The following graphic account, and the only one we have seen of the taking of the city of New Orleans, was transmitted by telegraph on Monday from Cairo to the Chicago Tribune:–
A gentleman who left New Orleans on the 29th ult., o the last train which departed, under Confederate auspices, arrived at Cairo this evening on the Diligent. The Federals took possession on Thursday at 2 P. M. On that morning at half-past 3 the Hartford, Richmond, Brookland, and five gunboats passed Forts St. Philip and Jackson, and steamed to the city without being fired at, except at a point called Chalmetto. At the time of the passage there were eight or ten Confederate steamers above the fort without steam up, and the crews asleep. When the Federal boats hove in sight, the Confederates set fire to these and blew up the splendid gunboat Louisiana, without firing a shot. During the bombardment, several of our vessels were badly damaged. When they passed the forts three were lashed together, so that if one was disabled the others could cut loose and proceed on their way. In this manner they succeeded in passing.
As soon as the rumor of the passage of the forts reached New Orleans, there was a tremendous consternation in the city. The authorities immediately set fire to the transports, and two gunboats lying at the levee, a few steamers belonging to the tributaries of the Mississippi, fled crowded with the citizens, up the Arkansas, Red, White, Ouachita, and Yazoo Rivers. Every dray and vehicle suitable for the service, was impressed by the authorities to carry cotton, sugar and molasses to the levee, where they were piled and burned. All military stores where removed to the depot of the New Orleans and Jackson Railroad, except the powder, which was thrown into the river. The conflagration was tremendous, and the sky for several miles was lurid with flame. The smoke was so thick as to completely darken the atmosphere.
Disorganized Confederate troops in companies and parts of companies fled in wild disorder to the depot to seek a passage to Ponchartulas, fifty miles in the interior, where the military rendezvous was located. The negroes stole molasses and sugar from the levee, and women and children could be seen in great numbers rolling barrels of sweets over the pavements to their huts in the suburbs. The streets were so slippery with the drippings that the cab horses could hardly stand upright.
While affairs were in this confusion, the eight Federal frigates and gunboats in firing trim, topmast, guns shotted and run out of the port holes, and the stars and stripes flying from every masthead, anchored on at the foot of each principal street leading to the river, the Hartford, with Com. Farragut’s blue pennant flying from her foretop, taking her position at the foot of Canal street. After the ships were in position, Capt. Bayless, second in command of the gulf squadron, in a pinnance, unattended and alone, landed on the levee. Just before him a man stood at the levee with a loaded pistol, and threatened to shoot him if he stepped his foot upon the shore without a flag of truce. Capt. B. pulled out a white handkerchief and waving it, stepped upon the levee and proceeded directly to the city Hall through a crowd of full twenty-five-thousand men, women and children. This act of bravery elicited a shout of admiration form the vast assemblage. He called upon the Mayor, presented a dispatch from Commodore Farragut, and demanded the surrender of the city. He required the Louisiana State flag to be lowered, and the Stars and Stripes to be hoisted upon the Mint, Custom House, and all the public buildings. The Mayor informed him that the city was under martial law, that Maj. Lovell was in command, and that he, the Mayor, had no authority to act in the premises. At this juncture, Gen. Lovell appeared, refused to surrender the city, but offered to withdraw his forces and surrender his authority to the civil authorities. The Mayor then told Capt. Bayles that he would convene a session of the Common Council that evening, and send an answer to the Commodore’s dispatch in the morning. The answer, as promised was returned the next day.
On Tuesday the 28th, 500 marines landed with a few small brass pieces and marched to the City Hall, demanded to be shown to the top of the building, hauled down the State flag, which a marine rolled up and carried off under his arm, and then proceeded to the Custom House, where the remains of two hundred gun carriages were still burning, hoisted the National Emblem, left a guard to protect it, and returned to the gunboat.
The day previous forts St. Philip and Jackson had surrendered, their own men spiking the guns and refusing to fight longer. In consequence of this mutiny, General Duncan was compelled to raise the white flag and surrender the fort. Gen. Duncan and all his officers were released upon their parole and allowed to retain their side arms. The former came up to the City Hall and made a speech in which he counseled the people not to despair, everything would come out right yet.
The fort having surrendered, the way was clear for transports, which at the same time our informant left were expected. Order was re-established in the city, shops were being opened, but the St. Charles and principal hotels remained closed, more in consequence of the currency and the scarcity of provisions than from any fear of the Federal soldiers.
Considerable apprehension was felt that the lower classes, Spanish, French, Germans, and foreigners generally, taking advantage of the disorganized condition of the city, might commit excess, and plunder the citizens, the inhabitants were more fearful of these than of the Federals. Confederate scrip was still current, but prices of provisions were enormously high.
The day after the gunboats arrived, two of them steamed up the river to Baton Rouge, hoisted the U. S. flag on the capital building and arsenal, and captured two steamers for transport service. Thousands of people were constantly on the levee, gazing at the gunboats and soldiers, towards whom they manifested no ill will or bitterness of filling.
Our informant passed through Gen. Lovell’s camp at a point called Songapoa, about 125 miles north of New Orleans, on the New Orleans and Jackson railroad. Munitions of war, troops, provisions, &c., were lying about on the utmost confusion. They were intending to join Gen. Beauregard at Corinth. People by the thousands were leaving Vicksburg and Natchez for Jackson, which place was crowded to over flowing. – There was an alarming scarcity of provisions. Our informant reached Memphis on the 2d inst., and left on the morning of the 5th, for a point on the Memphis and Ohio Railroad, 14 miles south of Humboldt, just before dispatches were received confirming reports that six thousand troops had landed at New Orleans. The citizens of Memphis were satisfied that upon the first determined attack on Ft. Pillow it would surrender. On the Hatchee river, below Ft. Pillow, and twenty-five from its mouth, an Aid-de Camp of Gen. Beauregard is superintending the construction of a pontoon bridge, to facilitate the retreat of troops from the Fort, in case an evacuation becomes necessary. Our informant thinks, that if, on the consummation of that event a gunboat will run up the Hatchee river, it will be able to destroy the bridge and cut of their retreat.
A mile and a half below Memphis, 4,000 bales of cotton are piled ready for the torch, as soon as the fall of Ft. Pillow is ascertained; there are also several thousand hogsheads of sugar and molasses ready to be rolled into the river. There is no telegraph from the Fort, and if, on the occupation; a gunboat will steam directly towards Memphis, then anchor opposite the pile, the entire lot can be secured from the station on the railroad. When our informant left, he went by land to within fourteen miles of the Mississippi, to a point twenty miles above Ft. Pillow. By this means he evaded the Confederate pickets and reached the river in a dug-out through the backwater. On his way thither he passed hundreds of deserters from the Confederate army. On the 10th he reached the encampment of the 47th Indiana, at Tiptonville, and reported to Col. Slack, Commandant.
– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Wednesday Morning, May 14, 1862, p. 2