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From the Diary of Clara Solomon:

Federal Occupation of New Orleans

 

Clara Solomon


On April 25, 1862, after successfully navigating past forts Jackson and St. Philip near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Union Flag-Officer David G. Farragut and his squadron demanded the surrender of the City of New Orleans. This came to pass three days later, and on May 1 Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler’s troops began arriving in town. From that day until the end of the war, the Union Army occupied this important and strategic "international city"; the largest of the Confederacy.

In this journal entry, Clara writes of her experiences of the war during the early weeks of Union occupation. She also reveals her attraction to a few of the soldiers she had seen.

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Thursday, May 8th, 1862

6 ½ A.M. Two weeks have elapsed since the intelligence was first received that the Federal gun-boats had passed our forts. The time has seemed like months, but I am confident that when years shall elapse my recollection of that memorable time will be as vivid. And now I ask myself the question "what are we going to do?" Is not Pa coming home, or he is going to send for us. Can we live in this isolated condition, cut off from all communication with him. And yet I am hopeful, oh! so hopeful that all will yet be well....

Tuesday was characterized by no important event. Sewed all day, my favorite occupation, & almost finished a dress for [my younger sister] Fannie. Seven dresses is but one apiece. I have completely got out of the humour to study, so determined not to, but too brisk the storm of not knowing them. Remained sewing until 2 ½ when I proceeded to adorn my person. Wore my new dress with which I am in love. Eat [lunch] & then departed on my loathsome way. With what different feeling had I last trod that path [to school]. Then I breathed the air of a free city, now I breathed the air tainted by the breath of 3,000 Federals & trod a soil polluted by their touch….

After supper [dinner] we went to Mrs. N.'s [Sarah Nathan’s]…. Mrs. N. told us that she heard from a reliable source that [Union Major General Benjamin] Butler [whose troops now occupy the city of New Orleans] had opened the prison & allowed all the negroes to be released. It is this fear which alarms me. I fear more from the negroes than Yankees & an insurrection is my continual horror. But oh! so many rumors are afloat. We should make up our minds to believe nothing.

St. Charles HotelYesterday was a fine day & being desirous of seeing something & of getting out, she [Mrs. Nathan] concluded to go down town, & I & S. [my sister Sallie] was to accompany her. Our toilettes being made we stepped into the bus, a little after 12. Passed the scene of action the City Hall, & all flashed across me. The Square is still occupied by some [Union soldiers] & there are a few remaining tents there. But the St. Charles [Hotel]! My heart sank within me when I beheld it. Never in connection with the Yankees have I experienced such sensations. It looks to be a perfect wreck. They are loitering around it, lying down, playing cards, & their clothes hanging around. Oh! it was a loathsome sight, & I wondered how men could submit to it. I couldn’t.

Saw stragglers on my way to Canal St. & there saw more, who are strutting along with such an air of defiance as I never saw, so scornful, so unassuming. Their looks being, "We have conquered you". They were sporting uniforms with any quantity of brass buttons. Oh! that our streets should be ever disgraced. But few stores are opened & in some that we went Con. [Confederate] money was refused. This is to be ordinated as the Safety Committee are about issuing a currency, shin plasters [private currency notes] being one of our greatest nuisances. Canal St. did not present the same spectacle as in former times. There was a dearth of ladies, & everything reminded me of a ruin.

For the benefit of R.'s [our sister Rosa's]
we took a ride in the cars, & frequently would spy a Yankee. One tore my dress. A live Yankee stepped on it. They are subjected to every silent insult by the ladies. A car on Camp St. containing a number of the last named articles was hailed by some Fed. officers & as they walked in the ladies walked out. As some officers came into their pews in Church they vacated them, & it is said that they seemed to feel the insult.

We had a pleasant though solitary ride in the cars, which R. enjoyed excessively. On our arriving at Canal St. sought our own omnibus & I was wishing that the driver would be more dilatory than usual in coming to his post, as I had a most formidable opportunity to see what was going out. There were throngs of men, & contrary to commands I oftentimes saw more than six conversing together at the corners, which "no commander" forbids.

Had the good fortune to come up on the 'bus with [our acquaintance] Emile Jarreau! He is so handsome, & the circumstance of his having fought in the battle of Manassas tends to render him doubly attractive. He still wears a W.A. [Washington Artillery] badge. I wonder if "he isn't skeered of the Yankees". Repassed the wreck [the St. Charles Hotel], & as I gazed upon it tears voluntarily sufficed my eyes at the thought that one of our noblest institutions should be so disgraced as to be the abode of the invaders of our soil. Was assisted from "our carriage" by "Emile" & the pressure of his hand upon my "kidded" ["gloved"] one was felt for many moments after! Pshaw! Don't mind my foolishness. I am only in a jocular mood, so pardon all extravagances.

I perceived an unusual excitement around the Powells' house & was soon made wise of the fact from my own sense that the Yankees were at the door. I was all curiosity & subsequently learned that they, knowing that the house contained government stores, had come to take possession of them; the family left the city on the first day of the excitement. I took off my clothes, donned another dress, & went to the corner. Mrs. N. [Sarah Nathan] & Olivia [Marks] were standing at theirs, & by their invitation I joined them, & they insisted on my remaining to dinner, which I did. Mr. M. [Marks] informed us concerning news. Gen. Butler has allowed the Mayor & c. to resume their authorities, promising not to interfere with civil powers, but no confidence is placed in his word, & it is anticipated that he may at any moment violate it. Mr. N. [Sammy Nathan of the Crescent Artillery] however is charged with looking on the dark side of the picture & he prophecies that there are bad times in store for us….

The excitement at the corner increased & the tumult & confusion was great. I never dreamed that the quiet precincts of Hercules St. would they penetrate. Never imagined when looking at the house that it would be guarded by "Yankee sentinels". They laughed with the children, & seemed to be pleased & at their composure. I do not feel so vindictive towards the poor privates, but their wretched leaders are the ones for whom the gallows are awaiting. The juveniles including ours screamed the "Bonnie Blue Flag" & some daring ones waved the flag in their faces. They seemed to appreciate. What a novel sight they seem to be. A crowd will be following a single one, & yet I hear that their deportment has always been most gentlemanly & I also heard that there were many handsome ones. Take care of my heart, I must....


The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon: Growing Up in New Orleans, 1861-1862, edited by Elliott Ashkenazi, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 1995, pp. 354-357.

Image of Clara Solomon care of Alice Dale Cohan.

Image of St. Charles Hotel, circa 1865-1869, by William H. Leeson. This hotel was destroyed by fire in 1894. Image and information courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.

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