First Bull Run Wheat's Tigers at Bull Run

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Andy Cardinal

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Raised in New Orleans, the majority of Wheat's "Tigers" were Irish immigrant dockworkers. As one observer said, they were "the lowest scum of the lower Mississippi … adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts … and bad characters generally.

Roberdeau Wheat organized the unit around three companies already forming in New Orleans: the "Walker's Guards," commanded by Captain Robert Harris; the "Tiger Rifles," led by Captain Alexander White; and the "Delta Rangers," commanded by Captain Henry Gardner. To this group, Wheat added a company he was raising -- the "Old Dominion Guards." Some of the enlisted, especially in the Walker Guards, had already served with Wheat in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua in 1857.

Wheat wanted to outfit his command in the zouave style. A wealthy New Orleans businessman, A. Keene Richards, provided financial support to outfit the men. Richards had previously financed one of Wheat's filibusters. Organized and outfitted, the men began to drill. They were armed with Mississippi rifles and also bowie knives.

The unit quickly gained a reputation for rowdiness. One Confederate recruit from another unit wrote: "They were all Irish and were dressed in Zouave dress, and were familiarly known as Louisiana Tigers, and tigers they were too in human form. I was actually afraid of them…."
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Part 2

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Chatham Roberdeau Wheat was born on April 9, 1826, in Alexandria Virginia. He studied law in Nashville and served as a lieutenant in the 1st Tennessee Cavalry during the Mexican War. When the war ended he moved to New Orleans.

Wheat participated in several filibustering expeditions during the 1850s, and was a general in both the Mexican and Italian armies

Wheat originally hoped to command a regiment, but ultimately only assembled 5 companies (approximately 415 men). They were mustered in officially as the 2nd Louisiana Battalion and left for Virginia in mid-June.

Wheat was a physically impressive man -- supposedly he was 6'4" and weighed about 240 pounds.

As one Confederate said of the Tigers: "I understand they are mainly wharf rats from.New Orleans, and Major Wheat was the only man who could do anything with them. They were contunally fighting with each other. They were always ready to fight, and it made little difference to them who they fought."
 

Andy Cardinal

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Part 3:

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Wheat's Tigers reached Manassas on June 20 and were assigned to a brigade commanded by Colonel Phillip St. George Cocke. Cocke's brigade held a forward position. Wheat's battalion was swnt to Frying Pan Church, near the Potomac. The Tigers were soon joined by other regiments and placed under the command of Colonel Nathan Evans.

The Tigers saw their first battle action on July 14 when a Union detachment tried to cross the Potomac at Seneca Falls. Two days later, Evans withdrew his command to a position behind Bull Run. Wheat's battalion was specifically assigned to defend Farm ford.

On the morning of July 21, Captain White's company, the "Tiger Rifles," were picketing the ford. Wheat sent a company forward to reinforce the pickets when firing started before dawn. As one of the Tigers remembered, "We were anxious to meet the enemy, in fact our hearts jumped for joy when we saw their bayonets through the distant forest."

Wheat crossed Bull Run to see for himself what the enemy was up to. He saw Tyler's division waiting on the Warrenton Pike. He quickly recrossed to the south side of the stream.

Meanwhile, Evans had learned that a large Union force was crossing upstream, attempting to turn their left flank. Reacting quickly, Evans orderes most of his command, including Wheat's Battalion, toward Mathews Hill to confront the flanking column.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Part 4:

The Tigers were among the first troops heavily engaged at First Manassas. Wheat's men were deployed in a sale at the base of Matthews Hill. Wheat sent a company of skirmishers up the hill. While this was happening, a company of South Carolinians advancing through a pine thicket to the rear opened fire on the left flank of Wheat's Battalion, mistaking the Louisianians for the enemy. Two of the Tigers were wounded. Wheat was with his advance (skirmish) company; he raced down the hill to prevent further friendly fire bloodshed.

Between 9:00 and 9:30, Wheat's skirmishers reached the crest of Matthews Hill. At the same time, enemy skirmishers appeared from the woods to the front. These were from the 2nd Rhode Island of Burnside's brigade, the advance element of McDowell's flanking movement. As the Rode Islanders deployed and began to advance toward the top of the hill, Wheat's skirmish company opened fire. But they were badly outnumbered and soon fell back to join the rest of the battalion at the bottom of the hill.

The 2nd Rhode Island had seized Matthews Hill but were now suffering from the heavy fire of all of Evans's command. As the rest of Hunter's lead division deployed into line, the two sides continued to fire at each other for the next hour or so. By about 10:15, Wheat believed the Federal line was vulnerable and ordered an attack. The Tigers advanced through a cornfield and, when within 50 yards of the Union line, charged. By this time, most of the Louisianians had used all of their ammunition. Some of the Tigers threw down their guns and charged with their bowie knives. One Rhode Islander called this "the most terrible moment of this terrific contest."

As the Tigers came within a few yards of the Federal line, the Rhode Islanders fired a terrific volley that cut up their ranks and halted the attack. The Tigers ran back down the hill.

By this time, Evan's small line was in danger of collapsing. But Confederate reinforcements were on the way
Bee's and Bartow's brigades soon reached Matthews Hill and temporarily stabilized the situation.

Wheat's men tried to carry Wheat to the rear as the Confederate began to collapse around them.

The Tigers were at this time were taking shelter in some woods. Wheat ordered them to advance again into a hay field in order to connect with Bee's brigade. Many of the Tigers attempted to take cover behind hay stacks in the field. As Wheat was workimg to the rest of his battalion out of the woods, he was struck by a bullet which struck his left side and penetrated into his lungs. He fell to the ground. "Lay me down boys," Wheat cried out. "You must save yourselves." His men refused to leave him, however, as the fell back from Matthews Hill.

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Andy Cardinal

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Part 5:

Roberdeau Wheat's wounding was a climatic event within the battalion. After Wheat was taken to the rear, the Tigers essentially dissolved as a unit. Their withdrawal led directly to defeat of Bee's line on Matthews Hill.

The shattered commands that had retreated from Matthews Hill started to reform behind a new Confederate line anchored by Thomas J. Jackson's brigade on Henry Hill.

As the tide of battle turned in the Confederates favor, Beauregard ordered the whole line to advance to drive the Union forces from Henry Hill. As the Tigers advanced, Lt. Thomas Adrian fell seriously wounded. "Tigers, go in once more, go in my son's, I'll be gloriously God ****ed if the sons of *****es can ever whip the Tigers," he called out as he lay on the ground. Perhaps inspired, the Tigers and the rest of the Confederate line surged forward and drove McDowell's army back.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Conclusion:

One of the Tigers described the battalion in action at Manassas thiss way:

"Our blood was on fire. Life was valueless. The boys fired one volley, then rushed upon the foe with clubbed rifles beating down their guard; then they closed upon them with their knives. I have been in battles several times before, but such fighting never was done, I do not believe as was done for then next half-hour, it did not seem as though men were fighting, it was devil's mingling in the conflict, cursing, yelling, cutting, shrieking."

Meanwhile, Major Roberdeau Wheat was desperately wounded, shot through both lungs. Told by the doctor that there was no case on record of a man surviving such a wound, Wheat allegedly said, "Well then, I will put my case on record." Miraculously, Wheat survived his wound and returned to duty, to be killed at Gaines Mill. Wheat's battalion went on the form the nucleus of the famous Louisiana Tigers brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia.
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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Apparently Wheat was the only one, because of his great size, who could physically control this group. I was just reading somewhere that other parts of the Confederate armies did NOT like the Tigers because they were a law unto themselves and as wild as could be. The Tigers thieved and robbed indiscriminantely among other CSA groups and among themselves.

However, I once read a Union nursing diary where the nurses had a very young, wounded, Louisiana Tiger, a boy of 15, and they considered him "the sweetest pet" and doing their best to keep him in the hospital and away from the prison camp! So maybe he hadn't gotten hardened yet.
 
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Raised in New Orleans, the majority of Wheat's "Tigers" were Irish immigrant dockworkers. As one observer said, they were "the lowest scum of the lower Mississippi … adventurous wharf rats, thieves, and outcasts … and bad characters generally.
Laughing out loud.

Perhaps that's an assessment from the Louisiana planter aristocracy, but outlandish uniforms aside . . . they were some very tough dudes !

Kind of like an Antebellum version of a biker gang.

:bounce:
 
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