There Was A House In New Orleans

Aug 6, 2016
"There was a house in New Orleans
a mob approached to ruin.
Tear it down!! she said to them,

I’ll always be loyal to the Union."

Thus begins the remarkable story of Mrs. Nellie Maria Taylor. Mrs. Taylor was born into a family named “Dewey”, in Watertown, New York in 1821. Her family would relocate westward during her youth and she would say of herself - she “grew up among the Indians”. Perhaps this helped build her character she’d need later in her life.

In 1847, she along with her husband and 2 young children moved to New Orleans, and in that city, she would be living in 1860/1861 as the state of Louisiana was debating succession. She remained firm in her loyalty and love for the Union.


Public Domain

The High Cost of Her Loyalty

Due to her husband illness, she needed to work and as she was an educated woman, she found employment as teacher. When the state of Louisiana began to debate succession, and the rumble of war became daily conversation, Mrs. Taylor was in the “line-of-fire” as she held firm to her Unionist positions. It didn’t help at all when her eldest son, now 19 years old, was being pressured to join the Confederate army. Mrs. Taylor sent him north to college hoping he’d avoid service in a Louisiana regiment. She would eventually be summoned to her school’s Board of Directors to be confronted with the following accusation - - -

“of being a Unionist, and informed that it was believed that she had sent her son away to keep him from fighting for his country”.

She would proudly answer - - -

“the country of herself and son was the whole country, and for it she was willing he should shed his last drop of blood, but not to divide and mutilate it, would she consent that he should ever endanger himself.”

She would lose her job. She faced an uncertain future with her sick husband, a mortgage to pay and no income, but she had faith, believed in justice, and loved the union.

It was at this point the mob approached her home and threatened - - -

“We give you five minutes to decide whether you are for the South or the North. If at the end of that time you declare yourself for the South, your house shall remain; if for the North, it must come down,”

The resident proudly replies, "Sir, I will say to you and your crowd, and to the world if you choose to summon it—I am, always have been, and ever shall be, for the Union, Tear my house down if you choose!”

Her house would survive on that day, but her life would not be any easier.

The Violence Against Her Builds

Throughout 1861, she would be targeted for her views. She was called such things as: “ Lincoln Emissary”," "a traitor to her country," "a friend of Lincoln's hirelings," The chaos would continue against her and would build until the one evening in February, 1862, as she was tending her husband’s bedside, she heard a rifle shot and felt “the wind of a minie bullet” as it passed close to her head and lodged in the wall. In the morning she dug the ball out of the wall and when told it was a minie bullet she was quoted as saying - - -

"Oh, no," you mistake! It is a piece of Southern chivalry fired at a defenseless woman, in the middle of the night, by the son of a judge, whose courage should entitle him to a commission in the Confederate army."

Her son began to hear of the persecution against his mother and to protect her, he left school and enlisted in the Confederate Army. At that point, she was not tormented as she had been, but her loyalty never wavered.

The Yanks Are Coming

On the evening of May 1, 1862 Union ships transported General Benjamin Butler to the docks of New Orleans. He marched, with his troops, to the U.S. Custom House as his band played “Yankee Doodle”. The Union Army controls New Orleans, and no one was happier than Mrs. Nellie Maria Taylor. She gets her teaching job back but she still felt a yearning to help her Yankee countrymen.

She began spending her spare hours visiting hospitals and dedicating her energy in the care of sick and wounded soldiers. She even used her own money to help whenever she could, and solicited funds from whomever was willing to help. She continued this work so much so, that she was spending most of her earned money on their care. Perhaps her work is summed up in the testimony from the men she deeply cared for - - -

"I do assure you it affords me the greatest pleasure to be able to add my testimony for that good, that noble that blessed woman, Mrs. Taylor. I was wounded at Port Hudson in May, 1863, and lay in the Barracks General Hospital at New Orleans for over three months, when I had an excellent opportunity to see and know her work.”

Another soldier described her as - - -

"blessed woman," and repeats his thanks "for himself and hundreds of others,"

and another - - -

“She worked every day in the hospital—all her school salary she spent for the soldiers—night after night she toiled, and long after others were at rest she was busy for the suffering."

Her “Other” Benevolent Acts

As she was an educated woman it was said that she wrote “no less” than 1,174 letters for her soldiers between January 1864 - January 1865. She was also known for following-up on these soldiers lives contacting family members, finding personal information about soldiers for family members. Her dedication was tireless.

In 1864 she worked with the Cincinnati Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission. On June 1, 1864, when she was on “vacation” from teaching, she became the manager of the Dietetic Department in the University Hospital (the largest in New Orleans). Along with her daughter and 4 other ladies, they would prepare anywhere from 500-600 diets at one time. Her daughter, Alice Taylor, took over the job, when Mrs. Taylor needed to return to her teaching job. Nellie Taylor did not totally give up her job as she would be seen nursing and serving her “boys” every Saturday and Sunday. The hospital closed on January 1, 1865, and both she and her daughter were then until the end.


Mrs. Taylor’s love for the Union never left her heart during her trials in the early years of the war and as she worked tirelessly tending to her soldiers.

Before General Butler’s arrival, she faced angry mobs, and torment from her friends and neighbors but she never slept without the “banner of the free” in her heart.

Her home would be searched 7 different times, sometimes with as many as several dozen men. In one instance, a judge lead a “mob” in searching her home; their desire was to find anything they could use against her and then toss her out of the city.

“Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.”

Mrs. Nellie Maria Taylor was a remarkable woman. She kept her convictions in a town where it seemed impossible to maintain, she was dedicated in her love for her family, tended her bed-ridden husband, teacher by day, comforter by night, a nemesis to her fellow Confederate supporting neighbors, an answer to prayer for her Union soldier boys.

"From that house in New Orleans,
a woman, a nurse, a friend.
She lived the war in service,

for her countrymen."

Sources (pages 234-240)

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First Sergeant
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jul 30, 2018
What a strong and compassionate woman. Many would have left the city the moment they felt opposition, looking for safer places to stay up north. I'm also wondering whether the children she taught at school were from parents being loyal to the Union or having Confederate sentiments. Depending on the age of the children, classes surely must have been interesting, to say the least.

Do you know whether the son survived the war? What about her husband? Did he recuperate?

Great bio, @DBF ! Thanks for sharing. :thumbsup:
Aug 6, 2016
There is very scant information on Mrs. Taylor. If I did find web sites - they tended to have the same information that I pretty much had. Her son does survive the war - his name was Johnnie. I don't know anything about her husband, except that he was bedridden. I almost want to assume that he passed away at some point because she put such dedication to her hospital work and I'm not sure she would have done that if she had to care for him - but I don't know for sure. I could not find anything on her death, date or where she is buried. She seems to be a woman, like so many of her day, that did what they did, and did it "just because they thought it was the right thing to do", never thinking she was leaving a legacy.

Cavalry Charger

Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jan 24, 2017
Such a wonderful story again @DBF , and a woman in many ways to aspire to, one who stood her ground in spite of the obstacles and difficulties that confronted her. What a dilemma for her son which forced a division of loyalties which I had never come across before where the son chose to protect his mother, but she maintained her ideals not concerned about protecting herself.

Great stuff!

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