Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Civil War Comes to Louisiana

Belle Tisdale, Frank Tisdale, belletisdale.blogspot.com
Cased Tintype
Belle and Frank Tisdale, c1862

A New Baby Brother

In 1860 Belle Tisdale had a new baby brother. Her mother Eliza gave birth to twins on 15 March 1860, but only one infant survived.  Eliza's older sister, Frances Ann Pratt McCaughey, registered the birth of Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, always called Frank, on July 21 in New Orleans, recorded in Volume 26, page 749, Orleans Parish, Louisiana Birth Records. 

Perhaps Belle's Grandma Bernice Pratt and her Aunt France came down from Baton Rouge to help Eliza. Eliza's widowed sister, Frances Pratt McCaughey, was remarried sometime after 1860 to Henri Anthoine of New Orleans. Eliza's older brother, Marion Franklin Pratt, was also living in New Orleans at the time with his new bride, Emily Doyle. 

Belle and Frank Tiisdale c1862, belletisdale.blogspot.com
Tin Type plate
Belle and Frank Tisdale, c1862

Judging from the ages of the children, this cased tintype was probably made in early 1862 when Belle was 7 and Frank was almost 2.  Tintypes were made using the same collodion process as the Ambrotype. (See last week's amended blog post.) It is a silver image on blackened iron. They were made as early as 1856, but peak years were 1860-1863. It never caught on in Europe and was known there as "The American Process." Tintypes were durable, light, cheap, and popular with Civil War soldiers. (Original in possession

of J. S. Sarradet)

I cannot find B. F. and Eliza Tisdale in the 1860 census, but B. F. Tisdale is listed in the 1861 New Orleans City Directory which was printed in December 1860. He is working for John B. Murison & Co., Commission Agents, located on Calliope Street north of Dryades. His brother N. O. J. Tisdale is also listed in the 1861 city directory as
Treasurer of the New Orleans Gas Light Company.  
Belle's cousin Nathan Tisdale is listed as living across 
the river in Algiers.

The 1860 Presidential Election

That summer New Orleans was full of parades and fireworks displays put on by supporters of the three candidates for President, Stephen Douglas, the Democrat; John Breckenridge, the Southern Democrat; and John Bell, the newly formed National Constitutional Union party. The Republican Abraham Lincoln was not on the Louisiana ballot. (Winters, p.5)

We don't know who Belle's father or her grandfather supported, but the winner in Orleans and East Baton Rouge Parishes was John Bell, the co-operationist candidate. He won nine of the more populous parishes, but only 20,204 statewide votes. John Breckinridge, the Southern Rights candidate, won the state with 22,681 votes. Stephen Douglas, the Unionist, was a distant third with 7,625 votes. (Winters, p. 6-7)

When word reached Louisiana that the winner was the Republican Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the most radical and dreaded political faction, talk immediately turned to secession. The only question was how and when to secede. Military companies, often referred to as Minute Men, began to form and the governor called a special session of the legislature in Baton Rouge. (Winters, p. 8-9)

The above information comes from the book The Civil War in Louisiana by John D. Winters. It was originally published in 1963 for the centennial of the war and republished in 1991
by Louisiana State University Press for the war's 150th anniversary. I started reading this book to get an idea of what life was like for Belle and her family during the Civil War, but my interest was soon captured by the author's in-depth research and writing style. This is not just an account of military events but also the political and social effects of the war on the lives of the people in Louisiana. It begins in 1860 with the first talk of secession and ends with surrender and occupation by Federal forces in 1865.

In the forward Professor T. Harry Williams mentions Charles L. Dufour's “vivid description of the fall of New Orleans, The Night the War was Lost...” I remember Charles “Pie” Dufour with fondness. He was my American History teacher when I was attending night classes at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was the first history teacher I had who truly made the past come to life. He was a dynamic speaker with piercing blue eyes and he paced up and down the floor while lecturing. He also wrote a column in the Times-Picayune newspaper. I still have some of them that I clipped out and saved. I ordered his book and it came yesterday. It was originally published in 1960, around the time I took his course at Tulane, and was reprinted in 1988 and 1990 by University of Nebraska Press. All proceeds from this latest volume go to the Confederate Museum of the Louisiana Historical Association.


On 7 January 1861, Belle's male relatives went to the polls again to select delegates for a convention to decide the secession question. There must have been much discussion of the event in the Tisdale and Pratt households because one of the delegates was Gilmore Franklin Connely, Belle's Grandma Pratt's cousin.

Roger Connelly writes in his Connelly Family newsletter, Connelly Connections, Volume 1, Number 2, April-June, 1980, page 3:
“A surveyor, lawyer, and plantation owner, Gilmore played an important role in Louisiana's history. On January 7, 1861, he was elected as a representative from Terrebonne Parish to a State Convention called to consider whether or not Louisiana should secede from the Union. Gilmore was one of 130 delegates elected that day; 83 were Secessionists and 47 were Cooperationists (Gilmore was numbered with that minority). The State Convention convened at Baton Rouge on January 23, 1861, and 3 days later an Ordinance of Secession was adopted. Before the vote on secession was called, the Cooperationists consulted, and when the vote was taken a number of them explained that although they were elected as Cooperationists, they felt that no other course but that of immediate secession could be pursued. The vote on secession was 113 for, 17 against; Gilmore voted with the majority. (When the ordinance was signed a short time later, 8 of the 17 affixed their signatures also.) For the next 2 months, Louisiana was an independent state.”

Governor Moore in Baton Rouge had wasted no time and ordered Louisiana Militia troops to seize the U. S. Arsenal. On January 10 the skeleton crew at the Arsenal surrendered. Also on January 10, Louisiana militia was sent downriver to demand surrender of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Fort Pike was surrendered a short time later. The U. S. Mint and Customs House in New Orleans was also seized. (Winters, p.10-11)

On January 29, 1861 the convention met in New Orleans to choose six delegates to attend the February 4 meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, to create a confederate government of Southern states. (Winters, p. 14)

Joe Gray Taylor in Louisiana, A History writes, "There was an exceptionally gala Mardi Gras that year; speeches, band music, the recruitment of unarmed men, and drilling by officers whose ignorance of drill was matched only by that of their men went on almost incessantly." (Taylor, p. 89) 

On March 4, 1861 the convention resumed in New Orleans and created a state army headed by Braxton Bragg. On March 21 the Constitution of the Confederacy was ratified by a vote of 101 to 7. Gilmore Connely signed with the majority. 

The first call for troops to serve in the Confederate army came on March 9. Old Metairie Race Course was converted into a military camp. At Camp Moore on the Amite River, thousands of volunteers were in training not far from the home of Bernice and William Pratt. 

Civil War

In New Orleans business was brought to a standstill by news of native son Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard's bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 14, 1861. The Civil War had officially begun.

Social life in New Orleans consisted of "attending drill, watching parades, visiting camp, seeing the soldiers off, and promoting military benefits..." In May the Washington Artillery departed for Virginia. Businesses closed and ladies thronged the galleries and balconies. Cheering crowds lined the street as brass bands marched by. On the Fourth of July, 10,000 visitors rode out on the Carrollton Railroad for a Grand Review by the soldiers at Camp Lewis. (Winters p. 27)

By July 1861 Louisiana had sent 2,100 troops to Pensacola, 2,300 to Virginia, 1,000 to Arkansas, and 1,950 men for seacoast and harbor defenses. There were 4,000 still at Camp Moore and 5,000 in New Orleans for home protection.  Besides sending most of her troops out of state, Louisiana sent most of the guns and ammunition from the U. S. Arsenal to the CSA leaving the state vulnerable to attack. (Winters, p. 20 and 28)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Belle's Family

October is Family History Month, so let's look at Belle's Family.

Belle Tisdale, belletisdale.blogspot.com
Arabella Maria Tisdale c1859
Belle's parents, B. F. Tisdale and Eliza Helen Pratt, married on 29 July 1851. Their first child, Belle's sister Mary Bernice, was born 15 March 1853. 

That was the year of the worst yellow fever epidemic in Louisiana history. 7,849 people died in New Orleans. Belle's Grandmother and Grandfather Pratt moved out of the city of Baton Rouge to their plantation, Oakland, about 5 miles east. The Baton Rouge Weekly Comet reported on 2 October 1853 that there were 1,600 cases of yellow fever in Baton Rouge. This was at a time when the population of the city was about 4,000. There was another lesser epidemic in 1854, with 2,425 dead in New Orleans alone. (Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, nutrias.org, and George Augustin's History of Yellow Fever (N.O., 1909)

Arabella Maria “Belle” Tisdale was born on the third of January 1855. That summer and fall there was another yellow fever epidemic with 2,670 dead in New Orleans. In 1855 the State Board of Health was formed. The Picayune called it the Board of Death.

Belle's family was living in New Orleans by 1854. B. F. Tisdale is listed in the 1854 city directory at "S. Customhouse."  In  1855, 1856, and 1857, he is listed as an accountant at 26 Old Levee St. and in 1859 he is with the John B. Murison firm, Commission Agents, and living at 2 Bienville Street. His oldest brother, Joseph Wade Tisdale, had been living in New Orleans since 1842 and brother Nathan O. J. Tisdale had lived there since 1850.

On 8 May 1857 a third daughter, Florence Helen, was born. Little Florrie, not yet 18 months old, died on 3 December 1858 in New Orleans and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge. We have no record of her cause of death, but there was another yellow fever epidemic that year, “exceeded only by 1853,” with 4,845 deaths in New Orleans “by mid-November.” (Louisiana State Board of Health, The Formative Years (1855-1884) Gordon E. Gillson, Professor of History, Adams State College of Colorado, 1966. Gillson was a graduate student at LSU and this was his doctoral dissertation.)

Belle's mother and grandmother may have taken her to A. D. Lytle's photography studio in Baton Rouge to have this carte de visite made. She appears to be about 3 or 4 years old and is wearing a crinoline or hoop skirt, typical of the 1850s. The photo must have been made about 1859 soon after A. D. Lytle opened his studio. There is no photographer's imprint on the back which tells us it was an early use of this new system for making images.

Previous Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Tintypes were one of a kind images. In all three processes the image was formed directly on a coated plate by exposure in the camera. The carte de visite camera had four lenses and the interior was divided into four compartments. By using a sliding plate holder and exposing first one half and then the other, eight small portraits could be taken on an 8” x 10” glass plate. By uncapping each lens separately, eight separate poses could be taken on one plate. The resulting contact print was cut into eight 2 1/4” x 3 1/2” portraits which were pasted onto 2 1/2” x 4” cards, the common visiting card size. This made photography much cheaper. (A Concise History of Photography, Helmut Gernsheim, Third Revised Edition, Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 1986.)

Marion Franklin Pratt, belletisdale.blogspot.com
Marion Franklin Pratt c1857

Ambrotype plate
Ambrotypes were first made in 1854 and their peak years were 1857 to 1859. The embossed design in this case was patented in 1855. That fact and his hair and beard style date this image to the late 1850s. The Ambrotype, developed by James Ambrose Cutting, is a silver image on a glass plate with a black cloth or cardboard backing. The image appears negative against a white background but positive against a black background. To coat the plate the photographer used collodion, a thick, sticky mixture of guncotton, alcohol, and ether invented in 1847 and used by military physicians as a liquid bandage. One of the drawbacks of the Ambrotype was its fragility. You can see that this glass plate is broken. 

Marion Pratt, Eliza's brother, may have been living in New Orleans when this image was made. The cardboard backing behind the plate has an advertisement for a New Orleans blacksmith.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Benjamin Franklin Tisdale

B. F. Tisdale c1850, belletisdale.blogspot.com

Benjamin Franklin Tisdale (1823 - 1876)

The 1850s
Belle Tisdale's parents, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale and Eliza Helen Pratt, were married on the 29th of July 1851 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Eliza had just turned 14 on March 11. Benjamin was 28 years old. This photo of B. F. Tisdale (as he always signed his name) was probably taken about that time. It appears to be a photographic copy of a Daguerreotype or Ambrotype printed on canvas. Location of the original is unknown.

B. F. had probably known the family for some time as he and Eliza's sister's husband, William McCaughey, were members of the same Masonic Lodge. Benjamin may have met Eliza when he came to the Pratt house for William McCaughey's funeral in March of 1850. B. F. Tisdale had married Maria Pike in 1846 and she died of “fever” in September of 1849. (U. S. Census Mortality Schedule.) It may have been Yellow Fever, which struck Louisiana hard that year and killed 769 people in New Orleans alone. (Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, 1817-1905, Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library.) http://nutrias.org/facts/feverdeaths.htm

We find B. F. Tisdale on the 1850 U. S. Census in Baton Rouge which at that time had a population of 3,905. He is age 27, a clerk, living in a boarding house.
It is a fairly up-scale boarding house as some of the other residents listed are a school master, a carriage maker, a dentist, and a physician. He says that he was born in Alabama, but we know that he was born on 19 March 1823 in New Bern, North Carolina, son of Nathan Tisdale, a silversmith, and his second wife, Mary "Polly" Wade. B. F. Tisdale was named for his famous relative Benjamin Franklin. The family was quite proud of being related to Ben Franklin and it took a lot of research to figure out the connection. Our common ancestors were Benjamin Franklin's grandparents, Peter Folger and Mary Morell. Ben Franklin was B. F. Tisdale's first cousin four times removed and my first cousin eight times removed.

An article titled “Some Memories of the Magee Farmhouse” by Belle Tisdale's nephew, Marion E. Tisdale, Jr., says that Nathan Tisdale bought “a small plantation on the Tombigbee River and traveled here by wagon train with his family in 1830." Daughter Mary Tisdale "and her older brother, Joseph Wade Tisdale, probably helped care for their younger siblings, N. O. J., Benjamin Franklin and John on the trip to Alabama.” Nathan Tisdale and his family are listed on the 1830 U. S. Census in New Bern, North Carolina, so they moved to Alabama some time after June 1830. Nathan and Polly Tisdale both died in 1839.

B. F. Tisdale was an accountant for William S. Pike at Pike Brothers and Co. in Baton Rouge for several years after he and Eliza married. The couple may have lived with Eliza's parents for a while.

Belle's cousin, Kate Craig Couturie, wrote to her cousin, Will Itti, in 1904:
In 1853 they [Grandfather and Grandmother Pratt] moved out onto the Plantation five miles east of Baton Rouge on account of the yellow fever which was very bad that year.” [7,849 deaths in New Orleans, the worst yellow fever epidemic in the history of Louisiana]  The family often spent time at Oakland, their Grandparents' plantation in East Baton Rouge Parish, and it was there that most of Belle's letters are written. 

Eliza's first two children, Mary Bernice (1853) and Arabella Mariah “Belle” (1855), were born in Baton Rouge. A third daughter, Florence Helen, was probably born there also as she does not appear in the New Orleans Index to Births. She died in December 1858 at the age of 18 months old and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge. The next seven children were born in New Orleans from 1860 to 1874. I cannot find B. F. and Eliza Tisdale in the 1860 U. S. Census, but B. F. is listed in the 1861 New Orleans City Directory. He is working for John B. Murison & Co. on Calliope Street.