Monday, March 10, 2014

New Taskmasters Bring Looting and Social Chaos


Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox, who often relayed Lincoln's views informally to field commanders, wrote General Benjamin Butler in mid-May, 1862 of the important but delicate nature of his occupation of lower Louisiana.  His task was "drawing back into the ark the wanderers and the deluded," apparently referring to Louisiana citizens who preferred forming a more perfect union. 

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

New Taskmasters Bring Looting and Social Chaos

"Butler acted as his own recruiting officer.  From the floating population of surrendered Confederate troops, the Irish Ninth Connecticut recruited 350 unemployed Irishmen.  The First and Second Louisiana and the "Native Guard" regiment of free Negroes were mustered into United States service.  [Later fearing Confederate attack and evacuating Baton Rouge,] the Union soldiery had partially sacked the place.  "Even officers' tents are filled with furniture from deserted houses," reported Colonel D.W. McMillan.  In withdrawing his troops Butler ordered the destruction of the city . . .

In October Butler sent [a general] with five regiments into the rich farming area to the west of New Orleans known as the Lafource Country.  Here the masters of the great sugar plantations, as reported by the Northern press, lived in "barbaric splendor," [and] when Weitzel appeared, these planters fled.  Everywhere the slaves "bressed God that Massa Linkum had come."

The butternut-colored [free black] troops of the [newly-impressed] Butler Guards inspired the Negroes everywhere to pack up loot for themselves and join the Yankees.  Soon every private in Weitzel's  army had a dozen servants, some officers had fifty.  The New York Times reported that social chaos had come: "negroes, horses, mules, private carriages, old and new wagons  [and] tapestry carpets, rich furniture, Sevres china . . . all mingled in an inextricable mass of confusion."

The escaped contrabands held high carnival, feasting on chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle. In fierce prayer meetings they invoked God's "bressing" for "Massa Linkum," destruction for the [Louisiana patriots] and success to the Northern Army.

They begged the Almighty to punish their former taskmasters, whom they likened to frogs sitting on a log, with a big alligator (the United States Army) "goblin' up some and runnin' de 'res into the bayou, bress God."

(Lincoln's Scapegoat General, A Life of General Benjamin Butler, Richard S. West, Jr., Houghton McMillan, 1965, pp. 168-170)