“Wheat’s Tigers” was the nickname of a Louisiana Battalion formed from the rougher sections of New Orleans, men described as “thieves, and outcasts…and bad characters generally.”
Of all the units that took the field at the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861, none exceeded the flair and intensity of the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion. Raised from the dregs of New Orleans, they were primarily Irish immigrant dockworkers, tough and gutsy as their combative commander, Major Roberdeau Wheat.
Although the Tigers were known for their drinking, card playing, fighting and general mischief, they proved themselves fearless and effective at the Battle of First Manassas.
The Tigers dressed in colorful uniforms like the North African “Zouaves” then in the service of the French Army, and became known as one of the South’s best and most fearsome units.
Known as Bull Run to the Federals, Manassas was the first major battle of the war. Even before the main fight began, the Louisiana Tigers made a charge. Lieutenant Adrian of Company B fell with a leg wound. As he lay on the ground bleeding, he shouted:
“Tigers, go in once more, go in my sons, I’ll be great gloriously God damned if the sons of bitches can ever whip the Tigers!”
One of the Rebels later said, “Our blood was on fire. Life was valueless.”
One of the Yankees later said the charge “seemed to me to be the most terrible moment of this terrific contest.”
By dusk of that day, the Union army was driven from the field and retreated all the way back to Washington. General Beauregard reported that the Tigers displayed “dauntless courage and imperturbable coolness,” and that these men could stand tall and say,
“We were of that band who fought the first hour of the battle of Manassas.”