Farragut devises a bold plan

Farragut's fleet sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and reached New Orleans' defenses in mid-April. The Union commander promptly ordered a heavy bombardment of the two Confederate forts. The Union fleet and the Confederate forts fired shells back and forth at one another for the next several days in an attempt to pound the other into submission. After a week or so, Farragut decided that his mortar attack was not working. He then devised a daring plan to sail past the forts under cover of darkness and proceed on to New Orleans.

Farragut launched his plan early in the morning of April 24, even though many of his officers advised him not to try it. As his fleet moved up the river, it was met by a tremendous hail of shellfire from the forts. The Confederate flotilla attacked as well, firing its cannons and sending flaming rafts down the river to smash into Farragut's ships. Farragut's warships dodged most of the rafts, however, and launched a furious counterattack on the Confederate defenses. At its most intense, the battle lit up the Mississippi sky in what historian James M. McPherson called "the greatest fireworks display in American history."

Farragut's bold strategy succeeded. His fleet destroyed the smaller Confederate flotilla and pushed past the forts, losing only four ships in the process. He sailed on to New Orleans, which was taken without a fight. Fifteen thousand Union troops under the command of Benjamin Butler (1818-1893) immediately took complete control of the city. The soldiers of Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, meanwhile, realized that the Union conquest of New Orleans meant that the North controlled the entire lower Mississippi River. With no means of obtaining food and other supplies, both forts quickly surrendered.

Farragut's victory shocked and depressed Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) and other Confederate leaders. They knew that the capture of New Orleans—coupled with a series of Union victories in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee in the weeks immediately following the Battle of Shiloh—placed the North in a commanding position in the West.

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