The Fall of New Orleans 1862
Edward Alfred Pollard

The scene of confusion that ensued in New Orleans, when the people, on the morning of the 24th of April, awoke to the news that the enemy's fleet had passed the forts, and were actually approaching the city, defies all description. People were amazed, and could scarcely realize the awful fact, and ran hither and thither in speechless astonishment. Very soon the flames seen issuing from shipyards in Algiers and other places, convinced them that the news was authentic, and that Government officers were then busily engaged destroying everything that was likely to be of value to the enemy. The unfinished Mississippi and other vessels were scuttled or fired, ammunition destroyed, and shot sunk in the river. The people, on their part, proceeded to the various cotton-presses, rolled out thousands of bales, and applied the torch; countless cotton ships were also sunk or fired, and steamboats by the dozen similarly destroyed. The roar of cannon sounded in the distance; the heat of the sun, and conflagrations in every direction, made the atmosphere oppresively hot, while dense columns of smoke darkened the air. It was a scene of terrible grandeur. The baleful glare of the conflagration struggled in rivalry with the sunlight; masses of smoke ascended grandly to the sky; great ships and steamers, wrapped in fire, floated down the river, threatening the Federal vessels with destruction by their fiery contact. And in this scene of dire and sublime destruction, there were perpetually tolled the alarm-bells of the city.

Having narrowly escaped capture in the naval engagement, Gen. Lovell rode rapidly by the Levee road, and arrived in town about two o'clock in the afternoon. Crowds gathered round him while he related the events of the engagement below, bearing testimony to the heroism of our little navy of indifferent vessels, and seeming bewildered at the unexpected calamity which had befallen him. He considered it advisable for his small force to retire without the limits of the city to avert a bombardment, and this idea was fully endorsed by the City Council. Accordingly, late in the day, his whole force, of not more than twenty-eight hundred effective men, departed by rail some fifteen miles above the city, with orders to keep within easy call in case of emergency.

The evacuation of the city by Gen. Lovell's troops was the signal for a new consternation, and another era of disorder in the city. Uproar and confusion continued throughout the day and all night, while now and then heavy guns could be heard down the river, as if the enemy was cautiously approaching, and firing at suspicious objects. Crowds of the poor were enjoying a rich harvest by the wholesale destruction of property, and scores of them could be seen with baskets, and bags, and drays, carrying off whatever plunder fell in their way. A low, murmuring voice filled the air - it was the conversation of assembled thousands. Some were for burning the city, rather than permit it to fall into the hands of the enemy; but the opinion prevailed that such foolish excesses should be at once put in check, and that the city, being entirely at the mercy of the foe, nothing should be done to provoke a bombardment.

On the morning of the 25th of April, Farragut's advance was observed steaming up towards the city. When abreast of the Chalmette batteries on both sides of the city, he was saluted with volleys from the earthworks, but, being uninjured, ran past and cast anchor at intervals before the city, with ports open, and every preparation made for a bombardment. Farragut then opened communication with the Mayor, and demanded the surrender of the city, together with Lovell's forces; but the latter were away, the city had been left under the exclusive jurisdiction of Mayor Monroe, and he avoided a formal surrender, declaring that if the enemy desired the removal of objectionable flags floating over the public buildings of New Orleans, he must do it by his own force.

The correspondence touching the surrender of the city was protracted until the 28th of April. There was a purpose in this. the confidence of the people had, in a measure, ralled; there were yet glimpses of hope. As long as Forts St. Philip, Jackson, and the Chalmette batteries remained intact, it was thought that something might be done to save the city. The enemy's fleet had no forces with which to occupy it; his tranports were unable to get up the river, as long as the forts held out. The enemy's land forces, under Gen. Butler, were at Ship Island and Mississippi City. Had he attempted to march overland upon New Orleans, the levees would have been cut, and his men drowned in the swamps.

But the last hope was to be extinguished. While Farragut and Mayor Monroe were exchanging angry letters of great length, the overwhelming news reached New Orleans, that Forts St. Philip and Jackson had surrendered to the enemy. The surrender was made in consequence of a mutiny of the garrisons. On examining his guns in Fort Jackson, Gen. Duncan found many spiked, several dismounted, and not less than three hundred men clamoring around him for a surrender. Remonstrances, threats, and entreaties were alike useless. In vain Gen. Duncan declared to the men that it would be an eternal shame to give up the works, provisioned as they were, and scarcely touched by the enemy. In vain he vowed that the forts were impregnable. In vain he promised that he would blow up all Butler's transports in a trice, if his men would only stand by him. The soulless creatures who disgraced the Confederate uniform had no reply to these arguments and appeals. Nothing would satisfy them but surrender. Ragged, dusty, powder-blackened, and exhausted, Duncan reached New Orleans, to tell the story of the great misfortune; and as he narrated it on the levee he wept, and the hundreds who listened to him were silent with amazement and shame.

Farragut, being informed of the surrender of the forts, was now anxious to expedite the full and formal surrender of the city, before the arrival of Butler with his transports. The correspondence with the Mayor had continued through several days. On the 28th of April, Farragut addressed his ultimatum to that officer, complaining of the continued display of the State flag of Louisiana on the City Hall, and concluding with a threat of the bombardment of the city, by notifying him to remove the women and children from its limits within forty-eight hours. The flag was not removed, and the threat was not fulfilled. On the 1st of May, Farragut reluctantly consented to send his own forces to take down the flag.

About noon, he sent on shore a party of two hundred marines with two brass howitzers, who marched through the streets and formed before the City Hall. The officer in command ascended to the dome of the building, and took down the objectionable State banner - the sign of all State rights. The act was done in profound silence; there were no idle utterances of curiosity; indignation was impotent, and men with compressed lips and darkened brows witnessed the first ceremony of their humiliation, and saw erected above them the symbol of tyrannical oppression. A speechless crowd of many thousands thronged the streets; a line of bayonets glistened within the square; the marines stood statue-like; the very air was oppressive with stillness; and so, in dead silence, the Stars and Stripes were hoisted over New Orleans, and the city passed forever from the rule and power of the Confederates.

Thus, after an engagment the casualties of which might be counted by hundreds, fell New Orleans, with its population of one hundred and seventy thousand souls - the commercial capital of the South, and the largest exporting city in the world. It was a terrible disaster to the Confederacy. The fall of Donelson broke our centre in the West. The fall of New Orleans yet more sorely punished the vanity of the Confederates; annihilated their power in Louisiana; broke up their routes to Texas and the Gulf; closed their access to the richest grain and cattle country in the South; gave to the enemy a new base of operations; and, more than anything else, staggered the confidence of Europe in the fortunes of the Confederacy.


The Lost Cause by Edward Alfred Pollard, pages 251-254
A Facsimilie of the Original 1886 Edition
Gramercy Books, New York, 1994.