FARRAGUT had made up his mind to run by the forts at the close of the fifth day's bombardment; but the necessity of repairing damages to two of his vessels delayed him twenty-four hours longer. He had intended to lead the column in his flagship Hartford; but in the final disposition he gave that post to Captain Theodorus Bailey, at his own earnest request, who hoisted his red flag on the gunboat Cayuga.
As early as April 6th Farragut had reconnoitred the forts in broad daylight, going up within cannon-shot of Fort Jackson in the Kennebec, where he sat in the cross-trees, glass in hand, till the Confederate gunners began to get the range of his ship. The attempt to pass was to be made in the night of April 23d; and, as the moon would rise about half-past three o'clock in the morning, the fleet was warned to expect the signal for sailing at about two o'clock. In this, as in the case of nearly all important operations early in the war, the enemy were mysteriously apprised of what was to be done. On the 23d the forts hardly fired a shot all day, though Porter kept up a terrific bombardment.
In answer to a despatch from General Mansfield Lovell in New Orleans that day, General John K. Duncan, commanding Fort Jackson, wrote: "Heavy and continued bombardment all night and still progressing. No further casualties, except two men slightly wounded. God is certainly protecting us. We are still cheerful, and have an abiding faith in our ultimate success. We are making repairs as best we can. Our barbette guns are still in working order. Most of them have been disabled at times. The health of the troops continues good. Twenty-five thousand [in reality about five thousand] thirteen-inch shells have been fired by the enemy, one thousand of which fell in the fort. They must soon exhaust themselves; if not, we can stand it as long as they can."
At sunset the wind had died away, except a slight breeze from the south, and there was a haze upon the water. Lieutenant Commanding C. H. B. Caldwell was sent up in the Itasca to examine the obstructions and find whether the passage was still open. At eleven o'clock he gave the signal that it was, and about the same time the enemy opened fire on him, sent down burning rafts, and lighted the immense piles of wood which they had prepared on the shore near the ends of the chain.
Soon after midnight the hammocks were stowed, and the work of quietly clearing the ships for action began. At five minutes before two o'clock the signal to weigh anchor-two ordinary red lights at the peak of the flagship - was displayed; but it was half past three, the hour of moonrise, before all was ready. In the light of the blazing rafts and bonfires, moon or no moon made little difference now.
Porter with his gunboats, and Swartwout in the Portsmouth, had been directed to move up-stream to Fort Jackson and engage its water battery while the ships were going by, which they promptly did.