February 20, 1862: Battle of the Handkerchiefs

Women of New Orleans


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.

Published in: on February 20, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I married a southern belle from south central North Carolina, I outweigh her by 150 pounds and while I don’t fear her, I have the utmost respect. There was a season when we were struggling that her favorite knickname for me was “a**hole” said with a tone of voice that would wilt most men. There is a man pleasing sweetness about her as long as we are ‘pointed in the same direction’, but don’t mistake sweet for soft compliance. Oh yes, you sure as thunder don’t want to pick on she bears cubs in her presence. Good story brother.

    • I have been surrounded by strong women all my life Dennis, and I have greatly benefited from it, so I heartily endorse your comment!

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