10 Fascinating Facts About the Civil War in Louisiana

 

Debate over the fate of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, Shreveport, Lake Charles and other cities has become the talk of the state. In New Orleans, the city council is soon expected to vote upon a resolution to remove statues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, along with a memorial to the 1877 Battle of Liberty Place. These ten historical highlights about how the Civil War played out in Louisiana are meant to offer more historical context to a brutal and pivotal epoch when brother fought brother and the destinies of nearly four million enslaved people across the South hung in the balance.

 

1. The word ''Dixie'' may have originated in Louisiana.
A Dix note issued by the Banque de la Louisiane.

A dix note issued by the Banque de la Louisiane.

In the early 19th century, flatboatmen traveling down the Mississippi would sell their cargo in New Orleans in exchange for paper currency with the word “Dix” — French for the numeral 10 — issued by the Bank of Louisiana. Legend has it that the English-speaking men would return home with pockets full of what they called “Dixies” and eventually the region came to be known as “Dixieland.” Another theory credits the toponym’s provenance to the demarcation of Mason’s and Dixon’s line, drawn between 1763 and 1767 to resolve a border dispute between Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. The song “Dixie” was written by a white Northerner, Daniel Decatur Emmett, and debuted at his minstrel show in New York City in 1859. The tune became an instant success and was quickly adopted as an anthem of the South. President Lincoln listed it among his favorites, even in wartime.

2. Abraham Lincoln did not receive a single popular vote in Louisiana in his first run for president.
lincolnribbon

1860 campaign ribbon promoting Abraham Lincoln for president

The Republican Party emerged as an abolitionist political force in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The statute’s passage by Congress in 1854 violated the 1850 Missouri Compromise that was inteded to halt the spread of slavery above the 36° 30′ latitude as the U.S. expanded westward. Southerners were immediately disdainful of the emerging anti-slavery faction, so much so that in his presidential campaign Abraham Lincoln famously addressed the partisan friction in a speech at New York’s Cooper Union: “[W]hen you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws.” Louisiana did not recognize the Republican Party in the election of 1860 and Lincoln’s name was left off the ballots. By 1864 the state was partially under Union occupation. The thirteen reconstructed parishes cast Louisiana’s seven Electoral College votes for Lincoln, but Congress refused to count them since many legislators disapproved of Lincoln’s plans for readmitting the state to the Union.

3. General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a Louisiana Creole, was the first Confederate commander to order an assault upon federal troops.
Pgt Beauregard

P. G. T. Beauregard

P.G.T. Beauregard was born in 1818 to a French-speaking family that owned a sugar plantation in St. Bernard Parish. He did not learn English until age 11 when he was sent away to boarding school in New York. He went on to graduate from West Point where he came to be nicknamed “Little Napoleon” (he stood 5 foot 7 inches tall).  After rising through the ranks of the military, including leading troops in the Mexican-American War, Beauregard was offered the position of superintendent of his alma mater in 1861. Soon after he arrived at the U.S. Army’s academy on the Hudson River, Louisiana seceded from the Union. He was dismissed after only five days at his prestigious new post due to his vocal sympathies for the Southern cause. Confederate president Jefferson Davis appointed Beauregard as brigadier general and dispatched him to Charleston, South Carolina, where, on April 12, 1861, the newly minted CSA commander ordered artillery fire upon federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter, located on an island in the city’s harbor. Union soldiers surrendered the next day and Beauregard became one of the Confederacy’s first war heroes.

4. General Beauregard also played an influential role in the creation of the Confederate battle flag.
01-Lithograph-Battle-of-Franklin-Tennessee-Published-1891

Lithograph of the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, 1864, depicting the U.S. and Confederate battle flags.

Following the rebel victory at the first Battle of Manassas in July 21, 1861, General Beauregard noted that confusion had arisen among the combatants due to the similarities of the U.S. flag and the original Confederate flag, known as the “Stars and Bars.” A new square battle flag was proposed and approved featuring a blue X emblazoned with 13 five-pointed stars (representing each of the Confederate states) on a background of red. The banner known as the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag came to be the most widely recognized symbol of the Confederacy. In recent decades the contentious emblem has incited debate over its meaning: Southern pride and historical commemoration or racial oppression and defiance of integration and federal intervention?

5. Mary Todd Lincoln's half-brother was among the Confederate fatalities at the Battle of Baton Rouge.
Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln

Lieutenant Alexander H. Todd of the Confederacy’s First Kentucky Brigade was related to the first lady by way of her father’s second marriage. Two other half-brothers, David Todd and Samuel Todd, also took up arms against the North. During the Battle of Baton Rouge, Alexander Todd was mortally wounded in a friendly fire incident on August 5, 1862. He died two weeks later. Grief stricken from the deaths of sons Eddie and Willie — and later inconsolable following her husband’s assassination — Mary Todd Lincoln spent much of her time in consultation with spiritualists who claimed to communicate with the dead. In her letters, she wrote of supernatural encounters in the White House: “Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always had. He does not come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him, and twice he has come with our brother Alex.”

6. General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the digging of canals through northeast Louisiana in a failed attempt to circumvent the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Though the port cities of Memphis and New Orleans fell to Union forces early in the Civil War, the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg proved to be stubbornly impenetrable. Nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the South,” failure to conquer the town split the Union Navy’s control of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. In the summer of 1862, under the oversight of Brigadier General Thomas Williams, 3,000 men were ordered to begin digging a canal through a peninsula in Madison Parish, opposite Vicksburg, with the goal of allowing river traffic to safely bypass Confederate cannons perched high in a town that slopes down steep river bluffs. Shovels began to turn dirt on June 27, 1862, but malaria, dysentery and other diseases quickly spread through the ranks. “The labor of making this cut is far greater than estimated by anybody,” Williams confessed. By July 24, the ambitious project was stopped. It resumed again in January 1863 under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. He held little confidence in the arduous scheme, but maintained that work on the channel would keep the troops in good physical condition for a planned spring campaign. On July 4, 1863, after 47 days of relentless bombing, Vicksburg ultimately surrendered. A section of the unfinished canal can be viewed near Delta, Louisiana, as part of Vicksburg National Military Park.

Grants Canal

A map from 1862 shows a never-completed hand-dug bypass across a Mississippi River peninsula in Madison Parish, opposite Vicksburg, Mississippi, that came to be known as Grant’s Canal.

7. The first of Louisiana's African Americans to serve in the war were enlisted as Confederates, but many soon switched allegiance to the Union Army.
The Native Guard consisted of free men of color from New Orleans’ Creole elite who, following Louisiana’s secession, opted to join the Confederate cause in an effort to defend their homes and businesses against a potential Union invasion. The volunteer militia was met with praise in the local press. “Our free colored men … are certainly as much attached to the land of their birth as their white brethren here in Louisiana,” the Daily Crescent assured its readers. “[They] will fight the people of color Republican with as much determination and gallantry as any body of white men in the service of the Confederate States.” Southern military leaders, however, largely snubbed the Native Guard and never called them into active duty. When the Union Navy took control of New Orleans in April 1862, after initial reluctance and without approval from his superiors, Major General Benjamin Butler sought the aid of these decommissioned black soldiers. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard (later to become the 73rd Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops) was organized on Sept. 27, 1862, and included many former slaves who had escaped from Louisiana plantations. The unit first saw combat in mid-1863 at the Battle of Port Hudson where Captain Andre Cailloux, among the first African Americans to lead troops into battle, was killed in action. He received a hero’s funeral in New Orleans with a procession that included marching units from 37 benevolent, charitable, religious and patriotic societies.

Cailloux funeral

Funeral of Andre Cailloux in New Orleans, July 29, 1863, from the August 29, 1863 edition of Harpers Weekly.

8. During Union occupation, many New Orleanians grew so disgusted with Major General Benjamin Butler they decorated their chamber pots with his portrait.
Major General Benjamin Butler

Benjamin Butler

Following New Orleans’ surrender in April 1862 to Union naval forces, Major General Benjamin F. Butler was put in command of the city ahead of 10,000 occupation troops. The Massachusetts-born politician turned military leader ruled with an iron fist and was branded with the sobriquet “Beast.” On June 7, in spite of pleas from the the wife and children of prisoner William Mumford, Butler followed through on a military court order to hang the accused rabblerouser for tearing down the American flag from the New Orleans Mint and ripping it to shreds. Tempers flared, and at least one woman was known to have discarded the contents of a chamber pot upon the head of an officer from her second-floor window. Such brazenly disrespectful actions by women, including encouraging children to sing Confederate songs, spitting upon soldiers and turning backs to avoid acknowledging the military occupiers, prompted Butler to issue his infamous General Order No. 28. The edict read: “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 of the most scrupulous non-interference 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 private of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her vocation.” Profiting from the ensuing outrage, merchants in New Orleans began clandestine sales of chamber pots with Butler’s photograph pasted to the bottom. P. G. T. Beauregard had the Order read aloud to Confederate troops to stir emotions: “Men of the South! Shall our mothers, our wives, our daughters and our sisters, be thus outraged by the ruffianly soldiers of the North, to whom is given the right to treat, at their pleasure, the ladies of the South as common harlots? Arouse friends, and drive back from our soil, those infamous invaders of our homes and disturbers of our family ties.”

 

9. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was briefly the president of the academy that became Louisiana State University prior to the state's secession.
In 1859 the Louisiana State Military Seminary of Learning and Military Academy opened in Pineville with approximately five dozen all-male students. William Tecumseh Sherman, a West Point graduate, veteran of the Mexican-American War and former banker in San Francisco and New York, was hired as the institution’s first superintendent and a professor of engineering. He proved to be an effective and popular leader. By 1861, as secession fever swept the South, Sherman was called upon to accept munitions surrendered at the U.S. Arsenal to the Louisiana state militia. Considering this an act of treason, Sherman resigned his position. He had previously informed Governor Thomas Overton Moore: “Recent events foreshadow a great change, and it becomes all men to choose. If Louisiana withdraws from the federal Union, I prefer to maintain my allegiance to the Constitution as long as a fragment of it survives, and my longer stay here would be wrong in every sense of the word.” Sherman returned north, joined the Union Army and by 1864 was vilified by Southerners for his scorched-earth tactics of warfare as his troops pillaged and burned their way across Georgia in the Savannah Campaign, also known as the “March to the Sea.” After the war, Sherman donated two cannons to LSU that were used to fire upon Fort Sumter. They are currently displayed outside the Military Science building.

Two Civil War cannons that were used to fire upon Fort Sumter flank the entrance to the Military Science building at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The cannons were donated to the university by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who served as the first superintendent of the academy that became LSU from 1859Ð1861.

Two Civil War cannons that were used to fire upon Fort Sumter flank the entrance to the Military Science building at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The cannons were donated to the university by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who served as the first superintendent of the academy that became LSU from 1859-1861.

10. Shreveport is considered by historians to be the last bastion of Confederate resistence.
Edmund_Kirby_Smith

Edmund Kirby Smith

Though General Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, unconquered troops in in the far western stretches of the Confederacy held out hope of a last stand for months to follow. The Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate Army, headquartered in Shreveport under the command of General Edmund Kirby Smith, retained control of parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, and all of Texas. By expanding their ranks, galvanizing Southern refugees who had fled from other states and relying upon the stored commodities and untapped natural resources of the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and the Arizona and New Mexico territories, there was a belief held by Confederate president Jefferson Davis and other defiant Southerners that a stronghold could be maintained that might allow the region some autonomy even in the face of defeat. Upon hearing news of Lee’s surrender, Smith had told his battle-weary soldiers, “With you rests the hope of our nation [the Confederate States] and upon your action rests the fate of our people … Prove to the world that your hearts have not failed in the hour of disaster, and that at the last moment you will sustain the holy cause which has been so gloriously battled for by your brethren east of the Mississippi.” By early June, Kirby’s desperate call to arms proved futile. He ratified terms of surrender that were drawn in Galveston, Texas, thus making Shreveport, the Confederate capital of Louisiana, the last Southern city to capitulate.  

 

 

 

 

 

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