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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: A Hero

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Hero

By Bob Hurst

War can bring out the best in some people and the absolute worst in others. It can present a stage upon which the character and nobility of some can be recognized while revealing in others the total absence of these two traits.

An event that occurred in New Orleans early in 1862 allowed both sides of this phenomenon to be well demonstrated.

The War for Southern Independence produced many heroes and I have written about a number of these magnificent individuals during the years I have been writing this column. There have been, of course, articles about outstanding military leaders such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, JEB Stuart, Pat Cleburne, Turner Ashby, Joe Wheeler and others. There have been articles about those whose realm was of the political nature - Jefferson Davis and the "fire-eaters" come quickly to mind. Some of the Confederate heroes chronicled in this series were quite young like John Pelham, Richard Kirkland, Dewitt Jobe and more. The distaff side has also received attention in articles about Confederate heroes (or should I say "heroines") like Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Belle Boyd and Sally Tompkins.

This article will be different from all those previous articles, however, because this hero (the subject of this article) did not wear a uniform, was not a spy, was not involved with the government and, in fact, was not officially involved with any part of the war effort. William Mumford, you see, was a civilian who rose to the occasion, demonstrated great bravery and, in my opinion, should be recognized as a Confederate hero.

Mumford's story begins on the morning of April 25, 1862, when a federal fleet steamed into the port of New Orleans. David Farragut, commander of the fleet, sent a message to the mayor of New Orleans directing him to remove the Confederate flags that were flying atop city hall, the mint and the customshouse in the city and replace them with U.S. flags.

The mayor politely refused to do so.

The next day a small crew from a union ship went ashore and raised a Stars and Stripes to the top of the flagpole atop the mint after first removing the Confederate flag that had been flying there. They then warned a crowd of New Orleanians who had been watching that if the federal flag was removed the city would be fired upon.

Soon after the union sailors departed to return to their ship, a small group of men, led by William Mumford, made their way to the roof of the mint and removed the Stars and Stripes that had just been raised by the yankee sailors.

True to their word, a union ship unleashed cannon fire on the mint and, during this process, William Mumford was injured.

Two days later, federal land troops under the command of Major General Benjamin Butler reached the city.
{A brief not here about Ben Butler: He was a corrupt individual and an ineffective military leader who was relieved of several commands because of his incompetence. This was not unusual for politically-appointed generals. He had the nicknames "Beast" and "Spoons" - "beast" because of his scandalous and wicked behavior toward civilians, and "spoons" because of his penchant for stealing personal items of civilians in occupied areas, especially their silverware. Not surprisingly, after the war this reprobate was elected governor of Massachusetts.}

In a meeting with Farragut, Butler was briefed on the events concerning the flag at the mint and he vowed to first capture Mumford and then hang him.

New Orleans city officials surrendered the city on April 29 and two days later federal troops began arresting prominent citizens. Many were sent to prison and many others had their personal property confiscated by the Beast and his troops.

William Mumford was quickly arrested and charged with high crimes and misdemeanors and sent in chains to a location where he was held prisoner for the next month. He was then sent before a military commission (even though he was a civilian) where he pleaded "not guilty" to the charges. Only three witnesses were allowed to testify (all for the prosecution) and no mention was allowed that Mumford's actions had taken place before the city had been surrendered to the feds and, thus, was still under Confederate jurisdiction when his "crime" occurred.

William Mumford was found "guilty" by the commission and Butler issued an order for him to be executed. Many citizens of the city (those that Butler had not yet had arrested), Mumford's wife and even some union officers petitioned Butler to suspend his execution order.

The "Beast", of course, would have none of that.

On the day of the scheduled hanging (June 7), William Mumford was taken to the site of the deed which was the courtyard of the mint. The crowd that had gathered there was estimated to be in the thousands.

Mumford was allowed to address the crowd from the gallows. He spoke calmly and indicated that he had indeed taken down the Union flag but had no regrets for his action because it was driven by his patriotism and love for the Confederacy. He continued by saying that as a veteran of the Seminole War and the Mexican-American War, both as a Union soldier, he had a love for the "Stars and Stripes" itself , but a hatred for its uses under "Northern tyranny".

At this point, the trapdoor was opened and his execution was completed.

Eleven days after the hanging, Governor Thomas O. Moore of Louisiana made an address to the people of the state concerning William Mumford in which he stated that his murderers had offered to suspend the execution if he would "abjure his country and swear allegiance to her foe". The governor then continued: "He spurned the offer. Scorning to stain his soul with such dishonor, he met his fate courageously and transmitted to his countrymen a fresh example of what men will do and dare when under the inspiration of fervid patriotism."

As might be expected, news of this hanging was greeted throughout the South with anger and calls for retributive action directed at Butler. President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation declaring Butler to be a felon and ordering that if Butler was captured that the commanding officer of the capturing force "...cause him to be immediately executed by hanging."

General Robert E. Lee contacted the Union General-in-Chief demanding an explanation to why a Southern citizen was executed for an act performed before the city was occupied by Union forces.

The Charleston MERCURY newspaper editorialized that Butler should receive no quarter from any Southern man and that if captured he should be hanged and if not captured either poisoned or carved up well with a knife.

Although not well-recognized as a Confederate hero, William Mumford displayed courage, character and nobility in choosing death with honor over compromising his beliefs and his patriotism toward the Confederacy.

Even though he never wore the sacred gray, his internal strength and his unquestioned devotion to the Cause make him, in my opinion, one of the bright stars in the galaxy of Southern greatness.


Note: Previous articles of CONFEDERATE JOURNAL are available in book form. Articles from 2005-2007 are in Volume 1 and can be ordered at http://createspace.com3540609/. Articles from 2008-2009 are in Volume 2 and can be ordered at http://createspace.com3543269/.

Bob Hurst is a Son of the South who has special interest in the Confederacy and the antebellum architecture of the South. He is commander of Col. David Lang Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, in Tallahassee and also serves as 2nd Lt. Commander of the Florida Division, SCV.


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