Irish Immigrants in New Orleans

How many Irish immigrants were there in the South before the war? Precise figures are elusive. But, there are hints. The Irish were generally referred in the immigration records as having come from Great Britain. Arrivals generally peaked in the Spring or Fall, so as to avoid the Summer heat.  In the last quarter of 1845, there were 813 arrivals from Great Britain in the port of New Orleans. In late 1846, there were 1,519 arrivals from Britain in New Orleans. In the last quarter of 1847, known as “Black ‘47” – the worst year of the famine in Ireland, there were 3,621 arrivals from Great Britain. During the normally slow summer time, there were 5,856 arrivals from Great Britain in New Orleans.

In 1849, there were 7,272 passengers disembarking at New Orleans. By 1850, New Orleans was second only to New York for Irish arrivals.

In the 1840’s, Liverpool was the center of the cotton trade in Europe. On the return trip to America, the cotton ships would bring immigrants. The cheapest fare to the US was to New Orleans. So, it is not surprising that by 1850, there were some 24,000 Irish immigrants in Louisiana and some 28,000 by 1860. New Orleans had some 116,000 people in 1850 and 168,000 in 1860.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 26-27

Beast Butler Crosses A Line

In 1861, New Orleans was an international city. Some two dozen consuls were posted in the Crescent City representing their governments. Then Gen. Butler and the Union army came. Gen. Butler first encountered problems when he tried to confiscate gold and hard currency held by a bank. The bank had hidden the gold and currency with one of the consuls. Many of the banks had hidden their hard currency, knowing Gen. Butler would seize it and leave their depositors without funds. The French consul refused to produce a key to his vault. The U.S. soldiers seized him, undressed him until they found the key. Within the vault, they found $800,000 in Mexican silver. Gen. Butler won this battle, but the French consul was just starting to fight.

About that time Gen, Butler was addressing a different situation. Before the Union soldiers had arrived in April, the British consul had organized a militia force composed of some 60 English citizens. When the city fell without a fight, the British militia disbanded. But, they sent their weapons and uniforms to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the favorite son of New Orleans. In late May, annoyed by this donation. Gen. Butler insisted the British militia turn out with all their weapons and uniforms. Any Englishman who did not appear with his weapon and uniform would be forced to leave the city or be arrested. These 60 or so English citizens were prosperous men of standing. They did not care to be threatened simply for defending their adopted home and then for helping their neighbors.

The British Consul, George Coppell, protested. The Consul told the general he was violating international law. Butler did not care for the English. Many Americans still retained their distaste for the former colonizers. He challenged Coppell’s credentials as Consul. Gen. Butler arrested three Englishmen and sent them to the prison at Ft. Jackson. Ft. Jackson was an open air fort, infested with mosquitoes. Mr. Coppell then communicated the problem to the British Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C., Lord Lyons.

Within days, Beast Butler was engaged in wars with the Dutch and Greek Consuls. Gen. Butler now found himself very unpopular with his government back in Washington. A fight with the Spanish over some freight in a Spanish ship soon followed. The General issued Gen. Order No. 40, threatening to arrest any person, meaning U.S. citizen or not, who held property belonging to the Confederate States of America.

That order was quickly followed by Gen. Order No. 41 in mid-June, 1862. This order required all persons in the city to swear an oath of loyalty to the U.S. In a special paragraph for foreigners, this order required foreign born persons to swear an oath that they had not assisted any enemy of the U.S. The General knew he had supreme power in the city. He intended to use it. The consuls were infuriated. They raised a ruckus which eventually forced Gen. Butler from his position of supreme power.

In June, 1862, Clara Solomon was equally aghast at Gen. order No. 41. She was, however, thrilled when family friend, D.G. Duncan was released from prison at Ft. Jackson. He was freed with no more explanation than when he was first arrested weeks before. She fretted again at the lack of letters from her pa in Virginia.

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), pp. 142-165.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 8, 410-411.