By now we are used to seeing Greeks crop up in the most unconventional pages of world history. There was a Greek prime minister of Siam and a Greek Protestant king of Romania.
A Greek bishop was behind the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church and a Greek was responsible for the assassination of South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. We therefore register only slight surprise when learning that Greeks took part in the American Civil War, fighting on the side of the Confederates.
Thus on 22 July 1861, at Camp Moore, Louisiana, 73 men enlisted for the duration of the war. They constituted, together with seven assigned officers, Company I of the 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. Among the enlisted were six men who cited Greece as their country of birth.
These were, adopting the spelling in which their names are recorded: Paoli Agius, age 35, a sailor; Francisco Liappi, age 48, a sailor; John George Metalieno, age 30, a sailor; Andre Nicole, age 33, a sailor; Christopholo Salonicho, age 40, a sailor and Constantino Villisariez, age 22, a sailor.
Government records show an unofficial memorandum mentioning a “Greek Company A” being formed within the Louisiana Militia, 1861. The company included a captain, three lieutenants, eight noncommissioned officers and 20 privates. Although it was called ‘Greek’, the list included other Orthodox people residing in New Orleans after 1860. A register lists the following officers of the company: Captain Nicolas Touloubief, First Lieutenant Alex Laxaredo, Second Lieutenant D.
Gregori, Second Lieutenant Lt. N Bragores and Second Lieutenant Constantino Coratosos.
The adhesion of the Greeks to the Confederate Army was widely lauded by the local media, as can be evidenced by the following comment in a contemporary 1861 issue of the Daily True Delta, a New Orleans newspaper:
“Our Greek fellow citizens are emulating the public spirit of other nationalities, and are organising a company. The old blood which animated the heart of heroic Greece will be found yet strong in the veins of her children resident among us.”
Allusions to the spirit of ancient Greece aside, things began to sour early.
According to the True Delta: “The Greek company recently formed, for lack of other employment, has become split into parties, and the excitement of internal feuds supplies the place of more legitimate hostilities. One party strenuously opposes the entrance into the company of any but pure Greeks, while the other favours the admission of men of all nationalities. An embittered contest of factions led to personal collisions, in which the sharp logic of steel was used by the opposing parties, as the only argument which would convince obstinate doubters on either side. Chartres Street, near Madison, was this morning the scene of the last animated debate between the opponents. Three or four of the contestants were considerably worried by ‘gentlemen on the other side’, one of whom was sent to the hospital, one is lying at the company’s armoury and two were conducted to the second district lock-up.”
Merely a few days after that incident, another member of the Greek company, Alexandro Philipuso, “was attacked and severely wounded with knives, by some persons […] who from their language are supposed to have been Sicilians”.
A few days later, the trusty True Delta reported simply: “There has been some trouble in the Greek company of volunteers, and five of them have been arrested on a charge of larceny, proffered, as we understand, by some of their own officers. This is bad for the Greeks.”
Infighting and racial bickering notwithstanding, the Greek company did eventually get to see action in 1862, at the little Warwick River. At Dam No 1, on 16 April, 1862, the Greek company fought with the 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, coming “to the front on the double quick”, hurling back the Federal forces from its sector of the defensive line.
A month later, the peninsular campaign of General McClellan began to collapse slowly as his forces retreated in an orderly fashion to the south towards Harrison’s Landing. In this action, on 29 June 1862, the Greek company participated in the battle of Savage Station. Two enlisted men of the company deserted, one of whom was Constantino Villisariez. Official records cite his date of desertion as 15 September 1862.
On 1 July 1862, the Union and Confederate forces engaged in a hotly contested battle at Malvern Hill. All of the Greeks in Company I participated in the operations and emerged unharmed. They also took part in a rear guard action at Williamsburg. Again, at Cedar Run, on 9 August 1862, under the command of General Stonewall Jackson, the Greek company caught up with and engaged the Unionists under General Banks. In this action, John George Metalieno was listed as ‘absent’ in the official roster of the company, but he reported for duty and fought in the next major battle, Bull Run. In that battle, Andrea Nicole was captured. According to the official records, he took the oath of allegiance to the United States shortly thereafter and moved to the North.
It was in the battle of Sharpsburg that Christopholo Salonicho was killed in action, on 17 September 1862. In the same engagement, Paoli Agius was shot and seriously wounded in the right shoulder joint. He is listed in the Hospital Muster Roll of the Louisiana Hospital in Richmond, on 2 December 1862.
The oldest enlisted member of the Greek Company I was Francisco Liappi, who was 48 years old. He was present and accounted for in all engagements through Malvern Hill. For the battle of Cedar Run, the official records indicated that he was absent due to sickness. There is no indication of his presence in the Greek Company in other battles. However, the final notation in the official records shows that he “deserted his regiment and joined the Confederate Cavalry in December, 1862”.
John George Metalieno was promoted to corporal in 15 February 1862. He was wounded at the famous battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Records suggest that he was captured at Spottsylvania, on 11 May 1864, and taken first to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. He died of acute dysentery on 15 August 1864.
The Greek Confederate Company seems to have been staffed by wanderers, opportunists and lonely people far from home. We would do well to remember them, and all their other compatriots, who have carved even the smallest niche in the bloody battles of world history.
*Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.