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Mississippi was the principal highway could itself be conquered.
"If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo shall not have descended the river, you will take advantage of the panic to push a strong force up the river to take all their defenses in rear." These were the orders Farragut had to obey if he succeeded in taking New Orleans. They were soon reinforced by this reminder: "The only anxiety we feel is to know if you have followed up your instructions and pushed a strong force up the river to meet the Western flotilla." Farragut therefore felt bound to obey and do all that could be done to carry on a quite impossible campaign. So, with a useless landing party of only fifteen hundred troops, he pushed up to Vicksburg, four hundred miles above New Orleans. The nearest Federal army had been halted by the Confederate defenses above Memphis, another four hundred higher still.
There were several reasons why Farragut should not have gone up. His big ships would certainly be stranded if he went up and waited for the army to come down; moreover, when stranded, these ships would be captured while waiting, because both banks were swarming with vastly outnumbering Confederate troops. Then, such a disaster
would more than offset the triumph of New Orleans by still further depressing Federal morale at a time when the Federal arms were doing none too well near Washington. Finally, all the force that was being worse than wasted up the Mississippi might have been turned against Mobile, which, at that time, was much weaker than the defenses Farragut had already overcome. But the people of the North were clamorous for more victories along the line to which the press had drawn their gaze. So the Government ordered the fleet to carry on this impossible campaign.
Farragut did his best. Within a month of passing the forts he had not only captured New Orleans and repaired the many serious damages suffered by his fleet but had captured Baton Rouge, and taken even his biggest ships to Vicksburg, five hundred miles from the Gulf, against a continuous current, and right through the heart of a hostile land. Finding that there were thirty thousand Confederates in, near, or within a day of Vicksburg he and General Thomas Williams agreed that nothing could be done with the fifteen hundred troops which formed the only landing party. Sickness and casualties had reduced the ships' companies; so there were not even a few seamen to spare as reinforcements
for these fifteen hundred soldiers, whom Butler had sent, under Williams, with the fleet. Then Farragut turned back, his stores running dangerously short owing to the enormous difficulties of keeping open his long, precarious line of communications. "I arrived in New Orleans with five or six days' provisions and one anchor, and am now trying to procure others. Fighting is nothing to the evils of the river - getting on shore, running foul of one another, losing anchors, etc." In a confidential letter home he is still more outspoken. "They will keep us in this river till the vessels break down and all the little reputation we have made has evaporated. The Government appears to think that we can do anything. They expect me to navigate the Mississippi nine hundred miles in the face of batteries, ironclad rams, etc.; and yet with all the ironclad vessels they have North they could not get to Norfolk or Richmond."
Back from Washington came still more urgent orders to join the Mississippi flotilla which was coming down to Vicksburg from the north under Flag Officer Charles H. Davis. So once more the fleet worked its laboriously wasteful way up to Vicksburg, where it passed the forts with the help of Porter's flotilla of mortar-boats on the
twenty-eighth of June and joined Davis on the first of July. There, in useless danger, the joint forces lay till the fifteenth, the day on which Grant's own "most anxious period of the war" began on the Memphis-Corinth line, four hundred miles above.
Farragut, getting very anxious about the shoaling of the water, was then preparing to run down when he heard firing in the Yazoo, a tributary that joined the Mississippi four miles higher up. This came from a fight between one of his reconnoitering gunboats, the Carondelet, and the Arkansas, an ironclad Confederate ram that would have been very dangerous indeed if her miserable engines had been able to give her any speed. She was beating the Carondelet, but getting her smoke-stack so badly holed that her speed dropped down to one knot, which scarcely gave her steerage way and made her unable to ram. Firing hard she ran the gauntlet of both fleets and took refuge under the Vicksburg bluffs, whence she might run out and ram the Union vessels below. Farragut therefore ran down himself, hoping to smash her by successive broadsides in passing. But the difficulties of the passage wasted the daylight, so that he had to run by at night. She therefore survived his attack,
and went downstream to join the Confederates against Baton Rouge. But her engines gave way before she got there; and she had to be blown up. Farragut was back at New Orleans before the end of July. On the fifth of August the Confederates made their attack on Baton Rouge; but were beaten back by the Union garrison aided by three of Farragut's gunboats and two larger vessels from Davis's command. The losses were not very severe on either side; but the Union lost a leader of really magnificent promise in its commanding general, Thomas Williams, a great-hearted, cool-headed man and most accomplished officer. The garrison of Baton Rouge, being too small and sickly and exposed, was withdrawn to New Orleans a few days later.
Then Farragut at last returned to the Gulf blockade. Davis went back up the river, where he was succeeded by D. D. Porter in October. And the Confederates, warned of what was coming, made Port Hudson and Vicksburg as strong as they could. Vicksburg was now the only point they held on the Mississippi where there were rails on both sides; and the Red River, flowing in from the West between Vicksburg and Port Hudson, was the only good line of communication connecting