The men seen in this photo were all Creoles. Because they weren’t white, they were called “free men of color.” All of these men spoke French and most were well-educated and wealthy. Its line officers, such as captains and lieutenants, were also “free men of color.”
When the Civil War started, their militia unit was part of the Confederate army defending New Orleans, as seen in the above photo. However, after New Orleans fell to Union naval forces in 1862, the men disbanded.
When General Benjamin F. Butler, New Orleans’ military governor, issued a call for black troops in August 1862, these men responded eagerly. Lots of people believe that the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, depicted in the movie Glory, was the first black unit to organize and fight. Nope! It was the Native Guards of Louisiana–first black regiment to be organized and mustered into the army, and the first to experience serious combat. They fought at Port Hudson, Louisiana in 1863. The 54th was the first black regiment organized in the North.
Also fighting alongside these men, the Third Native Guards, a regiment formed from former slaves and led by white officers.
In my book due out next year, Squire, Tales of a Mascot, I feature these brave men and their heroism during the siege of Port Hudson.