April 25, 1862 (Friday)
In the mid-morning of the previous day, New Orleans was abuzz with the rumor, entirely true, that the Union gunboats of Flag Officer David Farragut had steamed past Forts Jackson and St. Philip and were on their way to the Crescent City, sixty miles upriver. The Rebels in the forts were able to get off just one telegram of warning before the Federals cut the wires strung to the north.
Immediate precautions were taken. Nearly 30,000 bales of cotton were put to the torch, as were stores of rations. Unknown quantities of sugar, corn and other edibles were dumped into the Mississippi River. Neither wishing to see the goods fall into Yankee hands nor be needlessly destroyed, the city turned into a free-for-all, with citizens grabbing what they could before it was destroyed by the officials.
In the harbor was the ironclad CSS Louisiana‘s sister ship, Mississippi. She was to be a formidable vessel when completed, but at this stage, was far from finished. Gunless and without all of her propellers, there was little that could be done to ready her for defense. Throughout the night of the 24th, two tugboats heaved and pulled in an attempt to tow her away from the city, with no luck at all. Finally, on the morning of this date, it was realized that any attempt to save her would be fruitless. Even if they could move her, the faster Union ships would overtake and capture the Mississippi without even a fight.
There were such high hopes for the ironclad Mississippi. She could have single-handedly destroyed the wooden Union fleet and gone a long way to breaking the blockade of the Gulf. But rather than have her fall to the Federals, she was set on fire and allowed to float down river towards the coming Union ships.
Farragut’s fleet, consisting of eleven ships (he left two behind, five miles north of the forts), made their way up the river. They passed a Rebel battery that put up a formidable fight, but were still no match for ships that had little desire to engage the foe. They also passed the burning hulk of the Mississippi, as it bobbed with the current.
By 1pm, they anchored off New Orleans, Farragut sending Captain Bailey and Lieutenant Perkins to meet with Mayor John T. Monroe to demand the surrender of the city. Greeting them at the docks was a crowd, growing angrier and larger every minute. Their chants went from “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” to “Hang them!” in very little time. The Federal officers were whisked away to city hall nowhere they were told by Mayor Monroe that since the city was under martial law, he had no authority to surrender anything.
That authority, said Monroe, was Confederate General Mansfield Lovell, who was called for. When Lovell arrived, he absolutely refused to surrender anything. This was because, as he informed the Federals and the mayor, he and his small force were leaving New Orleans, so it wasn’t really up to him to surrender anything, anyway. The mayor, having the hot potato tossed back into his tender hands, told the Federals that he would have to meet with the city council before giving a definite answer.
Meanwhile, the crowd had grown ferocious, trying to kick down the front doors of city hall, while demanding the two Union officers be lynched. Mayor Monroe had tried to find them a military escort, but the militia refused. Finally, General Lovell diverted the mob’s attention at the front by telling them that he refused to surrender (probably leaving out the bit about his near immediate egress), while the two Union officers were hurried out the back door. By the time the General left the city, the army had already gone south towards the unsurrendered Fort Jackson and the Union officers were back on their ship.
As the officers explained the lack of surrender to Farragut, Mayor Monroe explained to the council that he still had no authority to surrender the city. After all, he was just the mayor. His suggestion was that, being unable to defend themselves, they yield to the Union military power, but refuse to surrender their allegiance to the Confederate government.
The council decided to sleep on it as their city flew into a nightmare of panic, and as eleven enemy gunboats anchored in their harbor.1
The Fall of Fort Macon
Following the battle of New Bern, North Carolina, Union General Ambrose Burnside set his sights upon Fort Macon, on the Outer Banks. Less than a week after the battle, the first Union troops arrived, demanding the surrender of the fort. Col. Moses White, commanding the fort, refused.
Over the following weeks, General Burnside brought up troops, gunships and artillery. Entrenchments were dug, batteries were placed, and by mid-April, the fort was completely cut off. The Union investing force brought well over 3,000 troops, ten times the number of Rebels inside the fort. When surrender was again demanded on April 23, Col. White again refused.
Two days later, on this date, Union artillery opened upon Fort Macon, which replied in kind. Neither side’s fire was very accurate or effective. The Rebel fort was never made to defend itself against a land attack. However, when the four ships of the Union flotilla appeared in the waters before them, they were driven back by Rebel fire after only an hour.
Towards afternoon, the Federal land batteries had found their range and the toll began to tell upon the Confederates. In all, the doomed fort had 1,150 shells hurled at it. Nearly half hit their mark, disabling a nearly-unbelievable nineteen of Macon’s fifty-six pieces.
Col. White knew by the middle of the afternoon that he was beaten and ran a white flag up on the staff. With the firing stopped, White sent two officers to ascertain the conditions of the surrender. When he learned that the Federals wanted only an unconditional surrender, White refused.
The truce, however, held throughout the night, until the next morning, after General Burnside had reconsidered his demand. The next day, he allowed for the Confederate soldiers to be paroled and to return to their homes until formally exchanged. They were permitted to take all of their personal items and bedding from the fort.
The ceremony took place on the 26th, and the Union troops occupied Fort Macon the same day.2
- The Night the War was Lost by Charles L. Dufour, University of Nebraska Press, 1960. As any of you who read the footnotes know, I hate just using one secondary source. But after days of long hours of primary research, I needed to take a little break and write was is basically a summary, using a book and author that I trust. [↩]
- The Civil War in North Carolina by John G. Barrett, University of North Carolina Press, 1963. [↩]