The Immortal 600: The Federal POW’s, Part 1

The story of the Immortal 600 started with two Federal assaults on Battery Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina. The second assault led by the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry was gallant, but unsuccessful. Charleston was protected by Ft. Sumter, Battery Wagner and other gun emplacements. Charleston was a prize long sought by the Union forces. It was seen as the hotbed of secession. Frustrated by the failures against Battery Wagner, the Union commander, Gen. Quincy Gillmore decided to bombard the city of Charleston itself. Gillmore sent a note to the Confederate commander, Pierre G.T. Beauregard telling him to evacuate the defenses at Ft. Sumter and Battery Wagner and the other gun positions, or he would bombard the city. Charleston was three and four miles from its defenses, so there was no clear military target in the city. But, that was Gillmore’s plan. He threatened civilians, so as to force a withdrawal. Beauregard replied that shelling a defenseless city was barbaric, but he could not prevent the shelling. [1]

Shelling Charleston

For the next several months, Gillmore’s batteries rained down projectiles on the defenseless city. In 1864, Gillmore was replaced as commander by Gen. John G. Foster. Beauregard was replaced, by Gen. Samuel Jones. Jones complained to Foster that his cannon were deliberately targeting non-military sites. Jones placed 50 captured Union officers in a house in downtown Charleston. Few of the Union shells landed near the house, but still, the Federals were not happy. Gen. Foster then requested an equal number of captured Confederate officers to be placed near the Union fort on Morris Island. [2]

Upon hearing of Foster’s request, five of the Union officers housed at the house in downtown Charleston, all captured general officers, sent a letter to Gen. Foster asking that Confederate officers be treated humanely, as they had been treated. In truth, the 50 Federal officers kept at the Charleston house lived well. As one Charlestonian remarked, the Federal prisoners had a large lot in which to walk around. The Confederate government installed gas lighting for the prisoners. The captured officers received many visitors and were a well-dressed lot. They had money to spend. They were all on parole, meaning they were restrained only by their word. There was one guard, but the prisoners had a great deal of freedom. They could buy sugar and coffee in the city, despite severe shortages. Local citizens would call on them and visit. [3]

The Parole System

Officer POW’s well into the Civil War could enjoy a substantial amount of freedom while on parole. That was part of a long-standing tradition. During the Napoleonic wars, it was common for captured British officers to enjoy the freedom of Paris, so long as their family could send them money. The captured British officers during the European wars simply had to swear an oath that they would not try to escape and then the freedom of the city was theirs. The captured Union officers enjoyed a similar level of freedom, likely because their families could send them money.

Gen. Foster obtained his 50 Confederate officers. But, they were soon exchanged for the 50 original Federal officers at the house in downtown Charleston. [4]

Later, in late summer of 1864, Confederate Gen. Jones was forced to accept a large number of Federal officers from the POW camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The Union POW’s were placed at Roper Hospital and the city jail in Charleston and in various houses in Charleston. Gen. Jones wrote to Gen. Wessels, one of the original captured 50 officers that he was sorry about having to place so many Federal officers in the city, but it was the only secure place where they could be guarded until they were moved to a more permanent location. [5]

In August, 1864, Federal Gen. Foster wrote to his superior that he knew the large number of officers were placed in Charleston while enroute to somewhere else, not with the intent to expose them to enemy artillery. Foster also stated that he knew the original 50 federal officers were safe, because he knew where they were and his gunners would avoid that area. [6]

Yet, Gen. Foster still requested 600 confederate officer prisoners. He planned to place them adjacent to the Union guns on Morris Island, directly in the line of fire.


[1] Karen Stokes, The Immortal 600 (Charleston, SC: History Press 2015), p. 35-36

[2] Stokes, Immortal 600, p. 36-37

[3] Stokes, Immortal 600, p. 39-43

[4] Stokes, Immortal 600, p. 43

[5] Stokes, Immortal 600, p. 43-46

Women’s History Month: Women Waged the War The Men Could Not

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 April, 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 (the flag officially adopted by the CSA) 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. These were the same women who had tens of thousands of their loved ones deployed to war zones. Gen. Butler was telling these women they could not support their men.

Eugenia Levy Phillips

These incidents reached a climax of sorts with Eugenia Phillips, Jewish wife of a former Alabama Congressman, Phillip Phillips. Phillip Phillips was a close friend of Judah Benjamin, the CSA Secretary of War. Before the war, Eugenia had been a member of Pres, Benjamin Harrison’s “boudoir cabinet.” That meant she supported secession and supported the expansion of slavery. Gen. Butler, an experienced politician likely knew all this about his adversary. It was said of Butler that he did not like Jews.

The Phillips family had evacuated to New Orleans. When a funeral procession passed by Eugenia’s 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 Handkerchief 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

Michael Nolan, Commander, Part III

The Montgomery Guards were placed in the 1st Louisiana Infantry Regiment and on their way to Virginia by May 15, 1861. That was early in the war effort. That suggests they were simply ready sooner than the other militias. The Montgomery Guards were one of the two oldest Irish militias in New Orleans. Doubtless, they were able to recruit new members faster than the other militias. Some two dozen other militias were also recruiting in the very busy Spring and Summer, 1861. Militias were springing forth like mushrooms after a Spring rain.

Michael Nolan was a close friend of Fr. Darius Hubert before the war.  According to the 1860 U.S. census, Michael owned $30,000 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property. For an Irish immigrant, he was doing very well. His brother, Thomas, could claim $1,000 in real estate and $350 in personal property. That was also not a small sum for Irish immigrant in 1860. Michael owned the store at Common and Robertson. He had a partner, William A. Beecher.  But, Beecher claimed no real estate in the 1860 census, suggesting Nolan was the sole owner of the store. Michael Nolan was the first commander of the 1st Louisiana Infantry. The Regiment was sent to Virginia, where it became part of the Louisiana Brigade and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Battle of Manassas

Lt.-Col. Nolan achieved some fame at the Battle of Manassas for his quick thinking. At particularly bitter fighting at the Deep Cut, his men ran out of ammunition. Nolan quickly rallied his men to hurl stones and rocks at the Yankees, then literally just a stone’s throw away. The Mostly Irish Confederates did indeed hurl the works over a railroad embankment, holding their position until reinforcements arrived. Fr. Sheeran, another chaplain from New Orleans, would record in his diary that after the battle, many Union soldiers were found with broken skulls.

Lt.-Col. Nolan was badly wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). He was evacuated to a Richmond hospital and from there, he was sent on recruiting duty to Mobile. Many refugees from New Orleans and Baton Rouge had evacuated to Mobile at the time. His wife, Ellen, joined him in Mobile. He rejoined the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment just before the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863. Bravely, he led his men in an attack on Culp’s Hill. Almost immediately, he was cut down by a 12 pound artillery shell. He was killed within 24 hours of his return to his unit. What was left of his body was buried in a nearby orchard in a shallow grave. Soon afterward, through the kindness of a local Catholic woman, Isabella “Belle” Gubernator, and aided by the estimable Regimental chaplain, Fr. Hubert, Lt.-Col. Nolan was re-buried in consecrated ground at the nearby Conewago Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. LTC Nolan received a rare honor for a Confederate, a marked, Catholic burial.

Fr. Hubert

It was said that the death of Lt.-Col. Nolan was a blow to the kindly priest, Fr. Hubert. They were long-time friends. Another chaplain remarked upon hearing of Nolan’s death, “it was a great loss for Fr. Hubert.”  Later, after Gen. Lee’s surrender, Fr. Hubert remained in Virginia long enough to coordinate with Federal authorities the future removal of Lt.-Col. Nolan’s body to New Orleans.

A lengthy obituary was published in the nationalist Dublin newspaper, The Irishman, which suggests Lt.-Col. Nolan had a friendship with the editor.  He was apparently known to the editors of the The Irishman.

Re-Buried in New Orleans

Fr. Hubert and Fr. Sheeran, the two New Orleans priests who went to war, presided over the funeral.  After his death, his widow, Ellen faced serious financial issues. Michael and Ellen did not have any children. Ellen was among hundreds of others who were cited for failure to pay taxes in 1870, 1872, 1874, 1876, and 1878. She sold her property at a sheriff’s sale in 1879. The Southern economy was wrecked by the war and so was Ellen.

In 1869, Ellen re-married Thomas Egan. Thomas was also a native of Ireland. He was a grocery keeper with substantial real and personal estate. Ellen passed away Dec. 1, 1880. Like the rest of South, Ellen endured.


Cork Examiner, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1879, p. 4, col. 5

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Laura Kelley, The Irish in New Orleans (Lafayette, La.: Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press 2014), p. 48, 51, 55.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 20, 1847, p. 2, col. 6

New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 1, 1909, p. 6, col. 6

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Jo Anne Corrigan, “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1853, Abstraction and Realities,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug, 1959), p. 342

New Orleans Daily Crescent, May 15, 861, p. 2, col. 3

Brendan O’Cathaoir, “The Rising of 1848,” History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1998), Vol. 6

King’s County Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 2, col. 2

Tipperary Vindicator, Sept. 6, 1848, p. 2, col. 4

Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906, Orleans Parish, Oct. 17, 1850; La. Death Records, vol. 168, p. 777

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 9, 1856, p. 1, col. 3

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 30, 1866, p. 9, col. 2

Plaquemines Southern Sentinel, April 12, 1856, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, April 10, 1856, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 24, 1856, p. 1, col. 7

Kathrine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 53, 73, 75, 99, 103

New Orleans Item, Dec, 2, 1880, p. 4, col. 5

Louisiana Parish Marriages, 1837-1957

Michael Nolan, Young Irelander, Part II

In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. The rebellion in 1848 was somewhat accidental and almost unplanned. But, Michael knew something. He left his business, took his rifle and boarded a ship bound for County Tipperary, Ireland.  The New Orleans newspaper says Michael was arrested upon his arrival. But, in reality, some time passed before he was arrested. He arrived in August, 1848 in County Tipperary. This was the same county in which occurred the well-known fire fight at the Widow McCormack’s house. This rebellion was almost accidental. Its leaders agonized over strategy. The rebels were quickly put down after the brief fight at the McCormack house on July 29, 1848.  The young Michael Nolan arrived in Tipperary just days later. Michael came to the town of Thurles, which was just 25 kilometers from the Widow McCormack’s house.

Michael was arrested in Thurles, a major cross-roads village in County Tipperary. He came under the observation of the British authorities and was watched. He arrived wearing a “large pair of whiskers.” He soon lost the whiskers. He was arrested during the evening of Aug. 8. He told the constable he had returned to Tipperary to visit family and friends. There were indeed many Nolans in County Tipperary. On his person was found a letter of introduction identifying Michael as a “real gentleman.”

Another Stranger

Another “stranger” was arrested that same night. It is not clear if the second stranger had some connection to Nolan. The second person identified himself as Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick. He was a “good looking young man.”  He said he formerly worked for the Dublin firm of Tierney, McGrath and Co. at 3 Christchurch place, Dublin. There was indeed a drug company known as Tierney Brothers for many years at that address. The company was indeed known as Tierney, McGrath and Co. in 1848. But, whatever his real name, the second stranger must have had a sense of humor. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick was a person known in political circles as a dedicated supporter of Daniel O’Connell since 1828. By 1848, the real Patrick V. Fitzpatrick would have been 56 years old, not a young man. It is not apparent from the news report whether the British authorities actually believed the “good looking young man” was truly Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald. Vincent was not a common name in 1840’s Ireland. The British must have known the name Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick.

Michael Nolan was charged with buying guns and distributing them in the Roscrea and Birr districts, apparently meaning the civil parish of Roscrea, which includes the Goldengrove townland.  The erstwhile rebel was released after three months in the Thurles jail, based on his promise to leave the country and return to New Orleans. In 1863, Michael will be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Dublin nationalist newspaper,  Irishman, will publish a touching tribute to Michael.

Michael returned to New Orleans and re-married in October, 1850. He married Ellen Hackett, a native of King’s County, now known as County Offaly. Michael signed his own name, as did his surety and friend, Patrick McDonald.  It does not appear that Michael and Ellen had any children.


On April 8, 1856, about 11:30 a.m., Michael Nolan encountered a reporter for the Daily Delta. He ran into one David L. Crowley crossing Canal Street with a man named D.C. Jenkins, one of the editors of the Daily Delta. Nolan demanded an apology for an article Crowley had written about Nolan’s contract to provide supplies to the Marine Hospital. The Daily Delta article had described Nolan as “heartless” and questioned the quality of the goods he sold to the hospital.  Newspaper accounts differ. One says Crowley drew his pistol first, while others say Nolan attacked Crowley with his cane first. In any event, Nolan struck Crowley with his cane several times. Crowley fell to the banquette (sidewalk), and shot at Nolan several times while laying on the banquette. Michael wrenched the pistol from Crowley’s grasp and tossed it away.

Meanwhile, Michael’s brother, Thomas, came on the scene. He pulled out his own revolver and fired a few shots into the air, to keep bystanders away. Jenkins drew his pistol, but was arrested by a nearby citizen.  Jenkins was taken to jail and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. A passing policeman, who knew Thomas Nolan, rushed up to take away Thomas’ pistol. In so doing, Thomas accidentally shot the policeman, named Gustave Laferranderie. All the persons involved were arrested and then released on bail.

The U.S. Marine Hospitals were a system of hospitals set up to provide care to the merchant marine seamen. Eventually, that system evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service. The Daily True Delta article described Michael as a “well known resident of the seventh precinct,” meaning the Seventh Ward.

A couple of weeks later, a hearing was held regarding the charges against Michael Nolan,  Thomas Nolan and David L. Crowley. The Recorder (a criminal court judge) found Michael and Thomas should be committed to jail or pay a bail of $100 each. The two brothers paid the bail and were released. David Crowley was discharged. From then, Michael disappears from public record until April, 1862. In April, Michael he is the elected captain of the Montgomery Guards, the most prestigious Irish militia in New Orleans. That year, he and the Guards go to war.

Michael Nolan, Son of a Tithe Defaulter, Part I

The Montgomery Guards elected their captain sometime in 1861. He was named Michael Nolan. Michael Nolan was born in County Tipperary about 1819. He was born in Goldengrove townland, Co. Tipperary.  Goldengrove was a small townland. In the 1823 Tithe Applotment books, there were eight families in Goldengrove. Each family farmed no more than five or ten acres. There is no Nolan family listed for Goldengrove in 1823. Yet, we know from brother Thomas Nolan’s death record, that Thomas was likely born in 1832. Thomas’ obituary describes him as a native of Goldengrove. Perhaps the Nolan family was sharing land with another family. Or perhaps, they moved around a bit. In any event, the leaseholds in Goldengrove were quite small. None of the individual leaseholds included more than five acres.

A review of Catholic births in 1819 or 1820 reveals just one Michael Nolan/Nowlan in the Thurles Roman Catholic parish. That was Michael Nowlan, born on 19 December 1820, with no townland identified. The other three Michael Nowlan/Nolan birth records include townlands other than Goldengrove. The Michael Nowlan born in 1820 to Patt Nowlan and Mary Maher Nowlan may reflect the birth of Michal Nolan, future citizen of New Orleans. The spelling of names in 1820’s Ireland was always problematic. The old country in the 1820’s still largely spoke Irish. The spelling of names in English was far from standardized.

Michael’s brother, Thomas, was born in 1832, according to his obituary. He was described as a native of Goldengrove. But, no such baptismal record appears among the parish registers. No parish register lists a Thomas Nolan born in Goldengrove in the early 1830’s.  But, there was a Thomas Nolan born on 20 Nov 1831 to Pat Nolan and Margaret Tuohy. That birth record omits the townland. But, the civil parish was in western County Tipperary. Those are the only sets of parents who mention a common father, Pat. It is possible Pat farmed in Goldengrove, but moved to a new townland by 1831. There were various quarries located in the Killaloe Roman Catholic parish area in the 1830’s.

In 1831, a Patrick Nowlan was recorded as farming in a townland identified as “Quarries.” He defaulted on his tithe payment. He was a tithe defaulter. This was part of a movement refusing to refuse to pay the tithe. In 1830 Ireland, farmers were asked to pay one-tenth of their income to support the Church of Ireland. This payment was bitterly resented by the Roman Catholic parishioners who also supported their own church. In 1831, a movement to refuse to pay the tithe commenced. It appears Patrick Nowlan was one such tithe defaulter. There is no townland recorded today for County Tipperary named “Quarries.” But, there were a couple of quarries in the Thurles area at the time.


Mike Nolan left County Tipperary and lived in Dublin for a “few years.” He took the voyage to New Orleans in 1839.  The passage to New Orleans cost about the same as a fare to Boston or New York.  The Crescent City appealed to Irish immigrants, because it was generally a Catholic city. In an age and country where sectarian divisions were very pronounced, the Irish viewed a Catholic city as more welcoming and safer.

In 1840, the population of New Orleans was 101,193. By 1850, the population increased to 116,375. By 1860, it shot up to 168,675. The period 1840-1860 may have been the greatest period of growth in the City’s history. The port of New Orleans in the antebellum years was the fourth largest in the world and second in the U.S. By 1850, about 20% of the population was Irish.  New Orleans was a boom town and the Irish, including Michael Nolan, were riding that boom.

Death of His Family

Anna, wife of Mike Nolan, died in New Orleans on May 19, 1847. He also lost a child about this time. Anna was described as a native of County Tipperary. Anna died of typhoid fever. It was said that Michael tended the victims of the “yellow jack” (yellow fever) by the hundreds. He provided the rites of sepulture to many victims of the yellow fever, or the rite of placing their bodies in the grave. The Dublin newspaper does not explain how or why he came to help bury so many Irish. But, certainly, 1847 saw one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the city. Over 2,000 New Orleanians, mostly Irish and German immigrants succumbed that year to the yellow jack.

In these days before government assistance, there were a very few organizations, such as the Howard Association, that helped persons in need. In fact, the Howard Association may have been the first of its kind in the country. The Howard Association would assign volunteers to certain neighborhoods to provide aid during the regular, recurring yellow fever epidemics. Perhaps, Michael was one of those volunteers. Mike Nolan’s family may have been among the victims. Michael also helped obtain food, employment and shelter for many Irish immigrants. Michael provided numerous monuments to deceased Irish in St. Patrick’s cemetery. He supported the Sisters of Mercy.