Union veterans often noted that the most determined rebels that they encountered during the War were not the men, but the ladies of Dixie. So it was on February 20, 1862 in New Orleans. Approximately 400 Confederate prisoners of war were to be placed aboard a steamboat and taken upriver to be exchanged for Union soldiers. A huge number of women, some accounts say 20,000, gathered on the New Orleans levee to cheer the prisoners, wave their handkerchiefs at them and sing Confederate songs.
The Union troops guarding the prisoners, when they grew tired of the din raised by the women, ordered the women to move back. The women refused to budge and grew louder, mocking the Union troops. The women did not disperse until Union soldiers with bayonets moved through the crowd and threats were made to disperse the crowd with cannon. Editorials throughout the South praised the women for their courage and damned the Union soldiers as cowards. Coming after Butler’s General Order # 28, his infamous “woman order”, Butler having turned over command to General Bank’s two months before, the Battle of the Handkerchiefs was taken as evidence that the Confederate women of New Orleans remained proud and unconquered.