The Ships “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 1

Within days of one another arrived the Otilla and the Blanche from Liverpool. Both ships arrived in New Orleans in late March, 1851. Both ships carried Irish immigrants. Some 40 passengers on the Otilla suffered from “ship fever,” probably typhus and had to enter Charity Hospital. The Otilla buried at sea two adults and three children. Upon arriving in New Orleans, there were one dead child and two or three adults aboard.[1]

The Blanche was even worse. Upon arrival, 126 passengers were taken to Charity Hospital, said Prendergast in his initial report. Just a day later, the New Orleans Daily True Delta, also edited by an Irishman, John Maginnis, reported that the Blanche arrived not with 497 persons, but with more than 525. Maginnis was angry that the ship’s captain, Capt. Duckitt, did not sign the list showing 497. His crew said Duckitt was too ill from ship fever to sign the list.[2]

Charity Hospital

Upon arrival of the Blanche, the Daily True Delta reported that the Otillia sent 63 passengers to Charity Hospital with ship fever, while the Blanche sent 134 to the hospital for the poor. Charity Hospital served everyone, but mostly it served the Irish. Maginnis blamed the British government. He flat accused the British landlords and government of murder. Maginnis insisted the captain and owners of the Blanche and Otilla violated U.S. law because they did not properly care for their passengers. Maginnis allowed that many English were fine and decent. But, some Englishmen must be punished. He commended Rev. Charles W. Whiteall, Pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal church on Esplanade in New Orleans for coming immediately to the aid of these devastated Catholic passengers.[3]

But, a day later, Maginnis was furious that Capt. Dukitt did not sign the final passenger list showing 497 persons arrived in New Orleans. He was angry because Nicholas Sinnot, the New Orleans Collector for the passenger tax, acquired the Liverpool broker’s list, which was the Captain’s private list of passengers. That second list showed over 525 passengers when the ship embarked from Liverpool. Maginnis was also angry because the Captain, supposedly too ill to sign the 497 passenger list, was alert enough to make public his annoyance at the accusations being leveled against him. That means some 28 passengers died enroute. [4]

It was likely no accident that Nicholas Sinnot, the younger, located the Liverpool broker’s list. Mr. Sinnot was Irish himself and was the son of Nicholas Sinnot, Sr, a former rebel of 1798. The elder Sinnot was well respected among the Irish community in New Orleans.

Centuries of Irish Anger

Centuries of Irish anger boiled up in Maginnis and Prendergast in their respective newspapers on April 5 and 6. Maginnis described Capt. Duckitt as a “stolid” Englishman with all the “presumption, self-sufficiency and vulgarity of [his] class.” Maginnis meant Duckitt was pompous and arrogant. Duckitt explained apparently in some New Orleans newspaper that he lost only 25 passengers and not one Englishman. He even suggested the previous “debility and previous habits” of the 25 Irish passengers may have caused their death on the voyage. Today, we would describe Duckitt’s comments as complete bigotry. Maginnis thundered: “Only twenty-five deaths, says this Englishman, ‘certainly not an excessive mortality under the lamentable circumstances – and it ought to be remarked that not one English passenger died” (Maginnis quoting Duckitt). The next day, Prendergast supported Maginnis completely. [5]

Maginnis called for the District Attorney and the Port Collector to devote their attention to Capt. Duckitt and the Blanche. Maginnis reported that the Blanche was 1000 feet short of the measurements her papers claimed. Maginnis believed this was a fraud perpetrated by the owners of the Blanche with the help of corrupt officials in Liverpool. Being smaller than her claimed size, she should not have been carrying as many passengers.


[1] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[2] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[3] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[4] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[5] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, April 6, 1851, p. 2, col. 2; New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

The New Revolution

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.

Eugenia Phillips

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.

Ship Island

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.

The Yankees at the Gates

Clara Solomon wrote a wonderfully detailed diary during the Civil War in New Orleans. She was born in 1844. Her family were Sephardic Jews from South Carolina. Her father was Solomon Solomon who made a good living as a merchant. After the Civil War, his finances would reverse. But, for now, they were solidly middle class.

The Provost Marshalls

The war was never far from Clara’s thoughts or activities. But, on March 15, 1862, Clara felt fear when the Confederate Army (i.e., Maj-Gen. Lovell) declared martial law in New Orleans. She commented that the news “startled the timid,” but on seeing the Provost Marshals, confidence was at once restored. The marshals were as follows

Wm Freret                               First District

Cyprien Dufour                       Second District

Hon. Pierre Soule                   Third District

Col. H. D. Ogden                    Fourth District

Capt. Norbert Trepagnier       Algiers

Judge Victor Burthe                Jefferson Parish

And, well they should have confidence. William Freret was the man for whom Freret street is named. He had served as mayor of the city in the 1840’s and was a strong supporter of the school system.

Pierre Soule was one of those persons in Louisiana politics who was a household name. He had served as senator from Louisiana and as ambassador to Spain. He has been described as  a “fire-eater,” meaning he was an ardent secessionist. He was a lawyer in New Orleans, known for defending the filibusterer, William Walker. Soule had a colorful past. He published in France an article critical of church and state. He was sentenced to prison, but left for the United States. Later, during the Yankee occupation, he will be arrested for allegedly provoking unrest. He will be sent to prison in New York, but will escape. For more about Pierre Soule, see Dictionary of Louisiana Biography here.

Cyprien Dufour had studied law in the office of Pierre Soule. He later served as District Attorney for Orleans parish and as assistant Attorney General for the state of Louisiana. These were the heavy-weights in New Orleans political circles who were still in town. Everyone else was off at war.

Martial Law

Martial law also meant the city’s coffee houses and saloons would close at 8 pm every night, recorded the young Clara. Not mentioned by Clara, there would also be a system of passports issued which would restrict egress and ingress into the city.

The Federal fleet had appeared at the mouth of the Mississippi on March 13, 1862. The Confederate commander, Maj-Gen.Mansfield Lovell, had been begging for reinforcements. Now, all that was too late.


Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 290.

New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 15, 1862, p. 1

Half a Hundred Tipperary Throats

The Union Army had its famed 69th Regiment, all Irish. The South too had its Irish Brigade. The Sixth Louisiana Infantry Regiment was largely Irish. A key component of that Regiment was a company sized unit known as the Louisiana Tigers. They were commanded by the remarkable Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. Traveling from New Orleans to Virginia at the outset of the war, the Tigers and the Fourteenth Louisiana Regiment, mostly Irish, started a riot in Grand Junction, Tennessee. The commander had to shoot seven soldiers, killing them and wounding another nineteen to stop the riot.

I previously wrote about the Sixth Louisiana Regiment here and wrote about Roberdeau Wheat here.

But, in the heat of the action, the Irish always distinguished themselves. Gen. Richard Taylor commanded the Sixth Regiment for some time during the Shenandoah campaign under Stonewall Jackson. Taylor was a former Know-Nothing. In Louisiana, the Know Nothings caused riots that killed a few Irish immigrants. At least initially, Gen. Taylor was skeptical about his Irish charges. But, during the Shenandoah campaign they performed exceedingly well. In that campaign, Gen. Jackson had to march his “foot cavalry” over dozens of miles over several days. The Irish always responded. Even today, Infantry would not be expected to march more than 12-15 miles in one day. During the Valley Campaign, they marched 20 miles in one day and 30 the next.

In May, 1862, the Louisiana Brigade, which included the 6th Regiment, made an exhausting march to Strasbourg, Virginia in the oppressive May heat. Union cavalry pressed them and caused them to panic. The Irish provided a rear guard, which helped restore order. Retreat is one of the most complicated military maneuvers. Even the most experienced units can collapse. But, the Irish then refused to be relieved throughout the night, insisting they would protect the rear. The weather poured that night, dropping hail the size of “hen’s eggs.” Occasional artillery fire would not dissuade them from their duty. They cried out, “We are the boys to see it out!” This loud assurance “from half a hundred Tipperary throats”prompted Gen. Taylor, the former Know-Nothing, to comment years later that ever since, his heart “warmed to an Irishman since that night.”

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 144-145.