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The Louisiana Native Guards

The Black Military Experience During the Civil War

James G. Hollandsworth Jr.

Publication Year: 1995

Early in the Civil War, Louisiana's Confederate government sanctioned a militia unit of black troops, the Louisiana Native Guards. Intended as a response to demands from members of New Orleans' substantial free black population that they be permitted to participate in the defense of their state, the unit was used by Confederate authorities for public display and propaganda purposes but was not allowed to fight. After the fall of New Orleans, General Benjamin F. Butler brought the Native Guards into Federal military service and increased their numbers with runaway slaves. He intended to use the troops for guard duty and heavy labor. His successor, Nathaniel P. Banks, did not trust the black Native Guard officers, and as he replaced them with white commanders, the mistreatment and misuse of the black troops steadily increased. The first large-scale deployment of the Native Guards occurred in May, 1863, during the Union siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, when two of their regiments were ordered to storm an impregnable hilltop position. Although the soldiers fought valiantly, the charge was driven back with extensive losses. The white officers and the northern press praised the tenacity and fighting ability of the black troops, but they were still not accepted on the same terms as their white counterparts. After the war, Native Guard veterans took up the struggle for civil rights - in particular, voting rights - for Louisiana's black population. The Louisiana Native Guards is the first account to consider that struggle. By documenting their endeavors through Reconstruction, James G. Hollandsworth places the Native Guards' military service in the broader context of a civil rights movement thatpredates more recent efforts by a hundred years. This remarkable work presents a vivid picture of men eager to prove their courage and ability to a world determined to exploit and demean them.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xi

Many persons have helped me with the research for this book. I would like to acknowledge in particular the assistance of Mike Musick, Mike Meier, Bill Lind, and Stuart Butler, at the National Archives; Bob Melchiori, of Vienna, Virginia; Joan Caldwell and Bill Meneray, at the Howard-Tilton...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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1. Defenders of the Native Land

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pp. 1-11

It was a grand review. Twenty-six thousand men lined the dual carriage ways of Canal Street from the levee to the cemeteries, a distance of three and a half miles. "It was by far the greatest and most imposing sight ever presented by the population of the Crescent City," a correspondent from the...

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2. Great Pride in the Business

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pp. 12-22

Federal troops under the command of Benjamin F. Butler occupied New Orleans on May 1, 1862. Butler faced numerous problems in the occupied city. Food was in short supply, and the Crescent City's notorious lack of sanitation raised the specter of disease and fever as the hot summer months approached...

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3. Woe to Any Man Who Flinches

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pp. 23-35

When the Native Guards had grown to three regiments, Butler moved them from the Touro Building to Camp Strong at the Louisiana Race Track outside the city. A correspondent from the New York Times visited their new encampment and was impressed by what he saw. "Their conduct could not have...

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4. When Tried, They Will Not Be Found Wanting

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pp. 36-47

By December, 1862, the area between New Orleans and Berwick Bay had been cleared of Confederate forces. The 1st Regiment of Butler's Native Guards was posted in small detachments along the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad with headquarters at Lafourche Crossing. The 2nd Regiment...

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5. I Regard It as an Experiment

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pp. 48-58

The major objective for the Union army in the Mississippi Valley in 1863 was to wrestle control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates. To that end, Ulysses S. Grant pushed his army slowly down the west bank of the Mississippi River, looking for a way to gain a foothold on dry ground below...

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6. The Equal of Any "Yankee Troops" You Will Find

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pp. 59-69

During the truce on the evening of May 27, Union medics and hospital orderlies scurried about the battlefield, retrieving the wounded and burying the dead under the watchful eyes of hardened Confederates lounging on the top of their parapet. This activity proceeded in all sectors except along...

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7. Unsuited for This Duty

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pp. 70-83

After Port Hudson, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks moved aggressively to increase the number of black soldiers in the Department of the Gulf. Using the Native Guards as a nucleus, he set out to organize an entire division of black troops, the Corps d'Afrique, he called it. Accordingly, the 1st and 3rd Regiments of...

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8. We Shall Eventually Come Out Ahead

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pp. 84-93

Brigadier General George L. Andrews assumed command of the black troops at Port Hudson on July 10, 1863. Andrews, who did not share many of the prejudices of his fellow officers in the Union army, set to work to make the Corps d'Afrique "one of the best corps in the army." An 1851 graduate of West...

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9. Diggers and Drudges

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pp. 94-103

During the Red River campaign only three black officers still held commissions in the Corps d'Afrique. This did not mean, however, that those who had resigned were sitting quietly on the sidelines. As the black enlisted men trudged through the countryside of central Louisiana, their former officers were busy...

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10. Manhood of the Colored Race

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pp. 104-116

Military service in the Civil War instilled a great pride among veterans of the Native Guards. Not surprisingly, this pride translated into the expectation that black civil rights would be expanded now that the war had ended. This hope was very much in the minds of several hundred black veterans on...

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Appendix: Black Officers in the Native Guards

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pp. 117-124


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pp. 125-134


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pp. 135-140

E-ISBN-13: 9780807141342
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807123362

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 1995