Battle of Liberty Place
The Battle of Liberty Place, or Battle of Canal Street, was an attempted insurrection by the Crescent City White League against the Reconstruction state government on September 14, 1874, in New Orleans, where it was then based. Five thousand members of the White League, a paramilitary organization of the Democratic Party, made up largely of Confederate veterans, fought against the outnumbered Metropolitan Police and state militia. The insurgents held the statehouse, armory, and downtown for three days, retreating before arrival of Federal troops that restored the elected government. No insurgents were charged in the action. This was the last major event of violence stemming from the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election. Both the Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Pitt Kellogg claimed victory; the U.S. government supported Kellogg.
Among those injured in the fighting at Liberty Place was Algernon Sidney Badger, superintendent of the New Orleans Metropolitan Police. Born in Boston and a veteran of the Union Army, he had been living and working in New Orleans since the end of the war.
In 1891, the city erected a monument to commemorate and praise the insurrection from the Democratic Party point of view, which at the time was in firm political control of the city and state and was in the process of disenfranchising most blacks. The white marble obelisk was placed at a prominent location on Canal Street. In 1932, the city added an inscription that expressed a white supremacist view.
In 1974, the rethinking of race relations after the Civil Rights Movement caused the city to add a marker near the monument explaining that the inscription did not express current philosophy. After major construction work on Canal Street in 1989 required that the monument be temporarily removed, it was relocated to a less prominent location and the inscription was altered. In July 2015, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed removing the monument altogether and in December 2015 the New Orleans City Council voted to remove the monument, along with three others deemed a "nuisance".
The "Battle of Liberty Place" was the name given to the insurrection by its white Democratic supporters, as part of their story of the struggle to overturn Republicans and the Reconstruction government. They viewed the government as corrupt and illegal. In the election of 1872, John McEnery, a Democrat, was supported by a coalition of Democrats and anti-Grant Republicans, including Republican Gov. Henry C. Warmoth. Warmoth's opponents in the Republican Party remained loyal to President Grant, and supported the Republican Party nominee, William Pitt Kellogg.
Governor Warmoth had appointed the State Returning Board, which administered elections; it declared McEnery the winner. A rival board endorsed Kellogg, who had charged election fraud because of the violence and intimidation that took place at and near the polls, as Democrats tried to suppress black voting. The legislature impeached Warmoth from office and removed him for "stealing" the election. The Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback, became Governor for the last 35 days of Warmoth's term. Both McEnery and Kellogg had inaugural parties and certified lists of appointed local officeholders. The federal government eventually certified Kellogg as the governor of the state. Similarly,Republican C. C. Antoine was certified lieutenant-governor over Democrat D. B. Penn.
In an earlier violent incident related to the disputed election, in April 1873 the Colfax massacre occurred at the courthouse in Grant Parish, when a white militia attacked freedmen defending appointed Republican officeholders. This action was also related to political tensions between Democratic whites and Republican blacks. In Colfax, three whites and a total of 150 blacks were killed, at least 50 of the latter after having been taken prisoner.
In 1874 McEnery and his allies formed a "rump" legislature in New Orleans, then the location of state government. The paramilitary White League entered the city with a force of 5,000 to seat McEnery; they fought against 3500 police and state militia for control. The White League defeated the state militia, inflicting about 100 casualties. The insurgents occupied the state house and armory for three days, and turned out Governor Kellogg. When former Confederate general James Longstreet tried to stop the fighting, he was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner by the White League. Kellogg wired for federal troops and, within three days, President Ulysses S. Grant sent Federal troops there. The White League insurgents retreated from New Orleans before the federal troops arrived, and no one was prosecuted.
In response to a call for a mass meeting to protest against the seizure of arms of private citizens, men gathered on Canal Street around 10:00 Monday morning and a committee consisting of Robert H. Marr (chairman), Jules Tayes, Samuel Dopin, Samuel Bell, and J. M. Seixas called upon the governor, meeting BG Henry Dibble at the executive office at noon. The governor refused to meet and considered the committee as representing now armed masses a menace. Marr declared that the masses were unarmed, but Dibble countered that while those on Canal Street may be unarmed, beyond there were armed bodies assembled for the same purpose.
About 4:00 in the afternoon, self proclaimed Lieutenant Governor D. B. Penn made a proclamation calling on the militia of the state to assemble "for the purpose of driving the usurpers from power". Frederick Nash Ogden was appointed provisional general of the "Louisiana State Militia" (here representing the White League) by Penn and a statement was made to blacks in Louisiana that their rights and property should not be harmed. Already by 3 PM armed men were stationed at the intersection of all streets on the south side of Canal Street, from the river to Clayborne street. At 4 PM, a body of Metropolitans with cavalry and artillery, possibly commanded by Longstreet, arrived at Canal Street and ordered the armed citizens to disperse. Once firing began, however, the Metropolitans broke and the citizens captured one piece of artillery. The citizens then captured City Hall and the fire alarm telegraph and built a barricade along Poydras street and from that street to the canal. A company of US Troops protected the custom house, but was not involved in the initial conflict, while the White League held the portion of the city above the canal and massed around Jackson Square and the St. Louis Hotel. Most of the barricades were made with street railroad cars.
Among the Metropolitans killed were Sergeant James McManus, Sergeant J. K. Champaign, Corporal J. F. Clermont, Officers J. Hill, E Simmonds, J. Schields, and H. Ballard. Among the citizens killed were E. A. Talledano, Frederick Moreman, Dick Lindsey, Catain J. M. West, Major J. K Gourdain, and journalist J. M. Cleet. Badger's leg was crushed when his horse was killed under him and he had his leg amputated. Many more were injured, including customs agent and future activist-historian Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes.
Kellogg, Longstreet and others took refuge in the Custom House on the 14th and the 15th. By the 17th, federal forces were arriving and the situation had reversed, and General William H. Emory met with opposition leaders McEnery, Penn, Marr, and Duncan F. Cage, guaranteeing the freedom from arrest of those involved in exchange for the restoration of the state administration, the return of arms from the state arsenal, and the resumption of the status before the outbreak of violence. The group submitted, insisting no show of force was necessary, but that they regarded Louisiana as no longer a state, but as a province without a democratic government. Later that day a rumor spread that a group of as many as 2000 blacks intended to capture Treme station, but the disturbance was quelled. The 22nd US Infantry was ordered to proceed to New Orleans under General Irvin McDowell and the Colorado, the Kansas, and the Shawmut were sent from their station in Key West under Admiral James Robert Madison Mullany. By September 21, the surrender was complete and the temporary police force in the city was replaced by the regular forces.
Grant ordered General Philippe Régis de Trobriand, commanding the 13th Regiment, to the city to protect the state government from violence. On January 4, 1875, Governor Kellogg requested his aid to eject men from the legislature who had not been certified by the Returning Board. Trobriand entered the state house with some men at the governor's request, and escorted the eight men out after they had each given speeches of objection. The Democrats never returned; they set up an alternate legislature meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall in the city. They were committed to their candidate, Francis T. Nicholls, as governor for the next two years. During the remaining period, the Republican gubernatorial claimant, Stephen B. Packard, and legislators effectively controlled only a small part of New Orleans. Conservative white Democrats outside the city supported Nichols.
Trobriand and his regiment stayed in the city until January 1877, when federal troops were withdrawn in the 1877 compromise.
In 1891, as the Democratic legislature passed laws that disenfranchised most blacks, the city government erected the Liberty Monument to "commemorate the uprising" of 1874 in the city. The monument was prominently placed in the neutral ground (median) near the foot of Canal Street. In 1932 inscriptions were added to the monument which attested to the battle's role in establishing white supremacy.
By the late 20th century after civil rights achievements, many residents, especially in the black and Italian American communities, objected to the monument as a symbol of racism. (White League veterans had led a mob that lynched eleven Sicilian men in 1891.) In 1974 the city government added a plaque at the foot of the monument; it acknowledged the history while officially distancing the City from the racist philosophy of previous generations.
In 1989 the monument was removed during major street work on Canal Street. Many residents opposed its being restored and replaced. The city tried to negotiate removing the inscriptions. Some people argued for the monument's being restored at the original location. The content of the inscriptions was seldom discussed; rather, the issues were dealt with on technical grounds. Historic preservation officials argued for its replacement; others argued this was history that did not deserve continued commemoration.
On July 16, 1993, the New Orleans City Council voted 6 to 1, to declare the monument a nuisance. It was taken to a warehouse, with the intention to move it to an indoor museum. They eventually allowed the monument to be installed at a less prominent location, a short distance off Canal Street (at the river end of Iberville Street) between the One Canal Place parking garage and a floodwall.
White supremacist David Duke cited the monument as a symbol of "white pride", and in 2004 tried to stage a rally by it. The monument is frequently vandalized, the subject of anti-racist and anti-Nazi graffiti. It was one of three monuments vandalized in March 2012, by a group that protested in an email against monuments celebrating white supremacy; they also were marking the deaths of three young African-American men killed under questionable circumstances. A local businessman led his staff in cleaning up the monuments; he said that after Hurricane Katrina, residents needed to build the city together.
In July 2015, after the Charleston church shooting the previous month caused many southern states and communities to rethink the public display of Confederate symbols and monuments, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu called for the Liberty Place monument and statues honoring Robert E. Lee and other Confederate notables to be removed from prominent public spaces, explaining that "that's what museums are for." The idea drew both support and resistance, and the city council voted unanimously to hold public hearings to discuss the proposal.
The following inscription was added in 1932:
- "[Democrats] McEnery and Penny having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored).
- United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state."
In 1974, the city government added an adjacent marker, which stated:
- "Although the "battle of Liberty Place" and this monument are important parts of the New Orleans history, the sentiments in favor of white supremacy expressed thereon are contrary to the philosophy and beliefs of present-day New Orleans."
When the monument was moved in 1993, some of the original inscriptions were removed, and replaced with new inscriptions that state in part:
- "In honor of those Americans on both sides who died in the Battle of Liberty Place ... A conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future."
- "Badger, Algernon Sidney". A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
- Adolph Reed, Jr., "The battle of Liberty Monument - New Orleans, Louisiana white supremacist statue", The Progressive, June 1993, accessed 18 May 2010
- The White Leaguers Make a Demonstration in New Orleans. Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), Tuesday, September 15, 1874, Page: 1
- Anarchy At The South. Result of Last Night's Fighting at New Orleans. National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), Saturday, September 19, 1874 Page: 5, The White Leaguers Make a Demonstration in New Orleans. Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), Tuesday, September 15, 1874, Page: 1
- Vernhettes, Dan and Hanley, Peter. The Desdunes Family. The Jazz Archivist, Tulane University, XXVII, 2014, pages 25-45. Accessed February 3, 2016 at http://jazz.tulane.edu/sites/default/files/jazz/docs/jazz_archivist/Jazz_Archivist_vol27_2014.pdf
- Louisiana the Conference between the Republican and Democratic Leaders Comes to Naughy, Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), Tuesday, September 22, 1874 Volume: III Issue: 181 Page: 1
- Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, Introduction
- "Photos of monument to Battle of Liberty Place
- "New Orleans to Remove Obelisk Revered by White Supremacists", New York Times, 16 July 1993
- Katy Reckdahl, "3 defaced New Orleans monuments are cleaned by volunteers", The Times-Picayune, March 2012
- Jones, Terry L. The Louisiana Journey, Layton, Utah: Gibbs, Smith Publisher, 2007, p. 238.
- "Marker #34742, Monument to Battle of Liberty Place", Historical Markers Database
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Liberty Place.|
- Adolph Reed, Jr., "The battle of Liberty Monument - New Orleans, Louisiana white supremacist statue", The Progressive, June 1993
- Battle of Liberty Place Monument, Historic Marker Database
- Account of 2004 vandalism to monument, New Orleans Indymedia, June 2004