USS Hartford, sloop of war

USS Hartford, sloop of war

USS Hartford

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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.

Southern Rebellion

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.

SSN-768

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).

Letter from William A. Smith to his wife, Caroline, 1862-12-29

Letter from William A. Smith to his wife, Caroline, 1862-12-29

Letter from William A. Smith to his wife, Caroline, 1862-12-29

Letter from William A. Smith to his wife, Caroline, 1862-12-29

William Smith to his wife, 1862 (courtesy Howard-Tilton Library)

Letter from William A. Smith to his wife, Caroline, 1862-12-29

I’m sure most of you know that, in addition to my history books, I write fiction. I’ve written two YA novels and an Urban Fantasy story.

One of my longer-term fiction projects is a novel set in Civil War New Orleans. So, I regularly save primary sources from the period, to get a better feel for the period.

New Orleans during the Civil War fascinates me, because the city was taken out of the action/fighting early, in April, 1862. As the war raged, the city went back to being a busy port, albeit for the Union. While access to the city from the north was a challenge, waterborne commerce resumed when US Navy lifted its blockade. Therefore, goods and people came back to the city. Intrigue and excitement came with them!

From the North to Ship Island to Baton Rouge

Since I’m more interested in the “feel” of the time and the tactics of the regiments, I haven’t looked into the Smiths at all. He’s clearly in a Union regiment, since he talks about Ship Island. Ship Island, in Mississippi Sound, was the staging area for Butler’s troops. They moved up from the swamps near Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, then into New Orleans. Eight months later, this regiment fought in the area around Baton Rouge.

There are numerous stories and legends about Benjamin “Beast” Butler in New Orleans. Most of them are inaccurate, being part of the “Lost Cause” mythos. So many schools taught the Lost Cause as fact over the last 150 years, folks in the South have it backwards. While Butler is important to the story, I see him as the least interesting. Accounts like Smith’s letter here make far better stories. Since they’re part of the written record, as opposed to tall tales passed down, they’re more valid.

Source for this letter

This letter is available from the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University.

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store

by Edward J. Branley

Heather Elizabeth Designs

For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.

Camp Nicholls, Bayou St. John

Camp Nicholls, Bayou St. John

Camp Nicholls – for Civil War Veterans

camp nicholls

Camp Nicholls, on Bayou St. John, in the early 1900s

Camp Nicholls along the bayou

New Orleans has always been good to its native sons returning home from wars. After the Civil War, an “Old Soldiers Home” was founded as a refuge for veterans, located on Bayou St. John. That tract of land has had interesting and historical uses ever since as an escape for soldiers from both the Civil War and World War II and then as the property of the National Guard.

Since New Orleans was spared most of the ravages of war experienced by other cities, locals were able to look to the future of the post-war world. Caring and housing returning veterans was already on the minds of folks in 1866. The State of Louisiana appropriated funds to establish a home for these men. As Reconstruction politicians acquired control of state government, however, the continuing appropriation for the home was cut off. The home continued as a privately-funded institution, but struggled.

Francis T. Nicholls

camp nicholls

Governor Francis T. Nicholls, former CSA Brigadier and patron of Camp Nicholls

The cause of a Confederate Veterans Home grew by the 1880s. Veterans’ associations petitioned the state for financial assistance. The state re-enacted the original 1866 legislation. The project was funded. In 1883. The leader of the project’s board was Francis T. Nicholls. Nicholls served a term as governor, and was a lawyer in New Orleans. During the war, Nicholls was a CSA Brigadier. He lost his left foot at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

This board purchased a large lot, located on Bayou St. John. Joseph R. DeMahy sold the property DeMahy was, a former Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy. The board worked with several veterans associations, parish police juries and private citizens for money, They held fund raising events such as battle re-enactments on the property. They raised enough money to hire architect William A. Freret. Freret designed a complex of several buildings.

The home accepted its first inmate, James Adams, on February 5, 1884. Adams was a veteran of the 1st Louisiana Infantry. Dedication of the site as “Camp Nicholls” took place on March 14, 1884. Over 600 people attended that ceremony, including the daughters of CSA Generals Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and D. H. Hill. Nicholls’ success in fund raising for the home became a model for other veterans’ associations in various states, and helped propel him back into the Governor’s office in 1888.

The Submarine

camp nicholls

CSA “submarine” found in Lake Pontchartrain, after the war, at Camp Nicholls in the early 1900s

The Old Soldiers Home then became a fixture in Faubourg St. John. So, it received listing in tourist guides as a place to visit along the bayou. In 1909, construction workers discovered a prototype “submarine” in Lake Pontchartrain, by the mouth of Bayou St. John. They raised the wreck and cleaned it up. The salvage company donated the vessel to the Camp Nicholls. The home displayed the submarine for years. When Camp Nicholls was in decline, the home donated the boat to the Louisiana State Museum. LSM displayed it at the Presbytere in the French Quarter. It’s now on display at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

With so many of the Confederate veterans passing away, Camp Nicholls lost its original purpose. While the US Army ramped up for war in 1917, Camp Nicholls changed control. The complex housed the First Louisiana Infantry, the Washington Artillery, and the First Separate Troop Cavalry. After these units deployed to Europe, the home calmed down once again, housing just old veterans.

Camp Nicholls

Cover of a pamphlet documenting the use of Camp Nicholls prior to WWI. (Photo courtesy of Tulane University Howard-Tilton Library)

Rebel Yell

The tradition of the “Lost Cause of the South” remained strong in New Orleans, and the former Confederacy as a whole, even going into the 1930s. In 1932, as part of an effort to preserve the oral histories of surviving Confederate veterans, the Times-Picayune newspaper arranged to gather a number of veterans together at Camp Nicholls and film them doing the infamous “Rebel Yell.” The group gathered along the bayou on February 11, 1932, and a number of veterans, clad in their Confederate uniforms, stepped up to a microphone and did the battle cry.

Transition/Repurpose

Camp Nicholls

Letterhead from Camp Nicholls, 1901 (Courtesy LaRC, Tulane University)

There were no living Confederate veterans at Camp Nicholls by 1940. The Old Soldiers Home formally closed. The Louisiana National Guard took over the complex. The Guard used Camp Nicholls as an armory and vehicle depot throughout World War II. The Guard turned the facility over to the City of New Orleans in the 1960s, who used it to house the NOPD’s Police Academy and 3rd District Headquarters until the 1990s.

Camp Nicholls site today

Camp Nicholls

Camp Nicholls property, as it is today. (Photo courtesy of Mid City Messenger)

The complex sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Katrina. In 2009, after determining that the remaining buildings all dated from the 1950s, the city was granted permission to raze the site, and it’s been an empty lot since. Last year, Deutsches Haus, a non-profit organization whose mission is the preservation of German culture in New Orleans, leased the property. They plan to build the “new Deutsches Haus” along the bayou.

The Camp Nicholls property is fenced off and not accessible to visitors, but if you take the Canal Streetcar Line to City Park, you can cross over Bayou St. John and look through the fence. Maybe you’ll even feel the spirit of one of the “old soldiers,” as many have reported in the past.

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store

by Edward J. Branley

Heather Elizabeth Designs

For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.

800 Block Canal Street, 1864

800 Block Canal Street, 1864

800 Block Canal Street

800 block canal street

800 Block Canal Street in 1864. W.D. Mcpherson photo.

800 block Canal Street – Shopping!

The Canal Streetcar line is about three years old at the time of this photo. None of the mule-drawn, “bobtail” streetcars appear here. The greenery on the sides of the Canal Street neutral ground isn’t grown-out yet, so the tracks are visible.

The photographer, William D. Mcpherson, is upstairs in a building in the block between Carondelet Street and St. Charles Avenue. That’s Christ Episcopal in the top left, at the corner of Canal and Dauphine. It’s only seven years old in that photo. It’s the second church the congregation built, moving to Dauphine from Bourbon when Judah Touro made them an offer they couldn’t refuse for their location at Canal and Bourbon.

The anchor on the block is Daniel Henry Holmes’ dry goods store. It was twenty-four years old in this photo. D. H. Holmes wouldn’t become a full-blown “department store” for another forty years, but the Irishman already made his mark on Canal Street by the 1860s. Shopping on Canal Street wouldn’t go further up Canal for another 20 years, and wouldn’t reach the end of the French Quarter until the 1900s, with Krauss Department Store. 

Street Addresses

The addresses on the stores in the photo follow the “old” pattern for Canal Street. Rather than go by blocks (100, 200, 300), buildings were numbered individually at this time. So, D. H. Holmes was 155 Canal, James Ryback, importer, was at 149, J.A. daRocha & Co. at 147 Canal. A dress and cloak maker, Mrs. Charles Brown, was at 145 Canal.

By June of 1864, New Orleans was two years under Union occupation. The blockade of the United States Navy was long over. Trade and commerce coming in through the port was back in full swing. While the city was unable to move goods out of New Orleans because of the war, the city no longer suffered from being cut off from the rest of the world. The well-documented tensions between the Union army and the locals were in full swing, but the immigrant laborers who worked along the river were back at work.

New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line

800 block canal street

The clanging of a streetcar’s bell conjures images of a time when street railways were a normal part of life in the city. Historic Canal Street represents the common ground between old and new with buses driving alongside steel rails and electric wires that once guided streetcars.

New Orleans was one of the first cities to embrace street railways, and the city’s love affair with streetcars has never ceased. New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line showcases photographs, diagrams, and maps that detail the rail line from its origin and golden years, its decline and disappearance for almost 40 years, and its return to operation. From the French Quarter to the cemeteries, the Canal Line ran through the heart of the city and linked the Creole Faubourgs with the new neighborhoods that stretched to Lake Pontchartrain.

Chalmette Cemetery – USCT #HonorThem

Chalmette Cemetery – USCT #HonorThem

Chalmette Cemetery – USCT

Chalmette Cemetery

Markers of graves of Unknown Soldiers from the Civil War in Chalmette Cemetery (Edward Branley photo)

Chalmette Cemetery and United States Colored Troops

Many men died fighting for the Union in South Louisiana. New Orleans surrendered in April, 1862. The Union Army used the city as a base to move north. They pressed the rebels from both directions along the Mississippi. Major General Benjamin Butler brought a force close to 3000 men to Ship Island to invade New Orleans. A sizable contingent of that force were United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Black men served in the US Army for a number of reasons. They were citizens of the free states. Some were the sons and grandsons of slaves. Their ancestors escaped from the South. So, they made lives for themselves in the Northern states. There were 175 regiments of USCT by 1865, a full one-tenth of the US Army.

Fighting for the Union

Chalmette cemetery

Chalmette National Cemetery (Edward Branley photo)

Black soldiers fought as segregated units The “Colored Troops” battalions and regiments were often raised by white men who were willing to command black soldiers, such as the 54th Massachusetts. While the men might know each other, was, the white officers didn’t. In many cases, Their soldiers didn’t live anywhere near where the unit was raised. So, when these men died in action in the Deep South, the survivors and the locals had no idea who they were.

Butler held incredible power as the general commanding the occupation. Since the war continued after the invasion, the army needed a place to bury their dead. The battlefield in Chalmette was a possible choice for a cemetery. The city preserved the battlefield, and nobody really lived down there, even by the 1860s.

The army sectioned off a portion of the battlefield on the eastern side. This was the “British side” of the battlefield, Pakenham’s army advanced on the Americans from there. Since the bulk of the action took place on the “American side,” nobody considered the cemetery as an affront.

Visiting Chalmette

The top photo shows the markers of “unknowns,” mostly USCT soldiers. The second photo shows the standard markers used by National Cemeteries at the time.

If you haven’t been down to Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery since your eighth grade field trip, jump in the car!

 

 

#NOLACivilWar – “Butler’s Victims of Ft. St. Philip”

#NOLACivilWar – “Butler’s Victims of Ft. St. Philip”

Ft. St. Philip and the attack on New Orleans

ft. st. philip

“Butler’s Victims of Ft. St. Philip”

Ft. St. Philip and Ft. Jackson

This image, from the New York Public Library Digital Collection, is interesting for its caption.

“Butler’s Victims of Ft. St. Philip” indicates that this was a Confederate-friendly publication, rather than one like Harper’s. A Union publication would have referred to these men as “prisoners” or “rebels.”

Flag-Officer David Farragut’s squadron passed Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Philip on 23-25 April, 1862. The city of New Orleans surrendered on April 25th. Major General Benjamin Butler’s army followed behind Farragut’s ships. They occupied the forts, then moved north to the city. By May 1, 1862. New Orleans was occupied, and Butler was in command. Farragut moved his force further up the Mississippi to prevent any attempt to re-take the city.

One of the greatest miscalculations of the Civil War was the decision by the Navy Department of the Confederacy to rely almost exclusively on the two forts to defend New Orleans. Jefferson Davis endorsed the notion that an attack from upriver was much more likely than an assault coming up from Southwest Pass. The Union Navy came to New Orleans with a squadron of mortar-vessels. They bombarded Ft. St. Philip and Ft. Jackson for days. Farragut then brought his ships upriver, passing the forts. Once passed the forts, the Union Navy was in a position to reduce New Orleans to rubble. The Confederate Army in New Orleans retreated to the north. The Union forces demanded the city’s surrender. The city leaders had no choice but to give it.

Battle at the forts continued

Even after Farragut passed the forts, Brigadier General Johnson Duncan refused to surrender them. While the officers were defiant, the men were not as sure of their cause. The men defending Ft. St. Philip were volunteers from militia units formed in Southern Louisiana. Most of the more-established units had already gone north, to join the Army of Tennessee or the Army of Northern Virginia. The men left defending New Orleans hoped they would be safer in the forts. These battalions also included Irish and German volunteers. These immigrants were not heavily invested in a Confederate victory. They just wanted the port re-opened so they could return to paying jobs.

So, when Duncan refused to surrender, the Union bomb-vessel squadron resumed its attack. The garrison at Ft. Jackson mutinied on 29-April. Butler’s troops moved in on both sides of the river.

The Louisiana militiamen who did believe in the rebellion were kept as prisoners of war at Ft. St. Philip. That’s the point where this illustration was drawn.