Confederacy’s Greatest City, New Orleans, Falls to Union Forces without a Shot
Although more populous than any other city in the Confederacy, and sheltered well behind the front lines in their beautiful houses alongside the Mississippi River, the people of New Orleans were uneasy in the spring of 1862. Trade, the lifeblood of this once-bustling commercial center, had been cut off by the blockading Union fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, and now the dockhands of New Orleans were idle and the warehouses empty. It was not the enemy ships down south that occupied their minds, however; the city’s anxious eyes were turned north, because from that direction danger loomed.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the May 1, 1862, issue of the New York Herald-Tribune (New York)
A series of Union victories had shattered the Confederate defenses in the Western Theater, and the Federals were gaining momentum. It all started when a young, unheralded General Ulysses S. Grant gave the North its first two major victories of the Civil War, capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and then Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, both in Tennessee, in February 1862. The Confederacy’s last best chance to gain Missouri was lost when it suffered defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge, in northern Arkansas, on March 7-8. Most of the troops defending New Orleans were rushed north to participate in the Battle of Shiloh, a pivotal two-day battle in Tennessee that ended on April 7 with a reinforced Grant driving the Southern army from the field. With the additional loss of the river stronghold at Island Number 10 near New Madrid, Missouri, it seemed the inexorable Federal armies would come rolling down the Mississippi River and up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, penetrating into the interior of the Confederacy.
These devastating losses alarmed the South, which feared the entire Mississippi River Valley was falling into Union hands. This article was printed by the Memphis Appeal on April 15 and reprinted by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on the front page of its April 23, 1862, issue:
Our River Defences
Since the abandonment of Columbus and New Madrid by our forces, and the capture of Island 10, serious apprehensions are properly entertained for the safety of Fort Pillow. This is now the only formidable barrier to the progress of the enemy down the Mississippi, and to his occupation of Memphis, New Orleans and other intermediate cities. It would be disingenuous in us to say aught that would create the belief in the minds of the people of this valley that they can place confidence in the capacity of this earthen fortification to hold out against attack any great length of time. The fate of Forts Henry, Donelson and Pulaski, we fear, must, sooner or later, overtake it, unless a policy be adopted different from any that has yet characterized the defence of these fallen positions.
The people of New Orleans braced themselves for the coming storm from the north. What they did not anticipate, however, was that their conquerors would come from the south, in the form of Union Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s fleet of warships and Commander David Dixon Porter’s flotilla of mortar ships.
The movement to capture New Orleans actually began before the string of Union victories in the spring of 1862. Back in November 1861 Porter won approval for his plan to capture New Orleans. The city’s only real defense was Forts Jackson and St. Philip, located 75 miles downriver. The two forts combined had 126 heavy guns and 1100 men. Destroy the forts, he argued, and New Orleans was wide open for occupation. To accomplish this, he proposed building a fleet of 20 schooners each carrying a monstrous 13-inch mortar capable of hurling 220-pound shells. Porter himself would lead these mortars, and they would obliterate the forts. Then a Union fleet of 18 warships led by Farragut would steam up to New Orleans and demand its surrender.
Once all the ships and mortars were built, the fleet was assembled in the Gulf of Mexico by mid-March 1862 and rumors began flying that their target was Galveston, Mobile or Pensacola. Others, however, thought New Orleans was the real target, as expressed in this article printed by the Farmers’ Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) on March 20, 1862:
Porter’s Mortar Fleet
The Washington Intelligencer says that a letter received by a highly respectable gentleman, from his son, an officer on board of Porter’s mortar fleet, states the general impression to be that they will be in New Orleans by the 31st day of the present month.
Another newspaper was even more certain that New Orleans was the target, and that it would be captured. This article was printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on the front page of its March 24, 1862, issue:
The Capture of New Orleans Probable
Washington, March 22.—It is asserted as the generally prevalent opinion in Naval and Military circles, that by this time the National banner floats over New Orleans, and that it is believed our mortar fleet attacked the Rebel fort at the Rigolets within two days after the departure from Ship Island of the steamer bringing north the last intelligence from that point.
Southern papers, too, speculated that New Orleans was the real target. This article was printed by the Alabama newspaper Mobile Advertiser on April 5; it was reprinted by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on April 24, 1862:
The Mobile Advertiser of April 5, says of our Gulf fleet: “They now directly menace New Orleans with attack. The newspapers latest received from that city have certain intelligence that between thirty and forty Yankee men-of-war are in the Mississippi River, below the city, and of course below its defensive works. Beside this formidable flotilla in the river, a majestic fleet rides under the lee of Ship Island. These vast preparations have been [too] perfected to remain unemployed, and we may rest assured that the blow, strong and heavy, will be soon struck.”
New Orleans was becoming increasingly tense. The Cincinnati Gazette printed this article on April 15, reprinted by the New York Tribune (New York, New York) on April 18, 1862:
From New Orleans
A gentleman, long connected with railroads in the South, was in the city yesterday, having recently left New Orleans. He reports the condition of affairs there as exceedingly discouraging to the Rebel cause. The people are suffering for the necessaries of life. In business there was nothing doing worth naming. Citizens were distrustful of each other. Disloyalty to the Confederacy was increasing, and there was an unmistakable desire for the reestablishment of National authority in the Crescent City.
The Union ships had passed over the bars in the Mississippi Delta and entered the river by April 14. They were soon in position for the attack, Porter’s mortars anchored behind a screen of trees below the forts while Farragut’s warships waited further downriver. On April 17 some of the Federal ships probed the fort’s defenses, as reported by the New Orleans Daily Delta and reprinted by the New York Tribune (New York, New York) on April 18, 1862:
Attacks on Forts Jackson and St. Philip by Porter’s Mortar Fleet
The city was somewhat excited yesterday with rumors of fighting at Forts Jackson and St. Philip. We have ascertained that seven or eight of the enemy’s fleet approached tantalizingly near the forts, and were fired upon by some of our guns, when they hastily retired. Of course this, and a similar approach on a previous occasion, were not designed for a serious attack. Their object was doubtless to reconnoiter the forts and test our mettle.
The “serious attack” started the next day, and it did indeed test their mettle. On Good Friday, April 18, Porter gave the command and his mortars began a ferocious, continuous bombardment, raining iron destruction upon both forts.
This Northern paper was heartened by the news of the attack, and quick to boldly assert that the capture of New Orleans (along with Memphis, which was also being threatened) would open up the Mississippi River, and “the end of the rebellion will become visible to all the world.” This article was printed by the North American and United States Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on April 18, 1862:
An Approach to New Orleans
The rebel government at Richmond has received official intelligence of the commencement of an attack by the Federal forces on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, two posts located on the Mississippi River at about the same point, though on opposite sides of the stream, not far from the mouth. They guard the passage up to New Orleans against the approach of the United States fleet, and their reduction is necessary before we can reach the city by the river route. We do not know the strength of these posts, but, located in an immense swamp, they must be naturally defended against attack by land forces. The assault must have been commenced by Captain Porter’s mortar fleet, which has had ample time to reach the scene of action, and which was instructed to begin the battle at once. From the experience afforded by Forts Henry, Pulaski, Hatteras and the Port Royal forts, there can be little doubt that this mortar fleet will be able to render Forts Jackson and St. Philip untenable by the storm of bombs. Those thrown into the other posts captured were from ordinary shell guns but these mortars throw immense shells a long distance, so that the fleet can keep out of range of the rebel fire, and yet be able to reach the forts with bombs. Our only apprehension in reference to this attack has been of Hollins’ ram going down from New Orleans and demolishing some of these wooden mortar boats. She, being perfectly iron-clad, and provided with a formidable submerged ram, can very easily do this. It is of no use to close our eyes to such dangers as these in view of what has been already achieved by this monster and knowing, also, as we do, that several other iron-clad vessels are being built at New Orleans, if they are not now finished and ready for use. As the rebel accounts say nothing of the appearance of these batteries, perhaps they may not be really available. One such vessel as the Monitor placed at the service of Captain Porter at this time would be of great value to him. The Galena, at New York, will soon be ready, but probably too late to be of use in the combat on the lower Mississippi.
We are now approaching the beginning of the end, as far as the war on the Mississippi is concerned. Memphis and New Orleans taken, the whole valley is ours, and the Father of Waters comes back once more under the dominion of that flag beneath whose folds it has become the seat of the mightiest commerce ever seen upon a single river. Both places may now be said to be attacked, for Fort Pillow is but the outpost of Memphis, as Forts Jackson and St. Philip are of New Orleans, and within the next three weeks it is not improbable that both cities will be captured. Thus one of the main points in the grand triumph will have been gained, and the great valley, like the seacoast, be dominated by the republic. Well may the West look forward to this prospect with ardent joy, for the Mississippi is the artery along which courses its current of life and once more freed from the hateful presence of a rebel despotism, trade will resume its regular channels, and peace call into new being all the blessings of civilization. Let the abounding river be once more ours, from its source to its mouth, and the end of the rebellion will become visible to all the world, for with the seacoast, the Gulf, the territories and the border States in our possession, the insurrection, shorn of its resources, its prestige destroyed and its recruiting service stopped, will waste away its miserable existence in a guerrilla war, which can do no damage to us, and only injure the States wherein the revolt began. So Godspeed Captain Porter and Commodore Foote, and may they soon plant their flag on the chief cities of the lower Mississippi, and sweep its waves of every vestige of treason, afloat or ashore. They are the men for the purpose, and their success will be hailed with rejoicings by their countrymen and by thousands of loyal Louisianians, who wait for these events to bring commerce again to the Crescent City.
A local paper called upon New Orleans to mount a stiff defense. This article was printed by the Daily Delta (New Orleans, Louisiana) on April 19, 1862:
Look to Our River Defenses
These columns have not been noted in this war for uttering the language of mere sensation. They have not been devoted to the office of the alarmist. On the other hand, they have not teemed with the extravaganzas of an exuberant and irrational confidence. They have not croaked amidst the sunshine nor despaired in the shade. But there were times when the sense of the country could not be better served than by creating in the public mind a wholesome alarm for its safety, and at such times this journal has not been silent in regard either to the reality or the magnitude of the danger. For a like reason it would be grossly delinquent in our press to attempt to disguise that the enemy is making tremendous exertions with extremely formidable appliances to get possession of the Mississippi river, and that in consequence of these efforts, New Orleans is in serious peril. It is well for our citizens to know these facts and to look at them squarely—to face them like men, earnest, sensible resolute and courageous men…the defense of the river should at this conjuncture be the paramount object of their concern. Upon its defense hangs the fate of New Orleans and the Valley of the Mississippi…The name of New Orleans has never once been coupled with defeat and surrender. She has been crowned with the prestige of victory. Shall she be uncrowned and loaded with the humiliation of conquest by the most hated and loathsome of foes?
The mortars hurled thousands of shells at the two forts, pausing now and then to let the gunners get some rest. Despite this bombardment, the forts suffered few casualties and most of their guns were still working. This article was printed by the New Orleans Daily Delta and reprinted by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on the front page of its April 23, 1862, issue:
The Attack on Fort Jackson
New Orleans, 21st.—A special dispatch to the Delta from Fort Jackson, on the 20th at 8:30 p.m. states that the fire of the enemy upon the fort has been very much slackened. They have fired 370,000 pounds of powder, and over 1,000 tons of iron, at the fort. Never heard of such bombardment before. No such recorded in history. Our loss is five killed, and ten wounded. The firing is now very slow. The mortar vessels are out of sight behind a point of woods. We sunk two of them yesterday, and disabled a steamer.
Although their nerves must have been frayed, the soldiers in Forts Jackson and St. Philip maintained their positions, as reported by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on April 24, 1862:
Three Cheers for Fort Jackson
New Orleans, 23.—The following dispatch was received from Fort Jackson today: “A heavy and continuous bombardment all night, which is still progressing. No further casualties, except two men slightly wounded. God is certainly protecting us. We are still cheerful, and have abiding faith in our ultimate success. We are making repairs, as best we can. Our best guns are still working and in order. Most of them have been disabled at times. The health of our troops continues good. 25,000 13-inch shells have been fired by the enemy, thousands of which have fallen in the Fort. They must soon exhaust themselves—if not, we can stand as long as they can.
(Signed) J. K. Duncan, Commanding Fort Jackson.
In that same issue, the Macon Daily Telegraph carried this report:
Fort Jackson Still Holds Out
New Orleans, 23.—The following is an official dispatch from Major General Lovell, Commanding at New Orleans, to Brigadier General Duncan, commanding Fort Jackson: “Say to the officers and men that their heroic fortitude in enduring one of the most terrific bombardments known, and the courage and skill with which they crush the enemy whenever he dares to come forth from under cover, attracts the admiration of all, and will be recorded in history as a splendid example for patriots and soldiers. Anxious but confident families and friends are watching them with firm reliance, based upon the gallant exhibition thus far made of indomitable courage and great military skill. The enemy will try your powers of endurance, but we believe with no better success than that already experienced.”
General Duncan’s reply to Major General Lovell, runs thus: “I have to report this morning the same upon the same. The bombardment is still going on furiously. They keep it up furiously by reliefs of their divisions. One of their three masked gunboats painted gray came above the point this morning but was struck, and retired. We are hopeful and in good spirits. We cannot speak in too high praise of all our officers and men. No further casualties to report. Let the people have faith and fortitude, and we will not disgrace them.”
This article was printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on April 26, 1862:
On to New Orleans—Bombardment of Fort Jackson
Seventy miles below New Orleans, on the Mississippi River, are two forts—Fort Jackson on the right or west bank, and Fort St. Philip on the left. They were built by the United States Government to prevent the passage of an enemy’s fleet up the river to New Orleans, and now that Government is testing their value for that purpose, while they are manned by Rebels. Fort Jackson has been first attacked, and the bombardment is now going on.
But the fall of Fort Pulaski has foreshadowed its fate. It has already suffered much, from the Rebel accounts. The barbette guns have been mostly disabled; they state that one thousand shells had fallen into the work; and Major General Lovell—Ex-Deputy Street Commissioner of New York city, and quite a great gun in Rebeldom—has pronounced the fire terrific, of which, as he is an educated soldier, he ought to be able to judge.
This is good news; it renders the position at Corinth rather a ticklish one, and causes Memphis to tremble at the distant mutterings of a double approach; but more especially does it strike terror into the Rebels, the Crescent City, and awaken new emotions in the loyal hearts who are waiting for their deliverance.
Porter had confidently predicted that his mortars would destroy the forts in two days, but after six days of shelling the Confederate defenders stood firm and Farragut was tired of waiting. 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 horrific 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.
They may well have been apprehensive at what was coming up the river, but the staff at one of the local papers dutifully reported to work. This article was printed by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) on April 25, 1862:
The city was very naturally excited, yesterday, by the tidings which arrived early in the morning, that the enemy had succeeded in getting several of their gunboats past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and, later in the day, that some of our gunboats had been destroyed by them. As was perfectly proper, the authorities took the necessary measures to put the military in the city on the alert for whatever orders it might be necessary to give, to meet the exigency, and the city, in consequence, had during the day a bustling and excited appearance.
…Up to the time of writing this we have not heard of the surrender, capture, capitulation or reduction of either of the forts, nor, indeed, any authentic intelligence of the actual force of the armament that has passed them.
Until we receive from the proper authority an authentic account of the situation of affairs, and are advised of what is to be done to meet it, we would counsel abstinence on the part of our fellow citizens from undue excitement. We shall be all the better enabled to discharge the duties that lie before us to perform (and which we believe the patriotic people of New Orleans are ready to perform, at whatever cost), by bringing to their discharge calm and collected minds.
Meantime we learn with satisfaction and confidence that everything is being done by the authorities that can possibly be done for the best interests of the city and its people.
The “everything…being done by the authorities” was producing a feverish rush of activity in New Orleans as it prepared for the invaders to arrive. General Mansfield Lovell evacuated his 3,000-strong militia out of the city, since defense was hopeless, carrying with them the gold and silver from the city’s banks, as well as ammunition and other military supplies. Valuable cotton was burned, sugar and molasses dumped into the river, and steamboats scuttled.
This article describing the situation was printed by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on April 26, 1862:
Probable Fall of New Orleans
Mobile, 25th—The enemy passed Fort Jackson at 4 o’clock yesterday morning. When the news reached New Orleans the excitement became boundless. Martial law was put in full force, and business completely suspended.
All the cotton, and the steamboats, except those necessary to transport coin, munitions of war, etc., etc., were destroyed at one o’clock today. The [telegraph] operators bade us goodbye, saying that the enemy had appeared before the city, and this is the last we heard from the Crescent City. This is all we know regarding the fall. Will send you particulars as soon as they can be had.
Two days later, on April 28, the Macon Daily Telegraph printed this report on its front page:
From the West
Mobile, 26th.—A special dispatch to the Advertiser, from Jackson, Mississippi, says that thirteen of the Federal gunboats are anchored opposite New Orleans. A proposition to evacuate, by the Confederates, is now pending. Various exciting rumors are afloat. The foregoing is however reliable.
The Macon Daily Telegraph printed this article on that same April 28 front page:
New Orleans Evacuated
Richmond, 27th.—Official dispatches received this morning state that the enemy’s fleet had approached New Orleans and demanded a surrender. General Lovell refused to surrender, and evacuated the city with his troops, falling back to Camp Moore, on the Jackson Railroad, after destroying all the cotton and public property which he was unable to remove. The new iron-clad steamer Mississippi was burnt to prevent her falling into the possession of the enemy. Nothing is said about the Louisiana.
This report of the capture of New Orleans was printed by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on April 28, 1862:
The Capture of New Orleans
The subjoined telegraphic dispatch announces that New Orleans has been captured by the mortar fleet under the command of Commodore Porter. To state this event is to signalize a great achievement in the history of the war, involving as it does the re-acquisition of a point equally important in its political and commercial relations with the residue of the Union. The event, moreover, though regarded by all as a “foregone conclusion,” comes with a suddenness which indicates the rapid progress of our arms in the Southwest. Its bearings on the military and naval operations still pending at other points on the Mississippi river are too apparent to need designation. It is a victory which, we may safely augur, will be the sure presage of still other triumphs on the same great channel of communication, which, when once opened to the sea, it will remain for the national iron-clad gunboats simply to patrol and protect from all obstructions.
This report was printed by the New York Tribune (New York, New York) on April 28, 1862:
Capture of New Orleans
The news so long and so anxiously waited for, of the capture of New Orleans, has come at last. Though it reaches us through Rebel sources, we see no reason to doubt its authenticity, as it is not likely that it would be announced in Petersburg and Richmond journals, unless they had positive intelligence of its truth. The city depended for its defense, not upon any fortifications within its own limits, but upon the forts at a distance, on the lakes in the rear, and on the Mississippi below it. These once passed, on either side, the city must fall unresistingly before a sufficient force. This, without doubt, is the fact, and New Orleans is now held by Union troops.
No city in the world, of any commercial importance, is so defenseless, when once reached, as New Orleans. It stretches along the left bank of the river for six or seven miles, on a narrow strip of land, averaging only about two miles in width. In the rear the land sinks into mere swamp, uninhabited and uninhabitable. The city itself is lower than the bed of the river, and is protected from overflow by a levee, a partly natural and partly artificial embankment. A fleet at anchor before it is actually higher than the city itself, and commands it as if from an eminence. A few hours’ labor, under the protection of the fleet, should there be any resistance, and should there be any necessity of resorting to so desperate a measure, would put New Orleans, a fathom or two deep, under the waters of the Mississippi. But it is not likely that the inhabitants have provoked any such destruction, or that the loyal portion of them would permit any resistance that would invite it. The presence of the gunboats, overlooking the city, has doubtless been quite sufficient to insure a speedy and unconditional surrender.
Whether the forts below have been reduced or not, we do not yet know. If they have not, they doubtless will be speedily, for with the mouths of the river below, and the city above in our possession, they may be let alone, if that shall be thought the best way, till those holding them are ready to ask permission to evacuate. Cut off from all succor they will not be able long to hold out as a forlorn hope. The key of the South-West is therefore ours, and the Rebel army, pressed upon from the North, and cut off from retreat and all hope of aid from where it, no doubt, calculated to make its last desperate stand, must soon seek for safety in disorganization, and return to obedience and hope for pardon in the obscurity of citizenship.
The news quickly reached the West Coast as well. This article was printed by the Evening Bulletin (San Francisco, California) on April 28, 1862:
Our Forces at New Orleans
Just as we go to press we receive intelligence by way of dispatches from Mobile to Petersburg and Richmond, that our forces are at New Orleans! Porter’s mortar fleet passed Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, just above the delta, on Thursday, the 24th. The vaunted batteries and that “dam, which no flotilla on earth could force,” have not availed—probably they were not there—to prevent the ascent of the Mississippi. The news, long expected, will thrill the country with joy; acres of flags will be ventilated in honor of the tidings.
When Farragut’s 13 warships anchored in front of New Orleans at noon on April 25, an interesting situation developed. He demanded the surrender of the city. The mayor of the defenseless city, John F. Monroe, rather haughtily replied that he and his fellow citizens were too proud to surrender, yet could offer no resistance, and wondered if the Federal fleet would dare fire upon unarmed civilians.
This is how the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) described the situation in an article printed April 29, 1862:
More about New Orleans
Mobile, 27th.—The latest intelligence from New Orleans is to the effect that the Federal Commodore promised Mayor Monroe and his Secretary, who visited the fleet under a flag of truce, to renew the demand for the surrender of the city, but he had not done so up to the present hour, 5 o’clock P.M…It is rumored that in a conference held with one of the Federal officers, after the correspondence between Mayor Monroe and Commodore Farragut, he left declaring that he would shoot down the rebel flag on the City Hall, if it was not hauled down. A ship was actually brought in range, but has not fired a shot thus far. It is reported that French and English men of war are below, and have entered their protest against shelling the City. It is believed that the Yankee vessels are short both of provisions and ammunition. We are in danger of starvation ourselves. The City is remarkably orderly, but the excitement is intense, and the feeling of humiliation deep. Further than this, everything is the same as when the vessels first appeared. All are awaiting the shelling of the City, if the Yankees dare do so.
The Savannah Republican reported some interesting details about the exchange between Flag Officer Farragut and Mayor Monroe; that article was reprinted by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on May 1, 1862:
The Enemy at New Orleans
Interesting Correspondence between Mayor Monroe and the Federal Commander
Richmond, April 29th.—The following correspondence took place between the Federal Commander, Captain Farragut, and Mayor Monroe, of New Orleans, on the demand for a surrender of the city:
Demand of Com. Farragut
United States Flagship Hartford, off New Orleans, April 26th, 1862.
To His Excellency the Mayor of the City of New Orleans.
Sir: Upon my arrival before your city I had the honor to send to your Honor Captain Buley, of the United States Navy, and second in command of the expedition, to demand of you the surrender of the city of New Orleans to me, as the representative of the Government of the United States. Capt. Buley reported the result of his interview with yourself and the military authorities. It must occur to your Honor that it is not within the province of a naval officer to assume the duties of a military commandant. I come here to reduce New Orleans in obedience to the laws of, and to vindicate the offended majesty of, the Government of the United States. The rights of persons and property shall be secured. I therefore demand of you, as its representative, the unqualified surrender of the city, and that the emblem of sovereignty of the United States be hoisted over the City Hall, Mint and Custom House by meridian this day; all flags and other emblems of sovereignty other than those of the United States to be removed from all the public buildings by that hour. I particularly request you will exercise your authority to quell disturbances, restore order, and call upon all good people of New Orleans to return to their vocations at once, and I particularly demand that no person be molested in their person or property for professing sentiments of loyalty to their government. I shall speedily and severely punish any person or persons who shall commit such outrages as were witnessed yesterday by armed men firing upon helpless women and children for giving expression to their pleasure at witnessing the old flag.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
(Signed) D. G. Farragut, Flag Officer, Western Gulf Squadron.
Answer of Mayor Monroe
Mayoralty of New Orleans, City Hall, April 26th, 1862.
To Flag Officer D. G. Farragut, U.S. Flag Ship Hartford.
Sir: In pursuance of a resolution which he thought proper to take out of regard for the lives of women and children who still crowd this great metropolis, Gen. Lovell has evacuated it with his troops and restored to me the administration of its government and the custody of its honor. I have, in Council with the city fathers, considered the demand you made of me yesterday, of an unconditional surrender of the city, coupled with the requisition to hoist the flag of the United States on the public edifices and haul down the flag that still floats to the breeze from the dome of this hall. It becomes my duty to transmit you an answer, which is the universal sentiment of my constituents, no less than promptings of my own heart, dictated to me on this sad and solemn occasion.
The city is without means of defence, and utterly destitute of force and material that might enable it to resist the overpowering armament displayed in sight of it. I am no military man, and possess no authority beyond that of executing the municipal laws of the city of New Orleans. It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to lead an army to the field, if I had one at command, and I know still less how to surrender an undefended place, held at this time at the mercy of your gunners and your mortars. To surrender such a place were an idle, unmeaning ceremony. The city is yours by power of brutal force, not by my choice or the consent of its inhabitants. It is for you to determine what will be the fate that awaits us here.
As to hoisting any flag other than the flag of our own adoption and allegiance, let me say to you, that the man lives not in our midst whose hand and heart would not be palsied at the mere thought of such an act; nor could I find in my entire constituency so wretched, desperate a renegade as would dare to profane with his hand the sacred emblem of our aspirations.
Sir, you have manifested sentiments which would become one engaged in a better cause than that to which you have devoted your sword. I doubt not but that they spring from a noble, though deluded nature, and I know how to appreciate the emotions which inspired them. You will have a gallant people to administer during your occupation of this city—a people sensitive to all that can in the least affect their dignity and self-respect. Pray, Sir, do not fail to regard their susceptibilities. An obligation which I shall assume in their names shall be religiously complied with. You may trust their honor, though you might not count on their submission to unmerited wrong.
In conclusion, I beg you to understand that the people of New Orleans, while unable to resist your force, do not allow themselves to be insulted by the interference of such as have rendered themselves odious and contemptible by dastardly desertion of our cause in the mighty struggle in which we are engaged or such as might remind them too painfully that they are the conquered, and you the conquerors. Peace and order may be preserved without resort to measures which I could not at this moment prevent. Your occupying the city does not transfer their allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and that they yield simply the obedience which the conqueror is entitled to extort from the conquered. Respectfully,
(Signed) John F. Monroe, Mayor.
This situation between Farragut and Monroe almost had the appearance of a farce, as pointed out by the Macon Daily Telegraph in that same May 1 issue:
The New Orleans Elephant
At last accounts there was a touch of the ludicrous about the melancholy condition of New Orleans. The Lincoln Commodore writes the Mayor to surrender the city and pull down the secession flag. The Mayor answers that the city is defenceless, come and take it. He cannot fight, nor he cannot pull down the flags. There is not a man in the city base enough to dishonor the emblem of Confederate Sovereignty. If Farragut wishes the flags down he must come and haul them down. But Farragut is afraid to send a force on shore for that purpose, and on the other hand ashamed to shell a town which offers no resistance. And so matters stand—the Confederate flat still flying over the town and the guns of the Lincoln ships of war darkly frowning over the place.
While the mayor was stalling in New Orleans, Porter continued to shell the two forts downriver, and on April 28 they surrendered. General Benjamin Butler and his 18,000 troops were then transported past the defeated forts to the city, occupying New Orleans on April 30, 1862. The Confederacy’s largest city had fallen without actually being fired upon, the Union had almost complete control of the entire length of the Mississippi River, and the South was dealt a blow from which it would never recover.
The North was jubilant, and celebrated wildly. This article was printed by the Weekly Patriot and Union (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) on May 1, 1862:
The cheering news from New Orleans diffused general joy throughout the country. Not that a city had fallen—that lives had been lost and property destroyed—but that a position had been achieved which was an important step toward the end. All that tends to the termination of this contest—to restore the Government to its legitimate sphere of action—subdue rebellion and conquer peace—will be hailed with thanksgiving by loyal hearts, though won at any cost. No sacrifice is too great to preserve our country—its Constitution, its Boundaries, its Liberties; hence the victories that will accomplish this, although they come to us through blood, and while the ear is filled with the groans of the wounded and dying, they will be welcomed—but only as the sad necessity through which our redemption must be obtained. The proud Crescent has not been humiliated, but elevated, by a return to the glorious banner which has floated over her in all her days of honor and prosperity—the banner she has nobly defended—the emblem of her pride and power. And now may we not hope the evil spirit has been exorcised from her bosom and henceforward she will find peace, through love and obedience, in her father’s house? The mighty river which bears her wealth and strength will soon hold no enemy upon its banks to the benign Government which stretches forth its arm to protect and to save. Let this be realized—let the people at the South realize that the armies under the old starry flag come to bless, not to oppress, and anarchy, hatred and misery will soon give place to order, confidence and plenty, and Heaven’s smile will be upon us again as a united and fraternal people.
The theme that New Orleans should be thankful for its “deliverance” was a common one in Northern editorials. This one was printed by the Portland Daily Advertiser (Portland, Maine) on the front page of its May 1, 1862, issue:
The Rise of New Orleans
What an unreasonable way the rebels have of talking! Because the Union soldiers have taken possession of New Orleans, they tell us it has fallen, when indeed it has risen. The fall of N. Orleans occurred when the glorious stars and stripes came down, and the rebel flag went up. Then it was that the industry and commerce of the Crescent City perished; now it is that they are to take to themselves a renewal of life.
With the restoration to the world of New Orleans must come also and speedily the restoration of the whole Mississippi Valley—the revival of its industry and magnificent commerce. The rise of New Orleans is truly the great and glorious feature of the war. It is one of those great events that mark an epoch of themselves. When to New Orleans shall soon be added Galveston, Mobile, Savannah and Charleston, then we will raise the blockade ourselves, and invite the trade of all nations once more.
Many Northern papers were convinced the fall of New Orleans was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), in this article printed on April 29, 1862, asserted that “we cannot see how the utter demoralization of the Rebel cause can fail to follow”:
New Orleans—The Capture Abroad and at Home
Assuming that the Rebel account of the fall of New Orleans is true, this event is, in every aspect, by far the most important of the war. Reeling, as the rebellion has been under the fast following and victorious blows administered by the Union armies, since the advent of the present year, this terrible stroke must so far stagger it as to leave nothing more necessary but the final coup de grace in Virginia. Its crushing force must tell powerfully against the Rebel cause, both abroad and at home. In England it will present itself in this aspect. The city which, in its infancy, repelled and routed a well appointed and powerful British army, is now captured with ease, when it is vastly more populous, immensely more powerful, and infinitely better protected by fortifications against attack from any quarter, and captured, too, by a mere fragment of the naval and land forces of the United States. There could be no more signal exemplification of the power of the up-risen Union. Or, if even the malignant hostility of the London Times cheapens the triumph by an allegation that New Orleans was not defended, what better illustration can there be to foreign powers of the utter absence of the Revolutionary spirit among the people of that city.
In France, too, the capture of New Orleans must be regarded as a fatal and almost finishing blow to the Rebellion. There the people of the Crescent City are regarded as, in large part, their own children; and, if the spirit of resistance was at all general and genuine, it would have shown itself in a defence of their city, characterized by their own fiery and impetuous valor. But, so far as we can judge, no such brilliant effort to repel their assailants is likely to be exhibited to the eyes of the French, or of any other people. Will not this argue conclusively either that the Government is powerful enough to overcome even such resistance as people of the French blood are able to make, or that these people permit their city to be restored to the Union without an earnest fight, because they have no heart in the war? On the one hand or the other, the conclusion is inevitable—that the Rebellion is certain to be put down, and the common sense of the French must recognize and accept the fact.
But the fall of New Orleans must be an impressive event abroad for other reasons. Not only in the two countries we have named, but in all commercial states, it is known as the great seat of commerce in the South. Charleston is known, Savannah is known, and Mobile is known, but New Orleans stands out in the sight of the world in conspicuous preeminence. It is the second commercial city of the United States, and the greatest exporting mart of the Western world. While New York is the acknowledged gate of entrance of the vast importing trade of the country, New Orleans is the equally admitted great portal of exit for the hundreds of millions of our products heretofore sent out annually to the European world. The capture of such a city by the Union forces must, therefore, have a moral effect that will outweigh a dozen victories upon hard-fought fields in less conspicuous and important places. Hence, we may fairly date the downfall of the Rebel cause in Europe from the day when the restoration of New Orleans to the Union is made known beyond the Atlantic.
Kindred effects must follow the promulgation of the news through the Rebel States. Down to this time the Rebellion has been kept upon its legs in many quarters of the South by the most stupendous system of falsehood the world has ever known. In many cases the defeats suffered by the Rebel armies are studiously and obstinately concealed. It is doubtful if the rout of Van Dorn and Price in Arkansas is yet known generally in the Secession States. Shiloh is still mendaciously claimed as a victory. The only evidence of disaster the people have is that the Rebel armies are constantly falling back, and that the war is continually coming nearer and nearer to their own homes, and even this palpable evidence is explained away as military strategy. But none of these devices or shifts can blind the people in the case of New Orleans. The Rebel chieftains can neither explain out of it, nor wriggle out of it, nor lie out of it, nor blot out the capture in any way, any more than they can blot out the existence of New Orleans itself. There is the visible, palpable, indisputable, inexorable fact. It comes home to them with an overwhelming conviction that no ingenuity of falsehood on the part of their leaders can explain.
On these grounds, therefore, we anticipate from this victory the most important and salutary results in “Secessia” as well as abroad. The people there must see that the giant conspiracy, of which they have been for the most part the unwilling subjects or the helpless victims, has failed, and we cannot see how the utter demoralization of the Rebel cause can fail to follow.
Of the military advantages of this great success, we do not now speak. They are so palpable that the public mind grasps and masters them at once. The Valley of the Mississippi is restored to the Union, clear to the Gulf, with the exception of a small section near Memphis. This must, in a very few days, be regained with all the rest. Blind in their confidence, the Rebels seem never to have dreamed that Memphis and Corinth could be flanked by a movement up the Mississippi. But this unlooked-for event is a fact accomplished. And so the good work rapidly nears the end.
The loss of New Orleans was a serious blow to the Confederacy, as acknowledged in the following Southern editorial. Yet note, despite this setback, the continued tone of defiance and resolve to keep on fighting. This editorial was printed by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on the front page of its April 28, 1862, issue:
Capture of New Orleans
The capture of New Orleans is a severe blow to the Confederate cause which we dislike to contemplate in all its consequences; but may as well do so first as last.
The withdrawal of the material power and wealth of that great city from the support of the South is a heavy loss, but, after all, is only a small part of the embarrassment which will follow its reduction. New Orleans was a main point for the collection of our army supplies—the depot of the great system of Southwestern inland navigation. But a single point of defense now remains on all those rivers which, as it were, converge at New Orleans. Fort Pillow is now the only fortified point in possession of the Confederates, and to judge from the revelations of the western newspaper correspondents, no hope is entertained of holding that for any length of time. Indeed, not improbably it is already gone. When that falls the Federals will be in complete possession of all the western rivers, from the North and the South, and we have but to look at the map to appreciate the means of annoyance which will then be placed in their possession. Indeed its vast extent alone may serve as some measure of protection. Every important town in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas is laid open to the Federals. The Mississippi, Red, Wachita, Yazoo, Arkansas, and a host of other tributaries, are open to their gunboats, big and little, as well as the termini of all the Southwestern railways. The State of Texas, too, is cut off as a source of army supply, and with these rivers and the rivers and railways of Tennessee in full possession of the Federals for the transportation of armies and supplies, with their acknowledged resources in the means of water and railway transportation, it cannot be denied that we are placed at great disadvantage.
But still, we have plenty of soil inaccessible by these avenues, where we can meet the enemy on equal terms, and where he must meet us, or abandon the work of subjugation. He cannot whip us out with gunboats, and if our farmers and planters are true to themselves, we can still bear aloft the standard of independence until the foe shall exhaust himself in the vain struggle to subdue a free people to his yoke. We must fortify ourselves, if need be, to the temporary abandonment of all our coast and river towns. We have not yet made one successful defence, and the chances are we never shall. We expect to see them all go one after another, and there’s no use bemoaning what seems to be inevitable. We might as well prepare ourselves for the worst, and we may say, in passing, that the policy of forbidding traders on our coast and river cities from sending their goods into the interior, is to our mind senseless and suicidal. It will work vast injury to the Confederate cause.
It seems to us that the loss of the Western rivers will suggest a material change in our system of military strategy. The enemy to avail himself fully of these means of annoyance, plunder and oppression, will be compelled to scatter his forces and abandon the plan of concentrating vast armies. So must we. With the fall of New Orleans the great object of Buell and Grant’s advance is accomplished. Memphis remains to be taken, but that city, like New Orleans, will be more easily captured from the river. Ditto Vicksburg, Natchez, and all the other river towns. It may be doubted therefore whether the enemy will offer another grand battle in the West.
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