The Union Iron Grip

The Federal forces captured New Orleans in April, 1862. Soon they also controlled Baton Rouge, just some 70 miles upriver from the Crescent City. Near Baton Rouse was the town of Arlington and a plantation known as Arlington Point. Eliza McHatton-Ripley, 29 years old, lived at the plantation with her husband James McHatton, 46 years old. They had one son, aged 5 and a new born baby girl. The McHattons were quite wealthy for the time, reporting some $100,000 in personal assets in the 1860 census. They owned about 61 slaves in 1860. They were not the largest, but they were one of the larger slave owners in the region.

James, as his wife explained in her book, was not an “original secessionist.” He did not support secession. He hoped an amicable arrangement could be worked out. So, he was quite surprised to arrive home from a two week trip to find the Confederate flag flying above his home.

One day, a company of Federal cavalry suddenly appeared at their door. It came too soon for the servant to rush the silver upstairs and place under Eliza’s pillow. Eliza was still bed-ridden after giving birth two weeks prior. James could not serve in the Confederate army, because he had lost an eye. He greeted the Union soldiers cordially and offered them milk, the only refreshment available. After each soldier drank his fill, the Union cavalry quietly rode away.

Some five miles down river was another plantation. The sons at that farm were all serving in the Confederate army. The old gentleman of the plantation kept a horse tied to the gate, so he could rush on a moment’s notice. As the Federal company left the village of Arlington Point they came to the old gentleman’s plantation. All they saw of the old man was the tail of his horse as he headed to the woods. The Federal forces found only a young daughter-in-law at home. They locked her in her room and moved in for a day. They took all the corn, molasses and hay they could find and sent it upriver to Baton Rouge.

The old gentleman returned after the cavalry soldier left and the plantation gradually returned to normalcy.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 4, 12.

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