Preparation for the attack on New Orleans

The military situation in the West became even more desperate for the South in mid-April, as Federal forces targeted the city of New Orleans for conquest. Located in southern Louisiana near where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico,

New Orleans was a very important Confederate city. It was the largest city in the South, and its port was used by many Confederate ships looking to obtain supplies from Europe.

By the spring of 1862, the Union had used its navy to take control of many Southern ports along the Atlantic coast. As the South's ability to

The deck and the turret of the U.S.S. Monitor.

(Photograph by James F. Gibson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The deck and the turret of the U.S.S. Monitor.

(Photograph by James F. Gibson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

mered away at each other for two solid hours, using big guns and ramming maneuvers in a desperate battle for survival. Neither ship could sink the other, though, and the two vessels finally turned away from each other in exhaustion.

Over the next few months, the two ironclads remained in the same area, but never fought each other again. The Virginia took up a position outside of the James River in Virginia, where it helped protect other rebel ships from Union attacks. In May 1862, however, Union forces captured the ship's home harbor in Norfolk, Virginia. The crew of the Virginia then blew up the ship rather than allow it to be seized by the North. The Monitor, meanwhile, sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina on New Year's Eve, 1862.

Neither ship had a long life. But their clash in March 1862 convinced naval experts around the world that the era of the wooden warship was over. It also persuaded the North to use its vast factories and shipyards in the production of additional ironclad ships. As these vessels were put into service, the Union was able to further strengthen its control of the seas.

use these ports was reduced, New Orleans' strategic importance became even greater. Northern military leaders knew that if they could capture the city, the Confederacy's ability to trade with Europe for badly needed weapons and supplies would be limited to occasional "blockade runners"— ships that tried to sneak past the Union blockade.

After studying New Orleans' defenses, Union naval leaders decided to appoint Admiral David G. Farragut (1801-1870) as commander of the attack. A veteran of the U.S. Navy who had sailed the open seas since he was nine years old, Farragut was a tough and crafty officer. He knew that taking New Orleans would be difficult. It was guarded by a flotilla (small fleet) of ships and two big Confederate fortresses, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. But Farragut received command of a giant fleet of warships that included nineteen schooners armed with mortar cannons.

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