Posted: Jan 21, 2011 7:07 PM by Alison Haynes
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Come Wednesday it will be exactly 150 years since Louisiana seceded from the United States in the days leading up to the Civil War, but don't look for any official state events to commemorate the historic decision.
Re-enactments, staged by the Sons of Confederate Veterans a little over a week before the anniversary, were among the few to recognize the event.
In Baton Rouge this week, a group of re-enactors descended on the federal garrison to seek and receive its surrender. Later that afternoon, another group convened in the House Chamber of the Old State Capitol for the signing of the Louisiana Ordinance of Secession - the papers that made the state the sixth to leave the Union.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans say remembering the war - the bloodiest in American history and one that still causes tension in many areas - is important. The group's website lauds the citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, and says the South was motivated by the desire to preserve liberty.
But secession itself was not popular with a large portion of Louisiana's citizens. Apparently, the anniversary isn't either.
The state planned no official commemoration.
"I think quite frankly people are a little embarrassed about it," said Lawrence Powell, a specialist in Civil War and Reconstruction at Tulane University. "It was not a real feel good story for anyone involved."
Less than a year before seceding, Louisiana residents were solidly opposed to leaving the United States. In New Orleans, where a thriving port assured big business, residents voted three to one in 1860 against secession.
"Then Abraham Lincoln was elected and things changed quickly," said John Sacher, a professor at the University of Central Florida and author of "A Perfect War of Politics: Parties, Politicians, and Democracy in Louisiana, 1824-1861."
In Louisiana, slaves made up 55 percent of the overall population, and up to 80 percent in some parishes where sugar cane and cotton were raised.
Planters, who relied on slave labor to operate their gigantic farming operations, worried that Lincoln was planning to free them. That fear helped ignite the move to secede. Even so, opposition remained in many places, including New Orleans.
"New Orleans was the biggest port in the South, the second busiest in the country, after New York," Sacher said. "Secession endangered that."
Once the decision to secede was made, however, dissent was quickly quelled.
Louisiana joined the Confederacy in February 1861. Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a New Orleans native, led the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861, officially starting the Civil War.
Louisiana's losses during the war were huge. According to Louisiana State Museum records, "By November 1861 Louisiana had enrolled over 23,000 troops into Confederate service." Although records of casualties are far from complete, some scholars believe that one in 11 men of service age died during the war.
The aftermath of war in Louisiana was a bitter time of economic hardship, marked by violence and vigilante efforts to suppress black citizens by Knights of the White Camellia, and its successor group, the White League.
Although secession's anniversary is getting scant official state acknowledgment, the 200th anniversary of Louisiana statehood - April 30, 2012 - will get plenty of official attention.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has unveiled a new state license plate that will commemorate the event, and said there will be events honoring the bicentennial in every parish, along with several signature celebrations around the state during the two-year celebration. Details of the planned commemorations have not been released.