Andre Cailloux: The Hero of Port Hudson

5/26/2023 cbw

By Dr. Brian Mitchell

As we commemorate Memorial Day we should reflect upon the courageous men and women who have fought and sacrificed for the ideals and freedoms we cherish. Among them is Andre Cailloux, an extraordinary figure whose story deserves recognition and remembrance.

Born enslaved near Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in 1825, Cailloux (pronounced cah-yoo) was manumitted in 1846 by his owners, the Duvernay family. Following his manumission, Cailloux learned to read and write, in both French and English, married, had four children, established his own cigar-making business, and gained the reputation of being one of New Orleans’s best boxers. In 1861, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Native Guard, a state militia organized by Louisiana’s Confederate government to defend New Orleans. However, shortly after U. S. forces captured the city in April 1862, Cailloux and several other Native Guard officers organized an all-black regiment under U.S. General Benjamin F. Butler. The regiment was named the 1st Louisiana Native Guard and Cailloux was commissioned captain of Company E.

Committed to leading his troops by example, Cailloux endeavored to be the personification of bravery and courage. As General Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, General Nathaniel Banks conducted a similar assault on Port Hudson, near Baton Rouge. After Vicksburg fell, Port Hudson became the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. A vital artery for shipping goods and troops, the river’s capture was essential to dividing the Confederacy and restoring free passage.

Map of Port HudsonPort Hudson was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi.

On May 27, 1863, Cailloux received the order for his company to assault a well-fortified position held by Confederate sharpshooters and artillery. Leading the soldiers under his command with unwavering courage, he fearlessly charged the fortifications. Wounded multiple times, Cailloux urged his men forward until he was cut down by artillery fire.

Noted Afro-Creole writer Rodolphe Desdunes, whose brother, Aristide, served under Cailloux wrote, “The eyes of the world were indeed on this American Spartacus. The hero of ancient Rome displayed no braver heroism than did this officer who ran forward to his death with a smile on his lips and crying, ‘Let us go forward, O comrades!’ Six times he threw himself against the murderous batteries of Port Hudson, and in each assault, he repeated his urgent call, ‘Let us go forward, for one more time!’ Finally, falling under the mortal blow, he gave his last order to his attending officer, ‘Bacchus, take charge!’”

An illustration of the assault on Port HudsonAn illustration of the assault on Port Hudson, with the figure representing Cailloux circled in red. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of June 27, 1863

Cailloux was apparently the first Black officer to be killed in action in the Civil War. His bravery under fire strengthened calls to let more Black men fight for their freedom in the U.S. Army.

His corpse remained on the battlefield for forty-seven days, until Port Hudson fell to U.S. forces on July 9, 1863. The captain’s body was so badly decomposed he could only be identified by a ring that he wore. Although most U.S. soldiers killed in the battle were buried in the area, Cailloux remains were sent back to New Orleans. On July 29, 1863, he received a hero’s funeral — unprecedented for a Black soldier – which included by a long procession and thousands of attendees. He was then interred in Saint Louis Cemetery.

An illustration of Cailloux’s funeralAn illustration of Cailloux’s funeral, from Harper’s Weekly of Aug. 29, 1863

Regrettably, the contributions of Andre Cailloux and other Black soldiers during the Civil War have been historically overlooked and underappreciated. As we honor those who have fought for our freedom this Memorial Day, let us endeavor to ensure that their stories are woven into the fabric of our national narrative.

As Abraham Lincoln said, "In assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot … The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of the both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty."

Remembering Andre Cailloux means acknowledging the countless sacrifices made by Black soldiers throughout our nation's history. It means recognizing their invaluable contributions to the fight for freedom, justice, and equality. By celebrating their courage, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles they fought and died for, and we reject any form of discrimination or injustice that undermines the progress they helped achieve.

Soldiers of the Louisiana Native GuardSoldiers of the Louisiana Native Guard (Nau Center for Civil War History, University of Virginia)

This Memorial Day, let us pause to pay tribute to Andre Cailloux and all the unsung heroes who have given their lives in service to our nation. Their sacrifices remind us that freedoms we enjoy come at great expense and should never be taken for granted.

Mitchell is the ALPLM research director.

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