War of the Rebellion: Serial 006 Page 0601 Chapter XVI. CAPTURE OF NEW ORLEANS.

Search Civil War Official Records

the most favorable points for such obstructions; then to defend the latter by a concentration of the greatest number of heaviest guns at one's command, separating them, from each other by traverses when necessary to protect them from enfilade fires. Such was the system proposed by Generals Bernard and Panton, Majors Chase, Delafield, &c., when they planned Forts Jackson and Saint Philip and the batteries contiguous to those works. Detached batteries are very good when located and supported; otherwise they are at apt to be overpowered successively by a naval attack or to be taken in rear by a land force. It is evident that since the enemy's steamers and gunboats passed the concentrated fores of Forts Jackson, Saint Philip, &c., without much injury, they would have done so even more easily of our guns had been scattered over 75 miles from those works to New York Orleans. Moreover, the river being very high and the country between those two points being low, it could easily have been submerged by cutting the leaves at night near any batteries which might have been constructed along the river thereby cutting off their garrisons from succor or retreat. I will remark that Forts Jackson and Saint Philip were placed that low down the river to protect from the enemy's depredations as much of the country liable to cultivation as practicable, and also to increase the obstacles to regular siege resulting from the lowness of their sites, which does not admit of the construction of bayous and parallels, especially when the river is high.

Question. The battle having been fought at the forts, and the fleet having passed, do you consider New Orleans a tenable military position, and did its evacuation by the infantry forces necessarily follow as a matter course when the enemy was in full possession of the river?

Answer. The forts commanding the river having been passed, New Orleans necessarily lay at the mercy of the enemy's heavy guns afloat, which, owing to the high stage of the river, commanded the banks on both sides to the swamps skirting the river at a distance varying from a half to one mile. An army of 50,000 men or more could not then have saved the city from destructions. Whether the latter was desirable at the time before New Orleans had experienced iron rule could only have been determined by the State or Confederate authorities, who should have considered whether the destructions of so large a city would have done more injury to the enemy than to ourselves. It is evident that to him Baton Rouge is a better strategic point than New Orleans, and the destruction of the latter would have relieve him of the necessity of keeping a garrison of 5,000 or 6,000 men there to guard it. This act would have been a mere empty bravado, a wanton destruction of an immense amount of private and public property, which would have staked at the time the Confederacy to its very foundations and thrown upon its Government a helpless population of about 160,000 non-combatants (men, woman, and children) to feel provide for when already overburdened to supply the wants of the armies in the field. When the Russians burned Moscow it was for the purpose of annihilating Napoleon's army of 300,000 or 400,000 men, which had invaded their country. When they again consented to the slow but certain destruction of Sevastopol it was to prevent the allies from taking possession of its immense docks, arsenals, military stores, and the fleet which had sought refuge under the guns of its forts. The possession of the harbor of Sevastopol would also have afforced them a magnificent base for their future operations in the Crimea. As i have already stated, the Mississippi River being extremely high, the steers of New Orleans could have been swept from one extremity to the other by the heavy guns of the enemy's fleet; or had Commodore Farragut reducing the place to submission without using his guns, it would have been only necessary to have cut the leave above and below the city, and the whole population would have been utterly defenseless and in starting condition in a few days. Without the command of the Mississippi River New Orleans is not worth holding as a military or strategic position.

By a MEMBER OF THE COURT:

Question. Was the land on the sugar plantations below New Orleans high enough for the construction of batteries upon them?

Answer. From Point a la Hache, about 40 miles below the city, batteries have been constructed both sides of the river, proved there were no crevasses. Such batteries would be liable to be submerged by breaks in the levee.

Question. What was the width of the levee in front of New Orleans?

Answer. Immediately in front of the center of the city the levee average about 150 feet in width. Opposite the extremities of the city the levee varied from 5 feet in width at the crest to 10 or 12. The slopes of the levee have about an angle of 45 degree; their height varies from 5 to 8 feet.