Monday, May 14, 2007

Mississippi River and New Orleans

Dates: 3 March to 24 July, 1862


Union: Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding Federal armies in the West. Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding Union infantry in the assault on New Orleans, and Captain David Farragut, commanding Union naval forces on board USS Hartford.

Confederate: General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding Confederate forces in the West.

Prelude: Following the Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, the momentum seemed to be on the Federal’s side. Plans were being made for further operations along the Mississippi River, the main trade artery that was as essential to the Confederacy as the ports that were coming under blockade. The plan was to send armies down the Mississippi and seize forts and other strategic points at least as far south as Memphis. Another planned target was the city of New Orleans, a major Confederate port at the time. The aim was to take the entire rive and split the CSA in two, making it harder for the Confederates to get troops and supplies from west to east.

As with most plans, there was a complication. Halleck, in his capacity as commander of Union forces in the West, had sent telegrams to Washington D.C. that were not complimentary of the general who took Forts Henry and Donelson, Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Halleck was jealous of Grant’s rising star status and wanted to knock away a potential rival. Halleck started spinning a tale that had Grant as inefficient and drunk while commanding the campaign. The Chief of the Union Armies, Major General George McClellan, gave permission to Halleck to remove Grant. That way, Halleck would gain glory and promotion for himself.

3 March, 1862: Halleck receives permission from McClellan to remove Grant from command. At the same time, Halleck orders a force of 18,000 under Major General John Pope down the river. First target, New Madrid, MO and a Confederate battery on a sandbar known as Island No. 10.

4 March, 1862: Major General Charles Smith is given command of Grant’s troops while Grant is reassigned as Halleck’s second-in-command, with no duties.

5 March, 1862: To counter the growing Union threat, Beauregard is formally assigned as commander in the West, with orders to stop the Federal advance.

In Savannah, TN, Smith’s troops are joined by gunboats and transports

Pope marches his army through eastern Missouri. He is supported by naval forces under Flag Officer Andrew Foote which consisted of gunboats and mortar boats for heavy bombardment.

14 March 1862: Pope captures New Madrid.

Island No. 10 sat in a bend in the Mississippi River along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. This position afforded cover to both up and down river traffic. Union possession of this island would go greatly towards total possession of the river. (The reason that the term “sat” is used is because this island no longer exists.)

15 March, 1862: Grant is restored to command on Union forces still at Savannah, TN.

18 March, 1862: Another Confederate army, under General Albert S. Johnston, is sent west to reinforce Beauregard. Because of seniority, Johnston will be overall commander.

Johnston’s plan was to keep the area’s railroads out of Federal hands. He is also covering Major General Don Carlos Buell’s forces, who are around Chattanooga, TN (see the Kentucky and Tennessee timeline). Another concern to the Confederates was that Grant was moving his army to Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River. Added to this was that Buell could reach Grant and make a thrust into Mississippi itself. Johnston decides to merge his army with Beauregard’s and assault the Federals gathering at Pittsburg Landing (see the Shiloh timeline).

4 April, 1862: Foote’s flotilla arrives the assault can begin. The operation starts with a bombardment of Island No. 10 itself, but had no effect. That night, Foote sends USS Carondolet past Island No. 10, putting naval assets up river and down river of the island.

Meanwhile, Pope marches south to Ft. Pleasant, then onward to Riddles Point.

6 April, 1862: Pope crosses the river and placed himself in a position to block any evacuation from Island No. 10.

7 April, 1862: With USS Pittsburg joining Carondolet downstream, Foote orders another bombardment of the island. The Confederate commander orders an evacuation, but finds Union troops blocking his way out.

8 April, 1862: Island No. 10 surrenders to Federal forces.

The Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) took place at the same time, resulting in the death of Johnston. Beauregard took command of both armies and retreated to Corinth, MS.

11 April, 1862: Halleck arrived at Pittsburg Landing and assumes command over Grant’s forces. He then proceeds to gather a larger force together for an assault on the rail center of Corinth, and the destruction of Beauregard’s army. He gathers three armies together, Buell’s, Pope’s (who Halleck recalled from Island No. 10), and Major General George H. Thomas’ army.

While as all this was going on, at Ship Island, in the Gulf of Mexico off Gulfport, MS, another Federal force was being assembled for the assault on the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. A fleet of warships under Farragut, a mortar fleet under Commodore David Porter, as well as Butler’s infantry, were ready to implement the plan.

18 April, 1862: The Federal force reaches the first objective on the way to New Orleans. About 75 miles below New Orleans, two forts, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, guard the main channel. They occupy opposite banks of the river and there is a heavy chain across the river to prevent a naval assault. Supporting this was a flotilla led by the ironclad vessel CSS Louisiana, as well as some converted steam transports.

19 April, 1862: Farragut begins constant bombardment of the two forts. This lasts all day, but Farragut is at a disadvantage; the forts are on hills, which allow plunging fore on the Federal warships. The placement of the forts also allowed a crossfire, while Farragut is stuck at the barrier chain. He decides that the chain has to go. The other problem he has are the forts themselves. They just might have to be taken by direct assault by Butler’s troops.

20 April, 1862: Two gunboats, the Pinola and the Itasca, are sent to the barrier in the middle of the night. Their crews, who volunteer for this dangerous mission, manage to cut the chain. The way is clear, but the forts are still a factor. What Farragut didn’t know (until a Confederate deserter gave him the information) was that the forts were heavily damaged by the 4000 shells sent their way.

Farragut decides he will make a run past the forts.

23 April, 1862; Farragut arranges his warships in two columns, one will hit Fort Jackson while the other hits Fort St. Philip.

24 April, 1862: 3:30 a.m.: Farragut begins the sail his fleet up the Mississippi past the two Confederate forts. Stealth was attempted but lookouts at the forts soon see them. Both forts open fire and pummeled the Federal fleet. Despite several of the ships being hit, Farragut gets his fleet past the forts and proceeds to engage the Confederate flotilla, which also included the ironclad ram CSS Manassas. A fierce fight ensued and the defenders are broken up, with Manassas forced aground.

Farragut orders his force to stop about 18 miles from New Orleans. He gathers his vessels, as well as the troop transports carrying Butler’s men.

25 April, 1862: With the Federals approaching, Confederate Major General Mansfield Lovell, the commander of the New Orleans defenses, orders his troops to evacuate.

28 April, 1862: Farragut arrives at New Orleans and begins ferrying Butler’s troops ashore. Both Butler and Farragut come ashore, to a very hostile reception by the locals. They raise the US flag over the Customs Hall, the Mint, and City Hall. They will then meet with New Orleans officials to arrange the surrender of the city.

1 May, 1862: New Orleans is formally surrendered and occupied by Federal troops. This removes a major port and shipbuilding facility from Confederate control.

Meanwhile, to the north, Halleck was advancing with his enlarged army at a very glacial pace. They would march several miles, then stop and entrench. Little did they know that Beauregard was at Corinth and very reluctant to launch an offensive, as almost half of his men were sick.

9 May, 1862: Halleck’s army if finally into Mississippi and begins to close in on Corinth. Beauregard detaches part of his army and heads east to Farmington, where he hits Pope’s line. Pope is forced to pull back, but the Confederates do not follow.

Meanwhile, it has taken Halleck 26 days total to advance 20 miles (usually a day’s march).

25 May, 1862: Halleck finally has his entire force at Corinth. He too is battling with sickness amongst the troops as well as bad weather, but he manages to entrench his forces to the north and east of Corinth.

28 May, 1862: With all of his forces in place, Halleck orders Corinth shelled.

29 May, 1862: Beauregard orders his troops to evacuate Corinth and head south.

30 May, 1862: Halleck occupies Corinth. This takes a major rail center away from the Confederates.

Up the Mississippi, the Union advance south continues; by mid April, the Union forces are closing in on Pillow, a Confederate fort protecting the northern approaches to Memphis and just north on Plum Run Bend. They begin a bombardment which lasts for a month.

10 May, 1862: The Confederate flotilla defending Memphis, TN, launches a surprise attack on the Federal flotilla at Plum Run Bend, Two Federal ironclads are sunk.

5 June, 1862: After all that bombardment, the Confederates evacuate Fort Pillow, leaving Memphis open for attack. Federal river forces quickly take advantage of the situation and sail to Memphis.

6 June, 1862: The Federal flotilla reaches Memphis and engages the defense fleet that attacked them on 10 May. This time the result is different. Within an hour, seven of the eight Confederate gunboats are sunk to a Federal loss of three wounded sailors. At noon, Memphis surrenders to the Union.

This gives the Federals control of the Mississippi from Cairo, IL to Memphis TN.

18 May, 1862: After securing New Orleans, Farragut sailed his fleet up the Mississippi river to Vicksburg and demand the surrender of the city, which is refused.

19 May, 1862: Farragut decides to add a little persuasion and orders the city shelled. He continues this until 27 June, but the Confederates do not buckle.

28 May, 1862: Farragut decides that he has had enough and orders his fleet to sail north past the Vicksburg defenses. At 2:00 a.m. he orders the fleet to move.

4:00 a.m.: Confederate gunners see the fleet sailing past and opens fire. Despite the heavy fire, by 6:00 a.m. most of the fleet id past the defenses and around the bend at De Soto Point. Past there, they meet the Union flotilla coming down from Memphis on 1 July.

However, the Confederates were not through yet.

15 July, 1862: A secretly built ironclad, the CSS Arkansas, came down the Yazoo River and engaged several Union vessels, damaging the USS Carondolet. The Confederates then sailed into the Mississippi, engaging several of Farragut’s ships before reaching the safety of the Vicksburg river docks.

24 July, 1862: Farragut realizes that Vicksburg could not be taken by naval assault. That and the fact that many of his crews were getting sick, he orders his fleet to run past the Vicksburg defenses and return to New Orleans.

The Union almost had the entire Mississippi River in their hands. Only a section from Vicksburg to Port Hudson was still in Confederate control.

Farragut would be promoted to Rear Admiral on 16 July 1862, the first in UN Navy history. He would command the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and would lead the assault on Mobile Bay, AL in 1864.

Halleck would be brought to Washington to assume duties as Army Commander-in Chief, which he holds until 1864.

Grant, who Halleck wanted to replace, would assume command of Union forces in the West, take Vicksburg, and then assume command of all Union armies, effectively becoming Halleck’s boss.

Butler would make a mess of his administration of New Orleans, be brought back East, and finally lose his command in 1864 after failing to capture Fort Fisher, NC.

Beauregard would serve in various commands for the remainder of the war.

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