Native Guards

Just so you know…

The extraordinary military unit that served on both sides

 in the Civil War.

The Louisiana Native Guard was a militia regiment formed by eager volunteers in the early days of the Civil War to fight for the South.  What made it unique among Confederate military units was the origin of its men.

They were all free blacks living in New Orleans.

Why were they willing to fight for the South?  Some saw it as a way to gain equality.  Others owned property they were afraid of losing if they refused to fight.  Many were mulattoes who identified more with Southern whites than with slaves.

The South didn’t permit the Native Guards to go into battle, and used it more for propaganda than anything else.  This treatment quickly dampened the unit’s enthusiasm for the Confederate cause.

But the men of the Native Guards still desperately want to prove themselves.  After New Orleans was occupied by the Union, many of the officers and men volunteered to fight for the Union.  They were joined by runaway slaves also anxious to take up arms.

And so the Native Guards, reconstituted as three Union regiments, became the only unit to serve both the South and the North during the Civil War.

They were the first black units in the Union Army, and they fought bravely at the Battle of Port Hudson.  In spite of their performance, they were not well treated by the army.  Black officers were replaced with whites, and the men were used primarily for guard duty and manual labor.

Despite their willingness to work and fight, the Native Guards were orphaned by two armies.  As one of their officers observed:  “Nobody really desires our success.”


“They fought splendidly!

Splendidly! Everybody

Is delighted that they

Did so well.”

n  General Nathaniel P. Banks on the

Native Guards at Port Hudson




And the rest of the story…


One of the officers of the Native Guards, P. B. S. Pinchback, served briefly as governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction, making him the state’s first and only black governor.  Pinchback was one-quarter African-American: the son of a Louisiana planter and his mulatto mistress.


Robert E. Lee suggested recruiting slaves as soldiers in the late days of the Civil War, but the South’s view of black troops was summed up by the Confederate general Cobb Howell: “If slaves make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”



Source: “The Greatest War Stories Never Told” – Rick Beyer