A couple of days later on July 3, 1862, Clara was again feeling patriotic. She was certain Gen. Beauregard was the new father of the country and would lead the South to victory. Yet, she mentioned, he had been removed from command. She fervently believed, as did most New Orleanians at the time, that Beauregard was the second George Washington, a new “Father of the country.” Most white Southerners at the time firmly believed they were engaged in a second American revolution.
She learned that day that Mrs. Eugenia Phillips, the mother of Clara’s good friend, Beauty Phillips, had been arrested by the Provost Marshal. Gen. Butler sent her to Ship Island. The island was a small island off the coast of Louisiana. It was and still is a simple barrier island. Her stated offense was to laugh from her balcony as the funeral procession of 1LT George DeKay passed by. It made no difference to Beast Butler that Mrs. Phillips was presiding over a children’s party on the balcony. Mrs. Phillips (nee Levy) was married to Philip Phillips, a former Congressman from Alabama. They had evacuated to New Orleans during the war. Philip Phillips was a good friend of Judah Benjamin, the Secretary of War for the Confederacy. The Benjamins and the Phillips were prominent members of the Jewish community in New Orleans.
Eugenia Phillips was also patriotic. When Gen. Butler asked her why she was laughing as the funeral procession passed by, she replied, “I was in good spirits that day.” She could have told him about the children’s party. But, she preferred to antagonize the general. Eugenia was an ardent secessionist, more so than her husband
Gen. Butler also learned that in the years leading up to the war, Mrs. Phillips was one of the ladies in Pres. Buchanan’s “boudoir cabinet.” That meant she supported secession and supported the expansion of slavery. The general suggested she apologize. She refused, saying she intended no insult. The general then flew into a rage and accused her of teaching the nine children at the party to spit on Federal officers.
In revenge, the general issued orders sending her to Ship Island. The general said explicitly that she was a “common” woman, meaning she would be treated as a prostitute. The city was shocked. Clara was deeply offended. She loved her good friend, Beauty Phillips. What Clara did not mention, perhaps it was just too difficult even for her diary, was that Gen. Butler did not care for Jews. It is not clear if he was actually anti-semitic, but historians agree he did not care for persons who happened to be Jewish.
There were some 60 prisoners consigned to Ship Island. A bookseller received two years because he displayed the skeleton of what he claimed to be a dead Union soldier in the window of his shop. The general closed his shop. A druggist was chained to a ball working on the island’s fortifications because he tried to try to smuggle quinine into the City. The publisher of the Daily Delta was sent to the island because he used seditious language and tried to investigate the general’s penal system. Mrs. Phillips lived in an open box car, exposed to the heat and the mosquitoes.
Mother of Nine
The City and most of the South were offended regarding Mrs. Phillips, because the punishment was so severe, and also because Mrs. Phillips was mother to nine children. The mother of nine would be released by the general a few months later on Sept. 14, after much public pressure. Mrs. Phillips employed much more skill at public relations than Gen. Butler. She wrote frequent letters to friends which were well-circulated, describing the harsh conditions on the island. Truly, the general succeeded in doing what the secessionists could not, he united the white citizens of the City against the Union forces.
Yet, Clara also recorded that day that she went on a long walk with another friend, Alice Jarreau, a Catholic. They saw Yankee soldiers, but due to Alice’s timidity, they made no protest toward the soldiers. They engaged in a spirited discussion on religion, but then went home. Clara could not help noticing the handsome officers on Gen. Butler’s staff. The general had seized a home in the Garden District for his headquarters. Doubtless, she had walked past his headquarters. In the end, it was a good day for Clara, except for Eugenia Phillips.
Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), pp. 142, 169-170.
Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 12, 429-431.