Saturday, May 29, 2010


By Mike Jones

This image depicts a member of Co.B
(Tiger Rifles) of the 1st Special Battalion
(Wheat's) Louisiana Volunteers. So
fierce was their reputation and combat
record, that the entire battalion became
known as Tigers, along with all
Louisiana troops serving in the Army of
Northern Virginia. (Louisiana Civil War
Centennial Commission).
I recently re-read a fascinating and rare book, "He Died Furious" by Alison Moore (Ortlieb Press, 1983 Baton Rouge), on Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat and his famed Louisiana Tiger battalion, one of the most unique units in American military history. The book itself, which has long been out of print and very hard to find, is very curious. It is just one long manuscript with no chapter breaks and no index. While it is pretty unorthodox when it comes to books, the author, Moore, obviously did an amazing amount of research, seemingly over decades.

This is really an in depth history of Wheat and his short-lived battalion that lasted just 16-months before it was disbanded in August 1862 because it had become so depleted. The battalion was said to be made up of 75 percent filibusters, the mid-19th Century term for soldiers of fortune fighting in various revolutions in Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua. Wheat was one of the leading filibusters who, in addition to fighting in those wars, was also serving with Garibaldi in 1860 in the "Red Shirt" campaign to unite Italy. When Southern states seceded from the Union in late 1860 and early 1861, Wheat returned to the United States and came to his adopted city of New Orleans to raise a regiment for the struggle for Southern Independence.

In "He Died Furious," Moore not only gives the fascinating history of Wheat and his battalion, the author evaluates all the controversial aspects of the unit and gives strong opinions about it. For example, the author passionately defends the honor of the men of Wheat's Battalion, charging that many post-war writers of memoirs exaggerated the Tigers' reputation for being "wharf rats" and the "sweepings of the prisons" of New Orleans. Moore also points out that some of the misdeeds attributed to the Tigers should actually be attributed to other Louisiana units.

Wheat's Tigers, which derived its nickname from Company B, Tiger Rifles, and was the only company to have zouave uniforms, racked up such an amazing combat record that the nickname became representative of all Louisiana troops serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. The battalion, it never raised enough companies to become a regiment, made its fame at the First Battle of Manassas, then Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, the Battle of Gaines' Mill and Malvern Hill in the Seven Days Campaign, before it became so decimated it was disbanded.

Wheat was killed in action at the Battle of Gaines' Mill on 27 June 1862. He was buried on the battlefield he died on, but his family later had his mortal remains moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Perhaps someday this book will be republished with an index. Such a classic deserves a wider circulation than it has had.

No comments: