Here Come the Yankees

On April 22, 1862, nothing was more frightening for a resident of New Orleans, white or black, than the Yankees coming. The Emancipation Proclamation had not been issued. Federal troops were not yet seen as protectors of the black residents. Clara Solomon was very patriotic. She was also a dedicated reader of the newspapers, often consuming more than one newspaper per day. By April 22, 1862, she knew the Union forces were literally at the gate. They were bombarding the forts at the mouth of the Mississippi – just downriver from the port of New Orleans. On the same day, the reports from the bloody Battle of Shiloh rolled into the Crescent City. The city knew in a deep, palpable way that the toll on young New Orleans men was indeed great.

Her neighbor and close family friend, Sammy Nathan, was a member of the Crescent Artillery, a militia unit. The militia units today come with a reputation of avoiding service. But, Sammy was different. He was a patriot. He was quite prepared to offer his life to defend New Orleans. He was prepared to follow his regiment to “h—l,” wrote the young diarist. Sammy was over 35 years and, therefore, free from the Confederate Conscription Act. But, Sammy was determined to do his part. Clara herself was dedicated to her country and equally patriotic. She would expect no less from her friend and a close friend of the entire Solomon family, Sammy Nathan.

Both the Solomons and Nathans were Jewish. But, that did not cool their patriotic zeal one bit.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 208, 338.


The Barbarians (Yankees) at the Gates

Clara Solomon wrote a wonderfully detailed diary during the Civil War in New Orleans. She was born in 1844. Her family were Sephardic Jews from South Carolina. Her father was Solomon Solomon who made a good living as a merchant. After the Civil War, his finances would reverse. But, for now, they were solidly middle class.

The war was never far from Clara’s thoughts or activities. But, on March 15, 1862, you get a sense of her fear when the Confederate Army (i.e., Maj-Gen. Lovell) declared martial law in New Orleans. She commented that the news “startled the timid,” but on seeing the Provost Marshals, confidence was at once restored. The marshals were as follows:

  • Wm Freret                               First District
  • Cyprien Dufour                       Second District
  • Hon. Pierre Soule                   Third District
  • Col. H. D. Ogden                    Fourth District
  • Capt. Norbert Trepagnier       Algiers
  • Judge Victor Burthe                Jefferson Parish

And, well they should have confidence. William Freret was the man for whom Freret street is named. He had served as mayor of the city in the 1840’s and was a strong supporter of the school system.

Pierre Soule was one of those persons in Louisiana politics who was a household name. He had served as senator from Louisiana and as ambassador to Spain. He has been described as  a “fire-eater,” meaning he was an ardent secessionist. He was a lawyer in New Orleans, known for defending the filibusterer, William Walker. Soule had a colorful past. He published in France an article critical of church and state. He was sentenced to prison, but left for the United States. Later, during the Yankee occupation, he will be arrested for allegedly provoking unrest. He will be sent to prison in New York, but will escape. See biography of Pierre Soule here.

Cyprien Dufour had studied law in the office of Pierre Soule. He later served as District Attorney for Orleans parish and as assistant Attorney General for the state of Louisiana. These were the heavy-weights in New Orleans political circles who were still in town. Everyone else was off at war.

Martial law also meant the city’s coffee houses and saloons would close at 8 pm every night, recorded the young Clara. Not mentioned by Clara, there would also be a system of passports issued which would restrict egress and ingress into the city.

The Federal fleet had appeared at the mouth of the Mississippi on March 13, 1862. The Confederate commander, Maj-Gen.Mansfield Lovell, had been begging for reinforcements. Now, all that was too late.

Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 290.

New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 15, 1862, p. 1