Category Archives: Louisiana

Port Hudson: Ancillary Operations

April 14, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks avoided attacking the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson by instead targeting objectives in western Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was assigned to capture the Confederate stronghold of Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. But Banks did not want to attack such a strong position directly. So, like Major General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, he sought indirect ways to get to his objective. These included finding a way to get to the Red River, a vital waterway for transporting goods to the Confederacy from Mexico and the west.

Federal Rear Admiral David G. Farragut had tried running past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson to get to the Red via the Mississippi, but his fleet suffered heavy damage, proving that it would be very costly to try again. Banks therefore sent an expedition to see if the Red could be accessed by going up the Teche River, west of Port Hudson. The force consisted of about 15,000 men in three divisions led by Brigadier Generals William Emory, Godfrey Weitzel, and Cuvier Grover.

The plan called for Emory and Weitzel to lead 10,000 men from their camp at Brasher City across Berwick Bay and up the Teche to face a Confederate force in the region. Meanwhile, Grover’s 5,000 Federals would move up the Atchafalaya River, which ran roughly parallel to the Teche, and land at Indian Bend to attack the Confederates from behind.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates fell back to a work called Fort Bisland near the mouth of the Teche. Brigadier General Alfred Mouton directed local slaves to build defenses on both riverbanks and was soon joined by Major General Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor and overall Confederate commander. The fort was defended by 4,000 Confederates and two steamers.

Grover’s Federals landed on the 11th and engaged the Confederates in a three-hour artillery duel that ended at nightfall. Taylor prepared to attack Grover’s left flank the next day with Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Texas brigade; Sibley had the unsuccessful campaign to conquer the New Mexico Territory last year. All that remained of his Army of New Mexico was his Texas brigade and a cavalry regiment under General Thomas Green. Due to either illness or drunkenness, Sibley did not put his men in motion as ordered.

The Federals under Emory and Weitzel soon came up from the south, erecting earthworks within 400 yards of Fort Bisland. This put Taylor’s Confederates between them and Grover to the north. Combat began at daybreak on the 12th, as Federals both north and south advanced. Taylor held his ground, using the captured gunboat Diana until a Federal shell put her engine out of action. Federal artillery drove the Confederates into their earthworks, and the Federals planned an all-out assault on the fort the next morning. This gave Taylor time to withdraw his men upstream during the night.

The next day, the Federals under Emory and Weitzel cautiously advanced and discovered the fort abandoned. Meanwhile, Taylor confronted Grover at a curve in the Teche called Irish Bend, also known as Nerson’s Woods. After an artillery exchange, the Confederates knocked the Federals back as the crippled Diana came up from Franklin.

Taylor took advantage of Grover’s indecisiveness by disengaging and continuing his withdrawal toward the Red River. He burned all the bridges behind him and scuttled the Diana to prevent her capture. Grover did not pursue. Taylor’s force remained relatively intact to fight another day, though he lost about a third of his men to desertion during the retreat. Taylor later charged Sibley with disobedience and conduct unbecoming an officer for failing to attack as ordered.

That same day, the U.S.S. Queen of the West, which had been captured by Confederates and was now employed a Confederate steam ram, encountered the U.S.S. Arizona, Calhoun, and Estrella on the Atchafalaya River. As the Federal vessels closed within three miles, the Calhoun sank the Queen with the first shot from her 30-pound Parrott rifle.

Federals captured the town of Franklin on the 15th, and five days later, they took Opelousas and Washington. Opelousas had been the site of the Louisiana state government ever since Admiral Farragut’s ships seized Baton Rouge last year. Banks’s Federals could now link the Red River to New Orleans. During this offshoot of the Port Hudson campaign, they seized 5,000 cotton bales, several hogshead of sugar, vast amounts of salt and lumber, and some 20,000 heads of cattle, horses, and mules. Meanwhile, Taylor’s Confederates fell back toward Alexandria.

Around this time, Banks received a message from Grant regretting that he could offer Banks no reinforcements because he did not have enough transports. Grant, who was in the process of executing his daring gamble against Vicksburg, had been prodded by Washington to reinforce Banks. In his message, Grant asked Banks to furnish the transports if he wanted the men.

Banks replied that because he expected Grant’s reinforcements, “we pushed with vigor the expedition upon which we were then engaged.” He then informed Grant of his latest expedition: “Our success has been complete. We have utterly destroyed the army and navy of this part of the Confederacy, and made it impossible for the enemy to reorganize his forces for some months to come.”

Banks claimed that he “completely dispersed” the Confederate forces, having “captured 2,000 prisoners, 1,000 stand of arms, ammunition and ordnance stores, etc., 20 heavy guns, demolished his foundries at Franklin and New Iberia, and the salt-works below Iberia.”

Regarding Grant’s request for transports, Banks wrote, “It is a grief on my part that I cannot aid you in this respect. Our transportation is lamentably deficient. I had but one steamer with which to pass two divisions of my corps over Berwick Bay in this campaign.” Banks believed that controlling the Atchafalaya River was vital to capturing Port Hudson, and since the supply line for his army was tentative at best, “by the Atchafalaya all difficulties of this kind are obviated.”

Both Banks and Grant continued conducting their independent operations without cooperating as their superiors had urged.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 383-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 391-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-81, 283; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 110; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337-38; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 162; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

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Farragut Runs the Port Hudson Batteries

March 14, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David G. Farragut tried running his naval squadron past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson in an effort to move up the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

As Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued trying to get at Vicksburg, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf worked to capture Port Hudson, Louisiana. The effort against these two strongholds had initially been envisioned as a joint operation between Grant and Banks of the army, and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Farragut of the navy. But by this month, they had become two separate and distinct operations.

In early March, Banks assembled his army at New Orleans and advanced north to Baton Rouge. This would be the launching point for his drive on Port Hudson, a fort atop a bluff facing the Mississippi, with the land side shielded by woods, undergrowth, swamps, and ravines. The Confederates at Port Hudson protected the Red River, which flowed into the Mississippi and was used to transport Confederate supplies from the west.

Banks’s army consisted of 15,000 men in three divisions. The Port Hudson garrison contained four Confederate brigades. Banks did not have the strength to attack Port Hudson directly, so he agreed to stage a demonstration in front of the fort while Farragut’s warships steamed past on their way north to Vicksburg. Getting Federal naval vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg could at least prevent the Confederates from using the Red River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut arrived at Baton Rouge aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, on the 12th. There he finalized plans to run past Port Hudson and join forces with Porter at Vicksburg. The Hartford would lead the effort, followed by the U.S.S. Monongahela and Richmond, with a gunboat lashed to the port (Port Hudson) side of each ship. The U.S.S. Mississippi, flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry during his historic visit to Tokyo Bay, would follow along with two gunboats and six mortar schooners.

By the 14th, Farragut was ready to send his fleet past the batteries overlooking the river. Banks’s troops had advanced within six miles of Port Hudson, but Banks had agreed to be in position to create the diversion by dawn. When Farragut opted to advance that night, Banks informed him that he could expect no army support. Farragut, believing Banks should have been there already, fumed, “He had well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for the good he is doing us!” Consequently, nothing would divert the Confederates’ attention from the passing vessels.

At 9:30 p.m., the Hartford flashed two red lights below her stern, signaling the rest of the fleet to begin the run. The Federal gunboats and schooners opened fire, and the Confederates waited until they came within range to respond. Gun smoke made visibility impossible, and the Federals quickly found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided fight. The Richmond and the gunboat lashed to her, the U.S.S. Genesee, were both knocked out, with the Richmond taking a shot in her steam plant and requiring the Genesee to pull her downriver to safety.

The Monongahela took eight shots directly through her, destroying the bridge and wounding Captain James P. McKinstry. After taking direct fire for nearly half an hour, her partner, the U.S.S. Kineo, helped pull her downriver out of the fight.

The Mississippi ran aground in a sandbar under direct fire, forcing Captain Melancthon Smith to order the crew to set her on fire and abandon ship. She exploded at 3 a.m. Survivors included Lieutenant George Dewey, conqueror of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War 35 years later. Only the Hartford and her consort, the U.S.S. Albatross, made it past the guns. The Federals suffered 112 total casualties (35 killed and 77 wounded or missing), including 64 from the Mississippi alone.

The passage of two ships made the mission partially successful, but Farragut was now separated from the rest of his fleet, which remained below Port Hudson. Unaware that all the ships except the Mississippi could be repaired and returned to action, Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles the next day, “It becomes my duty again to report disaster to my fleet.”

However, Welles applauded Farragut’s effort to get vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox responded that “the President thinks the importance of keeping a force of strength in this part of the river is so great that he fully approves of your proceeding.”

The Hartford and Albatross continued upriver to Natchez, Mississippi, where Federals cut the telegraph lines to Port Hudson. The ships reached Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on the night of the 18th. By that time, Banks’s Federals had returned to Baton Rouge, 20 miles below Port Hudson, looting the countryside along the way. Banks dispatched expeditions to try finding Farragut, thinking he was waiting for the army just above Port Hudson. But Farragut was now 150 miles north.

Farragut ran the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, sustaining many hits and losing eight men (two killed and six wounded). This enabled his two vessels to advance to the mouth of the Red River. They reached Warrenton, Mississippi, by the morning of the 20th. From there, he contacted Grant and Porter offering to support their operations and requesting coal for refuel. They sent a coal barge downriver past the Vicksburg batteries.

The Federals now had warships between Port Hudson and Vicksburg to stop Confederate river traffic. However, the engagement at Port Hudson proved that capturing the stronghold would need a much stronger effort from both the army and navy.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 213-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326, 328, 330; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 160-61; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

The New Department of the Gulf

November 8, 1862 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks received orders assigning him “to the command of the Department of the Gulf, including the State of Texas.” Banks would eventually replace the controversial Major General Benjamin F. Butler.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler had tyrannically ruled the department from his headquarters in New Orleans for six months. He had issued orders seizing private property, levying confiscatory taxes, censoring the press, and restricting freedom of movement, speech, and association. He also executed William B. Mumford for aiding the Confederate cause, leading President Jefferson Davis to brand him a war criminal.

Butler often targeted wealthy citizens while he and his cronies got rich on kickbacks from confiscated goods. When Butler imposed a temporary ban on liquor, his agents bought up as much as they could and sold it on the black market for a hefty profit. Butler used Federal warships to transports his goods, which hampered naval efficiency. U.S. Treasury agent George Denison knew about the malfeasance but refused to report Butler because, being an abolitionist, he supported Butler’s efforts to free slaves.

Butler also seized the assets of banks and foreign consulates as “contraband of war.” All immigrants were required to swear loyalty to the U.S. or face deportation. Business owners who did not pledge loyalty had their businesses closed. Churches not including prayers for the Federal cause were closed. Some, such as New Orleans Mayor John Monroe, refused to take a loyalty oath and were sent to prison. Others faced prison for deriding Federal soldiers or voicing support for the Confederacy.

The unprecedented taxes that Butler levied, especially on the wealthy class, led to massive corruption and bureaucracy within Butler’s department. But they also served a positive end by leading to improved sanitation in New Orleans. Consequently, the city was cleaner and healthier than ever before.

Like George B. McClellan and Don Carlos Buell, Butler was a Democrat whose political influence was needed for fellow Democrats to support the war. However, Butler was also popular among the Radical Republicans for his recruitment of blacks into the military and his recent order freeing all “slaves not known to be the slaves of loyal owners.”

Despite Butler’s popularity, President Abraham Lincoln decided to end his controversial reign. But Butler would not receive the news until next month. In taking over the department, Banks’s duties would be greatly expanded beyond Butler’s. Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to write Banks:

“The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it… if Vicksburg can be taken and the Mississippi (River) kept open it seems to me (they) will be about the most important fruits of the campaigns yet set in motion.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks would lead his army to Jackson, Mississippi, “and thus cut off all connection by rail between Northern Mississippi… and Atlanta… the chief military depot of the rebel armies in the West.” Banks would then return to Louisiana and “ascend with a naval and military force the Red River as far as it is navigable, and thus open an outlet for the sugar and cotton of Northern Louisiana. It is also suggested that, having Red River in our possession, it would form the best base for operations in Texas. These instructions are not intended to tie your hands or to hamper your operations in the slightest degree… and I need not assure you, general, that the Government has unlimited confidence not only in your judgment and discretion, but also in your energy and military promptness.”

Banks, the former U.S. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, had an undistinguished military record. He was best known for his defeats in the Shenandoah Valley at the hands of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. In fact, he had lost so many supplies to the enemy that Confederates nicknamed him “Commissary” Banks.

As he prepared to move, Banks submitted an immense requisition for equipment and horses. The chief quartermaster told Lincoln that the order could not “be filled and got off within an hour short of two months.” Lincoln wrote Banks:

“I have just been overwhelmed and confounded… When you parted with me you had no such ideas in your mind… You must get back to something like the plan you had then or your expedition is a failure before you start. You must be off before Congress meets (in the first week of December)… Now, dear general, do not think this is an ill-natured letter; it is the very reverse. The simple publication of this requisition would ruin you.”

Banks responded by explaining that the large request “was drawn up by an officer who did not fully comprehend my instructions, and inadvertently approved by me without sufficient examination.” Nevertheless, Banks remained in New York preparing for his expedition past his Gulf Coast departure deadline.

Meanwhile, the Federal military occupation of New Orleans continued. A proclamation was issued that Federal congressional elections would be held in parts of the occupied regions of Louisiana. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut arrived in New Orleans, where he discovered a French admiral with two ships and a British Navy corvette defying the Federal blockade nearby. He wrote:

“I am still doing nothing, but waiting for the tide of events and doing all I can to hold what I have, & blockade Mobile. So soon as the river rises, we will have (Rear Admiral David) Porter down from above, who now commands the upper squadron, and then I shall probably go outside… We shall spoil unless we have a fight occasionally.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 233-34, 236; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 758-59, 761-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286-87; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 157

The Battle of Baton Rouge

August 5, 1862 – Confederate forces tried to retake the Louisiana capital while waiting for help from the ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas.

By this month, Major General John C. Breckinridge’s 4,000-man Confederate force had dwindled to 3,400 due to illness and fatigue in the extreme summer heat. Although he opposed Major General Earl Van Dorn’s quest to regain Baton Rouge, Breckinridge complied with orders and led his men from Camp Moore toward the Louisiana capital.

On the way, Breckinridge learned that 5,000 Federals and three gunboats were at Baton Rouge awaiting him. He therefore requested the services of the Confederate ironclad, the C.S.S. Arkansas, to offset the Federals’ advantage. The Arkansas’s damage from combat the previous month had been repaired, but she still had chronic engine trouble.

Captain Isaac N. Brown, commanding the Arkansas, had gone to Grenada, Mississippi, on sick leave. Before leaving, Brown gave strict orders to his replacement, Lieutenant Henry K. Stevens, to keep the ship at Vicksburg. However, Van Dorn overrode Brown and directed Stevens to take the ship to Baton Rouge in support of Breckinridge.When Stevens informed Brown of this change, Brown left his sickbed and appealed to Flag Officer William F. Lynch at Jackson, Mississippi, to have his order reinstated. Brown argued that the ship could not make the 300-mile trip because her engines had never been fully functional. But Lynch sided with Van Dorn and allowed the Arkansas to try going to Baton Rouge.

The Arkansas headed out on the 4th but stopped soon after due to the engine issues. When Breckinridge received assurances that the ironclad would be ready to support him before dawn, he planned to attack the next morning. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Thomas Williams, commanding the Federal garrison at Baton Rouge, learned of the Confederate approach and prepared his defenses. Both sides had about the same number of men, but Breckinridge’s Confederates were more tired after marching 60 miles from Camp Moore.

The Confederates charged through heavy fog at dawn on the 5th. They pushed east toward the Mississippi and hoped to see the Arkansas coming up in the Federal rear. The Confederates on the left, led by General Charles Clark, quickly pushed the enemy back and captured two cannon, but Federal reinforcements came up and the Confederate momentum stalled. Federals captured Clark, who was also severely wounded.

Fighting soon intensified. When all the officers of an Indiana regiment were killed or wounded, Williams announced to the troops, “Boys, your field officers are all gone; I will lead you.” But then Williams was mortally wounded; he died on the field.

The Federals pulled back toward the river as their gunboats (U.S.S. Cayuga, Katahdin, Kineo, and Sumter) poured enfilade fire into the Confederate right. The Arkansas was nowhere to be seen. Neither side gave ground in the center, but the Federal right slowly fell back. A counterattack pushed the Confederates back, but Breckinridge ordered a bayonet charge that drove the Federals into town.

Despite driving the Federals from the field, Breckinridge could advance no further because Federal guns commanded all the approaches, and the Federal gunboats covered the troops. Moreover, Confederates were dropping out from exhaustion, casualties were extreme, and the Arkansas never showed. Fighting stopped around 10 a.m.

Breckinridge held his ground until 4 p.m., when he learned that the Arkansas’s starboard engine had given out four miles from Baton Rouge, causing her to run aground. Apparently the Federal broadsides that the Arkansas had sustained last month cracked the engine connecting rods, which broke under full steam.

Colonel Thomas Cahill, succeeding Williams as the Federal commander, ordered the gunboats to stay at Baton Rouge in case Breckinridge renewed the attack. This saved the Arkansas from destruction. Breckinridge left a small force to observe the Federals and withdrew the rest of his men to their camps on the Comite River, 10 miles away. The Federals did not pursue.

Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Federals sustained 383 casualties (84 killed, 266 wounded, and 33 missing or captured), including the loss of their commander. The Confederates lost 456 (84 killed, 315 wounded, and 57 missing or captured), including a brother-in-law of President Abraham Lincoln.

Breckinridge issued a proclamation to his men, commending them for their valor in the fight. He blamed the withdrawal on the absence of the Arkansas and declared, “You have given the enemy a severe and salutary lesson, and now those who so lately were ravaging and plundering this region do not care to extend their pickets beyond the sight of their fleet.”

Meanwhile, the crew of the Arkansas finally lightened her enough to free her from grounding. By that time, the Federal gunboats, commanded by Flag Officer William D. Porter and led by Porter’s ironclad U.S.S. Essex, headed out to confront the Confederate vessel.

Confederates repaired the Arkansas’s starboard engine the next day and continued downriver to take on the Federals. But then her port engine gave out as the Federal gunboats approached. Lieutenant Stevens directed his crew to bring the Arkansas close to shore for defense. The Essex came within range and began firing on her. The Arkansas’s engines started up again, but when her lines were cut, the engines failed again, sending her drifting toward the Federals.

The ship grounded in a patch of cypress trees, making her an easy target. Stevens finally ordered his men to destroy the vessel to prevent capture. The crew set up a skirmish line on shore, and Federals fired on the ship for three hours until she finally exploded. Stevens later reported, “It was beautiful to see her, when abandoned by Commander and crew, and dedicated to sacrifice, fighting the battle on her own hook.”

This ended the Arkansas’s legendary 23-day career, and it was the last time the Confederacy tried putting such an intimidating ironclad on the Mississippi. It was also the last time the Confederates threatened Baton Rouge. They eventually found a new stronghold on the Mississippi that they could fortify: Port Hudson.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15922-31; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 200; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 580-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 188-89; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 171; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 35; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 248; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 94; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 515; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 829; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23

The Baton Rouge Campaign

July 26, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates in the area of Vicksburg, Mississippi, detached a portion of his force to try regaining the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge.

Major General John C. Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Van Dorn, learning that the Federal Mississippi River fleet had split in two and moved off in opposite directions, issued orders to Major General John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president, to lead 4,000 Confederates southward out of Jackson, Tennessee. Their mission was to surprise the Federal occupation forces at Baton Rouge.

Breckinridge did not think the town was worth the effort because even if regained, it could not be held against Federal gunboats. But Van Dorn coveted Baton Rouge because it was the state capital, and as such he ordered Breckinridge to proceed. Breckinridge’s men boarded trains in Vicksburg the next day and arrived at Camp Moore near Kentwood, Louisiana, on the afternoon of the 28th. From there they were to march overland about 60 miles southwest to the state capital.

Breckinridge split his force into two divisions and began the advance at dawn on the 30th. However, he suspended the march the next day when he learned “that the effective force of the enemy was not less than 5,000 and that the ground was commanded by three gunboats lying in the river.” Breckinridge, whose force had dwindled to 3,400 due to illness, telegraphed Van Dorn that he would still “undertake to capture the (Baton Rouge) garrison if Arkansas could be sent down to clear the river or divert the fire of the gunboats.”

The C.S.S. Arkansas was the Confederacy’s most formidable ram on the Mississippi, currently stationed at Vicksburg. Breckinridge planned to resume his approach after receiving Van Dorn’s response that the Arkansas would be at Baton Rouge by the morning of August 5.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 578

Butler’s Notorious Woman Order

May 15, 1862 – Commanding the Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, Major General Benjamin F. Butler issued an order that solidified his infamous reputation among southerners.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In the two weeks since Butler’s Federals had entered New Orleans, they faced intense scorn from the residents for their unwanted occupation. Much of this enmity came from women, who insulted the soldiers, sang Confederate songs such as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” in their presence, or avoided them altogether. One woman dumped a chamber pot on Admiral David G. Farragut’s head from an upstairs window. Some of the women hoped to provoke the Federals into attacking them, thus giving the men a cause to rise up against their oppressors.

In response to this behavior, Butler preemptively issued General Orders No. 28:

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This shocking order allowing Federal soldiers to treat the women of New Orleans like prostitutes was met by outrage throughout the South as an unforgivable insult to womanhood. Butler was nicknamed the “Beast,” a biblical reference. President Jefferson Davis later accused Butler of committing war crimes and authorized Confederates to execute him if captured. (Ironically, Butler had backed Davis for U.S. president at the first Democratic National Convention of 1860.)

When news of this order reached England, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston declared to Parliament, “It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet infamous! Any Englishman must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race.” British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell demanded that the Lincoln administration revoke the order. The administration would not.

Butler argued that the order was necessary because his men had been generally respectful toward the city residents and expected the same treatment in return. Butler also noted that the troops had shown remarkable restraint in not retaliating against the women’s repeated derision.

New Orleans newspapers initially refused to publish such an order, prompting the Federals to print it out on sheets of paper and post it on major street corners. Butler responded to the newspapers’ refusal by ordering the suspension of the New Orleans Bee and the occupation of the New Orleans True Delta offices.

The True Delta submitted to force and published the order, and other newspapers reluctantly followed suit. Several enraged ladies canceled their subscriptions, and Butler refused to explain his order to Mayor John T. Monroe. When Monroe objected to Butler’s actions, Butler ordered him, the police chief, and several others to be imprisoned at Fort Jackson.

The “Woman Order” was not regularly enforced, but after its publication, women generally stopped insulting the troops, so the order served its purpose anyway. Some who continued harassing soldiers were imprisoned at Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Women kept up a protest of sorts by painting the image of Butler at the bottom of their chamber pots.

Butler also earned the scorn of government officials by pitting laborers against planters. Butler initially offered to pay planters for their crops “for the benefit of the poor of this city.” He also helped alleviate some of the yellow fever that often struck New Orleans by reforming sanitation services. When the mayor objected to his efforts, Butler accused him of having no “regard to the starving poor, the working man, his wife and child.” Butler then appealed directly to the people, proclaiming, “how long will you uphold these flagrant wrongs and by inaction suffer yourselves to be made the serfs of these leaders?”

Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore issued a counter-proclamation, accusing Butler of trying to incite class warfare after coming “from a section of the country (New England) that has done more than any other to degrade and cheapen labor and reduce the laboring man to the condition of the slave.” Moore reminded Butler that “Southerners are a high-toned, chivalrous people.”

Moore’s message was printed in the New Orleans newspapers. This angered Butler so much that he ordered four of them closed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 171; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 152-53; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 55-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-12; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 369; 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), Q262

Butler Arrives in New Orleans

May 1, 1862 – Major General Benjamin F. Butler arrived with his Federal troops to impose military rule over New Orleans.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler entered the demoralized and defenseless city with about 4,000 troops on the night of the 1st. Flag Officer David G. Farragut, whose naval forces had held the city at gunpoint since arriving on April 25, now set his sights on advancing further up the Mississippi to such strongholds as Baton Rouge and Vicksburg. The surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote in his diary: “General Butler arrived with three regiments… with colors flying and bands playing Yankee Doodle and The Star-Spangled Banner.”

City residents jeered and taunted the Federal troops as they marched from their river transports to take up living quarters in the Custom House. Butler made his headquarters at the St. Charles Hotel the next day and then met with Mayor John T. Monroe. However, the meeting was interrupted by protestors gathering outside and shouting curses at the Federals. Butler directed one of his regiments to keep the mob at bay. When an officer said that one regiment may not be enough, Butler angrily replied that if the mob could not be controlled, “open upon them with artillery.”

Monroe strongly objected to this and went outside to tell the crowd that Butler intended to fire on them with cannon. As the protestors backed off, Butler’s informants told him that one of the men in the crowd was William Mumford, the alleged ringleader of the group that had torn the U.S. flag down from the Mint and desecrated it. Butler planned to make an example of Mumford after firmly establishing Federal rule over the city.

When the meeting resumed, Monroe argued against Butler imposing martial law. Butler countered that martial law had already been declared by General Mansfield Lovell when his Confederates held the town, so Butler was just continuing with Lovell’s declaration. Monroe then requested the removal of all Federal troops from the city. Butler replied, “New Orleans has been conquered by the forces of the United States, and by the laws of all nations, lies subject to the will of the conquerors.”

The next day, Butler issued a proclamation to the people of New Orleans dated May 1 (the delay was caused by the refusal of the New Orleans True Delta to publish it). Butler declared that the city would remain under martial law, just as the Confederates had imposed it before retreating. Confederate flags were prohibited, with the U.S. flag “treated with the utmost deference and respect by all persons, under pain of severe punishment.”

Any secessionist who sought to repent would be considered a loyal citizen if he swore loyalty to the U.S. Unrepentant secessionists “still holding allegiance to the Confederate States will be deemed rebels against the Government of the United States, and regarded and treated as enemies thereof.” Refusing to recognize secessionists as enemy combatants under the Articles of War, Butler stated that the killing of Federal soldiers “by any disorderly person or mob is simply assassination and murder and not war, and will be so regarded and punished.”

Turning to press censorship, Butler declared:

“No publication, either by newspaper, pamphlet, or handbill, giving accounts of the movement of soldiers of the United States within this department, reflecting in any way upon the United States or its officers, or tending in any way to influence the public mind against the Government of the United States, will be permitted…”

Newspaper articles had to be “submitted to the examination of an officer who will be detailed for that purpose from these headquarters.”

Butler prohibited the right of peaceful assembly, explaining that “assemblages of persons in the street, either by day or night, tend to disorder.” The police department was disbanded, with the fire department reporting to the Federal provost marshal. The postal service would remain in operation without interference.

Urging the people to somehow return to normal life, Butler stated, “All inhabitants are enjoined to pursue their usual avocations, all shops and places of business are to be kept open in the accustomed manner, and services to be had in the churches and religious houses as in times of profound peace.” He assured residents that the Federals were there “not to destroy but to make good, to restore order out of chaos, and the government of laws in place of the passions of men.”

One of Butler’s first orders of business was to shut down the New Orleans True Delta for refusing to print this proclamation; the Federals used their printing presses to publish it themselves. The newspaper was reopened only after the owner apologized for his refusal. Butler also ordered the seizure of $800,000 in gold from The Netherlands consulate.

Butler quickly organized a system of military government while establishing defenses against a potential Confederate counterattack. His men used New Orleans as a base for servicing Federal naval vessels and gathering supplies needed for incursions into Louisiana, Texas, and the Deep South.

The occupation brought a certain efficiency to city problems such as sanitation, which helped alleviate the rampant yellow fever epidemics in the region. But it also brought much in the way of corruption, infringement of civil rights, pillage, and outright tyranny that made Butler hated throughout the Confederacy.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166, 168; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 145; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 206, 210; 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. 420; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 66; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 449-50; 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), Q262