Reenactors on Ship Island spotlight black soldiers' importance in Civil War

SHIP ISLAND — Exactly 151 years ago, Col. Nathan W. Daniels of the 2nd Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guard received his orders. Stationed on Ship Island, he was told to attack Confederate troops in Pascagoula and did so with 180 men.

Both sides claimed the skirmish as a victory. The Confederates lost double-digit men in the fight but ultimately repelled the Union's advance, and the Native Guard lost eight men — six to a friendly cannon shell that fell well short of its mark.

Though the battle is often glanced over — if mentioned at all — in history books, Civil War reenactors took to Ship Island on Saturday to remember the event's significance: the raid marked the first successful use of black troops in the Department of the Gulf and paved the way for black Americans to join the U.S. military.

"It's important that the story of the United State's colored troops be told," said Jeremy Houston, a 26-year-old reenactor from Natchez whose great-great-great-great-grandfather fought for the 58th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry. "They never mentioned the colored troops were very valuable, and game changers of the Civil War."

Because of the role of units such as the Native Guard in the Civil War, blacks were able to go on to become lawyers, politician and businessmen, Houston said.

Most of the reenactors slept in tents on the beach and ate what they could cook on the fire.

"It gives you a tiny sense of what they went through, said infantryman Jim Busby. "When you're sweating out here and fighting the fleas and mosquitoes, yes, after three days we get to go home and shower -- they didn't. "You find out real quick what it was like to wear these wool uniforms."

Against the looming backdrop of Fort Massachusetts, reenactors representing the beach guard drilled and interacted with curious tourists as they came ashore on a windy, sun-soaked Saturday.

"We represent the beach guard. Our job was, while the fort's asleep, we're the trip wire or the first alarm," Stan Schneider, a U.S. Navy veteran, said. "If in fact -- and it never happened -- the Confederacy ever invaded this island, we would first fire a few shots and then the lookout would have rang the bell and yelled 'to arms' to wake up the guys in the fort."

Those interested in witnessing the living history have one more chance today, with reenactments taking place throughout the day.

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