|Officers of Company C of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard at Fort McComb, Louisiana by Mpleahy (Harpers Weekly, January 1863) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Louisiana_Native_Guard|
The First Regiment Louisiana Native Guards was one of the first African American regiments in the Civil War. This regiment organized in New Orleans in September of 1862 was composed of mostly freemen. General J. W Phelps, a West Point graduate from Vermont can be credited with the idea of arming African Americans in Louisiana even though he did not command take command of them.
On June 16, 1862, General Phelps sent a letter to General B. F. Butler who was in charge of Union forces in the State:
"The enfranchisement of the people of Europe has been, and is still going on, through the instrumentality of military service; and by this means our slaves might be raised in the scale of civilization and prepared for freedom. Fifty regiments might be raised among them at once, which could be employed in this climate to preserve order, and thus prevent the necessity of retrenching our liberties, as we should do by a large army exclusively of whites; for it is evident that a considerable army of whites would give stringency to our Government; while an army partly of blacks would naturally operate in favor of freedom and against those influences which at present must endanger our liberties." See Thomas Wentworth Higginson's Army Life in a Black Regiment.Butler did not reply, and on July 30, 1862, Phelps wrote another letter detailing how he had 300 "Africans" that were organized into three companies and that he could soon raise three regiments. Butler's reply was very discouraging for Phelps. Butler instructed Phelps to continue to use the "Negroes" as laborers. He was instructed to see them as contraband, not as soldiers.
Butler resigned, and returned to Vermont. Perhaps he moved in too much haste because public opinion was now shifting toward employing "Negroes" in the military. Many in the North favored the policy of General David Hunter. On August 4th, 1862, the first call for African American soldiers in the North to enlist when Governor Sprague of Rhode Island made he official announcement for all "Negro" citizens of the state to enlist.
General Butler immediately recognized the dissatisfaction of the North for his rejection of General Phelps plan. He issued a call to free African Americans of New Orleans to join Union forces as soldiers. General Phelps had barely resigned three weeks prior to Butler's change of heart.
"Under the treaty of 1803, between France and the United States, the rights and immunities of citizenship had been guaranteed to "free colored Creoles." There was a large number of this class in the city of New Orleans. Many of them were descendants of the Negroes who fought under General Jackson in 1815. By their uniform good behavior the free Negro population of New Orleans had won public favor. In April, 1861, they had formed a part of the State militia; and when General Butler occupied the city these organizations still had a nominal existence.
The free Negroes read General Butler's appeal with pleasure, and by the 27th of September, 1862, a full regiment of free Negroes was mustered into the service of the United States Government. It was constituted as the " First Regiment Louisiana Native Guards," but its designation was changed to the " First Regiment Infantry Corps d'Afrique," June 6,1863. Another regiment of Negroes was accepted on the 12th of October, 1862, under the designation of the "Second Regiment Louisiana Native Guards;" changed, however, to the " Second Regiment Infantry Corps d'Afrique," June 6, 1863.
On the 29th of November, 1862, a Negro regiment of heavy artillery was mustered into the service. It was designated as the " First Regiment Louisiana Heavy Artillery." On the 19th of November, 1863, it was changed to the "First Regiment Heavy Artillery Corps d'Afrique." On the 24th of November, 1862, the fourth regiment of Negroes was mustered into the service of the Government as the " Third Regiment Louisiana Native Guards;" but on the 6th of June, 1863, with the other regiments, it was designated as the "Third Regiment Infantry Corps d'Afrique." See A history of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, by George Washington Williams.
From the date of General Butler's appeal to the free Negroes of New Orleans, August 22d, till the date of the muster in of the fourth regiment, November 24th, was three months. During this brief period three regiments of infantry and one of heavy artillery, all composed of Negroes, had volunteered and been organized and accepted by the United States. The enthusiasm of the men and the short time in which they prepared themselves for service was unprecedented. The news of this work in the city of New Orleans revived the hopes of those who had advocated the policy of arming the Negroes."
See THE NATIVE GUARDS' BLACK OFFICERS for the roster of African American officers who served in the Native Guards.
The Louisiana Native Guards' Story
The Creole Military Experience
First Regiment Louisiana Native Guards Militia Infantry