Local History

Three local soldiers of the USCI meet their fate in New Orleans: 1864

By Mary Ellen Matise
Posted 2/21/24

One hundred and sixty years ago, December 1863, three young men from the Montgomery area went off to war. Charles Dubois aged 27 from Shawangunk, George Moran aged 28 from Montgomery, and his brother …

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Local History

Three local soldiers of the USCI meet their fate in New Orleans: 1864


One hundred and sixty years ago, December 1863, three young men from the Montgomery area went off to war. Charles Dubois aged 27 from Shawangunk, George Moran aged 28 from Montgomery, and his brother Marcus Moran aged 21, were drafted into the 20th USCI (US Colored Infantry). The 20th Regiment was organized at Rikers Island on February 9, 1864. Charles and Marcus were in Co. A, George in Co. I. All three men signed up for three years. What was the war experience like for these men? I decided to find out.

In March 1864 the regiment was assigned to the Department of the East and the Defenses of New Orleans, Louisiana, Department of the Gulf until December 1864. In the following year the unit was sent to Florida and Alabama before returning to New Orleans. The 20th USCI was mustered out of service October 7, 1865. The regiment lost a total of 285 men during service: 2 officers and 283 enlisted men died of disease.

Upon arrival in Louisiana on March 20, 1864, the soldiers were sent to Port Hudson, La. where there had been a significant battle in 1863 involving troops of the USCI. They were stationed there for one month before going to Pass Cavallo, Texas. In June the 20th Reg’t. was stationed in the District of Carrollton, La., at Plaquemine in July and at Camp Parapet and Chalmette, La. in August 1864. They remained at Camp Parapet and the District of Carrollton until December.

May 1, 1862, marked the effective date for the takeover of New Orleans and vicinity by the Union Army. The Confederates had already positioned a fort in Jefferson Parish which became known as Camp Parapet and was used by the Northern Army as an important part of the Union defenses of New Orleans and as a training camp for Union soldiers. After the recruitment of troops and the formation of the USCI regiments in 1863, most of the soldiers at the camp at any one time were from those units.

Even for us today, Louisiana is a long way from home. What must it have been like for three men whose young lives had been spent working on the small local farms of the Town of Montgomery to arrive at a camp along the Mississippi River that had once been a sugar plantation surrounded by swamps and lowlands? By all accounts, Camp Parapet was often a wet and unhealthy location, home to lizards, snakes and hordes of mosquitoes. Some reports describe conditions at this and other camps in the area as being constantly two inches underwater with men sleeping in tents full of mud. Disease and death were rampant. At one point the camp commander banned the playing of the funeral dirge that accompanied soldiers’ bodies on the march to the cemetery; it was too depressing for the men.

The soldiers at Camp Parapet and in the District of Carrollton didn’t engage in combat. Theirs was a defensive position throughout the war. Soldiers’ letters from the period of occupation attest to the tedium and boredom of life in the camp. Duty involved hours and hours of drill in the hot sun or in the rain. Northern soldiers often succumbed to the heat and high humidity of the area.

The regimental history of the 15th New Hampshire which was stationed at Camp Parapet from January to May 1863 described camp life:

“Here we settled into a daily routine of camp life, with seldom anything to break the monotony. Daily company, regimental, and brigade drills. Neal Dow, brigadier-general commanding. How many and many times has our regiment marched in line and column, formed hollow squares, formed from column into line of battle, and from line back to column; by fours, by platoons, by companies; and charged quick and double quick; fixed bayonets and unfixed bayonets, and fired with blank cartridges under that burning sun... until the whole could move as if by instinct like one vast machine (McGregor 1900:223).”
~McGregor, Charles

1900 “History of the Fifteenth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers,” 1862-1863. Published by the Fifteenth Regiment Association.

A Cultural Resource Survey of the Carrollton Bend Revetment for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1993 reports similar daily routines for the soldiers of the USCI who arrived at Camp Parapet in 1864. Garrison life consisted of morning and afternoon drills and a parade at night. Some soldiers performed guard mount duties. Sometimes drilling was discontinued so that work could be done repairing the fortifications or other necessary labor.

Surviving the fatigue and boredom of camp life was one thing: surviving the threat of sickness and death by disease was another. Yellow fever was rampant in the camp, passing from tent to tent and taking its toll of sick and dead soldiers. Letters home talked of befriending lizards and checking their bedding for snakes, but there were no kind words for the swarms of mosquitoes that plagued the men. Many servicemen’s records indicate chronic diarrhea as the cause of death. This seems to have been especially prevalent in camp during the summer and fall of 1864.

Based on the National Park Service information it appears that the 20th USCI arrived at Camp Parapet at the height of summer, August 1864. Some soldiers from the North had reported that winter in New Orleans was like the month of May back home. It is hard for us to imagine how oppressive the days of crushing heat and humidity in August must have been on the troops without any of the protections and comforts we rely on today. However, something we can now understand having experienced the covid pandemic, is how disease and sickness spreads through a population and how helpless we are to stop it.

During 1864, in the months after arriving at Camp Parapet, Pvt.George Moran died on August 20th, Pvt.Marcus Moran died on September 23rd, and Cpl.Charles Dubois died on October 8th. All three men suffered from chronic diarrhea. George and Charles died at the Regimental Hospital in Carrollton, and Marcus died at the Corps d’Afrique Hospital. Their service records indicate that they are buried in New Orleans, but the exact cemeteries where these men are interred is still undetermined.

Likely, we have all seen pictures of civil war hospitals, both field hospitals and general hospitals. It appears that the hospital at Carrollton may have been a house given over to the purpose of caring for the soldiers from Camp Parapet. The property at 914 Dante Street was the site of an earlier home owned by the Zeller family. It is believed that the current structure was built after the war about 1885.

Harder to find was the location of the Corps d’Afrique US General Hospital in New Orleans. After numerous phone calls to libraries, archives, and historical repositories I finally received a newspaper article from a researcher with the Williams Research Center at Historic New Orleans. Known as the “contraband hospital” a building of the Southern Cotton Press Company was used as a general hospital that cared for the local population and the soldiers of the USCI. Originally in the cotton press district, it was in the area of Clara and Poydras Streets and is now the site of a parking garage for the Superdome. A picture of the district in the 1860s portrays an industrial area adjacent to the river where bales of cotton were compressed by machines and stored in warehouses for shipment to major US and foreign ports. Before being returned to the pre-war owners in November 1865, the site became the Freedmen’s Hospital.

When you think about your own sadness at the loss of a loved one, try to imagine how hard it was for the families of these three young men who never returned. These weren’t people of means; they didn’t even own the land they worked. Probably they were counting on the service pay that their sons would earn. Hopefully they were proud of them and bore the sacrifice they were making as a family hoping to achieve the rights of citizenship that it was anticipated would be the result of a Northern victory. We don’t know.