First of Many: Louisiana Native Guards
and mixed-race troops of the Louisiana Native Guards offered to serve both
South and North.
By Robert P. Broadwater
In general histories of
the war, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry is usually presented as being the
first African-American regiment in the Union Army to experience the trial of
combat. In fact, the 54th Massachusetts' assault on Battery Wagner took place almost two
months after the Louisiana Native Guards had stormed a similar Confederate
fortification at Port Hudson, Louisiana. They were the first officially
mustered black regiment to fight for the Union, as well as the only unit in the Union Army to have black officers as
well as white. Owing to the fact that they were far from the spotlight of
media attention, their accomplishments were never fully recognized during the
war. The men of the Native Guards came from the New
Orleans region. Most were free men of mixed-race bloodlines whose families
had been given their freedom by the Federal government when New Orleans became an American possession through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.