Ship Island has played an important role in the history and settlement of the Gulf Coast. The island was named in 1699 by French explorers who were impressed with the protected, deep-water anchorage it offered their ships. The island soon became an important port for French Louisiana. Many colonists took their first steps on American soil at Ship Island and it is considered the “Plymouth Rock” of the Gulf Coast.
During the war of 1812, 60 British ships, with nearly 10,000 troops, rendezvoused near the island prior to their unsuccessful attempt to capture New Orleans. In 1862 Ship Island served as the base from which Admiral David Farragut’s Union fleet sailed to attack and capture the ports New Orleans and Mobile.
The Island also became a prison for Confederate P.O.W.s, and a base for the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard Volunteers, one of the first black U.S. combat units to fight in the Civil War. The National Park Service provides history lectures and tours of Fort Massachusetts March through October. You can learn more about the Louisiana Native Guard from a special feature by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Tretheway at NPR.org.
The Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (Connecticut’s “Irish Regiment”) was organized in New Haven in September of 1861. They were transported to Ship Island, MS on the Gulf Coast by the end of the year where they saw action as well as in New Orleans the following spring. During the summer of 1862 they were part of the first campaign against Vicksburg and assigned to the “Williams Canal” operation, an unsuccessful Federal project to divert the course of the Mississippi River, bypass Confederate guns at Vicksburg and win control of the Mississippi. Beginning there the regiment lost 150 men due to the lack of supplies, heat, dysentery and malaria conditions in a four month period. At Baton Rouge Colonel Thomas Cahill of the Ninth took command of the Federal troops after the death of Brigadier General Williams and successfully repulsed the Confederate attack. After being assigned to defend New Orleans they later served in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and played a prominent role in General Sheridan’s 1864 victory at Cedar Creek.
Click HERE for to order “Thank God My Regiment an African American One” by Kitty Weaver. Ms Weaver’s book includes rare photographs and the 1863 diary of Major Nathan Daniels, the officer in charge of the 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Native Guard.