A dramatic and extremely rare battle plan of the 1874 White League Revolt in New Orleans, published within weeks of the events depicted. With provenance to the family of an important participant.
The revolt had its origins in the disputed Louisiana gubernatorial election of 1872, in which Republican Senator William Pitt Kellogg took office only after being awarded victory by a Federal court. Whether or not Kellogg had won the popular vote, supporters of Democratic-Conservative “Fusion” candidate John McEnery saw clear evidence of Federal tyranny. The Fusionists established a shadow government in January 1873 and instigated a coup against Kellogg. The attempt, sometimes known as the “First Battle of Liberty Place,” was more of a mob action than an organized coup attempt and was easily broken up by the well-equipped, Republican-dominated Metropolitan Police.
In 1874 the Fusionists established the White League, a proper military force of some 1500 white males, both veterans of the Confederacy and younger men itching for battle and honor. Organized into companies, well trained, and armed with surplus weapons from the Civil War, it posed a far more serious threat than that of 1873. At the same time the League conducted a propaganda campaign designed to inflame the white population against Reconstruction and the Kellogg administration.
Conflict was ignited on September 14 by the government’s seizure of the steamboat Mississippi, which carried a covert shipment of arms for the White League. Companies of White Leaguers established barricades along Poydras Street, then advanced on Metropolitan Police units emplaced along Canal Street from the Custom House down to the River. The Metropolitans were quickly routed and retreated to the Jackson Square Station, where they were surrounded and surrendered the next day. In control of the city, the White League installed McEnery as governor and David Penn as lieutenant governor.
However the revolt outraged President Ulysses Grant, who immediately ordered Federal troops to retake the city. Sensing a battle it couldn’t win, the White League surrendered within days, and Governor Kellogg was returned to power.
Despite the rapid suppression of the revolt, the long-term consequences for the state were enormous. Kellogg retained power only with backing of the Federal Army, and he had little or no authority in rural areas of the state. Further, the rebellion gutted the city’s Republican-dominated Metropolitan Police and the mostly black militia, creating a vacuum that allowed the White League to regain control of the city by 1876. The election of Democrat Francis Nicholls as governor in 1876 and the subsequent establishment of the White League as the official state militia, brought Reconstruction in Louisiana to an end. Participation in the events of 1874 became a mark of honor for citizens, and in 1891 a Liberty Monument was erected on Canal Street in memory of the White League fallen. For many years the monument was the site of an annual wreath-laying ceremony, and it was only in the 1980s that it was moved to an out-of-the-way location on Iberville Street.
Plan of the “Battle of New Orleans”
This pro-Fusionist plan by New Orleans City Surveyor T.S. Hardee must have been published in late 1874, within weeks of the battle. It depicts the heart of the city from Delord Street downriver to Ursuline and inland as far as Baronne and Dauphine, including the street plan, Jackson and Lafayette Squares, the State House, the Custom House and other landmarks. Against this backdrop are shown the positions of the combatants and the general flow of the battle. The White League positions and barricades along Poydras are shown in detail, with individual companies identified and their officers named. Dotted lines indicate their advance on the Metropolitans positioned at the New Orleans and Mobile Rail Depot, and the subsequent retreat of the Metropolitans to the Police Station. There is much other detail, including the positions of important White League leaders and the various locations where several Leaguers fell. Columns of text give a detailed “History of the Revolution,” with actions by White League companies alphabetically keyed to locations marked on the plan. At lower right a “Roll of Honor” lists those White Leaguers killed and wounded in the engagement.
Offered here is the second state of the plan, with the significant additions of numerous military positions, locations where members of the “Roll of Honor” fell, landmarks such as the Boston Club at the intersection of Boston and Common, and a rail line on St. Joseph Street as well as other rail facilities. The text of the “History of the Revolution” has been significantly revised, and the “Roll of Honor” somewhat expanded.
The plan is extremely rare in either state. I find a total of only seven examples at American institutions and know of only one other (a first state) to have appeared on the antiquarian market, sold by this firm in 2017.
Provenance to a participant in the Revolt
Prior to restoration the plan was backed with a piece of linen bearing the pencil inscription “Property of | Mrs. C. Milo Williams (- | (Blanche V. Blanchard_ daughter of | Capt. Dawson Alexander Blanchard Co. “C.”” along with a floor plan of her home at 1035 S. Carrolton Avenue. Mrs. Williams’ father Dawson Alexander Blanchard (1845-1906) served in a Louisiana Guard Artillery Battery during the Civil War, and during the Revolt of 1874 he commanded Company C of Col. John Angell’s White League Battalion. Richardson’s unit is shown on the plan at the intersection of Canal and Camp Streets, and he is mentioned in the fifth column of the “History of the Revolution.” The linen has been retained and will be provided with the plan.
A fascinating plan depicting a critical moment in the history of Reconstruction-era Louisiana, with superb provenance.
References and provenance
Phillips, Maps of America, p. 497. As of July 2018, OCLC #631100285 and 992700927, together giving examples at the American Antiquarian Society, University of Virginia (1st state) and Clements Library (1st state). Others examples are held at the Historic New Orleans Collection (1st state), the Louisiana State Museum (2nd state) and Louisiana State University (John Burruss McGehee Papers). Background from “The Battle of Liberty Place,” on the Know Louisiana web site.
Cleaned, with minor residual soiling and staining, a long tear in lower center expertly mended, and small losses to text retouched. Restoration to margins, not affecting printed image. Old linen removed (but retained, as it bears valuable evidence of provenance).