As we’ve seen before, the Confederate government ordered planters to destroy cotton that might fall into Union hands. Of course, this didn’t always happen, since that cotton represented considerable wealth. In this account from the Louisiana True Delta, reproduced in the New York Times, the reporter notes that the planters in southern Louisiana are anxious to sell resume normal operations, and sell their crops to the Union now that they’re in charge. The people who do burn the cotton aren’t the plantation owners, but “thugs” — in other words, the poor. Analysis of voting patterns in 1860 shows that the big planters were mostly for Bell, who promised to preserve the union. Support for Breckinridge, the de facto secession candidate, was much stronger among the poor farmers who owned little land, and few or no slaves.
No doubt the plantation owners knew that war would bring disruption of commerce, even loss of property. The yeoman farmer could dream of moving west and acquiring both land and slaves in the future, but only if the Lincoln administration’s effort to contain slavery was thwarted by secession. Once war came, the poor farmers were devoted to the cause, at least early in the war; they may also have resented the wealthy and taken some pleasure in seeing their property go up in smoke, as the author of this article suggests.
SPIRIT OF THE PRESS.; THE CONFISCATION OF COTTON AND SUGAR
“We are inclined to the opinion that something should be done to stop the destruction of cotton and sugar. We doubt not that prompt and efficient measures will be taken to punish those who thus destroy property, as enemies to the community.
The Delta discusses at length the question, “Will cotton or sugar be confiscated?” It says:
But, says one, the cotton is my own. Is there any law, moral or municipal, to hinder my doing ‘as I will with mine own?’ Is it yours in the full sense of the word? Do you own no debts? Have you no note in bank discounted on the faith that your cotton crop would pay it? Have you not received advances from your factor upon the strength of it? Is there no mortgage on your plantation, the interest of which is to be kept down by the sale of your cotton? How are your slaves to be clothed and fed if you burn your crop? Do you not owe it to them to protect them so far? If either of these things are true, is it not just as dishonest to burn your crop as it would be to set fire to your house after you had mortgaged it to your neighbor, or, after it is insured, to cheat the insurance company out of the insurance? Where is the “chivalry” in burning up what does not belong to you? Where the honor in destroying that which you have pledged to another? It is pretty cheap patriotism to destroy a crop already eaten up and belonging to one’s factors.
The truth is, however, the owners of the cotton do not burn it. In this city not a bale of cotton or a hogshead of sugar was destroyed by its owners. It was done by a mob of men and women, which ruled here, the most of the leaders of which are either fugitives at Camp Moore or prisoners at Fort Jackson.
So it is in the country. We are informed that applications have been made to Gen. BUTLER for arms, to be given to the planters, that they may protect their property from the mob, and that he has already sent them, and brought down to the city one gentleman’s cotton who has called on him for protection. It will be necessary, as we have said, to take some action in the matter. If a man, the owner of property, chooses to impoverish himself by burning his cotton and sugar, as he hopes to the injury of the United States, it is difficult to see why the United States may not — nay, should not — burn his houses and confiscate the remainder of his property at once, so that the man shall be as poor as he desires to be.
If a man in a mob burns another’s property, he should be hanged as high as Haman.
The True Delta has an article headed “Social disorganization,” which says:
Within the past ten days we have received numerous letters from the parishes on the river, above and below the city, all detailing, with greater or lesser circumstantiality, the dangers to which life and property on the plantations are exposed from the fugitive Thugs, whom a righteous retribution has at length overtaken here. Below the city, on the river, these piratical assassins are now operating in skiffs, which they can easily and readily conceal during the day, or when apprehensive of arrest and punishment, at the hands of the Federal authorities; and at night they launch them, invade the quarters of the plantations, maltreating or tampering with the slave population, inciting them to outrage and insurrection, while they themselves take everything portable they can lay their hands on. The highest praise is due and, indeed, universally accorded to the United States military authorities in this place for their intelligent comprehension of the character and extent, and modus operandi of this political banditti, and their exemplary promptitude in grappling with them, with a determination to crust them out forever, if in their power, during their stay here.
In the parishes, below the city particularly, the greatest uneasiness is felt, and at the moment it is not in the power of the planters therein to come personally to the authorities, and, as the custom is, they address themselves to their regular newspaper mouth-piece. They ask us to appeal to Gen. BUTLER under circumstances of unusual peril. There are several crevasses of most formidable proportions on both banks of the river, which threaten to submerge much of the entire country, from the English Turn to the sea. This inundation, owing to so large a number of their best working hands being taken for Federal work on the forts Jackson and St. Philip, is likely to obtain the mastery, and if so, all the horrors of pestilence and famine will surely be experienced. To prevent this, the planters thus endangered, hope Gen. BUTLER will order a return to them of their working force, and the use of the Diana steamboat to enable them to get in good season such, material as may be required for the repulsion of the invasive flood. The Diana was in that trade, and as a boat will be required to take many articles as well as persons to the forts, they think the General will, under the circumstances, allow her to resume her weekly trips, performing otherwise such services as may be required of her by the authorities. The exigency is urgent and the necessity great, and the respectable citizens, in whose behalf we speak, scarcely know which is really least desirable — the overflow of their kinds and a total loss of their crops, or an interruption of the Thugs; although, if compelled to choose, we believe they will willingly prefer the former.
The Delta discourses on and contrasts the past and the present as follows:
Prior to the 1st day of May inst. this city was nominally in possession of an armed force, under the rebel Gen. LOVELL, but was really controlled by a band of desperate men, who, with stilletto and slung-shot, enforced a community that from long subservience to this benefit influence had become timorous and almost afraid to assert its manhood to obey their mandates. Men had been shot down and stabbed in the back on suspicion of adherence to the old Union; others had been dragged from their beds and forced to serve in the rebel army against their will. For saving that the forts had fallen just before the arrival of the Federal fleet, an innocent man was incarcerated in the calaboose, and when the American vessels of war arrived before the city, several Germans who indulged in some slight demonstration of joy, were foully stabbed in broad daylight, near the French Market. So terrible was the anarchy that, a few weeks before the capture of the city, it was found necessary to proclaim martial law, to protect, if possible, peaceable citizens from the godless, damnable mob, which had converted liberty into the most unbridled and reckless license. * * *
During the first few days of the present month, a man wearing the uniform of the United States could not pass through the streets without incurring the risk of assassination, or at least of malicious insult; to-day an officer or soldier can walk alone and unarmed as safely as though he were in his native town. The ladies, who had been taught to believe that a “Yankee soldier” was a combination of the gorilla and sheep, and that his morals and clothes were of an equally bad cut, evinced their disdain and fear of contamination by a movement of their dresses which provoked more criticism of their ankles than of their behavior.
By issuing an order as ingenious as it has proved effectual, Gen. BUTLER has transformed the gentler sex from scowling, aciduous-faced women, into a charming, well conducted and modest community of ladies.
When Gen. BUTLER arrived here the stores were all closed, and men, women and children lounged about the streets with a vacant, listless and downcast air, that gave an almost funereal aspect to a city noted for its gayety. By judiciously lining a number of merchants for not opening their places of business, Judge BELL soon taught this numerous class that the Major-General’s proclamation was not written as a pastime, and now Canal and St. Charles streets present a cheerful prospect, and are apparently reaping a benefit in the way of a moderate but healthy trade.
Of the incalculable relief afforded the almost starving masses of poor people it is unnecessary to speak. The blessings of destitute women who have obtained food for their hungry children and the gratitude of the men whose stalwart arms had become weak from long inaction and compulsory fasting, but who now find employment for their thews and sinews in the service of that Government which practically believes that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” are stronger proofs of the humanity of the Commanding-General than any panegyric that we can bestow.”
A SAD PICTURE.
The True Delta gives this sketch:
“The merchant listlessly walks to his counting-room, the trader sluggishly repairs to his store, the master mechanic is seen anywhere else than in his workshop, and while the universal wail of urgent necessity is heard on our streets, nobody seems willing to work, and if any consent they demand in reliable money double what they could obtain in the most prosperous times. This condition of things, our word for it, cannot endure, and, however distressing an emigration of a body so numerous as that we are describing might be, we should infinitely rather have their room than their company it is a million of times more welcome. It will take a long time to make New-Orleans what it was this time two years ago. At present, hundreds are living upon the savings of years of patient and enduring toil, in the expectation that the war will soon end, and that past engagements could be faithfully fulfilled. This, we fear, is hoping against hope, and landlords and others may just as well adapt themselves to the necessities of the occasion, and stimulate exertion by suitable reductions. America, North, is now having some of the trials which have lost to so many peoples their liberties, and the means of subsistence to the hewers of wood and the drawers of water of human society; and the depth of the ruin no one can fathom, nor the extent of the political misfortunes measure; let us not, however, aggravate the unavoidable by unwise conduct; but gird up our loins like men, and with willing hands and resolute hearts defy the worst that may befall us.”