By Edwin C. Bearss
On a hot Wednesday afternoon in New Orleans, seventeen days before Louisiana withdrew from the Union, Brigadier General Elisha L. Tracy summoned his junior officers to an important conference. At this time, Tracy commanded the 1st Brigade, Louisiana State Troops. By 8 P.M., the militia captains had assembled and reported their troops equipped and ready to march.
An air of excitement filled the air.º The soldiers inquired of one another as to the purpose of the sudden muster. Soon the news was out. The public property belonging to the Federal government in Louisiana was to be seized. Among the properties designated to be appropriated by the state were the United States arsenal and barracks at Baton Rouge; Forts Jackson and Saint Philip on the Mississippi River, seventy miles below New Orleans; Fort Livingston, guarding the entrance to Barataria Bay; Fort Pike on the Rigolets; and Fort Macomb on Chef Menteur. Here was the initial whisper of war. All this before the convention, with secession on its mind, had yet assembled.1
The arsenal and barracks at Baton Rouge caused Louisiana's chief executive, Governor Thomas O. Moore, considerable worry. These symbols of Federal power were located near the state capitol, where the delegates of the sovereign p402 people of his state were about to assemble. Moore was afraid that these bases, if held by hostile and unscrupulous individuals, might be used to overawe and restrain the deliberations of the convention. Upon his own responsibility, the governor had resolved to take possession of all the military posts and munitions of war within his state.2
Major General John L. Lewis, the commander of the 1st Division, Louisiana Militia was ordered by Governor Moore on January 6 to have a force of 300 men ready to move on an hour's notice. It was to implement this order that General Tracy, three days later, mustered his men at the foot of Levee and Canal Streets. Captain James B. Walton of the Washington Artillery was placed in command of the expedition. Walton's force was assigned the mission of capturing the United States arsenal and barracks at Baton Rouge. Twenty rounds of ammunition were issued to each of the 250 men present. By midnight the troops had boarded the steamer National.3
"Task Force Walton" disembarked the next morning at Baton Rouge. Upon going ashore, Walton's troops rendezvoused with militia units from the capital city. Thus augmented, the Louisianians, now numbering some 600 strong, proceeded to the arsenal and barracks, which they surrounded.4
At 5 P.M., two of Governor Moore's aides-de‑camp, Colonels Richard Taylor and Braxton Bragg, advanced under a flag of truce. Knocking on the gate of the arsenal, the two officers delivered to Captain Joseph A. Haskin, the commanding officer of the barracks, an ultimatum from the governor. This document read;
p403 The safety of the State of Louisiana demands that I take possession of all Government property within her limits. You are, therefore, summoned hereby to deliver up the barracks, arsenal, and public property now under your command.
With the large force at my disposal this demand will be enforced. Any attempt at defense on your part will be a rash sacrifice of life.5
Anticipating no reinforcements or support, and confronted by overwhelming odds, Haskin deemed it proper, after consulting with his subordinate officers, to surrender to the state authorities.6
Articles of capitulation were drawn up and signed, providing for the surrender "of the barracks, arsenal, and all public property therein, to the State of Louisiana, receipts to be given by Governor Moore for the same." It was provided that Haskin's small command, composed of officers and enlisted men belonging to Company D, 1st United States Artillery, would be placed aboard boats and sent up the river. The troops were to be permitted to take with them "their personal effects, infantry armament, camp and garrison equipage, and twenty days' rations. . . ."7
One immediate advantage accrued to the Louisiana authorities with the capture of the arsenal. Previously, the state had been faced with a critical shortage of firearms. Now the p404 state was so well supplied that Governor Moore was able to send to Governor John J. Pettus of Mississippi: 5,000 flintlock muskets, 3,000 percussion muskets, 1,000 Hall's rifles, 200,000 cartridges (buck and ball), 1,000 pounds of rifle powder, six 24‑pounder guns and carriages, 500 24‑pounder shot, and 1,000 pounds of cannon powder.8
On the same day that the Pelican flag was hoisted over the barracks at Baton Rouge, a second detachment, mustering 166 officers and men, had assembled at the state arsenal in New Orleans. This force was commanded by Major Paul E. Théard.9 In response to a telegraphic warning from Senators Judah P. Benjamin and John Slidell in Washington that a secret attempt would be made by the Gulf Squadron to pour reinforcements into the coastal forts, Governor Moore decided that Théard's command should proceed against Forts Jackson and Saint Philip.10 From the arsenal, the troops marched to the quay. There, they boarded the steamboat Yankee.
Arriving next morning before the two forts, which were on opposite sides of the Mississippi, seventy miles below New Orleans, Major Théard demanded their surrender. At this time, the forts were not garrisoned. Captain Henry St. Paul took possession of Fort Saint Philip, which was unoccupied, while Major Théard received the surrender of Fort Jackson from Ordnance Sergeant H. Smith, its caretaker. Over these twin strong points which guarded the Mississippi River approaches to the "Crescent City," the Pelican flag was quickly hoisted.11
A third expeditionary force commanded by Captain George p405 Clark had assembled at the armory of the Continental Guards on January 10, Clark's men moved to the landing on Lake Ponchartrain, where they boarded the Mobile mail packet. On January 14, the Louisianians disembarked at the Rigolets. Over the hearty protests of its ordnance sergeant tenant, they seized Fort Pike.12 In addition, the state authorities had also occupied the defenses of Proctor's Landing, Battery Bienvenue, and Tower Dupré. These three fortifications covered the approaches to New Orleans from Lake Borgne.
It would require a vast amount of labor to place in a defensible condition these fortifications which the Louisiana state troops had seized during the second week of January. Colonel Joseph G. Totten, Chief of Engineers in the United States Army, had noted in his report to Congress in 1860 that in case of war the forts should be manned by the following complements: Fort Saint Philip 600 men, Fort Pike 300 men, Battery Bienvenue 100 men, Tower Dupré 50 men, Fort Jackson 600 men, and the defenses of Proctor's Landing 100 men.13 In securing personnel to garrison the forts, Governor Moore would be aided by a board of military commissioners. The special session of the legislature had authorized the enrollment of 500 men for four months' service. Following the occupation of the forts, these volunteers were rapidly organized into the 1st Louisiana Regular Regiment.14 As quickly as possible, the regulars were sent out. They were used to relieve the militiamen of the responsibility for garrisoning the forts.15
On January 23, the convention which was to decide the fate of Louisiana assembled at Baton Rouge. The delegates had for their guidance the vote of the popular referendum. The people believing in unilateral action by the state had carried the election against the individuals who favored withdrawal in conjunction with other Southern states, by a vote p406 of 4,258 to 3,978.16 Governor Moore, through his seizure of the Federal properties within the state, had all but presented the convention with a fait accompli. Three days later on January 26 the delegates, by a vote of 113 ayes to 17 nays, proceeded to adopt, "An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her, under the compact entitled 'The Constitution of the United States.' "17 Seven of the seventeen who had voted in the negative immediately signed the Ordinance.18 As soon as the votes had been tabulated, Mouton announced, "the connection of Louisiana with the United States is dissolved, and the Federal authority therein null and void."19
When the announcement of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession was made in New Orleans, several Federal officers immediately resigned their positions. Governor Moore, acting through Maurice Grivot, Adjutant General of Louisiana, moved to sequester the remaining Federal property in the state. To implement the governor's instructions, Captain Henry A. Clinch, accompanied by a detachment of the 1st Louisiana Regulars, moved against Fort Macomb. On January 28, Ordnance Sergeant D. Wilber surrendered Fort Macomb to Captain Clinch's command.20
On the same day, Adjutant Grivot called on Lieutenant Colonel Abraham C. Myers and demanded, "possession of all the quartermaster's commissary stores, and of all property under your control and in your possession belonging to the United States of America, for which the State of Louisiana is and will be accountable. . . ."21 Myers complied with p407 Grivot's request, and notified Adjutant General Samuel Cooper:
I will forward receipts to the proper staff departments of the U. S. Army at Washington for all public property in my custody for which I am accountable, and the public funds in my hands I will turn over to the assistant treasurer of the United States in New Orleans. . . .
South Carolina, the State where I was born, and Louisiana, the State of my adoption, having in convention passed ordinances of secession from the United States, I am absolved from my allegiance to the Federal Government. My resignation as an officer of the U. S. Army is accepted for me by the States above named. I beg that the settlement of my accounts will be made up as soon as possible. I shall make it a point of honor scrupulously to discharge every item of accountability arising from any differences in the official statements and my own in connection with my duties while I was in the Army of the United States.22
Secretary of War Joseph Holt was deeply stung by Myers' action in surrendering to the Louisiana authorities the stores entrusted to his keeping. He dashed off a letter to Governor Moore, protesting the forced requisition of the quartermaster and commissary stores.
Their seizure, under the circumstances, was an act of flagrant and atrocious spoliation, which I can scarcely believe had the sanction of a government professing to be organized for the maintenance of law and order, and to be regulated by those principles of justice and morality which are inseparable from the civilization of the age.23
Now a man who was destined to be Louisiana's most noted military figure in the course of the impending conflict entered upon the scene. Major Pierre G. T. Beauregard, who had been removed as superintendent of the United States Military Academy on January 28, returned to New Orleans p408 in the second week of February.24 Hardly had the major set foot in the "Crescent City" before he began to issue a stream of advice to the state military authorities. An able engineer, Beauregard observed that the defenses of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip were in such deplorable condition that any steamer could pass them in broad daylight. He expounded his thesis that, even when properly defended, the forts could not prevent the passage of one or more steamers during a dark or stormy night; except with the assistance of a "properly constructed" raft, or a strong "wire-rope", stretched across the river between the two forts, so as to arrest the steamers' progress.25
As the initial step in strengthening the "Crescent City" defenses, Beauregard recommended the construction of a barrier across the river. Next, he suggested that the number of heavy guns bearing on the river should be greatly augmented. He proposed that all heavy ordnance, not required for the defense of Baton Rouge, Forts Pike and Macomb, and Battery Bienvenue, should be transferred to Forts Jackson and Saint Philip. His final suggestion encompassed the felling of the numerous trees which masked the fire of the twin forts. In summing up, Beauregard commented:
In a few words, no expenses ought to be spared to put those two works in a most efficient state of defense, for fifty thousand or a hundred thousand dollars spent thus might, a few weeks hence, save millions of dollars to the State and the City of New Orleans.26
In accordance with Beauregard's suggestions, Colonel Paul O. Hébert, Chief of Artillery and Engineers in the Louisiana State Army on February 22 ordered the transfer of the following types of heavy ordnance to the forts guarding the Mississippi below New Orleans: Fifteen 24‑pounder siege guns en barbette with carriages from Fort Macomb to Fort p409 St. Philip, ten 24‑pounder siege guns with carriages from Battery Bienvenue to Fort St. Philip, and nine 24‑pounder siege guns from Baton Rouge to Fort St. Philip. To expedite the delivery of these weapons, Hébert recommended that the guns be placed aboard a steamboat. This vessel would proceed to the designated fort by way of the Rigolets and Pass à l'Outre.27
In Louisiana, secession had now run its course. The state had severed all its ties with the national government and had seized all Federal properties within its boundaries. Colonel Bragg, the governor's aide-de‑camp, had been placed in charge of the state army. Delegates had been sent to the convention which had assembled at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4 to hammer out an instrument of government for the seceding states. Within two weeks, a provisional government had been established; a president and vice president inaugurated.
3 O. R., Series I, Vol. LIII, 610. The militia companies which constituted Walton's task force were: 1st Company, Foot Rifles; 2d Company, Foot Rifles; Lafayette Company, Number 2 — all belonging to the Louisiana Legion. Those belonging to the 1st Brigade were: Washington Artillery, Louisiana Grays, Sarsfield Rifles, Louisiana Guards, Orleans Cadets, and the Crescent Rifles.
5 Ibid. Richard Taylor, only son of the twelfth President of the United States, was born near Louisville, Kentucky, on January 27, 1826. He was educated abroad and at Yale, from which he graduated in 1845. During the Mexican War, he served as his father's secretary. During the post-war period he lived upon his extensive estate in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, and devoted himself to the management of the plantation. Taylor served in the state senate from 1856 to 1861. He was a delegate to the Charleston and Baltimore Democratic Conventions in 1860.
Joseph A. Haskin was born in New York, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1839. Serving in the Mexican War, Haskin was breveted twice for meritorious service and gallantry. He had been promoted to a captain in the 1st Artillery on February 22, 1851.
Thayer's Note: A summary of Haskin's military career is given in Cullum's Register, No. 995.
8 Ibid., 495. Major Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Confederate Ordnance, reported to the state authorities that by their seizure of the Baton Rouge arsenal they had gained possession of the following types of arms: 4,236 rifles, 29,222 percussion type muskets, 8,283 flintlocks, 73 Colt rifles, 2,287 Hall rifles, 735 carbines, 2,075 percussion pistols, and 468 Colt pistols.
9 O. R., Series I, Vol. LIII, 610. Théard's force consisted of a company of Jaegers, and the Chasseurs, 1814 and 1815.
15 O. R., Series I, Vol. LIII, 612‑14.
17 O. R., Series I, Vol. LIII, 616.
18 Carl R. Fish, The American Civil War (New York, 1937), 54.
21 O. R., Series I, Vol. I, 493. Abraham C. Myers, the first Quartermaster General of the Confederate States, was a native of South Carolina, but a citizen of Louisiana by adoption. Myers was graduated from West Point in 1833 and served in the Mexican War. In 1860, he held a position in the Quartermaster Department of the United States Army, with the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel, and was stationed at New Orleans.
24 T. Harry Williams, P. G. T. Beauregard, Napoleon in Gray (Baton Rouge, 1955), 44‑47.
27 O. R., Series I, Vol. LIII, 618‑19.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
American History Notes
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Jan 15