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Brigadier General John W. Phelps, Proclamation to "The Loyal Citizens of the Southwest," December 4, 1861

John Wolcott Phelps, detail
Union officers occupying previously Confederate-held areas often published proclamations outlining their policies and their expectations. Rarely, though, was one so outspoken or controversial as the statement Brigadier-General John Wolcott Phelps issued when his brigade occupied Ship Island, Mississippi during the build-up to the attack on New Orleans. Vermont-born Phelps was a rare breed - a West Point graduated career officer who was also a radical abolitionist. He did not mince words in his declaration: slavery was unconstitutional and free labor and the nation suffered from its existence. His policies in occupation would work towards its end. Phelps' document was far too radical for many, including his commander, Major-General Benjamin Butler, and it caused an uproar both in North and South. The local U.S. Navy commander, William W. McKean, would not even allow his ships to be used to transport copies of the statement onto mainland Mississippi and Louisiana under flags of truce. Phelps later resigned his commission when Butler ordered him to use former slaves as manual laborers rather than soldiers in occupied New Orleans. (By John Osborne)

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