|The "Louisiana Outrages", as illustrated in Harper's Weekly, 1874|
In the shadow of the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era, , the Battle of Liberty Place took place on September 14th, 1874. Make no mistake about it, it was an uprising, an attempted coup d'état of a state government. Yes, an armed insurrection all planned out by the Democrat Party wanting to overturn Republican control of the government, the Reconstruction government, there at the time.
A coup d'état is the violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. In this case the attempted insurrection pit the Democrat Party's Crescent City White League against the Reconstruction Era Louisiana state government in New Orleans which was the capital of Louisiana at the time.
How big was it? Well, it is said that 5,000 members of the White League targeted the New Orleans Metropolitan Police Department and Louisiana state militia which combined only numbered about 2,000 members.
So why did this take place? Well, it had a lot to do with the election of 1872 which was a disputed 1872 gubernatorial election. The dispute started after which Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Pitt Kellogg both claimed victory.
In that election, John McEnery, a Democrat, was supported by a coalition of Democrats and anti-Grant groups which included some Republicans. Among those Republicans not happy with President Grant was Louisiana Governor Henry C. Warmoth. Warmoth's opponents in the Republican Party remained loyal to President Grant, and supported the Republican Party nominee, William Pitt Kellogg. Warmoth didn't. Today, we would call Warmoth a "Republican In Name Only."
Kellogg had charged election fraud because of the violence and intimidation that took place at and near the polls, because Democrats tried to intimidate Black voters in an effort to suppress Black voting. But no, that didn't stop Warmoth from appointing a State Returning Board which administered elections. That politically appointed board declared Democrat McEnery the winner. But, another election board declared Kellogg the winner. In fact, both McEnery and Kellogg had inaugural parties and certified lists of appointed local officeholders.
Then, believe it or not, stating that he was attempting to "stealing" the election, the Louisiana state legislature voted and impeached Warmoth and removed him from office. Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback became Governor for the last 35 days of Warmoth's term.
The Democrat Party's paramilitary arm of the party known as the White League entered the city with a force of 5,000 to seat Democrat McEnery as governor. Immediately fighting broke out and the White League launched attacks against the 3,500 man police and state militia for control.
Some say it all started when self-proclaimed Lieutenant Governor D. B. Penn made a proclamation calling out the militia of the state to assemble "for the purpose of driving the usurpers from power". But frankly, that was at 4pm.
Earlier at 3pm, armed men of the White League were already stationed at the intersection of all streets on the south side of Canal Street from the river to Clayborne street.
The self-proclaimed Lieutenant Governor D. B. Penn then appointed Frederick Nash Ogden of the White League as "Provisional General" of the "Louisiana State Militia". After that, Penn issued a statement to Blacks in Louisiana stating that their rights and property would not be harmed.
At 4pm, a body of New Orleans militia, known as "Metropolitans," consisting of the police, cavalry and even an artillery piece, arrived at Canal Street. They immediately ordered the armed citizens to disperse. Some say the New Orleans forces were commanded by former Confederate General James Longstreet. When General Longstreet tried to stop the fighting, he was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet. Some say he was taken prisoner by the White League. General Longstreet and Governor-elect Kellogg ended up taking refuge with the Federal troops in the Custom House.
As for the Metropolitans, it's said that once the shooting started, they broke and the White League captured their cannon. The White League then captured City Hall, the armory, and the fire alarm telegraph. From there they built a barricade along Poydras Street from there to the canal.
During this time, a company of Federal troops protected the custom house, but were not involved in the initial conflict. This is all while the White League held the portion of the city above the canal. They massed at Jackson Square and the St. Louis Hotel. Their barricades were made with overturned street cars.
Who was the White League? Well if you've never heard of the White League, like the Ku Klux Klan, they were a paramilitary organization of the Democrat Party. Yes, they were fully sanctioned and supported by the Democrat Party. And like the KKK, the White League was made up largely of Confederate veterans.
The Democrat's White League used the excuse that the Republican government was corrupt and illegally in place after the war. And when they decided to take action, they held the statehouse, the armory, and downtown New Orleans for three days. They actually only retreated just before the arrival of Federal troops which were sent there by President Grant to restore the elected government. And surprisingly, no one was ever charged in the action.
The White League defeated the state militia, and occupied the state house and armory for three days. In the meanwhile, Kellogg wired for Federal troops to assist in restoring order. And within three days, President Ulysses S. Grant sent Federal troops there to do just that. The White League retreated from New Orleans before the federal troops arrived. Under Martial Law, the Federal government certified Kellogg as the governor and C. C. Antoine as lieutenant-governor.
It's true, by September 17th, Federal troops arrived and the situation reversed itself. The unit's commanding officer General William H. Emory met with Democrats and their paramilitary leaders of the White League. And surprisingly, no one was ever prosecuted. Even though during this conflict the White League inflicted at least 100 casualties, they were assured that prosecution would not take place even though lives were lost. All if they would stop their insurgency. Imagine that.
In exchange with blanket clemency, with not prosecuting those involved in the killings, General Emory demanded the restoration of the state government, the return of arms taken from the state armory, and the resumption of peace in New Orleans. The Democrat Party leaders agreed insisting that no show of force from Federal troops was necessary since it was just a protest.
But even though Democrats agreed to General Emory's demands, as a cautionary measure, President Grant ordered the 22nd U.S. Infantry to proceed to New Orleans under General Irvin McDowell. and the USS Colorado, the USS Kansas, and the USS Shawmut under the command of Admiral James Robert Madison Mullany be sent to New Orleans. President Grant also ordered the 13th Regiment under the command of General Philippe Régis de Trobriand to take a position in the city to protect the state government from another attempted coup.
And believe it or not, a few months later on January 4th, 1875, Louisiana Governor Kellogg was forced to request the aid of General Trobriand to eject Democrats from the legislature. The eight democrat decided to proclaimed themselves legislators and decided that they had the right to be there even though they had not been certified as legitimately elected. Trobriand entered the state house with some men at the governor's request, and escorted the eight Democrats after each gave speeches of objection.
Those Democrats did not returned, instead, believe it or not, they actually set up an alternate state legislature which held their meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall in the city. Because of the tensions, General Trobriand and his 13th Regiment stayed in the city until January of 1877.
Because of President Grant's swift actions and taking the threat seriously enough to send both the U.S. Army and Navy warships to New Orleans, by September 21st, the surrender was complete and the temporary police force in the city was replaced by the regular forces.
Once the Democrat Party regained political control, they brought about many changes including Jim Crow laws, segregation, disenfranchising both Republicans and Blacks including attempts to stop them from voting and holding office. Of course continued violence and intimidation from the Democrat's paramilitary groups the White League and the Ku Klux Klan was a way of life at the time.
Then in 1891, the city of New Orleans actually erected a white marble obelisk on Canal Street to commemorate and celebrate the insurrection known as the Battle of Liberty Place. And while we've all heard the old adage, "history is written by the victors," well this is proof that's not always true. In fact, the losers were glorified.
It's true, the Battle of Liberty Place monument was inscribed with the Democratic Party's version of what took place. No, not those who were the victims or the victors which was ultimately the Federal government as they restored order and put a stop to the attempted overthrow of a state government.
There is no surprise that the Democrat Party would have the monument say what they believed it should, even if the truth is omitted altogether. Fact is, by the 1890s, the Democrat Party was in total control of the city and state politically. And yes, they would remain in control of that state for years to come.
The "Battle of Liberty Place" is also known as the "Battle of Canal Street." It is considered an attempted insurrection by Democrats. Yes, an attempted coup. It was a violent uprising all because an election didn't go their way. All because Democrats lost an election.
Sound familiar? Imagine that. But aside from the obvious look at what happened back in 1874, we should recognize something that came out of this. The Civil War and the Reconstruction Era forced a great number of Americans to go West. This article points to one of those reasons. People were tired of the hate and wanted new lives. They found it out West.