Chapter 9: taking command of a Southern City.
- Entering New Orleans
-- the City untamed
-- meeting the City authorities at the St. Charles Hotel
-- Howling mob surrounds the building
-- “tell General Williams to clear the streets with artillery”
-- proclamation to the citizens
-- buying sugar to ballast vessels
-- property burned at instigation of Confederate leaders
-- alone responsible for conduct at New Orleans
-- utterly destitute condition of people
-- providing provisions and employment
-- approach of yellow fever season
-- alarm of troops
-- disease investigated, with theory as to cause
-- how the City was cleaned and kept clean
-- just two cases of fever that summer
-- further consideration of yellow fever subject
-- how it was fought at Norfolk and New Berne two years later
-- one thing West Point needs
On the morning of the first day of May, having determined to disembark my troops, or as many of them as had then arrived, and take possession of the city at sundown, I issued the following order:--
It may be asked why we waited until near sundown.
When troops are taking possession of a city where there is possibility of assault by a mob, it is always best that it should be done in the dark.
The general then always knows where his troops are, and how many of them there are, while the mob can have no concerted action, and are not able to organize any in the dark.
If your column is fired upon from houses, the flash will show every window from which the missiles come, and those windows can instantly be
filled with returning bullets.
Furthermore, the column, unless it is too long, can be protected in the street better in the dark than in daylight.
None of my troops up to this time had ever received or given a hostile shot, and I thought it would give them more confidence if I should lead the column, as I did at Baltimore
But this time I went on foot, as I had no horses.
We marched without opposition to the Custom House
, an immense granite building covering some acres and making a complete citadel.
Having disposed of my troops, I returned to the St. Charles Hotel
with one company of the Thirty-First Massachusetts as a headquarters guard.
My officers having taken possession of the hotel, I returned to the steamer Mississippi
, brought Mrs. Butler
on shore, and took her to the hotel in a carriage.
The hotel keeper informed my adjutant-general, Major Strong
, that he was afraid to have us come there lest some of the waiters should poison our food.
Strong observed in his hearing: “Well, General, if we are poisoned, the one who survives the longest will have a lively recollection of him who keeps this hotel.”
After breakfast I sent a staff officer to the mayor of the city, asking that he and the representatives of the city government call upon me at the hotel.
The mayor at first said: “No; tell General Butler
if he wants to see the city government he will call upon them.”
The officer said to him kindly but significantly: “You had better not have me deliver that message to General Butler
, for if you do I shall have to bring you to him in a way that may be unpleasant.”
The city was untamed.
The mayor came down to the hotel about two o'clock, and was received by me in the ladies' parlor, which was in a corner of the building on the first floor.
It was a large room and looked out upon a balcony.
Both streets, St. Charles
and Common, were packed with a very clamorous and obstreperous mob. They did not seem to be the canaille.
They interrupted our consultation by their noise very considerably.
came in and reported that a Union man, Mr. Somers
, who had once been recorder of the city, and who had taken refuge on board the Mississippi
, had just been brought off to the hotel.
I directed that he should be taken down to the Custom House
As he was well known to the mob, I thought it
was dangerous for him to have to go through the mob without a strong force, and I directed Lieutenant Kinsman
to take my headquarters guard at the St. Charles
down to the Custom House
with him. The appearance of Somers
, guarded, raised the greatest confusion, and we had to wait in our conference, looking out the window at the scene, while the little bunch of troops, gallantly led by Lieutenant Kinsman
, took Somers
through the crowd.
Then the mob gathered about the hotel again, and resumed its shouting and offensive noises.
At that moment Captain De Kay
crowded through the mob into the hotel.
His uniform was almost torn off him.
St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans.|
Touching his cap, he said: “General Williams
' compliments, and he bids me say to the general commanding that the mob is getting unruly, and asks for orders as to what shall be done with them.”
“Give my compliments to General Williams
,” I answered quietly, “and tell him to clear the streets at once with his artillery.”
The captain left with the message.
The members of the city government all sprang to their feet, crying: “Don't, General; Don't give such an order as that.”
“Why this emotion, gentlemen?”
“The cannon are not going to shoot our way, and I have borne this noise and confusion as long as I choose to.”
“Wait a while, General, wait a while,” they said, “and we will go out and speak to the people and advise them to go away, and they will disperse.”
“Very well,” I said, “so they do disperse, I do not care as to the means; go out and try your hand at it.”
And so the mayor made them a speech from the balcony, but they jeered him to his face.
Then another spoke, and they chaffed him, calling him all sorts of abusive names, and the speech-making rather increased the uproar.
I stood, a little withdrawn from the window, looking across the street, and I saw a man on the sidewalk having a piece of a United States
flag in his button-hole.
I inquired who he was and was answered that that was Mumford
who had torn down the flag, and that it was a piece of it he wore in his button-hole.
I told my orderly, who was standing near me, to take a look at the man so that he would know him if he saw him again.
Then the mob raised the cry: “Where's old Butler
Let him show himself; let him come out here if he dare.”
The cry was echoed around for a moment: “Where's old Butler
I thought it my privilege to answer that call.
I stepped forward on the balcony in full sight, with my cap in my hand, and looking on the crowd, as unmoved as possible, said: “Who calls me?
I am here.”
That answer brought a hush, and just at that time a wonderful noise directed my attention up St. Charles Street. The cause of it was in a moment apparent.
The Sixth Maine battery, a finely equipped artillery company with six Napoleons, under Captain Thompson
, had been encamped in Tivoli Circle.
St. Charles Street, down which the battery was coming, was at that time paved with foot square granite blocks, which were in a very uneven condition.
was one of the most dare-devil furious riders I ever saw, and he was leading his battery down the street as if there were nobody in it, every horse driven at the fullest speed and the bugles sounding the charge.
No one who has not seen such a charge can imagine the terrible noise and clamor it makes, the cannoneers clinging to their seats, and the wheels of the guns bounding up inches as they thunder over the uneven stones.
As I said, the mob was hushed.
They turned their eyes on the approaching avalanche and then sought safety in flight.
By the time Captain Thompson
as he went by, the whole street was cleared; and when he came “into battery” at the corner, with three guns to clear each street, the scene was as quiet as a children's playground.
From that hour to the time I left New Orleans I never saw occasion to move man or horse because of a mob in the streets of the city.
By arrangement our conference was adjourned until evening, when I could read my proclamation to the city officials.
I had a little difficulty in getting it printed.
I had it ready early the evening before, that it might come out in the morning papers.
I sent it to the office of the True Delta
by a couple of staff officers, and they were told by those in charge that it could not be printed without the order of the proprietor, who was absent.
The next morning at eight o'clock, the officers appeared at the office and saw the proprietor.
He said that he could not permit it to be printed, even as a handbill.
They bowed and retired, and in a short time returned with a squad of men who took possession of the office, “stacked arms,” took off their coats, and went to work at the cases and press, and in a very short time had printed as many copies of the proclamation as were wanted.
While they were doing that, the following order was issued:--
This brought the proprietor to headquarters with a very proper and humble apology, and the order of suspension was revoked.
There were several attempts on the part of the people not to have any intercourse with our soldiers, nor to trade with them.
One of the privates went into a shoe store to buy a pair of shoes and asked the price.
They were three dollars. He offered the gold for them and
the man replied that he would not sell shoes to a d — d Yankee
The next day the provost marshal
put a red flag over the shoe store door and sold its contents at auction.
That shopkeeper's experiment was not a happy one.
But very soon there was no uncivil treatment received by our soldiers except from the upper class of women.
But to return to our. meeting.
I read my proclamation to the city officials.
, late United States
senator and minister to Spain
, was put forth as their spokesman.
did not complain of the proclamation except so far as it foreshadowed the occupation of the city.
He said that he knew the temper of the people, and their gallant courage, and they never would submit to it, and I should be putting myself and command in great danger if I did not remove my troops from the city.
I replied to him in substance that I was surprised to hear threats made in that conference.
I had heard them all my life by Southern men in political conventions, but here they were out of place.
He replied to me that he had always looked upon me as a friend of Southern rights.
To that I answered: “You do rightly.
I am a friend to Southern rights now, but I came here to put down Southern wrongs.”
I then stated to the officials that I desired to go about my work in the field, and should be glad to have the co-operation of the city government in carrying on the government of the city so that I should not have to occupy my time with such details; that if they would pledge me their honor that nothing should be done to aid the Confederacy
, and if the city government would occupy itself with attempting to relieve the sufferings of the people of the city, I should be glad to have them take charge of its government, especially as I knew the people were starving for supplies that could not be got from any known source.
I further stated to Mr. Soule
: “I learn that we have captured a thousand barrels of Alexandria
I will turn that over to the city government to be fed out to the people.
I will also give safe conduct to a steamboat to bring from Mobile
, and elsewhere, the flour and provisions you have already purchased there [flour was then sixty odd dollars a barrel in the city], provided there shall be nothing come out of this which shall aid the Confederacy
, and that the members of the city government give me their solemn assurance that this will
be their course of conduct.”
That being agreed to they left, with the understanding that I should not interrupt the business of the city government.
The following is a copy of my proclamation:--
came up the river to be followed by my troops, Lovell
deserted the city with some eight or nine thousand men, some under arms and some otherwise.
He encamped at Pontchatoula, about eighty miles from the city, to which he was taken by cars.
When the government became established, the men who were forced to go with Lovell
returned, so that his command dwindled down quite one half.
The men came back to New Orleans, put on citizens' clothes, and went about their business.
In the interval between the evacuation by Lovell
's arrival, a panic had seized the city, exhibiting itself in the destruction of property.
Cotton, sugar, tar, rosin, timber, and coal were set on lire, and all the ships and vessels that could not be taken away with a few exceptions were burned.
There was even some
talk among the citizens of burning the city.
Some of the Confederate
leaders favored it on the ground that there was a large foreign interest in the city, especially French
, and that if the city were destroyed it would bring the war so home to them that France
would try to cause it to be ended by intervention.
This destruction of property was also done on the outside of the city upon the ground that the supplies, especially cotton, would be destroyed by us upon capture.
To allay this fear I issued General Order No. 22
When that order was published, my enemies and the enemies of the country — they were not two classes then — immediately announced that I was using my troops in New Orleans for the purpose of private trade and speculation.
It will be observed that the order says “property shall have safe conduct,” but I had to buy upon my own personal credit, for I had no public money on hand.
So I opened a credit with Mr. Jacob Barker
, a banker, who, upon pledge of the supplies purchased, advanced money on my purchases.
After I had landed my troops I had a large number of transport vessels that had to be returned to New York and Boston
had called on the people to bring to him all their plantation and church bells to be cast into cannon, and those and some old rejected guns were everything I had with which to ballast all those ships.
There was nothing to be found in New Orleans with which to ballast a vessel, as they never had occasion to ballast ships upon the outward voyage, because they always went out with cargo.
The only other thing that could be had with which to ballast a vessel was white sand, and that would have to be brought in boats from Ship Island
, more than one hundred miles off. The demurrage which the government must then pay by its charter for the delay in ballasting with sand would be many thousand dollars.
My first purchases of sugar were to the amount of $60,000. This gave such confidence to the merchants that they made application to my brother, who was my agent in carrying on these transactions, to allow them to put their own sugar on board the vessels as ballast, paying a reasonable freight, consigned to New York.
This I agreed to and established the freight at ten dollars a hogshead.
One half of this was his commission for doing the business, he not being an officer of the government.
It would have been better to have paid ten dollars a hogshead for leave to carry it than to have to ballast.
I sent both the church bells and the old cannon, but they were only a flea bite of what was wanted.
Nothing could have done as much for the pacification of the merchants of New Orleans as did these transactions.
Some of the northern journals of that day will show articles which would have deterred a fainter-hearted man than myself from continuing.
Yet I got all my ships off with just freight enough for ballast, and then, upon my recommendation, on the 1st of June the port of New Orleans was opened, postal communication with the rest of the country reestablished, and a collector of customs appointed for my department.
Meantime I reported to the War Department as follows:--
All this action of mine was approved of by the Secretary of War
, as will appear by his message of June 10, which I shall give later on.
I was very much puzzled to know whether this policy of burning the crops was that of the rebel government or of an insane wretch, one Thomas O. Moore
, governor of Louisiana
and commander-in-chief of its militia, who issued some crazy orders once as to hanging instantly without trial any person who should be found to have my pass in his possession.
Upon examination I now find the evidence conclusive that this burning of the crops was a premeditated and preconceived design of the rebels, pervading the congress and the executive.
A question arose in the mind of General Lovell
whether they should burn any other property than Confederate, leaving the property of foreigners untouched.
But it was determined by the cabinet and Jefferson Davis
that the property of foreigners should also be destroyed, in order to inflame foreign nations against us as the cause of loss, so as
to make them interfere in behalf of the South
--somewhat illogical but certainly true.3
The burning of property substantially ceased, and I purposely refrained from seizure or interference with it until the country got quieted down, and only returned to the policy of seizure afterwards because of the confiscation acts of our Congress.
One thing I may say here as well as elsewhere, that from the hour I left Washington
in February, 1862, to the hour of the despatch given below, I never received any direction or intimation from Washington
or anywhere else how I should conduct the expedition or carry on the administration of the government in that department; and by no word ever afterwards was the confidence and high praise therein expressed by my official superiors as to my proceedings in New Orleans withdrawn.
Following is the despatch referred to:--
Again, this is evidenced by a very highly prized letter of Mr. Lincoln
asking me to come to him even before I returned to my family.
Another matter that required instant attention, even in the midst of the flame and smoke of burning property, was the absolutely starving condition of the people of New Orleans.
It was difficult enough to get supplies, even while the army of Lovell
was there; but after the news of the bombardment and passage of the forts, nothing came into the city and everything went out. The fleeing inhabitants almost took their kneading troughs and the contents on their backs,--as did the children of Israel,--as they fled to the surrounding country, which was wholly without supplies.
Flour was sixty dollars a barrel, and little to be had at that.
The condition will be described in a word, as it was to me by the Hon. Thomas J. Durant
, leading Unionist and formerly the attorney-general
: “General, you will understand to what we are reduced when I tell you that the day before you landed, all that my children had to eat was two ginger cakes got from a confectioner.”
The city authorities had depended on supplies of flour purchased in Mobile
, but the ascent of our fleet and the presence of our gunboat, the New London
, on the waters of the Gulf
, had prevented the delivery.
On the 3d of May, at my first meeting with the city government, this condition of suffering and starvation was brought to my attention.
I had already learned that we had captured a thousand barrels
of beef salted at Alexandria
and furnished for the rebel troops, but which they could not take with them.
I immediately ordered this to be turned over to the committee of the city government, to whom Pierre Soule
This I did upon the solemn pledge that all such provisions should be used only for a supply for the inhabitants of the city.
On the morning following, I issued General Order
On the succeeding day, I issued an order directing safe conduct for bringing, from the Red River
, provisions which had been purchased there by the city, and a similar order to the Opelousas Railroad Company to bring to the city such provisions and such supplies as it might, and made safe conduct for the agents, messengers, and employees of the vessels and the railroad.
Provisions were at once brought in from these several sources and the immediate and pressing necessities of the citizens were relieved.
Before the war, I had met gentlemen of the South
whose word I would take implicitly.
I believed them men of honor, and they were so. But the dire crime of treason seemed to have obliterated the consciences of quite all of them, as well as of the foreign officials who resided among them, just as the man who makes up his mind to dishonor the wife of his friend, also prepares his conscience to permit his perjury to defend himself and her in the crime.
Sir Walter Scott
treats this, in a public speech, as the acknowledged duty of a gentleman.
So, in the South
, no pledge or engagement made with a Yankee was held to be binding.
The most flagrant instance of this was in the case of the McRae
, captured at Fort Jackson
She was the only Confederate gunboat that had not been destroyed by Farragut
's fleet in its passage of the forts.
The enemy asked that she might be sent up under a flag of
truce as a cartel to carry their wounded officers and men to the city.
Of course she was to return and deliver herself up, because, as she was then, with Farragut
's fleet above and below her, she could not possibly have escaped.
This arrangement was made between Captain Smith
, commanding the Mississippi
at the quarantine, and the officers of the Confederate navy.
They deliberately caused holes to be bored in the steamer, as she lay in the river after they had landed
from her, and sunk her. They took care to keep themselves out of New Orleans after I came, for if I had found them there, they would have been deprived of future opportunity to do any more rascality, and by the most effectual means.
I soon learned that the committee, with the assent of Soule
, had smuggled the one thousand barrels of beef intrusted to them across the lake to feed Lovell
's troops at Camp Moore and left their fellow-citizens to starve, and that the boats sent to Mobile
for provisions had been made despatch boats for the carrying of mail under the direction of the French
consul, and of treasonable correspondence giving information to the rebels as to the condition of military and naval affairs in the Department of the Gulf.
, a partner in the French
firm of Heidsieck & Co., producers and venders of champagne, disguised himself as a bar-keeper, in order to pass backward and forward on the supply boats as a messenger and spy. This was known to some of the committee of the city government, and by a conforming coincidence the same sort of use was made of the boats bringing the city's provisions from Alexandria
, and also for another purpose which was not to our disadvantage.
After my proclamation giving assurance that the gold in the banks of New Orleans would be safe, these banks sent in to the Confederacy
rising six millions in gold.
This was part of the thirteen millions which they had at the time of the passage of the forts.
One of the banks wanted to get its gold back, and so brought it in barrels of beef by the provision boats.
It may be well to say in passing, that the gold thus sent away all the banks very much wanted to get back again, and applied to the rebel government for leave to have it sent, and applied to me for permission to have it returned and delivered to them.
, the secretary of the rebel treasury, refused that permission, and the Confederate government took possession of the gold as “a sacred trust.”
But that gold afterwards was carried off from Richmond
when Jeff Davis
escaped, and at his capture was plundered by those having it in charge.
Of course these modes of bringing provisions to the city had to be stopped on account of the abuses made of the privileges granted.
This, of course, brought the city again almost to the verge of starvation.
The city government had not voted a single dollar for the
relief of the poor.
There were one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.
There were more paroled rebel soldiers in the city than the general had troops within fifty miles of his headquarters.
The families of many of those who had gone to Shiloh
, and the other Confederate armies, were all left behind, generally in a state of destitution.
What was to be done?
It was attempted to meet this exigency by the following order:--
Under this order 32,400 men, women, and children had these provisions distributed to them, under a system which ensured that the food went to the weakest every day. These were all poor whites; the blacks were otherwise provided for. My supplies for the army
having arrived from New York, I directed my commissary to “sell to families for consumption, in small quantities, until further orders, flour and salt meats, viz.: pork, beef, ham, and bacon, from the stores of the army, at seven and a half cents per pound for flour, and ten cents for meats, city bank notes, gold
, or treasury notes to be taken in payment.”
Flour went down from sixty to twenty-five dollars a barrel in the course of thirty days, and for those who had means to purchase, starvation was not possible.
But still the question of how the poor were to be fed ultimately, and at whose cost, pressed back upon me, and that was complicated with another question which was, how the health of the city was to be guarded and preserved.
The yellow fever had always within the memory of man been the scourge of New Orleans, returning every summer with such virulence as to drive from the city all unacclimated persons who could get away.
In 1853, the victims of yellow fever were so numerous that there were no means of burying them, and so they were removed by cremation, their bodies being piled up for that purpose in heaps.
And yet, even after that terrible warning, no method or means of prevention in the future had ever been had. The reason for this is best told in the words of a leading editorial in the True Delta
, the proprietor of which, it will be recollected, was so ardent a secessionist that he refused to print my proclamation.
The editorial was printed after he was disciplined for his secession conduct.:--
For seven years past, “said the True Delta, of May 6,” the world knows that this city, in all its departments,--judicial, legislative, and executive,--has been at the absolute disposal of the most godless, brutal, ignorant, and ruthless ruffianism the world has ever heard of since the days of the great Roman conspirator.
By means of a secret organization emanating from that fecund source of every political infamy, New England, and named Know-Nothingism or “Sammyism,” --from the boasted exclusive devotion of the fraternity to the United States,--our city, from being the abode of decency, of liberality, generosity, and justice, has become a perfect hell; the temples of justice are sanctuaries for crime; the ministers of the laws, the nominees of blood-stained, vulgar, ribald caballers; licensed murderers shed innocent blood on the most public thoroughfares with impunity; witnesses of the most atrocious crimes are either spirited away, bought off, or intimidated from testifying;
perjured associates are retained to prove alibis, and ready bail is always procurable for the immediate use of those whom it is not immediately prudent to enlarge otherwise.
The electoral system is a farce and a fraud; the knife, the slungshot, the brass knuckles determining, while the sham is being enacted, who shall occupy and administer the offices of the municipality and the commonwealth.
Can our condition surprise any man?
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
We accept the reproach in the proclamation, as every Louisianian, alive to the honor and fair fame of his State and chief city, must accept it, with bowed heads and brows abashed.
The condition of peace, order, and quiet to which the city had been brought at this time, is also certified to by the New Orleans Bee
, another secession paper.
of May 8 said:--
The federal soldiers do not seem to interfere with the private property of the citizens, and have done nothing that we are aware of to provoke difficulty.
The usual nightly reports of arrests for vagrancy, assaults, wounding, and killing, have unquestionably been diminished.
The city is as tranquil and peaceable as in the most quiet times.
About the fourth day after my proclamation, I drove out in a calash with my wife one morning to take a look at the condition of the city and its suburbs.
We took no guard save an orderly on the box. General Kinsman
of my staff was with us. We went up the river in a street parallel with it and about one hundred yards from it. A little way up the river we came upon the “basin,” a broad opening or pond for the reception of canal boats.
A canal extended from this point across to Lake Pontchartrain
As we approached the “basin,” the air seemed filled with the most noxious and offensive stenches possible, so noxious as almost to take away the power of breathing.
The whole surface of the canal and the pond was covered with a thick growth of green vegetable scum, variegated with dead cats and dogs or the remains of dead mules on the banking.
The sun shone excessively hot, and the thermometer might have been 120°. We turned to the right and went down along the canal as far as Lake Pontchartrain
, finding it all in the same condition until within a few rods of the lake.
We drove back by a very different route.
I sent immediately for the city officer charged with the superintendence of the streets and canals, and responsible for their condition.
He was an officer whom I had not seen.
He reported immediately.
“You are the superintendent of streets and canals, are you?”
“What is the matter with the new canal at the head of it and all along down?”
“Nothing, that I know of, General.”
“Have you been up lately to the head of it?”
“Yes; there yesterday.”
“Didn't you observe anything special when you were there?”
“Not an enormous stink?”
“No more than usual, General; no more than there always is.”
“Do you mean to tell me that the canal always looks and stinks like that?”
“In hot weather, General.”
“When was it cleaned out last?”
“Never, to my knowledge, General.”
“Well, it must be cleaned out at once, and that nuisance abated.”
“I cannot do it, General.”
“I don't know how.”
“Very well, your services are no longer required by the government for the city.
I will find somebody who does know how. Good-morning, sir.”
I had learned that the rebels were actually relying largely upon the yellow fever to clear out the Northern
troops, the men of New England
and the Northwest
, with their fresh lips and clear complexions, whom they had learned from experience were usually the first victims of that scourge.
I had heard also (I hope it was not true, but yet I believe it) that in the churches prayers were put up that the pestilence might come as a divine interposition on behalf of the brethren.
Every means was taken to harass my naturally homesick officers and soldiers with dire accounts of the scourge of yellow fever.
I had also heard, but did not believe it true, that General Lee
relied for the defence of Louisiana
and the recapture of New Orleans, upon the depletion of our troops by yellow fever; but, alas!
it was true, as shown by the following correspondence:--
This letter shows that this question was submitted to Lee
on or before the 12th of May, and that it was agreed to by Governor Moore
and Judge Moise
; and there is nothing in the “War correspondence” which shows that it was ever objected to by Lee
I ought to state what the dangers were.
It is well known that persons having had the yellow fever and thus becoming acclimated, are no more liable to a recurrence of the disease than in the case of that other scourge of armies, the smallpox.
In the year 1853, beginning August 1, excluding those that were not liable to have the yellow fever and those who had gone out from New Orleans for the summer, the population open to the disease was thirty thousand only.
On the first week in August there were 909 deaths from yellow fever; on the second week, 1,282; on the third week, 1,575; and on the fourth week, the deaths in one day, the 22d of August, were 239; so that, from the
28th of May, there were 7,439 certified deaths by yellow fever.
Many hundreds died away from the city and up the river, and many died on the steamers, while attempting to get away.
These figures do not include those who died in the suburbs, Algiers
, Jefferson City
, and Carrollton
Thus, of 30,000 total, one in every four died.
No conversations went on in the presence of my officers other than descriptions of the incidents of the attacks of the terrible fever in 1853, when its dead lay in heaps because of the inability of the living to inter them.
An instance was reported to me which was quite laughable.
Near the lower boundary of the part of New Orleans known as French-town, which was then, perhaps, the most filthy of all, a poor soldier from Maine
, homesick, dreaming of the pure air and bright land-scape of his native State and pining to return thereto, was pacing his weary beat.
Naturally he listened to the conversation that went on around him, and accordingly he was attacked in this way: Two newsboys stood near him and one said: “Jack
, have you heard the news?”
“No, Tom, what is it?”
“Got the yellow fever prime down in Frenchtown
; two Yanks
It will sweep them all off.”
No surgeon in my army ever saw a case of yellow fever or had any instruction in meeting this hideous foe. A panic seized many of my officers.
There were still other reasons for them to pine for home.
New troops were being raised, and as the Army of the Gulf had acquired some reputation, the governors of all States, save Massachusetts
, were glad to get officers from my army to promote into these new regiments.
So, if they could but get home, they would find safety, promotion, and happiness.
They were becoming downcast, and I feared the effect of this very despondency in increasing the liability to the disease.
I asked one old New Orleans physician if there were any means of keeping the fever away from the city.
He told me there was none.
I asked him if there were no means of preventing its spreading over the city.
He told me he knew of none, after it once got there.
The quarantine might be of some advantage, but if the fever ever got into the city, especially under the circumstances, the city having been occupied by armed forces for many months and being
in a horrible condition as to cleanliness, he saw no reason why the disease would not spread with irresistible fury, as so many unacclimated persons were confined there.
I asked him if he had any authorities upon the peculiarities of the disease.
He said that the best book he knew of was the description of the rise, progress, and decline of the disease in 1853, by Professor Everett
, who had written upon the matter very intelligently.
I asked him if he would loan me the treatise and he assented.
I asked him if he would attach himself to my headquarters as a physician.
He said to me that it would be his ruin to do such a thing.
My medical director
had been chosen for me and sent down to serve under me. He was a gentleman of very high family and respectable acquirements, but had had no long service in the army or elsewhere.
I talked with him about this disease and discovered that he was utterly at sea.
Meantime, as soon as I would listen to them, at orderly hours every day there were applications by officers for leave of absence to go home, under every excuse and every sort of pretence.
Some men whom I knew to be good men would come to me with excuses and reasons that they should be furloughed.
Only one of my staff officer, went home, and he did not come back.
Fortunately nobody could go home without my written pass.
My own patience broke down under the continual perplexity of these applications, for I was continually tried with certificates of ill health from every kind of a physician.
I may relate a single incident: An officer whom I knew to be a brave and respectable man,--one who would have gone to the cannon's mouth, I have no doubt, upon a simple order,--got terribly frightened about yellow fever.
He came to me with two or three certificates, by which he hoped I would be induced to give him a leave of absence.
At last he brought one from the surgeon of his regiment, who I knew would probably sign anything that his major desired.
It was very carefully worded, declaring that the officer's state of health was such that there was great danger that his life would not be spared longer than thirty days. That was a safe certificate to give, because all of us were then in danger that our lives would not be spared more than thirty days, if as long.
I looked my applicant straight in the eye and said: “I differ in opinion with your doctor, and I am going to
try an experiment.
I shall keep you here thirty days, and if you die in that time I will beg the doctor's pardon for doubting his skill; if you don't, it will be just as well as though you had gone home.”
Imagine his disgust and his hard feeling at the moment.
But we lived to be afterwards the very best of friends.
He did not die nor was his life in any more danger than mine.
I found a map showing the localities of the city; the portions where the yellow fever usually raged being indicated by heavier shading.
I found by the professor's book that the fever had usually originated in the immediate vicinity of the French
I rode around and examined the French
market and a number of other localities, and I thought I detected why it raged in those spots; they were simply astonishingly filthy with rotting matter.
In the French
market the stall women were accustomed to drop on the floor around their stalls all the refuse made in cleaning their birds, meats, and fish.
Here it was trodden in and in. This had been going on for a century, more or less.
The fact that the disease flourished so much in the vicinity of decaying and putrid animal matter led me to the conclusion that this prolific cause of the typhus and typhoid fever must have something to do with el vomito
. Upon my further diagnosis of the disease I found that it had also the peculiar characteristics of the congestive fevers caused by malarial exhalations from decaying vegetable matter.
It seemed to me, as near as I could get at it, two intermingled or conjoint fevers affecting the patient's system at the same time.
Therefore I argued that if we could get rid of the producing causes of either one of those species of fever we might not have a yellow fever even if the people were subjected to the cause of the other fever.
Examining further, as well as I could, it seemed to me that it was nearly impossible in New Orleans to remove the seeds or germs of malarial fever,--the fever called in the West
fever and ague,--because vegetation blossoming in February died in August, and under the hottest possible sun was soon decaying.
Moreover, the vegetable growth was so enormous that in the summer it was present in a decaying condition everywhere.
Therefore to attempt to get rid of the decomposed vegetable matter would be impracticable.
Turning my attention to the decaying animal matter and filth, I came to the conclusion that this could be disposed of so that the city
would not be covered with an atmosphere impregnated with those germs of disease which cause ship or jail fevers the world over, emanations from the human body being the most prolific source of them.
I learned that New Orleans was a city very easy to clean of that sort of matter.
It had no sewers, but only drains, which were above ground and could easily be gotten at. I found that these ditches and drains had not been cleaned for many years.
There were three canals or bayous which ran from the river through the city into Lake Pontchartrain
, a shallow lake, four or five miles away, into which the salt water flowed through the rigolets or straits leading in from the Gulf of Mexico
There were numerous fresh water streams running into the lake which very considerably freshened the water.
I learned from an old engineer that the lake had another peculiarity.
The difference in the tide in the Gulf of Mexico
rarely exceeded eighteen inches. The blowing of the winds into the Gulf
and out of the Gulf
overcame the difference of tides.
So with the lake; a good, strong, north wind, called a “norther,” would blow the waters of the lake out into the Gulf
so as to lower the lake two and one half feet. Again, the south wind would bring a quantity of salt water back into the lake.
All the drainage of the city flowed into the lake through the drains from the houses, and all the water pumped from the Mississippi River
by the Commercial
Water Works also flowed into the lake through these open drains.
It must be borne in mind that the banks, or levees, of the Mississippi River
are some sixteen to eighteen feet higher than the city.
When the river is full, one standing in the streets looks up to a ship in the river as he would look up to the top of a house.
In the dry time, the water falls away about the same distance, exposing to the sun a wide expanse of “batture,” or silt, brought down from above.
I am not at all sure that this last is hurtful.
Putting these facts together, I came to the conclusion to try to prevent the yellow fever.
First, I established at the quarantine station, seventy miles below New Orleans, a very strict quarantine, wherein thirty-two and sixty-eight pound shots should be the messengers to execute the health orders.
Vessels were required to stop below Fort St. Philip
five miles below the quarantine establishment, and there be inspected by the health officer, who would report to me by telegraph the condition of the vessel, passengers, crew, and cargo.
The officer at Fort St. Philip
was to allow no vessel to go up without my personal order, by telegraph or in writing, and this was not given unless the quarantine physician, upon examination below, reported a clean bill of health in every respect.
If any vessel attempted to evade quarantine regulations and pass up without being examined, the vessel was to be stopped if there was power enough in the fort to do it. I required that the term quarantine should be used literally, and any
The levee at New Orleans.|
vessel found with sickness on board, of any malarial kind, or with ship fevers, should stay down forty days and not come up again until reinspected.
Before this, it had been possible, under the State
laws, for such a vessel to come up at the end of ten days, if a dishonest surgeon chose to certify that the vessel would be all right in that time,--a fact he could not know.
One further regulation: No vessel which had come from an infected port, i. e., a port where the yellow fever was prevailing, whatever the condition of her health, should be allowed to come up under forty days.
Having shut the door against our destroying enemy and fastened it securely, I engaged the most competent medical director in the matter of yellow fever there was in the country, Doctor MacCormick
, who fought it in New Orleans through the siege of 1853.
Before he came I procured a perfectly competent quarantine officer, to whom I was to pay double the salary of the State
quarantine officer upon the ground that I did not need his services between the middle of November and the middle of May.
This quarantine officer was engaged under a specific contract that he was to have no responsibility for himself and his assistants, except to make true reports of the condition of the vessels, after a full and intelligent examination.
And as the health and lives of so many would be dependent upon the truth of those reports, he was notified that any remissness in his duty would be punished with the heaviest punishment known.
The next requirement that complicated the matter was the necessity of doing all this at once.
Therefore, on the 4th of June, I sent the following message to the military commandant and the city council of New Orleans:--
The reason of this calling upon the city was that I proposed to expend on this work part of the taxes of the city.
I had made the acquaintance of Col. T. B. Thorpe
, and we agreed upon the following plan for having the city cleansed and kept clean:--
The occupant of every house was to see that everything within and without its courtelige was cleansed to the acceptance of Colonel Thorpe
's inspector, within twenty-four hours of daylight after being served with notice.
The outside walls of buildings which were not painted were required to be thoroughly whitewashed with a wash containing a solution of lime, alum, and salt.
No refuse of any sort was to be deposited in the yard of any house, but some kind of a receptacle acceptable to the inspector was to be placed on the premises, into which everything of that sort must be put, and
on two given days of the week that receptacle was required to be set out at the edge of the street opposite to the area door: four mule teams or army transportation were to pass through every street on the days designated, and into proper vessels in the wagon the house receptacles were to be emptied.
Each wagon was to have with it a cask of chloride of lime, and the receptacle having been emptied was to be examined.
If found clean and sweet it was to be set back; if not, it was to be cleansed and disinfected with chloride of lime by those having the wagon in charge.
Nothing of any description whatever was to be thrown into the streets or on outlands.
Any infraction of these orders was to be punished by imprisonment in the parish prison.
It may be said, it was impossible to enforce such orders.
On the contrary, it was perfectly possible when one was in earnest.
To show that it could be done, let me give two instances:--
The day of the first publication of the order, a secession trader, after having made some disparaging remarks upon the order, said: “We will see whether if anybody throws anything into the street he is to be put into the parish prison,” and thereupon took from his desk a quarter sheet of white paper, stepped to his door and called out to a policeman as he threw it into the street, “You see me do this.”
The policeman informed me, and I sent for the man. He admitted throwing the paper into the street, but claimed it was his privilege.
I told him the streets were made to pass through, and while he took his privilege I would take mine and pass him through the streets into the parish prison to stay three months. There was no more wilful throwing of things into the street.
Another was the case of one of the fashionable ladies of New Orleans, who had a very dirty area.
Such a thing as underground drainage for water closets was not known in that city.
The excrement was deposited in a deep square box. When that box got full it was drawn out and another one put in its place.
Not unfrequently the one drawn out was allowed to stand for months in the area, exposed to the sun. That was the condition in part of this high-toned woman's “back yard,” as we call it in New England
My inspector called upon her.
“Did you receive an order?”
“Well, marm,” --he was a full-toned Yankee--“why didn't you clean up your back yard?”
“My back yard is as I choose to have it, and it won't be altered at the order of any Yankee.”
“Well, marm,” falling now fully into the Yankee
drawl, “I'm sorry, but you must go and get your calash and fix up a little, and I guess you had better take a shirt with you, for I shall be obleeged to take you to jail, and that would be an awful thing, wouldn't it, to do to such a fine lady as you are?”
“I shall not do anything of the sort,” said she.
“Oh, well, marm, I am very sorry, but I am very busy, too,” taking out his watch.
“I have just got three minutes I can wait upon you to get your calash and shirt, and if you don't do it by then, why I must take you along without them.”
She burst into tears and said: “You know I cannot do this work now.”
“Oh, well, if a fine lady like you should give me her promise that her yard would be cleaned by to-morrow afternoon I could take her word for it.”
The next afternoon the back yard was in apple-pie order.
Thus having got protection from filth in the future, the next requisition was to get rid of the filth that had accumulated.
A party of men went down to the French
market with an order, accompanied by a few bayonets, which did not do any work.
The man who appeared to be in charge was told that the market must be cleaned out at once.
The superintendent said that he could not do it. “Very well, then, we shall do it and charge the expense to you.”
That market had been built by the Spanish
, and a pavement had been laid in it. At the time we entered New Orleans, so I was informed, the actual decaying animal matter trodden into the bottom of that market extended up on the supports of the stalls fourteen, eighteen, and twenty-four inches above the pavement.
While this cleaning was being done we were waiting a “norther.”
The city water-works had been ordered to put their whole pumping force on the streets and flush them as well as they could with water, one after the other, and aided by a body of two thousand men to clean out all the drains and ditches, to get a flow of water down these ditches into the canals and bayous.
And then a “norther” came,
and blew the water out of the lake, and thus got a draft down the canal.
Then men with brushes, hoes, rakes, and other implements followed the water down, clearing the canal and making it perfectly clean, until substantially a clear stream of water flowed through it. The same thing was done with each of the three canals, thus clearing off every place where after careful inspection anything like human excrement or decaying animal matter could be found.
We had one great aid. When it rains in New Orleans, it rains hard.
The water comes down in “bucketsful” and the streets are flushed all over.
So when the drains were all cleared, it immediately ran off and thus aided us in our work.
I pause here to pay a just tribute to Col. T. B. Thorpe
His life labors had been anything but in the line of this great performance.
He was an author and an artist, and not inferior in either calling.
The city of New Orleans
, as well as the writer, owes him a debt of deepest gratitude, for in addition to doing this work he inaugurated the system by which food was distributed to the thirty-two thousand families who could not get it elsewhere.
I had also adopted the theory that the yellow fever was not indigenous to the climate of New Orleans, and that its seeds had to be brought there.
If they were retained there through the winter at any time, it was because they had been so covered up and protected, probably in woollen clothing, as not to feel the effects of a winter's frost.
Then, if these seeds germinated, there could be only a sporadic case here and there if there were no atmosphere in which they could flourish.
I know of but one parallel to this in the vegetable kingdom, although there must be many; but this I know experimentally: In a properly prepared bed one may raise mushrooms by impregnating the soil with small bits of other soil containing the reliquae of the growth of mushrooms, called mushroom spawn.
In such a bed mushrooms will be grown in quantity in a single night.
If the bed is not properly prepared they will never grow.
The bed may be made as rich as possible with one kind of fertilizer or dressing only, and mushrooms will never grow.
Another bed may be made just as rich with another kind of fertilizer, and the mushrooms will not grow.
But if both of these kinds of fertilizer are mixed together in one bed, then the mushrooms will grow and thrive wonderfully.
manner of animal exhalations only in a confined atmosphere will produce plenty of typhus fever.
Vegetable exhalations in a like close atmosphere will produce congestive fevers, but none of the typhus type.
But putting together both the animal and vegetable exhalations under like conditions, and adding a germ of yellow fever, that scourge will be propagated and will permeate the territory just as far as the atmosphere containing those conjoint elements shall extend.
Fortunately for my theory, I had a confirmation of it. A little tug came over from Nassau
, a port which was interdicted because the yellow fever prevailed there.
The captain and his vessel being examined by the health officer, it was found that she was loaded with barrelled provisions from New York and that she had stopped at Nassau
only to take on coal.
It was sworn to, also, that she took on nothing else, especially no passengers, and no part of the crew came from Nassau
They all came from New York, and the tug stopped nowhere, and they all seemed to have been afraid to go on shore at Nassau
on account of the fever.
As I did not believe that yellow fever could be brought in soft coal, and as the tug had provisions which were needed, I allowed her to come up to New Orleans without the forty days quarantine.
About four or five days after she got to New Orleans, my medical director came in one morning at orderly hours with a look of great concern upon his face.
He had never possessed faith in my ideas about the prevention of yellow fever.
“General,” said he, “I am sorry to tell you that you have got two cases of yellow fever down in Frenchtown
“Ah! Where did they come from?”
“There were two passengers on board the little tug that came from Nassau
“You must be mistaken, doctor.
It was sworn expressly that there were no passengers on board, and certainly none from Nassau
,” and I called for the report, which was at hand.
I found that I was right, but the oath had been false.
“Well, doctor,” I said, “here is a little order to the lieutenant of the provost guard to have a squad of sentries around that square down in Frenchtown
in which these yellow fever patients are. Doctor MacCormick
, you will post them.
Let nobody go in or out
except you accompany them or they bring my written order.
Take your acclimated men and have those sick men attended to carefully.
Burn everything that they see, almost, for we must prevent the fever from spreading if we can. Orderly
, take these orders to the quartermaster and have him see to it that bright
fires at the four corners of the square are kept burning day and night, supplied with tar barrels and pitch, so as always to keep an upward current of air.”
My orders, I have no doubt, were obeyed, and the fires were kept burning.
At the end of six days the men died.
The next day everything in and about the building which could possibly have anything
to do with yellow fever germs, was at night put on one of the fires.
The fuel was piled about it until a very large fire was built.
Then the whole heap was allowed to burn to ashes.
Those were the only cases of yellow fever in New Orleans that year.
I was obliged to cremate the bodies of the dead for the safety of the living, as they would have been buried above ground.
Nobody is buried underground in New Orleans, but the places of interment are little brick receptacles which are not always particularly tight.
Now I do not pretend that in all that was done by my order in New Orleans, exactly proper surgical and medical courses were taken.
I do not mean to say that I used anywhere nearly correct and proper surgical and medical practice in my treatment of the disease.
And I do not attempt to defend it either, as the best way of dealing with the yellow fever.
Far be that from me. I only did what was the best thing I could find to do when I was obliged to do something.
But I will say that in 1864, two years afterwards, I applied exactly the same method in the city of Norfolk, Virginia
, a port which the yellow fever never before shunned when it came to the Atlantic coast
In 1857, if I get the date right, there was more than a decimation of its unacclimated inhabitants by the yellow fever, and a great many thousand dollars were subscribed that year by the good people of the North
to aid the distressed place.
It had not improved any in cleanliness in 1864, for it had been in military possession for four years by the troops of both sides,--and I am afraid both equally nasty,--until it was the filthiest place I ever saw where there were human habitations of a civilized order.
In 1864 there were two hundred and fifty odd deserters, thieves, and vagabonds condemned by the military court to hard labor for a great many months at Fort Norfolk, which was down the river some distance from the city of Norfolk
On visiting them I found they had nothing on earth to do but to gamble all night and sleep all day, and they made hard labor of that.
I set them to work in the streets of Norfolk
, in the Massachusetts House
of Correction uniform with scarlet cap, so that they could not desert, and gave orders that they should be required to clean the city after the manner of New Orleans, and that they should thus work off ten days in every thirty of their sentences.
I went over twice on purpose to see them after they got to work, and a better gang of workmen I never saw, and as far as they had gone, a cleaner performance was never seen.
I observed only one thing that needed correction.
The sidewalk was lined with a committee of citizens who amused themselves by chaffing the laborers.
I went home and the next day the commander of the gang had an order that if any man loitered on the streets, talking or interfering with the laborers at work, he should be put into their uniform and set at work among them.
That was done and the sidewalk committee adjourned.
The result of it was that the experiment was more successful than in New Orleans.
There I kept the yellow fever down at the passes, where whole ship's crews were dying, and where there were very many cases.
But they were never allowed to get up beyond the quarantine.
, however, military necessity required me to run two steamers a week backward and forward between Norfolk
and the fever-stricken town of Newbern, North Carolina
, a small country town on the Neuse
is in a region surrounded by resinous pines, and I had always supposed that a more healthy place could not be found in North Carolina
It had never occurred to me that they could have yellow fever down there, although I knew that they had a great deal of congestive fever because of the lowlands in the bottom of which was the river.
Indeed, my attention had not been drawn to that question at all, for Newbern
was an inland town in a pine region.
But to my horror and astonishment in the latter part of July yellow fever struck Newbern
, and as my recollection is now,--and it will be of little consequence whether I am right or wrong,--one half of the people, white
, died or were afflicted with this fell disease.
The troops had to be called away from there and we lost many soldiers with the scourge.
I gave orders to have extra care taken that nobody should come up on the boats through Dismal Swamp canal
until proper means of fumigation and cleansing had been taken, and I was fortunate enough to have no case at Norfolk
I was extremely solicitous to know what was the condition of things which caused the yellow fever in Newbern
, and after the frosts came I went down there.
When I got within two miles of the place I met an awful
stench, as of the unclean and uncovered filth of camps.
I rode around the town, a circle of three miles and better, and I found the whole town encircled with the remains and debris of the camps of the regiments that had been located around it. Newbern
had been held for nearly three years by the Union
and rebel troops alternately, commanded by officers who had been taught nothing of sanitary science.
This science is not taught at West Point
The want of its proper application to the troops in the field kills more men than are killed by bullets, for it takes nearly a man's weight in lead to be shot away at him before he is killed.
I found that the ditches had never been filled up, but when they got unbearable the colonel would move his camp.
This smell of human excrement, itself in decay, pervaded all Newbern
, in full conjunction with the exhalations of the decaying vegetable matter.
I instantly ordered a force detailed to remove these nuisances and I have never heard, although I have made inquiry, that there has been a case of yellow fever there since, nor could I, upon inquiry, learn that there had ever been one before that summer.
I have been thus particular in describing all these matters of my experience with the yellow fever because I have no knowledge or memory that it has ever been treated of before so extensively in any military work.
Having engaged with it myself,--scientifically or not, yet effectually,--I have gone into all these details in the hope that military men and physicians will examine the question.
Perhaps if they find that yellow fever can be controlled, someone may get an appointment to West Point
as an instructor in a new branch of military science, which instruction may save a great many lives.
In aid of this I will give another instance of the breaking out of yellow fever, although I cannot speak of it from personal observation in this case, for I was not present.
Sometime in 1876--I may be wrong as to the date, but I will not be as to the facts — I heard that on the Bayou Teche
, which is a little gut extending from the Gulf
up into Louisiana
, of course entirely filled in the summer with decaying vegetable matter and thus a very unhealthy place as far as congestive fevers are concerned, the yellow fever suddenly burst out with greater virulence and destructivenesss than anywhere else.
A congressional colleague of
mine in that locality,--his name has escaped me,--wrote me to know what was the cause of yellow fever.
I asked him whether there had been any decaying animal matter in that neighborhood, and to write me stating all the circumstances.
He wrote back that a train of cars loaded with Texas
cattle had been derailed there shortly before the yellow fever appeared; a very considerable number of the cattle had been killed and maimed, and they were skinned and their bodies thrown into the bayou, where they lay rotting under the hot sun. I wrote him at once my idea of the causes of the disease.
There has never been any trouble with the yellow fever there since that time.
I had very great credit, much more than belonged to me fairly,--for I hope I have stated just how much belonged to me,--for what I did in New Orleans in connection with the yellow fever, but quite as much was done in Norfolk
for which I never got any credit at all. But whether I deserved any or not, I did the best I could.