Object of the Month

“If it pleases you to have another ‘Mayor Quincy’ in the family”: Colonel Samuel Miller Quincy describes his appointment as military mayor of New Orleans, 5 May 1865.

Letter from Samuel Miller Quincy to Mary Jane Miller Quincy, 5 May 1865

Letter from Samuel Miller Quincy to Mary Jane Miller Quincy, 5 May 1865


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  • Shortly after the restoration of civilian government to Louisiana at the end of the Civil War, General Nathaniel P. Banks, the commander of Union military forces in the state, "executed a 'coup d'etat,' by which the Civil Mayor [of New Orleans was] decapitated," and Colonel Samuel Miller Quincy of Massachusetts was "installed as military vicegerent in his place." Banks had feared the growing power of conservative opponents of Reconstruction including former Confederates in the new state and city government. "Half the city," Quincy informed his mother in this letter written on official city hall stationery, was "delighted—the other half furious . . . but if it pleases you to have another 'Mayor Quincy' in the family—soyez en heureuse. I hope it won't last long."

    The new "Mayor," whose light-hearted letters to his mother, Mary Jane Miller Quincy, often described the amusing or ironic character of military life, made note of the fact that, as acting mayor of New Orleans, he was following in the footsteps of his father, Josiah Quincy (1802-1882), and grandfather, Josiah Quincy (1772-1864), both of whom had been distinguished mayors of Boston. In fact, the situation in New Orleans was extremely dangerous, although it did not explode into terrible racial violence until more than a year later.

    Revolution and counterrevolution in Louisiana

    The situation in New Orleans was complex: the mayor that General Banks deposed in favor of Quincy, Hugh Kennedy, had been appointed by Governor James Madison Wells, who had appointed Kennedy in place of one of Banks's friends. Wells shifted uneasily between political factions that supported moderate Reconstruction and the conservative opponents of black civil rights. After his own appointment, Quincy informed his mother, "the Governor was enraged, and has gone to Washington to protest against military despotism."

    In Washington, Governor Wells received a sympathetic hearing from Andrew Johnson, who had become president after the assassination of Lincoln. Wells returned to Louisiana with the full backing of President Johnson, whose views on Reconstruction and black civil rights were revealed when General Banks was removed from his post—and with him, "Mayor" Quincy. On 7 June, Quincy wrote to his mother that "The axe has fallen!!. . . For some inexplicable reason, the President has seen fit to back up the rebels in this village, and Unionism is at a discount." He signed his letter, "Ex Mayor of N. O."

    Samuel Quincy's brief service in New Orleans was not the end of his entanglement in civilian affairs. He soon was sent to Opelousas, the former Confederate capital of Louisiana, to put out another fire in the intractable struggle between the restored—and reactionary—civil government of Louisiana and recently-freed African Americans, including men who had fought for their own freedom in the Civil War. Opelousas had implemented a ferociously restrictive "Black Code," an ordinance so oppressive that, as Quincy informed his mother, it "just about returned [African Americans] to servitude." He was sent after the "Opelousians with a sharp stick"—his black soldiers' bayonets—and, at least for the time being, he was successful.

    "An absolute massacre"

    A year later, the crisis came to a head in New Orleans when a municipal election restored the former Confederate mayor, John T. Monroe, to office. Governor Wells, who had opposed the Unionist supporter of black civil rights in 1865, now shifted sides again. In July 1866, he attempted to re-convene a state constitutional convention to enfranchise black voters. On 30 July, the convention in New Orleans was broken up by force. Members of the convention and their African American supporters were attacked in what General Philip Sheridan, the area military commander, described as "an absolute massacre." At least forty-eight people, including many black Civil War veterans, were killed and more than 200 wounded. In the aftermath of the New Orleans Riot (Massacre), military rule returned to New Orleans and Louisiana. In 1867, General Sheridan superseded both Mayor Monroe and Governor Wells.

    Brigadier General Samuel M. Quincy, U.S.V.

    Samuel Miller Quincy (1832-1887), was educated at Harvard and trained as a lawyer. When the Civil War began, he was commissioned in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded and captured in 1862 while fighting in Virginia. After he was exchanged and promoted to the rank of colonel, he took command of the 2nd Massachusetts, but never fully recovered from his wounds. In 1863, unable to continue in the field, he resigned his commission, but later the same year, was appointed to the Louisiana Corps d'Afrique, one of the first black military units in the Union army. Quincy resigned from the army in 1866 with the brevet rank of brigadier general. Returning to Boston, he devoted himself to philanthropic causes. He never fully recovered from the rigors of his Civil War service and died in 1887. The MHS holds a watercolor portrait of Quincy in his Civil War general's uniform and the presentation contains additional biographical information.

    Sources for Further Reading

    Samuel M. Quincy’s Civil War letters to his mother and other family members form part of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s enormous archive of Quincy Family papers and have been microfilmed as part of the Quincy, Wendell, Holmes, and Upham Family Papers Microfilm.

    Bent, Samuel A. Eulogy on Samuel Miller Quincy. Boston: Old State House, 1887. Proceedings of a Special Meeting of the Bostonian Society, May 24, 1887.

    Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

    Hollandsworth, James G. An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

    McCrary, Peyton. Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: the Louisiana Experiment. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978.

    United States. House. Select Committee on the New Orleans Riots. Report of the Select Committee on the New Orleans Riots. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1867.