Louisiana Tigers was the common nickname for certain infantry troops from the state of Louisiana in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Originally applied to a specific company, the nickname expanded to a battalion, then to a brigade, and eventually to all Louisiana troops within the Army of Northern Virginia. Although the exact composition of the Louisiana Tigers changed as the war progressed, they developed a reputation as fearless, hard-fighting shock troops.
The original Louisiana Tigers
The origin of the term came from the "Tiger Rifles," a volunteer company raised in the New Orleans area as part of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat's 1st Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteer Infantry (2nd Louisiana Battalion). A large number of the men were foreign-born, particularly Irish Americans, many from the city's wharves and docks. Many men had previous military experience in local militia units or as filibusters. They (and the regiments that later became known as the Tigers) were organized and trained at Camp Moore.
Originally, Company B of Wheat's Tigers wore distinctive uniforms similar to the French zouave, with straw hats or red cloth fezzes, blue-striped chasseur-style pantaloons, and short dark blue jackets with red lacing. The Tiger Zouaves apparently wore the fezzes in camp and straw hats while in the field. As time went on, this garb was replaced by Confederate uniforms and what clothing the men could purchase or otherwise obtain from civilians. Within months of arriving in Northern Virginia, Wheat's entire five-company battalion began to be called the Louisiana Tigers.
Excerpts from Schreckengost, Gary: The 1st Louisiana Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008): Soon after Louisiana seceded from the United States and joined the Southern Confederacy, Roberdeau Wheat, commander of the battalion, returned to New Orleans from the battlefields of Italy with the intent to raise a company and then a full regiment for Confederate service. And once he proved his mettle in battle, he’d no doubt gain a brigadier’s star. As such, on April 18, 1861, just a few days after U.S. Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces in an expression of their sovereign rights, the New Orleans Daily Crescent carried the following announcement:"We understand that our friend, Gen. C.R. Wheat, is about to raise a company of volunteers, to serve in the Army of Louisiana. His headquarters are on 64 [hot] Charles [Street], where we advise all friends of a glorious cause to repair and enlist."
Wheat called his company the Old Dominion Guards to commemorate his native state’s recent secession from the United States and adjunction with the Southern Confederacy. With the help of Obedia Plummer Miller, a well-established New Orleans attorney, former insurance salesman, and Nicaraguan veteran, Wheat quickly recruited fifty or so men to his company, mostly expatriate Virginians, men like Henry S. Carey, a relative of Thomas Jefferson’s, Richard Dickinson, who would become Wheat’s adjutant, and Bruce Putnam, a towering man who became Wheat’s intimidating sergeant major. While Miller, Carey, Dickinson, and Putnam continued recruiting for the Guards, Wheat was able to attract four already-forming companies to his banner—Captain Robert Harris’s Walker Guards, Captain Alexander White’s Tiger Rifles, Captain Henry Clay Gardner’s Delta Rangers, and Captain Harry Chaffin’s Rough and Ready Rangers—which were assembling a few blocks away at Camp Davis on the grounds of the “Old Marine Hospital/ Insane Asylum/Iron Works” between Common and Gravier Streets at South Broad (today’s Camp) Street. Many of the men of these precocious units, unlike those from the more upscale Old Dominion Guards, were former filibusters who had served with Wheat or Walker in Nicaragua. Since the late campaigns, they had slipped back into their old jobs as shiphands, stokers, dock workers, watermen, draymen, screwmen, stevedores, or simple laborers on the New Orleans waterfront. As such, they were considered as being the lowest members of white Southern society. One disgusted observer proclaimed that many of Wheat’s recruits were “the lowest scum of the lower Mississippi...adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts...and bad characters generally.”
When work was available, these men, mostly recent Irish immigrants, were often relegated to do the most dangerous of tasks, such as servicing decrepit steam engines on Mississippi River packets or digging canals or drainage ditches in the fetid swamps of the lower Mississippi because slaves were too valuable to lose. “The N*****s are worth too much to be risked,” recounted one calculating steamboat pilot. “If the Paddies are knocked overboard or get their backs broke nobody loses anything.” Another boat pilot explained that the reason why slaves were not used as stokers on the aged packets was because “every time a boiler bursts [the owners] would lose so many dollars’ worth of slaves; whereas by getting Irishmen at a dollar-a-day they pay for the article [the Irish worker] as they get it, and if it’s blown up, they get another.”
In this social hierarchy, Irish laborers, stevedores, and dock workers were at the very bottom. Immediately above them were the ship hands, watermen, and stokers, followed by the draymen who hauled bales of cotton or barrels of sugar, molasses, pork, or flour from the Mississippi docks to the numerous warehouses of New Orleans. Because screwmen were skilled laborers, they received higher wages than stevedores or ship hands and were considered to be at the top of societal ladder. Working in gangs of five, many of them exclusively Irish, the screwmen went into the holds of the cotton ships where they used large jackscrews to compress the bales into the smallest possible size. This was a dangerous way of earning a living, for in the cramped quarters below deck a screwman had little space to dodge a wayward bale. Broken limbs were common and occasionally a heavy bale crushed the life out of a worker.
The Walker Guards were raised under the auspices of Robert Harris, one of Wheat’s former comrades in the Filibuster Wars, who was in his mid-twenties. As the name denotes, many of Harris’s recruits had “smelt powder…saw the elephant…[and] felt bullets” in Nicaragua. Since the late war, Harris reportedly became the operator of a bawdy gambling establishment along the waterfront. The Tiger Rifles, the Delta Rangers, and the Rough and Ready Rangers, however, Wheat’s other cohorts, made no special claim to fame. All that is known about them, other than the fact that they were largely Irish ship hands, dock workers, stevedores, or draymen, is that the commander of the Rangers, Henry Gardner, was a twenty-year-old medical student who had signed a petition which called on the governor of Louisiana to convene a secession convention and declared that the intrepid commander of the Tiger Rifles, Alexander White, was a known felon and river pilot.
Similar to William Walker in stature, the fiery “White,” if that was his real name, was reportedly “the son of a one-time Southern governor,” supposedly from Kentucky. During a game of high-stakes poker in his youth, White claimed that he had shot a man who accused him of cheating. Through the influence of his supposed family, he was able to escape prosecution as long as he left the state and went underground. Fleeing to New Orleans, the vast Southern metropolis where it was easy to get lost, White most probably gambled, conned, and boozed his way through life until the War with Mexico when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy to pilot men and material down to Corpus Christi, Tampico, or Vera Cruz. After his five-year enlistment was up, he settled down, got married, and became the captain of the steamer Magnolia, which hauled goods between New Orleans and Vicksburg. During this time White once again lost his temper, severely pistol-whipped a passenger on his steamer, was arrested and convicted, and as a result, ended up in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Baton Rouge. By March 1861, with Louisiana’s secession and the subsequent U.S. blockade, White began to form a company of volunteers around his crew and was even able to rent prime space for a recruiting station at 29 Front Levee, between Gravier and Poydras streets, near the Custom House and Camp Davis.
Wheat, using his gentlemanly appeal, was apparently able to talk Harris, White, Gardner, and Chaffin into forming a battalion under his command with the assurance that all involved would better be able to control their destinies if they acted as one. And with Wheat’s eminent stature as a Mexican War veteran, a Southern partisan, a former assemblyman, and a general officer in two foreign armies, they would no doubt get the choice assignments and equipment. As such, on April 23, 1861, the Daily Crescent carried the following announcement: "Gen. C.R. Wheat, with reference to raising a battalion, invites such of our friends and citizens generally, as feel an interest in the cause, to call at No. 29 Front Levee Street, where they will find the material for the first battalion of the States, and one that will make its mark when called upon."[page needed]
Formation and uniforms
From Gary Schreckengost: The 1st Louisiana Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008):
With the deal cut, all commands, including the Old Dominion Guards (which was originally assembled across from the prestigious St. Charles Hotel), moved their constituent recruiting stations to Captain White’s on Front Levee Street and recruitment became a shared task. To attract even more bellicose souls to his nascent battalion, men who “were actuated more by a spirit of adventure and love of plunder than by love of country,” or who filibuster General Henningsen once proclaimed “thought little of charging a battery, pistol in hand,” Wheat christened his command “the Tiger Battalion.” He then extolled his volunteers, led by Captain White’s large company of Tiger Rifles who had “painted a motto or picture of some sort on [their]…broad brimmed…hat[s] such as: A picture of Mose, preparing to let fly with his left hand and fend with his right, and the words, ‘Before I Was a Tiger,’” to continue to comb the docks, thoroughfares, alleyways, hotels, poor houses, and jails of the New Orleans waterfront for more recruits. Other slogans that the Tiger Rifles painted on their hats included: “Tiger Bound for Happy Land,” “Tiger Will Never Surrender,” “A Tiger Forever,” “Tiger in Search of a Black Republican,” or “Lincoln’s Life or a Tiger’s Death.”
While the men of the ad hoc battalion continued to attract more recruits—and in some instances impressing “known Yankees” into service, shaving their heads—Wheat worked through the Ladies Volunteer Aid Association of New Orleans to help uniform the Walker Guards, the Delta Rangers, and the Old Dominion Guards in red flannel “battle” or “Garibaldi” shirts and jean-wool trousers “of the mixed color known as pepper and salt.” For headgear, the men apparently retained their own broad brimmed hats of various earthy tones (except Henry Gardner’s Delta Rangers who were reportedly presented with gray or blue wool kepis and white cotton havelocks). Harry Chaffin’s Rough and Ready Rangers were ostensibly uniformed in light gray wool jackets and trousers with matching kepis. Many of the men reportedly preferred low-crowned straw hats to better combat the heat.
The Tiger Rifles received their uniforms from A. Keene Richards, a wealthy New Orleans businessman. Because he was “so impressed by their drill and appearance” at Camp Davis, Richards elected to outfit White’s company in the Zouave fashion, viz.: dark blue wool Zouave jackets with red wool trim (no sereoul), distinctive red wool flannel fezzes with red tassels, red wool flannel band collar shirts with five white porcelain buttons (the fezzes and the shirts were made of the same material), and outlandish “Wedgwood blue and cream” one-and-one-half-inch vertically striped cottonade ship's pantaloons that would become their signature. They were also provided with blue and white horizontally striped stockings and white canvas leggings (which many quickly discarded). Because the pantaloons were not tucked into the leggings, the striped socks were shown. Like the other companies, the men of the Tiger Rifles wore low-crowned straw hats, with the infamous mottos, retaining their fezzes for mostly for camp use.
Most of the lieutenants and captains of the battalion more than likely uniformed themselves in dark blue wool single breasted frock coats or short jackets with matching trousers, red or blue wool kepis with stiff black leather bills, red officers’ sashes, and white canvas leggings worn over or under the trousers. The officers of the Tiger Rifles most probably wore blue wool single-breasted short jackets with red wool trousers, white canvas leggings, and red wool kepis. Wheat chose to wear the uniform of a field grade officer in the Louisiana Volunteer Militia, viz.: a red kepi bedecked with appropriate Austrian gold lace, a double-breasted dark blue wool frock coat with brass shoulder scales, and red wool trousers. He also sported a buff general’s sash, no doubt to commemorate his past commissions in the Mexican and Italian armies.
While Wheat, Richards, and the ladies were gathering the uniforms, the company commanders arranged to have guidons, banners, or full-blown battle flags made for their units. The Walker Guards' banner was made of "blue silk with a white crescent in the center." The Tiger Rifles’ flag consisted of a "gamboling lamb" device with "Gentle As" written derisively above it. The Delta Rangers" flag, which became the battalion"s color at the battle of Manassas by "the luck of the draw," was a rectangular silk “Stars and Bars” with eight celestial points in a circular pattern.
As the five companies were being filled and uniformed, Wheat moved his volunteers to Camp Walker at the Metaire (pronounced met-are-E) Race Course/Fairgrounds in the center of the city near Carondolet Canal and Bayou John. On May 10, 1861, Wheat was elected major by his fellow company commanders (Obedia Miller becoming captain of the Old Dominion Guards) and state officials officially recognized his battalion. On May 14 the battalion was moved eighty miles north by rail to Camp Moore in Saint Helena Parish, near the town of Tangipahoa and the Mississippi border. The encampment, named after Louisiana’s secessionist governor Thomas Overton Moore, was the central depot for organizing, training, and mustering Louisiana volunteer units for Confederate service.
Upon arrival, the Tigers were issued newly fabricated Louisiana Pelican Plate or fork-tongue belts, cartridge boxes, cap boxes, and knapsacks which were manufactured by the New Orleans-based Magee and Kneass or James Cosgrove Leather Companies. They were also issued their weapons. While the Walker Guards, the Delta Rangers, the Old Dominion Guards, and the Rough and Ready Rangers seem to have been issued either M1842 muskets or aged M1816 conversion muskets with socket bayonets, the men of the Tiger Rifles, Wheat’s chosen skirmishers, were issued the coveted M1841 “Mississippi” Rifle, made by the Robbins and Lawrence Gun Company of Connecticut. Governor Moore’s insurgents had seized these accurate weapons, among the best in service at the time, from the Federal Arsenal at Baton Rouge in January 1861.
The M1841, originally manufactured in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was America’s first military percussion rifle and had many different names. Its most famous, “Mississippi,” was derived from its successful use in repelling a full-scale Mexican attack at the battle of Buena Vista by Colonel Jefferson Davis’s 1st Mississippi Regiment (and then charging with Bowie Knives). The rifle was also called the “Windsor Rifle,” the “Harper’s Ferry Rifle,” and the “Yaeger Rifle.” The M1841 was a muzzle-loading, percussion cap, .54 caliber rifle that measured 48.5 inches in length and weighed about ten pounds. Since it was designed to be a light infantry or skirmishing weapon, the barrel was browned and no bayonet lug was affixed. To offset their absence of bayonets, the Tigers were either issued or brought along their own Bowie-style knives, implements which were described as “murderous-looking…with heavy blades…twenty inches long with double edged points…and solid long handles.”
With their weapons and equipment in hand, the men of Wheat’s Battalion were trained in the latest light and heavy infantry techniques by the Old Filibuster himself in the pine stands which surrounded Camp Moore. Once their exhausting and sometimes frustrating sessions were over, many of the Tigers often drank, played cards, and got into fights with themselves or other units. One man scoffed that the Tigers were "the worst men I ever saw…. I understand that they are mostly wharf rats from New Orleans, and Major Wheat is the only man who can do anything with them. They were constantly fighting with each other. They were always ready to fight, and it made little difference to them who they fought."
Private William Trahern of the up-country Tensas Rifles (soon-to-be Company D, 6th Louisiana) claimed that he once heard Wheat declare: “If you don’t get to your places, and behave as soldiers should, I will cut your hands off with this sword!” One man was in fact so afraid of Wheat’s belligerent filibusters that he stayed as far away from their encampment as possible. He later wrote: "I got my first glimpse at Wheat’s battalion from New Orleans. They were all Irish and were dressed in Zouave dress [sic.], and were familiarly known as ‘Tigers,’ and tigers they were too in human form. I was actually afraid of them, afraid I would meet them somewhere in camp and that they would do to me like they did to Tom Lane of my company—knock me down and stamp me half to death."
As the Tiger Battalion meshed at Camp Moore, five other men with less military experience than Wheat were commissioned colonels and their assembled companies were mobilized into regiments for Confederate service. No doubt embarrassed and frustrated, Wheat was spurred to desperate action. On June 6, 1861, he made a creative deal with the state to officially commission him a major of volunteers and to recognize his five companies temporarily as the “1st Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers.” With the special or temporary status secured, Wheat hoped to attract four or five more companies and become the colonel of the soon-to-be organized 8th Louisiana Regiment.
Warren Family Letter entitled: "What did a Tiger Look Like?"
By the time Major Rob had gotten the Tiger Rifles put t'gether, the State of Louisiana was jes' about outta uniforms and fixins for the new so'jers. The fellars in Co B were given a punkin chucker [Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle .54 Caliber], a belt with a brass buckle, a box for carrying cartridges and a little one for carrying percussion caps. The State of Louisiana also gave em all a palmetto type straw hat with a black band.The day afore they was going to be moved from N'awleans up to ol' Camp Moore the fellas took to puttin mottos on those black bands. The motto's were full of brag and swagger ... there was all kinds of little ditties ...."Tiger in search of a Black Republican"" Lincolns Life or a Tigers Death""Death to Lincoln""Tiger off to burn Washington""Dixie Born, Tiger Bred""Tiger by Nature" Anyway, the Tiger Rifles marched through the streets of N'awleans on the way up to ol Camp Moore. Now they wasn't real so'jers so to speak but bein that most of em was one form of rascal or another they made a grand sight and showed they was full of dash and pluck.As it turned out some of the local businessmen swelled up with patriotism for Dixie went out to talk to Major Rob about outfittin these fine Louisiana fellas with some type of proper costume (uniform). Major Rob designed up a costume that was pretty snappy. According to grandaddy it was based on stuff Major Rob had seen when he was fightin over in Italy with Garabaldi. The outfit consisted of a light collarless jacket made of a blend of cotton and wool. It was dyed with indigo [which there was plenty of in South Louisiana]. These jackets were lined and had a bit of red trim on em. They wore a heavy [likely wool flannel] collarless shirt that was blood red. These shirts were long goin half ways down the thigh or longer. The reason was these were to be used as a night shirt around camp. Their britches were pinchbecks [baggy pantaloons] made of pillow ticking. This pillow ticking had a wide blue stripe, with a red and yellow pin stripe [teazel], this was symbolic of the Louisiana Republic Flag. The wore white spats with Japan [i.e., white porcelin coated tin] buttons. There was a set of stripped socks that went up to the knee. They were issued a red skull cap with a blue or yellow tassle. These skull caps were mostly wore around camp as they was a stupid piece of headgear. They didn't keep the sun out of a sojers eyes and grandaddy complained that the tassle would flop down in his face and annoy him. He also said it wasn't worth a hoot when he was shootin his punkin chucker at yankees as it didn't shade off the glare. This was pret' much the uniform they left ol' Camp Moore with when they headed up to Virginny. Grandaddy wore a belt that he dressed up with the fur offn a ringtailed cat, his buckle wasn't a pelican one like a lot of the fellars wore ... it had an eagle and a wreath on it. His brother admired that belt an stole it off him after they was transferred to Hayes. His brother was wearin the belt when he was kilt at Gettysburg on the evening of the 1st day. He wore an ivory handled dagger down in his spat .. called it his tiger tooth (this is an ivory handled period dinner knife with the blade clipped .. the blade is crudely engraved "look away dixie .. 1861". He also carried a set of knuckle dusters. He said that a number of the fellars carried wicked ol' corn knives. Grandaddy said there was knives everywhere as a lot of the fellars had come up from the docks and from his thinkin they mostly were born with knives in their hands. He said some of the fellars carried pepperbox pistols and the like. He said that the Tiger's clanked from all the hardware they took up to Virginny.
Grandaddy said that the pinchbecks, stockings and straw hats didn't hold out well and started wearin out while they was up at Camp Florida [Centerville Virginia]. The pinchbecks and spats were purt near shredded amongst the briar and bramble that growed in Northern Virginny. By the Spring of 62 most of the fellars was wearing britches of all sorts, shirts they could get from home or about, all sorts of hats. The jackets were special .. this was the survivin piece of uniform that set them apart as one of Wheats Tiger Rifles. The jackets fared some better than the rest of the uniforms, however due to bein fired on a couple times by their own fellars Grandaddy said they had bolied the jackets in a concotion of potash, water and vinegar to get rid of the indigo color leavin the jackets the color of an over-ripe peach with some blue mottlin here and there. The red trim fading to a pink. '62 was tough for the Louisianans and state equipment became very difficult to come by. By the time Major Rob was killed at Gaines Mill, most of the Tigers had transformed into raggamuffins most indistinguishable from other rebs except for a few peach colored tiger jackets, corn knives and the prized pelican belt plates.'62 was a rough year for the State of Louisiana and it become purt near impossible to keep the Tigers in the unifrms."
In the political wrangling that followed, Wheat’s rowdy dock workers and water men seem to have repelled potential allies to their cause as Henry Kelly, a retired U.S. Army officer from northern Louisiana, became the commander of the Eighth Regiment. With Kelly’s ascension, on or about June 8, Captain Jonathan W. Buhoup's company of Catahoula Guerrillas voted to leave Kelly’s command and threw in its lot with the Tiger Battalion. As the Guerrillas were primarily the sons of native-born planters or were doctors, lawyers, farmers, overseers, or artisans from Catahoula Parish in northern Louisiana, they were complete social opposites from the majority of the members of Wheat’s Battalion. Originally intending to become part of a cavalry regiment, the Guerrillas outfitted themselves in gray wool short jackets, matching mounted trousers, gray wool kepis, riding boots, and, like the Tiger Rifles, were armed with stout Mississippi Rifles, looking much like dismounted dragoons. Buhoup had lobbied hard for John R. Liddell, a prominent Catahoula Parish planter, to be colonel of the 8th Regiment with himself as its lieutenant colonel. When he and Liddell failed in their bids to gain field commissions, however, Buhoup used what was left of his political leverage to have his company transferred to the Special Battalion where he hoped to gain a field commission once it was converted into a full regiment.
With six companies now under his belt—an interesting cross-section of Louisiana society—one which David French Boyd of the soon-to-be organized 9th Louisiana perceptively described as being "a unique body, representing every grade of society and every kind of man, from the princely gentleman who commanded them down to the thief and cutthroat released from parish prison on condition he would join Wheat. Such a motley herd of humanity was probably never got together before, and may never be again," Wheat resolved to get his menagerie to Virginia, the seat of war, as soon as possible. Six other Louisiana infantry formations, the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Regiments, had already been dispatched from the Pelican State to the Old Dominion and Wheat did not want to miss the grand battle that was supposed to win Southern independence in one fell swoop.
On June 13, 1861, not a week after his battalion’s formal organization, Wheat loaded five of his six companies (the Rough and Ready Rangers were retained at Camp Moore because it failed to sufficiently fill his ranks) aboard a freight train that was bound for Manassas Junction, a major staging area for the gathering Confederate army in Virginia. In so doing, Wheat gave up his bid to form a regiment from the special battalion, at least for the time being, and his unit was officially named the “2nd Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers” by the state. To the officers and men of the battalion, however, they would always be known as the “1st Louisiana Special Battalion,” “the Special Battalion,” “Wheat’s Battalion,” “the Tiger Battalion,” “the Star Battalion,” “Wheat’s Louisiana Battalion,” “the New Orleans Battalion,” or simply as “Wheat’s Tigers.”
En route, the Special Battalion passed through Holly Springs, Jackson, Granada, and Corinth, Mississippi; Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee; and Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Gordonsville, and Culpeper, Virginia. Their first battle would not only be a test of moral and physical courage, but would also propel the “motley herd” to become true heroes of the Southern nation.
The First Battle of Bull Run
The battalion first saw combat during the First Battle of Bull Run, where it anchored the left flank on Matthews Hill long enough for reinforcements to arrive. During this action, the Tiger Battalion conducted several brazen attacks, with Roberdeau Wheat himself suffering a horrid wound.
Report of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, First Special Battalion Louisiana Volunteers, of the Battle of Manassas, Virginia, July 21, 1861. Manassas, August 1, 1861, Sir:
I beg leave herewith, respectfully, to report the part taken by the First Special Battalion of Louisiana Volunteers, which I had the honor to command in the battle of July 21. According to your [i.e., Colonel Nathan Evans’s] instructions, I formed my command to the left of the Stone Bridge, being thus at the extreme left of our lines. Your order to deploy skirmishers was immediately obeyed by sending forward Company B under Captain White. The enemy threatening to flank us, I caused Captain Buhoup to deploy his Company D as skirmishers in that direction.
At this conjuncture, I sent back, as you ordered, the two pieces of artillery which you had attached to my command, still having Captain Alexander’s troop of cavalry with me. Shortly after, under your orders, I deployed my whole command to the left, which movement, of course, placed me on the right of the line of battle. Having reached this position, I moved by the left flank to an open field, a wood being on my left. From this covert, to my utter surprise, I received a volley of musketry which unfortunately came from our own troops, mistaking us for the enemy, killing three and wounding several of my men [sic.]. Apprehending instantly the real cause of the accident, I called out to my own men not to return the fire. Those near enough to hear, obeyed; the more distant, did not. Almost at the same moment, the enemy in front opened upon us with musketry, grape, canister, round shot and shells. I immediately charged upon the enemy and drove him from his position. As he rallied again in a few minutes, I charged him a second and a third time successfully.
Finding myself now in the face of a very large force—some 10,000 or 12,000 in number—I dispatched Major Atkins to you for more reinforcements and gave the order to move by the left flank to the cover of the hill; a part of my command, mistake, crossed the open field and suffered severely from the fire of the enemy. Advancing from the wood with a portion of my command, I reached some haystacks under cover of which I was enabled to damage the enemy very much. While in the act of bringing up the rest of my command to this position, I was put hors de combat by a Minie ball passing through my body and inflicting what was at first thought to be a mortal wound and from which I am only now sufficiently recovered to dictate this report. By the judicious management of Captain Buhoup I was borne from the field under the persistent fire of the foe, who seemed very unwilling to spare the wounded. Being left without a field officer, the companies rallied under their respective captains and, as you are aware, bore themselves gallantly throughout the day in the face of an enemy far outnumbering us.
Where all behaved so well, I forbear to make invidious [i.e., onerous] distinctions, and contenting myself with commanding my entire command to your favorable consideration, I beg leave to name particularly Major Atkins, a distinguished Irish soldier, who as a volunteer Adjutant, not only rendered me valuable assistance but with a small detachment captured three pieces of artillery and took three officers prisoners. Mr. Early, now Captain Early, as a volunteer adjutant, bore himself bravely and did good service. My adjutant, Lieutenant Dickinson was wounded while gallantly carrying my orders through a heavy fire of musketry. Captain Miller of Company E, and Lieutenants Adrian and Carey were wounded while leading their men into the thickest of the fight. All of which is respectfully submitted C. R. WHEAT, Major, First Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers.
From "Our Blood Was on Fire: The Battle for Matthews's Hill" from Gary Schreckengost's The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008):
On June 20, after a week of tedious train travel across the Southern Confederacy from Camp Moore, Louisiana, the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion (2nd Louisiana Battalion—Wheat’s Tigers) pulled into Manassas Junction, Virginia, the designated assembly area for Brig. Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac. As the colorful Tigers disembarked at the depot, some soldiers from the 18th Virginia noticed that “one freight car was pretty nearly full of [so-called] Louisiana ‘Tigers’ under arrest for disorderly conduct, drunkenness, etc., most of which were bucked and gagged as some of my men reported who were at the station when they arrived.” The rambunctious battalion was subsequently assigned to Colonel Philip St. George Cocke’s brigade, stationed in Centreville, just north of Manassas. Upon arrival, Wheat requested the honor of holding the most advanced position of the Confederate army. Cocke obliged and sent the Tiger Battalion up to Frying Pan Church, south of the Potomac River between Leesburg and Alexandria, near Washington City. The Tigers joined Colonel Nathan George Evans's command that consisted of two companies of Virginia cavalry, Captain John Alexander’s and Captain William Terry’s, and one regiment of infantry, Colonel John B. Sloan’s 4th South Carolina. While at Frying Pan Church, the Tigers and others were tasked with patrolling the south bank of the Potomac, the proclaimed northern boundary of the Southern Confederacy and, when able, with harassing the Federal troops who guarded its crossings. Evans’s insurgents, according to Colonel Charles Stone of the 14th U.S. Infantry, engaged in “the unsoldierlike practice of firing at pickets across the river.” Private Drury Gibson of the Catahoula Guerrillas, Wheat’s Battalion, similarly remembered: “We were especially the guerrillas, completely exhausted, we [were] lying in ambush and marching around for two weeks, without tents or anything to cover us, save the canopy of heaven, it raining part of the time and with nothing to eat." An officer from Wheat's battalion wrote to his father: "Our duties have tried the mettle of our men. I have seen them night after night lying uncovered in the woods and fields, hungry and half-naked (officers faring the same) expecting the advance of the enemy at any moment, with out a murmur."
In conducting these bold but limited offensive operations, Wheat was not only able to better ease the Tigers into battle by striking the nervous Yankee pickets, many of whom were demoralized by the aggressive Confederate probes, but was also able to instill confidence in his men and indoctrinate them in the spirit of attack—to hit the enemy often and at leisure. During this pivotal period for the Tigers, Robert Going Atkins, the Irish soldier of fortune who had served with Wheat in Italy, joined the Special Battalion and was made aide-de-camp by the Old Filibuster who was hoping to eventually secure for Atkins a commission in the Confederate Army.
On June 28, 1861, on the heels of numerous successful and casualty-free raids, Captain White’s company of Tiger Rifles was ordered to hit the “8th Battalion, District of Columbia Volunteers” who were posted at Seneca Falls, about fifteen miles upriver from Washington. The Tigers “had a nice little skirmish,” Wheat reported, “killing three of the enemy and [their] loss was one man shot in the leg.” Private James Burnes was the unlucky Zouave who was wounded in the engagement, making him the first of many battle casualties of the Special Battalion. His leg was “amputated at the thigh” by Dr. Samuel Fisher.
On July 16, General Beauregard ordered Colonel Evans to withdraw from the Potomac crossings and redeploy behind Bull Run Creek with the rest of the army. Evans’s command, now designated the 7th Brigade, Army of the Potomac, was assigned the important task of guarding the extreme left of the Confederate line astride the Alexandria-Warrenton Pike at “Stone Bridge.” Locating his headquarters at the Van Pelt House or “Avon,” Evans tasked Captain Alexander’s troop with guarding nearby Poplar and Farm fords and deployed Wheat’s Battalion and the 4th South Carolina along Van Pelt Ridge, which was about 600 yards west of Stone Bridge. While Wheat’s Battalion was assigned to cover Farm Ford, Sloan’s regiment was deployed immediately to the left of the pike and the bridge. Wheat deployed his Tiger Rifles and Catahoula Guerrillas forward as skirmishers to patrol the creek while the Walker Guards, Delta Rangers, and Old Dominion Guards fortified the ridge. The battalion was encamped "in an orchard back of Van Pelt's House." Two 4.62-inch Field Howitzers from Captain H. Gray Latham’s Lynchburg (Virginia) Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant George Davidson, were posted on the south side of the pike, covering the bridge itself.
Once the brigade was emplaced, Evans had his men dig several rifle pits along the ridge and fell trees along the west side of the creek to not only clear a better field of fire but also to “obstruct [the enemy’s] passage over the flat except by the defile of the bridge and road.” As the enlisted men toiled, Colonel Evans had a local resident, Dr. Bronaugh, take himself and his officers on a reconnaissance to become better acquainted with their surroundings. The good doctor showed them that the country road that led north from the pike just behind their position led in many different directions. It snaked past “Avon,” Evans’s headquarters, and wrapped around the ridge to the left. About 400 yards northwest of the house a path angled back to the right, to Farm Ford. Continuing along the road for another 500 yards, a path from Poplar Ford angled in from the northeast. The ford itself was about 1,500 yards from this point. Off to the northwest, continuing up the main road was the imposing Carter Mansion that was located on the left, or south side of the road. The mansion, a Georgian-style house named Pittsylvania, was on the northeastern slope of a ridge that continued in a southwesterly direction toward the Sudley-Manassas Road. Another 500 yards or so, beyond the mansion, the road forked again; to the right it led off to the northwest, toward Sudley Ford, on the Sudley-Manassas Road. To the left it led southwest atop the ridgeline, past a quaint house owned by Edgar Matthews and then on to the Sudley-Manassas Road. The distance from Pittsylvania to Matthews’s house was about a thousand yards.
On July 18, a week after the Tigers settled into their positions along Van Pelt Ridge, the expected Federal attack began when part of Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s 30,000-man Army of Northeastern Virginia, sent down from Alexandria to disperse Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac, launched a reconnaissance-in-force against the Confederate right at Mitchell’s and Blackburn’s fords, well south of the pike. Once it was determined that the Louisiana Creole had in fact moved some of his forces to meet the threat, McDowell began to shift the bulk of his army to the north and west and attacked Beauregard’s left on Sunday, July 21, 1861.
While Colonel Israel Richardson’s 4th Brigade, Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler’s 1st Division, was kept at Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords to hold the Confederate right, three divisions were to conduct an en echelon attack against the Confederate left. Two of these divisions, Brig. Gens. David Hunter’s Second and Samuel P. Heintzelman’s Third, were to cross Bull Run at Sudley Ford and march down the Manassas Road, flanking Evans’s dug-in brigade at Stone Bridge. Once Evans was turned, the bulk of Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler’s 1st Division, previously demonstrating at Stone Bridge, was to force a crossing and link up with Hunter and Heintzelman. All three divisions, commanded by McDowell himself, would then drive south, link up with Richardson, disperse the rebel army, capture Manassas Junction, and continue on to Richmond, quelling the "slaveholder’s insurrection."
The battle resumed just after 4:15 A.M. (5:15 A.M. Daylight Savings Time) when skirmishers from Tyler’s 1st Division stumbled into some of Evans’s pickets who were posted along the pike on the east side of Bull Run. Alerted to the Federal approach, Evans mobilized his brigade, reinforced the rifle pits along Van Pelt Ridge, and kept two companies from Sloan’s 4th South Carolina behind the hill as a reserve. About an hour later, Tyler made his “appearance in line of battle on the east side of the stone bridge, about 1,500 yards in front of [the Tigers’ position],” and opened fire with a massive 4.67-inch Parrott Rifle commanded by Lieutenant Peter Haines of Battery G, 1st U.S. Artillery. One of Sloan’s Carolinians reported that the pike was “filled with columns of infantry as far as the eye could reach.” Private Drury Gibson of the Catahoula Guerrillas remembered, “We were anxious to meet the enemy, in fact our hearts jumped for joy when we saw their bayonets through the distant forest.”
Haines's gun, planted on the north side of the pike, was soon joined by Captain James Carlisle's Battery E, 2nd U.S. and together they "commenced firing at intervals at different directions [in an effort to make Evans] show his position, which was still concealed." Knowing that he was more than likely outnumbered, Evans chose to keep his men hidden and ordered all of them, including Davidson's well-camouflaged cannon, to hold their fire until the Federals made an actual push across the creek. After about an hour of incidental shelling, Tyler advanced "a considerable force of skirmishers" from the wood line toward the bridge. To match them, Evans ordered Sloan and Wheat to reinforce their picket lines down near the creek to challenge the Federal push.
As the skirmishing intensified, Wheat, with “characteristic daring and restlessness” crossed Bull Run at Farm Ford to investigate with some of the Tiger Rifles and Alexander’s cavalrymen in tow. Riding along a cornfield to a clump of trees, the Old Filibuster carefully watched some Federals who were about 500 yards distant. After a full hour of fighting, Wheat thought, Tyler should have been advancing his entire force across the pasture in an attempt to storm Evans's position, and not merely fiddling with a few skirmishers. Riding closer to get a better look, the Yankees finally spotted the Tiger commander, fired at him, and forced him and his patrol to withdraw.
As Wheat and his entourage splashed back across the creek, Colonel Evans received a report from Captain John Alexander at Poplar Ford that a “large enemy force” was marching up the country road north and east of his position. Another report, the one that apparently sealed it for Evans, came from Captain E. Porter Alexander, the army’s principal signal officer, who spotted "the reflection of the sun from a brass cannon" several miles to the north, near Sudley Ford. "Look out for your left," Alexander warned, "you are turned."
With Wheat's and the Alexanders' information in hand, Evans correctly deduced that the action to his front was merely a ruse and boldly decided to "quit his position and meet the enemy in his flank movement." Informing Beauregard and Cocke of his intentions and leaving but four companies from the 4th South Carolina to help Cocke hold Stone Bridge and Farm Ford, Evans ordered the bulk of his brigade, eleven companies of infantry, Alexander’s and Terry's troops of cavalry, and Davidson’s yet-to-be-fired howitzers—about 900 men total—to cover Poplar Ford. Lt. Thomas Adrian's Zouave platoon from the Tiger Rifles, posted at Farm Ford, apparently did not get the order to move and stayed in its position until it was relieved by members of the 4th South Carolina.
Evans therefore moved again, this time up to "Pittsylvania" to try to stop or at least slow the advancing Federal column. Following Alexander’s horsemen, Wheat’s Tigers trotted along the country road to the Carter Mansion where Wheat deployed them and Davidson’s guns in the fields surrounding the house. As the 4th South Carolina came up, deploying to the Tigers' left, Evans and his cavalry scouted further north, across the farm fields, to a position that overlooked Sudley Ford. There Evans and Wheat spotted Colonel Ambrose Burnside's brigade of Brig. Gen. David Hunter's 1st Division, the lead element of McDowell's main effort, crossing the ford and marching down the Sudley-Manassas Road.
Understanding the danger to the Confederate line, Evans ordered his brigade to move once again, farther to the west, to establish a blocking position somewhere near the cross roads where the Sudley-Manassas and Alexandria-Warrenton Pike intersected. While Sloan, Terry, Wheat, and Alexander were to advance cross-country toward the cross roads, Davidson's two guns were to counter-march to the Van Pelt House, march west up the pike, and link up with Sloan's and Wheat's infantry somewhere near the crossroads. Wheat reported: “At this conjuncture, I sent back, as [Evans] ordered, the two artillery pieces which [Evans] had attached to my command, still having Alexander’s troop of cavalry with me. Shortly after, under [Evans’s] orders, I deployed my whole command to the left, which movement, of course, placed me on the right of the line of battle.” Before the commands departed, Evans instructed them “to open fire as soon as the enemy approached within range of muskets.”
With the Tigers on the left and the Guerrillas on the right deployed as skirmishers (the rest of the battalion advancing in column), Wheat led his command west along the along the ridge line that stretched from "Pittsylvania" to the Sudley-Manassas Road. Leaving the grounds of "Pittsylvania," his skirmish line entered a wood lot and came out the other side to a fence line and the Edgar Matthews's Farm. Meanwhile Sloan, moving further to the left with Terry's cavalry, advanced to Buck Hill, faced north, blocking the road, and deployed Captain James Hawthorne’s Saludia Guards to the front as skirmishers along a fence at the edge of a patch of woods at the foot of Matthews's Hill.
At this point, the Tigers were advancing across the midsection of Matthews's Hill perpendicular to Sloan's line, in a corn field. Seeing blue (the Tiger Rifles) to their front, Hawthorne's Saludia Guards unknowing fired into the New Orleans Zouaves' left flank. Aroused, the surprised Tigers turned about and returned fire. A small battle could have ensued right then and there if Wheat had not rushed into the woods and straightened the matter out with Captain Hawthorne. Wheat later reported: ”From the covert [to my left], to my utter surprise, I received a volley of musketry which unfortunately came from our own troops, mistaking us for the enemy, killing three and wounding several of my men. Apprehending the real cause of the accident, I called out to my men not to return fire. Those near enough to hear, obeyed; the more distant, did not.” Among the mortally wounded of this friendly fire incident were Tiger Zouaves Hugh McDonald and James Wilson.
Soon after this friendly fire incident, the Catahoula Guerrillas spotted several Federals crest Matthews's Hill to their front, about 200 yards away. “Almost at the same moment,” Wheat reported, “the enemy opened up on us” as it crested Matthews’s Hill. “The enemy” consisted of two skirmish companies from Colonel Ambrose Burnside's brigade of Brig. Gen. David Hunter's 1st Division, the lead element of McDowell's main effort. Behind them, stacked up on the Manassas-Sudley Road, were Col. Slocum's 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, Captain William Reynolds’ Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, the 2nd New Hampshire, the 71st New York and the 1st Rhode Island. Behind the 1st Rhode Island was Colonel Andrew Porter's brigade, which consisted of Captain Charles Griffin's battery, a battalion of recently recruited U.S. Marines, the 8th, 14th and 27th New York, a battalion of U.S. Army Regular infantry, and a battalion of regular Army cavalry.
Despite the fact that his battalion was in disarray and in the middle of a corn field, Wheat, not wanting the Federals to maintain a superior position, resolved to attack them first. Directing his battalion to wheel to the north, the Old Filibuster ordered the attack. Wheat's aide and fellow Garibaldian, Robert Going Atkins said: "Wheat seemed the genius of the fight--conspicuous by his great size and soldierlike mein, his flashing eye and his glittering blade." The battalion probably advanced up the hill, from left to right, in the following order: Tiger Rifles, Walker Guards, Delta Rangers (acting as color company with their Stars and Bars), the Old Dominion Guards, and the Catahoula Guerrillas.
In full battle line, Wheat's Battalion made its way slowly but surely up through the corn field as errant Federal musketry buzzed over their heads. About 250 yards from the hill top, the Tigers assembled behind a fence where they exchanged musketry with the Rhode Islanders. After a few minutes, the Federal skirmishers pulled back under the cover of the north slope of the hill to await reinforcement.
Seeing this, Wheat led his men over, under, or through the fence to the hill top (first charge). During this maneuver, 15-year-old William Wrigley of the Walker Guards, "with the courage worthy of the hero of Lodi," mounted the fence rails and, waving his small company flank marker, "shouted encouragement to his comrades." Capt. White, advancing on horseback, reportedly yelled "Wood pile!" as he galloped to the top.
Once the Tigers topped the hill and crossed the lane that linked the Edgar Matthews House with the Sudley-Manassas Road, however, they were met by a deadly fusillade that drove them back onto the southern slope, between the hill top and the fence line. One Tiger remembered that the Federals “fairly poured [fire] into and over our ranks [like] a perfect hail-storm.” Wheat’s men returned the fire but with minimal effect as the Rhode Islander skirmishers reportedly flung themselves to the ground with each volley.
Before long, Slocum's 2nd Rhode Island came into full battle line (ten companies to Wheat’s five) and was being reinforced by Captain William Reynolds’s battery of six rifled guns which were being rushed forward into battery on the east side of the Manassas-Sudley Road, linking up with the 2nd Rhode Island’s right. Seeing time running out, the Old Filibuster ordered his battalion to charge a second time.
The second charge drove the 2nd Rhode Islanders back from the crest for a short time until they, reinforced by the 1st Rhode Island, counter-attacked, once-again driving Wheat’s Tigers back from the crest. Not accepting defeat and hoping to be reinforced by the 4th South Carolina, Wheat ordered a third charge. He later reported: “The enemy in front opened up upon us with musketry, grape canister, round shot, and shells. I immediately charged upon the enemy and drove him from his position. As he rallied again in a few minutes, I charged him a second and a third time successfully.”
During this third attack, many of the Tiger Zouaves reportedly dropped their rifles and unsheathed their “murderous-looking” Bowie Knives and "plung[ed] unmercifully into their foe." The New Orleans Commercial Bulletin reported that the Zouaves of the Tiger Rifles “disgusted with their Mississippi Rifles (without bayonets)” and when ordered to charge, “threw away the rifles and charged with Bowie Knives, as the enemy say like demons, and put all to flight before them.” The New Orleans Daily Delta similarly reported" “upon reaching the enemy’s column, [the Tiger Rifles] threw down their rifles (having no bayonets), drew their bowie knives, and cut their way through the enemy, with a loss of two thirds of the company." Robert Richie, the Tiger Rifles’ tough first sergeant, remembered: “Our blood was on fire. Life was valueless. The boys fired one volley, then rushed upon the foe with clubbed rifles beating down their guard; then they closed upon them with their knives, “Greek had met Greek;” the tug of war had come. I have been in battle several times before [as a U.S. Army regular] but such fighting never was done, I do believe as was done for the next half hour; it did not seem as though men were fighting, it were devils mingling in the conflict, cursing, yelling, cutting, and shrieking.” Private Sam English of the 2nd Rhode Island remembered that this attack “seemed to me to be the most terrible moment of this terrific contest.” It is believed that Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island was killed during this exchange.
The dramatic active defense of Matthews's Hill by the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion—Bowie Knives and all—forever placed Wheat’s “adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts” among the pantheon of Southern gods. The October 1861 issue of the widely read Southern Literary Messenger wrote:"Among the accounts of the battle of Manassas, mention is made of the Tiger Rifles of Louisiana, one of those capacious names, perhaps, that were common among the Roman legions…. They fought after the Roman manner with some improvements of their own. The regiment which they charged received them with a murderous fire. They divided the distance which separated them by falling upon their faces and so waiting for a few moments. Then rising, they delivered their fire, and with a terrible shout rushed forward. They clubbed their rifles, beat down the bristling bayonets before them, and unsheathing their long and heavy Bowie knives (a weapon somewhat similar to the Roman sword) they began to hack their antagonists to pieces. A dreadful carnage ensued. They performed prodigies of valour and made good their claim to the sobriquet 'the Tigers,' which they had assumed." Wheat later said: "I played my hand as if I had a brigade and the damned Yankees thought so too." In ordering these brazen up-hill assaults into the face of a superior enemy, there is no doubt that Wheat wanted to establish his reputation in the Confederate Army as a tough, aggressive, and personally brave officer, who merited command of not just a regiment, but an entire brigade.
At this point, the supporting artillery arrived and Evans deployed Lt. Clark Leftwich’s piece atop Buck Hill to directly cover Sloan and the Sudley-Manassas Road and Davidson’s gun on a slight rise just north of the pike, near the Robinson House, to cover Wheat. To support the guns, Evans placed Alexander’s and Terry's troops on both flanks of Buck Hill.
It was also around this time that Lt. Thomas Adrian, a veteran of the Filibuster Wars, finally came up from Farm Ford with the Tiger Rifles' "lost" second platoon and slammed into the Rhode Islanders' left near the Matthews House. Adrian remembered that his Tigers advanced to a “point near the top of the hill, and not far from the Matthews’s House” and “gave the enemy much trouble, killing an officer and many of his men.” Their volley drew returning fire and Adrian went down with a ball in his leg, "wounding him slightly." Prone and wounded, his men heard him yell:“Tigers! Go in once more! I’ll be great gloriously God-damned if the sons-of-bitches can ever whip the Tigers!”
Even though the Tigers were able to keep the enemy "in check for some time," they were forced to yield the hilltop to the hated Yankees. Adrian later reported that the Tigers "were compelled to abandon their position [to the enemy and] fell back, having sustained much loss.” One of Reynolds’s Federal artillerymen wrote: “Never will I forget how that Rebel flag [the Delta Rangers’ Stars and Bars] looked as it bobbed out of sight under the hill.” Three hapless Tigers, Privates Thomas Hayes of the Delta Rangers, John Kuntz of the Old Dominion Guards (who was wounded in the back), and Chester Woods of the Catahoula Guerrillas were reportedly snagged during the retreat by members of the 2nd Rhode Island. A few other unfortunates from the Special Battalion were left dead or mortally wounded at the feet of Burnside’s victorious New Englanders.
As the fighting raged on Matthews's Hill, Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr. of Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, sent up from Manassas to support Evans, was deploying his command about a thousand yards south of Matthews’s Hill along the northern slope of Henry Hill. Bee had with him two regiments of infantry, Colonel Egbert Jones’s 4th Alabama and Colonel William Falkner’s 2nd Mississippi, and one battery of light artillery, Captain John D. Imboden’s. Directly behind Bee were two infantry battalions from Col. Francis S. Bartow's brigade, the 7th and 8th Georgia regiments.
Seeing that Evans was holding out against incredible odds, Bee rode down to the pressed South Carolinian to urge him to fall back to Henry Hill, a stronger position. But Evans, not recognizing Bee’s authority, balked and instead dared him to come down and support his men who were bravely holding their ground against the contemptible Yankees. Faced with Evans’s daring obduracy, Bee rode back up to Henry Hill and ordered his two regiments to take up a position to the right of the 4th South Carolina. “Here is the battlefield,” Bee cried, “and we are in for it!”
Bee, conferring with Evans, decided to elongate the 4th South Carolina's right, out toward the Carter Mansion, with the 2nd Mississippi adjoining with the 4th SC in the center and the 4th Alabama adjoining on the right. One soldier from the 4th Alabama remembered: "As we emerged from the little wood [at the bottom of the hill] we caught sight of these Tigers, utterly overwhelmed and flying pell-mell, most of them running off to our right and toward the stream."
With Bee's reinforcements in and seeing that the Federals were extending to the left of the Sudley-Manassas Road atop Dogan's Ridge, Wheat resolved to launch another attack, this one directed against Col. Gilman Marston's gray-clad 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, Burnside’s brigade. The Old Filibuster apparently planned to take New Hampshiremen in flank so that Evans and Bee could advance and hold the crest of Matthews’s Hill. “Dispatching Major Atkins [to Evans] for more reinforcements,” the enterprising Wheat “gave the order to move by the left flank to the cover of the hill” and led his skirmish companies across the road, and into a field of cut hay. During the move, however, some of the men “by mistake, crossed the open field and suffered severely from the fire of the enemy.”
Wheat directed his riflemen to take cover from behind some hay stacks while he rode back to bring up the rest of his command. As the Old Filibuster ran the gauntlet of enemy fire, however, a bullet that was claimed to have been fired by a sergeant in the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, nailed the Tiger commander and knocked him from his horse. Wheat remembered: "Advancing from the wood with a portion of my command, I reached some haystacks under cover of which I was enabled to damage the enemy very much. While in the act of bring up the rest of my command to this position, I was put hors de combat by a Minie Ball passing through my body."
The bullet clipped Wheat’s left arm, drilled into his left side “immediately under and a little in front of the armpits” and “perforated one of his lungs,” before passing out the other side. Falling heavily to the ground near the road (a marker currently locates the spot at the national park), the Tiger commander was quickly surrounded by several men of his battalion who, “by the judicious management of Captain Buhoup,” rolled him onto a blanket. The loyal Tigers then began to lug their burly commander (he weighed over 250 pounds and topped six feet) back to the woods behind the 4th SC. The enemy fire was so terrific that Wheat shouted, “Lay me down, boys, you must save yourselves!” His pleas were ignored.
As Wheat was dragged into the woods, Lieutenant Austin Eastman of the red-shirted Delta Rangers reportedly ripped the battalion colors from its staff and placed it under Wheat’s head as a pillow. The Tigers then frantically searched for a way to evacuate their horribly wounded commander and before long snatched up a “mounted staff officer” who was riding up the pike. The sympathetic officer draped Wheat across his horse like a bag of meal and taxied him down the Manassas Road to a field hospital that was located at the New Market crossroads, just north of the junction.
Wheat’s wounding proved momentous. The once-brave Tigers, all alone on the far-left, under intense enemy fire, and without the guiding hand of their charismatic leader, began to scatter in the face of the 2nd New Hampshire. "After Major Wheat had fallen, Captain Harris [of the Walker Guards] took command, and after receiving orders to that effect, fell back to the bridge across Young's Branch [i.e., south of the pike near Stone House]." Harris apparently held his position with at least some of the Tigers while most of them apparently didn’t stop running until they reached the plantation of “Portici,” Beauregard’s headquarters, which was about a mile east of Henry Hill near Ball’s Ford, or Camp Pickens, near Manassas, which were well away from the battle area. Some of Adrian's Tigers, out on the far-right, reportedly "charged [the enemy] again in conjunction with the 4th Alabama Regiment [on Matthews's Hill]. In this...charge they advanced from the foot of the hill near the woods back of the Stone House to a point near the top of the hill, and not far from the Matthews's House, from behind which the enemy was sending deadly missiles at the Alabamians. From this point, their fire was sharp and destructive."
Lt. Col. Charles de Choiseul, who later commanded the Tigers for a short time later wrote: "From [the Tigers'] own accounts they broke an hour after the action began on the 21st, and never rallied again as a battalion during the day though many of them fought in small squads to the last." For example, Robert Going Atkins, Wheat's friend and loyal aide, "armed with but a bayonet," reportedly appeared amidst a section of New Orleans's Washington Artillery at Henry Hill with "tears in his eyes." He stated that the battalion had been scattered and that he "feared Wheat dead."
Just before noon, Evans, Bee, and Bartow were soon over-matched as Colonel William B. Franklin’s 1st Brigade, Brig. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman’s 3rd Division, was brought up to support Hunter’s two brigades. This reinforcement included twelve guns from Captains James Ricketts’s and Charles Griffin’s batteries of regular army artillery. With overwhelming force now on the field, the Federals charged down both sides of the Sudley-Manassas Road and crushed Bartow’s, Bee’s, and Evans’s commands, forcing them to retreat across the pike and onto Henry Hill. As was already noted, some of the Tigers fought on with these units as they retreated behind Jackson's sobriquet "stone wall" atop Henry Hill.
As the battle shifted to Henry Hill after 1:00 P.M., some “New Orleans Zouaves and Alabamians” were assembled into a "makeshift battalion" at Beauregard’s headquarters. The "makeshift battalion" was placed under Colonel Francis Thomas, a Maryland ordnance officer from the general staff. Thomas led the ad hoc battalion to Henry Hill and it helped repel the Federal attacks during the latter stages of the fight. For example, some Tigers reportedly tangled with members of the 11th and 14th NY (Fire Zouaves and Brooklyn Chasseurs) as both sides fought over Griffin's two abandoned guns on the south side of the hill.
For this particular attack, several red-shirted filibusters from the Walker Guards, the Delta Rangers, and the Old Dominion Guards, coupled with some colorful “New Orleans Zouaves” from the Tiger Rifles, just arrived with Colonel Thomas from “Portici,” were again asked to charge the enemy uphill and at close range. Griffin’s guns, the Tigers’ immediate objective, were situated on a small clear knoll about a hundred yards above their position. Once they “emptied their rifles in a fateful discharge at close quarters,” the Tigers bolted out from the tree line “with a terrible shout” and charged up the steep slope. The Federals, who were posted above, shot withering fire into their ranks and downed many officers and men in the process.
Despite the odds, the Tigers and others continued their attack up the smoky knoll and into the faces of the enemy. Plunging unmercifully into the New York Fire Zouaves and Brooklyn Chasseurs, the Tiger Zouaves reportedly once again dropped their rifles, unsheathed their “murderous-looking” Bowie Knives, and “by dexterous blows, beat down the bristling bayonets before them [and] began to hack their antagonists to pieces. A dreadful carnage ensued.” According to the New Orleans Bee, 1 August 1861: “The Tiger Rifles having no bayonets to their Mississippi rifles, threw them away when ordered to charge, and dashed upon the Fire Zouaves with bowie knives.”
One Federal prisoner, interred in a Richmond hospital after the battle, told a Confederate reporter that he had tangled with a Tiger in hand-to-hand combat. The reporter wrote: "During the fight he [the captured Federal soldier] observed that one of the Tigers had sighted him out, and after trying to shoot the Tiger who had dropped his gun, he charged him with his sword bayonet, then he perceived that the Tiger had a short and heavy bowie knife, when the Yankee, being a powerful man, dropped his gun and seized the arm of the Tiger to prevent him stabbing him, whereupon the Bengalese reached over and catching the Yankee’s nose between his teeth, bit it off close to his face, and then proceeded to perform a like service upon his cheeks, and thus he literally chewed his face into jelly."
As the Tigers and others consolidated around Griffin’s captured guns, McDowell’s last available unit, Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, swept across the plateau and headed for Ricketts’s guns. After another thirty minutes of intense fighting, Sherman’s 13th, 38th, 69th, and 79th New York regiments, supported by the gray-clad 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers, were able to boot the 5th Virginia and Hampton’s Legion from the battery and drive them back. The tough survivors from the Special Battalion, over near Griffin’s guns with what was left of the 4th Alabama, the 2nd Mississippi, the 7th Georgia, and the 18th Virginia, were now left in an exposed position.
Luckily for them, at about 4:00 P.M., the 2nd and 8th South Carolina regiments from Brig. Gen. Milledge Bonham’s 1st Brigade, Army of the Potomac, marching up the Manassas Road, arrived at the southern base of Henry Hill and slammed into Sherman’s right, driving his brigade from Ricketts’s battery. This enabled Jackson to sweep across the plateau with his command and finally seize or drive away all of Ricketts’s and Griffin’s guns. Bonham’s regiments were soon followed by Colonel Jubal A. Early’s 6th Brigade, Army of the Potomac, which began to deploy atop Bald Hill, elongating the Confederate left. No doubt inspired by this turn of events, 1st Sergeant Richie led what remained of his Tiger Zouaves across the road and to the far-left of Early’s brigade where Lieutenant Robert Beckham’s Culpeper (Virginia) Artillery was going into battery just above “Hazel Plain.” The Tigers reportedly helped the pressed Virginia artillerists man their pieces.
Inspired by the intrepid Tigers, Colonel Harry Hays of the 7th Louisiana, Early’s brigade, yelled, “Hurrah for the Tigers! Charge for the Tigers and for Louisiana!” These troops—Beauregard’s last—finally tipped the scales against McDowell’s forces that were now surrounded on two sides by advancing rebel infantry and well-placed Confederate artillery. Before long, after another gallant Confederate charge (in which General Bee and Colonels Bartow and Thomas were killed), the Federals were driven from Chinn Ridge, and ultimately, from the field of battle itself.
As the battle for Henry Hill reached its crescendo, Colonel Robert Withers of the 18th Virginia Regiment, Cocke’s 5th Brigade, sent up from Lewis Ford to reinforce Beauregard’s line on Henry Hill, noticed several stragglers heading out of the battle area. Among them were two Tiger Zouaves from Wheat’s Battalion. Unlike the other fugitives who refused Withers’s pleadings to rejoin the fight, the combative Tigers agreed and fell in with the 18th Virginia for the rest of the battle. Withers remembered: “We pushed on past the [Lewis] House in the direction of Henry House, when we netted a string of wounded men and stragglers, streaming to the rear. As many of these were unhurt, I urged them to go back with us into the fight, all refused except two ‘Tigers,’ who, from their brogue were evidently Irish. They fell into line and we passed through some pines and emerged on the open plateau near the Henry House, where most of the fighting had been done, some skirmishing was going on between a mob of disorganized men on my left and some of the enemy beyond the [Sudley-Manassas Road], who were invisible to us. No other troops being in sight, I told the men to lie down until I could ascertain something of my surroundings, expecting each moment to see the other regiments of the brigade emerge from the pines. Just then, one of the ‘Tigers’ who had joined us ran up the slope to an orchard occupied by the skirmishers, got behind an apple tree, and fired two or three times, when he was shot through both legs. He squatted down, and turning his head over his shoulder called to his comrade: ‘I say, Dennis [Corcoran of the Tiger Rifles?], come up here and give them hell, for they’ve got me!’’
Later, as the beaten Union army pulled back toward the Bull Run crossings, some men from the 79th New York were surprised to find an unidentified Tiger Zouave “prisoner” (who later escaped) in their ranks. Private William Todd remembered: “Considerable astonishment as well as amusement was caused by the presence in our retreating ranks of a solitary prisoner, who plodded along with us and entertained us by his quaint remarks. His uniform attracted our attention: a Zouave cap of red, and jacket of blue, with baggy trousers made of blue and white striped material, and white leggings, gave him a rather rakish appearance; he announced himself as a member of the Louisiana Tiger Battalion, Major Wheat commanding.” This Tiger no doubt took cover in the woods around Young's Branch and was snagged by the advancing (or retreating) Federals.
In his after action report of the battle, General Beauregard himself noted that the Tigers “maintained their stand with almost matchless tenacity…dauntless courage and imperturbable coolness,” and cited Wheat for his “brilliant courage.” The Louisiana general went on to say, “In the desperate, unequal contest, to which these brave gentlemen were for a time necessarily exposed, the behavior of the officers and men was worthy of the highest admiration, and assuredly hereafter all those present may proudly say: ‘We were that band who fought the first hour of the battle of Manassas.’”
All told, the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion officially listed forty-seven casualties (thirty-one wounded, twelve killed, three captured, and one wounded and captured) at the battle of Manassas. Its commander, Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, was wounded in the left arm and breast and shot through a lung. His adjutant, Lieutenant Robert Dickinson, was wounded in the leg, “His horse having been killed under him, he was on foot with sword in one hand and revolver in the other, about fifty yards from the enemy when a Minnie ball struck him. He fell and lay over an hour, when… Capt. McCausland [one of Evans’s staff officers] passed. The generous McCausland dismounted and placed Dickinson on his horse”; Captain Alexander White was supposedly “stunned” when his horse was shot out from under him during the first charge on Matthews’ Hill; Captain Obedia Miller of the Old Dominion Guards was wounded in the ankle; Lieutenant Thomas Adrian of the Tiger Rifles was wounded in the thigh; and Lieutenant Henry S. Carey of the Old Dominion Guards was “shot in the foot, and when lying on the field stabbed through the thigh by a Yankee officer, whom he killed.”
The Tiger Rifles suffered ten casualties, paying the highest price of the battalion with seven men killed and three wounded. The Walker Guards took seven casualties (all wounded); the Delta Rangers lost six men (five wounded and one captured), and the Catahoula Guerrillas lost four men killed, three wounded, and one captured. The Old Dominion Guards took the most casualties in the battalion with one killed, twelve wounded, and one wounded and captured (total of fourteen). Most of the battalion’s known casualties were the result of fourteen leg wounds, followed by four head wounds. There were two shoulder wounds, two arm or hand wounds, and three back wounds.
When Wheat was brought to the field hospital after getting mangled at the foot of Dogan’s Ridge, the surgeons who examined him declared his wound to be mortal. But the Old Filibuster defied their grim forecast by spouting: “I don’t feel like dying yet.” One surgeon then sadly relayed that he knew of “no instance on record of recovery from such a wound.” “Well then,” Wheat gurgled as he spat up blood from his punctured lung; “I will put my case upon record.” To echo this tenacity, on July 23, 1861, the editor of the New Orleans Daily Picayune wrote: “In every corner of this land, and at every capital in Europe, [the battle of Manassas] will be relived as the emphatic and exulting endorsement, by a young and unconquerable nation, of the lofty assurance President Davis spread before the world on the very eve of battle, that the noble race of freemen who inherit these States will, whatever may be the proportions of the war may assure, renew their sacrifices and their services from year to year, until they have made good to the uttermost their right to self government. The day of battle shows how they redeemed this pledge for them, and in adversity as in victory, it is the undying pledge of all.”
As cited in "Dishonored Heroes," Gary Schreckengost's 1st Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008): With the Federal rout at Manassas, the men of the Special Battalion were able to supplement their Louisiana-made equipment with Yankee-provided "Indian rubber coats and splendid blankets, besides hats, shoes, pants, pistols, swords and some money and jewels." One reporter from the New Orleans Daily Delta stated: “[I noticed] that the knapsacks and haversacks of our Bengalese friends were all marked in large letter ‘U.S.’ I inquired what the letters meant. ‘A few weeks ago,’ was the ready reply, ‘they meant ‘Uncle Sam,’ now they mean ‘us.’”
During the next several weeks, the Tigers and others performed picket duty north of Manassas, up around Centreville, Fairfax Courthouse, and at times, even as far north as the Potomac River itself. Like during their time up at Seneca Falls, these weeks mostly went undocumented but were important in the maturity of the Tigers as aggressive, independent-minded fighters. There were also reports of a few more occasions of "friendly fire" with the blue-clad Tiger Rifles. Because of this, the men of the Tiger Rifles decided to dye-out the indigo from their jackets, turning them into a dull tan-grey. According to the Warren Letters, the Tigers bleach [ed] out the indigo blue dye from their jackets, making them take on the color of an “over-ripe peach with some blue mottlin here and there” (i.e., a dull tan-grey with blue splotches). By fiat, the red trim was lightened into a pinkish color. "Grandaddy said they had bolied the jackets in a concotion of potash, water and vinegar to get rid of the indigo color leavin the jackets the color of an over-ripe peach with some blue mottlin here and there. The red trim fading to a pink." There is also a water color painted by Leon Fremaux of the 6th Louisiana that shows two Tigers with various colors of mottled tan-gray as well as some other eye-witness accounts that state that the Tigers wore jackets of tan or grey.
And as for Major Wheat, he did indeed defy the doctors’ grim prognosis of death and slowly recovered from his horrid wounds. Francis Shober, Wheat’s brother-in-law from North Carolina, was the first to reach the Old Filibuster’s bedside in a cabin not far from the railroad depot at Manassas. Arriving on July 25, Shober found Wheat “still improving and…rallying very rapidly….His life seems to be a charmed one and he is still full of vitality and strength.”
While bed-ridden, the Tiger commander received a steady flow of visitors, consisting mostly officers and men from his battalion. On one occasion, he saw a Tiger Zouave peering through a window into his room with “an expression of great anxiety on his face.” Wheat invited him in and when the Tiger came to his bedside, the Old Filibuster, struggling to raise his right hand, said: “Come here my Royal Bengal, and let me shake your paw.” General Beauregard also visited the bed-ridden filibuster, assuring him that the gallant actions of he and his men at Manassas “will not be forgotten.”
While Wheat recovered from his wounds in Camp Pickens, “a serious rift” arose between Captain Alexander White of the Tiger Rifles and Captain William McCausland of Colonel Evans’s staff. McCausland apparently called White a coward for failing to rise from the ground when “his horse was shot under him” during the Tigers’ retreat from Matthews's Hill. White of course denied the accusation and called McCausland a liar. McCausland retorted, and the argument escalated to the point where White answered McCausland’s slander by challenging him to a duel. The weapons chosen for the subsequent test of honor were “Mississippi rifles at short range.” White, the faster of the two, mortally wounded McCausland who was “bored through the hips.” Briefly arrested for the matter, White was quietly sent back to New Orleans to not only reduce tensions within the brigade, but to also escort the wounded Obedia Miller back to his home and recruit more idle but patriotic lads to help fill the ranks of the now-famous Tiger Battalion. It was during this time that White had his photograph taken.
On August 3 Wheat was well enough to be moved to Culpeper, thirty miles below Manassas, for his convalescence. This he spent in the home of James Barbour, an old family friend. While there, Barbour and Wheat had several discussions concerning Roberdeau’s military service. Barbour believed that Wheat could serve the Confederate cause in a much greater capacity than as major of a battalion of infantry. On August 12 he wrote to Virginia Governor John Letcher to press the Confederate government to promote the Old Filibuster to a rank more commensurate to his abilities. He writes:
Dear Sir: Major Roberdeau Wheat who was severely wounded in the battle…at Manassas…will be ready for active service in a week or two. As he is a native of our state…it is appropriate to present to you…the past career of this remarkable man…. An intense ambition for military distinction has been the controlling influence in his life and has made his life a career of rich and bold adventure.…He was educated at the Military High School under Reverend now Colonel Pendleton. He served in the Mexican War under Scott as a Captain of Cavalry. He commanded a Louisiana regiment in Lopez’s expedition against Cuba. He was for ten years a brigadier general in the Mexican Service. He held an artillery command in Walker’s Nicaraguan Expedition. He was with Garibaldi in Italy being volunteer aid to Avezano second in command to Garibaldi. He raised a battalion in New Orleans and came to Manassas…where it was his fortune to open the last battle…. In the thick of the fight he received a wound which was at the time considered mortal…. A man only 35 years of age of his intelligent courage and energy has vast capacity for public service in these strange wild scenes that surround us. He is a man of fine abilities and good education…. A chance for noticeable service is all that he asks. He has earned promotion by his skill and courage and his blood…. President Davis, General Beauregard, and the Secretary of War know him and can suggest more in his favor than I have said if attention be called to his case. The rank which he now holds is not sufficient to offer him much opportunity for the distinction for which he yearns. Promotion is sought not for the honor which it confers but for what it may enable him to win. I am sure that it cannot be necessary to say more to enlist you in his interest. Very Respy and Truly, Jas. Barbour"
While the Old Filibuster recovered from his wounds in Culpeper, politicking for a higher position, Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac and Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah were merged into one force under the overall command of Johnston. The unified army was subsequently divided into four divisions with at least three generally state-specific brigades each. As such, all of the Louisiana infantry units which had been assigned to the Army of the Potomac, Roberdeau Wheat’s Special Battalion and Isaac Seymour’s Sixth, Harry Hays’s Seventh, Henry Kelly’s Eighth, and Richard Taylor’s Ninth regiments were assembled into one brigade, the “Louisiana Brigade,” and put under the command of Brig. Gen. William H.T. Walker of Georgia, “a man of command military experience.” The Louisiana Brigade was then assigned to Maj. Gen. Richard “Old Baldy” Ewell’s division along with the brigades of Arnold Elzey and Isaac Ridgeway Trimble.
The hard-hitting 6th Louisiana, much like Wheat’s Battalion, consisted mostly of Irish or German immigrant dock workers from New Orleans with a sprinkling of up-country farmers and such from Union, Sabine, Tensas or St. Landry Parishes. They were “hardy fellows, turbulent in camp and required a strong hand, but responded to kindness and justice and readily followed their officers to the death.” The “Irish Sixth,” as the regiment was popularly known, was commanded by 57-year-old Yale graduate and Seminole and Mexican wars veteran Isaac Seymour who had been, at the outbreak of this war, the editor of the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin.
The 7th Louisiana or the “Pelican Regiment” was commanded by Harry Thompson Hays, a 41-year-old Mexican War veteran and New Orleans attorney. It consisted mostly of bourgeois New Orleans Creoles, many of whom belonged to the prestigious Pickwick Club which helped organize the annual Mardi Gras. The 8th and 9th regiments, commanded by Colonels Henry Kelly and Richard Taylor, respectively, unlike the 6th and 7th regiments, which principally hailed from southern Louisiana, consisted of farmers, laborers, and planters’ sons from northern Louisiana. Many of these men, coming from the more “Southern” part of the state, felt especially apprehensive about being brigaded with the lowly “wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts” from the Tiger Battalion. They apparently feared them worse than the Federal army. Richard Taylor, commander of the 9th Louisiana at the time, remembered: "With the army at this time was a battalion...commanded by Major Wheat.… So villainous was the reputation of the battalion that every commander [in the brigade] desired to be rid of it."
Private Henry Handerson, a soldier in Taylor’s regiment, echoed his commander’s sentiments when he wrote: "Considerably to our horror, in the formation of the brigade encampment, Wheat’s battalion, was located immediately next to the 9th Louisiana Regiment, and, indeed, just alongside of my company."
Private William Trahern of the 6th Louisiana said of the Tigers: "A greater lot of thieves and cut-throats never trod this hemisphere…[they had] gorgeous uniforms and fairly good drilling [to fool the people to think that they were] men of great courage and bravery…. [But] they possessed neither of these qualities…. [They were in fact] cowards and wharf rats drawn from the low down population of every human race known."
Private Randolph Abbott Shotwell of the 1st North Carolina Battalion, Trimble’s brigade, said of them: "Major Bob Wheat’s famous battalion of New Orleans ‘Tigers’ (composed of the dregs of that great city, and certainly not ill-named, for a more fierce, ruffianly, ferocious set of desperadoes are rarely assembled in a civilized country) were encamped near Manassas, and were the terror of the neighborhood; even their own officers could not always restrain them.
Captain William Oates of the 15th Alabama, Trimble’s brigade, remembered that the Tiger Rifles of Wheat’s Battalion: "...with their half savage uniform, made the observed of all observers. They were composed mainly of adventurous wharf rats, cut throats, and bad characters generally; and although they fought with reckless bravery…they were actuated more by a spirit of adventure and love of plunder than by love of country. They had neither respect nor fear of any man, but one, and he was Major Wheat, their commander." (As cited in Schreckengost)
The Tigers’ fame and reputation quickly spread throughout the rest of the Confederacy. Mrs. Sallie Putnam of Richmond, for example, wrote: "The battalion of ‘Tigers’ from New Orleans, commanded by the intrepid Wheat, were, as their name denotes, men of desperate courage but questionable morals. They were well suited to the shock of battle, but wholly unfitted for the more important details of the campaign. Among them were many of lawless character, whose fierce passions were kept in abeyance by the superior discipline of their accomplished commander…. Educated under influences the most pious and refining, he was gentle, easy, grateful and dignified in society; toward men in his command he was kind, but grave and reserved, and exacting in the performance of duty; in battle he was fiery, impetuous and resolute."
In short, one Virginian wryly proclaimed, “The wild, looting Tigers of Major Bob Wheat made not a pious crew, but they fought.”
In August and September, many of the Tigers, as with others in Johnston’s army, stuffed in crowded, muddy, and bug-infested camps around Manassas, came down with the dreaded “camp fever” that always tended to plague armies of the period. In Wheat’s Battalion alone, of the 390 soldiers listed as being present in August 1861, a full 239, well more than half, were on the sick rolls. To help alleviate the crisis, in late-September, Johnston sent his divisions out to create their own encampments and Ewell’s division was dispatched north to build “Camp Beauregard,” a new fortified encampment around Centreville.
With the Star Battalion snuggled in with the rest of the Louisiana Brigade, and with Wheat still convalescing in Culpeper, General Walker placed the Tigers, who had been nominally commanded by Captain Harris of the Walker Guards since the battle, under the tutelage of a known disciplinarian, Lt. Col. Charles de Choiseul of the 7th Louisiana. De Choiseul did not relish his new assignment, however, as evidenced in a letter he wrote to Emma Louise Walton on September 5, 1861: "I have become a ‘Tiger.’ Don’t start. I am the victim of circumstance, not of my own will…. Whether [the] Tigers devour me, or whether I will succeed in taming them, remains to be seen. What is more likely, is that they will remain in their high state of undiscipline. For the officers, or at least the majority of them, are worse than the men."
It did not take long for the raucous Tigers to test out their new commander. “The whole set got royally drunk,” de Choiseul remembered, and a nasty brawl ensued soon after he took command. When the colonel sent his staff to quell the disturbance, one of Lieutenant Adrian’s fiery Zouaves apparently grabbed his rifle, pointed it at one of de Choiseul’s lieutenants, and “snapped the lock at him.” This was an act of extreme insubordination and insolence, and the Tiger was quickly arrested and thrown into the brigade stockade. Later that same day, several Tiger Zouaves reportedly beat up and robbed their washerwoman—after she was no doubt paid—and de Choiseul also had them arrested.
In spite of this crackdown, however, the drunken brawls continued. Private Randolph Abbott Shotwell of the 1st North Carolina Battalion, Trimble’s brigade remembered: [Colonel de Choiseul] was said to have used his pistols now and then to quiet some outbreak. Unfortunately, he left camp on one occasion, and many of the worst characters became so drunk and unruly, that the officer of the guard undertook to maintain order, but was set upon, badly beaten, and forced to fly in peril of his life, pursued by the mutinous ‘Tigers.’ So great was the tumult that the 7th Louisiana, the nearest regiment adjacent, was called to overawe the mutineers. Several men were injured more or less in the fray."
It was also during this period that eighteen men were listed as deserting from the Special Battalion and before the year was out, Lieutenant E.B. Sloan of the Walker Guards resigned his commission.
It did not take a battle to create casualties in the Special Battalion, either. Sergeant Joseph Cooper of the Tiger Rifles, for example, was “killed by accident, September 23, 1861.” Private James Purcell, from the same company, was “killed accidentally by Thomas Riggs of Company D on October 4, 1861.” On October 20, Private John Travers of the Tiger Rifles reportedly murdered a fellow Irishman, James McCormack of the 6th Louisiana—probably during a drunken brawl—and once members of the Sixth hunted him down, he was thrown in the brigade stockade to await trial. Inactivity, the lack of Wheat’s towering presence, alcohol, and cultural proclivities, hearkening back to their days along the docks of New Orleans, seemed to be the root causes of the mayhem. Captain James Nisbet of the 21st Georgia, Trimble’s brigade, remembered one particular rumble in which alcohol played a pivotal role. He writes: "[One day] I was reading by a comfortable fire in my quarters, when I heard a tremendous racket down in the company quarters. On looking out, I saw a fight going on between ten or twelve [Tiger] Zouaves and men of my company. I ran down there and commanded the peace, which the sergeants restored after much difficulty. Several of Wheat’s Tiger Rifles were lying on the ground, having been knocked down by my men. They said they had been robbed of their whiskey, by some boys of [my] company, who met them, and asked for a drink, and then ran off with the bottles; that they had followed them to get satisfaction. I said, 'You seem to have gotten it, from the looks of your bloody heads.' I ordered the sergeant to take them to my quarters and give them water and towels, and after they had washed, I got them a drink all round, and said I was sorry they had been robbed; that if such disorders were reported to men, I would punish the perpetrators, but to come into that company for a row, was a dangerous business. 'These men would have killed some of you if I had not stopped em,' said I. And they went off, saying: 'We are much obliged, sor, but Wheat’s battalion kin [sic, can] clean up the whole damned 21st Georgia any time'” They were Irish; and of course, loved a scrap."
According the Warren Papers, "Tiger Life": "Sojer'n purt near is the mos' lazee fair an borin sport a man can take up. Folks waggle bout all the fightin an killin ... fact tis sojerin is mostly doin a lot a walkin and a lot more layin about. Time were spent beeved up an when this was the lay of things, the days was spent with mornins spent doin sojer things such as marchin an calls for thems that was sick and thems that was present. Now and again they was some squamp as a constable or provost would come by an spirit one of the fellars of to Loosianer to face the law overn somethin afore the war sech as fer stealin a nag, chivying some shill or cut pursin some rich fellar alongst the traces to N'leans. They was a spell of that in the early days as they was some rascals amongst us thatd earned they keep the natchez under the hill style.Victuals was always seeked and fellars was always on the leap for whatever could be had. They was much cravin of spirits an seemed no matter how mean livin got they was always busthead about. Vice an sin often held court amongst the Tiger Rifles and they was much troubles cause of the intemperant nature of the tribe. This fer the most part was paid no mind by the Officers as they kin that we was a rough an tumble sort common to Loosianer an many was the blind eye amongst the Officers . They was a share a set to's an humbugs. Most of em was a disputes after bein in the cups an went from 'jes cuz' ... the Tiger Mottif for a set to .. .to more complex such as petty theivin disputin over wagerin or spirits or cuz a fellar was jes plumb ugly. The triber squabbled of'n an they was many set to's with lots of colorful swamp talk .. sech as ' Im half gator, half mule ... all tiger and raw ... back up you bastards Im fixin to cut loose" an some worst with much blood chilin waggle. Soons the fist would go and theyd be a tussle in the dust. Soon as they was tired they'd forgit and be hangin on each other braying like jackasses and swillin busthead outn a lovin cup. Manys an eve when they'd be a couple of the fellars that'd been in they cups an soon nuff they'd whsiper amongst themselves an with cackles would suddenly bolt up an start strollin. Asked whar they was off to they'd grin like devils and say they was off on the crawl. Soon they'd be some roarin down the line an runners sent to tow in these that had stirred a row. Crawlin the line an lookin for a row or a swill lost its shine after they was several of the fellars shot up at Camp Florida for bashin ol' Hayes durin a round of fisticuffs with some curs in the 8th Loosianer.Side from this, they was much wagerin and gamin about. Fellars would wager on who could jump the highest, spit the futhest (as they was always baccy about) or who could spit a hit a palmetter bug or the like, run the futhest, fight the hardest. They was games of roundies, throwin bones, skat an buckin the tiger. A treat was a round of "hands" which was always ripe with chivvy. Those thems that wagered on it never'd learn an they'd play with a fever. They was the occasional fete with dancin and singin.... Sojer'n purt near is the mos' lazee fair an borin sport a man can take up. Folks waggle bout all the fightin an killin .. fact tis sojerin is mostly doin a lot a walkin and a lot more layin about. Time were spent beeved up an when this was the lay of things, the days was spent with mornins spent doin sojer things such as marchin an calls for thems that was sick and thems that was present. Now and again they was some squamp as a constable or provost would come by an spirit one of the fellars of to Loosianer to face the law overn somethin afore the war sech as fer stealin a nag, chivying some shill or cut pursin some rich fellar alongst the traces to N'leans. They was a spell of that in the early days as they was some rascals amongst us thatd earned they keep the natchez under the hill style. Victuals was always sought and fellars was always on the leap for whatever could be had. They was much cravin of spirits an seemed no matter how mean livin got they was always busthead about. Vice an sin often held court amongst the Tiger Rifles and they was much troubles cause of the intemperant nature of the tribe. This fer the most part was paid no mind by the Officers as they kin that we was a rough an tumble sort common to Loosianer an many was the blind eye amongst the Officers . They was a share a set to's an humbugs. Most of em was a disputes after bein in the cups an went from 'jes cuz' ... the Tiger Mottif for a set to .. to more complex such as petty theivin disputin over wagerin or spirits or cuz a fellar was jes plumb ugly. The triber squabbled of'n an they was many set to's with lots of colorful swamp talk .. sech as ' Im half gator, half mule .. all tiger and raw ... back up you bastards Im fixin to cut loose" an some worst with much blood chilin waggle. Soons the fist would go and theyd be a tussle in the dust. Soon as they was tired they'd forgit and be hangin on each other braying like jackasses and swillin busthead outn a lovin cup. Manys an eve when they'd be a couple of the fellars that'd been in they cups an soon nuff they'd whsiper amongst themselves an with cackles would suddenly bolt up an start strollin. Asked whar they was off to they'd grin like devils and say they was off on the crawl. Soon they'd be some roarin down the line an runners sent to tow in these that had stirred a row. Crawlin the line an lookin for a row or a swill lost its shine after they was several of the fellars shot up at Camp Florida for bashin ol' Hayes durin a round of fisticuffs with some curs in the 8th Loosianer.Side from this, they was much wagerin and gamin about. Fellars would wageron who could jump the highest, spit the futhest (as they was always baccy about) or who could spit a hit a palmetter bug or the like, run the futhest, fight the hardest. They was games of roundies, throwin bones, skat an buckin the tiger. A treat was a round of "hands" which was always ripe with chivvy. Those thems that wagered on it never'd learn an they'd play with a fever. They was the occasional fete with dancin and singin.They was much as far as chores. They was always kit to mend an punkin chuckers to be soaped an oiled. They was them that knew they letters to send word home, they was hagglin over some choice item an they was always nappin an scroungin ..."
The in-camp shenanigans, plus the fact that the battalion was not being converted into a full-blown regiment as Wheat had promised, spurred Captain Buhoup—who had originally joined the battalion with the understanding that he would gain a field commission—to petition to have his Catahoula Guerrillas transferred out of the battalion. Without Wheat around to dissuade or stop him, Buhoup’s incessant politicking worked, and by October the Guerrillas were assigned to the 7th Louisiana Battalion and later the 15th Louisiana Regiment.
Soon thereafter, Wheat, who was barely fit for service and certainly not well enough to tame his rowdy Tigers, rejoined his now-dishonored battalion and Colonel de Choiseul was relieved of his burden. One Tiger reported: "Maj. Wheat is with us again, but looking badly. He came back Saturday. It would have done anyone good to have seen the boys on Friday evening. We came in from a hard drill of about three hours and were cooking something to eat when [Lieutenant John Coyle from the Walker Guards] told us that Major Wheat was coming. We fell in ranks, and with the rest of the battalion went to meet him, singing and shouting. We marched about two miles, only to be disappointed, for the Major had stopped on the road, too weak to come farther. There are not many officers who could get a reception as he did on Saturday. We went out again, and escorted him in, and he then made us a speech."
Upon his return to active duty, Wheat undoubtedly replaced the blood-stained blue uniform that he wore during the late battle with a bluish-gray wool double-breasted frock coat as per Confederate army regulations. His blue collar would have sported a single golden star, denoting the rank of major, and he probably would have had a double braid of Austrian knot running up his sleeve. He reportedly retained his distinctive red kepi. (As cited in Schreckengost).
In early November, Ewell’s division was moved to “Camp Florida,” about a half mile from Centreville, where General Walker was dubiously transferred from the Louisiana Brigade and Colonel Richard Taylor of the 9th Regiment was promoted to take his place. Needless to say, Taylor’s promotion to brigadier general was controversial. For one, General Walker was simply brushed aside, and, more importantly, Taylor was the junior-most colonel of the brigade. Colonel Seymour, a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars as well as the recent battle of Manassas, was not only the most senior officer in the brigade, but was also arguably the most qualified. In fact, of all the colonels in the brigade—Seymour, Hays, and Kelly—Taylor had the least combat experience (none). Many within the brigade therefore felt that Taylor was promoted only because of his famous father, President Zachary Taylor, and his relationship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was once married to his bereaved sister. Colonel Seymour, the man who probably should have gotten the job in the first place said,"I never stood a ghost of a chance for [brigade command]; I never expected it and of course, I am not disappointed—because—I can not be used as a politician.”
Private Henry Henderson of the 9th Louisiana, Taylor’s old command, felt that the St. Charles Parish sugar planter was promoted because he was a “a regular martinet in the line of discipline…who cared nothing for the men but for his own advancement."
Whatever the reasons for his promotion, Taylor was challenged by General Johnston to whip his Louisianans, especially Wheat’s seemingly out-of-control Tigers, into shape. To do so, Johnston promised to support Taylor “in any measures to enforce discipline.” On October 28, just a few days after Taylor’s elevation, a gang of drunken Zouaves from the Tiger Rifles, apparently led by Privates Dennis Corcoran and Michael O’Brien, made the terrible mistake of testing Taylor’s resolve when they attacked the brigade stockade, knocking the officer on duty to the ground and seizing the guards’ weapons. The mob then attempted to break fellow Tiger John Travers, who was being held on a murder charge, out of the jail. All of this was preceded by a fight between Corcoran and O'Brien with some members of the 8th Louisiana. During the scuffle, one of the Zouaves reportedly struck Colonel Harry Hays of the 7th Louisiana. Enraged, several other men of the brigade, who had had it with the Tigers, quickly squashed the riot and Corcoran, O’Brien, and their Tiger brethren were subsequently arrested and thrown into the stockade to await trial
According to the Warren Papers "Tiger Execution":
We had been beeved up at Florida for winterin in '61.R'cellection is the Major Rob was down to his uppers an stoved some from bein shot durin the great skeedaddle. Don't believe he was thar at this time an place. Livin was put lazy faire. We'uns had roosted quite grand an settled in. They was a gaggle of grubby types about that would peddle us needful things. A fellar could buy ev'rthing from chickens and baccy, to pies, to popskull and fine clothes. It twas some time afore Christmas, script money had been paid to the tribe and several of the fellars had been off to visit the peddlers. Theyd come home with several kettles of busthead and one was wearin some finery and fooforaw. Theyd been nippin at the vile soup and was some bagged, all puttin on airs as if they was gents. They was in gay spirits an was quite handy at passin the kettle about. The fellar that had got him a set of snappy dud's an was now summarily broke .... Im thinkin his name was O'bryan says to his chums that they was a rascal down in amongst the 8th... name of jackson or joplin or the like ... what had owed him some coin from wagerin a week gone by. Says he, they'uns jes was paid same as us an this would be a right practical time to go an collect the debt.They was much opinion throwed up on the matter an some was thinkin it'd be best to wait till a bit later in the day. Obryan filled with spiritous licker was havin none of it ... along with his mess chum corkran an several other likely confederates set off'n a crawl to enforce the debt.It was some time later when they was a major row down amongst the 8th with callin for the guard an White an Lt D headed off. Some of thems that had been down amongst the 8th came slinkin back out a breath sayin that the was a major squamp and that 2 of the fellars was gettin clink.as the waggle went... was that Obryan had gone down amongst the 8th with his chums in tow an made demand to jackson for the coin what was rightfully his'n. Jackson was said to crawfish an sed they was no coin owed. Obryan some bagged proceeded to cuss him good and renew his demand. When this was naysaid then they was an exchange of fisticuffs an soon nuff Jacksons messmates was in the row with thems from our tribe. Things got purt lively tell some officers come on hand and was fixin to break it up. Ol Hays reached in an grabt hold of a tiger an was prompt knocked reelin in a puddle. Ol Hayes took e'ception to bein knocked on his ass an soon nuff the jig was up an he was wavin his finger here an there demandin to know who twas that snaked him. Obryan in his snappy dudes was scooped up as the leader of this an soon nough his pard corkran was scooped for boot. It was figured corkran was the one thatd snaked ol Hayes. The waggle was they was to stand trial. Seemed they was talk that these fellars might git shot for laying hands on an officer.This started some whisperin amongst the tribe .. this after more busthead .. that perhaps we out to go and swear them free. The big sergeant tolt us that ifn we tried we'd likely git ourself shot as well an in the end it wouldn't amount to mcuh good. They was waggle that ifn Major Rob was about this wouldn't be goin on, and so the waggle went. They was even fritter about doin ol jackson in fer his part in this awful mess."
This little episode led to the first executions in the Confederate Army of the Potomac. In an effort to enforce discipline, the government had given general court martials the power to execute soldiers convicted of capital crimes such as murder, treason, or mutiny. General Taylor, as well as most of the other officers of the brigade who were sick and tired of the depraved activities of the Tigers, agreed that Corcoran and O’Brien were among the more caustic men of the battalion (albeit the army), and decided to make an example of them. Because the riot at the guard house and Hays’s subsequent thrashing were considered to be acts of mutiny, the two men were court martialled the next day, November 29, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot by members of their own company, “for the sake of the example.”
The highly publicized execution took place a week later on December 6, 1861, in a “little hollow or depression forming a natural amphitheater, upon the slopes of which a vast multitude of soldiers assembled at 10:00 A.M.” It was witnessed by Ewell’s entire division which was drawn up on three sides of a hollow square, facing inward, with Taylor’s brigade in the center, Elzey’s on the right, and Trimble’s on the left. Members of the press and other onlookers watched from vantage points in some trees or surrounding hills. Once the division was formed, a covered wagon, escorted by two companies from Colonel Kelly’s 8th Louisiana, slowly drove into the open portion of the square where it stopped in front of two large stakes, “driven into the ground about ten feet apart.” Beside the stakes were “two plain wooden coffins and matching grave sites, stark reminders of the business at hand.” Soon after the wagon stopped, six men got out, Corcoran and O’Brien, still in their distinctive Tiger Zouave uniforms (grayish-brown), a Catholic priest, Father Smoulders of the 8th Regiment, who was dressed in a “long black cassock and three-corned cap,” and three officers. At the same time, twelve files (24 men) from the Tiger Rifles marched forward toward the stakes which were “awaiting their occupants.” Private Randolph Shotwell of the 1st North Carolina Battalion, Trimble’s brigade, remembered: "Bright and beautiful was the morning; the sky unclouded; the air crisp and unbracing, and all nature looking fresh and buoyant as if in contrast with the gloom that rested upon the hearts of the thirty thousand spectators gathered upon the hillsides. The solemnity of feeling became so deepened into intense silence as slowly toward the fatal spot approached the funeral cortege; the brass band mournfully playing the dirge 'Death March' from 'Saul,' the doomed men with a priest, and the guards following the musicians, and being followed in turn by the 'firing party' of 24 men of the same company to which the offenders belonged. The procession halted at the graves."
The condemned men were led forward to the stakes when Colonel Kelly rode up and read the charges with which they had been found guilty and the accompanying sentence which condemned them to death. Once done, Corcoran and O’Brien’s hands were tied behind their backs and they were led backward a short distance where they were “made to kneel with their backs resting against two strong posts driven into the ground, about twenty or thirty yards apart.” As this was done, Father Smoulders went back and forth between the condemned men, “comforting them and preparing them for the awful death.” Once situated, Kelly read Corcoran and O’Brien’s supposed last statement to their comrades: "We acknowledge the justice of our sentence. May the rendering up of our lives prove a benefit…and a lesson to all to guard against the vice of drunkenness…we die a soldier’s death [to the] alter of military order and discipline…. Don’t grieve for us! We are going to a better world! Do not mangle us; shoot at our hearts if you love us! Boys, God bless you, and good-bye!"
Kelly next signaled Father Smoulders to move away, to have Corcoran and O’Brien blindfolded, and to have the firing squad prepare to carry out their duty. Little did the Tiger executioners know that a company from the 8th Regiment was not far behind, ready to gun them down if they failed to carry out their assigned mission. Major David French Boyd of the 9th Louisiana remembered: "There had been some reason to suspect that the firing squad of the Tigers, as detailed, would at the critical moment disobey orders and refuse to fire on their comrades. To meet this contingency, firm old Henry Kelly, colonel of the 8th Louisiana Regiment, was relied on, with but few in the secret. He had his men load their guns in camp before marching. Why they never knew, only they thought it was a matter of course somehow at an execution. A trusted company merely happened to take position immediately to the rear of the firing party of Tigers, their captain with the secret orders to fire on them should they prove mutinous and fail to fire."
All doubts were removed, however, when Lieutenant Adrian, who was wearing a “long scarlet tunic,” dryly hammered out the appropriate commands of “Ready,” “Aim,” and “Fire!” In the subsequent volley, Corcoran and O’Brien were “killed instantaneously, falling forward on their knees, riddled with bullets.” Overwhelmed with emotion, Private Daniel Corcoran broke from the Tiger Rifles’ formation and ran up to his dead brother’s body and held it, sobbing. A Richmond Dispatch correspondent wrote: "The most affecting part of this scene was immediately following the discharge of musketry. One of the men [who was executed] had a brother in the crowd, who, before the smoke of the volley cleared from the spot, ran to his side and supported him as his life-blood ebbed away, and felt the last quiver of mortality as the soldier’s body fell into his arms...It was heart-rending, to see the poor brother’s agony…. The death of the criminal was borne with stolidity, but the simple sight of such heartfelt, brotherly grief moistened every eye."
Once the bodies were cut away from the posts and loaded into the coffins, they were lowered into their graves and covered up. Afterwards, some curious soldiers combed the execution site for pieces of the stakes or other macabre relics until some men from the Star Battalion, led by Daniel Corcoran himself, angrily dispersed the foragers with fixed bayonets or Bowie Knives. Sergeant Zachary Gilmer of the 18th Virginia, witness to the execution, wrote: "Today I witnessed the most effecting [sic, affecting] sight and heart rending affair that has transpired during the campaign. It was the public execution of Denis Cochrane [sic., Dennis Corcoran] and Mik O’brian [sic., Mike O’Brien] (two of the New Orleans Tigers)…They met their fate without a sigh, without a murmur. They neither feared God, man nor the Devil…These two men I think are the first that have been shot and I hope the last. My idea of this decision is that the men are now going into winter quarters and to prevent them slipping off home, for they thought they would have to make an example of some one and they concluded this the best time and it fell to these poor Tigers to share such an unfortunate lot. Yet perhaps they deserved it for they are the lowest scrapings of the Mississippi and New Orleans and fear not death itself. Court Martials are always formed entirely of officers. Never have a single Private."
Description of the execution of Pvts. Dennis Corcoran and Michael O'Brien, as reported by Edward Hewitt, 2nd Lt. in Tiger Rifles. The letter was published in the Daily True Delta: Camp Florida Dec. 12, 1861 Dear Captain, A feeling of sadness pervades Camp Florida. On the 9th inst., Dennis Corcoran and Michael O'Brien were shot in pursuance of the sentence of a court martial held at Centreville. I will give you a brief account of the cause that led to this lamentable calamity. On the 29th Nov., Dennis and Mike became under the influence of liquor and were involved in some difficulty with some persons in the quarters of the 7th Louisiana Volunteers. During the melee several persons were knocked down, among whom, it was alleged, was Col. Harry Hays. The balance of the statement I have from an eyewitness, Capt. O.P. Miller, of our Battalion, who happened to be passing late in the afternoon at the time the difficulty was progressing. His attention was called by hearing Red's name shouted and immediately upon seeing Col. Hays with a revolver pointed at Corcoran, he sprang between them, requesting Col. Hays not to shoot and desiring Red to be quiet. He succeeded inputting an end to the disturbance, and both Corocran and O'Brien came peaceably to their quarters. Shortly after, a request cam that the two should be arrested, and Lt. Kennon, who was officer of the day, had them confined to our guard house, where they remained under arrest until after their trial and conviction - the evening of the 5th of December - when they were confined in the general guard house and informed that they were allowed until the morning of the 9th of Dec., to prepare themselves to their God and Judge. Father Smoulders, chaplain of the 8th Regiment Louisiana Volunteers, whom I believe to be a sincere Christian and most holy man, visited them in the tent where they were to be confined, and remained with them up to the time of their executions, labouring for the salvation of their precious souls, and as he so lovingly expressed it, he believed their repentance to be sincere, and that his labours had not been in vain. The language of both men and their conduct were such as become true soldiers, who, even with their lives, were prepared to serve their country by submitting bravely to the fate ordered by the insulted dignity of the law. Corcoran and O'Brien both expressed themselves most patriotically. They were ready to die for the preservation of the glorious cause for which they had been fighting; and although they would rather have died on the battlefield, they were ready to die in any way for the interest of their country. No ignomy [sic., ignominy] was attached to their death. They would die a soldier's [death] and the world should know Tiger's can always die like men. They wrote a most touching and affectionate letter of farewell to their officers, spiritual adviser Father Smoulders, friends, companions and brother soldiers, advising them to abstain from the use of intoxicating liquors and instancing their untimely end as a terrible example of the fruits of indulging in reason destroying drink. The morning of the execution they bade an affectionate farewell to their companions, forgave all the past as they hoped to be forgiven, expressed a belief that a merciful God, through the intercession of the Blessed Saviour, would pardon all their sins and receive their souls for an eternity of bliss. When brought to the place of execution Corcoran saluted the party who were detailed to execute the last office with a cheerful, "good morning my little lads; don't grieve for use; we are going to a better world," "Don't mangle us; shoot at our hearts if you love us. Boys, God bless you, good-bye!" Oh, Captain, that scene! Those strong, stern men, who had braved death upon the shores of the Potomac and fought side by side with the doomed upon the blood-stained field of Manassa, bowed their head upon their rifles, and it was plainly seen each head was bursting with agony; every eye moistened with sympathetic tears. Red says: "Boys it was at the C's yesterday; it is at the D's today, and I am ready." Both of them requested to be shot standing, and not to be blind folded, as they did not fear to look death in the face, they had done so before on several occasions, when they were not as well prepared to meet God as they then were. They had always had the name of having pluck through life and it had not deserted them yet. Upon being informed that they would have to kneel and be blind folded, Red replied: "Father I kneel to God! Tigers a last good-bye. God receive our spirits!" A volley! Two lives had paid the penalty of their offence. Two soldiers fell martyrs to military discipline. Tow heroes died. May they, in the language of Jere Clemens, have received the patriots reward; "The crown that hangs upon the throne of sapphire and of gold, awaiting all who die for their country." "And which when justice placed it on their brows, she handed the record of their lives to mercy: then turned away until all that was bad and sinful was erased." Captain, we who knew the men respect their memories, and grant their last request - a soldiers epitaph. I can say no more; a deep impression has been made upon my mind that can never be erased while time with me shall last and when eternity shall open for me my soul will meet and mingle in loving communion with those brave spirits forever.
According to the Warren Letters: "Word come down after some days that they was to be shot dead for snakin an officer and they was a request by thems that they not die at the hands of outsiders an that they was an oath for the Tiger Rifles to do em in. They was a request put out for thems that would volunteer to shoot these fine fellars and noe would have it. They was a threat of makin somes do it an soon nuff it was decided that they would eb a drawin of sorts to see who'd git monikered with this rancid affair. Thems that was unlucky and got the short end was given instruction.They was an old lost field back amongst the trees up near the top of Florida and this was where these 2 fellars was to meet their end. Co B was kinder boxed in. Formin a 3 side refusal we was then packed in many rank an file deep with fellars from the Battalion an the 8th. They was waggle that ifn they was any foolery or thems doin the shootin refused to do they duty they was to be shot as well. We was purt riled but all held tongue as they was whipsperin that they was some wanted to shoot all of Co B an be done with us for the trouble some had caused. Obryan an corkran was marched out with drums rattlin an a Priest in tow. It were a cool but clear an sunny morninin and they was jaunty of step noddin here an there as they was brought in the front of the refusal. They was a readin of the charge an so forth .. They was offered up a blinder and both refused. They was then offered to give up they last words. Im thinkin it was Obryan .. steps up, the sun shinin on him, he was a site in full costume of blue coat an pinchbecks and spat. His head bare, he had kept the fancy new shirt an sportin tie he'd jes bought afore this all come about. He's lookin us up and down, clear of eye an strong of carry he says - Well fallars they got us good an looks like they aint no way out.Im regrettin the wickedness of demon rum an the like and this wouldn't be comin about had we been of a more temperant breedin and clear of thinkin. Im thinkin that my pards had best heed this n stay clear of licker as it has kilt me an corky sure and will git you all as well. Remember what happens here today. So ends them that puts a divil in they mouth. Fellars we die as Tiger-Rifles shot by our own. Fallars ya give me nothin in the past so I ask fer one thing ... aim true an let loose with a clear eye. God Bless you boys and hoorah the cause. With this they was made to kneel .. though they didn't care to... an the Priest said his words till they was the command for the fellars to do their duty. They was one long volley an both these fellars was blowed back a sprawl. Smoke hung in the refusal an they wasn't a dry eye amongst Co B and some t'others. We was marched off quick with much mutterin, oath an some threat.Those 2 fellars was buried war they fell ... ta'gether friends in life and tagether in death. Fine sould an they antics was some missed.They was a purty hushed wake about and after all was said an done was much more tame an crawls ceased. They was some squabblin an the like was put much kept amongst the tribe an never out amongst the other fellars. We heard Major Rob upon comin back some time later were purt agitated over this whole thing though nothin ever come of it. We did git square with ol jackson an it was after a style to skeer him while on picket duty, fellars dressed in our finery would howl an moan in the moonlight. word had it he was some convinced them dead Tigers had come back to git the coin what was owed squarely to em."
After the executions, things apparently began to calm down. “Punishment, so closely following offense,” Taylor snidely proclaimed, “it produced a marked effect.” Besides, winter was setting in, alcohol was strictly forbidden, and Ewell’s division was moved to Camp Carondolet, about three miles east of Manassas atop Willcoxen Hill, to build cabins for the winter. It was also during this time that Wheat’s long lost company, the Rough and Ready Rangers from New Orleans, was finally sent up from Camp Moore to join the battalion. Wheat put the company under Captain Atkins, his Irish aide-de-camp who was recently commissioned by the Confederate government for his actions at Manassas. Atkins renamed the company Wheat’s Life Guards and it officially became Company E, 2nd Louisiana Battalion.
With the addition of the Life Guards, the Louisiana Tiger Battalion took on its permanent organization. The Old Dominion Guards, formerly Company E, became Company D, taking the Catahoula Guerrillas’ old slot. Wheat’s Life Guards, the new addition, became the new or second Company E. The Walker Guards remained Company A, the Tiger Rifles Company B, the Delta Rangers Company C, and Major Wheat remained the battalion’s commander, Captain Harris acting as his second. Lieutenant Charles Pitman of the Delta Rangers replaced Lieutenant Richard Dickinson who was seriously wounded at Manassas as the battalion adjutant. Lieutenant Samuel Dushane of the Tiger Rifles remained the battalion quartermaster, Bruce Putnam, the battalion’s original sergeant major, was promoted to lieutenant in the Life Guards and Sergeant John Wrigley of the Walker Guards took his place. Sergeant H.H. Tabor of the Delta Rangers was appointed as Wheat’s ordnance specialist; Dr. William Love remained the battalion’s surgeon; and Solomon Solomon, the Jewish merchant from New Orleans and Obedia Miller’s business associate, remained the battalion’s sutler. Lieutenant William Foley, with Obedia Miller’s return to New Orleans, became the commander of the Old Dominion Guards until the battalion was disbanded in 1862.
Once the New Orleans Battalion settled into its winter encampment, well under Taylor’s heel, Wheat felt comfortable enough to host several “Tiger dinners” to entertain friends and impress dignitaries in order to polish his own and the Tiger Battalion’s tarnished reputations. Major David French Boyd of the 9th Louisiana remembered: "Wheat gave what was known as 'The Tiger Dinner' to many of his friends, including the leading officers of the army. Beauregard and Dick Taylor, our brigade commander, suspecting what might occur, prudently excused themselves. A more brilliant set of clever men, military or civilian, perhaps never sat around a board during the war…. Wheat was the prince of hosts and entertained royally. He had a superb dinner for his distinguished guests within his large marquee, and gave a more plebeian feast to his Tigers on the outside. But all were filled with plenty and good cheer. The choicest of liquors and wines were served within the tent; the Tigers stole all they wanted from the outside, and all were happy. A fine band enlivened the occasion with its sweetest strains. And while the Major and his guests within were toasting and responding, reviving old memories and dreaming of glorious careers, the Tigers were having fun, too, on the outside. To the music of the band, mounted on the horses of the generals; two big Tigers on Joe Johnston’s big bay; they rode around and around, circus fashion, and ran races up and down the road as long as they were sober enough to stick on….At about two o’clock in the morning Wheat and his guests were well hors de combat, and the commander [Joe Johnston] was hauled to his headquarters in an ambulance; maybe his horse was too tired!"
Similarly, Wheat and Major Frederick Skinner of the 1st Virginia Regiment were supposedly engaged in a friendly contest to see who was better at creating gourmet meals in the field. Major Skinner wrote: "[I found it] difficult to compete with Wheat’s cabeza de buey al ranchero; an ox head, with skin and horns intact, covered in a pit of coals and baked like a potato. To prepare the meal, Wheat decapitated an ox, sewed loose skin over the neck cut, and buried the head in the coals at tattoo. The next morning, the head was dug up and brought into [a] tent covered with ashes and dirt. [It was] as repulsive an object as my eyes ever beheld, but giving a most appetizing odor. The dirt and ashes were brushed off and the skin and horns [were] speedily and skillfully removed, and lo! A metamorphosis occurred. We had before us a dish as grateful to the eyes as to the nostrils."
The Tiger dinners seem to have eased the trepidations of many at Camp Beauregard and a good relationship was in fact forged between the Special Battalion and the 9th Louisiana, a regiment that was initially abhorred by the Tigers’ presence. Private Harry Handerson remembered: "We never had the slightest difficulty with [the Tigers], and in fact the regiment and the battalion got along together so well that they were often jestingly called 'the happy family'…. Major Wheat and [Colonel] Stafford [of the 9th Louisiana] became warm friends, and in this way we saw quite a little of the renowned filibuster and free-lance."
As cited in Gary Schreckengost's 1st Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008).
As winter set in, the Louisiana Brigade received a generous uniform issue from its state government. For the first time since the war began, every man in the brigade, except those from Captain White’s Tiger Rifles, who elected to retain their signature Zouav d’Afrique visage as best they could, gained a uniform appearance. As such, they most probably looked like an eclectic band of brigands from Barataria—Wheat playing the part of Jean Laffitte— or a drunken group of outlandish hooligans who were celebrating Mardi Gras. The standard issue consisted of two shirts, one checked and one flannel, two pairs of drawers, two pairs of wool socks, a bluish-gray jean-wool jacket with nine Louisiana State buttons, epaulets, and trimmed with black cotton tape; a pair of matching trousers, a pair of white canvas leggings, a blue-gray jean-wool kepi with a stiff black leather bill and black wool band, and one jean-wool overcoat of various shades.
The men of the Tiger Rifles didn’t refuse the general issue, mind you, but wished to simply retain their distinctive Zouave trappings as a matter of pride. While some of the men of the Tiger Rifles apparently chose to wear their original but now dyed out New Orleans Zouave jackets (i.e., grey-tan), others chose to don their new issue gray jean-wool issue jackets, depending on the weather. For trousers, they apparently retained their signature but much worn blue-and-white-striped pantaloons as much as they could but, due to war and tear, "most of the fellars was wearing britches of all sorts, shirts they could get from home or about." For headgear, they reportedly donned broad brimmed felt hats of various earthen tones for field use and their signature red fezzes for camp use. Most men from the other companies seemingly looked like any other member of the Louisiana Brigade. Again, according to the Warren Letters:
- "Grandaddy said that the pinchbecks, stockings and straw hats didnt hold out well and started wearin out while they was up at Camp Florida [Centerville Virginia]. The pinchbecks and spats were purt near shredded amongst the briar and bramble that growed in Northern Virginny. By the Spring of 62 most of the fellars was wearing britches of all sorts, shirts they could get from home or about, all sorts of hats. The jackets were special ... this was the survivin piece of uniform that set them apart as one of Wheat's Tiger Rifles. The jackets fared some better than the rest of the uniforms, however, due to bein fired on a couple times by their own fellars Grandaddy said they had bolied the jackets in a concotion of potash, water and vinegar to get rid of the indigo color leavin the jackets the color of an over-ripe peach with some blue mottlin here and there. The red trim fading to a pink....'62 was tough for the Louisianans and state equipment became very difficult to come by. By the time Major Rob was killed at Gaines Mill, most of the Tigers had transformed into raggamuffins most indistiguishable from other rebs except for a few peach colored tiger jackets, corn knives and the prized pelican belt plates."
In other words, the men of the Tiger Rifles tried to wear at least the jacket or the pantaloons of the original issue. While some would wear the original but now dyed-out tan jackets with pink trim with new issue trousers, others would wear their distinctive stripped pantaloons with the new issue jackets. Those who wore the coveted pantaloons no doubt wore them with whatever socks they could get a hold of.
The battalion colors, which had been soiled by Wheat’s blood at the foot of Dogan’s Ridge, were replaced by what eventually became known as an Army of Northern Virginia battle flag with yellow edging.
Jackson's Valley Campaign
In early 1862, Wheat's Tigers were assigned Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor's First Louisiana Brigade in the army of Stonewall Jackson. They participated in his 1862 Valley Campaign, proving instrumental in Confederate victories at the battles of Front Royal, Winchester, and Port Republic.
Tiger Fury:The Battle of Front Royal
From Schreckengost, Gary: The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008): After recuperating from the first winter of the war, in March 1862, Confederate forces in Virginia braced themselves for a renewed Federal push into their territory. This time, it would be a four-pronged assault orchestrated by President Lincoln himself. His main effort, the newly created Federal Army of the Potomac, commanded by 35-year-old Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan, was to sail down the Chesapeake from Annapolis, Maryland, to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, with some 90,000 men in three corps (later enlarged to five), the II, III, and IV (and later the V and VI), the artillery reserve, and the bulk of the cavalry forces. From there McClellan was to march up the peninsula between the York and James rivers and attack Richmond from the east. While this occurred, McClellan’s I Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell (who wasn’t relieved of command, but was simply superseded by McClellan), was to advance from Alexandria and fix Joe Johnston’s 60,000 or so rebels at Manassas with 45,000 men. This would not only shield the U.S. capital from a feared Southern lunge, but would also give McClellan the time he needed to conduct his elaborate turning movement. Once Johnston moved south to protect Richmond, McDowell was to shadow him and join McClellan in his siege of Richmond.
To support this grand scheme, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah, 20,000 strong, was to continue its drive up the Valley of Virginia to not only occupy and pacify the region but to also prevent Confederate forces operating there from reinforcing the Richmond defenses. And on Banks’s right, Maj. Gen. John “the Pathfinder” Fremont’s Mountain Army, 15,000 strong, was to march across the forested Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia, take Staunton and cut the main east-west Confederate rail line between Lynchburg and Knoxville. If all went as planned, it was hoped, the Southern Rebellion would be crushed by the end of the year.
To better meet this multiple threat, General Robert E. Lee, commander of all Confederate forces in Virginia, ordered Johnston to fall back behind the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg. On Sunday, March 9, therefore, in accordance with Lee’s order, the rebel encampments around Manassas and Centreville were abandoned. The Louisiana Brigade, being the last unit to leave Camp Carondolet, was tasked with burning the huts and superfluous supplies. Once done, the Tigers and others headed south, bringing up the rear of the column. The subsequent twenty-five-mile march to Orange County was an arduous journey made over roads that were turned into rivulets of mud by incessant spring rains. These ambient factors, coupled with the fact that the men had been cooped-up all winter, weighed heavily upon them. “We had,” recounted Louisianan W.G. Ogden, “a wet, miserable time of it.” On March 11 the Tiger Battalion, which now numbered only 250 men due to combat losses, sickness, or desertion from the previous year, crossed over the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Bridge to the south side of the Rappahannock and helped establish Camps Bellevue and Buchanan. Because of the continuing heavy rains, maneuvering was halted on both sides and the men saw little action along the bloated river.
In early April, as the Federals’ intentions became clearer, Lee moved the bulk of Johnston’s forces closer to Richmond, leaving only Ewell’s division behind to guard the Rappahannock line. While there, Ewell was probed by McDowell’s cavalry from time to time, getting into small unit actions along the river. After several weeks of this, Ewell finally received his much-anticipated marching orders. Instead of joining Johnston down on the Peninsula, Ewell was ordered to burn the railroad bridge that he had so carefully guarded and march his division west to the Shenandoah Valley with Thomas Munford’s 2nd and Thomas Flournoy’s 6th Virginia Cavalry regiments. There he was to reinforce Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s grandly-named Army of the Valley—of one division—which was busily holding off three invading Federal divisions under Generals Banks and Fremont.
When the Tigers and others marched out of Camp Buchanan on April 18, the weather was reminiscent of their march out of Camp Carondolet. They had to march in a steady, soaking rain, sometimes coupled with sleet or wet snow. The freezing precipitation continued to torture the men of the battalion, one-time residents of the sub-tropical docks of New Orleans, for the next ten days. Although Taylor’s marching orders stipulated that each soldier should carry only the “barest of necessities,” this was hardly applicable because most of the men possessed very little following the Centreville withdrawal anyway. Taylor’s own kit, for example, consisted of a mere “change of underwear and a tent fly.” He reasoned that a fly, as opposed to a tent, “could be carried on [a] horse…[and could] be put up in a moment, and by stopping the weather with boughs a comfortable hut [could be] made.” His soldiers were to each carry: "His blanket, and extra shirt and drawers, two pairs of socks (woolen), and a pair of extra shoes. These, with his arm and ammunition, were a sufficient load for strong marching. Tents, especially in a wooded country [as Virginia is] are not only a nuisance, involving much transportation, the bane of armies, but are detrimental to health. In cool weather they are certain to be tightly closed, and the rapidity with which men learn to shelter themselves, and their ingenuity in accomplishing it under unfavorable conditions, are surprising. My people grumbled no little at being 'stripped,' but soon admitted that they were the better for it, and came to despise useless impedimenta."
As for the men of the Louisiana Tiger Battalion, they, save for the Tiger Rifles, looked pretty much like the rest of the brigade, meaning that they were outfitted in standard gray wool jackets and trousers and issue kepis. The Tiger Rifles, however, still sported their pantaloons if they could and their dyed out (tan-gray) Zouave jackets. The fezzes would have been rare by this time, mostly being used as camp caps.
During westward movement, Louisiana Private T.A. Tooke remarked, “We have nothing but march, march, march, and halt and sleep in wet blankets and mud. I thought that I [knew] something [about] soldiering, but I find that I had never soldiered it this way.” On Wednesday evening, April 30, Ewell’s division crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains through Swift Run Gap and marched into Jackson’s camp at Conrad’s Store. While the totally exhausted men established their bivouac sites in the dark, Ewell met with his new commander, “Stonewall” Jackson.
Jackson informed Ewell that he planned to march his own division south and west, through Port Republic and Staunton, to the hamlet of McDowell, at the foot of the Alleghenies, and stop Fremont’s drive across the mountains. In the meantime, Ewell’s division, reinforced by Munford’s and Flournoy’s cavalry regiments, was to hold Banks in check—that is, prevent his army from taking Staunton (from either the east or west side of the Massanutten) or, as per Lee’s instructions, to discourage him from sending reinforcements east over the Blue Ridge to support McClellan’s drive on Richmond.
When Jackson marched his division out of Conrad’s Store the next morning, May 1, 1862, Ewell was left to his own devices to deal with Banks. At the time, unbeknownst to “Old Bald Head,” Nathaniel Banks’s army consisted of only one division, Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams’s, and some assorted cavalry. Banks was so weak because soon after he drove Jackson from the northern reaches of the Valley in March, he was ordered by the War Department to send two of his three divisions, Brig. Gen. John Sedgwick’s and Brig. Gen. James Shields’s, east by rail to Manassas. From there, they were to march further south to join McDowell’s corps, which had pushed down to the north bank of the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg. Williams’s lone division, now Banks’s entire army, was therefore spread thin throughout the northern reaches of the Valley, in Winchester to Strasburg on the west side of the Massanutten, and at Front Royal and Columbia Bridge on the east side.
Over the next month, while Jackson marched west to drive Fremont back over the Alleghenies, Ewell established several outposts north of Conrad’s Store and sent numerous patrols down both sides of the Massanutten to ascertain the whereabouts, strength, and intentions of Banks’s army. On May 7 one of these patrols, led by Major Wheat himself, ran into elements of Banks’s force near the hamlet of Somerville. Wheat’s command consisted of one company from his battalion, a company from the 9th Louisiana, two companies from Flournoy’s 6th Virginia Cavalry, and one cannon. As his column approached the Shenandoah River just north of the town, he was surprised and driven back by Colonel Robert Foster’s 13th Indiana Regiment and a company from the 1st Vermont Cavalry. In the early phase of this skirmish, coined the battle of Somerville Heights, the Federals were able to push Wheat back two miles to Dogtown where he was reinforced by the rest of his battalion and Col. Hays’s 7th Louisiana. Once assembled, Hays and Wheat counter-attacked and drove the now-outnumbered Unionists back to Columbia Bridge, their starting point. Although the Tiger Battalion surprisingly listed no casualties in this engagement, the Pelican Regiment, “thrown headlong into the Federals,” lost two dead, four wounded, and one deserter, a “crazy Greek.”
The next day, May 8, Jackson defeated the lead element of Fremont’s army, Brig. Gens. Robert Schenck’s and Robert Milroy’s brigades, at the battle of McDowell and forced them to fall back upon Fremont’s headquarters at Franklin, Virginia. Content with Fremont’s subsequent inaction, Jackson informed Ewell that he intended to march back into the Valley and drive Banks back beyond the Potomac. On May 18, “Stonewall” met with Ewell at Mount Salon, about twelve miles southwest of Harrisonburg, to formulate a course of action. It was decided to hit Banks’s outpost at Front Royal, on the eastern side of the Massanutten, between the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge. The Manassas Gap Railroad ran through the place and it was this line that Banks was using to shift his army, most recently Shields’s division, to General McDowell who was preparing to cross the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg in order to support McClellan down on the Peninsula. If Jackson captured Front Royal, the key to the Valley, Banks would not only be cut off from McDowell, but his fortified position at Strasburg would also be turned.
With the general strategy worked out, Jackson cut the orders to unify his army. His own division was to march north along the macadamized Valley Pike through Harrisonburg and along the western side of the Massanutten, to New Market. Ewell’s division, on the eastern side of the Massanutten, was to march down to Luray. To help deceive the enemy into thinking that Jackson actually intended to attack Strasburg, on the western side of the Massanutten, Taylor’s brigade was detached from Ewell and ordered to march west, around the Massanutton through Keezletown, and onto Harrisonburg. From there it headed north down the graveled pike, and, after marching twenty-six miles, pulled into New Market, linking up with Jackson on the evening of May 20, 1862.
When the Louisianans marched into the encampment, the men of Jackson’s division, although worn-out by their recent campaign, stood up alongside the road to catch a glimpse of the famed “Louisiana Tigers.” They were, one man remembered, “stepping jauntingly as if on parade…not a straggler, but every man in his place, though it had marched twenty miles and more, in open column with arms at right shoulder shift.” Private George Neese of Chew’s (Virginia) Artillery, Jackson’s division, remembered: “I for the first time saw some of the much talked about [Louisiana] Tigers…They looked courageous and daringly fearless.”
Once the Tigers and others marched past Jackson’s veterans, Taylor ordered them to halt, stack arms, and break ranks to establish a bivouac. As they did so, he sought out Jackson for further instructions. Finding his new commanding general perched atop a rail fence which overlooked the field the Louisianans were in the process of occupying, Taylor rode up to the Valley commander, crisply saluted, and declared his name and rank. Jackson slowly looked up, peering from beneath his “mangy cap with visor drawn low” and in “a low, gentle voice” asked the Louisiana sugar planter how far his brigade had marched that day.
“Keezletown Road, six and twenty miles,” Taylor proudly replied. “You seem to have no stragglers,” Jackson interestingly noted. “Never allow straggling.” “You must teach my people; they straggle badly,” Jackson concluded with a pained grimace. Just then, the brigade band started to play a gleeful waltz and some of the Tigers and others began to dance. Watching from his fence post, Jackson, “after a contemplative suck at a lemon,” murmured to Taylor, “Thoughtless fellows for such serious work.” Taylor assured the no-nonsense Presbyterian that his bayou-bred Louisianans were well up to the task at hand—that looks could be deceiving. He then politely excused himself to rejoin his brigade, more than likely to put a damper on the festivities.
The next day, May 21, Jackson placed the Louisiana Brigade on point to link up with Ewell’s division, which was on the east side of the Massanutten. With the colorful Zouaves from the tan-coated Tiger Rifles in front as skirmishers, setting the pace, Jackson’s column marched over the Massanutten toward Luray, the designated assembly point. Jackson adopted, at Taylor’s behest, the “old army” technique of marching for fifty minutes and resting for ten. Private George Neese of Chew’s battery remembered: “The troops are all in light marching order, having left all their surplus baggage, even their knapsacks at New Market, and as the Romans of old used to say of the gladiators, they are stripped for fight.” By evening, Jackson united with Ewell near Luray. The Louisianans impressed Captain Nisbet of the 21st Georgia, Trimble’s brigade, Ewell’s division, as they marched into the encampment. He remembered: "Each man [of the Louisiana Brigade], every inch a soldier, was perfectly uniformed, wearing white leggings, marching quick step, with his rifle at “right shoulder shift,” while the band at front played “the Girl I Left Behind Me.” The blue-gray uniforms of the officers were brilliant with gold lace, their rakish slouch hats adorned with tassels and plumes. Behold a military pageantry, beautiful and memorable. We stood at “present arms” as they passed. It was the most picturesque and inspiring martial sight that came under my eyes during four years of service."
Jackson’s army, with Ewell’s arrival, would now consist of two full divisions, his own and Ewell’s. Jackson’s consisted of four brigades of infantry, Brig. Gen. Charles Winder’s, Brig. Gen. William Taliaferro’s (pronounced TAL-iver), Colonel John Patton’s, and Colonel William Scott’s, seven batteries of Virginia artillery, and two regiments of Virginia cavalry, the Seventh and Eleventh, under Colonel Turner Ashby. These troops, coupled with Ewell’s division and Munford’s and Flournoy’s cavalry, would give Jackson 16,000 men to take on Banks’s 7,500.
On May 22 the Valley Army continued its historic journey north toward Front Royal with the Tigers and others again leading the march. The men trudged for hours through a soaking rain and ankle-deep mud, and their exhaustion grew more acute. “Almost tired to death,” one soldier remembered. Jackson encamped that evening within ten miles of Front Royal, the army’s first objective. Before the men were allowed to sleep, however, they were ordered to polish their rust-encrusted weapons, which was a sure sign of an up-coming battle.
During the next day’s march, Jackson learned for sure that a large portion of the Federal garrison at Front Royal consisted of Colonel John Reese Kenly’s 1st Maryland Regiment. He therefore placed his own Marylanders, Colonel Bradley Johnson’s 1st Maryland (C.S.), in the van to have a crack at them first. Jackson planned to use Johnson’s Marylanders and Taylor’s Louisianans to take Front Royal from the south while Flournoy’s 6th Virginia Cavalry, crossing a mile and a half below the town at McCoy’s Ford, rode up the west side of the South Fork of the Shenandoah and cut the Federals’ communication lines to Strasburg.
In order to avoid the Union pickets who were posted on the main road, Jackson chose to march his men up a steep, winding path, called Snake Road, about a mile south of the town, just past McCoy’s Ford. Soon after 1:00 P.M., Johnson’s Marylanders, somewhat winded by the climb, crested the last wooded rise that led into Front Royal and scattered some Federals from Company H, 1st Maryland who were resting quietly at the intersection of Snake and Gooney Manor Roads. Pushing forward another half mile, flushing out a few more Union pickets, the Confederates were met by the famous Rebel spy Belle Boyd, a “rather well-looking woman...[and] citizen of the town” who was drawn by the fire. Boyd extolled the approaching Southerners to “charge right down and [you will] catch them all.” Believing young Belle’s story, Jackson ordered Johnson, Wheat, and Taylor to do just that—charge right down and catch them all—while he brought up the rest of his army.
Front Royal was about mile to the Tigers’ front, down below. Another half mile or so beyond the town, atop a commanding hill, was Kenly’s fortified camp. And beyond that was the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River. A bridge spanned each fork and a trestle of the Manassas Gap Railroad traversed the South Fork and headed west to Strasburg, Banks’s headquarters. The Federal garrison at Front Royal consisted of fifteen companies of infantry, nine from the 1st Maryland, three from the 2nd Massachusetts, two from the 29th Pennsylvania, and one each from the 3rd Wisconsin and the 27th Indiana. They were supported by Lieutenant Charles Atwell’s section of long-range Parrott Rifles from Captain Joseph Knap’s Independent Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (“the Fort Pitt Artillery”), two companies from Major Philip Vought’s 5th New York Cavalry, and a company of Empire State engineers. All told, there were about 1,100 Federal soldiers in and around the town. As ordered, Johnson’s Marylanders and Wheat’s Tigers swept down the hill and stormed into Front Royal while Taylor brought up the rest of his brigade. Major Wheat, excited by the order and no doubt wanting to vindicate his name after Somerville, charged down the left side of the road and was the first Confederate to enter the town. He “shot by like a rocket,” Johnson remembered. “His red cap gleaming, revolver in hand, and got in first, throwing his shots right and left.” General Taylor reported, “Major Wheat’s battalion, of five companies, was immediately ordered forward into the town, to assist the Maryland Regiment in dislodging the enemy…. Major Wheat performed his part in gallant style, charging through the town.” General Jackson similarly reported: "The 1st Maryland Regiment, supported by Wheat’s battalion of Louisiana Volunteers, and the remainder of Taylor's brigade, acting as a reserve, pushed forward in gallant style, charging the Federals, who made a spirited resistance, driving them through the town and taking some prisoners."
Lucy Rebecca Buck, the daughter of a respected local landowner, remembered the initial clash between Union and Confederate forces at Front Royal: "Going to the door we saw the Yankees scampering over the meadow below our house…. By this time some scattered parties of Confederate infantry came up and charged their ranks, when firing one volley they wheeled about—every man for himself they scampered out of town like a flock of sheep—such an undignified exodus was never witnessed before."
Once the Federal provost, Company I, 1st Maryland, was driven from the town, Wheat and Johnson ordered their men to head for the main Federal camp atop the hill. Colonel Kenly, the Union commander reported: “Two battalions of the enemy’s infantry [i.e., Johnson’s and Wheat’s] pushed rapidly forward on both sides of the road leading from town toward the camp.” As the emboldened Tigers approached the ridge that fronted the hill, however, they were forced to the ground by Atwell’s Parrott Rifles, firing canister, and nine or so companies of infantry who were firing musketry down from the Federal stronghold. Lieutenant Thompson of the 1st Maryland (U.S.) remembered: “A brisk fire was opened by our men...doing great damage to the enemy’s rank and file, and throwing them into confusion, but they rallied.”
Wheat ordered his men to take cover around “Rose Hill,” a large brick and wood mansion, about 250 yards to the right-front of Kenly’s camp, where, according to Lucy Buck, “a good deal of fighting was done.” Before long, Jackson himself arrived on the scene with Carrington’s, Courtney’s, and Brockenbrough’s Virginia batteries, armed with 4.62-inch smoothbores of various makes and ordered them to be posted atop a hill to the Tigers’ right-rear. With Wheat’s and Johnson’s battalions pinned in front of the Federal breastworks, and with the relatively short-range Confederate guns unable to gain fire superiority, General Taylor recommended a double envelopment. While Wheat’s and Johnson’s men would continue to fix Kenly’s position in front, with Carrington’s, Courtney’s, and Brockenbrough’s guns offering at least some suppressive fire against Atwell’s Parrotts, Taylor could maneuver his 7th, 8th, and 9th regiments to the far right, out past Johnson’s Marylanders, and cross the relatively unguarded railroad trestle that spanned the South Fork, getting in Kenly’s rear. As they did so, Colonel Seymour’s Irish Regiment would sweep to the left, making a dash for the South Fork Bridge, immediately behind Kenly’s camp, drawing the Federals’ fire. Without an afterthought, and no doubt impressed by the Louisiana planter’s enterprise, Old Jack nodded in approval and Taylor led the first attack of his life.
Kenly watched helplessly as the Pelican Staters worked their way around his flanks and decided to order his men to torch the camp and retreat across both branches of the Shenandoah River before they were completely cut off. Once across the North Fork Bridge, screened by the 5th New York Cavalry, Kenly ordered Vought’s troopers to torch the bridge while he established a new line along the riverbank, anchored by a dominating rise called Guard Hill, previously held by two companies of the 29th Pennsylvania. He was determined to hold Jackson’s minions back as long as possible to alert Banks of the threat.
On the heels of the rapidly retreating Federals, Johnson’s Marylanders charged through the burning camp, snagged a few prisoners, and crossed over the South Fork Bridge—beating the 6th Louisiana—onto a low crop of land between the two forks where “Riverside” mansion stood. Progressing another 400 or so yards up the road, the Marylanders were stopped cold by Kenly’s new line atop Guard Hill and the burning North Fork Bridge. General Taylor soon joined Johnson with some of his Louisianans. With the low-lying bridge on fire, over-watched by a reinforced Federal infantry regiment and two pieces of artillery, and with no sign of reinforcement in sight, Taylor rode back to “Riverside” for instructions from Jackson, who resolved to continue the attack. Taylor’s Louisianians would charge across the North Fork Bridge, burning or not, and drive the enemy into the ground.
At that moment, almost by dumb luck, Wheat was escorting his desperadoes up through the destroyed Federal camp and across the South Fork Bridge. Jackson would use these “Tigers” to lead the forlorn attack and ordered them to pass through the Marylanders and take the burning bridge. Ewell’s assistant adjutant and future son-in-law, Captain G. Campbell Brown, remembered: "I shall never forget the style in which Wheat’s battalion passed us as we stood on the road. [Wheat] was riding full gallop, yelling at the top of his voice; his big sergeant-major [James Wrigley] running at top speed just after him, calling upon the men to come on; and they strung out according to their speed and “stomach for the fight,” following after, all running; all yelling; all looking like fight. Their peculiar Zouave dress, light striped, baggy pants, bronzed and desperate faces and wild excitement made up a glorious picture. Wheat himself looked in a fight as handsome as any man I ever saw."
With Wheat in the lead, the Tigers descended the dirt road toward the river’s edge, stormed across the bridge through the flames, and secured the opposite shore in the face of the enemy’s galling fire, which was plunging down from their left front atop Guard Hill. Wheat’s gutsy filibusters were soon joined by the rest of the Louisiana Brigade and they helped put out the blaze. The span was saved, “but it was rather a near thing,” Taylor recalled. “My horse and clothing were scorched, and many men burned their hands severely while throwing brands into the river.”
With the North Fork Bridge now in Confederate hands, Jackson ordered Johnson’s Marylanders and Taylor’s Louisianans to push up the road and through the wooded gap to press the Federals in front while Flournoy’s cavalry, just arrived, would exploit the breach. After another hour of fighting, Kenly’s position was once again turned and the frantic Yankees were forced to run for their lives toward Winchester. “The pursuit begun was kept up vigorously,” remembered Captain Henry Kyd Douglas, Jackson’s acting inspector general. “There was much handsome work done by Flournoy’s cavalry, with good results.” Flournoy’s pursuit, like Taylor’s double envelopment near the river’s edge, was carried out in textbook fashion.
By late afternoon, four of his companies had run down what was left of Kenly’s command near Cedarville, five miles from Front Royal. Literally cutting the Federals to pieces, Flournoy’s troopers captured almost all of Kenly’s command, including the colonel himself, Lieutenant Atwell’s invaluable rifled guns (which were given to the Rockbridge Artillery), and the once-proud colors of the 1st Maryland (U.S.).
As the Virginia cavaliers pursued Kenly’s doomed command, Wheat’s exhausted Tigers were recuperating along the shady banks of the North Fork of the Shenandoah when they unexpectedly heard a train whistle coming from the direction of Manassas Gap, passing behind their position. Earlier in the day, Ashby’s cavalry had cut the telegraph lines between Strasburg and Manassas and the engineer of the Federal train, which consisted of two locomotives, three passenger, and fifty tonnage cars, apparently had no idea that the town had been seized by Jackson’s army. No doubt sensing opportunity and more glory for his battalion, Wheat quickly roused his men from their late-afternoon snooze and ordered them to charge the slow-moving train. Swarming up the embankment and across the flat land behind “Riverside,” the Tigers hopped aboard the locomotive, threw its wholly surprised driver to the ground, and brought the train to a stop. When the filibusters opened the cars, they were pleasantly surprised to find over $300,000 worth of commissary stores packed inside, which were eagerly consumed by the Valley Army over the next few weeks.
With the battle won and the town secured, Jackson encamped the bulk of his army on the north side of Guard Hill, established his headquarters at “Riverside,” and garrisoned Front Royal with men from each regiment in Ewell’s division to care for the wounded. Among those left behind was Captain Henry Gardner of the Delta Rangers, Wheat’s Battalion. Lucy Buck remembered: "[After the battle] Captain Gardner of the N.O. [New Orleans] Battalion came [into our parlor for breakfast]. He wore the badge of the battalion, one of the prettiest imaginable designs—a little silver crescent in a concavity of which revolved a silver star upon a pivot on which was inscribed on one side 'The Star Battalion from the Crescent City' in a revolution—on the reverse side 'Wheat’s New Orleans Battalion.' It was a cunning little ornament and I really coveted it."
All told, the battle of Front Royal cost General Banks about 900 men (750 prisoners, 32 killed, and 122 wounded) and Jackson 36 (mostly from Flournoy’s cavalry). Of this total, Wheat’s Battalion officially listed one man killed and six wounded, including Lieutenant Robert Grinnell of the Life Guards who was “injured in the hand.”
The Seven Days
In late spring, Jackson's force was sent eastward to participate in the Peninsula Campaign. Following Wheat's death at the Battle of Gaines' Mill and with but some 60 officers or men under Capt. Harris, the Tiger Battalion was merged with Coppens' Zouaves within the Army of Northern Virginia. The combined unit was heavily depleted during the Northern Virginia Campaign and the subsequent Maryland Campaign, where its leader, Colonel Auguste Gaston Coppens, was killed. The amalgamated battalion was disbanded shortly after the Battle of Antietam and the men dispersed among other units.
Battle of Gaines' Mill
From Schreckengost, Gary: The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008): Hearing the sounds of battle to their right front, sounds that should not have been heard, the men of D.H. Hill’s division picked up their pace and headed for the front. Being the first unit to arrive on the Confederate left and unsure of the situation, Hill deployed his division parallel to the Unionists, facing their batteries posted on the clear eastern slope of Turkey Hill near the McGehee House. Jackson arrived soon after with Elzey’s brigade of Ewell’s division in front. Because he too was confused by the situation—his wing was supposed to turn the enemy from Gaines’ Mill—he ordered Ewell to steer the rest of his division to the right and skirt the tree line that paralleled the interconnecting Cold Harbor Road while he got his bearings.
As the Louisiana Brigade pulled off to the right toward New Cold Harbor, passing behind Elzey’s and Trimble’s brigades, Jackson rode by and uncharacteristically stopped to talk with Major Wheat. Henry Kyd Douglas, of Jackson’s staff remembered: "While [Jackson] was directing the movements of his divisions and personally seeing the formation of his line, he passed the battalion known as the 'Louisiana Tigers' commanded by Major Bob Wheat. By his brave, reckless, and generally loose men and their gallant, big-hearted commander, General Jackson was regarded with superstitious reverence. No two men could be more unlike than 'Old Jack' and Bob Wheat, but the latter’s affection for [Jackson] was akin to adoration. I never passed by [Wheat’s] command that [Wheat] did not stop and ask me how 'the Old General' was, sometimes half a dozen times a day, and generally adding, 'God bless him.' This day Major Wheat, looking like a mounted Falstaff, was on horseback as [Jackson] passed his battalion. When the General approached [Wheat] rode up to [Jackson], with uncovered head, and almost bluntly said, 'General, we are about to get into a hot fight and it is likely that many of us may be killed. I want to ask you for myself and my Louisianans not to expose yourself so unnecessarily as you often do. What will become of us, down here in these swamps, if anything happens to you, and what will become of the country! General, let us do the fighting. Just let me tell them that you promised me not to expose yourself and then they’ll fight like, er, tigers!' As he spoke he looked up frankly in Jackson’s face, who was listening attentively. Then suddenly, taking Wheat’s hand and shaking it, Jackson said, “Much obliged to you, Major. I will try not to go into danger, unnecessarily. But Major, you will be in greater danger than I, and I hope you will not get hurt. Each of us has his duty to perform, without regard to consequences; we must perform it and trust in Providence.” They separated and as [Jackson] rode away he said, 'Just like Major Wheat. He thinks of the safety of others, too brave ever to think of himself."
Soon after his surprisingly cordial meeting with Jackson, Wheat, “superbly uniformed, as he usually was, his large handsome figure the better set off for the splendid clay-bank horse he was riding,” rode up to his friend, Major Boyd, and said: “Major, just look at my Louisiana planters! I’d like to see any 5,000 button makers stand before them this day!”
A little after 4:30 P.M., as the one hundred or so ragged men of Wheat’s Battalion waited in the wood line, Colonel Walter Taylor, Lee’s adjutant, galloped up to Ewell and implored him to throw his division into battle to prevent the Federals from launching a counter-attack on the heels of the Hills’ failed assaults. Ewell quickly obliged and sent the Louisiana Brigade in first, angling toward the right, heading toward A.P. Hill’s pressed division; Trimble’s brigade went in second, on Seymour’s left, and Elzey’s brigade went in third, angling to the left and toward D.H. Hill’s division.
Seymour led his Pelican Staters across the dusty road and into a large field that used to be the site of one of Porter’s encampments. Once they crossed a dirt track that ran straight to the top of Turkey Hill, the Tigers and others passed through the shattered elements of Brig. Gen. Richard Anderson’s Georgia brigade of A.P. Hill’s division that was pulling back from the battle area. Advancing a little farther, the Louisianans began to take horrific artillery fire from Federal guns posted atop Turkey Hill, killing or maiming several. Unbeknownst to the men of the Special Battalion—who were most probably on the extreme left of Seymour’s line, adjoined with the 9th Louisiana—they were being thrown into the absolute worst part of the line as they were headed straight for a precipitous bend in the creek where the sturdy 32nd NY and the 33rd and 95th Pennsylvania (Gosline’s Zouaves) had the area in a complete crossfire. To make matters even worse for Seymour’s doomed brigade, the aforementioned Federal units were supported by Battery L/M, 3rd U.S., deployed fifty yards further up the hill near the Watt House, General Porter’s headquarters.
Once the Louisianans crossed the field, stepping over the dead and wounded of Anderson’s shattered brigade, they entered the woods and began a quick descent toward the creek. For a while, all was quiet. That damned Yankee artillery couldn’t reach them any longer—thank God—and the Federal infantry could not yet be seen. Descending the wooded slope, passing through the felled timber, the Tigers plunged into the cool knee-deep waters of Boatswain’s Creek, shrouded by the thick smoke left from the previous battle and shielded by its steep, three to four foot high sandy banks. About fifty yards above them, however, on the clear ridge opposite, sat the first line of Federal breast works, manned by the 33rd and 95th Pennsylvania and the 32nd New York regiments. From their dominant positions, the Federal volunteers, who could just barely see the Pelican Staters milling about in the creek bed below, opened a withering fire. At that moment, Colonel Seymour plunged into the creek, horse in tow, and ordered his men forward. “To halt before such a volcano was madness,” remembered Harry Handerson of the 9th Louisiana. “The only hope was to storm it rapidly.”
As the Louisianians vaulted over the embankment, however, they were blasted by another volley of Federal musketry, instantly killing, among others, Colonel Seymour, who was hit several times in his head and body. The entire brigade quickly became pinned down as it was caught in a cross fire of epic proportions: Gosline’s Zouaves were firing into their left, the 33rd Pennsylvania was firing into their front, and the 32nd NY was firing into their right. Private Handerson later commented, “Now was the critical moment when a voice of authority to guide our uncertain steps and a bold officer to lead us forward would have been worth to us a victory.”
That man was none other than Roberdeau Wheat. Knowing that it would be suicide to stay put or to retreat back into the creek, Wheat determined to once again lead his intrepid filibusters in a bold up-hill assault against an entrenched enemy. He turned around, looked through the smoke, found a few of his Tigers, and ordered another one of his brazen charges. But this time, there was apparently too much confusion, too much enemy fire. As such, Wheat gallantly charged up the hill, daring others to follow him. He got to within twenty-five yards of the Federal breastworks, manned by Philadelphia Zouaves from Colonel John M. Gosline’s 95th Pennsylvania, when he was hit by a Yankee bullet which passed through one eye and out the back of his head, killing him instantly. Henry Handerson remembered: "Just then, a little to my left and perhaps ten paces in advance of our line, I noticed Major Wheat picking his way slowly and carefully through the dense underbrush, quiet and determined apparently, but uttering no word and followed by none of his own, or, indeed any other command. A moment later he fell motionless, seemingly without a groan or a struggle, and I knew his restless career was ended. At the same time a comrade just to my left fell with a groan and turned upon me a beseeching look which I could not resist."
All hell was breaking loose. Command was broken to pieces. Men went down by the score. Unable to withstand it any longer, the soldiers of the once stalwart Louisiana Brigade, like Anderson’s before it, retreated up the slope hauling away as many of the wounded with them as possible.
As the beaten Tigers spilled out of the wood line and headed back toward Old Cold Harbor, they ran into some of Trimble’s men who were marching toward the front. The heroes of Manassas, Front Royal, Winchester, and Port Republic tried to warn their Valley brethren of the futility of attacking such position frontally. “You need not go in,” one Tiger declared, “we are whipped; you can’t do anything!” Another reportedly said: “Boys, you are mighty good, but that’s hell in there!” And one teary-eyed Zouave proclaimed: “They have killed the Old Major and I am going home. I wouldn’t fight for Jesus Christ now!”
Trimble heeded the Louisianans’ warning and attacked a little more to the left, more toward Elzey’s brigade. He also seemed to have rallied some companies of the scattered Louisiana Brigade for a brief time and continued his advance. Trimble wrote: "I formed my force, increased on our left by the fragments of the [Louisiana] regiments which had been rallied, as nearly as parallel with the line opposed to us as I could judge by their fire through the woods, and then rode along the line, distinctly telling the men, in the hearing of all, that they were now to make a charge with the bayonet and not stop one moment to fire or reload...under the enemy’s fire [who had] the advantage over us, posted as he was in a good position, and strengthened by fallen timber, to obstruct our advance, and that the quicker the charge was made the less would be our loss. Leading them on with perfect confidence in their pluck the regiments advanced firmly and gallantly, receiving heavy volleys of the enemy’s fire from the opposite height without returning it."
As the battle once again became heated, however, Trimble ordered the Louisianans to “withdraw out of fire because they were still somewhat confused.” With Taylor still in an ambulance in the rear and Seymour dead, Colonel Leroy Stafford of the Ninth Regiment took charge of what was left of the Louisiana Brigade. He reported simply, “I took command of the [Louisiana] Brigade and was ordered by General Trimble to form the troops in line of battle near the edge of the wood; this was done.” Once Ewell’s division was fully committed, Captain Brown rode up from Old Baldy’s headquarters to help rally the bushwhacked Louisiana Brigade and two companies from the 15th Alabama of Trimble’s brigade who were moving to the rear. He wrote: "As I went down the road from [New Cold Harbor] towards the swamp, men came rushing out of the bushes on the right. I had seen troops of other commands coming out of these as we came up, but these I knew to be [the] Louisianians and to leave a gap in our line. Colonel Cantey of the 15th Alabama with two of his companies also came out; but they as well as Colonel Stafford’s 9th Louisiana and parts of the 8th Louisiana and 7th Louisiana were in some sort of order and soon came under the control of their officers. I concluded that my first duty was to rally these men as Seymour had been killed, to get someone to take command of the brigade. It took three quarters of an hour of hard work. We formed just behind a little crest; on the flank of Trimble’s two regiments and when the line was in some sort of order. I reported to [Trimble] the condition of affairs and set off to find General Ewell. Trimble ordered the officer in command (Stafford, I believe, Hays being wounded at Port Republic) to go back out of fire across the road, as he found his men somewhat nervous where they were and let them be [quiet] till needed."
As the shattered Louisiana Brigade continued to pull back toward Old Cold Harbor, General Taylor was brought forward in an ambulance. He remembered: "It was a wild scene. Battle was raging furiously. Shot, shell and ball exploded and whistled. Hundreds of wounded were being carried off, while the ground was strewn with dead. Dense thickets of small pines covered much of the field, further obscured by clouds of smoke…. The loss of my command was distressing. Wheat was gone, and Seymour, and many others. I had a wretched feeling of guilt, especially about Seymour, who led the brigade and died in my place. Brave old Seymour! I can see him now, mounting the hill at Winchester, on foot, with sword and cap in hand."
It was now past 5:30 P.M. and Lee’s attack was completely stalled. In all, he had elements of five divisions on the battle line, all of D.H. Hill’s, most of Ewell’s, Winder’s, and Longstreet’s, some of A.P. Hill’s, and one two-brigade division, Whiting’s, in reserve. The Federal line, it seemed, was impregnable. Lee resolved to break through, however, committed all of his forces, however, and sent them on a headlong charge against Porter’s line. Sixteen brigades of infantry, a full 32,000 men, would smash Porter’s remaining 25,000 if it was the last thing they did. At 7:00 P.M., an hour before dark, the attack was ordered. Private McClendon remembered: “All being ready, the command ‘charge’ was given, we raised a yell and dashed down the slant pell mell…yelling all the time, expecting a hand-to-hand encounter when we reached their line.”
The Special Battalion, as with the rest of the Louisiana Brigade, did not participate in the final and decisive assault against Porter’s V Corps, an attack that went down in history as one of the most desperate and extraordinary assaults of the war. Before long, with the seemingly insurmountable Federal line breached in multiple points, McClellan ordered Porter to retreat to the south side of the Chickahominy using Woodbury’s, Alexander’s, and Grapevine bridges before he and his heroic men were totally cut off. And although his important York River supply line was effectively severed by Lee’s advance and his men were pushed back from the very gates of Richmond, McClellan did not publicly admit defeat and instead deployed his army along the southern bank of the Chickahominy—another strong position—hoping to once again bludgeon “the Rebel Secesh” and blast them into oblivion in their own back yard.
All told, the battles at Mechanicsville and Gaines’ Mill, days one and two of what later became known as the “Seven Days Battle,” cost Lee 8,751 men (8 percent of his command) and McClellan 6,837 (7 percent of his command). Of this, the Louisiana Brigade lost 174 (29 dead and 142 wounded) and the Tiger Battalion, suffering the most in the brigade, lost 22 soldiers (about 11 percent), including its gallant commander, Major Roberdeau Wheat, Lieutenant William Foley of the Old Dominion Guards and Lieutenant Charles Pitman of the Delta Rangers, who were killed, and Privates Mark Jordan, Thomas Maloney, and Dennis Ryan from the Delta Rangers, who were wounded. Three other men, not specified in the records, were also killed, and sixteen others were wounded.
This left Captain Robert Harris, who was left in charge of the Special Battalion after Wheat’s gruesome death, with about sixty men and four officers—barely a company. With Harris’s unsolicited elevation, Lieutenant W.V. Kinnan commanded what was left of the Walker Guards as Lieutenant John Coyle and Lieutenant Edward Cockroft had been wounded at Port Republic and Lieutenant E.B. Sloan had resigned his commission in December 1861. Lieutenant Thomas Adrian, the brave warrior from Manassas who “loved war,” still commanded the remaining Zouaves of the Tiger Rifles after Captain White was wounded at Port Republic. Captain Henry Gardner of the Delta Rangers, one of the founders of the battalion, resigned his commission immediately after the Gaines’ Mill debacle (he probably feared for his life) and his tiny company was more than likely commanded by Sergeant Michael Horan as Lieutenant Frank McCarthy was killed and Thaddeus Ripley was wounded, like many other officers, at Port Republic. Lieutenant John Keenan, originally a drummer, now commanded the Old Dominion Guards, Wheat’s old company, as Captain Obedia Miller had been sent home after his Manassas wounding and Lieutenant William Foley was killed in the most recent battle. Captain Robert Going Atkins, the Irish soldier of fortune and Wheat’s associate, still commanded the Life Guards, and was now second only to Harris in the battalion command structure.
After the Seven Days, in late-July, in a controversial move, Robert E. Lee and the Confederate War Department decided to disband Charles Dreux's 1st, Robert Harris's 2nd (formerly Wheat's), William Bradford's 3rd, and Henri St. Paul's 7th Louisiana Battalions, their men being transferred to beef up existing regiments. The survivors of Wheat's Battalion were assigned to Coppens's 1st Louisiana Zouave Battalion (until it was disbanded after Sharpsburg), 1st Louisiana Brigade, under Brig. Gen. Harry Hays (Brig. Gen. Taylor was promoted to major general and transferred west to command the District of West Louisiana). To commemorate the memory of Wheat's Tigers, the 1st Louisiana Brigade became known as the "Louisiana Tiger Brigade" until the end of the war. Special Order 185, dated August 9, 1862, officially disbanded Wheat's Battalion: "The battalion of Louisiana Volunteers commanded by Major Wheat, deceased, having been reduced to not more than a hundred men, will be disbanded, and the men compromising the same will be transferred to the Louisiana regiments serving in Virginia." Some of the officers, however, chose to be transferred to the Western Theater, like Major Robert Harris and Captain Alexander White, who was captured by Grant's army at Vicksburg in 1863.
Hays's "Louisiana Tiger" Brigade
By then, the nickname "Louisiana Tigers" had expanded to encompass the entire brigade, which was commanded by Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays following Taylor's promotion and transfer to the Western Theater. By the Battle of Fredericksburg in late 1862, Hays's Brigade was composed of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Louisiana, and was a part of the division of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early.
One of the Tigers' greatest moments occurred on August 30, 1862, the third day of the Battle of Second Bull Run, when members of the 9th Louisiana Infantry Regiment beat back repeated Union assaults on the Confederate lines, described as follows: "After successfully breaking up three Union assaults, the Tigers found themselves dangerously short of ammunition. Two men of the 9th Louisiana were dispatched to the rear for more but a fourth Union attack was mounted before they returned. The ensuing clash was 'the ugliyst fight of any" claimed Sergeant Stephens. Groping frantically for ammunition among the dead and wounded, the Louisianians were barely able to beat off the determined Yankees, who threw themselves up to the very muzzles of the Tigers' muskets. When the Tigers fired their last round, the flags of the opposing regiments were almost flapping together. In desperation Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Nolan shouted for the men to make use of the numerous rocks that lay scattered around the embankment. Sensing that the rebels were at the end of their rope, the Yankees were charging up to the base of the embankment when suddenly fist and melon size stones arched out of the smoke that hung over the grade and rained down upon them. "Such a flying of rocks never was seen," claimed one witness, as the Tigers and other nearby Confederates heaved the heavy stones at the surprised federals. Numerous Yankees on the front line were killed by the flying rocks, and many others were badly bruised." -- From "Lee's Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia" (Louisiana State University Press) by Terry Jones.
During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, Hays's Brigade played a crucial role in the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Winchester, seizing a key fort and forcing the withdrawal of Union troops under Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy. During the subsequent invasion of southern Pennsylvania, much of the populace feared the thievery and drunkenness often associated with the colorful Louisianans. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Hays's Brigade stormed East Cemetery Hill on the second day and seized several Union artillery pieces before withdrawing when supporting units were not advanced.
In the autumn of 1863, more than half the brigade was captured at the Battle of Rappahannock Station, and 600 men were shipped to Northern prisoner-of-war camps, many to Fort Delaware. Most would be paroled and would later rejoin the Tigers. The replenished brigade fought in the Overland Campaign at the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where General Hays was severely wounded.
During the subsequent reorganization of Robert E. Lee's army in late May, the much depleted brigade of Tigers was consolidated with the "Pelican Brigade," formally known as the Second Louisiana Brigade, which had also lost its commander, Leroy A. Stafford, a long-time Tiger. Zebulon York became the new commander.
The nickname Tigers subsequently came to encompass all Louisiana infantry troops that fought under Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. Nearly 12,000 men served at one time or another in various regiments that were destined to be part of the Louisiana Tigers. The name was at times also used for other Louisiana troops, including Levi's Light Artillery Battery and Maurin's Battery, but it was the infantry that is most often associated with the term.
Later, York's consolidated brigade of Tigers fought in Early's army during the Battle of Monocacy and several subsequent battles in the Shenandoah Valley. In late 1864, the Tigers returned to the Army of Northern Virginia in the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia. By the Appomattox Campaign, many regiments were reduced to less than 100 men apiece, and Brig. Gen. William R. Peck had become the Tigers' final commander.
Following the Civil War, many former Tigers joined the Hays Brigade Relief Association, a prominent New Orleans social and political organization. Harry T. Hays, by then the local sheriff, mobilized the association during the 1866 New Orleans Race Riot. A company of former Louisiana Tigers joined the Fenian Invasion of Upper Canada on June 1, 1866 and fought the Canadian militia the next day at the Battle of Ridgeway.
The nickname Louisiana "Tigers" lives on with the athletic teams of the Louisiana State University.
- Brooks, Ross. "Desperate Stand: Wheat's 1st First Special Battalion, Louisiana Volunteer Infantry on Matthew's Hill, 21 July 1861." Military Collector and Historian, fall 2007. p. 157.
- Jones, Terry L. Lee's Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8071-1314-X.
- Mingus, Scott L. Sr. The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign, June–July 1863. Baton Rouge:Louisiana State University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8071-3479-5.
- Gary Schreckengost. The First Louisiana Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7864-3202-8.
- Gary Schreckengost. Try Me: A Confederate Zouave in Wheat's Famed Louisiana Tiger Battalion, 1861-62. Baltimore, Maryland: Publish America, 2009. An historical novel.
- Warder, T.B. and Catlett, James M. The Battle of Young's Branch, or Manassas Plain, Fought July 21, 1861. (Richmond, Virginia: Enquirer Book and Job Press, 1862).
- Brooks, 157.
- Brooks, 157.
- Brooks, p. 157.
- Gary Schreckengost: 1st Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers in the Civil War (McFarland, 2008).
- Brooks, 158.
- Warder, 45.
- Brooks, 159.
- Warder, 43.
- Brooks, 163.
- Brooks, 163.
- Brooks, 162.
- Brooks, 163.
- Warder, 46.
- Warder, 46.
- Warder, 46.
- Warder, 46.
- Warder, 46.
- Brooks, 168.
- Brooks, 169.
- The New Orleans Daily Delta, August 27, 1861.
- New Orleans Bee, August 9, 1861.
- New Orleans Delta, August 3, 1861.
- Vertical files of the library of the Gettysburg National Military Park
- Harper's Weekly, June 7, 1862, perpetuating several rumors and myths about the Tigers' character.
- Depiction of the distinctive early-war uniforms
- Tiger Rifles brief overview
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