This is a lie:
This picture purports to show the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a group of African American soldiers who supposedly served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. It’s been used in numerous places, including Youtube videos here and here.
The picture has been used by pro-Confederate supporters for its propaganda value: the “fact” that blacks fought in the Confederate armed forces is offered as proof that the South was not fighting the Civil War to defend slavery, but rather, for their freedom or “states rights”… or something.
The problem with the picture is, it’s a fake. It’s a retouched version of this picture, which features a white Union official:
The picture was taken in Philadelphia, around 1864. It was eventually used to make an illustration for a Union recruitment poster that was targeted at blacks. The fascinating story of how this piece of history was made into a hoax is detailed at the site Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph. As described at the site,
“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause – – a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery – – has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.”
In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy.
The actual 1st Louisiana Native Guards, consisting of Afro-Creoles, was formed of about 1,500 men in April 1861 and was formally accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862. The Native Guards unit (one of three all-black companies) never saw combat while in Confederate service, and was largely kept at arm’s length by city and state officials; in fact, it often lacked proper uniforms and equipment.
“The Confederate authorities,” James Hollandsworth has written, “never intended to use black troops for any mission of real importance. If the Native Guards were good for anything, it was for public display; free blacks fighting for Southern rights made good copy for the newspapers.” The unit apparently was never committed to the Confederate cause, and appears to have disobeyed orders to evacuate New Orleans with other Confederate forces; instead it surrendered to Union troops in April 1862.
The photographs of the Louisiana Native Guards… show how a legitimate photograph can be altered and used to advance and support a particular contemporary political or ideological perspective in the present-day United States.
The group that was the focus of this hoax – the Louisiana Native Guard – makes for an interesting story in and of itself. The guard, which was a militia of the state of Louisiana, consisted of creole (mixed race) soldiers. On Nov. 23, 1861 – after the start of the Civil War – they made their debut, with a show of 33 black officers and 731 black enlisted men along the banks of the Mississippi River next to their white counterparts in the Louisiana militia.
Civil War historian James Hollandsworth wrote a book about these troops titled The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Experience during the Civil War. He noted: