Civil War Talk Radio: February 27, 2009

by Brett Schulte on February 28, 2009 · 1 comment

Air Date: 022709
Subject: The Mutiny at Fort Jackson and Civil War Era New Orleans
Book: Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans
Guest: Dr. Michael D. Pierson

Summary: Guest Michael D. Pierson talks about the little known mutiny at Fort Jackson while a Federal force attacked New Orleans’ defenses by sea.

Brett’s Summary: Guest donations can be sent to civilwartr@aol.com.  Civil War Talk Radio’s new web site is at: http://cwtr.org

Dr. Pierson is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.  He has been interested in the Civil War since high school, where he belonged to a Civil War Roundtable.  He studied history at Gettysburg College and got his Masters and Ph.D. at SUNY Binghamton.

Dr. Pierson first started on the project in 1993.  He became interested in writing a book on the subject because it had previously received only “a sentence or two” in most books covering the fall of New Orleans.  Fort Jackson is 65 miles south of New Orleans on the Mississippi River.  It combined with Ft. St. Philip to form the main line of defense against a naval attack.

The Union naval force consisted of warships and more lightly armed and armored supply and transport ships.  The Union strategy was to bombard the forts with mortars and then took his warships past the forts in the darkness.  His warships then proceeded to New Orleans itself.

Dr. Pierson comments that the traditional military portion of the campaign was over at that point, but he comments that there is more to the story.  Farragut couldn’t bombard New Orleans and he couldn’t get the unarmored transports past the forts until they surrendered.  The forts at that point had six weeks worth of food and plenty of ammunition.  If they had held out, according to the author, the Confederates could have still won the campaign.

Late on April 27, 1862, the men of Ft. Jackson mutinied against their officers and demanded that the fort stop firing.  Their officers resisted this demand, and the men actually shot at their officers as a result.  The officers were then forced to cave to their demands and 250-300 Confederate soldiers surrendered to a lesser number of Union infantry.  The remaining 300 loyal Confederate troops eventually decided to surrender on April 28, 1862.

Gerry asks why the men did this.  Dr. Pierson at first thought some Southern leaning historians decided to skip over the event because it was embarrassing to the Confederacy.  However, he quickly found there were no real records from the mutineers at all.  As a result, he made several inferences over the course of writing the book that he hopes make a convincing argument to answer the question why.

There were three units in the garrison, one Dr, Pierson calls “diverse”.  Eight companies are present, with seven of these mutinying.  The loyal company, the St. Mary’s Cannoneers, were unfortunately for the Confederates stationed outside the fort.  The mutineers knew these men would not help, so they made sure to keep the loyal Confederates out.  These men were from St. Mary’s Parish, a wealthy sugar-growing Parish which relied on slaves to a great extent.

The mutineers, the other seven companies, were recruited from urban New Orleans and were primarily non-slaveholding wage earners.  These men relied much less on slavery and eventually decided the United States could make New Orleans more profitable than the Confederacy in the long run.  About a third of the garrison was first generation German-Americans.  These men believed in democracy and considered slavery wrong.

In an ironic twist, the hero of New Orleans Andrew Jackson was and his ideas of democracy were held in contempt by the Confederate leaders of New Orleans.  Industrial wage earners realized that these leaders would eventually cause them to lose their jobs as they were replaced with slave labor.

Pierson talks a little about Ben Butler’s time as the leader of the occupying Union forces in New Orleans.  He believes the standard story isn’t completely accurate.  He found it surprising just how quickly New Orleans became comfortable with the Union occupation.  He says there was a large Union presence in New Orleans, and that these people were happy to cooperate with the Union forces.  He found a lot of evidence to attest to this and believes New Orleans was a truly Union city by the end of 1862.

Although Dr. Pierson did not make it into the details of the mutiny, I found this hour to be an interesting one.  I found it fascinating that the city of New Orleans was so divided in its loyalties.  I believe I will be buying the author’s book very soon.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Coly Hope March 1, 2009 at 10:18 pm

The residents from New Orleans did not want to secede because they were a port city and the Union blockade hurt them. I believe a majority of the citizens from Vicksburg did not want to secede for that same reason.

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