Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

The Life of David Glasgow Farragut.

November 29.—The steamer Star was captured and burned by guerrillas at a point about two miles below Plaquemine, La. This morning the Star went up as high as Plaquemine; she soon left, and came down about a mile, when she landed and took in forty-five hogsheads of sugar; after which she crossed over to the left bank, at a wood-pile about another mile lower down, to take in wood. She had not got more than a cord when she was surprised by a gang of guerrillas, who took possession of her and moved her to the opposite side of the river, and after rolling out about thirty hogsheads of sugar, set her on fire. Captain McKiege and the engineer, William Dewey, were detained as prisoners, but the rest of the crew were given their liberty.—New-Orleans Delta, December 2.

—A skirmish occurred between a scouting-party from Captain Mear’s Maryland Home Guard, stationed at Berlin, and a body of Bob White’s rebel cavalry, in which the latter were put to flight with a loss of two men.—General Curtis, at St. Louis, Mo., reported to the War Department at Washington, that a cavalry expedition, under Major Torry, to the forks of the Mingo and St. Francis Rivers, had captured Colonel Phelan and ten men of the rebel army.

—The Savannah Republican says that “the people of Charleston, S. C, have pulled up their lead pipes and contributed sixty thousand pounds to the government, and that the government will issue receipts for all lead pipes and other fixtures, and binds itself to replace them at the end of the war.”—The advance column of the Union army under General Grant, passed through Holly Springs, Miss., this morning.—(Doc. 55.)

April 11th.

You appear desirous to move for the sake of our dear boy. I wish you to do just as you please; you know I have perfect confidence in your judgment. All places are alike to me where my wife and child are with me. But, on the eve of so important an event as is about to occur with me, I advise you to hold on until you see the result. God dispenses His will according to His judgment, and not according to our wishes or expectations. The defeat of our army at Corinth, which I saw in the rebel papers, will give us a much harder fight; men are easily elated or depressed by victory. But as to being prepared for defeat, I certainly am not. Any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he commenced. I hope for success; shall do all in my power to secure it, and trust to God for the rest. I trust in Him as a merciful being; but really in war it seems as if we hardly ought to expect mercy, when men are destroying one another upon questions of which He alone is the judge. Motive seems to constitute right and wrong.

I now find our own vessels are beginning to arrive, so that my alarms on that account (coal) are dispelled, and, so soon as the vessels can coal and get in their stores and munitions of war, we shall be ready to proceed up the river.

Yesterday was a day of rejoicing to me. We got the Pensacola over the bar, after two weeks’ work. Now we are all right. The ships are getting in the articles taken out to lighten them. The General spent last evening with me, and returned to Ship Island this morning. . . .

I am anxiously looking for the fall of Columbus, and something from Burnside. I see that Pennock was in the fight at Island No. Ten, and the Benton was severely handled. I hope the place will be ours before you read this—and a good many other places.

I am now packed and ready for my departure to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The last vessel, the Miami, takes me down. I spent last evening very pleasantly with General Butler. He does not appear to have any very difficult plan of operations, but simply to follow in my wake and hold what I can take. God grant that may be all that we attempt. I have now attained what I have been looking for all my life—a flag—and, having attained it, all that is necessary to complete the scene is a victory. If I die in the attempt, it will only be what every officer has to expect. He who dies in doing his duty to his country, and at peace with his God, has played out the drama of life to the best advantage.

March 19, 1862 (Ship Island)

None of our vessels have yet arrived. I sent over to Biloxi yesterday, and robbed the post-office of a few papers. They speak volumes of discontent. It is no use—the cord is pulling tighter, and I hope I shall be able to tie it. God alone decides the contest; but we must put our shoulders to the wheel.

I see that Yancey has made a speech in New Orleans, the substance of which was that ‘all Europe wished to see was, the total destruction of this country.’ That was the truth, and what a comfort it must have been to him to think that he had been one of the greatest instruments in the consummation of their designs! He has returned home disgusted with England. His whole speech went to show the desperation of ‘the cause.’

You can better imagine my feelings at entering Hampton Roads as an enemy of Norfolk than I can. But, thank God, I had nothing to do with making it so.

You will prepare your ship for service in the Mississippi River in the following manner:

Send down the top-gallant masts. Rig in the flying jib-boom, and land all the spars and rigging, except what are necessary for the three topsails, foresail, jib, and spanker. Trice up to the topmast stays or land the whiskers, and bring all the rigging into the bowsprit, so that there shall be nothing in the range of the direct fire ahead.

Make arrangements, if possible, to mount one or two guns on the poop and top-gallant forecastle; in other words, be prepared to use as many guns as possible ahead and astern, to protect yourself against the enemy’s gunboats and batteries, bearing in mind that you will always have to ride head to the current, and can only avail yourself of the sheer of the helm to point a broadside gun more than three points forward of the beam.

Have a kedge in the mizzen chains (or any convenient place) on the quarter, with a hawser bent and leading through in the stern chock, ready for any emergency; also grapnels in the boats, ready to hook on to, and to tow off, fire-ships. Trim your vessel a few inches by the head, so that if she touches the bottom she will not swing head down the river. Put your boat howitzers in the fore-maintops, on the boat carriages, and secure them for firing abeam, etc. Should any injury occur to the machinery of the ship, making it necessary to drop down the river, you will back and fill down under sail, or you can drop your anchor and drift down, but in no case attempt to turn the ship’s head down stream. You will have a spare hawser ready, and when ordered to take in tow your next astern do so, keeping the hawser slack so long as the ship can maintain her own position, having a care not to foul the propeller.

No vessel must withdraw from battle, under any circumstances, without the consent of the flag-officer. You will see that force and other pumps and engine hose are in good order, and men stationed by them, and your men will be drilled to the extinguishing of fire.

Have light Jacob-ladders made to throw over the side for the use of the carpenters in stopping shot-holes, who are to be supplied with pieces of inch board lined with felt and ordinary nails, and see that the ports are marked in accordance with the ‘ordnance instructions’ on the berth deck, to show the locality of the shot-hole.

Have many tubs of water about the decks, both for the purpose of extinguishing fire and for drinking. Have a heavy kedge in the port main-chains, and a whip on the main yard, ready to run it up and let fall on the deck of any vessel you may run alongside of, in order to secure her for boarding.

You will be careful to have lanyards on the lever of the screw so as to secure the gun at the proper elevation, and prevent it from running down at each fire. I wish you to understand that the day is at hand when you will be called upon to meet the enemy in the worst form for our profession. You must be prepared to execute all those duties to which you have been so long trained in the Navy without having the opportunity of practicing. I expect every vessel’s crew to be well exercised at their guns, because it is required by the regulations of the service, and it is usually the first object of our attention; but they must be equally well trained for stopping shot-holes and extinguishing fire. Hot and cold shot will, no doubt, be freely dealt to us, and there must be stout hearts and quick hands to extinguish the one and stop the holes of the other.

I shall expect the most prompt attention to signals and verbal orders, either from myself or the Captain of the fleet, who, it will be understood, in all cases acts by my authority.

D. G. Farragut.

Navy Department,
February 10, 1862.

Flag-officer D. G. Farragut, U. S. Navy,

Commanding Western
Gulf Blockading Squadron,

Ship Island,

Sir: I inclose to you herewith sketches from the United States Engineer Bureau relative to the works on the Mississippi River; also a memorandum prepared by General Barnard, United .States Army, who constructed Fort St. Philip. The most important operation of the war is confided to yourself and your brave associates, and every light possible to obtain should be carefully considered before putting into operation the plan which your judgment dictates.

approaches to New OrleansIt is reported that nineteen feet of water can be carried over the bar. If this be true, the frigate Mississippi can be got over without much difficulty. The Colorado draws about twenty-two feet; she lightens one inch to twenty-four tons; her keel is about two feet deep. The frigate Wabash, when in New York in 1858, drew, without her spar-deck guns, stores, water casks, tanks, and coal (excepting thirty tons), aft twenty feet four inches, forward sixteen feet, or on an even keel eighteen feet four inches. This would indicate a very easy passage for this noble vessel, and, if it be possible to get these two steamers over, and perhaps a sailing vessel also, you will take care to use every exertion to do so. The powerful tugs in the bomb flotilla will afford the necessary pulling power. The tops of these large steamers are from thirty to fifty feet above the fort, and command the parapets and interior completely with howitzers and musketry. The Wachusett at Boston; the Oneida, Richmond, Varuna, and Dakota at New York; and the Iroquois from the West Indies, are ordered to report to you with all practicable dispatch, and every gunboat which can be got ready in time will have the same orders. All of the bomb-vessels have sailed, and the steamers to accompany them are being prepared with great dispatch. It is believed the last will be off by the 16th instant.

Eighteen thousand men are being sent to the Gulf to cooperate in the movements which will give to the arms of the United States full possession of the ports within the limits of your command. You will, however, carry out your instructions with regard to the Mississippi and Mobile without any delay beyond that imposed upon you by your own careful preparations. A division from Ship Island will probably be ready to occupy the forts that will fall into your hands. The Department relies upon your skill to give direction to the powerful force placed at your disposal, and upon your personal character to infuse a hearty cooperation among your officers, free from unworthy jealousies. If successful, you open the way to the sea for the great West, never again to be closed. The rebellion will be riven in the centre, and the flag to which you have been so faithful will recover its supremacy in every State.

Very respectfully, etc.,

Gideon Welles.

Navy Department, January 20, 1862.

Flag-officer D. G. Farragut,

Appointed to command Western Gulf

Blockading Squadron,

Sir: When the Hartford is in all respects ready for sea, you will proceed to the Gulf of Mexico with all possible dispatch, and communicate with Flag Officer W. W. McKean, who is directed by the inclosed dispatch to transfer to you the command of the “Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. . . . There will be attached to your squadron a fleet of bomb-vessels and armed steamers enough to manage them, all under command of Commander D. D. Porter, who will be directed to report to you. As fast as these vessels are got ready they will be sent to Key West to await the arrival of all, and the commanding officers, who will be permitted to organize and practice with them at that port.

When these formidable mortars arrive and you are completely ready, you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade, and proceed up the Mississippi River and reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under the guns of your squadron, and hoist the American flag therein, keeping possession until troops can be sent to you. If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo shall not have descended the river, you will take advantage of the panic to push a strong force up the river to take all their defenses in the rear.

As you have expressed yourself perfectly satisfied with the force given to you, and as many more powerful vessels will be added before you can commence operations, the Department and the country require of you success. . . . There are other operations of minor importance which will commend themselves to your judgment and skill, but which must not be allowed to interfere with the great object in view—the certain capture of the city of New Orleans.

Destroy the armed barriers which, these deluded people have raised up against the power of the United States Government, and shoot down those who war against the Union; but cultivate with cordiality the first returning reason which is sure to follow your success.

Respectfully, etc.,

Gideon Welles.

Navy Department, January 9, 1862.

Sir: You are hereby appointed to command the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron, and you will proceed to Philadelphia and report to Commodore Pendergrast; and, when the United States steam sloop-of-war Hartford shall be prepared in all respects for sea, you are authorized to hoist your flag on board of that vessel.

The Western Gulf Blockading Squadron commences at, but does not include, St. Andrew’s Bay in West Florida, and extends to the Rio Grande. The coast of Mexico and Yucatan will also be considered within the limits of your command. Further instructions will be issued before your departure.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Gideon Welles.

Captain D. G. Farragut,

Appointed to command the W. G. B. S.,

Hastings on Hudson.

New Orleans, on the left bank of the Mississippi, about one hundred miles from its mouth, was by far the wealthiest and most important city of the Confederacy. Its population in 1860 was 168,675, while that of Charleston was but 40,500, that of Richmond but 38,000, and that of Mobile but 29,000. Just before the war, New Orleans had the largest export trade of any city in the world; in 1860-’61 it received for shipment ninety two million dollars’ worth of cotton and more than twenty-five million dollars’ worth of sugar. These facts, together with the importance of its position from a military point of view (for possession of the Mississippi by the national forces would cut the Confederacy in two), made it the largest prize at which any single expedition could be aimed.


from “The Life of David Glasgow Farragut.”


The levee of New Orleans before the war.