The unit that would be later known as the Louisiana Native Guards found its start, astoundingly, in Confederate Louisiana in May of 1861. Accepted as a militia regiment by Governor Thomas Moore, 33 black officers and 731 privates – all free men of color with some European ancestry – the black regiment was intended to assuage Northern propaganda that claimed the Confederacy was racist and fighting for the preservation of slavery. It was written in the Daily Crescent of New Orleans that the black regiment “will fight the Black Republican with as much determination and gallantry as any body of white men in the service of the Confederate States.” However, the Confederacy never intended to arm these “hommes de couleur libre” as they were called, and the unit only participated in two dress parades, one in November of 1861 and the second in January of 1862. The militia unit was disbanded on February 15, 1862 but was momentarily reinstated when New Orleans panicked at the arrival of Union Flag Officer David Farragut and his flotilla. They were ordered to guard the east end of the French Quarter until Farragut’s imminent arrival prompted the evacuation of the city and its black militia. Farragut arrived to the Crescent City in April after running the gauntlet past Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillips along the Mississippi River, and New Orleans surrendered to the Union Army in early May.
Louisiana would not enlist the military support of its black citizens again until under Union occupation, when Major General Benjamin Butler was approached by former officers of the Confederate Native Guard who asked for the chance to serve the Union army. Butler had previously turned down suggestions from Brigadier General John W. Phelps when he made the point that the army could use free men of color and black “contraband” who escaped slavery behind Union lines. Fearful of repercussions from Washington, he had initially refused the idea of arming the formerly enslaved. However, true to Butler fashion, he changed his mind and flipped the situation so as to give glory to himself for the idea. He wrote, “I shall call on Africa to intervene” in his want of reinforcements to defend his Department of the Gulf. “I have determined,” he wrote to Washington, “to use the services of free colored men who were organized by the rebels into the Colored Brigade, of which we have heard so much… and they will be loyal.” Therefore, on September 27, 1862, the 1st Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard was mustered into service for three years, one of the first black regiments sanctioned in the Union army. Only 11 percent (108 men) of the regiment had previously served in the Confederate militia group, with over half consisting of formerly enslaved blacks from the plantations surrounding New Orleans.
The captain who organized and recruited Company E of the 1st Regiment of Louisiana Native Guards was André – sometimes spelled Andrew – Cailloux (pronounced Cah-you). Many of the free people of color in New Orleans were noted for their lighter complexion, indicative of European influences in their lineage. In some instances, their lighter skin was the ticket to leniency in social mobility and comprised a class all their own. Cailloux appears to be an exception to this trend, as he took special pride in being the “blackest man in New Orleans” and enjoyed some special privileges in the free black community. He was born into slavery in 1825 on the plantation of Joseph Duvernay near Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish. He purchased his freedom at the age of 21 and soon after, in 1847, Cailloux married Félicie Coulon. A year after their marriage, Cailloux had earned enough money to purchase his mother out of bondage. Cailloux and Coulon had four children born free, three of whom survived to adulthood. In 1852, Cailloux bought a piece of property for $200 at Prieur and Perdido streets, then a few years later bought a Creole cottage uptown on Baronne Street for $400. He became a cigar maker, establishing his own shop in the Faubourg Marigny, and was known as an accomplished horseman, boxer, and athlete. Felicie Cailloux also earned a place for herself in the community as the first principal at the Couvent School. The school was formally known as the Institute Catholique – or the Catholic School for Indigent Orphans – located in the Faubourg Marigny and taught children of free people of color for a modest tuition.
In New Orleans, skin color was firmly linked with one’s status as free or enslaved, meaning that the lighter skin one had, the greater social advantages they could be afforded. It may also be insinuated that a free black with lighter skin could have been manumitted by their white relatives – potentially their biological father who also enslaved them – or was born free and therefore did not earn their freedom by any sort of merit or hard work. Cailloux was a man who was considered free but took pride in having much darker skin than other free blacks and was first born into slavery before working his way out of bondage. He was in a unique position to bridge the gap between the black social classes. He epitomized the sort of virtues and ideal role model for newly freed blacks, while also proving to the rest of the free black community that he was no less of a man for his skin color. André’s enlistment as a captain, a rank that black soldiers in the Union army were often barred from achieving, also meant a great deal to the cause of equality. His conduct as an officer and a soldier – as well as the conduct of all the other black officers of the Louisiana Native Guards – would either condemn or validate the worthiness of blacks to hold such a rank.
The subsequent 2nd and 3rd Regiments were mustered into service that following October and November, consisting almost entirely of formerly enslaved men of Louisiana, though Butler still hadn’t received official permission to recruit blacks into the Union army. That wouldn’t come until the newly appointed general-in-chief of the Union army, Henry Halleck, granted passive consent in late November of 1862.
For the three Native Guard regiments stationed at Camp Strong outside of New Orleans, earning respect as Union soldiers was difficult, if not impossible. Under black officers, privates were drilled and engaged in fatigue duty – menial labor and engineering tasks. Many commended them for their discipline and eagerness to learn, though some attributed their quickness and obedience to orders to the fact that they were black, saying, “he [the black man], on his part, has always been accustomed to be commanded.” Though Butler never intended for them to see combat, many remarked on their belief that the men of the black regiments would “fight to the death” if given the chance. White soldiers and civilians were not enthusiastic about the Native Guards. Prejudice against blacks, whether in uniform or out of uniform, could be found throughout the Union army. The consistent arguments from the doubters were summed up by the Daily Picayune in the summer of 1862: “The unfitness of the negro for military service is known to everybody… his life of slavery and subjugation would render the adult slave a very unsafe person to be entrusted with a musket against the man whom he has all his life looked up to as his master and superior.” For others, they needed little convincing to reverse previous prejudices, such as Captain James Fitts of the 114th New York who wrote, “as I looked down the ‘long, dusky line’ and saw the soldierly bearing of these men, their proficiency in the manual of arms, and the zeal which every unit of the mass displayed in correctly performed his part of the pageant, the barriers of prejudice which had been built up in my mind began to fall before the force of the accomplished facts before me.” Still, the Native Guards’ struggle for respect persisted throughout the war, facing racism in society and within the army on countless occasions.
Their chance to prove themselves under fire came in 1863. Though the new department commander, General Nathaniel Banks – who replaced Butler in December of 1862 – schemed for almost two years to replace black officers in the Native Guards with white ones, he facilitated their first test of valor and discipline in combat. While the 2nd Regiment served garrison duty on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi, the 1st and 3rd Regiment were ordered to Baton Rouge in preparation for a march to Port Hudson, further north along the Mississippi River. The citadel on the bluffs overlooking the river prevented the passage of Union ships from sailing to Vicksburg where General Ulysses S. Grant attempted his own campaign. The first assault on Port Hudson occurred on March 14, but the 1st and 3rd Regiment of the Native Guards would not join the army there until March 25 and an order for an all-out assault was issued by Banks for May 27. They were positioned on the right flank of the Union line, straddling the Telegraph Road and in front of Big Sandy Creek. Their commander, Brigadier General William Dwight, Jr. wrote that he considered the use of black troops at Port Hudson was intended to “test the negro question” and that “You may look for hard fighting, or for a complete run away.”
For the Louisiana Native Guards, the stakes could not have been higher. Not only were they to face battle for the first time, it’s likely that they understood that how they behaved on the battlefield mattered for the millions of blacks across the country. It was a make or break moment, and Captain Cailloux rose to the challenge.
To Be Continued…
 United States. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Washington :[s.n.], 1894., Series 1, Volume XV, p. 556 (hereafter referred to as OR)
 New Orleans Daily Crescent, May 29, 1861
 Charles H. Wesley, “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army,” (Journal of Negro History, Vol. IV, 1919), pp. 245-253; New Orleans Daily Picayune, November 24, 1861, January 8, 1862; Orders No. 426, March 24, 1862 in OR Series 1, Volume XV, p. 557
 “An Ex-Native Guard” to Chief Editor of L’Union, in New York Times, November 5, 1862; James G. Hollandsworth, Jr. The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1995), p. 10
 Ibid, pp. 12-17; Butler to Stanton, August 14, 1862, OR, Series I, Volume XV, pp. 548-549
 Compiled Records Showing Service of Military Units in Volunteer Union Organizations, 73rd Infantry, USCT, M-594, roll 213, National Archives, Washington D.C.; Joseph T. Wilson, Black Phalanx: A History of the Negro Soldiers in the Wars of 1775, 1812, 1861-1865, (1888, reprint, New York, 1968), p. 195
 Hollandsworth, p. 27; Stephen J. Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 9-66. CPT André Cailloux, Findagrave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13787526/andre-cailloux; “André Cailloux, Businessman and Soldier Born,” African American Registry, https://aaregistry.org/story/andre-cailloux-civil-war-hero/; Matthew Hington, “How A Black Civil War Hero’s Funeral Paved The Way For Second Lines,” Very Local: Know Your NOLA, June 25, 2021, https://www.verylocal.com/second-line-funerals/2058/
 Hollandsworth, p. 21; Halleck to Butler, November 20, 1862, OR, Series I, Volume XV, p. 162
 Wilson, p. 526; Douglass Monthly, January 1863, p. 777
 “The Negro Enlistment Scheme,” New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1862.
 James Franklin Fitts, “The Negro in Blue,” (Galaxy, Vol. III, 1867), pp. 252-253
 Hollandsworth, p. 51
 William Dwight Jr. to his mother, May 26, 1863, in Dwight Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts