In June 1880, with the wounds of the Civil War still fresh, New Orleans sent emissaries from the Deep South to help Boston commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The mayor of the Louisiana city sent a group of “Continental Guards” to participate in an anniversary celebration of the historic 1775 battle, and the city also delivered a flag to Boston “as a token of our participation in that common birthright of the American people.”
The observation, highlighted by the City of Boston Archives last week as part of the June 17 observation of Bunker Hill Day, shows an enduring bond between the cities despite the regional animosity that attended the Civil War and its aftermath.
After New Orleans fell to Union forces, it was occupied by troops under the command of Massachusetts resident Benjamin Butler, who excercised strict control over the city.
But by 1880, Boston was more on the mind of New Orleans leaders because of the kindness the northern city had shown during a recent struggle with disease.
To those who sent it, the flag represented “the sacred memories that cluster around the revolutionary battlefields of 1776,” according to a letter sent at the time and catalogued by the archives.
The gift also served “as a memorial of the gratitude of our people for the noble charity and large -handed generosity shown us by the citizens of Boston when flood and pestilence brought famine and death across our threshold.”
Marta Crilly, Boston archivist for reference and outreach, said records indicated that Boston likely sent aid to help New Orleans with an outbreak of yellow fever sometime between 1878 and 1880.
“That’s pretty siginifcant, and it shows how quickly things had changed since the Civil War,” Crilly said.
“It was a very interesting historical moment where you have two cities who were at odds, and now they’re trying to come back together,” she added. “Bunker Hill Day is the mechanism that they are using to do that.”