Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was not from New Orleans. He was not part of the African-Creole tradition of solid education and somewhat laissez faire attitude toward politics. He was a hard-nosed gambler from the Mississippi River. His father was a Mississippi planter and his mother was a freed slave. After the death of his father in 1849, he lead a hard-scrabble life. He worked as a steward on river-boats and as a part-time gambler. He learned from the notorious cardsharp, George Devol. When New Orleans was first occupied by the Union army, Mr. Pinchback made his way there and recruited a company of Native Guards. The Native Guards was the long-time militia composed of free men of color. They were then preparing to join the Union army.
But, after a year in Federal service, Pinchback resigned his commission. He went to Alabama, seeking political success. Not finding what he was looking for, he returned to New Orleans by 1867.
Pinchback’s light skin, impeccable manners and quality clothing helped him fit in well with the African-Creoles of New Orleans. See more about former Lt.-Gov. Pinchback here.
The Carpet Bagger
Like all African-Americans at the time, Mr. Pinchback supported Republican causes and politicians. He advocated for civil rights protections for blacks in New Orleans. He was never offended by Governor Warmoth, as some black leaders were. Warmoth was a scheming, ambitious, morally corrupt carpet-bagger, But, Warmoth was also successful. Pinchback likely appreciated Warmoth’s daring. Pinchback started a very successful factorage with a prominent African-Creole native of the Crescent City. Pinchback allied himself with Warmoth, perhaps to balance against the Lieutenant Governor, Oscar J. Dunn. Mr. Dunn was Pinchback’s chief rival for leadership of the black community in New Orleans. Unlike either Warmoth or Pinchback, Dunn was known as generally honest.
The Custom House Gang
The principal Republican rival to Warmoth’s power was a group known as the Custom House gang. One of their key leaders was Stephen Packard. Packard was the U.S. Marshall for New Orleans. His office was in the venerable Custom House building on Canal street. The Collector of customs was James F. Casey, brother-in-law to President U.S. Grant. Casey also officed in the Custom House. Those two Republicans, both ambitious for personal gain, gradually acquired more and more power. Eventually, Mr. Pinchback also allied himself with the Custom House gang.
The War Hero
At the same time, Algernon Sidney Badger was finding success as a leader of the Metropolitan police force in New Orleans. Badger, unlike Pinchback, served during the war with distinction. He was a Massachusetts native and African-American. He came to New Orleans with his Massachusetts regiment. He later transferred to a Unionist Louisiana cavalry regiment and did well. He was cool in battle and competent.
The Metropolitan police force was created by Gov. Warmoth to enforce his orders. He knew he could not rely on the Federal troops. The Metropolitans had members from all races, even though today, it is often remembered as solely African-American. It was designed to be a modern police force, with some modern innovations. Even if it was in effect a private militia for Governor Warmoth, it also represented advancements in the science of policing.
By 1877, Republican interests had changed dramatically. Some conservative whites had supported a moderate white, Francis T. Nicholls, for governor. He won. The Republican state legislators and Gov. Warmoth then set up a rival state Senate. Warmoth hid four of the state senators in the city, so he could control the quorum. Pinchback attended the rival state senate, to lobby for appointment as U.S. senator. Quickly realizing the situation, Pinchback, instead, talked with Warmoth and asked him how he would control the senate. Warmoth, apparently not seeing Pinchback as a threat, mentioned where he had stashed the four missing state senators.
Immediately, Pinchback obtained $8,000-16,000 per state senator from the Louisiana State Lottery Company. He persuaded the four state senators to come with him, with the inducement of bribes.
The Metropolitans by 1877 were much reduced from their prior prowess. Their numbers had been reduced by low morale and a skirmish with white citizens. But, they still had Superintendent Badger and a few trusted officers. Stephen Packard, now the rump Governor, ordered Badger, the acting Sergeant-of-Arms for the rump senate, to go to Pinchback’s mansion and bring back the absent four state senators.
Badger grabbed some of the remaining Metropolitans and proceeded to Pinchback’s mansion on First Street, the area known today as the Garden District. Badger still limped from the bullet wounds he received in the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874.
At first, no one answered the door. Eventually, Pinchback appeared, pointing a repeating Henry rifle and told Badger he did not think Badger would take anyone from his house. Badger threatened to assault the home. But, Badger reconsidered when he discovered a handful of White League citizens positioned behind the Pinchback mansion. Badger and his men withdrew. But, as they were leaving, the White Leaguers overtook them and arrested all but two of Badger’s men and took them to a nearby jail. Badger, a man universally respected by all who knew him, was left to make his way back downtown by himself. The man known for his integrity and physical courage lost to the man known for his lack of integrity.
Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the War, Vol. 9 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 36-38, 101-104, 180-182.