I had a very fruitful day at the library today, thanks to the spectacular efforts of Connie Phelps and Sonnet Ireland. I was able to find an article in an issue of the Louisiana Historical Quarterly about the history of the events leading up to the battle, and the after effects of the conflict. What’s really exciting about the article is it contains a report from the leader of the White League forces and also the State Supreme Court’s take on the events. I’ve also checked out Jacob A. Wagner’s dissertation, The Myth of Liberty Place: Race and Public Memory in New Orleans, in hopes that I will come across some useful works in his bibliography. With America’s Historical Newspaper database, I found that the New-Orleans Times covered the incident quite extensively. I was surprised to find that the Times even had a report on the battle the day after it happened.
After reading more of Joe Gray Taylor’s Louisiana Reconstructed, I learned that there was quite an audience watching the battle: “thousands of spectators watched from windows, rooftops, and boats on the Mississippi” (Taylor 294). I suppose it must have been a spectacular sight to see such a large fight break out in downtown New Orleans. I also learned that Longstreet and Badger’s forces faced a much larger regiment of troops with the White League commanding around 8,400 men while Longstreet and Badger had about 3,600 men. As Taylor notes, the casualties on both sides were relatively light considering the number of men involved and the rather close quarters fighting in downtown New Orleans. The Republican side lost eleven men with sixty others wounded, while the White League lost twenty-one men with nineteen wounded.
Joe Gray Taylor. Louisiana Reconstructed 1863-1877. Louisiana State University Press, 1974.
In regards to both my microhistory and my master’s thesis, I think I have found some encouraging signs in regards to my topic. I could certainly be wrong, but in all of my research on the Battle of Liberty Place, I have found only one book that is entirely based on the battle and it is The Battle of Liberty Place by Stuart Omer Landry published in 1955. I did find a doctoral dissertation by Jacob Wagner published in 2004 that talks about the monument that was dedicated to those who fought at the battle and how the battle has been remembered in public memory. Wagner’s dissertation does touch on some topics I would have liked to have brought up, but after skimming Wagner’s work it seems that he chose to focus on public memory in the twentieth century whereas I am more interested in the battle itself and its immediate repercussions. One of the reasons I initially became interested in the Battle of Liberty Place is how such an important conflict has been forgotten in today’s society. Stuart Omer Landry complains in his introduction that people have already forgotten the conflict by the mid 1950’s.
I have also found another excellent resource in Joe Gray Taylor’s book Louisiana Reconstructed. After reading a bit of Taylor’s book, I learned that the conflict began when the metropolitan police stopped a shipment of guns from landing in New Orleans. The guns were for the White League and the police were trying to prevent the league from arming. This act was the last straw for the White League, and on September 14, 1874 tensions came to a boiling point and the Battle of Liberty Place broke out.
I think I am going to change my microhistory a bit and instead look at the Battle of Liberty Place as a whole from the perspectives of not only James Longstreet, but also Republican Governor at the time William Pitt Kellogg and the opposing White League leader, John McEnery. In my research thus far, it seems that not much has been written on not only the views of these men, but also the battle itself. I have also been reading up on the Colfax massacre and I was thinking of maybe taking my microhistory in that direction somehow. In any case, I have found that Reconstruction violence in 1870’s Louisiana to be a deeply fascinating subject.