They Opened the Paper and the Women Gasped
Very few women saw a battlefield or fired a shot in the Civil War. Yet women still have their own way of supporting their causes without picking up a gun and this war was no exception.
One of the more interesting stories of women fighting back during the Civil War occurred in New Orleans. The city was seized by General Benjamin Butler and federal troops in May 1862. After having defeated Confederate forces at Ft. Jackson and St. Philip, Butler’s army easily captured New Orleans.
With the Union occupation of the city, tensions ran high. Butler and his army of 15,000 men were very visible in and around New Orleans much to the disgust of its residents. The women of the city were outraged and decided to take matters in their own hands.
Their plan was simple. While out and about in the community they were bound to be in contact with Union soldiers. They would not recognize the invaders with any respect. When a woman found herself in the company of the enemy she would glare at them, gather her skirts and cross to the other side of the street or completely ignore a greeting or attempt at conversation.
These actions it was hoped, would force a Union soldier to retaliate against a woman causing an uprising within the city. Such retaliation by a northerner would rally the civilian population of New Orleans to revolt and drive the enemy from their midst.
By orders of Gen. Butler the Union army refrained from any reaction. So the women escalated their attempts by issuing insults to soldiers, spitting on them and even teaching their children to do the same.
Much to the surprise of the woman who had taken on this task, Union soldiers were instructed to hold their tongues and tempers in check, and did. As the woman increased their efforts to bring about an adverse reaction hostilities between the population and the occupying army increased. General Butler knew it was a matter of time before one of his men responded to an insult. So he took matters into his own hands. Issuing General Orders No. 28 which was published in the May 16, 1862, Daily Picayune, the residents read:
“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”
By command of Major General Butler, Geo. C. Strong A.A.G., Chief of Staff
General Order No. 28 was met with gasps by the woman of New Orleans and criticized widely throughout the South and even into Europe. In fact General Butler received the nickname “the Beast” for his actions yet the order had its desired effect.
The insults, spitting and offenses against Union soldiers stopped almost immediately. The woman of the city had no desire to be treated and face the consequences meted out to prostitutes. With very few exceptions General Orders No. 28 hit its mark.
The population of New Orleans may have had the last laugh though. Late in the fall of 1862 a local merchant started selling chamber pots with Butler’s image in the bottom. It’s said the merchant made a fortune!