FIRST NEGRO REGIMENT
Was Raised in New Orleans for the Confederacy.
Offered Their Services, But Didn’t Fight.
New Orleans Daily States, May 24, 1903.
Some War Department officials were considerably surprised a few days ago while compiling the list of soldiers who served during the civil war, to discover that a regiment of negroes had been mustered into the Confederate service from New Orleans, says a New Orleans correspondent of the New York [Times?].
This discovery has been described as bringing to light a forgotten incident of civil war history.
There has been especial comment on the fact that the Confederate States should have enlisted negro soldiers first, and nearly a year ahead of the United States.
It is, of course, well known that the Confederate Cabinet during the last years of the war, seriously discussed the advisability of arming the negro slaves and enlisting them to drive back the Northern invaders, the slaves to be rewarded with freedom for their services. Mr. Davis is said to have favored the plan, which was proposed only when the outlook for the Confederacy was desperate, and to have abandoned it, not because he distrusted the negroes, but because it was pointed out that to take them from the farms would be to deprive the South of its food supply.
But although the war department has dug up this interesting and forgotten fact of the organization of a negro Confederate regiment, it has succeeded in collecting very little information on the subject. It has found, for instance[,] the roll of but a single company, commanded by Louis Lainez, and it has been unable to get any definite information even as to that company.
It is not possible to give all the story of this regiment, for much of it has been lost in time, but as far as it goes it is interesting, and especially interesting just now in view of the attention being given throughout the country to the relations of the whites and the negroes. It will throw some light on these relations during the period of slavery. . .
There is little reason to doubt that the colored men who organized a regiment intended to fight for the Confederate cause. Had they done so, had they been allowed to do so, it would not only have been a curious incident, but it might have had important effects. Thus Jefferson Davis might have conceived the idea of arming the negroes at the beginning of the Civil War instead of near the end of the struggle, when it was too late.
The Native Guards, however, were treated with a scant courtesy that killed any enthusiasm they might have felt for the Confederate cause. They were sworn in and mustered out of the service and called back again only in the last few desperate days before the capture of the City by Farragut’s fleet.
Four months after his occupation of the City, Butler took up the work where the Confederates had dropped it. He saw the possibility of utilizing the free men of color who had some military education and discipline and on August 2, 1862 [sic] he issued an order calling on all members of the Native Guards to enlist in the service of the United States.
None of the men who had taken prominent part in the organization of this regiment in the Confederate service re-enlisted on the other side, but some of the rank and file did. The First Louisiana Native Guards was organized with Lieutenant Colonel Bassett in command and with all other officers colored. The regiment fought with courage and distinction at Port Hudson, where one of the captains, Andre Caillioux [sic], lost his life, and became a hero of the negro troops.
Nor did the colored men who took part in the organization of the negro regiment for the Confederate service have any share in the organization of the Republican party in Louisiana, and in the period of Reconstruction, and it is unfortunate for the negroes that they did not. They were men of property, many of them of education, and they might have led their people in a much better cause than the negro gamblers, bootblacks, barbers and stable boys who joined the Carper- baggers to install the horrors of Reconstruction.
The freemen of color would never have permitted the excesses which followed for they were generally friendly to the whites. Only one of the organizers and officers of the Confederate Native Guards, Arnold Bertonneau, took part in post-bellum politics. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of April 1868, which gave Louisiana its first Reconstruction Constitution.
The military spirit of the negroes died out with the Civil War. Even during Republican days no success was met with in organizing a negro militia. Under Democratic regime several negro militia companies were organized, the last survival being a company named in honor of General Beauregard’s son-in-law.
A few years ago the Militia Act passed by the Louisiana Legislature suppressed the independent companies and got rid of the negro militia. Thus it is that while Louisiana had militia companies during all the days of slavery, when one of its negro regiments fought bravely during the war of 1812 and another offered its services in the Southern cause in the Civil War, today with all the negroes free, there is no negro military organization of any kind