Algiers 1865, The railroads were a lifeline for the Union.
Trains at the Algiers Terminal of the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad, in 1865. The NOO&GW served the Union forces after the capture of New Orleans in 1862.
portion of J. H. Colton’s map of Louisiana, 1863.
The railroad was chartered in 1852. Track construction began in Algiers. Track reached Morgan City in 1857. Morgan City was the western terminus for the company. NOO&GW used “Texas gauge” of 5’6″ until 1872, when Morgan converted the tracks to standard gauge.
Because it originated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the railroad didn’t need ferries or bridges going west. Businesses using NOO&GW ferried their goods across the river to Algiers, then loaded them on trains. This made for an easy route west.
When Louisiana seceded from the Union, rebel leaders knew a blockade of the Gulf Coast was eminent. The state considered NOO&GW important as a land connection to Texas. The Union Navy captured New Orleans in late April, 1862. The Union Army moved immediately, taking control of NOO&GW in May, 1862. While rebel troops managed to re-capture some of the tracks near Morgan City in May, the Union troops regained complete control by November, 1862. From there to the end of the war, the railroad serviced the Union.
Benjamin Franklin Flanders founded NOO&GW. He sold the railroad to shipping magnate Charles Morgan in 1869. Morgan re-named the railroad, Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company. He later sold the company to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The NOO&GW merged into the SP system, becoming part of its main line.
Southern Pacific expanded the original NOO&GW terminal in the 1890s. SP operated a large yard in Algiers, until the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in the 1930s. The railroad moved their yard to Avondale then, taking advantage of the new bridge. Even now, many Algiers residents refer to the area between Atlantic and Thayer streets as the “SP Yard.”
Smokey Mary linked Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg for almost a century
The Smokey Mary at Milneburg, 1860s.
The Pontchartrain Railroad operated from 1831 to 1930. The trains ran out to the fishing village of Milneburg. A port facility developed along the lakefront at Milneburg. The railroad connected that port to the city. The Pontchartrain Railroad carried freight and passengers. After the Civil War, it ran mostly as a day-trip line. By the end of the 19th Century, it carried almost exclusively passengers.
The railroad purchased two steam engines in 1832. Those engines lasted for about twenty years. The railroad cannibalized one for parts to keep the other going. By the late 1850s, the railroad purchased the larger engine shown in the photo above. This engine operated to the end of the 1800s. The big smokestack inspired most of the stories and memories of the train.
The Smokey Mary ran simply from the Milneburg Pier to a station at Elysian Fields and the river. Eventually, the railroad added a stop at Gentilly Road, but it was only by request. The railroad terminated operations in 1930. The WPA paved Elysian Fields from river to lake in the late 1930s. Pontchartrain Beach opened in Milneburg in 1939.
The village of Milneburg was located at the end of what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. Shipping traffic came in from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, into Lake Pontchartrain. Ships docked at the Milneburg pier. Merchants offloaded their goods and put them on the Pontchartrain Railroad, to bring them down to the city.
Jazz on the Lakefront
By the 1910s, Milneburg’s residents lived mostly in fishing camps. Musicians rode the Smokey Mary out to Milneburg to play some of the small restaurants. They also walked the piers, playing for locals. They busked for tips. This kept them busy during the day. The musicians rode the train back to the city in the late afternoon. They then played gigs at dance halls and saloons in town.
USS Hartford, Sloop of War
Lytle photo of the sloop of war, USS Hartford, 1863. The Boston Navy Yard built the sloop. After a shakedown cruise, USS Hartford sailed to Asia, where it carried the US Minister to China, John Elliott Ward on various diplomatic missions.
When the Southern States rebelled against the Union, the US Navy implemented a classic, Royal Navy-style blockade on the coastlines of the rebel states. That blockade began at Virginia, curving around Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. The US Navy assigned squadrons to specific areas along the blockade lines. USS Hartford returned to the US. After refitting, she sailed to the Gulf of Mexico as flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Farragut took Hartford to Ship Island in February, 1862, where he consulted with Army commanders. Plans for the attack began in earnest when Commander David Dixon Porter arrived with his squadron of mortar schooners in March.
Second Battle of New Orleans
Farragut led his squadron up the Mississippi River, making a run past Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, on the night of 24-April-1862. While the squadron got passed the forts and steamed upriver to New Orleans, Hartford was damaged by fire-rafts. Farragut’s officers accepted the city’s surrender. Major General Benjamin Butler occupied the city on 1-May-1862. So, Farragut took Hartford and the rest of his squadron up the Mississippi to Baton Rouge. He captured the city without opposition. Farragut and the Navy used Baton Rouge and New Orleans as staging areas for the various attacks on rebel positions further up the river.
This photo shows USS Hartford about a year after the Battle of New Orleans. While it’s moored at Baton Rouge, the photo shows that the damage it suffered on the night of 24-April-1862 has been repaired.
On a side note, the current USS Hartford (SSN-768) is a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine. It was part of the squadron based at Point Loma, CA, when my son was a junior officer on the USS Alexandria (SSN-757).