The children who, in 1804, looked from the balconies around the Place d'Armes to see the American flag raised in it, vaguely hearing their grandparents behind them tell of the different flags they had seen raised to that staff, were not grandparents themselves much before they saw another flag officially raised to proclaim another domination over the city. From grandparent to grandparent, three memories contained the whole history of the place: the incredible, for that is what history stores memory with, and so the grandmother of to‑day passes on to the grandmother of the future tales of as open-eyed wonderment as she herself listened to at her grandmother's knee.
To give them as they are thus being transmuted in their homely human crudity to tradition, — New Orleans abandoned herself, heart and soul, to the cause of the Southern Confederacy. The reasonableness of a man's self-sacrifice to a cause, or a woman's to a love, may be questioned, but not sublimity, surely not. While the city, as blind in her passion as when she defied Spain, was giving herself up more and more to her new devotion, pouring out, as if from inexhaustible sources, p299her men and her money, forgetting Jefferson's dictum about the mouth of the Mississippi, two expeditions were fitted out against her by the United States, one to come down the river, one to ascend from the Gulf. The latter was successful. On the morning of the 25th of April, 1862, seventeen gunboats and a flotilla of smaller vessels rode at anchor in the river before her, and she lay as helpless under their guns as she had lain under the guns of O'Reilly. To the populace it was the incredible that had happened, just as in the time of O'Reilly.
The rain was pouring, as at the advent of the Spanish avenger, and, as then, the levee was lined with a despairing crowd. Some of the ships bore evidences of fighting, that was the only alleviation to the popular feeling. There had been some fighting done. Courage was in fact the only thing that seemed ready in the emergency, everything else was incomplete, unprepared, disorganized, through shameful, disgraceful, — the people even whispered, — traitorous, neglect and carelessness. What, they growled, were seven hundred men apiece in two badly equipped fortifications? a straggling battery or two? an improvised, patched-up flotilla of gunboats, manned by ignorant, undisciplined crews? rafts? iron chains, against the superb strength and equipment before them? And these were only half; as many remained behind to bring the forts to terms. What availed against such a force the six thousand men given by the Confederacy to protect the city? And even now they were evacuating the city with their general! The curses were not muttered when the crowd on the levee spoke of this army and its commander.
p300 The sky was hidden by a canopy of smoke, streaked with flames. Heaps of burning cotton, sugar, salt meats, spirits, provisions of all kinds lined the levee. In the river the shipping, tug-boats, and gun-boats, floated down the current in flames. All night the city had glowed in the lurid light of her own incendiarism. The little children, seeing the gleams through the closed windows, and hearing the cannons from the forts, trembled in their beds in terrified wakefulness. Deserted by their parents, and shrinking instinctively from their negro nurses, they asked one another in whispers: "Will the Yankees kill us all?"
The next morning, from old Christ Church belfry, on Canal street, the bell tapped the alarm. Mothers called their children to them, and, sitting behind closed doors, listening, counting, cried, "The Yankees are here!" The children, horrified to see a mother weep, cried aloud, too, despairingly, "The Yankees are here!" Slaves, rushing out, leaving the houses open, disordered, behind them, shouted triumphantly to one another, "The Yankees are here!"
The rabble, holding riot in the streets; men, women, and children, staggering under loads of pilferings from the conflagration, cried, too, "The Yankees are here!"
Early in the morning officers came from the flag-ship, bearing a summons to surrender. The mayor deferred to the military authority in command. The Confederate general, evacuating the city with his army, put the responsibility back upon the mayor. During the colloquy in the city hall, the populace surged and raged in the streets outside, hurling insults, imprecations, p301threats, through the open windows, at the Union officers. A wild hurrah heralded some new outburst. There was an expectant pause in the mayor's parlour. Through a window a ragged bundle was thrown into the room; a mutilated, defiled, United States flag; the flag that had just been hoisted over the United States mint by a large crew. Some wild-spirited lads had instantly climbed the staff and torn the flag down, to drag it, followed by a hooting mob, through the street. The open window of the city hall and the uniformed officers inside were, in the temper of the moment, a heaven-sent opportunity for insult.a
Sustained by his council, the mayor refused to either surrender the city or lower the state flag over the city hall. The Federals could take the city if they wished, no resistance was possible. "We yield," he wrote, "to the Federal commander, to physical force alone, and maintain our allegiance to the government of the Confederate States. Beyond this a due regard for our dignity, our rights, and the flag of our country does not, I think permit me to go." The Federal commander then notified the mayor to remove the women and children within twenty-four hours. "Sir," wrote the mayor to this, "you cannot but know that there is no possible exit from the city for a population that exceeds one hundred and forty thousand, and you must therefore be aware of the utter inanity of such a notification; our women and children cannot escape from your shells. . . . You are not satisfied with the peaceable possession of an undefended city; you wish to humble and disgrace us by the performance of an act against which our nature rebels. This satisfaction you cannot expect at our hands. We will stand your bombardment unarmed and defenceless p302as we are. The civilized world will condemn to indelible infamy the heart that will conceive the deed and the hand that will dare to consummate it."
It was finally decided that the Federals should take possession of the city, and themselves lower the state flag from the city hall.
The mayor issued a proclamation requesting all citizens to retire to their homes during these acts of authority which, he said, it would be folly to resist, reminding them that at least their own authorities had not been forced to lower their flag. The people, notwithstanding, filled the streets about the city hall, a lowering, angry crowd that shook with wrath at the sight of the detachment of sailors and marines in United States uniform, which, with bayonets fixed, and preceded by two howitzers, crossed Lafayette square. They were halted facing St. Charles street; the howitzers were drawn into the thoroughfare and pointed at the crowd, up and down.
An officer with attendants mounted the steps of the city hall and informed the mayor that he would proceed to haul down the flag. The mayor, a son of the people himself, and not schooled in the niceties of etiquette, answered, his voice trembling with emotion: "Very well, sir, you can do it; but I wish to say that there is not in my entire constituency so wretched a renegade as would be willing to exchange places with you."
The mayor then descended the steps of the hall and placing himself in front of the crowd and close to the mouth of the cannon pointing down the street, he stood there immovably with folded arms, and eyes fixed on the gunner, who, lanyard in hand, held himself in readiness for action. The crowd preserved a breathless p303silence. The state flag was lowered and the United States colours hoisted.
The United States officers returned, the guns were withdrawn, the uniformed squad moved again across Lafayette square. As they passed through the Camp street gate they heard hurrahs behind them; it was the crowd cheering their mayor.
The naval authorities now handed the city over to the land forces, and General Benjamin Butler took possession with his army of fifteen thousand men.
The regiments marched triumphantly through the streets to their quarters, banners flying, music resounding; the negroes, in possession of the banquettes, gave themselves up to the celebration and exhibition of their new freedom. It was their hour of victory and retribution. Men, women, and children, all, all were free alike, free and equal, for that was the way the phrase ran then. The white men looked on from windows and balconies; the women still sat in doors, hold under their children together, and as the tread of the passing soldiers, the blare of the music, the guffaw of the banquette crowd struck their ears, — they thought, not in the scientific truisms, political axioms or logical sequences, which since have taught them resignation, — and they did not shed any more tears.
Their grandmothers had heard the shots by which O'Reilly murdered (as they called it) six as noble patriots and gentlemen as ever lived, but their grandmothers had never felt — O'Reilly never dared — the insulting, degrading humiliation of this moment. Free, free and equal! And it was not the rich mother, the lady mother alone, who felt this, her look instinctively singling out her little daughters — the poorest mothers, p304the commonest scrub of a white working woman felt the same humiliation put upon her gutter children — and cursed the power, the flag, the music, the soldiers that were doing it.
It is all archaic now, and sounds ridiculous. But, however advanced and progressive a woman's brain may become, in an emergency she always seems to feel in archaisms. Negro soldiers, in uniform, ordering them!! White men putting negro soldiers over them!! That was as far as their hearts and minds went then.
It seems a trifling consideration in a great war what women feel; how the men fight is the important fact. But is it not what the women feel, in a war (the children feeling as the mothers feel), that dictates history in advance? Or, as it might be said, if to the men belongs the war, to the women belongs the peace after the war. At least it was so in New Orleans.
The little children in Béranger's song beg about Napoleon, —
"Parlez nous de lui, Grand'mère, parlez nous de lui."
The little children in New Orleans, when they are very good, are treated by their grandmothers not to the thrilling adventures of Blue Beard and Jack the Giant Killer, but to tales of the Federal general in command of the city during the war. And not only the children enjoy these tales, any one, and — as the Creoles say, meaning Northerners — even the Americans, when they want (or want a visiting friend) to hear a good story well told, ask a New Orleans woman to tell her experiences after the capture of the city by the Federals; and wherever she be, in Paris, on the Nile, or seated in her own parlour or on her own balcony, she tells it, p305always with the same verve, and always, if possible, with more and more burlesque. "But the improbability! The indiscretion!" Oh! that is another matter. If women are to tell only probable and discreet stories the Constitution had better be amended forthwith.
Nothing less than official dates can convince one that the regime in question lasted but little over six months; it seems inconceivable that so much could be packed into so short a time. And it was not laughable then. As Madeleine Hachard says, one laughs over one's adventures afterwards. From the first day, sentinels were stationed at suspected doors, and domiciliary visits made for arms, papers, flags, and other treasonable matter. Every runaway negro could carry charges of high treason and concealed treasures to the provost marshal, and have ladies' armoires promptly searched and bureau drawers run through by soldiers' hands, as, in old days, a dishonest servant's room was searched; yes, and the lady, too, spoken to as if she were the negro servant and the theft had been proven. It was something to make children open their eyes, to hear mothers and grandmothers ordered about and told that they were untruthful, and see their pretty things tossed and kicked upon the floor. Oh! the provost marshal! What terror that name struck to the childish soul; it was so unintelligible, and it meant such almightiness of power!
It is related by one of the Federal officers present at the time, that, when flag-officer Farragut reported to General Butler the tearing down of the United States flag from the mint, the latter said: "I will make an example of that fellow by hanging him." The naval officer smiled as he remarked: "You know you will p306have to catch him and then hang him." "I know that, but I will catch him and then hang him." It was as easy for him to do both as it had been for O'Reilly to execute his predetermination.
The lad, Mumford, was arrested, tried by court-martial and condemned to be hung. A cry of horrors arose from the city, and, as with O'Reilly, every means to obtain mercy was tried. It was represented and urged that the city had not surrendered at the time; that the hoisting of the flag over the mint was itself unwarranted; the youth of the victim was pleaded; the ignorance, the irresponsibility of the foolhardy act, the frenzied, delirious state of the public mind. In vain. An example must be made; the insult to the flag must be avenged. The lad was hanged, and with fine dramatic effect, on a gallows in front of the mint, under the very flag-staff; serried ranks of soldiers guarding the street. But see how unreliable a thing an example is, how it may turn and rend that very principle which it was begotten to illustrate. In vain, now, do historians plead and military authorities represent, in vain are explanations, denials, extenuations. Forever, in local eyes, will the front of the mint seem to bear the Cain mark of the gallows; forever will that flag-staff seem to be draped with the anathemas that were uttered by every mother's heart, the day of the hanging of the lad. And for twenty years after that day there wandered through the streets of New Orleans a thin, wrinkled, bent, crazy woman, wandering always, it seemed, as if by command, across groups of children on their way to and from school. The children never ran and shrank from her as from most lunatics. "Hush! they would say; "she is Mumford's mother." And p307they would tell the story to one another, with all the improbable variations and versions, which madden historians, but which the sympathetic heart never fails to add. "But she is not Mumford's mother," many would insist. "She only thinks she is Mumford's mother." "She is Mumford's mother, all the same," would be the reply. During the school hours, the poor old woman would wander in the business thoroughfares, and when tired out she would crouch in the corner of some house-step and sleep, and the passers-by would slip a coin into her lap (she never begged awake). "That is Mumford's poor mother," they would explain.
The doughty but unmannerly mayor was sent to the casemates of one fort, his young secretary to another, his legal advisers were shipped to Fort Lafayette. It was hard for the citizens of New Orleans to believe that these two great French lawyers, Soulé and Mazureau, could be sent off like common felons. But that was in the beginning, when one could be surprised. First and last, over sixty prominent citizens were sent to the forts, or to that other well-proved place of imprisonment, Ship Island, where the contumacious were fastened with ball and chain, and made to fill sand bags under a negro guard. With all the patriotism in the world to sustain their hearts and to preserve their dignity, the luxurious gentlemen of New Orleans sometimes, when the sun was more unbearably hot than usual and no one was in earshot, were not above making an appeal occasionally to their black drivers, using old-time cajoleries. "Come now, uncle, let up a little." "Don't call me uncle; I ain't no kin o' yourn." The stern rebuke has passed into a proverb.
Everybody was arrested; clergymen for refusing to p308pray for the President of the United States and all others in authority, editors for publishing Confederate victories, doctors for refusing fraternal recognition of Union doctors, druggists for selling drugs to persons going into the Confederacy, storekeepers for refusing to open their stores, a bookseller who exhibited a skeleton marked "Chickahominy," any one possessing treasonable pictures or papers (illustrated papers favourable to the Confederacy). The commandant's system was so perfect, that he boasted he had a spy behind the chair of every rebel family head in the city. The result was, that no man arose in the morning with any certainty that he might not spend the next night in jail.
Even women were arrested. A lady was sent to Ship Island for laughing while a Federal funeral procession was passing her house. An old lady teacher was sent to a prison in the city for having a Confederate document in her possession; young ladies were arrested and carried before the provost marshal for singing "Dixie" and the "Bonnie Blue Flag." "The venom of the she-adder is as dangerous as that of the he-adder" was the legend General Butler had printed and hung up in his office; it was adopted as the watchword of his emulative subordinates. Every day women were brought to his Star Chamber by scores, to stand before him, while he sat cursing the men of the Confederacy and lecturing them on their want of respect to the United States; a Confederate flag had been found in their houses; a miniature one had been worn in their hair or stuck in their fichus; the flowers in their bonnets were arranged to represent Confederate colours; they had their dresses fastened with Confederate p309buttons; they had refused to enter a car or omnibus in which they saw a Federal soldier; they walked out in the street to avoid passing the United States flag hanging over the banquette. The general however, bethought him of a correction of this disrespect; flags were hung not only over the sidewalks of the principal streets, but strings of them were stretched entirely across the street, and guards were placed to seize the women who tried to avoid passing them, and compel the ordeal; but even as they were being dragged under, the women would manage to draw their shawls over their heads or put up their parasols. And then General Butler launched his Order No. 28 against the ladies of New Orleans, the order that can only be alluded to in polite society;b that was condemned in the House of Lords as without precedent in the annals of war, and denounced in the House of Commons as repugnant to the feelings of the nineteenth century; that drew from the "London Times" the comment that it realized all that had ever been told of tyranny by victory over the vanquished, and that no state of negro slavery could be more absolute than that endured by the whites in the city of New Orleans.
A passing stranger, an alien, relates that he was caught on a street corner in a shower of rain one afternoon, and saw two curs fighting. The whipped one ran away, and he remarked that the cur was simply "making a change of base," which was a Federal newspaper's explanation of a recent defeat of one of the Union armies. The stranger was immediately arrested, conveyed to the custom house, imprisoned all night, and taken before Butler in the morning. "The general," so his account runs, "sat dressed in full uniform, with sword; p310on the table before him lay a loaded revolver, sentinels stood at the door, orderlies and soldiers crowded the anteroom. An Irishwoman was asking for a passport to go to her son in the Confederate army. After much billingsgate on both sides, 'Well, now, General Butler, she said, 'the question is, are you going to give me a passport or are you not?' He coolly leaned back in his chair and with a provoking smile, slowly replied: 'No, woman, I will never give a rebel mother a pass to go see a rebel son.' She gazed at him a moment, and then as coolly and deliberately replied: 'General Butler, if I thought the devil was as ugly a man as you, I would double my prayers night and morning, that I might never fall into his clutches;' and, bolting past the sentinels, she disappeared."
It was at this period that the gentlemen among the Federal officers found their position under their commander intolerable, even for soldiers. Not being disciplined to his mode of warfare, they had, from the day of their occupation of the city, been overstrained by their secret anxieties and their efforts in behalf of the vanquished. Like the Spanish officers under O'Reilly, they found a thousand common feelings to counterbalance the one great political difference; past friendships, ties, relationships, if other reason were needed than the one that they were gentlemen, and their enemies women and children; fearfully and restlessly they haunted the streets, swarming with arrogant negro and white soldiers, quaking much more before an application of their general's order than the women themselves did; hence volumes of delicate episodes and pretty romances, which the women of the period love also to relate.
p311 The foreign consuls exerted themselves in every way; the French consul exercising, as French consuls always will in New Orleans, a quasi-paternal authority over the citizens, soothed, advised, helped. The captains of foreign vessels in port offered their found and assistance. It was needed under so energetic a conqueror. In September, all persons, male and female, who had not renewed their allegiance to the United States, or who held sympathy with or allegiance to the Confederate States, were ordered to report themselves to the nearest provost marshal, with a descriptive list of all their property, real, personal, and mixed, their place of residence and their occupation, signed by themselves, to receive a certificate from the marshal as claiming to be enemies or friends of the United States. Neglect to register subjected the delinquent to fine or imprisonment with hard labour, or both, with his or her property confiscated. The form of the oath of allegiance prescribed was an "iron-clad" one. Another order required every householder to return to the nearest provost marshal a list of inmates, with sex, age, occupation, and a statement whether registered alien, loyal, or enemy to the United States, with the usual penalty for neglect. Policemen were held responsible for returns on their beats. It was a virtual sentence of transportation against the families of Confederate soldiers.
The women and children, the registered enemies to the United States, allowed but little more than the clothing on their backs, were put across the lines into the Confederacy. These were the fortune ones who had means and connections in the Confederacy, but the majority, the widowed mothers whose sons were p312in the army, the wives of clerks and workingmen whose husbands were fighting, these were forced to the perjury of the iron-clad oath; and of all the exigencies of the war, this was unqualifiedly the saddest, the costliest.
Then followed the carnival of confiscations and auction sales.
The commandant-general had seized one of the handsomest residences in the city for his personal use. Those of his subordinates who cared to follow his example, selected each his house, ordering the owner out and taking possession; and after these came the great number of civil employees, who had to be housed, and with them it was also a mere question of taking and having. But after these there were the camp followers, those who came, as the Duke of Saxe-Weimar would say, for the mere accumulation of wealth. It was for them a land of Canaan, such as they knew Providence would never repeat. Seizures and confiscations threw opportunities of a lifetime upon the market; and while no man was sure when he arose in the morning that he would not spend the night in jail, no woman now when she arose in the morning was sure that she would not spend that night in the streets.
The property of the registered enemies was not confiscated, but the alternative was little better. Not allowed to take anything but necessary clothing, and the time of preparation for departure being short, families of limited means were forced to sell everything at auction. The auctions were in the hands of a "ring." The sales were a mockery. A woman who considered her effects worth a thousand dollars might, it is said, if she were exceedingly meek and humble, and paid all commissions, receive a balance of twenty or thirty dollars. p313The auction marts, as may be expected, were crowded. Houses, horses, carriages, jewelry, wardrobes, silk and satin gowns, filmy articles of ladies' underclothing, family portraits, silver, were put up every day. A man with a thousand dollars bought ten thousand dollars' worth. A soldier's pay would purchase a family outfit. Camp followers, washerwomen, and cooks, wore velvets; real laces sold for the price of calico; negresses went around blazing in jewelry. The treasure heaps of a Barataria were scattered broadcast in the city for two months. Entire libraries and sets of furniture, horses and carriages, pictures, pianos, clocks, carpets, cases of bric-a‑brac, were packed and sent to distant homes. Silver, in banks or in table service, was always treasonable if in the possession of a Confederate sympathizer, as it was called, and it seemed at times that the sympathy was only treasonable in proportion to the silver possessed. But there was a way of ransoming the silver and property, as there had been a way of ransoming delicate old gentlemen from Ship Island and the forts; and if the women of the house were nervous, and their imaginations easily influenced by terror for themselves or their relatives, they did not haggle over terms or means, and the profit was the same to the avengers of loyalty.
All this, as every one has explained since, until every one knows it, was only according to the fortunes of war. Even the children in their rudiments should have known it then, for what had their a, b, c's served them unless to spell out how, in the past, this nation or man had conquered that nation or man, at this place and at that, and what had happened afterwards? and if even the women had considered, what they endured was p314infinitely easier warfare than history or romance had pictured, in many instances, even since the Middle Ages. But history and romance never disappear so completely from the memory as when experience in propria persona makes her appearance.
"The fortunes of war" was also proven during these rare opportunities the entirely an allegorical expression; and in its other sense, the practical, it had chapters of enlightenment for the military novice as well as for the civil, for the conquerors as well as for the conquered, a truth which the following sufficiently illustrates. The Englishman, the alien in the Confederate State, as he calls himself, whose experience under the Butler regime has been quoted, relates that some years after he left New Orleans he happened to be on a steamer at Nassau, and observing some negro boatmen alongside throwing over meat to an enormous shark which they called Butler, he asked them why they applied such a name to an honest shark. They said it was because he kept away all other sharks from the bay, so as to have all the prey for himself.
In December, General Banks superseded General Butler. The populace which, in the exercise of its infallible prerogative as populace, branded the first conqueror of New Orleans as "Bloody O'Reilly," has sent the second conqueror of the city down to posterity marked as "Beast Butler."
Some civil organization of the place was now attempted on the new political basis. The military authorities had courts opened and appointed magistrates, "Union" magistrates. The President of the United States appointed Union judges of the Supreme Court. An election was held, and a Union governor p315a Union constitutional convention was held, and a Union constitution of the state adopted, a Union legislature elected. The closed Protestant churches were unbarred and services were conducted in them by Union ministers, and there was even an effort made at social gayety; balls and receptions were given by the military authorities to union guests, who practised social equality with the negroes. For long years, after all this was over, a coloured barber, famous in local circles (as all good barbers everywhere are famous) for his inimitable loquacity, used to tell how he once opened such a ball with the wife of the general in command (with what truth the word of a barber guarantees). But the story was a good one, and told most delectably, and the old seedy Confederates were glad enough to hear it, and laugh away some of their chagrin over it, and carry it home to their wives and children, who found it vastly amusing too.
But to the natives, that period, to the close of the war, is vague and confused like the last hours of a long vigil at the side of a death-bed. The newspapers published their Union versions of the battles outside, with lists of killed, wounded, and missing, until every other woman of the old New Orleans that walked the streets was in mourning. Gunboats steamed ever up and down the river on mysterious expeditions; armies passed and repassed through the city, as if there were no end of men in the world to fight against the Confederates. The hospitals were filled with Confederate wounded, the prisons with Confederate captives.
The Confederate women in the city (those who had signed Butler's register, doubly perjuring themselves) now worked with desperate energy, besieging provost p316marshals' offices, — bribing, deceiving, flattering even the negro sentinels on duty, — lying desperately if need be, to gain admittance to the prisons and hospitals; to get to the pallet of a dying boy, or to help an able-bodied soldier to escape. And they did escape, the able-bodied ones, by the hundreds. And news had to be sent into the Confederacy, and medicines and surgical instruments. There was one woman contrabandist who distinguished herself above all, a young handsome Irish woman, who feared, as she said, naught and nobody, her confession once made and the sacrament received, and a package of medicine for the Confederates outside hidden about her person, if the night were only dark or stormy enough for her skiff to get by the sentinels and out into Lake Pontchartrain. Once she was sighted and fired into, but she rowed her •twelve miles over, with a bullet in her leg, and got back into the city the next day, with her return mail.
The surrender of the Confederacy, the end of it all, is one watershed at which all good stories, voluble resentments, gay denunciations, and humorous self-confessions turn back. It is the one item of their past over which the women of New Orleans shed tears.
The rest is usually run into a hurried summary, one-sided, perhaps — most probably, but where there are two sides of a thing or a question, the other side is always procurable, and one tells best the side one has learned personally. "C'est souliers tout seuls qui savent si bas tini trous" is a proverb of Creole mammies which can be understood; "Shoes are only called upon to know the holes in their own stockings."
There was one year of simple existence and endurance of the new condition of things: negro soldiers, p317negro policemen, negro officials, and hired negro menials; with United States soldiers in garrisons all around about and aides-de‑camp in glittering uniforms galloping through the streets; and the new poverty, new toil and stress, changed society; the old sense of ownership of the city, which the very children possessed, gone forever. It was a year of stupor and, as it seems now, of grace. And after that there is more, much more, to tell. It must be given here briefly.
In 1866, Congress enacted that no seceding state could be re-established in its old representative rights in the Union until it had reconstructed its constitution by a ratification of the fourteenth amendment, making negroes citizens of the state and of the United States, forbidding legislation to abridge their rights and excluding a certain class of ex-Confederates from office.
As such a reconstruction was optional, but one of the Confederate States availed itself of the privilege of qualifying for representation. Congress therefore determined upon a forced reconstruction, and by the "iron laws," as they have been well called, of 1867, put the Confederate States under military rulers, who were charged with the power and authority to work the machinery of constitutional government and reconstruct the states according to the plans laid down.
The vote was registered in Louisiana; 46,218 whites to 84,431 negroes, and a constitutional convention was called. It met in what was then the Mechanics' Institute (now old Tulane Hall). The students in the neighbouring Medical College and Jesuits' College, who were just beginning, with the happy ease of youth, to forget their childhood horrors of war, were startled one p318day over their school-books by pistol-shots, screams, and cries in the streets near them. Those who ventured to look out saw a wild, infuriated mob in the streets, and heard the cries of a hell in the great ugly building in front, from which negroes trying to escape were climbing out of windows, and over the roof, dropping down wounded, bleeding, dead, in the surrounding court. This was the beginning of reconstruction, as middle-aged men and women now recall it, the response of the whites to the test oath and governing negro vote. To the children of the city, trembling and anguished, sent home from school after dark, under careful escort, it was never-to‑be forgotten day. It has never been forgotten.
But the negro vote nevertheless remained, and the test oath, and behind both the coercive power of the triumphant army of the United States. The era of the "carpet bag" government set in; the golden era for American enterprise, which, it may be said by an American, is never so brilliantly displayed as in politics.
With an iron-clad oath barring every state and federal office, every court of justice, every jury, with the whole machine are of government framed for the one purpose of keeping them in power, with a registered vote of 84,000 negroes behind them, and the white population disfranchised into impotence, with the United States army always garrisoning their polling places, counting their votes and doing police duty for them — and with a returning board of their own to certify their elections, it is impossible to conceive a more perfect for the aspiring Republican politicians of the day — and they recognized it. Crowds, carpet bag in hand, flocked from North, East, p319and West; hundreds, nay thousands, had not even to travel to it; soldiers disbanded from the army one day became political leaders the next, stepping into office and fortune the following week. An ex‑soldier became governor of the state, with a negro lieutenant-governor, and so on, black and white, Union soldiers and negroes, through every department down to the end. There was no end to the offices, nor to the office seekers for contracts, awards, monopolies, and grants and privileges carried what should have been the end of patronage or greed, — around to the governor again; and so, the fingers of one touching the palm of the other, the circle was completed. The state debt was increased over forty millions of dollars. To quote a recent publication:1
"The wealth of Louisiana made the state a special temptation to carpet-baggers. Between 1866 and 1871 taxes had risen four hundred and fifty per cent. Before the war, a session of the legislature cost from $100,000 to $200,000; in 1871 the regular session cost $900,000. Judge Black considered it 'safe to say that a general conflagration, sweeping over all the state, from one end to the other, and destroying every building and every article of personal property, would have been a visitation of mercy in comparison to the curse of such a government.' This statement is not extravagant if his other assertion is correct, that during the ten years preceding 1876, New Orleans paid in the form of direct taxes more than the estimated value of all the property within her limits in the year named, and still had a debt of equal amount unpaid."
The old St. Louis hotel became the state house. George Augustus Sala, not then, but later, when affairs p320were much improved, visited the House of Representatives assembled in the ball-room, and describes the forlorn appearance of the colossal pile which had once been the resort, as he says, of wealthy planters, their stately spouses and their beautiful and accomplished daughters. . . . "Wherever you turned, the spirit of dismalness seemed to have laid its hand. . . . New Orleans, I have more than once remarked, offers among all American cities pre-eminently a feast of picturesque form and bright and varied colour to European eyes; but within the walls of the state house a universal monochrome pitilessly reigns, or rather the negation of all colour — black and white. But I was aroused from my reverie by the voice of a gentleman who was addressing the house. It was somewhat of a variable and capricious voice, at one time hoarse and rasping, at another shrilly treble, and the orator ended his periods now with a sound resembling a chuckle, and now with one as closely akin to a grunt. So far — being rather hard of hearing — as I could make out, the honourable legislator was remarking: 'Dat de gen'lm from de parish of St. Quelquechose was developing assertions and expurgating ratiocinations clean agin de fust principles of law and equity,' upon which the orator sat down. . . . What was the precise mode of catching the speaker's eye I could not exactly discern, for more than one honourable gentleman seemed to be on his legs at the same time. When the contingency seemed to be imminent of everybody's addressing the house at once, the dull measured sound of the president's hammer, or 'gavel,' as in Masonic parlance the implement of order is called, was audible. Ere the orator who had apostrophized the gentleman from St. p321Quelquechose had resumed his seat, I had ample time to make a study of his facial outline, for there was a window close behind him, against which his profile was defined as sharply as in one of those old black silhouette portraits which they used to take for sixpence on the old chain pier at Brighton. The honourable legislator had a fully developed Ethiopian physiognomy, but when he sat down I found that in hue he was only a mulatto. There were more coloured members in the house, some of them 'bright' mulattoes and quadroons, very handsome and distinguished looking. . . . A Southern gentleman pointed out to us one of the coloured representatives who, prior to the war, had been his, the gentleman's slave and body-servant." . . .
The returning board appointed by the governor to go over the returns as they came from the commissioners at the polls and count the votes, decided, and it might be said awarded, the elections, or, as the people, called it, counted in the candidates. Every year the test oath became less prohibitive, white youths attaining their majority and political disabilities being removed from elders by the pardoning power of the United States. To liberate the state from the machinery of negro and carpet-bag government, to put an end to the plundering of public finances, and to the making of laws and the distorting of courts of justice into political copartnerships with the ruling powers, and to free themselves from the military tutelage forced upon them, became the absorbing ambition of every Southern voter in the Southern state. This ambition effaced the issues of the war and the grinding necessities of the moment, and it united the men into a "Solid South," which p322was the Confederate postscriptum of the war, to meet the Federal postscriptum of reconstruction; and the children, as they grew, grew into solidity against the military and civil tyranny over their country. In the passionate fervour of young hearts, they saw themselves as a generation consecrated by parental blood and ruin and desolation to the holy service of redeeming the South from negro supremacy, and removing her neck, as they said then, from under the foot of her conqueror. This was the generation who had not fought but who were old enough to have seen the misery of their parents through defeat. It was such a generation, under the leadership of the old soldiers and the great hero generals of the war, that the reconstructionists attempted to reconstruct. In New Orleans the inherent political irascibility of the people made the place a volcano of political passion. The carpet-bag and negro party, despite its superior military and political power, saw itself becoming hopelessly overmatched by the civil and social power organized against it; and, as in every other community in South, the Southern whites and the negroes trembled on the brink of a racial war.
Meanwhile, the reconstructionists quarrelled among themselves over the spoils, according to the monotonously regular experience of spoilsmen. The leaders — carpet-baggers no longer — over-rich in every form of wealth that Louisiana could give or negro votes legislate to them; lands, bonds, and cash, monopolies and trusts, excited the jealousy of adherents in their own class and the distrust of the negroes.
Our authority previously quoted heads his account of what followed: "Anarchy in Louisiana."
p323 To borrow his succinct statement2 of the facts and of the resultant situations:—
"The election of 1870 gave Louisiana to the Republicans by a substantial majority, but almost immediately the party began to break up into factions. The governor was opposed by the leading federal officers, who succeeded in gaining control of the Republican state convention. . . . On the death, during the previous year, of the coloured lieutenant-governor, a coloured adherent of the governor had been elected president of the Senate, but the Administration leaders declared his election illegal. . . . There was a bitter struggle in the House, during which the governor and a number of his supporters were arrested by the federal authorities; and the speaker was deposed. A congressional committee investigated the quarrel, but could not quiet it. . . .
"The governor and his coloured president of the Senate became estranged; the governor headed a Liberal Republican movement, which after much manoeuvring united with the Democratic party in a fusion ticket. The coloured president of the Senate was nominated for congressman-at‑large by the Republicans, whose ticket was headed by a new carpet-bag candidate for governor.
"The result of the election was hotly disputed. Two returning boards existed — one favouring the governor, the other the coloured politician's ticket. The governor's board declared his ticket elected by seven thousand majority; the coloured politician's board declared his ticket elected by nearly nineteen thousand majority; and each board made up its own list of members for the legislature." . . .
The members of the two Legislatures arrived in the city, determined to meet. At midnight, before the day appointed for meeting, the Republican leaders secured from a federal judge an order enjoining the Liberal legislators from meeting, and directing the United States marshal to take possession of the state house. p324President Grant favoured the coloured Republicans' claimants and ordered the federal troops to support him. On the morning of the day for the meeting of the legislature, a federal officer, therefore, stood at the door of the state house with a list in his hand, and admitted only those members permitted by the midnight order. A week later both governors took their oath of office. A congressional committee investigated the dispute. It found that the Liberal candidate was entitled to the government de jure, but that the Republican candidate, supported by the army, was de facto governor, a re-election was recommended. The recommendation, very naturally, was not adopted by the Washington executive. The Liberal governor and his supporters strongly protested against this decision, and although submitting to federal authority and deprived of power, retained their organization as a de jure government.
The campaign of 1874 was inaugurated. In September the registration offices were thrown open. The usual multiplication of negro registration papers followed, with the usual difficulties and impediments thrown in the way of white voters. The Republican governor had provided himself with a local army of his own, a body of metropolitan police, mostly negroes, paid by the city of New Orleans, but under his personal command and forming a part of his militia. Over against this force the citizens had organized themselves into a militia of their own, a "White League," with military organization, drill, and discipline.
The metropolitan police were armed with breech-loading rifles supplied by the United States, as the state's quota of arms. The White League, save a p325few fowling-pieces and pistols, was practically without arms. The governor's attempt to prevent the White League from arming itself precipitated the struggle. An order was issued forbidding the citizens to bear arms or keep them in their houses; the police disarmed the citizens when arms were detected upon them, and houses were searched. In the first week of September two boxes of second-hand rifles were being conveyed to a gun store. The owners claimed their property, and instituting legal proceedings obtained a decision from the court in their favour. The chief of police, ordered to surrender the guns, refused. Threatened with punishment for contempt, he produced a pardon signed in advance by the governor. The attorney-general of the state, by virtue of a statute of the reconstruction legislature, against a crime defined as state treason, arrested and held the owners of the guns. Other guns were seized in a gun store, and another attempt was made to seize a shipment by rail.
On Sunday, September 13, a steamer was expected with a supply of arms for the citizens. On Saturday night a large force of police, armed with Springfield rifles and one cannon, was stationed at the landing to seize the arms when they arrived. Monday a mass meeting was called at Clay's statue to protest against the seizure of the guns and assert the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms. The streets and sidewalks were filled for several squares, and there was a general suspension of business. A committee was appointed to wait upon the governor and request him to abdicate. He had fled from the executive office to the custom house, a great citadel, garrisoned at that p326time by United States troops. From his retreat he sent word declining to entertain any communication with the citizens. Their leaders then advised them to get arms and return to assist the White League in executing plans that would be arranged.
About three o'clock the White League, mustering eight hundred men, formed on Poydras street, from St. Charles street to the levee. A company was stationed at St. Charles and Canal streets; the street crossings to Canal street were barricaded with overturned cars. The Supreme Court building had been turned into an arsenal for the Metropolitans. They formed in Jackson square, six hundred and fifty men with six cannon, two Gatling guns, three Napoleons, and a howitzer. A force of six hundred of them held the state house. The report arriving that the citizens were in march to the steamship to protect the landing of their guns, five hundred Metropolitans, under command of the chief of police, were marched, with the cannon, to Canal street and halted in front of the custom house, and their cannon pointed toward St. Charles street. The main body of them, with three cannon, then advanced to the levee and took their station there. Upon this, three companies of the White League moved out Poydras street to the levee, and took their position opposite the Metropolitans. The Metropolitans opened fire with their cannon and rifles. The White League attempted to reply with their one cannon, but it worked unsatisfactorily. Abandoning it, two companies advanced rapidly down the river bank, and under cover of the piled‑up freight fired upon the Metropolitans at the cannon, with such effect that the negroes among them wavered and retreated. One of the Gatling guns was p327turned to fire upon the levee. Taking advantage of the confusion among the Metropolitans and the lull in their firing the White League at Poydras street made a dash down the open levee and charged the battery. The Metropolitans broke and fled behind the custom house, abandoning their guns and leaving the chief of police wounded on the ground. A rally was made, and desultory fighting continued in the streets for a short while, but in an hour all was over. When the Metropolitans returned to their arsenal, but sixty or seventy remained of the army of the morning. Fearful of the vengeance of the citizens, they had thrown down their arms, torn off their uniforms, and escaped to hiding-places. It was never known how many were killed; the published account acknowledges fifteen killed and seventy-five wounded. The citizens lost sixteen.
The Fourteenth of September Monument, Liberty Place.
But the triumph was cut short. President Grant commanded the insurgents, as he called them, to disperse in five days; troops were ordered to New Orleans, gunboats were anchored in the river, their guns aimed to sweep the streets of the city. The military commander received positive orders under no circumstances to recognize the citizens' governor; United States soldiers, in default of the Metropolitans, policed the streets. The Republican governor issued from his asylum of the custom house and resumed his office. The citizens submitted even cheerfully. They had proved their point; the carpet-bag government could be placed and kept in power by the United States soldiery, and in no other way whatever. The citizens who fell were honoured with the obsequies of patriot martyrs. A monument has since been erected to their memory on Liberty place where the Metropolitans' cannon stood. On the 14th of September — considered after the 8th of January the proudest date of New Orleans — their graves are decorated, and the local journals and orators never pass the commemoration by without those words of praise and gratitude which would seem to be the noblest and only pension for true patriots.
The election of 1874 passed quietly. The Democratic p329success was a foregone conclusion. The returning board, with its usual manipulations of counting out and counting in, gave the treasury to the Republicans and allowed them a majority of two in the legislature, leaving five seats contested. After recounting instances of illegal action and fraud on the part of the returning board, the Democratic committee issued an address to the people of the United States:—
"We, the down-trodden people of once free Louisiana, now call upon the people of the free states of America, if you would yourselves remain free and retain the right of self-government, to demand in tones that cannot be misunderstood or disregarded, that the shackles be stricken from Louisiana, and that the power of the United States army may no longer be used to keep a horde of adventurers in power."
The congressional investigating committee "unanimously found itself constrained to declare that the action of the returning board was arbitrary, unjust, and illegal." Nevertheless a few days before the assembling of the legislature, General Grant put General Sheridan in command of the department. The legislature convened on January 14th. As our authority states, the events of that day were memorable and unprecedented. "The state house was filled and surrounded by Metropolitans and federal soldiers, and no one was permitted to enter save by the Republican governor's orders. The clerk of the preceding house called the assembly to order. Fifty Democrats and fifty-two Republicans answered to their names. A Democratic temporary chairman was nominated; the clerk interposed some objection, but the Conservative members disregarding him, the motion was put and declared carried by a viva voce vote. The chairman sprang to p330the platform, pushed the clerk (a negro) aside, and seized the gavel. A justice then swore the members in en bloc . . . a new clerk was elected, also a sergeant-at‑arms; then, from among gentlemen who had secured admittance, assistant sergeants-at‑arms were appointed. . . . The five contesting Democrats were admitted and sworn in. The Republicans now attempted to adopt their opponents' tactics . . . but the organization of the house was completed by the Democrats. . . . Pistols were drawn, and the disorder grew so great that the federal colonel in command was requested to insist upon order. This he did. . . . The house proceeded with the election of minor offices. . . . At length the federal colonel received word from the Republican governor, which his general orders bound him to obey, to remove the five members sworn in but not returned by the board. The speaker refusing to point them out, a Republican member did so, and in spite of protests they were forcibly removed by federal soldiers. The Democratic speaker then left the house, at the head of the Conservative members; the Republicans remaining, organized to suit themselves."
General Sheridan reported the matter, as his war reputation warranted that he should. He suggested that Congress or the President should declare the leaders of the White League banditti, so that he could try them by military commission. A public protest of indignation arose from the city. All the exchanges and the Northern and Western merchants and residents of the city passed resolutions denying the truth of the federal general's report, and, in an appeal to the nation, a number of New Orleans clergymen condemned it as "unmerited, unfounded, and erroneous."
p331 A special congressional committee investigated the affair. It effected a "readjustment" by which the state was given to the Republican governor, but the decision of the returning board was reversed by seating twelve of the contestants excluded by it.
The last act of the reconstruction drama was the election of 1876, when the returning boards of three Southern states threw out enough Democratic votes to give the states to the Republican candidate for President; but in Louisiana the state was, as it was called, returned to the Louisianans, and they, for the first time since 1862, entered into possession of the government.
President Hayes withdrawing the federal support, the carpet-bag government collapsed.
1 "A History of the Last Quarter Century in the United States," E. Benjamin Andrews, Scribner's Monthly, March‑June, 1895. The author, in the foregoing and following, is indebted to these articles for much beside the quotation.
2 Not entirely verbatim; designations have been substituted for proper names, and some sentences slightly changed, in order to compass necessary abbreviations.
b For Butler's infamous Woman Order, empowering any Federal soldier to treat as a common prostitute any woman who dissed him, see for example original text and commentary on this page at CivilWarHome.com.
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