May 2, 1862 (Friday)
“We are about to meet once more in the shock of battle the invaders of our soil, the despoilers of our homes, the disturbers of our family ties,” warned Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to his veterans of Shiloh. “Face to face, hand to hand, we are to decide whether we are to be freemen or the vile slaves of those who are free only in name, and who but yesterday were vanquished, although in largely superior numbers, in their own encampments on the ever-memorable field of Shiloh.”
Beauregard still clung to the idea that his Army of the Mississippi was somehow victorious at Shiloh, a simple task if one ignores the second day of the battle, which, it appears, he did.
“Let the impending battle decide our fate,” he continued, “and add one more illustrious page to the history of our Revolution, one to which our children will point with noble pride, saying, ‘Our fathers were at the battle of Corinth.'”1
His army of nearly 46,000 held a strong defensive line around Corinth, Mississippi. Generals Hardee, Bragg and Polk commanded the right, center and left of the line. General Van Dorn, still in Memphis, would hold the rear, while General Breckinridge commanded the reserves.
The Federals, commanded by General Henry Halleck, had not moved from the battlefield, twenty miles north. But twenty miles was no more than a day and a half march away. The Union troops had begun to stir and Beauregard knew that a battle was imminent.2
In order to “drive back into Tennessee the presumptuous mercenaries collected for our subjugation,3” General Beauregard would need reinforcements. Van Dorn’s Army of the West, finally having crawled back from the Battle of Pea Ridge, had been in Memphis refitting themselves.
“You may as well begin sending your troops here by brigades at once,” wrote Beauregard to Van Dorn on April 22nd, and again the next day, expressing much the same idea. A few days later, he began to move, and by this date, his men were holding Corinth’s reserve.4
After the the Union ships appeared before New Orleans, General Mansfield Lovell moved out of town with many of his men. Knowing this, Beauregard had been trying to convince him to join in the “shock of battle” soon to come to Corinth. He asked Lovell to send a single regiment to Vicksburg and “come here immediately with balance of forces.”
Lovell agreed, but Beauregard wanted more, asking him to organize Mississippi regiments on his way.5
By the 30th, Lovell knew of the surrender of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and realized that there was nothing more he could do for Louisiana, aside from burning the cotton, and perhaps the barracks at Baton Rouge so they would not fall into enemy hands.6
On this date, General Lovell was having second thoughts. Though most of the infantry that he had were under-armed militia, he had cobbled together five regiments. He sent one to Vicksburg, but was a little hesitant to bring the rest to Corinth, nearly 400 miles north.
He was actually leaning more towards protecting Vicksburg from the troops coming up from the south under General Benjamin Butler. Even if he were to head to Corinth, he couldn’t make it there any time in the near future. For starters, he had cotton to burn, troops to raise, troops to train and his very own horde of Yankees to deal with.
In the end, however, Lovell was almost willing to help. “If it is impossible for you to get along without the five regiments I have here, I will probably join you,” he wrote to Beauregard on this date, “but I do not like to abandon the state of Louisiana.7
General Lovell’s worries were well-placed. Union General Benjamin Butler, along with his 4,000 infantry troops, had arrived in New Orleans the previous evening. As they disembarked, they were met with jeers, taunts, insults and countless epithets. These passionate greetings continued as he and his men marched to the Custom House, where they set up their barracks. Butler returned to his ship.
On this date, Butler and his staff commandeered the St. Charles Hotel, turning it into army headquarters. Naturally, an angry crowd gathered in such a boisterous protest that the General’s meeting with the Mayor was interrupted by their shouts. To continue, Butler ordered a regiment to act as a buffer between the gathered crowd and the hotel.
An officer informed Butler that the mob was growing even more restless and the regiment might not be able to control them. Butler snapped back that if they could not be controlled, “open upon them with artillery.” The Mayor was livid at such a notion, and insisted upon addressing the citizens, hoping to calm them. When he told them of Butler’s threat to turn the cannons upon them, many drifted away, while the rest simmered in their fury.
While peering out the window, Butler noticed a man with a scrap of United States flag in his button hole. When he asked around, he discovered this man to be none other than William Mumford, the secessionist who tore down the stars and stripes flying over the Mint.
Getting back to the meeting, the Mayor was balking at Butler’s demands, hoping to outlast him, just as he had outlasted Farragut. However, Butler wasn’t establishing martial law, he was only continuing it (with some obvious variations) from the time when General Lovell had occupied the town with his Confederate force. Nevertheless, the Mayor argued for the removal of Union troops from the city. Butler refused to budge.
“New Orleans has been conquered by the forces of the United States,” Butler reminded the Mayor, “and by the laws of all nations, lies subject to the will of the conquerors.” In a fit of anguish, the Mayor threatened to disband the civil government, giving up all governmental functions to Butler. Butler probably knew that this would never come to pass, that the Mayor was simply blowing off steam, but that is how the meeting, and the day, ended.
The next day, he would release his official proclamation to the people of New Orleans.8
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p482. [↩]
- P.G.T. Beauregard; Napoleon in Gray by T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1955. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p482. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p433, 454. [↩]
- The Military Operations of General Beauregard, Vol. 1 by Alfred Roman, p571. I can’t seem to find this message in the OR. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p885. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p481-482. [↩]
- When the Devil Came to Dixie by Chester G. Hearny, LSU Press, 1997. [↩]