New Orleans the Federals Capture the City

Because it, more than any other city of the South, depended upon slavery and the cotton crop for prosperity, New Orleans had little choice when it became necessary to make a decision on the question of secession -- as the cotton States went the city had to follow. The small ' Union Party' was silenced by the tide of circumstances. The much larger 'Co-operationist' group likewise found its efforts futile after South Carolina forced the issue. Citizens of all opinions began preparing themselves for war after the State legislature adopted the ordinance of secession on January 26, 1861. A week later the Custom House and Mint in New Orleans were seized by the State militia.

For more than a year the city saw no fighting. Instead of war there was preparation -- enlisting and equipping troops for action on distant fronts. Gold and silver disappeared, and Confederate money became the leading currency. The price of food and clothing rose as the value of money went down. The State had one paper issue, the city another. First there was a lack of currency and then a flood of 'shin-plasters'; merchants issued their own 'money,' in which enterprising liquor dealers took the lead. A joke was current that 'you could pass the label of an olive-oil bottle because it was greasy, smelt bad, and bore an autograph.'

As the port of the Mississippi Valley, and an important' source of supplies for the Confederacy, the city became the objective of a Federal offensive in 1862. With the intention of cutting the Confederacy in two by gaining control of New Orleans, a fleet of twenty-five wooden ships and nineteen mortar schooners, under Admiral David G. Farragut, a former citizen of New Orleans, passed through the mouth of the river and opened fire on Forts Jackson and St. Philip below the city.

For five days and nights the unceasing bombardment continued from the mortar schooners situated at a bend in the river two miles below the forts. Although great damage was done to the forts, they continued firing, and Farragut, overruling his staff, decided to attempt a passage with his war vessels. At 2 A.M. on the morning of April 24, 1862, while the mortar schooners poured bombs into the fortifications, seventeen ships in three divisions began the hazardous ascent. Lack of fire-rafts, and the ease with which the great chain stretching across the river was broken, permitted the fleet to slip by. As the ships passed they poured broadside after broadside into the forts, which replied ineffectually. The Confederate boats in the river made a heroic effort to stay the advance, but the Federal armada was not to be stopped.

After passing the fortifications at Chalmette without much difficulty, Farragut arrived at New Orleans in a pouring rain on April 25. Since General Lovell and his 3000 men had been dispatched elsewhere, the Federal forces had only the half-armed citizenry to fear. The city authorities refused to surrender, and Farragut threatened to open a bombardment, an act he was reluctant to perform. Crowds gathered in the streets shouting that they had been betrayed, and milled about in futile rage, committing senseless acts of violence. Cotton was tumbled out on the levees and set on fire, and ships lying at anchor were cut loose to drift down the river in flames.

On May 1, General Butler's troops marched into the city and assumed command. The municipal authorities were removed from office and Federal officers appointed in their place. The hand of a stern ruler was felt throughout the city. In an attempt to restrain any manifestation of the people against the Federal occupation a woman was sentenced to two years on Ship Island under Negro guards for laughing during the funeral of a Federal officer, and a man was given the same punishment for displaying a skeleton as that of a Union soldier. William Mumford, who had removed the United States flag from the Mint before the city had been surrendered, was tried by court-martial and hanged. Under the 'Woman's Order', any woman who might 'by word, gesture, or movement show contempt for any officer or soldier' was to be treated as a 'woman of the town plying her vocation.' Special taxes were levied against those who had aided the Confederacy, and soldiers were sent to search the houses of citizens for arms; any slave offering information against his master in this respect was freed. All persons over eighteen years of age were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Federal Government or surrender their property and leave the city.

Such acts, whatever may have been their justification, aroused the resentment of the whole Confederacy and led President Davis to decree that General Butler, should he be captured, was to be treated as an outlaw and hanged. Popular opinion in France and England was also affected, and pressure brought to bear in Washington was influential in bringing about General Butler's removal. He was succeeded by General Banks, who was more moderate in attitude. Under his direction a Union Government was formed for the State.

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