150 years ago today much had changed in my hometown. It had gone from being the largest city in the Confederacy to the largest occupied city in North America. The Confederates decided not to turn New Orleans into a block by block fight and withdrew to areas north and west of the city. The Union rolled in in force.
What surprised the north is that the population of the city jumped because slaves in Louisiana flocked to the city. It was one thing to try to escape practically across the entire Confederacy but quite another to simply move down the road to New Orleans. Freedom had finally arrived with the soldiers of the United States Army.
For the white residents of the city, the Union army was despised. Benjamin Butler, the occupying general, ruled the city with an iron hand. The ladies of New Orleans, for example, reveled in cursing the occupying northern soldiers. Butler ruled that any woman calling out derogatory comments to the troops, would be treated as a prostitute. The women of the city got noticeably quieter after that but the feelings about Butler couldn’t have been lower. I still remember in the 1960s hearing older adults referring to Butler as “the Beast” as he became known by the locals.
It was not the end of prejudice in New Orleans. It was not the end of distrust of the north. It was not the beginning of equality for the former slaves. But it was the end of rebels against the government of the United States being in control of the city. And New Orleans has been an American city ever since.
The arrival of all the former slaves seeking freedom also made the United States begin to seriously consider the issue of the future of slavery. When the war started, the north only talked about preserving the union. But after capturing New Orleans, the movement began which would lead to the day when Lincoln would issue the emancipation proclamation.
We are better off in many ways that the leaders of the city and state that led us into rebellion (not the least of whom were some prominent ministers) failed. For African Americans, they can mark it as a day that freedom was one step closer. For Anglos of Northern descent, they can also mark it as a day one of the largest ports in the world was again an American port. And for those who live in New Orleans, even if our ancestors might have fought against it, we can give thanks on this Memorial Day that Americans fought and some gave their lives so that New Orleans would once again be a city of and in the United States of America.
The war though, was far from over in May of 1862.
Until next time,