On the night of March 14-15, 1863, US Navy
Admiral David Farragut was leading a seven ship fleet attempting to pass the Confederate river batteries positioned along the bluffs at Port Hudson. The ultimate goal was Federal control of commerce and shipping up and down the river from Vicksburg to Port Hudson and to cut the Confederacy in half. However, the formidable firepower of the guns of Port Hudson were to make this a hazardous journey for the well-armed Federal fleet. Confederate units on the west side of the river lit bonfires which helped to silhouette the ships, aiding the soldiers firing from the 60-80 foot bluffs of Port Hudson. The first ship to attempt passage was the Hartford, with Admiral Farragut aboard, escorted by the Albatross. In spite of heavy fire from the Confederate batteries, these two ships made it up the river past Port Hudson.
Following behind were the Richmond, a sister ship to the Hartford, escorted by the Genessee. They were heavily damaged and disabled, forcing them to limp back down river out of harm’s way. The Monongahela and the Kieno, were next in line, and were damaged to the point they lost power and drifted downstream until grounded across from the Confederate batteries, then drifting downstream to safety.
The Mississippi came streaming upriver without escort to be pounded by the guns from the bluffs. Smoke created by the bonfires, cannon fire and burning ships made navigations difficult. In the confusion, the crew of the Mississippi mistakenly thought they had cleared the batteries and made it to the sharp left bend in the river. They turned the ship too soon, running her into the muddy shoal of the opposite bank. Some of her crew was captured by Confederate soldiers on the bank. Others took to lifeboats and headed downriver to escape the barrage. The Mississippi eventually floated free to drift downriver. Fires burning on the ship ignited the gun powder and ammunition stores, creating a huge explosion heard miles downriver in Baton Rouge. The Essex did not attempt passage, remaining downstream providing cover fire along with the mortar schooners.
Although the Mississippi River remained in Federal control until the end of the war, the resounding defeat of this mission was a great victory for the Confederate forces. The 100 gun strong fleet was soundly repulsed by the 19 large cannons atop the bluffs at Port Hudson. Admiral Farragut was isolated upriver for some time, with no knowledge as to the condition of his fleet. It would be weeks before the Richmond, the Genessee, the Monongahela and the Kieno would return to operational status. The fleet would not be reunited with Admiral Farragut until the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson after July 9th, 1863.