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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

They Fought Hard, They Lived Hard, Stevedores and the Louisiana Tigers

by Gordon Thorsby


We rarely think of sailors and stevedores in the Confederate Army. In 1861, New Orleans was the largest city in the South and it was the largest port in the South. For the Louisiana Tigers, they were tough and much more. They were looked upon as scum of the surrounding city.


Only one-third of the population were even native born to Louisiana and many were from Ireland and from the Germanic countries. Many were “wharf rats”, stevedores, shiphands, thieves and the rejects of lower Mississippi; the baddest of the bad. If a job was dangerous, these men had the job doing it. Do you need to dig a canal? Give them the work. Do you need labor to work the swamps? Save the slave labor, they are too valuable. Give it to the low-lifes that hovered in the poorest areas of New Orleans. If the men were killed, it was no loss to the world. Most of the men who joined the regiments were simply unemployed. They were cuthroats and the worst of felons and they performed evil tasks to survive.

Even stokers, screwman, and sailors of the hold were higher on the ladder of life. To these stevedores, drinking, fighting and robbing was normal and it continued even into the regiment and campaigning.

For the Tiger regiments, these "criminals" were exactly the types of men many companies wanted in their regiments. For commanding officers, discipline was entirely impossible. They wanted men who did not care if they lived beyond the end of the day. One man described them as, “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" (a comrade) and kill him.


They did not hesitate to execute livestock for their meals whether from a Northern or Southern sympathizer. They were feared by every civilian in the South and every fellow soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia. In traveling through Richmond on the way to the front, their reputations peaked when the town became paralyzed in 1861. Their reputation

continued with the first execution in the Army of Northern Virgina being a soldier in the Louisiana Tiger. They were at First Manassas in 1861, Stonewall Jackson's Campaign in 1862, and the Peninsula in mid 1862. At Second Manassas, when they ran out of Ammunition at the railroad embankment, they surprised the advancing Union troops with a volleys of rocks and stones. Through all the battles they continued. At Gettysburg, the Louisiana Tigers were the Brigade that laid in the sun much of the day, then attacked East Cemetery Hill and took it. With the sun setting and Union reinforcements arriving and no reinforcements of their own, they withdrew in the darkness. At Rappahannock Station in the fall of 1863, the Brigade held off the entire Army of the Potomac. Isolated until night fell, it was overwhelmed and most of the regiment captured.

The Louisiana Tigers fought hard and they played hard, too hard. The “Tigers” were undoubtedly misfits, thieves and undesirables and they were possibly the toughest Brigade in the entire Confederate Army.


Sources:

Jones, Terry, "Lee's Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia", Louisiana State University Press.

Rappahannock Station, Wittenberg

"Wharf-Rats, Cutthroats and Thieves, The Louisiana Tigers", 1861-1862 by Terry Jones. Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring, 1986.

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