Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Corps d'Afrique - a painful evolution to prove valor

January 21,2017


This story centers on the Corps d’Afrique, black soldiers who fought for the Union in the American Civil War. That war was and remains a central event in American history. The Corps did not develop overnight. Theirs is a complex story, an evolutionary story that began in Louisiana. It will expose you to a great deal of American history, good and bad. Emancipation and military service in this war were woven together, much done through experimentation, and much a reflection of the complexities of society and government.

Historic precedent War of 1812

This story by design deals with the American Civil War, 1861-1865. But I do wish to highlight that there was precedent in Louisiana for using black soldiers to fight along with white ones to defend New Orleans and the Louisiana region.


The Treaty of Ghent between the US and Britain was signed on December 24, 1814 ending the war. Nonetheless, with communications across the Atlantic being slow, British forces mobilized in 1814 to direct a naval attack against New Orleans.


Major General Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, USA used New Orleans as his base of operations beginning in November 1814. Instead of a naval attack up the Mississippi from Jamaica, the British attacked from the east (red dots), approaching through Lake Borgne. The British far outnumbered the US forces. Jackson's outfit, assembled from US Army troops from several states, along with free black soldiers, numbered between 3,500 - 5,000, while the British could draw from 14,450 soldiers and sailors aboard ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

I will not go into this battle of New Orleans which did not end until February 1815, with the US the victor. I simply want to say that blacks were mightily involved in defense of the city. Free black men 45 years and older formed home guards behind the front lines to protect property and maintain order, build defenses, fortify positions and fight as needed. Black women provided clothing and medical aid. Furthermore, Louisiana at the time had two battalions of free men of color, over six hundred men, who fought along with Jackson's Army forces. An act passed by the Louisiana legislature in 1812 was the first in the nation to authorize a black volunteer militia with its black line officers. Keep this in mind as we proceed.

The American Civil War: a few reminders


The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 with Confederate bombardment of Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. Seven Southern slave states had earlier seceded from the US. They formed the Confederate States of America (CSA). Four more followed after that date, bringing the total to eleven by June 20, 1861.

Drew Gilpin Faust wrote:


"In the middle of the nineteenth century the United States embarked on a new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history …Death's significance for the Civil War generation derived … from the way it violated prevailing assumptions about life's proper end — about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances."

The war ended May 12-13, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln became president on March 4, 1861, just one month before hostilities. Seven states had already seceded and formed the CSA. In his inauguration speech, Lincoln said:

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the United States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Two years later Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, declaring slaves free in 10 states as an action to suppress rebellion. Those states not in rebellion did not fall under the proclamation.


Confederate forces seized numerous federal forts within what they saw as their territory. This photo shows Ft. Sumter, South Carolina under the Confederate flag.


Compromise would not work. Lincoln, as one of his first acts, ordered the Navy to blockade southern ports on April 19, 1861. This illustration shows the USS South Carolina off the coast of Galveston, Texas in 1861. The US Navy had only 42 ships in commission, with another 48 available for service once crews were found and trained. The first joint battle using army and naval forces occurred at Hatteras in August 1861. Further naval battles occurred at Port Royal, Roanoke Island, and Hampton Roads. Then came New Orleans in April 1862. There were many more battles, mostly inside the Confederacy, thereafter but I will stop here as New Orleans is a focal point for this story. As an aside, the Confederates won a fair share of these battles, and there were multiple times the Union Army appeared as thought it could not cope.

The Corps d’Afrique, using colored troops, was proposed by Major General National P. Banks of the Union Army on May 1, 1863 and the Corps became official in June 1863. There is quite a story that attends this, a story perhaps not well known, and one which deserves our attention. As you will see, it has drawn my full attention — there is so much I have learned by doing this report. Once again, I regret it is so long, but this is fascinating history and believe it or not, I am only touching the surface.

While most of us might not have known about the Corps, there is a lot of very good information available about it. As with so many topics, the challenge is to assemble the particulars such that one can follow its evolution. The march from war in 1861 to the Corp d'Afrique in 1863 was a long evolution, most notably on the northern side of the Mason Dixon Line, Abraham Lincoln included.

Black Confederates

I wish to highlight one item which I will not address further in this report, but it is most certainly worthy of further study.

The Confederate Congress did not approve blacks to be enlisted as soldiers. However, many Confederate officers ignored that ruling, enlisting blacks so long as they would fight.

Shirley Farris Jones, a long-time Civil War historian, has reported:

"It has been estimated that more than 65,000 Southern blacks served in some form or fashion in the Confederate ranks, and more than 13,000 of these 'saw the elephant,' a term used to describe meeting the enemy in combat. These black Confederates included both slaves and free men."

But then she reported:

"Dr. George Smith has done extensive research on this subject as well and based upon both Union and Confederate documents included in the Official War Records, it is his opinion that 'Since it was illegal for Blacks, either free or slave, to carry and bear arms, it is extraordinarily hard to believe there were 65,000 Blacks serving in Confederate ranks, with over 13,000 seeing combat. Closer to 100,000 freemen and slaves were impressed under the numerous impressments acts. All the impressments acts clearly delineated slaves were to be used as teamsters, laborers, hospital orderlies, cooks, etc.'”

Jones then acknowledges:

"As the war was nearing its final days, the Confederacy took progressive measures to build back its ranks with the creation of the Confederate Colored Troops, copied after the segregated northern colored troops, but this idea came too late for any measure of success."

She goes on to say:

"Free black men served the Confederacy as soldiers, teamsters, musicians, and cooks. They earned the same pay for their service as did white Confederate privates, which, in the Union Army, was not the case. They also earned the wrath of their fellow black men of the North … Horace Greeley, observing the differences between the two warring armies, commented: 'For more than two years, Negroes have been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They have been embodied and drilled as rebel soldiers and had paraded with white troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union.'”

The photo is of a man named "Marlboro," who was a servant to Maj. Raleigh Spinks Camp of the 40th Georgia Infantry of the Army of Tennessee.

In 1861, noted black abolitionist Frederick Douglass said:

"There are many colored men in the Confederate Army as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops and doing all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government."

Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University, stated:

"When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you've eliminated a part of the history of the South."

My apologies to Dr. Haynes. Studying the evolution of the Corps d'Afrique as an entity of the Union Army, as you will see, is complex enough for me. But the point has been noted.

Louisiana - The Corps d'Afrique's roots are here

The first challenge is where to start. I have chosen to begin by zeroing in on Louisiana. That’s where the Corps d’Afrique had its roots. I’ll start with creation of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, Confederate States of America (CSA). Please note: CSA vice the Union.

Thomas Overton Moore was governor of Louisiana from 1860 to 1864. That put him in the saddle throughout the Civil War. Governor Moore, himself a plantation and slave owner, initially advocated boycotting goods from the North. He had wanted New Orleans to be a neutral area of conflict. But he would end up strongly favoring secession. The Ordinance of Secession for Louisiana was enacted on January 26, 1861.

Moore could sense a Union Army attack coming targeted at New Orleans. The Union strategy was to split the Confederacy in two by running up and down the Mississippi Rover. Moore had filled his quota of CSA forces to fight in Virginia and Tennessee, but he needed more soldiers to defend Louisiana and New Orleans. So he put out the call on April 21, 1861.

Joelle Jackson has researched this and wrote:

“A committee of ten prominent New Orleans free blacks called a meeting at the city's Catholic Institute on April 22 to pledge their loyalty to the Confederate cause. About 2,000 people attended the meeting including 1,500 free blacks who signed a militia muster roll.”

An effect of that action was Governor Moore formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA on May 21, 1861. This made it the first official black regiment in the Confederate Army. All of the initial members, some 1,100, were French Speaking Creoles. I should note another source has said 33 officers and 731 enlisted men.

Why would they join? My sense is that most of them wanted to demonstrate that they were as good as anyone else, that they could fight, and think, that they could conduct themselves with pride and honor. Those who escaped slavery wanted those things but also looked forward to the pay, the uniforms and all that goes with military life, and eventual freedom.

Quick review of vocabulary

I will digress to clarify some vocabulary.

“Creole” can mean a lot of things. It usually refers to native-born, in our case, native born Louisianians. The French settlers used the term to distinguish people born in Louisiana from those who came from elsewhere. Most were born in Louisiana of French ancestry, or sometimes of Spanish descent. The term was also applied to African descended slaves born in Louisiana. Recall that Louisiana once was ruled by the French and then the Spanish, and the Spanish brought many people from the West Indies. For the most part, they were Catholic though there were Jewish Creoles tracing their origins to Suriname in South America.

The graphic shows a Creole man of New Orleans, name unknown. But it was men like this to whom Governor Moore was appealing.

The Laura Plantation, a Creole plantation, describes Creole as follows:

"Creole is the non-Anglo-Saxon culture and lifestyle that flourished in Louisiana before it became a part of the United States in 1803. Louisiana Creole is a blending of influences from three cultural groups: the west European, west African, and includes a significant input from the Native American. The Creole functioned in an elitist structure, based on family ties … Creole Louisiana was a place where class, not race, determined social status … Over the last 200 years, the meaning of Creole has changed, often dictated by many varying Anglo definitions, all based on the concept of race. These imposed meanings varied from: descendants of French and Spanish aristocrats to racially mixed or to anyone of African blood. In the Louisiana Creole mind, such distinctions are not only irrelevant, they contradict and hide the essential nature of this vanishing, alternative culture.

The term “Creole” can itself create controversy. The subject demands considerable study.

Dr. Yaba Blay, shown here, has focused a great deal of attention on skin color and identity in New Orleans. She has argued that there was and is a distinction between Creole and Negro. That is:

“Creoles—people descended from a cultural/racial mixture of African, French, Spanish and/or Native American people—have distinguished themselves racially from ‘regular Negroes.’ In this context, people who are light skinned, with non-kinky hair and the ability to claim a Creole heritage have had access to educational, occupational, social and political opportunities that darker skinned, kinkier-haired, non-Creole folks have been denied. In many ways, among those of us who are not Creole and whose skin is dark brown, the claiming of a Creole identity is read as rejection. And I’m not just talking about history books or critical race theory. I’m talking about on-the-ground, real-life experiences.”

Creoles often were labeled as “gens de couleur libres” (free people of color) who lived in the Treme section of New Orleans, the oldest African-American neighborhood still in existence. The web site said:

"More than 80 percent of the free people of color population in New Orleans in 1860 had European blood in their veins. In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of slaves in Louisiana gave evidence of white ancestry. Because skin color and free status were highly correlated, many free people of color identified more closely with Southern whites than with people of color."

I highlight this because the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA would accept Creoles, but not negroes. This demarcation would continue to show up during the evolution of the Corps d’Afrique.

I also want to touch on the term “free blacks.” The term simply means some slaveowners voluntarily freed their slaves, for a variety of reasons and following varying timetables and approaches.


Finally, I will highlight that many slaves escaped from their owners. This photo shows a group nearing Union lines. They were known as fugitive slaves and runaway slaves. That slaves would try to escape is as old as the institution of slavery. I expect many tens of thousands escaped throughout the country. Some 25,000 escaped around Ft. Monroe, Virginia alone. One estimate is that 180,000 served in the Union Army throughout the war. We'll talk more about that later.

Research that I have found on the entire subject at hand will bounce around with terminology, some using the label negro, some Creole, some black, and others African American, others people of color etc. Of course there has been much controversy to this day on terminology.

There is a very good paper on the subject done by Leone Bennett, Jr., at the time the senior editor, Ebony Magazine, entitled, “What's In a Name? Negro vs. Afro-American vs. Black.”

I do not want to get bogged down over what the “right” terms ought to be. I will use the terms employed by various researchers and personalities of the time. I do recommend you read Bennett’s paper.

Formation of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA

Back to the history.

Governor Moore formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA on May 21, 1861 making it the first official black regiment in the Confederate Army. All of the initial members, some 1,100, were French Speaking Creoles.

The governor appointed three white officers to command the regiments. However, company officers were Creole officers selected from the ranks.

The free men of color in New Orleans were enthusiastic about the Confederate cause. During the period prior to the Civil War, Louisiana’s free people of color were well accepted and often prosperous. Their numbers, however, were small. But feelings changed as the Civil War approached. Many southerners grew concerned that the free people of color would collaborate with the abolitionists. Others also saw their existence as a threat to the system of slavery. The idea of white supremacy grew even louder and more aggressive. As a result many free men of color left the state.

Nonetheless, the governor was able to form the 1st Louisiana. But for reasons just outlined, the unit did not last long. The state did not supply it well. Its members often had to provide their own weapons, ammunition, and clothing.

Then came the political hammer. In January 1862 the Louisiana State Legislature passed a law that required militia members to be white. On February 16, 1862, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA disbanded.

I said we would focus on Louisiana because that’s where the Corps d’Afrique had its roots. If you’re going to talk about Louisiana, you have to talk about New Orleans. It was a significant transportation port, commanding access to and from the Gulf of Mexico and from and to all the ports on the many upstream tributaries. The city had enormous economic and political power, a transportation hub in the US and abroad. And at this point in time, the Confederates held it.


This is a map of the secession and northern states. The southern states from South Carolina to Texas, seven of them, were the first to secede. Then, after the fall of Ft. Sumter, the states from Virginia to North Carolina and west to Arkansas seceded, making 11 in all in the CSA. The purple states were slave states that remained in the Union. Then, of course, the northern states of the United States.

Anaconda Plan

Of course, to talk about Louisiana and New Orleans, one has to address the Mississippi River. For purposes here, it was a dividing line. There already was a north-south dividing line. The river established an east-west dividing line.

Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, known to some as “Old Fuss and Feathers,” was thought to be one of best American commanders of his time. In May 1861 he developed a Union strategy to defeat the Confederacy known as the Anaconda Plan. That said, one of his major problems was that he was not physically in condition to oversee Union War efforts.

The centerpiece of this strategic plan was to avoid invading the south with massive numbers of troops. An objective was to limit confrontation and cause minimal casualties. In effect, it was kind of a passive plan to starve out the South and cause it to give up on its secession moves; some called it a conciliatory plan.


The Anaconda Plan involved blockading all southern ports to stop southern trade with the outside world and seizing control of the Mississippi River to cut the Confederacy in two, an action that would stop the flow of supplies eastward and westward. This is a nice map to explain Scott's overall strategy: Step 1 was to execute the blockade over all southern ports. Step 2 was to control the Mississippi River and divide the Confederacy. Step three was to capture Richmond and cause the Confederacy to buckle.

Under this strategy, Union forces would take up defensive positions and repel Confederate attacks into the North. Furthermore, as southern ports were taken, Union troops could be steamed in to hold forts in those areas. Finally, the idea was to float down the Mississippi, taking ports and forts along the way, and then holding those. It was referred to as “Scott’s Great Snake.”

President Lincoln is said to have thought the plan was too timid and unrealistic, and seemed to dismiss it. However, he very much liked the idea of blockading southern ports. Very early in his presidency, Lincoln set forth the Union’s first naval goal: blockade the southern coasts. That synchronized with the Anaconda Plan. More on this in a moment.

Many, actually most Union generals did not like this plan. Indeed Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles opposed the plan and opposed Lincoln's desire to blockade southern ports. He would later relent.

The generals opposing the plan wanted to attack the South, employ the Union’s overwhelming industrial and military might, and defeat the South in the South. Furthermore, they wanted to fight on land west of the Mississippi, ignoring Confederate fortifications. This plan sought a rapid victory while Scott’s would take longer. The Union generals aimed to quickly take Richmond, Virginia, an action they thought would force the collapse of the Confederacy. The press was wildly against the plan as well, snapping up attention grabbing headlines like, "On to Richmond."

The Anaconda Plan was never officially adopted, but Lincoln followed it as a rough draft. He especially liked and understood controlling the Mississippi River. The plan would have a major impact on the war in the western Confederacy.


As it turned out, the Union lacked top quality generals at the helm. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the top generals were Democrats, not Republicans. A succession of generals-in-chief were fired for failures in the ground war. Furthermore, Lincoln appointed too many generals for political purposes, oft times appointing politicians with no military background. Historian Thomas J. Goss wrote:

“Though much contemporary and historical attention has been placed upon these amateur commanders in the field and highlights their numerous tactical shortcomings, their assignment patterns demonstrate that political factors outweighed any military criteria in the administration’s judgment of their success. For the Lincoln administration, the risk of these tactical setbacks were exceeded by the political support amassed every day these popular figures were in uniform, revealing how political generals and their West Point peers were judged using different standards based on distinct calculations of political gain and military effectiveness.”

Many experts I have read have said the Confederacy had by far the best general officers, but lacked the resources. Even lacking resources, The Confederate Army made extraordinary gains in the war.


Arguably the greatest complication with Scott’s plan was the Union lacked a strong navy. Furthermore, the Confederate Army was not an outfit the Union could knock-out overnight. It was strong with fierce fighters. This illustration is of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1861.

I mentioned earlier Lincoln liked the idea of blockading southern ports. Very early in his presidency, Lincoln set forth the Union’s first naval goal: blockade the southern coasts, which measured about 3,500 miles. The idea was to starve the Confederacy and stop Confederate trade with the outside world. Gideon Welles, the navy secretary, shown here, initially did not like the plan in part because he knew he lacked the naval resources. However, he came around to the idea and began a major effort to build new warships, buying and converting merchant vessels as well.

Yes, the Union needed more ships. It did not have enough to blockade all significant southern ports. But it did have naval superiority. At the beginning of the war, it had 42-commissioned warships. The Confederacy had none. While that was true, critics of Secretary Welles called it Welles' "soapbox navy," as the Civil War Trust put it, "A motley assortment that ranged from old sailing ships to New York harbor ferryboats."

David G. Surdham, writing “The Confederate Naval Buildup,” said the Union had to face some formidable challenges:

Eads Shipyard Carondelet, Missouri

“First, Union naval superiority would take time to manifest itself; the North would have to recall its existing naval warships from distant stations, and it would need to buy and build blockading vessels to implement its blockade.

Ironclads USS Monitor (foreground) and CSS Virginia Battle of Hampton Roads fight to a standstill

“Second, naval technology had been changing rapidly during the late antebellum period. Contemporary advances, particularly the idea of protecting warships with iron armor, could have rendered most of the Union vessels obsolete in the face of a Confederate navy built from scratch and immediately exploiting the latest technology. Confederate Navy Secretary Mallory understood the opportunity presented by the new technology, especially the importance of ironclad vessels. He realized that the South could not compete in building standard wooden vessels, so he opted for a southern navy based upon ironclad vessels.”

But the North did not sit idly. the Union quickly started building ironclads as well.


I stressed earlier that when writing about the Corps d’Afrique, one must go immediately to Louisiana, and therefore to New Orleans, marked by the arrow on the left, and the Mississippi River. New Orleans was the largest Confederate port and the Confederacy's largest city. However, the US Navy was incapable of sealing off all the channels. New Orleans was 60-100 miles upstream the Mississippi (depending on who is measuring and how) before that river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. The arrow on the right points to Ship Island. I will talk about it more later. It became a central piece of geography.

The Union experienced many problems developing and sticking to a strategy for victory in the Civil War. Strategies changed frequently and in some cases were non-existent. However, there seemed to be one point of general agreement: take control of the Mississippi River to split the Confederacy in two. The debate would center on wether to come down the river or go up the river.


I might interject here that there were two theaters of war in the Civil War, the Eastern and Western. Most Americans are most familiar with the Eastern Theater but not so many with the Western. The Eastern Theater was small, the Western vast. The Western Theater was so vast it would be hard to send ground forces in to take it all. Conversely, it would be difficult for the Confederacy to defend.

However, in the West, rivers flowed generally north to south. They were therefore to become major Union invasion routes. The Mississippi River was the Grand-daddy of them all. Logistics otherwise were very difficult to non-existent in the West.

One should also note that Washington, DC and Richmond were close to each other and both were in the East. Therefore senior commanders worried more about the East. As a result, generals in the West found they could take far greater liberties since they were to watched so closely from Washington. Resources were also more easily available to the East. For his part, President Lincoln understood the West better than the East and provided his generals in the West with better political support.

With the blockade put in place along the southern coastline, Union troops would use the vast network of rivers to move into the Confederacy. Union efforts to take Richmond failed. Confederate forces eventually invaded Virginia and Maryland and moved into Pennsylvania.

While many of us see General Ulysses S. Grant as one who took victory in Appomattox, Virginia, he earned his spurs fighting in the West. A major reason for his success was to launch joint naval and ground force attacks along and from the river network.

Three of the more meaningful battles of the war occurred at Shiloh, Tennessee, and Vicksburg and New Orleans, Mississippi, the latter two of which led to the Union controlling the Mississippi River. Taking those led to the capture of Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, Atlanta, Georgia and major victories in South and North Carolina. Richmond was trapped in between the North an the South in the Eastern Theater.

Battle of New Orleans

In early 1861, Lt. Commander David Porter, USN, shown here as an admiral, joined the Union's naval forces in the blockade of Southern port cities. His first task was to blockade Pensacola, Florida; he spent six weeks doing that. He then moved on to Mobile, Alabama and set up another blockade and then he did the same at the mouth of the Mississippi River. He spent most of 1861 blockading that river. He was promoted to commander in August 1861. In November 1861 his ship, the USS Powhaten, returned to New York City and he was ordered to go to Washington to participate in the planning to capture New Orleans. He was a great advocate of doing that.

Porter participated in an all important New Orleans planning meetings with President Lincoln, the secretary of the navy, his assistant secretary, and Mr. Gustavus Fox, whom I will address in a moment, along with Major General George McClellan, USA in the latter's office. McClellan had just recently been appointed general-in-chief.

I'll plant one thought in you mind here for later use. Without going into detail, I will say that Porter was the "foster brother" of Captain David Farragut, USN, who in April 1862 would command the West Gulf Blockading Force.

Let me switch gears just a bit for a moment.

Relevant to this idea to capture New Orleans are the activities of Major General Benjamin Butler, USA, shown here. During 1861, he raised a volunteer force that was to fight in the New England states. He raised that force, but focused on clearing the Confederates from the eastern shore of Virginia. He saw that the Confederates had left that area so he then focused on the Gulf Coast. He intended to attack Mobile, Alabama or seek a foothold in Texas, and then turn to capture New Orleans. His first step was to occupy a place called Ship Island. I mentioned previously Ship Island would be important. The Confederates had evacuated it in September 1861.

General Butler will remain a focal point of this report as we proceed.

There is a wonderful "
Historic Resource Study of Ship Island" by Edwin C. Bearss that provides a fabulous and detailed history of the island since the seventh century.


I said earlier when talking about the Western Theater that the generals operating there had significant freedom to do what they wanted as much of Washington, DC was focused on the Eastern Theater, to wit, Richmond and near environs. Neither the powers to be in the North or the South knew about Butler's plans to capture New Orleans. He saw that Ship Island, shown on this map, presented a superb base for deployment either to Mobile, Alabama or Texas or New Orleans. Butler took 2,000 soldiers from the 9th Connecticut and 4th Massachusetts with him aboard the SS Constitution, left Boston Harbor on November 21, 1861 and arrived at Ship Island on December 2. As plans for New Orleans started to solidify, some 15,000 Union troops would be on the island by April 1862. You are going to hear much more about General Butler later.

But let's move back to the planning for capturing New Orleans.

Gustavus V. Fox, shown here, was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, appointed on August 1, 1861. He was a Naval Academy graduate and a strong advocate of naval power. He focused considerable attention on controlling the Mississippi. In late 1861, he developed a proposal for Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, and President Lincoln to launch a naval attack on New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico, then turn the city over to the army. This would not be a blockade. It would be a navy assault with a view toward capturing the city. Effectively, his vision was for the Navy to capture New Orleans, which thereafter would be held by the Army. Then the Navy forces would progress up the Mississippi to Vicksburg. Fox knew General Butler was now occupying Ship Island near the mouth of the Mississippi, a perfect jumping off point for his operation.

The politics of getting this decision approved are worthy of study. In my research, I saw credit for developing the plan given to Secretary Fox and to Commander Porter. My sense is Porter might well have developed a plan either before Fox or concurrently. The bottom line is the operation was approved after considerable political tumbling. And it has a few pieces of General Scott's earlier Anaconda Plan in it.

Fox convinced the Secretary of the Navy, and then took the plan to President Lincoln. Lincoln was skeptical, instead feeling more comfortable with a land invasion from the north. The Fox plan required only a small land force to take the city. General McClellan, who was not enamored with the plan, worried it would eat up a lot of his forces, but did acquiesce to 10,000-15,000 troops for the operation. And, as it turned out, General Butler had about 2,000 troops already at Ship Island.


There was a singular issue that dominated debate: two powerful forts south of New Orleans, Forts Jackson and St.Philip. The Union Navy would have to get by these two in order to get to New Orleans. Commander Porter urged that a mortar flotilla should accompany the naval vessels to bombard and reduce, effectively destroy, the forts before the naval vessels attempt to pass. That was approved.

One other major issue was crossing the "bar" at the mouth of the river. The "bar" is a sizable deposit of sediment usually at the middle of a channel in a river delta which, depending on tides and a host of other scientific events, could impede passage of ships, especially the larger warships. These bars or mud banks could shift position as a result. Commander Porter had experienced these sandbars when blockading the mouth of the Mississippi River. He considered them a major obstacle, but one with which they could contend.

The Navy planned to enter the river using the Southwest Passage, the main shipping channel in the Delta area.


At one point while preparing this report, I went into considerable detail on the Battle of New Orleans, but had to strike it as we have so much business to address in the evolution of the Corps d'Afrique and the Union Army. But I will use this map to show how close the two forts were to each other, and how the Confederacy installed an iron chain barrier across the river between Ft. Jackson and a small battery on the opposite side, supported by a raft of enormous logs and eleven hulks.


Furthermore, I wanted to show how a Confederate flotilla of 13 gunboats including the ironclad CSN Louisiana, an illustration of her shown here, would await the arrival of the Union Navy should it be able to run the gauntlet and get through.

In sum, the trick was for the Union Navy fleet to get over the bar, wait for the accompanying mortar boats to destroy the forts, then make its way past the two forts, the barriers, and some 16 Confederate naval ships waiting, and then and only then press on to New Orleans and deal with capturing it when the fleet got there.

On February 3, 1862, Captain David Farragut, shown here as a vice admiral, and mentioned earlier as Porter's "foster brother," was named in secret orders to command the operation. He was also named as commander of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. While he was a naval captain at the time, he was termed a "flag officer," a temporary rank bestowed on senior Navy captains who were assigned to lead a squadron of vessels in addition to command of their own ship

Farragut's flagship would be the USS Hartford. His orders were as follows:

“When you are completely ready, you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade, and proceed up the Mississippi River and reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under the guns of your squadron.”

Unfortunately for Governor Moore, Farragut’s flag-ship departed Hampton Roads, Virginia on February 3, 1862 and made its way to Ship Island on February 20. His fleet consisted of 17 ships and arrived one by one.




The armament aboard the Hartford consisted of , top to bottom, twenty 9 in. Dahlgren guns such as shown here on the USS Miami in 1864, two 20-pounder Parrott rifles such as shown here on the USS Constellation, and two 12-pounder naval guns mounted on land. The other warship schooners were similarly equipped, plus or minus.


Commander Porter arrived with some 20 schooners outfitted with mortars.


The mortars were 13-inch naval mortars weighing 17,000 pounds each. The mortar could fire a 227 pound projectile over 4,600 yards. They were placed on circular, pivoting platforms.

The Confederacy’s leaders in Richmond felt it was more likely that New Orleans would be attacked from the north, coming downstream the Mississippi. As a result, the city itself was lightly defended. I have already described the downstream defenses the Confederates had set up however, just in case.


Farragut’s fleet was ready by April 7, 1862 to head up into the Mississippi to New Orleans.

All together, Farragut brought 17 warships (some say 18), eight of which were conventional wooden-hulled ships carrying large numbers of guns firing broadside, and 19 (some say 20) mortar boats. Together Farragut's ships had more than 100 heavy guns and a complement of 700 men.

The fleet assembled at Southwest Pass, the principal entry point to the river. It took two weeks to get all the ships over the bar, especially the heavier ones such as the USS
Pensacola. Several had to be towed across. Cmdr. Porter's mortar gunboats also had problemsThe bar was especially bad because the blockade had made the entry points substantially inactive. In fact, all five entrances were heavily blocked by silt.

Belatedly, the Confederates noted the Union fleet trying to cross the bars and sent down a few ships. The Union ships fired some rounds and they left. Farragut's fleet entered the Mississippi River generally unopposed. Once they became aware of Farragut’s approach, the Confederates positioned 16 gunboats outside New Orleans.

Civil War Navy website describes Porter's execution plan:

"Porter carefully placed his schooners downstream of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Since the schooners were lightly constructed wooden vessels, Porter made sure to keep them out of view and range from most of the Confederate guns. And to prevent accurate indirect fire (as the Confederate garrisons had mortars of their own), the schooners camouflaged their masts with tree limbs. The schooners tied up along the river banks at distances between 2800 and 4500 yards."

Farragut's job was to get by the barricade, pass by the forts, take on the awaiting defenders, and get to and capture New Orleans.

Porter's job was to destroy the forts and any other shore-based threats to enable Farragut's warships to pass them.

Studying the attack on New Orleans is a fascinating way to spend your time. It was not an easy operation, but easier than one might expect. Major General Mansfield Lovell, a West Point graduate, shown here, commanded Confederate forces to defend the city. He felt an attack was not likely and therefore had a small force of about 3,000, some say 4,000. Most of the troops he had commanded had been sent to fight in Virginia or Tennessee.

With enormous drama, which I urge you to study at some point, Farragut’s fleet had passed by the forts by April 24, 1862 and was closing on New Orleans. After passing these forts, Farragut landed General Butler's ground forces. As an interesting aside, Porter's mortar boats were not able to destroy the forts. Farragut grew impatient, and in the dead of the night ran his fleet by the forts and up river anyway.

The Confederates understood that Butler's troops could easily make their way to New Orleans through the bayous and canals. General Lovell, CSA, once he saw that Farragut's fleet had passed by the forts, recognized his force could not defend the city, so he withdrew it to the north. The press condemned him, but even General Robert E. Lee said he did the right thing.


Farragut's fleet arrived in New Orleans on April 25, 1862. The mayor felt it was General Lovell's duty to decide whether to surrender, while Lovell said his forces had left and therefore it was the mayor's decision. Butler's forces had not yet arrived, so the mayor was confronted with the prospect of Farragut's fleet bombarding and destroying the city.


After some bickering ashore between Union naval officers and the mayor of New Orleans, a force of 250 Marines hoisted the American flag over customs house and city hall and customs house.

So, for the record, the US Navy’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron captured New Orleans on April 29, 1862.

I reported earlier that Louisiana Governor Moore could sense a Union Army attack coming targeted at New Orleans as early as 1861. He was right. You’ll recall Moore felt he did not have enough ground forces, so he formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA on May 21, 1861. You’ll also recall that the Louisiana State Legislature passed a law in January 1862 that required militia members to be white. The net result was on February 16, 1862, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA disbanded.

That said, the governor continued using the Native Guard until New Orleans fell in April 1862, even though General John Lewis had ordered it to disband, hide the muskets and get rid of the uniforms. Indeed the Naive Guard was sent to the French Quarter at the eleventh hour to help defend it. But New Orleans fell.

Major General Benjamin Butler, USA

Recall I had mentioned Ship Island earlier pointing to its superb location outside the mouth of the Mississippi River, perfect to function as a depot. The Union had captured the island in September 1861. General Benjamin Butler, USA, brought ground forces from Massachusetts to and occupied Ship Island, Mississippi on March 20, 1862. He was the commander of the Department of the Gulf of the US Army which had been formed on February 23, 1862. This department was responsible for all the coast of the Gulf of Mexico west of Pensacola harbor, and as many of the Gulf States as may be occupied by its forces. Butler activated his command at Ship Island. Some 15,000 Union troops landed there by May 1, 1862. This would be the ground force to help capture and hold New Orleans.

The Army of the Gulf was then created and subordinated to General Butler’s Department. Most of the troops came from Butler’s Department of the Gulf. Butler’s main role now was to be governor of New Orleans. Lincoln named Major General Nathaniel Banks, shown here, as the commander of the Army of the Gulf in November 1862.

So you are asking, what about the Corps d’Afrique? We’re moving in that direction, I promise. Just about everything I have reported thus far bears on the Corps' evolution.

Let’s talk a moment about General Butler. The
Civil War Trust said this about Butler:

General Butler holding he mob in check at New Orleans

“Benjamin Butler became one of the most disliked generals of the war, upsetting many on both sides of the conflict … Once in New Orleans, he was appointed as military governor, and commanded the city in rather controversial ways. Although he was able to bring order to the city, he became known as one who would pilfer goods of the Southern households he was watching. He issued Order 28 during this time period, which stated that any lady in New Orleans who showed contempt for Union soldiers would effectively be treated as though they were a prostitute. This law drew great controversy in both the North and South, caused Confederate president Jefferson Davis to label Butler an outlaw, and earned him the nickname ‘Beast Butler.’ He was removed from this position in December of 1862.”

Butler graduated from Colby College in Maine, and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1840, where he established a large criminal practice. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1853, and then to the Senate of the Commonwealth in 1859.

Butler joined the Massachusetts Militia in 1839 and was promoted to brigadier general in 1855 even though he had no military training or experience. He and the 8th Massachusetts were some of the first troops to get to Washington, DC to protect it in case Maryland seceded. Once again, the
Civil War Trust said this:

“He was appointed a major general on May 16, 1861, being one of the first appointed by President Abraham Lincoln. He first saw action at the battle of Big Bethel, where he was defeated. He then commanded Fort Monroe, where Butler became the first to identify slaves who ran away into Union lines as ‘contraband of war,’ despite the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850."

The Fugitive Slave Act required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. It was seen as a compromise between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers, the latter a short-lived political movement opposing slavery.

Butler was the one to coin the phrase "contraband" while he was posted to Ft. Monroe, Virginia. He employed a legal argument and considered it a legal term, as he was an attorney. Contraband meant confiscated property. In May 1861 a Confederate officer came to Butler under a white flag requesting that three "fugitive slaves" be returned. Butler reasoned that since these fugitives would be used by the rebel forces to wage war against the US, he intended to confiscate them as property and contraband of war. In short he would not follow the Fugitive Slave Act. Many in the North refused to obey the law.


In August of 1861, Butler led a successful amphibious assault on the Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina, depicted in this artistry. He then moved on to New Orleans in May, after the city had already surrendered to Admiral David G. Farragut. It was during this time that Butler would gain many of his enemies.

On this matter of slaves as “contraband,” the US Army (and the United States Congress) determined that the US would not return escaped slaves who went to Union lines. Instead it classified them as contraband. The Army used many as laborers to support Union efforts and soon began to pay them wages. So the Act of 1850 was effectively dead.

I'll come back to Butler later. He's a key player in the Corps d'Afrique evolution.

The matter of slaves


This is a good place to pause and talk about the slaves.

Up to this point in my story I have not yet addressed the matter of blacks in the Union Army. I did address the abortive attempt to form up the 1st Louisiana Nave Guard, CSA, and I introduced you to the fact it was one in the War of 1812. But that’s about all.

I mentioned earlier that the Union had many problems with the quality of its general officers. I will now say that the Union also had a lot of problems figuring out how to handle the slaves of the Confederacy. Quite frankly, so did the Confederacy. I'm no expert, but I suspect this is part of the reason we are where we are on the matter of racial differences today.

Please keep in mind that the Civil War began in April 1861. Seven states had seceded, and more would do so soon thereafter. But little thought was given to the matter of the slaves. The Union and Confederacy were at war, ostensibly over the matter of slavery, yet there was no plan how to handle them on either side. That's indeed troubling since this war would cost some 620,000 lives, a level of bloodshed that is quite hard to imagine.

Civil War Trust has said:


“The human cost of the Civil War was beyond anybody's expectations. The young nation experienced bloodshed of a magnitude that has not been equaled since by any other American conflict.”

This begs the question: why did they go to war in the first place? I think this issue is still being argued to this day.

There is a superb paper presented by entitled
"Slavery In The Civil War Era" that addresses the broad topic of slavery in the Civil War era. I recommend it to you.


For starters, when the Civi War broke out, both Northerner and Southerner were unsure what the slaves might do, which helps explain why neither knew what to do with them after the war. The top questions were:

  • Will they rebel? Both sides feared insurrection. The Union’s number one goal was restoration of the Union. There was no driving requirement to interfere with slavery at the outset. Lincoln himself said that. Union generals worked hard to prevent insurrection. Escaping slaves got through Union lines in massive numbers, yet the reality in the North was they were not all that welcome. The Confederacy however was generally able to use slaves to its benefit, building fortifications, digging latrines, hauling supplies and protecting property. They were also used in factories because of the shortage of white manpower. Over time this would create quite a bit of independence among many slaves.
  • Did they want their freedom? Slaves clearly wanted their freedom. Most remained on the plantations, finding ways to work more slowly. For many reasons, they increased their resistance, found ways to escape, and increasingly refused to obey orders. For its part, especially with the fall of New Orleans, the North was not prepared for mass defections and had no plans for caring for the escapees. So they were sent to camps to work for the Union much as the Confederacy had done. President Lincoln himself was befuddled by what to do with them. He ended up issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which in Civil War terms, made that war a war of liberation from the perspective of the former slaves. But that would not be issued until 1863. I would argue the war did not really start on this issue, but I know that is arguable.
  • Would they fight for their freedom? There was no question about it —- former slaves were eager to fight for the Union and their freedom. Indeed they were more eager than most Northerners were to embrace the idea. Some, perhaps many Union soldiers felt that if they were to die for the freedom of the slaves, then let the slaves die for that freedom as well. The bottom line, however, was that the Union needed the manpower, urgently. It turned out the Confederacy learned that lesson too, but probably too late. In fact, some from both sides preferred the blacks go to war as a way to save white lives.
  • What would they do with their freedom should they get it? As events turned out, the former slaves knew what to do with their freedom, but they were inhibited by white Americans, North and South, a problem that remains today.

Bringing negroes into the Union Army

Let’s drop back a bit and look at how various Union generals dealt with these issues.

Start with a paper,
"Black Soldiers."

Viewed at a top level, historian John Hope Franklin wrote that at the beginning of the Civil War, “When Negroes rushed to offer their services to the Union, they were rejected. In almost every town of any size there were large numbers of Negroes who sought service in the Union army; failing to be enlisted they bided their time and did whatever they could to assist.”

Historian Susan-Mary Grant wrote “that when hostilities commenced between North and South in 1861, blacks throughout the North, and some in the South too, sought to enlist. However, free blacks in the North who sought to respond to Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers found that their services were not required by a North in which slavery had been abolished but racist assumptions still prevailed. Instead they were told quite firmly that the war was a ‘white man’s fight’ and offered no role for them.”

Historian Benjamin P. Thomas wrote: “Although Lincoln announced the proposed use of colored troops in the Emancipation Proclamation, he had not come easily to that decision. The act of July 17, 1862 gave him complete discretion in the employment of Negroes for any purpose whatsoever, but he had shrunk from using black men to kill white men. To deprive the South of the services of her slaves was a legitimate and necessary war measure. To use colored men as teamsters and laborers in the Union army would release white men for combat. But to put weapons in the hands of black men, some of whom might become frenzied with the flush of new-found freedom, was a matter of most serious consequence.”

President Abraham Lincoln had deep-seeded misgivings about the prospect of blacks killing whites in the war. In spring 1862 Lincoln met with a group of Republican senators. They urged him to muster slaves into the Union army. Historian Ida M. Tarbell wrote: “The senators went to Mr. Lincoln to urge upon him the paramount importance of mustering slaves into the Union army. They argued that as the war was really to free the negro, it was only fair that he should take his part in working out his own salvation.”

Lincoln’s response was this:

“Gentlemen, I can’t do it. I can’t see it as you do. You may be right, and I may be wrong; but I’ll tell you what I can do; I can resign in favor of Mr. Hamlin (Lincoln’s vice president). Perhaps Mr. Hamlin could do it.”

So that was the landscape at the top. Let’s look at a few Union generals.

Major General John C. Fremont, USA commanded the Western Department. That department oversaw military forces west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rockies. Fremont was fired because he put Missouri under martial law. That meant that all property of those rebelling against the Union would be confiscated, including slaves. Most important, he intended to free all confiscated slaves. He issued this martial law without consulting Washington. So he was fired. Please note that Fremont was only freeing slaves of owners who supported the Confederacy.

Major General David “Black Dave” Hunter served under Fremont and got a taste for freeing the slaves. He was appointed to command the Department of the South and the X Corps in March 1862, responsible for all Union forces in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Hunter was a strong advocate for arming black men as soldiers for the Union. And he was a friend of President Lincoln.

The reality was he needed reinforcements, he told Washington that, received no response, so therefore moved out on his own. And he recognized that the only people in his Department available to join his force were blacks.


In May 1862, he issued orders from South Carolina to recruit a regiment of Negroes. The Negroes were eager to join and within a few months the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment was full, armed and in uniform. This was the first regiment of Negroes organized during the Civil War. Congress approved its formation.

He not only recruited blacks, he unilaterally declared them to be free. On May 9, 1862 General Hunter issued General Orders No. 11:

“General Orders No 11.–The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States–Georgia, Florida and South Carolina–heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free."

Unlike Fremont, who had limited his actions to slaves owned by people who supported the rebellion, Hunter did not have such a limitation and went so far as to force slaves into military service.

Hunter was impatient. After only three days of issuing his proclamation, he did not receive the volunteers he expected. Therefore, he ordered his commanders “to send immediately to these headquarters, under a guard, all the able-bodied negroes capable of bearing arms within the limits of their several commands.” In other words, he instituted his own draft.

President Lincoln did not react well to Hunter’s efforts, just as he did not like what General Fremont had done. On May 19 he disowned Hunter’s “supposed proclamation” and declared it null and void. The Lincoln administration did not support putting arms in the hands of blacks. That said, Lincoln had earlier authorized General Thomas Sherman USA to organize free slaves into “squads, companies or otherwise,” but he hedged by saying “This however not to mean a general arming of them for military service.” While Lincoln voided Hunter’s proclamation, he did ask Congress to provide aid to any state that would adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery.

President Lincoln saw himself in a very tight spot. There was growing national support to free the slaves, but he was worried about moving too quickly. He feared slave-holding Unionists would move to support the Confederacy, especially those in the border states. Lincoln preferred a gradual emancipation.

Hunter disbanded the South Carolina unit.

Hunter did not do well commanding troops in battle, defeated at Secessionville, South Carolina and then as commander of the Department of West Virginia failing to take Lynchburg, Virginia. He resigned on August 8, 1864.

Let’s move to another Union senior officer. In August 1862, The Confederates captured Colonel Daniel Ullman, USA and placed him in the Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. The prison became overcrowded and its prisoners suffered from disease and malnutrition. The Confederates paroled him in October 1862 and he immediately went to Washington and arranged a visit with President Lincoln.

While in prison, Ullman came up with an idea to include black soldiers in the Regular Union Army as combatants. It was a radical idea in Washington and, as I've said, Lincoln himself was skeptical. He was worried about the impact such a move would have on the Union Army and he had concerns about the timing —- the Emancipation Proclamation was due to become law on January 1, 1863. As a result, Lincoln was worried about releasing so many radical ideas at one time.

Ullman left, but Lincoln called him back to discuss the idea further. In January 1863 Ullman was promoted to brigadier general and was sent to Louisiana, to be subordinate to Major General Nathaniel Banks. He arrived in New Orleans on May 19, 1863. He established recruiting depots in Baton Rouge, Franklin, Brashear City and, I believe, Opelousas, which was General Banks’ headquarters. He raised five regiments of African-American soldiers. He complained to the Adjutant General of the Army that his senior officers in the Department opposed the inclusion of Blacks in the Union Army, and charged that they were setting up many obstacles to his recruitment efforts. He vowed to inform the Secretary of War. He was confident that with the proper support, he could recruit tens of thousands of Blacks into the Union Army. He wrote this to the Adjutant General:

“I take pleasure in saying that, whenever the negro has the opportunity, he shows the greatest willingness and alacrity to enlist. I am also exceedingly glad to have it in my power to say that he shows an aptitude and desire to learn the drill, and a cleanliness in his person and his camp, well worthy of imitation by more pretentious soldiers. I have full confidence that he will make a soldier of which commanders may be proud.”

This view was not shared by many in the Department at the time.

Brigadier General John Phelps had been serving at Ft. Monroe, Virginia and was sent on an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. In November 1861, he took possession of Ship Island at the mouth of the Mississippi River. That as you know enabled Captain Farragut to move his fleet up the river to capture New Orleans. Phelps was an ardent abolitionist. He served under General Butler’s Department of the Gulf.

He was then assigned to Camp Carrollton on the north side of New Orleans. Many fugitive slaves came to his camp, so he organized them into companies. He then asked Butler for formal permission to arm the blacks. Phelps felt he could raise 50 regiments rapidly. Butler responded by saying he was not willing to arm them, but Phelps could use them as labor. Phelps was not willing to do that, tendered his resignation saying he was not going to be a “slave-driver.”

In August 1862 Phelps returned his commission to President Lincoln. Lincoln offered to make him a major general, but Lincoln and Phelps could not come to terms. It is my understanding he returned to Vermont as a civilian.

So, as you can see, there was substantial tumult within the Union hierarchy and within the presidency itself. All that tumult aside, there was no question but that the movement was well underway to bring blacks into the Union Army, and indeed to free them.

Sentiments in the North sympathized with both Hunter and Phelps, slowly but surely.

Let me insert here, a little out of chronological sequence, that Lincoln was under enormous political pressure from his own Republican Party to free the slaves. The pressure as so intense that Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. However it applied only to the states in rebellion. It was designed to cripple the Confederacy.


The final proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863.

Lincoln’s support within his cabinet to the preliminary document was lukewarm at best. His Secretary of State, William Seward, urged the president to wait for a major Union victory before issuing an emancipation proclamation. The Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland was essentially a draw, but gave Lincoln what he needed. The Union was able to force the Confederate forces out of Maryland.

Lincoln knew the Confederacy was using slaves to support its forces. They supported them in the field and effectively managed the home front while the whites went off to war. The
Civil War Trust has written this:

“In a display of his political genius, President Lincoln shrewdly justified the Emancipation Proclamation as a ‘fit and necessary war measure’ in order to cripple the Confederacy’s use of slaves in the war effort. Lincoln also declared that the Proclamation would be enforced under his power as Commander-in-Chief, and that the freedom of the slaves would be maintained by the ‘Executive government of the United States.’
Up until September 1862, the main focus of the war had been to preserve the Union. With the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation freedom for slaves now became a legitimate war aim.

Moving back to August, General Butler could sense the mood as well. On August 4, 1862, Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island officially appealed to the Negro citizens of the state to enlist as soldiers. Once again, not altogether altruistic. Many northern governors saw black recruits as a means to help fill their quota and to reduce the number of white casualties.

Nonetheless, these governors motivated Butler to receive Negroes into the service. He now believed it was going to happen sooner or later anyway.

As was the case with other Union generals, Butler, in charge of the Department of the Gulf for the Union, needed reinforcements to fight and to hold New Orleans. So Butler asked for reinforcements. The government said it had no reinforcements to give. After several efforts to recruit among whites friendly to the Union cause, he saw that blacks were the only source left. Once again, blacks serving was more of a military issue than anything having to do with freeing slaves.

So, somewhat like Hunter, Butler moved out on his own. He approached some of the prominent free Negroes, the Creoles of New Orleans who had been in the Confederacy’s 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA. Butler invited them to join the Union and fight against the Confederacy. These were the same men who had offered their services to the CSA. But they had been humiliated by the poor support received and the legislature saying only whites could serve. Nonetheless, many still wanted to fight, in part because they wanted to show the world they were equals.

About ten percent of those approached by Butler agreed, which was the vast majority of eligible free men of color in New Orleans. Believe it or not, we are inching up to the formation of the Corps’ d’Afrique.

On August 22, 1862 General Butler issued General Order No. 63 authorizing the enrollment of black troops. Within two weeks he enlisted 1,000 and was able to form his first regiment. Only free blacks could enroll. However, recruiters were very loose and allowed many runaway slaves to enroll.

Louisiana Native Guards, USA

These men formed the nucleus of what would become the Union’s 1st Louisiana Native Guard, USA. The first regiment of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, USA was mustered into federal service on September 27, 1862 (other sources say September 20). The regiment’s strength was 1,000. The number of runaway slaves rushing to enlist was so large the Louisiana Native Guard, USA had mustered four full regiments into the Union Army by November 24, 1862. Butler now had 4,000 new soldiers.

WilliamsGeorgeWashingtonGeorge Washington Williams, in his book A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, wrote:

“During this brief period three regiments of infantry and one of heavy artillery, all composed of Negroes, had volunteered and been organized and accepted by the United States. The enthusiasm of the men and the short time in which they prepared themselves for service was unprecedented.”

Williams went on to say that on the day General Butler made his appeal, the Secretary of War sent an order to Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, who had replaced Hunter, telling him he was “authorized to arm, uniform, equip and receive into service of the United States such numbers of Volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding five thousand; and may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”

Part of the secretary’s motivation was to attract slaves from the plantations as a means to deplete the work force available to the Confederacy.

Williams continues, “Notwithstanding the official and stubborn opposition to the military employment of Negroes, before the closing days of 1862 the army of the United States Government bore upon its rolls four regiments of Negroes.”

But let's not sugar-coat this endeavor. Stephen J. Ochs, shown here, writing "The Rock of New Orleans" published by The New York Times, wrote:

"The Native Guards faced daunting challenges in the face of bitter white racism. White New Orleanians insulted them in the streets, while white landlords harassed their families and slave owners refused to allow soldiers to have contact with wives who were still slaves. In addition, the federal government failed to honor General Butler’s pledge of bounties, equal pay and rations for soldiers’ families. White officers snubbed their black counterparts, and white enlisted men refused to salute or obey black officers and showered insults on the enlisted men of the Guards.

"Moreover, the 1st Regiment had difficulty procuring supplies and equipment, and once in the field spent most of its time on guard or fatigue duty, the latter involving back-breaking manual labor that stigmatized black troops and left little time for drill and training. To make matters worse, Gen. Nathanial P. Banks, who replaced Butler in December 1862, mounted a campaign to remove the black officers of the Native Guards, focusing his initial efforts on the 2nd and 3rd regiments."

I'll talk more about this effort to remove black officers later. It had a most negative impact.

Allow me to back-track for just a moment. Ms. Budge Weidman, writing “Black Soldiers in the Civil War, Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops” for the National Archives, wrote this:

“The first official authorization to employ African Americans in federal service was the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862. This act allowed President Abraham Lincoln to receive into the military service persons of African descent and gave permission to use them for any purpose ‘he may judge best for the public welfare.’ However, the President did not authorize use of African Americans in combat until issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863: ‘And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.’ With these words the Union army changed.”

The 1st Regiment was composed of free men of color, with all black line officers (captains and below); the 2nd was composed of both free men and freed slaves, with some black and some white officers, and the 3rd was composed of freed slaves, with all black line officers.

The field grade officers (Majors and above) were white, with one exception: Major Francois (Francis) Ernest Dumas, shown here, of the 2nd Regiment. He was a Creole of color. He was the only "black" field grade officer in the Native Guard and only one of two in the entire Union Army.

I will underscore here that Butler was no angels I mentioned earlier, "Beast Butler." He had been appointed military governor and commanded New Orleans once in place. He brought order to the city but was controversial, as previously mentioned, often pilfering goods and labeling women who showed contempt for Union soldiers as prostitutes. Furthermore he was anti-semitic, and he sent his forces to rural areas to confiscate cotton from people assumed to be disloyal. He censored newspapers and the list went on to include working against foreign consuls. President Lincoln authorized his recall in December 1862.

On December 17, 1862, Major General Nathaniel Banks replaced Butler and took command of the Department of the Gulf. He already commanded the Army of the Gulf so he wore two hats. The Army of the Gulf at this time had only one corps, XIX Corps, and Banks wore a third hat by commanding it as well.

So, we now have Banks in charge of New Orleans and all Union forces in the Gulf region. Like so many others, this was a political appointment. Banks was no military man, but instead a politician with considerable influence. Banks had been Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Governor of Massachusetts in the 1850s. He had considerable political clout, and no military experience.

His first command was in Annapolis,Maryland, where he was instrumental in keeping Maryland in the Union. But in supporting General McClelland's efforts to capture Richmond, Banks' two divisions were driven North to the Potomac River by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, CSA, shown here. The result was that Richmond could not be taken. He would fail at a few more efforts as well.

But Lincoln understood Banks' political influence, and asked Banks to raise a force of 30,000 recruits. He did it. He also hoped Banks could persuade seceded states back into the Union.

Banks is a tough nut to understand. He very much favored bringing many blacks into the Union Army. You will see as we proceed he used them in battle at Port Hudson in May 1863 and he created the Corps d'Afrique. Yet he did not favor black officers in his army, at all. This will rise up later as a huge issue.

That said, I'll try to stick to the timeline. He replaced Butler in December 1862, so let's proceed.

Battle of East Pascagoula, Mississippi - the first Native Guard confrontation with the Confederates


Recall I had mentioned Ship Island earlier pointing to its superb location near the mouth of the Mississippi River, perfect to function as a depot. The Union captured the island in September 1861, General Benjamin Butler, USA, brought ground forces from Massachusetts to and occupied Ship Island, Mississippi on March 20, 1862, and he provided the ground forces to help capture and hold New Orleans in May 1862.

As things turned out, Gen. Nathanial P. Banks, who replaced Butler in December 1862, decided he needed to redeploy his forces to bolster defense of New Orleans. There were concerns the Confederates might stage an attack on the city. He needed to bolster the forts below the city and Ship Island.

Banks decided to deploy seven companies of the 2nd Regiment of the Native Guard to Ship Island to help defend the entry to the Mississippi River, Colonel Nathan Daniels, USA, shown here, in command. He and his Native Guard force arrived on January 12, 1863. Three other companies of the 2nd Native Guard were sent to Ft. Pike to guard the eastern water approach to New Orleans. Daniels was not excited about the duty, but understood it was vital to hold the island.

As a reminder, Major Francois (Francis) Ernest Dumas, shown here was the only black field grade officer in the Native Guard. It turns out he was in the 2nd Regiment companies that went to Ship Island.

Colonel Daniels recommended Dumas for promotion to major. General Butler agreed, impressed that he looked as much white as black and awed by his wealth as a plantation owner.

The island was occupied by the 13th Maine Regiment of US Volunteers, Colonel Henry Rust, shown here, in command. Rust may have been from Maine, but he would write with certainty in his diary that he had little to no use of the blacks in the Union Army. He wrote:

"‘Nigger on the brain.’ No, I have not got that. It has stuck to my stomach and gone all over me. The feeling of certainty that I have got to leave my two good companies here to come into collision with these niggers has made me feel homesick, and I have serious thoughts of resigning.”

Rust told Daniels to keep the Native Guard troops away from the 13th Maine. Rust and all but one detachment of his men left the island on January 20, 1863. Once Rust was gone, Daniels integrated the units so they would drill and work together, in some cases requiring Maine lieutenants to be subordinate to Native Guard captains. After a short time, the Maine officers refused to obey orders from black officers, and their enlisted en followed. Daniels arrested them and confined them to quarters with Native Guard sentries. There were some forces from the 8th Vermont present as well but they did not cause such trouble as they were guarding Confederate prisoners and patrolled the post, therefore not exposed to the Native Guard. Both the Maine detachment and 8th Vermont departed. Daniels' next problems would come when ships with white crews landed at the island.

Initially, the 2nd Regiment force was relegated to monotonous duties. However, on April 8, 1863 a steamer arrived at Ship Island and uploaded two companies, Bravo and Charlie along with a 12-pounder boat howitzer, Colonel Daniels in command. This steamer left on April 9, rendezvoused with another, and anchored off shore East Pascagoula, Mississippi, shown on the mainland on the map. The two companies of Native Guard landed and took possession of the village.

I need to point out that the diary of Colonel Daniels has been published in a book entitled,
Thank God My Regiment an African One, by Clare B. Weaver and Edwin C. Bearss.

The Confederates were surprised when the Native Guard landed but soon attacked attempting to drive the Native Guard into the sea. The Native Guard, led by Major Dumas, more than held its own and drove the Confederates back. Word then came Confederate reinforcements were on their way, so Colonel Daniels recalled his men and they evacuated, returning to Ship Island.

Daniels reported this "skirmish" on April 9, 1863 to his headquarters:

"I have the honor to report that I embarked with a detachment of 180 men of my regiment on U.S. transport
General Banks, and yesterday at 9 a.m. made an attack upon Pascagoula, Miss. Landed my force, took possession of the place, and hoisted the American colors upon the hotel. I immediately thereafter was attacked by the Confederate cavalry, some 300 strong, and one company of infantry. Repulsed them after a severe fight, killing 20 or more, and wounding a large number, capturing 3 prisoners and the Confederate colors. Held the town until 2 p.m., frequent skirmishes occurring meanwhile, when I withdrew my forces to the boat, learning that large re-enforcements had arrived from the camp up the Pascagoula River. Loss in battle, 2 killed and 5 slightly wounded."

Native Guard soldiers were the ones who hoisted that flag upon the hotel.

The 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Naive Guard was the first black unit on the Gulf Frontier dung the Civil War to meet Confederates in battle and suffer and inflict casualties. According to Daniels, Major Dumas fought with great courage. Daniels summed up how hard his men fought with this entry:

"One of the privates … had both legs blown off by a shell … so that his bowels hung from the gaping hole … and he remnants of his poor mutilated body was being borne by me upon a stretcher when, he raised up on his elbow, gave the military salute and exclaimed, 'don't give up Colonel, we can whip the rebels yet. God bless you colonel — Fight them to the death.' … He died soon thereafter."

Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, writing
Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become and American in Creole New Orleans," wrote:

"Dumas and other officers earned special commendation as officers who were 'constantly in the thickest of the fight, and by their unflinching bravery and admirable handling of their commands … select great honor upon the flag under and for which the so nobly struggled.'"

I will return to Dumas later.

Battle of Port Hudson - the Louisiana Native Guard to battle again, a big one


Following the Battle of Antietam, stalemate was the word of the day for the war in the East. Captain Farragut, following the capture of New Orleans, was able to sail his fleet and gain surrenders at Baton Rouge and Natchez. If he would have had ground forces available, he could have taken Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lacking that he sailed up to Memphis.


The Confederacy as a result strengthened its positions at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. The Union earmarked 1863 as the year to control the entire Mississippi River. Major Generals Ulysses Grant and John McClernand were ordered to move against Vicksburg, the former from his position in Memphis and the latter from northern Mississippi. General Grant had tried to take Vicksburg in 1862 but failed.

General Banks was told to drive up the Mississippi to marry up with Grant for the assault on Vicksburg. To do that he would first have to take Port Hudson.

Banks was not pleased with the situation in New Orleans. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr, in his book
Pretense of Glory: The life of General Nathanial P. Banks, quoted Banks saying this to a fellow general officer:

“I find … on arriving here an immense military government, embracing every form of civil administration, the assessment of taxes, punishments, charities, trade, regulation of churches, confiscation of estates, and the working of plantations, in addition to the ordinary affairs of a military department. Everybody connected with the government has been employed in stealing other people’s property.”

Banks also found his forces in disrepair, many suffering from diseases. His inspector general said “the ignorance of officers is lamentable.” Most of his force were nine-month volunteers whose enlistments were to expire by August 1863.

Nonetheless, Banks organized a corps, the XIX Corps, of four divisions. But his force was extended from Pensacola, Florida to Baton Rouge. Hollandsworth wrote that there was a “flood of black refugees, and soon the presence of thousands of ‘contrabands,’ in need of food, clothing, housing, created a major problem.” So Banks could see that the order of the day was to put these blacks to work. He set up an aggressive labor system.

At this point in time, late 1862 - early 1863, Lt. General Henry Wager Halleck, shown here, was the General-in-Chief of Union armies. He told Banks that President Lincoln “regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it.”

That underscored the idea that capturing Port Hudson upstream Baton Rouge and New Orleans was number one priority on Banks’ plate. Banks however was burdened by the idea of persuading the people of Louisiana and New Orleans to reject their secession. He had no chance of success as the people there resented the Union armies. As a result, Banks was reluctant to move against Port Hudson. Colonel Sidney A. Bean, one of Banks' subordinates, recorded in his diary that under Butler, “much was accomplished with small means. Now nothing is accomplished with great means.”


Admiral Farragut was furious that Banks was not moving toward Port Hudson. He was adamant that the move must be made, with or without ground forces. So he went against Port Hudson without ground forces. The attack began on March 16, 1863. Farragut employed four principal warships and three gunboats.

Port Hudson was located on a 80 ft. bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi river. The terrain was extremely rough, a maze of deep, thickly forested ravines, swamps, and cane brakes giving the effect of a natural fortress.

The Confederates were ready, Major General Franklin Gardner, CSA, shown here, in command. Garners was a New Yorker, a West Point graduate and a seasoned veteran of Shiloh. Banks had been told wrongly that men were being sent from Port Hudson to Vicksburg. Just the opposite was true. He had received reinforcements sent from Vicksburg. Gardner's men had over 20 cannon covering the river arranged in eleven batteries of artillery, including nine batteries of heavy coastal artillery. They had also prepared piles of wood to ignite for nighttime illumination and had warning observations posts manned.

According to historian John D. Winters, "Port Hudson, unlike Baton Rouge, was one of the strongest points on the river, and batteries placed upon the bluffs could command the entire river front."


The Confederates were well prepared, Farragut’s fleet was battered when attempting to run the enemy batteries, and Banks’ ground force failed to get into position. He withdrew his 17,000 troops to Baton Rouge while Farragut was at battle. Farragut managed to get two of his seven ships past the batteries and to the north of Port Hudson, one his flagship, the US Hartford, the other a gunboat, the USS Albatross. Two of Farragut's ships were very badly damaged and could not go upstream; they drifted back down the river. Two other ships ran aground. A final ship ran aground, was pummeled by artillery, and abandoned.


Farragut’s two ships, the Hartford and Albatross, the latter shown here, made it to the Red River, a short distance upstream. his orders were to block the Red River, he felt he could not do that, so he moved up the Mississippi and by March 19, 1863 was anchored about 12 miles below Vicksburg.

Banks then attacked to the west, took control of Alexandria and gained a foothold on the Red River. The Red River flows from Texas into the Mississippi from the northwest, and connects to Shreveport and empties into the Mississippi River.

At long last, Banks decided to attack Port Hudson. He had been told Grant would send some reinforcements from the Vicksburg area and, as I mentioned earlier, that a good many Confederate forces in Port Hudson had moved up to Vicksburg to help defend it.

To be continued in a moment….

Proposal to create the Corps d'Afrique

On May 1, 1863, prior to going to battle at Port Hudson, General Banks issued General Orders No. 40:

"The Major-General commanding the Department (General Banks)
proposes the organization of a Corps d'Armee of colored troops, to be designated as the 'Corps d'Afrique.' It will consist ultimately of eighteen regiments, representing all arms -- infantry, artillery, cavalry -- making nine brigades of two regiments each, and three divisions of three brigades each, with appropriate corps of engineers, and flying hospitals for each division. Appropriate uniforms, and the graduation of pay to correspond with the value of services, will be hereafter awarded."

For its part, the War Department did not recognize it as an official army corps. These men were assigned under General Ullman’s command and the Corps d’Afrique became known to many as “Ullman’s Brigade.”

Effectively, and apparently conceptually at this moment, even in a general order, the Corps d’Afrique was formed out of the organization of the Louisiana Native Guard that had sided with the Union. The Louisiana Native Guard had formed the First, Second and Third Louisiana Guard and would become the First, Second and Third Infantry, Corps d’Afrique, but I'm a bit ahead of myself as the Corps' d'Afrique at this point was Banks' proposal, and only a proposal.

Battle of Port Hudson (continued)

Up until this time, the Louisiana Native Guard, USA had been relegated to menial tasks. But now it would go to battle, as the Battle of Port Hudson is not yet over, not by a long shot.

On May 11, 1863 Banks committed the 3rd Native Guard to build bridges to support movement of forces against Port Hudson. By May 22 Banks force increased from 30,000 to 40,000 troops, pitted against an estimated 7,500 Confederates. He deployed his forces to completely surround the city. On May 27, he launched his attacks.

Going against the recommendations of his subordinate officers, Banks decided to launch a full scale infantry assault on the Confederates’ fortifications, hoping to overwhelm the Confederates and force a quick victory. Behind those fortifications, however, were extensive artillery positions.


Among all his forces, he committed the 1st and 3rd Regiments Louisiana Native Guard, USA to the battle. They were assigned to Brigadier General William Dwight, USA, shown here. Dwight attended West Point but resigned and turned to manufacturing.

Dwight had not intended to use the Native Guard in battle, but decided he had no choice as his other forces had failed to advance. He committed the Guard to a heavily fortified section at the extreme left of the Confederate lines. As a result, the Native Guard was not in the best position to launch an assault. Nonetheless, off they went through “the heavy crossfire from rifles, field artillery, and heavy coast guns.”

D. Terry Jones, in his paper “Louisiana ‘Native Guards’ fight well for Union," wrote:

“William Dwight, Jr., a thirty-one-year-old Massachusetts (brigadier) general, commanded the portion of the battlefield that included the Native Guards. Dwight wrote that he believed Banks had decided to use the black soldiers in order ‘to test the negro question. . . . The negro will have the fate of his race on his conduct. I shall compromise nothing in making this attack for I regard it as an experiment.’

“Incredibly, Dwight's ‘experiment’ did not include scouting out the position the Native Guards were to attack or even studying maps of the area. As it turned out, Louisiana's black Union soldiers were being sent into a tangled maze of felled trees, thick brush, and irregular ground which was, perhaps, the strongest part of the Confederate defenses. General Dwight remained in the rear drinking throughout the entire fight."


Captain Andre Cailloux, about whom I will talk more later, commanded E Company Native Guard. I've found two very good descriptions of what happened.

The first is by D. Terry Jones, just mentioned and quoted:

“At about 10:00 a.m., the Native Guards moved forward across the six hundred yards of ground that separated them from the enemy. A third of the way across, Confederate artillery opened up with what was described as ‘shot and shells, and pieces of railroad iron twelve to eighteen inches long.’ One shell took off the head of the 1st Regiment's color bearer and scattered his brains on the men near him. Despite the horror, two soldiers stepped forward and vied for the honor to carry the flag. Captain André Cailloux, one of the few black officers in the Union army, had his left arm shattered above the elbow, but he continued to lead his company forward until another bullet killed him instantly. When Cailloux's men saw him go down, they fired one volley and retreated in confusion. The Confederates kept up a steady fire, and one later wrote, ‘We mowed them down, and made them disperse, leaving their dead and wounded on the field to stink.

“Out of the approximately 1,000 Native Guards who participated in the attack, 36 were killed and 133 were wounded. The 60 Confederate defenders facing them did not lose a single man. For the entire day, Banks lost about 2,000 men to the Confederates' 500 casualties.”

The second description comes from Stephen J. Ochs highlighted earlier:


"On the morning of May 27, the 1st and 3rd regiments (Louisiana NaTive Guard) received orders to participate in a general assault on the fortifications surrounding Port Hudson. Their objective was to storm a position on the bluffs protected by rifle pits, a swamp and a rebel engineered backwater from the Mississippi River. Cailloux’s company would bear the regimental standards and spearhead the assault over an area fully exposed to rebel fire.

"At 10 a.m. the bugle sounded and the Native Guards, forming a long line two ranks deep, emerged from the woods in good order, advancing toward the bluff about 600 yards away. At a distance of about 200 yards, the Confederates began to unleash withering musket and artillery fire at the advancing troops. The barrage threw the leading elements into confusion and they broke and ran to cover among willow trees. Cailloux and other officers rallied their men several times. Finally, Cailloux led a charge of screaming and shouting men that reached the backwater, about 200 yards from the bluffs. At that point, the Guards fired their first and apparently only volley. By then Cailloux had been hit in the left arm, but he kept going. His arm dangling by his side, Cailloux held his unsheathed sword aloft in his right hand and in French and English hoarsely exhorted his soldiers to follow him.

"As he moved in advance of his troops across the flooded ditch, Confederate artillery opened up with solid shot, grape and canister, while the infantry rained down lead. In the maelstrom of fire, Cailloux was struck in the head and killed.

"Only the availability of trees, stumps and other obstacles prevented a complete slaughter of the rest of the troops. At that point, the 1st Regiment broke and fell back, seeking shelter from Confederate artillery in a nearby willow forest until nightfall. All along the line that day, the Confederates repulsed Union forces, inflicting heavy losses."

These Native Guards were the first African American soldiers to see combat in a significant battle in this war. Regrettably, the attack did not succeed. The force had to retreat or face annihilation. However, praise for the performance of the Guard spread like wild fire, and the white officers sung their praise —- the Native Guard had proven they would and could fight with considerable valor.

The battle failed in large part to a series of errors made by General Banks. These included attacking these fortifications by rushing infantry at them instead of conducting a siege; failing to instruct his four generals when to attack, resulting in their attacking at different times in an uncoordinated fashion; and running his forces through rugged terrain and into multiple artillery crossfires.

Banks launched a second assault that also failed. He now decided to do what he had originally been advised to do, lay siege to the city.

The Civil War Trust wrote:

"On May 27, after their frontal assaults were repulsed, the Federals settled into a siege which lasted for 48 days. Banks renewed his assaults on June 14 but the defenders successfully repelled them. On July 9, 1863, after hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederate garrison of Port Hudson surrendered, opening the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans."

This was the longest siege in US military history.

The Union now controlled the entire Mississippi River.

Corps d'Afrique is real - the Bureau of Colored Troops is established

The US Army transitions all black units to the United States Colored Troops

Recall that General Banks issued his General Order Nr. 40 proposing the Corps d'Afrique. Also recall the War Department refused to make that designation or organization official. So now events and actions transpired quickly.


In the midst of everything we have discussed, on May 22, 1863, the US War Department issued General Order No. 143, establishing the Bureau of Colored Troops to handle "all matters relating to the organization of colored troops.”

General Lorenzo Thomas, USA, shown here, a West Point graduate, was named Assistant Adjutant General of the Army in March 1861. On May 7, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general and served as Adjutant General until March 23, 1863. At that point, he was assigned to take over recruiting blacks in the Mississippi Valley. Hondon B. Hargrove, writing Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War, provided some good information on him. He had been associated with General Butler.

Major Charles W. Foster was named Chief of the Bureau of Colored Troops.

The designation United States Colored Troops (USCT) replaced the varied state titles that had been given to the African American soldiers over the next year. Instead of state designations, they became United States Colored Troops (USCT), and the various units became United States Colored Infantry, Artillery, or Cavalry.

My reading of this is that it took a bit of time to convert the Corps d'Afrique to the USCT. That would be normal for a national government: establish the Bureau of Colored Troops, then man it up, designate leaders, set up offices, write rules and regulations etc., then get down to work assimilating the state units into the USCT. And in the midst of all that, expect some disorganization and confusing reporting by the press. So, if you decide to study all this in detail, expect to be confused. I believe I have lined up the chronology correctly but will be pleased to be corrected (

My reading of events is supported by what has written about the Native Guard and the Corps d'Afrique:

“In June 1863, shortly before the final victory was achieved at Port Hudson, the three Native Guard regiments were redesignated the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Corps d'Afrique. Although they had fought well at Port Hudson, poor treatment by fellow Union soldiers and difficult field conditions led to large scale resignations by the black officers and desertions by enlisted men.

"In April 1864 the Corps d'Afrique was dissolved, and its members placed in the newly organized 73rd and 74th Regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). At the end of the war in 1865 only about 100 of the original 1,000 men were still in the Army.”

As an aside, Brigadier General Daniel Ullman, USA, mentioned previously, became the commander of the of the 1st and 3rd Regiments of the the Corps d'Afrique.

By war’s end, the Corps d’Afrique had 25 regiments and five regiments of engineers. Each of these was designated as numbered USCT units. The original four Louisiana Naive Guard Regiments became the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiments of the Corps d’Afrique and were then re-designated the 73rd, 74th, 75th and 76th USCTs.

Events were moving quickly on this overall matter. I think this happened for a lot of the reasons already implied or said in this report. But clearly one driving reason is that Union commanders all over were organizing and fielding black regiments. Hondon B. Hargrove, writing
Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War, said:

"While Generals Banks, Ullman and Thomas were making good progress in recruiting and organizing black regiments in the Mississippi Valley from Cairo to the Gulf, newly promoted Brigadier General E.A. Wild (shown here) was busy recruiting and organizing them in North Carolina … Most of the northern states also pursued their own programs on a wider scale than ever before … Those regiments organized without approval by Washington in 1862, and which had finally gained federal sanction, had continued to perform vital military duties after the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect … The results of these disjointed efforts were sufficiently impressive to convince Washington that now is the time to act."

In other words, better late than never!

Approximately 175 regiments of more than 178,000 free blacks and freedmen (emancipated slaves) served during the last two years of the Cvil War. By the end of the war they made up about 10 percent of the Union Army. The USCT suffered 2,751 combat casualties during the war, and 68,178 losses from all causes, disease being the worst for both black and white.

Native Guard Black Officers, for many, an unhappy ending

Following the Battle of Port Hudson, General Banks moved quickly to get more blacks into the Union Army. He intended to implement his Corps d'Afrique and create an entire division of black troops. As I have reported, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards became the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments of the Corps d'Afrique.

Incredibly, despite their gallant service at East Pascagoula and Port Hudson, Banks decided to eliminate all black officers still in the Corps. He said they were a source of "constant embarrassment and annoyance." He said their use "demoralizes both the white tools and negroes." He called black officers arrogant. He informed President Lincoln in August 1863 that black men were "unsuited for this duty." This, after they had fought so valiantly for him at East Pascagoula and Port Hudson.

James Hollandsworth, author of The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War, wrote that "the real problem was with white troops, who did not want to salute black officers, did not want to obey them, did not want to stand while they sat" etc. Hollandsworth wrote, "A provost marshal under Banks told a friend after arriving in New Orleans that the black officers looked 'like dogs in full dress, ready to dance in the manger. Would you like to obey such a fool?"

Then Colonel Charles Paine, USA of the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard said, "They ought never to put a shoulder strap on a darkey." He is shown here as a brigadier general.

Colonel John A. Nelson, USA commanded the 3rd Regiment Native Guard. His men did not respect him. All 16 of Nelson's black officers signed a mass resignation in a petition to General Banks. In their book
Thank God My Regiment an African One, by Clare B. Weaver and Edwin C. Bearss, the authors said "the petition to General Banks cited numerous prejudicial situations: 'even our own Regimental commander (Colonel Nelson) has abused us, under cover of his authority.' Nelson had been warned earlier against impressment of blacks during their recruitment, but had paid little attention and even continued his roughshod methods later." Nelson experienced other problems as well; e.g. arrested at Port Hudson for conduct unbecoming an officer involving a woman.

The mass resignations in the 3rd Regiment bolstered Banks' feeling that he needed to purge all black officers out of the Corps d'Afrique. The 3rd Regiment had a mix of white and black line officers. However, the 1st and 2nd Regiments had all black line officers. This presented Banks with a challenge: How to get rid of them?

Banks' came up with a solution: Set up an examining board to evaluate these black officers. Hollandsworth wrote that "Banks let it be known that he intended to pay black enlisted men and their white field officers but not the black line officers." White officers would not have to face the examination board.

Three black officers from the 2nd Regiment were discharged from the service on February 24, 1863, for reasons of incompetence. The remaining black officers on Ship Island with the 2nd Regiment complained and formulated their grievances. They knew the board was a way to force them out. Four more black officers resigned. However, the rest remained.

In May 1863 Captain William B. Barrett wrote General Ullman and asked if he intended to remove all black officers while organizing the Corps d'Afrique. Ullman responded he had come "to no determination whatever" on this matter. He wanted to wait until he took command. Barrett remained, but eight more black officers resigned feeling they could see dismissal coming their way.

In August 1863, the remaining black officers were on the docket to face the examination board. That board was manned by white officers often junior in rank. Six more black officers resigned, including Captain. Barrett and Major Dumas. There now were only seven left. One more would resign, one more was dismissed for leaving his post and falling asleep, and one more resigned citing prejudice but his commander said he "has neither the respect or confidence of his men." That now left four. One more resigned in March 1863 though once again his commander said he mismanaged the discipline of his company. Two more then resigned, leaving only one, Capt. Charles Sauvenet. He retained his commission until the end of the war.

That left the 1st Regiment. By my count 21 left between mid-August 1863 and October 1863, for varied reasons. Five of them had passed the examination board. Eight black officers were left, and each passed the examination board as well. But seven of those resigned by March 22, 1864, leaving only one, Capt. Louis A. Snaer. He retained his commission until the end of the war.

Brigadier General George Andrews, shown here, assumed command of the Corps d'Afrique on July 10, 1863. He was the one to establish the examining boards and a school for white officers. That said, he advocated recruiting and enlisting colored troops, saying "the colored troops will prove themselves superior to the white troops." He believed the white officers could instruct and train them to be such.

In a letter of November 4, 1863 written to Colonel C.C. Dwight, President of the Examining Board," Andrews said:

"I cannot at present under any circumstances approve the application of a colored person for a commission in the Corps d'Afrique. The time for this may come, but it is not now."

So that was that.

I have not researched this, but it might be a very good study to examine how the loss of all these black line officers impacted the overall officer census — I think it created an officer shortage. And then examine how it affected the black enlisted men.

I wish to note the book,
Freedom: A documentary history of emancipation, 1861-1867, Series II The Black Military Experience, published by the Freedmen and Southern Society Project." It contains many letters of resignation written by black Native Guard officers. You might find these interesting.

An introduction to a few Black Officers of the Louisiana Naive Guard - Corps d'Afrique

I want to introduce a few of the officers of the Native Guard. Keep the purge just discussed in mind.

Captain Andre Cailloux, USA

Captain Andre Cailloux, killed by artillery in the Battle of Port Hudson, is arguably one of the best known Native Guard officers. He was the commander of E Company, 1st Regiment. Cailloux is an interesting fellow who would have an enormous impact on Louisiana and New Orleans specifically.

He was a Creole, esteemed and wealthy, educated in France including the military arts. He first joined the CSA’s 1st Louisiana Native Guard and served as a lieutenant. He earned his living as a car maker. He became a leader of the free Afro-French Creole community of New Orleans. This community became a distinct one sandwiched between the white colonists and the majority of black slaves. He was also one of the best boxers in the city, an active supporter of the Institute Catholique, a school founded in the Fauborg Marigny district of New Orleans in 1840 for orphaned black children. He was fluent in English and French.

Cailloux was told to enlist only free men of color, but he looked the other way when escaped slaves came to join.

I mentioned he was killed at Port Hudson. His decomposed remains were recovered from the battlefield and brought to New Orleans after the battle was over. The Confederates would not allow the men to gather their dead until then. James Hollandsworth, author of
"The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War," wrote:

Cailloux Funeral

"His (Cailloux) was a somber yet impressive funeral. The band of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry played the usual dirges, while six black captains from the 2nd Regiment of Native Guards acted as pallbearers. Flowers were strewn around the flag-draped casket, and candles burned continuously. After receiving last rites of the Catholic Church from a white priest, Cailloux's body was born on the shoulders of eight black soldiers and placed in the hearse. Two companies of recruits for a new black regiment acted as an honor guard. About a hundred sick and convalescing soldiers from the Native Guards also were in attendance. Large crowds of civilians, both black and white, stood on the banquette along the Esplanade waiting for a chance to see the hearse as it passed. Eventually, the bod reached the Bienville Street Cemetery, where Captain Cailloux, 'the blackest man in New Orleans,' was laid to rest."

Major Francois Ernest Dumas, USA

DumasFrancoisI mentioned earlier that General Banks did not allow people of color to be field grade officers (Majors and above) with one exception: Major Francois (Francis) Ernest Dumas, shown here, of the 2nd Regiment, Native Guard. He was a Creole of color. He had been a fairly rich man, said to be worth a quarter million dollars, and a slaveholder, educated in France. Yes, he was a slaveholder. He freed his slaves and organized them into a company in the 2nd Regiment Louisiana Native Guard. Dumas would be the first black field grade officer in the Union Army, was second in command of the 2nd Regiment, and was one of only two black field grade officers in the entire Union Army. He had earlier joined the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA.

Recall I reported earlier the 2nd Regiment's deployment to Ship Island, and its landing at East Pascagoula, Mississippi, where it confronted Confederate forces. The 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Naive Guard was the first black unit on the Gulf Frontier dung the Civil War to meet Confederates in battle and suffer and inflict casualties. According to Daniels, Major Dumas fought with great courage. Daniels summed up how hard his men fought with this entry:

Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, writing
Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become and American in Creole New Orleans," wrote:

"Dumas and three other officers earned special commendation as officers who were 'constantly in the thickest of the fight, and by their unflinching bravery and admirable handling of their commands … reflected great honor upon the flag under and for which the so nobly struggled.'"

Dumas resigned on July 3, 1863, no reason given. However, there is credible evidence he resigned because of General Banks' purge of black officers from the 2nd Regiment. He reportedly refused to face the examining board.

Following the Civil War, Dumas ran to be nominated for governor and lost by a very narrow margin, some two votes I understand. He was offered the number two spot and declined.

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, born with the last name Stewart, better known as PBS Pinchback

PBS Pinchback was born in Georgia but chose to join the Union Army. He helped raise several companies of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard while in New Orleans. He was commissioned a captain and commanded Alpha Company, 2nd Regiment. He was passed over twice for promotion.

He resigned in September 1863 after seeing so many blacks resigning from the three Native Guard regiments. He told General Banks he would resign if "you have concluded that none of us are fit to command." He had been the only colored soldier at Ft. Pike and felt the sting of prejudice while there. He left the service in November 1863.

Following the war, he was active in the Republican Party and became the most powerful black politician in Louisiana. In 1868 he was elected a state senator in Louisiana. He became president
pro tempore where blacks held seven of 36 seats. He served as acting lieutenant governor and as a result of impeachment proceedings against the governor, became acting governor on December 9, 1872, serving for about six weeks. He would be the first African American elected from Louisiana to the US Congress.

William F. Keeling

William F. Keeling, from Norfolk, Virginia, was a 1st Lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment. A three member examination board met with him on February 9, 1863. The board determined his commission was issued provisionally and rescinded it. He served on the National Convention of Colored Men held at Syracuse, New York in October 1864. Black representatives from Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia attended. Keeling was one of five from Virginia, and was elected one of the convention's vice presidents. This was the first time Afro-Virginians freely and openly attended a political convention. The Union Army had been in and out of Virginia since 1861 but by this time it was enjoying successes. Keeling helped draft a "Declaration of Wrongs and Rights" in which the delegates pledged their support to Lincoln, the Union, and defeat of the Confederacy. The delegates pointed to the sacrifices made in battle by black Union soldiers and demanded respect and their rights as American citizens.

E. Arnold Bertonneau

Captain Arnold Bertonneau served with the 2nd Regiment as well. He had been a New Orleans wine merchant, had joined the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA and then joined the Union Native Guard responding to General Butler's call. He resigned his commission in protest due to the mistreatment and misuse of his men. He passed the examination board, but resigned nonetheless and returned to New Orleans. He became a leader in the black suffrage movement after President Lincoln restricted voting to white males only. He led a petition campaign and obtained more than 1,000 signatures demanding black men be free to vote. He delivered a stirring speech in 1864 entitled, "Every man should stand equal before the law." He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of April 1868, which gave Louisiana its first Reconstruction Constitution.

John Crowder

John H. Crowder was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, born in Louisville, Kentucky. He lied about his age, joining when he was 16, perhaps the youngest officer in the Union Army. He came from a poor but free black family. His mother and a prominent black clergyman taught him how to read and write, though I have read a source that maintains he taught himself while serving as a cabin boy and later steward on the Mississippi River. His father had abandoned the family shortly after John was born to participate in the Mexican War, and never returned. As a result, his mother, Martha Ann Stars, moved Crowder to New Orleans which is where he joined the Naive Guard.

Bernie Mackinnon's Blog item,
"Taps for John Crowder," said:

"A handful of his letters exist in the special collections library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, most of them written to his mother. In one he remarked to her, 'If Abraham Lincoln knew that a colored Lad of my age could command a company, what would he say?' Crowder's youth brought consternation within the ranks, however, especially since he outshone other officers in leadership qualities. So besides regular insults from white citizenry, he had to contend with them from fellow officers. One in particular, a jealous captain later prosecuted for cowardice, started spreading false rumors about Crowder's personal conduct. When one of this captain's men committed a lewd act in front of an older woman—a friend of Crowder's who had nursed him through a fever—the young lieutenant reported it, his nemesis having failed to do so. 'I remember your first lesson,' he wrote his mother, 'that was to respect all females.' After this, the slander campaign against him intensified. But he was resolved not to be driven from the Native Guard—'to stay in the service, as long as there is a straw to hold to.'"

Crowder was in the thick of the attack on Port Hudson in 1863. He and the others, including Captain Andre Callioux, waited to attack Port Hudson at dawn on May 27, 1863. They were told they would lead the charge. As I have discussed, the attack was a disaster. The regiments got within 200 yards of the main Confederate works when they experienced a "hail of canister shell and rifle fire that ripped through the lines of black troops," according to Joseph Glatthaar. Glatthaar went on to write, "By dint of sheer derivation, the men pressed onward to a slaughter." Crowder fell early and was killed in action. His body along with the others who fell were left on the battlefield to rot. The Native Guard under a white flag attempted several times to get to the bodies of the fallen but the Confederates refused.

Glattharr wrote further, "Had an officer with authority an any sense examined the Confederate position, the charge of the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards would never have taken place … It should never have happened."

Crowder and Cailloux were among the first black officers to die fighting for the Union. You will recall the magnificent funeral held for Cailloux. Crowder received a pauper's funeral as his mother had no resources.

Charles S. Sauvinet

Captain Charles St. Albin Sauvinet was with the 2nd Regiment. He had also served with the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA. He remarked, "If we had not volunteered, they would have forced us into the ranks." He helped General Butler raise and organize the new Native Guard, USA, initially serving in the 1st Regiment. He was fluent in German, Spanish, and French. He did not resign, leaving the service in 1865, compiling the longest continuous record of all black officers. After the war he became the first African-American to be the Orleans Parish civil sheriff.


The African American Civil War Memorial Museum wrote:

“African Americans fought in every major campaign and battle during the last two years of the war earning twenty-five Medals of Honor. USCT regiments captured Charleston, the Cradle of Secession, and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.”

The Civil War Trust wrote:

“In early 1863, Lincoln wrote to Andrew Johnson that, ‘The colored population is the great available yet unavailed of force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed and drilled black soldiers upon the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once; and who doubts that we can present that sight if we but take hold in earnest.’"

The certainly proved to be true.

Frederick Douglass wrote:

"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his soldier, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”

By my count, twenty-four African-Americans received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.