The 21st Louisiana Regiment did not enjoy a long and glorious career like many of its sister units in the Western Theater. The roots of the regiment are traced the the Jackson militia Regiment formed in New Orleans in June of 1861 under the command of Colonel C.C. Miller, Lt. Colonel J.B.G. Kennedy and Major John Newman. In August, Miller dispatched Kennedy and six of the regiment's companies to Columbus, Kentucky to join Major General Leonidas Polk's garrison. While there, the companies under Kennedy's command were organized by Polk as the 5th Louisiana Battalion.
Polk organized the 5th Louisiana Battalion into the 21st Louisiana Regiment on February 9, 1862. This was done by ordering the remaining four companies of the Jackson Regiment north. Logic would have it that Miller would come north and take command. Instead, Kennedy was promoted to Colonel of the new regiment. The question now arising is why was Miller not retained as the Colonel? Adding to the fuzziness is the total lack of hardly any roster records from the four companies from New Orleans.
When Columbus was evacuated the 21st Louisiana bounced between Island No. 10 and Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River. The regiment arrived at Corinth after the Battle of Shiloh, took part in the Siege of Corinth and accompanied the army on its retreat to Tupelo. In late July 1862 General Braxton Bragg ordered the 11th and 21st Regiments disbanded and dispersed to build up the rosters of other Louisiana units.
Why the 21st Regiment? In a review of the regiment made at Fort Pillow in April stated, "Discipline, very good; instruction, good; military appearance, very good; arms, mixed and worthless; accouterments and clothing, good...". We only have the comments of Braxton Bragg and a letter sent to the Government by C.C. Miller that gives us hints. On September 23rd, Bragg was ordered by the Secretary of War to reassemble the dispersed regiments. Bragg protested the order in a letter to the Secretary in November. He stated the impossibility of pulling the dispersed officers of the old regiment, saying some were behind enemy lines, gone home, in other units, etc. After putting forth his case for the difficulty of reassembling the regiment, Bragg finished by saying: "It seems to me, under all the aspects of the case, that we are endeavoring to overcome almost insuperable difficulties in order to accomplish a great evil."
A great evil? C.C. Miller's letter to the Secretary of War was a blistering attack on Kennedy and his character. He called Kennedy a "notorious thief" and "void of all principal, honor and integrity." Miller went on to say that Bragg knew of his "bad character" and thus alludes that being a reason why Bragg disbanded his regiment. Desertion was a problem in the regiment. Bragg was known for his dislike of deserters and mix his contempt for officers he deemed incompetent then perhaps we have the motive as to why Bragg disbanded Kennedy's regiment. Despite a vote of confidence from Polk, Kennedy's regiment was never reorganized.
Where did the men of the 21st Regiment go? One company under Captain Alexander Dresel (Co. C) became the nucleus for a new company in the 20th Louisiana Regiment. Dresel went on to have a long career with the 20th Regiment and actually rose to command that unit toward the end of the war. The vast majority of the men, though, were molded into the 1st Louisiana Regulars.
- A photograph of JBG Kennedy was found to be on auction in the past year and its owner is unknown.
- Also, the old flag of the 5th Louisiana Battalion is housed at Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.
- The men merged into the 1st Regulars and 20th Louisiana maintaind a high rate of desertion and a high rate of taking the Oath of Allegiance when captured (either by desertion or on the battlefied).