"General Order #28"
O.R.—SERIES I—VOLUME XV [S#21]
Union Correspondence, Orders, And Returns Relating To Operations In West Florida, Southern Alabama, Southern Mississippi, And Louisiana From May 12, 1862, To May 14, 1863: And In Texas, New Mexico, And Arizona From September 20, 1862, To May 14, 1863.—#1
General Orders, No. 28 (Butler’s Woman Order)
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
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,
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.
"Not only does he murder our menfolk, he’s proclaimed us all whores!" Angele Valmont exclaimed as she read the posted proclamation. Growing anger and dismay twisted her pale face into a mask of intense resentment. "That…bastard!"
"Mam’selle!" her maid gasped. "Such language!"
"Hush, Essie," she ordered the quadroon woman, her voice sharp edged and biting. She ignored the dismay on her abigail’s face. "Major-General Butler is most certainly exactly what I just called him." Her Creole French accent was less evident than it usually was. Anger made her English clipped and precise.
"Actually he’s worse than that. I doubt he is human at all. He’s nothing but an animal!" She pointed at the proclamation. "This is unconscionable. That a lady be regarded as a common prostitute for any real or imaginary insult is just barbarous." She reached up and grabbed the edge of the order.
"Oh, Mam’selle Angele, don’t!" Essie cried. "There’s no telling what the Yanquis will do to you if you tear that down." She looked about as if expecting one of the blue-clad soldiers filling Jackson Square to clap irons on her charge’s wrists.
Angele stilled. The bright sun shone down and the faint breeze that stirred the light net of Angele’s veil was humid and hot. Her upper lip was heavily dewed, a testament to the discomfort of the black crepe mourning she wore for her brother William. He had fallen nearly seven months earlier at Leesburg in the battle of Ball’s Bluff. She had declared to one and all she was glad he’d died before he could see his beloved New Orleans fall under the dominion of the accursed Yankees. Indeed she continued to wear mourning for the fall of her city rather than for the loss of her brother. She could return to colors any time she wished, according to Creole custom, but had returned to the full black of deepest mourning the day the United States flag had been raised over City Hall, only eschewing the heavy veil in favor of a lighter bit of net and lace that barely concealed her face. She felt to go fully veiled would have been poor taste as well as too uncomfortable and impractical for a New Orleans summer.
She stared a moment more at the latest example of General Butler’s hated martial law. She might sacrifice her comfort to the point of wearing dull black in the heat of a Louisiana summer, but she wasn’t William, willing to die for a cause without considering the consequences to the family. If anything happened to Angele, her sister would be devastated and there’d be no one to see to the warehouses and businesses here in town. She held the order for a moment before she allowed her hand to fall back onto her prim black skirts.
"Let’s go home, Essie. I need to write to Mademoiselle Charlie. It may be best that she not visit me for a while yet. She should stay home with her godfather. Thank the Holy Virgin she has Cousin Séverin to take care of her. He is such a good man." She sighed. "My sister won’t like the news, but New Orleans is no place for her right now."
With rage burning her fair cheeks, she turned and automatically twitched her skirts away from a Union officer who stood behind her. She didn’t want her clothing so much as to brush his boots. She stared with decided desdain at his bulk blocking her way.
"Come. I can’t bear to be near these savages," she said to Essie.
"Pardon me, ma’am," he said with a tiny, ironic smile and a tip of his hat.
She blinked as a tiny chill raced up her spine. He had the most melodic voice she’d ever heard. Those three words were so astoundingly beautiful they robbed her of the power of speech. She stared up into a face as lovely as his voice.
"And I agree that this order is ludicrous," he said as he stepped out of her path. "Butler is an imbecile."
Her cheeks flamed beneath her veil, the chill in her spine turning to fire as it reached her face. He was utterly magnificent and now he showed sensibility as handsome as his face. She rediscovered her voice enough to agree with him.
"He most certainly is. And a complete blackguard, just like every Yanqui ever born." She ignored Essie’s tug on her sleeve and gazed up at the officer realizing how very tall he was. The crinkles around his eyes spoke of long days spent staring at broad horizons from beneath his wide-brimmed cavalry hat. His shoulders were broad and his whole aspect radiated quiet strength. He was undoubtedly as handsome and manly as anyone she’d ever seen, but it was his look of outrage at the posted order that won her complete admiration. He obviously found the posted order as repugnant as she did. The indignation on the officer’s strong face as he read General Order Twenty-Eight caused her heart to warm as much as her flushed cheeks.
He moved slightly and the sun glinted on his buttons and braid. They stood out against his uniform calling the deep blue to her attention. She realized with an unpleasant shock she was openly admiring a Yankee officer in the middle of a public square. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see her conversing with a Yanqui. She knew that social conventions required she offer him her coldest glare and sweep away, but her sense of fairness wouldn’t allow that. His words were too admirable for her to render him that sort of insult. Indeed she had already insulted him and her breeding wouldn’t allow such a thing. Oddly unsettled by his clear gaze, she framed an apology.
"I suppose I should say like most Yankees. Your sentiment does you honor, sir, and sets you apart from your fellows." It was true. With his bright eyes and musical voice, he was like no man she’d ever seen. He was certainly like no Yanqui she’d ever heard of.
Reluctant to leave him but knowing it was impossible to continue conversing openly with him, she gave in to Essie’s silent entreaties. With head high, she turned away from the Cabildo and toward Royal Street. As they reached the corner she was unable to resist an impulse and turned back to find the Union major staring after her with an arrested expression, visibly riveted by her proud carriage and strong words. He touched his hat in salute and she couldn’t fight the urge to raise her hand briefly in a surreptitious farewell.
The entire walk home and at odd moments over the next few days, the memory of his beautiful voice, fine form, and finer convictions played through her mind and she found herself wishing he was not her enemy.
* * *
Major James Darling tapped his pen on his desk and tried to pull his mind away from thoughts of the woman he’d seen outside the Cabildo. Her outrage wasn’t without basis. General Butler’s order was a grave insult to the entire female population of the city and by extension to their gentlemen. James had a feeling there would be repercussions from the order such as Butler never dreamed. And they would all be deserved. James feared the general had given the rag and tag of the army far too great an opportunity to abuse their authority. He knew there were several who would be willing to use the order for their own pleasure. Luckily he also knew many of his fellow officers were doing their best to stress that all women be treated courteously.
James smiled a bit. There was no doubt these women who so insulted Butler’s sensibilities were patriots to a seditious cause. However, regardless of what Order Twenty-Eight implied, they were most certainly ladies.
The woman at the Cabildo was obviously so. Dressed in deep mourning from her bonnet to her shoes, only the angry blush on her cheeks and the faint wine of her lips had relieved the somber black of her attire. He wondered which battle had claimed her husband. It didn’t really matter; so proper a lady shouldn’t be exposed to the possibility of insult because of Butler’s insane order.
James set aside his pen and strode to the tall window of his quarters to look outside. The area before the Saint Charles Hotel hummed busily. He could see the tents of the soldiers below him and dimly hear the noise of their bivouac. Civilians, most of them women, moved up and down Saint Charles Street. They either stared in fascination at the soldiers or avoided looking at them at all. After over a month of occupation, the Northern soldiers were still a new attraction to many of the citizens. Major-General Butler’s newest orders had only deepened the overall animosity and curiosity the townsfolk felt for the Union forces. There was trepidation on nearly every face—black, white, or in between—that gazed at the encampment.
The bright sun glared down from a firmament white with heat and moisture. James would have given a month’s pay for a clear blue sky and a dry breeze. His last post at Fort Kearny was as different from this assignment as could be imagined. He longed for the clean, fresh scent of a Nebraska prairie wind. Instead, the foul smell of the city flowed through the open casements. Even in May it was nauseating and the temperature sweltering. Growing up on his father’s farm in Maryland had been hot and humid, but not like this. He’d never been anywhere that compared to this city.
James had spent his adult life in uniform. The second son of a moderately well-to-do planter, the only career paths open to him had been the military and the priesthood. The priesthood was out of the question—Bible thumping had never appealed to him, and he was sure celibacy would kill him. So he’d used every connection he had through his mother’s family to gain an appointment to West Point. He’d done well enough there to come out with a decent commission. He’d spent the years since on the frontier fighting Indians and exploring the wilds of the West. Nothing could have suited him better, but with the outbreak of the war, he’d been sent back east of the Mississippi to join Farragut’s expedition to take New Orleans. Now he was expected to oversee a city full of civilians. It chafed. He’d already applied to be sent back to the frontier and prayed the approval for that change came swiftly.
He glanced back at the half-finished letter on his desk. How could he describe the mingled smells of damp decay and raw sewage that ruined his appetite, the stifling heat and moisture-heavy atmosphere that made it hard for him to breathe, and the hostility of the townspeople that made simply walking down the street a chore? It would be beyond his gentle parents’ understanding. James sometimes wondered why Farragut hadn’t simply blown the levee and let New Orleans sink back into the fetid swamp that had birthed it. It might have been better for all of them.
He reread his father’s letter and dipped his pen into the ink well. The deep indigo liquid began to dry as he held it poised above the page for long minutes. How could he write to his mother and father how horrible he found it here? He couldn’t add to their worries and concerns. So with a few brief assurances that he was fine and his agreement that his mother and sisters should be sent farther north for their own safety, he sealed and addressed his letter. It would go out on a packet ship that night and be in Maryland in a few weeks. Would that he could join it! For perhaps the first time in years, he missed his home and family.
His sense of loneliness grew as he added to his journal all he couldn’t say in his letter home…
This city has a worldwide reputation for hospitality, though I’ve yet to see any indication of it. So far I have experienced only scorn and the most intense dislike I have ever felt. It would not be exaggeration to say the citizens of New Orleans loathe every thing connected to the Union and especially those men who wear her uniform. I fear I return their loathing, not so much for the individual man or woman, for I understand that the burden of being defeated must be hard for them to bear. My loathing is for the city as a whole. I have never been in a place so hostile and unwelcoming. The kindest word I’ve yet had was from a lady who said I was not a complete blackguard like most of my kind. If a creature so refined and genteel considers me in such a light, I have no wish to know what a less polite soul thinks of me. As it is, I have no recourse but to feel all of New Orleans hates me.
And so does the lady, he thought as he put away his journal. Regardless of her final parting wave, her words had made clear her opinion of all his kind. With a sigh he lay back on his bed. He felt too exhausted to do anything else. The wretched Louisiana heat sapped his strength and he tried not to think of what July and August would be like. He closed his eyes and a vision of her seemed painted on his inner eyelids. He didn’t know why he couldn’t get thoughts of the well-bred widow out of his mind. Her face, faintly obscured by the delicate net of her veil, haunted him. He wished he could have seen her rosebud lips turned up in a smile rather than set in haughty displeasure. Fleetingly, he wondered what those lips would feel like against his own. He quelled the thought immediately. He wouldn’t countenance such disrespect for a decent lady, even in his own imagination.
Unhappy with his thoughts, he drifted into a restless sleep populated by dreams of the widowed lady from the Cabildo. He might be able to govern his conscious thoughts, but his sleeping mind dwelt on the rose-wine of perfect cupid’s-bow lips and the glimpse of lily-pale skin above the sable lace of her collar. In his dreams those lips and that skin tasted as sweet as candy and as intoxicating as whiskey. In her illusionary arms James found the first peace and happiness he’d experienced since he came to New Orleans.