An illustration shows women spitting at Union occupiers and treating them differently after Gen. Benjamin E. Butler issued his notorious proclamation. (Library of Congress)

The people of New Orleans were seething.

The hated intruders had forced the city to submit and haul down its emblems. There was tension in the streets. Women of the city scoffed and spat in defiance — until the Union occupiers issued a proclamation.

Henceforth, it said, any woman giving offense “by word, gesture, or movement … shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

Its impact was said to be immediate, but the Union general who issued the order was soon known as “Beast.”

It was May 15, 1862 — 155 years ago this week — and the issue before New Orleans was then, as it is today, the matter of the Civil War.

Then, the cosmopolitan metropolis of the South had just been conquered by the Union Navy and Army, in a huge blow to the Confederacy. It would remain occupied, and intact — unlike other, ruined, Southern cities — for the rest of the war.

Now, the city is wrestling again with the war, and public agitation, as it removes the last of its statues that honor Confederate heroes. On Friday morning, New Orleans began dismantling its monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee under police guard. The city has already taken down statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, along with the Battle of Liberty Place monument.

The removals this month have been marked by tension between those who see the statues as memorials to white supremacy, and those who see them as part of the country’s history.

In 1862, the trouble was between conquerors and conquered.

New Orleans fell to Union forces early in the war, in April 1862, after the Navy under Capt. David G. Farragut, smashed the enemy forts defending the Mississippi River passage to the city.

But the occupying Union forces then faced a New Orleans filled with furious citizens. Crowds roamed the streets and menaced sailors and Marines. Disastrous clashes were barely avoided.

“We landed on the levee in front of a howling mob, which thronged the river-front as far as the eye could reach,” Navy Capt. Albert Kautz, wrote years later in the compendium, “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.” “Farragut informed me that if a shot was fired at us by the mob, he would open fire from all the ships and level the town.”

“I attempted to reason with the mob, but soon found this impossible,” Kautz recalled. “I then thought to clear the way by bringing the marines to an aim, but women and children were shoved to the front, while the angry mob behind them shouted: ‘Shoot, you — Yankees, shoot!’”

On April 29, amid great tension, Kautz and some of his sailors went to City Hall and climbed to the roof to take down the Louisiana state flag. Kautz drew his sword and cut it down. “Fortunately for the peace of the city of New Orleans, the vast crowd looked on in sullen silence as the flag came down,” Kautz wrote.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was dubbed “Beast Butler” by the people of New Orleans. (Library of Congress)

Two weeks later, the city still was seething as Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s soldiers began the occupation. Butler, 53, was a lawyer and politician from Massachusetts who would later hang a New Orleans resident who had torn down an American flag flying over a federal building.

As the occupation began, angry citizens spat on Union soldiers, and a woman emptied a chamber pot from her window on Farragut’s head as he passed.

Incensed, Butler issued General Order No. 28, which became known as the “Woman’s Order.”

“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 began, any woman behaving so in the future would be treated as a prostitute.

The order provoked compliance, but Butler was reviled and on Christmas Eve of that year Jefferson Davis issued a Butler proclamation:

“I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America … do pronounce and declare the said Benjamin F. Butler to be a felon deserving of capital punishment. I do order that he be no longer considered … simply as a public enemy of the Confederate States of America but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that in the event of his capture the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging.”

After the war, Butler became governor of Massachusetts, ran unsuccessfully for president, and died in Washington in 1893 at the age of 74.

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