Perhaps no unit of the Civil War had a more convoluted name than the Confederate Guards Response Battalion. The outfit’s origins were with the Louisiana militia, a massive force raised by Governor Thomas Overton Moore and led by John L. Lewis. With most Louisiana regiments going to Virginia in 1861, it was felt a large militia force was needed to guard New Orleans. The units included people of just about every class, both Creole and Anglo-American. Foreigners were common and even free people of color were represented in the Native Guards.
The Confederate Guards formed in September 1861, numbering over 700 men. George Washington Cable, who later gained fame as a novelist and historian, called them “the flower of the home guard” and noted they were made up of “The merchants, bankers, underwriters, judges, real-estate owners, and capitalists of the Anglo-American part of the city” with “hands that had ruled by the pen—the pen and the dollar— since long before any of us young spectators was born, and had done no harder muscular work than carve roasts and turkeys.” Many had helped fund Confederate units and had sons, younger brothers, and friends in the Confederate army. Joining the militia was a form of solidarity with their relatives. The Confederate Guards sported gray coats, French kepis, white pants, Pelican belt buckles, white gloves, and old smoothbore muskets. They drilled twice a week and were noted for being well disciplined. The regiment drilled in Coliseum Place and it was a spectacle viewed by many, while the regiment’s German band often played polkas.
After the fall of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, P.G.T. Beauregard called upon aid from the governors of the deep south. Beauregard had considerable connections in Louisiana, although he and Moore did not have the best relationship. Still, Moore promised to send part of the Louisiana militia north to Corinth for ninety days. The massive Crescent Regiment, dubbed “The Kid Glove Regiment” was forwarded. Naturally the Orleans Guard Battalion, a Creole outfit Beauregard had joined in 1861, volunteered. The 5th Company of the Washington Artillery also came. In total, 1,500 men were forwarded.
The Confederate Guards were in that number, although one issue was equipment. The unit was not fully armed, and it was only around 200 who had the necessary equipment. Since most of the Confederate Guards were to remain in New Orleans, the unit took a different name, one that would show they were a response to Beauregard’s call for aid. Hence the awkward name: Confederate Guards Response Battalion.
The men elected Franklin Hulse Clack as their major. He was a Florida native and Yale trained lawyer. In 1855 he was briefly the sheriff of Norfolk, Virginia during a yellow fever epidemic, and drew praise for his time there. Franklin Pierce appointed him as an attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He was replaced by James Buchanan who thought Clack had not done enough to suppress filibusters. It was utter hypocrisy coming from the man who wrote the Ostend Manifesto, but he was trying to mollify anti-slavery sentiment even as he pushed the Dred Scott decision and the Lecompton Constitution.
Clack did not own slaves, preferring Irish help, an increasingly popular trend in the Crescent City. Clack also opposed secession in 1860, but his rallies for conditional unionism drew small crowds. When war came, he backed the Confederacy without reservation.
Cable recalled “on the day of their departure, they marched with solid column and firm-set, unsmiling mouths down the long gray lane made by the open ranks of those old Confederate Guards, and their escort broke into cheers and tears and waved their gray shakoes.” The band played “Listen to the Mocking-bird.” The regiment was off to war.
Once in Corinth, the battalion joined the 17th and 20th Louisiana and the Washington Artillery in a brigade. Also added was the 9th Texas and the 1st Florida Battalion. J. Patton Anderson was made the commander. The brigade was the smallest in the army and a scratch force that had not drilled or trained together. However, Anderson, a favorite of Braxton Bragg, proved an able commander and his brigade achieved a surprising level of efficiency considering the situation.
At Shiloh Anderson’s brigade was among the first engaged and fought throughout the battle. The battalion saw constant action, including one attack on the famed “Hornet’s Nest.” Losses were heavy, considering the battalion only brought 153 men into the battle, making it the smallest infantry unit at Shiloh. They lost forty-five men.
After Shiloh Clack wrote to Anderson “I cannot close this feeble report, sir, without calling your attention to a matter which my sense of duty impels me to mention—the strong, immediate necessity for the strictest, most severe discipline. Had we but had this discipline there would not now be an enemy’s foot pressing the soil in the vicinity of our late battle. I am convinced that nothing but the daring courage exhibited by a large portion of our force enabled us to sustain ourselves. Deeming it a duty also to suggest anything that in my opinion may tend to correct what I regard an evil, I must say that the volunteering system, as far as my experience goes, is an evil, the greater in an inverse ratio as is the term of service short.” Clack, the conditional unionist of 1860, was now calling for conscription and harsh discipline. He accused the North of throwing “down all the barriers of constitutional liberty in his career of oppression and invasion.”
The battalion would soldier on. After service in the siege of Corinth, and briefly as guards in Chattanooga, Clack and his men returned to Louisiana. They would fight under Richard Taylor in his futile efforts to defend the Bayou Teche region, winning praise at Irish Bend. Merged with the Crescent Regiment, Clack reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and was mortally wounded at Mansfield, near some of the same men he led at Shiloh two years before.