You cannot just look at an 1861 map and say all southerners fought for the Confederacy and all northerners fought for the Union. Allegiances were a mixed bag. Some southerners were passionately loyal to the Stars and Stripes. Some northerners had forged family ties with southerners. General George Thomas of Virginia, the Rock of Chickamauga, and Admiral David Farragut of Tennessee were among the better known southerners who retained their allegiance to the Union when their home states seceded. On the other side, Pennsylvania-born John Pemberton led the rebels’ defense of Vicksburg and Maryland-born New York City Deputy Street Commissioner Mansfield Lovell cast his lot with the Confederates.
There are many more examples, but perhaps the most ironic of them all were Farragut and Lovell, who found themselves facing off against one another in the New Orleans campaign. Not only was Farragut southern born, he had twice married southern women, his first wife having died in 1840. He also had a great affinity for Norfolk, Virginia, where he served shortly before the war. Having gone to sea at the age of nine (that’s right, the age of nine!), he was a fifty-one year naval veteran when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in 1861. Because of the state of his birth and his marriage to a Virginian, Farragut’s superiors so questioned his loyalty that he was relegated to a seat on the Naval Retirement Board.
In late 1861, however, Farragut’s foster brother, David Porter, convinced Navy Assistant Secretary Fox that Farragut was loyal to the Union cause and had the right stuff to lead a maritime assault on New Orleans, whose capture might help convince European leaders that the rebels lacked the military resources to hold on to a world-class port city.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis had selected Mansfield Lovell, a 39-year-old West Pointer to defend the city. When he arrived in New Orleans, Lovell found the city wholly unprepared and could only hope that the forts south of the city, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, would discourage the Union navy. The Union navy began firing on Fort Jackson on Good Friday, April 18. Farragut intended to reduce both forts to rubble within two days. After six days of unproductive shelling, Farragut decided the forts posed no real threat to his armada’s objective so he left the battered forts behind him and led his fleet north to New Orleans.
For his part, Lovell requested but did not receive help from Richmond. He attempted a variety of defenses, including installing a chain boom across the Mississippi and equipping sidewheel steamboats with cannon. They were no match for the Union fleet. On April 29, the United States flag flew above City Hall and two days later General Benjamin Butler’s Union troops occupied the city.
Northerners honored Farragut, who went on to lead the federal navy to other victories and lived out a distinguished naval career. Southerners never forgave Lovell for the fall of New Orleans. Ultimately, Lovell returned to an engineering career in New York, where he served under the supervision of a former Union general. In view of the South’s failure to appreciate his efforts, perhaps Lovell should have chosen blue rather than gray.
Bruce Catton, Terrible Swift Sword (1963).
Shelby Foote, The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958).