to display itself. To place at the end of Mobile Point the heaviest fort, enfilading the channel, and to confine the latter to the narrowest bed, compelling the assailant into the most unfavorable route, were measures too obvious to escape the most incapable. To obtain the utmost advantage from this approach of the enemy, the little naval force was advanced from Mobile Point, so as to stretch at right angles across the channel just within the torpedo line. There, without being incommoded by the fire of the fort, or in any way embarrassing it, they secured a clear sweep for their guns, raking their opponents; who, being for the time unable to deviate from their course, could not reply to this galling attack. By gradually retiring, the Confederate gunboats could retain this superiority during the advance of their foes, until the latter reached the wide hole within, where there was room to manoeuvre. This position and the subsequent course of action described comprise the tactical management of the Southern vessels during the engagement. It was well devised, and made probably the best use of the advantages of the ground possible to so inferior a force. The Tennessee took position with them, but her after action was different.

As the day of the last and, with the exception of the Essex fight of his boyhood, the most desperate battle of his life drew near, a certain solemnity--one might almost say depression--is perceptible in the home letters of the admiral. Had the action proved fatal to him it could scarcely have failed to attract the attention which is similarly arrested by the [266] chastened tone of Nelson's life and writing immediately before Trafalgar; and although there is certainly none of that outspoken foreboding which marked the last day of the English hero, Farragut's written words are in such apparent contrast to the usual buoyant, confident temper of the man, that they would readily have been construed into one of those presentiments with which military annals abound. "With such a mother," he writes to his son a week before the battle, "you could not fail to have proper sentiments of religion and virtue. I feel that I have done my duty by you both, as far as the weakness of my nature would allow. I have been devoted to you both, and when it pleases God to take me hence I shall feel that I have done my duty. I am not conscious of ever having wronged any one, and have tried to do as much good as I could. Take care of your mother if I should go, and may God bless and preserve you both!" The day before the action he wrote the following letter to his wife, which, as his son remarks in his Life of the admiral, shows that he appreciated the desperate work before him:


"OFF MOBILE, August 4, 1864.

"MY DEAREST WIFE: I write and leave this letter for you. I am going into Mobile in the morning, if God is my leader, as I hope he is, and in him I place my trust. If he thinks it is the proper place for me to die, I am ready to submit to his will in that as in all other things. My great mortification is that my vessels, the ironclads, were not ready to have gone in yesterday. The army landed last night, and are [267] in full view of us this morning, and the Tecumseh has not yet arrived from Pensacola.

"God bless and preserve you, my darling, and my dear boy, if anything should happen to me; and may his blessings also rest upon your dear mother, and all your sisters and their children.

"Your devoted and affectionate husband, who never for one moment forgot his love, duty, or fidelity to you, his devoted and best of wives,


A more touching and gratifying testimony of unwavering attachment, after more than twenty years of marriage, no wife could desire. It was an attachment also not merely professed in words, but evidenced by the whole course of his life and conduct. Infidelity or neglect of a wife was, in truth, in the estimation of Admiral Farragut, one of the most serious of blots upon a man's character, drawing out always his bitterest condemnation.

A pleasing glimpse is at this same period afforded of his relations to the surviving members of his father's family, who still remained in or near New Orleans, and from whom by the conditions of his profession he had been separated since his childhood. "My dear sister," he writes, "has sent me a Holy Virgin like the one Rose gave me. She said it was blessed by the archbishop, who said I was good to the priests. I only tell you this," adds the admiral dryly, "to show you that they did not succeed in impressing the bishop with the idea that I had robbed the church at Point Coupée." This is not the only mention of his sister during this time, and it is evident that two years' occupation of New Orleans [268] by the Union forces had done much to mollify public sentiment; for immediately after the surrender he had written home, "It is a strange thought that I am here among my relatives, and yet not one has dared to say 'I am happy to see you.'"

On the 8th of July General Canby, accompanied by General Granger, who was to have immediate charge of the land operations against the Mobile forts, had called upon the admiral to make the preliminary arrangements. Somewhat later Canby sent word that he could not spare men enough to invest both Gaines and Morgan at the same time; and at Farragut's suggestion it was then decided to land first upon Dauphin Island, he undertaking to send a gunboat to cover the movement. Granger visited him again on the 1st of August, and as the admiral then had reason to expect the last of his monitors by the 4th, that day was fixed for the attack and landing. Granger was up to time, and his troops were put ashore on the evening of the 3d; but the Tecumseh had not arrived from Pensacola. The other three had been on hand since the 1st, anchored under the shelter of Sand Island, three miles from Fort Morgan.

To Farragut's great mortification he was unable to carry out his part of the programme; but on the evening of the 4th the Tecumseh arrived, together with the Richmond, which had been for a few days at Pensacola preparing for the fight. "I regret to have detained you, admiral," said Craven, the commander of the monitor, "but had it not been for Captain Jenkins (of the Richmond), God knows when I should have been here. When your order came I had not received an ounce of coal." In his [269] report of the battle, Farragut warmly acknowledged the zeal and energy of Jenkins, to which he owed the seasonable arrival of this important re-enforcement. "He takes," he said, "as much interest in the fleet now as formerly when he was my chief-of-staff. He is also commanding officer of the second division of my squadron, and as such has shown ability and the most untiring zeal.... I feel I should not be doing my duty did I not call the attention of the Department to an officer who has performed all his various duties with so much zeal and fidelity." Farragut has been charged with failure to notice adequately the services of those under him; but the foregoing words, which are not by any means unparalleled in his dispatches, show that he could praise cordially when he saw fitting occasion.

The night of August 4th was quiet, the sea smooth, with a light air just rippling the surface of the water. At sundown it had been raining hard, but toward midnight cleared off, the weather becoming hot and calm. Later on a light air again sprang up from the southwest. The admiral was not well, and slept restlessly. About three in the morning he called his servant and sent him to find out how the wind was. Learning that it was from the quarter he wished, he said, "Then we will go in in the morning." Between four and five the lighter vessels got under way and went alongside those to which they were to be lashed. When daybreak was reported Farragut was already at breakfast with the captain of the Hartford, Percival Drayton, and the fleet-surgeon, Dr. James C. Palmer, who had left his usual post at the hospital in Pensacola to superintend the care of those wounded in the approaching [270] battle. It was then about half-past five; the couples were all formed, and the admiral, still sipping his tea, said quietly, "Well, Drayton, we might as well get under way." The signal was made and at once acknowledged by the vessels, which had all been awaiting it, and the seamen began to heave round on the cables. The taking their assigned positions in the column by the different pairs consumed some time, during which the flag-ship crossed the bar, at ten minutes past six. At half-past six the column of wooden vessels was formed, and the monitors were standing down from Sand Island into their stations, in gaining which some little further delay was caused. At this time all the ships hoisted the United States flag, not only at the peak where it commonly flies, but at every mast-head as well.

It had been the intention of the admiral to lead the column of wooden vessels with his own ship; but at the earnest request of many officers, who thought the fleet should not incur the greater risk consequent upon having its commander in so exposed a position, be reluctantly consented to waive his purpose, and the Brooklyn was appointed to this post of honor. To this selection contributed also the fact that the Brooklyn had more than the usual number of chase guns, the advantage of which has been explained, and also an arrangement for picking up torpedoes. Bitterly afterward did Farragut regret his yielding on this occasion. "I believe this to be an error," he wrote in his official report of the battle; "for, apart from the fact that exposure is one of the penalties of rank in the navy, it will always be the aim of the enemy to destroy the flag-ship, and, as will appear in the sequel, such attempt was very [271] persistently made." "The fact is," he said in one of his letters home, "had I been the obstinate man you sometimes think me, I would have led in the fleet and saved the Tecumseh"--meaning, doubtless, that, by interposing between that important vessel and the buoy which marked the torpedo line, he would have prevented the error which caused her loss. Some notes upon the action found afterward among his papers contain the same opinion, more fully and deliberately expressed. "Allowing the Brooklyn to go ahead was a great error. It lost not only the Tecumseh, but many valuable lives, by keeping us under the fire of the forts for thirty minutes; whereas, had I led, as I intended to do, I would have gone inside the buoys, and all would have followed me." The Hartford took the second place in the column, having secured on her port or off side the side-wheel gunboat Metacomet, Lieutenant-Commander James E. Jouett.

While the monitors were taking their stations, the Tecumseh, which led their column, fired two shots at the fort. At five minutes before seven, the order of battle now being fully formed, the fleet went ahead. Ten minutes later Fort Morgan opened fire upon the Brooklyn, which at once replied with her bow guns, followed very soon by those of the fighting column of wooden ships; a brisk cannonade ensuing between them, the monitors, and the fort. In order to see more clearly, and at the same time to have immediately by him the persons upon whom he most depended for governing the motions of the ship, Farragut had taken his position in the port main-rigging. Here he had near him Captain Jouett, standing on the wheel-house of the Metacomet, and [272] also the pilot, who as at Port Hudson, had been stationed aloft, on this occasion in the maintop, so as to see well over the smoke. As this increased and rose higher, Farragut went up step by step until he was close under the maintop. Here, without losing touch with Jouett, he was very near the pilot, had the whole scene of battle spread out under his eyes, and at the same time, by bracing himself against the futtock shrouds, was able to use his spy-glass more freely. Captain Drayton, however, being alarmed lest he might be thrown to the deck, directed a seaman to carry a lashing aloft and secure him to the rigging, which the admiral, after a moment's remonstrance, permitted. By such a simple and natural train of causes was Farragut brought to and secured in a position which he, like any other commander-in-chief, had sought merely in order better to see the operations he had to direct; but popular fancy was caught by the circumstance, and to his amusement he found that an admiral lashed to the rigging was invested with a significance equivalent to that of colors nailed to the mast. "The illustrated papers are very amusing," he wrote home. "Leslie has me lashed up to the mast like a culprit, and says, 'It is the way officers will hereafter go into battle, etc.' You understand, I was only standing in the rigging with a rope that dear boy Watson had brought me up," (this was later in the action, when the admiral had shifted his position), "saying that if I would stand there I had better secure myself against falling; and I thanked him for his consideration, and took a turn around and over the shrouds and around my body for fear of being wounded, as shots were flying rather thickly."

[273] Shortly after the monitors and the bow guns of the fleet began firing, the enemy's gunboats and the Tennessee moved out from behind Morgan and took their position enfilading the channel. Twenty minutes later, through the advance of the column, the broadsides of the leading ships began to bear upon the fort; and as these heavy batteries vomited their iron rain the fire of the defense visibly slackened. Amid the scene of uproar and slaughter, in which the petty Confederate flotilla, thanks to its position of vantage, was playing a deadly part quite out of proportion to its actual strength, the Tecumseh alone was silent. After the first two shots fired by her, which were rather the signal of warning than the opening of the battle, she had loaded her two guns with steel shot, backed by the heaviest charge of powder allowed, and, thus prepared, reserved her fire for the Tennessee alone. "I believe," wrote Farragut in a private letter, "that the Tecumseh would have gone up and grappled with and captured the Tennessee. Craven's heart was bent upon it."

The two columns, of ironclads and of wooden vessels lashed together in pairs, were now approaching the line of torpedoes and the narrow entrance through which lay the path of safety; and the broadsides of the heavy sloops which led--the Brooklyn, the Hartford, the Richmond--supported by the less numerous but still powerful batteries following, and by the guns of the turreted ironclads, overbore the fire of the works. All promised fairly, provided the leaders of the two columns pushed rapidly and unhesitatingly in the direction assigned them. But almost at the same moment doubt seized them both, and led to a double disaster. As Craven, leading the [274] monitor column, and then about three hundred yards in advance of the Brooklyn, drew up to the buoy, to the eastward of which he had been directed to go, he saw it so nearly in line with the point beyond that he could not believe it possible to pass. "It is impossible that the admiral means us to go inside that buoy," he said to the pilot; " I can not turn my ship." Just then the Tennessee moved a little ahead, to the westward; and Craven, under the double impulse of his doubt and of his fear lest the hostile ironclad should escape him, changed his course to the left and pushed straight for her, the Tecumseh heading to pass the buoy on the wrong side.

The movement thus indicated, if followed by the succeeding monitors, would throw that column across the path of the wooden ships if the latter endeavored to obey their orders to pass east of the buoy. At the same moment there were seen from the Brooklyn, in the water ahead, certain objects which were taken to be buoys for torpedoes. The ship was at once stopped and backed, coming down upon the Hartford, her next astern, which also stopped, but did not reverse her engines. The Richmond followed the Hartford's movements, and the two ships drifted up with the young flood tide, but with their heads still pointed in the right direction, toward the Brooklyn; the stern of the latter vessel, as she backed, coming up into the wind so that her bows turned toward the fort. Fortunately, the rear ships were some little distance off; but Farragut, ignorant of the cause of the Brooklyn's action, saw his line of battle doubling up and threatened with an almost inextricable confusion, in the most difficult and exposed part of the passage, under a cross-fire from the fort [275] and the enemy's vessels. Immediately upon this frightful perplexity succeeded the great disaster of the day. Craven, pursuing his course across the suspected line of danger, had reached within two hundred yards of the Tennessee, and the crews of both vessels were waiting with tense nerves for the expected collision, when a torpedo exploded under the Tecumseh, then distant a little over five hundred yards from the Hartford. From his elevated post of observation Farragut saw her reel violently from side to side, lurch heavily over, and then go down head foremost, her screw revolving wildly in the air as she disappeared.

It was the supreme moment of his life, in which the scales of his fortunes wavered in the balance. All the long years of preparation, of faithful devotion to obscure duty awaiting the opportunity that might never come--all the success attending the two brief years in which his flag had flown--all the glories of the river fights--on the one side; and on the other, threatening to overbear and wreck all, a danger he could not measure, but whose dire reality had been testified by the catastrophe just befallen under his own eyes. Added to this was the complication in the order of battle ahead of him, produced by the double movements of the Brooklyn and Tecumseh, which no longer allowed him to seize the one open path, follow his own first brave thought, and lead his fleet in person through the narrow way where, if at all, safety lay. The Brooklyn, when she began to back, was on the starboard bow of the flag-ship, distant one or two hundred yards, and falling off to starboard lay directly in the way athwart the channel. The second monitor, Manhattan, of the same [276] class as the Tecumseh, had passed ahead; but the two light-draughts, the Winnebago and Chickasaw, were drawing up abreast of the three ships thus massed together. As they passed, the admiration of the officers of the flag-ship was stirred to see Captain Stevens, of the Winnebago, pacing calmly from turret to turret of his unwieldy vessel, under the full fire of the fort; while of Perkins, in the Chickasaw, the youngest commander in the fleet, and then about twenty-seven years of age, an officer of high position in the flag-ship says, "As he passed the Hartford he was on top of the turret, waving his hat and dancing about with delight and excitement."

But as they went thus gallantly by, the position of these vessels, combined with that of the Brooklyn relatively to the flag-ship, forbade the latter's turning in that direction unless at the risk of adding to a confusion already sufficiently perilous. A signal was made and repeated to the Brooklyn to go ahead; but that vessel gave no sign of moving, her commander being probably perplexed between his orders to pass east of the buoy and the difficulty of doing so, owing to the position into which his ship had now fallen and the situation of the monitors. But to remain thus motionless and undecided, under the fire of the fort with the other ships coming up to swell the size of the target offered to its gunners and to increase the confusion, was out of the question. To advance or to recede seemed alike dangerous. Ahead lay the dreaded line of torpedoes; behind was the possibility of retreat, but beaten, battled, and disastrous. All depended upon the prompt decision of the admiral. If he failed himself, or if fortune failed him now, [277] his brilliant career of success ended in the gloom of a defeat the degree of which could not be foreseen. In later days, Farragut told that in the confusion of these moments, feeling that all his plans had been thwarted, he was at a loss whether to advance or retreat. In this extremity the devout spirit that ruled his life, and so constantly appears in his correspondence, impelled him to appeal to Heaven for guidance, and he offered up this prayer: "O God, who created man and gave him reason, direct me what to do. Shall I go on?" "And it seemed," said the admiral, "as if in answer a voice commanded, 'Go on!'"

To such a prompting his gallant temper and clear intuitions in all matters relating to war were quick to respond. Personal danger could not deter him; and if it was necessary that some one ship should set the example and force a way through the torpedo line by the sacrifice of herself, he was prepared by all his habits of thought to accept that duty for the vessel bearing his flag. Describing the spirit in which he began an arduous enterprise, after once deciding that it should be undertaken, he said: "I calculate thus: The chances are that I shall lose some of my vessels by torpedoes or the guns of the enemy, but with some of my fleet afloat I shall eventually be successful. I can not lose all. I will attack, regardless of consequences, and never turn back." To a mind thus disciplined and prepared, the unforeseen dilemma presented before the barriers of Mobile Bay caused but a passing perplexity. Like the Puritan soldier who trusted in God and kept his powder dry, Farragut met the overthrow of his carefully arranged plans and the sudden decision thrust [278] upon him with the calm resolution of a man who has counted the cost and is strengthened by a profound dependence upon the will of the Almighty. He resolved to go forward.

The Hartford was now too near the Brooklyn to go clear by a simple movement of her helm. Backing hard, therefore, the wheels of the Metacomet, while turning her own screw ahead, her bows were twisted short round, as in a like strait they had been pointed fair under the batteries of Port Hudson; then, going ahead fast, the two ships passed close under the stern of the Brooklyn and dashed straight at the line of the buoys. As they thus went by the vessel which till then had led, a warning cry came from her that there were torpedoes ahead. "Damn the torpedoes!" shouted the admiral, in the exaltation of his high purpose. "Four bells!(24) Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!" The Hartford and her consort crossed the line about five hundred yards from Mobile Point, well to the westward of the buoy and of the spot where the Tecumseh had gone down. As they passed between the buoys, the cases of the torpedoes were heard by many on board knocking against the copper of the bottom, and many of the primers snapped audibly, but no torpedo exploded. The Hartford went safely through, the gates of Mobile Bay were forced, and as Farragut's flag cleared the obstructions his last and hardest battle was virtually won. The Brooklyn got her head round, the Richmond supporting her by a sustained fire from her [279] heavy broadside; and, after a delay which allowed the flag-ship to gain nearly a mile upon them, the other ships in order followed the Hartford, "believing," wrote the admiral in his dispatch, "that they were going to a noble death with their commander-in-chief."

After the flag-ship had passed the torpedo line the enemy's three gunboats began retreating slowly up the bay, keeping ahead and on her starboard bow, where her guns could not bear while their own raked her. The conditions of the channel did not yet allow her to deviate from her course in order to return their fire. At no period of the battle did the Hartford suffer so much as during the fifteen minutes she had to endure this galling punishment. The Tennessee, being inferior in speed to her consorts as well as to the Hartford, could not accompany this movement; and, moreover, Buchanan, the Confederate admiral, had set his heart upon ramming the vessel that bore the flag of his old friend Farragut. The Tennessee therefore stood toward the Hartford, but failed in her thrust, the Union vessel avoiding it easily with a movement of her helm. The ram then fired two shots at very short range, but singularly enough both missed. "I took no further notice of her," wrote Farragut, "than to return her fire." The Tennessee followed some little distance up the bay, and then, changing her mind, turned toward the column of wooden vessels that was now approaching, with the three monitors covering their right flank and somewhat in the rear; these having delayed to engage the fire of the fort while their more vulnerable companions went by. The Confederate ironclad passed along the column from van to rear, exchanging [280] shots with most of the vessels in it. The Monongahela attempted to ram her, but, being embarrassed by the gunboat lashed alongside, succeeded only in giving a glancing blow; while the Oneida, the ship on the fighting side of the rear couple, already completely disabled in her motive power by a shot through the boiler, received a raking broadside, by which her captain, Mullany, lost an arm.

At the time the Tennessee went about to encounter the remaining vessels of the fleet, which was about eight o'clock, the course of the channel enabled the Hartford to turn sufficiently to bring her broadside to bear on her puny assailants. By the fire she then opened, one, the Gaines, was so much injured as to be with difficulty kept afloat until she could take refuge under Fort Morgan, where she was that night burned by her commander. All three retreated rapidly toward the shoal water on the east side of the bay. Farragut then signaled for the gunboats of his fleet to chase those of the enemy. Jouett, being alongside, received the order by word of mouth, and the admiral often afterward spoke with enthusiasm of the hearty "Ay, ay, sir!" he received in reply, and of the promptness with which the fasts were cut, the men being already by them, hatchet in hand. The Metacomet backed clear at once and started rapidly in pursuit. The gunboats in the rear followed as soon as the signal was made out; but, both from their position and from the inevitable delay in reading signals, they were at a disadvantage. A thick rain squall coming up soon after hid both pursuers and pursued from each other's sight. The Morgan and the Gaines took advantage [281] of it to change their course for Fort Morgan; the third Confederate, the Selma, kept straight on, as did the Metacomet. When the squall cleared, the latter found herself ahead of her chase. One shot was fired, killing the first lieutenant and some of the crew of the Selma, whose flag was then hauled down. The Morgan made good her retreat under the fort, and that night succeeded in escaping up the bay to the city, although she was seen and fired upon by several of Farragut's vessels.

At half-past eight o'clock, three hours after the first signal was made to get under way and an hour and a half after the action began, the flag-ship anchored in the upper part of the deep pocket into which the channel expands after passing the entrance. She was then about four miles from Fort Morgan, and the crew were sent to breakfast. The admiral had come down from his post in the main rigging and was standing on the poop, when Captain Drayton came up to him and said: "What we have done has been well done, sir; but it all counts for nothing so long as the Tennessee is there under the guns of Morgan." "I know it," replied Farragut, "and as soon as the people have had their breakfasts I am going for her." These words were exchanged in the hearing of the first lieutenant of the Hartford, now Rear-Admiral Kimberly, and at present the senior officer upon the active list of the United States Navy. In writing home a few weeks later, the admiral said: "If I had not captured the Tennessee as I did, I should have taken her that night with the monitors, or tried it." The latter undoubtedly represents the more deliberate opinion, that would have guided him had Buchanan not played into his hands [282] by attacking the fleet; for if the Tennessee had remained under Morgan and there been sought by the monitors, the fight would have been at such close quarters that in the darkness the fort could scarcely have joined without imminent risk of hurting friend as well as foe.

As it was, the Confederate admiral seems never to have contemplated any more prudent or sagacious course than a single-handed free fight with the fleet. As soon as the Tennessee had passed the rear of the enemy's column, Buchanan said to the captain of the ram: "Follow them up, Johnston; we can't let them off that way." In turning, the Tennessee took much room, appearing from the fleet to have gone back under the guns of Fort Morgan; and the various ships, as they came up, were anchoring near the Hartford, expecting a few quiet hours. They were soon undeceived. The brief conversation above reported between Farragut and his flag-captain had scarcely ended when the ram was seen to be moving out from under the fort. Captain Drayton reported the fact to the admiral, saying that she was going outside to attack the United States vessels still remaining there. " Then," said Farragut, "we must follow him out." The remark indicates an alternative to the course actually adopted by Buchanan, and one whose issue would depend less upon the United States commander-in-chief than upon the conduct of the vessels outside. If these were so imprudent as not to retire, Farragut might have been forced to run twice again the gantlet of Fort Morgan and of the torpedo line--once to protect them, and afterward to regain the position he had just achieved.

[283] It must be admitted that the question before the Confederate admiral, what to do with one unwieldy though powerful vessel opposed to fourteen enemies, was hard to solve; nor did he have, in a precise knowledge of the speed, battery, and other qualities of his opponents, the data needed for an accurate solution. In a general way, however, he must have known that the guns of the United States fleet were mainly smooth-bores, with but moderate penetrative power upon iron-plating such as the Tennessee's; and during the morning's encounter he had acquired experimental knowledge of their impotence against her sides, unless by a continuous pounding such as he was now about to invite. He knew also that several of the hostile vessels were of too heavy draught to take any efficient part, if he refused, as was in his power, to enter the pocket in which they were now anchored; while the general gentle shelving of the bottom enabled a foot's difference in draught to secure a very considerable separation in distance. Every wooden ship was vulnerable to him and impotent against him at the ranges which his rifles permitted him to use.

With the monitors Buchanan had not yet come into collision; but one of the most formidable was sunk, and until he had learned something about their endurance and the power of their guns relatively to those of his own vessel, it would seem that his action, though immediate, should have been only tentative. If it proved on trial that the speed of the Tennessee was greater than that of the monitors, she might yet prove master of the situation. Despite the beak, which her wretched speed and exposed steering chains rendered untrustworthy, her [284] great defensive strength and the fact of carrying rifled guns indicated that long range, and not close quarters, was the first game of the Tennessee. There she could hurt, and she could not be hurt. Had she, for instance, hovered at a distance, firing deliberately at the Union vessels, Farragut must have attacked; and she could then have retired either into shoaler water, retaining her advantage in range, or else under the guns of Morgan, which would have strongly re-enforced her fight. The fact that Farragut, whose instinct for war was commonly accurate, proposed to attack her at close quarters and by night, is the best argument that Buchanan should have sought long range and daylight for his action. As it was, his headlong charge into the Union fleet was a magnificent display of inconsiderate bravery, in which such advantages as he had were recklessly thrown away. Its purpose is not clear. If, as Farragut thought, it was to sink his flag-ship, it can only be replied that an admiral's flag is not a red rag for a bull to charge. Had the Hartford been sunk when the column doubled up an hour or so before, the loss of the leader at so critical a moment might have decided the day; but to sink her in the mêlée within would have been a barren, though brilliant, feat of arms.

As soon as it was ascertained that the Tennessee was really coming up to attack, the mess-gear was hurried aside and the orders given to get under way. Some of the fleet had not yet anchored, and the monitors were not yet arrived at the place where the others were gathered. Dr. Palmer, the fleet surgeon, was just leaving the flag-ship in a steam-launch, for the purpose of making a round among [285] the other vessels to see to the condition of their wounded. Farragut called him alongside and directed him to go to the monitors with orders to attack the Tennessee. These Palmer delivered in person to each ironclad. "Happy as my friend Perkins (of the Chickasaw) habitually is," he wrote in his diary, "I thought he would turn a somersault overboard with joy when I told him, 'The admiral wants you to go at once and fight that Tennessee.'" The wooden vessels at the same time were directed to charge the ram, bows on, at full speed, as well as to attack her with their guns.

The monitors being, like the Tennessee herself, very slow, the ramming contest first began. The first to reach the hostile ironclad was the Monongahela, Captain Strong, which struck her squarely amidships on the starboard side, when she was still four hundred yards distant from the body of the fleet. Five minutes later the Lackawanna, Captain Marchand, going at full speed, delivered her blow also at right angles on the port side, abreast the after end of the armored superstructure. As they swung round, both United States vessels fired such guns as would bear, but the shot glanced harmlessly from the armor; nor did the blow of the ships themselves produce any serious injury upon the enemy, although their own stems were crushed in for several feet above and below the water line. Upon them followed the Hartford, approaching, like the Lackawanna, on the port side; but toward her the Tennessee turned, so that the two met nearly, though not exactly, bows on. The Hartford's anchor, which there had not been time to cat, was hanging at the water's edge; it took the brunt of the collision, [286] which doubled it up, and the two antagonists scraped by, their port sides touching. At that close range seven nine-inch guns were discharged against the sloping sides of the ironclad, but without effect. The admiral had clambered again into the rigging, on this occasion into the port mizzen-rigging, whence he watched the effects of this encounter. Both the Lackawanna and the Hartford now made a circuit to get a position whence they could again charge the enemy; but in the midst of their sweep the Lackawanna ran square into the flag- ship, striking near where Farragut stood, and cutting the vessel down to within two feet of the water. The immediate impression among the ship's company was that the injury was fatal; and the general cry that arose, "Save the admiral! Get the admiral on board the Lackawanna!" by its ignoring of their own danger, testified how Farragut's martial and personal qualities had won a way into the affections of his subordinates. With an activity for which he had been remarkable in middle life, and retained even now when in his sixties, the admiral jumped into the chains to ascertain the extent of the injury; then, finding that the ship was in no present danger, he ordered her again to be headed for the Tennessee.

Meanwhile the monitors had come up, and the battle had begun between them and the enemy. One of the Manhattan's fifteen-inch guns had been disabled; and the slow firing of those unwieldy weapons, with the imperfect mechanical appliances then used for loading them, prevented her doing the injury that might have been expected. One shot struck square, breaking through the port side of the armor; but even so the missile itself did not enter [287] the vessel, a strong evidence of the power of the Tennessee to resist a single shot. But she was not equally invulnerable to the sustained and continuous hammering of even lighter projectiles. The Winnebago's turrets, being out of order, could not be turned, and consequently the guns could be brought to bear only by moving the helm; a circumstance which materially reduced her fire. The Chickasaw, however, was in better case. Lieutenant-Commander Perkins got her into position under the stern of the Tennessee just after the latter's collision with the Hartford; and there he stuck to the end, never over fifty yards distant, and keeping up a steady rapping of eleven-inch shot upon the fabric which they could not at once penetrate, but which they visibly shook. Fifty-two of these projectiles were fired from the Chickasaw in the short half-hour of her attack. The exposed rudder-chains were shot away, and at nearly the same time the smoke-stack came down. Admiral Buchanan was wounded by an iron splinter, which broke his leg and otherwise injured it to such an extent that the limb was with difficulty saved. He turned over the command to Captain Johnston, who stood the pounding for twenty minutes longer and then reported to his superior that the ship was helpless, could not be steered, and that for half an hour he had not been able to bring a gun to bear. "Well," replied Buchanan, "if you can not do them any further damage you had better surrender."

The Tennessee's flag had been several times shot away, and was now flying from a boat-hook. Not being very conspicuous, its removal was not immediately noticed, and Johnston had to show a white flag to put a stop to the firing. "She was at this time sore [288] beset," said Farragut in his dispatch to the Navy Department; "the Chickasaw was pounding away at her stern, the Ossipee was approaching her at full speed, and the Monongahela, Lackawanna, and Hartford were bearing down upon her, determined upon her destruction. Her smoke-stack had been shot away, her steering chains were gone, compelling a resort to her relieving tackles, and several of her port shutters were jammed. Indeed, from the time the Hartford struck her until her surrender she never fired a gun." No stronger evidence can be offered than this last sentence, which Johnston's account corroborates, of how completely Buchanan miscalculated, or disregarded, the capabilities of the important vessel he controlled. Great as was her power to resist a single shot, or the end-on charge of a heavy vessel, when she surrendered nearly all the plating on the after side of the casemate was found to be started, and the after gun-carriage was disabled; there being distinct marks of nine eleven-inch solid shot having struck within a few square feet of that port. Three of her port shutters also were so damaged that their guns could not be fired.

Thus ended the great battle of Mobile Bay, the crowning achievement of Farragut's naval career; "one of the hardest-earned victories of my life," to quote his own words, "and the most desperate battle I ever fought since the days of the old Essex." "You may pass through a long career and see many an action," he remarked to one of the junior officers of the Hartford, in the interval between first anchoring and the conflict with the Tennessee, "without seeing as much bloodshed as you [289] have this day witnessed." The loss of the flag-ship herself had been twenty-five killed and twenty-eight wounded out of a ship's company of some three hundred souls. The Brooklyn, a ship of the same force, had almost exactly the same number of casualties--eleven killed and forty-three wounded. Contrasting the equal suffering of the latter--delayed so long under the numerous guns of the fort, but supported by the fire of the other vessels--with that of the flag-ship, inflicted by the batteries of the enemy's gun-boats, few in number, but worked for the time with impunity, we find an excellent illustration of Farragut's oft-repeated maxim, that "to hurt your enemy is the best way to keep him from hurting you." The total loss of the United States fleet in the battle was three hundred and thirty-five; of whom one hundred and thirteen were at the bottom of the bay, coffined in the iron hull of the Tecumseh.

Not quite three hours elapsed from the time that Morgan fired its first gun to the moment when the Tennessee hauled down her flag and confessed the United States fleet mistress of the bay. The forts still stood with the Confederate flag flying from them in defiance; and it is reported that the commander of Morgan retorted to a summons to surrender, that he looked upon Farragut's fleet as practically prisoners in a port whose keys he held. If so, it was the high-hearted resolve of a man determined to hold his charge to the last, and not the sober conviction of a soldier, that spoke. Like the river forts when Farragut's fleet forced its way past and stood between them and their base of supplies, the defenses of Mobile were isolated by the results [290] of the morning's fight, and their fall became but a question of time. There was no mutiny of the garrison, as on the former occasion, for the stern experience of war had better taught the men the business of a soldier; but it was at once practicable here to begin siege operations, which in the river would perhaps have been for a time postponed, owing to the overflowed state of the country. The preparations for these were pushed with vigor, and the navy also took a hand against the works. Four hours after the surrender of the Tennessee, the Chickasaw weighed her anchor and steamed down toward Grant's Pass to shell Fort Powell. Built to resist an attack from Mississippi Sound, the work was weak in the direction of the bay. "The ironclad's fire," reported the officer in command, "made it impossible to man the two guns in the rear, and I made no attempt to do so." That night the fort was evacuated and blown up. The following day the Chickasaw threw some shells into Fort Gaines, in consequence of which, and of the progress made by General Granger in his approaches, that work was surrendered on the 7th of August. Morgan still standing out, the army was transferred from Dauphin Island to Mobile Point, batteries were constructed, and on the 17th a siege train from New Orleans was landed. On the 22d, at daylight, the siege guns, the three monitors, the captured Tennessee, and the ships, both outside and inside the bay, opened together. The following day Fort Morgan capitulated.

A gratifying feature in these operations, as well as in all Farragut's official association with the army, was the cordial good feeling and co-operation which existed between the two services, and which were [291] equally manifested in the upper Mississippi between Grant and Porter. General Butler, Farragut's first colleague in the Gulf and at New Orleans, but who had long since left the department, wrote him a most enthusiastic letter of congratulation upon receiving the news of the battle of Mobile Bay; and General Granger, in concluding his report of the siege operations against Gaines and Morgan, said: "I am pleased to record the perfect harmony existing between these two branches of the service. For my own part, I can not sufficiently acknowledge the assistance rendered by the fleet and the admiral in command in transporting and disembarking the troops, guns, and materials employed by me in the operations. In brief, during all our relations, the officers of the fleet, with their distinguished commander, displayed in a high degree those qualities which mark their gallant service." To the officers of the navy the testimonies thus given can not but be most grateful; not merely as acknowledgments of the important part played by a service whose work is too often ignored by historians, but chiefly as giving an added lustre to the brilliant reputation of its two most distinguished representatives, who successively filled the high position of admiral of the navy.

After the capitulation of the forts, Admiral Farragut remained in Mobile Bay until the following November. The lower bay was cleared of torpedoes and reconnoissances made toward Mobile; but he wrote adversely to any attempt against the city, now that it was sealed as a port to blockade runners. "It would be an elephant," be wrote, "and take an army to hold it. And besides, all the traitors and [292] rascally speculators would flock to that city and pour into the Confederacy the wealth of New York." He confesses also his dislike to operations in very shoal water. "I am in no way diffident about going anywhere in the Hartford, but when I have to leave her and take to a craft drawing six feet of water I feel badly."

The admiral's health was now suffering much from the combined effects of his labors, his anxieties, and the climate. "I am as well as a man can be who can neither sit, walk, nor stand five minutes at a time on account of Job's comforters. But, thank God (I have so much to be thankful for that I am thanking him all the time), I am otherwise in pretty good condition." Despite this brave effort at cheerfulness, his letters from time to time began to show symptoms of depression, and he longed for rest. "This is the last of my work," he said, "and I expect a little respite." His enfeebled condition drew the attention and excited the alarm of those about him. "I was talking to the admiral to-day," wrote Perkins, of the Chickasaw, the day after Morgan surrendered, "when all at once he fainted away. He is not very well and is all tired out. It gave me quite a shock, and shows how exhausted he is, and his health is not very good, any way. He is a mighty fine old fellow." Captain Drayton also wrote home to his family that, if the admiral remained longer in the Gulf, he feared for the consequences.

Under these circumstances an order from the Navy Department, dated the 5th of September, assigning him to the command of the Fort Fisher expedition, greatly upset him. He had about a week before written to the Secretary to say that his [293] strength was almost exhausted. "I am willing," he concluded, "to do the bidding of the department as long as I am able to the best of my abilities. I fear, however, that my health is giving way. I have now been down in the Gulf five years out of six, with the exception of the short time at home last fall; the last six months have been a severe drag upon me, and I want rest, if it is to be had."

To so reasonable a request, after such distinguished and valuable service, the department could not have closed its ears had it been so disposed. Farragut was authorized to leave his squadron in charge of Commodore James S. Palmer, a very gallant and efficient officer, and to come north in the Hartford. On the 30th of November, 1864, he sailed from Pensacola, and on the 12th of December the flag-ship again anchored in New York Harbor.

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