The Civil War – Battle of New Orleans and naval power

In late April, one hundred and fifty years ago, David Farragut, USN Flag Officer, was making his way up the Mississippi River toward the city of New Orleans, an international port city, the largest city in the Confederacy, and one of her busiest ports. First Farragut had to pass two Rebel forts close to the mouth of the river, Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Farragut spent weeks assessing the strength of the Confederates at the forts. While pounding the forts with heavy assaults from Yankee mortar boats, Federal crews cut a gap in the heavy chain which was strung across the river. In the pre-dawn hours of April 24, 1862, the Union fleet began moving upriver. Prior to the daring run up the Mississippi, fighting became intense as the Rebels fired from the forts and Union forces continued to bombard Fort Jackson. Confederates reported to the Associated Press, “that Fort Jackson alone had been targeted by some 25,000 13- inch shells but they vowed the fort was capable of absorbing heavy fire indefinitely.” Rather than engage in such heavy fighting more, Farragut chose to bypass the forts. Because Confederate strategists had expected an attack from upriver, not from the Gulf of Mexico, they had ordered several gunboats to intercept a Union fleet north of Memphis in early April. Confederate troops had been ordered to northeast Mississippi and the western part of Tennessee to fight the Union invasion in that region, with many seeing action at Shiloh. The city of New Orleans was left with few defensive options, with little naval power and only 3,000 militia soldiers to protect the city. Farragut managed to get “a fleet of 24 gunboats, 19 mortar boats, and 15,000 soldiers…past the forts,” according to the History Channel. On the next day, April 25, Farragut demanded that the city surrender. Mayor John Monroe was informed by Confederate Gen. Mansfield Lovell that his forces could not protect the city and a fight would mean serious damage and likely high casualties. Rebel troops withdrew and Federal troops arrived. The city formally surrendered on April 29, one day after Forts Jackson and St. Philip surrendered. On May 1, Union General Benjamin Butler and his troops entered the city. It is said that crowds of citizens cursed the Union soldiers as Confederate flags were taken down across the City and replaced by the Stars and Stripes. The Confederacy lost a major city and port, as well as access to the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. Federal forces would later use the Mississippi River to advance toward Vicksburg.