Hanging at the Mint

The US Mint in New Orleans is a building with a storied past. It is the oldest building still standing that was originally a US Mint. Officially becoming a branch Mint in March of 1835, the Mint began coining in 1838. The Mint was not only used to create Federal coins, but also Confederate coins when the state of Louisiana seceded from the Union.  The Mint, however has a side of history that is rather infamous. In April of 1862, when the city of New Orleans was captured by Union forces led by General Farragut, a United States flag was hoisted to the top of the flagstaff of the Mint. A crew of ragtag rebels led by William B. Mumford climbed to the top of the Mint and tore down the flag and dragged it through the streets of the Crescent City. Upon learning this, General Benjamin Butler, the military general in charge of the state of Louisiana, demanded in his Special Order No. 70 that Butler be hanged from the flagstaff. So on June 7 of the same year, as a crowd gathered in front of the Mint, W.B. Mumford was put to death from the point where he climaxed as a “hero” in the eyes of Southern loyalists. This is a story of raging disunity. This is the story of a Beast, and his vicious rampage through a Confederate city, which begins with the execution of a non-local Confederate loyalist.

The story of Mumford begins with the fall of New Orleans on April 25, 1862. There was much debate between federal officers and city officials on which flags would be flown over the city’s major buildings. Also, the surrendering of the city took longer than expected, as Confederate officers refused to give it up. The mayor, John T. Monroe, refused to lower the Louisiana flag from buildings such as City Hall, the Courthouse, and the Customhouse. However, the Federal forces were able to raise the American flag over the US Mint. This angered many loyalists of the Confederacy, as their city fell from their hands to their “sworn enemies.” One such loyalist, William B. Mumford, decided to show off his hatred by tearing down the flag from the Mint. According to the April 27th publication of the Daily Picayune, Mumford’s crew were being fired upon by the Federal Naval fleet while tearing down the flag. One shell from the federals even hit the house of Mr. J.A. Lacour, although the shell never exploded. The Picayune went on to say that Mumford and his band of loyalists “deserve great credit for their patriotic act.” Mumford risked his life to show his support for the Confederate cause. Mumford was then arrested by General Benjamin Butler a few days later. But before diving into the rest of the story, it is important to understand who both of these men are and a brief summary of their journey to the Crescent City.

William B. Mumford was a native of North Carolina who ended up in New Orleans after being injured in the Mexican American War. His injury limited his impact on the Confederate war cause as to being only able to recruit soldiers. He was married and fathered three children. He was coined the “best billiards player” in the entire city, as well as a hero by many faces of the Confederacy. His executioner, Gen. Butler had a different opinion on Mumford. In his memoirs, Butler tagged Mumford as a “gambler and an undesirable citizen.” Butler, born in New Hampshire and raised in Massachusetts as a lawyer and politician who joined the United States Army as a major general. He was sent to occupy New Orleans after the fall of the city into Union hands. Butler’s first major move, arresting and hanging Mumford for tearing down the flag, would foreshadow his reputation for dealing with New Orleanians.

The trial of William Mumford went according to Butler; that is no one expected the outcome. Mumford was set to be hanged from the US Mint on the 7th day of June. The punishment did not fit the crime, and it was Butler’s way of making an example of Mumford to the rest of the population who still held their loyalty to the Confederacy. On June 5th, Butler released an infamous Special Order

william b mumford
Portrait of William B. Mumford. Taken from civilwartalk.com

in regard to the Mumford trial, “William B. Mumford, a citizen of New Orleans, having been convicted before the military commission of treason and an overt act thereof, in tearing down the United States flag from a public building of the United States, for the purpose of inciting other evil-minded to further resistance to the laws and arms of the United States, after said flag was placed there by Commodore Farragut, of the United States Navy. It is ordered that he be executed, according to the sentence of the said military commission, on Saturday, June 7th instant, between the hours of 8 A.M. and 12 M., under the direction of the provost-marshal of the district of New Orleans; and for so doing, this shall be his sufficient warrant.” This order was read to Mumford on the day it was published, and he responded to it with “no emotion,” as reported by the New Orleans Delta on May 8th.

On the morning of his execution, Mumford was escorted from the Customhouse by the 12th Main Volunteers. He was allowed to bid adieu to his wife and children, and it was reported as “a sorrowful sight.” Around 9 A.M. he arrived at the US Mint, where his eyes took sight of the scaffold, and then he looked away. When he settled in, he made conversation with gentlemen present, stating “he was prepared to die.” He was then led to scaffold, where his neck tie and collar were removed, and he was asked if he had any final words. According to the New Orleans Delta, Mumford’s last words were used to tell the gathering crowd to “act justly to others, and to raise your children properly, and when they meet death, that they meet it firmly.” He was then hanged for 45 minutes until he was placed until a coffin and buried. The crowd that had arrived at the Mint on the dreadful morning never believed that Mumford would be hanged. Many though that the hanging was just a scare tactic by Butler and that it would never actually take place. However, Butler was convinced to make an example of Mumford. So, on the morning of June 7th, William B. Mumford, the North Carolina native who had a love for the Confederacy, was hanged from the building that marked the pinnacle of his loyalty.

Mumford’s execution made national news, although he was by no means a prominent figure in society. His death marked the divide between loyalists on both sides. It represented how radical Northerners wanted to silence the Confederacy, thus allowing for the Union to take full control of the country. Once news of Mumford’s hanging reached Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, he called for the hanging of the felon, Butler. Many southerners, including Richard Yeardon, placed ads in newspapers of rewards for the death of “the Beast.” In the Confederacy’s eyes, there was great injustice in the hanging of Mumford for “treason.” Thomas Moore, governor of Louisiana believed that “The noble heroism of the Patriot Mumford has placed his name high on the list of our martyred sons.” The reason this incident received so much national attention was because Mumford pulled down the flag prior to the city being occupied by Federal troops. Technically, New Orleans was still in the hands of the South when the flag was pulled down, as noted by Moore in his letter to the Daily Picayune. Butler was detested by Confederate partisans in New Orleans for his treatment of the citizens before and after the hanging. Prior to the hanging, he issued a special order that made it a crime for the women of the city to talk to federal soldiers. He made it so the federal troops were separated from the southerners. Butler struck an even lower cord with the citizens on June 30th when he released three special orders. One of which banished a woman to Ship Island for teaching her children to spit on Union soldiers. A man was also banished to Ship Island for two years for displaying a skeleton in his store window, making it seem it was the skeleton of a former Union soldier. Lastly, another man was banished to Ship Island for having a cross made of “Yankee bones.” Butler’s command ended on December 30, 1862, when Major General Banks took over. This was a sigh of relief for pro-Confederate citizens of New Orleans, as a man whom they viewed as a dictator was finally leaving them.

major-general-benjamin-butler
Portrait of General Benjamin Butler. Taken from civilwar.org
robinson's atlas
Robinson’s Atlas of the US Mint. Mint is located at the bottom right of the Atlas.

The US Mint’s significance in the war is not only in its production of Confederate coins, but also as the starting point of a mini war between Butler and the loyal citizens of New Orleans. By pulling down the flag, Mumford proved that it would be hard to control the citizens of New Orleans. By hanging the Mumford, Butler proved that it would be hard to act out of law without consequences. The battle between the “Beast” and New Orleans only lasted 9 months, but by the time he left office, there were numerous bounties placed on his head, as well as the threat of death by hanging from Jefferson Davis. The US Mint will always be remembered for two dates: April 25th and June 7th, the date where a “hero” went and pulled down the flag of the aggressor, and the date where such “hero” was put to death by the work of a “Beast.”

 

SOURCES

  1. “New Orleans US Coin Mint.” USA Coin Book. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
  2. “The City.” Daily Picayune [New Orleans] 27 Apr. 1862: 4. Access Business News [NewsBank]. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
  3. “William B. Mumford.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 27 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
  4. Peterson, TB. Life and Public Service of General Butler. N.p.: TB Peterson, 1864. Print.
  5. “Mumford, the New Orleans Thug and Rebel.” Nashville Daily Union 14 Jan. 1863: 1. Chronicling America. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
  6.  http://www.orleanscivilclerk.com/robinson/atlas/robinson6.html-link to Robinson’s Atlas
  7. US Mint. Digital image. Library of Congress. US Congress, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.-Featured photo

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