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New Orleans after the Civil War

Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

Justin A. Nystrom

Publication Year: 2010

We often think of Reconstruction as an unfinished revolution. Justin A. Nystrom’s original study of the aftermath of emancipation in New Orleans takes a different perspective, arguing that the politics of the era were less of a binary struggle over political supremacy and morality than they were about a quest for stability in a world rendered uncertain and unfamiliar by the collapse of slavery. Commercially vibrant and racially unique before the Civil War, New Orleans after secession and following Appomattox provides an especially interesting case study in political and social adjustment. Taking a generational view and using longitudinal studies of some of the major political players of the era, Nystrom asks fundamentally new questions about life in the post–Civil War South: Who would emerge as leaders in the prostrate but economically ambitious city? How would whites who differed over secession come together over postwar policy? Where would the mixed-race middle class and newly freed slaves fit in the new order? Nystrom follows not only the period’s broad contours and occasional bloody conflicts but also the coalition building and the often surprising liaisons that formed to address these and related issues. His unusual approach breaks free from the worn stereotypes of Reconstruction to explore the uncertainty, self-doubt, and moral complexity that haunted Southerners after the war. This probing look at a generation of New Orleanians and how they redefined a society shattered by the Civil War engages historical actors on their own terms and makes real the human dimension of life during this difficult period in American history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

This project’s humble beginnings came in a graduate seminar in 1999 taught by John Inscoe at the University of Georgia. Since then, many people have helped me transform it into the book you see today. Jim Cobb, my dissertation director and mentor in so many ways, gave sage counsel all along the way and held my feet to the fire long afterward so that I might finish that “damn manuscript.” The ...

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INTRODUCTION Embracing the Ambiguities of an Uncertain Age

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pp. 1-5

In 1930, Henry Clay Warmoth explained in the foreword to his classic memoir that he had undertaken the task of writing to counter the “many false and vicious statements” being made by contemporary historians about his reign as governor of Louisiana. Eighty- eight years old when the Macmillan Company finally published his work, Warmoth lived to be one of the last of the Civil War generation ...

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1: POOR NEW ORLEANS! 1861–1862

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pp. 6-27

Ezekiel John Ellis looked on with dismay at the chaotic scene unfolding around him. Telegrams carrying news of Louisiana’s secession had reached New Orleans from Baton Rouge early that January afternoon, and word of the ordinance’s passage quickly spread throughout the city. Boisterous crowds spilled into the streets in noisy celebration, while the roar of cannons firing salutes echoed from ...

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pp. 28-51

Charles St. Albin Sauvinet was clearly a man unafraid to act on instinct. The last remaining Confederate forces had barely fled the city when this former captain in the Native Guards tendered his services to the staff of General Benjamin Butler. Sauvinet’s personal ties with the loyal white New Orleanians who first greeted Union authorities in April of 1862 are unclear, but both his knowledge of this network ...

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pp. 52-81

The last months of the war played cruelly upon E. John Ellis’s mind. Late February of 1865 found him proposing to fight on even if all of the South’s cities and armies had been vanquished. “God knows I am willing to spend my life as a ‘guerilla,’ and ‘outlaw,’ a ‘rebel,’ a ‘traitor,’ or a ‘pirate’ for this cause. . . . I glory in such crimes,” he confided to his diary. Through the month of March, longtime ...

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4: CARPETBAGGER PRINCE 1869–1872 [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 82-114

John F. Claiborne had been active in the Republican Party in the New Orleans suburb of Carrollton for about two years and a mounted patrolman in the Metropolitan Police for nearly as long when in July 1871 he received an order to meet in person with Governor Warmoth. According to Claiborne, he had been sent there because a superior had accused him of “not working hard enough” to ...

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pp. 115-139

A week before Carnival in 1872, Royal Edict No. 1 appeared in the Picayune, commanding Louisiana State Militia colonel Charles W. Squires “to hold himself in readiness with a battery of artillery at the foot of Canal Street, on Mardi Gras, February 13th . . . then and there to fire such salutes as may be deemed by his Royal Highness, the ‘King of Carnival,’ necessary to the proper maintenance ...

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pp. 140-159

A dramatic event took place one afternoon in October 1872 that forever changed the relationship between Louise Marie Drouet and her white relatives. Her father’s health had always been fragile, and his poor physical condition was one of the initial reasons that he had made the bold decision to bring his mixed- race daughter to live with him in 1865. Now, seven years later, Louise Marie was one of ...

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pp. 160-185

The long series of failures that had dogged white conservative political efforts since 1872 had, by the start of 1874, finally convinced New Orleans moderates to once and for all abandon notions of their independence from the Democratic Party. Nowhere was this state of affairs more evident than among the commercial men of Rex. “Xariffa,” Rex’s poet laureate, kept his majesty’s subjects apprised of ...

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pp. 186-210

Charles St. Albin Sauvinet stared despondently at his son as the two listened to Dr. Charles Roudanez’s prognosis. Born in the midst of the secession crisis, Charles Sauvinet Jr. had grown up enjoying many of the privileges that were available to the mixed- race elite in New Orleans. In his early teens, however, the boy contracted tuberculosis, and in the spring of 1878 the disease had taken a turn ...

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pp. 211-238

At the stroke of midnight December 31, 1886, Louisiana’s new “Sunday Law” took effect. Widely unpopular in the “non- Sabbath revering city” of New Orleans, this new legislation made illegal the selling of a wide range of goods and services, including groceries and alcohol, on the Christian Sabbath. The city’s most outspoken critic of the bill was the leader of the Anti- Sunday Law Society, ...

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CONCLUSION Reconsidering the Lessons of Reconstruction

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pp. 239-245

Laboring under the civil rights and cold war paradigms, twentieth- century revisionist historians found in the struggles of Southern reconstruction an inspirational precedent for their own generation’s quest for both freedom and racial equality. In the process, they placed the Republicans, a complex interracial and intersectional coalition, into a broader lexicon of heroes who, through an “unfinished ...


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pp. 248-271


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pp. 273-304

Biographical Sketches of Key Figures

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pp. 305-308

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Sources and Methodology

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pp. 309-314

A key objective of this work has been to move beyond the “postrevisionist” school of Reconstruction historiography and reexamine postbellum life, seeing it less as an ideological struggle leading toward an “unfinished [political and social] revolution” and more as a portrait of individuals who, in trying to come to grips with ...


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pp. 315-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899973
E-ISBN-10: 0801899974
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801894343
Print-ISBN-10: 0801894344

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 6 halftones
Publication Year: 2010