Louisiana Civil War History

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Louisiana in the American Civil War

Louisiana Civil War History


Louisiana became the 18th U.S. state on April 30, 1812, but on January 26, 1861, it severed ties with the Union to join the Confederate States of America.

Louisiana was inhabited by Native Americans for many millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. Much of the state was formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, leaving enormous deltas and vast areas of coastal marsh and swamp. These contain a rich southern biota; typical examples include birds such as ibis and egrets. There are also many species of tree frogs, and fish such as sturgeon and paddlefish. In more elevated areas, fire is a natural process in the landscape, and has produced extensive areas of longleaf pine forest and wet savannas. These support an exceptionally large number of plant species including many species of orchids and carnivorous plants.

Some Louisiana urban environments have a multicultural, multilingual heritage, being so strongly influenced by an admixture of 18th century French, Spanish, Native American (Indian) and African cultures that they are considered to be somewhat exceptional in the U.S. Before the American influx and statehood at the beginning of the 19th century, the territory of current Louisiana State had been a Spanish and French colony. In addition, the pattern of development included importing numerous African slaves in the 18th century, with many from the same region of West Africa, thus concentrating their culture. By 1860, 47% of the Louisiana population was enslaved. The state also had one of the largest free black populations in the United States. Much of the white population, particularly in the cities, supported states’ rights and slavery, while pockets of support for the Federal government existed in the more rural areas.

When the Civil War began in 1861, New Orleans, which is located by the mouth of the Mississippi River, was the 6th largest city in the U.S. and single largest city of the newly formed Confederate States of America. Significantly larger than Chicago according to the 1860 U.S. census, the populated coastal city would fall shortly after becoming a major objective or target of the Union military. During the War of 1812, Louisiana witnessed the lopsided American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and, unlike every other state of the Union, the Bayou State was situated closest to Mexico when the two neighboring nations fought from 1846 to 1848. In the two prior conflicts, Louisiana had also acted as a mustering station for U.S. forces, but now found itself host to the strategic port locale of New Orleans. Although the prized transportation hub capitulated in early 1862, Confederate forces would offer stiff resistance throughout the remainder of the state for the duration of the war. Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor, was a Louisianan who held command of the entity called the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, with some 12,000 troops, and on May 4, 1865, his command was one the last organized armies to surrender.

Louisiana Purchase Map
Louisiana Purchase Map.jpg
Louisiana Civil War Map

Louisiana Purchase Agreement

When the Louisiana Territory was purchased for less than 4 cents an acre in 1803, it doubled the size of the United States. This massive land acquisition was accomplished without war or the loss of a single American life, and set a precedent for the purchase of additional territory.

When the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, one of its major concerns was having a European power on its western boundary, and the need for unrestricted access to the Mississippi River. As American settlers pushed west, they found that the Appalachian Mountains provided a barrier to shipping goods eastward. The easiest way to ship produce was to use a flatboat to float it down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the port of New Orleans, from whence goods could be put on ocean-going vessels. The problem with this route was that the Spanish owned both sides of the Mississippi below Natchez. Napoleon's ambitions in Louisiana involved the creation of a new empire centered on the Caribbean sugar trade. By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of 1800, Great Britain returned ownership of the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe to the French. Napoleon looked upon Louisiana as a depot for these sugar islands, and as a buffer to U.S. settlement. In October 1801 he sent a large military force to conquer the important island of Santo Domingo and re-introduced slavery, which had been abolished in St. Domingue following a slave revolt there in 1792-3, and the legal and constitutional abolition of slavery in French colonies in 1794.

When the army led by Napoleon's brother-in-law Leclerc was defeated by the forces opposed to the re-enslavement of most of the population of St. Domingue, Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana.

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was disturbed by Napoleon's plans to re-establish French colonies in America. With the possession of New Orleans, Napoleon could close the Mississippi to U.S. commerce at any time. Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase of the City of New Orleans, portions of the east bank of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce. Livingston was authorized to pay up to $2 million.

An official transfer of Louisiana to French ownership had not yet taken place, and Napoleon's deal with the Spanish was a poorly kept secret on the frontier. On October 18, 1802, however, Juan Ventura Morales, Acting Intendant of Louisiana, made public the intention of Spain to revoke the right of deposit at New Orleans for all cargo from the United States. The closure of this vital port to the United States caused anger and consternation. Commerce in the west was virtually blockaded. Historians believe that the revocation of the right of deposit was prompted by abuses of the Americans, particularly smuggling, and not by French intrigues as was believed at the time. President Jefferson ignored public pressure for war with France, and appointed James Monroe a special envoy to Napoleon, to assist in obtaining New Orleans for the United States. Jefferson also raised the authorized expenditure to $10 million.

However, on April 11, 1803, French Foreign Minister Talleyrand surprised Livingston by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area (as Livingston's instructions covered). Monroe agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at any time (leaving them with no ability to obtain the desired New Orleans area), and that approval from President Jefferson might take months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately. By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory of 828,000 square miles for 60 million Francs (approximately $15 million). Part of this sum was used to forgive debts owed by France to the United States. The payment was made in United States bonds, which Napoleon sold at face value to the Dutch firm of Hope and Company, and the British banking house of Baring, at a discount of 87½ per each $100 unit. As a result, France received only $8,831,250 in cash for Louisiana. Dutiful English banker Alexander Baring conferred with Marbois in Paris, shuttled to the United States to pick up the bonds, took them to Britain, and returned to France with the money – which Napoleon used to wage war against Baring's own country.

When news of the purchase reached the United States, Jefferson was surprised. He had authorized the expenditure of $10 million for a port city, and instead received treaties committing the government to spend $15 million on a land package which would double the size of the country. Jefferson's political opponents in the Federalist Party argued that the Louisiana Purchase was a worthless desert, and that the Constitution did not provide for the acquisition of new land or negotiating treaties without the consent of the Senate. What really worried the opposition was the new states which would inevitably be carved from the Louisiana territory, strengthening Western and Southern interests in Congress, and further reducing the influence of New England Federalists in national affairs. President Jefferson was an enthusiastic supporter of westward expansion, and held firm in his support for the treaty. Despite Federalist objections, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana treaty on October 20, 1803.

A transfer ceremony was held in New Orleans on November 29, 1803. Since the Louisiana territory had never officially been turned over to the French, the Spanish took down their flag, and the French raised theirs. The following day, General James Wilkinson accepted possession of New Orleans for the United States. A similar ceremony was held in St. Louis on March 9, 1804, when a French tricolor was raised near the river, replacing the Spanish national flag. The following day, Captain Amos Stoddard of the First U.S. Artillery marched his troops into town and had the American flag run up the fort's flagpole. The Louisiana territory was officially transferred to the United States government, represented by Meriwether Lewis.

Louisiana Slavery Map
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Louisiana in the Civil War Map

The history of slavery in the territory currently known as Louisiana began before its settlement by Europeans, as Native Americans also reduced captured enemies to the status of slaves. Following Robert Cavelier de La Salle establishing the French claim to the territory, and the introduction of the name Louisiana, the French developed their first settlements at Natchitoches (1713) and New Orleans (1718), and introduced slavery. The institution was maintained by the Spanish (1763–1800) when the area was known as new Spain, by the French when they returned (1800--1803) and by the United States, following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

When France sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803, it was soon accepted that enslaved Africans could be brought there as easily as they were brought to neighboring Mississippi though it violated U.S. law to do so. Though Louisiana was, at the start of the 19th century, a small producer of sugar with a relatively small number of slaves, it soon became a big sugar producer after plantation owners purchased enslaved people who had been transported from Africa and then to South Carolina before being sold in Louisiana where plantation owners forced the captive labor to work at no pay on their growing sugar cane plantations. Despite demands by United States Rep. James Hillhouse and by the pamphleteer Thomas Paine to enforce existing Federal law against slavery in the newly acquired territory, slavery prevailed because it was the source of great profits and the lowest cost labor. The last Spanish governor of the Louisiana territory wrote that "Truly, it is impossible for lower Louisiana to get along without slaves" and with the use of slaves, the colony had been "making great strides toward prosperity and wealth." Forced slave labor was needed, said William C. C. Claiborne, Louisiana's first United States governor, because unforced white laborers "cannot be had in this unhealthy climate." Hugh Thomas wrote that Claiborne was unable to enforce the abolition of trafficking in human beings where he was charged with doing so in Louisiana.

The demand for slavery increased among U.S. settlers in Louisiana and other parts of the Deep South after the invention of the cotton gin (1793) and the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The cotton gin allowed the processing of short-staple cotton, which thrived in the upland areas. It made possible a new commodity crop in northern Louisiana, although sugar cane continued to be predominant in the southern part of the territory. The northern area of the state became another outpost for the "Cotton Empire", which soon encompassed neighboring states, such as Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas. The Mississippi River delta area around New Orleans created the ideal alluvial soil necessary for the growing of sugar cane. Sugar was the prime export of Louisiana during the antebellum period.

In 1811, the largest slave revolt in American history took place outside New Orleans, as slaves rebelled against the brutal work regimens of sugar plantations. The 1811 German Coast Uprising ended with white militias hunting down black slaves, lopping off their heads, and placing the piked heads on the levees.

Slavery was officially abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment which took effect on December 18, 1865. Slavery had been theoretically abolished by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation which proclaimed, in 1863, that slaves located in territories still in rebellion against the United States were free. In some areas, slaves left their plantations to seek Union lines for freedom. If located too far away, they were often held in servitude until the U.S. gained control of the South.

Louisiana Secession Map
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Secession of Southern States Map


Louisiana seceded from the Union on January 26, 1861.

Sentiment statewide in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans, opposed secession as expressed in the popular vote in November 1860. However, when Lincoln, a northern Republican, was elected, the state’s attitudes changed. Influenced by South Carolina, voters elected delegates to a secession convention in January 1861, where secession was declared.

On January 8, 1861, Louisiana Governor Thomas Overton Moore ordered the Louisiana militia to occupy the Federal arsenal at Baton Rouge and the Union forts guarding New Orleans, Jackson and St. Philip. A wealthy planter and slave holder, Moore acted aggressively to engineer the secession of Louisiana from the Union by a convention on January 23. Only five percent of the public were represented in the convention, and the states military actions were ordered before secession had been established, in defiance of the state constitution which called for a popular referendum to establish a convention. These actions were justified by Moore's statement: "I do not think it comports with the honor and self-respect of Louisiana as a slaveholding state to live under the government of a Black Republican president." The strategies advanced to defend Louisiana and the other gulf states of the Confederacy were first, the idea of King Cotton, that an unofficial embargo of cotton to Europe would force England to use their navy to intervene in protecting the new Confederate nation. The second was a privateer fleet established by the issue of letters of marque and reprisal by President Jefferson Davis, which would sweep the sea clear of Federal naval and commercial ships, and in concert sustain Louisiana's booming port economy. The third was a reliance on the ring of pre-war masonry forts of the Third System of American coastal defense, combined with a fleet of revolutionary new ironclads, to safeguard the mouth of the Mississippi from the Federal navy. All of these strategies were failures.

The Federal response to Moore's leveraged secession was embodied in U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's realization that the Mississippi river was the "backbone of the Rebellion." If control of the river were accomplished, the largest city in the Confederacy would be retaken for the Union, and the Confederacy would be split in half. Lincoln would move rapidly to back Admiral David Dixon Porter's idea of a naval advance up the Mississippi to both capture New Orleans and maintain his political supporters by supplying cotton to northeastern textile industries and renewing trade and exports from the Mississippi. The Union navy would become both a formidable invasion force, and a means of transporting Union armies along the Mississippi and its tributaries. This strategic vision would prove victorious in Louisiana.

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Louisiana had a free population of 376,276 and an additional slave population of 331,726. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), more than 24,000 blacks from Louisiana joined the Union army, the largest black contingent from any state.

During the conflict, 56,000 Louisianians served in the Confederate army and fought in practically every major battle of the war, and the state was host to numerous skirmishes, campaigns and major battles. A compilation made from the official rosters of the Confederate Armies as they stood at various battles, and at various dates covering the entire period of the war, shows that Louisiana kept the following number of regimental organizations in almost continuous service in the field: 34 regiments, and 10 battalions of infantry; 2 regiments, and 1 battalion of cavalry; 1 regiment of partisan rangers; 2 regiments of heavy artillery; and 26 batteries of light artillery. In the course of the Civil War, Louisiana suffered at least 7,000 killed and several thousands more wounded.

A number of notable leaders were associated with Louisiana during the Civil War, including some of the Confederate Army's senior ranking generals, as well as several men who led brigades and divisions. Antebellum Louisiana residents P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, and Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) all commanded significant independent armies during the war. Taylor's forces were among the last active Confederate armies in the field when the war concluded. Henry Watkins Allen led a brigade during the middle of the war before becoming the Confederate Governor of Louisiana from 1864–65. Randall L. Gibson, another competent brigade commander, would later become a U.S. Senator. Other brigadiers of note included Alfred Mouton (killed at the Battle of Mansfield), Harry T. Hays, Chatham Roberdeau Wheat (commander of the celebrated "Louisiana Tigers" of the Army of Northern Virginia), and Francis T. Nicholls (commander of the "Pelican Brigade" until he lost his left foot at Chancellorsville). St. John Lidell was a prominent brigade commander in the Army of Tennessee. Henry Gray, a wealthy plantation owner from Bienville Parish, was a brigadier general under Richard Taylor before being elected to the Second Confederate Congress late in the war. Leroy A. Stafford was among a handful of Louisiana generals to be killed during the war. Albert Gallatin Blanchard was a rarity—a Confederate general born in Massachusetts.

Louisiana Civil War Battles and Forts
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Louisiana Civil War Map with Forts and Major Battles and Actions

One of Louisiana’s most prominent citizens, P.G.T. Beauregard, commanded the Confederate forces in Charleston, S.C., which fired on Fort Sumter. Soon the Union objective in Louisiana became the control of the Mississippi River on the state’s border, in order to prevent a division of Union forces East and West. Louisiana was also a major transportation corridor for supplies and the shipyard at New Orleans built the ironclads Mississippi and Louisiana and the gunboats Livingston and Carondelet.

Louisiana Civil War Map of Battles
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Louisiana Civil War Battlefield Map

New Orleans, Louisiana, the largest city in the entire South, was strategically important as a port city due to its location along the Mississippi River and its access to the Gulf of Mexico, thus the United States War Department planned on its capture. It was captured by Federal troops on April 25, 1862. Because a portion of the population had Union sympathies (or compatible commercial interests), the Federal government took the unusual step of designating the areas of Louisiana then under Federal control as a state within the Union, with its own elected representatives to the U.S. Congress. For the latter part of the war, both the Union and the Confederacy recognized their own distinct Louisiana governors.

Louisiana Governor Thomas Overton Moore held office from 1860 through early 1864. When war broke out in 1861, he unsuccessfully lobbied the Confederate government in Richmond for a strong defense of New Orleans. Two days before the city surrendered in April 1862, Moore and the legislature abandoned Baton Rouge as the state capital, relocating to Opelousas in May. Thomas Moore organized military resistance at the state level, ordered the burning of cotton, cessation of trade with the Union forces, and heavily recruited troops for the state militia.

Since New Orleans was recognized as a major manufacturing and strategic center, it became an early military target and was captured by Union forces in 1862. Admiral David Farragut captured Forts Jackson and St. Philip down the river from New Orleans. The gentlewomen of New Orleans reacted violently to the military occupation of their city by Union troops. Many of them displayed their defiance by wearing emblems on their clothing showing support for the Confederacy. Some verbally abused and hurled objects at Union soldiers. Finally, when the contents of a chamber pot were dumped from a balcony and onto the head of Admiral Farragut, Union General Benjamin Butler issued "Order Number 28," which promised to treat the women "as a woman of the town plying her avocation."

The order greatly insulted the citizens of New Orleans, and, in fact, drew a worldwide reaction—mostly condemning Butler's bold action. But, after the order was issued, most of the insults and displays of hatred and contempt were halted. One of the more significant Civil War sites in Louisiana is Port Hudson, which surrendered on July 9, 1863, severing the last link between the eastern part of the Confederacy and the Trans-Mississippi. From May 23 to July 9, 1863, Confederate soldiers held off a Union force twice its strength during the longest siege in American military history. The Battle of Port Hudson was one of the first battles in which freed blacks serving as soldiers engaged in combat on the side of the Union. During the Civil War, more than 24,000 blacks from Louisiana joined the Union army, the largest black contingent from any state. The 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guard, organized in September 1862, was the first black regiment in the U. S. Army. Louisiana's black soldiers distinguished themselves in several battles, particularly at Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend. Seven Medals of Honor were awarded to white and black Louisianans who fought for the Union.

The publicized Red River Campaign, or Red River Expedition, consisted of a series of skirmishes and battles fought along the Red River in Louisiana from March 10 to May 22, 1864. The campaign was a Union initiative, fought between approximately 30,000 Union troops under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, and Confederate troops under the command of Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, whose strength varied from 6,000 to 15,000. The campaign was primarily the plan of Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and a diversion from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's plan to surround the main Confederate armies by using Banks's Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. It was a Union failure, characterized by poor planning and mismanagement, in which not a single objective was fully accomplished. Taylor successfully defended the Red River Valley with a smaller force.


New Orleans remained an important port city during Reconstruction, but it faced an ever-increasing threat from the railroads. Louisiana sugar planters, unable to pay wartime debts, lost much of their land to Northern investors. Though some of the land was redistributed to former slaves, the plantation system largely persisted.

By the end of the war, Louisiana was deeply divided due to the areas that had been occupied by the Union army. In some of these areas, residents wanted to follow a policy of conciliation. However, others had lost family and friends in the Confederate army, and also resisted changes in race relations brought by emancipation. The Federal government began experiments in Reconstruction policies earlier in Louisiana, further dividing citizens about the future of the state. The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to Union occupied territory in Louisiana. In 1864, however, Louisiana responded to a call from President Lincoln for Southern states to rejoin the Union. The state rewrote its constitution to abolish slavery, but to prohibit African Americans from voting.

Louisiana Civil War Map of Battlefields
High Resolution Map of Louisiana.jpg
High Resolution Map of Louisiana


Louisiana 10% electorate plan

President Abraham Lincoln desired a speedy restoration of the Confederate states to the Union after the Civil War. In 1863, President Lincoln had proposed a moderate plan for the Reconstruction of the captured Confederate State of Louisiana. The plan granted amnesty to Rebels who took an oath of loyalty to the Union. Black Freedmen workers would labor on plantations for one year at $10 a month pay. Only 10% of the state's electorate had to take the loyalty oath in order for the state to be readmitted into U.S. Congress. The state was required to abolish slavery in its new constitution. Identical Reconstruction plans would be adopted in Arkansas and Tennessee. By December 1864, the Lincoln plan of Reconstruction had been enacted in Louisiana and the legislature sent two Senators and five Representatives to take their seats in Washington. However, Congress refused to count any of the votes from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, in essence rejecting Lincoln's moderate Reconstruction plan. Congress, at this time controlled by the Radicals, proposed the Wade–Davis Bill that required a majority of the state electorates to take the oath of loyalty to be admitted to Congress. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill and the rift widened between the moderates, who wanted to save the Union and win the war, and the Radicals, who wanted to effect a more complete change within Southern society. Frederick Douglass denounced Lincoln's 10% electorate plan undemocratic since state admission and loyalty only depended on a minority vote.

Because of the early capitulation of New Orleans and Lincoln's subsequent 10% plan, numerous Northerners moved to Louisiana during Reconstruction. Known as carpetbaggers, the Northerners profited handsomely during Reconstruction, thus fueling deadly feuds that would last for decades. Scalawags, white Southerners who supported Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, also caused resentment among the state's majority, which at times turned deadly.

Civil War History by States, Region, and Locale:

Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; US Census Bureau; Davis, William C. (1991). Fighting Men of the Civil War. Smithmark Publishers Inc.. ISBN 0-8317-3264-4; Hearn, Chester G. (1995). The Capture of New Orleans 1862. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-1945-8; Johnson, Ludwell H. (1993). Red River Campaign, Politics & Cotton in the Civil War. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-486-5; The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana's Cane World, 1820–1860 by Richard Follett Louisiana State University Press 2007. ISBN 978-0-8071-3247-0; The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870 by Hugh Thomas. 1997: Simon and Schuster; Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis 2006: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533944-4; The standard history of the state, though only through the Civil War, is Charles Gayarré's History of Louisiana (various editions, culminating in 1866, 4 vols., with a posthumous and further expanded edition in 1885); A number of accounts by 17th and 18th century French explorers: Jean-Bernard Bossu, François-Marie Perrin du Lac, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix, Dumont (as published by Fr. Mascrier), Fr. Louis Hennepin, Lahontan, Louis Narcisse Baudry des Lozières, Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe, and Laval. In this group, the explorer Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz may be the first historian of Louisiana with his Histoire de la Louisiane (3 vols., Paris, 1758; 2 vols., London, 1763); François Xavier Martin's History of Louisiana (2 vols., New Orleans, 1827–1829, later ed. by J. F. Condon, continued to 1861, New Orleans, 1882) is the first scholarly treatment of the subject, along with François Barbé-Marbois' Histoire de la Louisiane et de la cession de colonie par la France aux Etats-Unis (Paris, 1829; in English, Philadelphia, 1830); Alcée Fortier's A History of Louisiana (N.Y., 4 vols., 1904); The official works of Albert Phelps and Grace King and the publications of the Louisiana Historical Society and several works on the history of New Orleans (q.v.), among them those by Henry Rightor and John Smith Kendall provide background.


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