Category Archives: Louisiana

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

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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

The New Orleans Occupation Begins

April 28, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut tried to end the standoff between his Federals and New Orleans officials by threatening the bombard the city if they did not surrender. Meanwhile, Federal occupation troops were on the way.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The stalemate continued between Farragut, who wanted New Orleans to surrender unconditionally, and Mayor John T. Monroe, who consented to Federal occupation but would not disavow his Confederate allegiance. On the morning of the 26th, Farragut wrote Monroe again requesting that he surrender and assuring him, “It is not within the province of a naval officer to assume the duties of a military commandant. The rights of persons and property shall be secured.”

Farragut then demanded “that the emblem of sovereignty of the United States be hoisted over the City Hall, Mint, and Customhouse by meridian this day. All flags and other emblems of sovereignty other than those of the United States must be removed from all the public buildings by that hour.” He warned that if his men saw any other flag other than that of the U.S. waving in the city, it “may be the cause of bloodshed.”

Captain Albert Kautz delivered Farragut’s messages by passing through the crowd that was still enraged by the Federal presence. He was supported by 20 marines, city police, and the threat of naval bombardment. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Pensacola docked opposite Esplanade Street and a Federal detachment came ashore. They went to the nearby Mint undetected and raised the U.S. flag over it.

Meanwhile, Monroe met with Kautz at City Hall. Backed by the city council, Monroe maintained that he had no authority to surrender and declared:

“The city is yours by the power of brutal force and not by any choice or consent of its inhabitants. I beg you to understand that the people of New Orleans, while unable at this moment to prevent you from occupying this city, do not transfer their allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and that they yield simply that obedience which the conqueror is enabled to extort from the conquered.”

Monroe continued:

“The city is without the means of defense, and is utterly destitute of the force and material that might enable it to resist an overpowering armament displayed in sight of it… To surrender such a place were an idle and unmeaning ceremony… As to hoisting any flag other than the flag of our own adoption and allegiance, let me say to you that the man lives not in our midst whose hand and heart would not be paralyzed at the mere thought of such an act; nor could I find in my entire constituency so wretched and desperate a renegade as would dare to profane with his hand the sacred emblem of our aspirations… Peace and order may be preserved without resort to measures which I could not at this moment prevent. Your occupying the city does not transfer allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and they yield the obedience which the conqueror is entitled to extort from the conquered.”

As discussions continued, a shredded U.S. flag was tossed through a City Hall window, having been torn down from atop the Mint by protestors. Kautz was hurried back to his ship before the protestors turned their wrath on him. The city council approved a resolution stating that “no resistance would be made to the forces of the United States,” despite loud pleas to resist. That night, Monroe declared martial law and imposed a 9 p.m. curfew.

Meanwhile, more details about the virtual capture of New Orleans reached Vicksburg, another city on the Mississippi River. This prompted more residents there to hurry packing and leaving. Mahala Roach, a Vicksburg resident, wrote in her diary on the 27th, “This has been a singular Sunday, no Sabbath stillness has pervaded its air, but bustle and confusion have prevailed everywhere!”

On Monday the 28th, Farragut wrote Monroe threatening to fire on the levees, which would flood the city, if the U.S. flag was not raised over City Hall, the Mint, and the Custom House. Farragut gave Monroe 48 hours to either raise the flags or evacuate women and children. Monroe responded:

“If it is deemed necessary to remove the flag now floating from this building, or to raise United States flags on others, the power which threatens the destruction of our city is certainly capable of performing those acts.”

Monroe later sent a second message:

“Sir, you can not but know that there is no possible exit from this city for a population which still exceeds in number 140,000, and you must therefore be aware of the utter insanity of such a notification. Our women and children can not escape from your shells if it be your pleasure to murder them on a question of mere etiquette; but if they could, there are but few among them who would consent to desert their families and their homes and the graves of their relations in so awful a moment. They would bravely stand the sight of your shells rolling over the bones of those who were once dear to them, and would deem that they died not ingloriously by the side of the tombs erected by their piety to the memory of departed relatives.”

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

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

As the tense standoff continued, Farragut met with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, who arrived ahead of his Federal troops that would soon occupy New Orleans. Farragut told Butler about the protestors who tore the U.S. flag down from the Mint two days prior, and how yesterday’s city newspapers celebrated their action and cited a gambler named William Mumford as their ringleader.

Butler said, “I will make an example of that fellow by hanging him.” Farragut countered, “You know, General, you will have to catch him before you can hang him.” Butler replied, “I know that, but I will catch him, and then hang him.”

The next day, the foreign consuls of England, France, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Portugal, and Brazil, having learned of Farragut’s threat to shell New Orleans, wrote him requesting a meeting “before you proceed from the threat of a bombardment to the realization of such an unheard of act against a town of open commerce without military defenses of any kind and virtually surrendered by the municipal authorities.”

George-Charles Cloué, commanding the nearby French gunboat Milan, also wrote to Farragut:

“I venture to observe to you that this short delay is ridiculous, and, in the name of my Government, I oppose it. If it is your resolution to bombard the city, do it; but I wish to state that you will have to account for this barbarous act to the Power which I represent.”

Farragut opted not to bombard the city, but he did not want to appear weak by waiting for Butler’s troops to arrive to end the standoff. Therefore, he directed a detachment of sailors and marines, supported by artillery, to go ashore and haul down all state and Confederate flags and raise U.S. flags over the Federal buildings. Angry and frustrated residents looked on helplessly.

A surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote in his diary:

“Our ships were placed in position to bombard the city. At noon one hundred and twenty marines… and fifty sailors with two howitzers… landed and marched to City Hall and hauled down the flag of Louisiana… They hoisted the U.S. colors over the custom-house and mint… New Orleans silent and sullen, citizens insolent and abusive and our marines on shore guarding colors.”

At City Hall, the Federals offered Mayor Monroe the honor of lowering the Confederate flag in favor of the U.S. one, but he declined. The Federals opted not to place the U.S. flag over that building since it was not Federal property. Near the waterfront, a marine guard protected the flag over the Custom House.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan and his Confederate garrisons arrived at New Orleans after surrendering Forts Jackson and St. Philip. News of the surrender spread quickly and dealt the defiant city residents and officials a major blow. Many had hoped that the Confederates in those forts could save them from Federal occupation. The protests quieted significantly.

On the 30th, Farragut finally responded to Monroe’s message two days earlier about Farragut’s apparent willingness to murder women and children. Farragut wrote that Monroe’s language alleged that it was “proper to construe into a determination on my part to murder your women and children, and made your letter so offensive that it will terminate our intercourse.” When Butler’s occupation force arrived, Farragut would “turn over the charge of the city to him and assume my naval duties.”

Farragut also tried explaining to the foreign consuls of New Orleans that he was only trying to protect his men by threatening to bombard the city. Farragut “would not permit any flag opposed to my Government to fly in the city while I had the power to prevent it. It is with great pleasure that I anticipate no further difficulty or inconvenience to your families from my acts.” Regarding the hauling down of state and Confederate flags, “The authorities confessed their inability to do it, and I did it for them.”

By April’s end, New Orleans was, for all intents and purposes, a fallen city. Its defending forts had been captured, naval forces held the city under threat of bombardment, and Federal occupation troops were on the way. The Confederates’ loss of New Orleans virtually lost them all of Louisiana as well. It gave the Federals a vital base of operations and some measure of control over the important Mississippi River Valley.

Confederate officials began a long argument over why New Orleans fell. President Jefferson Davis cited two main reasons: the failure to light the channel when Farragut’s ships attempted to bypass Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and the failure of Confederates to obstruct the channel with hulks, chains, artillery, and/or gunboats to keep the Federals from passing. But few in the South disagreed that New Orleans was indeed gone.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15501-10, 15517-26, 15604, 15721-30, 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 144; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 204-05; 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. 64, 66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 323-27

The Fall of Forts Jackson and St. Philip

April 26, 1862 – Commander David D. Porter’s Federal mortar fleet continued bombarding the two forts below New Orleans, and a Confederate mutiny helped force their surrender.

Cmdr D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Cmdr D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The day after Flag Officer David G. Farragut arrived at New Orleans, Porter sent a boat under a flag of truce to Forts Jackson and St. Philip to notify the Confederates that the city had fallen (even though it officially had not yet). With the Confederates cut off, Porter asked them to give up the forts in a message that read in part:

“No man could consider it dishonorable to surrender under these circumstances, especially when no advantage can arise by longer holding out, and by yielding gracefully he can save the further effusion of blood. You have defended the forts gallantly, and no more can be asked of you.”

Brigadier General Johnson K. Duncan, commanding the Confederate coastal defenses, received Porter’s request the next day. Although the garrisons of four lesser forts had just surrendered, Duncan replied that he could not surrender Forts Jackson and St. Philip until he received official word from New Orleans (even though his communication to that city had been cut). Meanwhile, news of New Orleans’s apparent fall spread among Duncan’s man, and some threatened to munity. Duncan tried placating them with a proclamation:

“You have nobly, gallantly, and heroically sustained with courage and fortitude the terrible ordeals of fire, water, and a hail of shot and shell wholly unsurpassed during the present war. But more remains to be done… We are just as capable of repelling the enemy today as we were before the bombardment. Twice has the enemy demanded your surrender, and twice has been refused… Your officers have every confidence in your courage and patriotism, and feel every assurance that you will cheerfully and with alacrity obey all orders and do your whole duty as men and as becomes the well-tried garrisons of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip. Be vigilant, therefore, and stand by your guns, and all will yet be well.”

The men at Fort Jackson did not take heed and mutinied that night. Some turned the cannon on the fort, while about half the garrison simply walked out despite their officers’ orders and pleas. The mutineers took to the bayous on the boats needed to communicate with Fort St. Philip across the river, leaving that garrison isolated. Thinking the troops at Fort St. Philip were also revolting, Duncan began seriously considering surrender.

Duncan called his officers together on the morning of the 28th. Even though no mutiny had occurred at Fort St. Philip, half the troops at Fort Jackson had deserted, many of the guns had been spiked, most of the boats had been lost or destroyed, no more supplies or communication would be coming from New Orleans, and Federal troops were about to land and lay siege. Surrender seemed the only viable option.

Captain John K. Mitchell, commanding the Confederate naval fleet that now consisted only of the unfinished ironclad C.S.S. Louisiana, argued against surrendering the forts because it would leave his ship exposed to capture. But his was the minority opinion, as most officers agreed that it was best to surrender. Duncan sent a message to Porter:

“Upon mature deliberation it has been decided to accept the terms of surrender of these forts under the conditions offered by you in your letter of the 26th instant, viz, that the officers and men shall be paroled, officers retiring with their side-arms. We have no control over the vessels afloat.”

The vessels afloat were under Mitchell, who was furious over Duncan’s decision. Giving up the forts left the Louisiana, which had no power, an easy capture for the Federals. So he decided to destroy the vessel. As he set about doing so, Porter met with Duncan and his officers aboard Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Harriet Lane.

Duncan explained that the Confederate naval forces were not part of his surrender because they belonged to Mitchell. As they drew up and signed the articles of surrender, the burning Louisiana drifted downriver and exploded near Fort St. Philip; the explosion shook the men signing the surrender documents, and flying shrapnel killed a nearby Confederate.

After the documents were signed, the U.S. flag was raised over both forts, and the Confederate officers and men were taken to New Orleans late that afternoon. Federals apprehended Mitchell and some of his men and demanded their unconditional surrender for destroying the Louisiana.

Porter was enraged that Mitchell had set fire to the Louisiana while a truce was being negotiated. Duncan insisted that the navy had acted on its own responsibility. Porter declared that Mitchell and his men had “forfeited all claim to any consideration” for parole. They were confined and later sent north as prisoners of war.

During the week-long bombardment, the Confederates in Forts Jackson and St. Philip suffered 50 casualties (11 killed and 39 wounded). The forts sustained many direct hits but suffered no lasting damage. The capture of these forts opened the Mississippi River to Federal shipping from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 281-82; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-77; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15501-10, 15517-26, 15604, 15721-30, 15736; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 144; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 204-05; 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. 64, 66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 323-27