The Creole military experience during the Civil
The Call to Arms
24 Butler issued an appeal for men of color to join the Union
army. The response in the free people
of color community was enthusiastic. Within three weeks Butler was able
to inform Stanton that “I shall…have within ten
days a regiment, 1,000 strong, of Native Guards (colored), the
darkest of whom is about the complexion of the late Mr. [Daniel]
The new regiment would be composed “altogether
of free men,” he reported. On September 27, 1862, the
1st Regiment of the Native Guards was mustered into the service
for three years and thus became the first officially sanctioned
provost marshal from New York, Captain Spencer H. Stafford,
to command the new regiment. Despite
the radical departure from his policy of accepting only free people
of color so as not to be accused of arming slaves against their masters,
Butler still did not have authorization from Washington to
organize the Native Guards.
No one in Washington had responded.
In the absence of outright disapproval, Butler concluded that
“I must therefore take it to be approved, but would
prefer distinct orders on this subject.”Butler’s
Native Guards were now officially members of the Union army
and were beginning to look the part, as evidenced by the 1st
Regiment when it paraded down Canal Street one bright Saturday
afternoon that fall. Captain
Emile Getiege’s company illustrated how the recruiting
had gone in the 1st Regiment.
Youngest among the ninety-eight
enlisted men were Pierre Silvester and Eduard St. Cryr, both
sixteen. The oldest was a fifty-three-year-old carpenter named
Brazile Brown, Jr. Half of the men were under thirty, but
twenty in Captain Detiege’s company were in their forties. The first sergeant, Joseph Frick, was forty-three. The median
height was five feet, seven inches. Young Sylvester was the
shortest at five two, while William Anderson, a forty-two-year-old
bricklayer, was six three.
The First to be called
the First to be enlisted
About a third of the company was
of unmixed African heritage, while another third gave evidence
of having some European blood. The remaining third were mulattoes,
described on the roll as “yellow,” “fair,”
or “bright.” Almost 60 percent of the men had
worked in the skilled trades – bricklayer, shoemaker,
and carpenter- before joining the army.
The remainder had
been laborers.Most of
the new recruits for Butler’s Native Guards were native
to Louisiana, although the 2nd Regiment included two privates
whose home until recently had been Africa.All of
the captains and lieutenants in the 1st and 2nd Regiments
The 3rd Regiment had both people
of color and white officers.
officers in Butler’s Native Guards were, for the most
part, an impressive lot, representing the elite of the free people
of color population in New Orleans. A newspaper correspondent found
them to be well-educated and conversant in a variety of subjects,
including civic affairs, history, literature, and politics.
“I found on one or two occasions,” he reported,
“that I was conversing with men of no ordinary knowledge
and mental capacity.”
Those of Creole ancestry were
fluent in both English and French. One characteristic of the
heritage was a light complexion, which reflected the relationship
between skin color and free status that existed in New Orleans
during the mid-nineteenth century. Several of the people
of color officers “were, to all superficial appearance, white
men,” another correspondent reported.
free man of color who accepted one of Butler’s commissions
a cigar maker by trade. Cailloux was a splendid horseman
and an excellent athlete.
He had been educated in Paris,
and his polished manners and confident air made him one
of the most respected leaders of the free black community.
But unlike most other free men of color, Cailloux’s
line was untainted by European blood.
By his own account,
Cailloux was the blackest man in New Orleans, a distinction
he noted with pride.
many Creole officers in Butler’s Native Guards
were drawn from the ranks of the city’s working elite.
One of these was Emile Detiege, who had set aside his schoolbooks
at the age of thirteen to follow the bricklayer’s trade
When Phelps began organizing former slaves who fled into his
lines around Camp Parapet, Detiege volunteered to drill the
would-be soldiers. He was well-suited for this duty, having
been instructed in military matters by his uncle, an old Belgian
soldier who had served in Napoleon’s army.
In the evenings,
Detiege became a schoolmaster, teaching the new recruits how
to read. After Butler decided to follow Phelp’s lead
by organizing the Native Guards, Detiege enlisted as a private
in Captain Joseph Follin’s company. By the time the
1st Regiment was ready to be mustered in, Detiege had been
promoted to first lieutenant.
the creole officers in Butler’s Native Guards were of
African-American rather than Creole ancestry. John H. Crowder,
for example, was born in 1846 to free parents in Louisville,
Kentucky. After his father abandoned the family by running
off to Mexico with the army during the Mexican War, John Crowder’s
mother moved to New Orleans.
was another Creole
officer with Creole roots. Born in Georgia to
a white planter from Holmes County, Mississippi, and his
mulatto mistress, Pinchback was irreverent, intemperate,
combative, and confident- just the right combination for
an aggressive company commander.