In writing A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans: 1862, I was excited to be able to delve into the way each side handled or mishandled the defense or capture of New Orleans in this important chapter of Civil War history. But my research added another layer to this narrative. Here are five interesting things I discovered while writing my new book.
1. Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip
Forts Jackson and St. Philip are key elements in the story. I had taken guests there before, but going there to research and write about the campaign gave me a new perspective. Regarding the vast expanse of water, the currents and even the chop of small waves reminds one of how close to the Gulf of Mexico we are. Fort Jackson is seventy miles south of New Orleans, but in a different world. Commercial shrimpers, oystermen and fishermen make a living in this area and there is a healthy citrus industry. Touring the inside of the well-restored fort one can imagine the tumult and hellish fire and shelling that occurred here during the battle between the entrenched Confederates and the attacking Union fleet. The Fort Jackson Museum and Visitor Center is less than a mile away.
2. Historical Markers for Solomon Northrup and New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade
I found historical markers for Solomon Northrup and New Orleans and the domestic slave trade. Solomon Northrup is known for his 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the eponymous movie of 2013. As many times as I have passed these markers, I admit that, except for a cursory scan, I did not take the time to read them. However, I was well aware of the 19th century slave market in New Orleans. The markers are near the Old U.S. Mint, which is now home to the New Orleans Jazz Museum. They face each other on the neutral ground (commonly the median on a divided street in most other American cities) on Esplanade Avenue at Chartres Street. Even though they refer to occurrences prior to the Civil War, I felt the poignancy of their messages would enhance the narrative.
3. Mumford Hanging Print
While doing research at the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, I learned that there was a rare print that depicted the hanging of William Mumford. It is difficult to find renderings of the incident. The hanging was a notable episode in the early days of the Union occupation of the city. Union sailors had raised the Stars and Stripes above the U.S. Mint, Mumford tore it down and threw it to the angry mob. General Benjamin Butler vowed to hang the man who removed and desecrated the American flag. Even though the print is proprietary, the Historic New Orleans Collection allowed me to make a jpeg of the print to use in the book.
4. Vanishing Sites
Sadly, there are too many historical sites and symbols that are no longer extant. Whether a geographical location or monument, it is fortunate that I was able to photograph some of them while still standing. The sea has taken Quarantine Landing just upriver from the forts. This was where the Chalmette Regiment went to stave off an advance of Union land forces. Hurricanes devastated Fort St. Philip and Fort Pike. The former is reachable only by boat, the latter is closed to the public. Additionally, politics has removed many of the monuments to Confederates. Native son P.G.T. Beauregard sat regally mounted on his horse at the entrance to City Park for years. It seems that no one bothered to study his life and learn that he championed voting and civil rights for blacks in Louisiana after the war. His monument is gone as are many others including Captain Charles Didier Dreux, the first Louisiana officer killed in the war.
5. Living History
My interview with Mrs. Gladys LeBreton was one of the highlights of my research. I am a friend of the family, have known her for years and her son is a close friend and former classmate. She was kind enough to relate the story told to her by her mother, who was a small child when Jefferson Davis passed away at their home in the Garden District. The narrative is Appendix D. I also included the audio interview in my Podcast, “History with Mark Bielski.” After the Podcast aired, a good friend called me from Washington, D.C. and declared that the story is “as close to living history of the Civil War that one can get.”