The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat’s Tigers in the Civil War
by Gary Schreckengost, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, N.C., 2008, 371 pages, $45.
McFarland & Co. has published an essential collection of Civil War unit histories, and Gary Schreckengost’s The First Louisiana Special Battalion, on the short but eventful history of Wheat’s Tigers, is just the latest gem. The book traces the unit from its birth before the war to its bloody demise in the 1862 Seven Days’ campaign. Founding commander Roberdeau Wheat and most in the battalion were veterans of prewar filibustering expeditions into Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua intended to annex those nations into the United States as slave states. By 1861 many of the men were combat experienced, and all were politically motivated.
The men Wheat recruited came mainly from the New Orleans waterfront and, outfitted in Zouave uniforms, made an unsavory initial impression as “adventurous wharf rats, cut throats and bad characters generally.” Once committed to battle, however—starting at First Manassas— they established a fearsome legacy that would be further enhanced during Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign. This account of the brief, violent manner in which the Tigers established their claim to fame is well worth a look.
Originally published in the June 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.