The Union capture of New Orleans was a major victory for the North, but sources differ on exactly what day it really happened on. Some sources list the capture of New Orleans as occurring on April 25, 1862, while others list it as occurring on April 29, 1862. For the sake of any contention and argument, be it known that this post will use the April 29, 1862 date for the actual capture of New Orleans.
At the early stages of the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy and one of the most important. It was strategically placed near the mouth of the Mississippi River which afford the South a port to ship their goods from and receive valuable supplies.
The main Confederate defense along the entrance to the Mississippi was located at Fort Jackson, south of New Orleans near where the river opened up into the Gulf of Mexico, and Fort St. Phillips 30 miles upriver from Fort Jackson. The Mississippi River itself also provided its own defense in the form of sandbars. As the mighty river emptied into the delta, it created numerous sandbars that made shipping difficult, especially for deeper draft war ships.
In the later part of 1861, Union Admiral David Dixon Porter had established a Union blockade of the Mississippi River. During that time, he devised a plan to capture Forts Jackson and St. Phillips and then the city of New Orleans. His plan involved in using ships that had shallow drafts that would help avoid getting stuck on the sandbars. With the approval of President Lincoln and General McClellan, Porter put his plan in motion.
In early April 1862, Porter’s plan was put into action. Union Naval Captain David Farragut was given command of a fleet consisting of 24 gunboats and 19 mortar boats, armed with 166 guns and 26 howitzers. On board the fleet was Union General Benjamin Butler with over 6,000 troops.
On April 16, 1862, Farragut’s fleet sailed up the Mississippi River towards Fort Jackson. Anchoring about 3 miles from the fort, the Union fleet began bombarding the Confederate fort that was soon ablaze by the well placed shells from the mortar boats. The Confederates in the fort tried to return fire but the Union bombardment was so intense that it made any attempt of rapid return fire nearly impossible. With much of Fort Jackson on fire, Farragut them blew up the levy protecting the fort, allowing it to flood.
Attempting to prevent a Union raid on New Orleans, the Confederates had chained a number of old ships and boats across the Mississippi River near Fort St. Phillips. On April 20, 1862, a small Union force under the cover of night managed to cut the chains holding the blockade, freeing a path along the eastern side of the river.
The Union bombardment of Fort St. Phillips continued for three days. By April 23, 1862, the Union mortar ships had fired nearly 17,000 rounds at the Confederate forts. The constant bombardment was taking a toll on the mortar ships causing structural damage. It was also taking a toll on their munition supply. Farragut decided he needed to take the chance and run the fleet past the forts and on to New Orleans.
On April 24, 1862, at 2 am, Farragut’s fleet began to sail upriver past the forts in three divisions with Farragut commanding the second division on board his flagship the Hartford. The first division made it past both forts and engaged the meager Confederate fleet.
As the second division took time to attack Fort St. Phillips, a Confederate barge approached with a raft full of burning pinecones, aimed at the Harford. The Hartford tried avoid the burning raft and ran aground on a sandbar. The raft found the Hartford and set it on fire, however, the fire was successfully extinguished and the Hartford was able to get off the sandbar and continue northward up the Mississippi River towards New Orleans. By the time the third division of Farragut’s fleet passed the two forts, there was very little Confederate firing as both forts had been pretty much destroyed.
The danger the Union fleet encountered was the Confederate ramming ship, Manassas. The Manassas first took aim at the Mississippi but the damage was minor. Next the Manassas went after the Pensacola, but missed. Before continuing on after the lead ships, the Manassas came under fire from Confederate forces and was forced to turn around. Then it turned on the Brooklyn and inflicted a nearly serious blow. At first the captain of the Brooklyn feared that he had collided with the Hartford.
The Manassas was only armed with one gun and that was knocked out of commission and the Manassas found itself gunless and downstream of the Union fleet and unable to make enough speed up the river to catch the Union fleet. Trapped by the Confederate guns to the south that fired upon the Manassas, the ship was run aground and abandoned. Union guns fired upon the Manassas, setting it ablaze and floating down the river.
On April 25, 1862, Farragut’s Union Fleet arrived at New Orleans only to find that many of the Confederate troops that had been at the city were fighting further north in Tennessee. Farragut sent an envoy to demand the Mayor of New Orleans surrender the city. The mayor left the decision to Confederate General Lowell, but he informed the mayor that he and his troops were leaving and that surrender was up to the mayor.
A number of historians cite this as the capture of New Orleans, but I do not believe they are accurate in that assumption.
On April 26, 1862, Farragut again sent another emissary to Mayor Monroe, demanding the surrender of the city. Monroe refused and sent word to Farragut that he would have to take the city by force.
On April 29, 1862, a small Union force marched into New Orleans to the custom house. They took down the Confederate flag and raised the Stars and Stripes. This move is considered by other historians as the real capture of New Orleans by the Union forces.
On May1, 1862, General Butler’s troops arrived and formally took control over the enter city. Most of the city’s Confederate flags were replaced with the Stars and Stripes.
Union forces now had control of the southern entry to the Mississippi River but they also had control further north. The river under Confederate control began to steadily shrink, especially with the fall of Vicksburg in 1863.
Sources for the above includes: Capture of New Orleans, 18-29 April 1862; Union captures New Orleans; American Civil War: Capture of New Orleans; Battle of New Orleans; Farragut Captures New Orleans; American Civil War: April 25–May 1, 1862; Our times: New Orleans falls to Union troops.