Monday, August 13, 2012

Farragut's Punitive Raid on Donaldsonville

If siege craft could be classified as an occurrence where ancient rules of war still applied and honor still existed, guerrilla/partisan activity would be its polar opposite.  The activity tended to bring out the worst in partisans trying to do anything they could to harass an enemy that possessed superior firepower and numbers.  Likewise, the uniformed sailor/soliders' attempts to suppress the partisan activity bore little fruit.  This led to more extreme measures.

One of many such exchanges came to a head in early August 1862 in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.  Located on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Donaldsonville once served as Louisiana's state capital in the 1830s.   Farragut's ships and U.S. Army transports frequently passed by the town, moving back and forth from the front lines near Baton Rouge. 

As the Union ships passed by Donaldsonville, a group of "partisan rangers," led by local businessman Captain Phillippe Landry, frequently took pot shots at them. On the evening of August 6, 1862, Landry's men escalated their attacks by firing several volleys of musket and small cannon fire at the Union army transport Sallie Robinson.   A few minutes later, a second group of partisans fired at another ship that they thought was an unarmed transport.  It turned out to be the powerful steam sloop USS Brooklyn.  The warship responded with one shot from her aft pivot IX-inch Dahlgren, but the partisans had already withdrawn. 

Upon being told of these attacks, Farragut issued a short and stern warning to the citizens of Donaldsonville "Every time my boats are fired upon, I will burn a portion of your town." 

USS Hartford
The citizens either didn't receive the message or willfully ignored Farragut.  The partisans attacked the transport St. Charles the following night.  True to his word, Farragut advised Donaldsonville to evacuate all women and children on August 10. USS Hartford and Brooklyn then opened fired.  The ships' gunners specifically targeted Landry's hotel, his private residence, and any other home or business of a known partisan.  Several buildings were destroyed and burned to the ground. Farragut also accepted a dozen slaves seeking freedom and seized several heads of cattle and sheep. 

As uncivilized as it seems, the punitive action worked.  Realizing that they had no effective means of fighting back against such firepower and that future partisan attack would only bring more destruction and loss of property, plantation owners from the parishes of Accession and St. James passed a resolution demanding Governor Thomas Moore do all he could to stop partisans from attacking U.S. Navy ships.  The river raids stopped and so did the Navy's retaliations.  The plantations even swore a loyalty oath to the U.S. Government (so they could keep their slaves).  However, they secretly supported the partisans' ground operations for the rest of the war. 

1 comment:

  1. The strategy worked for Farragut. In today's classroom of military science, the tactic of arbitrarily destroying private property in that manner, goes against modern counter-insurgency thought.