The young Clara Solomon ignored her diary for a couple of weeks before recording her depressed thoughts. She was completely overwhelmed that her heroic Southerners had lost the city of New Orleans. The teenage girl thought this the worst calamity. She and her neighbors, the Nathans, were mortified that the Confederate army was withdrawing from New Orleans and the Yankees had penetrated the outer perimeter of forts. Mrs. Nathan was, of course, terrified for the prospect of her husband in the militia. The schools closed immediately. Clara, a young substitute teacher, would not be occupied with her former duties. Likely, her sewing duties, or wrappings for patients, would also be curtailed. Their days would change dramatically.
Family friends advised the Solomons to leave the City and find their father in Virginia. Solomon Solomon was a sutler for the Confederate army in Virginia. But, they stayed, as if frozen by fear.
Burning the Cotton
The next day, the Solomons went downtown. Meeting a family friend, they resolved to leave the city on the last few trains. Suddenly, a great crowd of downtown pedestrians started shouting, “They are coming!!” Over and over they shouted as the crowd started in a mad scramble going nowhere. Clara and her family saw the boats burning at the docks. The Confederate forces were burning the cotton and the boats to deny their use to the Yankees.
The two families, the Solomons and the Nathans arrived home later that day, April 25, 1862, wet from the rain and bone tired. They started packing. They had no idea where they would go, so long as it was away from the invaders.
No train was leaving. The newspaper revealed the Confederate and state leadership had fled the City. The mayor was now the ranking official. The family found solace in the Mayor’s determination not to remove the Louisiana flag. Commander Farragut threatened to bombard the city unless they removed the flag. The Commander noted that the flag the U.S. forces had raised at the Customs house had been removed and dragged through the streets. He warned the Crescent City that women and children needed to leave within 48 hours before the bombardment would commence.
Mayor Monroe then replied to the Commander that there was no way to remove the women and children in the city of 150,000 persons.
All the Men Were Gone
It was then that young Clara understood the awful truth, there was no man, no men left to protect their families in the City. The women and children were at the mercy of the Yankees.
The family then resolved to go to Carrollton, a small town upriver from New Orleans. A few hours later, a male family friend came by and assured them that if there was to be a bombardment, it would surely be focused only on City Hall, where the Louisiana flag flew.
The next day, the newspapers published accounts of the outer forts at the mouth of the Mississippi River; The forts had indeed surrendered. Mr. Nathan came home, after days of no word. He said his militia regiment had disbanded. He was home to stay. A male family friend came by the Solomon house and told them the flags had been lowered downtown. The City, said Clara, had resisted as long as it could and had retained its dignity.
Gen. Benjamin “Picayune” Butler had arrived. The Delta newspaper would continue to publish. That was Clara’s favorite newspaper. But, she lamented, it would no longer publish stories about the Confederate armies in Tennessee and Virginia. It would be limited to city news. Clara gloried in the fact that $2,000,000 worth of cotton was burned, denying it to the enemy. She hoped “Yellow Jack” (yellow fever) would make one of its frequent visits and take many of the Yankees. Gen. Butler forced the fashionable St. Charles hotel to open and accept his staff.
The Rabbi prayed for the Confederate states. Clara worried about the future of the schools and churches.
What Clara did not admit – if she knew – in her diary was that the Louisiana regiments largely disappeared in the mad rush to exit the City. It was not just the militia units that disbanded and simply went home, as her friend, Mr. Nathan, did. One of the perimeter forts, Ft. Jackson, saw a mutiny by the troops. This was the only mutiny in the Confederate army during the war. She also did not mention the crowd who initially gathered on the levee as the first U.S. ship sailed upriver into the port. A crowd of men cheered the Yankees. The Union supporters waived their hats. But, the celebration only lasted a few minutes when a troop of Confederate cavalry rode up, and fired into the gathering crowd. The city had more Unionist support than we might expect today. Many New Orleanians were transplants from Northern states.
Later, the young Clara will mention the strong Union sentiment in the City. After some weeks have passed under Yankee occupation, she will acknowledge that the Union sentiment has been suppressed in New Orleans. The Queen City of the Mississippi was unique in the South because she had so many immigrants from Northern states.
Yes, these were dark days for the young Clara as the war changed completely in her little part of the South. But, she was not broken. As she said, “we are conquered, but not subdued.” She considered evacuating the City as some of her friends did. But, she believed she should stay in the Queen City of the South in her hour of need. That is patriotism indeed.
Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), p. 67.
Michael D. Pierson, Mutiny at Ft. Jackson (Univ. of N. Carolina Press 2008), pp. 2-3, 124.
Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 343-351, 358.