The definition of “Patriot,” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests. This is a “dead ringer” for Captain Andre Cailloux¹ – the first black officer in the U.S. Army.
Cailloux was born into slavery in 1825, near New Orleans, Louisiana. No specific date is known, as birth records for slaves were often sparse, and unreliable. Owned by the Duvernay family, he was given his manumission in 1846. He would start his own cigar making business and would be able to provide modestly for himself. He was well known, and respected, in the African-French Creole community of New Orleans. He would teach himself to read, and was fluent in both French, and English. He supported the Institute Catholique, a school for orphaned black children.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Cailloux would enter the Louisiana Native Guard, as a lieutenant. With New Orleans still under Confederate control, the Native guard would become a Confederate regiment, tasked with guarding New Orleans. The regiment restricted entry to free men of color from the immediate vicinity of New Orleans.
When US Major General Benjamin Butler became military commander of the Department of the Gulf, in September 1862, he organized the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. Cailloux would become captain of Company E. His company was considered one of the best drilled and most accomplished companies, in the Native Guard, which would expand to three regiments by the time US Major Nathanial Banks replaced Butler, in December 1862. Cailloux’s regimental commander was Colonel Spencer Stafford. During the spring, of 1863, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard would primarily be engaged in providing wood for the army, and other labor intense duties.
Things changed in May 1863, when Banks put his 35,000 man army in motion. His objective would be Port Hudson, Louisiana, which besides Vicksburg, Mississippi, was the primary impediment for northern boats reaching the Gulf of Mexico. He would reach Port Hudson on May 21 and begin to organize his troops for what turned out to be a siege. Unfortunately, for Cailloux, there would be a major assault, on the well entrenched Confederates, commanded by CS Major General Franklin Gardner, on May 27. The assault would be a dismal failure, with thousands of Federal casualties. For the next 48 days, Banks would lay siege to Port Hudson.
During the attack, Cailloux would be ordered to lead the 100 men of Company E, against well entrenched sharpshooters. With very little chance of success, Cailloux led his men into a death trap. Encouraging his men to keep charging the Rebel position, he would be severely wounded by a minie ball, in the arm, on the last charge. With his arm dangling loosely at his side, he continued forward, until an artillery shelled instantly killed him. His company would be decimated.
Banks would ask for truce, on May 28, to collect the wounded and Gardner would approve it. Most of the dead, and wounded, were recovered. However many of the blacks were left of the field. According to the research conducted by Drew Gilpin Faust, “…Cailloux was the first of a few black officers to die in the war. For all his courage and respectability, Andre Cailloux was in the eyes of the Confederates simply a man who deserved not just death but dishonor for his presumption in taking up arms against a superior race.” Faust would go on to state, “….rebel sharpshooters prevented Union troops from retrieving the bodies of black soldiers.”² Cailloux’s remains would lay on the field 47 days, decomposing, until the Confederate garrison surrendered.
Captain Andre Cailloux’s funeral, in New Orleans, would be held on July 29. Attended by thousands of whites, and blacks, it would lead to the wide acceptance of the heroism, and loyalty, of black soldiers in the Federal army. For all his courage and honor, Andre Cailloux is a true American PATRIOT.
¹ Andre Cailloux at Wikipedia was used to research this article.
² Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, p.50.