Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 1862

April 23, 1862: Coastal Theater, New Orleans Campaign - Flag Officer David G. Farragut, commander of the Federal fleet on the Mississippi River gives the orders for the fleet to try steaming upriver past the guns of Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Philip. The movement is to be tried at night, and the rush past the guns in the small hours of the 24th, beginning at 2:00 AM. Dixon’s mortar schooners have kept up a steady bombardment of the forts for over six days now, and the Confederate defenders are suffering. Gen. Johnson Duncan, in command of the forts (over 1400 men and 130 cannon), feared he would have to surrender soon. The C.S. Navy, the night before, towed the CSS Louisiana down to the forts. The ironclad had completed her armor and guns, but her engines were still unworkable, so she was towed and moored to the riverbank by Ft. St. Philip, to be used as a floating battery. The CSS Mississippi, still at her moorings at New Orleans, had not yet had her armor plating installed, and was in condition to fight. But at the forts was a mobile but motley collection of vessels, led by the small but effective ironclad ram, CSS Manassas.
Map showing the two forts and locations of the Confederate flotilla and the Union fleet.

–Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman, of the Army of the Potomac on the James Peninsula, near Yorktown, writes in his journal:
23rd.—A week ago to-day was the battle at Lee’s Mill, and though there has been daily fighting ever since, and calls to arms almost every night, sometimes two or three times a night, there has been no battle worthy of the name. The artillery have been firing at long range, with occasional infantry firing.. . . .
If we have another battle here, it will be a desperate one. No stronger position could have been selected by the enemy, and they are well fortified. Jeff. Davis is here, and in the field. Magruder is here, and they are being rapidly reinforced. I do not like this way of marching up to an enemy, and then sitting down quietly and waiting for him to get ready before we attack him. ‘Tis not the Napoleonic style. But there may be good reasons for it which I do not comprehend. I am not a military man, and shall be careful how I condemn the plans of my superiors; but I do not like that style of fighting. Would it not be singular if Yorktown should decide the fate of this revolution, as it did that of "our revolution?"
Siege of Yorktown, Virginia

—Oliver Willcox Norton, a Union soldier with the 83rd Pennsylvania Vol. Inf. Regiment in the Army of the Potomac, writes home from his position outside of the Rebel fortifications at Yorktown, which are blocking McClellan’s advance up the James Peninsula. Norton offers this light-hearted anecdote of picket duty near the siege gun positions:
As long ago as 1781 Yorktown was surrendered, and here is the very place it was done. Just back of me is a long bank of earth now overgrown with trees, a breastwork thrown up by Washington’s men, and, if you could creep with me so as to just look over the top of it, and be out of range of secesh bullets, we could see more. Away across a level field three-quarters of a mile off, just in the edge of a wood, you might see a yellow line of earth. That is a rebel fort. Farther to the right is another, and still farther another and a larger one. A few rods from me are two large siege guns, and a little way on the other side a battery of Parrott guns. Now for a little amusement—a heavy report at the rebel fort, a wreath of white smoke curls gracefully up from the yellow bank and a ten-inch shell comes hissing and screaming through the air directly toward our siege guns. The gunners jump aside and fall flat on the ground; the shell strikes a dozen rods behind them and harmlessly explodes. Up they spring, with "All right, boys." "Give ‘em two for that." They step to their loaded guns, step back a pace, pull a string, and, Boom! Boom! two reports that make the earth tremble and two shells go screaming back in reply to the rebel missile. They have kept up this cannonading ever since we came here on the 5th, and there is scarcely ten minutes in the day when we do not hear the report of cannon. We are getting used to it so we pay no more attention than to the birds singing, unless the firing is unusually sharp. They have tried several times to drive in our pickets, but they have not succeeded yet.

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