USS Cayuga 1862

USS Cayuga 1862

USS Cayuga participated in Farragut’s attack on Forts Jackson and St. Phillip.

uss cayuga

USS Cayuga

An Unadilla-class gunboat, Cayuga was launched on 10-Oct-1861, at Portland, CT. After final fitting-out at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 21-Feb-1862. Upon commissioning, the Navy ordered Cayuga to Ship Island. The gunboat joined the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Flag-Officer (later Rear Admiral) David Farragut commanded that squadron. Cayuga was one of nine Unadilla-class gunboats in the squadron. After the rebel army abandoned New Orleans to Farragut and Butler, Cayuga remained in the squadron, moving north to support operations as Union forces secured the Southern portion of the Mississippi River.


Farragut’s nine Unadilla-class gunboats engaged rebel boats along the river at Forts Jackson and St. Phillip. They were:

  • Cayuga
  • Itasca
  • Katahdin
  • Kennebec
  • Kineo
  • Pinola
  • Sciota
  • Winona
  • Wissahickon

The rebel defenders extended chains across the river, from one fort to the other. On 20-April-1862, Farragut ordered three of the Unadillas up the river to clear those chains. They opened a passage on the west side of the river. Farragut moved the rest of his squadron, including Cayuga, up through this opening.

While Porter’s mortar-vessels pounded the forts, Cayuga and the other gunboats blasted a path for the larger ships in the squadron. Cayuga and the other five gunboats that cleared the forts anchored in the river at New Orleans. Their firepower compelled the surrender of the city. So, the gunboats threatened New Orleans with flooding. Their guns could take aim at the city’s levee system. City leaders knew the impact crevasses would have.

Theodorus Bailey

Captain Theodorus Bailey held command of Colorado, 19, as part of the West Gulf Blockade Squadron. Bailey and Colorado enjoyed success off the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in the early months of 1862. He was, however, unable to bring Colorado up the river. While Colorado was a significant asset, the frigate’s draft was too deep. So, Farragut transferred Bailey from Colorado to Cayuga for the attack. Bailey commanded a division of three gunboats. He successfully brought Cayuga into the Port of New Orleans. On 25-April-1862, Farragut ordered Bailey to enter the city. He and Lieutenant George Perkins, USN, went to City Hall, where their surrender demands were rebuffed.

The Image

This image appeared in Battles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers, Volume 2, 1887.

Mississippi River Defenses 1862

Mississippi River Defenses 1862

Mississippi River defenses in 1862 consisted of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip.

mississippi river defenses

Mississippi River defenses

Library of Congress title: Map showing the defenses of the Mississippi below New Orleans and Farragut’s attack 24 April 1862. This hand-drawn map presents a great deal of detail about Forts Jackson and St. Phillip. Additionally, it displays the positions of Farragut’s ships as they approached Fort Jackson. Robert Knox Sneden drew the map.

Attacking the forts

While the blockade of the Gulf Coast crippled the economy of New Orleans, the forts below the city prevented the Union Navy from moving upriver easily. The Union Navy sent Flag-Officer David Glasgow Farragut, along with Captain David Dixon Porter, to the Gulf. Farragut held overall command. Porter commanded a flotilla of bomb-vessels. Additionally, Major General Benjamin Butler led an Army invasion force from Ship Island to the forts.

Fort Jackson, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, stands below Fort St. Phillip. So, it was the squadron’s first target. Porter’s bomb-vessels approached Fort Jackson. They fired thousands of mortar rounds into the fort. Those mortars wrecked much of the fort. They demoralized the garrison. The assault contributed to the mutiny of Irish and German soldiers in the fort.

Robert Knox Sneden

Sneden created this map after the rebellion. In the Spring of 1862, he served served on the staff of the Union III Corps, under Samuel P. Heintzelman. He was later captured and held at the notorious Andersonville prison camp. In his roles of draftsman and topographical engineer with III Corps, Sneden drew thousands of sketches. After the war, he created watercolor works out of those sketches. While he was not present with Farragut’s squadron, Sneden had the skill to turn the descriptions of others into maps.

This colorized sketch is not a hi-res document. It likely came from a small sketch book.

Fort Jackson Bombardment 1862

Fort Jackson Bombardment 1862

Fort Jackson Bombardment by Farragut’s squadrons took place in April 1862.

fort jackson bombardment

Click image for larger sizes.

Fort Jackson Bombardment

The title of this map is, “Plan of Fort Jackson, showing the effect of the bombardment by the U.S. mortar flotilla and gunboats, April 18th to 24th 1862 : flag officer D.G. Farragut commanding fleet, Com. D.D. Porter commanding flotilla.” This map displays the aftermath of several hellish days and nights of cannon shot and mortar bombing on the fort. The Union Navy delivered strong blows. Two rebel battalions, one Irish, one German, mutinied. They walked out of the fort and surrendered to Butler’s invasion force.

The map shows the fort oriented towards the north. The Mississippi River barely appears here at the top of the image. Fort Jackson stands (to this day) on the west bank of the river in Plaquemines Parish.

Map details

J. S. Harris surveyed the Fort Jackson Bombardment in the days after the assault. Farragut’s advance to the Port of New Orleans led to the city’s surrender. Butler and his force occupied the city by 1-May-1862. While there is no specific date on this map, the survey likely took place after 1-May. The comments speak to the intensity of the attack:

All the scows and boats near the fort except 3 small ones were sunk. The drawbridge, hot shot furnaces, and fresh water cisterns were destroyed. The floors of the casemates were flooded, the levee having been broken. All of the platforms for pitching tents on were destroyed by fire or shells. All the casemates were cracked (the roof in some places being entirely broken through) and masses of brick dislodged in numerous instances. The outer walls of the fort were cracked from top to bottom, admitting daylight freely.

4 guns were dismounted 11 carriages and 30 beds and traverses injured.
1113 mortar shells and 87 round shot were counted in the solid ground of the fort and levees.
3339 mortar shells were computed to have fallen in the ditches and the overflowed parts of the defences.
1080 shells exploded in the air over the fort.
7500 bombs were fired.

We’re going to have to do a full long-form article on just how exstensive this damage is. It comes as no surprise that the Irish and Germans who survived this walked out.



New Orleans Militia Officer by Waud

New Orleans Militia Officer by Waud

New Orleans Militia Officer in 1862 by William Waud.

new orleans militia officer

New Orleans Militia Officer

Illustrator William Waud offers detail on the uniform of this militia officer. The handwritten inscription says: “Light blue cap + frock; grey pants white crossbelts; other troops in grey; artillery grey red facings.” This level of detail should help pinpoint which regiment this officer joined.

Militia Units in 1862

The Library of Congress (LOC) record for this image dates it as between 1862 and 1865. Since the Union Army occupied New Orleans on 1-May-1862, this drawing predates Butler.

Most local militia units formed in 1861, after Louisiana seceded. They organized as local defense. Their charters included provisions that the units could not be removed from Orleans Parish. If a rebel commander like Mansfield Lovell wanted to send these troops north of the city, he could only ask for volunteers to resign from their units. The soldiers would then join regular rebel units and march to war.

The militia organizers wrote this language deliberately. These units drilled once or twice a week. They went about their civilian lives the rest of the time. They paraded through the streets of New Orleans several times during 1861 and early 1862. Officers with financial means purchased quality uniforms from local tailors. They wore them with pride at various public functions.

Identifying this militia

Waud provides a good bit of data that can be used to identify this New Orleans militia officer. The light blue cap rules out the Washington Artillery, the best-known military unit in the city at the time. The Washington Artillery wore red caps. Additionally, the enlisted and NCO ranks wore all grey. This fit the pattern of officers buying better-quality uniforms.

After the occupation

The units like the one this New Orleans militia officer represented disbanded when Butler took control of the city. While some men joined the Union Army, most went back to work, re-opening the port and the city’s economy.

Southern Rebellion Irish – NOLA History Guy Podcast

Southern Rebellion Irish – NOLA History Guy Podcast

Southern Rebellion Irish – talking about the Irish socially in Antebellum New Orleans

Southern Rebellion Irish

Stained glass window in St. Alphonsus Church, the “Irish church” in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans

Southern Rebellion Irish

While a number of Irish families in New Orleans rose to the upper levels of society by the Southern Rebellion, those in the city who wanted to maintain an economy based on enslaved African labor did not accept newer Irish immigrants as equals. They didn’t mind the Irish taking jobs they didn’t want to do, in the army, doing labor such as working to build the New Canal, and working on the riverfront. By 1860, the Know-Nothings (yes, that was a real party and political movement) pushed immigrants away to the point where the Irish felt strong Unionist sentiments.

Southern Rebellion Irish

The Rogue’s March by Peter F. Stevens

The Irish immigrants felt the resentment of the WASPs in the United States antebellum most in the Army. WASP officers commanding units during the Mexican War treated immigrants horribly. This led to a large desertion. Hundreds of Irish soldiers crossing the Rio Grande river joining the Mexican Army. The book, The Rogue’s March: John Riley and the St. Patrick’s Battalion, 1846-48, details the history of the “St. Patrick’s Battalion” of the Mexican Army in 1847-48. While life in the Army improved overall by the Southern Rebellion, the rebels still treated the Irish on their side poorly.

Not just the Irish

As the Irish community in New Orleans grew from downtown, along the riverfront to further uptown, German immigrants settled in the same area. What we call the “Irish Channel” was home to a large German community. These Germans were mostly Rheinlanders and Bavarians, who were Catholic, like the Irish. They formed the core of the “Redemptorist” parish, worshipping at St. Mary’s Assumption Church on Constance and Josephine Streets. So, by the time of the Southern Rebellion, both the Irish and German communities were more supportive of the Union than the Confederacy.

Defending the City

southern rebellion irish

Mutiny at Fort Jackson by Michael D. Pierson

So, these immigrants lost their jobs with the closure of the Port of New Orleans in 1861. To provide their families, they joined the rebel army. While many were sent off to fight in Tennessee and Virginia, others stayed behind, to defend Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, down the river from the city. At the time of Farragut’s capture of New Orleans in April, 1862, Fort Jackson’s defenders included three battalions: one Irish, one German, and one made up largely of men from the white planter class. It should come as no surprise that two of those three units mutinied and walked out of the fort, making it easier for Farragut to come up the river and Butler to bring his occupying army behind the ships. For more reading on this, check out Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans, by Michael D. Pierson.

Reading on the Irish.

southern rebellion irish

The Irish in New Orleans by Laura D. Kelly.

If this topic interests you, you definitely want to get Dr. Laura Kelly’s book, The Irish In New Orleans.