Sunday, September 04, 2011

The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat's Tigers.

..“the lowest scum of the lower Mississippi...adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts...and bad characters generally”...

It has been, without a shadow of a doubt, a very poor year for painting. I'm not sure why - clearly a "painting funk" - but part of the problem has been to much other stuff to do.. I have a family, I have a job, I have a boat, and there's only so much free time to be had before people start making "observations"... Free Happy Smileys

Happily though, I sat myself down and bashed out these in fairly short term - I reckon no more than 4 or 5 hours tops? So OK, they're my usual standard (ie. painted while drunk and wearing boxing gloves), but I'm happy - I particularly like the trousers*! As usual with this project these are 20mm, by Newline Designs [click here]

So where did they get their name? Unit histories indicate that it originated 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) - that's Wheat to the right.

The Battalion as a whole had it's origins with a recruiting poster Wheat published in a New Orleans newspaper on April 18, 1861 - Wheat's company was to be called the "Old Dominion Guards" and soon numbered 50 men. Wheat (apparently a fairly charismatic man) was then able to talk the captains of four other recruiting companies to his unit, these were Harris’s "Walker Guards", White’s "Tiger Rifles" (that's them), Gardner’s "Delta Rangers", and Chaffin’s "Rough and Ready Rangers" (brilliant names one and all!). As a Mexican War veteran, a Southern partisan, a former assemblyman, and a general officer in two foreign armies there was also no doubt a belief that Wheat would get the choice assignments and equipment.

The battalion were an "interesting" and "select" bunch of people - largely foreign-born, particularly Irish Americans, many from the city's wharves and docks. They must have known how to fight as many men had previous military experience in local militia units or as filibusters [click here - an interesting term that I'd heard of but didn't know the definition of before I read this.... I thought they were something to do with pirates!]. One observer is reported as saying that many of Wheat’s recruits were “the lowest scum of the lower Mississippi...adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts...and bad characters generally.” Lovely!

Originally, only Wheat's Tigers (who were company B) wore the zouave uniform - they wore straw hats or red cloth fez's, blue-striped chasseur-style pantaloons, and short dark blue jackets with red lacing (apparently they wore the fez in camp and the straw hat while in the field... oh well... Free Happy Smileys)

At the beginning of May 1861 Wheat moved his volunteers to Camp Walker in the centre of the city. On May 10, Wheat was elected major by his fellow company commanders, and state officials officially recognized his battalion.

On May 14th, the battalion was moved eighty miles north by rail to Camp Moore near the town of Tangipahoa and the Mississippi border. The encampment was the central depot for organizing, training, and mustering Louisiana volunteer units for Confederate service.

Upon arrival, the battalion were issued belts, cartridge boxes, cap boxes, knapsacks and weapons - either M1842 muskets, or old M1816 conversion muskets with socket bayonets. The Tiger Rifles company were Wheat’s chosen skirmishers, & they were issued with the M1841 “Mississippi” Rifle.

On or about June 8th, and as a result of various political wrangling and promotion disappointments, Captain Jonathan W. Buhoup’s company (the splendidly named "Catahoula Guerrillas") voted to throw in its lot with the Tiger Battalion which must have been quite interesting as the histories show that this company were men of more refinement - "sons of native-born planters or were doctors, lawyers, farmers, overseers, or artisans". I'd love to have seen what happened in camp the first night they joined!

The battalion was now up to 6 company's - but Wheat was still a major (he was working hard for a colonelcy!) and the Tigers were still not recognised formally as a regiment - they were under strength and the poor discipline record wouldn't have helped. In the meanwhile Louisiana had sent 6 other regiments to the war.. I think Wheat knew that time was a wasting....

On June 13, 1861, Wheat loaded the battalion aboard a freight train to Manassas Junction (the major staging area for the Confederate army in Virginia) abandoning becoming a colonel on the hope that he could win the chance on the battlefield. The unit was officially recognised by the state of Louisiana, but only as the “2nd Battalion, Louisiana Volunteers” - unofficially they were known as the Tigers..

The battalion saw it's first action at First Manassas, where Wheat was injured badly but the regiment distinguished itself in a number of attacks. During the weeks after the battle the battalion did picket duty "it was during this time that the Tiger Rifles, upset that they had borne the brunt of friendly fire not only on Matthews’ Hill (their position during First Manassas), but also while on dangerous picket duty, decided to bleach out the indigo blue dye from their jackets, making them take on the colour of a “rotten peach”" - interesting, eh?

During the same period all of the Louisiana infantry regiments were assembled into one brigade, the “Louisiana Brigade,” and put under the command of Brigadier General William H.T. Walker. The Louisiana Brigade was assigned to Major General Richard Ewell’s division (apparently he was known as “Old Baldy”!).

Probably not helped by the boredom of being in camp, and the fact that Wheat was not present (he was off convalescing from the wound he got at Manassas) the poor discipline that had dogged their existence practically from day one continued.. to compound issues, fed up at not being promoted, and disappointed that the battalion had still not been recognised formally as a regular regiment, Buhoup took his company off to the 7th Louisiana. Eventually two men from the battalion were executed following court martial and things started to calm down.

At the end of the year (early 1862) they received a uniform issue, and for the first time the entire regiment was dressed the same, except the Tiger Rifle company who kept their zouave uniform.

Shortly after the battalion was assigned to Brigadier General Richard Taylor's First Louisiana Brigade in the army of Stonewall Jackson. They participated in his 1862 Valley Campaign, too late for Kernstown but at the battles of Front Royal (May 23rd - with the 1st Maryland they lead the successful attack on the town), Winchester (two days later and part of the assault uphill on Bowers Hill), and Port Republic (June 9th - down to 150 men, and the centre of Jacksons line again with the 1st Marylanders). All my reading of the events in the campaign indicate that Jackson recognised the battalion as a hard fighting one, he invariably used them when he needed shock troops...

In late spring, Jackson's force was sent eastward to participate in the Peninsula Campaign where Wheat was killed leading the Louisiana brigade at the Battle of Gaines' Mill.

"..Ewell began his attack immediately, around 3:30 p.m., without waiting for his entire division to come on line.... He sent in his lead brigade, Louisianans under Colonel Isaac Seymour, commanding in Major General Richard Taylor's absence for medical reasons. Seymour was relatively inexperienced and his troops became confused in the woods and bogs of Boatswain's Swamp. Their confusion increased when Col. Seymour was killed by a Union rifle volley. Major Roberdeau Wheat, the colorful leader of the Louisiana Tigers Battalion, moved to the front to lead the brigade, but he was also killed with a bullet through his head. The Louisiana Brigade withdrew from the battle."

With only 60 officers or men left (under Captain Harris), the battalion was merged with Coppens' Zouaves (the only full regiment of Zouaves in the Confederate army) within the Army of Northern Virginia.

The combined unit took heavy casualties during the Northern Virginia and Maryland Campaigns, and Coppens was killed.

The amalgamated battalion was disbanded shortly after the Battle of Antietam and the men dispersed among other units - and there ended a short, messy, but glorious and illustrious career.....

...and for the nay sayers....
  1. I am well aware that there is controversy over whether these guys actually wore a brown jacket - there is speculation that the blue dye in their jackets was poor and ended up a brown colour, as you've read above there's a possibility that they actually bleached the jackets following some friendly fire instances, but there is also speculation that that is not the case and they wore blue jackets (as did Coppens) - I went with brown (rotten peach!), as in my minds eye these guys wouldn't look right in anything but brown - I used the guy centre front in the uniform reference above, as my model
  2. I am also aware that the Louisiana Tiger Zouaves were probably only company strength and that the rest of the battalion would have been more normally accoutred - I don't care - they're my wargames unit, and I'm making them regimental strength!
  3. Rant mode off... Free Happy Smileys
* Painting tip - Steve the Wargamer says don't try to paint stripes - unless you're as ridiculously skilled as some of my fellow bloggers you'll only come a cropper... for the trousers on these guys I used one of these:

Cost me £3 from the local art shop - Royal Blue, permanent ink, and most importantly fibre tipped - a roller ball would scratch the paint... mine was a 0.1mm one - Steve the Wargamer rates it as damn near perfect, but barring further testing it clearly works best only on a very light background, and being almost completely opaque, I'm guessing results will be best on whites and creams....


  1. Fantasic post: Great looking unit with some excellent background information. Like the rant at the end, spot on, it's about what you do and like above anything.

  2. Nice work - they look great as a unit. Those pens do come in handy. Best, Dean

  3. Great work Steve. Agreed about the pen - though I do make sure I use a waterbased varnish over the top of them first (oil based varnishes may cause the ink to run.

  4. Excellent work! The pen is a great idea too, I'll have to try and paint with boxing gloves on as well!

  5. I couldn't agree more about the stripes. Good article.

  6. Love this unit! 4 or 5 hours? Maybe there is something in this 15mm stuff after all!

    It's units like this that might drag me into ACW!

  7. Look very nice and in that space of time!


  8. For 4-5 hours' work these are stonkingly good. Great history write-up too, Steve. I'd heard about pens before but hadn't seen any evidence of how they work, but this one clearly does the job. Food for thought...

    Best wishes


  9. Crikey - steady on chaps... :o)

    Just to cover a few comments/questions - they honestly did take about 4 to 5 hours, probably closer to 5... plus a half hour for basing... the black undercoat and white damp brush technique is fast, but it's not going to put out paint jobs of the like of Giles/Kevin Dallimore etc..! It's also well suited to these figures as they had lots of nice raised detail that a simple slap of the brush brings out nicely and automatic shading..

    Legatus - your comment makes me realise that I didn't specify the manufacturer (now remedied) - these are 20mm, by Newline Designs, and a pleasure to paint...

    Grimsby - you're right and I specifically asked for "permanent". I still tested it with my usual spray varnish when I got home though - glad I did as another pen I was thinking of using just bloomed and blurred....

  10. Fantastic Steve. The Tigers were the first 28mm ACW unit I painted up. Mine all have the brown jacket too. Your rant is right on the money too. Great work.

  11. What an interesting history lesson and a damn good painted unit sir.

  12. Steve- I had a question about the 2nd New York Regiment- Do you know of any online resources where I could find a good picture/diagram of their insignia or flag?

  13. Sebastian - I can't even remember myself where I got it! I need to do some digging..... :o)

  14. Long time reader, first time commenter...

    These look very nice! Coincidence as well, as I have some of these on my painting bench at the moment. I went with the blue coats, and am also doing a full regiment, historical accuracy aside.

  15. Sebastian - I've looked everywhere and can't find my source for the flag I'm using... apologies...

    There's a better picture of it here:

    ...a hand grasping a bundle of arrows within a wreath and some words below...

  16. Sebastian - hope you're still subscribed... went to the Colours wargaming show yesterday in the UK and who/what should I see in the front Rank display cabinet but the 2nd New York (!!) with said flag... the writing underneath is "United We Stand", and the reference source is this book:

    ...whew, I hate a mystery..... :o)

  17. Can you tell me where you got the flag final with tassels? It's a really nice touch that I've not seen before at this scale.

    1. Hi Brent - I bought them ages ago, but I think they were from Front Rank - see this page,_Guns_&_Civilians.asp

      Part no. EQ52 Flag Tops with tassels (x 8) £2.95