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Harper's Weekly cartoon from October 1874 depicting White League and Klan opposition to Reconstruction

The White League was a white paramilitary group which was established in 1874 in Louisiana and operated during Reconstruction. It was described as "the military arm of the Democratic Party" and contributed to its taking over control of the Louisiana Legislature.[1] After white Democrats regained power, White Leagues were absorbed into state militias and the National Guard.[2]

Although sometimes linked to the secret vigilante groups of the Ku Klux Klan as well as Knights of the White Camellia, the White League and other paramilitary groups marked a significant difference. They operated openly, solicited coverage from newspapers, and the men's identities were generally known. Similar groups were the Red Shirts, started in Mississippi in 1875 and active in South Carolina. They had specific political goals to overthrow the Reconstruction government. They directed their activities toward intimidation and removal of carpetbagger and black Republican candidates and officeholders. Made up of well-armed Confederate veterans, they worked to turn Republicans out of office, disrupt their organizing, and use force to intimidate and terrorize freedmen to keep them from the polls. Backers helped finance purchases of up-to-date arms: Winchester rifles, Colt revolvers and Prussian needle guns.[3]

Although some sources attribute the White League with responsibility for the Colfax Massacre of 1873, the organization was not established under this name until March 1874. Confederate veteran and former Grant Parish sheriff Christopher Columbus Nash did lead companies of Grant Parish and neighboring white militias at Colfax. The first unit of the White League was composed of members of Nash's force and thus most individuals had participated in the Colfax Massacre.[4]

In the Coushatta Massacre, the White League forced six Republican officeholders to resign, then assassinated them before they left the parish, together with five freedmen who were witnesses. Generally in remote areas, their show of force always overcame opposition.[5]

Later in 1874 the Metropolitan Police of New Orleans, established as a state militia by the Republican governor, attempted to intercept a shipment of arms to the League. In the subsequent Battle of Liberty Place, 5,000 members of the White League routed 3,500 police and state militia. They demanded the resignation of Governor William Pitt Kellogg in favor of McEnery, who had been the Democratic candidate in the disputed 1872 election. Kellogg refused and the White League briefly took over the State House and City Hall, until withdrawing ahead of Federal troops and ships arriving to reinforce the government. President Grant responded with troops in three days and Kellogg resumed office. Additional troops arrived within a month to try to pacify the Red River valley.[6]

See also


  1. ^ George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
  2. ^ James K. Hogue, "The Battle of Colfax: Para-militarism and Counterrevolution in Louisiana," Jun 2006, p. 21
  3. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2007, pp.70-76
  4. ^ James K. Hogue,"The Battle of Colfax: Paramilitarism and Counterrevolution in Louisiana", Jun 2006, p. 21
  5. ^ James K. Hogue,"The Battle of Colfax: Paramilitarism and Counterrevolution in Louisiana", Jun 2006, pp.21-22
  6. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2006, p.77.


  • Wall, Bennett H.; et al. (2002). Louisiana: A History. pp. 208–210. ISBN 0-88295-964-6.  


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