The Yankees occupied New Orleans and its surrounding environs from April, 1862 until the end of the Civil War. In 1863, Gen. Nathaniel Banks left New Orleans to start an advance toward Shreveport. He followed the Red River, then a busy inland commercial waterway. He was defeated and had to retreat. On the way back, his troops burned and looted their way back south. They burned literally every farm house and plantation between Shreveport and Alexandria. Alexandria, about midway between Baton Rouge and Shreveport was then a prosperous river town. The Unionists appeared to take particular delight in firing the town.
Of course, Gen. Banks issued orders that no looting or burning would occur,. But the orders were not enforced. As one Union soldier would write years later, “We were like the Israelites of old, accompanied by a cloud [of smoke] by day, and a pillar of fire by night.” One resident of Alexandria watched as the invaders poured in, helpless to stop them. The forced their way into every store, every house on Front street. The cases, windows, iron chests, shelves, and more were broken into and smashed. Officers and enlisted alike participated in the melee, grabbing whatever they could carry. The resident, E.R. Blossat watched, helpless to intervene, as two Federal privates grabbed the silver watch from his black servant. He then saw two Marines and a naval officer enter the Second Street home of Mrs. Caleb Taylor, grab the clock off her mantle, wrap it in her quilt and then dart out the door. Two other marines plundered the Episcopal church.
A little boy of four years old, son of a Confederate captain, loudly proclaimed before a crowd of Yankees that he was a rebel. One of the soldiers then wrapped a rope around his neck and drew him up, choking the boy and asked if he was still a rebel. Gasping for breath, the toddler insisted he was indeed still a rebel. He was again drawn up. Some by-standers then insisted the soldier release the boy.
The Catholic church, St. Francis Xavier, it is said, was almost burned during this infamous campaign. It was the only river front building that was not burned. The story is that the priest, Father J.P. Bellier, saw the Federals approaching his church to set it afire. Disguising his voice to impersonate Gen. Banks, he ordered that the church be spared. The soldiers then left the church alone. See waymarking post here.
Twenty two blocks of the river port were burned. The Federal troops violated the rules of war. for more information about the firing of Alexandria, Louisiana, see the post here.
Walter Brian Cisco, War Crimes against Southern Civilians (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publ. 2016), p. 96.