Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Farragut's Ships Under Attack

USS Varuna
 This is part of a series of posts on the capture of New Orleans. Seem them all here
The Union fleet finally made it past the fort with minimal damage, but the battle was not yet over. The Confederates had a small fleet of gunboats, and the small ironclad, the Manassas, which had sent the blockading squadron into flight in the battle of Head of Passes. She and the other Confederate vessels went out to take part in the fight. The Manassas turned on the Brooklyn.
The ram, the ram!" Craven called out, "... Put your helm to hard-a-starboard!" Then I saw the smokestacks of the Manassas and the flash from her gun, and the next moment I was nearly thrown on the deck by the concussion, caused by her striking us just amidships. I ran to the No. 10 port, the gun being in, and looked out, and saw her almost directly alongside. A man came out of her little hatch aft, ... and locked to see what damage the ram had done. I saw him turn, fall over, and tumble into the water ... I asked the quartermaster, who was leadsman in the chains, if he had seen him fall. "Why, yes, sir," said he, "I saw him fall overboard, - in fact, I helped him; for I hit him alongside of the head with my hand-lead." ... It was not until the coal in the starboard bunker had been used up and the side of the ship was uncovered that we realized what a blow she had received from the Manassas. On the outside the chain had been driven its depth into the planking, and on the inside, for a length of five feet or more, the planking was splintered and crushed in. The only thing that prevented the prow of the Manassas from sinking us was the fact that the bunker was full of coal.
After this unsuccessful attack the Manassas continued down stream, but the forts opened fire on her, mistaking her for a Union ship in the smoke. She eventually ran aground and the crew abandoned her, having failed to sink a single one of Farragut's ships. However, the other small Confederate steamers made attacks on the Federal fleet. The CSS Governor Moore, called a cotton clad as cotton was put on her decks for armor, encountered the USS Varuna ahead of the rest of the Federal fleet. Although much weaker, the Governor Moore boldly gave battle and rammed twice, taking many casualties. The Varuna, seriously damaged, sank near shore. This was the only large ship Farragut lost. Jubilant at his victory, the captain and most of the crew of the Governor Moore wanted to continue and take on the rest of the Federal fleet. However, the Lieutenant, would have none of it. It was wounded, as were most of the crew, and ignoring the captain's orders turned the ship towards shore. The Federal fleet opened on her, and she was abandoned.

Morning dawned on a victorious Federal fleet. Farragut had lost one large ship, the Varuna, and three smaller ones, and had lost 37 killed and 149 wounded. The Confederates had lost 12 killed and 40 wounded from the fort, along with the entire Confederate flotilla and most of the crew. But more importantly for both sides, the ships had run the fort. They were now in a position to easily capture the forts, and sail up river and subdue New Orleans.

Farragut's Fleet Runs the Forts

Mortar Boat
 This is part of a series of posts on the capture of New Orleans. Seem them all here

The Federals began their attack with a bombardment from Porter's mortar boats. They opened on April 18th and began firing steadily for the next few days. The mortars were a failure. Porter at thought the boats would complete their work in 48 hours, but in six they had not finished their work. The big shells at first scared the garrison, but they soon realized that although terrifying, the projectiles caused few casualties and little serious damage. The mortar crews themselves had even harder work, with the terrible concussion of firing the huge mortars every few minutes. The fire was finally stopped as the mortar crews were completely worn out, and it seemed useless to continue.
Mortar Boat

With the first part of the plan having failed, Farragut decided to try with his wooden ships. He had sent two of his ships forward, and they had been able to open a gap in the chain boom across the river. The ships would advance in two columns and when the forts opened fire, they would answer them, but their main focus would be to get past them as fast as possible. In preparing the ships chains were brought up to cover the critical parts, protecting them from Confederate shot, fire brigades were trained and the ships were covered with mud so that they could advance as far as possible without being seen. As was customary in sea battles, the decks were covered in sand so that the sailors would not slip in their comrade's blood.

The fleet set off at 2 am on April 24th, 150 years ago today. They were undetected until they reached the boom. At that moment the forts opened on the ships with tremendous noise, and the Federal ships soon replied. "Imagine all the earthquakes in the world, and all the thunder and lightnings together in a space of two miles, all going off at once." Farragut said the bombardment was "as if the artillery of heaven were playing upon earth." Farragut's ships were sucessfully making it through the gap in the chain, but they suffered under the fire from the forts. John Bartlet captain of the Brooklyn, wrote,
"As we came to the obstruction the water-battery on the Fort Jackson side opened a most destructive fire, and here the Brooklyn received her first shot. We gave the water-battery a broadside of grape. With our own smoke and the smoke from the vessels immediately ahead, it was impossible to direct the ship, so that we missed the opening between the hulks and brought up on the chain. We dropped back and tried again; this time the chain broke, but we swung alongside of one of the hulks, and the stream-anchor, hanging on the starboard quarter, caught, tore along the hulk, and then parted its lashings. The cable secured us just where the Confederates had the range of their guns, but somebody ran up with an axe and cut the hawser, and we began to steam up the river. ... There were many fire-rafts, and these and the flashing of the guns and bursting shells made it almost as light as day, but the smoke from the passing fleet was so thick that at times one could see nothing ten feet from the ship. While entangled with the rafts, the Brooklyn was hulled a number of times; one shot from Fort Jackson struck the rail just at the break of the poop and went nearly across, plowing out the deck in its course. Another struck Barney Sands, the signal quartermaster, and cut his body almost in two."
The Confederates were launching fire rafts, attempting to set the wooden vessels on fire. The flag ship ran aground, and a fire ship rammed into her. For a few minutes it appeared, that Farragut, the ship, and the entire crew would be engulfed in flames, but the crew was finally able to blow up the fire raft and get the ship afloat.

The Attack on New Orleans.

This is part of a series of posts on the capture of New Orleans. Seem them all here.

Soon after the North began the blockade of southern ports they began planning for an attack on New Orleans, the largest city in the south. One of their first goals of the war was to capture the Mississippi River, and s of course New Orleans, at the foot of the river, was a necessary part of that. The commander that was chosen to lead the fleet was David Farragut, an old sailor. His adopted brother, David Porter, was to lead a fleet of 20 new mortar boats with a thousand shells each to subdue the Confederate fortifications. Then Farragut would run past the forts with the rest of the fleet. 18,000 Northern troops were also brought along to aid in the siege. The government was not always confident in its choice of Farragut. Even his brother, David Porter, said,
"Men of his age in a seafaring life are not fit for important enterprises, they lack the vigor of youth. He talks very much at random at times and rather underrates the difficulties before him without fairly comprehending them I know what they are, and as he is impressible hope to make him appreciate them also. I have great hope in the mortars if all else fails.
The fleet arrived in position on April 16th.
Plan for Fort Jackson

The most important Confederate defenses of New Orleans were Forts Jackson and St. Philip, on opposite banks of the Mississippi river south of the city. They were positioned on a bend in the river, so that their 170 guns would have plenty of time to fire on slow moving ships. Chains were stretched across the river, giving the forts time to destroy the ships while attempts were made to cut them. Every moment was precious for the Confederate defenders, because two monster ironclads were being built in New Orleans. The Louisiana, 260 feet long with 16 cannon and the Mississippi 20 guns and 3 inch thick armor. The Louisiana was very close to completion. Her engines were installed, but the engineers could not get them to work. She was towed down to the forts to lend her firepower until her engines could be got working. The Mississippi was waiting on her machinery, which was being finished by the Tredgar ironworks. When they finally arrived, she would be the fasted ship in naval history. If these two ships could be let loose among Farragut's wooden navy, the fleet could put up little defense. The forts just had to hold out long enough for the ironclads to be completed.
Fort St. Philip

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Great Locomotive Chase

The Raiders
 150 years ago today occurred one of the most exciting and romantic events of the Civil War, the Great Locomotive Chase. Federal Major General Ormsby Mithcel was planning an attack on Chattanooga, on the Tennessee-Georgia line. However, an attack would be difficult as Chattanooga was protected by high mountains and the Tennessee River. James J. Andrews, a Northern civilian, developed a plan for a raid that would cut the important railroad connecting Chattanooga, Georgia, to Atlanta, Georgia. Mitchel could then more on Chattanooga without it being able to be reinforced by rail.

Andrews convinced 22 soldiers to volunteer for the mission, along with several civilians. They went behind the Confederate lines in civilian clothes, and all but two met at their rendezvous in Marietta, Georgia without behind detected. On the morning of April 12th, they hijacked the train the General in a small town with no telegraph, while the train was stopped for the pass angers to eat. Andrews set out, planning to destroy as much of the railroad as he could along the way. He was pursued by William Fuller, the conductor, along with several other men on a handcar. He stopped a train and was able to use it to chase Andrew's raiders. At Adairsville he encountered a break in the track made by the raiders, and so he ran on foot to the other side and commandeered the Texas coming south, and started her backwards towards the General. He was still not far behind the General, because the raiders had to keep to the train's schedule to avoid an accident with a southbound train. Along the way Andrews cut the telegraph wire to keep the Confederates from letting the stations and men up the line know of the captured train. As the raiders approached Chattanooga, they were unable to destroy the tunnels and bridges because the Texas was so close behind.

The General finally ran out of fuel near Ringgold, Georgia, just 18 miles from Chattanooga. Anderson and his men scattered, but they were not able to make their escape. Within two weeks all had been rounded up and put on trial as spies, since they were wearing civilian clothing. Eight of them were hung in the first weeks of June, and then the rest tried to make their escape to avoid a similar fate. Eight were successful in traveling the many miles back to the Union lines, and the rest were treated as prisoners of war and exchanged. These men were some of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. All but two of the soldiers were awarded it, those two being somehow lost in the shuffle. The civilians who participated, including Andrews, did not receive it since as civilians they were ineligible.

Fort Pulaski Captured

150 years ago today, Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, Georgia, surrendered to the Federals. Fort Pulaski was built by the United States before the war to defend the seacoast. It was begun in 1830, and finished fifteen years later. It was named after Casimir Pulaski, who had come over to America from Poland to fight in the Revolution. He served gallantly as a cavalry officer, dieing in the Battle of Savannah, and was granted honorary American citizenship. It was occupied by the Confederates, and for a time Robert E. Lee oversaw the the work on its improvement when he was in command of the southern defenses. It was thought to be impregnable, and the Joseph Totten, US army engineer, said "you might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains." The Federals determined to attack it none the less, as part of their efforts to recapture and close Southern blockade running ports, and to provide a base for the blockading squadron. The Northern advance began in earnest on November 24th, 1861. They began a regular siege of Pulaski, completely surrounding it, building batteries, and preparing a 10,000 man force to storm the walls if necessary.

On the morning of April 10th, 150 years ago yesterday, David Hunter, Union commander, sent a message to the fort's commander, Colonel Olmstead, requesting his surrender. Olmstead replied, “I am here to defend the fort, not to surrender it.” The Federal bombardment opened at 8:00, focusing their fire on the southeast corner, and the Confederate batteries replied. The bombardment continued throughout the day. The Federal fire was from rifled guns and mortars. Rifled guns, with their longer range and greater accuracy, were a rather new innovation in siege warfare. The fire from these guns were very effective. By nightfall a breach was beginning in the wall, and many of the Confederate guns were damaged.

The firing was resumed at 7:00 on the morning of April 11th, 150 years ago today. Olmstead rose the white flag over the fort at 2 PM. A large breach had been made in the walls, exposing the powder magazine. If the battle had continued much longer, the Union shots would have hit the magazine, resulting in a catastrophic explosion, probably demolishing the fort.

The Federals had built splinter-proof shelters which worked very well. Although the Confederate fire was fairly accurate, they only inflicted 1 killed and a handful wounded. The Confederates casualties were not very high either, but all of the approximately 400 men of the garrison of the fort were surrendered, as well has many guns.

The mortars were found to be not useful in destroying the structure of the fort, although they could be effective in destroying the troop's morale. Only 10% of the mortar shots hit the fort. The rifled guns however were very satisfactory. It was found that they could easily destroy a brick fort at 2,500 yards. The success of the rifled artillery was very surprising to the commanders on both sides. The Federals had spent many months in preparations that were completely unnecessary, and the Confederates expected that the fort could hold out until they ran out of provisions.

Union general David Hunter said,
"The result of this bombardment must cause, I am convinced, a change in the construction of fortifications as radical as that forshadowed in naval architecture by the conflict between the Monitor and Merrimac. No works of stone or brick can resist the impact of rifled artillery of heavy caliber."
As Hunter, guess, rifled artillery would revolutionize fort design. After the Civil War, forts were no longer built of brick, instead earthworks were used.

Although Savannah would not fall until many months later when Sherman captured it at the conclusion of the March to the Sea, the capture of Fort Pulaski made the harbor useless to the Confederacy. The South had lost the use of an important port for blockade running, and the North had gained a base to continuing their blockade of the rest of the forts.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Battle of Fallen Timbers

The day after the bloody battle of Shiloh, 150 years ago today, Grant sent Sherman forward to pursue the Confederates. He brought along two brigades of infantry and a few cavalry troopers, and Wood's division from Buell. Six miles from Pittsburg Landing, they encountered 350 Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sherman sent infantry skirmishers through a 200 yard section of road covered by Fallen Timbers, from which the skirmish would take its name. Forrest ordered his troops forward, and they charged the Union skirmishers. They surprised the Yankees, cutting and slashing their way forward. This was Forrest's method of tactics. He knew little of traditional warfare, but developed his own methods that were very successful. His men riding through the disorganized Federals, captured 43 men, and almost Sherman himself. However, he suddenly stumbled upon the main body of Union infantry. The Confederates pulled up their horses, but Forrest kept riding, unaware of his men's halt. Ploughing into the Federal line, he soon realized he was all alone. He hacked and slashed the Federals with his pistol and saber as they tried to pull him down from his horse. Finally breaking free, he grabbed a soldier by the collar and rode back to his men, holding the Northerner behind him as a shield from bullets. He made it back to his amazed troopers, and it was found that he was seriously wounded with a bullet in his spine. He survived his wound and would continued to fight the Federals throughout the war. Sherman did not continue his pursuit much further, and he allowed Beauregard to return to Corinth, Mississippi without serious pursuit.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Battle of Shiloh, Day 2

The day before, Grant's army at Shiloh, Tennessee had been struck by Beauregard and Johnston. His lines had been pushed back, but through the brave defense of Prentiss's division, he had not been dealt a fatal blow. Grant was optimistic about his situation, as Buell's army was on the way, "They can't force our lines around these batteries tonight. It is too late. Delay counts everything with us. Tomorrow we shall attack them with fresh troops and drive them, of course."

At 7:00 on April 7th, 150 years ago today, Grant and Buell advanced against the Confederate lines. The Confederates were surprised by this. They thought the Yankees were disorganized from the beating they had taken the day before, and were not prepared for an offensive. They gave ground rapidly, but as they approached the Peace Orchard and Shiloh church their resistance stiffened. Beauregard worked to get the Confederate line in order. He put Hardee on the right, then Breckinridge, Polk and Bragg. As Johnston had done the day before, he rode the lines, trying to inspire the men with his personal example.

Although the Confederates were no longer being driven back, they were barely holding on, and it was clear they could make no serious counter attacks. They were tired and greatly outnumbered. Beauregard's chief of staff asked him this, "General, do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of a lump of sugar thoroughly soaked in water - preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?" "I intend to withdraw in a few moments" Beauregard replied. He sent out orders, and a retrograde movement began. The retreat was managed very well. They did not panic, and took time to gather up the captured supplies and weapons. By 4:00 they were in retreat, with Breckinridge remaining as a rear-guard.

Grant did not pursue that day. The battle of Shiloh was over. The losses on both sides had been tremendous. The Union had lost 1754 killed, 8408 wounded, 2885 captured, just over 13,000 total. Confederates had 1723 killed, 8012 wounded, 959 missing, for a total of 10,600. One out of four of the 100,000 men who had entered this battle had been killed, wounded or captured. This was an incredibly costly battle. In two days about the same number of men had been lost as in the War for Independence, War of 1812, and Mexican War combined. And after all these deaths, the armies returned to the positions from which they had started, with nothing changed except the loss of many of their comrades. Both sides had proved that they could stand up and fight like professional soldiers. It had been shown in the West, like the East, that the War would be not over soon. It would be a long, drawn out struggle.
Shiloh Church, Confederate Headquarters

Grant later wrote this:
"Up to the battle of Shiloh I, as well as thousands of other citizens, believed that the rebellion against the Government would collapse suddenly and soon, if a decisive victory could be gained over any of its armies. Donelson and Henry were such victories. An army of more than 21,000 men was captured or destroyed. Bowling Green, Columbus and Hickman, Kentucky, fell in consequence, and Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee, the last two with an immense amount of stores, also fell into our hands. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, from their mouths to the head of navigation, were secured. But when Confederate armies were collected which not only attempted to hold a line farther south, from Memphis to Chattanooga, Knoxville and on to the Atlantic, but assumed the offensive and made such a gallant effort to regain what had been lost, then, indeed, I gave up all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest."
Both sides claimed victory, but the North was the real victor as they had beaten back the Confederate attacks. The Confederates had been closed to victory. If they had not lost a few days on the march to Shiloh, they may have been able to finish off Grant before Buell arrived. Grant and Sherman made serious mistakes. Sherman did not investigate the rumors of a force in the front, allowing Grant to be surprised. Many politicians wanted Lincoln to remove Grant, saying all he did was get men killed, and only won because others got him out of trouble. There were many rumors that Grant continued his habit of drunkenness that had gotten him dismissed from the army before the war. But reportedly when some politicians asked that he be removed because of it, Lincoln refused saying, "Well you needn't waste your time getting proof; you just find out, to oblige me, what brand of whiskey Grant drinks, because I want to sent a barrel of it to each one of my generals." Lincoln recognized that Grant had is problems, but he valued the fact that he moved quickly and got things done.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Battle of Shiloh - Day 1

At 6:00 am Albert Sydney Johnston's army was deployed to attack Grant at Pittsburg Landing, near the small country church of Shiloh, from which the battle would take its name. P. G. T. Beauregard was for retreating back to Corinth, Mississippi since he was certain that Grant had been alerted of their presence. He rode over to Johnston's headquarters to attempt to chance his mind. But as they were talking, they heard the sound of musketry from the front lines. Johnston, rising to mount his horse, said, "The battle has opened, gentlemen. It is too late to change our dispositions. Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River."

Surprisingly, Beauregard was wrong. The Confederate attack had achieved almost complete surprise. One Colonel reported to Sherman that there were troops in his front. Sherman however disregarded the report, "Beauregard is not such a fool as to leave his base of operations and attack us in ours. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth." However, now, this morning, Sherman's lines were being over run. With rebel yells, the Southerners achieved complete surprise, throwing back the Federals. However, the Northerners were veterans. The men of Sherman, Prentiss and McClernand formed along a ridge and opened a destructive fire on the advancing rebels. Beauregard established his headquarters at the Shiloh church, the Hebrew name for peace. From here Beauregard managed the battle from the rear, while Johnston rode along the front lines, encouraging the men. The Confederate assault soon stalled. The men scattered through the Federal camps, eating the hot breakfasts that the Federals were in the act of eating when they were driven off. The confusion of battle had displaced the corps lines which looked neat on paper.

On the far right of the Confederate line they encountered strong Union resistance around a 10 acre peace orchard. A heavy line of blue infantry beat back several Confederate brigades. Johnston arrived on the scene, and seeing the situation, said, "Men! they are stubborn; we must use the bayonet. I will lead you!" Standing up in his stirrups he led another attack forward against the line. Rushing behind him, the Confederate troops crushed through the Union defenses.

Riding out of the newly captured orchard, Johnston was elated at his victory. His coat was cut with bullets and a boot sole was cut in half, but he appeared unharmed. However, suddenly he began reeling in his saddle. The only staff officer with him was Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee, who had volunteered as an aide during for the battle. The governor asked if the general was hurt, and Johnston replied, "Yes, and I fear seriously." Laying him down on the ground, Harris soon found his wound. An bullet had cut an artery in his leg, and his boot was filled with blood. Harris did not know how to make a tourniquet, so he had to find a doctor. However, before the doctor could arrive, Johnston had bled to death. He died around 2:30 pm.

The fighting continued all along the Confederate line. In the center it was focused on a position called the Hornet's Nest, an open field bordered by a fence and a Sunken Road. From that road the Federals beat back wave after wave of gray attackers. However, with the capture of the Peach Orchard, there was a lull in the fighting as the Confederate shuffled their forces. The were able to get around the flank of the soldiers in the road, and 62 cannon were brought up to pour canister into the Yankee lines. When these guns opened, the Federal troops bent back in the face of the hard pressure. Wallace and Hurlbut's divisions broke towards the rear, only Prentiss's men remain firm. Surrounded on all sides, Prentiss continued to hold out. Finally at 5:30, after two hours of fierce fighting, Prentiss realized that further fighting was useless and surrendered his men, half of whom had been lost in the fighting. Although he had lost his command, Prentiss may have saved Grant.
Benjamin Prentiss

Beauregard and his army had done well today. Although they had lost their commander and many other brave soldiers, they had surprised Grant and driven his lines back, capturing dozens of cannon and his entire division. Beauregard decided to delay the attacks until the next morning. However, not everyone agreed with him. There was the danger that Buell's army might arrive during the night, giving Grant fresh troops to use the next day. Nathan Bedford Forrest had seen Buell's men arriving during the next at Pittsburg Landing. While the soldiers were trying to sleep in the falling rain, Forrest searched for Beauregard, urging every general he could find to launch a night attack before the new troops could be positioned. However, he never found Beauregard no one else would do it, so he gave up, convinced that the Confederates would be whipped the next morning.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Armies Move to Shiloh

After Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson, the Confederate position in the west quickly crumbled. Albert Sydney Johnston, the Confederate commander, found his thin line falling apart. His men were panicked, so he abandoned Nashville and headed south. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard collected the disorganized remnants of his forces at Corinth, Mississippi. The government in Richmond gave him every man they could spare, stripping men from the coastal defenses. Johnston's army grew to the size of 55,000, the largest army assembled by the South to that point in time. On the Northern side, Henry Halleck was rewarded for Grant's victories and Buell's Army of the Ohio was placed under his command. He ordered Buell to join Grant's Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg landing, so that Grant would not be outnumbered by the large force Johnston was building. Grant had 43,000 men in six divisions, but he would soon be joined by Buell's 30,000.
A. S. Johnston

Johnston intended to strike before Buell arrived. Although he had the greater numbers, Grant's men were veterans while many of Johnston's had never fired a shot. He hoped to overcome this with a surprise attack. Grant was surrounded by marshes with a river to his back, and Johnston and Beauregard hoped to overpower him before he could make a resistance. The Confederates set out on the morning of April 3rd, at the insistence of Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, a Corp commander and Chief of Staff. However, the march was much slower than expected. They only marched 9 of the 20 miles which had been planned. They were not in position to attack until the evening of April 5th, 150 years ago today. Beauregard was for retiring, as he thought they had lost the element of surprise since the troops had been within earshot of the Federals for hours, practicing their shooting and rebel yells. However, Johnston, Polk and Bragg thought that the troops would be demoralized by retreating at that moment, so it was decided to continue with the attack the next morning. Johnston had issued this general order to his army:
"Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi: I have put you in motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country. With the resolution and disciplined valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to a decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to despoil you of your liberties, property and honor. Remember the precious stake involved, remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters and your children on the result; remember the land; broad and abounding and the happy homes and the eyes that would be desolated by your defeat. The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you; you are expected to show yourselves worthy of your race and lineage --- worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time. With such incentives to brave deeds, and with the trust that God is with us, your general will lead you confidently to the combat --- assured of success. A. S. Johnston."
Braxton Bragg