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cannon forming th heading for article Visiting Louisiana's Civil War Hotspots

The importance of Louisiana in the War between the States is often overlooked. Since New Orleans controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River it was of vital strategic importance to both sides. Union Captain David Farragut succeeded in passing Confederate-held Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip at the mouth of the Mississippi leaving New Orleans wide open to attack.  The city had no choice. They surrendered on April 28, 1862. Both Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip are not open to the public any longer. For the traveler interested in following the Civil War Trail there are a lot of places you want to visit in Louisiana.


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New Orleans Custom House is now the Audubon Insectarium, the largest free-standing museum dedicated to insects in American. Great to visit in its own right but the history encased in that massive gray granite building with its combined Greek and Egyptian Revival elements is amazing. First off the fact that it took 33 years to complete. The main reason for that being construction had begun in 1848 and didn't finish until 1881. Plus there were numerous architects with their fingers in the pot causing many redesigns. P. T. G. Beauregard was in charge of the Custom House project when Louisiana seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. He left to take command of the troops and went to South Carolina to begin the takeover of Fort Sumter that officially began the War Between the States.

New Orleans Custom House
New Orleans Custom House circa 1963. Credit LOC

At this point, the Custom House became the most important building in the city. It was used to build guns and arms for both the army and navy. The first shop to be commissioned was the gun carriage plant under the supervision of Captain John Roy. John Roy was my great great grandfather so I found this particularly interesting. The foundry he ran there soon became of utmost importance to the South's war effort as evidenced by the following quotes.

One local paper The Algiers News Boy says, " John Roy is the master mind by which all of the vast preparation of canon  in and around the city have been superintended since the war broke out."

The New Orleans Picayune quoted Raphael Semmes, Captain of the Sumter, that John Roy "contrived most ingeniously, and constructed out of railroad iron, one of the best carriages (or rather slide and circle) for a pivot gun which I have ever seen."

The Washington Artillery Battalion is one of the older militia units dating back to 1838
They served in the Confederacy during the war and today, a park, located between the river levee and Jackson Square, honors them. The Civil War cannon is a model of a 136-year-old Parrott Rifle much used in the Civil War.

The Washington Artillery Monument in New Orleans, La
The Washington Artillery Monument

Another site that cannot be neglected is The Beauregard/Keys House. Beauregard was the most important Confederate general during the early months of the war. He and Davis did not get along leading to his being passed over in favor of General Bragg. Beauregard lived in this house from  1866 to 1868. (Click for more about Beauregard House)

The Beauregard/Keys House in New Orleans. La
The Beauregard/Keys House

Beauregard died in new Orleans in March 1893 and is buried in  Metairie Cemetery. It is one of New Orleans most famous above-ground cemeteries. Along with General Beauregard.  Generals Richard Taylor and John Bell Hood rest there. It has several monuments related to the War. (See more about this cemetery)

memorial to Washington Artillery at Metarie Cemetary in New Orlkeans
The memorial to Washington Artillery at Metarie Cemetary

Another site that operated both before and after the Civil War is Old U.S. Mint. Built in 1838,  it became State property when Louisiana seceded. It is the only mint that  produced both American and Confederate coins. For serious history buffs, the Mint is a treasure house. It contains documents from 1584 to present day in its Louisiana Historical Center Archives.  (For more about the mint)

machinery used to make money for both the U.S. and the Confederacy at the Old Mint in New Orleans machinery used to make money for both the U.S. and the Confederacy at the Old Mint in New Orleans
Some of the machinery used to make money for both the U.S. and the Confederacy.

Jackson Barracks was the home of Louisiana's militia units. In 1861, Louisiana took control of the barracks but they only held it for less than a year. In 1862, Union forces re-captured it. Today it's still home to the National Guard. It houses The Ansel M. Stroud, Jr. Military History and Weapons Museum, AKA Jackson Barracks Military Museum. There's only one other National Guard museum. At the outbreak of the Civil War, there were only five divisions as the war progressed 982 military units were formed.  George B. McClellan, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee,  P. G. T. Beauregard and J.E.B. Stuart all were at Jackson Barracks but definitely not at the same time.

Just a short distance down St. Bernard Highway, you can visit Chalmette National Cemetery on the site of Chalmette Battlefield where Andrew Jackson defeated the British in another war. The cemetery for Union soldiers  was established in May 1864 and is the final resting place of about 12,000 soldiers. The Grand Army of the Republic erected a monument to honor their fallen soldiers.

Confederate Museum is another must see spot for Civil War buffs. (See info about it here)

The Confederate Musuem in New Orleans
The Confederate Musuem

Two churches in New Orleans have significance in regard to Leonidas Polk, Confederate general and former Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana. Trinity Episcopal Church, a Gothic Revival-style church which still has the old separate seating gallery for the slaves, was consecrated by Bishop Leonidas Polk in 1861. It contains a stained glass memorial altar window dedicated to him as the first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana. Leonidas Polk's remains are interred at Christ Church Cathedral located at 2919 St. Charles Ave.

Baton Rouge and The Florida Parishes

The Pentagon Barracks and the Old Arsenal were the scene of a fierce battle on August 5, 1862 when Gen. John C. Breckinridge tried to recapture the capital after it had been taken by Union forces just after the fall of New Orleans in spring of 1862. The Barracks now is apartments for state lawmakers but the grounds are open to the public and the Capitol Park Visitor Center next door contains a small exhibit related to the battle.

Old Arsenal contains a more detailed exhibit about the battle. Some of the  graffiti left by Union soldiers is still visible.

Louisiana’s Old State Capitol  after being captured by Union troops was used first as a prison and then as a garrison for African-American troops. It was burned during the occupation leaving only a gutted ruin and later rebuilt. The magnificent dome and stained glass took my breath away they are so beautiful.

Dome in Louisiana's old capitol in Baton rouge
 The Old Capitol dome is truly magnificent 

It is open to the public and offers a great 4D experience called "The Ghost of the Castle." The supposed narrator of the film is Sarah Morgan Dawson, who lived in Baton Rouge during the war. She wrote Sarah's Story, A Confederate Girl's Diary in which she talked of her love of the old Capitol. The exhibit was designed by a Disney designer and I promise you will not be disappointed in it. Even better it's free.

 
Louisiana's old capitol building in Baton rouge, LA
Louisiana's Old Capitol

 

Capitol Park Museum is located in the same area. This museum is a treasure. I could have spent days instead of the short time we had allotted for it. It covers not only the era of the War between the States but the entire history of Louisiana.

My favorite exhibit was the Mystery Submarine. The story of the vessel is posted at the exhibit. Little is know for sure about the submarine. It was found in Lake Pontchartrain near the mouth of Bayou St. John in 1879. It was shunted around various places eventually being filled with concrete in a mistaken effort to preserve it. It was displayed under the Presbytere arcade in 1957 and finally  transferred into the care of the State Museum system for restoration in December of 1999.

Mystery Submarine in Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge, LA
A visitor studies the mystery submarine

My personal contact with the submarine began in the late 50s when I used to visit Jackson Square and often would go look at and even touch the vessel. Later in life, I was to discover my great-great-grandfather, John Roy's, diary. The portion I discovered contains entries in his "Memorandum" for all of 1861 and a portion of 1862. In reading I noticed an entry from July 6, 1861 where he says he went to see the launch of the "Gunboat Louisiana." He continues to say that he was on board and was "somewhat surprised at the scary manner in which she slipped into the water. I believe that her builder has made the same mistake upon her that I made on my small boat…"

Now that is certainly no proof that the "small boat" he refers to is this mystery submarine but some historians do consider him a good candidate for the builder.  He refers to this boat several times and mentions going out to Bayou St. John in the dairy. You can see why the Mystery Submarine fascinated me but it is a sure winner for anyone interested  in Civil War history.

The museum is filled with facinating exhibits both Civil War related and historical in general.

Jefferson Davis's hearse at the Capitol Park Mueum in Baton rouge, LA
Jefferson Davis's hearse at the Capitol Park Mueum

Port Hudson State Historic Site between Baton Rouge and St. Francisville played a part in Grant's seige of Vicksburg. Port Hudson as well as Vicksburg had to be captured to give the Union complete control of the Mississippi River. There is a small museum there and the site often has reenactments.

Central Louisiana / Red River Valley

Shreveport was the last stronghold of the Confederacy.  The last Confederate flag was lowered here May 26, 1865 and replaced by a United States Flag. The Shreveport Confederate Monument stands on the courthouse lawn to commemorate that fact. (Certainly not to glorify slavery as some opponents who would like this work of art destroyed argue.) Each corner of the monument depicts a Confederate general. They are General Robert E. Lee, General “Stonewall” Jackson, General P.G.T Beauregard and General Henry W. Allen who was also Confederate governor of Louisiana. The courthouse served as the capital during the waning years of the war.

Confederate Memorial in Shreveport, LA
Shreveport's Confederate Memorial

The commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department CSA, General Kirby Smith, was based in Shreveport and stayed at the home of Benjamin L. Hodge from 1863-65 . Unfortunately the home was demolished in 1960 but there is a historic marker noting the location of the residence.

Mansfield State Historic Site and Pleasant Hill were the site of battle during the Red River Campaign. Mansfield State Historical Site  is open to the public and operated under the Office of State Parks. It has a  museum and various  trails and markers. Pleasant Hill, nine miles farther on Highway 175, is private property but there are markers and memorials noting the battle sites. They hold a re-enactment of the battle each April.

J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Shreveport Visitor Center in downtown Shreveport has a museum related to the history of the Red River. One interesting exhibit there is a Civil War era steamboat, Kentucky. Although built as a pleasure boat, she was used by the Confederate as a transport until June, 1862. Captured by the Union it ran as an express mail boat between Memphis and  Cairo. After the war it was returned to its owners and on sank June 9, 1865 in the Red River. It was uncovered on dry land when the river shifted course. The artifacts recovered tell the story of life during that period.

There are many more sites in Louisiana that tell the story of our nation's most bitter conflict. among them are the many plantations that withstood the devastation. Each has its own tale to tell so include as many as you can in your travels.

Below is a partial list:

Nottoway Plantation in White Castle near Baton Rouge  is the largest extant antebellum plantation house in the South

Nottoway Plantation in White Castle near Baton Rouge
Nottoway Plantation

Rosedown State Historic Site outside St. Francisville.

Kent Plantation House in Alexandria, the oldest standing structure in central Louisiana.

Kent House
One of the outbuildings at Kent House 

Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia survives possibly because it served as headquarters for Union officers

Chretien Point Plantation in Sunset, near Lafayette was the site of Battle of Buzzard's Prairie on October 15, 1863. Supposedly spared because the owner was recognized as a Mason.

Frogmore Plantation and Gins near Ferriday is well preserved and offers "Plantation Civil War Challenges and Changes" which compares an Antebellum cotton plantation to a modern cotton planbtatioin. It was selected by Rand McNally as a "Must See Site" in the South/Southeast and by AAA Southern Traveler Magazine as one of the top three favorite attractions in the tri-states of Ark/La/Miss. It also won the Rural Tourism Award for the State of Louisiana. 

Winter Quarters State Historic Site near Newellton was a plantation belonging to Dr Haller Nutt who also owned Longwood in Vicksburg, MS. It was the only one of 16 plantations in the area that was not destroyed during the Union invasion.

 

For more info:

Custom House http://www.gsa.gov/portal/ext/html/site/hb/category/25431/actionParameter/exploreByBuilding/
buildingId/925

 

 

Beauregard/Keys House  http://www.bkhouse.org/

Metairie Cemetery  http://www.gonola.com/2013/05/06/nola-history-metairie-cemetery-in-new-orleans.html

Old Mint http://www.louisianastatemuseum.org/museums/the-old-us-mint/

Christ church  www.cccnola.org

Trinity  www.trinitynola.com

Capitol Park, Baton Rouge   http://www.sos.la.gov/HistoricalResources/VisitMuseums/OldArsenalMuseum/Pages/default.aspx

Capital Museum http://www.visitbatonrouge.com/listing/Capitol-Park-Museum-a-Louisiana-State-Museum/5040

Port Hudson  http://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/historic-sites/port-hudson-state-historic-site/index

Submarine  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayou_St._John_Confederate_Submarine

Port Hudson http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ipthudson.aspx

Mansfield Site  http://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/historic-sites/mansfield-state-historic-site/index

Shreveport http://www.shreveport-bossier.org/things-to-do/attractions/galleries-and-museums/j-bennett-johnston-waterway-regional-visitor-center-825

 

 

 


 

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