Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 14, 1863

March 14, 1863

---Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana (Naval):  In tandem with Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ approach to Port Hudson, Admiral David Farragut and his river fleet begin bombarding the Confederate fortifications at this Mississippi River strong point. 
Admiral David Glasgow Farragut
Expecting that Banks and his troops would be up and ready to attack Port Hudson, Farragut lashes some of his ships together in pairs and prepares to steam upstream past the fortress.  At the last minute, Farragut learns that Banks is not very close to Port Hudson and will not arrive into position, but he decides to proceed without the Army.  As his ships steam up the Mississippi around the large bend where the Confederate guns are, they are peppered coming and going.  The Hartford (Farragut’s flagship) and Albatross are lashed together, followed by the Richmond lashed to the Genesee, and then the Monongahela lashed to the Kineo.  The USS Mississippi, being a side-wheeler, brings up the rear alone. 
Confederate batteries at Port Hudson batter the Federal flotilla on March 14, 1863
As the seven vessels make their dash, sometime after 10:00 PM, the Rebel gunners send up a signal and open up on the slow-moving Union flotilla.  Farragut has ordered his ships to hug the east bank of the river, so that the heavy guns up on the bluff will have trouble depressing their muzzles low enough to hit the Yankee gunboats.  The Union flotilla moves slowly, being lashed two-by-two, and upstream against a strong current. 
USS Kineo (foreground right) and USS Hartford (back) at anchor at Baton Rouge
The Hartford and Albatross get through with a little damage and are able to round the very sharp bend in the river.  By 12:45 AM, the Hartford and Albatross are past the range of the Rebel guns.  The Richmond and Genesee proceed, but before they can round the bend into safety, Rebel shells disable Richmond’s boiler, and the ship and its consort run aground briefly, and then begin drifting downstream, no longer driven by the larger frigate’s engines.  Gunnery is difficult in the darkness, with the heavy smoke cloaking what little could be seen.  Monongahela and Kineo run aground on the west bank, and the Confederate commander, Gen. Gardner, orders his heavy artillery and a few field guns on the bluffs to focus on the stranded vessels.  As the two vessels back off, Rebel shots disable Kineo’s rudder post, and Monongahela’s engines are disabled, and they drift back downstream, being peppered all the while by Rebel gunners.  The Mississippi comes up, last in line, and also runs aground on the west bank. 

USS Mississippi, side-wheeler steam frigate

The Southern gunners concentrate on the large steam frigate, and shoot it to pieces, hot shot having set the ship on fire.  Capt. Smith orders the abandonment of the ship, and she drifts downstream, causing consternation among the other disabled Union ships, lest her magazine explode near them.  The Mississippi continues downstream and finally blows up soon after 5:00 AM in an explosion that could be seen from New Orleans, 80 miles away.  Confederate Victory.

With most of his fleet disabled, including the hardy Richmond and Mississippi, both veterans of the actions near New Orleans and Vicksburg, Farragut is, for a time, unable to do much more than annoy the Rebels at Port Hudson, and naval power has practically no impact on the upcoming land campaign.  Losses:  The Confederates lose only 3 men killed, and 22 wounded, while the U.S. Navy suffers at least 78 killed and 35 wounded.

---Of this duel of large guns at Port Hudson, Sarah Morgan, living for the time being with friends in nearby Clinton, Louisiana, writes his her journal about her anxieties:

Saturday, March 14th.

5 o’clock, P.M.

They are coming! The Yankees are coming at last! For four or five hours the sound of their cannon has assailed our ears. There! — that one shook my bed! Oh, they are coming! God grant us the victory! They are now within four miles of us, on the big road to Baton Rouge. . . . No matter! With God’s help we’ll conquer yet! Again! — the report comes nearer. Oh, they are coming! Coming to defeat, I pray God. . . .

Only we seven women remain in the house. The General left this morning, to our unspeakable relief. They would hang him, we fear, if they should find him here. . .

Half-past One o’clock, A.M.

It has come at last! What an awful sound! I thought I had heard a bombardment before; but Baton Rouge was child’s play compared to this. At half-past eleven came the first gun — at least the first I heard, and I hardly think it could have commenced many moments before. Instantly I had my hand on Miriam, and at my first exclamation, Mrs. Badger and Anna answered. All three sprang to their feet to dress, while all four of us prayed aloud. Such an incessant roar! And at every report the house shaking so, and we thinking of our dear soldiers, the dead and dying, and crying aloud for God’s blessing on them, and defeat and overthrow to their enemies. That dreadful roar! I can’t think fast enough. They are too quick to be counted. We have all been in Mrs. Carter’s room, from the last window of which we can see the incessant flash of the guns and the great shooting stars of flame, which must be the hot shot of the enemy. There is a burning house in the distance, the second one we have seen to-night. For Yankees can’t prosper unless they are pillaging honest people. Already they have stripped all on their road of cattle, mules, and negroes.

Gathered in a knot within and without the window, we six women up here watched in the faint starlight the flashes from the guns, and silently wondered which of our friends were lying stiff and dead, and then, shuddering at the thought, betook ourselves to silent prayer. I think we know what it is to “wrestle with God in prayer”; we had but one thought. Yet for women, we took it almost too coolly. No tears, no cries, no fear, though for the first five minutes everybody’s teeth chattered violently. . . . We know absolutely nothing; when does one ever know anything in the country? But we presume that this is an engagement between our batteries and the gunboats attempting to run the blockade.

Firing has slackened considerably. All are to lie down already dressed; but being in my nightgown from necessity, I shall go to sleep, though we may expect at any instant to hear the tramp of Yankee cavalry in the yard.

---Today’s issues of Harper’s Weekly publishes this editorial that acknowledges the unprecedented power being put into the hands of the President during the crisis of the Rebellion, but the editorial also argues that it is not only justified but sorely needed:


THE Thirty-seventh Congress of the United States has expired, having, in the short session which ended on March 4, passed some of the most momentous measures ever placed upon the statute-book. Those measures, as a whole, are equivalent to the step which, in republican Rome, was taken whenever the state was deemed in imminent danger, and which history calls the appointment of a Dictator. The President of the United States has, in effect, been created Dictator, with almost supreme power over liberty, property, and life—a power nearly as extensive and as irresponsible as that which is wielded by the Emperors of Russia, France, or China. And this is well. To succeed in a struggle such as we are waging a strong central Government is indispensable. One great advantage which the rebels have had over us is the unity of their purposes, and the despotic power of their chief. We are now on a par with them in these respects, and we shall see which is the better cause.

The measures which collectively confer upon Mr. Lincoln dictatorial powers consist, 1st, of the Conscription Act; 2d, of the Finance measures; and, 3d, of the Indemnity Act.

After reviewing the Conscription and Banking acts the article discusses the Indemnity Act or Habeas Corpus Suspension Act 1863

It is quite evident that in the face of such a state of things, and when the nation is engaged in a death-grapple of which the issue is very doubtful, the slow and cautious remedies which the law provides for the redress of wrongs in time of peace would be out of place. The country might be ruined while we were empanneling a jury to try a traitor. Inter arma leges silent.

When we undertook the war we tacitly agreed to accept it with all its evils. Prominent among these are a depreciated currency, a temporary deprivation of personal liberty, and a liability to be taken from one’s business to carry a musket in the army. These are grave inconveniences. But they are temporary and bearable; whereas the evils which would result from the disruption of the Union are lasting and intolerable. . . .

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