Louisiana Native Guards
The Creole military experience during the Civil War






A Video Account of the Louisiana Native Guard ....By Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey






The History of the Louisiana Native Guard

On September 27, 1862, the Free Creoles of color of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard became the first Non White (People of Color) regiment officially mustered into the Union Army.

Lousiana Native Guard
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The Louisiana Native Guards
by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.

A Black Patriot and a White Priest
By Stephen J. Ochs


The story of the Native Guards


It all began with an announcement in the Daily Picayune. “Defenders of the Native Land,” it read, “We the undersigned, natives of Louisiana, assembled in committee, have unanimously adopted the following resolutions…: Resolved, That the population to which we belong, as soon as a call is made to them by the Governor of this State, will be ready to take arms and form themselves into companies for the defense of their homes, together with the other inhabitants of this city, against any enemy who may come and disturb its tranquility.

In response, fifteen hundred people of color “natives” gathered at the Couvent School for Orphans on the corner of Greatman and Union streets to show their support for Confederate Louisiana. “When… [they] form their regiment (and it will be a rousing one),” the Daily Crescent predicted, “they will make a show as pleasing to all, as it will be surprising to many of our [i.e., white] population.

Within days a regiment composed entirely of free men of color had been organized; it was called the Native Guards. Governor Thomas D. Moore accepted the regiment as part of the Louisiana militia on May 2, 1861, and issued commissions for the line officers, all of whom were people of color. The governor appointed a white militia officer, Colonel Henry D. Ogden, as commander.

White New Orleans was delighted with the formation of a people of color militia regiment. “Our free colored men… are certainly as much attached to the land of their birth as their white brethren here in Louisiana,” the Daily Crescent assured its readers. They “will fight the people of color Republican with as much determination and gallantry as any body of white men in the service of the Confederate States.



Creole soldiers in the state militia were not unusual in Louisiana, although they would have been everywhere else in the United States. Armed slaves and free men of color had joined the French in 1727 to fight against the Choctaw Indians. Eight years later, forty-five creole men served alongside French colonial troops in New Orleans.

Spanish officials continued the French practice of using creole soldiers after the Louisiana Territory was ceded to Spain in 1762. More than eighty free people of color helped the Spanish army capture the English forts at Natchez and Baton Rouge in September, 1779. Even larger numbers of creole soldiers, both slave and free, participated in the capture of Mobile and Pensacola six months later.

When the Louisiana Territory became part of the United States in 1803, Creoles and black men continued to serve in the militia. In 1811, they helped the territorial governor suppress a slave insurrection. Four years later, slaves and free men of color fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. As the Daily True Delta reminded its readers in 1861, among the current volunteers were men “whose fathers and friends fought in defense of New Orleans on the plains of Chalmette.” Free people of color joined the Louisiana militia for varied and complex reasons.




Sergeant Alfred Noldier

of F Company, 73rd Regiment, Unites States Colored Infantry (originally the 1st Regiment, Louisiana Native Guards). Noldier, a former slave, was captured by Confederate forces at Jackson, Louisiana, in July 1863, and then escaped. Noldier's regiment endured unremitting fatigue duty and blatant racial discrimination.


Believing the government to have broken trust with them, many deserted only to return to duty after President Lincoln's amnesty proclamation of 1864. In april 1865, the 73rd was the first Union regiment to breach the Confederate defenses at Fort Blakely outside Mobile. Courtesy of the National Archives.


Sergeant Alfred Noldier

of F Company,73rd Regiment,

United States Colored Infantry.... (courtesy the National Archives)


Another reason why free people of color joined the Louisiana militia was economic self-interest. The Defenders of the Native Land were men of property and intelligence, representatives of a free people of color community in New Orleans that was both prosperous and well-educated. There were even slave owners among its ranks.

Not even New York City could boast of having more people of color“doctors, dentists…silversmiths, portrait-painters, architects, brick-layers, plasterers, carpenters, tailors, cigar-makers, &c.” Furthermore, the “hommes de couleur libre,” as they were called in New Orleans, enjoyed privileges not afforded by people of color elsewhere in the South, allowing them by 1860 to accumulate more than two million dollars worth of property.

It was not surprising, therefore, that free people of color were eager to defend their holdings. “At this period in our history,” a black Creole wrote many years later, “people were most cautious in their criticisms of existing institutions. The pursuit of personal satisfaction or the persistent acquisition of material things of life occupied them.

There was also the issue of self-identity. More than 80 percent of the free people of color population in New Orleans in 1860 had European blood in their veins. In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of slaves in Louisiana gave evidence of white ancestry. Because skin color and free status were highly correlated, many free people of color identified more closely with Southern whites than with people of color.

“They love their home, their property, they own slaves, and they are dearly attached to their native land,” read an open letter published at the time of South Carolina’s secession. “The free colored population (native) of Louisiana have no sympathy for Abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plenty for Louisiana; and let the hour come, and they will be worthy sons of Louisiana.



The first test of Confederate willingness to accept the Native Guards in the spirit of true fraternity had not gone well. On September 28, 1861, word had come that Union prisoners captured at Manassas would arrive in New Orleans within two days.

Their arrival was an occasion for much excitement, and the troops selected to guard the prisoners as they marched from the train station to the city prison would be afforded a great honor. General John L. Lewis of the Louisiana militia suggested that the Native Guards be allowed to escort the prisoners of war. But the Confederate commander in New Orleans said no, and white militiamen were picked instead.

Despite the rebuff, the Native Guards continued to demonstrate their support for Confederate Louisiana by participating in two grand reviews- one on November 23, 1861, and a second on January 7,1862.

Enthusiasm among the Native Guards for the Confederate cause did not last long, however. Many of the men were still without uniforms or equipment, and one company had only ten muskets. Absenteeism increased when it became apparent that the Confederate authorities did not intend to provide the Native Guards with either the status or support they afforded white soldiers.

When the state legislature passed a law in January, 1862, that reorganized the militia by conscripting “all the free white males capable of bearing arms… irrespective of nationality.”

The legislature’s reorganization of the militia also affected the Native Guards. Because the new statute specified white males and disbanded all existing militia units as of February 15, 1862, the Native Guards ceased to exist on that date. Their demise was temporary, however, for Governor Moore reinstated the Native Guards on March 24 after the Federal navy under Captain David G. Farragut entered the Mississippi River.


The Louisiana Native Guard..

Civil War 1861


Federal troops under the command of Benjamin F. Butler occupied New Orleans on May 1, 1862. Although Butler had used fugitive slaves, “contrabands” as he called them, to repair levees, widen drainage ditches, and strengthen fortifications, he had resisted appeals from Northern abolitionists to enlist them as soldiers in the Union army.

There were two reasons for his hesitance. First, Washington disapproved. Lincoln was afraid that arming fugitive slaves would push the border states of Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky to side with the South. In fact, Lincoln has already forced David Hunter in South Carolina to disband the unofficial black regiment he had raised there A second reason was Butler’s own opinion regarding the aptitude of blacks for military service.

Butler began to have second thoughts about his refusal to enlist colored troops. On August 5, a Confederate army Major General John C. Breckinridge launched a surprise attack on Baton Rouge. Although Breckinridge’s men were beaten back, there were ominous rumors that they were headed south to take New Orleans. Butler hurriedly ordered the evacuation of Baton Rouge and sent an urgent plea to Washington for reinforcements.

Butler had asked for reinforcements before, only to be turned down. Instead, the Union high command had told him to recruit new troops from the Unionist population in Louisiana, mainly the “loyal” Irish and German immigrants in New Orleans.

Butler had tried to do just that, and although recruiting had gone well at first, it had fallen off. The disruption of slavery had created a labor shortage, and the Irish and German laborers who were excepted to enlist had been lured away by the prospects of higher wages in the civilian market. If Butler were to get the men he needed to defend New Orleans, he would have to look elsewhere.

Butler knew where to look, but he still had to convince the administration in Washington. On August 14 Butler decided to test the water. Warning Stanton of an imminent attack on New Orleans, Butler told the secretary of war that unless he got reinforcements quickly, “I shall call on Africa to intervene.” He was deadly serious. “I have determined to use the services of free colored men who were organized by the rebels into the Colored Brigade, of which we have heard so much,” he wrote. “They are free; they have been used by our enemies, whose mouths are shut, and they will be loyal.”

Before Stanton had the chance to reply, Butler did precisely what he had told Phelps not to do; he called on the “free colored citizens” of Louisiana who had served in the Louisiana militia to enlist in the United States of Army, “subject to the approval of the President.”




















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