Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Fourth Report

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The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board: Fourth Report

9 August 1861 — ORN, I, volume 16, pages 618–630. ORN (Official records, navies). Officially known as the Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.

This report distinguishes six regions of the Gulf coast, and restricts recommendations to the sections covering New Orleans and Mobile. Suggests that Ship Island be captured as a staging ground for operations against either or both. (See The Civil War Blockade Strategy Board Reports.)
Fourth Report: ORN, I, vol. 16, pp. 618–630

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 9, 1861.
Secretary of the Navy:

SIR: In our last memoir we completed our remarks and recommendations concerning the Atlantic coast of the United States from Cape Henry to Cape Sable.


We are now to take up the shores of the United States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Here we purpose to pursue the same course as before, dividing this region of coast into several sections, all of which are distinguished from each other by peculiar geographical features--or by different degrees of settlement, and require, therefore, different modes of treatment. Our sectional divisions are as follows:


1. The Florida keys and reefs.
2. The west coast of Florida, from Cape Sable to Cedar Keys.
3. Northern division of Florida, from Cedar Keys to the River Perdido.
4. Coast of part of northern Florida, and the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi, from the river Perdido to Ship Island. This section includes Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound, with its numerous and very important subsidiary bays and dependencies.
5. The coast of part of Mississippi and the coast of Louisiana, from Ship and Cat islands to Atchafalaya, Cote Blanche, and Vermilion bays, inclusive.
6. And, lastly, a part of the coast of Louisiana and the whole coast of Texas, from Grand Pass, Vermilion Bay, to the Rio Grande del Norte.


We propose to take these sections, not in the order of their succession from cast to west, or the reverse, but in the order of their importance, and we shall begin, therefore, with the fifth, which, in its whole extent, embraces the city of New Orleans, together with its various approaches from the sea. Between Cat and Ship islands, which we have taken to define the northeastern limit of this section, and Atchafalaya and its adjacent bays, is comprised the great Delta of the Mississippi, through which are discharged all the streams that are fed by the Mississippi River, and within these limits are embraced all the military approaches to New Orleans by means of these streams and their dependencies, bays or lakes. A curved line drawn from Cat Island to Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and thence to Vermilion Bay, including Atchafalaya and C“te Blanche bays, and skirting along the seashore of the Delta proper, will measure about 170 geographical miles; the distance from the Mississippi River to the eastern limit being about 60 miles, and to the western about 110 miles.


From Forts Jackson and St. Philip, the Delta of the Mississippi extends beyond this curved line about 30 miles. The principal and characteristic features of this portion of the coast are apparent. They are large and shallow sheets of water, called either lakes or bays, and long, narrow, crooked, and deep bayous, shoal at the entrance, and frequently entering into shoaler basins.


But while these general features may be correctly said to belong to the whole section, it will be convenient, for the sake of more minute and accurate description, to subdivide into smaller sections, containing--


(a) Lakes Borgne, etc., and their approaches and connections;
(b) The east coast of the Delta;
(c) The Delta;
(d) From the Delta to Bayou La Fourche;
(e) From Bayou La Fourche to Atchafalaya and Vermilion bays.

(a) The first of these divisions, which lies west from Mississippi Sound and north of the lower Mississippi River, consists of a series of lakes, together with a series of bayous and rivers.


The rivers fall generally into the bays from the north, and, taking their rise in the interior, are independent water courses. The bayous are generally narrow, crooked, and dependent streams, shallow at the mouth (with from 3 to 6 feet of water on the bars), and quite deep within; they frequently afford available channels for boats into and through the great Delta and between the lakes, often connecting with the great river and the city of New Orleans.


The lakes are three in number, Lake Borgne on the east, Lake Pontchartrain, and Lake Maurepas, which connects with the Mississippi River 110 miles above New Orleans.


We rely upon the charts of the Coast Survey for the only correct information about the shores of lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain and their intermediate channels, with which we are principally concerned.


The first of these channels, between Mississippi Sound and Lake Borgne, runs between St. Joseph's Island (on the north), on which there is a light-house, and Grand Island, and is called Grand Island Pass. It has sufficient water at the east entrance, but shoals rapidly as it expands into Lake Borgne to 9 feet of water only, which is the least depth before reaching The Rigolets. This depth limits the size of the vessels navigating this channel of approach. There is a light-house at The Rigolets, and between this and the light before mentioned empties the Pearl River, the largest between the Pascagoula and Mississippi rivers, which takes its rise in the heart of the State, and is about 250 miles long. Pearl River is worthy of notice, not only on account of the great extent of country it drains, but because it forms the eastern limit of the Delta of the Mississippi. East of it the country is sanded and woody with pines; west of it, low and marshy.


We have said that the main channel has only 9 feet of water at the entrance into Lake Borgne. The lake itself has an average depth of 10 feet only, which diminishes toward the shores. At the head of the south bay of the lake is the small town of Proctorsville, the termination of the Mexican Gulf Railroad, which meets the levee of the Mississippi River 12 miles from New Orleans.


This is one of the approaches to New Orleans, and might be made useful if possession is taken of the river above the forts. In the southwest bay of the lake the shore is broken by several bayous practicable for boats nearly to the river. The depth and directions of these bayous are furnished by the military reconnoissance of 1842 by the topographical engineers.


Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain are connected by two crooked channels known as The Rigolets, and called severally Chef Menteur and Rigolet, in both of which the lowest depth descends to 7 feet, and this is the most important fact for us to know. The first named of these channels is defended by a small fort, called Fort Wood, at the mouth of the Bayou Sauvage; the second by a fort of moderate size, called Fort Pike, so situated as to command a long passage known as the Eastern Reach. These channels bring us into Lake Pontchartrain, which is by far the largest lake of the whole Mississippi Delta, and which is immediately connected with New Orleans by two railroads, one canal, and one bayou and canal. This connection takes place on the southern shore; the pier or wharf at the termination of Pontchartrain Railroad has 8 feet of water at the end of it, and there is about the same depth at the piers of the Bayou St. John, and of the Carrollton and Jefferson railroads. Along the whole of this shore the character of the bottom is the same at the same depths; hard near the shore and in 5 feet, and in 10 feet, soft blue mud and shells. The currents and depths are affected by the winds. It does not seem worth while to extend our enquiries to the northern shore of this lake, or beyond it into Lake Maurepas, and to trace the communication north by the [New Orleans, Jackson and] Great Northern Railroad, or west to the Mississippi through the rivers Amite and Iberville. We have only intended to follow the principal routes in this quarter to the city of New Orleans, and to show the navigable value of these waters and their defenses as far as known to us. Having done this, we think we can safely draw the conclusion that the approach to New Orleans through the lakes, The Rigolets, and the railroads, canals, and hard roads, connecting it with the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, would be difficult and very tedious.


(b) Our second division is from Ship Island south to the southern extremity of the Delta of the Mississippi. This portion of the coast is characterized by immense marshes cut into innumerable islands, and by shallow lakes and by long, narrow, crooked bayous, deep inside, with shallow entrances, and emptying into shallow bays.


Outside of these bars lies a large body of water 50 miles long by about 15 wide, divided into two sounds known as Chandeleur Sound and Isle au Breton Sound, and separated from the Gulf of Mexico by an irregular chain of islands, the largest group of which chain is the Chandeleur Islands.


Outside of the Chandeleurs there are well-marked soundings and good water. At a distance of 5 or 6 miles (east) there are about 11 fathoms, with light-blue mud, and 20 miles east of Grand Gozier there are 8 and 9 fathoms with fine sand, broken shells, and black specks.


Beyond these depths, to the eastward and southward and eastward off the Chandeleurs, and off Grand Gozier Island, the depths increase with characteristic soundings.


Inside of the Chandeleur and Grand Gozier islands, on the contrary--that is, in Chandeleur and Isle au Breton sounds--the waters and shores have not been examined by the Coast Survey and are but little known. Useful channels are reported to exist; so, also, convenient anchorages and places of refuge, for small vessels especially. There is a good anchorage inside of the Chandeleur on the north; and good holding ground behind Grand Gozier Island supplies an excellent harbor of refuge. There is also a channel of 5 fathoms around the south side of Isle au Breton, which terminates in an anchorage of 18 feet, well protected from easterly winds. But it is generally understood that the sounds are very shallow on the west shore, with numerous crooked channels leading into the various bayous, separating the infinite multitude of islands. The line of the shores takes the form of bays, separated from each other by long spits of lowland of marsh and sand. The military reconnoissance of 1842 furnishes a minute description of these bays, of the principal bayous leading out of them into the interior of the marsh of the Delta, of the inner lakes and swamps, and of the connections through them all with the Mississippi River. It is not difficult to conceive a state of things in which these water communications, that look like a labyrinth on the map, might be turned to account in military operations.


But it does not enter into our present views to consider this question, and we will pass therefore to the next division or section of the coast. We will notice in conclusion that the bays are a resort in summer for fishing parties and bathing parties. The waters abound with fish, and the islands and marshes with game. Hard sand beaches are to be found on the islands.


(c) The Delta of the Mississippi, including the Head of the Passes: The distance from New Orleans to the Head of the Passes by the river is about 95 or 100 miles; the average velocity of the river current varies from 2 to 4 miles an hour. At the Head of the Passes the river branches off in three different directions--to the east to the south, and to the southwest--and these branches, with the exception of' Pass … l'Outre, take the name of the course they follow. Two of them, the Pass … l'Outre and the South West Pass, retain the velocity of the river above the fork. The general character of the soil is soft mud, but in close proximity to the river the marsh is harder and more elevated.


From the narrow neck of land on which Forts Jackson and St. Philip stand the Mississippi runs for about 20 miles in nearly a south-east direction with an average width of about two-thirds of a mile and a varying depth of from 6 to 15 fathoms. At the termination of this distance it widens suddenly and blanches into its mouths. The Lower Mississippi is at its lowest level from November to January, when it begins to rise and continues till it reaches its highest state in May, which it maintains during June and July; the fall begins in August. The tides of the Delta are small, rising to between 1 and 2 feet and occurring once only in twenty-four hours. The water of the river, of a dirty yellow color, extends over 20 miles into the Gulf, and its coolness, compared with the higher temperature of the sea water, occasions fogs; and the increase of depth from the bar to the south and to the south and east rapidly, and more slowly to the north and east and south and west, added to the above features, all combine to render the approach to the Mississippi from the sea safe and easy.


We have observed that the river widens suddenly as it nears the fork; above it is 1 mile wide, and at the fork its breadth is 1 miles, and in this place the banks are much more solid and firm than at the Passes. In general, this compact ground is only a few hundred yards broad and consists of firm grazing pasture or dry wooded land. On the east bank the firm soil, beginning about 1 mile below the house of Richard Cubit, continues up 5 miles close along the edge of the river (see accompanying sketch). And the same is the case (nearly) on the opposite side. Numerous cattle graze on both banks, living there winter and summer. The west bank contains reed and canebrakes, but the east bank looks like cultivated and rich pasture ground. Opposite the "Jump" (see sketch) the shore is of the same character as near Cubitt's house and is used for grazing purposes. On the west side above the "Jump," a thick growth of wood, and bushes, running a few hundred yards back, extends several miles along the shore.


At the Head of the Passes, between the South West and South Passes, there formerly stood a large tower with a second-class light; some years ago the building was removed and the materials were used in constructing the tower at Pass … l'Outre; the brick foundation of the old tower still remains. The solid ground, which has been made by ditching and filling, has not been kept in order, and suffers from neglect. There is good anchorage here in 12 feet of water. We give a particular description of this place because it is to be used hereafter in our proposed plan of proceeding.


We will say a few words on the Passes, after having remarked that of the two fortifications of the Mississippi, Fort St. Philip is an irregular Spanish work that has been enlarged and strengthened by extensive outworks; and that Fort Jackson, situated just below the old French work, Fort Bourbon, is of modern construction, and is surrounded by swamps and bogs.


The depth of water in Pass … l'Outre, proper, one of the three branches of the Pass … l'Outre, which is itself one of the three great arms into which the Mississippi is divided at the fork, was, in 1852, 12 or 13 feet. The bar of this Pass, however, has shown for the last ten years a decided tendency to improve, and it is at present the best of the outlets.


We have said that in 1852 there were 12 or 13 feet on the bar; in 1860 there were 17 feet; in January, 1861, there were not less; but, owing to the soft bottom, a steamer drawing 19 feet can pass over at spring tides, and in 1860 a ship drawing 18 feet was taken out by a towboat without stopping. There is a light-house at Pass … l'Outre, and a settlement 3 miles above, at which there is a revenue station and a pilot station. The New Orleans and Mississippi Towboat Company has a coal depot, and the New Orleans and Belize Telegraph Company a terminus also, at this settlement. There is another settlement at the junction of the North East and South East passes (branches of the Pass … l'Outre) called the Balize (sea mark), and this word has been adopted as a general term for the whole Delia. Here stands a very largo observatory or lookout, some 70 or 80 feet in height, visible far out at sea, which resisted the severe gale of 1860. The town consists of about 50 houses, including several stores, a school, etc.


The South Pass, the second of the three principal arms or outlets of the river, is rarely entered by vessels of any kind, on account of the small depth of water on the bar (not more than 6 feet) and on account of the difficulty of navigating the Pass after crossing the bar up to the main river, a difficulty arising from the narrowness of the Pass even where the water is sufficient. There is a light-house at this Pass, but no other settlement.


The third and last of the great outlets is the South West Pass, which was formerly the deepest of all and the main channel of entrance for the commerce of New Orleans. The course over the bar is nearly straight, and up to 1852 there was never less than 15 feet of water, and sometimes 18 and 19 feet. Of late years this depth has diminished, according to the best information to be derived from pilots. There is now but little more than 13 feet on the bar, and the Pass has become inferior to Pass … l'Outre. There are about 30 private houses, inhabited principally by pilots and their families, a revenue station, and a telegraph office at the South West Pass; but no levees, as at the Balize, except a small one inclosing a private garden.


The bays and islands at the fort (so to speak) of the Delta are of no importance to our present investigation.


Fig, orange, pomegranate, lime, and citron trees are to be found on some of the islands. The bays are shoal, and, in some of them, particularly East Bay, there are numerous oyster beds.


(d) The west coast of the Delta to Bayou la Fourche: The hydrography of the coast to the westward of the Delta is the same as that to the northward, except that the islands lie closer to the marsh, and that the body of water inside of them is smaller. Advancing along the coast west of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 15 or 20 miles, the land becomes more firm; and still farther west on the La Fourche and its tributaries, the plantations and settlements are extensive and numerous. From the South West Pass to Grande Pass, Timbalier Bay, into which one of the outlets of the La Fourche discharges itself, it is 50 miles on a west course. North of this line, a deep gulf makes up about 20 miles, the northeast portion of which (Green Bay) extends to within 1 or 2 miles of the Mississippi River, and is bounded by the neck on which stands Fort Jackson. The water is shoal and the ground not well known, but it is reported that 8 or 10 feet can be carried up to the head of the bay. It is therefore one mode of approach to Fort Jackson. And, moreover, a bayou leads out of the northwest corner of Green Bay (into which boats of 3 feet draft can enter) and runs up in a line with the river, through Cyprien's Canal [Bayou], three-quarters of a mile long to the levee of the Mississippi 10 or 12 miles above Fort Jackson. This bayou connects also with Bayou Shute, which enters Bastian Bay, the next bay to the westward, into which enter several other bayous, not important (as far as they are known to us) in this enquiry.


But the next bay on the west, Barataria, is entitled to a more particular notice, because the first access to New Orleans west of the Delta, or Balize, is through this bay. The main entrance is through Grande [or Barataria] Pass, the bar of which had 8 feet of water on it in 1853, according to the Coast Survey. Between this bay and New Orleans there is a considerable trade by water through the bayous, in which several steamboats and more than a hundred luggers were engaged in 1853. The principal of these routes is by either Bayou St. Denis, or Grand Bayou, from the northwest corner of the bay, to Little Lake, thence by Bayou Pierrot [Perot] to Lake Washa [Ouacha], and thence by canal entering the river nearly opposite Carrollton, about 10 miles above the city; the whole distance is 65 miles, and the depth of water is from 4 to 6 feet. Again from the north end of this bay, Wilkinson's Bayou leads to the north and east toward the Mississippi, and thence the passage through is by Wilkinson's Canal, having 4 feet, by Smuggler's Bayou, with the same depth, and by several other bayous and canals through which 3 feet can be carried. And finally, Barataria Bayou, running toward English Turn in the river, is connected by a great system of canals (having from 2 to 4 feet depth) with the river opposite New Orleans and with nearly every plantation for 25 miles below. The northeast corner of Barataria Bay, called Bay Batiste, is supposed to approach the Mississippi within 5 miles; and so also Felix Bay on the north, which makes a neck of land only 8 or 10 miles across, about 60 miles above the South West Pass.


This description of Barataria Bay, its passes or entrances, its bayous, roads, and canals, its connections with the Mississippi and New Orleans, and its trade, are taken from the military reconnoissance of 1842, and from the reconnoissances and surveys of the Coast Survey of the United States. It might be extended and made more intelligible with the maps, but our purpose is to produce a strong and distinct impression of the importance of Barataria Bay and its relations to our future plans of operations.


From Barataria Bay the shore tends in a southwest direction nearly 25 miles to the entrance into Timbalier Bay, and in this distance there are several bays, but the only bayou of importance is La Fourche, and this is the largest stream in the whole Delta of the Mississippi to which this term is applied. La Fourche flows into the Gulf through three principal channels and several smaller ones; the largest mouth is Pass Fourchon. Pass Fourchon had 6 feet on the bar in 1854 and was then deepening; inside the bayou was quite deep. Three approaches from the Gulf of Mexico to the city of New Orleans, by Bayou La Fourche, are practicable; one through the whole bayou by the way of Donaldsonville and the Mississippi River; one by the bayou to Thibodeaux, and thence by the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad, and the third by the bayou and the Company Canal.


The first of these approaches requires 185 miles navigation in not less than probably 4 feet of water; the second requires 70 miles of navigation and 46 of railroad; the third, by the La Fourche and the Canal de la Compagnie [Company Canal], requires 45 miles of river navigation, and the addition of the canal route through Lake Salvador or Washa [Ouacha], of which the distance is not given; 4 feet can be carried this way.


From Donaldsonville to Thibodeaux, and even 20 miles below, both sides of the bayou are thickly settled, and rich plantations lie close to each other in succession; below this, some 25 miles farther, extends an interrupted cultivation.


(e) From Bayou La Fourche to Atchafalaya and Vermilion bays: About 25 miles to the south and west of Barataria entrance and about 60 miles from the South West Pass is the main entrance into Timbalier Bay, called Grande Pass. This bay is about 10 miles long and 4 broad, and is separated from another small bay to the northward by a line of islands; it is shallow, and not more than 6 feet of water can be taken in. In 1853 there were 11 feet on the bar at Grande Pass, of which there exists a preliminary reconnoissance by the Coast Survey of that date, similar to the sketch of the Pass Fourchon. West of Timbalier is Terre Bonne Bay, similar to it in general character; it is screened from the Gulf in part by the long island of Isle DerniŠre, and runs up 15 miles, north and west, into the marshes. The west end of the DerniŠre (the island is 22 miles long, with an average breadth of 1 mile) was once the resort of the surrounding parishes as a watering place, but the settlement which, in 1852, counted 100 houses, has since been nearly destroyed by a hurricane. This vicinity is one that requires careful navigation on account of the inequalities of the bottom. There are good channels and available anchorages for vessels of small draft possessed of a pilot's knowledge of the ground. This knowledge is furnished by the Coast Survey of the United States, but it would be out of place to cite it here, where our object is to describe the general hydrographical and topographical features, and to distinguish the mode and extent of preparation essential to an efficient blockade.


From Isle Derniere the coast trends W. N. W. 25 miles, and 5 northwest to the entrance of Atchafalaya Bay. Thence the trend of the coast is (45 miles) W. N. W.; and throughout the whole of this distance extends one vast sheet of water, divided into several arms, and separated from the Gulf by a series of oyster beds and by Marsh Island, 25 miles long and 8 broad.


These several arms are Atchafalaya, Cote Blanche, and Vermilion bays, the former of which is the largest bay on the coast and receives more water than any other, since through it the Atchafalaya River, the greatest branch of the Mississippi, discharges its waters. This bay is shallow, being much obstructed by banks of oysters and broken shells; the channels have but 6 or 7 feet of water. Fortunately we possess an admirable preliminary chart (by the Coast Survey) of the difficult entrance to and navigation of the east end of this bay, into which empties the Atchafalaya River, together with sailing directions, including sailing marks, buoys, and lights. They are the peculiar property of the seaman and pilot.


We return to the descriptive geography of this region. Atchafalaya River, which empties into the bay of the same name at its northeast corner, is the largest and most important stream from Galveston to the Balize. It receives many tributary streams and bayous, of which the most important is Bayou Plaquemine and the largest Bayou Teche. Bayou Plaquemine is the most important because it connects it with the Mississippi, and is the channel of trade between the country bordering on the Atchafalaya and New Orleans. After the Teche joins the Atchafalaya, the latter becomes nearly as broad as the Mississippi itself, though not so deep, yet there are 60 feet of water at its mouth. A very large trade is carried on in luggers and small steamboats on the Teche and its connecting waters.


That part of the Atchafalaya River, which is comprised between the bay and Grand Lake (called sometimes Chetimanches [Chestimachee] and sometimes Atchafalaya Lake) is more directly joined in trade and intercourse with New Orleans. In this space the river is navigable for the largest steamboats; the difficulty is in the bay below. The steamboat route from the lower Atchafalaya River, from Berwick landing, and from the Peche Bayou to New Orleans, is through Grand Lake, up Grand River, or Bayou, and by Bayou Plaquemine, entering the Mississippi at the town of Plaquemine; the distance is 108 miles.


This route was formerly the principal highway for all produce shipped to New Orleans; since, however, the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad has been in operation, the number of steamboats by Grand Lake has decreased, and a large amount of cotton, sugar, and molasses is transported on that road by the way of Thibodeauxville [Thibodeaux] and Algiers. This railroad (for Texas as it is called) has been running for several years from the city of New Orleans to the Atchafalaya River, terminating at Berwick Bay, about 10 miles below the mouth of Teche Bayou. This terminus is called Brashear City, where there is now a town; opposite is Berwick City, a town of greater pretensions. From Berwick west the road is still unfinished. Atchafalaya Bay is the most important of the three, on account of its business connections with the neighboring parishes and with New Orleans. Cote Blanche, divided into East and West Cote Blanche bays by Malony's [Marone] Point, on the mainland, and the northeast point of Marsh Island, is shallow, and encumbered with shoals composed principally of shells. Several channels run through the series of bays, lengthwise, in which 7 to 8 feet of water can be relied upon; but their directions and the positions of the shoals are liable to change from season to season.


Westernmost of the three is Vermilion Bay, about 15 miles long in an E. N. E. and W. S. W. direction, and 10 miles broad at its widest part, which is in the middle of its length.


This bay is quite shallow, excepting some small channels in the southwest corner, which afford good anchorage in 5 or 6 feet of water just inside of that entrance from the Gulf which is called Grande Pass. On the bar of this pass there is a depth of 9 feet. Marsh Island, which bounds Cote Blanche and a part of Vermilion bays on the south or Gulf side, is the largest and the last of islands lying on the coast from Mobile to Vermilion bays.


It is 25 miles long, and though somewhat marshy, as its name implies, can boast of some fine land, with oaks. There are several sugar plantations on it and also in the vicinity of the great bays it borders upon.


The examination of the shores of the great Delta of the Mississippi, which we have now completed, has been made with a twofold object; first, to point out its various connections and communications with the Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans, and, second, to exhibit the suitableness or unsuitableness of the bays, harbors, rivers, and bayous for naval operations.


It will be apparent to a careful reader of this memoir that New Orleans has so many lateral outlets and channels of trade, less direct and convenient indeed than the river, but not less certain and practicable, that the blockade of the river above does not close the port.


The question is, whether the present plan of proceeding should embrace the conquest of this city or the scaling up its trade and navigation. We regard its conquest as incompatible with the other nearer and more urgent naval and military operations in which the Government is now and will be for some time hereafter engaged. It is an enterprise of great moment, requiring the cooperation of a large number of vessels of war of a smaller class, but of formidable armament, a great many troops, and the conduct of sieges, and it will be accomplished with slow advances.


On the east side the defense of the city against an attack is well understood, and appears to be provided for. On the west side the channels by which the city must be approached are more shallow and more difficult, and there exist no such obvious military relations between the two sides as would suggest combined and simultaneous attempts from both quarters. We recommend, therefore, that the subject of the capture of New Orleans be deferred for the present; be deferred at least until we are prepared to ascend the river with vessels of war sufficiently protected to contend with the forts now standing and the temporary fortifications which, in the event of invasion, would be established at every defensible point.


As a final consideration, we may add that while the outlet of this great river has lost none of its value to the Southwestern States of the Union in consequence of the changes and improvements of recent times in the modes of interior communication, it is quite otherwise with the Western and Northwestern States. They are bound to the East and to the Atlantic Ocean by railroads and by water connections, through canals and the Great Lakes, which render them in a measure independent of the Mississippi for the means of access to the sea.


Instead, then, of presenting a plan for the capture of the city of New Orleans, we shall offer one for shutting it up, for suspending its trade, and obstructing the freedom of its intercourse with the ocean and with the neighboring coasts, feeling assured that the moral effect of such a course will be quite as striking as that of its possession by the United States. The details into which our notes have carried us in the beginning of this memoir can not but prove serviceable to the commander in chief of this station. We will lay down our recommendations briefly in order:


1. That complete military possession be taken of Ship Island as the depot, harbor of resort, and point d'appui of the blockading vessels, which will control the access to New Orleans through the lakes and along the east coast of the Delta. Ship Island is also the key to the blockade and possession of Mississippi Sound and the control of the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama; we shall have occasion, therefore, to recur to it when we speak of this section.


2. A persistent supervision and watchfulness kept up by cruising vessels of proper size along the east coast of the Delta, in Chandeleur and Isle au Breton sounds, and the Passes of the Mississippi, east and south. It may prove desirable for the promotion of this part of the service that the northwest extremity of the Chandeleur Islands should be seized and fortified, with special reference to the security of the light-house and the protection of the snug anchorage under this point.


3. The complete fortification of the fork of the Mississippi at or just above the Passes.


On this subject, and on the occupation of Ship Island and Barataria Bay, and their defenses, we shall have a word to say in a special memorandum.


4. A careful watch by cruising vessels over the Passes of the Mississippi from the south and west, and of the west coast of the Delta to Grand Pass, Barataria Bay.


5. The capture of Fort Livingston and the occupation of Barataria Bay, where vessels of the lightest draft must be employed to cruise in the upper waters and interrupt, as far as possible, the trade with New Orleans.


6. The blockade and supervision of the coast between Barataria and Atchafalaya bays, in the execution of which Caminada, Timbalier, Terre Bonne, and the smaller bays are to be visited.


7. The military and naval occupation of the east end of Atchafalaya Bay, and the frequent inspection, by cruisers of light draft, of Vermilion and C“te Blanche bays, which are traversed by the fiats that bring down sugar and cotton from the upper country.


We said on page 24 that Ship Island would constitute our naval headquarters for the projected operations in Mississippi Sound; and this introduces the fourth of the divisions into which we have separated the Gulf coasts, viz:


4. The coast of part of northern and western Florida and the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi, from the river Perdido to Ship Island: This section includes Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound, with its numerous and subsidiary waters.


This is a stretch of coast of but 75 nautical miles, the only interest of which attaches to Mobile entrance, bay, and city, and to the approaches.


The bar of Mobile entrance is next to that of Pensacola in depth, having 20 feet upon it, which can be carried to the fine protected anchorage known as the Lower Fleet. From this to the city wharves 8 feet can be carried. The entrance is defended by a finished work of considerable size (Fort Morgan) at Mobile Point, on the eastern side, and by a work in progress (Fort Gaines) of smaller dimensions, on Dauphin Island Point, on the western side.


Mobile City has a population of 41,131 by the last census, and is the great cotton exporting port of the Gulf, next to New Orleans. The Mobile River, the Alabama River, and its branches, head in the upper part of the State of Alabama. A railroad connects it with Cairo, at the entrance of the Ohio into the Mississippi River.


Besides the main entrance to Mobile Bay, there is an artificial side entrance between Dauphin Island and the mainland, at Grant's Pass, with 5 feet at low water and about 6 at high. This pass was excavated through oyster reefs and mud, and has remained open. There was a light there before the rebellion. This pass is 7 miles in a straight line from Fort Morgan, and 25 miles from the city of Mobile. Mississippi Sound has several good entrances directly from the Gulf. It is not known whether any attempt has yet been made to fortify them or the pass just mentioned. These are:


1. Through the east spit of Petit Bois a passage was cut in the hurricane of 1852, having 12 feet as the least water.


2. Horn Island Pass, between Petit Bois and Horn Island, has 16 feet water.


3. There is a fine, wide channel between Ship and Cat islands, with 21 feet least water, except upon two 17-foot lumps. This, however, is in part closed by the fort on Ship Island.


There is a good channel from Ship Island to Dauphin Island for vessels drawing not more than 15 feet.


Cat and Ship Island harbors are probably both fortified. Into the former 17 feet, and into the latter 19 feet can be carried. The possession of the eastern part of Mississippi Sound, or the blockade of the entrances, will be necessary, besides watching the main entrance of the bay, to the effective blockade of Mobile.


Unless Grant's Pass is effectually defended, or is obstructed, the defenses at Mobile may be turned by a force of suitable character.


Before speaking of the approaches to the city of Mobile we must recur to the fortifications on Ship Island, which constitute one of our principal means for closing up New Orleans.


The military possession of Ship Island is no less important to our naval operations in Mississippi Sound than to the blockade of New Orleans.


We require it as a depot of coal and provisions, as well as a harbor for repairs and refuge. The small semicircular work which was commenced by the U hired States, and has since been seized by the rebels, was scarcely above ground when the rebellion broke out. We regard it as not much more defensible than the Hatteras forts. However this may be, the entire possession of Ship Island and its substitution for Pensacola as a naval station are indispensable, and its defense might be partly naval and partly military.


The most hasty glance at the map will be sufficient to recognize at once the importance (not to be overrated) of a rigid blockade on a portion of the coast, distinguished by the geographical features which are most favorable to trade and intercourse by water, and sheltered from the destructive influence of storms by a barrier of out-lying islands.


It fortunately happens here, as elsewhere, that the blockading fleet can perform its duty strictly while it is enjoying the protection of the enemy's harbors.

We must add a word on the approach to Mobile by land.


From the Gulf shore, the nearest land approach to Mobile leads from Pascagoula 45 miles by hard, level, sandy roads through pine woods, clear of underbrush, and easily known by the telegraph poles.


Six miles out, a rough bridge of 30 feet crosses a deep, muddy stream, bordered with dense bushes.


Thence on about 30 miles farther the route is over flat country, with only scattering log houses, and a low population, to Dog River, which is 40 feet wide, muddy, and unfordable. The well-worn bridge there has probably been replaced. Yellow pine is plenty near both streams; other streams along the road are mere rivulets of fresh water.


From Dog River to Mobile the track rolls gently, showing better land (sparsely settled by uncultivated people); and at a distance of 9 miles it meets Government street, Mobile, about 2 miles west of the Mobile wharves.


There is a deep ravine on the road, perhaps not far from the Dog River.


Mobile may also be reached from Pensacola by the Perdido Bay and River: and from Portersville, Ala., a small village opposite the west end of Dauphin Island, through which the New Orleans mail once passed, having been brought from Mobile by stages and carried thence to New Orleans by steamboats. We can furnish some of the particulars concerning the route (from the archives of the Coast Survey) when they are wanted.


But we will not lengthen out this already tedious memoir.


In this paper we have treated, first, the great Delta of the Mississippi from its eastern to its extreme western boundary; and, second, in connection with it, as an inseparable part of the system of operations recommended, Mississippi Sound and Mobile, with its adjacent waters.


We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servants,

Captain, U. S. Navy, President.
Superintendent U. S. Coast Survey, Member.
Major, U. S. Engineer, Member.
Commander, U. S. Navy, Member and Secretary.

Recommended Reading: Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Studies in Maritime History Series). From Library Journal: From the profusion of books about Confederate blockade running, this one will stand out for a long time as the most complete and exhaustively researched. …Wise sets out to provide a detailed study, giving particular attention to the blockade runners' effects on the Confederate war effort. It was, he finds, tapping hitherto unused sources, absolutely essential, affording the South a virtual lifeline of military necessities until the war's last days. This book covers it all: from cargoes to ship outfitting, from individuals and companies to financing at both ends. An indispensable addition to Civil War literature.

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Recommended Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart, Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's (quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy dictated by the White House. Continued below...

The naval blockade of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River


Recommended Reading: A History of the Confederate Navy (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: One of the most prominent European scholars of the Civil War weighs in with a provocative revisionist study of the Confederacy's naval policies. For 27 years, University of Genoa history professor Luraghi (The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South) explored archival and monographic sources on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a convincing argument that the deadliest maritime threat to the South was not, as commonly thought, the Union's blockade but the North's amphibious and river operations. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, the author shows, thus focused on protecting the Confederacy's inland waterways and controlling the harbors vital for military imports. Continued below…

As a result, from Vicksburg to Savannah to Richmond, major Confederate ports ultimately were captured from the land and not from the sea, despite the North's overwhelming naval strength. Luraghi highlights the South's ingenuity in inventing and employing new technologies: the ironclad, the submarine, the torpedo. He establishes, however, that these innovations were the brainchildren of only a few men, whose work, although brilliant, couldn't match the resources and might of a major industrial power like the Union. Nor did the Confederate Navy, weakened through Mallory's administrative inefficiency, compensate with an effective command system. Enhanced by a translation that retains the verve of the original, Luraghi's study is a notable addition to Civil War maritime history. Includes numerous photos.


Recommended Reading: Naval Campaigns of the Civil War. Description: This analysis of naval engagements during the War Between the States presents the action from the efforts at Fort Sumter during the secession of South Carolina in 1860, through the battles in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River, and along the eastern seaboard, to the final attack at Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina in January 1865. This work provides an understanding of the maritime problems facing both sides at the beginning of the war, their efforts to overcome these problems, and their attempts, both triumphant and tragic, to control the waterways of the South. The Union blockade, Confederate privateers and commerce raiders are discussed, as is the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Continued below…

An overview of the events in the early months preceding the outbreak of the war is presented. The chronological arrangement of the campaigns allows for ready reference regarding a single event or an entire series of campaigns. Maps and an index are also included. About the Author: Paul Calore, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, was the Operations Branch Chief with the Defense Logistics Agency of the Department of Defense before retiring. He is a supporting member of the U.S. Civil War Center and the Civil War Preservation Trust and has also written Land Campaigns of the Civil War (2000). He lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts.


Recommended Reading: Last Flag Down: The Epic Journey of the Last Confederate Warship. From Publishers Weekly: Thriller writer Baldwin (The Eleventh Plague et al.) joins forces with the prolific Powers (coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers et al.) to come up with a fast-reading Civil War true adventure saga centered a on young CSA navy lieutenant. The 24-year-old Conway Whittle, an ancestor of Baldwin's, was assigned as first lieutenant and executive officer on the Confederate raider Shenandoah late in the war. The ship sailed from London disguised as a merchant vessel and underwent a memorable cruise round the globe, attacking and destroying Yankee merchant ships and whalers. Whittle and company kept up their daring sea raids until August of 1865, when they learned that the war had ended five months earlier. Continued below...

The ship returned to England, having flown the last Confederate flag at sea in defiance of the U.S. Baldwin and Powers recount their tale in a lively, evocative style and may be forgiven for being overly fond of their hero. Whittle, they say, "was as good a man as history seems able to produce: a warrior of courage inconceivable to most people; a naval officer of surpassing calm and intelligence; a seeker after Christian redemption; a steadfast lover; a student of human nature; a gentle soul; a custodian of virtue."

Recommended Reading: Wolf of the Deep: Raphael Semmes and the Notorious Confederate Raider CSS Alabama (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: When you think of Confederate Civil War heroes, the names Lee, Jackson, Stuart and Longstreet, among others, come to mind. Historian Fox (The Mirror Makers, et al.) makes a convincing case that Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes should be added to that list, at least because of his brilliant seafaring skills. Fox's fact-filled, cleanly written account of Semmes's life focuses on his amazing 22-month stint as captain of the most famous Confederate privateer, the Alabama. Under Semmes's command, the Alabama roamed the world's waterways for nearly two years, seizing or sinking nearly 70 Union merchant schooners, whalers and other commercial ships to counteract the Yankee blockade of Southern ports, until June 1864, when the Alabama was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsage. Continued below...

Born in 1809 into a slave-owning, tobacco-farming family in southern Maryland, Semmes was orphaned at an early age, grew up in Washington, D.C. and joined the U.S. Navy at 17, remaining a staunch Southern partisan who espoused racist views and strongly believed in slavery. After serving without any particular distinction for 35 years, he made his mark with the Confederate navy. This well-conceived and executed military biography will have extra appeal for those who are familiar with nautical terms.

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