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. (more…)