April 29, 1862 (Tuesday)
Union Flag Officer David Farragut was again taking his title quite literally. He had threatened to bombard the city of New Orleans if United States flags were not flying over City Hall, the Mint and the Custom House by the following day. The city was without military defenses, and the Mayor proposed that since New Orleans was undefended, couldn’t Farragut simply remove the offending flags, replacing them with the stars and stripes himself? Certainly, if an army could level a city, they could much more easily run up a handful of banners.
While considering the Mayor’s position, Farragut admitted that he knew little of international law. When he informed the Mayor of the ultimatum, he also sent a letter to the foreign consuls within the city, letting them know that New Orleans could be bombarded at any time. Though the Flag Officer was unaware of international law, the foreign consuls were well versed on the matter.
Together, consuls from England, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Portugal, and Brazil, wrote to Farragut demanding an audience with the Union officer “before you proceed from the threat of a bombardment to the realization of such an unheard of act against a town of open commerce without military defenses of any kind and virtually surrendered by the municipal authorities.”
To make matters even worse, France had dispatched the gunboat Milan to New Orleans so that the French interests in the city could be protected. She arrived just after Farragut, and with his threat to bombard the town, her commander, George-Charles Cloué, was irate.
Of the forty-eight hours notice Farragut gave to the Mayor, Cloué had little nice to relate. “I venture to observe to you that this short delay is ridiculous, and, in the name of my Government, I oppose it,” wrote the French captain to Farragut. “If it is your resolution to bombard the city, do it; but I wish to state that you will have to account for this barbarous act to the Power which I represent.”1
With threats and grumblings from a whole slew of European countries, Farragut was counting the hours until General Benjamin Butler and his 5,000 troops showed up. Butler had spent the night with the fleet, but had went back down the river to fetch his men. They would be along the following day.
Probably growing tired of waiting for them, and definitely wanting the whole flag problem to disappear, Farragut sent ashore 250 marines and two howitzers to formally take control of the city. As they marched to the Custom House, the crowds flung insults and epithets at the Federals troops. But when they drew into line, flanked by their two artillery pieces, they fell silent.
Three officers entered the building, walked up the stairs to the flagstaff, and ran up the flag of the United States. They then marched to City Hall, where they gave the Mayor the opportunity to lower his own state flag, but he declined. The Federal officers made quick work as thousands clamored around them. They did not, however, replace it with the United States flag, as City Hall was not United States property. They do not appear to have visited the Mint.
A detachment of Marines were left behind to guard the flag at the Custom House until Butler arrived with his troops.2
Plans in the Shenandoah
This late April day in the Shenandoah Valley was one of speculation and wonderment as both Union General Nathaniel Banks and Confederate General Stonewall Jackson contemplated their next move. For each General, their ideas said much about their character.
General Banks, commanding 19,000, had been absolutely certain that Jackson had left the Valley. Jackson, commanding almost 8,000, was hiding out at Swift Run Gap, and knew the exact location of Banks.
In the days since his absolute certainty, General Banks had retreated to a more believable position that Jackson was about to leave. He even went as far as to divide up the Valley between his command and the command of General John C. Fremont, ten or so miles outside of Staunton. If Jackson was not already leaving, then Banks could make him leave or destroy him.
In truth, all of this would take time. Fremont’s army, based out of the Mountain Department of Western Virginia, was scattered. Only around 3,000 troops were near Staunton, the rest were spread thin throughout the mountains, though Fremont was quickly gathering them up.3
In an even greater truth, Stonewall Jackson had no plans to retreat. On this date, he proposed three different actions that he could take. Of the three, none proposed the abandonment of the Shenandoah Valley. While Jackson’s force of 8,000 held Swift Run Gap, an equal number under General Ewell were on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, within a day’s march of Jackson. Over 3,000 troops under General “Allegheny” Johnson held Staunton to the southwest. The Union troops held Harrisonburg to the north.
As Banks had suspected Jackson would make no offensive moves, Jackson believed Banks would never attack him. It was up to Jackson to bring on the battle.
Jackson’s first idea was to call Ewell west, across the Blue Ridge, while he (Jackson) reinforced Johnson at Staunton, where he’d whip Fremont’s troops, as Ewell kept Banks in check. The second was to allow Johnson to keep Fremont in check, while Jackson and Ewell combined in attacking Banks where he stood. His third idea, which made no mention of either Johnson or Ewell, was to move north and threaten Winchester, which would draw Banks out of the deeper portions of the Valley.
Of the three, Jackson preferred the first. If he and Johnson defeated Fremont, they could combine with Ewell (and hopefully some reinforcements from Richmond) to fall upon Banks. Once that was accomplished, they could leave the Valley to continue their victorious ways.4
Jackson wrote out the plans for General Robert E. Lee, in Richmond, but must have already had his preference in mind, as Ewell’s force was currently making their climb over the Blue Ridge Mountains. They would arrive at Swift Run Gap at evening the following day.5
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 18, p238-239. Farragut wrote separately to the English Consul. [↩]
- Battles and Leaders, Vol. 2, p93-94. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p112-114. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p872. [↩]
- Make Me A Map Of The Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. [↩]