Fr. Mullon, the Bravest Man

Fr. James Ignatius Mullon was one of those extraordinary priests in an extraordinary time. He was born in 1793 in Derry (Londonmderry), Ireland. Fr. Mullon came to the U.S. as a boy with his family. They came to Maryland. The young James Ignatius served in the American navy during the War of 1812. He was ordained in Cincinnati and served there as a teacher until coming to New Orleans in 1834. He served as pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in New Orleans from 1834 to 1866. [1]

At St. Patrick’s in New Orleans, he conducted 53 baptisms in 1835. That number increased to 163 in 1840 and then to 337 in 1845. The Irish population was booming and the new Father was ready for it. The church itself was a mess. Construction of St. Patrick’s started in 1835, but the tower started leaning in the soft soil. The parties agreed to take the dispute to arbitration. The construction company balked. James Gallier, an Irish architect, was called in. He succeeded in getting the church completed. [2]

See this website for a picture of St. Patrick’s Church here.

Selling the Church Pews

Paying for the brick church became difficult. The parish tried to take out a mortgage. The church tried selling pews, but that did not raise enough money. The trustees took out bonds secured by the mortgage.

This was a time of significant strife for the Catholic faith. It would have been very  embarrassing if the newest church – and the only church serving Irish immigrants – failed.

By 1834, the debt load on the church had risen to $56,000. By one estimate, that would amount to $620,000 in 2019 dollars. Fr. Mullon was excluded from these financial decisions by the trustees of a corporation responsible for the financing. The church could not pay the interest on the bonds. One of the bond holders sued and won. The sheriff sold the church pews for non-payment of the interest. Other bondholders and note holders began to press for payment.

In 1842, Fr. Mullon formed the Church Debt Paying association. Its members paid 25 cents each week. Fr. Mullon’s “two bits a week” association paid for the improvements to the interior of the church. But, the overwhelming notes and bonds remained outstanding.

In 1845, the sheriff seized the church for sale. Later, that year the bishop, Antoine Blanc assumed the debt for $40,000. The Bishop saved the church. [3]

Friend of Jews and Protestants

Fr. Mullon was a friend of Jews and Protestants, at a time when such friendships were rare. He also owned two slaves. It is easy to judge the Father now. But, we do not know the circumstances of his slave ownership. It was not unheard of for persons of good-will to purchase slaves for positive reasons, such as keeping slave families together or close by. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson purchased two slaves for those very reasons. Starting in 1837, Fr. Mullon let the German Catholic immigrants use the church. He was a friend to theater people. The father was a forceful, eloquent speaker. He generally had standing room only when he celebrated Mass. Many non-Catholics attended his Mass. [4]

St. Patrick’s Day Parades

Fr. Mullon did not support St. Patrick’s Day parades. He believed those parades only caused censure and criticism. The Irish were handy targets for the nativists. Fr. Mullon would say Mass and then urge his flock to go home and eat a good dinner with family on St. Patrick’s Day.

In 1837, the bishop invited Fr. Mullon to deliver the homily at St. Louis Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The solemn Pontifical Mass was attended by legislators, judges, and civic officials. Fr. Mullon took the opportunity to lambast the nativist sentiment then growing. He criticized the “anti-American principles” of the Nativists. His sermon drew the attention of the Nativists. In 1839, Fr. Mullon looked in on a meeting of the Native American Association at the elegant St. Charles hotel. He was surprised to see a friend there. He asked his friend what drew him there. When he heard the response, Fr. Mullon told him that if he joined the Native American party, their friendship would end.

Fr. Mullon was a very athletic man when he was young. Sometime in the late 1830’s, he found himself in a dispute over rent at a tenement. The short, Jewish proprietor struck the father. But, he did not respond. J.C. Prendergast, editor of the Daily Orleanian and a fellow Irishman, taunted the Father for not responding. Fr. Mullon asked Prendergast what would he have Fr. Mullon do, he being a man of the cloth? I could tear him to pieces, said the priest, but a minister of the meek Savior must remain a non-combatant. [5]

The Know Nothings

Fr. Mullon stood up to the Know Nothings. The American party members were known as Know Nothings. It was a nativist party which opposed immigration, especially Irish Catholic immigration. In 1854, there were riots, mob brawls and beatings between the Know Nothings and the Irish. The Irish were generally on the losing end of these fights. These Nativist sentiments likely kindled for Fr. Mullon memories of the severe sectarian strife in Ireland. In 1854, a large group of Irish left the St. Mary’s market, the center of the Irish neighborhood, marched down the street toward St. Patrick’s. On the way they met a mob of Know Nothings. A large brawl broke out. Fr. Mullon deplored the violence erupting across the city. But, St. Patrick’s church was never harmed. [6]

When the Civil war broke out, the father blessed many banners and flags as the Irish troops marched off to war.

The Yankees

Fr. Mullon did not care for the Yankee occupation. The Union authorities ordered that prayers for the Confederates in churches cease. The churches, instead, must substitute prayers for the Union forces. Yet, every New Orleans church had dozens of parishioners fighting in the Confederate military. Fr. Mullon exploded in the pulpit, excoriating this attack on religion and conscience. Gen. Butler summoned Fr. Mullon. Fr. Mullon eventually substituted silent prayer.

Another time, Gen. Butler summoned the priest. He accused him of refusing to bury a Union soldier. Fr. Mullon replied that he would be happy to bury the entire Union army, including Gen. Butler, whenever the opportunity would arise.

The Bravest Man He Ever Met

Gen. Butler had ordered that all church bells be sent up north to be melted down and turned into cannon balls. Fr. Mullon told the general to come and get the great bell – if he dared. Gen. Butler liked Fr. Mullon. He said the feisty priest was the bravest man he had ever met.

Many of the Federal troops on duty in New Orleans were Irish Catholics. And, back in Massachusetts, Gen. Butler had been a politician who relied on support from Irish voters. So, the Federals generally left Fr. Mullon alone. [7]

Fr. Mullon passed away in 1866. It was the end of an era. His body lay in state for two days in the church. He was laid to rest in the church in a tomb which he himself had built.


[1] Earl F. Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 99-100.

[2] Charles Dufour, ed., St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, 1833-1958 (New Orleans: A.P. Laborde & Sons 1958), p. 63-75.

[3] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

[4] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

[5] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 8, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

[6] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

[7] Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), p. 174.

Were Lee, Jackson and Others Traitors?

These days, many folks argue flatly that Lee, Jackson and other Confederates were traitors. These folks never explain what they mean, but they seem to mean that Lee and Jackson and other Confederate officers took oaths to the U.S. Constitution. In taking up arms against the U.S., they violated those oaths. But, of course, that flies in the face of reality. Officers resign their commission often. Taking an oath on one day does not commit the officer to indefinite servitude forever. This author took that same oath. Taking that oath does not mean I cannot at some date in the future object to the current regime and fight against the U.S. military. If Donald Trump wins a second term and starts to physically attack Mexican immigrants, I can certainly resign my commission and fight for Mexico.

Now, there is also a street definition of treason. When Nick Saban agreed to coach Alabama in 2007, the LSU fans accused him of treason. For a couple of years, LSU hated Coach Saban. Those fans employed a street definition of treason. But, when not writing history blogs, I practice law. I want to know what is the legal definition of treason.

Caselaw on Treason

There is no clear caselaw or precedent for a person who fought against the U.S. There just have not been many cases in which a person renounced his U.S. citizenship and then served in an opposing military. But, in one case, Kawakita v. U.S., 343 US 717, 734 (1952), one young man went to Japan for college before World War II. He reached the age of 18 in 1942. Mr. Kawakita held citizenship in both Japan and the U.S. In 1943, Japan said he was an alien. So, he changed his address with the Japanese police from America to Japan. He changed his designation in the Koseki, a family census register, from American to Japanese. He did not take any steps to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

In 1945, Kwakita then applied for a U.S. passport at the Consul’s office. He said he was re-claiming his U.S. citizenship. He was, however, charged with treason. During World War II, he held a civilian job interpreting for Japanese industries who employed American workers. He was accused of helping the Japanese authorities mistreat the American POW’s working in those manufacturing plants. Kawakita argued that he had renounced his U.S. citizenship when he changed his registration with the Koseki. Since he was not a U.S. citizen, he could not be guilty of treason.


But, the Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion written by the great Justice William O. Douglas, he was troubled by the dual citizenship. With citizenship in both countries, that means Kawakita held responsibilities to both countries. The court found he did nothing that would remove or reduce his U.S. citizenship. Therefore, he could and did take actions that violated his responsibilities as a U.S. citizen. The dissent simply argued that he had indeed “lost” his U.S. citizenship. But, even the dissent does not explain how the young Kawakita lost it.

We learn from this opinion that holding U.S. citizenship is essential for a charge of treason. So, no, because Lee, Jackson and others did renounce their U.S. citizenship – in a very public way, they could not be accused of treason.

The Jefferson Davis Trial That Never Was

Lee and some other officers on his staff had papers promising parole, signed by Gen. Grant’s Provost Marshall. But, what about Jeff Davis? Was he ever charged with treason? Jeff Davis was held in a Yankee prison for two years. The Federals fully intended to prosecute him for treason. He was indicted for treason in 1868. Davis was said to be eager for a trial. He planned to argue the constitutionality of secession at trial. The government put off the trial several times, trying to prepare for his argument. But, Davis’ lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, saying the 14th Amendment prohibited Davis from seeking any public office. That amounted to punishment. So, any trial would amount to double jeopardy. Eventually, the government prosecutors dismissed the case, because it was too political and too complicated.

For more about the Jefferson Davis trial that never occurred, see National park Service web page here.

Secession as a Viable Option

As late as 1861, the possibility of secession was accepted as a viable alternative.

In William Rawle’s A View of the Constitution, (1829 2d ed.), the author prescribed how to effect a secession in a lawful, binding way. Mr. Rawle, a well-trained lawyer, lays out the requirements for a stable, effective secession. His book remained the leading book on the Constitution through the 1850’s. To this day, Rawle is often cited when the courts look at the history of constitutional issues, such as Second Amendment questions and Presidential recess appointments.

In 1869, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of secession head on. In the case of Texas v. White, the court held that secession was absolutely “null and void.” And, then again in 1877, the Supreme Court addressed secession in a more thorough way, finding secession to be illegal. Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176, 189-190 (1878). But, prior to these decisions, secession was not considered to be inherently unlawful.

Joseph Brenan, Irish Rebel

The Young Ireland movement was started by young Irish revolutionaries who believed Daniel O’Connell was not doing enough. The Young Irelanders advocated the use of force if necessary, a step Daniel O’Connell long resisted. In 1846, the Young Irelanders seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Among those early rebels were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, future commander of the New York 69th Irish Brigade and John Mitchel, future Confederate States of America supporter. I previously wrote about Mitchel here.

Joseph Brenan, born in Cork city in 1828, also supported the Young Ireland movement. Brenan found inspiration in John Mitchel’s writings. The Young Irelanders organized a brief uprising in 1848. It was short-lived, but it scared the British authorities immeasurably. The firefight at Widow McCormack’s house occurred on July 29, 1848. Michael Nolan, an Irish native who had emigrated to New Orleans, then returned to his former home County Tipperary in August, 1848. 118 Young Irelanders were arrested in the days after the fight at McCormack’s house. Joseph Brenan was one of those arrested. Upon his release in 1849, he returned to his work for the Dublin Irishman, a militant nationalist newspaper. It was the Irishman that later published a lengthy obituary for Michael Nolan when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. See my prior post on Michael Nolan here.

Cappoquin, County Waterford

In September, 1848, some of the Young Irelanders, including Brenan, made plans to launch an uprising in Cappoquin, County Waterford. Brenan and Michal Cavanaugh launched an attack with pikes and firearms on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Even in 1848, pikes were a more than obsolete weapon. One of the rebels was killed and one of the constables was piked to death. The rebels were repulsed, after which they retreated. The band then proceeded to Dungarvan, where the constables were cooperative. The British responded by sending the 7th Fusiliers Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to Cappoquin. The rebels remained active for another two weeks, at which time they abandoned their efforts. The leaders were not arrested. The British only managed to arrest some of the participants. Brenan and Cavanaugh and others fled to America. [1]

An Exile’s Dream

Brenan first came to New York and worked for Horace Greeley on the Tribune. In October, 1851, now married, he moved to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Daily/Weekly Delta, published by Denis Corcoran. He published one of his poems titled “An Exile’s Dream.” That poem ends with this stanza:

“I will seize my pilgrim staff and cheerily wander forth

            From the smiling face of the South to the black frown of the North;

            And in some hour of twilight, I will mount the tall Slievebloom,

            And weave me a picture-vision in the evening’s pleasant gloom;

            I will call up the buried leaders of the ancient Celtic race,

            And gaze with a filial fondness on each sternly noble face –

            The masters of the mind, and the chieftains of the steel,

            Young Carolan and Grattan, the McCaura and O’Neill;

            I will learn from their voices, with a student’s love and pride,

            To live as they lived, and to die as they died.

            Oh, I’ll sail from the West, and never more will part

            From the ancient home of my people – the land of the loving heart.

The Slieve bloom mountains are located in central Ireland. The references to “the O’Neill” and “the McCaura” refer to the ancient chiefs of those clans. The name Carolan likely refers to Turlough O’Carolan, said to be the last great harpist of the Gaelic order. Turlough O’Carolan died in 1738. The name Grattan surely refers to Henry Grattan, an Irish politician who supported freedom for the Irish Parliament during the late 1700’s. [2]

Escape from Van Diemen’s Land

Brenan became one of the leading Irishmen in New Orleans. He was President of a Committee that organized a welcome reception for John Mitchel after he escaped the penal colony in Australia, known as Van Diemen’s Land. Mitchel came to New Orleans in 1853. Brenan helped organize a similar reception for Thomas Francis Meagher when he also escaped the same penal colony. Meagher came to New Orleans in 1852. Meagher was received by the leading persons in New Orleans at the time: W.C.C. Claiborne, Barnard Marigny, Judah Benjamin, and by the leading Irishmen of the day: Maunsel White, J.C. Prendergast, and others. Brenan delivered a speech welcoming Meagher at the reception.  How things would change in just a few years between Meagher, Mitchel, and Brenan, if he had lived. [3]

An Ardent Secessionist

In 1853, Brenan contracted the yellow fever in one of the worst epidemics to hit the Crescent City. The treatment for the illness left him partially blind. Brenan loved the South. In March, 1857, he started a new newspaper, to be known as the Daily Times. The journal would focus on Southern interests, literature, and criticisms. Walter Hopkins, another former editor for the Delta assisted him. Brenan by this time had become an ardent secessionist. [4]

Brenan published a poem titled “A Ballad for the Young South.” The first stanzas went as follows:

“Men of the South! Our foes are up

In fierce and grim array;

Their sable banner laps the air

An insult to the day!

“The saints of Cromwell rise again,

In sanctimonious hordes,

Hiding behind the garb of peace

A million ruthless swords [5]

In early May, 1857, Brenan became ill. The treating physician reported that he would not recover. On May 28, 1857, the eloquent Irish patriot died of “consumption.” Joseph Brenan was described as an “esteemed friend” by the redoubtable J.C. Prendergast, Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian. Prendergast remarked that those best loved by God often die young. Prendergast lamented the loss of one so intelligent and so skilled with words. The young Brenan was buried in the old cemetery known as St. Louis. [6]

Brenan appears to have had some connection to the Crescent Dramatic Association. That amateur theater group put on a performance to raise money for Brenan’s widow and four children. The performance was held in a large venue, the Gaiety Theater. [7]

See Brenan’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography here.


[1] Anthony M. Breen, “Cappoquin and the 1849 Movement, History Ireland Issue 2 (Summer, 1999), vol. 7

[2] New Orleans Weekly Delta, Dec. 28, 1851, p. 6, col. 4; Dictionary of Irish Biography, entry regarding Joseph Brenan

[3] New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 11, 1853, p. 4, col. 3; New Orleans Weekly Delta, July 4, 1852, p. 7, col. 1; Daily Orleanian, June 27 1852, p. 1, col. 2

[4] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, March 19, 1857, p. 2, col. 3

[5] Bryan McGovern, “Young Ireland and Southern Nationalism” Irish Studies Issue 2, Article 5 (Celtic Studies, Kennesaw State Univ. 2016)

[6] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, May 11, 1857, p. 2, col. 3; New Orleans Daily True Delta, May 29, 1957, p. 1, col. 2; New Orleans Daily Orleanian, May 29, 1857, p. 1, col. 1

[7] New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 14, 1857, p. 4, col. 1

The Men Lost the War

The Civil War was unique in American history in one respect. It was the first and so far, the only war in which U.S. citizens (or former U.S. citizens) lost. That point comes home when we consider the experience of New Orleans. The city was lost with very little fight in 1862. New Orleans was not necessarily a hotbed of fire-eaters – the Southerners who sought or encouraged secession. But, the city had its share of patriots. When the Union forces occupied the Crescent City, however, the men could say or do nothing. The women, however, could and did. Some women were very critical of Southern men and their inability to defend the city. Once the outlying forts, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip fell, there was no more fight. There was no last stand.

The Women of New Orleans

It was the women who refused to countenance the presence of federal troops in the City. As Pat Conroy said in his preface to a later edition of Gone With the Wind, the women did not lose the war. Gone with the Wind itself is a story told by women who believed the wrong side surrendered. [1]

In New Orleans, they would cross the street before having to pass Union officers on the sidewalk. That was no small sacrifice in a time when filth and animal dung proliferated on city streets. Some more genteel women simply stayed home rather than encounter federal troops. The women would deliberately turn their backs to federal officers. Gen. Benjamin Butler would quip that these women “know which end of them looks best.” Within weeks of federal occupation, the war became verbal and emotional. Thus, Gen. Butler issued his infamous General order No. 28, which provided that if a female was rude to a federal soldier, the authorities could assume she was a prostitute and treat her as such. That meant the Federals could approach women they did not know. That was no small thing in a time when decent men did not approach a woman on the street at all unless he already knew her.

Some women, such as Clara Solomon, had day dreams about throwing a rope around “Beast” Butler and all the women of the City dragging him through the streets. Or, having him eat salty food and placing water in front of him just out of reach. This was a silent, but effective war waged largely by women.

Hand-Sewn Flags

The Federal occupiers then arrested several women for offenses ranging from flying secession flags to possession of a federal musket to threatening a federal officer. Gen. Butler took delight in confiscating the flags hand-sewn by the Southern women. The remarkable thing is that in that time, women were not allowed to have political opinions. But, now in occupied New Orleans, they could express their views.

Eugenia Levy Phillips

These incidents reached a climax of sorts with Eugenia Phillips, Jewish wife of a former Alabama Congressman. She had evacuated to New Orleans. When a funeral procession passed by her house, she loudly and ostentatiously laughed as the cortege passed by. On June 30, 1862, Gen. Butler said she was trying to incite a riot and ordered her arrest. During an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, her husband could only weakly protest against invectives aimed at his wife. Mrs. Phillips denied her laugh was directed toward the funeral. She was after all holding a party for her children at the time. But, she was arrested and sent to Ship Island.

On Ship Island, she lived in an abandoned railroad car, plagued by mosquitoes, bad water and musty food. And, of course, in July, the temperatures would have been high and the humidity heavy. She managed to send a few letters describing her austere conditions. She became a martyr to Southern patriotism. Hers became a cause celebre in New Orleans. Gen. Butler came to regret his impulse. He ordered her release after two and one-half months. He had been out-maneuvered by this one woman, this time. See more about Eugenia here.

One woman requested a pass to visit her ill daughter in another parish. The general refused, saying he had been fooled by prior requests. He added that he could never subdue the rebellious women of the city, but could manage the cowardly men. Gen. Butler likely enjoyed his cutting remarks, but it only deepened the wound for the New Orleanians.

The Hndkerchief War

Washington eventually removed Benjamin Butler from his post in December, 1862. He had caused too many headaches for Washington. His replacement, Nathaniel Banks, was a better diplomat. Even so, when a group of Confederate officers were moved to be shipped out, several thousand residents jammed the levee docks to see the heroes off. Women carried flowers, waved handkerchiefs and hurrahed for Jeff Davis. The Federals called for troops with bayonets to drive the crowd back. As the crowd backed up two blocks, the women waved their handkerchiefs and parasols at the bayoneted rifles. During the scuffle, some women were injured. The Federals again looked silly. [2]

The handkerchief war led to this ditty:

Charge! Rang the cry, and on we dashed

            Upon our female foes,

            As seas in stormy fury lashed,

            When o’er the tempest blows,

            Like chaff their parasols went down, as our gallants rushed [3]

And, all that helps explain a story a friend told me many years ago in New Orleans. John, a scion of a prominent Jewish family, related how some of his ancestors were approached by a few Union soldiers on horseback at their home in New Orleans. The soldiers asked for a glass of water. The heat in New Orleans can be unbearable. Yes, said the mistress of the home. As each soldier handed her back the empty glass, the refined lady dashed each glass against the ground, indicating she would never use that glass again. The Confederate men could not make war, but the women could. That the family would maintain that story until it was shared with me in the early 1980’s reflects the anger of the time.

This reality that in the view of some persons, the Southern men did not serve as valiantly as they could have may help explain the universal movement to erect memorials and statues to the Confederate soldier after the war. Among the many motives for those memorials across the South, we must also consider that some women simply wanted to tell their men they believed in them.


[1] Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (New York: Scribner, 2011), p. 11.

[2] Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, ed., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War (New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1992), pp. 139-144.

[3] Marion Southwood, “Beauty and Booty” (New York: M. Doolady, 1867), p. 268