Mutiny at Fort Jackson! Stonewall Expects too Much of his Foes

April 27, 1862 (Sunday)

David Dixon Porter

Way down south, at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the Rebels had not yet surrendered to Captain David Porter, who commanded the fleet of mortar boats on the lower Mississippi River. Porter had demanded the surrender of the forts on April 24th, just after Farragut had steamed his fleet towards New Orleans. General Johnson Duncan declined the offer.

Inside the forts, there was much confusion. All communication with New Orleans had been cut off, and so everyone was in the dark over whether the city had fallen (it had not, at least, not officially). The Federal guns were silent on the 25th and 26th, as the Rebels made repairs and modifications to their defenses.

Around noon on this date, General Duncan saw a gunboat under a flag of truce steam towards the forts. It contained another demand for surrender (oddly dated the 26th). In it, Porter informed Duncan that New Orleans had fallen (a half-truth) and that the Confederate forces inside the forts were completely cut off.

Fort Jackson

“No man could consider it dishonorable to surrender under these circumstances, especially when no advantage can arise by longer holding out, and by yielding gracefully he can save the further effusion of blood,” assured Porter. “You have defended the forts gallantly, and no more can be asked of you.”

Duncan replied, through his second-in-command, that he had heard nothing official from New Orleans, and until he had, there was no way that he could surrender.1

There was also no way that anything official could get through from New Orleans. By this date, the forts were entirely invested. Though Porter’s word wasn’t enough for Duncan, it appeared to have leaked out and been enough for the troops garrisoning Fort Jackson.

The thought of being cut off from the city and being at the mercy of the Federals sent them into a mutinous frenzy. Seeing that he was about to lose control of his men, most of whom were of foreign blood and were believed to not really care one way or the other about the war’s outcome, Duncan jotted down some words of encouragement (mostly adverbs), hoping to quell their unrest:

“You have nobly, gallantly, and heroically sustained with courage and fortitude the terrible ordeals of fire, water, and a hail of shot and shell wholly unsurpassed during the present war. […] Your officers have every confidence in your courage and patriotism, and feel every assurance that you will cheerfully and with alacrity obey all orders and do your whole duty as men and as becomes the well-tried garrisons of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip. Be vigilant, therefore, and stand by your guns, and all will yet be well.”2

Damage to Fort Jackson

At first, it seemed to be working. The men returned to a bit of quiet and, as the evening passed into night, Duncan and his officers must have breathed a hearty sigh of relief.

At midnight, however, all hell broke loose. The garrison revolted, almost to a man. They reversed some of the artillery pieces, spiked the rest, grabbed their guns and simply walked out of the fort. The men knew it was hopeless. They believed that New Orleans had fallen, that the forts were surrounded, and that their officers were too stubborn to surrender until the very end, which would prove to be mere butchery.

Though several tried to stop them, nearly half of the garrison of Fort Jackson left. With them, they took not only the hope of defeating the Federals, but also the small boats used to communicate with Fort St. Philip. With Union troops above and below the forts, and so few of his men left, Duncan finally realized that his only course of action was to wait until dawn and surrender.3


Confusion in the Shenandoah Valley

Stonewall Jackson

General Stonewall Jackson’s army of 8,000 were still squirreled away behind Massanutten Mountain, at Swift Run Gap. Union General Nathaniel Banks, who had been absolutely certain that Jackson had left the Shenandoah Valley, was beginning to think otherwise. To deal with Jackson, something Banks hadn’t really done since the battle of Kernstown, well over a month ago, he wished to co-operate his army of 19,000 with that of General John C. Fremont’s, 20,000-strong.4

General Fremont’s Army of the Mountain Division, had moved from Western Virginia towards Staunton, which was held by 3,000 Rebels under General “Allegheny” Johnson. To deal with Johnson, Fremont sent 6,000 of his men under General Robert Milroy, holding back his main force for a possible link up with Banks.

There was, of course, a problem. President Lincoln was growing increasingly worried about matters to the front of Washington. General Banks had reported again and again that Jackson had left the Valley. With Jackson supposedly on the loose and General Ewell’s 8,000 Rebel troops somewhere east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Banks might just be a bit too far south.

Large map of approximate troop positions. Click to embiggen.

“In the present state of things it is not the desire of the President that you should prosecute a farther advance toward the south,” wrote Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. “You are requested to consider whether you are not already making too wide a separation between the body of troops under your immediate command and your supporting force.” That was indeed a possibility. Banks was the only force in the Shenandoah Valley. And though Fremont was close by, he had his own supply lines to worry about. “It is possible that events may make it necessary to transfer the command of General Shields to the Department of the Rappahannock,” warned Stanton in closing.5

Banks received the dispatch on this date and replied. He had two brigades at Harrisonburg, a brigade between Harrisburg and New Market, and the rest of his army at New Market itself. Previously, Banks had complained that his supplies were not coming through like he had hoped, but, perhaps to put a better light on how far south he’d traveled, he assured Washington that, “our supplies are in improving condition.”6

General Fremont, who didn’t know that Washington was contemplating a pull back by Banks, was eager to link up. “The movement is right,” he wrote Banks, “the force could be rapidly concentrated.” Like Banks, who had believed Jackson had left his front, Fremont believed that there were “no troops of the enemy in or about Staunton.” At this point, they both probably believed that Johnson was falling back to reinforce Jackson.7

Nathaniel Banks and his stupid hat.

But that was not the case. Though Lee had suggested that Johnson fall back towards Jackson, his troops were still holding Staunton. On the 26th, the advance Union pickets had pushed back Jackson’s pickets, causing him to suspect that Banks might attack. In case of this eventuality, he ordered General Ewell to advance his troops closer to the mountains and thus closer to Jackson. Dispatches were having a hard time getting over the pass to Ewell, and so Jackson wrote him at least three different times that he should encamp on the western side of Standardsville, and move as close to Swift Run Gap as possible, without overtaxing his men. Johnson’s command at Staunton would be unaffected by this move.8

So, as Jackson prepared for an attack, Banks prepared for the possibility of a retreat. As Fremont (via Gen. Milroy) advanced towards Staunton, he suspected nothing at all in his front.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p531; 543-544. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p544. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p531-532. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p106. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p106-107. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p110. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p112. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p868; 871. []
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Mutiny at Fort Jackson! Stonewall Expects too Much of his Foes by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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