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New Orleans, Siege of

New Orleans, Siege of (1862).Anxious to control the Mississippi River early in the Civil War, the Lincoln administration sent an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico after efforts to descend that waterway failed. Capt. David Farragut commanded the Union naval contingent, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler the army. Their concentration at Ship Island caused Confederate authorities mistakenly to believe their objective was Mobile or Pensacola. Thousands of troops were withdrawn from New Orleans, leaving less than 5,000 militia when Farragut entered the Mississippi.

On 8 April, Farragut assembled his fleet of 24 wooden vessels, mounting about 200 cannon, and 19 mortar schooners. Blocking Farragut's path were 500 Confederates and 80 cannon in Forts Jackson and St. Philip; a chain barricade across the river; and naval vessels. This fleet consisted of three ironclads (the ram Manassas, the underpowered Louisiana, and the unfinished Mississippi), twelve armed wooden vessels, seven tugs, and some fire rafts.

On 18 April, Union mortars began bombarding the forts. Disregarding orders to wait until the forts were silenced, Farragut got under way at 2:00 A.M. on the 24th. Twenty‐one vessels cleared the gauntlet. In a wild melee, they destroyed the Confederate fleet, losing only 1 vessel and 171 sailors killed or wounded. Confederates ashore suffered fewer than 50 casualties.

After detaching two vessels to support Butler's movement ashore, Farragut proceeded upriver and captured New Orleans on the 25th. Confederate Maj. Gen. Mansfield Lovell evacuated the city to prevent its destruction and civilian authorities formally surrendered the city on the 28th. A mutiny in the forts forced Brig. Gen. Johnson K. Duncan to surrender them the same day. On 1 May, Butler's troops occupied New Orleans.

Farragut's victory gave the Union control of the lower Mississippi. A court of inquiry cleared Lovell; it blamed the disaster on the Davis administration for reducing the garrison and failing to unite all naval forces under Lovell.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Confederate Army; Confederate Navy; Union Navy.]


Charles L. Dufour , The Night the War Was Lost, 1960.
Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. , Mansfield Lovell, in Roman J. Heleniak and Lawrence L. Hewitt, eds., The 1989 Deep Delta Civil War Symposium: Leadership During the Civil War, 1991.

Lawrence L. Hewitt

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