April 26, 1862 (Saturday)
“The city is yours by the power of brutal force and not by any choice or consent of its inhabitants,” wrote New Orleans’ Mayor John Monroe to Union Flag Officer David Farragut, whose eleven war ships lay off the city, and whose public had whipped themselves into an absolute fury. “I beg you to understand that the people of New Orleans,” he continued, “while unable at this moment to prevent you from occupying this city, do not transfer their allegiance from the government of their choice to one which they have deliberately repudiated, and that they yield simply that obedience which the conqueror is enabled to extort from the conquered.”1
Earlier that morning, Flag Officer Farragut (who was apparently taking his rank quite literally on this date), sent a letter demanding not only the surrender of New Orleans, but that no other flag but the flag of the United States be permitted to fly over the City Hall, the Mint or the Custom House, all previously-owned Federal property. Farragut upped his ante in another letter shortly following his first. He demanded that all displays of flags that aren’t the United States flag “may be the cause of bloodshed” if allowed to fly in the presence of his fleet. 2
To write such sentiments was one thing, but to deliver them through a blood-thirsty mob, was entirely something else. Farragut sent the dispatches with Captain Albert Kautz, a midshipman, and twenty marines. Before leaving, Kautz was assured by Farragut that if they were fired upon, he would open all the guns of his fleet upon the town, leveling it.
When the disembarking marines caught the reddened eyes of the throng, a roar went up, and cries of “shoot, you damned Yankees, shoot!” were thrown at the Federals. Hoping to clear the way, the marines leveled their guns, taking aim at the widening mob. With hundreds or thousands before them, the marines prepared to fire. The body of citizens before them begged the troops to open. In the crowd, Captain Kautz saw an officer of the city police force. He pulled him aside and told him that they were trying to get to the mayor’s office to deliver a demand to surrender. The officer agreed to usher them through, but only if he left the marines behind. Kautz agreed, as he and the midshipman were ran through the masses.
While all this was happening, or perhaps a little before, Farragut ordered one of his officers to raise a United States flag over the Mint, as it was United States property and conveniently located near his fleet. A few Federals did so without the mob paying too much attention. The thong, instead focused upon City Hall, towards which Captain Kautz was headed.
Finally, Kautz arrived at City Hall and met with the mayor, who refused to surrender, but allowed that New Orleans was already occupied “by the power of brutal force.” During the discussion, a United States flag, torn apart and mutilated, was hurled into the window of the city council chambers. Kautz had no idea what to make of it. Nobody at the time did.
This flag hurled through the window just happened to be the same flag just unfurled above the Mint. Though it had been craftily drawn up the staff, several citizens took notice of it almost immediately. Led by New Orleans citizen, William Mumford, the flag was just as quickly drawn to the ground and shredded.3 The following day, the press boldly stated his name, and wrote of his daring actions. This revelation, however, would come to haunt him.4
The crowd demanded blood and escaping from City Hall might not be as simple as it had been the previous day. Again, the Federal officers were hurried out the back, escorted by the mayor’s secretary, Marion Baker, who had been acting as a go between for Farragut and Mayor Monroe. They boarded a carriage and sped away, but not before the multitude could take notice. Though the mayor had poked his head out the window to try and distract the crowd, a good number of them pursued the carriage anyway.
But even the heartiest of New Orleans’ citizenry couldn’t keep up with a horse-drawn carriage for long, and the riders soon arrived safely at the wharf.
That night, the mayor called upon the European Brigade, a city militia unit made up of foreign elements, to keep order in the streets. A 9pm curfew was enforced and martial law was ordered over New Orleans by the mayor, now apparently the leader of the city’s military.5
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 18, p231-232. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 18, p230-231. [↩]
- Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 2 edited by Robert Underwood Johnson, Century Co., 1887. Report of Captain Albert Kautz. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p505. From Butler’s report. [↩]
- Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 2 edited by Robert Underwood Johnson, Century Co., 1887. Report of Marion Baker. [↩]