Southern Discomfort

In 1861, New Orleans was the jewel in the Confederate crown, the fourth largest city in the country and unquestionably the richest in the South. With the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made certain this ripe plum fell hard and fast. He put her conquest at the top of his priority list for the simple reason that whoever held the city controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River, and he sweetened the deal by promising to make whoever took New Orleans a lieutenant-general in the Union Army.


New Orleans's status as a world class port is evidenced in this forest of ships' smokestacks.

New Orleans’s status as a world class port is evidenced in this waterfront forest of ship smokestacks.

Anticipating the attack, the Confederacy beefed up defenses at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which faced each other seventy miles downriver, and went on the offensive when they learned the Union Navy had entered the river from the Gulf of Mexico. Feisty rebel Commodore George Hollins cobbled together a haphazard armada of six armed riverboats which he christened his “mosquito fleet.” In October, 1861, catching the Yankee ships unaware, Hollins not only damaged the larger, more powerful fleet but chased it back into the Gulf. Humiliated, the Union struck back in April with a bigger, better-equipped fleet, which the Confederates hoped to block by linking their two forts with a great chain. Assaulted by tons of debris carried by spring floodwater, the chain was badly damaged and hastily rebuilt with inferior materials. A Union ship eventually found a gap, and, despite heavy shelling from the forts, sailed through with the rest of the fleet following. Hopelessly outnumbered, Confederate Major General Mansfield Lovell knew he could not defend a low-lying city rung by levees and high water. Floating above the town, enemy ships could aim down into the streets and shoot people like fish in a barrel or, worse, blow up the levees and flood New Orleans in a matter of minutes. Having no alternative, Lovell ordered his troops onto trains and sent them north while remaining behind to greet the enemy alone.

Confederate General Mansfield Lovell faced the Union forces alone.

Confederate General Mansfield Lovell greeted the Union forces alone.

Panic naturally ensued when the defenseless city learned the enemy was sailing unopposed up the Mississippi. Foresighted Confederates had removed $4 million from the Louisiana banks, but 15,000 bales of cotton sat unprotected on the levee. Arriving under the command of David (“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”) Farragut, the Yankees promptly torched the bales along with over two dozen ships and steamboats, turning the waterfront into a sea of flames. New Orleans, the Queen City of the South, had fallen without a single loss of life, but peace was only an illusion. Within weeks, the Confederacy’s first martyr, William Bruce Mumford, would be hanged at the United States Mint in New Orleans. His tragic tale will be told in a follow-up to this blog.


With the fall of New Orleans, the dream that was the Old South began unraveling, romance and all.

Note: William Mumford and the fall of New Orleans figure prominently in my time travel book, Still Time.


  1. Karen Derderian
    Nov 4, 2014

    Can’t wait to hear more about the tragic tale of William Bruce Mumford!!

  2. Liz
    Nov 12, 2014

    I’m a little late coming to this party, but I say, Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead to the rest of the tragic tale…

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