The Hero and the Priest
Andre Cailloux was born a slave in Louisiana. He lived his entire life in and around New Orleans. In 1846 his petition for manumission, with the support of his owner, was granted by an all white police jury in New Orleans. The next year he married a former slave, Felicie, with whom he had four children during the course of their marriage, and set up a cigar making business in the Crescent City. He soon became recognized as a leader in the free black community of New Orleans. Cailloux, a firm son of the Church, learned to read with the help of teachers at the Institute Catholique. Through his own efforts he became an educated man, fluent in both English and French.
At the beginning of the Civil War Cailloux became a Lieutenant in the 1rst Louisiana Native Guard, a Confederate black militia unit made up of free blacks to defend New Orleans. After the first battle of Manassas, the 1rst Louisiana Native Guard volunteered to guard Union prisoners. The offer was declined with thanks by the Confederate government. No effort was made by the Confederate government to supply uniforms or weapons for the unit, and the men supplied themselves out of their own resources. (It should be noted that many white Confederate and Union units were in the same boat at the beginning of the War, as the number of volunteers vastly exceeded the ability of the governments to provide for them.) The 1rst Louisiana Native Guards did participate in two grand reviews in New Orleans with other Confederate units.
After the Confederate Congress passed a conscription act in 1862 making all whites of military age subject to a draft, the white officers in the 1rst Louisiana Native Guards were transferred to other duties and the regiment was disbanded on February 15, 1862. Needless to say, the Confederacy missed a golden opportunity at the beginning of the War of enlisting free blacks. Blacks given any encouragement at all to enlist in the Confederate Army, especially with a promise of eventual emancipation for all blacks, might have helped alter the outcome of the War. Of course if the Confederate leaders had been willing to entertain such ideas at the beginning of the War, neither secession nor the War would have occurred.
After the capture of New Orleans by the Union, Major General Benjamin Butler decided to reconstitute the 1rst Lousiana Native Guard as a Union regiment. Cailloux rejoined the regiment and was made Captain of Company E. The black population of New Orleans responded enthusiastically to Butler’s initiative, and the Native Guard soon grew to three regiments.
In December 1862 Butler was replaced by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. A former governor of Massachusetts, Banks was one of the worst Union generals of the war ( I believe the man he replaced, Benjamin Butler, deserves the chief position as most incompetent Union general.) Forces under his command were so regularly beaten by the Confederates, that they nicknamed him “Commissary” Banks, since they would seize Union supply trains after they whipped his forces. Banks replaced the black officers in the second Native Guard regiment with white officers, as it was the usual Union policy not to commission blacks. However, the black officers in the first and third Native Guards remained in their positions.
The regiment was utilized for fatigue and guard details until it entered combat in the siege of Port Hudson, a Confederate fortified position north of Baton Rouge which the Union needed to seize as part of the campaign to bring the Mississippi under Union control. On May 27, 1863 Banks, who commanded the Union army besieging Port Hudson, ordered assaults on the Confederate fortifications. The 1rst and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards participated in these attacks. The Union troops fought heroically, but Banks, with his customary lack of even elementary military skill, failed to coordinate the attacks, and the Confederates beat back the assaults with relative ease. Captain Andre Cailloux, heroically leading his men, was killed.
His body lay where it fell for 47 days, until Port Hudson surrendered on July 9, 1863. Some 5,000 Union troops were killed and wounded in the siege, and another 5,000 died of disease. The Confederates surrendered 6500 troops, with an additional 750 killed and wounded and 250 dead of disease.
The body of Cailloux was taken back to New Orleans and arrangements made for his funeral. It was only natural that his wife decided to have the mass for his burial conducted by the one priest in New Orleans who had taken a public stance in favor of abolition, Father Claude Paschal Maistre.
Father Maistre had a very turbulent relationship with his superiors in the Church. Born in Laubressel, France in 1820, he was ordained a priest in 1844. In 1848 he ran afoul of the law, apparently in regard to a matter involving money, and left France for the US. (The records regarding Father Maistre are scanty, and at this distance in time it is impossible to determine if allegations lodged against him were true.) He served in the Detroit and Chicago dioceses where allegations of sexual improprieties, financial scandals and doctrinal lapses led to his dismissal. He convinced the Archbishop of New Orleans, Antoine Blanc, to allow him to serve in the New Orleans diocese, first in several rural parishes, and then in 1857 in the newly founded parish of Saint Rose of Lima in a predominantly black section of New Orleans. Father Maistre raised the funds to build a church for the parish, and soon found himself at the head of a growing racially mixed parish.
With the advent of the Civil War, Father Maistre was enmeshed in a war all of his own with the new Archbishop of New Orleans, Jean-Marie Odin, fresh from triumphs as a missionary bishop in Texas. Father Maistre and the Archbishop clashed over title to parish land, and it was all downhill from there. Father Maistre prevailed in the dispute over the parish land and Archbishop Odin paid him several thousand dollars for the land, but nonetheless was convinced he had been swindled by Father Maistre.
Archbishop Odin was not a supporter of slavery, but he was a convinced partisan of the South in the Civil War. Father Maistre was an abolitionist and outspokenly so. On January 1, 1863, to mark the Emancipation Proclamation he disregarded Archdiocese regulations that separate records be maintained for marriages and baptisms for whites, free blacks and slaves. He fed and sheltered run away slaves, and acted as an unofficial chaplain to the three regiments of the Native Guards. In April 1863 he presided over a mass in celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation. Most of the white congregants of Saint Rose left the parish, some muttering death threats against Father Maistre.
White Catholics besieged Archbishop Odin with complaints. Odin feared that any move against Father Maistre would be looked upon poorly by the occupying Union forces. Using the legal difficulties of Father Maistre in France as a pretext, the Archbishop ordered Maistre to resign as the pastor of Saint Rose and to retire to a monastery. In his report to Rome the Archbishop made clear that the real reason for his order was that Father Maistre had raised a furor in the diocese by preaching equality between blacks and whites and that slaves should engage in insurrection against their masters. (There is no evidence that Father Maistre ever called for insurrection.) Father Maistre flatly refused to leave Saint Rose. The Archbishop suspended Father Maistre and placed Saint Rose under an interdict. Father Maistre obtained an order from the Union occupiers requiring him to remain at Saint Rose and continue in his ministry, which he did. (This has to be one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Church in America.)
It was under these circumstances that Father Maistre said the funeral mass for Andre Cailloux on July 29, 1863, which was attended by white Union soldiers, and thousands of free blacks and slaves. Eventually Archbishop Odin had Saint Rose restored to the Archdiocese courtesy of the Union army. Wishing to conciliate whites in New Orleans, Banks restored Saint Rose to Archbishop Odin on January 14, 1863. Father Maistre established a schismatic church, Holy Name of Jesus, which had a large and enthusiastic black congregation. Behind the scenes he made continual efforts to mend his fences with the Archdiocese. This was not to be, as long as Archbishop Odin was in charge, with one meeting between the two strong willed men ending in a shouting match.
Andre Callioux in death was a hero throughout the Union, especially to the black men who flocked to the banner of the Union, in part persuaded by the heroism he showed. Ultimately 175,000 would join the regiments of the United States Colored Troops and help bring about the Union victory. Shamefully, the widow of Callioux had to fight with the government for several years for a pension, and lived in poverty. Father Maistre helped her, employing her as a housekeeper. She died in 1874.
Archbishop Odin passed away in 1870. Father Maistre quickly made his peace with the new Archbishop, Napoleon Perche, and was received back into the good graces of the Church. He served as pastor of Saint Lawrence Parish in rural Chacahoula, Louisiana, until falling ill in 1874. The new Archbishop must have had a soft spot in his heart for Father Maistre, because Father Maistre during his final illness resided in the Archbishop’s mansion until his death in January 1875. He was buried in Saint Louis cemetery in a section reserved for blacks.
God uses us all to work His will. He used Andre Cailloux and Father Maistre, an imperfect priest, to remind us that all men are brothers under Him.