Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hanged For Tearing Down Old Glory

William Bruce Mumford
Dear Friends,

I was asked an interesting question lately. It had to do with people showing disrespect for the flag of the United States of America. A flag that many have died preserving. A flag many of respect and fondly refer to as "Old Glory."

A reader wanted to know if anyone has ever been punished over their showing disrespect Old Glory?

Since there is a lot of talk these days about Confederate monuments and people disrespecting our flag, my reader's question sort of started me thinking about a story that I'd heard when I was in New Orleans many years ago.

The story had to do with a man by the name of William Bruce Mumford. He was born in 1819 in North Carolina, but his family later moved to Louisiana. The repatriation of New Orleans to the United States came in late April of 1862. Forces under U.S. Navy Commodore David Farragut took control of the city in April but a formal surrender was not established until May 1st. By that time, U.S. Army General Benjamin Butler took charge of New Orleans.

Commodore David Farragut met with some "political resistance" by both citizens and local officials. New Orleans Mayor John Monroe was an ardent Confederate who believed in the cause of maintaining the status quo as was the case before the war. Yes, he wanted to maintain Southern aristocracy and keep the institution of slavery in place.

Just for the record, while many like the mayor did not see blacks as equal to them and wanted to see the continuation of slavery in the South, slavery was really on the way out by the 1860s. This was mainly due to Great Britain which ended slavery in 1833 and was putting a great deal of economic pressure on the South to follow suit. Great Britain wanted Southern cotton and was a huge trading partner with the South.

While Commodore Farragut's fleet approach New Orleans on the morning of April 25th, Mayor Monroe had his secretary Marion A. Baker go to the roof of the City Hall and hoist the flag of the State of Louisiana so that Farragut would see it. It's said that when all of New Orleans' defenses had failed them, Southern pride didn't and Monroe ordered the flag hoisted in defiance.

When Commodore Farragut saw the Louisiana state flag, which was seen as a Confederate flag during the war, he immediately sent two of his Marine officers ashore with a formal demand that the city surrender and lower their flag at once. He also noted that the other Confederate flags flying on the customshouse and the mint, which were both United States Federal buildings before being captured by Confederate troops, be taken down as well.

Monroe sent word back that he didn't have the authority to formally surrender the city. He also advised Commodore Farragut that Confederate General Mansfield Lovell was the proper military authority but he was not present. Monroe also refused to lower the flag over City Hall. It was General Lovell's troops who hoisted the Confederate flags over the customshouse and the mint. Monroe said that was Lovell's responsibility, his was City Hall.

Confederate General Mansfield Lovell refused to surrender the city and in fact refused to surrender his forces, then left New Orleans. On the way out with his troops, he left the whole "decision" of surrender to the mayor and the City Council. As insane a situation as it sounds, the mayor met with the City Council over the issue of surrendering at 6:30 that evening. After the meeting, the mayor issued a statement that read in part: "We yield to physical force alone, but maintain our allegiance to the Government of the Confederate States."

Bottom line is that after a great deal of talk, the mayor refused to lower the State flag, nor raise the flag of United States which the mayor and the city council saw as their enemy.

Commodore Farragut soon lost patience with the mayor and his blather, and sent two of his officers, Lieutenant Albert Kautz and Midshipman John H. Read, to City Hall with a written demand for the "unqualified surrender of the city, and the raising of the United States flag over the Mint, Custom-house and City Hall, by noon that day, Saturday, April 26th, and the removal of all other emblems but that of the United States, from all public buildings."

Believe it or not, the mayor acknowledged his demand and sent back a message that he would formally reply "by two o'clock if possible." In the meantime, a large armed crowd gathered outside the New Orleans City Hall.

With a mob now taking up the mayor's cause, the mayor realized that things were getting out of control and he needed authorities to preserve order. The mayor actually called a militia of what was known as European Brigade for assistance. The European Brigade was made up of foreign residents in the city. With their help, the mayor declared himself "commander-in-chief of army and civic forces."

He turned City Hall into his headquarters, and immediately requisitioned arms, horses, and provisions to stand off Commodore Farragut and Union General Butler's forces believing Confederate troops were en route from Lovell to bail out his bacon. The mayor even went so far as to declare martial law, and he immediately established a make-shit military court.

Then Commodore Farragut send the mayor a message. In it he stated "because of evidences of insubordination on the part of citizens and authorities, the fire of the fleet might be drawn on the city at any moment."

Commodore Farragut stated "The election is with you. And it is my duty to notify you to remove the women and children within forty-eight hours, if I have rightly understood your determination."

Reading the message, the mayor responded, "As I consider this a threat to bombard the city, and as it is a matter about which the notice should be clear and specific, I desire to know when the forty-eight hours began to run."

U.S. Marine Captain Bell who delivered the message replied, "It begins from the time you receive this notice."

The mayor is said to have then looked at his watch and said, "You see it is fifteen minutes past twelve." He then reiterated his defiance to lower the State flag of Louisiana. Captain Bell returned to his ship the USS

While some say Captain Bell returned to his ship and took matters into his own hands, most agree that it was Commodore Farragut who finally had enough and sent a detachment of U.S. Marines ashore to take down the flag over City Hall.

Supported by Union Sailors who manned two howitzers, the Marines went to the customhouse first and there raised the American flag. They then went to Lafayette Square and City Hall, where they formed a perimeter on the St. Charles street side of the Square. With a command the streets, the Marines kept guard on the armed crowd that was massing above and below the Square.

With U.S.Marines situated where they needed to be, Captain Bell and Lieutenant Kautz entered City Hall and went to the mayor's office. The Captian informed the mayor, "I have come in obedience to orders to haul down the State flag from this building."

The mayor replied, "Very well, Sir. You can do it, but I wish to say that there is not in my entire constituency, so wretched a renegade as would be willing to exchange places with you."

Captain Bell and Lieutenant Kautz found the roof. The mayor watched helplessly as Lt. Kautz used his sword to cut down the State flag and raise the United States flag.

So on April 26th, U.S. Marines from the USS Pocahontas raised the U.S. flag over the customhouse and City Hall in New Orleans. As the Marines raised the flag on the mint, a large crowd gathered. A man by the name of William Bruce Mumford was in that crowd.

The Marines told them that the guns from the USS Pocahontas would fire on that position if anyone tried to remove the flags. Mumford and seven others decided to remove the U.S. flag from the mint, and the USS Pocahontas fired on their position.

Mumford was injured but not killed. He attempted to take the U.S. flag and give it to the mayor as a gift but onlookers tried to tear it from him as he walked by. Nothing was left of it when he reached City Hall.

1862 Flag of the United States of America
Commodore Farragut turned New Orleans over to Union Army General Butler on May 1st. A few days afterwards, General Butler heard about what took place at the mint and he had Mumford arrested. Mumford was charged with "high crimes and misdemeanors against the laws of the United States, and the peace and dignity there of and the Law Martial."

On May 30th, he was tried by a Union Army Military Court. He was convicted of "treason and an overt act thereof by tearing down the United States flag from a public building of the United States." Fact is, while City Hall was a city building, the mint building was a United States Federal building.

On June 7th, before his execution, Mumford spoke about his loyalty to the Confederacy. Then just before noon, Mumford was hanged in the courtyard of the mint itself.

On June 18th, after hearing about what took place, the Louisiana's Confederate Governor Thomas Moore called Mumford "a hero and a model." When Confederate General Robert E. Lee heard about what happened in New Orleans,  he sounded more like a lawyer than anything else and wanted to know how Mumford could be executed for a crime committed before New Orleans was formally occupied.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis called General Butler a war criminal "worthy of hanging." Of course Davis didn't mention how General Butler later assisted Mumford's widow by finding her a job in Washington after the war.

Mumford was originally buried in Cypress Grove Cemetery in New Orleans. His remains were transferred almost 100 years later to Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans by the Ladies’ Confederate Memorial Association when they build a Confederate Monument there in 1950.

William Bruce Mumford was a North Carolinian native and resident of New Orleans. To my knowledge, he is the only person who was ever hanged for showing such disrespect for the flag of the United States of America. More accurately, the only man who I've ever heard of who was hanged of showing disrespect to our flag.

And while I'm sure all of us today feel the same way about Old Glory as I do, I'm fairly certain some will surely write to tell me that Mumford most likely didn't see Old Glory as his flag since he swore his allegiance to the Confederate States of America and their flag. And frankly, they would be right since Mumford probably died swearing his unwavering allegiance to the Confederacy and the "Stars and Bars."

Flag of the Confederate States of America
(1861–1863)
So now, if someone should ever ask if you've ever heard of anyone really being punished for showing disrespect for the flag of the United States of America, you too can say that you know of someone who was actually hanged for tearing down a United States flag. You can tell them that it took place in New Orleans in 1862 during the Civil War at a time when passions ran high, and some folks didn't take kindly to people showing such disdain for Old Glory.

Tom Correa

2 comments:

  1. In my mine, everyone who disrespects the flag of the country you live in should be charged for it and serve either a very long sentence or death. Every time i hear of this happening, i think of all the people that fought in all the wars and died doing it so the people of their country had freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We the People are afforded Freedom under Old Glory, just consider what you will have if another Flag was flying, Give Old Glory the RESPECT she deserves and for all those who gave the ultimate to keep her.

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