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Chapter 3:

  • Stirring events of the New year
  • -- occupation of the Baton Rouge arsenal -- forts Jackson, St. Philip and Pike -- a State army Created -- the convention Meets -- ordinance of secession -- the Pelican flag -- Washington's birthday.

Before the convention met, promise came of sterner work. On the afternoon of January 9th Brig.-Gen. E. L. Tracy, commanding the First brigade, called his captains together. At 8 p. m. Captains Walton, Dreux, and Meilleur, answering to the call, assembled their troops fully equipped. The men were excited; what was it? The news was soon everybody's. The Federal posts in Louisiana were to be captured. Of these, there were the arsenal at Baton Rouge; the forts below the city; Fort Pike at the Rigolets. Here was the first whisper of war. The convention, with secession in its mind, remained yet in the background. The young soldiers were exhilarated. All through the commands ran a joy to be ‘about something.’

Between ten and twelve o'clock the following companies under the command of Colonel Walton, of the Washington artillery, marched on board the steamer Natchez, already chartered for the expedition by Maj.-Gen. J. L. Lewis. This force, intended for Baton Rouge, was composed of the following commands: The Crescent Rifles, Lieut. N. A. Metcalf, 49 men; Washington Artillery, Lieut.-Col. Voorhees, 56 men; Second company Chasseurs-a-pied, Maj. Bernard Avegno, 36 men; Orleans Cadets, Capt. Chas. D. Dreux, 39 men; Louisiana Guards, Capt. S. M. Todd, 41 men, Lieutenant Girardey commanding; [21] Sarsfield Guards, Captain O'Hara, 16 men; Louisiana Grays, Capt W. C. Deane, 13 men. Total, 250.

January 10th, the following companies, joking at their confined limits, left on board the towboat Yantic, the forts below the city being the objective point: Orleans battalion artillery (two companies), Captains Hebrard and Gomez, 57 men; First company Chasseurs-a-pied, Captain St. Paul, 44 men; Chasseurs d'orleans, Captain Hendolve, 15 men; the Jaegers (German), Captain Peter, 23 men; Lafayette Guards, 27 men. Total, 166; Maj. Paul E. Theard, Battalion d'artillerie, commanding.

A third expedition, comprising members of that old and picturesque organization, the Continental Guards, Lieutenant Merriam commanding, stepped on board the Mobile mail boat, to stop short at Fort Pike at the Rigolets. No defense was offered against these triple movements. Each was backed by ample force. At each call, the arsenal at Baton Rouge, Forts Jackson, St. Philip and Pike surrendered in turn to the State troops without a blow.

Transfer of relieving troops was soon called into use The Continental Guards—gentlemen associated with many pleasant functions, present and past—grown weary of Fort Pike's endless waste of sedge and wave, were soon relieved by Company C, First regiment Louisiana regulars, Capt. H. A. Church. The forts below the city, their assailants also growing tired of the mud and reeds of the Mississippi, appealed to the regulars. The first company of the First regiment of infantry, Capt. Chas. N. Bradford, the newest heroes at Baton Rouge, returned to the city, on reaching which the command was armed with minie rifles. Service, necessary but tedious, awaited the company. Over 100 picked men, they were sent to relieve the troops at the forts below the city.

The events of January 9th and 10th were necessary as proof of sovereignty, but only important as such. They are drawn here en silhouette. Beyond doubt the movements [22] themselves quickened to patriotic heat the military spirit already awakened in the city and State. Apropos of the equipment of the various forts in Louisiana, Colonel Totten's last report to Congress, for 1860, emphasized more their deficiencies than their equipment: Fort St. Philip, below the city, 600 men, 124 guns; Fort Jackson, 600 men, 150 guns; Fort Pike, Rigolets, 300 men, 49 guns; Fort McComb, Chef Menteur, 300 men, 49 guns; Fort Livingston, Barataria bay, 300 men, 52 guns; totals, 2,000 men and 424 guns.

With the departure of so many home companies a movement began for ‘home defense.’ With the exception of the Esplanade Guards, native residents of Esplanade street who organized themselves as ‘special patrolmen,’ it was the foreign-born who met, according to their national proclivities, for the protection of their homes. The Germans formed a corps of riflemen; the British a company of infantry; the French started a zouave battalion; the Italians, already 270 strong, organized a Garibaldi brigade, with speedy prospects of full ranks. The commands were to prove useful on more than one occasion. The fact that they existed and were immediately available was a constant menace to disorder. A year later they were to hold in check the mob of a city which dreaded riots more than she did the foe.

The drummers were tightening up their drums for salute. The governor had appointed as an aide-de-camp Col. Braxton Bragg, a name for battle. The board of military commissioners, appointed by the last special session of the legislature, was busy providing for a small army, both regular and volunteer. It had authorized the enrollment of 500 regular troops for four months, with pay and rations equal to those in the United States army. It had also struck out of its regulations the clause requiring volunteers to serve six months before procuring arms and equipment. The latter was an improvement on old peace legislation. [23]

The convention, instructed by a popular vote of 4,258 for separate State action against 3,978 for united Southern action, presented an according majority of 280. The vote had been light on both sides; but the feeling for immediate secession was not to be mistaken.

With ex-Governor Alexander Mouton president, the convention met in the hall of representatives, Baton Rouge, January 23, 1861. Events thronged. The next day, the 24th, Hon. John Perkins, Jr., of Madison, on behalf of the committee of fifteen of which he was the chairman, reported to the convention the following ordinance. It was the solitary voice which Louisiana, as the mother of her children, addressed to them from her crisis of 861.

An ordinance:

To dissolve the union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her under the compact entitled the Constitution of the United States:

We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the Ordinance passed by us in Convention on 22d of November, A. D. 1811, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the Union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.

We do further declare and ordain, that the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said government; and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to an Independent State.

We do further declare and ordain, that all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States or any act of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, [24] shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.

The following resolution was also reported, supplementary to the ordinance. It was at once a tribute to the great river which swept a free wave past the hall in which the convention acted, and a warning to unfriendly States bordering thereon: ‘Resolved, That we, the people of the State of Louisiana, recognize the right of the free navigation of the Mississippi river and its tributaries by all friendly States bordering thereon.’

The secession measure was not to pass unchallenged. A certain result does not insure an unquestioned passage. Already, on January 15th, Senators Slidell and Benjamin and Representatives Landrum and Davidson, favoring immediate secession, had left for Washington. Twenty-five hundred copies of the ordinance bill were ordered to be printed. Then the opposition to immediate secession gave voice. Changing the countersign without mercy, Rozier of Orleans and Fuqua of East Feliciana could not have been more courteous or freer from prejudice. Against ‘immediate secession’ the opposition moved for delay—a weak device. Mr. Rozier, true son of Louisiana through all of his deep love for the Union, offered an ordinance as a substitute for that reported by the committee of fifteen. No difference of opinion, he argued, existed as to the great question before the convention—only one as to the mode and means of redress. ‘We, the people of the State,’ should be the language addressed to the North. He moved, as a safe remedy, that a convention be held at Nashville, Tenn., on February 25th, ‘to take into consideration the relations the slaveholding States are to occupy hereafter toward the general government.’ Mr. Fuqua, of East Feliciana, followed with another substitute providing for concert of action. His plan was also for delay, ending in a general convention to be held at Montgomery, Ala., in co-operation with other Southern States.

After Rozier and Fuqua had ceased, the voice of a profound [25] jurist was heard. This was a voice never listened to without respect—the voice of Christian Roselius, a shining member of that bar of New Orleans so full of great names. Mr. Roselius declared frankly that, though opposed to precipitate action, he should, if the ordinance of secession be passed, ‘attach his destiny to it, and sustain his State with his life, his honor and his property’—words fit to place, as coming from a foreigner by birth, upon his tomb in Louisiana!

On the 26th of January the convention proceeded to action. No time was lost. A vast majority stood back of the committee of fifteen. The ordinance of secession was passed by a decisive vote of I 13 ayes to 17 nays. The Rozier substitute was rejected by 24 ayes to 106 nays; the Fuqua substitute by 47 ayes to 68 nays. The ceremonies attending the signing of the ordinance were simple. The president signed first; the others, having been provided each with a gold pen to inscribe his name, followed. The vote had no sooner been announced than President Mouton declared the connection of Louisiana with the United States dissolved, and the Federal authority therein null and void.

Before adjourning to meet on January 29th, in Lyceum hall, New Orleans, John Perkins, Jr., of the committee on Confederation, had reported an ordinance for the appointment of a delegation to a convention to form a Southern Confederacy, to be held at Montgomery, February 4, 1861. This ordinance was carried unanimously, with the following delegation: Perkins of Madison; Declouet of St. Martin; Sparrow of Carroll; Marshall of De Soto. This was the signal for the unfurling of a beautiful Pelican flag above the president's stand, amid intense enthusiasm. After this, Rev. D. Linfield offered in English a fervent prayer for a blessing on the work of the convention. Father Darius Hubert, the good Samaritan of the armies of the Confederacy, followed with a prayer in French. Thus the two languages of the native population [26] were heard pleading for that convention which had answered sectionalism with secession.

The announcement of the passage of the ordinance of secession was received in New Orleans by the withdrawal of the Federal officers. Hon. Theodore H. McCaleb resigned his commission as judge of the eastern district of the State; R. M. Lusher that of United States commissioner.

Baton Rouge had already saluted a new flag of Louisiana, with fifteen stars in its field. This flag had floated over the State house. New Orleans, with men and powder enough to do it, was later to honor it. It was not until February 13th that, pursuant to orders issued by Major-General Lewis, commanding First division, the militia assembled in force on Lafayette square for the purpose of saluting Louisiana's flag; present: the Third brigade, General Tracy; battalion of Washington artillery, Major Walton; Louisiana Guards; Montgomery Guards; Sarsfield Guards; Louisiana Legion, General Palfrey, represented by first and second companies of Louisiana Foot Rifles.

The occasion was made an outlet for enthusiasm. The convention left the Lyceum hall to fraternize with the troops. Its members, preceded by its president, Hon. Alexander Mouton, walking arm in arm with Lieutenant-Governor Hyams, marched into the square and formed in line to the left of the commands. Meanwhile Mayor Monroe and Colonels Labuzan and De Choiseul had ascended to the top of the city hall. Once there, they took their stand at the foot of the flag-staff. At the first stroke of eleven o'clock, given from the belfry of the First Presbyterian church near by, a report was heard. It was the first gun of the salutation, followed by twenty others. With the last gun the Pelican flag ascended, eagerly to be unfurled to the Southern breeze. Major Walton invited three cheers, which the troops gave in ringing measure—bravuras answered by the multitudes [27] crowded in the street, thronging every balcony and looking out from every window around the square.

Honor had been shown for the standard. Now, honor was to be shown to the memory of Washington. It had been decided, in this year of the secession of the State, to prove that in leaving the Union Louisiana had not turned her queenly back upon its greatest man. Secession had solidified into fact. By way of contrast, it demanded the celebration of a national holiday. The celebration was to be on February 22, 1861, which the authorities had resolved to make by day as imposing in numbers as, in the details, it should suggest war. Of the muster of the militia there is space only to say that the military display was the largest that had been seen in New Orleans since the day Andrew Jackson, victor, rode in from Chalmette. The parade brought ease of mind to the average citizen and convinced the line of marchers of their own certainty of resistance to oppression. The 22d was made an occasion for the presentation of flags. Hon. Chas. M. Conrad, ex-United States secretary of war, gave, in the name of the ladies, a flag to the Crescent Rifles. Hon. J. P. Benjamin, of the silver tongue, left his place in the Senate to become the sponsor of other ladies for a magnificent flag to the Washington Artillery.

As the night fell the illumination—made a special feature by merchants and citizens alike—shot into the air golden rays. Every variety of transparency, every ingenuity of device, every trick of radiance was caught at to emphasize the main thought. Washington standing —seated—Washington in uniform—in perruque and court dress-Washington everywhere honored, with strong lights enhancing the majesty of his figure.

A band of musicians—good, since they were the orchestra of the French Opera on Orleans street—preceded a group of men, young when the century had fourteen years to its credit. On the banners of this group were inscribed the words, ‘Veterans of 1814-15.’ [28]

The veterans came before the battalion of Orleans Guards, who bore their 417 muskets as if in protection of those old men, who marched with a soldierly swing in vogue forty-five years before. At their head appeared three men on whom the crowd looked with reverence. The people knew by intuition that the three were Maunsel White, the only surviving captain of that guard so famous in the past, and on either hand of Maunsel White Anthony Fernandez and M. M. Barnett, Sr., two of the oldest fighters of 1814-15, still hale and hearty. In front of the veterans could be noted their flag which Chalmette saw—or rather what remained of it—a bare pole with stripes of tattered silk.

The white veterans were followed by their brethrenin-arms, the colored veterans of Chalmette. Jordan Noble, once drummer-boy at Chalmette—in 1861 ‘old Jordan’ for the city and State—is among them. Upon these last the spectators gaze in that silence which, accorded to the worthy, is respect. They raise their hats as the latter pass.

The parade of the troops on Washington's birthday was a triumph in the appearance and in the number of the men. The Picayune of the 23d placed the number at 8,000, observing in connection with the day: ‘May the custom, now revived, of paying honor to the birthday of Washington, be one of everlasting observance.’ [29]

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