« PreviousContinue »
them with Texas, whence so much of their meat was obtained.
For three months Farragut directed the Gulf blockade from Pensacola, where, on the day of his arrival, the twentieth of August, he was the first American to hoist an admiral's flag. The rank of rear-admiral in the United States Navy had been created on the previous sixteenth of July; and Farragut was the senior of the first three officers upon whom it was conferred.
Farragut became the ranking admiral just when the United States Navy was having its hardest struggle to do its fivefold duty well. There was commerce protection on the high seas, blockade along the coast, cooperation with the army on salt water and on fresh, and of course the destruction of the nascent Confederate forces afloat. But perhaps a knottier problem than any part of its combatant duty was how to manage, in the very midst of war, that rapid expansion of its own strength for which no government had let it prepare in time of peace. During this year the number of vessels in commission grew from 264 to 427. Yet such a form of expansion was much simpler than that of the enlisted men; and the expansion of even the most highly trained enlisted personnel
was very much simpler than the corresponding expansion of the officers. Happily for the United States Navy it started with a long lead over its enemy. More happily still it could expand with the help of greatly superior resources. Most happily of all, the sevenfold expansion that was effected before the war was over could be made under leaders like Farragut: leaders, that is, who, though in mere numbers they were no more, in proportion to their whole service, than the flag as mere material is to a man-of-war, were yet, as is the flag, the living symbol of a people's soul.
Commerce protection on the high seas was an exceedingly harassing affair. A few swift raiders, having the initiative, enjoyed great advantages over a far larger number of defending vessels. Every daring raid was trumpeted round the world, bringing down unmeasured, and often unmerited, blame on the defense. The most successful vigilance would, on the other hand, pass by unheeded. The Union navy lacked the means of patrolling the sea lanes of commerce over millions and millions of desolate square miles. Consequently the war-risk insurance rose to a prohibitive height on vessels flying the Stars and Stripes; and, as a further result, enormous transfers were made to
other flags. The incessant calls for recruits, afloat and ashore, and to some extent the lure of the western lands, also robbed the merchant service of its men. Thus, one way and another, the glory of the old merchant marine departed with the Civil War.
Blockade was more to the point than any attempt to patrol the sea lanes. Yet it was even more harassing; for it involved three distinct though closely correlated kinds of operation: not only the seizure, in conjunction with the army, of enemy ports, and the patrolling of an enemy coastline three thousand miles long, but also the patrolling of those oversea ports from which most contraband came. This oversea patrol was the most effective, because it went straight to the source of trouble. But it required extraordinary vigilance, because it had to be conducted from beyond the three-mile limit, and with the greatest care for all the rights of neutrals.
By mid-November Farragut was back at New Orleans. A month later General Banks arrived with reinforcements. He superseded General Butler and was under orders to coöperate with McClernand, Grant's second-in-command, who was to come down the Mississippi from Cairo. But
the proposed meeting of the two armies never took place. Banks remained south of Port Hudson, McClernand far north of Vicksburg; for, as we shall see in the next chapter, Sherman's attempt to take Vicksburg from the North failed on the twenty-ninth of December.
The naval and river campaigns of '62 thus ended in disappointment for the Union. And, on New Year's Day, Galveston, which Farragut had occupied in October without a fight and which was lightly garrisoned by three hundred soldiers, fell into Confederate hands under most exasperating circumstances. After the captain and first lieutenant of the U. S. S. Harriet Lane had been shot by the riflemen aboard two cotton-clad steamers the next officer tamely surrendered. Commander Renshaw, who was in charge of the blockade, amply redeemed the honor of the Navy by refusing to surrender the Westfield, in spite of the odds against him, and by blowing her up instead. But when he died at the post of duty the remaining Union vessels escaped; and the blockade was raised for a week.
After that Commodore H. H. Bell, one of Farragut's best men, closed in with a grip which never let go. Yet even Bell suffered a reverse when he
sent the U. S. S. Hatteras to overhaul a strange vessel that lured her off some fifteen miles and sank her in a thirteen-minute fight. This stranger was the Alabama, then just beginning her famous or notorious career. Nor were these the only Union troubles in the Gulf during the first three weeks of the new year. Commander J. N. Maffitt ran the Florida out of Mobile, right through the squadron that had been specially strengthened to deal with her; and the shore defenses of the Sabine Pass, like those of Galveston, fell into Confederate hands again, to remain there till the war
In spite of all failures, however, Farragut still had the upper hand along the Gulf, and up the Mississippi as far as New Orleans, without which admirable base the River War of '62 could never have prepared the way for Grant's magnificent victory in the River War of '63.