A Union ship was able to get past lower Mississippi River fortifications and roll up to New Orleans on April 26, 1862. The day after, Marines from that ship raised a US flag over the New Orleans Mint. A group of local men, led by one William Bruce Mumford, took it down.
Union ground forces made it into town one week later and Army General Benjamin Butler, hearing the flag removal story, arrested Mumford for treason, for “tearing down the United States flag from a public building in the United States.” There was debate about whether the mint was “a public building in the United States,” since the Union didn’t officially occupy New Orleans until May 1, 1862. Mumford tore the flag down on April 26 when, the Confederates argued, New Orleans and its public buildings were still Confederate. But winners make the rules and whatever the technicalities, the bottom line was that Butler wanted to make an example of Mumford. Mumford was tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang.
On June 7, 1862, on a scaffold “erected from the portico right in the centre of the front of the Mint” (according to a June 19, 1862 article in the New York Herald), Mumford was hanged. He went on to become a Confederate hero and Butler went on to become New Orleans’ bête noire.
The basement — which is actually an above-ground floor where the museum entrance is located — is devoted to mint history. Making coins from 1838, it stopped its minting process during the Civil War (although not before making almost one million Confederate half dollars). It opened again after the war and operated until 1911, when it was decommissioned. Yes, I’m choosing to show you the foundations of the building, instead of the coins and scales.
Up one flight to the first floor and there are exhibits on jazz — the history of jazz in New Orleans, people associated with jazz in New Orleans, and jazz recordings.
The head-on-a-pole is a totem by the Krewe of Fess, which gathers by it each Jazz Fest to honor Henry Byrd, aka Professor Longhair, a New Orleans blues singer, pianist and legend. That’s his likeness at the top of the totem.
Does it remind anyone else of heads on pikes on Tower Bridge? Or the French Revolution? Just me then ….
Mumford’s death was not the end of the Butler/Mumford story. For awhile after the execution, Mumford’s wife and children were lavished with money and gifts from southerners who considered Mumford a hero. But the gifts eventually tapered off and Mumford’s family fell on hard times. Butler heard about this while serving in Congress, after the war. He invited Mrs. Mumford to DC and when she accepted, he bought her a house and got her a job with the federal government.