Andrew Callioux (1820-1863)

Black Louisiana Troops, Port Hudson, 1863
Public domain image

Andrew Callioux, Captain of the First Louisiana Native Guards Regiment, Union Army, became a hero while leading his troops at the Battle of Port Hudson in 1863. Callioux was born a free man in New Orleans.  A cigar maker with an elite clientele, Callioux was a Catholic creole of color that had attained considerable affluence.  He was also a skilled horseman, boxer and athlete who often boasted that he was “the blackest man in America.” Callioux had received his civil and military education in Paris, which enabled him to speak both English and French fluently. By his 40th birthday Callioux was considered a pillar in the free black community of New Orleans, having earned the respect of both blacks and whites.

When the Civil War began Callioux organized Company E of the First Louisiana Native Guards, a unit of 440 Creoles who became the first black troops to be accepted into service in the Confederate Army.  Callioux received a commission as Captain.  Never used in battle by the Confederates, Company E remained behind when Union forces occupied New Orleans in April 1862.  Within weeks Union General Benjamin F. Butler persuaded Captain Callioux and the First Louisiana Native Guards to join Federal forces. Initially Union commanders, like their Confederate predecessors, used the First Louisiana Native Guards only for garrison duty.

By 1863, however President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was in effect and United States military officials now actively recruited African American soldiers.  In May, 1863, Callioux and his men were sent to Port Hudson, one of two remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.  On May 27 the Louisiana Native Guards were ordered to attack Port Hudson in their first significant combat engagement.  Callioux and his men understood that this engagement offered them the first opportunity to demonstrate that black troops could measure up to any white troops in prowess on the battlefield.

As Callioux led his men into battle, a rifle ball had shattered his arm below the elbow causing it to hang lifelessly at his side, but refusing to leave the field, he led his troops forward, in the face of heavy Confederate fire.  Before a shell hit him he shouted “Follow me” as his last words and then died only fifty yards from the objective. Unfortunately, after six desperate chargers made by the Native Guards, the black troops were ordered to withdraw.  On July 9, when Port Hudson finally fell to Federal forces, Callioux’s body was retrieved and sent to New Orleans for a hero’s burial.  Thousands of New Orleans black mourners and many of the city’s white residents came out to pay tribute to his courage and leadership.