FEBRUARY 20TH, 1862: Flag Officer Farragut arrived at Ship Island to begin what Secretary of the Navy Welles termed "the most important operation of the war" -- the assault on New Orleans. In his instruction of February 10 to the Flag officer, Welles observed: "If successful, you open the way to the sea for the great West, never again to be closed.
"The rebellion will be riven in the center, and the flag to which you have been so faithful will recover its supremacy in every State."
For some weeks prior to Farragut's arrival, Union forces had been gathering at the Ship Island staging area. As early as 30 December, General Bragg, CSA, had written from Mobile: "The enemy's vessels, some twenty, are below, landing supplies and large bodies of troops on Ship island."
With an inadequate naval force, however, the Confederates were unable to contest the steady build-up of Northern strength.