Fort Jackson

The spring of 1862 was a traumatic period for the Confederate garrisons of Third System forts. Within a matter of weeks, Fort Macon and Fort Pulaski had fallen following short devastating bombardments by mortars and rifled guns. Just over a week after the surrender of Fort Pulaski, it was the turn of the two forts that guarded the Mississippi River south of New Orleans.

Since the start of the war, the naval strategy of the Union had concentrated on the imposition of a blockade around the Confederate coastline, part of the "Anaconda Plan" devised by General Winfield Scott. The second portion of this plan involved cutting the Confederacy in two by seizing control of the Mississippi. In January 1862, Captain David Farragut was given command of the Union fleet in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico and ordered to "reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans." After that, his fleet was supposed to capture the thriving port. His attack was launched on April 17, 1862, when a flotilla of mortar boats began a bombardment of Fort St Philip and Fort Jackson. A line of obstacles spanned the river immediately below Fort Jackson, and the defenses were further augmented by a small flotilla of warships, including the small ironclad ram CSS Manassas and the incomplete casemate ironclad Louisiana.

The line of obstacles was breached on the night of April 20-21, and at 2am on the morning of April 24, Farragut led his fleet upriver in an attempt to force their way past the two forts. Although there is insufficient space to provide a detailed description of the battle, a brief outline is appropriate. Fire from the forts damaged several ships, but failed to stop the progress of the Union fleet. Similarly the Confederate squadron was decimated in a close-range fight. Farragut's ships managed to steam upstream, out of range of the guns in the two forts. General Benjamin Butler captured New Orleans at the head of 4,000 men, who then marched south to invest Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. The garrisons mutinied on April 29, and the forts surrendered to the Union.

In April 1862, Fort Jackson was an imposing structure. Work began on the star-shaped Third System fort in 1832 and construction dragged on for over two decades, as the swampy conditions of the Mississippi Delta posed considerable problems to the engineers. Designed by Simon Bernard, the fort was built on classical Vauban principles. A large bastion anchored each face of the fort, and the whole structure was surrounded by a moat. A tier of casemates formed a pentagon enclosing a central parade. In the center of this area a circular citadel provided space for barrack rooms, officers' quarters and stores, and provided a final line of defense. A water-filled moat separated the inner and outer works of the fort, and these extensive lines of revetments, covered ways and salients were further protected by a less carefully structured ditch, filled by the floodwaters of the Mississippi. The swampy terrain surrounding the fort made a land attack against it unlikely, but in any case the obstacles placed in the way of any attacker by the engineers were sufficient to daunt all but the most reckless Union commander. A water battery, built in 1858, provided additional firepower on the downstream side of the fort, while to the north across the Mississippi River lay Fort St. Philip. This was a far older fortification, built by the French in 1761, and then improved by the Spanish. During the War of 1812 the defenses were strengthened, and extensive rebuilding work in 1841-43 had further improved it. The real strength of Fort St. Philip was its location in a patch of swamp that flooded regularly. Although this made the fort's outer works untenable, the quagmire also made the fort virtually invulnerable to every kind of attack save an amphibious one.

Brigadier-General Joseph K. Duncan, who commanded the two fortifications, had his headquarters in Fort Jackson. While Fort St. Philip was armed with 52 guns, Fort Jackson was protected by 74 pieces, including columbiads, 32-pounders of the 1821 pattern and an assortment of other pieces. Around 120 men garrisoned it. The mortar bombardment had caused significant damage to the interior of the fort, damaging and burning the citadel, smashing die hot-shot

Fort PhilipFort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski, built on the marshy Cockspur Island, Georgia was designed to protect the port of Savannah. The Third System coastal fortification was deemed to be invincible, but advances in ordnance meant that her brick-built structure was vulnerable to accurate long-range fire from rifled guns. On February 19, 1862, Brig-Gen Thomas W. Sherman laid siege to Fort Pulaski, while U.S. Army engineer Captain Quincy A. Gilmore built gun emplacements to the south east of Pulaski from which he could bombard its walls. On April 10 the bombardment began, after the garrison commander had been called upon to surrender. Within hours, Gillmore's rifled guns had breached the south-east scarp of the fort, while mortar shells rained down on the fort's interior. As the outer walls fell away, the rifled shells began penetrating further into the fort, and threatened to hit the magazine. The garrison (opposite) had little choice but to surrender in the afternoon of April I I.This plate shows the area where the damage to the fort was concentrated. Note the earthen outer works beyond the gorge wall on the rear face of the fort.

Fort Jackson Louisiana

Fort Jackson. Louisiana, viewed from the levee on the banks of the Mississippi River after the Civil War. Although the ground hides the outer works and moat, the damage inflicted to the ramparts of the northern bastion (center) and the northwestern scarp and bastion (right) are still clearly visible. As this was the face that was the greatest threat to the Union fleet, this was the point of concentration of Union fire. (Stratford Archive)

Fort Jackson. Louisiana, viewed from the levee on the banks of the Mississippi River after the Civil War. Although the ground hides the outer works and moat, the damage inflicted to the ramparts of the northern bastion (center) and the northwestern scarp and bastion (right) are still clearly visible. As this was the face that was the greatest threat to the Union fleet, this was the point of concentration of Union fire. (Stratford Archive)

Fort Jackson, Louisiana, was subjected to a week-long mortar bombardment, from April 18 to 24, 1862. This plan shows the fall of shot, with extensive damage inflicted to the water battery, the outer works, the terreplein and the inner citadel. After such a heavy bombardment it is surprising that the fort was able to reply to the fire of the Union fleet when it passed by the fort on the morning of April 24. (Stratford Archive)

Coastal Fortifications

furnace, the water cistern, the sally port and the base of the casemates facing the river. This led to the partial flooding of the casemates when the Union gunsbreached the dikes around the fort and flooded it with river water. Cracks were evident in the brickwork of the casemates, and damage was also inflicted on the water battery. Fortunately for the garrison, casualties had been minimal. This left the defenders in poor shape to face the onslaught of the Union fleet, and goes some way to explain their inability to cause significant damage to the wooden-hulled warships. The loss of the shot furnace was particularly unfortunate, as heated roundshot could have cost Farragut a significant portion of his fleet. Colonel Higgins, a senior officer in the garrison later wrote:

Nearly every [mortar] shell of the many thousand fired at the fort lodged inside of the works. On the first night of the attack, the citadel and all buildings in rear of the fort were fired by bursting shell, and also the sandbag walls that had been thrown up around the magazine doors. The fire ... raged with great fury, and no effort of ours could subdue it. At this time, and nearly all this night, Fort Jackson was helpless; its magazines were inaccessible, and we could have offered no resistance to a passing fleet. The next morning a terrible scene of destruction presented itself. The wood-work of the citadel being all destroyed, and the crumbling walls being knocked about the fort by the bursting shells, made matters still worse for the garrison. The work of destruction, from now [April 17) until the morning of the 24th when the fleet passed, was incessant. 1 was obliged to confine the men most rigorously to the casemates, or we should have lost the best part of the garrison ... The parapets and interior of the fort were completely honeycombed, and the large number of sandbags with which we were supplied alone saved us from being blown to pieces a hundred times, our magazine doors being much exposed.

When the Union fleet drew level with the fort early in the morning of April 24, the garrison returned the fire of the warships as best they could. Mortar fire continued to play on Fort Jackson and the water battery during the attack. Of the eight guns in the exposed water battery (two rifled 32-pounders, two columbiads, three 32-pounders and a mortar), only the smoothbore guns remained in operation by the time the fleet attacked. Captain Robertson opened fire, and "the water battery thundered its greeting at the enemy." Moments later the guns of Fort Jackson joined in the fight, and the Union fleet exchanged broadsides with both positions. An observer recalled that "The flashes of the guns from both sides lit up the river with a lurid light that revealed the outlines of the Federal steamers more distinctly."

The engagement continued for an hour, by which time the fleet had passed out of range. Despite later claims by Union naval commanders, none of the guns in either the water battery or Fort Jackson were damaged during the passage of the fleet, and the crews manning both positions stayed at their posts despite the intensity of the fire.

Although heavily damaged by the mortar bombardment, the Confederate garrison of Fort Jackson did the best they could with the few undamaged guns they had available to them. Given that the armament of the fleet included 24 rifled guns (ranging in size from 20-pounders to the huge 100-pounder pivot gun mounted in the USS Pensacola), over four times the number of rifles that had subdued Forts Macon and Pulaski, the garrison were fortunate not to suffer greater casualties and damage. What saved both ships and fort was the fact that the battle was fought at night, and accurate sighting was extremely difficult.

In all these actions, the imposing Third System forts failed to do the job they were supposed to. Forts Sumter, Macon and Pulaski fell when they were attacked with a combination of rifled ordnance and mortars. The Mississippi River forts failed to prevent the passage of an enemy fleet, the very task they had been constructed to perform. During the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, the inability of Fort Morgan to cause significant damage to Farragut's Union fleet was almost a re-run of the Battle of New Orleans. In that case, the lack of effectiveness was exacerbated by the deterioration of powder in the magazine, but the effect was the same. Another T hird System fort failed to stop the passage of a fleet and proved itself unable to defend the harbor it was built to protect. Only one masonry-built fort emerged from the war with a reputation for effective defense. Once Fort Sumter was integrated into the Confederate defenses of Charleston Harbor, it anchored the defenses of the city. Despite being reduced to a mound of rubble, Fort Sumter remained in Confederate hands until the city was abandoned due to the approach of General Sherman's army. While it can be argued that the very destruction of the fort improved its defensive abilities, turning it into an earth-built fortification through incessant bombardment, the real heroes of Fort Sumter were the gunners who continued to man their post during months of attack. In April 1863 they achieved the only real success of a Third System fort during the war, by driving off Admiral Du Font's squadron of ironclad warships when the U.S. Navy launched a spirited attack on the fort. Concentrated fire from the casemates sank one ironclad (the USS Kœkuk), and battered the rest of the fleet so badly they — were forced to retire. While an isolated incident in the otherwise disappointing performance of Totten's fortifications, the engagement did serve to underline the effectiveness of rifled ordnance. After the experiences of Fort Marion and Fort Pulaski, the garrison of Fort Sumter was reequipped with a handful of new rifled guns designed by John M. Brooke. They demonstrated that although brick-built fortifications were vulnerable to modern artillery, Totten's notion that a properly armed fort was capable of driving off an enemy fleet was valid. Given the right guns, the Confederate defenses of Louisiana, North Carolina and Georgia might have fared better than they did.

Fort Monroe,Virginia, viewed from the south west after the Civil War. Additional buildings were built on the site after the conflict, as the fortification was deemed obsolete for all purposes other than to serve as a military barracks. (Stratford Archive)

The interior of the lower casemates and gorge face of Fort Sumter was used as bombproof barrack rooms, offices and quarters for the garrison. In this engraving. Captain Thomas A. Huguenin of the Confederate garrison is shown seated in the makeshift Commander's Headquarters Office. (Stratford Archive)

Commander Headquarters

Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan was built to protect Mobile Bay, Alabama, and its design followed a well-tested pattern. Extensive outer works and a dry moat protected the bastioned casemate fort, while the high casemate and terreplein system protected the parade behind the inner works. In addition, a string of small coastal batteries provided additional protection for the fort on its seaward side. During the Union passage into Mobile Bay in August 1864, Fort Morgan came under fire from a powerful squadron of enemy warships, but the damage inflicted on the well-built fortification was relatively minor.

Fortification French
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Responses

  • girmay
    Who fought at fort jackson louisiana?
    5 years ago

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