St. Patrick’s Church on Camp Street, ca 1845

That’s right. For all we talk about the French and Spanish, the Irish and the Germans, the two big immigrant populations of antebellum New Orleans, deserve a huge amount of thanks. Their actions during the Civil War were a major contribution to the city being spared.

When the United States Navy decided to move up the Mississippi River, Flag Officer David Farragut ordered his squadron to make the run past the two forts. He accomplished a feat the British were unable to do in 1815–get up the river to New Orleans. After the Union Navy ships cleared the forts, the Irish and Germans garrisoning the forts mutinied, leaving the forts undefended. Major General Benjamin Butler, USA, led a ground force to Fort Jackson and easily occupied it. With his rear secure, there Farragut could turn his attention to the city. Major General Mansfield Lovell, CSA, in overall command of the Confederate forces in New Orleans, saw no alternative but to surrender the city.

Had the Irish stood their ground, Lovell might have become emboldened to mount a serious defense of New Orleans. That surely would have resulted in the city sustaining massive damage from the ships anchored in the river.

That didn’t happen, though. Lovell surrendered the city, Butler assumed command, and the port of New Orleans returned to the United States of America, in May 1862.