Ship Island, Mississippi: 1865.
Printed certificate completed in manuscript. 8” x 10”. Two slight original horizontal folds, near fine. This Union Army “Certificate to be Given to Union Volunteers at the Time of their Discharge” was issued for Robert Brown, an African-American Private in Company C of the Second Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard (also known as the Corps d’Afrique). The document is Signed by Captain Hannibal Carter, and the additional text was likely handwritten by him. Carter was Brown’s African-American Company Commander. He formerly had been a Private in the first Black Confederate Army unit, also known as the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. When Louisiana seceded from the Union, New Orleans free Black citizens and Creoles of color initially supported the Confederacy and briefly offered their volunteer service as soldiers and nurses.
When Union General Benjamin Butler occupied New Orleans with regiments hailing from New England, his command was inundated with enslaved Blacks from the city as well as those who had fled their plantations. Butler, who feared a possible Confederate campaign to retake the city, formed several regiments composed of loyal Irishmen and Germans who had settled in the city, and he also interviewed former Black officers of the Confederate 1st Native Guard. After being convinced they would transfer their allegiance to the Union, he established the first Black military unit to serve in the Union Army: the Louisiana Native Guard. Its first regiment included many members of the former Confederate militia unit, plus two additional regiments—over 2,700 men in total—were raised from other “free men of color” and former slaves. This certificate was issued to Brown at Ship Island, Mississippi on 8 March 1865.
Robert Brown’s unit, the 2nd Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard initially remained in New Orleans and Lafourche Parish where it guarded railroads and strategic locations while confiscating Confederate supplies. In January of 1863, Brown’s company was deployed to defend Ship Island. In April, a detachment from Ship Island boarded vessels to raid East Pascagoula, Mississippi, becoming the second Black unit to meet Confederates in combat. The Louisiana Native Guard was eventually renamed the Corps d’ Afrique and later, the 2nd Regiment was redesignated as the 74th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry.
Hannibal Caesar Carter, Brown’s Company Commander, was an original member of the Confederate Army’s 1st Louisiana Native Guard. He was born in New Albany, Indiana where he received his common schooling and eventually became a barber and tobacconist. He, his father, and his brother Edward were traveling to New Orleans on the Mississippi riverboat Vicksburg when Fort Sumner fell to the Confederates in April, 1861. Sometime after their arrival, both brothers joined the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. After the war, Carter became a prominent Republican and served as Mississippi’s second Black Secretary of State.
A scarce survival. This certificate appears to be the only identified Civil War military document signed by an African-American man who had served in both the first Black Confederate unit and the first Black Union unit.