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Chapter 20:

  • Fall of New
  • -- Orleans, April twenty-fourth -- preparations of Commodore Hollins for the defence -- bombardment of the forts -- naval engagements -- destruction of cotton -- evacuation of the City -- possession taken by Commodore Farragut -- arrival of General Butler -- his brutal attacks upon the ladies of New Orleans -- Examples from his General orders.

Baton Rouge, April--, 1862.
Dear friend: Our beautiful city has fallen, and the detested flag of our enemy floats over the Mint!

The story of our disgrace is a long and painful one to me, but remembering your kindness in fully informing us of the progress of events in Virginia, it is but right I return the compliment; though my narrative may be wanting in many particulars which history, at some distant future, can alone be expected to unfold.

When the bombardment of Fort Sumter proved that the South was determined to rid her soil of the enemy, troops were also sent to Pensacola, seized Fort McRea, Barrancas, and Warrenton, and laid siege to the enemy's fortifications (Fort Pickens) on Santa Rosa Island. Our forces there began to increase very rapidly, and, under the command of General Bragg, were wrought up to a fine spirit of discipline and efficiency. Except the night surprise of the enemy on Santa Rosa, nothing of moment transpired, the respective forces being content to fortify their positions and otherwise remain inactive. Commodore Hollins, who was cruising in the Gulf when we declared independence, brought his sloop-of-war to New-Orleans, surrendered her to the Confederate authorities, and accepted service under our banner. It was natural to surmise that New-Orleans would soon be blockaded and attacked by the enemy's fleet; to meet which contingency, General Anderson was put in command of our land forces, and Hollins of the naval department. [181]

The latter began to prepare for the enemy by the construction of fire-rafts, and of various impediments for the bar of the river, and other shallow places, besides superintending the construction of some rude iron-clad floating rams and batteries, the principal of which was a vessel called the Manassas. With his small flotilla, Hollins could not pretend to accomplish very much, but he resolved to attack the Federal blockading vessels at the ~mouth of the river, the destruction of which, it was hoped, would enable us to obtain supplies from Europe before the Federal navy should be reenforced. In this design he was so far successful that he sank one sloop-of-war and disabled several others; but as the ram Manassas proved unmanageable, and had injured her machinery, Hollins withdrew and returned to the city, well satisfied with his achievements. In the mean time Lovell had succeeded Anderson in the military command; numerous volunteers had joined our forces, and even the colored men, free and slave, formed battalions for the defence of the city. Fortifications and breastworks innumerable were thrown up, to prevent all approach by the lakes of the Mississippi. These works were important, and, as you know something of the topography of the country, I enumerate them, but am not positive as to the number of guns placed in each.

Fort Jackson was on the west, or right bank of the river, nearly opposite Fort St. Philip, and twenty-five miles from the ‘Passes’ leading into the Gulf. It was a very strong, casemated fort, intended for over one hundred guns, and will conveniently accommodate five hundred men. Much labor had been expended on this fort, and it was thought to be impregnable, but adverse circumstances destroyed all our hopes regarding it. Fort St. Philip was on the east or left bank of the river, nearly opposite Fort Jackson, seventy miles below the city, and, being a heavy casemated fort, was intended for over one hundred guns. It was bombarded by the English in 1812; it had accommodated four hundred men. Fort Livingstone was situated on Grand Terre Island, at the mouth of Barrataria Bay, and was destined for twenty or more guns. Fort Pike--was a casemate fortification, placed at the Rigolettes, or North Pass, between Lake Borgue and Lake Pontchartrain, commanding the entrance to.the lake, and the main channel to [182] the gulf in that direction. The amount of its armament I could never learn; Fort Macomb guarded the South Pass, between Lakes Borgue and Pontchartrain, and had a dozen or more guns. Fort Dupre was a small fort commanding Bayou Dupre into Lake Borgue. Proctor's Tower was another small work on Lake Borgue; and Battery Bienvenue at the entrance of Bayou Bienvenue into Lake Borgue. Besides these latter small batteries, mounting a few guns, were the Chalmette Batteries, above Fort Jackson, and much nearer the city.1

From the enthusiasm of our population, and the alacrity with which they mustered under arms, it was considered impossible for the enemy to successfully “run” the forts on the river and effect a landing, for a long chain of breastworks stretched away in different parts of the city suburbs, and at one time we had not fewer than twenty-four thousand men under arms, including three thousand free negroes, who volunteered to defend them. Notwithstanding all this apparent enthusiasm, there were undoubtedly many traitors going to and fro in our midst; and much information was carried to the enemy by runaways, and by fishermen who were allowed free passes to transact their business on the river. Some fifteen or twenty thousand bales of cotton were in warehouses or on the landing ready for shipment, in case the enemy should leave the mouth of the river, together with much tobacco owned by foreign merchants. Our planters persisted in sending cotton down the river, and this acted as a temptation to the enemy to attempt the capture of the city.

Society at New-Orleans showed little sensitiveness to the great struggle in which we were engaged. Festivity was the order of the day; balls, parties, theatres, operas, and the like, continued as if we were not in the midst of a furious war, with our beloved sons, brothers, and relatives bleeding and dying on distant battle-fields. We felt too secure. We considered it impossible for any force to capture the place. “Jackson, with a handful of men, and a few cotton-bales, had defeated Packenham in 1812,” many said; and as we considered the enemy much inferior to the British in all [183] respects, and our present defences vastly superior to those of former times, all were confident of victory in case of attack. None doubted the loyalty of our people, our generals, or the Government. Shipwrights were busy in preparing new rams and floating batteries; foundries and steam-hammers were in full blast, night and day, preparing boilers, machinery, and iron plates; and several mammoth rams and iron floating batteries were promised at an early day by the contractors-two Northern men. So much delay, however, occurred in fitting and finishing them, that when the enemy approached we had none of these vessels to assist in the defence. Worse than all, our generals at Corinth were continually calling upon Lovell for troops; so that our original twenty-four thousand rapidly dwindled down to a very low figure. Northern papers boasted that their fleets and forces could annihilate our city at any time; Butler was reported to have said, “he held the keys of New-Orleans;” but all such talk was considered pure Yankee twaddle, and none ever dreamed he had foundation for such boastings.

Depending entirely upon our river batteries, we anxiously awaited the enemy's approach; but they seemed tardy in their movements, and cruised about the Gulf with evident indecision, so that every one began to smile and say: “They would think twice before attempting a rehearsal of the scenes of 1812!” I do not remember what force the enemy had in gunboats, at the mouth of the river, but the fact soon became known that Commodore Farragut was in command, and that he made light of our fortifications. As it was considered unadvisable to attempt a defence of the “passes,” the works at those points had been dismantled some time before, and the guns carried to the city. We had sunk barriers (sunken vessels, etc.) in the river about a mile below Forts Jackson and Philip, and it was thought they would effectually stop the enemy's progress; but the swiftness of the current carried many away, and before others could be placed there, the enemy slowly steamed up the stream in strong force, on the sixteenth of April, and prepared to attack the forts.

In the city these threatening appearances were but little heeded-we considered ourselves impregnable; Farragut's boats [184] were treated with contempt, and even the terrific bombardment was looked upon as a fine spectacle. Duncan, in Fort Jackson, kept all fully informed of the progress of events below; thousands flocked down the river, and on the Levees viewed the bombardment with evident pleasure, for it was soon ascertained that the enemy's fire was inaccurate, and that few, if any, of their eleven-inch shell ever touched the forts. At night the greatest vigilance was maintained to inform commanders of the enemy's movements. On the twenty-third the terrific bombardment had continued a whole week; they had thrown over twenty-five thousand shells; and Duncan reported that two of his guns in Fort Jackson were dismounted; half a dozen killed and wounded was the total loss, and the works were as sound as ever.

The evening of the twenty-third closed as others had done for the past seven days; our defences were thought to be impassable, and strong hopes were entertained that Farragut would soon give up the conflict as fruitless and abortive. Towards three A. M. on the morning of the twenty-fourth, the enemy were descried creeping up the river in full force, and as they steamed abreast of the forts were received with deafening roars from our artillery. The conflict then became furious; the enemy fought admirably, however, and passed the forts, Farragut leading in the Hartford; but had not proceeded far when they encountered our small fleet of seventeen vessels of different kinds. Except the old Manassas and the Louisiana, the rest of our vessels were vulnerable, so that the destruction, confusion, and noise were terrible. The Louisiana was unmanageable, and could only use two of her nine guns; so when it was perceived that nothing could prevent the enemy from breaking our line, she was run ashore, and blown up, although the enemy's broadsides had not injured her in the least. The Governor Moore, another of our boats, acted nobly among the enemy's twelve heavy sloops of war and gunboats, and fired her last cartridge at point-blank range, but was also run ashore and blown up to prevent capture.

The action was in full progress when news reached the city that Farragut's fleets had passed the forts and had successfully engaged our ships. The scene of confusion that ensued in [185] town defies all description. People were amazed, and could scarcely realize the awful fact, and ran hither and thither in speechless astonishment. Very soon the flames seen issuing from shipyards in Algiers and other places, convinced them that the news was authentic, and that Government officers were then busily engaged destroying every thing that was likely to be of value to the enemy. The unfinished Mississippi and other vessels were scuttled or fired, ammunition destroyed, and shot sunk in the river. The people, on their part, proceeded to the various cotton-presses, rolled out thousands of bales, and applied the torch; countless cotton ships were also sunk or fired, steamboats by the dozen similarly destroyed. As the roar of cannon drew nearer, the heat of the sun, and conflagrations in every direction, made the atmosphere oppressively hot, while dense columns of smoke darkened the air. The scene was one of terrible grandeur, the effect of which was much heightened by the tolling of alarm bells in the city.

Banks, and all who had any thing to save, were busy sending away their valuables; and their having done so in good time prevented several millions of specie from falling into the hands of the enemy. Long lines of army wagons, carriages, pedestrians, and horsemen, left the town by every avenue; the wildest consternation and dejection seemed to have seized all; the revulsion of feeling was awful. Having narrowly escaped capture in the naval engagement, Lovell rode rapidly by the Levee road, and arrived in town about two P. M. Crowds gathered round him while he related the chief features of the engagement below, bearing testimony to the heroism of our little navy of indifferent vessels, and seeming heart-broken at the unexpected calamity which had befallen us. He considered it advisable for his few soldiers to retire without the limits of the city to avert a bombardment, and this idea was fully indorsed by the City Council. Accordingly, late in the day, his whole force of not more than two thousand effective men departed by rail some fifteen miles above the city, with orders to keep within easy call in case of emergency. It now became a difficult task for the City Council to preserve order, as many, under the guise of patriotism, were laying violent hands on the property of others. Sad faces and angry gesticulation met one [186] at every turn; people seemed paralyzed, and could not comprehend the extent of the great and humiliating visitation. The thing was incredible!

At Fort Jackson and Fort Philip our loss had been trifling — not a hundred men in all. Their guns were untouched; ammunition plentiful; the walls intact! yet Farragut had passed them, under an annihilating shower of rifled shot, and was still approaching, carrying all before him, shelling right and left wherever there seemed to be the least appearance of opposition. He was within a few miles of the city — the smoke from his vessels could be plainly seen curling over the woods in the bends of the river, and he must soon arrive. Whatever was to be accomplished must be done quickly; no time was to be lost in idle recrimination or empty rage; moments were precious, and the watchword of all was work! Large stores of tobacco were now burned on every hand, save where a foreign flag floated to protect it. Sugar, molasses, and rice, in thousands of hogsheads, were thrown into the river or scattered through the streets and gutters. Men seemed wrought into a frenzy of desperation, and broke, or burned, or sank every thing that night prove of use to the enemy, so that within a few hours subsequent to Lovell's official information the whole city presented an indescribable scene of confusion, and property worth many millions was destroyed in an incredibly short space of time. This scene of uproar and confusion continued throughout the day and all night, while now and then heavy guns could be heard down the river, as if the enemy were cautiously approaching and firing at every object that seemed suspicious. Crowds of the poor were enjoying a rich harvest by this wholesale destruction of property, and scores of them could be seen with baskets, and bags, and drays, carrying off to their homes whatever of sugar, molasses, rice, bacon, etc., fell in their way. A low murmuring noise filled the air — it was the conversation of assembled thousands. Many were unanimous for destroying the city, rather than permit it to fall into the hands of the enemy; but the opinion prevailed that, owing to the great numbers of poor, the place was entirely at the mercy of the foe, and nothing should be done to tempt a bombardment.

On the morning of the twenty-fifth, Farragut's advance was [187] observed steaming up towards the city. When abreast of the Chalmette batteries, on both sides of the city, he was saluted with volleys from the earthworks, but, being uninjured, ran past and cast anchor at intervals before the city, with ports open and every preparation made for a bombardment. Farragut then opened communication with the Mayor, and demanded the surrender of the town, together with Lovell's forces; but the latter were now far away, and Mayor Monroe commenced a spirited correspondence with the Commodore. He admitted they had no force with which to oppose the enemy; yet as they came uninvited, and as the people disclaimed all relationship with the Northern Government, it was impossible to make a formal surrender of the place. If the Admiral desired the removal of objectionable flags floating over the City Hall, he must do it by his own force; for not a man, woman, or child, of any color, could be found in their midst who would lay a traitor's hand upon the flag of their adoption.

In the mean time, the destruction of property continued on every hand; and at length Farragut was so exasperated, that he swore he would reduce the place to ashes unless the State flag was removed from the principal buildings. Still, so long as Forts St. Philip, Jackson, and the Chalmette batteries remained intact, it was thought that something might be done to save the city, and in this hope the correspondence was protracted. But evil tidings were in store for us! While Farragut and Mayor Monroe were exchanging angry letters of great length, the sad news reached us that Forts St. Philip and Jackson had surrendered to the enemy on account of a mutiny among their garrisons. When Duncan heard it, he used every means in his power to persuade his men to return to their duty, and even threatened to turn his guns upon them. He was in earnest, and a desperate man; but, on examining his guns, he found many spiked, several dismounted, and not less than three hundred men clamoring around him for a surrender. The situation of the heroic Duncan was pitiable. He begged, besought his men to stand to their arms, vowed that the forts were impregnable, and that he could blow up all Butler's transports 2 in a [188] trice, if they only resolved to stand by him to the last; for it was an eternal shame to give up the works, provisioned as they were, and scarcely touched by the enemy. All the eloquence in the world, however, could not affect these soulless traitors; and as poor Duncan, ragged, dusty, powder-blackened, and exhausted, narrated the circumstance of his fall, he wept like a child, while crowds around him remained mute with astonishment, and hung their heads as men doomed to humiliation and shame.

Farragut, being informed of all these things, was in a hurry to expedite the full and formal surrender of the city before the arrival of Butler, who was now known to be on his way. The correspondence between the Commodore and the Mayor had lasted from the twenty-fourth to the twenty-eighth, and on the last-named day Farragut vowed to bombard the city if the State flag was not hauled down, giving forty-eight hours formal notice for the removal of women and children. He did not put this threat into execution, however, but reiterated his demand on Monday, the thirtieth, without effect. On Tuesday morning, he sent on shore a party of two hundred marines, with two brass howitzers, who marched through the streets, and, forming before the City Hall, the objectionable State banner — the sign of all State rights — was torn down, and the Stars and Stripes, an emblem of tyrannical oppression, raised instead. The ceremony was witnessed by a silent crowd of many thousands, but it went off quietly; the force returning to their ships without a word of reproach or the least sign of resistance.

But the detested flag had not long remained on the dome, when some young men ascended and tore it down, and dragged it through the streets in triumph. Then Farragut moved his vessels closer to the city, and again threatened to bombard it, but again abstained from doing so. Many of the citizens fired upon the vessels, but did no harm. Yet, the first man that advanced to meet Farragut on his landing, and welcome the return of Federal authority to the city, had scarcely taken the Commodore's hand, ere a shot from the crowd sent him to eternity! The enemy, however, were careful not to move about in detached parties; for there were bands of desperate men who had vowed to slay all who came in their way, so that they [189] remained on board, and did not attempt to stir through the city until the arrival of Butler's force. which landed on the first of May.3 [190]

This is the simple narration of our fall and lasting disgrace. No blame can attach to Lovell or to other officers in command-all did their duty; but none expected that Farragut would ever [191] dream of running the batteries below; and none could imagine that the enemy could find entrance into the forts and corrupt the men. Had Government shown less confidence in the land defences, and hurried on the construction of a powerful fleet of iron-clads, Farragut's passage of the forts would have involved him in certain destruction, History may reveal on whose heads should rest the blame and shame. There has been vile treason among us, but who the traitors are few can tell; yet it is preposterous to suppose that Government would have neglected any thing for our defence and safety had not overweening confidence of those in command led them to report daily that “the city was impregnable, and fit for a defence of any length.” Our [192] pride and vanity are sorely punished, our routes to Texas and the Gulf completely broken up, and ere long you will find the Father of Waters swept by innumerable gunboats, totally severing us from all communication with States west of the river. Excuse haste; I am dejected and weary, shamed, mortified, humiliated. I scarcely know what to think or say, but am confident if Providence has punished our once gay city by turning it over to the enemy, it will return to us again, purified from all that has long festered in our midst, and brought upon our country this unspeakable calamity.

Yours, etc., Evans.

1 All these positions, guarding the approaches to New-Orleans from the Gulf, are distinctly shown on the ordinary maps.

2 Butler's land forces were on Ship Island and Mississippi City. Had he attempted to march overland upon New-Orleans, the “Levees” would have been cut and his men drowned in the swamps.

3 The rule of General Butler in New-Orleans has been forever rendered odious and detestable by his many acts of cruelty, despotism, and indecency. Nor shall I add more than say, that he has rendered himself contemptible to friends and foes throughout the civilized world. His General Orders are a mass of cruelty and folly — an eternal monument of his debased and indefensible character; and in his persecution of women, he has shown his unmanly disposition and temper, beyond all former example. I subjoin a few specimens of his General Orders:

General orders, no. 150.

Headquarters, Department of the Gulf, New-Orleans, 1862.
Mrs. Phillips, wife of Philip Phillips, having been once imprisoned for her traitorous proclivities and acts at Washington, and released by the Government, and having been found training her children to spit upon officers of the United States, for which act of one of those children both her husband and herself apologized and were forgiven, is now found on the balcony of her house, during the passage of the funeral procession of Lieutenant De Kay, laughing, and mocking at his remains; and upon being inquired of by the Commanding General if this fact were so, contemptuously replies: “I was in good spirits that day.”

It is, therefore; ordered that she be not “regarded and treated as a common woman,” of whom no officer or soldier is bound to take notice, but as an uncommon, bad, and dangerous woman; stirring up strife and inciting to riot.

And that, therefore, she be confined at Ship Island, in the State of Mississippi, within proper limits there till further orders, and that she be allowed one female servant and no more, if she so chooses. That one of the houses for hospital purposes be assigned her as quarters, and a soldier's ration each day be served out to her, with the means of cooking the same, and that no verbal or written communication be allowed with her, except through this office, and that she be kept in close confinement until removed to Ship Island.

By command of Major-General Butler. R. S. Davis, Captain and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

The truth of the case is as follows: Mrs. Phillips (wife of Philip Phillips, formerly United States Senator from Alabama) was standing on her balcony; and when the cortege passed, many children in the next house — who had a dancing party-ran. to the balcony, and all began to laugh. She was treated barbarously on Ship Island, and went deranged; but Butler laughed at her sufferings, and would not mitigate the punishment, saying that “all women were strumpets who laughed at Federal soldiers.” He wished it to be believed that he was fearless, yet he wore armor under his clothes, slept on board ship, and was never for a moment without an armed guard, whether in or out of his house, while several pistols, ready cocked and capped, lay beside him, and sentinels walked within five paces of him. He had a large sign placed in his office in the St. Charles's Hotel, with the inscription: “A she adder bites worse than a male adder.”

Special order, no. 151.

Fidel Keller has been found-exhibiting a human skeleton in his window, in a public place, in this city, labelled “ Chickahominy,” in large letters, meaning and intending that the bones should be taken by the populace to be the bones of a United States soldier slain in that battle, in order to bring the authority of the United States and our army into contempt, and for that purpose had stated to the passers-by that the bones were thee of a Yankee soldier, whereas, in truth and fact, they were the bones purchased some weeks before of a Mexican consul, to whom they were pledged by a medical student.

It is, therefore, ordered that for this desecration of the dead, he be confined at Ship Island for two years at hard labor, and that he be allowed to communicate with no person on the Island, except Mrs. Phillips, who has been sent there for a like offence.

Any written message may be sent to him through these Headquarters.

Upon this order being read to him, the said Keller requested that so much of it as associated him with “ that woman” might be recalled, which request was, therefore, reduced to writing by him, as follows:

New-Orleans, June 30th, 1862.
Mr. Keller desires that a part of the sentence which refers to the communication with Mrs. Phillips be stricken out, as he does not wish to have communication with Mrs. Phillips.

(Signed) F. Keller.
Witness: D. Waters.

Said request seeming to the Commanding General to be reasonable, so much of said orders is revoked, and the remainder will be executed.-By order of Major-General Butler.

R. S. Davis, Captain and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

The truth is, that Mr. Keller was informed by the soldiers that the Mrs. Phillips on the Island was a prostitute; and as he knew. there was an infamous character of the same name, he declined all communication with her. Having discovered his mistake, and found that the lady was Mrs. Senator Phillips, he wrote frequently to Butler to recall his protest, and be allowed to see the afflicted lady. The request was refused, and his punishment increased,

Special order, no. 152.

Headquarters. Department of the Gulf, New-Orleans, June 30th, 1862.
John W. Andrews exhibited a cross, the emblem of the suffering of our blessed Saviour, fashioned for personal ornament, which he said was made from the bones of a Yankee soldier, and having shown this, too, without rebuke, in the Louisiana Club, which claims to be composed of chivalric gentlemen:

It is, therefore, ordered that for this desecration of the dead, he be confined at hard labor for two years on the fortifications at Ship Island, and that he be allowed no verbal or written communication to or with any one except through these Headquarters.-By order of Major-General Butler.

R. S. Davis, Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.

A lady friend, who has known Butler for years, writes as follows:

I have known Butler by sight and reputation some fifteen years, and so was not at all surprised by his order No. 28, nor would any woman be who has lived so long in the city of which he is a resident. It seemed to me quite natural that he should seek to place as many ladies as possible in a position in which he would feel most at home with them. If there be feminine spite in the insinuation, it is a pity his character is not likely to contradict it. You know how unscrupulous he has always been as a politician; but perhaps you don't know that in his legal practice he is as coarse and brutal as he is able. One day he was cross-examining a witness with his usual insolence, when somebody ventured to hint that even General Butler might condescend to treat an eminent professor of Harvard College with a little respect. “Pooh,” said bully Ben, “how long is it since we hanged one of those fellows?”

Considering the character of the infamous order issued by Butler with reference to the ladies of New-Orleans, the following will be thought a well-designed act of retributive justice. Preparations were making for a dress parade, and a number of officers had congregated in front of the St. Charles, Butler's Headquarters. A handsome carriage was driven in front of the hotel, accompanied by servants in livery, with every sign of wealth and taste in the owner of the equipage. The occupant, dressed in the latest fashion and sparkling with jewelry, drew from her pocket her gold card-case, and taking therefrom her card, sent it up to Butler's rooms. The next day himself and lady called at the residence indicated on the card — a fine mansion in a fashionable part of the city — where a couple of hours were agreeably spent in conversation, followed by the introduction of wine and cake, when the highly delighted visitors took their departure. Picayune Butler did not appreciate the fact that he had been made the victim of a successful “sell,” until he learned shortly afterwards that he had been paying his respects to the proprietress of one of the most celebrated bagnios in the State, who is at this time “considered a woman of the town, plying her vocation as such.”

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