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    A "Letter from a New Orleans Lady"

    [Civil War - Battle of New Orleans]. Margaretta Wederstrandt Autograph Letter Signed in Defense of the Authorities and Citizens of New Orleans. Four pages of a bifolium, 7.5" x 9.5", with 7.50"x 2"piece of paper pasted to the second leaf with text on reverse side. Undated [ca. late December 1862-early January 1863]. The letter was written to the editors of the Memphis Appeal (then being published in Mississippi) concerning an article, "The Fall of Fort Jackson, St. Phillips & New Orleans" by "Artillerist," that appeared in the newspaper on December 27, 1862. Wederstrandt believed the last paragraph of the article, which stated that "The circumstances attending the demand for a surrender of the city, its evacuation by the army, the refusal of the civil , its occupation by Commodore Farragut, and subsequent transfer to Gen. Butler; --are too well known to need repetition," required "a few finishing touches; being incomplete." Because "the 'Artillerist' has formed an erroneous impression in the supposition that the public mind in Mississippi is informed of the 'refusal of the civil authorities to surrender'-a serious and woeful ignorance of the fact prevails, which has prejudiced Mississippians against their neighbors," and thus, "as a resident of the Crescent City, the writer deems it a sacred duty to enlighten the public, in order to remove the cloud of unjust accusation enveloping New Orleans."

    Signing her letter "Refugee," Wederstrandt then proceeded to set the record straight regarding the actions of the authorities and citizens of New Orleans during the fall of the city:

    "With reference to the seemingly unaccountable deficiency in the supply of ammunition at the Forts, the precipitate evacuation of the Forts...together with the total abandonment of the devoted city by the Confederate Army...civilians are unqualified to explain, being misinformed of military counsels. But with regard to the conduct of the Civil Authorities-all who have read the published correspondence of Mayor Monroe and Commodore Farragut must remember the reply of the Mayor to the demand for surrender; 'To surrender would be an idle farce, and a useless humiliation to a distressed and excited community.'
    Before the expiration of the twenty-four hours allotted for the consideration of the proposal of capitulation, the impatient conqueror-eager to grasp the long coveted prize - landed and hoisted the flag of the United States over the Custom House and Mint in token of possession; -which so exasperated the people that they gratefully & unanimously applauded the heroic act...of tearing down...the fluttering symbol of insult and outrage. The war of flags continued until the sixth day, terminating in consequence of the coercive threats of Farragut to shell the city within forty-eight hours....The Mayor and Council replied to Farragut that the 'responsibility of the threatened bombardment would rest with the United States government which would become the scorn of the civilized world for committing the barbarous acts'; the citizens enthusiastically sustained the authorities and although aware of the hopelessness of their fate - calmly awaited the anticipated bombardment - (few made any preparation for personal security) - and said with one voice 'Let them shell we are ready to die.' On the sixth day the authorities - oppressed with the moral responsibility of exposing thousands of noncombatants, and holy innocents to the horrible fate so unblushingly threatened by the merciless foe - concluded to accede to terms of capitulation; and the sorrowing city fell a prey to the marauding enemy - whose commander Butler [the representative of the United States] repudiated the law of nations (viz) 'a fallen foe is no longer an object of revenge or hatred.'

    The subsequent history of this city of martyrs; the cruel oppressions & insults the citizens were subjected to; their constant hope and expectations of a rescue; their heroic fortitude in resisting the enforcement of proclamation No. 41 (which was issued on June 10) - until after Sept 15th, when despairing of relief by the Confederacy - many yielded to the force of circumstances - sacrificing personal sentiment in accepting protection or passports; according to the terms of the tyrant...is a theme too harrowing to the feelings to dwell upon at length; and can be appreciated only by those who were eyewitnesses and fellow sufferers of the victims of Butler's persecution.

    The sorrows of the Crescent City should call forth the sympathies of her sisters of the Confederacy; and the heroic, martyrlike spirit manifested by her citizens at her downfall (when defenseless people hurled defiance against an armed foe - exhibited a phrenzy of patriotism - sublime in its simplicity - as it was unpolitic suicide - and impracticable - in a military point of view) is worthy of the highest encomiums of the historian. In consideration of the fact that the troops which evacuated N. Orleans were transferred to Vicksburg - it seems not inappropriate to conclude by paying a just tribute to Louisianians for their successful efforts in her defense..."

    A condensed version of Wederstrandt's letter was published in the Memphis Appeal as a "Letter from a New Orleans Lady" on January 20, 1863. New Orleans fell to Union forces in the wake of the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip on April 18-28, 1862. The two Confederate forts located south of New Orleans on the Mississippi River were attacked and taken by a Union naval fleet under the command of David G. Farragut, leaving the city in a defenseless position. Upon the surrender of the city of New Orleans, General Benjamin F. Butler, commander of Union land forces backing up Farragut's naval operations, assumed control of city. Butler's firm control of New Orleans was viewed as draconian by its citizens. The despised general became known as "Beast Butler."

    Margaretta Wederstrandt was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana, on May 22, 1816 to Philemon Charles and Helen Smith Wederstrandt. She married Isaac Edward Morse on January 8, 1835. She died in Washington, D.C. on July 24, 1893.

    Included with this letter is a 7.75" x 5.75" sheet containing two short undated letters from Wederstrandt to her father and her husband, which serves to confirm that she is indeed the author of the letter offered here.

    Condition: Very good overall, with the center horizontal fold of the Memphis Appeal letter repaired with archival tape with no loss of text. Small portion of paper at the bottom right of the second leaf is missing which does not affect the text.


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