|1st Louisiana Native Guard|
Officers of Company C of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard at Fort McComb, Louisiana
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||Union Army, American Civil War|
The 1st Louisiana Native Guard (later became the 73rd Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops) was one of the first all-black regiments to fight in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It was based in New Orleans, Louisiana, and played a prominent role in the Siege of Port Hudson. A predecessor regiment by the same name existed in the Confederate Louisiana militia.
Union regiment formed
New Orleans fell to Admiral David Farragut in April 1862, and Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler then headquartered his 12,000-man Army of the Gulf in New Orleans. On September 27, 1862, Butler organized the Union Army's 1st Louisiana Native Guard regiment, some of whose members had also been part of the previous Confederate Native Guard regiment. The regiment's initial strength was 1,000 men.
Former Confederate Lt. Andre Cailloux was named captain of Company E of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, whose membership consisted primarily of "free men of color" from New Orleans. During this period, some runaway slaves from nearby plantations joined the regiment, but the Union Army's official policy discouraged such enrollments. In November 1862, the number of runaway slaves seeking to enlist became so great that a second regiment and then, a month later, a third regiment were formed.
The field grade officers of these regiments (colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors) were all white men. The line officers were all black, including P. B. S. Pinchback. Spencer Stafford, formerly Butler's military "mayor" of New Orleans, was the original commander of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard.
Banks purges black line officers
When Nathaniel P. Banks later replaced Butler as Commander of the Department of the Gulf, he began a systematic campaign to purge all the black line officers from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guard. He succeeded in securing the resignations of all the black line officers in the 2nd Regiment in February 1863, but most of the black line officers in the 1st Regiment and 3rd Regiment remained.
The Siege of Port Hudson
From its formation in September 1862 until early May 1863, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard largely performed fatigue duty–chopping wood, gathering supplies, and digging earthworks. From January 1863 to May 1863, the regiment also guarded the railway depots that along the rail line between Algiers (now part of New Orleans) to Brashear City (now called Morgan City). By this time, its numbers had diminished to 500.
In mid-1863, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, along with the 3rd Louisiana Native Guard, had its first chance at combat and participated in the first assault at the Siege of Port Hudson on May 27, as well as the second assault on June 14. Captain Cailloux died heroically in the first assault. His body, as well as those of the other members of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard who fell with him that day, was left on the field of battle until the surrender of Port Hudson on July 9, 1863. Cailloux received a hero's funeral in New Orleans on July 29.
Redesignation and legacy
In June 1863, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Louisiana Native Guard Regiments were redesignated the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Corps d'Afrique. Perhaps 200 to 300 of the original 1,000 members of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard made this transition.
Poor treatment by white soldiers and difficult field conditions had by then led to the resignation of many officers and the desertion of enlisted soldiers. In April 1864 the Corps d'Afrique was dissolved and its members joined the newly organized 73rd and 74th Regiments of the United States Colored Troops of the Union Army. By the end of the war, about 175,000 African Americans had served in the 170 regiments of the United States Colored Troops. In contrast to the 1st Louisiana Native Guards organization, all field and line officers of the United States Colored Troops were white. At the war's end, approximately 100 of the original 1,000 members of the First Louisiana Native Guard still remained in uniform in either the 73rd or 74th Regiments.
There is an erroneous belief that the Confederate Army's Louisiana Native Guard regiment organized in May 1861 was reformed in its entirety as the Union Army's 1st Louisiana Native Guard regiment in September 1862. However, this is incorrect. Of the nearly one thousand enlisted soldiers of the Confederate Native Guards, only 107 were recorded as enlisting in the Union "Native Guard", and only ten of the 36 officers served the Union. The legend of continuity of the regiments is considered by many to have been a propaganda ploy by Union General Benjamin F. Butler.
Military history of African Americans in the U.S. Civil War
- Weaver, C. P.; Daniels, Nathan W. (1998). Thank God my regiment an African one: the Civil War diary of Colonel Nathan W. Daniels. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-2242-4.