FARRAGUT, David (1801-1870), Union Admiral. Manuscript document signed ("D.G. Farragut"), GENERAL ORDERS FOR THE ATTACK UPON NEW ORLEANS, "U.S. Flag Ship 'Hartford' Mississippi River," 20 April 1862. 2 pages, folio (12½ x 7 7/8 in.), split at central fold, minor staining on page 1, neatly inlaid, in a quarter morocco slipcase.
"TO CONQUER OR BE CONQUERED": FARRAGUT'S BATTLE ORDER FOR THE ASSAULT UPON NEW ORLEANS
The strategic value of the Mississippi and the city of New Orleans was immediately apparent to both the Confederacy and the Union: not only did the waterway divide the Confederacy, but it had the potential to provide Northern armies a broad channel on which to enter the heart of the South. Strong defensive fortifications were established by the Confederate army at its mouth shortly after secession for the protection of this vital corridor. New Orleans "was the doorway to the vitals of the Confederacy and, as an important commercial center one hundred miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, would be a prize and perhaps even a battleground" (Jones, The Civil War at Sea, vol. 2, p. 60).
Union Admiral David Porter, whose squadron was assigned to blockade duty off the Gulf Coast in the summer of 1861, concluded that the city could, and should be taken. His plan, submitted to the Secretary of the Navy, called for an attack flotilla to run past the two Confederate forts south of the city, Forts Philip and Jackson. Once past the bristling forts, the city lay virtually undefended. Welles approved that plan and selected David Farragut, a sixty-year-old veteran commander was chosen to lead the important expedition.
Farragut began preparations in February and March of 1862, stubbornly taking charge of even the most minute details: "Orders he wrote himself, usually on his knee braced against a ship's rail" (Jones, p. 67). On the morning of April 18, the mortar boats began a preliminary bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip which lasted a full six days (it is estimated that over 7500 shells were fired at Fort Jackson alone. Still, the forts remained virtually undamaged by the hail of shells, so "Farragut reached the momentous decision to run by the forts before they were reduced--a movement contrary to the orders of the [Navy] Department and the advice of some of his ablest officers" (DAB).
Farragut's General Orders, drafted while the shelling was still going on, opens with a clear statement of the urgency of their mission: "The Flag Officer after having heard all the opinions expressed by the different commanders, is of the opinion that whatever is to be done, is to be done quickly, as we will again be reduced to a Blockading Squadron without the means of carrying on the Bombardment, as we have nearly expended all the shells, and fuzes, and material for making cartridges." Farragut, probably dictating to a junior officer, notes that he agrees with "Commander Porter that...there are three modes of attack, and the question is, Which is the one to be adopted? His own opinion is that a combination of two should be made..." Farragut's plan called for the vessels to run upriver past the deadly forts in the dead of night then land troops to assault the forts from the rear: "the Forts to be run, and when a Force is once above the Forts to protect the troops, they should be landed at Quarantine from the Gulf side...and then our Force should move up the River, mutually aiding each other as it can be done to advantage."
Farragut stipulates the order he will give to put the plan into action: "the signal will be made to weigh, and advance to the conflict. If, in his opinion, at the time of arriving at the respective positions of the different Divisions of the Fleet, we have the advantage of the enemy, he will make the signal for 'Close Action' No 8 and abide the result. Conquer or to be conquered, Drop anchor, or keep underweigh as in his opinion is best. Unless the signal above mentioned is made it will be understood that first order of sailing will be formed after leaving Fort St Philip, and we will proceed up the river in accordance with the original opinion..." At the bottom of page two are two tabular orders of battle, listing eighteen ships (only seventeen made the attack). The first diagram displays the fleet in "line ahead" formation, the second is labelled "Second order of fleet," and organizes the fleet in three parallel lines.
At 2 A.M. on April 24 Farragut gave the order for his squadron to run the forts. The wooden vessels came under a withering fire from some 90 Confederate guns. Farragut's own flagship, the Hartford, ran aground and was nearly set afire by deadly fire rafts launched from shore. A Confederate ironclad, the Manassas, valiantly attacked the Union column, damaging two warships before being sunk. The battle has been characterized as "the greatest fireworks display in American history" (Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 420). But Farragut's desperate gamble succeeded brilliantly. Although his squadron lost four ships and suffered 37 men killed and 147 wounded, it successfully passed the forts. Proceeding upstream, the ships fought a fierce engagement with a Confederate fleet, sinking 11 ships. On April 25th, they anchored off the levee of New Orleans. The city surrendered without firing a shot and three days later the isolated garrisons at Forts Jackson and St. Philip also surrendered. "By his energy, audacity and and application of correct strategic principles, Farragut had won a magnificent victory, the moral effect of which abroad as well as at home was exceedingly great. His acheivement made him the leading officer of the Navy..." (DAB) "Capturing New Orleans and closing down the Mississippi may well have been the Union Navy's most important achievement...The Confederacy lost at one and the same time the South's largest city and its most important port" (William M. Fowler, Jr., Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War, p.126). New Orleans and most of Louisiana would remain in Union hands for the rest of the war, becoming the first testing ground for Lincoln's Reconstruction plans (see notes to lot 105). Farragut's hand-drawn sketch of the battle order was sold at Christie's (14 May 1992, lot 59, $40,000).
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 89).