As our country continues to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I’ve been trying to learn more about this national conflict. So, I’ve been reading the New York Times’ Disunion blog as well as Adam Goodheart’s book, 1861 The Civil War Awakening.” The book’s description of every day people as well as military heroes made me realize I haven’t delved very far into my ancestors’ part in the Civil War. My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton lived through this tumultuous time as a slave in New Orleans while my my great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart fought as a Confederate to defend the Crescent City against Union forces. I found a copy of the Colonel’s muster roll at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. over a year ago, but I’ve never been moved to learn more about his service than the little printed on the one-page document. While he was fighting to uphold the Confederacy, Tempy was tending to her and the Colonel’s youngest child, Alfred who would have been around two years-old when his dad decided to fight with the Confederates. As much as I abhor the Colonel’s position as a slaveholder and his decision to fight to uphold their cause, reading Goodheart’s book made me curious about the battle that my great, great-grandfather fought in.
So, I pulled out the copy of his muster roll and gave it a closer look. He signed up a year into the conflict and his service was short, from March 8 to April 30, 1862. What made him decide to get involved in the conflict then? Why such a quick tour of duty? The note at the bottom of the muster roll says that Stuart was immediately transferred to Major General Mansfield Lovell “for local defense of the city of New Orleans and its approaches on March 8, 1862.” With a little more digging at knowla.org, the online Encyclopedia of Louisiana, I soon realized that my great, great-grandfather had fought unsuccessfully to defend New Orleans against Union forces in a major battle that some historians believe lost the war for the Confederates. On May 1st, 1862, Maj. General Benjamin Butler arrived in New Orleans to begin the federal occupation of the town that would last through the reconstruction period.
I’m looking forward to learning more about what this time was like for my ancestors from resources like James McPherson’s book The Negro’s Civil War and Charles Dufour’s The Night the War Was Lost. There is quite a bit of material about this battle at the Louisiana State University’s library as well, but that will require a trip to their archives. Meanwhile, I’m taking notes from a3genealogy.com‘s Kathleen Brandt who has written a piece for AARP’s online site on researching your Civil War ancestors.
Where else should I look to learn more about this battle and the long federal occupation of New Orleans that followed which would have affected both the Colonel and Tempy? Where are you looking to learn more about how this time affected your ancestors?