Government Forces and Fighting on Canal Street
Stop 2 of 4 in the Battle of Liberty Place tour
On September 14, 1874, Reconstruction forces prepared to defend the state government and, most importantly, Governor Kellogg from the White League. Though the state used the St. Louis Hotel on Royal Street as its government building, Kellogg took shelter in the U.S. Custom House, the large building across the street, which now houses the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
Federal troops were unavailable, stationed several hundred miles away in Mississippi due to concerns over yellow fever. Without federal forces, the defense of the city fell to the Metropolitan Police, commanded by a former Union army colonel, Algernon Badger. In later years, "Lost Cause" mythologists portrayed the Metropolitan Police as mostly African-American. In reality, the Metropolitans consisted mainly of Irish immigrants, although about one-fourth of the force was of mixed race.
The Metropolitans were supported by the state militia, commanded by a former Confederate general, James Longstreet. Aside from the defending troops, curious—if unwise—spectators also lined the street to watch the fight.
The two forces finally met on Canal Street between Decatur Street and the Mississippi River, just in front of where you are standing. In less than half an hour, the White League routed the Metropolitan Police. Despite their victory, the White League stopped short of entering the federally owned Custom House where Governor Kellogg still took refuge. In total, 35 people were killed in the skirmish, including several of the onlookers.
For the next three days, the White League controlled the city, with Democrat John McEnery acting as governor. The train carrying federal reinforcements was apparently delayed through a ploy enacted by White Leaguer Edward A. Burke, a railroad administrator. When the troops finally arrived in New Orleans, the White League surrendered control of the city.