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Admiral Farragut and his achievements. The Federal and Con
federate naval forces compared. --Abortive attempts at shipbuilding in Confederate ports.—The Ordnance Service of the Confederate Navy Department.Financial arrangements at Richmond and in Europe.- English ironworkers sent out to the Confederate Government. — The Confederate States Representatives at Bermuda, Nassau, and Havana.—The purchase and despatch of the Coquette. -Vessels bought for the commercial purposes of the Confederate Government. -- Embarrassments arising from speculative contractors and from friendly offers of vessels.-Commander M. F. Maury.The Georgia and the Rappahannock.—The Pampero.—Total cost of the Alabama, Florida, and Shenandoah.
When Mr. Stephen R. Mallory was placed at the head of the Navy Department in the Provisional Government which was hastily organized at Montgomery in February, 1861, there was but little to gratify his ambition in the high office assigned him. The entire want of the commonest, as well as the most essential, materials and resources for building and equipping a navy was painfully apparent, and he must have felt how impossible it would prove for him to satisfy the public expectations, or to accomplish anything that would be accepted as evidence of due forethought and energy on his part. In war, people hope for brilliant operations, if not always for complete success, and as it is impossible for a Department of State to explain either its purposes or the means of fulfilling them to the general public, the absence of striking results is often attributed to the want of genius to plan or of energy and skill in administration.
It is difficult to imagine a more troublesome and trying position than that which was thrust upon Mr. Mallory. His colleague at the War Office was compelled to assume grave responsibilities, and to undertake a burdensome task. The lack of military resources was quite as manifest as the want of naval materials, but there was plenty of bone and sinew in the country, and hosts of ardent, gallant spirits, and these required no urging to rally them to the flag. They were as good material for soldiers as could be found, and the Secretary of War was able to collect and organize a force which met with a notable success at a very early period of the contest, and the army and its administrative staff were launched into public notice, and introduced to national favour, with a prestige that the sister Department could not imitate and the sister service could not rival.
Nothing could induce me to disparage the professional ability, the sense of honour, or the gallantry of those officers of the United States navy who remained, if I may use the phraseology of the period, “faithful to the old flag,' an expression which in plain language simply means that the officers from the North retained their commissions in the navy of a Federal Union composed of their own native States. But I feel bound to say that I am not restrained from criticism or reproach by the vigilant and resolute exertion of any moral force opposing and overcoming a severe and acrimonious spirit. I neither feel now, nor have I ever been moved to, the slightest sentiment of ill-will against the personnel of the United States navy, and I have no grudge to gratify, and no personal injury to retaliate. There is
therefore no temptation for me to depreciate the exertions of that corps during the Civil War, or to intimate that the victories achieved by United States ships over the very inadequate resistance the Confederates were able to oppose to them have given the full measure of the skill and daring of the American navy.
Any fair critic will admit that Farragut showed that he had the qualities in kind which make a great naval commander. To what degree he possessed them can hardly be said to have been fully tested. There was undoubtedly energy in preparation, and an admirable exhibition of personal resource and courage in his operations on the Mississippi and at Mobile, but then the inefficient armament of the forts, the insufficiency of the artificial obstructions, and the feebleness of the opposing Confederate vessels, are so strikingly manifest to those who have been able to obtain trustworthy reports, that the success achieved cannot be regarded with much surprise, while on the other hand defeat could only have been the result of signal failure in the execution. From the performances of the United States navy during the Civil War, it may be fairly inferred that there is more ability in the service than the opportunities revealed ; and I have no doubt that if the occasion had required greater exertion and higher professional qualities, the necessary fortitude and skill would have been forthcoming
Lord Napier of Magdala was greatly commended, and was raised to the peerage, because he organized and carried out the expedition to Abyssinia with much judgment, prudence, and skill, and the final movements were so rapid that he effected a complete success with very slight loss to his own forces. He was justly thought to have exhibited a rare union of military qualities, to wit, the faculty of duly proportioning the means to the end, combined with a comprehensive knowledge of strategy in design and tactical skill in execution. The British Government and the military critics perceived that the occasion did not exhaust his powers, but that there remained behind a reserve of latent strength which might be relied upon in case of a future and greater demand.
The honours conferred upon him were intended, therefore, to mark the estimate which had been formed of his capacity ; but no one thought of comparing the march to Magdala with Bonaparte's swoop upon the plains of Piedmont and Lombardy in 1796, and neither English poet nor prose writer has ever linked the names of Napier and Napoleon in the same military chaplet.
Farragut's honours were equally well earned, and no one can say that he might not have rivalled the historic admirals of by-gone years if he had experienced the same training, and had been put to the same tests ; but the run past the forts on the Mississippi, and the entry into Mobile Bay, are no more comparable to Nelson's exploits at Copenhagen and Aboukir than the march through Abyssinia and the storming of Magdala are deserving of comparison with the rapid advance of the French into Northern Italy and the terrible passage of the bridge of Lodi.' There should be a fitness in similitudes, otherwise what is meant for praise degenerates into adulation.
It has been written that an indiscreet friend is more dangerous than a prudent enemy. Admiral Farragut commanded the largest and most powerful force that had ever been controlled by any American naval officer, and I have always thought that the consequences which resulted from the operations of that force in the VOL. II.
waters of the Mississippi were more fatal to the Confederacy than any of the military campaigns. The achievements of Admiral Farragut’s fleet enabled General Grant to cross the Mississippi with safety, and to get into the rear of Vicksburgh. The fall of that essential position was thus assured.
David Porter's flotilla, which had been working down from the Ohio, was able to unite with Farragut’s fleet, which had forced its way up from the Gulf of Mexico, and the Confederacy was thus finally cut in twain. Besides the large number of admirable fighting-men Texas could and did contribute to the Confederate army, that great State had become the chief source of supply for cattle, horses, and other essentials. The entire control of the Mississippi by the United States naval forces, which resulted from the fall of Vicksburgh and Port Hudson, was a fatal blow to the Confederacy, and reduced the war from the position of a contest having many probabilities of success, to a purely defensive struggle for safety.
So far as can be learned from the current histories of the period, the above-mentioned decisive results were chiefly due to the exertions of Farragut, supplemented and assisted by the untiring exertions of David D. Porter (now Admiral Porter). Those two naval commanders used the forces under their respective commands with daring and persistent energy, and a nearer approach to intuitive genius than was exhibited by any of the military leaders on the Federal side, and they have won for the navy the chief credit for the ultimate success of the United States. There can be no doubt that Generals Grant and Banks dawdled about Vicksburgh and Port Hudson for a considerable time to very little purpose, and there is nothing in the published records to show that they would ever have got possession of