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Collection of Printed General Orders from Headquarters, Department of the Gulf, 1863

New Orleans, 1863, octavo, 90 printed orders, plus 13-page printed Index of General Orders, Department of the Gulf. A nearly complete run, lacking only numbers: 13, 19, 26, 33, 46, 48, 62, 67, 81, and 86.

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The Department of the Gulf was constituted on February 23, 1862 when the United States War Department issued General Orders No. 20; the department consisted of "...all of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico west of Pensacola harbor, and so much of the Gulf States as may be occupied by the forces under Major General B.F. Butler." On March 20, 1862, Butler activated his command at Ship Island, Mississippi by issuing General Orders No. 1 (Department of the Gulf) assuming his new command.

                 United States Navy's West Gulf Blockading Squadron captured New Orleans, Louisiana on April 29, 1862, Butler moved his headquarters to New Orleans on 1 May. The department, sometimes referred to as the Army of the Gulf, became a union occupying force in the region. Major General N.P. Banks was in command of the Department in 1863.

             The orders deal with the full range of administrative matters of an Army Headquarters, including promotions, demotions, court-martials and other issues. However, the collection includes General Order No 12, January 29, 1863, Promulgating the Emancipation Proclamation, it includes the text of the Proclamation, itself, signed in type by President Lincoln. It also carries two pages of instructions to officers of the army and navy concerning former slaves, their treatment, forbidding forcible seizure of fugitives by their former masters, and regulations concerning the “unemployed negroes”, former slaves, et cetera.

              Several General Orders concern the Corps d’Afrique: General order Number 40, Opelousas, May 1, 1863 concerns the organization of the Corps d’Afrique. General Order N. 77, New Orleans October 27, 1863 concerns recruiting for the Corps.

 

              The Corps d’Afrique, one of many Louisiana Union Civil War units, was formed in New Orleans after the city was taken and occupied by Union forces. It was formed in part from the Louisiana Native Guards. The Native Guards were former militia units raised in New Orleans, who were property-owning free people of color (gens de couleur libres). Free mixed-race people had developed as a third class in New Orleans since the colonial years. During the Civil War, many free men of color wanted to prove their bravery and loyalty to the Confederacy like other Southern property owners by joining militias such as the 1st Louisiana Native Guard (CSA), but the Confederacy did not allow them to serve and confiscated the arms of those in the militia.

      For later units of the Corps d’Afrique, the Union recruited freedmen from the refugee camps. Liberated from nearby plantations, they and their families had no means to earn a living and no place to go. Local commanders, starved for replacements, started equipping volunteer units with cast-off uniforms and obsolete or captured firearms. The men were treated and paid as auxiliaries, performing guard or picket duties to free up white soldiers for maneuver units. In exchange their families were fed, clothed and housed for free at the Army camps; often schools were set up for them and their children.

Despite class differences between free people of color and freedmen, the troops of the Corps d’Afrique served with distinction, including at the Battle of Port Hudson and throughout the South. Its units included:

·      4 Regiments of Louisiana Native Guards (renamed the 1st–4th Corps d’Afrique Infantry, later renamed as the 73rd–76th US Colored Infantry on April 4, 1864).

·      1st and 2nd Brigade Marching Bands, Corps d’Afrique (later made into Nos. 1 and 2 Bands, USCT).

·      1st Regiment of Cavalry (1st Corps d’Afrique Cavalry, later made into the 4th US Colored Cavalry).

·      22 Regiments of Infantry (1st–20th, 22nd, and 26th Corps d’Afrique Infantry, later converted into the 77th–79th, 80th–83rd, 84th–88th, and 89th–93rd US Colored Infantry on April 4, 1864).

·      5 Regiments of Engineers (1st–5th Corps d’Afrique Engineers, later converted into the 95th–99th US Colored Infantry regiments on April 4, 1864) whose work building Bailey’s Dam saved the Union navy’s Mississippi River Squadron.

·      1 Regiment of Heavy Artillery (later converted into the 10th US Colored (Heavy) Artillery on May 21, 1864).