Our public roads were mere mud trails; there was not a hard-surfaced road in the whole state. There was but one canal, that from the center of the city of New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain, six miles long. There were no telephones then, and the telegraph was very limited. The United States mails were generally carried on horse or mule-back. The city of New Orleans had but four paved streets, and they were made of large blocks of stone imported before the Civil War from Belgium at enormous cost. The rest of the streets were at times impassable. There were no cottonmills nor other industries in the State or city.
New Orleans had no wharves, a few warehouses, and but two hospitals. It had but few lines of street railway, and the street cars were drawn by small single mules, with a little tinkling bell. The only drainage consisted of open ditches. Our best mechanics worked for from $2.00 to $2.50 a day. Our field hands got only 50 cents to 75 cents a day. One of the richest and most progressive men in the State of Louisiana to-day cut cane on my Magnolia plantation in 1877 for 75 cents a day.
The amount of the State and City debt was unknown, the securities for which were selling at from 22 cents to 25 cents on the dollar. There was no money in either treasury. The people drank either water caught in cisterns from the dirty roofs of their houses or the dirty unfiltered water of the Mississippi River. Epidemics of yellow and malarial fevers prevailed nearly every year. Houses were unscreened and mosquitoes were as common as the flies that filled the air.
The slaughter-houses were so located that all of their offal and filth were poured into the Mississippi River, just above the mains that supplied the people with their drinking-water.
New Orleans was a dirty, impoverished, and hopeless city, with a mixed, ignorant, corrupt, and bloodthirsty gang in control. It was flooded with lotteries, gambling dens, and licensed brothels. Many of the city officials, as well as the police force, were thugs and murderers. Violence was rampant, and hardly a day passed that some one was not shot, out under the Oaks, in defense of his honor.
The levees of the Mississippi, Ouachita, and Atchafalaya rivers were in a deplorable condition, having been cut in many places by both Armies for military purposes, and neglected for the past five years, flooding great areas of the State.
The sugar, cotton, and rice planters were without money or credit, and their lands and buildings, having been neglected for four years, were in a state of dilapidation; their labor was disorganized; their mules and horses were gone, and implements scattered. The people were almost without hope.
Before the war there had been only four short pieces of railroad in the whole State. The Opelousas Railroad from New Orleans to Morgan City was but sixty miles in length, and the New Orleans and Great Jackson Railroad but fifty miles in length; while the short road form Baton Rouge to Grossetete and another short road from Vicksburg to Monroe were practically destroyed by the War and by the recurring waters from the broken levees, and abandoned.
War, Politics and Reconstruction by Henry Clay Warmoth
The Macmillan Company, New York, 1930, pages 79-81.