The Hero and the Priest

Monday, January 17, AD 2011



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.

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9 Responses to The Hero and the Priest

  • Thank you very much for posting this article. I love this blog, particularly for articles like this. I teach American History at a public high school, and your historical articles help me be a better teacher.

    May God continue to bless you.

  • Thank you Nicholas. I love history and I am always delighted when I can help spread an appreciation for it. God bless your teaching.

  • Nice Post. However Port Hudson is not located in North Louisiana. It is just North of Baton Rouge.

  • Thanks for the correction jh and I have amended the article accordingly. Heaven knows why I made that error. I can only assume that I was subconsciously thinking of Banks’ Red River campaign in 1864.

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  • Thank you sir,

    I too love history, especially this period of our checkered and beautiful past as Americans, of course, it is probable that you and I would have found ourselves on opposite sides of the battle had we lived back then. Nevertheless, if we cannot learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Articles like this are so necessary for us to increase our knowledge and ability to think critically, always searching for truth in the imperfect actions of man. Sadly, just about everyone under the age of 35 has never had an exposure to anything like this and are trapped as ideological slaves in an invisible prison that they call freedom. INGSOC is here.

  • A former slave was asked why more blacks did not accept the offer of manumission for enlisting in one army or the other.
    He replied “Did you ever see two dogs fight over a bone?”.
    “Yes” came the answer.
    “Did you ever see the bone fight?”.

  • I have heard that quotation before and it has always struck me as ahistorical. The Union had no trouble recruiting blacks, and if freedom from slavery isn’t something worth fighting for, I have a hard time beyond self defense or defense of loved ones visualizing what would be worth fighting for. I think most blacks at the time agreed with this quotation:

    “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

    Frederick Douglass