Ship Island, Mississippi: 1865. This Union Army “Certificate to be Given to Union Volunteers at the Time of their Discharge” was issued for Robert Brown, an African-American private in the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards 8” c 10”. It was signed by Captain Hannibal Carter, his African-American company commander and given to Brown at Ship Island, Mississippi on 8 March 1865. The certificate is in nice shape.
The history of black military service in Louisiana dates back long before the territory became part of the United States. As early as the 1720s, both free blacks and slaves fought with the French against the Choctaw, and when the region transferred to Spanish rule, free black men served with Don Bernardo de Galvez when he attacked English forces at Baton Rouge, Natchez, and Pensacola. After the Louisiana Purchase, the “free colored militia corps” helped suppress a slave revolt in 1811, fought with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, and later was part of the Louisiana Volunteers during the Mexican War. So, it was no surprise that after Louisiana seceded from the Union, black citizens of New Orleans enthusiastically supported the Confederacy and its free Negroes offered their volunteer service as soldiers and nurses.In May, 1861, Governor Thomas O. More established the First Native Guards, Louisiana Militia, a “free colored regiment, with colored officers,” to protect New Orleans from Union attack. Its members represented a cross-section of the state’s free black population and included tradesmen, craftsmen, business owners, and planters who owned significant numbers of slaves. As with all other Louisiana militia units, the state provided no uniforms, weapons, or supplies; those were funded by members of the unit and its supporters. As with many other militia units, the First Native Guard was poorly equipped. Nevertheless, it volunteered—but was not selected—to escort Union prisoners from the Battle of First Manassas and allegedly was ordered to blow up the federal mint when the U.S. Navy began to shell the city. With the pending fall of New Orleans, most Confederate forces relocated to the north, but the First Native Guard dispersed and remained to protect their families and homes.
When Union General Benjamin Butler occupied the city with regiments hailing from New England, his command was inundated with black slaves from the city as well as those who fled their plantations. Butler, who feared a possible Confederate campaign to retake the city, was unable to obtain additional Union reinforcements. Instead, he formed several regiments composed of “loyal’ Irishmen and Germans who had settled in the city. He also interviewed former black officers of the Confederate First Native Guards. After being convinced they would transfer their allegiance to the Union, he established the first black military unit to serve in Union Army, the Louisiana Native Guards.
Its first regiment included many members of the former Confederate militia unit, plus two additional regiments—over 2,700 men in total—were raised from other “free men of color” and former slaves. While the units’ senior commanders were white, all but one of their company officers were black.
The First and Third Regiments, along with several New England units were assigned to a brigade led by General Godfrey Wetzel. After rousting the Confederates from the region north of New Orleans, it rebuilt and restored roads, railroads, and a sugar field destroyed by fleeing southern forces. Later, the brigade served in the futile attacks upon and siege of Port Hudson, which only surrendered after Vicksburg fell.
Robert Brown’s unit, the Second Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard initially remained in New Orleans and Lafourche Parish where it guarded railroads and strategic locations while confiscating Confederate supplies. In January of 1863, Brown’s company, was deployed to defend Ship Island. In April, a detachment from Ship Island boarded ships to raid East Pascagoula, Mississippi, becoming the second black unit to meet Confederates in combat. The Louisiana Native Guard was eventually renamed the Corps d’ Afrique and later the 2nd Regiment was redesignated as the 74th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry.
Hannibal Caesar Carter, Brown’s Company Commander, was an original member of the Confederate First Native Guards. He was born in New Albany, Indiana where he received his common schooling and eventually became a barber and tobacconist. He, his father, and his brother, Edward, were travelling to New Orleans on the Mississippi riverboat Vicksburgh when Fort Sumner fell to the Confederates in April, 1861. Sometime after their arrival, both brothers joined the First Native Guards. After the war, Hannibal became a prominent Republican and served as Mississippi’s second black Secretary of State.. Item #009857
(For the most objective information about the Louisiana Native Guard see Berry’s “Negro Troops in Blue and Gray: The Louisiana Native Guards, 1861-1863” in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association Vol. 8 No. 2. See also “Truth, Lies, and a Black Confederate Soldiers Hoax; and the True Story of the Louisiana Native Guards” at Jubilo! The Emancipation Century website, “Second Louisiana Native Guard” at the National Park Service Gulf Islands National Seashore website, the online American Civil War Research Database, and “Hannibal Caesar Carter” at the Against All Odds website.)
Rare. This certificate appears to be the only known Civil War military document signed by an African-American man who had served in both the first black Confederate unit and the first black Union unit . At the time of listing, no others are for sale in the trade. None have ever appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub, and none have ever sold on eBay per Worthpoint. OCLC lists none in any institutional collection.
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