Andre Cailloux (1825 – May 27, 1863) was one of the first black officers in the Union Army to be killed in combat during the American Civil War. He died heroically during the unsuccessful first attack on the Confederate fortifications during the Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. Accounts of his heroism were widely reported in the press, and became a rallying cry for the recruitment of African-Americans into the Union Army.
Born a slave in Louisiana in 1825, Cailloux lived his entire life in and around New Orleans. He was owned by members of the Duvernay family until 1846, when his petition for manumission, which was supported by his owner, was granted by an all-white police jury in the city of New Orleans. In 1847, Cailloux married Felicie Coulon, whose mother, Feliciana, a mulatto woman, had participated in the local placage system as the common law wife of a white plantation owner, Valentin Encalada, for several years. Though Felicie was not Encalada’s daughter, she remained his property until her mother bought her freedom from Encalada in 1842. Cailloux and Coulon had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood.
As a young man, Cailloux had learned the cigar making trade as an apprentice. Upon gaining his freedom, he earned his living as a cigar maker, and prior to the beginning of the Civil War, established his own cigar making business. Though his financial circumstances were modest, Cailloux became recognized as a leader within the free African-French Creole community of New Orleans.
An avid sportsman, Cailloux was admired as one of the best boxers in the city. He was also an active supporter of the Institute Catholique, a school for orphaned black children, that also taught the children of free people of color. After his manumission, Cailloux learned to read, probably with the assistance of the teachers at the Institute Catholique. He became fluent in both English and French. By 1860, Cailloux was a well respected member of the 10,000 “free men of color” African-Creole community in New Orleans. At the time, New Orleans was the largest city in the South, and the sixth largest city in the United States, with a population of about 100,000.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Cailloux became a lieutenant in the Native Guard, a Confederate regiment organized to defend the city of New Orleans. This made him one of the first African American officers of any North American unit. The regiment consisted entirely of free men of color who resided in and around New Orleans. Though the regiment was organized primarily as a public relations move by the Confederate Government of the state of Louisiana, and provided no financial support to its members, Cailloux took his responsibilities seriously, and his unit was observed to be well drilled and well trained.
The Confederate Native Guard were never called to active duty, and were disbanded before Union Admiral David Farragut captured the city of New Orleans in April 1862. In September, 1862, Union General Benjamin F. Butler, military commander of the Department of the Gulf, who made his headquarters in New Orleans, organized an all-black Union Army 1st Louisiana Native Guard regiment. Andre Cailloux joined this regiment and was made captain of Company E.
Cailloux’s company was considered one of the best drilled in the Native Guard, and Cailloux gradually earned the respect of the white officer who commanded the regiment, Colonel Spencer Stafford. When General Nathaniel P. Banks replaced Butler as Commander of the Department of the Gulf in December 1862, he brought with him an additional 30,000 troops, bringing the total troop strength under his command to 42,000.
By this time, the all-black Native Guard had grown to three regiments. Though the line officers (lieutenants and captains) were black, the commanding officers (colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors) were white. Banks set out to remove all black officers from their positions, and generally accomplished this with the 2nd and 3rd Regiments, but was unable to do so with the 1st Regiment, to which Andre Cailloux belonged.
The 1st Regiment of the Native Guard was assigned primarily to fatigue duty (chopping wood, digging trenches) until May 1863, when Banks moved most of his army (35,000 men) in a position to surround the Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson, Louisiana. Port Hudson was a strategically located fort on a bend in the Mississippi River just 20 miles (32 km) north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the time, the Confederacy controlled the two-hundred-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the north and Port Hudson in the south.
While General Ulysses Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, Banks laid siege to Port Hudson.
On May 27, 1863, Banks launched a poorly coordinated attack on the well defended, well fortified Confederate positions at Port Hudson. As part of the attack, Cailloux was ordered to lead his company of 100 men in an almost suicidal assault against sharpshooting Confederate troops. Cailloux’s company suffered heavy casualties, but Cailloux, shouting encouragement to his men in French and English, led several increasingly futile charges. On his last charge, a Minié ball tore through his arm, which was left dangling uselessly by his side. Severely wounded, Cailloux continued to lead the charge until a Confederate artillery shell killed him.
Despite a truce the next day asked for by Banks, and granted by the Confederate commander Franklin Gardner, for the purpose of recovering the Union dead from the field of battle, Cailloux’s remains were left on the field. Whether it was a conscious decision by Banks or simply an accident of war to leave the bodies of the black soldiers on the field is a subject of dispute. Cailloux’s decomposing body lay on the ground for 47 days until Port Hudson finally surrendered to Banks on July 9, 1863.
Cailloux’s funeral was held in New Orleans on July 29, 1863, and was attended by thousands. His heroism became almost mythical during the Civil War, and was often referred to by leading proponents of African-American soldiers serving in the Union Army.
After Cailloux’s death, his widow, Felicie, struggled to receive the financial benefits promised by the United States Government. After several years of effort, she received a small pension. However, she died in poverty in 1874, working at the time as a domestic servant for the Catholic priest who had preached the eulogy at her husband’s funeral.
- Ochs, Stephen J., A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
- Holden, Randall G., "Futile Valor" Baton Rouge, Louisiana, MCG Publishing, 1998.