War Comes To Jefferson Parish

~ A Brief History Of A Defensive Line ~

In February of 1861, a brand new Constitutional "National" Republic  is born in Montgomery, Alabama.  This Republic is born out of necessity ~ it is a very loose confederation of the brand new "Seven Republics" who join in common cause: the common defense of the independent "Seven Republics" against military and naval invasion from Federal President Abraham Lincoln and his United States of America.

As more Southern states secede from the Union, they quickly apply for and join the provisional "Confederate States of America" ~ until they  number 13 states in the new nation-state.  While the political heart of the new Republic starts in Montgomery then relocates to Richmond, Virginia ~ the economic heart of the new Republic is New Orleans, Louisiana.  This city now witnesses an exponential growth of international commerce as the wealth of the Southern states flows to the Port of New Orleans for sale to Europe ~ especially France and England.

Europe's "Industrial Age" needs high quality raw materials to fuel growth, and cotton is essential to the textile industries throughout Europe.  New Orleans' warehouses and wharfs are host to hundreds of 2 ton bails of cotton ready for transshipment to these textile mills ...

Every ship setting sails for Europe ladened with cotton, tobacco and food (especially Louisiana sugar) provisions currencies from Europe coming into both Louisiana state coffers as well as the coffers of the Provisional Confederate government in the form of tariffs and fees.

As significant as international commerce is to Louisiana and the Confederacy, New Orleans possesses a critical military manufacturer: the Gretna-based "Phoenix Iron Works".  Before the war, this iron works provided the overwhelming majority of U. S. Navy ship cannon and carriages.  When Louisiana seceded, the Phoenix Iron Works becomes the single source of naval cannon and carriage for the brand new Confederate States Navy.

Federal President Lincoln recognizes this critical naval weapons manufacturer and the international economic power flowing into and from New Orleans as the number one threat to his war against the Confederate States of America.  As Scott's "Great Water Snake" attempts to seal off all Confederate ports from trade with Europe, Europe views the Federal blockade as a direct threat against their economies ~ and begin filing protests against the blockade ... especially the port of New Orleans.

To prevent European Naval Fleets from entering the war to break the blockade and reopening the Port of New Orleans to international trade, Lincoln orders the Federal Navy to either seize ~ or destroy ~ the City of New Orleans.  This is the second time Lincoln orders a Confederate city either seized or destroyed ~ the first being the city of Charleston, South Carolina, prior to the Battle of Fort Sumter weeks earlier.  As the war reaches the Summer of '64, Lincoln will once more issue orders to commit 'total war against the civilian population of the Confederacy' ~ and this time, the City of Atlanta is burnt to the ground as the "Grand Start" of the "March To The Sea Campaign" by William T. Sherman.  But this is another story for another time, perhaps ...

Federal Rear Admiral Farragut assumes command of an invasion fleet ordered to sail up the Mississippi River and take the city.  Confederate operatives in Washington, D. C., learn of Lincoln's orders and quickly notify the Confederate government of the coming attack.  Louisiana and New Orleans officials order defensive fortifications built to the east and west of the city on both banks of the Mississippi River to defend this critical port against Federal destruction.

State and city officials construct massive defensive lines on swamp lands that would support Federal Army invasions of the city.  Forts are constructed at the river edges of these ramparts and the heaviest cannon available are sent to these forts to reign fire down on any Federal Naval ships sailing towards the city.  The problem is immediately apparent to Louisiana and New Orleans officials ~ throughout 1861, the overwhelming majority of cannon and munitions existing in Louisiana were shipped to the growing Provisional Armies of the Confederate States (PACS) to repel Lincoln's U. S. Army from invading the Mason-Dixon Line border states, especially Tennessee and Virginia.  Louisiana has also trained, armed and equipped thousands of Louisiana men at Camp Moore ~ then established "Louisiana Divisions" dispatched to the newly organized Armies in Tennessee and Virginia to defend the Confederacy against land attacks.

There simply are not enough of either manpower or munitions to defend the city and port as well as continuing to build the PACS Armies along the Confederate / United States frontiers.  While the fortifications are complete, manpower and munitions are in critically short supply.  The longest and largest of these defensive ramparts is Fort John Morgan, built on the Eastbank of the Mississippi River defending the city from land and naval invasion from the northern Mississippi River.

The Red Lines Are Defensive Ramparts Defending The City Of New Orleans

Farragut's appearance at the mouth of the Mississippi River sailing towards New Orleans leaves Louisiana and New Orleans city officials with one of two options: fight what would be a losing battle and risk the destruction of this critical Confederate port ~ or ~ declare the city an "open city", abandon the city and recapture the city at a later date.  First there will be Confederate Forts near the mouth of the Mississippi River attacking Farragut's fleet ~ but supplies of ammunition are very low to begin with and are quickly expended with little impact to stop Farragut's invasion fleet.  Confederate garrison troops expend 100% of their available ammunition and either withdraw their cannon or spike the cannon and then toss them into the river ... then withdraw to the stronger defensive lines closer to the city.

With Farragut's fleet approaching, city and Louisiana officials declare the city an "open city" and all Confederate forces withdraw towards Camp Moore, believing they will be rearmed and equipped for a recapture assault on New Orleans ... the recapture of New Orleans never happens.

The Fall of New Orleans, Louisiana
~ 01 May 1862 ~

As Confederate forces withdraw from their ramparts, Federal Army Occupation troops disembark from Farragut's fleet ships and race towards the abandoned Confederate ramparts.  When the Confederate counterattack does not immediately appear at the ramparts, Major General Nathanial Banks US Army orders the defensive lines improved ~ Confederates built these ramparts and know them too well for Banks' to leave them as is.  The improvements ordered by Banks require vast numbers of laborers, and Federal commanders in occupied New Orleans seize "contraband" property ~ slaves ~ from the region's plantations as well as blacks who gravitate to Federal lines seeking freedom.  Instead of freedom, they're handed shovels, picks and axes ... and begin the improvements under federal troops armed 'supervision' in summer heat that reached near 100o F temperatures by mid-summer of '62.

One rampart in particular is not only improved ~ but lengthened ... with critical sections of the rampart torn down to be replaced or heavily remastered to look deceptively like the original Confederate ramparts ... these deceptive changes create deadly fields of fire no person could survive in once a firefight commenced.  That defensive line was the Confederate ramparts known as Fort John Morgan ~ now renamed by Banks to what it is known as today: Camp Parapet.

The original Fort John Morgan ramparts stopped at what today is Old Metairie Road ~ now it extends well into Cypress and Oak Swamp ... an area Banks felt Confederate troops could navigate and slip past these western ramparts to attack federal troops from the flanks.

Camp Parapet
~ ca 1863 ~

Many units from Northern states were stationed at the camp for the duration of the war, including the 73rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops. This unit was originally known as the Louisiana Native Guards and was the first African-American Regiment formed during the War. It is most well known for its valor in the Port Hudson Campaign during the Summer of '63.  Only later did the 54th Massachusetts, the noted African-American Regiment depicted in the film "Glory", gain fame in South Carolina.

Where is "Camp Parapet" today?  Where can anyone find those 1861 - 1865 ramparts now? 

When compared to the current terrain, the road which ran from Camp Parapet's main redoubt to Metairie Road roughly corresponds to modern day Causeway Boulevard.  In fact, as one drives along Causeway Boulevard from the Mississippi River northwards towards Lake Ponchatrain, you drive on sections of the boulevard where sides of the road slope downwards at a rather unusual angle ... you are driving on the remnants of sections of Fort John Morgan / Camp Parapet.  In the decades after the War of 1861-1865, as communities expanded westwards away from the city of New Orleans, future area residents simply dug up the earth from the crumbling ramparts to lay down as foundation dirt to build homes and businesses onto.  Another contemporary landmark familiar to residents of the area during the war ~ the path taken by the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad in the 1860s is about the same path Airline Highway follows today.

After decades of post-War pilfering for building materials ~ all that remains of the original Fort John Morgan / Camp Parapet ramparts is a lone dirt and grass-covered powder magazine near the Mississippi River levee at the southern-most end of Causeway Boulevard.

Fort John Morgan / Camp Parapet's River Cannonade Powder Magazine
~ Today ~

Entrance to this remnant of Jefferson Parish Confederate and Federal military history can be found on Arlington Avenue just off Causeway Boulevard.  Sadly, the Jefferson Parish "Civil War Park" opens only once each year for the public during the Jefferson Historical Society's annual 'Camp Parapet Weekend' ... normally held in either October or early November each year.

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