Confederate Troops Mutiny and Surrender Battered Forts
Despite their determined resistance, the Confederate defenders in Forts Jackson and St. Philip on the Mississippi River could only take so much. The 1,100 men in the two forts knew that they and their combined 126 heavy guns were basically all that stood between the Union war fleet below them and the city of New Orleans, since that important city—the South’s largest—was only guarded by a small militia force, its regular troops having been sent north to fight in the Battle of Shiloh. With the stakes high, the garrisons in the two Confederate forts hunkered down on Good Friday, April 18, 1862, when hell crashed down on top of them.
On that day a Union fleet of 20 schooners, each carrying a monstrous 13-inch mortar capable of hurling 220-pound shells, began a ferocious bombardment of the two forts. It was the beginning of the Union attack to capture New Orleans. The flotilla’s commander, David Dixon Porter, was determined to smash the forts into surrender. Six days and thousands of shells later, the two forts still stood.
Union Commander David Glasgow Farragut grew tired of waiting for the mortars to finish the job. At 2:00 the morning of April 24 he ordered 17 of his warships to run the gauntlet past the forts and the small Confederate flotilla of gunboats assembled to stop him (including the imposing but disabled ironclad Louisiana, moored to the bank to act as a floating battery). In a fierce fight that lit up the night with shells, explosions and fires, 13 of the Union ships made it past the forts and destroyed the tiny Confederate fleet. It cost Farragut 37 dead and 149 wounded, one ship destroyed and three disabled and forced to turn back, but he had made it and an undefended New Orleans lay ahead.
By noon the next day, April 25, 1862, the Union fleet anchored off New Orleans, and the exposed and undefended city was defeated—though its evasive mayor delayed acknowledging that fact for as long as he could. The soldiers in Forts Jackson and St. Philip knew New Orleans was lost and there was no point in continuing to suffer the horrific mortar attack. The troops mutinied and demanded that their officers surrender, and on April 28 they did just that.
The capitulation of the two stout forts was reported in this article, published by the Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) on the front page of its May 10, 1862, issue:
Official Dispatches from Capts. Farragut and Porter
Surrender of Forts Jackson and St. Philip
Destruction of the Forts above the City
The City to Be Occupied
Washington, May 9.—The Navy Department has received the following interesting official details of the capture of New Orleans:
U.S. Flagship Hartford, at anchor off the City of New Orleans, April 29, 1862.
To Hon. Gideon Welles.
Sir: I am happy to announce to you that our flag waves over both Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and at New Orleans over the Custom House. I am taking every means to secure the occupation by Gen. Butler of all the forts along the coast. Berwick Bay and Fort Pike have been abandoned. In fact there is a general stampede. I shall endeavor to follow it up. I am bringing up the troops as fast as possible. We have destroyed all the forts above the city, four in number, which are understood to be all the impediments between this and Memphis.
I am very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. G. Farragut, Flag Officer, Gulf Blocking Squadron.
Ship Harriet Lane, April 29, 1862.
To Flag Officer D. G. Farragut.
Sir: The morning after the ships passed the forts I sent a demand to Col. Higgins for a surrender of the forts, which was declined. On the 27th, I sent Lieut. Col. Higgins a communication, herewith enclosed, asking for the surrender. His answer is enclosed. On the 28th I received a communication from him stating that he would surrender the forts, and I came up and took possession, drew up articles of capitulation, and hoisted the American flag over the forts. These men have defended these forts with a bravery worthy of a better cause. I treated them with all the consideration that circumstances would admit.
The three [Confederate] steamers remaining were under the command of Commander J. K. Mitchell. The officer of the fort acknowledges no connection with them, and wished in no way to be considered responsible for their acts. While I had a flag of truce up they were employed in towing the iron floating battery of 16 guns [the unfinished ironclad Louisiana—ed.]—a most formidable affair—to a place above the forts, and while drawing up the articles of capitulation in the cabin of the Harriet Lane, it was reported to me they had set fire to the battery and turned it adrift upon us. I asked the general [Confederate Brig. Gen. Johnson K. Duncan, in overall command of the two forts—ed.] if it had powder on board or guns loaded. He replied that he would not undertake to say what the Navy officers would do. He seemed to have a great contempt for them. I told him we could stand the fire and blow up if he could, and went on with the conference, after directing the officers to look out for their ships. While drifting on us the guns getting heated exploded, throwing the shot about the river. A few minutes after the floating battery exploded with a terrific noise, throwing the fragments all over the river and wounding one of their own men in Fort St. Philip, and immediately disappeared underwater. Had she blown up near the vessels she would have destroyed the whole of them.
When I had finished taking possession of the forts I got underway in the Harriet Lane and started for the steamers, one of which was still flying the Confederate flag. I fired a shot over her and they surrendered. There was on board of them a number of naval officers and two companies of marine artillery. I made the surrender unconditional, and for their infamous conduct in trying to blow us up while under a flag of truce I conveyed them to close confinement as prisoners of war, and think they should be sent to the North and kept in close confinement there until the war is over, or they should be tried for their infamous conduct. I have a great deal to do here and will send you all the papers when I am able to arrange them. I turned over the force to General Phelps.
Fort Jackson is a perfect ruin. I am told that over 1800 shells fell in and burst over the centre of the fort. The practice was beautiful. The next fort we go at we will settle sooner, as this has been hard to get at.
The naval officers sank one gunboat while the capitulation was going on, but I have one of the others (a steamer) at work and we are soon to have the other.
I find that we are to be the “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” but as the soldiers have nothing here in the shape of motive power we will do all we can.
I should have demanded an unconditional surrender, but with such a force in our rear it was desirable to get possession of the forts as soon as possible. The officers turned over everything in good order except [what was] shattered by the mortars.
D. D. Porter, Commanding Flotilla.
U.S. Steamer Harriet Lane, Mississippi River, April 30, 1862.
To Hon. Gideon Welles.
Sir: I enclose herewith the capitulation of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which surrendered to the mortar flotilla on the 28th day of April, 1862. I also enclose in a box forwarded on this occasion all the flags taken in the two forts, with the original flag hoisted on Fort St. Philip when the State of Louisiana seceded.
Fort Jackson is a perfect wreck. Everything in the shape of a building in and about it was burned up by the mortar shells, over 1400 of which fell in the fort proper, to say nothing of those which burst over and around it.
I devoted but little attention to Fort St. Philip, knowing that when Fort Jackson fell St. Philip would follow.
The mortar flotilla is still fresh. Truly the backbone of the rebellion is broken.
On the 26th of the month I sent six of the mortar schooners to the back of Fort Jackson to block up the bayous and prevent supplies getting in. Three of them drifted over to Fort Livingston, and when they anchored the fort hung out a white flag and surrendered. The Kittatinny, which had been blockading there for some time, sent a boat in advance of the mortar vessels, and reaching the shore first deprived them of the pleasure of hoisting our flag over what had surrendered to the mortar flotilla. Still the fort is ours, and we are satisfied.
I am happy to state that officers and crew are all well and full of spirits.
I have the honor to remain, your ob’t servant,
David D. Porter.
Articles of Capitulation.
U.S. Ship Harriet Lane, Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Mississippi River, April 28, 1862.
By articles of capitulation entered into this 28th day of April, 1862, between David D. Porter, Commander U.S. Navy, commanding U.S. Mortar Flotilla, of the one part, and Brig. Gen. J. K. Duncan, commanding the Coast Defences, and Lieut. Colonel Higgins, commanding Forts Jackson and St. Philip, of the other part, it is mutually agreed:
1st. That Brig. Gen. Duncan and Col. Higgins shall surrender to the mortar flotilla Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the arms, munitions of war and all the appurtenances thereunto belonging, together with all the public property that may be under their charge.
2d. That Brig. Gen. Duncan and Lieut. Col. Higgins, together with the officers under their command, shall be permitted to retain their side arms, and that all private property shall be respected, furthermore that they shall give their parole of honor not to serve in arms against the United States until they are regularly exchanged.
3d. It is furthermore agreed by Commander David D. Porter, commanding the mortar flotilla, on the part of the U.S. government, the non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians shall be permitted to retire on parole, their commanding and other officers becoming responsible for them, and that they shall deliver up their arms and accoutrements in their present condition, provided that the expenses of the transportation of the men shall be defrayed by the Government of the United States.
4th. On the signing of these articles by the contracting parties the forts shall be formally taken possession by the U.S. naval forces comprising the mortar fleet. The Confederate flag shall be lowered and the flag of the United States hoisted on the flagstaffs of Forts Jackson and St. Philip.
The following is an extract from the report of Commodore Farragut, dated:
U.S. Flagship Hartford, off the City of New Orleans, April 25.
I had 2 Union men on board who had been forced into the Confederate service at Fort Jackson as laborers. They informed me that there were 2 forts near the city, and as we approached the locality I tried to concentrate the vessels, but we soon saw that we must take a raking fire for 2 miles; so we did not mind the matter, but dashed directly ahead. They permitted us to approach within a mile and a quarter before they opened on us. The Cayuga, Lieut. Commander Harrison, was in advance, and received the most of the first fire. But although the shooting was good they did not damage his little vessel.
The Cayuga then fell back and the Hartford took her place. We had only two guns, which I had placed on the top-gallant forecastle, that could bear on them until we got within half a mile. We then steered off and gave them such a fire as they never dreamed of in their philosophy. The Pensacola ran up after a while and took the starboard battery off our hands, and in a few minutes the Brooklyn ranged and took a chance at my friends on the left bank. But they were silenced in, I should say, 20 minutes or half an hour, but I cannot keep a note of time on such occasions. I only know that half of the vessels did not get a chance at them. The river was too narrow for more than 2 or 3 vessels to set to advantage. But all were so anxious that my greatest fear was that we would fire into each other, and Captain Wainwright and myself were hallooing ourselves hoarse at the men not to fire into our ships.
This last affair was what I call one of the little elegances of the profession—a dash and a victory.
The report of Commander Boggs, of the Varuna, states that 50 of the crew of the rebel steamer Morgan were killed and wounded, and she was set on fire by the commander, who burned his wounded with the vessel.
The following is an extract from the report of Capt. Bailey:
On the 26th I went with the Flag Officer some 7 miles above the city, where we found the defences abandoned, the guns spiked and gun carriages burning. These defences were erected to prevent the downward passage of Capt. Foote. On the 27th a large boom situated above the defences was destroyed by Capt. J. Phillips Lee. On the 28th Gen. Butler landed above Fort St. Philip under the guns of the Mississippi and Kineo. This landing of the army above together with the passage of the fleet, appears to have put the finishing touch to the demoralization of their garrison. Both forts surrendered to Commander Porter, who was near at hand with the vessels of his flotilla. As I left the river Gen. Butler had garrisoned Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and his transports with troops on board were on the way to occupy New Orleans.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.