Not schools only, but churches, multiplied rapidly. There was a great improvement in public order. Affrays were still common; the Know-Nothing movement came on, and a few “thugs” terrorized the city with campaign broils, beating, stabbing, and shooting. Base political leaders and spoilsmen utilized these disorders, and they reached an unexpected climax and end one morning confronted by a vigilance committee, which had, under cover of night, seized the town arsenal behind the old Cabildo and barricaded the approaches to the Place d’Armes with uptorn paving-stones. But riots were no longer a feature of the city. It was no longer required that all the night-watch within a mile’s circuit should rally at the sound of a rattle. Fire-engines were no longer needed to wet down huge mobs that threatened to demolish the Carondelet Street brokers’ shops or the Cuban cigar stores. Drunken bargemen had ceased to swarm by many hundreds against the peace and dignity of the State, and the publicity and respectability of many other vicious practices disappeared.
Communication with the outside world was made much easier, prompter, and more frequent by the growth of railroads. Both the average Creole and the average American became more refined. The two types lost some of their points of difference. The American ceased to crave entrance into Creole society, having now separate circles of his own; and when they mingled it was on more equal terms, and the Creole was sometimes the proselyte. They were one on the great question that had made the American southerner the exasperated champion of ideas contrary to the ground principles of American social order. The New Orleans American was apt, moreover, by this time to be New-Orleans born. He had learned some of the Creole’s lethargy, much of his love of pleasure and his childish delight in pageantry. St. Charles Street – the centre of the American quarter, the focus of American theatres and American indulgences in decanter and dice – seemed strangely un-American when Mardigras filled it with dense crowds, tinsel, rouge, grotesque rags, Circean masks, fool’s-caps and harlequin colors, lewdness, mock music, and tipsy buffoonery. “We want,” said one American of strange ambition, “to make our city the Naples of America.”
By and by a cloud darkened the sky. Civil war came on. The Creole, in that struggle, was little different from the Southerner at large. A little more impetuous, it may be, a little more gayly reckless, a little more prone to reason from desire; gallant, brave, enduring, faithful; son, grandson, great-grandson, of good soldiers, and a better soldier every way and truer to himself than his courageous forefathers. He was early at Pensacola. He was at Charleston when the first gun was fired. The first hero that came back from the Virginia Peninsula on his shield was a Creole. It was often he who broke the quiet along the Potomac, now with song and now with rifle-shot. He was at Pull-Pun, at Shiloh, on all those blood-steeped fields around Richmond. He marched and fought with Stonewall Jackson. At Mobile, at the end, he was there. No others were quite so good for siege guns and water-batteries. What fields are not on his folded banners? He went through it all. But we will not follow him. Neither will we write the history of his town in those dread days. Arming, marching, blockade, siege, surrender, military occupation, grass-grown streets, hungry women, darkened homes, broken hearts, -let us not write the chapter ; at least, not yet.
The war passed. The bitter days of Reconstruction followed. They, too, must rest unrecounted. The sky is brightening again. The love of the American Union has come back to the Creole and the American of New Orleans stronger, for its absence, than it ever was before; stronger, founded in a triple sense of right, necessity, and choice.
The great south gate of the Mississippi stood, in 1880, a city of two hundred and sixteen thousand people and has been growing ever since. Only here and there a broad avenue, with double roadway and slender grassy groves of forest trees between, marks the old dividing lines of the faubourgs that have from time to time been gathered within her boundaries. Her streets measure five hundred and sixty-six miles of length. One hundred and forty miles of street railway traverse them. Her wealth in 1882, was $112,000,000. Her imports are light, but no other American city save New York has such an annual export. Her harbor, varying from 60 to 280 feet in depth, and from 1,500 to 3,000 feet in width, measures twelve miles in length on either shore, and more than half of this is in actual use. In 1883, over 2,000,000 bales of cotton passed through her gates, to home or foreign markets.
One of the many developments in the world’s commerce, unforeseen by New Orleans in her days of over-confidence, was the increase in the size of sea-going vessels. It had been steady and rapid, but was only noticed when the larger vessels began to shun the bars and mud-lumps of the river’s mouths. In 1852 there were, for weeks, nearly forty ships aground there, suffering detentions of from two days to eight weeks. It is true, some slack-handed attention had been given to these bars from the earliest times. Even in 1721, M. de Pauger, a French engineer, had recommended a system for scouring them away, by confining the current, riot materially different from that which proved so successful one hundred and fifty years later. The United States Government made surveys and reports in 1829, ’37, ’39, ’47, and ’51. But, while nature was now shoaling one “pass” and now deepening another, the effort to keep them open artificially was not efficiently or persistently made. Dredging, harrowing, jettying, and side-canalling – all were proposed, and some were tried; but nothing of a permanent character was effected. In 1853 vessels were again grounding on the bars, where some of them remained for months.
At length, in 1874, Mr. James I. Eads came forward with a proposition to secure a permanent channel in one of the passes, twenty-eight feet deep, by a system of jetties. He met with strenuous opposition from professional and unprofessional sources, but overcame both man and nature, and in July, 1879, successfully completed the work which has made him world-famous and which promises to New Orleans once more a magnificent future. Through a “pass” where a few years ago vessels of ten feet draft went aground, a depth of thirty feet is assured, and there are no ships built that may not come to her wharves. Capital has responded to this great change. Railroads have hurried and are hurrying down upon the city, and have joined her with Mexico and California; manufacturing interests are multiplying steadily; new energies, new ambitions, are felt by her people; for the first time within a quarter of a century buildings in the heart of the town are being torn down to make room for better. As these lines are being written the city is engrossed in preparations for a universal exposition projected on the largest scale; the very Creole himself is going to ask the world to come and see him. In every department of life and every branch of society there is earnest, intelligent effort to remove old drawbacks and prepare for the harvests of richer years.