Mansfield Lovell

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(October 20, 1822–June 1, 1884) Confederate General

Lovell was a capable commander, but he had the misfortune of trying to defend weakly held New Orleans against superior Union forces. Officially exonerated for the loss, he was never fully trusted thereafter and spent the balance of the Civil War in minor commands.

Mansfield Lovell was born in Washington, D. C., on October 20, 1822, the son of an army surgeon, Gen. Joseph Lovell. He was admitted to the U. S. Military Academy in 1838 and graduated four years later, ninth in a class of 56. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Fourth U. S. Artillery, Lovell reported for duty in Texas and performed several years of garrison duty under Gen. Zachary Taylor. When the Mexican-American War erupted in 1846, he accompanied Taylor’s invasion of northern Mexico; he was wounded and won a brevet promotion for gallantry at Monterrey on September 18-21. While recuperating he served as an aide-de-camp to Gen. John A. Quitman. The following year Lovell joined Gen. Winfield Scott’s column as it advanced upon Mexico City. He fought conspicuously in the storming of Chapultepec on September 14, 1847, receiving a second brevet promotion to captain. He served several more years of frontier duty until 1854, then resigned his commission to work at an ironworks in New Jersey. In 1858, Lovell relocated to New York City, becoming the first superintendent of street improvement and befriending Gustavus W. Smith, a future Confederate general. When the Civil War commenced in April 1861, Smith departed immediately, but Lovell lingered indecisively at New York for several months. He finally tendered his services to the Confederacy that September, but the delay engendered great suspicion as to his actual loyalty.

Lovell enjoyed a pristine military reputation before the war, so on October 7, 1861, he gained an appointment as a major general. Furthermore, he was entrusted with the command of Department No. 1-the city of New Orleans. This strategic location controlled access of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and also obstructed all Union advances up the mighty waterway. When Lovell arrived in New Orleans he was aghast to find that the city’s manpower had been stripped for service in other theaters. His command consisted of only 4,500 ill-trained and ill-armed militia and a handful of steamships under construction. Nevertheless, he threw himself into strengthening the defenses of New Orleans with commendable energy. He especially strengthened Forts St. Philip and Jackson, which controlled the approaches on the Mississippi, 75 miles downstream. These were the city’s main defenses, and it was hoped their presence would deter a Union fleet from passing. The entire scheme was far less than satisfactory, but Lovell, given to drinking and boasting, made it clear to the Southern press that the city could be held.

On April 8, 1862, a fleet under Adm. David G. Farragut and Cmdr. David D. Porter appeared in the mouth of the river, apparently intent upon capturing New Orleans. For two days, Porter’s gunboats pounded Fort Jackson with little success. Their failure prompted Farragut to run past the forts at night, which was brilliantly accomplished on April 24, 1862. Having then landed a large army under Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, the fleet proceeded upstream and pulled up alongside the unprotected city. Lovell, realizing the hopelessness of his situation, promptly evacuated his troops and marched north. He was roundly criticized in the Confederate press, but several military figures, especially Gen. Robert E. Lee, testified to the correctness of his withdrawal. A court of inquiry also cleared him of responsibility for the loss of New Orleans, but a whispering campaign about his alleged disloyalty continued.

By the fall of 1862, Lovell was in charge of I Corps in the army of Gen. Earl Van Dorn and also posted as his second command. On October 3-4, 1862, Van Dorn attempted to retake the strategic railroad junction at Corinth from Union forces under Gen. William S. Rosecrans. The ensuing battle was a costly and confusing affair for the Confederates. On the second day, Van Dorn ordered Lovell, who commanded the right wing, to attack superior Union forces in prepared positions. It was a reckless gamble, preordained to failure and heavy losses, so Lovell disobeyed to save the lives of his men. However, two other Confederate divisions went in unsupported and lost heavily; Van Dorn then charged Lovell with insubordination. He partially redeemed himself by performing useful work covering the Confederate withdrawal from Coffeeville, but he was subsequently relieved. Lovell had lost the respect of Confederate authorities, and even his men began derisively singing the “New Ballad of Lord Lovell,” which satirized the loss of New Orleans-and their general’s fondness for liquor. He consequently remained without a field command for the rest of the war. Despite repeated entreaties by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood, the Confederate war department refused to grant Lovell any significant responsibilities. However, he did manage to secure a post as a volunteer aide on Johnston’s staff and served well throughout the Atlanta campaign. In March 1865, General Lee formally requested that Lovell received command of a corps, and the government relented. The war ended before he could arrive at headquarters.

Lovell relocated to Georgia after the war, where he lived as a rice farmer. When his estate was wiped out by floods, he returned to New York City and accepted various positions in surveying and engineering. He died there on June 1, 1884, a talented general but underutilized by a government that never really trusted him.

Bibliography Cozzens, Peter. The Darkest Days of the War: Iuka and Corinth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997; Hearn, Chester G. The Capture of New Orleans. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995; Heleniak, Roman J., and Lawrence L. Hewitt, eds. The 1989 Deep Delta Civil War Symposium: Leadership During the Civil War. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1992; Smith, Brier R. Major General Mansfield Lovell and the Fall of New Orleans: The Downfall of a Career. Memphis, TN: Memphis Pink Palace Museum, 1973; Sutherland, Daniel L. “Mansfield Lovell’s Quest for Justice: Another Look at the Fall of New Orleans.” Louisiana History 24 (1987): 233-259; Wakefield, John F., ed. Battle of Corinth. Florence, AL: Honors Press, 2000.

 

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