Civil War Hero
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André Cailloux (August 25, 1825 – May 27, 1863) was an African American army captain, one of the first black officers of any North American military unit. He was also one of the first black soldiers to die in combat during the American Civil War. He was killed during the unsuccessful first attack on the Confederate fortifications during the Siege of Port Hudson. Accounts of his heroism were widely reported in the press, and became a rallying cry for the recruitment of African Americans into the Union Army.
His reputation as a patriot and martyr long outlived him. In an 1890 collection of interviews, Civil War veteran Colonel Douglass Wilson said, "If ever patriotic heroism deserved to be honored in stately marble or in brass that of Captain Caillioux deserves to be, and the American people will have never redeemed their gratitude to genuine patriotism until that debt is paid."
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On May 27, 1863, Banks launched a poorly coordinated attack on the well-defended, well-fortified Confederate positions at Port Hudson. As part of the attack the first day, Cailloux was ordered to lead his company of 100 men in an almost suicidal assault against a high redoubt manned by two regiments of Confederate troops with heavy artillery support. Despite his company suffering heavy casualties, Cailloux, shouting encouragement to his men in French and English, led the charge of his entire regiment, a Minié ball tore through his arm, leaving it hanging useless at his side. Severely wounded, Cailloux continued to lead the charge until a Confederate artillery shell struck him, nearly tearing him in two and killing him.
Confederate General Gardner later asked for a truce along the northern front of the Port Hudson works so that the bodies of the slain members of the Native Guard could be recovered. General Banks responded that "I have no casualties in that area" and denied the request for a truce. As a result of this, Cailloux's decomposing body lay on the ground for 47 days until Port Hudson finally surrendered to Banks on July 9, 1863. Few of the dead were identified, but Cailloux's body was identified by a ring he wore which was recognized by surviving members of his regiment.
Cailloux's remains were recovered and returned to New Orleans. The story of the captain's heroism had preceded this. When his funeral was held in the city on July 29, 1863, Cailloux was honored by a long procession and thousands of attendees. His widow Felicie had asked Fr. Claude Paschal Maistre to officiate, despite an interdict against the priest from Bishop Jean-Marie Odin, who supported the Confederate cause. Born in France, Maistre was the only Catholic priest in the area to support the abolition of slavery. He conducted the funeral despite his ban, and Cailloux was buried in Saint Louis Cemetery #2.
In 2022, Cailloux was a featured character in the 2022 drama Emancipation, starring Will Smith and with Mustafa Shakir as Cailloux. The same year, the former Catholic church in New Orleans where Cailloux was famously funeralized became the André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice. A small park near the center has also been renamed after Cailloux.
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