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.

Mutiny and Martial Law – Benjamin Butler occupies New Orleans

Mutiny and Martial Law – Benjamin Butler occupies New Orleans

Proclamation_Occupation_Martial_Law_New_Orleans_1862 Benjamin Butler

Benjamin Butler’s proclamation of 1-May-1862

Benjamin Butler and David Farragut

Major General Benjamin Butler, USA, declared New Orleans to be under martial law on May 1, 1862. The successful invasion of the city by Union army and naval forces compelled the city government to surrender. Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s ships arrived at New Orleans on April 25th. Under Farragut’s orders, Captain Theodorus Bailey, USN,  accepted the surrender of the city. CSA Major General Mansfield Lovell had already abandoned the city.

Jefferson Davis’ failures

The CSA Navy miscalculated on two major points in the defense of New Orleans. Davis’ Navy Department believed, right up to the upriver invasion led by Farragut’s squadron, that any attack on New Orleans would come from upriver. The meager resources allocated to the defense of the lower Mississippi River were focused on preventing gunboats approaching from the North. Even as Butler occupied Ship Island, off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Farragut’s ships approached the mouth of the river, Davis would not agree to increase the support of the city. Additionally, the two rams/gunboats under construction at New Orleans, the CSS Louisiana and CSS Mississippi were so far behind schedule, they would not be effective in assisting with the city’s defense.

The second major miscalculation made by the rebels involved the forts. The men garrisoned in the two river forts were not loyal to the rebels. Two-thirds of the soldiers defending Fort Jackson were Irish and German immigrants. These men came to New Orleans to make a living in a busy port city. After the state seceded, it was a matter of time before the superior forces of the Union Navy implemented a blockade. The coastlines of the rebel states were blockaded. When that blockade reached New Orleans, it shut down the port. This caused massive unemployment and incredible shortages of food and other goods. The immigrants in the city had no other choice but to enlist in the rebel army. Their motivation was survival, not support of the principles of the Confederacy.

Mutiny and Surrender

When Farragut’s ships moved upriver to pass the forts, the men garrisoned at Fort Jackson mutinied. The reduced fire from that side of the river allowed the Union ships to pass the forts. The high water level of the river in the springtime positioned the Union ships so it would be very easy to open fire on and destroy the city. With Lovell and the rebel troops having run for better, more defensible positions outside the city, there was nothing the civil authorities could do but turn New Orleans over to Butler’s army.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, Proclamation to the Citizens of New Orleans, May 1, 1862 (Full Text)

Headquarters, Department of the Gulf
New Orleans, May 1, 1862

The city of New-Orleans and its environs, with all its interior and exterior defences, having surrendered to the combined land and naval forces of the United States, and being now in the occupation of the forces of the United States, who have come to restore order, maintain public tranquillity, enforce peace and quiet under the laws and Constitution of the United States, the Major General Commanding hereby proclaims the object and purpose of the United States in thus taking possession of New-Orleans and the State of Louisiana, and the rules and regulations by which the laws of the United States will be for the present and during the state of war enforced and maintained, for the plain guidance of all good citizens of the United States, as well as others, who may heretofore have been in rebellion against their authority.
Thrice before has the city of New-Orleans been rescued from the hands of a foreign government and still more calamitous domestic insurrection by the money and arms of the United States. It has of late been under the military control of rebel forces. At each time, in the judgment of the commanders of military forces holding it, jt has been found necessary to preserve order and maintain quiet by an administration of martial law. Even during the interim from its evacuation by the rebel soldiers and its actual possession by the soldiers of the United States, the civil authorities found it necessary to call for the intervention of an armed body known as the European Legion to preserve public tranquillity. The Commanding General, therefore, will cause the city to be governed until the restoration of the United States authority, and his further orders, by martial law.
All persons in arms against the United States are required to surrender themselves, with their arms, equipments, and munitions of war. The body known as the European Legion, not being understood to be in arms against the United States, but organized for the protection of the lives and property of the citizens, are invited to still cooperate with the forces of the United States to that end, and so acting will not be included within the terms of this order, but will report to these headquarters.
All ensigns, flags, devices, tending to uphold any other authority save those of the United States and foreign consulates, must not be exhibited, but suppressed. The American ensign, the emblem of the United States, must be treated with the utmost respect by all persons, under pain of severe punishment
All persons well disposed to the United States, who shall renew their allegiance, will receive safeguard and protection in their persons and property by the armies of the United States, a violation of which will be punishable by death.
All persons still holding allegiance to the confederate States will be deemed rebels against the United States, and regarded and treated as enemies thereof.
All foreigners not naturalized, or claiming allegiance to their respective governments, and not having made oath of allegiance to the government of the confederate States, will be protected in their persons and property as heretofore, under the laws of the United States.
All persons who may heretofore have given adherence to the supposed government of the confederate States, or have been in their service, who shall lay down, deliver up their arms, return to their peaceful occupations, and preserve quiet and order, holding no further correspondence nor giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, will not be disturbed in person or property, except so far under orders of the Commanding General as exigencies of the public service may render necessary.
Keepers of all public property, whether State, National, or confederate, such as collections of art, libraries, museums, as well as all public buildings, all munitions of war, and armed vessels, will all, at once, make full reports thereof to these headquarters. All manufacturers of arms and munitions of war will report to these headquarters their kinds and places of business.
All rights of property of whatever kind will be held inviolate, subject only to the laws of the United States.
All inhabitants are enjoined to pursue their usual vocations. All shops, places of business or amusement, are to be kept open in their accustomed manner, and services to be held in churches and religious houses, as in time of profound peace.
Keepers of all public houses, coffee-houses, and drinking saloons are to report their names, numbers, etc., to the office of the Provost-Marshal, and will there receive license and be made responsible for all disorders and disturbances of the peace arising in their respective places.
Sufficient force will be kept in the city to preserve order and maintain the laws.
The killing of an American soldier by any disorderly persons, or mob, is simply assassination and murder, and not war, and will be so regarded and punished, and the owner of any house where such murder shall be committed will be held responsible therefor, and the house be liable to be destroyed by the military authority.
All disorders, disturbances of the peace, and crimes of an aggravated nature, interfering with the forces or laws of the United States, will be referred to a military court for trial and punishment. Other misdemeanors will be subject to the municipal authority if it chooses to act
Civil causes between party and party will be referred to the ordinary tribunals.
The levying and collection of taxes, save those imposed by the laws of the United States, are suppressed, except those for keeping in repair and lighting streets and for sanitary purposes. These are to be collected in the usual manner.
The circulation of confederate bonds as evidences of debt, (except notes in similitude of banknotes.) issued by the confederate States, or scrip, or any trade in the same is forbidden.
It has been represented to the Commanding General by the civil authorities that these confederate notes, in the form of bank-notes, in a great measure are the only substitute for money which the people have been allowed to have, and that great distress would ensue among the poorer classes if the circulation of such notes is suppressed. Such circulation will be permitted so long as any one will be inconsiderate enough to receive them, until further orders.
No publication, newspaper, pamphlet, or handbill, giving accounts of the movements of the soldiers of the United States within this Department, reflecting in any way upon the United States, or tending in any way to influence the public mind against the Government of the United States will be permitted.
All articles of war news, editorial comments, or correspondence making comments upon the movements of the armies of the United States, must be submitted to the examination of an officer, who will be detailed for that purpose from these headquarters.
The transmission of all communications by telegraph will be under the charge of an officer from these headquarters.
The armies of the United States came here not to destroy but to restore order out of chaos, and the government of laws in place of the passions of men.
To this end, therefore, the efforts of all the well-disposed are invited, to have every species of disorder quelled.
If any soldier of the United States should so far forget his duty to his flag as to commit outrage upon any person or property, the Commanding General requests that his name be instantly reported to the Provost-Guard, so he may be punished and his wrongful act redressed.
The municipal authority, so far as the police of the city and environs are concerned, is to extend as before indicated, until suspended.
All assemblages of persons in the streets, either by day or night, tend to disorder, and are forbidden.
The various companies composing the fire department of New-Orleans will be permitted to return to their organizations, and are to report to the office of the Provost-Marshal, so that they may be known and not interfered with in their duties.
And finally, it may be sufficient to add without further enumeration, that all the requirements of martial law will be imposed as long as in the judgment of the United States authorities it may be necessary.
While it is the desire of these authorities to exercise this government mildly and after the usages of the past, it must not be supposed that it will not be vigorously and firmly administered as the occasion calls.

By command of Major-Gen. Butler.

Geo. B. Strong,
Asst. Adj.-Gen. Chief of Staff.

African-American SIG Seminar – Whitney Plantation

African-American SIG Seminar – Whitney Plantation

Registraton Deadline TOMORROW, 5-July

Screenshot from 2016-07-04 07:56:00

This looks like a good seminar! In addition to the seminar, the Optional Activities also are excellent:

  • Tour: An optional one and a half hour afternoon tour of the Whitney has been scheduled at a discounted rate of $15.
  • How-to-Workshops: For those members who opt-out of the tour, various members of Le Comité will present workshops on topics including: Uploading Raw DNA to GedMatch, Finding Slave Ancestors on Louisiana Plantations, etc.


Pre-Registration is required as there’s limited seating. TOMORROW is the registration deadline, so you’ll want to move on this quickly if you’re interested. The Registration form (PDF) is here.

Tivoli Circle during the Civil War

Screenshot from 2015-10-27 07:48:03

Marshall Dunham photograph

Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, during the Civil War. It’s unclear which side the troops bivouaced in the Circle are on. My guess is they’re Union, because the ineptitude of Davis and the Confederate Navy allowed Farragut and Butler to easily capture the city.

There’s an interesting note on the photograph that also leads me to believe these are Union troops:

On 17 July 1877 the City of New Orleans granted the use of Tivoli Circle to The Lee Monumental Association for the purpose of erecting a monument to General Robert E. Lee, and changing the name from Tivoli to Lee Circle.

Troops would not be camped out on a major street in the city twelve years after the war was over. I’d love to interview the person who wrote that note.

“Battle Flags” represent the country of the forces flying them (@Jelani9 article)

Battle Flag of the Army of Tennessee, the main CSA force in the western theater of the Civil War.

Battle Flag of the Army of Tennessee, the main CSA force in the western theater of the Civil War.

In all of the dust-up over the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederate States of America, quotes like this from Jelani Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, give me pause:

Tom Hall, an attorney who recently completed a film about the history of the Confederate flag in South Carolina, addressed the rally, remarking that the flag had come to prominence as a way for Southern politicians in the nineteen-fifties to cynically play on the interests of poor whites. (In fact, the Confederate flag we have known since then is not the Confederacy’s flag at all but rather one used by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.) Jim Lane, a fifty-year-old white native South Carolinian who attended the protest with his partner, Justin Daggett, said that the flag remained a gesture toward the prejudices of a portion of the populace stuck in the past. “Anytime there’s a symbol of hate, a symbol of discrimination, that is used against one group of people, it has no place on the State House grounds,” he said.

(emphasis mine)

I apologize to Mr. Cobb for calling him out, but he unfortunately is the straw that broke the camel’s back on this issue for me. I’ve read variations of this remark from a lot of white folks trying to justify the continued use of this flag. When I was looking for information on Tom Hall, the filmmaker mentioned in the above graf, I came across his article. That means we’ve got historic innacuracy and misunderstanding on both sides of the issue, so clarification is in order.

Saying that a “battle flag” is not a flag of a nation is preposterous. Wars don’t pop up out of thin air; governments put troops into the field. Those troops are “diplomacy by other means” as von Clausewitz said. In the American Civil War, both sides authorized the use of “battle flags” by their troops. The primary, practical, use of a war flag or standard is to identify your position to others. This sounds counter intuitive in the context of modern warfare, but wars were fought differently in the 19th Century. Units needed to know where to re-group after a forward movement, or a cavalry charge. Artillery units needed to know where not to fire their guns, lest they kill their comrades by mistake.

Here are some of the battle flags from the American Civil War:

Screenshot from 2015-07-09 08:32:53

Flag of the 1st and 3rd Florida Regiment.


Flag of the 1st/3rd Florida Infantry Regiment. It’s the “Confederate Battle Flag” pattern, with battle honors of this specific regiment. The color scheme is a variant of the classic battle flag. This was common when a regiment would “personalize” their flag.

"Storm Flag" flown over Fort Sumter, 14-April-1861 (NPS image)

“Storm Flag” flown over Fort Sumter, 14-April-1861 (NPS image)

When South Carolina troops, led by Brigadier General PGT Beauregard of New Orleans, began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, the fort’s garrison flew a larger version of this battle flag. After two days of bombardment, that flag was too damaged, so the garrison raised this smaller flag. Coastal forts and other installations where there was often a lot of bad weather would take down the larger flags, raising a “storm flag” that would be less expensive to replace if damaged.

On a side note regarding Fort Sumter: The flag hoisted by the rebels after the Union garrison surrendered was a variant of the palmetto tree flags often used by South Carolinians. They used a state-themed flag at this time, because the Army of Northern Virginia had not yet been formed.


Flag of the Dallas Artillery, Army of the Confederate States of America. (public domain image)


Flag of the Second Arkansas Field Battery, also known as the Dallas Battery, an artillery unit of the army of the CSA. Notice that, since this unit fought in the western theater of the war, their flag is a variant of the “Stars and Bars,” the flag Mr. Cobb and other writers usually recognize as the “official” flag of the Confederate government.

Standard of the 25th New York Cavalry, 1864

Standard of the 25th New York Cavalry, 1864

Cavalry regiments often carried a number of flags. Individual squadrons would have their own “guidons”, usually swallow-tail flags. The regiment as a whole would display both national and regimental standards. In the case of the 25th New York, their national standard was the Stars and Stripes, and the regimental flag was the blue standard above.

National Standard of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. (public domain image)

National Standard of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. (public domain image)

Union regiments often added “battle honors” to the Stars and Stripes. This is a tradition taken from the United Kingdom, where regiments list the battles in which they fought on the Union Jack.

The bottom line here: Writers, do your homework. Please don’t write things that are patently preposterous. Thousands of men died under these banners. They didn’t die for abstract concepts, but rather the governments that sent them out to fight against each other. Battle flags don’t exist in a vacuum.