McLaw's Foreign Battalions
by Gordon Thorsby
It was in March, 1865. Sherman and an army, organized in two wings and totaling 60,000 hard, experienced veterans worked their way north through the Carolinas. Joseph E. Johnston had been re-assigned to lead an amalgam of forces to defend against a three corps who were looking to link up with Grant and finish off the South.
This collection of Confederate defenders included a small veteran remnant of the Army of Tennessee, several heavy artillery units cannibalized into infantry units and half of them unarmed, home guard units with no experience, and some of the most experienced Confederate Generals of the War (many hated and rejected from other armies. Then there was “McLaw’s Foreign Legion” (aka called Foreign Battalion.) These were also named “galvanized rebels.”
The “galvanized rebels” were captured Union soldiers who volunteered to serves as Confederate soldiers in lieu to risking death by going to prison camps.
Lt. Gen. William J Hardee called them the “foreign battalion,” but they quickly proved fully worthless in Savannah’s defense and Hardee requested their dissolution. At one point. the battalion mutinied and the last thing a Confederate army needed in 1865 was a mutiny. "Any future effort of recruitment be prohibited." Yet In March, Johnston’s army need bodies and the foreign battalions were used again... at least for a little while.
The authority to recruit them were as stated, “Confederate States of America Assistant Adjutant General John Blair Hoge, by command of Secretary of War James A. Seddon, authorized by Maj. Garnett Andrews to enlist a battalion of infantry from foreign prisoners at Millen, Andersonville, and other points in Georgia.”
It went on to say that Irish and French men were preferred. “No citizens or natives of the United States” and “few if any Germans” were wanted. Enlistments were to last three years, and its officers were to be appointed by the President, not elected by the men. Recruiting began immediately thereafter.
The “Foreign battalions” were raised with records are part of the Commissary General of Prisoners, Record Group.
BROOKS’ BATTALION OF FOREIGNERS, CONFEDERATE REGULARS that was recruited from prisoners held at Florence, South Carolina. It was organized October 10, 1864, and served in McLaws’ Division until December 18, 1864, when it was returned to Florence because of desertions and mutiny. This was McLaws’ initial foreign legion.
TUCKER’S CONFEDERATE REGIMENT was recruited from prisoners at Florence, South Carolina; Salisbury, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia. It was organized October 16, 1864, as the 1st Foreign Battalion. It was later increased to regimental size and renamed the 1st Foreign Legion, and finally renamed Tucker’s Confederate Regiment on February 28, 1865.
8TH CONFEDERATE BATTALION was recruited from prisoners at Florence, South Carolina. It was organized December 26, 1864, as the 2nd Foreign Battalion. It was named as the 2nd Foreign Legion until it was renamed the 8th Confederate Battalion on February 13, 1865.
10TH TENNESSEE REGIMENT was recruited from prisoners in Georgia, beginning with about 250 men in October and November 1864. Initially, the recruitment was limited to Irish and other foreign immigrants, but when few signed up, native-born Union soldiers were enlisted. The 10th Tennessee recruited approximately 150 Andersonville prisoners in January 1865, and 165 in March 1865. It was mandatory the recruits to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Organized as Burke’s Battalion, the 10th Tennessee was directed to repel a raid on a rail line by Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson. Burke’s Battalion and other units blocked the tracks at Egypt Station near Aberdeen, Mississippi. On December 27, 1864, six men deserted from the unit and made their way to Union lines, where they reported the recruitment practice.
After a battle the next day, Grierson’s forces captured more than 500 prisoners, including 253 former Union soldiers from Burke’s Battalion of the 10th Tennessee Regiment. Grierson’s prisoners were shipped by steamer to the Union prison camp at Alton, Illinois, where the prisoners desired restoration to their original units were investigated. On March 5, 1865, Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge recommended that all the former Union soldiers and some Confederate troops be enlisted in the 5th and 6th U.S. Volunteers for service and sent West. Dodge's recommendation was accepted, and west they went.
The names were categorized, alphabetically recorded in Richmond by name, rank, Union regiment and company, and where captured. One list was titled “Roll of Federal Prisoners of War who Joined the Rebel Army, and rolls of Federal Prisoners of War who took oath of allegiance to the Rebel Government.
It was a "galvanized rebel" of McLaws foreign battalion that deserted and warned Union General Slocum of the flank attack about to occur at Bentonville on March 19, 1865.
LISTS OF FEDERAL PRISONERS OF WAR WHO ENLISTED IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY, 1862–1865, Compiled by Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 2012.
Bentonville, Hughes Jr., Nathaniel Cheairs, University of North Carolina Press, 1996.