Monday, April 30, 2012

Battle of New Orleans-One Vs. A Hundred

Lt. Beverly Kennon
As mentioned in the April 25 post, the Confederate forces afloat at New Orleans were very much outgunned and outnumbered.  With resources scarce and little chance of victory, standard naval warfare dictoms would advocate caution ("Live to fight another day," etc..).  One man who must have slept through that part of his Naval Academy training was Lieutenant Beverly Kennon, the commanding officer of the Louisiana state steamer Governor Moore.

 In his post-war account of the battle, Kennon made sure everyone knew that he did not serve in the Confederate Navy, but rather in the service of the Louisiana State Navy.    Kennon originally served with the CSN, but had a major falling out with Commodore Franklin Buchanan while serving aboard CSS Patrick Henry in Hampton Roads. He resigned his commission and returned home to New Orleans.  Thus, His Battles and Leaders account of the battle is tainted with a certain amount of bitterness.  

In the account, Kennon frequently refers to the lack of coordination among afloat Confederate units.  CSN ships operated as one, but state and Confederate army vessels operated separately from them.  Even the state vessels tended to operate independently from each other.

His ship and other Confederate gunboats were anchored upstream from the forts when the battle started.  Upon seeing Farragut's squadron pass the forts and approach the Confederate ships, Kennon decided to pit his one ship up against the entire squadron.  He implies that made the decision to attack in the hopes that other CSN or LSN ships would follow his lead.  After he personally "shot [Moore's] blue light out at the masthead with a musket," to better cloak his vessel, Kennon waited near the river's shore until the right moment.  He targeted the gunboat USS Varuna and charged.   Kennon fired the ship's forward gun through his own and then rammed Varuna, twice.  The U.S. Navy gunboat began to sink.
At this point, USS Oneida, Iroquois, Pensacola, Pinola, and Cayuga came rushing to Varuna's rescue.  This still did not deter Kennon and charged towards Pensacola.   However, his executive officer, who manned Governor Moore's helm,  did not share his captain's bravery. "Why do this? We have no men left; I'll be d---- if I stand here to be murdered," he is to have said.    The XO put the ship hard astarboard, opening Governor Moore to a murderous broadside from  Pensacola.  Moore was disabled by the shots, eventually caught fire, and sank. 

Governor Moore tries to flee, while USS Pensacola levels the Confederate steamer with a full broadside.
After the war, Kennon stood by his aggressive tactics and slammed just about everyone in the Confederate Navy's leadership team for the failure at New Orleans.  To be sure, he got no help from other Confederate ships.  Stonewall Jackson did ram Varuna, but only after Varuna was sinking and while Stonewall Jackson was beating a hasty retreat towards New Orleans.  The gunboat CSS Jackson, meanwhile, did its best impression of Captain Pierre Landais and fired at anyone.  Two of Jackson's shots hit Governor Moore.

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