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Louisiana Tigers was the common nickname for certain infantry troops from the State of Louisiana in the Confederate 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.
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 serious 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.
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. Two 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.
Stonewall 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.
In late spring, Jackson's force was sent eastward to participate in the Peninsula Campaign. During the Battle of New Bridge, they came up against the 4th Michigan Infantry regiment - the Tigers were defeated. 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 were dispersed among other units.
Hays' "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.
- 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.
- Vertical files of the library of the Gettysburg National Military Park