January 26, 1861 – Delegates to the Louisiana State Convention at Baton Rouge voted 113 to 17 to secede from the United States.
Governor Thomas O. Moore had taken steps toward secession before the convention even assembled. On January 10, militia led by Braxton Bragg carried out Moore’s orders to seize the Federal arsenal and barracks at Baton Rouge. The troops confiscated 50,000 stands of small arms and 40 cannon. Moore transferred some of the guns to Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, who feared his state was vulnerable to Federal occupation.
Louisiana militia then turned their attention to forts guarding the prized city of New Orleans. They seized the U.S. Marine Hospital and Forts Jackson and St. Philip below New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Troops also seized Fort Pike near New Orleans on the 11th.
Governor Moore called for the convention to consider secession on January 23. By that time, five states had already seceded (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia). Three days later, the delegates used gold pens to sign the ordinance of secession. Businesses closed down in New Orleans as talk of war increased; this marked an extreme shift of opinion in the port city since it had major business ties to the northern states.
When news of Louisiana’s secession reached Washington, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois fiercely declared that any state that had been bought “with the national treasure”—as Louisiana had been through the Louisiana Purchase—would not be allowed to secede and control the vital Mississippi River.
Undeterred, Louisiana militia seized Fort Macomb near New Orleans on the 28th. A potential clash loomed the next day when Treasury Secretary John A. Dix received a wire stating that the captain of the revenue cutter U.S.S. Robert McClelland surrendered his ship to Louisiana officials at the port of New Orleans. Dix had sent Treasury agent W. Hemphill Jones south to make sure all cutters turned their ships over to Federal, not state, authorities at New Orleans, Mobile, and Galveston.
Dix immediately replied: “Tell Lieutenant Caldwell (of the U.S. Navy) to arrest Captain Breshwood (commanding Robert McClelland), assume command of the cutter, and obey the order I gave through you. If Captain Breshwood, after arrest, undertakes to interfere with the command of the cutter, tell Lieutenant Caldwell to consider him as a mutineer, and treat him accordingly. If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” This aggressive response helped inflame northern passions against the South.
Still the seizures continued. On the 31st, Louisiana troops under orders from Governor Moore seized the U.S. Branch Mint and Customs House in New Orleans, as well as the U.S. revenue schooner Washington. Moore collected $500,000 in gold and silver from the mint, of which he later gave $147,519.66 in customs house receipts to the new Confederate treasury.
- Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 193, 508
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 9-10
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 24-27, 29-30
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 254
- Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 11
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161