Thursday, March 14, 2013

Farragut Runs Port Hudson


Vicksburg was no longer the only remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi. Realizing the importance of the river, the Confederates had fortified Port Hudson to the south. On a strong bluff overlooking the river, it was a formidable position. Lincoln sent new forces under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to attack the town. Banks was a political general with little military experience, and he spent much time reorganizing the army to his liking.
Gun at Port Hudson
While Banks remained in New Orleans, Rear Admiral David Farragut set out up the river with seven ships. He planned to run the batteries late on the night of Marcy 14, 150 years ago today. Extensive preparations were undertaken to prepare the ships for battle. The first four ships were tied together in pairs, proceeding one after another up the river. The decks were cleared for action and whitewashed, to improve visibility. Chains were draped down the sides, serving as armor. The Confederates were ready and waiting, having noticed increased naval movements downriver. They had 20 guns in eleven batteries, with the crews well instructed of the plans beforehand. Heated shot was prepared to try to light the wooden ships, and outposts were established to give warning of the advance.

It was one of these outposts that sighted the Union fleet, launching a warning rocket into the air at 11:20 pm on March 14. Farragut's fleet continued on straight ahead, and opened on the Confederate batteries as soon as they came in range. The darkness was lit by fires on shore, but the river was again clouded as the guns billowed forth their thick smoke. The Hartford and Albatross, the lead ships, ran aground in the darkness right beneath the Confederate batteries. Although they were stuck there for ten minutes, they were able to make it out relatively unharmed.

The Genesee and Richmond came next. A gust of wind blew away the smoke long enough for the rebel batteries to catch sight of the ships and pour a murderous fire into the Richmond. Shots tore through both her boiler safety valves, rendering her engines useless. Unable to move, she and the Genesee floated downstream with the current. The Monogahela and Kineo, coming up next, also ran aground, and the two ships came apart. The Monogahela damaged her engine in backing off, and the Kineo took a shot to the rudder. Both ships floated down stream.
USS Mississippi
The last Union ship was the Mississippi. She too ran aground, and the Confederate batteries riddled her with hot shot. Catching on fire, the captain ordered her to be abandoned, fearing the magazine would explode. Loud were the cheers of the garrison as the ship floated downstream at 3 am, a burning wreck. She blew up two hours later in a huge explosion, seen 80 miles away in New Orleans. This battle was a great victory for the Confederate garrison. They had disabled four of the ships, destroyed one completely, with only two successfully running the batteries. They lost only three men killed and 22 wounded, versus 78 killed and 35 wounded from Farragut.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Battle of Fort Anderson


After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December and the failed Mud March in January, Lee detached half of his army under General James Longstreet and sent them south to gather supplies and protect the supply lines in North Carolina. Longstreet, commanding 45,000 men, sent D. H. Hill, a North Carolina native, with 12,000 men to recapture New Bern. Hill planned a three pronged attack to regain control of the town. He encountered the Federals on March 13, 150 years ago today. Meeting eight miles outside the town, the Federals were pushed back through Deep Gully to Fort Anderson.
Fighting resumed the next day, and after opening fire on the fort for a few minutes, General Pettigrew, Confederate commander in the area, sent forward a flag of truce to demand the fort's surrender. Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Anderson, instead of answering, asked for a truce to confer with general Foster in New Bern. Ignoring warnings of a trap, Pettigrew agreed. The ceasefire gave time for Union gunboats to arrive and move into position. Pettigrew, seeing his mistake, ordered his troops to open fire. However, when the gunboats arrived and opened fire, he was forced to retire. Although he had failed to recapture New Bern, D. H. Hill had been successful in filling his wagons with supplies for the army in what had been Union controlled territory.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New History Blog

I would love for you all to check out a new blog that I have been working on a new history blog for Discerning History. On it we will be covering a wide variety of eras and aspects of history. Recent posts include one on how the Confederacy chose their motto and what it means, and an ongoing series on Ernest Shackleton. You may also be interested in our Youtube channel. We post weekly history videos on the Civil War and many other topics. Check out our most recent one below, on the history of the filibuster:

Friday, March 8, 2013

John Mosby Captures a Yankee General

John Mosby, called the “Gray Ghost” was a Confederate partisan officer operating in northern Virginia. Leading a group of men called Mosby's Rangers, he struck Union supply lines, wrecking the Union rear.

150 years ago today he performed one of his most famous exploits. “The safety of the enterprise lay in its novelty;" he wrote, "nothing of the kind had been done before." He had set out with twenty-nine men and headed toward Fairfax Court House. Passing the Union pickets in the rainy darkness, they entered the town, where the Union headquarters were established, late at night without attracting notice. Squads were sent out to round up prisoners and horses. The telegraph wire was cut, to prevent word of the attack getting out. One man captured a soldier who was a guard at the headquarters of General Edwin Stoughton. Arriving at the house, Mosby and a few men dismounted and knocked on the door. When asked who they were, Mosby answered, “Fifth New York Cavalry with a dispatch for General Stoughton.” Mosby later wrote:
The door was opened and a staff officer, Lieutenant Prentiss, was before me. I took hold of his nightshirt, whispered my name in his ear, and told him to take me to General Stoughton's room. Resistance was useless, and he obeyed. A light was quickly struck, and on the bed we saw the general sleeping as soundly as the Turk when Marco Bozzaris waked him up. There was no time for ceremony, so I drew up the bedclothes, pulled up the general's shirt, and gave him a spank on his bare back, and told him to get up. As his staff officer was standing by me, Stoughton did not realize the situation and thought that somebody was taking a rude familiarity with him. He asked in an indignant tone what all this meant. I told him that he was a prisoner, and that he must get up quickly and dress.

I then asked him if he had ever heard of "Mosby", and he said he had.

"I am Mosby," I said. ...
We were in a critical situation, surrounded by the camps of several thousand troops with several hundred in the town. If there had been any concert between them, they could easily have driven us out; but not a shot was fired although we stayed there over an hour. As soon as it was known that we were there, each man hid and took care of himself. ...

When we reached the rendezvous at the courtyard, I found all the squads waiting for us with their prisoners and horses. There were three times as many prisoners as my men, and each was mounted and leading a horse. To deceive the enemy and baffle pursuit, the cavalcade started off in one direction and, soon after it got out of town, turned in another. We flanked the cavalry camps, and were soon on the pike between them and Centreville. As there were several thousand troops in that town, it was not thought possible that we would go that way to get out of the lines, so the cavalry, when it started in pursuit, went in an opposite direction. Lieutenant Prentiss and a good many prisoners who started with us escaped in the dark, and we lost a great many of the horses.
They had to get though the Union lines before night and they did it, though not without a good deal of danger. Riding directly through the Union forces, within sight of the sentinels, their ride was brought to a safe conclusion after swimming an ice cold stream swollen by melting snows.

Some of Mosby's men

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Battle of Thompson's Station


After remaining inactive for two months after the Battle of Stones River, Rosecrans finally made a movement, sending a brigade under Col. John Coburn towards Columbia, Tennessee. Coburn, encountering a small Confederate force on March 5, 150 years ago today, attacked but was driven back. Then suddenly he was struck by the Confederates. He had encountered a Confederate cavalry corps under Major General Earl Van Dorn which was moving north on a foray. Van Dorn sent one division forward in a frontal attack, while Nathan Bedford Forest moved around Coburn's left flank into his rear. Coburn was driven off the hill where he had established his defense, while Forrest captured his wagon train. Surrounded and out of ammunition, Coburn surrendered with 1,500 of his troops. The Confederates lost only 350.