Saturday, July 2, 2016

Diary of Sergeant George G. Smith: Capture and Occupation of New Orleans.

Of course I have not the time and space to give an account of the passing of the forts as it was described in the papers at that time and as I have seen it since, but two or three incidents are interesting to me and may be to the readers of this diary. One of these is the part Commodore Boggs took in the fight:

“He was in command of the Varuna, originally a passenger steamer transformed into a gunboat. It was frail, but a fast vessel. He saw it would not stand much pounding before the forts, so he requested the Admiral to let him run past the fort and fight the enemy's fleet above. He received permission on condition that he would not sink any gunboats in the channel so as to obstruct the river. Boggs had the barrels of pork that were on board for rations, placed in the boiler room, and soon some of it was hissing on the hot coals under the boilers, and the boat started up the river. Opposite the fort he poured in a broadside and then fired grape and canister as fast as the guns could be worked. The Varuna was soon above the fort without a shot hole in her. The shores seemed lined with rebel gunboats on both sides of the river. He opened his batteries on both sides, as well as his stern and bow guns. One vessel seemed to be loaded with soldiers. He sent a shot into that which struck the boiler and blew her up. It ran ashore in flames. Three other vessels soon ran ashore in the same condition. At daylight he saw an iron clad bearing down on him. It struck the Varuna in the side crushing in her timbers. It backed out and came on again striking her in the same place Boggs ordered the engineer to go ahead up stream. This turned the ironclad around exposing her wooden side, when he poured in five shells in quick succession. This fixed her and she ran ashore in flames. As soon as this was done another ironclad struck her in the side crushing it in so the water poured in in torrents. He then turned her prow to shore, working his guns until the trucks were under water. As soon as her prow struck the bank he ordered a chain cable ashore and wound it around a tree, keeping her bow above the water and the crew all escaped. Captain Bailey said, ‘He saw Boggs bravely fighting the wounded thing until her guns were level with the water.’ That made five vessels he put hors de combat with his wooden tub. Down the river opposite the forts the fight was raging fiercely. The white smoke rolled and heaved in vast volumes along the shuddering waters, and one of the wildest scenes in the history of the war now commenced. The fleet with full steam on was soon abreast the forts, and its rapid broadsides mingling in with the deafening explosions on shore turned night into fiery day. Louder than redoubled thunders the heavy guns sent their deafening roar through the gloom, not in distinct explosions, but in one long wild, protracted crash, as though the ribs of nature were breaking in final convulsions. Amid this hell of terror, a fire raft, pushed steadily forward by the ram Manassas, loomed through the smoke like a phantom from the unseen world. As if steered by adverse fate it bore straight down on the Hartford. Farragut sheered off to avoid the collision, and in so doing ran aground where the fire ship came full against him. In a moment the hungry flames leaped up the rigging and darted along the smoking sides of the Hartford. It seemed all up with the gallant Farragut, but for that stern discipline which he always maintained his fate would have been sealed. There was no panic on board at this awful catastrophe, every man was in his place, and in a moment the hose was unwound and a stream of water turned on the flames. The powerful engines were reversed, and soon forced the vessel off into deep water, though all aflame. The firemen cool and collected, plied their hose, while the gunners still stood to their guns, and poured in their broadsides, and still the signal ‘close action’ flamed above the staggering ship. The fire was at length got under, and Farragut again moved at the head of his column. And now came down the rebel fleet of thirteen gunboats and two ironclad rams to mingle in the combat, Broadside to broadside, hull crashing against hull, it became a gladitorial combat of ships. Farragut found himself at last past all the forts with thirteen out of seventeen vessels of the fleet. The Varuna, Commodore Boggs, was sunk. The Itasca, Winona, and Kennebec, were disabled so they had to turn back and float down the river. Thirteen out of the seventeen enemy's gunboats he had brought down to assist the forts in demolishing our fleet were driven ashore or wrecked or captured.” — [From “Farragut and Our Naval Commanders.” by J. T. Headley.

Farragut now proceeded up the river with his fleet to New Orleans, on the way silencing a powerful battery at English Town. That city was now at his mercy. Lovell commanding the rebel troops there had taken himself away and left the affairs of the city in the hands of the mayor, Monroe. Farragut sent Captain Bailey and demanded the surrender of the city, and that the United States flag be hoisted on the City Hall, Mint and Custom House. Monroe sent a long winded reply containing this wonderful piece of bombast: “As to the hoisting of any flag other than the flag of our adoption and allegiance, let me say to you that the man lives not in our midst whose hand and heart would not be paralyzed at the thought of such an act.” And then wound up with an appeal to be very careful of the feelings of his gallant constituency, assuming an air of superiority and injured innocence I should style preeminently foolish. The reply of Admiral Farragut was so cool and to the point I cannot refrain from giving it here:

U. S. Flagship Hartford, Off City at New Orleans, April 26.

To His Honor the Mayor of New Orleans:

Your Honor will please give directions that no flag but that of the United States will be permitted to fly in the presence of this fleet so long as it has the power to prevent it; and as all display of that kind may be the cause of bloodshed, I have to request that you will give this communication as general a circulation as possible. I have the honor to be very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
D. G. Farragut.

Refusing to confer further with the impudent mayor he sent Captain Morris to hoist the flag on the Mint. The latter sent a party on shore and “soon the old flag swung once more to the breeze in sight of the enraged population.” The officer in charge warned the spectators that if any one attempted to haul it down the building would be fired upon, and returned to the ship, leaving no guard to protect it, but directed the howitzers in the maintop of the Pensacola to be loaded with grape and trained upon it.

At eleven o'clock this morning the admiral ordered the church pennant to be hoisted on every vessel of the fleet, and that their crews assembled in humiliation and prayer, should make their acknowledgements to Almighty God for his goodness and mercy in permitting us to pass through the events of the last two days with so little loss of life and blood. The solemn service had progressed but a few minutes when the silence was broken by the discharge overhead of the howitzers by the lookout left in the maintop to watch the flag. It at once aroused every man from his devotions and all eyes turned towards the Mint. They saw four men on the roof of the building tearing down the flag. Instantly the gunners without waiting for orders sprang to the guns and pulled the lanyards. The next moment a whole broadside was expected to pour into the city, but not a gun went off. As it looked like rain the gunners had removed the wafers by which they were discharged, before the service commenced, so that only the click of the locks was heard. But for this a fearful destruction would have ensued. It is not altogether clear that this was not a providential circumstance, for after the warning Farragut had given him, it was clearly the duty of Monroe if he was going to pull down the flag, to warn the people in time to get out of the way. But still there was ground for fault finding. As it was the commander of a French war vessel in the harbor growled, and said Farragut’s note was virtually a threat for immediate bombardment. Neither England or France were very friendly to the United States at that time. Both were jealous of our growing power, and the Monroe doctrine was distasteful to every monarchy in Europe, and especially so to France; for she had already set up a kingdom in Mexico and placed a scion of the house of Hapsburg on the throne, and the stability of his government rested entirely on the success of the Confederate arms. So it is not surprising that they would like to see this fair fabric of ours crumble and fall into harmless fragments. Hence it was good policy that no act of vandalism could be construed in such a way that it would place blame at our doors. Farragut was disgusted with the wordy jangle and turned it over to Butler and went on up the river. We shall hear more of the flag incident anon.

On May the 6th, the 1st Louisiana was again on board the City of New York bound for New Orleans. We passed the Chandaleur group of islands. Next day ran in among rocks and had to drop anchor. In the afternoon a breeze sprang up and the ship was again on her course, entering the southwest pass on the 8th an ironclad nondescript lay partly submerged at the bar. The pilot boat Matansas came down from the lighthouse and took us in tow, and on the 10th of May we anchored off Fort Jackson. The fort bore marks of a terrible pounding. At this point we took in a supply of coal and started up stream. Next day took Yankee Blade in tow. Passed many beautiful and costly buildings, made possible by human slavery. John Smith, from Woodstock, fell overboard. A boat was lowered and he was picked up. On May 12, 1862, tied up to the wharf in New Orleans. Next day disembarked and was quartered in a cotton press. Unloaded ship stores, and on the 15th moved into the Custom House. In passing through the aristocratic St. Charles street but few people were seen and these did not seem at all glad to see us, although the regiment was in its best attire: shoulder scales, arms and equipments burnished for the occasion. But nobody vouchsafed us a smile, except when we passed the Clay monument the iron features of that old veteran statesman seemed to smile on us as if well pleased with the gentle visit. It seemed refreshing.

The 13th Conn. Vols. remained here doing guard duty at the Custom House and General Butler's headquarters in the St. Charles Hotel until July 4, 1862. The duties were quite arduous as we had to go on guard about every other day. It was the duty of the sergeant of the guard to examine passes. As the post office and General Butler's court were in this building, a continual stream of citizens was going in and coming out all day. Each relief was on two hours and off four. It was somewhat galling to some of the citizens to be obliged to go between a cordon of hated Yankee soldiers with a pass to get to the post office. This was particularly distasteful to the ladies, but there did not seem to be any other way. General Butler came down every morning with a pair of big bay horses and a barouche, and the guard must fall in before the entrance, open ranks, and present arms as he passed in.

Quite a number of events worth relating happened while we were on duty there. Somehow Butler found out who tore down the flag Admiral Farragut had raised over the United States mint the day the city was captured, and he had him arrested and put under guard in the Custom House. He was tried and sentenced to be hung at the Mint directly under the place where he tore down the flag. I visited him two or three times in his place of confinement and conversed with him. He was a man of diminutive size, dark hair and whiskers, wearing the latter quite long. He was a shoemaker by trade, I should say of French origin, but spoke quite good English. From what I could learn there were others more to blame than he. They simply made a catspaw of him and they kept out of harm's way. His name was William B. Mumford. The story I learned was that after the citizens got the flag they formed a procession and dragged it through the streets in the mud for awhile, and then divided it up as trophies. But if Farragut's guns had gone off when the lanyards were pulled there would have been no hoodlums to drag the flag, or Mumford to hang. At sunrise on the morning of June 7th, Mumford was led out between two lines of soldiers, placed in a common army wagon and seated on his coffin, a plain, unpainted pine box, guarded in front and rear and or. either side. The cavalcade started towards the Mint led by the band playing the Dead March. I was on duty that day as sergeant of the guard and so could not go, but from the top of the Custom House I saw them start off. His wife and two young daughters stood in the street below, and to see their grief was enough to wring tears from a stone. A beam was run out of a window directly under where the flag hung, and William B. Mumford paid the penalty of his crime with hanging by the neck thereon until he was dead.

SOURCE: George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 12-24

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