In the years following the Civil War, the defeated South found itself knee-deep in turmoil. Louisiana was no exception. White residents were becoming increasingly agitated that the pro-civil rights Republicans, who a vast majority of the South had opposed during the war, had come into office. As a result, they banded together to form the White League. The League’s purpose was to rid Louisiana of the Republicans and restore white supremacy. They would get their chance in 1874 to do just that in a small town in northern Louisiana named Coushatta.
After the Civil War ended, the Union granted universal suffrage to men of the South, freed slaves and white men alike. Although Democrats largely dominated the elections before the war, the freed slave population could now vote in Republican politicians that would cater more to their needs and values. In March of 1874, a Republican from Vermont named Marshall H. Twitchell came to Louisiana in order to work with the local Freedman’s Bureau. He was later elected to the state senate, appointing his family members to local positions along the way. He continued to work with the freed slaves, or freedmen, in promoting their education and making sure they were adequately represented by the government. The White League took note of this and decided to make their attack while Twitchell was in New Orleans at the Republican state convention. Twitchell’s brother-in-law, who Twitchell had appointed sheriff of Coushatta, wrote him while he was in New Orleans to warn him that the White League was forming in Coushatta and their intention was “the extermination of the carpetbag element. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Twitchell wrote his brother-in-law a reply, but it was intercepted by the White League and published in the local newspaper. They claimed that Twitchell and his family were planning a black rebellion and rallied locals into action. After hundreds of men were rallied together from Coushatta and the surrounding area, they stormed the homes of six white Republican office holders and twenty nearby freedmen and took them hostage for several days. The whites were forced to sign a petition stating that they were to leave Louisiana and never return. After they left the city, they were hunted down and killed however, along with the freedmen since they were witnesses. Twenty-five men were arrested and charged with the killings, but they were released due to lack of evidence.
The massacre ultimately strengthened the White League and instilled fear in freed black slaves as well as their supporters. They were not just murdering blacks for intimidation anymore but also whites, and the American public took notice. News of the massacre made national headlines, and northerners looked on in horror at the violence that was taking place against blacks by white supremacist groups. The groups were able to take control of Louisiana politics through force and intimidation. The Southern Democrats continued the violence on blacks until they were able to oust the Republicans from their elected seats. They attempted to install their own governor, John McEnery, in what would be a rebellion in New Orleans that would be later known as the “Battle at Liberty Place.” Federal troops would be sent by President Ulysses S. Grant to squash the rebellion, and the White League disintegrated almost as quickly as it was formed.
It's a little rough around the edges, but tomorrow after my first class I am going to polish it up. I am still about two sentences or so short of the required length, but I am tired tonight and Lord knows I am not a morning person! Maybe I can get up early enough tomorrow morning to make me some of that Starbucks coffee I bought the other day...Hmmm... :)