Friday, February 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt nine)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Dropping anchor, Farragut allowed the mayor to choose: he could either raise the Union flag or watch his city be turned to rubble by the fleet’s guns. When the mayor offered a surly no, the admiral sent marines ashore to raise the red, white, and blue. At last the Crescent City and the mouth of the great river—the strategic endpoint of Winfield Scott’s original plan for breaking the Confederacy—once again belonged to the Union.

The capture of New Orleans was a devastating blow to the Confederacy: “the great catastrophe,” as Jefferson Davis called it, “the fall of our chief commercial city, and the destruction of the naval vessels on which our hopes most rested for the protection of the lower Mississippi and the harbors of the Gulf.” The Rebel diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote: “New Orleans gone—and with it the Confederacy. Are we not cut in two?”

The news astounded European leaders; Charles Frances Adams reported “general incredulity.” The French government, which of all institutions should have appreciated the strategic importance of the mouth of North American’s greatest river, tried to minimize the significance of Farragut’s coup. When Ambassador Dayton mentioned the capture to Foreign Minister Thouvenel, the Frenchman angrily jabbed at a map of the United States, pointing to the empty interior of the Deep South. The Confederates could not be beaten, he scoffed, because “they would retire there”—where he was pointing—and “it was a vast country.”

But if the French didn’t understand that the South’s navigable rivers made it vulnerable to attack, Lincoln and others in Washington did. New Orleans was viewed as the beginning of the end.

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