The Seated Liberty half dollar, designed by mint engraver Christian Gobrecht, was minted for 53 years; from 1839 to 1891. There are several design modifications, or varieties, that exist with this coin. However, during the Civil War years of 1861-1865, there were no varieties of the half dollar at the Philadelphia, San Francisco or New Orleans mints. The coins, with the exception of their respective mint marks and dates, are basically identical to each other.

1861 was a tumultuous year for the United States. In New Orleans the mint, which had been operating since 1838, started the year minting 330,000 Seated Liberty half dollars. On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union. The New Orleans Mint and all of its contents were transferred to the control of the State of Louisiana. 1,240,000 Seated Liberty half dollars were struck under the aegis of the State of Louisiana for a period of about one month. After that, the Confederate States of America, the new operators of the mint, struck 962,633 half dollars. The half dollars struck under the three different governments are indistinguishable from each other. The supply of silver bullion ran out in May of1861, essentially closing the mint for coinage operations.

Confederate troops were housed at the mint building until the capture of New Orleans by the Union Navy and Marines in April of 1862. New Orleans was the first Confederate city to be captured and occupied by Federal forces.

Two notable (infamous) incidents took place at or near the mint building during the early Union occupation of New Orleans in April of 1862. The mint building, along with the Customs House, became the headquarters for the occupying Union Army under General Butler. The first Union flag in the city was placed on top of the mint building. William Mumford, a professional river boat gambler, seized the flag and dragged it through the mud in an act of defiance. Mumford was arrested and hanged for treason on the portico side of the mint building from a flagpole that projected from one of its windows. He became the only known person executed at a U.S. mint.

The U.S. Army of Occupation at New Orleans was frequently the target of abuse from the female population of the city. Some women spat or cursed at Union troops. Others sang Confederate patriotic songs when Yankee soldiers were present. One woman even emptied a chamber pot from her window on Union Admiral David Farragut shortly after the surrender ceremony. Major General Butler issued a highly controversial General Order to the population of New Orleans on May 15:

As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.

The insults ceased when the women of New Orleans learned that they would be treated as common streetwalkers by the occupying forces. This ìWomanís Orderî was regarded with great contempt by the rest of the Confederacy and was seen as a huge affront to womanhood by the Europeans. General Butler became known in the South as ìBeast Butler.î A widely held rumor was that General Butler had profited from the sale of confiscated silverware; thus earning him the additional nickname of ìSpoons Butler.î Jefferson Davis, President of the C.S.A., issued an order calling for the hanging of General Butler and his officers if captured.

The Mint at New Orleans has a highly colorful history. The events of 1861 and 1862 are of great historic importance to the country. The 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollar evokes strong memories of this pivotal time in our history.