The General Orders

By May 17, 1862, Gen. Butler had had enough. He issued General Order Nos. 29 and 30. General order No. 29 required all commerce in the city to engage in U.S. Treasury notes, not Confederate States of America bills. Instantly, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property was rendered valueless. As Clara lamented, thousands of persons will be ruined by this order. General order No. 30 shut down her beloved True Delta newspaper. According to Clara, the newspaper published an article discussing the cotton burning in a way that violated the General’s warning. Clara saw the cotton burning – when the Confederate authorities burned millions of dollars worth of cotton bales on the News Orleans wharves, lest the Federals seize it – as a very patriotic act. She felt it showed the world the sacrifices New Orleanians in particular and Southerners in general would make to build their country.

Like many of her contemporaries, Clara saw the Southern struggle as one for freedom and independence. She compared the rebellion, as did many other Southerners at the time, to the American Revolution in 1776. She noted the 13 colonies overcame the greatest nation on earth, implying this would happen again.

She lamented that another newspaper, the New Orleans Bee was also suppressed. It too published an elaborate, but “covert” article about the cotton burning.

Clara does not mention, perhaps she did not know, that Gen. Butler was dealing with a very sticky problem. The New Orleans banks had transferred much of their bullion outside the city while the Union fleet lay offshore. Now, in May, 1862, the banks were refusing to honor their own bank notes. The City suffered from an acute shortage of small denominations of coins. The City had been issuing and honoring “shinplasters,” to act as small coins. The order which frightened Clara so much actually required the banks to no longer pay depositors in Confederate notes. They must instead pay depositors in U.S. Treasury notes, gold or silver. Since the local banks lacked U.S. money, he was forcing them to issue gold and silver. Since the banks had transferred their reserves outside the city or hid them, the banks were now in a pickle.

The General was pressing the banks to recover their reserves. He even went so far as to invade a consular building to search out the reserves for one bank. He found the reserves, some $800,000 in Mexican silver coins packed in barrels of beef. But, then the consuls in New Orleans, some 20 consuls at the time, sent letters of protest and got their home governments engaged. Which is another story for another day.

But, the infamous General Order No. 28 has attracted the most attention through history. Clara was deeply offended. The Order essentially gave the Union soldier the right to approach white women and arrest them if necessary. In a time when societal norms required that males not approach women without being introduced, this order was inflammatory. See the Historic New Orleans collection copy of the infamous order here.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lord Palmerston, objected that he could not fully express the disgust which every honorable man must feel. Disgust with the order spread, even to U.S. newspapers. Clara agreed. Indeed, she felt for the Southern men. She knew they would object, but were powerless to stop it. What made the Order worse was that it was specifically targeted at the women, who had been harassing the Union soldiers.

Just a week or two before General Order No. 28, Admiral Farragut himself and Col. Henry Deming were walking and a woman dumped her chamber pot in the direction of the two officers. The trajectory suggested the targeting was intentional. Then, a day later, a colonel, dressed in his best uniform for church, saw two ladies approaching. As a gentleman, he stopped and stepped to one side to let them pass. As he did so, one of the ladies looked him in the face and spat. Spitting then became the preferred attack by the Crescent City women. Clara never engaged in spitting. But, at least once, she took delight in turning her back to some passing Federals.

So, yes, Gen. Butler had had enough. And, the women were still not done.

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), pp. 143-146.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 367-371.

Mid-May, 1862

By mid-May, Clara was not happy. Commerce still had not returned to the Crescent City. Gen. Butler had threatened her favorite newspaper, the True Delta. The Confederate forces, just before abandoning New Orleans, burned hundreds of bales of cotton sitting at the wharves. The True Delta had opined that the burning of the bales of cotton was a very patriotic act. Gen. Butler was not impressed. He threatened the paper with closure if it again published articles which he considered to be incendiary. Clara immediately saw that submision to such a threat was degrading. But, the True Delta did not publish another article which was antagonistic to the new power.

Solomon Solomon was able to come to New Orleans for a visit, which thrilled the young diarist. She again mentions her hope and the hope of many New Orleanians that “yellow jack” (aka yellow fever) would yet visit the Union troops. New Orleans residents believed they enjoyed an immunity to yellow fever. They hoped the new Federal troops would not enjoy any immunity.

Ever the patriot, Clara was offended that Gen. Butler sought to override Pres. Jefferson Davis’ proclamation of a day of fasting across the South. Clara felt that the men in the City succumbed too “readily” to this latest “humiliation.” She found satisfaction, however, in the singing of the “Bonnie Blue Flag” at school by the children.

Views of Reconstruction Have Changed

Was Reconstruction good or bad? Your view on that topic will largely dictate whether you see the white Southerners of the Civil war time period in a good light or bad light. The view of Reconstruction was largely negative in white society until the 1980’s. With the publication of Eric Foner’s book, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (Harper & Row 1988), the popular white view changed. A Colombia historian, Dr. Foner is widely respected. His tome received positive reviews. Reprinted several times, it has now become a classic history of the Reconstruction period in U.S. history.

Dr. Foner makes a valuable point throughout the book, that with the end of Reconstruction, so ended the right to vote and other civil rights for Southern African-Americans. His research is exhaustive. Yet, he does diminish what had been accepted prior to his book, the degree to which Reconstruction was abused by both Northern politicians and local African-Americans. For example, we know that many African-Americans profited handsomely from their positions of power. The perception in the time before Dr. Foner’s book was that black men had been manipulated by the white Northerners, but they may have been willing to be manipulated. For example in a book widely read in its day, Charles Nordhoff traveled the South in 1875 on a tour requested by his boss, James G. Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald. Mr. Nordhoff’s mission was to find out the “truth” of Reconstruction. The northern public was aware of charges of corruption. Mr. Nordhoff was sent to either verify those charges or discount them. His resulting book, The Cotton States in the Spring and Summer of 1875, largely verifies the charges of corruption by “carpet-baggers” and by African-American men who appeared to be under the control or instigation of white northerners now living in those Cotton states.

Mr. Nordhoff in his tour of Louisiana talks about seeing “colored” members of the Louisiana legislature – men who were slaves ten years before – now “driving magnificent carriages, seated in stylish equipages, and wearing diamond breast pins.” He discussed a box containing election returns from one of the upstate parishes being carried into New Orleans by a Conservative politician (meaning by a Republican) to a house of prostitution in New Orleans. The Conservative politician was holding it ransom for some large reward from the Conservatives in that parish.

Mr. Nordhoff reported in his book that while most murders in Louisiana since 1870, with two major exceptions – Coushatta and Colfax – were not political, few of the murderers received their just punishment. There were some 33 murders. But, pardons were frequent. Mr. Nordhoff explained that between 1865-1868, the white citizens of Louisiana did kill and oppress the freed black man. But, when Reconstruction began in 1868, the freed black man was given authority for which he was not prepared. Mr. Nordhoff saw black members of parish police juries (like the county commissioners in Texas) who could not read or write, or just barely so. Yet, those black police jury members had total control over taxes, roads and bridges. In 1868, the Louisiana legislature paid $4.2 million for 70 miles of railroad that was never completed. The railroad was sold as a connection from New Orleans to Mobile, but it never got beyond the first 70 miles. Mr. Nordhoff, a former abolitionist, recounted many such incidents of abuse.

Dr. Foner allows that black Republicans were not immune to illicit gain, but he compares it to corruption practiced by white Democrats. He suggests that corruption was common throughout the country, not just in Reconstruction cotton states. Foner, Reconstruction, at pp. 388-389.

But, Dr. Foner’s book does not appear to address the issues presented in the prior research, that the post-war economy plummeted in the South after the Civil War and after Reconstruction started. The 1874 value of real property in New Orleans had fallen to one-third the value it had in 1868, the last year prior to Reconstruction. Henry, The Story of Reconstruction (Konecky & Konecky 1999, but originally published in 1938), p. 516. The Sheriff of Orleans Parish was paid $60,000 in 1868, a time when $500-600 was the typical yearly wage for skilled labor. This was in a city that did not completely support secession.

In the 1860 election for example, John Bell, the nominee of the Constitutional Union party (composed of former Whig party members), won each Orleans Parish voting district by a 2:1 margin over Douglas and Breckinridge. The Constitutional Union party was founded on the eve of the 1860 election. Its major plank was to preserve the union. Stephen Douglas, the nominee of the Northern wing of the Democrat party ran ahead of John Breckinridge, the nominee of the Southern wing of the Democrat party. Breckinridge was the candidate favored by the rest of Louisiana and by the rest of the South. Breckinridge and Douglas essentially split the Democrat vote. Together, the Democratic vote would have amounted to some 5400 votes, compared to some 5200 received by Bell. If just one Democrat had run in 1860, Bell might well have lost. But, the results do show New Orleans was not a “fire-eater” (the term used for ardent secessionists) city. Jerry Tarver, Political Clubs of New Orleans in the Presidential Election of 1860, La. Hist. Assoc., Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring, 1963), p. 126. The Crescent City was not a secessionist center.

Neither does Dr. Foner address another concern presented by the earlier scholarship on the subject, that many black males of the time simply voted as they were told by white Republicans. The White League, Robert Henry tells us, said the Negroes “invariably” voted like a body of soldiers obeying a command. The white Southerners accused the blacks of voting “blindly” based on how they were instructed. Henry, The Story of Reconstruction, p. 517. Even allowing for some hyperbole, that charge presents serious systemic issues with Reconstruction.

And, it was the concern with outlaw black citizens acting with impunity that was cited by the White League for its formation in New Orleans. Among the graft and corruption, there was also a problem found in newly freed blacks acting with criminal intent. Gangs of “riotous” blacks incited by three former city officials had committed unspecified “outrages” against white persons at the Third Ward Polling place on Poydras Street. Stuart O. Landry, The Battle of Liberty Place (Gretna Press 2000, but originally published in 1955), p. 69. In another incident, a white man was assaulted by a crowd of “Negroes” for carrying a concealed weapon. The Metropolitan Police, created by the carpet-bagger governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, were essentially a private army for the governor. Joe Gray Taylor, New Orleans and Reconstruction, La. Hist. Assoc. (Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 196. Gov. Warmoth did not deny his corruption. Without Negro votes, he would never have been elected. Ibid. Gov. Warmoth was replaced by William P. Kellogg, who was only more corrupt than Gov. Warmoth.

In May, 1874, a white woman was robbed in broad daylight on a major street in new Orleans. The newspaper of the day proclaimed no one was safe due to Negro outrages. Joe Gray Taylor, New Orleans and Reconstruction, p. 201. That was surely hyperbole, but this was a time when even approaching an unknown woman was socially forbidden. That one white woman would be robbed during the day was shocking. Also in May, 1874, a home was entered while the family was out and all the silver was taken. The newspaper warned New Orleans white citizens to watch out for Gov. Kellog’s men during the day. In other words, the newspaper believed the daytime burglar was a Republican. New Orleans Bulletin, May 8, 1874, p. 3. Dr. Foner’s book does not address this apparent spike in crime, or the perception that the crime was due to Republicans. In disregarding these issues, Dr. Foner’s book reveals a lack of balance, just as the earlier Reconstruction books lacked balance.

It is accurate, it seems to me, that the hysteria of the time seems racist. The Battle of Liberty Place quotes news stories of the day indicating widespread fear of “black militia” marching by and possibly storming saloons and businesses. It seems likely that white Southerners of the time felt an irrational fear of newly freed blacks. Before the Civil War, there was a constant, almost unconscious fear among whites that the blacks would rise up and kill all the whites. The City of New Orleans actually saw a large slave revolt in 1811. So, the fear had some basis. In fact, the fear of slave rebellion was so wide spread that when Gen. Ben Butler first came to New Orleans, he brought his wife. Mrs. Butler had a nightmare during one of her first nights about a slave revolt. Fears of a slave revolt were so widespread that even a visiting and protected white wife of a Northern general had some deep fears of a slave revolt – at a time when the Union army was actually freeing black slaves.

But, fear, however racist and irrational, held by a large segment of the population cannot be ignored. It is the fundamental duty of any government to allay fear. The federal government imposed a government on Louisiana. The Republicans disregarded the fear felt by the whites and it did not provide the most fundamental requirement of any government, reliable police protection.

Dr. Foner never mentions the open corruption of two successive Louisiana governors. Neither does he acknowledge that unlike corruption in other states, in the South, open corruption was essentially sanctioned by the federal government. Dr. Foner never discusses the extent to which freed blacks were allowed, and even encouraged to harass the white Southerners. His book does help remedy the lack of attention to black suffrage and civil rights in prior Reconstruction research.

But, it appears Dr. Foner remedied that imbalance in part by overlooking the lack of fundamental state police powers. If the state cannot enforce criminal laws, then the state has failed a central function. Mr. Foner misses an important point about Reconstruction. When you impose a government on a people otherwise accustomed to democracy, that government cannot simply be as good as the government found in other states. It must be better. It must be a government that the whites can at least tolerate. Reconstruction failed in that respect. For all its superb research and needed balance, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution misses that most salient need of an imposed governance, it must work and it must be relatively free of corruption.

The Yankees are Here to Stay

By May 11, 1862, Clara bemoaned the lack of trains. The train no longer ran to Camp Moore, the location of the Confederate training camp. Clara is happy that the new Commanding General, Ben Butler, allowed the mayor to stay in his position. The General seeks to re-start business. She is offended when she encounters a Federal officer and half a dozen soldiers on her street.

She notes again that the family has not heard from her Pa in weeks. And, now that the Yankees control the City, she does not know if mail will enter the city. Too, Pa was in debt to Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis was a family friend and stopped by to visit. Clara was concerned about the debt, but assured her diary that the debt was a debt of honor and would be re-paid. With their father off in Virginia, who knew when he could send money again.

She approves of the General’s desire to help the many destitute families. Because of the Yankee blockade, the port essentially closed down. The port was the life-blood of the city. Without the port, most businesses closed. If the businesses were shut down, then no one was working. The Confederate government had set up some public support for the families. Gen. Butler, happily she noted, had taken up their cause and was determined to get City commerce flowing once again.

Clara did not attend synagogue, but Clara did not always attend synagogue. Singing class at school ended with a rousing rendition of the “Bonnie Blue Flag.” Later, that night, she came home with her mother and sister and joined the young ones at home with another rendition of the “Bonnie Blue Flag.” The female war in New Orleans was just beginning.

That female war would reach a climax of sorts in December, 1862, when hundreds of New Orleans women will wave their handkerchiefs at Confederate officers being moved as POW’s through the city. Hundreds of women would face down Union soldiers with bayonets fixed. See my post about that incident here.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 359-362.


The Women Wage War at Home

After two weeks of Yankee occupation, Clara, like most New Orleans women, was at war with the occupiers. The ladies engaged in a silent refusal to accept the occupation. Some women, not Clara, wore black bows to signify mourning. Clara felt that everyone was in mourning, so why wear black? Clara did approve the new custom of working the Confederate flag into everyday wear and dresses.

She was offended by the presence of Union soldiers in her city. She described instances of a group of soldiers entering an omnibus. An omnibus was the early street car, which was pulled by horses. In response, the ladies on the bus would all exit. At church, a group of soldiers would enter a pew. The women would all leave the pew.

And, again, the slave issue arose. Gen. Butler was the new commander. Rumors flew that he would do this or that. One rumor held that he had opened the prison and freed all the “negro” inmates. That rumor brought to her mind her deep fear of a slave insurrection. That possibility gave the young Clara greater fear than the Yankees, she said. The possibility of a slave revolt continually surfaces among diaries and reminisces of Southerners. It is easy to look back on their fears and see indications that Southerners should have known slavery was far from the panacea they believed it was.

Perhaps, the greatest shock for Clara was the scene at the elegant St. Charles hotel. It was one of the finest in the country. The Yankees occupied the St. Charles from their first day. The hotel was a perfect “wreck,” said the young woman. Soldiers were loitering about, some playing cards, some lying down, and their cloths “hanging around.” She was probably describing a common sight among soldiers in the field. They wash their clothes where they can and then hang them to dry them where they can. Clothes hanging everywhere does give an area an unkempt look. In my time in the Army, there were times in the field when our commanders would order us to remove the hanging clothes after sufficient time for drying had passed. The Yankee leadership had perhaps not yet reached that level of organization.

Clara was thrilled to run into Emile Jarreau, a veteran of the Battle of Manassas, on the omnibus. He appeared to her eyes so “handsome,” especially given his service in the Confederate army, which rendered him “doubly attractive.” Clara was more accepting of the enlisted Yankees. She saved her deepest wrath for the leaders. Yet, she also noted, as most young girls would, that she had heard many of the Yankee soldiers were handsome.

The United States Civil war was unique. As much as we fought each other and strove mightily to vanquish the other, there was still always that spark of humanity between North and South.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 354-357.

The Yankee Occupation Begins

The young Clara ignored her diary for a couple of weeks before recording her depressed thoughts. She was completely overwhelmed that her heroic Southerners had lost the city of New Orleans. The teenage girl thought this the worst calamity. She and her neighbors, the Nathans, were mortified that the Confederate army was withdrawing from New Orleans and the Yankees had penetrated the outer perimeter of forts. Mrs. Nathan was, of course, terrified for the prospect of her husband in the militia. The schools closed immediately. Clara, a young substitute teacher, would not be occupied with her former duties. Likely, her sewing duties, of wrappings for patients, would also be curtailed. Their days would change dramatically.

Family friends advised the Solomons to leave the City and find their father in Virginia. Solomon Solomon was a sutler for the Confederate army in Virginia. But, they stayed, as if frozen by fear.

The next day, the Solomons went down town. Meeting a family friend, they resolved to leave the city on the last few trains. Suddenly, a great crowd of down town pedestrians started shouting, “They are coming!!” Over and over they shouted as the crowd started in a mad scramble going nowhere. Clara and her family saw the boats burning at the docks. The Confederate forces were burning the cotton and the boats to deny their use to the Yankees.

The two families, the Solomons and the Nathans arrived home later that day, April 25, 1862, wet from the rain and bone tired. They started packing. They had no idea where they would go, so long as it was away from the invaders.

No train was leaving. The newspaper revealed the Confederate and state leadership had left the City. The mayor was now the ranking official. The family found solace in the Mayor’s determination not to remove the Louisiana flag. Commander Farragut threatened to bombard the city unless they removed the flag. The Commander noted that the flag the U.S. forces had raised at the Customs house had been removed and dragged through the streets. He warned the Crescent City that women and children needed to leave within 48 hours before the bombardment would commence.

Mayor Monroe then replied to the Commander that there was no way to remove the women and children in the city of 150,000 persons.

It was then that young Clara understood the awful truth, there was no man, no men left to protect their families in the City. The women and children were at the mercy of the Yankees.

The family then resolved to go to Carrolton, a small town just north of New Orleans. A few hours later, a male family friend came by and assured them that if there was to be a bombardment, it would surely be focused only on City Hall, where the Louisiana flag flew.

The next day, the newspapers published accounts of the outer forts at the mouth of the Mississippi River; The forts had indeed surrendered. Mr. Nathan came home, after days of no word. He said his militia regiment had disbanded. He was home to stay. A male family friend came by the Solomon house and told them the flags had been lowered downtown. The City, said Clara, had resisted as long as it could and had retained its dignity.

Gen. Benjamin “Picayune” Butler had arrived. The Delta newspaper would continue to publish. That was Clara’s favorite newspaper. But, she lamented, it would no longer publish stories about the army in Tennessee and Virginia. It would be limited to city news. Clara gloried in the fact that $2,000,000 worth of cotton was burned, denying it to the enemy. She hoped “Yellow Jack” (yellow fever) would make one of its frequent visits and take many of the Yankees. Gen. Butler forced the fashionable St. Charles hotel to open and accept his staff.

The Rabbi prayed for the Confederate states. Clara worried about the future of the schools and churches.

What Clara did not admit was that the Louisiana regiments largely disappeared in the mad rush to exit the City. It was not just the militia units that disbanded and simply went home, as her friend, Mr. Nathan, did. One of the perimeter forts, Ft. Jackson, saw a mutiny by the troops. This was the only mutiny in the Confederate army during the war. She also did not mention the crowd who initially gathered on the levee as the first U.S. ship sailed upriver into the port. A crowd of men cheered the Yankees. The Union supporters waived their hats. But, the celebration lasted just a few minutes when a troop of Confederate cavalry rode up, and fired into the gathering crowd. The city had more Unionist support than we might expect today. Many New Orleanians were transplants from Northern states.

Later, the young Clara will mention the strong Union sentiment in the City. After some weeks have passed under Yankee occupation, she will acknowledge that the Union sentiment has been suppressed in New Orleans. The Queen City of the Mississippi was unique in the South because she had so many immigrants from Northern states.

Yes, these were dark days for the young Clara as the war changed completely in her little part of the South. But, she was not broken. As she said, “we are conquered, but not subdued.” She considered evacuating the City as some of her friends did. But, she believed she should stay in the Queen City of the South in her hour of need. That is patriotism indeed.

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), p. 67.

Michael D. Pierson, Mutiny at Ft. Jackson (Univ. of N. Carolina Press 2008), pp. 2-3, 124.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 343-351, 358.