Friday, November 2, 2012

Uniformed as a Zouave of Company B of Wheat's Louisiana Tiger Battalion,
Michael Dan Jones, author of The Tiger Rifles: The Making of a Louisiana Legend,
talks about his book at the Nov. 1 meeting of the Civil War Round Table of Central
 Louisiana at the First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Louisiana.
(Photo by  Richard Holloway)

 Amazing Story of Louisiana Tigers Told

           ALEXANDRIA, La. -- From the First Battle of Manassas, Va. on July 21, 1861 to the Seven Days Campaign around  Richmond, Va., the Tiger Rifles, Company B, 1st Special Battalion (Wheat's Louisiana Volunteers, wrote a blazing history in blood that resonates to this day in the Pelican State.
          Michael Dan Jones, author of The Tiger Rifles: The Making of a Louisiana Legend, told the story of the Louisiana Tigers at the Nov. 1 meeting of the Civil War Round Table of Central Louisiana at First United Methodist Church.
         Jones said this legendary Louisiana military unit lives on to this day in the team name of the L. S. U. Tigers, and the 256th Infantry Brigade of the Louisiana National Guard. He noted when L. S. U. chose its team name in 1896, it honored the Louisiana Tigers of the Confederate Army. The 256th Infantry chose as its name the "Tigers," and traces its lineage back to the  Louisiana Tigers of  Gen. Robert E. Lee's  Army of Northern Virginia.
       He said among the reasons for the fame of the Louisiana troops was their leaders, Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, commander of the battalion, and Captain Alexander White, commander of Company B, the Tiger Rifles, which sparked so much interest from the press.
       Wheat had gained fame in the 1850s as a daring soldier of fortune in Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico and was locally popular in New Orleans. Captain White, whose very name is believed to be an alias, was one of the most mysterious, and dangerous men in the Confederacy. White was rumored to be the son of a Kentucky governor who killed a man in a card game, and then fled the state and changed his name. He then became a Mississippi River steamboat man who was both feared and admired by the rough men who worked under him on the river. When he organized a military company in April 1861 in New Orleans, river men flocked to his recruiting booth and it took just days for him raise the required number of recruits. They chose as their name the Tiger Rifles, and were uniformed in flamboyant Zouave uniforms which further set them apart from ordinary soldiers.
Reenactor Luke Jones portrays a
a Louisiana Tiger 'on the prowl.'
(Photo by Mike Jones)
           Jones noted Wheat courted the press coverage and the flashy Zouave uniforms of Company B brought further media attention. They then showed they were real soldiers at the First Battle of Manassas when the Tigers helped save the day for the Confederates in the first crucial hour of  the fight by holding off overwhelming numbers of northerners until Confederate reinforcements could come up to Henry House Hill and turn the tide of the  battle for the South. Major Wheat suffered but survived a near fatal wound and recovered enough to return to his command within two months.
         The author then told of the tragic fall and winter of 1861 when the Tigers went on drunken binges which resulted in the execution by firing squad of two of  the Zouaves, to restore order and discipline.
        He said the Tigers  nickname became attached to both the entirety of Wheat's Battalion and then all of the Louisiana troops in the Army of Northern Virginia. The Louisianians became some of the most feared and effective troops in the Confederate Army.
          The Tigers enhanced their reputation in Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the Spring and Summer of 1862. The author noted the Tigers, serving under Brigadier General Richard Taylor, were called on again and again to lead charges and save the day for Jackson during the battles of Front Royal, Middletown, Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic.
            Jones said the the Battle of Port Republic was particularly bloody and is where Captain White was severely wounded. The Tigers were given little rest before they were thrown into the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 1862. The Louisiana Tigers fought in the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862, where Major Wheat was killed in action, and the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. By the end of all of this fighting, Wheat's Battalion had been reduced to less than 100 men fit for duty. The high command decided to dissolve fragmentary units like this and assign the men to other Louisiana units. Thus  the story of the Tiger Rifles ended in August of 1862. But in just 16 months of existence, the  Tigers became legends in their own time, and legends in Louisiana and War Between the States history to this very day.
                       For more information on Civil War Round Table of Central Louisiana, click here.

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