Saturday, September 14, 2013

1874: Armed rebellion in New Orleans

On this date in 1874, Joseph Macheca played a critical role in the White League victory over a militia/Metropolitan Police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction Era state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures.

Following failed negotiations, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street. Badger commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the Customs House and the levee.

The White League paramilitary forces assembled uptown and hoped to lure Republican forces from their positions at the edge of the French Quarter. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Using an approaching train as cover, Macheca's 300 men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) advanced along the levee and flanked Badger's position.

As Company B swarmed in from the levee, most of Badger's men fled back into the French Quarter. Badger himself fell wounded and was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the wounded Badger as a traitor.)

Though Republican positions melted away into the French Quarter, the White League did not pursue. The White League victory was not complete until the following morning, Sept. 15, when White League Colonel Angell began to probe across Canal Street. In the French Quarter, Macheca's men were found to be in possession of key Republican positions, thousands of seized weapons and two artillery pieces, and hundreds of surrendered prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control only for a short time, as President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place."

A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld organization.

Read more about the Battle of Liberty Place and the early days of the American Mafia in New Orleans - Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

Monday, September 9, 2013

1874: Organizing opposition to LA's Republican state government

On this date (Sept. 9) in 1874 - Joseph Macheca calls to order the first meeting of the Cosmopolitan Democratic Club in New Orleans. The group elects P. Torre Jr. as its president and Macheca as its grand marshal. The 'club' is a paramilitary order dedicated to the overthrow of Louisiana's Republican state government.

Similar organizations were forming throughout the New Orleans area in opposition to state and federal Reconstruction policies. Known collectively as the White League, the conservative Democratic forces soon would take up arms against state militia and police controlled by the Republican governor (Battle of Liberty Place).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1863: Macheca and the black market

150 years ago today (Aug. 28, 1863), Joseph Macheca of New Orleans was tried and convicted in a Union military occupation court in connection with a scheme to steal and sell barrels of U.S. Army pork and beef.

Daily Picayune
The barrels were traced to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. They had been loaded aboard the steamship North America, a government transport, at Port Hudson, Louisiana (recently fallen to the Union forces after a 48-day siege). The North American steamed its cargo up the Mississippi River in support of the 4th Massachusetts' advance to Cairo, Louisiana. Remaining barrels were brought to New Orleans, and the captain and a steward sold some to Macheca for resale through the Macheca family produce store in the city.

While other conspirators were sent to prison, young Macheca is merely ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Joseph Macheca previously had enlisted for service in the Confederate Army and returned home to New Orleans in advance of the Union invasion. The Union occupiers generally controlled businesses and provisions in the region. The produce business of Macheca's step-father - a native of Malta and a British citizen - was one exception.

Following his conviction, Macheca left New Orleans for Texas, where he reportedly gathered a small fortune through smuggling.

Read more about Joseph Macheca: Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

Monday, May 6, 2013

1890: Ambush at Claiborne and Esplanade

On this date (May 6) in 1890 - In the early morning hours, a wagon carrying members of New Orleans Matranga underworld faction is ambushed at Claiborne and Esplanade Streets. Three men are seriously wounded. Police Chief David Hennessy takes personal charge of the investigation. His involvement will shortly lead to his own assassination.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

122 years ago: Eleven men lynched

March 14, 1891
One day after a jury refused to convict the accused assassins of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy, an angry mob assembles on Canal Street. Under the direction of political leaders, the mob marches to Orleans Parish Prison, where the Hennessy assassination defendants remain incarcerated. A carefully selected and well armed group enters the prison and murders eleven men, including Joseph P. Macheca. The victims are described as members of the New Orleans Mafia. However, recognized Mafia leader Charles Matranga and his chief lieutenant - both held within the prison - are spared.