April 25, 2017 2 Comments
David Glasgow Farragut had a problem; he’d been shelling the forts below New Orleans for a solid week, expending 15,000 shells. He was starting to shake some of his ships apart, and it seemed as if he was making no progress either.
For that matter, the war wasn’t going all that well, either, in that spring of 1862. Just a few days ago, Grant had been surprised at Shiloh Church, and while he recovered on the second day, the butcher’s bill was shocking. And as always, the accusations flew fast and furious that Grant had been drunk, and that Sherman was mad. Well maybe Grant was, he was never at his best when his wife, Julia, was not with him, and Uncle Billy had his moments, but they would come into their own, right now they were stifled by superior officers, Shiloh would begin to cure that.
In the east, McClellan was in the process of getting bogged down, both militarily and in the mud, on the Peninsula. Smartly executed, it was a plan that might well have taken Richmond, whether it would have ended the war is quite doubtful. But in any case, Pinkerton, who was his intelligence chief, exaggerated the forces arrayed against him, and ‘Mac’ wasn’t over bold, in any case. Part of that was because of his love of his troops, which they returned, he tended to forget his mission to safeguard them, which of course, made it worse. It would also have the strange outcome of Mac running against Lincoln in 1864, on a platform that the war had failed, although not saying that it lasted longer and was more deadly because of him.
Soon, R.E. Lee would replace Johnston who would be wounded commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, give orders to suppress General Pope’s army, thus setting in train the moves that would lead to ‘artillery hell’ or Antietam, and thus a very narrow window, which gave the President his opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
So, while there was some cause for optimism in Washington, you weren’t going to get it from the press. Farragut knew all this, of course, and it wasn’t likely to be career enhancing to go back down the Mississippi with his tail between his legs. He also had something new. Most or maybe all of his combatant ships were steam powered, he could go straight into the wind, for nearly the first time in history, a naval commander wasn’t dependent on the wind. And so he decided.
Yesterday, his squadron ran the batteries downstream from New Orleans, they took some damage, but they made it, and then scattered a makeshift flotilla, above the city. It took a considerable portion of guts because it looked like a very good way to sink the entire squadron. But you know, conventional thinking is often wrong.
And so, today, at noon, Admiral Farragut would step onto the levee at New Orleans, and soon there would be 10,000 Union troops in town. And the Confederates would lose for all time, the great port of the old southwest, not to mention that while they could still cross ship on the river (until Grant took Vicksburg, in about a year) it was closed to international trade. And that was one of the first blows that doomed the Confederacy. Today in 1862.