Research on the South during the Civil War for my next novel, An Honorable Death, regularly turns up fascinating tidbits. I wanted to know about the soldiers, who they were and what they were like. There were a couple of Cajun characters, mercenaries, to be exact, and they needed some fleshing out.
Well, it turns out there were very few Cajuns in the war as they didn’t consider it their fight. Even late into the 20th Century, many referred to the war as “la guerre des Confederes,” the Confederates’ war. Most (except some wealthy land-owning Cajuns) didn’t own slaves. They liked oystering. They would hide in the swamps to avoid the draft.
Another fact: there weren’t many mercenaries in the Civil War. The Union employed a few mercenary battalions. This was good to find out, because my main characters were mercenaries. Cajun mercenaries. Not any more! They are Tigers now!
You may have noticed, sports fan or no, that both teams in this year’s NCAA Football Championship game were the Tigers. Clemson and LSU. It was kind of funny and a coincidence, but not much was made of it. Clemson is in South Carolina. LSU is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another prominent Tigers college team is the Auburn Tigers. Auburn is in Alabama.
Quick research will show that “Tigers” is one of, if not the, most popular team names, from the pros on down to little league. It’s a good, boring sports name. Tigers are ferocious, eat their prey alive. And… orange and black. Go Tigers!
But consider the original Louisiana Fighting Tigers. Briefly, they began as a battalion out of New Orleans made up mainly of immigrants (mostly German and Irish, with some French, Spanish, and Italians mixed in) who worked in the docks and on the ships, taking on strenuous manual labor (loading and compacting cotton in the holds of the steamboats, repairing old boilers – that often exploded, dredging canals and digging new ones), jobs so dangerous that PEOPLE DIDN’T WANT TO USE THEIR SLAVES TO DO IT BECAUSE SLAVES WERE TOO VALUABLE!
That’s right, these men did the jobs that were too dangerous for slaves. Imagine that. Many of them had prior military experience in their countries of origin.
The Tigers, or 1st Louisiana Infantry, were assembled by a guy named Wheat, Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, a Captain in the US army. A few years prior to the Civil War, the 6 foot 4 inch, 240 lb. Wheat left the army due to illness and returned home to Louisiana. But the fighting bug bit him again and he went off to Italy, Nicaragua, and other places as a “filibuster.” Yes, that also means mercenary. Who knew? A professional soldier.
He came back home for a while. Then, when the Civil War got going, he decided to get back in the war business and raised a troop of Confederate volunteers in New Orleans made up of these tough guys who did the hard work down by the docks of the city.
The Tigers were ferocious. They famously fought in both Battles of Bull Run, and in Stonewall Jackson’s Virginia Campaign. At Bull Run, Wheat was shot through both lungs. Both. The doctor told him no one on record had ever survived such an injury, and he said, “Well then, I will put my case on record.” He survived, only to be mortally wounded in a battle in 1862.
The Tigers got a reputation for fighting and for rabble-rousing. They were thought to be out of control. After Bull Run, there was an incident involving an officer that resulted in the firing squad execution of two Tigers.
Still, the Tigers’ fighting rep got so “good” that other soldiers wanted to join, including a lot of upper class types, lawyers, doctors, and the like. In fact, their reputation got so great that eventually the entire brigade, under Brigadier General Harry T. Hays, took the name and became unofficially the Louisiana Tiger Brigade for the remainder of the war.
FUN FACT: You see that fancy, stylish uniform of the Zouaves? Later in the war they were ordered to dye their coats grey, to avoid confusion. Ruined the whole outfit.
So, with all of these “Tigers” in southern college football, do these names celebrate the Confederacy, and therefore should be dropped?
Research finds that Clemson is actually named for the tiger, not the Tigers. The animal. The fans think the name is boring, but it’s not going anywhere. Ditto Auburn and probably every other Tigers across the land. But not LSU. LSU acknowledged that its sports mascot is named for that battalion from Louisiana that fought like hell in the war.
The Louisiana Tigers battalion had a reputation for bad behavior off the field of battle. Rumors started that this was a band of brutal slave-owners who were known for harsh treatment of their slaves. And that may have been true of some who joined the brigade later, the wealthy ones. So petitions were circulated to remove the “Fighting Tigers” name from the LSU program.
Well, it turns out the Tigers’ reputation for off-field behavior (sounds like the NFL or NBA or MLB players today) was mostly not true. At least the slave owning part. As mentioned, most of the original Tigers were so-called “wharf rats” from the docks of New Orleans. They did the work that was too dangerous for slaves. They didn’t fight for slavery. They fought for… salary?
Are they being honored by LSU for their fighting spirit alone, and not to honor the Confederacy or any of the politics and ugly racism of the time? A change.org petition to get the school to drop the name had only 700 or so signatures and was closed in 2017, so it seems that the anti-Tigers accepted LSU’s statement. My extensive research also clears the name for use. Go Tigers!
And finally, salary. Those rough men from the wharves didn’t fight for slavery or really even a specific cause. Pay for a soldier was much better than what they were making digging ditches or hauling cotton. A private could clear $13.00 a month! Captains made like $105.50 a month. Generals made a lot more. A one-star paid $315! A month! Wow. Three-stars over $700! Now that’s livin’ large.
And they usually got paid on time, at least in the earlier parts of the war. And they got a raise in 1864. That didn’t last very long, did it? The South would have hired mercenaries, but the Union blockade of the marine routes meant they couldn’t get there.
What do mercenaries earn, you ask? Well, thanks for asking! I found a website that tells you what they make, and you can actually apply! It’s illegal to employ mercenaries in the US, but you want to go shoot at people abroad? Be our guest!
The pay is fantastic. A regular army soldier these days makes about 20K. Professional “security contractor,” which is essentially the same job, can make over $150,000!
And do you have a little Gestapo quality? Interrogators can make upwards of $14,000 a week! Homina, homina, homina, as Ralph Kramden would say. If you want to apply, you can find such work on Job Monkey, as well as many other websites dedicated to this profession. I’m heading off to Afghanistan now to make some extra dough. D’oh!
So what have we learned, besides the fact that even with my best intentions I can’t write a brief post? We learned about the Tiger’s nickname in sports and that while one school does honor the Louisiana battalion that first used the moniker, the original Tigers were not slave-owners or even pro-slavery, and most were very poor working class men.
And finally, with many of us looking for ways to make more money, perhaps it’s time to consider a career in the professional military. Great pay! Benefits! See the world!
Have a great week everyone, and Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate. If you’re still here, thanks for reading!